Where does morality come from? A demonstration with monkeys

UPDATE:  I wrote Frans, who has read this post and many of the readers’ comments, and he said this (quoted with his permission):

Funny that some commentators think that obviously all animals (e.g. hamsters) would do the same, because when we first published this study no one believed that this reaction was possible in animals. In fact, it has never been demonstrated in rodents, only in dogs, corvids, and primates thus far. The reaction is clearly related to what the other one is getting, not the availability of grapes, as we showed in another study.

He also mentioned that his forthcoming book, The Bonobo and the Atheist, deals primarily with the issue I discuss below: that God is unnecessary for humans’ moral sense.

_________________

This video is about as powerful a refutation I’ve seen of the notion that our morality is given by God rather than either evolved or a product of our culture.  This is taken from a wonderful TED talk by Frans de Waal, primatologist and author of several popular books.  His talk is called “Moral behavior in animals”, and is witty and full of insights (you can also watch it here if you don’t have the right Flash player).

Do watch the whole talk, as you’ll learn a lot about “morality” in our mammalian relatives, and there are several nice videos. In the one I show below, two naive capuchin monkeys display what looks for all the world like a reaction to “unfairness” (the video appears about 3/4 of the way through de Waal’s talk).  As de Waal notes, cucumbers are okay food for the monkeys, but they really like grapes (de Waal claims that monkeys like food in proportion to its price at the supermarket).  A pair of capuchins can see each other getting cucumbers and grapes (they have to give the experimenter a rock before they get a piece of food).

See what happens when one of them is given a grape for his rock, and the other a cucumber. Remember, this is the first time these monkeys have been subject to this procedure:

Now I’m pretty sure that some rudiments of human morality are shared with our primate relatives, and thus evolved in a common ancestor, and also that other moral qualities of humans evolved after we’d branched off from the ancestor of our closest relatives, the chimps.  And some elements of human morality, like “true” altruism, in which you risk your life for nonrelatives without much hope of gain—my examples are usually volunteer firefighters and soldiers who throw themselves on grenades to save their buddies—seem to me byproducts of our culture. (See Peter Singer’s wonderful book The Expanding Circle to see how this could happen.) We don’t know how much of our moral sentiments derive from evolution, how much from cultural overlay, and how much from a combination of these factors, but it’s clear that we can see building blocks of morality in primates and other species (de Waal gives an example from elephants). This view, of course, originated with Darwin.

What I am absolutely sure of is that people’s morality does not come from God.  I may not be 100% sure that there isn’t a benevolent, omnipotent god (I’d put myself as a 6.999999 on Dawkins’s 7-point scale of disbelief), but I am 100% sure that our morality was not a divine gift.  It can’t have been: the Euthyphro argument of Plato shows on first principles that this can’t be true.  And it’s manifestly clear that nobody takes the morality of the Bible as their guide—not even William Lane Craig, who believes in the “divine command theory” (i.e., if God said it, it’s right).  Presumably Craig, although he says that the Israelites were perfectly justified in decimating the Canaanites because God ordered it, wouldn’t go along with God’s killing 42 children because they made fun of the prophet Elisha’s bald head—or maybe he would.

No reputable theologian, or rational believer for that matter, adheres strictly to Biblical morality. As everyone knows, believers pick and choose their morality from a smorgasbord of divine commands, both good and bad, in scripture. And doing that shows that you have a sense of right and wrong that doesn’t come from the Bible or God.  Ergo, it comes from evolution and culture.

142 Comments

  1. Posted August 7, 2012 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    All I see is a monkey angry because he didn’t get a grape.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted August 7, 2012 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      Yeah, but only because he saw the other monkey get a grape. I’m not sure about this, but I think if you give a single monkey a grape, and then give him a cucumber, he doesn’t reject the cucumber as he does here. The rejection depends on seeing another monkey get something he doesn’t!

      • Posted August 7, 2012 at 8:48 am | Permalink

        All he knows it that producing a rock is supposed to produce a grape according to his observation (even to monkeys, sugar is more desirable). As you noticed, he even tries to go through the glass to get the grape from the other monkey–and he’s frustrated that he cannot. A hamster would do the exact same thing.

        • Posted August 7, 2012 at 11:00 am | Permalink

          I have to agree with you that sugar is more desirable. The second monkey is not getting upset at not getting any cucumber. I think the rejection arises when the first monkey sees he’s not getting something that is deemed *more desirable* and which the other one is getting. I’ve seen videos showing that certain animals pay attention to which ones are getting the lion’s share too. It looks like survival instinct and competition.

          • Posted August 7, 2012 at 11:07 am | Permalink

            So, what you’re saying is that he has a sense of un-fairness.

            • Posted August 7, 2012 at 11:25 am | Permalink

              You’re right… it sure looks like it. I’ve just watched the whole Ted talk by Frans, and he says that the monkeys had no problem when they were getting only cucumbers or only grapes. He also refers to a similar test done by someone else, where one monkey refuses the grape till the other gets one too!

              • Posted August 7, 2012 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

                The study is useful in learning more about animal behavior, psychology, and intelligence, but does not prove that animals have an innate sense of morality or justice.

                When you introduce something more appealing into the mix, the animal will predictably forget the less appealing reward in pursuit of the more appealing reward–it has everything to do with the reward and nothing to do with it’s perception of inequality. This is a good survival trait to possess.

                So are emotions such as anger, jealousy, frustration, and resentment; which are certainly not unique to human beings despite what some here may have believed.

                How about giving both monkeys grapes–but give one monkey two grapes at a time for the rock instead of one grape? Unfair, isn’t it? But I predict that the monkey getting just one grape at a time will enjoy eating his grape without getting upset and frustrated over how “unfair” it is that the other monkey receives twice as much each time. That’s because the monkey was not getting upset and frustrated over the perceived “unfairness,” it was upset and frustrated over not getting the grape that was just introduced as being a possible result.

                It’s not about being closed-minded to the idea of innate morality in animals, it’s about not accepting faulty conclusions based on the results.

          • Posted August 7, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

            “It looks like survival instinct and competition.”

            Agreed. Which has nothing to do with an innate sense of morality and justice.

      • Posted August 7, 2012 at 8:51 am | Permalink

        Just the fact that the monkey’s natural inclination is to try to steal from the other monkey without hesitation should tell you that morality is not innate in animals.

        • BilBy
          Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:01 am | Permalink

          I also saw a monkey angry that it didn’t get a grape but when I watched the whole video de Waal mentions individuals that refuse a grape unless the other monkey also gets one. That seems to me converge closely upon what we see as fairness.

          • Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

            The monkey didn’t initially reject the cucumber because it didn’t know that a rock could produce a grape. When it observed that it could produce a grape, it became angry and frustrated that it did not receive the more desirable grape. Only a wire mesh separated the two, so the other monkey can easily see and smell the grapes that the other monkey is eating. ANY animal would become upset and frustrated over this.

            • gr8hands
              Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:22 am | Permalink

              Which demonstrates a sense of fairness. QED.

              • Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

                It’s called hunger and jealousy. A rat would also become frustrated, not by the “unfairness,” but by not being able to eat what he sees his neighbor eating. Perhaps we should be learning more about animal behavior instead of desperately trying to anthropomorphize other creatures.

              • tualha
                Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:55 am | Permalink

                synaptic: So? If someone steals from you and you resent it, perhaps that is only anger, then. If working-class people want the super-rich to pay more taxes, perhaps that is only greed and/or jealousy. How do you know that what humans feel can be based on justice and rights, but what other animals feel cannot?

              • gr8hands
                Posted August 7, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

                synapticcohesion, “jealousy” is based on perceived unfairness.

                Sheesh!

            • Posted August 7, 2012 at 10:44 am | Permalink

              Congratulations, you apparently somewhat understand the experiment though you won’t allow yourself to accept the implications.

              “ANY animal would become upset and frustrated over this.”

              Yes, especially those animals called Homo sapiens (though I daresay a sponge or insect would be examples to refute such a broad statement, I’ll permit that you meant “cute and fuzzy” when you said “animal”). Which is the point of the video. The monkey certainly displayed behavior that indicated it did not find it’s own reward equal to its fellow monkey. It’s not anthropomorphism if we are discovering behaviors in other species of animals, especially those more closely related to us, that we also see in ourselves. What makes you think that your own sense of un-fairness that occurs when you see another human being receive more than you for equal work is not in any way tied to similar psychological and physiological processes in an animal you might consider of lower order? Is it because there is something special about your humanness or “soul”? It must not be the same thing because, well… because?

              Also, if this is not a sense of fairness, then why even use the terms “upset” or “frustrated” at all, isn’t that anthropomorphism? What is a sense of fairness, or specifically un-fairness to you that does NOT involve anger or jealousy? Doesn’t that deserve a Picard face-palm?

              Sincerely,

              Athiest Andy.

              • Posted August 7, 2012 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

                Place a blindfold over the monkey so it won’t be able to witness the “injustice” and “unfairness” and it will react in the very same way as soon as it starts to smell those grapes being eaten right next to him.

