Friday, June 21, 2019

Clash of Worldviews: The Moral Argument for God

MODERATOR: Welcome to our program, where we fling worldviews into each other without mercy to see which comes out on top. Our floor here is littered with the detritus of a thousand inferior ideologies. It’s a sort of Darwinian struggle for survival in which the weaker ideas are swallowed whole and excreted, the victor being heralded forever, like mighty Galactus, as a devourer of worldviews.

LINDSEY: Are you going to introduce us or just spout more nonsense?

MODERATOR: Ah, yes, apologies for getting carried away. With us this evening are Lindsey Rowe, Catholic extraordinaire; Adam Garnett, noted secular humanist; and Heather Fogarty, infamous cynic and pessimist. They’re here to discuss the moral argument for God’s existence. Lindsey, I take it you mean to defend that argument, so why don’t you begin by presenting it for us?

Theistic Morality

LINDSEY: Not only do I defend the moral argument, but I’m sure it’s one of the strongest theistic proofs. In a nutshell, the argument is that there could be no morality without God. The best, or indeed the only good explanation of why there is such a thing as morality in the universe is that there’s something holy and good which transcends nature, which we call “God.” Morality doesn’t really belong in this world, which is to say the absolute rightness or wrongness of certain actions is itself proof of a higher reality. Morality can’t be reduced to subjective opinions, matters of taste, or to natural phenomena such as the pursuit of power or even the need to cooperate to sustain a society. Moral laws are themselves supernatural and so they testify to a supernatural source. If you accept that there are facts of moral right and wrong, that morality is therefore objective or absolute, and if you want to understand how such morality could be possible in nature, you’ve got to believe in God.

ADAM: Well, where to start! How about with the fact that appealing to a supernatural cause couldn’t amount to an adequate explanation of anything, including morality. Even if morality were mysterious, it would do no good to attempt to solve that mystery by positing God. You don’t deal adequately with a mystery by replacing it with a much bigger mystery. As an argument, then, this moral proof doesn’t get off the ground.

LINDSEY: You understand well enough what I mean by “God,” Adam, just as you know that there are moral facts. You can pretend it’s all mysterious, to avoid facing up to the incompleteness of your naturalistic worldview, but that won’t stop others from seeing that the evidence for God has been staring us in the face all along.

ADAM: I know what people mean when they talk about Darth Vader, too, but that doesn’t mean I’d accept that you could explain why my coffee cup fell off the table by saying that Darth Vader knocked it off. In talking about fictional characters, we suspend our disbelief, perhaps so as not to offend fans of the story. But understanding make-believe at that happy level doesn’t amount to understanding in the empirical sense, since no one understands how a fiction could directly impact the real world. I’m afraid your God character is fictional in that respect, so there again you have the difference between a superficial level of understanding, the level at which, on the one hand, we skip over philosophical difficulties to get on well together in society by accepting certain myths or the level at which we have fun dwelling mentally in a fantasy world, and on the other, the rational kind of understanding of real-world causes and effects.

LINDSEY: Whatever! Morality is supernatural, so the cause of morality must be as strange as morality. You can understand the cause of morality, namely God to the same extent you can understand morality. If even morality is baffling to you, maybe that’s the fault of your naturalistic philosophy which ends in nihilism and self-refuting skepticism.

ADAM: On the contrary, I do understand morality pretty well, which means I understand it as a natural phenomenon, since there’s no such thing as understanding the supernatural. If God has to be supernatural, by definition, the understanding of morality shows that the moral argument fails.

LINDSEY: So you think the emergence of morality in nature isn’t strange? Who are you fooling?

HEATHER: No, who are you fooling, Lindsey? In what way is anything in the universe not strange? With or without a personal creator as the First Cause, everything that exists is strange! Why did life emerge? Why are there stars in the sky? Why black holes or quantum mechanics? Of course, all natural phenomena have scientific explanations, so we can understand how things come about, but that doesn’t make them less strange since scientific explanations end at some point, such as at the Big Bang singularity, making the whole causal chain that follows groundless and absurd. And if God is responsible for everything in nature, we’d still have the bizarre fact that a divine person could create itself and have no parents. There’s no escape from strangeness, you see. You can stop and reflect on any experience at all and take up the existential standpoint, forcing you to grapple with why there’s something rather than nothing. Morality is no stranger than anything else.

LINDSEY: Oh, but it evidently is! Natural events happen because of indifferent laws which necessitate them or which make them probable under certain conditions. In that respect nature is the realm of facts. By contrast, morality is the realm of values and ideals, of what ought to happen in accordance with laws that are not at all indifferent. Moral laws would favour those events that are good and would warrant punishment of agents responsible for those that are bad. Morality presupposes a standard of judgment, not just a mechanism for churning out events regardless of whether they’re ideal, and where can you find perfect justice or goodness in this world? Nowhere! But moral judgments presuppose such perfection and so morality requires God as the arbiter, as the one whose interests are at stake in adding ideals to the universe of mere facts he also created.

ADAM: If you’re going to distinguish between facts and values, why did you speak earlier about “moral facts”? Wouldn’t that be a category error, according to you?

LINDSEY: There are moral facts in that the truth of moral claims doesn’t depend on what any of us thinks.

ADAM: Yes, allegedly, but is the wrongness of torturing babies, say, a fact or not? If it’s a fact, then we don’t have this metaphysical dichotomy you posited as the basis for morality’s special kind of strangeness. And if there’s no fact of the matter, there’s hardly even a phenomenon to discuss as evidence of anything.

LINDSEY: Torturing babies is wrong as a matter of objective, mind-independent fact. And the fact in question is special because it’s supernatural. You won’t find the wrongness of immoral actions in nature, since the source of right and wrong is God.

ADAM: And here Plato’s Euthyphro dilemma settles the issue. If the fact that makes that torture bad is God’s nature rather than his will, God could have had a different nature, such as one we’d now call “evil,” in which case torturing babies would have been obligatory. If the moral fact is just that God wills it so, God’s decision to favour some actions and condemn others would be either arbitrary or based on his understanding of some fact independent of him, in which case morality wouldn’t depend on God’s existence after all.

LINDSEY: It has nothing to do with God’s nature or his will, since those are empirical considerations which apply only to finite creatures. For example, we have a biological nature, because we have bodies that evolved, and we have a mental character that’s the result of our experiences. God is beyond such biological and psychological factors. God simply is goodness, so whatever comes from God is good.

HEATHER: Including the devil who’s supposed to be punished forever for being the opposite of good?

LINDSEY: Freewill is good for higher reasons we don’t fully understand. The devil abused his freewill. Anyway, God as a whole is identical with goodness, and goodness is the source of morality. Without such a source, there would be no morality.

HEATHER: If goodness comes from God, where does badness come from? Absolute morality would include right and wrong, good and bad. If God’s entirely good, why is there any such thing as immorality?

LINDSEY: As I said, evil comes from created freewill.

