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There Probably are no Duties. Now Stop Worrying and Enjoy Your Life!

September 10th, 2013 by Matt

Some atheists offer  moral critiques of theism; their claim is not just that belief  in God is false or unjustified, it is that such irrational beliefs are intricately linked with immoral and oppressive practices. Moral outrage often motivates the critiques offered – one only needs to read the condemnation of religious wars, religiously motivated terrorism, inquisitions, witch hunts, the suppression of science, sexism, homophobia, and so on, which is so prevalent in many free thought writings. Similarly, one needs only to read the accusations, regularly repeated in popular atheist literature, that the Bible condones slavery, or genocide, or stoning cheeky children, or rape,  to observe this.

DutyNote that behind this critique is the presupposition that there are moral duties. People have a duty to not engage in wars or acts of terrorism, religious people who promote sexist or homophobic practices are wrong for doing so. I think this is nonsense as it assumes there is such a thing as a moral duty, it assumes things religious people do can be wrong. This is false and here is why:

First, the burden of proof is on he who makes a claim. I am not making a claim. I am simply not affirming that moral duties exist, therefore I do not have to justify my non-belief in duties. Instead those who believe in duties have to come up with compelling proof that they exist.

Second, no-one has ever seen a duty. Duties have no colour, shape or smell or sound, hence, they are invisible to sensory perception. One cannot empirically verify or falsify the claim that duties exist so it is meaningless incoherent nonsense to believe in duties until verification of them is given. Moreover, the inability to verify these claims shows they are unscientific and so they cannot be accepted as rational.

Third, no one as yet has provided a proof that duties of any sort exist. Such things, if they can be decided at all, must be shown to exist by the methods of natural science. To date no one has shown that belief in moral duties is necessary to any scientific theory; physics or chemistry or biology each have no need of that hypothesis to explain the world.

Fourth, think of all the evil done in the name of duties. Almost every war fought throughout history has been justified by those who claimed they were doing the right thing. Inquisitions, crusades and the suppression of science were all done in the name of doing the right thing and avoiding the wrong thing. While science flies us to the moon, belief in duties flies planes into buildings.

Fifth, if you claim you believe we have duties, such as a duty to not rape, I will ask you to explain which duty do you follow? There are so many different “duties” appealed to. Some people claim there is one fundamental duty, but those who do disagree as to what it is or exactly how to conceive of it. Others claim there are many duties and a small number of people claim there are none. Everyone rejects some concept or account of duty; those of us who reject duties just deny one more duty than everyone else.

Sixth, think of how degrading and contrary to human autonomy the belief in duties is. Duties are things we are supposed to live our lives in allegiance to. Rational people can figure out what to do for themselves using reason. We don’t need moral duties to tell us what to do, it stifles human autonomy and is childish to believe in duties.

Seventh evolutionary psychology shows us that small children from a very young age have evolved a disposition to believe certain things are right and wrong. This means we can give an adequate account of why we believe in duties in entirely evolutionary terms without postulating the existence of moral duties. This provides a solid basis for thinking duties do not exist.

Eight, what duties you believe are determined largely by your family and cultural background. If you were raised in Iran you would believe you had a duty to execute homosexuals. If you were raised in secular western Europe you would believe you had a duty to support same-sex marriage. Clearly, therefore, belief in duties is the result of parental and cultural brainwashing and up bringing.

Ninth, as a famous blogger has stated, we should treat all our beliefs from the perspective of a sceptical outsider, hence, we should treat our belief in moral duties from the perspective of moral sceptics; moral scepticism is the default-sensible position to take.

Tenth, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The claim that there are moral duties is extraordinary. It claims that there are things that tell us what to do and that we have to do them and this trumps every other reason or desire we have in favour of the action and, that failure to do it makes us guilty or blameworthy. No other thing in reality has these features, hence, those who believe in duties must provide us with extraordinary evidence.

So it is almost certain that duties do not exist. However, if nothing is right or wrong then religious terrorism is not wrong, inquisitions are not wrong, crusades are not wrong, homophobia is not wrong. The Taliban are not doing anything wrong when they throw battery acid in a woman’s face. One can state that they don’t like these things but subjective expressions of emotion are not a replacement for sensible public evidence like science. Those who offer moral critiques of religious practices may as well invoke the existence of fairies at the end of the garden, belief in unicorns, imaginary friends or spaghetti monsters if they want us to accept there are moral duties. Belief in duties is just a primitive Bronze Age superstition.

UPDATE: Luke Muehlhauser makes a similar point over at commonsense athiesm

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91 responses so far ↓

  • This is completely brilliant. What a great piece of judo – embracing the arguments at face value and applying them directly to their source. I’m afraid a lot of readers may miss this for its irony, but this is…so…good!

  • Hello Matt you might be interested by the argument I developped against moral naturalism:

    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/2013/08/20/on-the-compability-of-materialism-and-moral-realism-von-der-kompatibilitat-des-materialismus-und-des-moralischen-realismus/

    Believing that the duty “men ought to never rape women” is identical to a bunch of particle out there is utterly ridiculous.
    Yet this is what moral materialists have to believe if they want to hold fast on objectivity.

    I’ll probably send you an email in the future to see if you could perhaps write an academic paper on that topic.

    Lovely greetings from continental Europe.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son
    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

  • I meant if WE could write perhaps together a paper

    Lovely greetings from continental Europe.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son
    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

  • […] Many of you will already know the Christian theologian and philosopher Matthew Flannagan so I won’t spend time introducing him here. … Matthew is one of my favourite Christian writers and he made an interesting post today […]

  • […] New Zealand philosopher Matt Flannagan wrote a satirical piece on moral duties from a naturalistic perspective: (H/T Michael’s Theology)[…]

  • […] Flannagan has written a humorous piece: There probably are no duties. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life! He uses typical arguments against religion but applies them to moral […]

  • I suspect this is just a preview of coming attractions, especially since there are quite a few Lurking Pet Ultimates that can be attacked in the exact same ways that atheists attempt to attack belief in God (necessarily using that Universal Crypto-Theistic Mind-God of Reason, of course).

    Oh, the tangled self-referential webs the gnus weave.

    “Tell me it ain’t so, Rikydok!”

  • […] blog, M&M, can be really annoying or hugely stimulating, it is seldom boring. But the new post There probably are no duties. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life! really is something special. Matt neatly turns all the standard old chestnut Atheist arguments […]

  • Weak… very weak. No one is claiming that duties actually exist in the way you claim god exists.

  • Bignose I am claiming that duties actually exist in the way Matt claims god exists. Please explain the difference to me so I can understand how you justify rejecting one and embracing the other.

  • Weak… very weak. No one is claiming that duties actually exist in the way you claim god exists.

    That’s false.
    First, the position of moral realism does affirm that moral properties exist in the same way people claim God exists, and according to the Phil papers survey 57% of professional philosophers who specialise in meta-ethics believe in moral realism. http://philpapers.org/surveys/results.pl?affil=Philosophy+faculty+or+PhD&areas0=28&areas_max=1&grain=coarse

    So, I don’t know who the “no body” you refer to is. It appears to exclude the majority of people who actually study the subject.

    But, this aside, it would be good if you could explain the sense of existence in which you claim moral duties do exist is, which is different from the sense used in the phrase “God exists” and elaborate how it effects or changes the force of the arguments mentioned above. I suspect little in my argument turns on the issue.

  • “Bignose I am claiming that duties actually exist in the way Matt claims god exists. Please explain the difference to me so I can understand how you justify rejecting one and embracing the other.”

    Wow… that is a weird claim? So you think that duties are persons (or a person) with a relationship with people, that duties are capable of reasoning, have self awareness, and have interacted with humanity and intervened in human events, and that a duty (or many duties?) have incarnated and become human…? Is that what you mean? Wow…. cool belief. Do you have a name for this religion?

  • “…moral realism does affirm moral properties exist in the same way people claim God exists…”

    I am skeptical of this claim. You would have to provide evidence for this. Certainly not in the way Christians claim God exists. See my response to your co-blogger.

    “….Second, and according to the Phil papers survey 57% of professional philosophers who specialise in meta-ethics believe in moral realism….”

    That’s nice… if irrelevant. And again moral realism is not anything like a Christian belief in God.

    “But, this aside, it would be good if you could the sense of existence that you claim moral duties exist is, …”

    Huh??? Explain the sense? I think I already have.

  • “Bignose I am claiming that duties actually exist in the way Matt claims god exists. Please explain the difference to me so I can understand how you justify rejecting one and embracing the other.”

    Wow… that is a weird claim? So you think that duties are persons (or a person) with a relationship with people, that duties are capable of reasoning, have self awareness, and have interacted with humanity and intervened in human events, and that a duty (or many duties?) have incarnated and become human…? Is that what you mean? Wow…. cool belief. Do you have a name for this religion?

    No, her claim was not that moral properties have the same nature as God or shares the same characteristics and properties. The claim was that both exist in the same way. Pointing out they differ in other ways does not address this point.

    Second, and according to the Phil papers survey 57% of professional philosophers who specialise in meta-ethics believe in moral realism….”

    That’s nice… if irrelevant. And again moral realism is not anything like a Christian belief in God.

    But no one claimed moral realism was like belief in the Christian God, the claim was that moral realists claim that moral duties exist in the same way theists claim God exists. Again pointing out moral realism differs from theism in other ways does not address this.

    “But, this aside, it would be good if you could the sense of existence that you claim moral duties exist is, …”
    Huh??? Explain the sense? I think I already have.

    No you haven’t you have argued that if God exists he has different properties and a different nature to moral properties. That doesn’t show that moral properties they “exist” in a way different to the way theists claim God exists.
    You also have not shown why the above arguments are effective against the claim “God exists” and not against the claim “moral duties exist” in the sense you specify. The fact God is a person, can reason, and so on doesn’t seem to affect either the logical form of the arguments or the truth of their premises.
    Even if duties are not persons people who affirm their existence still make claims, they still make claims that are unverifiable, they still make claims which are not demonstrated by empirical science, they still make claims that have been used to justify atrocities, they are still claims that limit autonomy, they still make claims which involve denying many other conceptions of duty and so on, in other-words they still have all the features that the arguments appeal to in rejecting theism. They fact they have other features the arguments don’t appeal to is irrelevant because the arguments don’t appeal to them.
    You cant just decide an argument is sound when one is talking about the existence of a person like God but not sound when one is talking about the existence of other things, that would be to engage in special pleading.

  • You almost got it Matt… God is a person… duties are not believed to be people (apart from by your co-blogger perhaps?)

    When Atheists are saying that there is no such entity as God they are saying that the idea of a person who has interacted with humanity, and who created the universe, and who is has moral opinions etc etc etc… does not exist.

    What exactly do you say that “duties” and “god” DO have in common that you think your argument is in the least analogous. I could keep trying to guess all night – but how about you just tell me?

    I can’t see anything in common apart from some sort of vague connection in as much as they are both “believed” in (and even then the word “believe” is probably being used quite differently in each case)

    I stand by my original assessment I am afraid: very very weak.

    ——————–

    What Madeleiene claimed was that she believes in duties in the same way that Matt (you) believe in God… without any further information I can only assume this means she thinks duties are people – since I assume that one of the primary features of God in Matt’s mind is that God is a person? If this is not what she meant then perhaps she needs to spend a little more time explaining what she did mean by this.

    “No, her claim was not that moral properties have the same nature as God or shares the same characteristics and properties. The claim was that both exist in the same way. Pointing out they differ in other ways does not address this point.”

    — OK .. so again: what characteristics do they share? Being self aware? Being people? You have to stop being so vague and say exactly what property you think they have in common. You say “both exist in the same way”.. in what way is this? Or do you simply mean that they both exist? In the same way a piece of cheese does?
    .

    “But no one claimed moral realism was like belief in the Christian God, the claim was that moral realists claim that moral duties exist in the same way theists claim God exists.”

    Again this is far to vague… “in the same way” does not tell me anything. What are the ways which are the same?

    Your argument has NO weight when you use terms with no definitions. You can’t blame me for misinterpreting what you and your partner meant by “in the same way” when you have offered no clarification on this point.

    You may have a good point hidden in there somewhere… but it needs a LOT of work.

  • “No one is claiming that duties actually exist in the way you claim god exists.”

    Well, do tell then, what IS claimable about moral duties other than arbitrarily inserting oughts and shoulds into predicates?

  • “Well, do tell then, what IS claimable about moral duties other than arbitrarily inserting oughts and shoulds into predicates?”