                And no, animals are not “anthropomorphized” when being described as getting upset and frustrated–these are basic emotional functions crucial to survival that do not need complex and abstract thought patterns when dealing with ideologies.

                I would be a lot more surprised if the monkey did NOT react the way it did but instead tried to remain calm and civil despite being taunted in such a way. That’s what humans would do. They don’t want to appear petty or undignified–especially over a free meal.

              • Dale
                Posted August 7, 2012 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

                Thanks andy,
                You asked,

                “What is a sense of fairness, or specifically un-fairness to you that does NOT involve anger or jealousy?”

                Well, I noted that the monkey getting the grape didn’t complain that the other was being treated unfairly, offer to share the grape etc. We might expect some humans to see through the experiment far enough to realize that the situation could be could be arbitrarily reversed. An offer to share a grape now may bring rewards in the future. Still a self centered view, just more informed.

            • Hayden
              Posted August 7, 2012 at 10:59 am | Permalink

              [citation needed]

            • Posted August 7, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

              “ANY animal would become upset and frustrated over this.”

              I’m pretty goddamned sure that this is not true at all. Many animals would just eat whatever they are given. You think a goat given a worse treat would refuse to eat it?!

              • Posted August 7, 2012 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

                Goats will literally eat anything. That’s more of a reflection on their lack of discriminating taste rather than an inability to get upset and frustrated.

        • SnowyOwl
          Posted August 7, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

          So “synapticcohesion” is that guy who when studying humans engaged in sexual intercourse reports that toes
          curl… oh, and please don’t tell me there was verbal intercourse… because questionnaires are so, so informative.

        • Notagod
          Posted August 7, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

          Yeah, cause chichen soup when this doberman finds out what’s been stealing its food.

      • Neil
        Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:56 am | Permalink

        I guess one can think of jealous anger, if that is what it is, as negative altruism.

  2. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted August 7, 2012 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    As I’ve said before, I don’t think volunteer firefighters count as examples of pure, selfless altruism since they gain social status from their service, in exchange for a somewhat elevated risk (but not a certainty) of early death.

    • Michelle
      Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:04 am | Permalink

      I agree. Not only that, but if they have children they also gain from their parent’s elevated social status. “Oh, you’re the firefighter’s daughter? Here, have some free ice cream.”

    • gr8hands
      Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:25 am | Permalink

      Gregory Kusnick, do you know the name of any volunteer firefighter near you? Could you recognize them if they didn’t wear some kind of shirt/tag that told you they were volunteer firefighters?

      Really, could 99.999% of the residents where they have volunteer firefighters do that?

      So much for ‘social status from their service’ if you can’t identify them. (And many people who wear volunteer firefighter t-shirts aren’t actually volunteer firefighters.)

      • Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

        I think the fact that people masquerade as fire-fighters indicates that there is indeed a social reward associated with being a fire-fighter.

        And fire-fighters don’t need to be able to be identified as such from afar; they simply tell the woman at the bar that they are a fire-fighter.

      • DiscoveredJoys
        Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:45 am | Permalink

        It’s only necessary for the volunteer firefighters to *feel* that they gain social status for the social status argument to work. Plus their colleagues and families (and probably non firefighter employers) know of their volunteer efforts too.

        I’ve known one volunteer firefighter personally (in the UK) and the whole office (80+ people) knew he was one because occasionally he would be ‘called out’ while at work.

        Also, in the UK, most lifeboat men are volunteers. The whole community knows of their dedication – in many small ports a maroon used to be fired above the port to call them in for a launch.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

        I now live in a city with a paid professional fire department. But 20 years ago I lived in a small town with an all-volunteer firefighting service, and yes, I knew many of them by name, their pictures appeared regularly in the local paper, and they were honored as heroes by the community.

        • gr8hands
          Posted August 7, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

          The key being that “I lived in a small town”. This does not refute my point.

          • JT
            Posted August 7, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

            No, your point has been refuted several times now. If you stick around, I’m sure it’ll be refuted some more.

  3. Posted August 7, 2012 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    Hate to break the news, but Craig actually does defend child slaughter. He claims we are doing youngsters a favor because they go to heaven directly, whereas if they had lived they might have sinned and gone elsewhere after death. He usually applies this argument to justify baby-killing and ripping fetuses out of mothers’ bellies (a common divine command in the old testament) but I don’t know what the age limit is.

    Yet I think he still feels that abortion is always wrong….

    • Griff
      Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      You are correct. Children are blessed by being killed because they get an automatic pass to heaven (according to WLC).

      I’ve often wondered if he would feel that way if someone killed his kids.

  4. phosphoros99
    Posted August 7, 2012 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    Apparently even God Himself does not apply the stipulated punishments – at least not immediately. David was not stoned to death for the events with Bathseba neither was the woman caught in adultery.

    There’s still room for mercy but that’s not going to last forever.

  5. J
    Posted August 7, 2012 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    If you follow that link to the Euthyphro dilemma you’ll see a Christian who can’t have read much of his Bible.
    “Could God simply decree that torturing babies was moral? “No,” the Christian answers, “God would never do that.” It’s not a matter of command. It’s a matter of character.”
    Well ok, I don’t think he ever commands the torturing of babies but he sure as Hell doesn’t mind killing them!

    • J
      Posted August 7, 2012 at 8:55 am | Permalink

      The above comment is rendered obsolete by the link changing to reference Wikipedia instead of the Christian apologetics site hilariously named “Stand to Reason”.

      • Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:02 am | Permalink

        The site couldn’t be that “hilarious” if an atheist and evolutionist found it worthy of posting as a reference.

        • J
          Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:07 am | Permalink

          Clearly Jerry linked to it accidentally because when it was pointed out to be an apologetics site he changed the link. We all make mistakes!
          I said “hilariously” because it tries to use reason to justify the unreasonable.

          • HaggisForBrains
            Posted August 7, 2012 at 10:06 am | Permalink

            And hilarious is NOT a word I would use to describe the cartoons on synapticcohesion’s site

    • Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:24 am | Permalink

      “God would never do that.”

      It’s frustrating how theists think they’ve defeated the dilemma when they’ve really only restated it.

      How do they know god would never do that, if god is indeed our only source for determining right from wrong? They’re claiming to know whether a *hypothetical* course of action is moral or not, that is, before god has pronounced on it.

      Which means morality can be determined without a “divine command.” It has nothing to do with a god.

      • Bebop
        Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:36 am | Permalink

        “How do they know god would never do that, if god is indeed our only source for determining right from wrong?”

        It is precisely because we can judge what is right from what is wrong that we are stuck with a dual perspective that prevents us to see beyond this spectrum of opposites.
        Putin another way, God isn’t the source of determining what is right from wrong, that source are part of our human condition, the “original sin” accordingly to christians, or our dual state of mind as the oriental tradition teaches.

        It is only by escaping that dual mode of perception that you can be aware that we are actually “stuck” with a certain mode and that this mode isn’t absolute. The myth of the fruit of knowledge of what is good and evil tries to explain this. When there was no separation between man and God, good and evil didn’t exist…

        • Posted August 7, 2012 at 11:27 am | Permalink

          bebop wrote:

          “Putin another way, God isn’t the source of determining what is right from wrong, that source are part of our human condition…”

          Yes. And?

          I never argued that morality was absolute. I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make with this reply.

          • Bebop
            Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

            You are saying that God is the source of our morality. I say it is not, I say that our morality is a consequence of our dualistic perception. God is beyond the opposites by which we can grasp the world.

            • Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

              You need to work on your reading comprehension if you think I’m arguing that god is the source of morality.

              “It’s frustrating that *theists* think…” “How do *they* know…” etc.

              The rest of your reply is still nonsense, unless by “beyond the opposites” you mean non-existent.

              • Bebop
                Posted August 8, 2012 at 6:20 am | Permalink

                Beyond the opposites means non-dual, a concept absent in the west but that is at the core of all oriental spiritual teaching. It is only if you reach a non-dual state that you can be aware of your dual default state of mind which roughly consists in grasping the world through opposites.

                As for the source of morality, I only paste what you wrote. I don’t say you believe that God is the source of morality, I only argue morality is a consequence of our dual perception. But that in itself is not an argument against or for the divine.

      • John K.
        Posted August 7, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

        “God would never do that” is in fact the concession that validates the argument. God is beholden to morality, so his commands are not the source.

        I like to use a police example. The policeman is not the source of the law, because there are unlawful orders that a policeman can utter. There are orders that are unlawful regardless of who gives them. The policeman is beholden to the law of the land.

        • teacupoftheapocalypse
          Posted August 7, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

          If you want to suggest that your god is beholden to morality, then this god is not the all-powerful entity the theists insist exists (!).

          Morality is a concept, so if you suggest that morality is a ‘higher power’ to which this god is beholden, then god is just a concept.

  6. Posted August 7, 2012 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    Were you aware that the cite you linked for Euthyphro is a christian apologetic cite?

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted August 7, 2012 at 8:51 am | Permalink

      Oy vey! I’ve fixed it, thanks.

  7. sgo
    Posted August 7, 2012 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    Nice – that’s quite a strong reaction! And thanks for the TED talk link, I’ll have a look at home.

