Are we in a war?

Barry Arrington, owner of the pro-ID blog, Uncommon Descent is alleged to have written the following in an email to a contributor:

We are in a war. That is not a metaphor. We are fighting a war for the soul of Western Civilization, and we are losing, badly. In the summer of 2015 we find ourselves in a positon very similar to Great Britain’s position 75 years ago in the summer of 1940 – alone, demoralized, and besieged on all sides by a great darkness that constitutes an existential threat to freedom, justice and even rationality itself.

 

In this thread I don’t want to discuss the rights and wrongs of the email itself, nor of whether or not TSZ constitutes a “great darkness”.  Barry is entitled to decide who posts at UD and who does not; it’s his blog.

What interests me is the perception itself, which I suspect is quite widely shared.

Indeed it’s my perception that a lot of people are truly frightened by much that the modern world seems to represent – evolutionary biology, social and economic liberalism, atheism, the decline of religious observance, multi-culturalism, abortion, LGBT issues, the welfare state – and feel that they are somehow part of a coordinated, or at least related attack on values held very dear.  Indeed, that was made explicit in the Wedge Strategy document:

The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built. Its influence can be detected in most, if not all, of the West’s greatest achievements, including representative democracy, human rights, free enterprise, and progress in the arts and sciences.

Yet a little over a century ago, this cardinal idea came under wholesale attack by intellectuals drawing on the discoveries of modern science. Debunking the traditional conceptions of both God and man, thinkers such as Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud portrayed humans not as moral and spiritual beings, but as animals or machines who inhabited a universe ruled by purely impersonal forces and whose behavior and very thoughts were dictated by the unbending forces of biology, chemistry, and environment. This materialistic conception of reality eventually infected virtually every area of our culture, from politics and economics to literature and art

The cultural consequences of this triumph of materialism were devastating. Materialists denied the existence of objective moral standards, claiming that environment dictates our behavior and beliefs. Such moral relativism was uncritically adopted by much of the social sciences, and it still undergirds much of modern economics, political science, psychology and sociology.

Materialists also undermined personal responsibility by asserting that human thoughts and behaviors are dictated by our biology and environment. The results can be seen in modern approaches to criminal justice, product liability, and welfare. In the materialist scheme of things, everyone is a victim and no one can be held accountable for his or her actions.

Finally, materialism spawned a virulent strain of utopianism. Thinking they could engineer the perfect society through the application of scientific knowledge, materialist reformers advocated coercive government programs that falsely promised to create heaven on earth.

Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies.

Barry clearly believes (or did back in the summer) that the War is being lost (“and lost badly”).  Here are the reasons why I think he should Stop Worrying And Learn To Love The Bomb Materialists.

  • We are no threat to freedom.  Those of us who call ourselves “atheists” for the most part do not hold the belief that there is no God (or gods), we simply do not hold the belief that there is.  We have no problem if you do.  Indeed, many of us are glad that there are people who find themselves inspired by their beliefs to do much good in the world.  Most of us believe that a pluralistic multicultural society is something to be proud of, and those cultures include yours.
  • We are no threat to justice. Even the most ardent materialist utilitarian is unlikely to have any problem with the idea that people must be held accountable for their actions, and that the role of social and legal justice systems is to ensure that people treat each other fairly.  The fact that some of us do not think that wrongdoers will be punished in the next life does not prevent us from thinking that it is a very good idea to provide major disincentives in this.
  • We are no threat to rationality.  I think this fear arises from the sense that scientists frequently demonstrate that what seems obvious (aka “self-evident”) ain’t necessarily so.  Turns out the earth isn’t flat.  Turns out that “down” points in all kinds of different directions depending on where you are standing.  Turns out there is a speed limit for information.  Turns out that time is relative.  Turns out that reality at quantum level is simply weird. All this, in the past, theists have taken in their stride, albeit with a bit of a lurch.  What I suspect the real threat is that science – neuroscience! – is, in places, appears to be claiming that our powerful sense that in each of us there is a soul-y thing, a homunculus, who is the “I behind the eyes” – isn’t what we think it is.  That some of us are, in effect, denying that we – I – exist, except as “a bag of chemicals”.  That A is not-A.  That I is not-I. My response is that this fear too, is unfounded.  Even if some of us think that there is no immortal (or otherwise) homunculus in the brain directing operations, but rather that the brain is an organ of the body consisting of a vastly complex distributed decision-making system that acts recursively thus generating as a property of the decider the capacity recognise herself as an intentional agent, by analogy to the other similar intentional agents she observse and interacts with, that does not amount to a denial that “I am”.  It is merely an attempt to account for why there should be an I that can say “I am”.

