H3: 12/30/09 Greg Koukl, Michael Shermer

December 30, 2009 by  
Filed under Radio Show, The God Debates

12300903 Hugh Hewitt: Hour 3 – Hugh concludes 2009 with the latest in the great God debates between Greg Koukl of Stand To Reason, and Michael Shermer of Skeptic Magazine.

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6 Responses to “H3: 12/30/09 Greg Koukl, Michael Shermer”
  1. Michael McGranaghan says:

    Great show. I really enjoyed it. I think Greg Koukl’s position is pretty sound overall, but I think there are a couple places where he’s a little off.

    The first is Koukl’s hard and fast distinction between “objective” and “subjective”. Sometimes the subject holding a thought (the person thinking) and the object of the thought (what the person is thinking *about*) are the same thing. Namely, when one is thinking about oneself. So, for example when I think “My bones contain calcium”, I am both the subject and the object of that thought. The same would be true about thoughts about my DNA, or my evolutionary history, or my human nature. While calling these topics “subjective” is certainly true in a limited sense due to the fact that they pertain to the very person studying the topics, it is nevertheless also true that those topics are objective. Facts about our natures are true or false independent of our opinions, or decisions about them. No act of will on my part can change the fact that my cells contain DNA. Greg Koukl committed the fallacy of the excluded middle by claiming that facts about morals must be EITHER subjective OR objective. Not so. Facts about oneself can be both at once. Shermer was correct to challenge the dichotomy, although he did a poor job of presenting the alternative.

    The problem with subjective definitions of morality comes in when the meaning of ethical propositions are defined solely in terms of some person’s (or some set of people’s) opinion(s) or act(s) of will. Such a system would be arbitrary and contingent and not objective. In contrast an ethical system based on human nature would not depend on anyone’s opinion. Yes, such a system could be called “subjective” in the narrow sense that it is based on facts about ourselves, but those facts are themselves objective and therefore the moral system based on them is also objective. Michael Shermer’s definition of ethics does not suffer from the arbitrariness that typically comes with subjective definitions of morality because, while his definition is in a narrow sense subjective, it is also in a larger sense objective.

  2. Anthony Ward says:

    Micheal,

    I also agree that it was a great show.
    In response to your comment on whether Greg’s comment commits a logical fallacy. You have stated…

    “Greg Koukl committed the fallacy of the excluded middle by claiming that facts about morals must be EITHER subjective OR objective.”

    As a small point of correction. “Excluded middle” is rather known as the “law of excluded middle” which in logic says that either a particular proposition is true, or its negation is. What I believe you are referring to then is the “Either or” fallacy where an argument is made that says that there are only two possible options available when in reality there is at least another logical possibility.

    Let’s be clear, what Greg is referring to here is whether right and wrong come from us as individuals or us as a group (subjective), or whether they are independent from us and exist like laws of physics do (objective). His point is that atheism cannot account for objective morality. It may suggest an origin for our belief that morality is objective by suggesting that it’s in our DNA and or evolutionary history but that still does not make it objective in the sense that we are talking about here. When we talk about it being objective in this sense we are saying that it is like the law of gravity, it is outside of us and not contingent on our belief systems or history or whatever.

    You have further stated…

    The problem with subjective definitions of morality comes in when the meaning of ethical propositions are defined solely in terms of some person’s (or some set of people’s) opinion(s) or act(s) of will. Such a system would be arbitrary and contingent and not objective.

    I agree, and this is exactly the point.

    I understand then that you are referring to the “either or” fallacy. So is Greg guilty of committing this logical error by arguing that ethics are either subjective or objective? Let’s be clear,

  3. Anthony Ward says:

    oops. I forgot to delete my last sentence out from above;)

  4. Michael McGranaghan says:

    About. com defines the fallacy to which I refer by the terms “False Dilemma”, “Excluded Middle”, “False Dichotomy”, and “Bifurcation” (http://atheism.about.com/od/logicalfallacies/a/falsedilemma.htm) and a google search of “fallacy of the excluded middle” generates several hits for the same dilemma in addition to hits for the Law of Excluded Middle, which is different from the fallacy of the excluded middle. For clarity I will refer to the dilemma as a false dichotomy henceforth.

  5. Michael McGranaghan says:

    Anthony, I think you are committing the same fallacy as Greg Koukl when you refer to a distinction between “whether right and wrong come from us as individuals or us as a group (subjective), or whether they are independent from us and exist like laws of physics do (objective).” This is a false dilemma. Right and wrong can BOTH come from us AND exist like the laws of physics do. Facts about human beings are objective in the sense that their truth does not depend on anyone’s thoughts about those facts.

    The Laws of Physics are independent of human beings in the sense that the truth of the Laws does not depend on any person’s thoughts about them. Nevertheless human beings are bound by those Laws, and in that sense the Laws of Physics are IN us (as they are in everything else with a physical form). Similarly, the Laws of Human Nature apply to us (just like Gravity does) without the truth of those laws depending on what anyone thinks about them.

    This idea, which Shermer holds, that morality comes from human nature was first proposed by Aristotle and I’ve never heard anyone before Koukl categorize Aristotelian Ethics as “subjective”. I would be interested if anyone could point me to any respected philosopher or writer who thinks that Aristotelian Ethics is subjective.

  6. Anthony Ward says:

    Michael,

    I appreciate your responses. You have given me some things to think about. With respect to the Aristotelian reference I admit out front that I am ignorant. I do not know in detail what he held to be true.

    Having said that, I am not sure if that helps us very much anyhow. In the same way that Koukl’s view could be wrong the same could be said of Aristotle. With all due respect I think that what we are addressing here is whether or not morality has its ultimate origin in us or whether it has come from without. If our minds and hearts resonate with the truth of a proposition or not does not mean that it comes from us. It could be said that in the same way that large flat surfaces like a wall or a drum can pick up the sound that is passing in waves through them though no one is hitting them it might also be the case with object morality. On the other hand it could be the case that we (as humans) have constructed this whole ‘moral’ enterprise.

    Regardless of whether or not the individuals to whom the law applies have perfectly tuned into the frequency of objective morality or whether or not we ‘just know’ that a particular action is wrong or not does not mean that this knowledge has its ultimate origin in us.

    ps. I am just a lay person thinking about these issues from time to time and I realize that my understanding is limited! I do appreciate the dialog.

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