HEATHER: Yes, but your theism is supposed to help explain the existence of morality. Traditional monotheism posits a benevolent creator who has no evil bone in his body, as it were. So far from making morality clearer, doesn’t your theism make the matter more confusing? The troubled history of theodicy would seem to indicate that the monotheist, at least, has trouble explaining the whole of morality, namely evil as well as good, since the monotheist posits an ultimate source that would make for only half the moral story.

ADAM: She’s right, Lindsey. You can say that freewill is the approximate cause of evil acts, but what makes some free choices evil rather than good, given that God whom you identify with goodness is the ultimate cause of everything? You say theism alone can explain morality, but your brand of monotheism in particular would seem to make evil obscure or even illusory. So much for “moral facts”!

LINDSEY: Evil isn’t illusory but is real because of a supernatural battle between God and fallen angels.

ADAM: That’s your Christian story, yes. But the point would be that you’re no longer explaining morality by appealing just to God, since now you’ve got freewill and rebel angels and a cosmic struggle and a redemptive process and an end-of-days judgment. Those are your epicycles which mar what you say is morality’s best explanation. Theodicy must be part of the monotheist’s explanation of morality (of evil and good, both), because monotheism by itself makes for a poor explanation of morality, contrary to the moral argument for God. If you want to explain good and evil, you’re really tying your hands if you posit an all-powerful, all-good ultimate cause of everything, since such a cause could therefore do no wrong. At best, your benevolent creator can explain good but not evil. You need the devil to explain morality as a whole, and if God is responsible for the devil’s evil choices, so that you could predict everything the devil would do, given only God’s preexisting plan, God would become responsible for evil too, in which case God couldn’t be identical with goodness.

LINDSEY: No, evil is the deviation from God’s plan, which freewill makes possible. Morality is one miracle, calling for a supernatural explanation. Freewill is another such miracle. You don’t have moral practice without freewill, since you wouldn’t be morally responsible if you had no autonomy in choosing whether to follow or to violate a moral law. God created freewill, and freewill as a whole is good even though freewill makes evil—and thus what we call “morality”—possible.

HEATHER: Saying that freewill as a whole is good even though some free choices are bad is like saying an apple is red all over even though the apple has some green spots.

LINDSEY: But aren’t you glad you have freewill? Or would you rather be a robot?

ADAM: That’s a red herring. The point is that the clearest explanation of morality wouldn’t end up positing just absolute goodness or absolute evil, since you couldn’t get from either one alone to both. If there are certain facts that account for moral choices, those facts had better be amoral, since genuine explanation proceeds by reducing complex to simpler phenomena. As I said, nothing is explained if you only replace one mystery (morality) with an even bigger one (God).

Natural Morality

by Jack Chick
LINDSEY: Well, it’s all fine to nitpick and quibble—until we compare theism to the nonexplanations offered by atheists and naturalists. So how would you explain the existence of good and evil?

ADAM: First of all, good and evil don’t exist as reified entities. A value is just a preference for a possible future that’s considered ideal.

LINDSEY: And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen: for the secular humanist, morality is subjective! You might “consider” one film superior to another or you might “consider” that torturing babies is bad. But someone with a different upbringing might entertain the despicable thought that he wouldn’t mind torturing a baby, and for the naturalist there’s no fact of the matter to make the application of that antisocial upbringing wrong. Man as the measure of all things indeed! Except that torturing babies is objectively wrong regardless of how you or anyone else “considers” the matter.

ADAM: But you need God to consider it wrong, right? So the wrongness of torturing babies must be only subjective, after all, in which case theism has no advantage over naturalism as an explanation of morality.

LINDSEY: No, as I said, God transcends such psychological considerations. God is identical with goodness and God would never torture babies, which is why such an action is immoral.

HEATHER: Really? I thought you’d have to admit that God tortures babies all the time via the myriad diseases and deformities with which he’s afflicted them throughout human history.

LINDSEY: That’s just specious. God doesn’t maliciously intend to harm anyone. He created nature to serve a greater good, and that act of creation necessitates some suffering.

HEATHER: But by “some suffering” you mean to include the torture of babies.

LINDSEY: I mean to include pains endured by some babies. It’s not torture since God isn’t maliciously standing there next to diseased babies, deploying torture devices.

HEATHER: No, God’s like the king who makes an amoral decision in some meeting of elites, which sets into motion a monstrous system that includes the intermediate causes of horrific pains for many victims. The king doesn’t get his hands dirty but compels common thugs to do his bidding. So God doesn’t directly harm anyone, since God doesn’t do anything at all as far as we can tell, but God designs and initiates the natural universe, which made horrific pains inevitable. God created the viruses and cancers and scarcities that directly inflict pain on babies and on other innocent creatures, such as on innumerable animals.

LINDSEY: I’m not sure whether you or Adam even has a right to complain about suffering, since I noticed you still haven’t said how you would account for morality. As far as I can see, there’s no such thing as the reality of right and wrong on your godless, naturalistic worldviews. So you have no moral basis for throwing the suffering of babies in my face as a problem that needs solving. As soon as you recognize the wrongness of that suffering, you’re viewing the world at a supernatural level, in which case you’ve conceded the soundness of the moral argument for God.

ADAM: Dream on, Lindsey! Morality, in the sense of altruistic behaviour has a well-understood evolutionary basis. Indeed, evolutionary psychologists are infamous for over-explaining things, for telling just-so stories about how just about everything on earth got to where it is by natural selection, so your underestimation of the scope of naturalistic theories is surprising. I’m not saying the evolutionary account of morality is a stretch, but to think there’s some principle that bars naturalists from being able to understand the causes of morality is strangely ignorant.

In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins nicely summarizes five evolutionary causes of altruism, which build on what he calls the “selfishness of genes.” (I brought a couple of quotations from the book, expecting this to come up in the discussion.) “First,” says Dawkins, “there is the special case of genetic kinship. Second, there is reciprocation: the repayment of favours given, and the giving of favours in ‘anticipation’ of payback. Following on from this there is, third, the Darwinian benefit of acquiring a reputation for generosity and kindness. And fourth…there is the particular additional benefit of conspicuous generosity as a way of buying unfakeably authentic advertising.” Dawkins clarifies this fourth point when he says that “advertisements of superiority are authenticated by their cost. Only a genuinely superior individual can afford to advertise the fact by means of a costly gift…including ostentatious generosity and public-spirited risk-taking” (251). This fourth cause is known as the Handicap principle, and is similar to the sociologist Veblen’s point about conspicuous consumption.

Dawkins goes on to point out that full-blown morality would be a byproduct of this unselfish genetic programming, since hundreds of thousands of years ago, in our genetically-formative prehistoric period we lived in small groups so that we rarely encountered strangers. When we formed larger societies, the same evolutionary causes of selfless behaviour would have been operative, just as the sexual urge doesn’t disappear after the invention of birth control. Thus, we find ourselves empathizing with complete strangers rather than just with our family members or with tribe mates whom we could expect would reciprocate our favours.

So there you have a plausible evolutionary explanation of morality. Notice how it doesn’t appeal to any transcendent mystery, which means it’s a candidate for a genuine, enlightening explanation, unlike the monotheistic obfuscation.