    I recently finished De Waal’s The Ape and the Sushi Master, which is a great read. The first book I read by him, and I am looking forward to reading more. I think I read here about his morality book coming out next year. That will be interesting.

  8. Neil
    Posted August 7, 2012 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    A bad site for Euthyphro. Here is a better description.

    http://www.rejectionofpascalswager.net/euthyphro.html

  9. invivoMark
    Posted August 7, 2012 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Did you notice that your Euthyphro link actually disagrees with your conclusion? It seems to be written by a Christian defending the existence of God.

    I find his argument bollocks, of course: he claims that goodness is grounded in God. This sounds an awful lot like defining good to be whatever God is. Functionally, it’s the same thing, unless we want to take away God’s free will (and also ignore all the baby-murdering and woman-raping God causes in the Bible).

    Just thought you ought to know that your link disagrees with your claim. It even advertises CDs from William Lane Craig at the bottom!

    • invivoMark
      Posted August 7, 2012 at 8:56 am | Permalink

      Ninja’d *three times*! Oh well, I tried.

    • Notagod
      Posted August 7, 2012 at 10:21 am | Permalink

      The other way around I suspect, the christians are defining their gods to be whatever they consider to be good.

      • invivoMark
        Posted August 7, 2012 at 11:46 am | Permalink

        Except the previously-linked author recognized that as falling into the Euthyphro trap, and so explicitly avoided stating that.

        It’s very close to the same thing, though, and doesn’t solve Euthyphro either way.

  10. Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    Very interesting stuff. As usual, I agree with most of what you said. But I worry that there’s a bit of a false dichotomy lurking here: ‘God or evolution+culture; not God; therefore, evolution+culture.’

    There’s considerable debate among metaethicists about whether “commonsense morality” could be all the product of evolution and culture. There’s another possibility, that may or may not be distinct: that we form some of our moral attitudes because we accurately perceive objective ethical truths.

    Now, this could still be evolutionary+cultural: if behaving prosocially contributes to fitness, and prosocial behavior is generally morally right, then we could have evolved to accurately perceive objective ethical truths. This allows us to be ethical realists while still holding that our ethical attitudes are, in one sense, the products of evolution+culture.

    But it might also be different; it might be that we often form moral attitudes that go against what evolution+culture would predict. (There’s still the question of why our cultural traditions would end up inspiring us to act very altruistically when it comes at great harm to ourselves.) You could claim that deep down, there is an evolutionary explanation, but there’s a worry here that the evolutionary explanation for morality starts to look unfalsifiable. (Another way to think about this: Has the evolutionary explanation for moral attitudes made any risky predictions about our moral attitudes that later turned out to be verified?)

    • eric
      Posted August 7, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      Has the evolutionary explanation for moral attitudes made any risky predictions about our moral attitudes that later turned out to be verified?)

      I believe the answer to that is: yes. I think evolutionary biologists predicted that ant and bee drones had to be getting some sort of offspring advantage, out of the drone deal, long before genetics confimed that they were.

      • Posted August 7, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

        eric,

        Let me clarify what I was imagining.

        Suppose that we learned that people in general tend to behave altruistically in some circumstance. The evolutionary ethicist will say that this is because societies with altruism survived and reproduced more. Suppose, instead, that we learned that people in general tend to behave selfishly in some circumstance. Won’t the evolutionary ethicist say this is because behaving selfishly benefits oneself, and contributes to one’s own survival and reproduction? That’s why I worry that evolutionary explanations for moral attitudes are, in a sense, unfalsifiable.

        Is there some example of an evolutionary ethicist predicting before the fact that some person or society will have some moral attitude that we wouldn’t normally expect them to have, and that prediction later turning out to be true? Then we might know it was evolution, and not just our general commonsense morality or intuitions, that produced that moral attitude.

        • MNb
          Posted August 7, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

          Watch that lecture by De Waal JAC linked at in its entirety. At the end De Waal mentions a prediction stemming from a sceptic like you – and it was confirmed.

  11. Rebecca Harbison
    Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    I suppose one could argue that if God created the universe, he could also create an inborn sense of morality that is present to some degree in many mammals…

    … but at that point, you still have to support the idea that atheists can be as moral as theists when it comes to basic principles as fairness and empathy*, and that exposure to or identification with or belief in a religion doesn’t make a whit of difference when it comes to ‘why didn’t I get a grape when he did?’.

    * I don’t think any of us would argue against the idea that human cultures can skew how we implement our sense of justice. So a fundamentalist Christian might have a different set of moral beliefs than an atheist, but both would still form moral beliefs and probably have similar ‘foundations’. But, heck, two different sects of Christianity (or the same sect at different times), working from the same books, can vary in moral codes.

    • Rebecca Harbison
      Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:05 am | Permalink

      And I was beaten to the apologetic approach.

      (Note that I don’t consider that a well-framed hypothesis: if God does things that exactly mimic natural processes, that’s not terribly compelling an argument for why we should bother with it.)

    • derekw
      Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:28 am | Permalink

      So a fundamentalist Christian might have a different set of moral beliefs than an atheist, but both would still form moral beliefs and probably have similar ‘foundations’.
      I’d disagree with the foundations part. A Christian would say their moral beliefs are ‘absolutes’ founded upon divine law. An atheist…would have to claim a personal or societal moral foundation which is a relativistic view of morality. That seems to ultimately put views of morality (Christian or atheist) on the same plane neither one being more ‘right’ or more ‘wrong’ than the other.

      • DiscoveredJoys
        Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

        It’s not so long ago that the ‘absolutes’ founded on divine law permitted slavery. Now they don’t, often without some prophetic revelation to explain the change away.

        Relative morals change more gracefully – and seem to explain what we see around us better.

      • invivoMark
        Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:59 am | Permalink

        There are tons of ways to construct morality that are neither relativistic nor theistic. Some examples: utilitarianism, deontology, veil of ignorance and original position; there are several more detailed takes on each of these by various philosophers.

        • MNb
          Posted August 7, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

          Utilitarianism actually is relativistic – it depends on the individual to decide what makes him/her happy and what not. Moreover there is no objective instrument to measure if the happiness of one individual is bigger/more important or whatever than the happiness of someone else.

  12. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Even in my religious days, I never doubted that animals had a sense of justice. You can’t work around them without picking it up. No one with empathy for animals could doubt it.

    Francis Collins thinks altruism comes from God, but IMO Human culture seems a reasonable explanation for altruism.

  13. tualha
    Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    I can’t say I’ve spent too much time thinking about the Euthyphro dilemma and its spinoffs, but it doesn’t seem like an airtight argument against divine command theory to me. If we say that “the right” is just another name for “whatever the deity commands”, without having any independent meaning, and are prepared to accept whatever the deity commands, including all the atrocities in the Bible or whatever source you choose to believe contains the deity’s commands, this doesn’t seem to lead to a contradiction. It could easily lead to a society few people could tolerate living in, if the authorities really enforced the rules without exception and the commands were not exceptionally well chosen, but that’s not the same as saying it just can’t be so, on first principles. Is there some argument I overlooked?

    • invivoMark
      Posted August 7, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      If someone holds to the divine command theory, then they are forced to defend baby-killing, rape and torture, and genocide.

      Some literalists are fine with that, but then they have to explain why we instinctively find those actions morally repulsive.

      On a more fundamental level, they’ve created a tautology: if something is good if and only if it is commanded by God, then it’s pointless to call it good; it’s simply a command of God. God is good because he is God.

    • Gary W
      Posted August 7, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      The basic problem with divine command theory isn’t that it necessarily leads to a contradiction but that it’s inconsistent with our basic moral intuitions. Why should we believe that, say, torturing babies is good just because God commands it?

      • tualha
        Posted August 7, 2012 at 10:40 am | Permalink

        Hmm, well, perhaps we’re just not as strong-stomached as the deity, then! And perhaps (Godwin alert) Hitler was merely trying to toughen people up so they really would do whatever someone in authority ordered them to.

        More seriously: to say that divine command theory is false because it can lead to innate moral repugnance, strikes me as no more valid than a homophobe saying homosexuality is wrong because it disgusts him. Argument from personal repugnance, or some such.

        I don’t think there really is a simple logical argument against divine command theory, one that defeats it a priori. You always end up having to judge it on the basis of real-world observations; using science, in other words, instead of mathematics.

        • eric
          Posted August 7, 2012 at 10:57 am | Permalink

          No, there is no logical argument against DCT. A deductive argument is not the point of the Euthyphro. The point of the Euthyphro was more one of clarification: once most people realize just what DCT could entail, they reject it, either because it doesn’t fit with what they think of as ‘moral’ or because it desn’t fit with what they think of as ‘God.’

        • Gary W
          Posted August 7, 2012 at 11:02 am | Permalink

          More seriously: to say that divine command theory is false because it can lead to innate moral repugnance …

          I didn’t say that. What reason is there to believe it’s true?

          If there isn’t a good reason to believe divine command theory is true (and I don’t think there is), and it violates our basic moral intuitions (I think it does), then I think that’s sufficient reason to reject it.

        • invivoMark
          Posted August 7, 2012 at 11:49 am | Permalink

          Because DCT creates a tautology! Jerry’s first link explained this point quite well, actually, despite its other failings.

