objective morality

Is there an absolute objective moral value? This is one of the first unsolvable questions of Philosophy. There are claims made by some that without God there would be no absolute morality. I do not follow the argument. The gist seems to be that since there is no objective basis for an absolute morality, and since an absolute morality seems to be a good thing, and since the existence of God would be an absolute reference, then God exists. There are two problems with this approach.

For one, there is a conceptual difficulty referred as the Euthyphro dilemma, found in Plato‘s dialogue Euthyphro, in which Socrates asks Euthyphro, “Is the pious (τὸ ὅσιον) loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?”  The dilemma has had a major effect on the philosophical theism of the monotheistic religions, but in a modified form: ” Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?”

One the other, one have the “Epicurean paradox,” or the problem of evil, a trilemma argument (God is omnipotent, God is good, but Evil exists), commonly seen as this quote:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

This argument was a type favored by the ancient Greek skeptics, and may have been wrongly attributed to Epicurus by Lactantius, who, from his Christian perspective, regarded Epicurus as an atheist.  It has been suggested that it may actually be the work of an early skeptic writer, possibly Carneades. The earliest extant version of this trilemma appears in the writings of the skeptic Sextus Empiricus 160 – 210 AD.

In the Tetrapharmakos (Greek: τετραφάρμακος), or, “The four-part cure,”  the Greek philosopher Epicurus‘ (341 BC,Samos – 270 BC, Athens) offerd four remedies for healing the soul:

Ἄφοβον ὁ θεός,
ἀνύποπτον ὁ θάνατος
καὶ τἀγαθὸν μὲν εὔκτητον,
τὸ δὲ δεινὸν εὐεκκαρτέρητον
(PhilodemusHerculaneum Papyrus, 1005, 4.9–14)

“The fundamental obstacle to happiness, says Epicurus, is anxiety,” writes D. S. Hutchinson

Don’t fear god,
Don’t worry about death;
What is good is easy to get, and
What is terrible is easy to endure
(PhilodemusHerculaneum Papyrus, 1005, 4.9–14)

Kahlil Gibran expressed these ideas like this:

“Don’t call the physician, for he might extend my sentence in this prison by his medicine. The days of slavery are gone, and my soul seeks the freedom of the skies. And do not call the priest to my bedside, because his incantations would not save me if I were a sinner, nor would it rush me to Heaven if I were innocent. The will of humanity cannot change the will of God, as an astrologer cannot change the course of the stars. But after my death let the doctors and priest do what they please, for my ship will continue sailing until it reaches its destination.”

Moral arguments for God’s existence form a diverse family of arguments that reason from some feature of morality or the moral life to the existence of God, usually understood as a morally good creator of the universe. Moral arguments are both important and interesting. They are interesting because evaluating their soundness requires attention to practically every important philosophical issue dealt with in metaethics. They are important because of their prominence in popular apologetic arguments for religious belief. Evidence for this can be found in the amazing popularity of C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity (1952), which is almost certainly the best-selling book of apologetics in the twentieth century, and which begins with a moral argument for God’s existence. But one is hard press to find absolute moral values in religious texts. For example, the moral imperative You shall not murder, included as one of the Ten Commandments in the Torah, it is qualified by context and claims of self defense. The imperative is against unlawful killing resulting in bloodguilt. The Hebrew Bible contains numerous prohibitions against unlawful killing, but also allows for justified killing in the context of warfarecapital punishment, and self-defense. In fact, religious texts sometimes define piety by the willingness to kill at God´s command. The Book of Mormon starts with this concept. In Chapter 4 of the Book of Nephi, it says:

10 And it came to pass that I was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban; but I said in my heart: Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him.

11 And the Spirit said unto me again: Behold the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands. Yea, and I also knew that he had sought to take away mine own life; yea, and he would not hearken unto the commandments of the Lord; and he also had taken away our property.

12 And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands;

13 Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.

14 And now, when I, Nephi, had heard these words, I remembered the words of the Lord which he spake unto me in the wilderness, saying that: Inasmuch as thy seed shall keep my commandments, they shall prosper in the land of promise.

15 Yea, and I also thought that they could not keep the commandments of the Lord according to the law of Moses, save they should have the law.

16 And I also knew that the law was engraven upon the plates of brass.

17 And again, I knew that the Lord had delivered Laban into my hands for this cause—that I might obtain the records according to his commandments.