LINDSEY: But your explanation is flawed, Adam, since the evolutionary development is necessarily riddled with accidents. The product of that development would have to be largely accidental too, so evolutionary psychology ignores the possibility that there are moral laws and facts. Take, for example, the urge to rape, which has an obvious evolutionary basis, assuming the genes are mostly self-directed. If that urge were counteracted by alternative genetic strategies, such as reciprocal altruism or the need to protect our reputation, there would be an accidental balance between conflicting urges, which indeed could explain why many men don’t rape women whereas some men do so.

The problem is that none of those factors has to do with knowledge of what should or shouldn’t be done. That’s the principle you spoke of, the one that seems to make evolutionary and indeed causal explanations of morality irrelevant. Your explanations are deflationary, since they don’t take morality seriously but undermine it by positing traits that could have been adjusted this way rather than that, depending on how the evolutionary wind blew, as it were. What you fail to explain is how rape could be wrong regardless of how we happened to evolve. The reason rape is wrong isn’t that we’re programmed to think as much or that we have mixed biological programming which causes most men to undress women with their eyes and then to stifle that antisocial impulse.

No, we know rape is wrong because women are people with intrinsic dignity. In theological terms, women are created in God’s image. So where’s the natural cause of that intrinsic dignity or of the moral knowledge which agrees with the transcendent facts? Consider me unimpressed by Dawkins’s red herrings.

ADAM: We do have human dignity as persons, but it’s not intrinsic because personhood evolved too. If you like, I can give you the evolutionary accounts of how consciousness, language, reason, and freewill developed, although our understanding of those features is imperfect, largely because the brain is fiendishly complex and the evidence of what transpired in our distant past is scant. 

LINDSEY: I have no need for those accounts since they would likewise miss the point. I’ll stipulate that cognitive scientists can explain the causes of moral behaviour, because that’s not the same as explaining the rightness of helping others and the wrongness of harming innocent creatures. All the natural mechanisms and processes and probabilities you can muster will show only why some type of event follows another type. So if I see a child drowning in a river and I jump in and rescue the child, you can say my genetic and psychological programming kicked in and caused me to act. But that misses the point at issue! The point is that had I just stood there and watched the helpless child drown, even though I could have saved him, that inaction would have been unconscionable.

Scientists see the world through the filter supplied by their methods and instrumental interests; they might as well be wearing blue-tinted glasses. All they can see when they’re offering their explanations are causes and effects, initial conditions and probabilities and nomic relations and so on. Their methods address one type of question, namely how things come about as they do, which tells us what will likely happen next. That filter prevents them, as scientists, from addressing the evaluative question of what should or shouldn’t happen. A scientist can say, instrumentally, that if I want to help people, because I’m programmed to have that overriding interest, then I should save a drowning child when I encounter one. But the immorality of watching a child drown isn’t found just in a break in that means-end relationship. Being inefficient in achieving my goals, when I stand by and watch the child drown even though I want to help others, isn’t the same as being immoral. I might prove to be a coward on that occasion, to not have the courage of my convictions, but contrary to ancient Greek teleology, moral wrongness isn’t the same as a failure to achieve a goal. Morality isn’t dependent on our interests, because some actions are right or wrong as a matter of absolute fact and we know their moral status isn’t up to any of us. That’s the proof of God.

ADAM: Well, the apparent mind-independence or objectivity of morality isn’t hard to explain without reference to God. If our moral judgments are shaped by millions of years of evolution, the ultimate causes of each moral choice we make are long forgotten and impossible to recover. Biologists can give an overview of why generally we think and act as we do, but we can’t know in detail the evolutionary contributions to why we think we’re obliged to save a drowning child. Even if the rightness of that selfless act might, on the contrary, be subjective and dependent on our interests and programming, the rightness would seem to issue from on high because its remote causes are unknown. So we say the moral qualities are “absolute,” covering up our ignorance by positing a preexistent, invisible fact such as God’s plan or eternal goodness. Instead of saying there’s a moral law that would have been true even if humanity had never emerged on this planet, I’d say we’re unaware of how our choices here and now are constrained by the distant past.  

LINDSEY: But come to the point! Is it absolutely wrong to watch a child drown when you could have saved her?

ADAM: I’d have to be a very bad person to let that happen.

LINDSEY: And your evolutionary past would likely cause you to think you should save the child, correct?

ADAM: Correct.

LINDSEY: But does that past make it right to save the child?

ADAM: Well, you’re asking whether an “ought” can follow from an “is,” or whether facts alone could justify values.

LINDSEY: That’s right! And that’s the principle that supports the moral argument for God. No matter what evolutionary story you want to tell, it’s irrelevant to the crux of morality. You can’t tell us that an evolutionary development makes an action right or wrong. The causes generate certain effects, period; facts from facts. But we’re talking about moral obligations, about a special type of fact, if you like, namely one that points beyond nature to a transcendent reality in which goodness reigns. Saving a drowning child is right, not because of any programming whatsoever and thus not because you or even the whole species thinks it’s right. The action is right because your conscience attunes you to a moral code that transcends this universe. At least, that’s the best explanation that’s been offered so far, because the evolutionary one should be dismissed as irrelevant, owing to the logical gap between descriptions and prescriptions.

Aesthetic Morality

MODERATOR: Heather, I wonder what side you’re on in this dispute. Have you a different explanation of morality to rival Lindsey’s?

HEATHER: I suppose I split the difference between Lindsey’s and Adam’s accounts of morality. Lindsey said morality can’t be reduced to taste, so in effect, he said that the moral isn’t the same as the aesthetic. He’s wrong about that. And Adam thinks moral values are subjective and little more than the mechanisms that shape the relevant behaviour. He’s wrong about that.

The reason it would be wrong to watch a child drown is because that act would be disgusting. Our deepest obligation isn’t always to be selfless, though, contrary to Christian slave morality. We’re obliged to be as noble and heroic as possible, and to avoid monstrifying ourselves. We shouldn’t contaminate ourselves with revolting personal qualities, known as “vices,” or participate in nature’s monstrosity.

So why is rape wrong? It’s wrong because a person who lowers himself to such an animal cliché in which physical strength overpowers weakness displays a nauseating dereliction of existential duty. If we relied only on that jungle law, our species would have been wiped out long ago, by larger, faster and more ferocious animal predators. We survived because we found an anomalous, unnatural way to flourish. We survived because of our brain power, so to act as though we were mere animals would demonstrate a lapse in self-awareness.

Why is torturing babies wrong? Because a baby’s innocence represents the world’s mindless amorality, and demonizing or terrorizing such a symbol once again would demonstrate a failure to see the bigger picture. We’re supposed to be better than amoral nature; that’s our call to heroism, to the supernature and godhood which Lindsey trivializes with his obsolete religious myths that are so many omens of our transhuman potential. When we act as amoral psychopaths, torturing babies and the like, we show we don’t stand apart from nature, after all; we prove that nature’s mindless indifference will triumph, making all our storied celebrations of human heroism futile. Most of all, what’s moral is to keep the opposite hope alive.