          If you define good as whatever God commands, then calling God good is redundant and uninformative.

          • tualha
            Posted August 7, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

            It seems I should clarify that I’m not arguing for DCT; merely against Jerry’s strong reliance on the Euthyphro argument. However, I think I didn’t clearly understand what he was deriving from it. He didn’t say that the Euthyphro argument disproves DCT; he only said that it shows any sense of morality we have didn’t come from a deity. I think I would rephrase that to say that it doesn’t depend on a deity: if the good is good, of its own merit, it’s independent of a deity’s opinion.

            I do think, pace Jerry, the Euthyphro argument alone doesn’t rule out the possibility of a deity somehow instilling a sense of morality, as long as said sense always gets the same result as we get from reason and empathy. How would we tell, if we had such a thing? It’s like Russell’s teapot; all you can say is that there’s no reason to think it exists, as Gary W points out. That’s the ultimate reason to reject DCT and other supernatural ideas, in my view.

            • MNb
              Posted August 7, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

              In the end rejecting DCT is just an appeal to emotion. I don’t see anything wrong with that; I think the idea of someone obeying a god who whispered in his/her ear to kill some babies just because they adhere the wrong religion or no religion at all disgusting. Think about it – there is a reason that abortion clinics in the USA get attacked, while hardly in Europe.
              Apologists who defend DCT or other theodicies often display a remarkable lack of empathy. Craig is one example; Hitler another.

              http://www.nobeliefs.com/speeches.htm

              And we all know Hitler practiced it as well.
              It’s quite simple in the end – in what kind of world do you want to live? The answer is always emotional at its core and I don’t see why that should be an objection.

  14. Griff
    Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    It’s always struck me that morals would be a necessity for a social creature. How can you have a society unless you have rules?

    • MNb
      Posted August 7, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

      Ants and wasps.

      • Griff
        Posted August 8, 2012 at 12:00 am | Permalink

        Are you saying they don’t have rules?

  15. Mary - Canada
    Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    sub

  16. HaggisForBrains
    Posted August 7, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    The full TED talk is fantastic – so good I can’t stop yawning! That’s not a criticism, I hasten to add – watch the video and you’ll see.

  17. teacupoftheapocalypse
    Posted August 7, 2012 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Morality, or, at the very least, perceptions of and punishment of ‘bad behaviour’, have also been witnessed and recorded in wild populations of dolphin and elephant.

    Altruism has also been witnessed and recorded in wild populations of dolphin, elephant, primate and even zebra.

    • gillt
      Posted August 7, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      citations please

  18. Brett
    Posted August 7, 2012 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Here is a version of the same experiment (also with Capuchins), in which there is no structure dividing the two monkeys. The monkey that gets ripped off does not attack the other monkey or try to take its grape, but rather simply rejects what it has been given as an unfair exchange (relative to what the other has received). Dogs also appear to possess notions of fairness and reciprocity (see Range et al: http://courses.washington.edu/anmind/Range%20etal%20-%20jealousy%20in%20dogs%20-%20PNAS%202009.pdf). Video (starting at around 2:07): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aAFQ5kUHPkY.

    • Posted August 7, 2012 at 10:55 am | Permalink

      +1 Thank you much for that!

    • Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

      Why would the monkey try to chase after the other monkey to steal his grape when he in already in a trained routine to get his reward from the man? He knows the man has the grape to dispense–it’s a matter of getting his token to “work.”

      • Posted August 8, 2012 at 11:31 am | Permalink

        Place a blindfold over the monkey so it won’t be able to witness the “injustice” and “unfairness” and it will react in the very same way as soon as it starts to smell those grapes being eaten right next to him.

        You performed this experiment I take it, or is this just speculation?

        And no, animals are not “anthropomorphized” when being described as getting upset and frustrated–these are basic emotional functions crucial to survival that do not need complex and abstract thought patterns when dealing with ideologies.

        Your hubris is in applying this type of reductionism to a non-human animal, and then not examining your own human emotions by the same criteria. You are describing the constituent elements of “un-fairness” and ignoring that these same basic behaviors appear in human animals. Nobody is calling them as complex as human behavior, and obviously our greater intelligence adds a deeper dimension. Much like how we have trained ourselves to trade little slips of green paper for our grapes, and if the clerk hands us less than the previous customer for the same amount of paper, indignation WILL ensue. Sure, we have developed highly complex financial systems, but this is a difference of magnitude, not kind. These experiments are showing us that our own “moral compass” and behavior does have primal roots, and basic elements common to other species. We might extend our personal feelings of fairness to other humans, expressing empathy for their condition and relieve that feeling in ourselves by relieving that condition in other people, or in other words, sharing. I’ve heard mention of experiments with monkeys displaying this behavior, but I haven’t witnessed them myself.

        I would be a lot more surprised if the monkey did NOT react the way it did but instead tried to remain calm and civil despite being taunted in such a way. That’s what humans would do. They don’t want to appear petty or undignified–especially over a free meal.

        You must know different humans than I do, please direct me to this strange and wonderful world you live in, I much prefer it to my own. Have you ever been to Walmart on the eve of Christmas? Have you ever been yelled at because a customer’s coupon had expired yet they still wanted to trade it for a free pretzel? A GOD DAMNED PRETZEL!? We are not talking about “civil human beings” we’re talking about the species homo sapiens. Humans must be trained to behave in the way you describe. If you don’t believe that, try thinking about how your parents raised you and on what errors of civility you were punished. You are also making a mistake of economy. In order for the monkey to consider this a “free meal” it would have to realize that the rock is in itself valueless. If the global human currency was measured in granite, then you might have made a different statement, and that should tell you that you’re not thinking about the problem correctly. To the monkey, what we are witnessing is an economy of effort, and an agreement between the trainer and the monkey that should he hand over a stone or a token, he will receive food (a way of looking at “training”). Monkey A was trained that it would receive a cucumber, or a biscuit, which was nutritiously suitable enough to lock in the trained behavior. If the behavior was purely a conditioned response, no outside stimulus should change the agreement between the monkey and the trainer. The monkey should simply expect the cucumber for the stone. If the monkey had simply smelled a grape in the room, what basic logic would lead it to believe that the terms of the agreement had changed? What stimulus would tell it that suddenly it was going to get a sweet and juicy grape rather than a cucumber, or a boring biscuit? The grapes were there in the room when it graciously accepted the cucumber, so what difference caused the monkey to reject the second cucumber if the evidence of grapes was already present? In the case of these experiments, that you seem to disregard due to some perceived incompetence on the part of de Waal in designing his experiments, is that the monkeys witness other monkeys exchanging the same amount of work or tokens for a different, and much more desirable prize. They notice that the terms of their agreements are not the same as their own. They are smart enough to realize, through the experience of exchanging a token for food, and the observation that the same kind of token or effort delivers a grape that, “Monkey B exchanged a token with the trainer for a grape, therefore mine should too.” Having submitted the token again and not received the tasty grape, Monkey A refuses the food. This is because the terms of the agreement have changed in his mind. His token should deliver a grape based on his observation of another monkey. This is, in essence, unfair, or not-equivalent. Were the monkey strictly concerned with survival, it would take whatever energy source that was given, instead it throws away the food. Now, we could analyze this from the perspective of the “selfish gene” (way above my pay-grade), but then we would have to apply that same explanation to this same behavior in humans. The human equivalent might be many degrees more complex, and a lifetime of experience colors the way in which humans ultimately behave in light of the innate behaviors, but, again, this is a difference of magnitude, not of kind. I’m probably belaboring the point, but I daresay that were you to observe someone ahead of you in line at the deli purchase a pound of turkey for 5 dollars, and when it came your turn the clerk took your 5 dollars and handed you only half a pound, you would not likely bow your head and simply accept the meat. You would get upset, you would get frustrated, and would likely complain as to the inequity of your transaction. You might even return the turkey and ask for your money back. You would think to yourself that the clerk had cheated you, that he had been unfair in giving you less meat for your money. Now, certainly, your human training would beseech you not to create a scene, throw the turkey at the clerks face and stomp off in a huff, but the primate inside you would certainly be giving you these ideas. And I don’t think it stretches the imagination to consider that some people do exhibit such uncivilized behavior, I’ve witnessed it first hand.

        Now Had the monkey gotten grapes for its efforts prior to the experiment, then the experiment would have been poorly designed, and I trust that de Waal et al would be more careful in designing the experiment, and thanks to peer-review, I’m sure other primatologists would point out any flaws in the experimentation. Now an interesting experiment, would be to see how the monkey reacts to two trainers, one for each monkey. Should Monkey A observe Trainer B handing out grapes, would he expect the same from Trainer A, would he remain a loyal customer, and stick with his biscuits or would he switch shops and go where the deals are good?

        You might not be as interested in finding human traits in other animals, but I find it most interesting to see these basic behaviors carried out by human beings, especially those who think they are carrying out distinctly human behaviors in the grand comedy that is human civilization. Understanding the primal roots of our behaviors allows us to better understand ourselves and become truly civilized, rather than painting ourselves a mask of civility over our impulses and denying that these impulses are actually driving our behavior, that they are the source of our prejudices and our hatreds, and our love. Perhaps with that knowledge we can train ourselves to see these impulses for what they are, self-correct for them and stave off the scythe of natural selection from cutting out human-intelligence as an evolutionarily stable mutation.

