Claiming Objective Morality Sans An Objective Source

By Michael Hawkins

Is it possible for a believer in objective evil to determine what actually is evil without either invoking his god (or claimed objective standard) or undermining his entire position? Here is an examination of that question.

For the sake of expediency, “God”, here, can refer to any deity of a belief structure which is viewed as creating some ultimate standard for evil. This includes polytheistic belief structures in many cases. “Evil” can usually be read to include both good and evil.

Here’s the common stance: In order to determine what is ultimately right or wrong, one must make an appeal to a source which has final standing. Without such an appeal, right or wrong has no universal meaning, only local meaning, and that is ultimately meaningless. (On an aside, that only addresses the value of local meaning on a universal scale – something obviously addressed simply in terminology. It says nothing of the local value of local meaning.)

With this stance comes some questions. If that ultimate source is necessary for ultimate right or wrong (and exists), how can one know what he/she/it has to say on any given human moral affair? Is it possible for one to have access to all this source has to say? Are humans limited in access?

The common answer to the first question comes in the form of holy texts. The Torah, Bible, and Koran are “the big three”. They give specific decrees on things that are right and wrong while claiming to be from God. In them murder is universally wrong. Theft, sex before marriage, dishonoring one’s parents. All, and many more, are described throughout these books. They and other holy texts act as the most direct source to knowing what is right or wrong as declared by an ultimate source.

The second question is where moral claims by believers run into trouble. Is it possible to have access to all an ultimate source has to say by virtue of holy texts? Obviously not. It isn’t possible for all moral situations and conundrums to be addressed via individual books. More directly, not all such instances are actually addressed.

So does this limit human access to this ultimate information? If holy texts account for the only manner by which one can attain such knowledge, then yes. If there are alternative routes, then those must by explored. Meditation, inference, and prayer offer the most promising paths. But first it is necessary to tie everything together.

The accuracy of any declaration on right or wrong is called into question in any holy text since they are all written by fallible human beings. This must be acknowledged for the sake of truth-seeking. However, for the sake of argumentation, it will be necessary to side-step the issue. Instead, the focus must go on to the second question. The possibility of having access to everything God has to say is nil if holy texts are the only source. What this importantly means is that if a moral issue arises which is not addressed within any holy text, then it is not possible for a believer to make an objective stance. One topical issue can be grabbed from the headlines to make the point.

Abortion is not addressed in any of the big three holy texts. Vague passages can be interpreted as such (much like Dr. Seuss’ “Horton Hears a Who” has been abused), but nothing is ever really said. This means that if a believer is to make a claim that abortion is objectively evil (remember, or good) here, he has no ground on which to stand. At least he has no ground by his own position that objective evil must come from an objective source. By chance he may be right that his objective source believes abortion is evil (he has a 50/50 shot, afterall), but his determination is based upon some other source. What that source may be or is bears no importance here. It is enough to say that it is emphatically not God.

For the further sake of expediency, it should be readily pointed out that even should abortion prove to be the wrong example for this exercise (though it isn’t), then others abound. Is capitalism evil? Communism? Social security? Even wearing mismatched socks? No holy text says anything of these issues or a number of others.

Back to the third question, human access may not be limited to just holy texts if meditation, inference, and prayer are options. These all fail, however. Should meditation and prayer reveal any information on a moral question, they are not valid beyond the targeted person. While it is possible that God revealed that something is objectively evil to a particular person, that largely argues for a local meaning. That is, Susie may know that it is objectively evil to spin in circles after sunset because God told her, but that information is entirely reliant upon Susie – the standard can only be determined to be subjective (even if it really is objective). As for inference, that can only be done using holy texts or prayer in the first place. So let us not forget the very first question: is it possible to determine what is objectively evil without invoking God. Susie may have an alternative source, but it is still God. She may be able to infer from what God has revealed, but she still must invoke his existence.