MODERATOR: I’m not sure I followed all of that. Heather, are you saying—what are you saying exactly? That the only good in the world is beauty or some aesthetic property?

LINDSEY: She’s talking nonsense since her worldview’s evidently been spoiled by materialist consumerism. She’s saying that helping others is only as good as enjoying a delicacy like chocolate; it’s all a matter of taste, I suppose, which is postmodern subjectivist rubbish.

HEATHER: Actually, not all aesthetic standards are equal. Notice, for example, how popular opinion about the quality of movies often differs from the critic’s opinion, since the critic usually knows better. Standards that are upheld by mass Western culture as a whole are typically blind to our existential situation. Our narcissism and hypocrisy are egregious in the aesthetic sense, which means they’re disgusting because of their failure to transcend the greater ugliness imposed on life by its godless creator.

ADAM: I’m not sure I’m following all of this either.

LINDSEY: What is this “existential situation” you keep referring to? And what do you mean by a “greater ugliness”?

HEATHER: The greater ugliness is the natural universe’s monstrosity; that’s the source of aesthetic value. Our existential situation is roughly the scenario identified by the ancient Gnostics: we’re supernatural spirits trapped in a hostile world that distracts us from our higher calling. But replace “spirit” with our capacities for philosophical self-knowledge and technoscientific power, and substitute our transhuman potential for a transcendent God or benevolent source of nature. The key point is the evaluative dualism: nature is objectively disgusting because of its mindless, pointless creativity, whereas we’re intelligent designers who are artistically obliged to redeem the universe by overcoming its ugliness with heroic displays of beauty.

LINDSEY: I don’t even know what to say about all of those bizarre assertions. So only the beautiful can be moral? Talk about a shallow standard!

HEATHER: It need have nothing to do with physical, outward beauty, Lindsey. There’s also heroism of the soul, of the mind and the heart.

ADAM: But how are those aesthetic properties objective? Isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder?

HEATHER: Aesthetic properties have subjective and objective aspects. The word “ugly,” for example, can mean “unattractive and disagreeable,” which would indeed be subjective, but it can also mean “something that’s hostile, dangerous, or threatening to cause trouble.” An antagonistic relationship can be objective, and when one side is the aggressor because of its hostility or catastrophic indifference, we call that side the villain. The word “monstrous” applies to nature objectively, since a monstrosity is that which horrifies or appalls, where the fear is due to the threat of a sudden attack or danger. Again, the threat can be objective even if the emotional response depends on the observer. Likewise, “beauty” can mean that which gives pleasure because of a meaningful pattern, and that pattern can be objective even if the pleasure isn’t.

ADAM: So you’re identifying morality with the aesthetic situation? Wouldn’t that mean that artists should be punished for producing bad art? That painting, singing, film-making, novel-writing and the like are moral endeavours? Surely, that would overextend the word “moral.”

HEATHER: Morality is only a type of aesthetic relationship, so no, art isn’t generally right or wrong in a moral way. The meaning of what we call “art” depends on the rules of our social games, whereas morality is about a living thing’s response to the world as it is. Obviously, art objects aren’t aware of anything and can’t choose what they do, so our aesthetic reactions to them don’t have the same weight. The production of art can, though, be morally relevant in so far as the art figures in the artist’s response to her existential predicament.

Everything we do, from our handling of nature’s inhumanity to our treatment of each other has an aesthetic status which is closely tied to its existential meaning, and that’s the heart also of real morality. The so-called absoluteness of moral values stems from these primitive gut reactions, from disgust towards monstrousness or from awe towards heroism, and the fundamental asymmetry in question is between nature, the villainous monster, and the noble creature that deals honourably with that foe.

ADAM: Are you a pantheist, then, since you’re calling nature a “villainous monster”?

HEATHER: No, I don’t think so. Not all monsters are alive. We think of cancer as monstrous even though it’s not fully alive in the biological sense. Plenty of filmic villains aren’t technically alive either, which is precisely what makes them scary. Take the blob, for example, or Lovecraftian deities. Zombies, too, stand out in that regard, since they’re specifically ruled out as being alive: somehow the zombie shambles on even though its body is plainly dead. Likewise, somehow the universe goes on creating and recreating itself even though, according to science, there’s no mind responsible for any of that activity except in the special cases of the organisms that evolve. There are only energies, forces, materials, and dimensions throughout most of nature.

Granted, the word “villain” might be tainted, since most villains in stories are persons. Perhaps “antagonist” would be a more neutral term. But the point remains that nature’s negative aesthetic status together with our potential for responding heroically to that antagonist might be the essence of morality.

LINDSEY: You said the world is monstrous because of its “godlessness,” so doesn’t your account of morality beg the question?

HEATHER: No more than yours would in favour of theism. Remember that we’re each trying to explain morality so that we can judge which story is best. You say it’s the theistic account, so obviously you have to appeal to God. I’m giving an alternative story, one that assumes the universe has no personal creator. If a nontheistic account of morality is at least plausible, the moral argument for God fails.

So I assume atheism, in which case the universe is monstrous in one crucial respect: nature’s indifference towards the life that happens to emerge within its environments violates our intuitions and thus threatens us with danger and, of course, death. Part of that indifference is nature’s mindless form of creativity, which subverts our pride in the opposite way of being, in our intelligence and purposiveness. Nature somehow creates itself out of nothing, which strikes us as absurd, and that mismatch sets us up for comedy and tragedy. And I’m saying that moral appraisals are effectively just those aesthetic ones, when we view life as existential comedy or as tragedy.

LINDSEY: You say nature is ugly, but the natural world is revered for its beauty. From the glory of a sunset at sea, to the splendor of the Grand Canyon, to the majesty of a mountain range—these landscapes are all paradigmatically beautiful. You’re just projecting your atheistic rage onto God’s fine creation.

HEATHER: Actually, if you abstract from something’s meaning, taking up the most impersonal aesthetic stance so that you attend only to the thing’s surface features, you can find beauty in anything whatsoever. For example, if you have the stomach for it and you can ignore the deeper significance, you can even watch a family member’s dead body decay and you’ll find beauty in the spreading pallor and in the maggots and so forth. If you had the devil right in front of you, you could find beauty in how the tics circle around the tufts of his matted red fur or how the light reflects off his black cloven hooves. It’s the same with nature, if we ignore the existential importance of what we’re witnessing.

LINDSEY: Well, I don’t see it. I’m far from convinced.

HEATHER: I’m proposing just an aesthetic gloss on existentialism, which is good enough to capture how people think of morality, and there’s no need to appeal to God to make it work.

LINDSEY: If the only alternative to theism is something so farfetched, I’d rather think you’ve shown we do need God for morality.