    Are you asking me? I am not making any such claim… I am just saying that what Matt thinks is a very clever satire fails before it even gets off the ground.

  • Big nose
    I am well aware that atheists deny God’s existence not the existence of duties. My point is the arguments typically used to justify atheism would if sound justify the rejection of duties as well, hence there is an incoherence in them accepting both. Pointing out atheists deny one and not the other doesn’t make there doing so coherent.

    When Atheists are saying that there is no such entity as God they are saying that the idea of a person who has interacted with humanity, and who created the universe, and who is has moral opinions etc etc etc… does not exist.What exactly do you say that “duties” and “god” DO have in common that you think your argument is in the least analogous. I could keep trying to guess all night – but how about you just tell me?

    I didn’t say God and duties have something in common beyond the fact that the claim “God exists” and “you have a duty to not do X” are affirmed as true. My point is the arguments proposed against the existence of God are analogous to arguments for the denial of duties. The arguments are analogous because they have the same logical form and there premises have the same truth value.

    I can’t see anything in common apart from some sort of vague connection in as much as they are both “believed” in (and even then the word “believe” is probably being used quite differently in each case)

    Actually its used the same in both cases, to believe something is to think it’s the case. Just as the word “exists” has the same meaning when one claims God exists or duties exist.

    But if you read the post you’ll see I did spell out what they have in common. What they have in common is that ten arguments used against the existence of God and thought by many atheists to be decisive apply with equal force to moral duties.

    I stand by my original assessment I am afraid: very very weak.

    Well that is weak, unless you can actually show the arguments mentioned are dis-analogous simply saying something is weak doesn’t make it so.
    ——————–

    What Madeleiene claimed was that she believes in duties in the same way that Matt (you) believe in God….without any further information I can only assume this means she thinks duties are people – since I assume that one of the primary features of God in Matt’s mind is that God is a person? If this is not what she meant then perhaps she needs to spend a little more time explaining what she did mean by this.

    Well actually she didn’t claim that that she believes in duties in the same way that I believe in God. What she said was that she believed . “duties actually exist in the way Matt claims god exists.” Notice the difference

    Unless you assume that if a person thinks two things actually exist it follows they think must those two things are identical or have the same nature your argument is simply misrepresentation.

    I believe the Auckland harbour bridge exists. I also believe you exist, does it follow that I must believe that you are the Auckland harbor bridge?

    “No, her claim was not that moral properties have the same nature as God or shares the same characteristics and properties. The claim was that both exist in the same way. Pointing out they differ in other ways does not address this point.”

    — OK .. so again: what characteristics do they share? Being self aware? Being people? You have to stop being so vague and say exactly what property you think they have in common. You say “both exist in the same way”.. in what way is this? Or do you simply mean that they both exist? In the same way a piece of cheese does?

    There is no vagueness here just your continual confusing the claim X and Y exists with the claim that X and Y share the same properties.

    She is what she said that both actually exist. You have for some reason confused this to be the claim that both are persons. Do you believe the harbour bridge is a person seeing it exists?

    “But no one claimed moral realism was like belief in the Christian God, the claim was that moral realists claim that moral duties exist in the same way theists claim God exists.”
    Again this is far to vague… “in the same way” does not tell me anything. What are the ways which are the same?

    Again you are assuming that if someone says to things exist it follows they are saying they are the same. This is obviously a false inference as my harbour bridge example shows.

    Your argument has NO weight when you use terms with no definitions. You can’t blame me for misinterpreting what you and your partner meant by “in the same way” when you have offered no clarification on this point.

    Problem is she didn’t use the phrase “the same way” what she said was “duties actually exist in the way Matt claims god exists. Note again saying two things both actually exist is not the same as saying two things have the same nature.

    Do you believe Barak Obama exists? Do you believe George Bush exists? Does it follow Bush is Obama? Try and not be completely ridiculous. Bad inferences followed by claims that something is weak esthablishes nothing.

  • You still have failed to answer a direct and simple question (which is a pattern).

    Lets try again:

    “they both exist in the same way”

    What way is that? Please just answer this direct question without any more trying to wriggle out of it.

  • My point was when a theist says “God exists” they mean something very different from when someone says “duties exist”

    The fact that they use the same word does not show it is the same. The challenge is for you to show that the word “exists” is being used in the same way – and what way that is. You have failed to do so.

    Is “God exists” the same sort of statement as “my car exists?”
    Is “duties exist” the same sort of statement as “the moon exists”

    Clearly not – since the 10 arguments which you think work above would not apply to an apple. Just putting a different object in the place of “god” will not make the analogy work then…

  • “I am not making any such claim… I am just saying that what Matt thinks is a very clever satire fails before it even gets off the ground.”

    Then next time just say

    “No one is claiming that actually exist in the way you claim god exists.”

    That will help to ensure that “duties” doesn’t just pop into peoples’ minds as if your making some kind of claim about duties when you’re not making any claim about duties whatsoever.

  • Maybe it would be clearer to talk about the difference between a duty, and no duty at all.

    We have a duty to observe this difference!

    Remember, however, that I’m not making any claims about any of the terms used in my own statements, while everyone else is. And everyone but me will be held accountable because of their—wait for it—duties that I’m not making any claims about! (Made you look!)

    In other words, we all have a to observe this difference!

  • My point was when a theist says “God exists” they mean something very different from when someone says “duties exist”

    And both Madeleine and I pointed out that they don’t mean something different by the word exist. Your only response to point out that God and duties have different properties. But that does not show they don’t both exist

    George Bush and Obama have different properties, yet when I say Obama exists I use the word exists the same way as I use it when I say “Bush exists”. The fact one attributes existence to a different object or being does not mean the word “exists” changes its meaning.

    The fact that they use the same word does not show it is the same. The challenge is for you to show that the word “exists” is being used in the same way – and what way that is. You have failed to do so.

    No the challenge for you is to show (a) the word is used in a different way and (b) that this difference means the arguments I cite are disanalogous. You have failed to do so.

    Is “God exists” the same sort of statement as “my car exists?”

    Yes both are positive existential statements and affirm the existence of some thing in the world.

    Is “duties exist” the same sort of statement as “the moon exists”

    Yes again, both are positive existential statements affirming the existence of some thing in the world.

    You seem to think that if two things are different then the word “exists” means something different when prefaced to them. That’s false.

    Clearly not – since the 10 arguments which you think work above would not apply to an apple. Just putting a different object in the place of “god” will not make the analogy work then…

    This is doubly problematic, First the reasons the arguments don’t work when applied to an apple is that when applied to an apple their premises are false. People don’t commit atrocities in the name of apples, apples can be seen heard and touched and there existence empirically verified, there is not disagreement about there existence or nature and so on. These however are precisely ways apples differ from both God and moral duties.

    Second, you state “Just putting a different object in the place of “god” will not make the analogy work then…” that actually is false. In logic if an argument is sound you should be apple to substitute any premise with another premise of the same truth value and get a conclusion that has the same truth value as the original argument. This holds regardless of whether the premise is about apples, gods, duties or anything at all.

    Your comments simply illustrate my point, you seem to think that because your talking about God, the arguments work, but when you talking about something different the very same arguments don’t work. That’s rationally indefensible.

  • “And both Madeleine and I pointed out that they don’t mean something different by the word exist. ”

    But you AGAIN fail to describe the way in which it is used. This sort of dishonesty is exactly why people don’t take apologists seriously.

    I have received my answer in a way I guess.

  • “Yes both are positive existential statements and affirm the existence of some thing in the world. ”

    So you see God as an object in the world in the same way as an apple? That tells me a lot about your theological views, and explains why you think the argument you are using above works.

    This was the bit of information I was looking for. I think that you are wrong as it happens, and that talking about God in the same way as a created object leads to a non-Christian theology – but I understand where you are coming from now.

  • “Yes both are positive existential statements and affirm the existence of some thing in the world. ”
    So you see God as an object in the world in the same way as an apple? That tells me a lot about your theological views,

    I have already pointed out that this does not follow twice above. Noting that two things both exist does not entail they both have a similar nature or share the same properties.
    Simply repeating an inference which is fallacious and shown to be does not really prove much.

    and explains why you think the argument you are using above works.

    Again, your welcome to show how the different sense of existence you think God has from duties to means the arguments I mentioned are disanalogous. As I noted an argument is analogous when it has the same logical form and the same truth value. Even if the word “exists” has a different meaning in the phrase “God exists” than it does in the claim “duties exist”. That does nothing to show the premises of those arguments have different truth values or a different logical form. And again I have already pointed this out.

    This was the bit of information I was looking for. I think that you are wrong as it happens, and that talking about God in the same way as a created object leads to a non-Christian theology – but I understand where you are coming from now.

    But I did not talk about God in the same way as a created object I simply said both created objects and God exist. Again you seem to be under the impression that if I say two things exist I am saying they have the same nature.

  • No Matt… you said God was an object which exists in the world:

    “[existence] of some thing in the world.”

    Why do you lie when I can just go up and read it anyway?

  • You seem to see God as an object which exists in the universe? Is this correct or not? Don’t write an essay. Yes or no will be fine.

  • There Probably are no Duties. Now Stop Worrying and Enjoy Your Life!

    no-one has ever seen a duty. Duties have no colour, shape or smell or sound, hence, they are invisible to sensory perception. One cannot empirically verify or falsify the claim that duties exist so it is meaningless incoherent nonsense to believe in du…

  • No Matt… you said God was an object which exists in the world:
    “[existence] of some thing in the world.”

    Actually that phrase doesn’t say that God is an “object in the world in the same way as an apple is”.Which is what you attributed to me in the previous post. Note what you actually said.

    So you see God as an object in the world in the same way as an apple? That tells me a lot about your theological views.

    It’s sad that you insist on continually misrepresenting other people and then claim they are liars. Try engaging the actual arguments.

    You seem to see God as an object which exists in the universe? Is this correct or not?

    No, I never said anything about God being an object which exists in the universe. What I said was he exists. Again you seem to want to subtlety change what people said.

    I am also still waiting for you to show how any of this proves that, the arguments I mention in the post are disanalogous to the ones typically used to reject theism. If God is not an “object in the universe” how would that alter the logical form of the arguments in question or change the truth value of the premises?

    Straw men backed up by accusations of lying isn’t a substitute for actually addressing the post

  • So.. yes or no?

    Still playing avoidance tactics and dishonesty I see.
    Trucking out your catch phrases does not answer the simple question.

  • Stop fibbing Matt – it is pointless. Let me remind you. You said.. and it is saved up there still unless you are dishonest enough to have edited it:

    Is “God exists” the same sort of statement as “my car exists?”

    Yes both are positive existential statements and affirm the existence of some thing in the world.

    …..

    There it is in black and white:

    BOTH are positive existential statements and affirm the existence of some thing IN THE WORLD.

    SO “BOTH” statements… affirm that something exists IN THE WORLD. It could not be any clearer…. why keep pretending you did not say this.

    Now… don’t write another of your avoidance mini-essays where you throw around accusations. this time a simple YES or NO.

    Cheers.

  • Stop fibbing Matt – it is pointless. Let me remind you. You said.. and it is saved up there still unless you are dishonest enough to have edited it:
    Is “God exists” the same sort of statement as “my car exists?”
    Yes both are positive existential statements and affirm the existence of some thing in the world.
    …..
    There it is in black and white:
    BOTH are positive existential statements and affirm the existence of some thing IN THE WORLD.

    I agree I did say that, but Bignose, you need to remember that that is not what you attributed to me. What you attributed to me was the claim that God is an object in the universe in the same way an apple is.
    That is an entirely a different claim. When one states that two things are both positive existential statements and affirm the existence of some thing in the world. One is saying that two statements affirm the existence of that thing in reality. That’s what the word “world” means in that context.
    When one states God is an object in the universe the way an apple does, one affirms that God is a physical being which occupies space and time.
    Those are entirely different claims. One is a claim that something exists the other is a claim about its nature.
    I have already pointed out to you repeatedly that affirming that both God and apples exist. Does not commit you to claiming they have the same nature.
    For some reason you keep attributing this position to me, despite the fact it’s been pointed out its based on a fallacious inference. I am sorry but pointing out you are confusing two separate questions doesn’t make me a liar.

    So.. yes or no?
    Still playing avoidance tactics and dishonesty I see.
    Trucking out your catch phrases does not answer the simple question.

    Actually , I did answer this question in the thread you responded to I said

    You seem to see God as an object which exists in the universe? Is this correct or not?
    No, I never said anything about God being an object which exists in the universe. What I said was he exists. Again you seem to want to subtlety change what people said.