So sleep easy, Barry!  We are not Nazi Germany, nor yet a Great Darkness.  Our ideas are not billowing blackly from Mount Doom.  They are transparent, humane, pluralistic, and provisional.  There is nothing to fear but fear itself.

 

243 thoughts on “Are we in a war?

  1. Mung: This is ad hominem,

    Actually, it’s not. An ad hominem is attack against a person rather than a position the person holds. This is most definitely an attack against the Christian position, which you admit you hold.

    It is, however, a tu quogue. As such, it doesn’t rebut your premise, though it does make it look a little ridiculous. It’s also a reductio ad absurdum, but then there are Christians who actually hold those very beliefs about their God, so…

    and furthermore the conclusion does not follow.

    It might follow, as there is no way to demonstrate that a belief in the omni-god of Christianity is rational, and really that’s all that’s important in this case.

    This is an example of what we mean by a threat to rationality.

    How exactly is presenting a reductio ad absurdum argument against the omni-god of Christianity a threat to rationality?

    Don’t be a threat. Don’t be irrational. Thank you.

    Back atcha…

  2. William J. Murray: You can’t reason with someone that denies the validity of logic. Explains a lot of what we see at TSZ.

    Logic is a tool. It is useful for explicating the inferential relations between assertions to determine if an argument is deductively valid. But the assessment of logic itself is one of usefulness. No doubt it is supremely useful; one could hardly navigate the space of reasons without it.

    Mung: Everyone here at TSZ knows differently, including you. Even Elizabeth knows the importance of not equivocating over terms.

    It is one thing to avoid informal fallacies, of course, in any exercise of reasoning. But it is only in deductive arguments that function only in formal domains that one can attain the certainty offered by logical inference from (supposedly) self-evident first principles.

    My complaint here lies with the conflation of rational justification with strict deductive justification.

    In strict deduction, one does begin with a set of axioms and derives theorems from those axioms according to inferential rules that are purely syntactical. Which theorems can one prove is determined by what axioms one selects. In a sense the choice of axioms is arbitrary, though in mathematical and logical practice we aspire to begin with as few axioms as possible in order to prove what needs to be proven. (This was one of the major results of the Goedel Incompleteness Theorem: any formal system rich enough to capture arithmetic can only be proven complete by introducing axioms that are not necessary for proving any theorems within the system.)

    By contrast, in substantive domains — such as science, ethics, and law — rational justification is sensitive to semantics, therefore cannot be purely syntactic, and therefore cannot be strictly deductive. Hence rational justification in those domains cannot be purely logical.

  3. William J. Murray: I have no idea what you mean by this. Are you saying that you begin with “true moral judgements”, and then find biology that support those judgements in order to sort them out? Or are you saying that you begin with biology, and from those facts determine true moral judgements?

    Can you clear this up for me? Because it seems to me that what you are calling the “objective ground for morality” is actually an objective grounds for scientifically sorting and politically administering that which you already consider to be moral.

    IOW, it’s like EL when she picks a definition of “what morality is about” (a certain kind of social success), and then develops a means of objectively evaluating, sorting and administering that morality.

    Is that a fair assessment? Or am I missing something?