So what if a believer says “X is objectively evil” but has no holy text or revelation to back up such a claim? That is, there is no source which says “This is what God says about this issue” and there is no source which could directly indicate what God says. How can the believer then say something is objectively evil? This necessarily undermines his entire premise. If something can be determined to be objectively evil without first invoking God, then there is some other method by which the believer is making his statement. He obviously cannot logically maintain saying he knows objective standards exist because God exists and God exists because objective standards exist.

In short, no, a believer cannot “determine what actually is evil without either invoking his god (or claimed objective standard) or undermining his entire position”. He must invoke his god or undermine his whole argument. As has been demonstrated, he must cite his god (or objective standard). He often cannot do that. In those situations if he then says he has determined that something is objectively evil anyway, he is either wrong or he has admitted that his objective standard is not actually necessary for purposes here.

On a final note (one for clarification), this argument can be applied to any declaration on evil by a believer in objective standards. If it is necessary for objectiveness to exist in order for evil to exist, then the position is still undermined whenever a believer declares something evil without any sort of source beyond himself. The argument is precisely the same, but the terms are clarified: “evil” always means “objective evil” in the given context.

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28 Responses

  1. You view seems to be predicated on the idea that God is not clear about what constitutes wrong behavior.

    Other than the the 10 commandments being exceedingly clear, I would have to say that Jesus actually summed up what is neccesary in God’s morality so even those who couldn’t follow the law could understand it – “Love the Lord your God with all you heart, mind, and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself”.

    You do those two things, and you will be obeying the will of God – no need to figure out what you should not be doing.

  2. There is a trolley on some tracks. It is heading toward five oblivious people it will definitively kill. But there is a lever. Pull it and the trolley will head down a separate track. However, on that separate track is a lone man, also oblivious and also sure to be killed. Do you pull the lever? What does God say about this?

  3. God says you do whatever you can to save the lives of the people concerned. The fact that there are moral dilemmas doesn’t negate the reality of an objective morality; it simply means that we aren’t in complete control of every event in this world, and in our weakness and limitation and humble realization of our limits we strive to do what is right – which is only possible to do if right actually exists. If it doesn’t actually exist, then just walk away from the lever all together because it doesn’t matter.

    And this scenario assumes we know the mental state of everyone involved (somehow, we have the God-like ability to know that everyone on every track is ‘oblivious’ and unable to leave the track).

    In real life we don’t know those things, we simply make our daily ordinary choices based on an objective universal command to love our neighbors as ourselves – in short, what would we want someone to do if we were the lone man on the track? A Christian would sacrifice his life.

  4. It’s a thought experiment. Everything is set up in a particular way so we can see how far we’re willing to go with our beliefs. That’s what thought experiments do; it’s why they’re powerful.

    All the people are oblivious and will die; in the experiment, that is certain. Do you pull the lever to save the five or stand by and do nothing? How is your answer based upon anything God has said?

  5. Thought experiments are only helpful if they accurately reflect a real situation – otherwise they are are actually more like logic puzzles that don’t necessarily reflect moral choices faced in the real world.

    For example, doctors in large emergency situations often have to choose who they are going to save, perhaps at the expense of other lives – but that is a measure of the limits of human ability, not moral culpability. In short, we are only obliged to obey God to the degree we are able; and the command to love our neighbor tells us we must do what we can, we can’t be indifferent – it doesn’t tell us we must be God.

    Much the same can be said of this situation – there are six lives that hang in the balance, and like a doctor, one saves as many lives as possible, and hopes that one can do more (perhaps one hopes the man stops being oblivious). In which case we save fives lives instead of one.

    The true alternatives from the perspective of loving others is to be willing to have the courage to make a choice, and doing nothing – the cowardly act in this case would be to act as if one weren’t morally obligated by any objective reality to make a choice at all; to stand by the sidelines And so God’s morality guides us, if not by exact command, certainly in terms of our willingness to attempt to do what is right.

    From personal experience I learned this in Africa. If one spends anytime in Africa actually trying to do good, one quickly finds that the task is in fact impossible – the needs are so great, and so numerous, it is easier to do nothing, to simply treat it like a site-seeing tour, to serve oneself .