    So I have answered the question. Moreover, in the previous comment you suggested I was lying because I gave a negative answer to this question.

    So apparently your response is both to claim I never answered the question and also the negative response I gave as answer was a lie. Clearly that’s a contradiction.

    Perhaps you need to think a little bit more carefully about what you are writing.

    Finally, seeing I did answer your question care to answer mine now? If God is not an object in the universe like an apple, how does that fact make the arguments I mention in this post disanalogous to the arguments for God’s existence. As far as I can tell this claim neither changes the truth value of the premises or changes there logical form.

  • “What you attributed to me was the claim that God is an object in the universe in the same way an apple is.”

    Seems to be a breakdown in communication. By “in the same way” I did not mean sharing all of the characteristics, but simply sharing the one characteristic of being an object in the world. Don’t get too hung up on this one phrase.

    You don’t get out of it by replacing the world “world” with the word “reality”. Your conception of God seems to be one of something which exists within a reality/world/universe. You have said this enough times for me to be justified in reaching this conclusion. This is a concept of a God which is secondary to the universe (in the way apples or duties might be for instance?).

    But to further clarify: Are you saying that God is a physical object in the universe?

    “No, I never said anything about God being an object which exists in the universe. What I said was he exists. Again you seem to want to subtlety change what people said.”

    So you retract your statement where you said God exists as an object in the world/universe/reality then?

  • And you are still maintaining the lie. Let me repeat (in case you missed it). You said:

    “Yes both are positive existential statements and affirm the existence of some thing in the world. ”

    Does this not tell me that you consider God to be:

    (i) a “thing”
    and (ii) “in the world”

    You can retract this statement and say you were mistaken if you like. Or you can explain in what way God is “a thing” and in what way God is “in the world” (or universe or reality or whatever other word you want to use)

  • Bignose

    It seems we have made a wee bit of progress here Let me repeat I am not saying God is a physical thing in the universe, where universe is understood to refer to the continuum of matter energy space-time studies by sciences such as biology, physics and chemistry.

    You don’t get out of it by replacing the world “world” with the word “reality”. Your conception of God seems to be one of something which exists within a reality/world/universe. You have said this enough times for me to be justified in reaching this conclusion. This is a concept of a God which is secondary to the universe (in the way apples or duties might be for instance?).

    Well here your simply insisting on interpreting the phrase “world” or “reality” as synonomous with “a universe” and something which a something exists literally inside. As I pointed out however that’s not what the phrase “world” or “reality” means when one states that a positive existential statement affirms the existence of something in reality.

    In that context, the word reality is the antithesis of what is fantasy or not real. To say God exists in reality or an apple exists in reality is to claim they are real, they are not fantasies or figments of the imagination and so on. If I ceased to exist or to think or believe apples or God existed, they would still exist and my belief they did not would simply be mistaken.

    To put it more simply, to say apples exist and or God exists is to say God is. There is a God and there are apples.

    So you retract your statement where you said God exists as an object in the world/universe/reality then?

    No because, you are misinterpreting what I meant by that phrase, as I pointed out when I said that I was not saying God was a physical object in the universe.

    Seems to be a breakdown in communication. By “in the same way” I did not mean sharing all of the characteristics, but simply sharing the one characteristic of being an object in the world. Don’t get too hung up on this one phrase.

    My argument stands regardless, my point was that the claim that both apples exist and God exists does not entail they share any property at all. All its states is that both are. (Existence arguably is not a property and I don’t want to commit on whether existence is or is not a property)

    And you are still maintaining the lie. Let me repeat (in case you missed it). You said:
    “Yes both are positive existential statements and affirm the existence of some thing in the world. ”
    Does this not tell me that you consider God to be:
    (i) a “thing”
    and (ii) “in the world”

    Not in the sense your using those words, when I say God is a “thing” I am using the word the way it’s used when one uses the words, “everything” “something” and “nothing” . God very clearly is not nothing, that would mean he does not exist and has no properties at all.

    There is a sense of the word “thing” where it has a narrower meaning. For example when I say “my wife is a person not a thing” in that sense by thing I mean something which is a physical object lacking any personality. Obviously I deny God is a thing in that sense. However, there is also a sense in which all persons are “things”, a person is clearly not nothing and if one has a list of everything that exists, people would be on the list.

    I note again you still have failed to show how any of this provides a basis for saying the arguments I have mentioned are dis-analogous. I doubt very much that the premises or logical form of any of them turn on how you interpret the word “world” in my comment above.

  • I can’t even address the initial question until I have sorted through your muddled thinking. Until I know what you mean by “God exists”, and how that compares to statements like “this apple exists” and “duties exist” no further progress can be made. Your continues insistence that you can simply replace words in an argument and it will still be valid (even when the words are used in very different ways) makes it impossible to have any real discussion.

    “It seems we have made a wee bit of progress here Let me repeat I am not saying God is a physical thing in the universe, where universe is understood to refer to the continuum of matter energy space-time studies by sciences such as biology, physics and chemistry.”

    OK good. Although you are not REPEATING this, as this is the first time you have made this clear. But good.

    “something which a something exists literally inside.”

    I am not saying that at all. I don’t think that “duties” are “literally inside” anything. To think that they were literally inside something would mean that I say duties as physical objects. Which I clearly don’t. However, being “inside” (without the word literally being there) is a different matter. I think that duties exist inside a reality which God has created. I think apples exist inside a reality which God has created. I DON NOT think that God exists inside a reality which God has created. This, and I am really spelling it out now, is a fundamental difference in the way God “exists” and the way duties or apples “exist”.

    “To put it more simply, to say apples exist and or God exists is to say God is. There is a God and there are apples.”

    Which is fine – but I notice that in this sentence the other statement: as a think in the universe, has vanished.

    “No because, you are misinterpreting what I meant by that phrase, as I pointed out when I said that I was not saying God was a physical object in the universe.”

    You are misrepresenting what I have said. Unintentional in this instance I think. I suppose that my conception of God may differ from yours, which is what I have been trying to clarify. The whole concept of “existence” I would consider to be part of God’s creation. So to say that God “exists” is an odd statement IF by exists one means anything analogous to the existence of apples or duties. Both of the latter are part of a created world, brought into existence by God. God is NOT part of a created world, brought into existence by God. Does this make it clearer at all why “God exists” is a different sort of statement?

    As a matter of interest what do you see as the non-creates aspects of reality. Are the rules of logic secondary to God and created in your opinion? Are concepts such as true and false created by God for example?

  • Oh and by the way, since in another post you display some interest in correct spelling, you might want to read up on the difference between these three words:

    Their
    There
    They’re

  • There Probably are no Duties. Now Stop Worrying and Enjoy Your Life!

    HT: Wenatchee the Hatchet

  • I am interested in your answer to those last questions in particular. People often have quite limited ideas about God.

  • Wow. Talk about category errors! The question “do gods exist?” is similar to “do cats exist?” or “do unicorns exist?”. The question “do duties exist?” is similar to “do categories exist?”, “do errors exist?”, “do problems exist?”.

    Gods are like dragons; if they were to exist, we know what they would be, how they would impact the world, and we can confidently deduce that we see no such impact, so there is no reason to believe that either supernatural being exists.

    Duties are not reifiable in the same way at all. It is pointless to compare the two.

  • Sam,
    I think you need to learn what a category mistake is. Let me make two points in response.

    First, I did not draw a comparision between God and duties, I drew a comparison between arguments against the existence of God and arguments against the existence of duties. So even if God is not comparible to duties that’s strictly speaking irrelevant, because that’s not whats being contended. To address what I actually contend you’ll have to show there is a relevant difference between the arguments, and you haven’t done that.

    Second, it seems your points about duties and God are far to quick:

    Gods are like dragons; if they were to exist, we know what they would be, how they would impact the world, and we can confidently deduce that we see no such impact, so there is no reason to believe that either supernatural being exists.

    First, God is not like a dragon or a cat, in that cat and a dragon are physical objects which exist in space and time and hence detectable by empirical means. Second, the existence of God has certain practical implications that dragons and cats dont and that also effects how we rationally asses options.

    Second, you suggest that if God exists we both (a) know how he would impact the world and (c) can conclusively see he has not done this. I don’t know what the basis is for either of these claims. I am sceptical we would know in much detail what an omniscient being would and would know do independent of what he has in fact done and I certainly done know of any compelling arguments for (c).

    Third, what you say here applies equally with duties, if wrongness exist we do know what they would be like, for example we know they would be properties of certain types of behaviour, we would know with some reliability which forms of behaviour they are properties of. We would know they are plausibly an objective property of these actions, we would know they are prescriptive, in that they tell us what to do and make demands upon our behaviour. We know they would be authoritative in that these demands are binding on us and trump other reasons we have to the contrary, and so on. We know they are in some sense universalise, and are made from an impartial perpective. In fact, typical sceptical arguments against duties by nihilists typically involve noting that if duties exist then they would be a very odd sort of things, one we have good reason to think does not exist, so I fail to see the lack of parity here.

    Of course you might rejoin by noting there are different conceptions of duties and some deny moral obligations have all these features. But the same is true of God.

  • Do You Want to Be a Christian Apologist? Part 10

    Throughout Matt’s post he’s attempting to point out the hypocrisy of atheists with regard to moral duties, but in reality he’s being intellectually dishonest. At the minimum he’s willfully ignorant. How can he possibly even be a Christian apologist…

  • Still waiting for an answer…..

    [EDIT: Pick one handle and stick to it and ensure it is not profane or we will pick one for you]

  • There’s probably no God, but don’t worry, we have a whole list of oughts to Bible-thump at humanity. Only 613 laws, plus a few dozen in that other testament?

    That’s nothing compared to the thousands of truly scientific rules of behavior we’ve got ready for your liberation and flourishing! Scientific precision in thinking and behavior means that perfect adherence is perfect flourishing!

    See something? Condemn and report something! The scientific flourishing of humanity depends on it!

    Live long and posture!

  • 124.197.60.209 I have answered your questions repeatedly on multiple occasions, you continue to claim I have said something else. You have still to answer my questions, so sorry but until you do I see no reason to answer the next round of questions which take us off topic

  • By using nonstandard definitions of words, it is possible to present arguments for almost anything. An argument might initially sound convincing, until you discover the deceptive nugget at the heart that attempts to do injustice as a description of any reality that people live in. Who is “rationally” allowed to task a person with a duty? Only god? Or can one “rationally” be said to obligate himself? If one can properly said to rationally task himself with a duty, where is the incoherence your reasoning makes the tongue-in-cheek case for?

  • That is a breach of privacy.

    The questions I wanted you to answer but which you ran away from:

    As a matter of interest what do you see as the non-creates aspects of reality. Are the rules of logic secondary to God and created in your opinion? Are concepts such as true and false created by God for example?

  • I do sometimes wonder if this website is a parody Stephen….

  • When one starts off by saying that the purpose of his argument is to prove that religious people can do no wrong, does he leave any room for doubt that it’s parody? It’s made distasteful by his smugness though. As if to say, “Look at me, I’m so intellectually superior that I can hogtie others with obviously fallacious wet paper bag arguments, and everyone else is so intellectually challenged they can’t find their way out.” Conceited much?

  • I was going to go through each of the points and show how each fail… but why bother? As you say he is so smug and thinks himself so superior that he is incapable of any growth. Anyone who disagrees MUST be wrong, or MUST misunderstand in some way… the idea that he might be wrong is beyond him…

    OK Just one….lets take No 7.

    The conflict between evolution and God is that IF evolution is a sufficient explanation for all life, then there is no need to suppose there is a God. On the other hand, evolution may be a sufficient explanation for duties as well as life.

    Notice that he has mixed up which is the cause and which is the effect in this example.

    God —-> Life
    Evolution —> Life
    Evolution —-> Duties

    BUT

    Duties —-> ????

    Such a simple error would not be made if he gave it ANY thought. Not it is just a joke-post so a stupid mistake like this would not really matter IF Matt did not take it so seriously himself, and if he did not think it worked as anything more than poor humour.

    Lets look at another. Number 5 (in its original form) is a criticism of monotheism. I.e. how can you believe in just this one God while rejecting all of the others… not nec. a good argument but thats what it is… Does Matt think that people who believe in duties are mono-dutiests? That they believe in one duty and no others… of course not.. so again this fails completely…

    I could go on with the rest.. but you get the point.

  • Boring Name,

    evolution may be a sufficient explanation for duties as well as life

    I’m sure evolution is a sufficient explanation for fairies and trolls and unicorns as well, according to you. Care to provide a shred of evidence that these said “duties” exist?