HEATHER: If it’s farfetched, that’s because we’d prefer not to dwell on the real problems of morality. We’d prefer to think that everything’s running smoothly, that there’s this life manual we call “holy scripture,” and it spells out what’s right and wrong and guarantees that everything will work out in the end because God’s in control. Or we think we can trust evolutionary programming or the wisdom of democracy and capitalism, which likewise tell us how we should live, by way of inner impulses or social expectations. Morality may be grounded in facts, but that doesn’t mean that everyone has the stomach to confront the relevant facts.

MODERATOR: Alas, it doesn’t seem like you’ve reached much of a consensus. Any final thoughts, then, on whether the existence of morality proves that God exists?

ADAM: Morality isn’t supernatural. Our social instincts are adaptations and our intelligence enables us to detect certain patterns we deem important, which we often dress up with myths to codify our discoveries. So we say certain actions are very bad, because we become familiar with their unpleasant consequences and we want to teach a way of life that’s best for everyone. There is no understanding of morality or of anything else, apart from some model of the natural factors involved, so again the moral argument is a nonstarter if we mean to appeal to the best explanation.

LINDSEY: On the contrary, naturalism helps us understand facts, not values, so a natural explanation of morality is the nonstarter. Morality is miraculous, because the universe of bare facts can be explained without reference to how they should be. Morality is as misplaced in nature as is a godlike creature, such as a human person, and those anomalies make sense only on the theist’s picture of what’s out there and of where we’re going.

HEATHER: Well, if morality seems miraculous or anomalous, that’s because the world of facts is inhuman, and it’s that mismatch between natural facts and preferences that makes life a struggle. God’s existence would eliminate that mismatch and make life meaningless by depriving creatures of any real danger in their life. Of course, there would be the danger of punishment in hell, but no deity responsible for that atrocity could be called the basis of morality. No, a moral, all-powerful parent would prevent his children from growing up, psychologically speaking, because we grow up as soon as we realize that life is fundamentally a bad joke and that we’ve got to carry on, regardless. 

LINDSEY: Nonsense! It’s perfectly moral for God to punish unrepentant sinners forever. That’s what justice requires.

ADAM: The notion that the universe’s creator would subscribe to anything like human morality in the first place shows only that the theist is bizarrely self-centered. In any case, I agree with Heather on that last point: the fact that conservative Christians think finite sins deserve infinite punishment indicates we should probably go elsewhere if we want to learn about the nature of what ought to be done.

LINDSEY: You won’t learn anything about morality from naturalists, since all you’ll hear from them are just the facts, ma’am.

ADAM: And all you’ll get from theists is hand-waving—as if we could understand anything better by positing the great big obscurity of an eternal, personal, transcendent creator who’s somehow male even though he has no parents.

MODERATOR: We’ll have to leave it there, I’m afraid. Speaking of monsters, stay tuned, viewers, for an episode of “Keeping up with the Kardashians.”


  1. This was interesting, one of the more blatant discussions of your aesthetic view of morality. I thought maybe Adam was going to bust out and go full Sam Harris with his objective view.

    How do you feel about the comparison between your view and Sartre? We’re condemned to be free and decide what a human should be (the aesthetic creation?). It’s repugnant to pretend you have no free will, that you are a thing (acting animalistic like unthinking nature?). Is the responsibility to be free the same the responsibility to create a trans human aesthetic vision of the human?

    I know you state your view is solidly existential. You both describe a similar awakening to consciousness and horror of being cursed to make these choices or creations of ourselves. Just wondering what you think about the comparison.


    1. Hi, Guthrie. I wrote a critique of Sartre's view of freedom, as part of my series on existentialists. You can find it in the link below. The key distinction for me is between spontaneity and autonomy (self-control). I agree that the self shouldn't be treated like an object, since it has godlike capacities (creativity, intelligence, freedom, self-awareness).

      I don't think of us as having a "responsibility" to adopt the aesthetic stance towards nature. It's more of a curse in over-applying objectivity. The aesthetic stance alienates us from everything, turning us into social outsiders. (I'm actually planning to make a graphic novel that explores these issues.)

      I'm also planning to write another article in that existentialism series, on the Orthodox Christian existentialist Nikolai Berdyaev, since freedom and creativity are central to his philosophy too.

  2. Using aesthetics as a criteria (and perhaps an explanation) for morality is an interesting idea. I must admit that, as a cynical misotheist, the only thing that's prevented me from committing myself to a prudent, but despicable, life of spiritual hypocrisy is the visceral sense of disgust the thought provokes in me.

    But I wonder if a heroic fight against monstrous nature is sufficient to make an action beautiful, and thus moral. A good example of what I mean is the eponymous hero of the Marquis de Sade's Justine. As uncompromising as Justine is in the face of overwhelming villainy, as much as I basically agree with her ethics (sans her sentimental clinging to God), I confess that I just couldn't bring myself to admire her. At best, I pitied Justine, but more often I found her ridiculous for the same reason a buffoon in a slapstick comedy is ridiculous; she comes off more as a clown than a heroine.

    Contrast Justine with Don Quixote. Quixote is a buffoon and a clown on the face of it, and yet he is no object of pity or scorn, but a man who provokes deep sympathy in anyone who is capable of that emotion. In fact, the characters who mock Quixote and take advantage of his goodwill are the ones to be pitied. Unlike Justine who - for all her absurd faith in God - quickly succumbs to cynicism, Quixote's mental illness protects him from disillusionment. Don Quixote owned himself. His brain, his eyes, his ears were all under the stern control of his soul. Where Sancho saw whores, taverns and a barber's basin, Quixote saw noble ladies, castles and Mombrino's helmet. He was not jaded by his experiences because his heart was too pure to allow him to behold anything sorted. Even in those rare instances when he saw or heard something unworthy, he never believed it, but recognized these freaks as illusions and enchantments wrought to distract him and disguise the truth.

    I should be repelled by Quixote's reliance upon illusions as much as I should admire Justine's stoical acceptance of the power of evil without ever for a moment surrendering to it - and yet, Don Quixote de la Mancha will always be my knight in shining armor! His delusions did not detract from his nobility one iota, but enabled it.

    Am I simply admiring Quixote's courage while despising Justine's passivity? But Justine did actually do her best to rescue her fellow victims while Quixote, for all his courage and martial prowess, never rescued anyone but hardened criminals who deserved their bondage. Or is it that Quixote had his victories while Justine failed at everything except prolonging her doomed existence? But what does success have to do with heroism? Isn't a tragic hero who fails actually all the more to be esteemed? Why is Quixote a hero and Justine a joke?

    1. Those are very interesting issues you raise, Sybok. I'll likely write up a response, in effect, in article form.

      A third example of the dubious idealist would be Dostoevsky's The Idiot, but the paradigm is clearly Jesus from the gospels. Gnosticism likewise puts this question front and center: what's the fate of the hero who doesn't belong in an evil or amoral world? In Gnosticism, as in Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism, the hero ought to escape (moksha). Jesus was rejected and crucified but redeemed in a higher dimension. In The Idiot, the prince fumbles the ball, losing his chances at romance and returning to the sanitarium (like a monk who seeks shelter from the cruel world, in the Ivory Tower). In Justine, the "heroine" can't adjust to the harsh lesson that morality is foolish, and becomes bitter and introverted before being struck down by lightning; again, the idealist finds no home in the real world (where "real world" is a euphemism for fallen, demonic or godless and unjust nature). And Quixote's foolish attempt to retain the child's vision of an enchanted world, even after the "progress" of rationalist disenchantment of nature, ends with his sad realization that reality isn't magical, after all.