    I don’t know where this “politically administering” got introduced into the discussion. Seems like a big, smelly red herring to me. But anyway: the real question here is, what’s the relation between true moral judgments and the biological functions that objectively ground those judgments?

    Think of it this way: we know that thrown projectiles travel in parabolic arcs because of how mass distorts space-time. That is, general relativity explains why the laws of mechanics are as they are. But we didn’t need to wait on having a correct theory of what causes gravity in order to develop the laws of mechanics. The laws of mechanics are epistemically grounded in observation, calculation, and prediction even though they are ontologically grounded in the curvature of space-time.

    Likewise with regard to my point about naturalizing moral realism, with empirically discernible facts about human cognition, ecology and evolution standing as the truth-makers of our claims about what is morally right and wrong. The empirical facts about human biology are the ontological ground of our moral knowledge, not the epistemological ground of our moral knowledge.

    Rather, our moral knowledge is epistemically grounded in the history of suffering and attempts to mitigate it. Insofar as suffering is intrinsically aversive for sentient beings, and empathy necessary for successful cooperation, we learn — collectively, as a civilization, over history — that, for example, differences in tribal identities are irrelevant to the moral point of view, or that oppression is intrinsically wrong. (There were folks who thought that being an oppressor was morally OK. We know that that’s false. Conan the Barbarian is just wrong.)

    The facts about the reality of human nature which explain why oppression is wrong took a long time for us to rediscover, although arguably Aristotle had a glimpse. But we don’t need a theory of human nature to do the epistemological work of distinguishing between true and false moral judgments: experience, deliberation, reflection, argument, criticism, imagination, and experimentation are sufficient for that.

  4. KN said:

    Likewise with regard to my point about naturalizing moral realism, with empirically discernible facts about human cognition, ecology and evolution standing as the truth-makers of our claims about what is morally right and wrong. The empirical facts about human biology are the ontological ground of our moral knowledge, not the epistemological ground of our moral knowledge.

    Rather, our moral knowledge is epistemically grounded in the history of suffering and attempts to mitigate it.

    I assume we are assuming that a naturalist accounting of morality is the correct accounting of morality. If so, your explanation has a hole in it.

    Even if we adopt your premise about human biology being the ontological ground of morality, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the human commodity of suffering should serve as the epistemological basis for a naturalist’s moral model.

    Why should any naturalist pick suffering, and not some other human commodity, as the epistemological basis of natural morality??

  5. William J. Murray: Even if we adopt your premise about human biology being the ontological ground of morality, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the human commodity of suffering should serve as the epistemological basis for a naturalist’s moral model.

    Why should any naturalist pick suffering, and not some other human commodity, as the epistemological basis of natural morality??

    It’s because I’m a humanist that I emphasize the role of suffering in how we come to know what is morally right and wrong. The naturalism is doing the ontological work, but the humanism is doing the epistemological work. (In fact, this is probably a fair statement of my views in general.)

    I think the question you’re asking me is, why do I stress suffering as I do? I think it’s because we just wouldn’t be able to recognize any actions as instances of cruelty, injustice, dehumanization, etc. without there being some suffering of some person, persons, animals, etc.

    That is, I don’t think it is possible for us to apply the concepts of moral evaluation — concepts such as fair, brave, honorable, mean, cruel, malicious, spiteful, deceitful, innocent, guilty, shameful, generous, and kind — without those terms being indexed to some actual or possible suffering or mitigation of it.

    Not that suffering is sufficient — intentional plays a big role here too. The basis of all moral education involves teaching kids the difference between doing harm (causing suffering) on purpose and doing harm by accident, and why the consequences for the former are more serious than the consequences for the latter.

  6. It’s because I’m a humanist that I emphasize the role of suffering in how we come to know what is morally right and wrong. The naturalism is doing the ontological work, but the humanism is doing the epistemological work. (In fact, this is probably a fair statement of my views in general.)