    However, if one has courage that comes from seeking to do God’s will, enabled by His strength, one can make a difference, and save a life.

  6. This thought experiments reflects the choice between killing and letting die, or passive and active euthanasia (i.e., not the emergency room situation).

    the cowardly act in this case would be to act as if one weren’t morally obligated by any objective reality to make a choice at all; to stand by the sidelines And so God’s morality guides us, if not by exact command, certainly in terms of our willingness to attempt to do what is right.

    How do you know what is “right” if God hasn’t told you? How do you know standing and watching the trolley go down the tracks isn’t the right choice?

  7. I know it is right to do what I can to save as many people as a I can (‘As much as it is up to you, do good to all people’).

    It is wrong to do nothing when someone could be saved by my efforts (See: The parable of the Good Samaritan). Why is this difficult for you to understand?

  8. I’m not sure how “Do good to all people” is automatically utilitarian.

    Okay, now instead of there being a lever and a separate track, there is a foot bridge. On it is a really big guy and he’s leaning, looking down at the tracks. If you push him, you know he will fall and block the trolley from hitting the five people. He will die, but you will have saved as many lives as you did in the previous scenario. If you really want to go with the utilitarian angle, then it will be okay to push the big guy.

  9. Well then I would actiively and intentionally killing an innocent human being, and that would be wrong. Nothing ‘utilitarian’ about it.

  10. Then you are being inconsistent. In the first scenario you did take a utilitarian perspective by arguing that number of lives is what matters. Now you’ve changed from a philosophy of consequence to one of intention.

    An argument from intention can work for the result you want in both circumstances, but you have not articulated why – nor does the Bible articulate on the point.

  11. Then you are being inconsistent. In the first scenario you did take a utilitarian perspective by arguing that number of lives is what matters. Now you’ve changed from a philosophy of consequence to one of intention.

    Well no, in the first scenario I have a lever that moves a train and puts one or more of six people (who seem to mysteriously hang around obliviously on tracks) in the way of the train on two separate tracks – all I can do is move the train to do the least amount of damage.

    In the second example I have to actively force a non-involved participant to give his life to save the life of the mysteriously oblivious persons. That would be intentional murder, and the objective morality in which I believe would keep me from doing that.

    I think what is most telling in this example is the degree to which an atheist must convolute and restrict a situation to make appear as if an objective moral system doesn’t have validity.

    An argument from intention can work for the result you want in both circumstances, but you have not articulated why – nor does the Bible articulate on the point.

    Sure it does – Deuteronomy 19 for example talks about accidental death. But the intention in this case isn’t even to kill someone, it’s to act to save someone, and as I pointed out previously, loving our neighbor is plainly expressed as the purpose of the whole of God’s law. A person diverting a train isn’t intending to kill anyone, but to save as many as possible.

  12. First, this is not an atheist scenario. It’s a standard thought experiment in ethics. Second, you still haven’t articulated your position. You’ve argued that intent to save as many as possible is what matters, but that is exactly what you are doing in each scenario. I agree that pushing the fat guy is different from pulling the lever, but not based merely on intention. That is, the intention in each scenario is to save five people; it is not to kill the one uninvolved individual – even if that is the consequence.

  13. First, this is not an atheist scenario. It’s a standard thought experiment in ethics. Second, you still haven’t articulated your position. You’ve argued that intent to save as many as possible is what matters, but that is exactly what you are doing in each scenario. I agree that pushing the fat guy is different from pulling the lever, but not based merely on intention. That is, the intention in each scenario is to save five people; it is not to kill the one uninvolved individual – even if that is the consequence.

    Actually I have articulated my position at length –to sum up:

    Convoluted moral dilemma thought experiments which place unnatural restrictions on human actions aren’t necessarily useful in terms of determining the moral choices we must make in real life and thus don’t contradict the notion that an objective morality exists and is necessary to confidently do what is good.