  • If I have used my executive functions and powers of self-determination to task myself with an obligation, an obligation which I then proceed to carry out in a tangible way, what further evidence is needed for the existence of a duty, regardless of what type of duty it might be?

    Combined with a modern understanding of the neurology underpinning executive functions in the cingulate cortex made possible by fMRI technologies, a neurobiological case for the existence of self-imposed duties could be proposed, not upon some ethereal philosophical basis but upon a solid, empirically scientific one.

    I hope no one here is about to begin arguing that it’s irrational to conclude that executive functions and self-determination/free will exist.

    However, I’m glad that everyone here agrees that believing in god truly is irrational though. Even if you’re not ready to give it up, owning your irrationality is at least a step in the right direction.

  • “I’m sure evolution is a sufficient explanation for fairies and trolls and unicorns as well, according to you. Care to provide a shred of evidence that these said “duties” exist?”

    Pay attention Hugh. I never said duties did or did not exist. I merely said Matt’s “argument” was crap.

  • Boring Name,

    So at least you appreciate when people miss the point of an argument, perhaps you might benefit from seeing how you are doing this as well.

    The argument being parodied in no. 7 is that since evolutionary psychology can be shown to explain why we believe X, therefore X is probably false. This is a classic genetic fallacy regardless of what X is. Whether it is an alleged cause of life or an effect or life does not make the argument less invalid. Different substitutions for X don’t have to be comparable in nature because the *form* of the argument is wrong.

    So you failed with this example, but since you offered to go through each of the points and show how they are wrong, care to try another one?

  • Stephen, you said “if I use my executive powers of self determination to task myself with an obligation..”

    this is a circular argument because it’s the very existence of obligations which are in question here. Of course I’m going to be sceptical of your ability to do that because I don’t think obligations even exist. You carrying out a task isn’t evidence of an obligation, it’s evidence of you doing something. Show me actual evidence of this said “obligation”, what even is it?

  • Do you really think that obligations don’t exist?

    By the way, Matt is not here claiming that duties do not exist, and you will find that elsewhere on this blog he claims the governments have the right and the duty to impose duties upon their citizens within their jurisdictions.

    So you’re all alone in arguing for that.

    If I task myself with an obligation, what’s circular about that?

    If I task myself with an obligation, it may be a process that’s hidden from you, so you are free to doubt that, but it is not hidden from me. Who are you to tell me what I can and cannot do or have or have not done?

    You are free to observe the process at work within your own psyche. A good example is the fact your government says you have the duty to pay income tax. Surely you’re not going to profess that you would donate that much of your income to the government otherwise. The reason why you do fork over the cash is because you are obliged, under penalty, to do so. The fact you do pay them is the clincher. You can tell what you believe by what you do. Talk is cheap.

    The other thing I find odd, (besides the fact that you’re aping what you think Matt’s claim is, though you’re mistaken, but owning that mistaken position as though you originated it yourself) is the fact that you must be a xian, otherwise you wouldn’t be making such a claim here. Interesting though. A xian who claims to owe his god no duties. Sort of defeats the purpose of being religious. I might consider joining a religion like that if there were some physical benefits to doing so.

  • “So at least you appreciate when people miss the point of an argument, perhaps you might benefit from seeing how you are doing this as well.”

    Getting better at it by the minute…

    “So you failed with this example, but since you offered to go through each of the points and show how they are wrong, care to try another one?”

    I disagree I failed. And not right now… maybe later.

  • Think about it…

    Moral duties exist BECAUSE we have evolved a certain way of viewing the world.

    Now… substitute God in there and see if it still works.

  • If I have used my executive functions and powers of self-determination to task myself with an obligation, an obligation which I then proceed to carry out in a tangible way, what further evidence is needed for the existence of a duty, regardless of what type of duty it might be?

    Two things,

    First, That is an inadequate account of moral obligations because it makes the existence of the obligation depend on my imposing it upon my self for its validity. This would entail therefore that if I choose not to impose a duty to refrain from rape or theft I am not under any obligation to not rape or steal. It also suggests I can exempt myself from having a duty to refrain from these things.

    Second, even if it were an adequate account of moral duties, the atheist I am criticising cant utilise it. Because they are criticising religious people for performing witch hunts or inquistions or suppressing science, or religious texts for endorsing slavery and so on. If the religious people criticised did in fact endorse these practises, it is dubious that they ever “tasked themselves” to refrain from these things.

    In order for the argument I am criticising to work one would have to argue that religious groups engaging in wrong doing even though their religious beliefs endorsed the practises and they thought it was Gods will. Duties which are choosen and self imposed cant account for this type of obligation.

  • “moral obligations” ~= “duty”

  • The conflict between evolution and God is that IF evolution is a sufficient explanation for all life, then there is no need to suppose there is a God. On the other hand, evolution may be a sufficient explanation for duties as well as life.

    Notice that he has mixed up which is the cause and which is the effect in this example.

    Actually, thats not the alleged conflict between evolution and God I was refering to in argument 7 at all. Your correct that some argue that because evolution can explain the origins of life and the origins of species, there is no need to postulate the existence of God to explain these things. However that was not the argument from evolution I was alluding to in my post.

    The argument I was refering to are more recent arguments drawn from evolutionary pscyology of religion. ( note the word evolutionary pscyology in the post) these arguments contend that one can explain why human beings believe in God ( not the existence of life) in evolutionary terms in a way that dont presuppose God exists. These theories contend that humans have evolved A disposition to believe in God or god(s) because such a disposition has survival value. Its contended by some that these theories provide a basis for denying God exists. Robert Nola a philosophy professor at Auckland University recently wrote a paper along these lines. But others have made the same argument.

    As to evolutionary accounts of morality, My point is this argument is paralell to another argument made by moral skeptics such as Michael Ruse and Richard Joyce ( and people like Sharon Street) who appeal to evolutionary pscyology to argue against the existence of duties. They argue that belief in moral duties can be explained in evolutionary terms without presupposing duties actually exist. These theories contend that Humans have evolved a disposition to believe certain things are morally wrong because such a disposition has survival value. Moral skeptics like Ruse and Joyce argue this provides a basis for denying moral duties exist.

    There is no confusion between cause and effect in these parallels, in the first people argue evolutionary pscyology explains belief in God without God actually existing, in the second they say evolutionary pyscology can explain belief in moral obligations without obligations really existing.

    Lets look at another. Number 5 (in its original form) is a criticism of monotheism. I.e. how can you believe in just this one God while rejecting all of the others… not nec. a good argument but thats what it is… Does Matt think that people who believe in duties are mono-dutiests? That they believe in one duty and no others… of course not.. so again this fails completely…

    Again, your misunderstanding the argument I am refering to in number 5, its not the argument that “ how can you believe in just this one God while rejecting all of the others” Its the argument that its arbitrary or irrational to believe in one particular conception of a deity and reject various rival conceptions wether they be monotheistic or polythiestic.

    But as to “mono dutiest” in fact, I think there is an analogue here, while people dont use the term “mono dutiests”. There are different accounts of what moral duties are, on some moral theories ( like say Kantianism) there is only one fundamental duty and all others are simply applications of that duty. These views do deny that there are any other duties other than the one they mention. On others theories (Rossian pluralism) there are a plurality of basic moral duties which are distinct from and irreducible to each other.

    In fact the parallel can easily be seen in the literature, J L Mackie one of the leading moral skeptics appealed to pervasive moral pluralism as a reason for being a moral skeptic, this argument is pretty obviously paralell to various appeals to religious pluralism to esthablish religious skepticism.

  • Moral duties exist BECAUSE we have evolved a certain way of viewing the world.
    Now… substitute God in there and see if it still works.

    Neither argument works, what works is the claim that our belief in moral duties exist because we have evolve a certain way of viewing the world. The mere fact you see the world a certain way provides no basis for thinking the world actually is that way.

    And note that once this is clarified the substitution does work, its one can just as plausibly say our we believe God exists because we have evolved a certain way of seeing the world.

  • Still doesn’t work.

    Situation with duties:

    Duties (not just a belief in duties) may be a direct result of evolution. That is creatures which evolved in a certain environment, and who were dependent upon one another for survival, may have evolved certain ways of interacting with one another which increased their chances of survival. Actual duties are a result of evolution.

    Now lets try the Matt-trick of just replacing one idea with another in an argument (or paragraph):

    God (not just a belief in God) may be a direct result of evolution. That is creatures which evolved in a certain environment, and who were dependent upon one another for survival, may have evolved certain ways of interacting with one another which increased their chances of survival. Actual God is a result of evolution.

    Nope… this replace a word in an argument and it still works concept does not seem to work.. what a surprise!

  • And Matt… I am STILL waiting for you to answer those questions.. I am interested to know your response.

  • “As a matter of interest what do you see as the non-created aspects of reality. Are the rules of logic secondary to God and created in your opinion? Are concepts such as true and false created by God for example?”

    The answer to these questions is vital in understanding why you think you can use the word “exist” to apply to God and duties and think it means the same thing in each instance. Please don’t just ignore this question AGAIN.

  • Situation with duties:
    Duties (not just a belief in duties) may be a direct result of evolution. That is creatures which evolved in a certain environment, and who were dependent upon one another for survival, may have evolved certain ways of interacting with one another which increased their chances of survival. Actual duties are a result of evolution.

    That argument works only if you use the word “duties” descriptively or sociologically, to refer to mores or patterns of behavour or interaction. The problem is in philosophy one asks “do nirak duties exist” or what is the nature of a moral duty they are not using the word descriptively they are using it normatively, to refer to what really is required or not required of people

    It does not follow that because people have evolved patterns of interacting with each other then we are obligated to follow those pattern of behavour. Societies can and do evolve patterns of interaction which are unjust, bigoted oppressive and so on, So no the argument doesn’t work. The fact a society has evolved a pattern of interaction or set of mores does not mean we have a duty to follow those patterns.

    Now lets try the Matt-trick of just replacing one idea with another in an argument (or paragraph):

    Not, sure why you cll this a Matt-trick, its actually an esthablished practise in logic that if an argument is sound one should be able to substitute a premise of that argument for any other premise of the same true value and get a true conclusion. That actually follows from the standard definition of a sound argument which is an argument which is such that if the premises are true the conclusion cannot be false.

    God (not just a belief in God) may be a direct result of evolution. That is creatures which evolved in a certain environment, and who were dependent upon one another for survival, may have evolved certain ways of interacting with one another which increased their chances of survival. Actual God is a result of evolution.

    Actually if you are using the word God, in the same descriptive or sociological sense you use the word duty, to refer to the conception of God in a given society and the patterns of religious mores and practise and devotion to a purported deity in a society then the argument does work.

    Of course it doesnt work if by God you mean to claim God actually exists independently of wether a society thinks he does, but then the same is true of duties you cant esthablish they exist independently of wether a society thinks they do by noting a society has evolved a particular pattern of behavour or interaction. The fact a society does something does not entail they should do it.

  • “It does not follow that because people have evolved patterns of interacting with each other then we are obligated to follow those pattern of behavour.”

    I never said it did. That is YOUR definition of a duty perhaps. I am saying that because we have evolved patterns of interacting with each other we DO (as a matter of fact) follow these patterns of behavior. And we DO (as a matter of fact) have an emotional reaction when we do or do not follow these patterns of behavior.

    These duties are as real as the fact that human hands have four fingers and a thumb. No less real because occasionally people with misshapen hands are born (or people with “misshapen” duties), and no less real because they are a part of the make up of the brain rather than the hand.

    Notice that these duties which are part of our biological makeup are no less real than hair or fingernails. And they do not (as you try to insist) only exist because we think they exist.

    It is your insistence that duties are some sort of spooky platonic entity which is causing you problems. I don’t have any such spooky ideas so seeing duties as real is and physical and empirically verifiable is no issue for me.

    Your God is not empirically verifiable in the same way. Sorry.

  • Also : go learn some logic dude.. you are embarrassing yourself.

  • Shall I ask you to answer those questions you keep pretending not to see for the 4th time? Nah – I guess you know that answering them will defeat your argument… so keep pretending you don’t see them ;)

  • I never said it did.That is YOUR definition of a duty perhaps. I am saying that because we have evolved patterns of interacting with each other we DO (as a matter of fact) follow these patterns of behavior. And we DO (as a matter of fact) have an emotional reaction when we do or do not follow these patterns of behavior.

    Right, but the fact a community of people has evolved a pattern of interacting with each other, follows those pattterns and emotional reacts to compliance or discompliance with that pattern of behavour does not mean we have a duty to follow those patterns of behavour. The mere fact people do things and feel things does not entail we have a moral duty to do them.