    This means the essence of your morality (how to understand what morality is about is, as I have said, entirely subjective. As you said, “Because ***I*** am a humanist”.

    As I said:

    IOW, it’s like EL when she picks a definition of “what morality is about” (a certain kind of social success), and then develops a means of objectively evaluating, sorting and administering that morality.

    That’s not an “objective basis for morality”; it’s an objective basis for justifying, sorting, evaluating and administering what you admit is a subjectively chosen basis for morality.

    KN continues:

    I think the question you’re asking me is, why do I stress suffering as I do? I think it’s because we just wouldn’t be able to recognize any actions as instances of cruelty, injustice, dehumanization, etc. without there being some suffering of some person, persons, animals, etc.

    No, I don’t really care why you stress it so. It’s your personal, subjective view of what morality should be about.

    That is, I don’t think it is possible for us to apply the concepts of moral evaluation — concepts such as fair, brave, honorable, mean, cruel, malicious, spiteful, deceitful, innocent, guilty, shameful, generous, and kind — without those terms being indexed to some actual or possible suffering or mitigation of it.

    Not that suffering is sufficient — intentional plays a big role here too. The basis of all moral education involves teaching kids the difference between doing harm (causing suffering) on purpose and doing harm by accident, and why the consequences for the former are more serious than the consequences for the latter.

    Of course they can. My stealing $100 from a billionaire, even if he doesn’t ever notice it, is just as wrong as if he does notice it, even if my stealing that money never causes anyone any suffering whatsoever either way. Also, causing suffering is often the moral thing to do, as in “tough love” situations and where hard truths must be imparted. Some acts are immoral even if no one ever finds out and no one suffers as a consequences.

    Would you consider it immoral for some researcher to find an artifact that would change our concept of human history, and then to just destroy it because it made his entire career, and everything he had worked for, irrelevant/erroneous? Certainly, nobody is suffering because of his act, and he likely prevented the suffering of a lot of people whose life works would have been discredited. But was it immoral?

    However, coming up with moral/ethical exceptions to your “suffering” agenda is irrelevant because you’ve already admitted that your so-called “objective”, naturalized morality is just another subjectively chosen morality – it’s what you personally, as a humanist, already subjectively think morality should be about, and that “aboutness” has no presumed objective grounding. Yes, suffering is an objective fact, but that doesn’t mean morality should be about suffering.

    In fact, there is no reason under your explanation not to consider morality to be about power, physical pleasure, emotional pleasure, resource accumulation & protection or any other factual aspect of the human experience. Then, following your lead, one can find the biology that justifies, sorts and stands as the basis for moral evaluations under that alternate view.

  7. William J. Murray: Of course they can. My stealing $100 from a billionaire, even if he doesn’t ever notice it, is just as wrong as if he does notice it, even if my stealing that money never causes anyone any suffering whatsoever either way. Also, causing suffering is often the moral thing to do, as in “tough love” situations and where hard truths must be imparted. Some acts are immoral even if no one ever finds out and no one suffers as a consequences.

    I think you are conflating relative/ absolute with subjective/ objective.

  8. newton: I think you are conflating relative/ absolute with subjective/ objective.

    That conflation is essential to Murray’s position. I’ve tried arguing this with him many times over the years, but to no avail. Maybe you’ll have better luck that I did.

  9. Firstly, the idea that my claims about morality are subjective because they are my claims just seems thoroughly confused. Be that as it may . . .

    My claim isn’t that morality should be about suffering — my claim is rather that morality is about suffering. And my argument for that claim is that suffering plays a huge role in how we learn to use any moral vocabulary. It follows that other kinds of wrong-doing that aren’t indexed to suffering aren’t moral wrong-doings. It would be wrong to destroy the Mona Lisa or destroy a precious monument, but I don’t see how it would be a moral wrongdoing.