      What's heroic about transhumanism, then, when amoral nature seems fated to overcome any such promethean resistance? Are we pitiful or vain in attempting to transform nature with godlike technoscience? What's the point of tragic heroism, and can we avoid seeming foolish or is that just a question of perspective? There can be no objective values in the sense of opinions proffered by the lifeless majority of the universe. So whether we succeed or fail, or destroy ourselves within a century or spread throughout the galaxy and live for tens of billions of years, the universe as a whole doesn't care, because it can't.

      So should we care about our ultimate fate, that being the oblivion that only mindless nature could register, since only nonliving atoms will remain after all living things, including practically immortal, godlike species are extinguished? There can be no such registering, no having of the last laugh on the part of monstrous nature. Only living things who become avatars of nature (such as psychopaths, social Darwinists, political realists) can laugh at heroic ventures (such as at the posthuman attempt to transcend nature with godlike artistry), and so even the anti-humanistic values are subjective.

      The question, therefore, is whether tragic heroism is best from the ideal human or living thing’s perspective. What is the best that living things can do in a living-dead world?—where “best” can be defined only by creatures who care about values in the first place. What exactly is our best self, regardless of that self’s tragic fate?

  3. "So should we care about our ultimate fate, that being the oblivion that only mindless nature could register, since only nonliving atoms will remain after all living things, including practically immortal, godlike species are extinguished?"

    Being firmly persuaded of eternal recurrence, I've neatly evaded that particular question. For me, it's the indelible nature of our actions, good or bad, which gives them value and endows every moment of every life with significance. But, hypothetically, if I am wrong and the human species - as well as the universe we inhabit - is condemned to total annihilation, then our ultimate fate cannot be any of our concern. Only life is fit to judge life, so even if the undead universe could offer its opinion, that opinion would not even be worth the colloquial two cents. Inhuman personifications of nature - psychopaths - likewise have no place to stand on when they judge the rest of us. How can someone who's implicitly rejected the very notion of value (ethical or otherwise) have anything to contribute to a discussion about values? They disparge ethics for being worthless and subjective - but that itself is a value judgment! They're especially prone to committing the natualistic fallacy - something de Sade's libertines do ad nauseum in his novels.

    "The question, therefore, is whether tragic heroism is best from the ideal human or living thing’s perspective. What is the best that living things can do in a living-dead world?—where “best” can be defined only by creatures who care about values in the first place. What exactly is our best self, regardless of that self’s tragic fate?"

    There are two great endeavors in ethical philosophy. One is to start with an axiom such as Kant's categorical imperative and then meticulously work out all its normative implications. I find this interesting, but rather pointless since the choice of axiom is arbitrary. The real work of ethics is to take our moral intuitions as they are and work backwards until we discover the root axiom(s) that underlie them. If a man could unearth the unstated, unconscious principle that lies at the root of his conscience or aesthetic sense, then I think he could know the best that he, as an individual, could do; and then, if he wished, he could work out its normative implications and construct a system of ethics for himself. But this system would be his own creation and would be for him alone.

    1. I'm not sure psychopaths are nihilists. They're more like egotists who, as you say, tend to commit the naturalistic fallacy. But I think you might be right that the way out of cosmic despair is to embrace the subjectivity of values. But some values are more subjective than others.

      I wonder why your point about basing morality on the unearthing of unconscious principles couldn't be applied to a collective. That would seem to be Jung's view (and Jordan Peterson's too, in Maps of Meaning). The archetypes would be universal guides. But you say the system would be the individual's creation and for him alone.

    2. I suppose I'm guilty of hyperbole here. A group of individuals could share the same ethical or aesthetic sensibility; however, mere agreement on some ethical norms can be deceptively superficial. Three individuals may agree that rape is wrong, but not for the same reasons. A humanist would object that rape violates the right of a woman to choose whom she wants to be intimate with. A Christian might decry it on the biblical principle that a husband enjoys an exclusive right to sex with his wife, which makes a rape a special case of theft (I infer this from Deuteronomy 22, which makes rape of a married woman a capital offense, while a man who rapes an unbetrothed virgin girl is only required to marry her). A radical feminist would condemn rape along with all heterosexual sex for the same reason most people condemn pedophilia: it involves an intrinsic power inequality and is thus a form of exploitation. While all three denounce rape as immoral, the reasons they base their denunciations on are fundamentally irreconcilable. But there's something deeper going on here than these essentially ad hoc arguments against rape. Beneath what we profess to believe, beneath all our rationalizations, their lies will.

      I consider Schopenhauer among the greatest philosophers in history, but he grossly oversimplified things when he attributed a 'will to live' to all phenomenon. With the lower animals it suffices, but when applied to human beings it falters. Nietzsche commited the same error with his 'will to power'. Aleister Crowley - not a philosopher, but an occultist - really hit bedrock with his idea that everyone has a 'true will'. According to Crowley, nothing we do has any moral significance unless it in some way relates to our true will: whatever furthers our true will is good, whatever hinders it is evil. "Every man", he writes in 'Magick Without Tears', "has an indefeasible right to be what he is... To insist that anyone else shall comply with one's own standards is to outrage, not only him, but oneself, since both parties are equally born of necessity." The trick, of course, is not just being what you are, but KNOWING it. Fundamentalist Christians obviously don't know themselves, which is why their hideous distortion of Jesus' teachings is such a travesty. The Nazis DID know themselves, which is why - despite the nearly apocalyptic scale of their crimes - nazism remains so seductive.

      I do differ with Crowley in at least one detail: we don't so much have a true will, rather, we ARE our true will. And our true will is not our ego, but what was there before our ego, as well as what remains after the ego passes away. Ceremonial magic not being one of my fortes, I've chosen to go the analytical route of approaching it as a root axiom rather than an entity. But it should be remembered that any ethical axiom that we can arrive at is just a description of a living, metaphysical will. We must be very careful that, in seeking the principle behind our actions and judgements, we are not just making excuses for ourselves. That's the challenge. My 'true will', after all, need not be something noble or even logical. While it could be used as a guide for right action, it might itself be utterly amoral from a human perspective.

      I'm glad that you mentioned archetypes. In section 143 of 'The Gay Science', Nietzsche makes a good point about how the 'gods' (archetypes) served as exemplars of individual virtues which men were free to choose and devote themselves to - until monotheism came along and forced everyone into the same mold.

    3. I'm not clear on what Schopenhauer meant by "will." I heard once that it's synonymous with "energy."

      Like the satanists, Crowley seems to commit the naturalistic fallacy there, where he says we have an absolute right to be what we are. I mean, that's just the straight up fallacy. Both points (Schopenhauer and Crowley) remind me of Spinoza on "conatus" (inertia), a thing's tendency to continue to exist and to enhance itself. The true will, though, would be similar to the existentialist's point about authenticity.