    An example can illustrate this: there are societies which over time evolved patterns of anti semtic behavour, patterns of interacting with jewish people that involved killing and assaulting and persecuting them, in these societies people do as a matter of fact follow these forms of behavour, they also do as a matter of fact have emotional reactions to compliance and non compliance with these patterns of behavour. Does it follow they were morally obligated to be anti semitic, that it was there moral duty to do so, No.

    So pointing out patterns of interactions exist does nothing to show moral obligations exist.

    These duties are as real as the fact that human hands have four fingers and a thumb. No less real because occasionally people with misshapen hands are born (or people with “misshapen” duties), and no less real because they are a part of the make up of the brain rather than the hand.

    Those patterns of behavour are real, however, as I pointed out patterns of interaction and emotions are not identical with moral duties. Your confusing moral duties with mores. Social mores can in fact be oppressive and require actions which are wrong and hence have an obligation to not do. So the existence of these patterns provides no basis for thinking moral duties exist.

    Moreover, and importantly note that the kind of account of duties you propose cant be used to engage in moral critiques of theism. Because these critques involve stating that actual patterns of interaction acceptedby religious groups and endorsed with the requiste emotional responses by religious believers are oppressive and immoral. That is only possible if duties are not identified with such patterns.

    It is your insistence that duties are some sort of spooky platonic entity which is causing you problems.

    Thats a false dichotomy, it assumes that if duties are not identified with the patterns of behavour people actuall engage in and emotionally respond to they are platonic entities. That’s false, there are plenty of things moral duties could be identified with which are neither platonic entities or actual patterns of interaction.

    I don’t have any such spooky ideas so seeing duties as real is and physical and empirically verifiable is no issue for me. Your God is not empirically verifiable in the same way. Sorry.

    Actually even if one accepted the meta ethical theory you propose, which I dont, that doesnt follow. The claim: rape is wrong, or , inquistions are wrong, or that torturing heretics is wrong is not empirically verfiable. By themselves, they are only verfiable when conjoined with some further claim such as “moral duties are patterns of interaction”.

    But there are two problems here.

    First, the claim “ moral duties are patterns of interaction” does not appear to be empircially verfiable. Hence the problem arises at a second remove.

    Second, while the claim God exists is not empirically verifiable by itself. It like moral claims can is verfied when conjoined with further claims such as, the universe could not exist if God did not exist. Conjoined with this claim one can empirically verfy God exists by noting the universe does.

  • “Right, but the fact a community of people has evolved a pattern of interacting with each other, follows those pattterns and emotional reacts to compliance or discompliance with that pattern of behavour does not mean we have a duty to follow those patterns of behavour. The mere fact people do things and feel things does not entail we have a moral duty to do them.”

    I think you are mixing up a couple of things here. I am not saying a particular community evolved a pattern…etc. I am not even sure what this means. I am saying that the human organism has evolved this pattern of behaviour. In the same way beavers have evolved to gnaw trees and build dams. I notice are sneaking in the word “moral” here.. making a “duty” into a “moral duty”. But so be it. We follow the ethical duties in the same way, and for the same reason, that we digest food. We have evolved to do so and would not survive if we did not. “The mere fact people do things” as you put it is what I call “reality”. Not some spooky idea, but actual testable reality. We have duties because they allow us to survive, so no – I am not going to provide you with the sort of spooky explanation you want. It is unneeded. Similarly I will not provide you with some extra spooky reason for why we digest food…. we would die if we did not seems a pretty compelling reason to me.

    “An example can illustrate this: there are societies which over time evolved patterns of anti semtic behavour”

    OK… I see you have completely got the wrong end of the stick… just read what I said above… I don’t think you really understand what evolution is.

    “Moreover, and importantly note that the kind of account of duties you propose cant be used to engage in moral critiques of theism.”

    Um… so? Why is this a bad thing? lol

    Anyway… go find out what evolution means then try again.

  • Oh also… 5th reminder to not be a pussy and to answer those questions:

  • Stephen,

    No I don’t believe obligations exist. Clearly arguments 1-7 are valid arguments against duties.

    So let’s continue. You ask “if I task myself with an obligation, what is circular about that?” the issue is you haven’t provided any actual evidence that obligations exist, you are just asserting you can do this and declaring that no more evidence is needed. I am what I am because I said so, in other words.

    And obviously you it’s up to you what you “believe” about obligations, just like it’s up to you what you believe about fairies. You can create fairies in your mind just as you can create “obligation” s in your mind, so long as you don’t impose your “obligations” on me, as I don’t believe in them. I should be able to rape, abuse, pillage and assault as I please, without having to conform to your load of hogwash about mystical “duties” and “obligations”. Unless you provide some solid evidence that said “obligations” exist and are binding, you can quite frankly take them and sod off.

  • Is Hugh getting a little upset? The insults of I’ntl English seem so quaint and restrained. LOL.

    LOL. Have fun not paying your taxes then! Since I don’t live in NZ, AU, or the UK, It will be too inconvenient for me to visit you in prison. Hope you don’t mind.

    Really, Hugh, by definition, words like “duty,” “obligation,” or “duress” DO exist ONLY in people’s minds. It is only claimed by the dictionary and by rational people that they are an internal psychological process, and I would absolutely argue against such things as “duties” existing on some supernatural Platonic plane, or external in any way such as “gods” and “faeries” were presumed to be external to human consciousness.

    In claiming to have reached such an “enlightened” conclusion, supposedly in the name of being supremely rational, all I hear you doing is denying the cause-and-effect relationship between B) the fact that DO pay your taxes (so as NOT to go to prison), and A) the preexisting law that obliges you to do so (or else). It’s either that or you’re rejecting the use of the convenient “handle” to refer to that cause-and-effect relationship, which, I would argue, is all that the word “duty” signifies.

    If your obedience to the preexisting revenue laws and the ensuing penalties that will come knocking if you don’t, are NOT the proximate cause of the payment of your taxes, then what is the cause? Civic duty? Whoops, there’s that word “duty” again!

    Now, if you’re going to be so silly as to argue that there is no cause-and-effect relationship between enforced laws and their subsequent obedience, and you would like to propose a new psychological framework for human theory of mind which is completely at odds with existing psychology, then please, by all means, be my guest, but do not feel obligated to tell me about it, because I don’t even want to know.

    [Insert restrained semi-vulgar epithet here. LOL]

  • Really, Hugh, by definition, words like “duty,” “obligation,” or “duress” DO exist ONLY in people’s minds.

    OK, great. Obligations are purely subjective and imaginary. So you agree then that in absence of a self-determined obligation not to rape, murder, steal or kill, a person is at liberty to do these?

    Secondly, with regard to taxes, I don’t depend on a belief in some imaginary “obligation”, I pay taxes because I have this wonderful thing called common sense. I’ve seen countries where tax evasion is rampant and so it makes perfect sense to give to the government so they are able to continue to provide basic amenities and improve infrastructure. It’s certainly nothing to do with this mystical “duty” that you delude yourself into thinking actually does anything.

  • “OK, great. Obligations are purely subjective and imaginary. So you agree then that in absence of a self-determined obligation not to rape, murder, steal or kill, a person is at liberty to do these? Secondly, with regard to taxes, I don’t depend on a belief in some imaginary ‘obligation’, I pay taxes because I have this wonderful thing called common sense. I’ve seen countries where tax evasion is rampant and so it makes perfect sense to give to the government so they are able to continue to provide basic amenities and improve infrastructure. It’s certainly nothing to do with this mystical ‘duty’ that you delude yourself into thinking actually does anything.”

    I agree that if not constrained by some external circumstance, that all men have always been at liberty to rape, steal, and murder, and if they don’t, either it is because they don’t want to do those things, or because they restrain themselves.

    Please note that I’m only visiting here to voice my opposition to what, in my opinion, is a disingenuous argument by Matt (in an avowed exercise in evangelical xian apologetic philsophy) that religious people cannot be accused by atheists (such as I happen to be) as ever doing anything wrong, because to do so would require the atheist (me) to adopt an “irrational belief” in some sort of “duty,” which may or may not be mystical. I am not sure how Matt envisioned such “duties” when he planted his tongue firmly in his cheek and sat down at the keyboard.

    Do I think that duties are mystical? Of course not, that’s utter nonsense. Do I, as an atheist, think that religious people can do wrong? Heck yeah. If Matt’s argument were flawless (which it isn’t), then he could self-righteously gloat that atheists are irrational.

    As a religious person, Matt can say, “Well, yes, I “irrationally believe” in these “duties,” because, as atheists accuse me of all the time, I also “irrationally believe” in the xian deity.” So on the one hand, Matt owns his irrationality, but on the other hand, he’s attempting to shove the claim of “irrationality” down the throats of atheists.

    Now, you’re actually quite a ways down a tangent from any of this. At this point, I have no idea if you’re a xian or not. OTOH, you agree with at least part of Matt’s xian argument. But OTOH, you’re making claims that I can’t imagine even the most extremely liberal xians making.

    My only claim here, is that it is not irrational to hold that duties, obligations, and so forth, are “real” in the limited senses in which the dictionary, psychology, and neurobiology would all agree on. A “duty” is not some mystical thing. It’s a social contract.

    Are social contracts “real”? Are obligations “real”? Are agreements real? Are legal contracts “real”? Are armistices “real”? Are friendships “real”? Are relationships “real”? Are marraiges “real”? What about all the other sorts of things that fall into this “shadowy” category? Are any of them “real”?

    Well, yes and no. They’re not “real” in the sense the that Eiffel Tower is “real.” They’re conventional. They’re “real” if the parties concerned say they are. Are they imaginary? Yes, in a very real sense, they are also imaginary. But what of it? To say that in a certain sense all these things are “real” is not irrational. Matt is claiming that it is. I’m claiming that he’s disingenuous to do so. It’s definitely overthinking things. You’re just someone who’s too young to know how much of an idiot he sounds like.

    Was the armistice that ended WWI “real”? The war ended, didn’t it? I mean, there’s always going to come along some part-time armchair philosopher and full-time troll such as yourself who’s going to try to make hay out of picking apart such empirically certain things on dubious and unhinged philosophical grounds saying nothing ever constitutes sufficient or valid or whatever evidence for anything ever for the sole purpose of being argumentative.

    But what of it? The world goes on trading in futures contracts, you go on paying your taxes, xians keep on doing wrong things, and in every way the world behaves as though duties do exist. And in the end it doesn’t much matter whether Matt thinks moral duties can only originate with a deity, or whether I think moral duties are self-assigned, arising from evolutionary programming, or whether you want to make a case for the strict non-existence of anything you can’t put into your mouth and use as a teething ring.

    Your description of why you pay your taxes is what most people would refer to via the “handle” of the turn of phrase, “civic duty.” But of course upon reading this blog post, you suddenly decided to tell everyone you don’t believe in duties anymore. But what you can’t get away from is the fact that your stated rationale follows the form of a social contract. “I pay income tax, and in return, I receive the consideration of public goods.” Well, what turn of phrase does make you feel comfortable to encapsulate that contractual relationship? Don’t you see how encapsulating it in a word like “duty” or leaving it in long form, as you seem temporarily and foolishly committed to doesn’t get you anywhere?

    Humans behave as though duties do exist, regardless of who you think assigns them, or whether you want to adopt, your own convention that duties don’t exist and choose to explain the fact that you behave as though they do according to some alternative theory or via some other wording.

  • OK Matt… let me simplify it for you.

    WOuld you agree with the following statement:

    If they exist duties are created.
    If God exists God is non-created.

    Do you agree?

    Yes or no?

  • Stephen, sorry but when you remove the outrage and accusations of dishonesty, there is not real compelling argument in your comment.

    Please note that I’m only visiting here to voice my opposition to what, in my opinion, is a disingenuous argument by Matt (in an avowed exercise in evangelical xian apologetic philsophy) that religious people cannot be accused by atheists (such as I happen to be) as ever doing anything wrong, because to do so would require the atheist (me) to adopt an “irrational belief” in some sort of “duty,” which may or may not be mystical. I am not sure how Matt envisioned such “duties” when he planted his tongue firmly in his cheek and sat down at the keyboard.

    Here we simply have an expression of opposition and outrage, but no actual response to the arguments. If you can maintain belief in the existence of duties in the face of those 10 arguments by stating your opposed and calling others a disingenuous. I can reject the analogous arguments against theism by simply expressing opposition and accusing atheists of being disingenuous.