    What you seem to want in an account of objective morality is a kind of moral wrongdoing that is morally wrong even if no one is harmed, no one’s capacity to flourish is impaired, no one knows about it, and no one will ever know about it. If that’s what you’re after here, I have to say, that makes no sense to me at all. That’s the moral equivalent of whether a sound is made by the tree that falls in a forest when no one is around. Under those conditions, the moral wrongness makes no pragmatic difference to any possible human conduct.

  10. Kantian Naturalist: my claim is rather that morality is about suffering.

    My claim would be that most people do not have a problem defining morality. What we all have is an inability to figure out what is best.

    I dislike life raft and nazi at the door scenarios, because I don’t think they are representative of ordinary life problems. I think we are much more likely to be confronted with a friend or a child who we think is harming himself or others, and we need to figure out a response. Sometimes the friend is our self.

    Or we need to vote, or speak out, or choose a charity.

    I don’t see the huge problem in figuring out ought nots. the more common problem is how to be proactive.

  11. petrushka,

    I dislike life raft and nazi at the door scenarios, because I don’t think they are representative of ordinary life problems.

    They aren’t intended to be “representative of ordinary life problems”. They are thought experiments designed to expose the reasoning (or sometimes the lack thereof) behind our moral decisions.

  12. KN,

    My claim isn’t that morality should be about suffering — my claim is rather that morality is about suffering.

    Someone who thinks that morality is about obedience to God, period — regardless of any suffering involved — would obviously disagree with you.

    There is no objective way to establish that “morality is about suffering” trumps “morality is about God’s will”.

  13. keiths: They aren’t intended to be “representative of ordinary life problems”. They are thought experiments designed to expose the reasoning (or sometimes the lack thereof) behind our moral decisions.

    I think most tough decisions involve figuring out how to be proactive, rather than how to deal with an emergency.

    I suspect if i were confronted with one of these scenarios, I would just pee my pants.

    Figuratively, at least. What I mean is that confronted with a life threatening dilemma, I would freeze and do nothing constructive. Or I would simply toss a mental coin, trying not to think at all.

    I do not think I would do well. And I think most people would not be able to pull off a Hollywood miracle.

    People I actually admire do not wait around for dilemmas. They try to build physical and societal structures that minimise violence and risk. If you don’t see their work, they did it well.

  14. petrushka,

    I think most tough decisions involve figuring out how to be proactive, rather than how to deal with an emergency.

    Moral thought experiments often involve emergencies, but the moral reasoning they elucidate applies more broadly.

    For example, the trolley thought experiments are about emergencies, but the moral reasoning behind them is relevant to a decision about whether to reduce funding for research into disease A in order to increase funding for research into disease B.

  15. petrushka,

    What I mean is that confronted with a life threatening dilemma, I would freeze and do nothing constructive. Or I would simply toss a mental coin, trying not to think at all.

    I do not think I would do well.

    All the more reason to get clear on your moral thinking before stressful situations arise. Moral thought experiments help us to do that.

    People I actually admire do not wait around for dilemmas.

    Of course not. They face them, nonetheless. The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.

  16. Well, I’m 70 years old, spent a year in Vietnam, and haven’t faced anything like the hypothetical moral tests.

    Perhaps the closest to a moral scenario was my decision not to resist being drafted.

    I could easily have avoided military service through political connections or by tapping into objectors at my Quaker college.

    Among my thoughts were that, if I exercised my privileged position, some poor sap would take my place. That was a long time ago, and I still haven’t figured it out.

  17. petrushka,

    Well, I’m 70 years old, spent a year in Vietnam, and haven’t faced anything like the hypothetical moral tests.

    Again, the point of moral thought experiments is not that they are scenarios we are likely to encounter, but rather that they expose the moral reasoning we apply in scenarios that we do encounter.

    You may never be faced with the life-or-death situation of Nazis at the door and Jews in the attic, but we all find ourselves in circumstances in which telling the truth does more harm than lying, and we must choose between the two.

    The point of the Nazis-at-the-door scenario is to make the dilemma stark and unavoidable. You can’t shrug and say “It doesn’t matter either way.”