    The primary imperative of a Christian per the command of Christ is to ‘love ones neighbor as oneself’. This command is something that requires us to act to do good to the best of our limited human abilities, but we are not culpable for those things which are beyond our abilities. With regards to multiple oblivious people hanging out on railroad tracks and a lever one mysteriously controls with seconds to make a decision, one tries one’s best to minimize damage – but I think the point of Christ’s command is that the focus isn’t on what specific things we may or may not do, but the overarching intent of our hearts, our desire to do good to our neighbor to the greatest of our ability. This is perhaps the biggest error of your thinking – you are trying to say Christians don’t have an objective moral basis for their behavior because they don’t have specific commands for every conceivable scenario (especially the imaginary ones). My point is that God says morality is not about specificity of action, it is about willingness and risk – love is self-sacrificial and active, and requires more than following a particular precept.

    In a sense, we are the oblivious people on the track; the gospels are about Jesus willingness to step onto the track in the way of the train so we could be spared. And that is the difficult question Jesus asks us – are you willing to accept having me step on the track to save your life?

  14. Have you taken basic philosophy courses? Thought experiments aren’t meant to reflect precise real world conditions. They are specifically designed to see how far one is willing to take a particular principle or notion. In this case, a couple things are being considered, depending on the view one takes. First, if it is always better to save five people (as you originally stated), then it is good (or at least neutral) to push the fat guy. Second, if it is purely intention that matters, then it is morally permissible to both pull the lever and push the fat guy so long as the intention is to save the five people (as opposed to malice towards the fat guy). If you want to go further and argue that individual worth is important, there are more thought experiments for that.

    This is standard practice. I’m sure you can spend $500-700 and take a philosophy course at a nearby university if you want to find this out for yourself.

    This means your premise that thought experiments are not useful is flawed. You also seem to argue that this is a stand against the existence of objectively morality. It isn’t. Objective morality may exist in the scenario, but I doubt you have an answer. (And, in fact, you still haven’t articulated any discernible difference between the two scenarios.)

    As for the Christian apologetics, if love, willingness, and risk are important than any number of evil actions have been done under those banners. The vagueness in this argument is not helpful.

  15. I have had substantially more education in philosophy than you have Michael, and the first thing one needs to undestand about ‘thought experiments’, analogies, comparisons, etc., is that they are always flawed in certain ways, and only useful to the degree they actually reflect the aspect of reality one wants to elucidate.

    This one has some usefulness, but you have stretched it’s usefulness beyond the breaking point.

  16. Your utterly lacking description of what a thought experiment is only reflects your unwillingness to address it, not any extended education. But I’ll let my university’s philosophy department know that you disagree with them – and virtually every single philosopher in every single anthology and every single book they assign.

    I still await your articulation of the difference between the two scenarios. So far you’ve said, in so many words, that net life matters, but you’ve also indicated that intention matters. Since both scenarios reflect the saving of the most life while also reflecting the intention to save life, you haven’t given me the difference. Really, you can’t even turn to the Bible in this situation because you aren’t able to tell me what the difference in principle is between the scenarios.

  17. Your utterly lacking description of what a thought experiment is only reflects your unwillingness to address it, not any extended education. But I’ll let my university’s philosophy department know that you disagree with them – and virtually every single philosopher in every single anthology and every single book they assign.

    As much as I appreciate your schoolboy enthusiasm for a thought process you learned about in your very first philosophy class afew weeks ago, the reality is that this morality challenge has been around far longer than either of us, and I heard it used long before you were alive. Unlike you, I have come to realize having experienced real-life moral challenges of the sort you may face one day is that it is neither descriptive of reality or useful in making decisions.

    I know you would like to posit a Kobayashi Maru and play Spock to my Kirk, but the reality is I am not Kirk, I am an older Spock, and I only find such schoolboy challenges amusing in their sincerity, but useless in real life application.

    The reality of our world is that God’s law is of the sort that says, “Don’t stand around on train tracks”. Humans are of a nature that they want to know, “Yes, but if we did want to hang out on train tracks, how would we handle the choices such a situation presents?”