    I agree that if not constrained by some external circumstance, that all men have always been at liberty to rape, steal, and murder, and if they don’t, either it is because they don’t want to do those things, or because they restrain themselves.

    This is simply confused, the first line states people are at liberty to rape and steal if they are not if not constrained by some external circumstance. The second backs this up by noting that if people don’t do these things its because they restrain themselves. That however is a bad argument, the fact people don’t do something does not entail they are at liberty to do something.

    But further this contradicts your comments. If that all men have always been at liberty to rape, steal, and murder, unless they are constrained by some external circumstance. Then religious people are at liberty to commit atrocities provided they don’t restrain themselves from doing so, they didn’t, so by your own logic they are at liberty to do what they did.

    Do I think that duties are mystical? Of course not, that’s utter nonsense. Do I, as an atheist, think that religious people can do wrong? Heck yeah. If Matt’s argument were flawless (which it isn’t), then he could self-righteously gloat that atheists are irrational.

    Here we simply see an assertion that duties are not mystical ( no where does the posts say they are) followed by a string of assertions that the argument is flawed and attacks on my character. None of those is a rational response to the arguments.

    As a religious person, Matt can say, “Well, yes, I “irrationally believe” in these “duties,” because, as atheists accuse me of all the time, I also “irrationally believe” in the xian deity.” So on the one hand, Matt owns his irrationality, but on the other hand, he’s attempting to shove the claim of “irrationality” down the throats of atheists.

    Here you simply mis construe the argument. I am not claiming that I irrationally believe in duties therefore I can irrationally believe in God. I am rather offering a reductio ad absurdum of certain arguments. I am arguing that the standard arguments atheists use entail both that its irrational to believe in duties, and also that religious people have duties that they violate. Seeing this is an absurd conclusion those arguments must be flawed.

    Now, you’re actually quite a ways down a tangent from any of this. At this point, I have no idea if you’re a xian or not. OTOH, you agree with at least part of Matt’s xian argument. But OTOH, you’re making claims that I can’t imagine even the most extremely liberal xians making.

    Again simply a misconstrual of the argument. In case you missed it my claim its irrational to believe in duties was sarcastic. My point is the atheist arguments are flawed because they entail this false conclusion.

    To respond to this you need to show they don’t not simply attack others characters.

    My only claim here, is that it is not irrational to hold that duties, obligations, and so forth, are “real” in the limited senses in which the dictionary, psychology, and neurobiology would all agree on. A “duty” is not some mystical thing. It’s a social contract.

    Actually you cant esthablish a controversial meta-ethical position by consulting the dictionary and nor does neurobiology show that a social contract theory is true. You dont get to escape the hard work of defending a philosophical theory by asserting these sorts of things.

    But again this is simply an assertion that moral obligations are social contracts. That first clearly false, at no time has every person in the human race sat down and entered into an actual contract to not murder steal and so on, and Second, even if that were true it would entail that if a person did not enter the social contract they are not bound by any moral duties. Seeing religious people never entered into any contract to not burn witches or commit inquistions and so on, you cant on this view say those things are wrong.

    Third, simply asserting that moral obligations are social contracts and then appealing to the existence of contracts to show duties exist is no more compelling that me simply asserting that the world is a divine creation and appealing to the world to show God exists. You don’t get to demand theist provide proof for their claims and then simply assert without proof when people reciprocate the favour. Almost every one of the 10 arguments I mention can be used against the assertion that a social contract theory is the correct meta-ethical view.

    Are social contracts “real”? Are obligations “real”? Are agreements real? Are legal contracts “real”? Are armistices “real”? Are friendships “real”? Are relationships “real”? Are marraiges “real”? What about all the other sorts of things that fall into this “shadowy” category? Are any of them “real”?

    Yes, but that proves duties exist only if you assume that moral obligations are identified with those institutions. Seeing that premise is false for the reasons I cited, and seeing you have offered no evidence for its truth this really proves nothing at all

    Well, yes and no. They’re not “real” in the sense the that Eiffel Tower is “real.” They’re conventional. They’re “real” if the parties concerned say they are. Are they imaginary? Yes, in a very real sense, they are also imaginary. But what of it? To say that in a certain sense all these things are “real” is not irrational. Matt is claiming that it is.

    Nowhere did I say these things are not real, what I said was that certain atheist arguments entail that duties are not real. Seeing you have failed to show that these things are identical with duties and seeing the arguments I mentioned apply to the thesis they are simply misrepresenting my argument and attacking my honesty does not really address anything.

    I’m claiming that he’s disingenuous to do so. It’s definitely overthinking things. You’re just someone who’s too young to know how much of an idiot he sounds like.

    Here we have condescending attacks on a person age, insults and false claims that everyone over a certain age knows what he says is true. Again no actual argument.

    Was the armistice that ended WWI “real”? The war ended, didn’t it? I mean, there’s always going to come along some part-time armchair philosopher and full-time troll such as yourself who’s going to try to make hay out of picking apart such empirically certain things on dubious and unhinged philosophical grounds saying nothing ever constitutes sufficient or valid or whatever evidence for anything ever for the sole purpose of being argumentative.

    Here again a string of insults assertions and an irrelevant comment about WWI. Obviously no one claimed WWI did not end. What was claimed was that certain arguments against God’s existence entail that duties don’t exist. Again no actual response to that argument.

    But what of it? The world goes on trading in futures contracts, you go on paying your taxes, xians keep on doing wrong things, and in every way the world behaves as though duties do exist. And in the end it doesn’t much matter whether Matt thinks moral duties can only originate with a deity, or whether I think moral duties are self-assigned, arising from evolutionary programming, or whether you want to make a case for the strict non-existence of anything you can’t put into your mouth and use as a teething ring.

    Again no response to the argument.

    Your description of why you pay your taxes is what most people would refer to via the “handle” of the turn of phrase, “civic duty.” But of course upon reading this blog post, you suddenly decided to tell everyone you don’t believe in duties anymore. But what you can’t get away from is the fact that your stated rationale follows the form of a social contract. “I pay income tax, and in return, I receive the consideration of public goods.”

    Again no response to the argument, just a false assertion, at no time did everyone is society enter into a contract with the government to pay taxes in return for certain goods. Taxes are compulsory your prosecuted if you don’t pay them wether you agree to any contract or not. Social contract theories are controversial views in ethics and political philosophy. If you can simply assert they are true and be nasty to others because they disagree then theists can simply assert God exists and treat unbelievers with contempt for not agreeing. You clearly don’t think this.

    Humans behave as though duties do exist, regardless of who you think assigns them, or whether you want to adopt, your own convention that duties don’t exist and choose to explain the fact that you behave as though they do according to some alternative theory or via some other wording.

    And here again there is no response to the argument except assertion that humans behave as though duties exist. Well so what? religious people behave as though God exists. Does this vindicate theism against those arguments, No. So you don’t get to ignore them with the same moves when its “your beliefs” as opposed to others.

  • OK Matt… let me simplify it for you.

    WOuld you agree with the following statement:

    If they exist duties are created.
    If God exists God is non-created.

    Do you agree?

    Yes or no?

    As you have worded it no, I think moral obligations are identical with God’s commands, hence they depend on God for there existence and if God issues no commands they don’t exist. The suggestion that duties are created gives the impression that duties are independent entites in the world which God brought about and sustains in existence, whereas I think they are identical with Gods commands and so they dont really have an independent existence in that way.

  • Here we simply have an expression of opposition and outrage, but no actual response to the arguments. If you can maintain belief in the existence of duties in the face of those 10 arguments by stating your opposed and calling others a disingenuous. I can reject the analogous arguments against theism by simply expressing opposition and accusing atheists of being disingenuous.

    Well, I guess I didn’t realize I was coming across as being so outraged and accusatory. And, by the way, I was responding to Hugh’s comments, not to your OP, something which I have a hard time telling if you realize or not. Have you read Hugh’s comments? It doesn’t seem like it. The portion this refers to was not intended to respond to the argument. It was intended to merely summarize your argument, because I really can’t be sure what Hugh was getting out of what you wrote. That’s it! Also, I think it’s a gross misrepresentation to suggest that this little by-way-of-introduction snippet was intended to house an entire argument, or make any kind of case for the rejection, of anything. So, this is merely the first of many similar off-base straw men which follow throughout.

    This is simply confused, the first line states people are at liberty to rape and steal if they are not if not constrained by some external circumstance. The second backs this up by noting that if people don’t do these things its because they restrain themselves. That however is a bad argument, the fact people don’t do something does not entail they are at liberty to do something. But further this contradicts your comments. If that all men have always been at liberty to rape, steal, and murder, unless they are constrained by some external circumstance. Then religious people are at liberty to commit atrocities provided they don’t restrain themselves from doing so, they didn’t, so by your own logic they are at liberty to do what they did.

    I fail to see why this was so confusing for you. And what’s all this “bad argument” stuff? It’s wasn’t supposed to be a syllogism to begin with. Another straw man. It is possible for there to be external restraints imposed upon you by a third party. It is also possible for there to be internal restraints which you impose upon yourself. I think you’re confusing yourself because you’re overthinking it. Please note:
    1) IF Alice is solitary confinement in prison, then an external restraint has been imposed upon her, preventing her from committing crime X. She is not at liberty to commit crime X.
    2) IF Bob is loose in society, then no external restraint prevents him from committing crime X. He is at at liberty to commit crime X.
    3) Carl is at liberty to commit crime X. Even though committing crime X could yield some benifits, Carl thinks about the victims if he were commit crime x. Carl restrains himself from committing crime X.
    4) Dave is at liberty to commit crime X. Dave is very selfish and the plight of his victims doesn’t trouble him. Dave does not restrain himself and exercises his liberty to commit crime X.
    “At liberty” is probably not the wording I would chosen, but it was the wording that Hugh used, and I was responding to Hugh. I am not sure if you realize that or not.

    Here we simply see an assertion that duties are not mystical ( no where does the posts say they are) followed by a string of assertions that the argument is flawed and attacks on my character. None of those is a rational response to the arguments.

    Again, I was responding to Hugh, not to you. If you read Hugh’s post directly above mine, you’d see his statement, “…without having to conform to your load of hogwash about mystical ‘duties’ and ‘obligations'”… Did you happen to read Hugh’s post? And nowhere here did I attack your character. This is another straw man. To make a flawed argument is not an attack on your character. To say that you could do something is not the same as saying you did do something. Please note the difference. And, BTW, I’m still in the introduction to my argument, not the body.

    Here you simply mis construe the argument. I am not claiming that I irrationally believe in duties therefore I can irrationally believe in God. I am rather offering a reductio ad absurdum of certain arguments. I am arguing that the standard arguments atheists use entail both that its irrational to believe in duties, and also that religious people have duties that they violate. Seeing this is an absurd conclusion those arguments must be flawed.

    It’s obvious that your argument is a sarcastic reductio ad absurdum. That is absolutely clear. But what you’ve written here doesn’t make sense. What your blog post says is, “Note that behind this critique is the presupposition that there are moral duties…I think this is nonsense as it assumes there is such a thing as a moral duty, it assumes things religious people do can be wrong.” I understand that you, as a xian, hold that moral duties exist and people can violate them, but you’re trying to say atheists cannot hold that people can violate moral duties while simultaneously claiming to be rational, because, here’s 10 reasons why it’s irrational to think moral duties even exist (without a third party (god) to assign them). It logically follows that IF atheists are irrational for holding that moral duties exist, THEN xians are equally irrational for holding that a deity exists. So, what I hear you saying is, “See, you atheists are just as irrational as us xians.” The only problem is, it would be a good philosophical proof that atheists who accuse people of wrongdoing are irrational, if the logic were airtight, but the logic is not airtight.

    Again simply a misconstrual of the argument. In case you missed it my claim its irrational to believe in duties was sarcastic. My point is the atheist arguments are flawed because they entail this false conclusion. To respond to this you need to show they don’t not simply attack others characters.

    Matt, once again, you’re totally off-base because I am responding to Hugh. I am not responding to you. Everything I said was regarding statements that Hugh made across several different comments, not statements that you made in the OP. Did you read any of Hugh’s comments? If you had, you would recognize how you’ve taken my comment totally out of it’s context.