  18. keiths: You may never be faced with the life-or-death situation of Nazis at the door and Jews in the attic, but we all find ourselves in circumstances in which telling the truth does more harm than lying, and we must choose between the two.

    I think scenarios lead to falsely dichotomous thinking. The scenarios define themselves as either or. Real life generally allows workarounds. I would argue by concentrating on choice rather than creativity, you may adversely affect outcomes in real life situations.

  19. Triage nurses have to make quick decisions. Someone, somewhere looks at real decision requirements, makes policies, and trains emergency room workers on how to make hard decisions. Speed is a requirement.

    This goes against my argument, but most of us are not emergency medical workers.

    I will go out on a limb and predict — without researching it — that official policies always favor the greatest good for the greatest number. No family exceptions.

  20. petrushka,

    I think scenarios lead to falsely dichotomous thinking. The scenarios define themselves as either or.

    That’s a feature, not a bug. The scenarios are designed to force difficult decisions, thus highlighting the underlying moral reasoning. To say “I would distract the Nazis by talking about the weather” doesn’t lead to any moral insights or understanding. Facing the scenario head-on makes you think about whether strict adherence to moral principles (such as “do not lie”) is justified when the consequences of doing so are dire. It’s deontology vs. consequentialism.

    Real life generally allows workarounds. I would argue by concentrating on choice rather than creativity, you may adversely affect outcomes in real life situations.

    I don’t buy it. Intelligent people (and unintelligent people, for that matter) are always looking for ways to avoid difficult situations.

    Take the following trolley-like scenario: You’re in your car, your brakes are shot, and you must choose between running over five people standing in the middle of the road versus swerving off the road and hitting one person.

    Who, after contemplating that scenario, would decline to keep their brakes in working order since that wasn’t one of the options offered? Who wouldn’t try to find a way of swerving such that no one died?

  21. Actually, I found myself in a state sponsored driver’s ed class (in lieu of points) and was told always go for the fewest fatalities, even if it means killing an innocent bystander. That was government approved policy, taught by an an official representative.

    Of course you might still face charges for allowing yourself to get into the situation in the first place.

    So the powers that be teach such behavior as policy.

    I don’t find it very interesting.

  22. petrushka,

    Triage nurses have to make quick decisions. Someone, somewhere looks at real decision requirements, makes policies, and trains emergency room workers on how to make hard decisions. Speed is a requirement.

    This goes against my argument, but most of us are not emergency medical workers.

    Speed is not always a requirement. Recall my medical research example:

    For example, the trolley thought experiments are about emergencies, but the moral reasoning behind them is relevant to a decision about whether to reduce funding for research into disease A in order to increase funding for research into disease B.

    We can be faced by moral dilemmas even when we are being proactive.

  23. Policies are always going to be decided by the greatest good calculus, or by political expediency, whichever is ascendent at the moment.

  24. petrushka,

    I suspect if i were confronted with one of these scenarios, I would just pee my pants.

    Well, that might distract the Nazis at the door.

    Or make them doubly suspicious.

    Figuratively, at least. What I mean is that confronted with a life threatening dilemma, I would freeze and do nothing constructive. Or I would simply toss a mental coin, trying not to think at all.

    I do not think I would do well.

    Isn’t that a motivation to think more, not less, about morality? Morality gains in importance when the stakes are high. That’s when you really want to get it right.

    Moral thought experiments are an opportunity to do some of the heavy lifting ahead of time so that the right answers will come even when you’re stressed and ready to pee your pants.

  25. keiths: That’s a feature, not a bug. The scenarios are designed to force difficult decisions, thus highlighting the underlying moral reasoning.

    I know it’s supposed to be a feature not a bug, but I still think it’s a bug.

    Real life scenarios are generally dynamic – you don’t make a clean decision to kill one person to save 5, you make a decision to reduce the risk to five, and, thereby increase the risk to one, THEN you try to ameliorate the risk to the one. So you are iteratively changing your decision-making in light of updated information about the scenario as it stands as a result of your last action.