      I agree about the seductiveness of Nazism and fascism in general. As politically incorrect as that may be to say, it shouldn't even be up for debate, considering the current resurgence of populism, white nationalism, and neofascism all over the planet.

  4. "I'm not clear on what Schopenhauer meant by "will." I heard once that it's synonymous with "energy." "

    Energy would probably be a better analogy. Schopenhauer was anthropomorphizing & I think he admitted as much. The 'Will' is what underlies impersonal natural forces like gravity & atomic forces, but also the organic & psychic forces that these give rise to in the course of evolution. In its noumenal aspect, this Will is unitary, but when it intersects with space-time it differentiates into countless individual wills all striving against each other for dominance. The One shatters into the ten-thousand-things & then, as if by instinct, proceeds to devour itself in some unconscious & ultimately futile attempt to restore its unity. It's an extremely grim philosophy - Buddhism for the western mind, but without the non-sequiturs, equivocations & evasions that make westernized Buddhism so appealing. The restless Will - rather than some serene, platonic intellect or enlightened dharmakaya - is the primal cause, the wellspring of all phenomena. I've never read Schopenhauer in the original German though, so I could be wrong. But this is the impression I've developed after reading every book of his I could find translated into English.

    I'd agree with Schopenhauer that will precedes intellect, but I deny its unity & I question whether he really believed it either. If the multiplicity of wills were only an appearance, then Schopenhauer's soteriology (denial of the will to live) would be pointless. An individual might renounce her desire to live, but this would have no effect on the Will as a whole & since, according to him, our individuality is only phenomenal & is annihilated at death, renouncing the will to live would be of no consolation for the renouncer, as it would be as impermanent as her own life.

    "Like the satanists, Crowley seems to commit the naturalistic fallacy there, where he says we have an absolute right to be what we are. I mean, that's just the straight up fallacy. Both points (Schopenhauer and Crowley) remind me of Spinoza on "conatus" (inertia), a thing's tendency to continue to exist and to enhance itself. The true will, though, would be similar to the existentialist's point about authenticity."

    Agreed. It's about recognizing what you are beneath all the distortions of the ego & the expectations of society. But whether or not you SHOULD be what you are is another question entirely, & seems to presume a degree of freedom that may not exist for us. People can change, but so far I've seen no reason to believe that they can change into anyone they want. Acorns grow into oaks, but that's all they can ever become. If I can't be anyone other than who I am, I may as well be the best version of myself I can be.

    "I agree about the seductiveness of Nazism and fascism in general. As politically incorrect as that may be to say, it shouldn't even be up for debate, considering the current resurgence of populism, white nationalism, and neofascism all over the planet."

    After posting my last reply, it dawned on me that Fundy Christianity must be at least as seductive as Nazism given its success; so maybe I was wrong about the Nazi's appeal being a result of their self-awareness. I think it was more of a confession than an observation. I don't like Nazis or fascists in general, but I respect them a lot more than Christians because they don't couch their hateful rhetoric behind platitudes about 'love' and 'kumbaya'.

    1. Schopenhauer’s “Will” concept seems similar to my “nature-as-zombie” metaphor, but both are just place-holders since the mystery of godless Being is pretty much beyond our comprehension. It’s easy to anthropomorphize nature, of course, because nature is prolific and active rather than inert, which is why animism is intuitive and why even atheists curse inanimate objects. To say that nature is “living-dead” is to say there’s some unknown, alien force or power that enables mindless matter to simulate (and thus humiliate) life and intelligence, simply by being something ordered rather than nothing.

      Living things emerge out of that zombie force, but their intelligence and awareness of their existential condition split nature in two. As tragic and futile as the rebellion may be, it’s as real as anything else. Schopenhauer’s asceticism doesn’t seem as coherent to me as existential rebellion, by way of offering a solution. The problem with existentialism, though, is to specify what counts as the best or “noblest” kind of rebellion (to use Nietzsche’s term).

      I see your point about the strength of fascism, although many racists are infamous for denying that they’re anywhere close to being racist. The explicit white supremacists who march on the streets, of course, are up-front about it. Likewise, the Christians who protest abortion clinic are up-front about their repugnant views. The self-deception and ignorance enter the picture when we question whether those beliefs have anything to do with Christianity (they don’t). Jesus’ values were ascetic and hippie-style socialist, because he thought the world was going to end soon and so we’d better be radical and absolute and stop compromising (assuming Jesus lived at all). It’s obviously ludicrous pretending that Americanism can be consistent with Christianity.

      Likewise, fascist values are incoherent, because nothing prescriptive follows from the social Darwinism. Even if there were cognitive differences between human races at the biological level, it would hardly follow that any race is permanently inferior or superior, since we can be trained to improve or led to degrade. Indeed, we long ago overcame our biology by training ourselves to become persons in the first place. The enlarged frontal cortex gave us the potential for personhood, as did the opposable thumb and ability to walk upright, but we bootstrapped the advantage by inventing language and social evolution which eventually made natural selection itself obsolete for us. If culture was an effect of our biology, why did we spend over two million years in the Stone Age hardly progressing at all, despite the comparable phenotypic traits?

    2. "As tragic and futile as the rebellion may be, it’s as real as anything else..The problem with existentialism, though, is to specify what counts as the best or “noblest” kind of rebellion (to use Nietzsche’s term)."

      There's no rebellion. All these self proclaimed rebels are only what the CIA calls 'useful idiots' who unwittingly perpetuate the very status quo they seek to undo. Think of the 2nd part of the Matrix Trilogy when the Architect bursts Neo's bubble by exposing his little rebellion as just another subroutine in the overall program. Our minds have the capacity to imagine many courses of action we might take at any point in our lives & their possible outcomes; but we have no capacity to freely choose from those countless possibilities. The lower animals, lacking an imagination, just accept life as it is without regrets; but not us. For every 'choice' we make, our imagination sadistically taunts us with 'what could have been' had we chosen differently.

      I'm not saying that some ways of life aren't objectively better than others, but that's cold comfort for a determinist. After all, some faces are objectively prettier than others, but this gives us no grounds to condemn the ugly for being ugly or praise the beautiful for their beauty. And we have no more choice when it comes to our neurotype than we do to our phenotype; if you doubt that then I invite you to attempt to live inauthentically for a year. I tried it & couldn't even last 3 months. It's not like being a hypocrite is challenging. There's nothing easier than convincing someone of something they want to believe. And the rewards! In that brief foray into human society I made more valuable allies than I did in all my years of noble authenticity. I got free meals, free rides & enjoyed some physical affection from a very pretty girl who probably would have done *anything* I asked, had my silly conscience not prevented me from exploiting her desperate need for male attention. I gave it all up, but not because I wanted to or due to some crippling incapacity for forming social bonds (I'm not shy, autistic or misshapened like some omegas). Nor was it some noble sacrifice on my part to the idol of authenticity. I gave it up because I had to. I gave it up just as I had countless times before. Because, like everything in this universe, I'm just a lifeless but inevitable byproduct of matter & its laws; & matter - as anyone who's studied physics knows - is completely deterministic in its behavior (quantum woo woo chicanery notwithstanding). As I struggled to free myself, I sometimes thought I could feel the puppet strings tugging at my every nerve - that's really the best description I can give for how it feels when you try to defy the undead god. Before I attempted that experiment, I was only a philosophical fatalist.