    Actually you cant esthablish a controversial meta-ethical position by consulting the dictionary and nor does neurobiology show that a social contract theory is true. You dont get to escape the hard work of defending a philosophical theory by asserting these sorts of things. But again this is simply an assertion that moral obligations are social contracts. That first clearly false, at no time has every person in the human race sat down and entered into an actual contract to not murder steal and so on, and Second, even if that were true it would entail that if a person did not enter the social contract they are not bound by any moral duties. Seeing religious people never entered into any contract to not burn witches or commit inquistions and so on, you cant on this view say those things are wrong. Third, simply asserting that moral obligations are social contracts and then appealing to the existence of contracts to show duties exist is no more compelling that me simply asserting that the world is a divine creation and appealing to the world to show God exists. You don’t get to demand theist provide proof for their claims and then simply assert without proof when people reciprocate the favour. Almost every one of the 10 arguments I mention can be used against the assertion that a social contract theory is the correct meta-ethical view.

    Your OP argument nowhere attempts to abridge the applicability of your logic, and there is no justification to arbitrarily limit it to only moral duties, so IF moral duties do or do not exist, the same could be said of all other duties.

    It’s an error in your OP to assume an unstated definition of the word duty, such that duties can ONLY be assigned by a third party (namely, god, whether directly or indirectly) and cannot be self-assigned. It’s that error that lets all the air out of your logic against duties.

    What is consideration? It is a financial obligation. So you see, the contract is a concept that is dependent upon the the concept of obligation. IF duties could be said to exist or not to exist, then, necessarily the same holds true for contracts, including social contracts. At law, contracts all have 4 aspects, and consideration is among them. By what you’ve written here, you’ve clearly never studied contract law. If jurisprudence is a topic you claim to write about, I should think it’s an indispensable aspect of law be knowledgeable about. Let me commend it to you.

    All the identified institutions entail some form of social contract.

    Do you really here claim to reject Hobbes and Gauthier, Kant and Rawls, Locke, Rousseau, Proudhon, etc., with simply a wave of the hand? Do you really here claim you’ve never heard of concepts such as tacit consent and voluntarism?

    Many eminent philosophers have written for hundreds of years expousing the existence of social contracts, of which, a necessary ingredient is obligations or duties.

    Yes, but that proves duties exist only if you assume that moral obligations are identified with those institutions. Seeing that premise is false for the reasons I cited, and seeing you have offered no evidence for its truth this really proves nothing at all

    You’ve done no such thing as show that premise to be false, Matt. All of your reasoning is based upon a private definition of the word duty, and it leaks, so the conclusion you claim is inescapable is, in fact, very much escapable.

    Nowhere did I say these things are not real, what I said was that certain atheist arguments entail that duties are not real. Seeing you have failed to show that these things are identical with duties and seeing the arguments I mentioned apply to the thesis they are simply misrepresenting my argument and attacking my honesty does not really address anything.

    Another straw man. I never said you said any of those things weren’t real. I said you said it was irrational to claim all these things were real. All these things stand or fall together.

    Here we have condescending attacks on a person age, insults and false claims that everyone over a certain age knows what he says is true. Again no actual argument.

    It’s a misrepresentation to pretend that an argument was intended on this line. Another straw man.

    Here again a string of insults assertions and an irrelevant comment about WWI. Obviously no one claimed WWI did not end. What was claimed was that certain arguments against God’s existence entail that duties don’t exist. Again no actual response to that argument.

    Again, you don’t seem to realize that this entire comment was in response to Hugh’s comment, not your OP. Another straw man. Did you read any of Hugh’s comments? If you had, you would have realized how you’ve taken my entire comment out of context.

    Again no response to the argument.

    Typically, practical matters are of no concern to philosophers.

    Again no response to the argument, just a false assertion, at no time did everyone is society enter into a contract with the government to pay taxes in return for certain goods. Taxes are compulsory your prosecuted if you don’t pay them wether you agree to any contract or not. Social contract theories are controversial views in ethics and political philosophy. If you can simply assert they are true and be nasty to others because they disagree then theists can simply assert God exists and treat unbelievers with contempt for not agreeing. You clearly don’t think this.

    A specious argument for reasons stated above, professing ignorance of the shining lights of the field of philosophy from the last several hundred years, your field of study.

    And here again there is no response to the argument except assertion that humans behave as though duties exist. Well so what? religious people behave as though God exists. Does this vindicate theism against those arguments, No. So you don’t get to ignore them with the same moves when its “your beliefs” as opposed to others.

    Typically, practical matters are of no concern to philosophers.

    Next time you respond to someone’s comment, you might want to check and see who they were responding to. None of this comment was intended to respond to what you appear to assume it was intended to respond to.

    And there’s a rebuttal to you on Debunking Christianty that’s been waiting for a response for 3 days now. To take a note from your playbook, failure to respond to the argument constitutes concession of defeat.

  • Well, I guess I didn’t realize I was coming across as being so outraged and accusatory. And, by the way, I was responding to Hugh’s comments, not to your OP, something which I have a hard time telling if you realize or not. Have you read Hugh’s comments?

    Then I suggest you read the section I was responding to when I made the comment you stated:

    “Please note that I’m only visiting here to voice my opposition to what, in my opinion, is a disingenuous argument by Matt (in an avowed exercise in evangelical xian apologetic philsophy) that religious people cannot be accused by atheists (such as I happen to be) as ever doing anything wrong, because to do so would require the atheist (me) to adopt an “irrational belief” in some sort of “duty,” which may or may not be mystical. I am not sure how Matt envisioned such “duties” when he planted his tongue firmly in his cheek and sat down at the keyboard. (emphasis added)”

    I fail to see why this was so confusing for you. And what’s all this “bad argument” stuff? It’s wasn’t supposed to be a syllogism to begin with. Another straw man.

    Sorry, I assumed you were attempting give reasons for your position, if it’s simply an unsubstantiated assertion then I stand corrected. You didn’t give bad reasons for your conclusion, you gave none at all.

    It is possible for there to be external restraints imposed upon you by a third party. It is also possible for there to be internal restraints which you impose upon yourself. I think you’re confusing yourself because you’re overthinking it. Please note:
    1) IF Alice is solitary confinement in prison, then an external restraint has been imposed upon her, preventing her from committing crime X. She is not at liberty to commit crime X.
    2) IF Bob is loose in society, then no external restraint prevents him from committing crime X. He is at at liberty to commit crime X.
    3) Carl is at liberty to commit crime X. Even though committing crime X could yield some benifits, Carl thinks about the victims if he were commit crime x. Carl restrains himself from committing crime X.
    4) Dave is at liberty to commit crime X. Dave is very selfish and the plight of his victims doesn’t trouble him. Dave does not restrain himself and exercises his liberty to commit crime X.
    “At liberty” is probably not the wording I would chosen, but it was the wording that Hugh used, and I was responding to Hugh. I am not sure if you realize that or not.

    None of that actually changes the point I was making, because when people engaged in say the inquisition they did not internally restrain themselves, nor were they subject to external restraints, hence if that’s the type of obligation your talking about it is neither a moral obligation or the kind of obligation relevant to the discussion.

    Whats needed to criticise religious groups and cultures who have engaged in and condoned oppression is the claim that they were doing something wrong inspite of the fact that they did not restrain themselves and the laws of their society condoned it.

    Again, I was responding to Hugh, not to you. If you read Hugh’s post directly above mine, you’d see his statement, “…without having to conform to your load of hogwash about mystical ‘duties’ and ‘obligations’”… Did you happen to read Hugh’s post?

    Your misunderstand Hugh’s argument, he is paradoying the tactic used by athiests like your self of dismissing religious belief by caricaturing them with using perjorative terms such as “sky fairy” “spooky” or belief “there’s a man living on top of the metal sky” If that’s an acceptable rejection of God then a similar caricature is an acceptable rejection of duties. Hugh’s point is that neither approach is really that rational

    And nowhere here did I attack your character. This is another straw man. To make a flawed argument is not an attack on your character.

    Well again you need to read what you wrote, I’ll remind you:
    “If Matt’s argument were flawless (which it isn’t), then he could self-righteously gloat that atheists are irrational.”…” To say that in a certain sense all these things are “real” is not irrational. Matt is claiming that it is. I’m claiming that he’s disingenuous to do so”… “Please note that I’m only visiting here to voice my opposition to what, in my opinion, is a disingenuous argument by Matt (in an avowed exercise in evangelical xian apologetic philsophy)”

    To say that you could do something is not the same as saying you did do something. Please note the difference.

    Character is not just about what you have done its about what you have a propensity and disposition to do. I doubt anyone will read the above comments about smug self righteousness and not get from it the insinuation that your suggesting I am a gloating self righteous person.
    And, BTW, I’m still in the introduction to my argument, not the body.

    “ What your blog post says is, “Note that behind this critique is the presupposition that there are moral duties…I think this is nonsense as it assumes there is such a thing as a moral duty, it assumes things religious people do can be wrong.” I understand that you, as a xian, hold that moral duties exist and people can violate them, but you’re trying to say atheists cannot hold that people can violate moral duties while simultaneously claiming to be rational, because, here’s 10 reasons why it’s irrational to think moral duties even exist (without a third party (god) to assign them).

    Almost correct, what I argue is that if those arguments are sound then its irrational to believe in duties period.

    It logically follows that IF atheists are irrational for holding that moral duties exist, THEN xians are equally irrational for holding that a deity exists.

    No it doesn’t because Christians don’t accept those arguments, my point is that if you accept those arguments you have reasons for thinking moral obligations are irrational. Seeing I don’t accept those arguments, that’s not a problem for me. However, atheists typically do accept analogoues of those arguments so its irrational for them.

    The only problem is, it would be a good philosophical proof that atheists who accuse people of wrongdoing are irrational, if the logic were airtight, but the logic is not airtight.

    Unfortunately simply asserting an argument is flawed doesn’t make it so. What would be more interesting was if you could show there is a relevant disanalogy between the arguments I gave and the arguments typically used against Gods existence.

    “Again simply a misconstrual of the argument. In case you missed it my claim its irrational to believe in duties was sarcastic. My point is the atheist arguments are flawed because they entail this false conclusion. To respond to this you need to show they don’t not simply attack others characters.”
    Matt, once again, you’re totally off-base because I am responding to Hugh. I am not responding to you.

    Again you need to read the section I responded to in what you wrote:
    “As a religious person, Matt can say, “Well, yes, I “irrationally believe” in these “duties,” because, as atheists accuse me of all the time, I also “irrationally believe” in the xian deity.” So on the one hand, Matt owns his irrationality, but on the other hand, he’s attempting to shove the claim of “irrationality” down the throats of atheists.”
    You can tell this was the section I was responding because I cited it right before I made the response you claim is off base because you were responding to Hugh not me.

    Everything I said was regarding statements that Hugh made across several different comments, not statements that you made in the OP. Did you read any of Hugh’s comments? If you had, you would recognize how you’ve taken my comment totally out of it’s context.

    The sections I have quoted above show this is false.

    Your OP argument nowhere attempts to abridge the applicability of your logic, and there is no justification to arbitrarily limit it to only moral duties, so IF moral duties do or do not exist, the same could be said of all other duties.

    This is false, First, in the preamble I make it clear I am responding to a certain type of obligation. I said “Note that behind this critique is the presupposition that there are moral duties. People have a duty to not engage in wars or acts of terrorism, religious people who promote sexist or homophobic practices are wrong for doing so.”
    Second, its actually fairly evident that several of the 10 arguments do apply to moral duties but don’t apply to the kind of legal obligations you refer to. For example argument 1. Demands empirical proof that moral obligations exist, while there is empirical proof that legal obligations exist, there is not comparible proof moral obligations. Argument 2. Appeals to verifiability, you can empirically verify the existence of written statute laws in a way you cant with moral obligations. Argument 7 appeals to evolutionary theories about our sense of moral obligation, obviously this does not apply to legal obligations. Argument 10 appeals to certain features that are specific to moral obligations such as having overding authority, and blameworthiness which are not features of legal obligations you refer to.
    As to the other arguments, I agree they do apply to legal obligations, but so what? My point is that these arguments are absurd because they have false implications. So the fact they esthablish a ridiculous conclusion, that legal duties don’t exist only strengthens my point.
    It’s an error in your OP to assume an unstated definition of the word duty, such that duties can ONLY be assigned by a third party (namely, god, whether directly or indirectly) and cannot be self-assigned. It’s that error that lets all the air out of your logic against duties.
    You need to read the OP nowhere did I assume any unstated definition of the word duty, nor did I argue or assume duties can only be assigned by a third party. None of the arguments I offer remotely assume or even depend on that definition. Perhaps you can show which of the 10 arguments I gave have premises which assume that that “duties can ONLY be assigned by a third party”. Argument 1 assumes that one who affirms duties exist makes a positive claim. Argument 2 assumes you can see hear or touch duties. Argument 3, assumes their existence is not a necessary part of any viable scientific theory. Argument 4. assumes people appeal to them to justify atrocities. Argument 5 assumes there is significant pluralism and disagreement over how many there are and what their nature is. Argument 6 assumes they impinge upon human autonomy. Argument 7 assumes we have an evolved capacity to believe in them. Argument 8 assumes beliefs about them vary across culture. Argument 9, assumes that the OTF applies to them because of what is affirmed in argument 8. Argument 10 assumes they have certain properties which make them extraordinary they are intrinsically prescriptive ( tell us what to do) and our failure to follow them renders us guilty and blameworthy, and they have a certain type of overriding authority.
    None of these claims depends on the idea that duties can only be imposed by a third party.