        • Posted August 9, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

          “Monkey A was trained that it would receive a cucumber, or a biscuit, which was nutritiously suitable enough to lock in the trained behavior. If the behavior was purely a conditioned response, no outside stimulus should change the agreement between the monkey and the trainer.”

          Wrong. The monkey is not a robot but a living being and will respond to stimuli–and easily shift focus. This actually just proves that the monkey is a monkey–it’s not going to remain disciplined when taunted with something too tempting to ignore. Many humans undergo training to remain disciplined and ignore distraction–but that is a uniquely human attribute.

          I think that the crucial point is being missed here. Doling out an equal amount of SG rations to the people (i.e., “fairness”), lest a riot breaks out has nothing to do with morality–it has more to do with obligatory cooperation in order to have a functional and efficient social structure (as is also seen with animals that also learn to share and cooperate).

          Morality, on the other hand, goes beyond simply doing things because they work or are efficient–it’s doing things because they are RIGHT. And sometimes the “right” thing is not as functional. You have countries that exploit the people and force people to get abortions (both for the supposed greater good of the nation) and you have countries with moral standards trade greater efficiency and prosperity for doing what is morally right.

          Animals have no problem killing their young whenever they detect even slight genetic imperfections–or in many cases, if the mother is seeing nutrients that she is lacking in. Some human societies are also beginning to adopt a more animalistic stance when they pose the question of abortions for the unborn that may have a genetic disease. After all, taking such measures would produce benefits and result in greater efficiency for the social structure–without any repercussions from the unborn/newborn.

          That is what you get when you remove “trifling moral absolutes” from the equation in favor of function alone.

  19. Claimthehighground
    Posted August 7, 2012 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Only one error: there weren’t enough 9′s after the 6.

  20. Joe Pettit
    Posted August 7, 2012 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Three thoughts:
    1) Prof Coyne’s analysis leaves out the possibility that the a divine moral ideal is “written” into the fabric of reality itself, and thus would influence nonhuman behavior, as well as human. To argue that this means that the divine ideal is coextensive with what scietific inquiry reveals, and so is rather uninteresting, begs the question of what scientific inquiry has, in fact, revealed. Scientific analysis reveals behavior very similar to ours. It does not explain the exhaustive causes of that behavior. Furthermore, if this divine ideal is written into reality, it would not follow that we understand the ideal clearly, or how to apply it clearly to our lives. If one adds a healthy dose of highly fallible perception of the divine ideal (perhaps analogous to really bad eyesight), combined with the presence of a compelling competing ideal (e.g. me, me, me), then our failure to live up to this ideal is easy to explain.

    2) The Euthyphro dilemma has two solutions, one satisfactory, the other, not. The unsatisfactory solution is to embrace the divine command horn with gusto. Here the problem is not just that God can command things that we find horrible (e.g. Jericho), but also that we have no good reasons for thinking we know what the divine commands are in the first place. The satisfactory solution is to argue that God’s perfection both is the Good and places constraints God. If, for reasons that could be explained, ordering the destruction of Jericho would be an imperfect act, then God cannot do it. Thus, God is neither an arbitrary tyrant, nor inferior to the Good (the two horns of the dilemma).

    3. The strongest form of the moral argument for God’s existence is that God alone can identify a moral norm that is everywhere and always true. That is, the idea of a moral norm itself requires God. To be sure, anyone is free to try to identify a moral norm, but most of us would admit that our appeal to that norm in judging actions is always imperfect. Yet, to make sense of this imperfection, we need to make sense of the true measure existing to which our imperfect measure is compared.

    I really enjoy this blog. This is the first time I have commented. I hope these thoughts are helpful.

    • raven
      Posted August 7, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      Prof Coyne’s analysis leaves out the possibility that the a divine moral ideal is “written” into the fabric of reality itself,

      By itself, this doesn’t make any sense.

      How is it “written into the fabric of reality” itself?

      Where are these dvine moral ideals written into reality.

      Yet, to make sense of this imperfection, we need to make sense of the true measure existing to which our imperfect measure is compared.

      This is Platonism. It has nothing to do with reality.

      • Joe Pettit
        Posted August 7, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

        Hi Raven,
        You are correct that the idea needs more explaining. If there is a normative dimension to all real things (something very difficult to explain with real things defined in static terms, but not difficult at all to explain with real things defined in terms of dynamic process), and if all things are internally related to God (that is, they are in part defined by this relationship), and if God identified a perfect ideal, then all things (including atheists!) would be internally related related to this ideal. That is, it would be a constitutive property of their existence. That is what I meant by “written.”

        I do not think my point is Platonic. Rather, it is simply logical. To make sense of an imperfect measure, one needs a perfect measure; otherwise, in what sense can we call the measure imperfect? To say my point is Platonic seems to require that I am committed to the idea that all material things are imperfect exemplars of their Platonic ideal (e.g. imperfect horse). But I do not hold this at all. I do not think the idea of perfection properly applies to most worldly things. However, it does apply to measurement. Science does this all the time. Scientists think that there true lengths, widths, durations, etc. and our scientific measurements of these things are always, to some extent, imperfect. To say that there is a true moral difference between choices implies that this moral difference can be better or worse understood, but almost certainly always imperfectly understood.

        The clean atheistic solution is to deny the reality of moral difference as anything independent of convention and preference. That is, the atheist can play the part of a moral person, all the while knowing that there really is nothing at stake beyond how one is perceived and treated by others who are still under the illusion that moral difference is real.

    • Posted August 7, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

      I appreciate your patient explanation, but I must object on several points.

      As to point #1, okay, I’m willing to grant that as a logical possibility, but it is a complicated and flimsy explanation, whereas the scientific explanation is both simple (relatively speaking) and robust. It’s also logically possible, I suppose, that morality stems from a magical can of Cheez Whiz, but I am not seriously considering that as a possibility, nor do I think anyone else is.

      As to point #2, maybe it is my failing, but I simply do not see anything here other than “Okay, but God is magic, so he doesn’t get impaled on either horn.” It’s special pleading. Faced with the apparent logical dilemma that morality must either be external to God (in which case God is not the source) or dictated by God (in which case it is not truly “moral”), the response is to simply posit that God has a special third option. I’m not buying it, unless you can explain that third option in more general terms that do not involve special pleading.

      Point #3 seems to me to be putting the cart before the horse. It assumes that all attempts to define morality must be approximating some perfect ideal, and then positions God as the only possible source of this ideal. Whether the second follows from the first is irrelevant, as many people are not buying your first proposition.

      • Joe Pettit
        Posted August 7, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

        Hi James,
        On 1: The response may be complicated (metaphysics can be that way), but whether or not it is flimsy depends on the strength of the metaphysical argument. As for Cheez Whiz, I think it would be very difficult to launch a successful argument that it is the source of morality. So would an arguement that found the source of morality in my navel. Again, the issue would be the strength of the argument.

        As for what science shows, I disagree with you about its simplicity and its robustness. Science shows similar behavior in both primates and humans (along with other animals). It can also show that we share a common ancestor with primates, and so can conclude (rightly, I think) that there may be evolutionary reasons for some of the behavior that we call moral. The problem is that it cannot show that the behavior, either in primates or humans, is in fact moral. It simply is not equipped to do that. It can show that the behavior falls under the category of things we call moral, but it cannot show that we were ever right to call that behavior moral in the first place. Thus, science has shown a striking connection in both behavior and ancestry. It has not shown morality.

        On 2: This is not special pleading. What one needs is to somehow link the idea of God to the Good. Socrates askes Euthyphro if actions are good (pious) because God commands them, or because they are good (pious). The former makes God look like tyrant, the latter makes God look less than the Good. Neither position is a happy one for theists; hence the dilemma. If, however, one can give logically necessary content to the idea of divine perfection (another complicated argument), as opposed to arbitrary content, and this logically necessary idea of perfection could also identify a moral norm, then God would not be less than the Good, but God could also not be an arbitrary tyrant, as God’s perfection would prevent God from identifying one moral norm today, and another tomorrow. Again, I agree that fleshing such an argument is a bit complex, but I am quite certain it is possible.

        On 3: I would appreciate you explaining how one can be wrong in reaching a moral conclusion. To what is that person’s conclusion compared? If I am wrong in measuring the height of my beer bottle, it is because my beer bottle has an actual height. What has one failed to measure properly if one is morally wrong? I think one needs to compare one’s conclusion with something real, and for reasons that likely go beyond this blog, I think that God is the only rational explanation for that something real.

        Just to be clear on what kind of theist I am, I do not think that God can directly intervene in our history, and I certainly do not think that any one religion has a lock on how to understand God.

        I might also note that I have read and reviewed two of de Waal’s books on this subject and find his arguments very compelling.

        • MNb
          Posted August 7, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

          You are mixing up two things. Science cannot decide what’s good and what’s wrong. De Waal doesn’t claim that. But science can determine if other species have morals – ie a sense of right and wrong. That’s what De Waal’s lecture is about.

          • Joe Pettit
            Posted August 7, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

            MNb: I think we agree. Science can show that animals clearly display normative behavior.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted August 8, 2012 at 12:49 am | Permalink

          “If I am wrong in measuring the height of my beer bottle, it is because my beer bottle has an actual height.”

          Maybe you’d better clarify what you mean by “an actual height” here. Do you mean some definite real number representing the exact height of the bottle, to arbitrary precision?

          Because such a thing doesn’t exist. To start with, the bottle’s height varies from moment to moment with fluctuations in temperature, pressure, internal vibrations, passing gravity waves, and so on. Then there’s the fact that the bottle doesn’t have a well-defined boundary, because the atoms on its surface don’t have definite positions, only probability clouds. But the real killer is that there’s no such thing as exact lengths to arbitrary precision; the very concept of length becomes incoherent beyond about 35 digits of precision.

          These are not imperfections in our ability to measure reality. They’re fundamental features of reality itself.

          In the same way, it seems to me, there can be no perfect ideal of morality, because morality isn’t about fidelity to some abstract standard. It’s a pragmatic litmus test for classifying behaviors as socially acceptable or not. As such it’s inextricably bound up with the nature of our evolved social instincts, and is meaningless outside that context. There is no deeper reality of which our moral judgments are an imperfect approximation; the entire phenomenon of morality is embodied in our everyday practice of it, however slipshod that may be.

          “[Science] can show that the behavior falls under the category of things we call moral, but it cannot show that we were ever right to call that behavior moral in the first place.”

          You have it backwards. The behaviors came first; calling them moral (or not) came later, and is how the concept of morality acquired its meaning.

          • J
            Posted August 8, 2012 at 1:40 am | Permalink

            This is a brilliant comment

    • John K.
      Posted August 7, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      I submit that there are many commands that can be considered immoral regardless of their source. If, even theoretically, we can put one of these commands in the mouth of god and realize the morality of the statement does not change, it becomes clear that morality is more than just god’s command.

      I have to agree with James Sweet, you propose a third option but have not sufficiently enumerated it. Perhaps it is indeed too long for a comments section discussion, but I remain unconvinced that such an option exists.

      I would also be interested to know what gives god a ‘strong argument’ that is lacking in the magical cheese whiz and navel.

      • Joe Pettit
        Posted August 7, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

        James,
        We can consider anything immoral we please. The question is whether or not we are correct to do so. My position is that one cannot coherently defend identifying a command as immoral without appeal to God. The principle way I would do this is by a disjunctive syllogism that goes something like this.

        M1 There is no real moral ideal
        M2 There is a moral ideal that is contingent
        M3 There is a moral ideal that is necessary but not divine
        M4 There is moral ideal that is necessary and divine.

        I would seek to show why M1-3 are incoherent (it would take a while), and then I would seek to show that M4 was coherent.

        You ask about my third option. Please keep in mind that I was suggesting its possibility, not seeking to defend it. To give you a little more idea of what I mean consider the following:

        1: God is a relative to all actuality and possiblity (relative = internally related, or constituted in part by)

        2: This characteristic of God helps to explain what it would mean to call God a perfect being (perfection here depends on what quality one is considering, e.g. perfect knowledge). Something that was not relative to all things could not know all things in their fullness, and so would not have perfect knowledge of those things.

        3: This characteristic of God also establishes an ideal – maximal inclusivity (here inclusivity does not simply mean Borg-like assimilation, as such assimilation destroys individuality).

        4: This characteristic limits what God is able to “do” or “be.” God cannot exclude, without ceasing to be God. Not destroying Jericho is clearly more inclusive than destroying it, so God could not command the destruction of Jericho.

        5: This same ideal becomes the measure of moral truth for us: wherever possible, include.

        Thus, God is neither separate from the Good, nor is God arbitrary in what God commands. To be clear, I do not think God commands anything. Rather, God presents the moral ideal to all reality.

        Hope this helps a little.

        • Joe Pettit
          Posted August 7, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

          Ooops,
          I meant that to be addressed to John K. Apologies.

        • raven
          Posted August 7, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

          My position is that one cannot coherently defend identifying a command as immoral without appeal to God.

          1. We do that all the time. The bible is supposedly a reflection of the mind of god (Judaism) or infallible (fundies).

          In point of fact, the bible is basically immoral by our modern standards. In Exodus, you can sell your kids as sex slaves, stone disobedient children and nonvirgin brides to death and way too much more to bother detailing. Much of what the bible considers moral these days, we consider serious crimes. This shifting morality didn’t happen by appealing to god but by redefining what was moral and what wasn’t.

          2. There is no way to know what god thinks, wants, or commands. Religions differ wildly on this and their claims evolve rapidly on year timescales, no matter how much they hate that word and concept.

          3. There is no evidence that “god” exists. There is a huge amount of evidence that the various anthropomorphic gods, don’t exist. All testable claims made by religions have been falsified.

          • Joe Pettit
            Posted August 7, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

            The fact that we adjust our moral conclusions does not mean that we have coherently defended them.

            I disagree about 2, with the caveat that any such knowledge would be incomplete and fallible.

            I disagree about 3 if coherence is a form of evidence. I do not think the existence of God is testable, but I do not think the existence of the Good is testable either.

            • raven
              Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

              does not mean that we have coherently defended them.

              Probably not. It means that the earlier morality wasn’t absolute though.

              “coherently defended them” isn’t defined or even possible. If it is referable to the gods, you are assuming what you are trying to prove.

              A claim that anyone knows what god thinks, wants, or knows is unprovable and pretty dubious. It’s also an extraordinary claim that requires extradorinary proof. Millions of people claim to talk to the gods. God says different things to all of them. God hates the same things you (plural) hate and wants you to have what you want, i.e. a sockpuppet.

              The only way xians have found to decide what god wants is to fight wars that kill millions. The winner was right. These days we are sick of that sort of thing and have taken away their armies and heavy weapons.

              but I do not think the existence of the Good is testable either.

              Well we agree on one thing at least. God is untestable. It’s a belief. I don’t have a problem with Deos, some days I am a Deist. But it’s nothing I can prove.

              The Good sounds a lot like Plato’s Good. It probably doesn’t exist. But we can define better or worse operationally. Maximum well being for the largest number of people and so on.

        • John K.
          Posted August 8, 2012 at 6:21 am | Permalink

          You have waded into an atheist forum, and have been awash in responses, so I will not feel offended if I do not get another response.

          Your response to my argument seems to be that god does not give commands. Most people think there are at least 10. I have to assume that you agree Divine Command Theory is untenable, since you believe god does not give commands and as such would never dole out any morality at all. If you want to posit that god creates morality in some bizarre cosmic sense you need more than a decree that any other explanation makes no sense to you, right now it remains a bald assertion.

          As for your proof, it seems that you are invoking the supernatural in order to make things coherent to yourself. This comes down to an argument from a lack of imagination. I may be unable to present how my car operates, and I could invoke an all-powerful agent in order to make its operation more coherent, but this does nothing to help me understand or do anything. A theoretically untestable hypothesis has no utility, and can be discarded immediately as meaningless.

          Your 3rd option makes an enormous assertion on the first premise that you will have to justify. Realize that a god that is everywhere is indistinguishable from a god that is nowhere. The second premise simply defines god as all things perfect, which is close to begging the question. The rest makes strange use of the word “inclusive” that makes no sense to me. What is inclusive about destroying or not destroying something? Inclusive of what?

          Your response did not help, even a little.

    • DV
      Posted August 7, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      >>3. The strongest form of the moral argument for God’s existence is that God alone can identify a moral norm that is everywhere and always true.

      You’re assuming something you want to prove. What is your reason for supposing that a God if it exists can do what you posit it can? If you merely defined “God” as “something that can identify a moral norm that is everywhere and always true”, then there’s no need to pretend that you have an argument for God’s existence. You could just define God as existing and be done with it.

      >>That is, the idea of a moral norm itself requires God.

      Why?

      >>To be sure, anyone is free to try to identify a moral norm, but most of us would admit that our appeal to that norm in judging actions is always imperfect.

      This line of reasoning is ill thought out and unclear at best. What are you trying to say? We can say killing is bad, but there are gray areas that are hard to judge– so what — so therefore Jesus???

      >>Yet, to make sense of this imperfection, we need to make sense of the true measure existing to which our imperfect measure is compared.

      Nonsense. The *idea* of a perfect anything doesn’t require that that thing exists in reality. Try it by thinking of a perfect Santa Claus.

      • Joe Pettit
        Posted August 7, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

        DV,
        I was stating a conclusion, not presupposing it. Obviously, I need an argument. To see what it would look like is outline form, please see my response to John K above.

        I haven’t mentioned Jesus once. I am only suggesting that when we make moral judgments, we usually assume that our judgments are not perfect. My question then is, how do we make sense of this imperfection? Where is the true moral judgment to which our moral judgment is compared?