      If you consider it deeply, I'm sure you'll appreciate how incoherent the idea of agency is in a souless, materialistic universe. Epicurus tried to allow for freedom in his materialist system by explaining that some atoms are prone to random motions. But even if this were so, randomness is not agency. If you saw a man behaving in a truly random (unpredictable) manner, you would probably conclude that he was insane & needed to be institutionalized for his own protection. Matter is ruled by adamantine chains of causation that stretch back into eternity. Hence, only a nonmaterial entity - a soul - could exercise agency in a material universe. Man's evident incapacity to exercise free choice is really the best argument against his having an immortal soul. But in an infinite universe like ours, where an infinite quantity of atoms collide and come together in every compossible (hence finite) combination, there's no need for immortal souls since our very souless materiality is what ensures our immortality. Every human being who has ever existed & ever will exist is condemned to eternal living-death. Schopenhauer was an optimist...

    3. "I see your point about the strength of fascism, although many racists are infamous for denying that they’re anywhere close to being racist."

      Well, I was speaking specifically about fascists, but no doubt most fascists are also racist to the core - especially when it comes to Jews & others with semitic backgrounds (if the 'islamophobes' really objected to the religion, they'd denounce Christianity as well since in many ways its even more intolerant than Islam). But we're all a little racist to some degree if only that most people prefer the company of their own ethnicity & almost always marry within their own race. I was raised a Jehovah's Witness, which may be the only American religion in which whites are in the minority (though it's still a large minority). Half of my best friends have been or are either non-white or bi-racial, so I never felt much of a sense of solidarity with other whites; but I understand why most white people do prefer their own race & it doesn't surprise me anymore than it does when I see Jews looking out for fellow Jews & Native Americans putting the interests of their own tribe over others. If other races are going to priortize their own race over others, then white people would be foolish to not follow suit; & once they are no longer the majority in the US, I think they will see that. What's depressing, though, is that this realization will make them easy prey for the Klan and neo-nazis. Instead of just shrewdly looking after their own, I fear that American whites will push back violently in an effort to regain their hegemony. Hell, this is essentially what voting for Trump is all about. His motto should be MAWA. It's only going to get worse as time goes on...

      "Likewise, fascist values are incoherent, because nothing prescriptive follows from the social Darwinism. Even if there were cognitive differences between human races at the biological level, it would hardly follow that any race is permanently inferior or superior, since we can be trained to improve or led to degrade. Indeed, we long ago overcame our biology by training ourselves to become persons in the first place. The enlarged frontal cortex gave us the potential for personhood, as did the opposable thumb and ability to walk upright, but we bootstrapped the advantage by inventing language and social evolution which eventually made natural selection itself obsolete for us. If culture was an effect of our biology, why did we spend over two million years in the Stone Age hardly progressing at all, despite the comparable phenotypic traits?"

      Exactly, and this is what's so often ignored in debates about race. And concerning possible biological differences: even if the average IQ of blacks were a whole standard deviation lower than that of whites, all it would mean is that - proportionally speaking - there are less black geniuses than white ones. Washington Carver was a genius and George W is a moron, but by racist logic we should favor George over Washington because, on average, George's race has a higher IQ. Never mind that the discovery of the Flynn effect has pretty much discredited the IQ test as a measure of practical intelligence. Never mind that to even call black people a 'race' is problematic at best since there is more actual genetic difference between two random Africans than there is between the fairest Scandinavian and a swarthy Inuit. Genes supposedly account for approximately 30-50% of intelligence, but race has a lot more to do with phenotype than genotype.

    4. I've written several articles on this question of freewill (links below). It's important not to confuse autonomy (self-control) with omnipotence (so-called libertarian, miraculous freedom to go against any possible cause). As I say in "Character and Freewill":

      ‘Zohny assumes that if we can’t pinpoint something necessarily immaterial and magical, known traditionally as a “soul” or “spirit,” something that chooses what we think at any given moment without itself being merely another mental content following a stream of similar thoughts and feelings, there’s no such thing as freewill or as self-control. But this strawmans the idea of freewill. Of course we’re not omnipotent: we don’t have the capacity to stand outside our brain and all our particular mental states to decide, based on no prior mental state, what we think or do. Who or what would be the self that transcends those mental states? What would distinguish this proper self from anyone else if that chooser of thoughts weren’t distinguished by some set of mental contents that would likewise have to come from somewhere?’

      And just because the non-quantum universe is deterministic doesn't mean the lower levels of explanation (physics, chemistry) suffice to predict all emergent phenomena. There are levels of explanation for a reason and it's not just for practicality. So if the best explanation of psychological events ends by positing the self as the primary cause, that's as good as saying the self is in control of its actions.

      This isn't to say, with Sartre, that we're always free to recreate ourselves from scratch. The older we get, the less of this radical freedom we have, since we've already established our character and background assumptions which largely automate our actions. But as I say in that same article, this automation means only that our adult autonomy is indirect, since our early choices have a hand in shaping our adult self.

      In any case, the more complex the mind is, the more important is the psychological level of explanation; likewise, the greater the brain’s complexity, the more its nomic relations are irreducible. Psychology is a culture-friendly simplification of neurology, one that preserves what eliminativists like Scott Bakker (whom I debated these issues with on my blog) call the "illusions" of meaning, purpose, freedom, consciousness, and rationality. But these aren't illusions in the sense implied by eliminativism. These are emergent phenomena we posit to understand what Daniel Dennett calls "real patterns."

    5. One of these real patterns is the rise of the cultures that drive the Anthropocene, which indicates the existential split I spoke of. There is no explanation of human social phenomena without positing the wild belief, for example, in immortality, which causes us to bury the dead, worship spirits, and go to war over holy books. So we explain the strangeness of human behaviour by positing culture, and culture just is part of the existential rebellion. Rather than being slaves to nature, we live in our heads and in the artificial, largely autonomous worlds we build. That’s our godlike capacity, which includes our relative freedom (compared to animal servitude), without which there’s no understanding of some of the real patterns in our history. If you try to explain those patterns using only the theories of biology, chemistry, and physics, you’ll find you have to slip in higher-level terms (such as semantic meaning or consciousness) which aren’t at home in those theories and which entail the dualism that existentialists make sense of.

      If you’d like to have a dialogue on this question, possibly one I could post on my blog, feel free to email me what we can call your opening statement (say, 300 words or fewer), and we could go back and forth on it for a while. You can use the Contact Form on my blog to get started.

      Here are some relevant articles of mine: