Monday, January 11, 2010

Subjective Objectivity

I just finished listening to the radio debate Hugh Hewitt hosted between Christian apologist Greg Koukl of Stand To Reason, and atheist author/editor Michael Shermer of Skeptic Magazine. I believe a recording of the event will be available soon on CD or mp3 format, but if you just can't wait, a transcript of the debate is on-line (here).

The back and forth between the two was polite but their differences could not have been more stark. Shermer, though he attempted to paint his view of morality in objective colors, actually believes in a Darwinistic view of morality that is subjective to the core. Once you recognize this, his smuggling of objective values into his explanation is blatantly obvious.

Here is an example: Shermer is asked to explain the source of what he says has become our group morality. He denies that he is a relativist, but offers the following to help us understand what he means ...
What I’m talking about is tapping into the good part of our nature, the fact that in addition to that xenophobic tribalism we have, we also have this other side that almost never gets discussed in evolutionary…even in evolutionary circles, you’ll still hear evolutionary biologists talking about, in a way that Huxley did, and Herbert Spencer did in Darwin’s own time, that we have to somehow struggle mightily against our genes to overcome that nasty tendency we have to want to rape, kill, pillage and destroy. Well no, actually, we have this whole other side that’s just as genetically programmed into our nature. And the point of culture – education, politics, economics and so on, is to tap into the better angels of our nature as Lincoln said.
So, in order to explain how we have come to differentiate between what is good and what is bad, Shermer claims that we have evolved in the struggle against our "nasty tendencies" by "tapping into the good part of our nature."

Do you see it?

The topic of debate is the origin of good and bad -- but Shermer uses the prior existence of good as the standard by which "natural selection" leads us to decide what is good. He is assuming what he is trying to prove.

To me, this is one of the most difficult topics to discuss with those hold to the views of Michael Shermer. They demand that evolution creates ethics by a purely naturalistic process -- a process which is, by definition, subjective and therefore relativistic. But they then insist that they hold to an objectively real system of ethics. The only positive thing at work here is that Shermer at least acknowledges that he cannot deny the existence of objective morality. He affirms that it is out there but still insists on a relativistic way to get to it.

Most of the Naturalistic types deny that objective reality even exists at all. But, when they can't live their lives that way, they smuggle in objective morality when it is convenient to do so. The frustrating aspect of that view is that they either cannot, or will not, admit that is what they are doing.

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