    It is little surprise that those two realities can clash and create irresolvable conflicts.

    I still await your articulation of the difference between the two scenarios. So far you’ve said, in so many words, that net life matters, but you’ve also indicated that intention matters. Since both scenarios reflect the saving of the most life while also reflecting the intention to save life, you haven’t given me the difference. Really, you can’t even turn to the Bible in this situation because you aren’t able to tell me what the difference in principle is between the scenarios.

    No, what I have said Michael is what I have said – it’s an unrealistic scenario, it serves to highlight human weakness, and there are often no easy moral choices when people make dangerous and self-destructive choices like hang out obliviously on train tracks.

    God’s morality says, “Seek to do good to the best of your ability to those in need”; that is an objective moral standard which is often difficult to apply in a fallen and broken world. Atheism gives us no guidance whatsoever – that is the difference.

  18. This very scenario has been used in studies specifically studying morality across cultures (with tracks and trolleys replaced with relevant substitutions in some cases). If you can’t articulate the difference, it’s okay. You don’t need to claim that this is all somehow useless or that it highlights something entirely irrelevant. (And, again, it reflects passive/active killing situations, at least in one regard.)

    But just so we can move things along, the difference is that the lever is the means to the end (saving five people). In the second scenario, the person is merely the means to the same end. While you were getting close (until frustration kicked in), it is not intention and it is not net pleasure/happiness which separates the two (presuming you aren’t a utilitarian – and I know you aren’t).

    Since this is most likely where you draw a distinction, where does God articulate on this?* Where does he discuss that we shouldn’t use people as a means? And, when he makes all his exceptions, where does he articulate the reasons for doing so?

    *You might notice that this stands in stark opposition to your contention that “God…is not about specificity of action”. There is an underlying principle being tested – thought experiments, despite your apparent understanding of them, are not about specific actions, but rather sorts of actions.

  19. God’s morality says, “Seek to do good to the best of your ability to those in need”; that is an objective moral standard which is often difficult to apply in a fallen and broken world. Atheism gives us no guidance whatsoever – that is the difference.

    You have to define “good”. If your definition reaches beyond what God has told you, you are not possibly using an objective standard.

  20. This very scenario has been used in studies specifically studying morality across cultures (with tracks and trolleys replaced with relevant substitutions in some cases). If you can’t articulate the difference, it’s okay. You don’t need to claim that this is all somehow useless or that it highlights something entirely irrelevant. (And, again, it reflects passive/active killing situations, at least in one regard.)

    Well, hey, I am an open minded guy Michael – you articulate how this scenario helps you make moral decisions in your life.

    But just so we can move things along, the difference is that the lever is the means to the end (saving five people). In the second scenario, the person is merely the means to the same end. While you were getting close (until frustration kicked in), it is not intention and it is not net pleasure/happiness which separates the two (presuming you aren’t a utilitarian – and I know you aren’t).

    Actually, in God’s moral universe, intention matters significantly, in a universe without an external, objective source or judge of of morality, it doesn’t matter what choice we make, or for what reason. Track one, track two, walk away, pick a track for the joy of watching people get squished – it is all equally moral, or immoral in an atheistic universe.

    Since this is most likely where you draw a distinction, where does God articulate on this?* Where does he discuss that we shouldn’t use people as a means? And, when he makes all his exceptions, where does he articulate the reasons for doing so?

    Why would we expect God to tell us about train tracks and imaginary levers? What moral law could be articulated about such a scenario? Michael you seem to be missing the point of the exercise – the point of the exercise is to say there are no right answers. If you except this, then why do you care?

    *You might notice that this stands in stark opposition to your contention that “God…is not about specificity of action”. There is an underlying principle being tested – thought experiments, despite your apparent understanding of them, are not about specific actions, but rather sorts of actions.

    Actually, you were the one who posited this scenario as an attempt to demonstrate that God has no specific moral guidance for us, so by your own statement here, you are misusing the exercise.

    You have to define “good”. If your definition reaches beyond what God has told you, you are not possibly using an objective standard.

    Good isn’t ‘what God has told me’, good is acting in accordance with God’s nature. You keep trying to somehow contradict claims I didn’t make.

  21. Well, hey, I am an open minded guy Michael – you articulate how this scenario helps you make moral decisions in your life.

    It has helped to solidify my belief that it is not okay to use individuals merely as means.

    Actually, in God’s moral universe, intention matters significantly,

    You aren’t required to accept the difference I’ve given between the two scenarios, but it is the one you’ve already indicated exists. If you want to rely on intention alone (which you have not done), then so long as the intention is to save five people in each situation, there is no moral difference. If the intention is malice towards the fat guy that is leaning, then there may be a difference. But since this is a thought experiment, if one is to say “My intention is purely to save five people”, you must agree that there is no difference between pulling the lever and pushing the person.

    Why would we expect God to tell us about train tracks and imaginary levers? What moral law could be articulated about such a scenario? Michael you seem to be missing the point of the exercise – the point of the exercise is to say there are no right answers. If you except this, then why do you care?

    I’m not sure how you’ve concluded that that is the point. The point is actually to determine on what principle one is going to make a distinction. It is on that point – not the specific scenario – that is of interest in terms of God.

    If you want to be utilitarian (which is the case sometimes, apparently), then it is precisely the same to pull the lever or to push the fat guy (all other things being equal). If you want to draw a difference between the two scenarios, then you likely want to point to the use of a person merely as a means. You could also make an argument from autonomy, I suppose. Or likely a number of other ethical theories. The point is to find a principle of difference. It is then on that principle that your objective source must have some say in order for you to claim that that principle is objectively known.

    Actually, you were the one who posited this scenario as an attempt to demonstrate that God has no specific moral guidance for us, so by your own statement here, you are misusing the exercise.

    Again, a thought experiment is a method of testing a principle. They use specific, often unrealistic scenarios that are designed to see how far one is willing to go with a particular belief; they may also be designed to expose a fundamental difference between scenarios, choices, actions, etc. Go to your local book store, pick up any random philosophical anthology, and try to find one where more than 25% of the pieces do not use thought experiments. You might find some luck in very specific areas (aesthetics, for example), but you will be unlikely to find success for most other topics.

    Good isn’t ‘what God has told me’, good is acting in accordance with God’s nature.

    What part of “God’s nature” tells you whether or not you should pull the lever or push the fat guy?

  22. You aren’t required to accept the difference I’ve given between the two scenarios, but it is the one you’ve already indicated exists. If you want to rely on intention alone (which you have not done), then so long as the intention is to save five people in each situation, there is no moral difference. If the intention is malice towards the fat guy that is leaning, then there may be a difference. But since this is a thought experiment, if one is to say “My intention is purely to save five people”, you must agree that there is no difference between pulling the lever and pushing the person.

    I think I have lost track(s?) of what it is you are trying to prove here. Your original main point seems to be that the religious, because they are informed about moral behaviors by certain religious texts, are limited in their moral statements to only those behaviors which are specifically detailed in their religious text.

    The problem with this evaluation when one attempts to apply it to Christianity is that the moral beliefs of Christians are not in fact dependent on that which is written in Scripture, but instead dependent on the person Christ Jesus, and invoking Christ isn’t to invoke a certain list of moral proscriptions, but to invoke an understanding of the nature of God, the nature of man, and the nature of the world we find ourseleves in. So a Christians view of morality is not in fact limited to a set list of moral standards.

    And a Christian in fact has freedom, beyond that which is explicitly proscribed or by our understanding of God and human nature, to make choices about how he or she will live without guilt.

    I don’t where this takes us from here, but it certainly undermines the notion that Christians have nothing to say about morality beyond a set list of rules.

    What part of “God’s nature” tells you whether or not you should pull the lever or push the fat guy?