    Very occasionally you get something like the Test scenarios – Sophie’s Choice, for instance. And those are precisely the scenarios where no human being really knows how they would react, and there is no right decision anyway.

    And it’s just the sort of scenario that, if it arises in peacetime, as it were, say in medicine, or family law, it goes to an ethics committee or a tribunal.

    Hard cases make bad moral philosophy IMO.

  26. I think that thought-experiments like the trolley problem, the Nazis-at-the-door (in the original version, by Kant, it’s an axe-murderer), and the talented violinist can be useful, but only up to a point.

    They can be used, as in undergrad philosophy classes, to expose how intuitions function in moral judgment. But they don’t really tell us whether our intuitions are themselves correct, or reliable, or whatever. And they don’t help us become better moral reasoners.

    In my classes, I prefer using examples from literature, personal essays, movies, TV, and video games, rather than any of these thought-experiments, in part because those scenarios are far more detailed, and the details matter.

  27. “I know how you feel” is a pretty offensive remark from a healthy person to someone dying of cancer. Claiming to know how to react in some highly unlikely hypothetical situation smacks to me of the same sort of attitude.

  28. keiths: Isn’t that a motivation to think more, not less, about morality? Morality gains in importance when the stakes are high. That’s when you really want to get it right.

    If there is a clear right.

    And not just a preference.

    I do not think Arrington’s stance is entirely irrational. Given Sophie’s choice, I would be tempted to say, fuck you. You are the murderer. You can’t make me feel guilty for what you do.

    O course, I have no idea what I would actually do.

  29. Alan Fox:
    “I know how you feel” is a pretty offensive remark from a healthy person to someone dying of cancer. Claiming to know how to react in some highly unlikely hypothetical situation smacks to me of the same sort of attitude.

    Yes, I understand exactly what how you feel about this matter.

    Glen Davidson

  30. In what could be viewed an example of the absurd results of approaching science with a war-like mentality, the Discovery Institute has all but accused Nick Matzke of misusing public funds (http://www.evolutionnews.org/2015/12/did_nick_matzke101761.html). This accusation is so egregious and without merit that I think it deserves its own OP. I don’t have time to write it right now as I’m about to go stand in line to see the new Star Wars movie. If nobody else has posted about it later this evening, I might write up a post. The DI has, IMO, really crossed the line here, and I think their outrageous behavior should be called out.

  31. Alan Fox:
    “I know how you feel” is a pretty offensive remark from a healthy person to someone dying of cancer. Claiming to know how to react in some highly unlikely hypothetical situation smacks to me of the same sort of attitude.

    Amen!

  32. Alan,

    “I know how you feel” is a pretty offensive remark from a healthy person to someone dying of cancer. Claiming to know how to react in some highly unlikely hypothetical situation smacks to me of the same sort of attitude.

    That’s a poor analogy. There’s a big difference between posing a moral dilemma and declaring that you have the one and only right answer. (There can’t be a single right answer, because morality is subjective.)

    Getting people to think carefully about morality is a good thing.

  33. keiths: Getting people to think carefully about morality is a good thing.

    Hard cases make bad law, and good fences make good neighbors.

    Platitudes R Us.

  34. petrushka:

    I think scenarios lead to falsely dichotomous thinking. The scenarios define themselves as either or.

    keiths:

    That’s a feature, not a bug. The scenarios are designed to force difficult decisions, thus highlighting the underlying moral reasoning. To say “I would distract the Nazis by talking about the weather” doesn’t lead to any moral insights or understanding. Facing the scenario head-on makes you think about whether strict adherence to moral principles (such as “do not lie”) is justified when the consequences of doing so are dire. It’s deontology vs. consequentialism.

    Lizzie:

    I know it’s supposed to be a feature not a bug, but I still think it’s a bug.

    Real life scenarios are generally dynamic – you don’t make a clean decision to kill one person to save 5, you make a decision to reduce the risk to five, and, thereby increase the risk to one, THEN you try to ameliorate the risk to the one. So you are iteratively changing your decision-making in light of updated information about the scenario as it stands as a result of your last action.

    You’re making the same mistake as petrushka. The thought experiments are not intended to be realistic or representative. They’re designed to reveal something about what’s going on “under the hood” when we make moral decisions.

  35. KN,

    They [moral thought experiments] can be used, as in undergrad philosophy classes, to expose how intuitions function in moral judgment. But they don’t really tell us whether our intuitions are themselves correct, or reliable, or whatever. And they don’t help us become better moral reasoners.

    I disagree, because I’ve seen them do exactly that.

    About ten years ago I enrolled in an evening class in moral philosophy.There were people in that class who were sure that lying was wrong, period, until they were confronted with the Nazis-at-the-door scenario. There were committed utilitarians in the class who had to reconsider when they were confronted with the scenario in which you kill a healthy person to provide organs for five people who are awaiting transplants.

    It’s hard to take your deontology for granted when you’re confronted with the Nazi scenario, and it’s hard to take your utilitarianism for granted when you’re confronted with the transplant scenario.

  36. petrushka:

    What I mean is that confronted with a life threatening dilemma, I would freeze and do nothing constructive. Or I would simply toss a mental coin, trying not to think at all.

    I do not think I would do well.

    keiths:

    Isn’t that a motivation to think more, not less, about morality? Morality gains in importance when the stakes are high. That’s when you really want to get it right.

    petrushka:

    If there is a clear right.

    I don’t know about you, but I prefer to make good moral choices even when they aren’t obvious.

    Given Sophie’s choice, I would be tempted to say, fuck you. You are the murderer. You can’t make me feel guilty for what you do.

    But guilt isn’t the only issue. If you give in to that temptation, both of your children will die instead of one.

    Sophie’s Choice is a vivid example of how moral intuitions can clash. It’s worth an OP. I’ll write one tonight or tomorrow.

  37. If you are going to write an OP, be sure to include some mention of how game theory might impact Sophie’s Choice situations.

    Denying the oppressor’s pleasure might result in your children being killed, but what would happen if everyone did a Gandhi? That involves knowing something about the psychology and motivations of those doing the killing.

  38. We are in a war. That is not a metaphor. We are fighting a war for the soul of Western Civilization, and we are losing, badly.

    September 13, 2015
    Uncommon Descent
    Barry Arrington

    contrast

    You know ID is winning when …
    Big Darwin hollers are fronting money all over the world against it:

    July 28, 2015
    UncommonDescent
    News
    http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/you-know-id-is-winning-when/

    and

    Why ID is winning

    Jan 20, 2015
    UncommonDescent
    News
    http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/captured-from-facebook-why-id-is-winning/

    There is a some subtlety here. In YEC circles we freely acknowledge the next generation is leaving the church (we are losing badly in that sense), but we feel the empirical case for ID is strengthening because of developments with ENCODE and several mainstream scientists have been critical of OOL and various population geneticists continue to advocate neutral theory. Those are MY views, not UD’s.

    What UD wants to say about all this, I don’t care that much. I’ve stated my views, and you can ask the UDers yourself what they think is happening.

  39. Dave Carlson:
    In what could be viewed an example of the absurd results of approaching science with a war-like mentality, the Discovery Institute has all but accused Nick Matzke of misusing public funds (http://www.evolutionnews.org/2015/12/did_nick_matzke101761.html).This accusation is so egregious and without merit that I think it deserves its own OP.I don’t have time to write it right now as I’m about to go stand in line to see the new Star Wars movie.If nobody else has posted about it later this evening, I might write up a post.The DI has, IMO, really crossed the line here, and I think their outrageous behavior should be called out.

    ROFL @ “crossed the line”.

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