        I don’t think the idea of a perfect Santa Claus makes any sense. In what way(s) pefect? However, the idea of a perfect being can make sense given some characteristics. A perfect being knows all that exists to be known, whereas an imperfect being knows less than this. A perfect being is present always and everywhere, whereas an imperfect being is not. I am not presupposing a definition perfection, I am giving one in a coherent way. This cannot be done with Santa Claus (how big a belly and why? red cheeks or not, and why? White hair or gray, brown, or black, and why?).

        • DV
          Posted August 7, 2012 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

          Exactly! You are stating a conclusion that you arrived at by assuming it is already correct to begin with.

        • Gary W
          Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

          Ok, I’ll bite. But only because it’s so easy.

          I am only suggesting that when we make moral judgments, we usually assume that our judgments are not perfect. My question then is, how do we make sense of this imperfection? Where is the true moral judgment to which our moral judgment is compared?

          You offer no evidence for your claim of what “we usually assume.” The belief that one’s moral judgment is in some way defective or deficient does not imply belief that there’s any such thing as a “perfect” moral judgment, only that there’s a better one. Why should we believe there’s any such thing as a “perfect moral judgment” at all? What is “perfect moral judgment” even supposed to mean? “Perfect” as measured by what standard? Where does this standard come from?

          However, the idea of a perfect being can make sense given some characteristics. A perfect being knows all that exists to be known, whereas an imperfect being knows less than this. A perfect being is present always and everywhere, whereas an imperfect being is not. I am not presupposing a definition perfection, I am giving one in a coherent way.

          I don’t know what “giving a definition in a coherent way” is supposed to mean. Your statement that “a perfect being is present always and everywhere” sounds a lot like the Ontological Argument. You’re just assigning to your perfect being the characteristics you want it to have. We might just as well say, as Kant suggested, that “a perfect being is never present anywhere.”

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 7, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      Prof Coyne’s analysis leaves out the possibility that the a divine moral ideal is “written” into the fabric of reality itself,

      It does not. Because in all fairness [sic!] such an interaction could reveal itself. It doesn’t, instead we note how morality has evolved.

      The Euthyphro dilemma has two solutions,

      It has many solutions, so evidently there is no one which satisfies all.

      The simplest hypothesis, which is tested by the many offered “solutions”, is that there is no solution. The idea of gods commanding stuff is evidently wrong.

      I hope these thoughts are helpful.

      They reinforce well the impression that religionistas are shock full of special pleading and bereft of means to handle reality objectively, thank you.

      • Joe Pettit
        Posted August 7, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

        Torbjorn Larsson,
        1) How could it reveal itself? Further, I never denied that moral behavior in some ways evolves.

        2) Why is this the simplest solution? The existence of disagreement certainly doen’t prove the absence of a solution.

        3)Not sure what a religionista is, but the comment does seem rather short on hermeneutical good will.

        • Gary W
          Posted August 7, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

          1) How could it reveal itself?

          Everyone always agreeing about right and wrong.

          Why is this the simplest solution?

          He said simplest hypothesis, not simplest solution. If there’s no God, there’s no problem.

          Not sure what a religionista is

          You’re an example. And your comment of 2:48pm is a good example of the kind of meaningless guff that religionistas produce when they try to produce an intellectual defense of their beliefs.

          • Joe Pettit
            Posted August 7, 2012 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

            Wow.

    • MNb
      Posted August 7, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

      @1: Granted. Start a new religion or find yourself one that embraces that idea. The three Abrahamstic religions do not; neither do the Hindu varieties I know.
      @2: Again granted. It cannot be ruled out. Still if you accept that solution you’ll have to explain why some animals have morals while others not; and you’ll have to explain why those moral animals don’t worship that divine entity. Of course you also can show with De Waal-like experiments that all those moral animals are religious indeed.
      If only the homo sapiens has developed religion than no god had anything to do with morals.
      @3: Possible. Still you’ll have to explain how that works with animals with moral awareness.

      You’re by far not out of trouble yet.

      • Joe Pettit
        Posted August 7, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

        On my understanding, all animals would have some level of moral “understanding.” The extent to which that is manifested in their actions would differ depending on the level of “understanding.”

        If religion is a uniquely human response to ultimate reality, then I would not have to explain why animals do not have religion.

        • DV
          Posted August 7, 2012 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

          You’re in the habit of assuming what you need to prove. You first have to show that there is such a thing as ultimate reality. And then you have to prove that religion actually reflects anything about that. And which religion is real. Your line of argument is question-begging.

          • Bebop
            Posted August 8, 2012 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

            Why would we need a real religion if religions are cultural attempts to understand and experience another plane of reality that would be beyond our average grasping?

            Of course, the only way to know this is to experience it, but since that involves subjectivity, it can’t be scientifically demonstrated. But this doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be real…

  21. Posted August 7, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Two comments:

    First, while I agree with the gist of what you said about morality-not-from-God being more certain than no-God, and agree with your reasoning, if we’re waxing philosophical then I for one would still stop short of 100% certainty. While the logical argument appears airtight, there is always the possibility that it is based on some sort of mistaken assumption that we just haven’t recognized.

    Second, regarding Craig’s embrace of DCT… I think Craig does this because he knows full well it is the only reasonable god-salvaging answer to Euthyphro (which I always want to spell Euryphtro, for some reason…), so he has nominally committed to it. Craig does not seem to be concerned with intellectual honesty, so the fact that he obviously does not, in fact, act as if he truly believe DCT, well that’s just irrelevant.

    • MNb
      Posted August 7, 2012 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

      @1: Yeah, that can be said of every single scientific hypothesis. I’m pretty sure JAC is aware of it.

  22. gillt
    Posted August 7, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    In fact, it has never been demonstrated in rodents, only in dogs, corvids, and primates thus far.

    What are the genetic implications of this? It may be that it evolved independently in vertebrates or should we also include invertebrates? What’s the defining criteria for consideration…prosocial behavior?

    We need to test other social animals such as humboldt squid, orcas, mole rats.

  23. Posted August 7, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    Sigh. I’m confused for so many reasons.

    We’re entertaining the refutation that God exists; yet dismissing with a laugh the less-stupid suggestion that hampsters would act the same as primates?

    It’s a RELATIVELY reasonable demand: why not compare how other species react when given the same conditions?

    Confusion 2: are we really sitting here marvelling over how similar humans are to primates, while gleefully looking at a primate sentenced to live in a glass box?

    People should realize that animals evolved in tandem with their respective ecosystems. Squid do not misunderstand algebra because they’re stupid. It’s because they have no use for it.

    I think we understand pretty well our commonality with primates. Experiments like this are nice but not terribly useful since we already know we’re so closely related.

    • teacupoftheapocalypse
      Posted August 7, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

      The fact that an ex-girlfriend’s hamster once destroyed my favourite jeans suggests that they do not possess any sense of morality or guilt.

    • gillt
      Posted August 7, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

      People should realize that animals evolved in tandem with their respective ecosystems. Squid do not misunderstand algebra because they’re stupid. It’s because they have no use for it.

      Do we even know what environmental input selected for algebra in humans? Is that a valid question?

      I think we understand pretty well our commonality with primates. Experiments like this are nice but not terribly useful since we already know we’re so closely related.

      Now I’m confused. What type (all types?) of non-human primate experiments do you believe are redundant or not terribly useful?

      For instance, I would like to know why humans are bipedal and not other primates, and bonobos and chimps have different social systems. I would also like us to have a fuller understanding of the underlying difference in the human and primate immune systems.

      • Posted August 7, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

        Just an example, I’m more referring to dumb human tricks that we expect researchers to impose on all sorts of animals, including marine. Who the hell cares if dolphins can do math? My point is, you’re right. It’s not a valid question. Yet all sorts of dumb experiments are asking that question anyway.

        (Sorry the link is a media article, too lazy to track down the study):

        http://www.theatlanticwire.com/technology/2012/07/dolphins-do-math-not-exercising-just-bad-smoking/54751/

        Second issue, I didn’t explain it very well. My point was that, yes, it’s great to understand primates more, on every level. Keeping them in unacceptable lab conditions (i.e. not in the wild) is not worth it by any standards.

        Especially if it’s behavior. Why are we understanding them better? So we can make their lives even more miserable?

        • gillt
          Posted August 7, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

          The article you linked to described a study of dolphin hunting tactics that describes how their use of sonar is more advanced than ours. By definition that’s not a stupid human trick because we can’t even do it.

          I’m not really comfortable making a blanket statement that all primate research that requires they be kept in captivity is unacceptable. We wouldn’t have a yellow fever or polio vaccine without housing monkeys in labs, to name two obvious examples. Sure there’s room for improvement and we should work toward limiting our use of primates for ethical reasons and because of the high cost associated with housing them. The issue certainly is not as black and white as you make it.

          • Posted August 8, 2012 at 8:08 am | Permalink

            Maybe not the perfect example, Gillt, but I think you know what I mean and are ignoring it. Intelligence studies that are REPORTED in the media as though the animals have human-like “intelligence”. Which implies that other animals are stupid. And never acknowleges the way they co-evolved with their environment.