    What such an understanding does is to incite a Christian to act, to the best of his ability, to prevent as many deaths as possible without being morally culpable of intentionally killing otherwise innocent and uninvolved persons. As pointed out previously, the morality in play here isn’t of the sort of A or B, but do we have to attempt to do anything? Are we free to use our human limitations to avoid making difficult choices, or must we, with our acknowledged limited abilities, attempt to do what we can within the circumstances given?

    God does make a distinction between pulling levers and pushing people into ongoing trains; because one can be done to attempt to minimize death, pain and suffering without actively trying to kill another human, the other cannot. And such a consideration doesn’t change the overall moral framework in which a Christian operates, as a Christian acknowledges in a broken and fallen world clear moral distinctions are often difficult. It doesn’t mean they don’t exist, but it does mean their implementation becomes more difficult as humans make the muddy the waters.

  23. I think I have lost track(s?) of what it is you are trying to prove here. Your original main point seems to be that the religious, because they are informed about moral behaviors by certain religious texts, are limited in their moral statements to only those behaviors which are specifically detailed in their religious text.

    Close. They are limited in claiming objectivity.

    The problem with this evaluation when one attempts to apply it to Christianity is that the moral beliefs of Christians are not in fact dependent on that which is written in Scripture, but instead dependent on the person Christ Jesus, and invoking Christ isn’t to invoke a certain list of moral proscriptions, but to invoke an understanding of the nature of God, the nature of man, and the nature of the world we find ourseleves in. So a Christians view of morality is not in fact limited to a set list of moral standards.

    If I pretend this is actually reflective of what most Christians believe, you still aren’t helped. This just makes Christian morality necessarily subjective.

    I don’t where this takes us from here, but it certainly undermines the notion that Christians have nothing to say about morality beyond a set list of rules.

    They can say all they want – it just won’t be objective.

    God does make a distinction between pulling levers and pushing people into ongoing trains; because one can be done to attempt to minimize death, pain and suffering without actively trying to kill another human, the other cannot.

    If the intention is to save five people in each scenario, then there is no moral difference between them. This circumvents your assumption that the intention is to kill someone. But you can do away with all this by just pointing me to where God talks about not using people merely as means.

  24. Close. They are limited in claiming objectivity.

    This may be true of many religions; but not so of Christianity.

    If I pretend this is actually reflective of what most Christians believe, you still aren’t helped. This just makes Christian morality necessarily subjective.

    I think any Christian familiar with the person and teachings of Christ would certainly believe this, though they may not be able to express it eloquently or in language an unbeliever easily understands. And I would say this makes Christian morality much less subjective because it is not a matter of descriptive list of behaviors which can be argued over, but a matter of the nature of men and God.

    It would be much the same as if we imagined that the world was unfamiliar with the principle of gravity, but instead dealt with gravity through a series of descriptive statement governing how they might deal with gravity in their daily lives – “Rope should be X number of strands to hold up an object of Y size”, “Harm may come when jumping from a height great than Z ft.”, “An object hurled at speed A at height B will comes to earth at point C”, etc.

    Having a large list of such descriptors would be useful for navigating through the world and prevent a lot of harm, but it would also be limiting because one may encounter circumstances for which there is no principle – and people would certainly dispute what to do in such circumstances, perhaps even suggest additional statements to cover those circumstances, and potentially subjective ideas about how to derive additional descriptors might arise.

    However, if one actually understood gravity, the elegant formula that describe it’s activity and the principles by which it acts, then one wouldn’t need all those descriptors, because one could derive them from such an accurate understanding. It would be a more objective basis for acting in accordance with the force of gravity, rather than a list of rules to follow.

    This is what Christianity does – it moves us from the rules that govern our behavior to a principled understanding of the nature of man, God, and true nature of our relationship. This is why Jesus was constantly contrasting such rules with the nature of humans. So He when He says,

    “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’;
    but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

    He is contrasting the outward proscription with the real source of our moral problems – our inward condition. And that is the purpose of Christianity is not to outline a set, or new set of moral proscriptions, but to deal with our failed condition through spiritual transformation which makes such proscriptions essentially unnecessary, just as understanding the fundamental formulae which describe gravity make a series of how to deal with gravity unnecessary.