    What is consideration? It is a financial obligation. So you see, the contract is a concept that is dependent upon the the concept of obligation. IF duties could be said to exist or not to exist, then, necessarily the same holds true for contracts, including social contracts. At law, contracts all have 4 aspects, and consideration is among them. By what you’ve written here, you’ve clearly never studied contract law. If jurisprudence is a topic you claim to write about, I should think it’s an indispensable aspect of law be knowledgeable about. Let me commend it to you.All the identified institutions entail some form of social contract.

    Your confusing institutional and legal obligations with moral obligations my point is these are not the same thing. If I sign a contract to murder jews and the law recognises that as a valid contract because it does not follow I have a moral obligation to murder jews. I have a legal obligation to do so, but I have a moral obligation to disobey.

    Do you really here claim to reject Hobbes and Gauthier, Kant and Rawls, Locke, Rousseau, Proudhon, etc., with simply a wave of the hand? Do you really here claim you’ve never heard of concepts such as tacit consent and voluntarism?

    Yes I have heard of tacit consent, I also have read some of the significant debate about its plausibility. But my point is not that you can reject these thinkers with a wave of a hand, my point is you can’t esthablish they are correct simply by asserting their theory is correct
    (Also perhaps you should read these thinkers more carefully, Locke and Kant did not contend that moral obligations were constituted by a social contract. Both actually believed that moral obligations were identified with God’s commands. Locke in fact believed atheism should be illegal because without God no social contract would have validity ( see his epistle on Tolerance). Kant argued that belief in God and immortality was a necessary postulate of the moral life. (see his Critique of Practical Reason).

    Many eminent philosophers have written for hundreds of years expousing the existence of social contracts, of which, a necessary ingredient is obligations or duties.

    Philosophers have written for hundreds of years expousing the existence of God. That fact alone does not make their claims true.

    “You’ve done no such thing as show that premise to be false Matt. All of your reasoning is based upon a private definition of the word duty, and it leaks, so the conclusion you claim is inescapable is, in fact, very much escapable.”

    Here is the argument I gave against that premise:

    “But again this is simply an assertion that moral obligations are social contracts. That first is clearly false, at no time has every person in the human race sat down and entered into an actual contract to not murder steal and so on, and Second, even if that were true it would entail that if a person did not enter the social contract they are not bound by any moral duties. Seeing religious people never entered into any contract to not burn witches or commit inquistions and so on, you cant on this view say those things are wrong.
    Third, simply asserting that moral obligations are social contracts and then appealing to the existence of contracts to show duties exist is no more compelling that me simply asserting that the world is a divine creation and appealing to the world to show God exists. You don’t get to demand theist provide proof for their claims and then simply assert without proof when people reciprocate the favour. Almost every one of the 10 arguments I mention can be used against the assertion that a social contract theory is the correct meta-ethical view.”
    You’ll note nowehere in any of those arguments do I refer a “private definition” of obligation you say my arguments rely on.

    “Here we have condescending attacks on a person age, insults and false claims that everyone over a certain age knows what he says is true. Again no actual argument.”It’s a misrepresentation to pretend that an argument was intended on this line. Another straw man.

    If you read, you’ll see I did not say you intended an argument I simply said you didn’t make one and that is clearly true.

    “Again no response to the argument.”
    Typically, practical matters are of no concern to philosophers.

    We are discussing whether duties exist, I think that’s practical.

    “Again no response to the argument, just a false assertion, at no time did everyone is society enter into a contract with the government to pay taxes in return for certain goods. Taxes are compulsory your prosecuted if you don’t pay them whether you agree to any contract or not. Social contract theories are controversial views in ethics and political philosophy. If you can simply assert they are true and be nasty to others because they disagree then theists can simply assert God exists and treat unbelievers with contempt for not agreeing. You clearly don’t think this.”
    A specious argument for reasons stated above, professing ignorance of the shining lights of the field of philosophy from the last several hundred years, your field of study.

    Actually the only argument you offered above was to note that series of philosophers had defended a position and an assertion they are correct. You seem to not understand the difference between being aware of what people believed it and being aware that the mere fact they defended it being a reason for thinking it’s true. That’s not the same thing.
    And the argument is not specious I could make the same argument for God’s existence, but pointing out that numerous philosophers, Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Al Ghazali, Aquinas, Ockham, Locke, Paley, Berkeley, Leibnez, Swinburne have defended God’s existence. And I have already hinted at the fact that it’s you who appears to be a bit less than informed on what these philosophers actually wrote.

    Next time you respond to someone’s comment, you might want to check and see who they were responding to. None of this comment was intended to respond to what you appear to assume it was intended to respond to.

    You can see above where I show this is not true.

    And there’s a rebuttal to you on Debunking Christianty that’s been waiting for a response for 3 days now. To take a note from your playbook, failure to respond to the argument constitutes concession of defeat

    Well if I had claimed that failure to respond to an argument constitutes a concession that would have a point but I didn’t.

  • Matt: Thanks for answering the last question… now how about the other ones (sixth request)

  • “As you have worded it no,”

    Ok so far. You have for once given a yes/no answer. GreaT!

    “I think moral obligations are identical with God’s commands,”

    But presumably not identical with God? Can you clarify this a little.
    It would seem at first reading that a command of God is something other than God which God creates… sort of like an apple…. or a universe? I am not sure this is what you mean so if you could clarify it would help. Being clear in the first place saves so much time…

    “hence they depend on God for there existence”

    So does this mean they ARE created by God or not… you said “No” above but it seems like you are saying yes here.

    “The suggestion that duties are created gives the impression that duties are independent entites in the world which God brought about and sustains in existence”

    It may suggest that to you… which is interesting. But that is a further hypothesis rather than anything I said. You could (and people do) say the same thing about the rest of creation… ie. saying that GOd created an apple gives the impression that apples are independent entites in the world which God brought about and sustains in existence (which at least arguably they are not). We are not getting any closer to working out what you believe.

  • But presumably not identical with God? Can you clarify this a little.
    It would seem at first reading that a command of God is something other than God which God creates… sort of like an apple…. or a universe? I am not sure this is what you mean so if you could clarify it would help. Being clear in the first place saves so much time…

    Well obviously the commands of a person are not identical with the person who issues the commands. So yes I don’t think duties are identical with God himself. Moreover obviously a command depends on the person who issues the command for its existence.
    However, I am not sure the language of “creates” is a correct way to describe the dependence relationship between a person and there command. If I make a table or a motorcar I can be said to have created it. But if I command my kids to clean up there room it would be odd to say I was creating a command. I issue a command, and it depends on me, but I think the language of “creation is just not applicable here”
    Moreover, I think that there is a closer ontological relationship between a person and there command and a person and things they create and sustain, both a persons commands and creations depend on them for there existence. However, the latter has a distinct or independent existence in a way a command does not. A command is something someone does, its not a separate thing one makes. I hope this clarifies what I am saying.

    “hence they depend on God for there existence” So does this mean they ARE created by God or not… you said “No” above but it seems like you are saying yes here.

    See above, I think there can be dependence relationships other than that of “being a creation”. If I throw a punch the action of throwing a punch is something distinct from me and dependent upon me, but it would be weird to call the punch a creation or something I made. Similarly a command is something a person does not something they make.

    “The suggestion that duties are created gives the impression that duties are independent entites in the world which God brought about and sustains in existence”

    It may suggest that to you… which is interesting. But that is a further hypothesis rather than anything I said. You could (and people do) say the same thing about the rest of creation… ie. saying that GOd created an apple gives the impression that apples are independent entites in the world which God brought about and sustains in existence (which at least arguably they are not).

    Right, here perhaps I was not clear, I don’t mean that apples or commands don’t depend on God for their existence they are after all created and sustained by God. However, I think that there is an important difference between a persons action what they do, and some other material object like an apple which comes into existence as a result of God’s action. The latter is a distinct thing from God in a way his actions are not.
    Put it this way if you imagine a state of affairs where God never created the universe, and yet he performed actions like, loving (inter Trinitarian lets say) or thinking (if that’s not to anthromorphic ) we would probably say that only God existed, there is nothing but him. If God however created an apple we would say God exists and apples exist. This suggests that while we accept that Gods actions are not identical with God, we don’t think of actions as separate existent things in the way we do with created objects. I hope you get what I mean here. It’s not easy to put the intuition into words that will not be misunderstood.

  • Well you SAY it is obvious now I have pointed it out to you. But that is not what you initially said.. will reply soon.

  • That does answer my question. You see what I would see as a lot of man made constructs as being part of God’s identity.

    I still wonder whether you think true and false are concepts created by God.

  • Well you SAY it is obvious now I have pointed it out to you. But that is not what you initially said

    Actually, I didn’t initially claim a persons commands were identical with God, I said they aren’t independent entities which they sustain in being. I don’t think a person’s action is an entity. Here is what I said:
    “As you have worded it no, I think moral obligations are identical with God’s commands, hence they depend on God for there existence and if God issues no commands they don’t exist. The suggestion that duties are created gives the impression that duties are independent entites in the world which God brought about and sustains in existence, whereas I think they are identical with Gods commands and so they dont really have an independent existence in that way” (emphasis mine).
    Here I explicitly state that if God issues no commands then duties don’t exist. So I could not possibly be claiming duties were identical with God himself.
    As to me only noticing the distinction between a God and his commands as obvious “now “ you have pointed out to me. Sorry to burst your bubble but I actually presented a paper where I pointed that distinction out 5 years ago.
    Here what I said in my paper “God and the Moral Law in C S Lewis” presented in 2008
    “Here Lewis suggested that God is the moral law. He was speaking literally here. We some times talk about a person such as a sheriff or police officer being “the law” but this loose language is used to convey the idea that such people enforce the law in some way. Lewis however made a claim of strict identity. God is the moral law. This claim however is ontologically quite weird. A law and a person seem to be two quite different entities. A law can be an expression of a person’s will or commands laid down by a person, but the idea that a law in and of itself could be a person, that properties such as rightness and wrongness being obligated or prohibited are in fact a conscious, living, rational person, certainly seems on the face of it to involve a category mistake.

    Lewis seemed to be aware of this problem. He stated “[w]hen we attempt to think of a person and a law, we are compelled to think of this person either as obeying the law or as making it.” He suggested as a solution “that our categories betray us.” He admitted that what he proposed sounds metaphysically absurd but this is because our ontological intuitions or and categories are mistaken. Lewis in fact referred to his position as “fine spun speculations”. Regardless of what one thinks about the cogency of this response one can see immediately that the explanation of the moral law proposed by Adams is a prima facie better explanation. The idea that the moral law is God’s law is fairly simple and straightforward. It postulates that a law is a law, that a law expresses a person’s commands and will, and does not entail that the law is itself a person. No violence to our ontological categories is necessary”

    The reason I don’t answer your questions is because you have shown that you refuse to listen to the answers, instead you continually claim people said things they did not say and accuse them of lying when its pointed out they didn’t. When you have good faith questions and are actually interested in what peoples answers are let me know.

  • You don’t answer questions because you choose not to… don’t try to pretend it is something to do with me.

    It is very hard to discuss something with someone so reluctant to engage in an open discussion. Trying to get a dialogue going is like getting blood from a stone. So I will give up.

  • […] Loftus has written a response to my post “There Probably are no Duties. Now Stop Worrying and Enjoy Your Life!” Before turning to Loftus’ critique, let me recap my argument. While my post was satirical, […]

  • After reading through the posts, I must commend you, Matt, for refraining to stoop to the level of some of the posters (with their subtle and not-so-subtle putdowns). Even if their arguments were valid (and I think they’re not), all they really proved was how obnoxious, hostile and disrespectful they could be with their speech.

    Oh, for the day that people would put aside such snide contemptuous attitudes and humbly seek clarification to gain understanding. Then again, that would require adherence to values, and maybe some, while professing to hold superior values, don’t really think “being respectful to others” should be one of them.