            I’m not making it out to be black and white. This discussion was never about curing disease. The study examined whether a monkey was jealous that he didn’t get a damned grape. What disease does that cure?

            I consider this crisis to be a matter of “triage”. With lab animals, why is it legal to keep them for studies on makeup? On behavior? We don’t need to rip hope out of the arms of cancer patients. We simply need to look at certain studies and say, what the hell? Why torment an animal for this?

            Also might be worth asking yourself, just a philisophical question: why is a human life more important than a monkey?

            • gillt
              Posted August 8, 2012 at 10:06 am | Permalink

              This discussion was never about curing disease. The study examined whether a monkey was jealous that he didn’t get a damned grape. What disease does that cure?

              You seem to be forgetting that you said Keeping [monkeys] in unacceptable lab conditions (i.e. not in the wild) is not worth it by any standards.

              So it is about curing disease since, as I pointed out, that requires keeping monkeys in labs. You apparently aren’t okay with even this type of research, but seem unwilling to admit it.

              I agree, animal research should be carefully regulated and and most of the time it is. I’m speaking from experience with mice, frogs, fish, worms and bacteria, all used to study human diseases. In fact, sometimes animal research is more highly regulated than voluntary human research (e.g., human guinea pigs), in my opinion largely due to consent forms, which animals cannot sign.

              I’ll answer your slippery slope question with a few more: why is human life more important than a nematode? After all, worm mass slaughters are daily occurrences in labs the world over. Does a billion C. elegens equal one mouse, and is 1.5 monkey’s life worth the same as one brain dead human? Is not the value we place on life often arbitrary? Where do you justify drawing the line?

              • Posted August 8, 2012 at 10:14 am | Permalink

                Well, not to be contentious but I think we should take this debate one step at a time instead of jumping into extremes like comparing primates to bacteria.

                So I ask you again: can you name one reason why a monkey’s life is less valuable than a human’s?

                I didn’t make myself clear regarding the “standards” argument. Most lab conditions are there to control the environment. No toys, no fresh air, because it may skew the experiment. I would be in favor of, in some cases (less serious diseases like depression or skin allergies, let’s say) risking the integrity of the study by allowing these animals to live in zoo-like conditions instead of a lab.

                But on my list of priorities, you’re ignoring my main point: why aren’t we demanding that experiments for idiotic stuff like makeup and behavior stopped TODAY? No one’s life is risked by giving those up, and you know it. Or at least allowing a large enclosure for these animals.

                Have you completely missed the irony of saying how close we are to them and then keeping them in conditions that would drive most of us insane?

              • gillt
                Posted August 8, 2012 at 11:54 am | Permalink

                I’m asking where you draw the line in regards to the value of life. Is all life equal? For me, I find it hard to make a case that it is; I don’t have any objective justification on why we should value one life over the next, human or bacteria. Even if you make the guiding principle about suffering, pain and distress instead of life that only clears things up somewhat. However, that’s what most research ethics boards do, and I generally agree: create guidelines and regulations that limit the amount of suffering imposed as much as possible. No needless suffering of any animal, some invertebrates and most prokaryotes excluded.

                Here’s the current NIH regulation on chimp research:

                No other suitable animal or in vitro model is available

                Conducting the study in humans would be unethical

                Not conducting the study in chimps would “significantly slow or prevent important advancements” involving serious human diseases

                Sounds reasonable to me.

              • Posted August 8, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

                Gillt, you’re still ignoring the makeup and behavior question. And the NIH guidelines ignore the fact that a bigger enclosure would be far more humane.

              • gillt
                Posted August 8, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

                Most lab conditions are there to control the environment. No toys, no fresh air, because it may skew the experiment.

                Citations please, because I’m pretty sure this is complete bs.

                Raven already addressed your uninformed dismissal of primate behavioral studies. You attempted to dismiss it with a personal anecdote, which shows that you’re not really engaging with the issues.

              • Posted August 8, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

                Um wrong, Gillt. I offered to provide Raven with studies and she never responded.

                You’re ignoring my point yet again: we now know how much primates are like us. Remind me why we have a right to keep them in labs for behavior studies?

                I have visited labs where enrichment toys are not allowed. Studies, fine I’ll post some, but you must agree to read the studies and comment on them.

                Deal?

          • gillt
            Posted August 9, 2012 at 10:40 am | Permalink

            Correct me if I’m wrong but a good part of Franz De Waalz’s behavior research is observing chimps in their natural habitat / sanctuary. Your criticisms are not pointed and likely irrelevant to the post. I’d rather wait for the studies you say you have before I condemn an entire field of research.

        • raven
          Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

          Especially if it’s behavior. Why are we understanding them better? So we can make their lives even more miserable?

          So we can make our lives less miserable.

          Understanding primates better may indeed make their lives less miserable. It was research on primates that led us to the conclusion that they are mentally a lot like us. Enough so that eating them or driving them to extinction might not be such a good idea.

          I’d be a little careful about assuming that captive animals have a miserable existence. Living in the wild isn’t so great either. Occasionally humans decide to leave our society and live in the wild. They usually either come back quickly or end up dead. Google Chris McCandless and see how well it worked for him in Alaska.

          • Posted August 8, 2012 at 8:02 am | Permalink

            Raven,

            I agree that studying primates can make their lives less miserable. However I worked as a veterinary nurse (did a lab rotation) for 10 years and now do work as a Biologist. At this point, there is no question that wild animals do not belong in captivity, and that they are not able to carry out their natural behaviors. I can provide studies if you’re interested.

            Consider how far a primate would travel and how large their territory would be. That doesn’t change because they’re put into captivity, evolution does not happen that fast. Yet some are forced to sit in tiny lab cages.

            Humans trying to live in the wild is a completely different story. We evolved over a long period of time and are now accustomed to hours sitting on the couch in a small area. And even we would snap if we had to sit in a tiny cage like that.

            Nature is not “cruel”. Just because we can’t imagine it, these animals spent millions of years co-evolving with their jungle ecosystems. The last place on earth they should be is in a university building.

  24. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted August 7, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think this is OT, because the video introduced it, but what was funny to me was observing Frans de Waal observing philosophers response to challenge.

    de Waal may not reciprocate, but he seems to operate on fairness when he notes that they will have to go back to the drawing board. Lucky too, evidently it’s either fairness or you get vegetables thrown at you.

  25. Posted August 7, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    I recommend WNYC’s Radiolab show called “Morality”, broadcast 13 August 2007.
    Frans de Waal is interviewed in it, and there are interesting notes on what happens in the brain while contemplating moral questions:

    http://www.radiolab.org/2007/aug/13/

  26. ToffeeMoonPie
    Posted August 7, 2012 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    The monkey is female, not male.

  27. Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    He does talk about another experiment in which one monkey refuses to eat grapes until the other one gets grape, but as an after-thought. If he were a student, I’d tell him to go back and work more on that. The after thought needs to be his main focus. Regardless, I loved the comment about scripture being a smorgasbord of divine commands. How else can you explain how so many people will rant and scream about gay marriage being an abomination but doing nothing about the rampant shellfish eating nowadays. It’s a damn shame that Chick-fil-A wasn’t a seafood restaurant, because the irony of that would have been so awesome.

  28. Mark Joseph
    Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne:

    The last paragraph of your post is brilliant. Perfectly conceived and stated, in a minimum of words. It is on my list of quotes that will be used. Thank you!

  29. cornbread_r2
    Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

    Spindle neurons

  30. Bebop
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    Everybody seems to take for granted that the pair of opposite “good vs evil” is still pertinent from God’s perspective. Our western mind are so used to that dual mode of perception that it doesn’t come to our mind that this may not an absolute way of grasping the world, that morality may just be a consequence of that dual perception which comes when you grasp the world through opposites.

    The oriental traditions talk a lot about the non-dual mode where the “good vs evil” is not relevant. They teach how to remove that dual filter from which the ego and therefore the dual perception emerges.

    That morality comes with evolution and culture doesn’t prove anything about God, if it is that God is beyond the opposites by which we can grasp the world.

    Language can only fail to describe “God’s greater good” because it is a “good” without opposition, a concept our dual mind can’t deal with…


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  1. [...] Jerry Coyne Teilen Sie dies mit:E-MailDruckenDiggFacebookRedditStumbleUponTwitterGefällt mir:Gefällt mirSei [...]

  2. [...] I haven’t seen a huge amount on morality in animals but it did come up on a recent post on Why Evolution Is True and I think is worth thinking about. The WEIT post has more information but, in short, the [...]

  3. [...] Where does morality come from? A demonstration with monkeys « Why Evolution Is True. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this. [...]

  4. [...] loved this video clip of Frans de Waal’s talk, Moral Behavior in Animals. (It was recently linked on Jerry Coyne’s Evolution is True blog.) It demonstrates that more animals than humans have evolved moral attributes of empathizing with [...]

  5. [...] to disease etc.  However it is less commonly referenced, is behavioral evolution.  This article I came across the other day was particularly well written, but as I know many of you will not open [...]

  6. [...] an August post called Where does morality come from? A demonstration with monkeys atheist and evolutionist cheerleader Jerry Coyne (who seems to be a big fan of these sort of [...]

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