    They can say all they want – it just won’t be objective.

    Well, only as objective as understanding how gravity works.

    If the intention is to save five people in each scenario, then there is no moral difference between them. This circumvents your assumption that the intention is to kill someone. But you can do away with all this by just pointing me to where God talks about not using people merely as means.

    Well as I outlined above, such a proscriptive statement isn’t necessary, because I understand certain realities as a Christian – my intention matters, all human life is worthwhile to God, and I have a moral obligation to act to help others when I can but am not expected to do more than my human limitations allow. Those principles are objectively true, and thus applicable to any number of moral scenarios.

  25. Your gravity analogy is screwy. I’m talking about broad principles. Any utilization of gravity is based either on specific calculations or generally understood, common sense experience; your qualm with a specific list is not the issue I have been raising. That is, in my trolley scenarios there is an underlying principle I am seeking. Different ethical theories will offer different ones, but in order to be consistent, they do all have a principle. For instance, utilitarianism says the five people are always more important (all other things being equal). Libertarianism would require no action with the lever (but would no object to pulling it), while it would be against taking away the fat man’s autonomy/liberty by pushing him. If we apply Kant, the lever probably should be pulled, but the fat guy should absolutely not be pushed because he is being used merely as a means to an end. These are all broad principles which apply far, far beyond the specific thought experiment. The Bible ought to also contain broad principles if it has any application based upon principles.

    You’ve offered vague apologetics about understanding the nature of God, but this doesn’t give any methods for applying any moral or ethical system to the real world.

    Well as I outlined above, such a proscriptive statement isn’t necessary, because I understand certain realities as a Christian – my intention matters, all human life is worthwhile to God, and I have a moral obligation to act to help others when I can but am not expected to do more than my human limitations allow. Those principles are objectively true, and thus applicable to any number of moral scenarios.

    How do you objectively know that?

  26. Actually, I gave four very specific applications of of the principles articulated by the life and teaching of Christ; these truths aren’t ‘subjective’, they are the basis for the Christian faith.

    How do you objectively know that?

    We know intention of our heart matters because Christian salvation is a matter of inward belief and outward confesssion.

    We know we have worth because we are created in God’s image and He gave His Son for us.

    I know I have a moral obligation to act because through the example of His life and the authority of His teachings Jesus made central the notion that we are to love others self-sacrificially.

    And we know that we aren’t expected to do more than we are able because through His life and teachings Jesus venerated those who were humble in their resources, yet gave to the extent they were able.

    That is how we know – through the life and example of Christ, and the authority of the teachings He gave. The difference between my moral authority, and those you cited, is that mine is centered on a living person who demonstrated through His consistent actions and exhibition of power that He had the authority to impart the truth about moral actions.

    Every other philosopher cited was a flawed human who is dead in the grave; that is the difference.

  27. You’ll need to remind me where you applied anything.

    I know I have a moral obligation to act because through the example of His life and the authority of His teachings Jesus made central the notion that we are to love others self-sacrificially.

    This means nothing. You could easily claim to be offering the most love possible by pushing the fat guy – and doing so without malice towards him, but instead with love towards the higher number of people. Alternatively, you could not push the fat guy out of love, doing so without malice towards the five. You’ve answered nothing with this hand-waving. And I think you know it.

    And we know that we aren’t expected to do more than we are able because through His life and teachings Jesus venerated those who were humble in their resources, yet gave to the extent they were able.

    “Give/do what you can”. Okay. I can pull the lever. You’ve partially answered that piece of the scenario, though this still does not tell me why it is okay to cause the death of the lone man.

    This says nothing of what to do with the fat guy.

    Every other philosopher cited was a flawed human who is dead in the grave; that is the difference.

    Jesus would be disappointed in the lack of reasons you’ve offered for acting in particular ways.

    You still haven’t said what is the appropriate action in each scenario.

  28. As usual Michael we have beating the horse to death and beyond, and I think i have said everything one can say on the issue. I will graciously let you have the last word on the subject.

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