18 Therefore I did obey the voice of the Spirit, and took Laban by the hair of the head, and I smote off his head with his own sword.

The Old Testament establishes the holiness of Abraham by his willingness to kill his own son. The Binding of Isaac (in Hebrew the עֲקֵידַת יִצְחַק, Akedát Yitzḥák, also known as “The Binding” הָ)עֲקֵידָה), the Akedah or Aqedah,[1][2]or in Arabic as the Binding of IshmaelDhabih (ذبيح) or “Slaughter”), is a story from the Hebrew Bible in which God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, on Mount Moriah. The account states that Abraham “bound Isaac, his son”[3] before placing him on the altar.

According to the Hebrew Bible, God commands Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. (Genesis 22:5 and 22:8). After Isaac is bound to an altar, the angel of God stops Abraham at the last minute, saying “now I know you fear God.” At this point Abraham sees a ram caught in some nearby bushes and sacrifices the ram instead of Isaac.

The majority of Jewish religious commentators argue that God was testing Abraham to see if he would actually kill his own son, as a test of his loyalty. However, a number of Jewish Biblical commentators from the medieval era, and many in the modern era, read the text in another way.

The early rabbinic midrash Genesis Rabbah imagines God as saying “I never considered telling Abraham to slaughter Isaac (using theHebrew root letters for “slaughter”, not “sacrifice”)”. Rabbi Yona Ibn Janach (Spain, 11th century) wrote that God demanded only a symbolic sacrifice. Rabbi Yosef Ibn Caspi (Spain, early 14th century) wrote that Abraham’s “imagination” led him astray, making him believe that he had been commanded to sacrifice his son. Ibn Caspi writes “How could God command such a revolting thing?” But according to Rabbi Joseph H. Hertz (Chief Rabbi of the British Empire), child sacrifice was actually “rife among the Semitic peoples,” and suggests that “in that age, it was astounding that Abraham’s God should have interposed to prevent the sacrifice, not that He should have asked for it.” Hertz interprets the Akedah as demonstrating to the Jews that human sacrifice is abhorrent. “Unlike the cruel heathen deities, it was the spiritual surrender alone that God required.” In Jeremiah 32:35, God states that the later Israelite practice of child sacrifice to the deity Molech “had [never] entered My mind that they should do this abomination.”

Other rabbinic scholars also note that Abraham was willing to do everything to spare his son, even if it meant going against the divine command: while it was God who ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son, it was an angel, a lesser being in the celestial hierarchy, that commanded him to stop. However, the actions and words of angels (from the Greek for “messenger”) are generally understood to derive directly from God’s will.

In some later Jewish writings, the theology of a “divine test” is rejected, and the sacrifice of Isaac is interpreted as a “punishment” for Abraham’s earlier “mistreatment” of Ishmael, his elder son, whom he expelled from his household at the request of his wife, Sarah. According to this view, Abraham failed to show compassion for his son, so God punished him by ostensibly failing to show compassion for Abraham’s son. This is a somewhat flawed theory, since the Bible says that God agreed with Sarah, and it was only at His insistence that Abraham actually had Ishmael leave. In The Last Trial, Shalom Spiegel argues that these commentators were interpreting the Biblical narration as an implicit rebuke against Christianity’s claim that God would sacrifice His own son.

The Tzemach Tzedek[4] cites a question asked by Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk: At first glance, this appears to have been mainly a test of Isaac, for he was the one to be giving up his life al kiddush Hashem (in order to sanctify God’s Name). However the Torah states (Gen. 22:1) that God meant to test Abraham, not Isaac? Rabbi Menachem Mendel answers that although it is a very great Mitzvah to give up one’s life, it is unremarkable in the annals of Jewish history. Even the most unlettered and “ordinary” Jews would surrender their lives in martyrdom. Thus, as great a Mitzvah as it is, this test is considered trivial for someone of the spiritual stature of Isaac, who, as one of our forefathers, was likened to God’s “chariot” (Gen. Rabba 47:6) for he served as a vehicle for the divine traits of kindness, strictness, and compassion.

Rather, at the binding the main one tested was Abraham. It was a test of faith to see whether he would doubt God’s words. Abraham had been assured by God that “Your seed will be called through Isaac” (Gen. 21:12), i.e., Isaac (and not Ishmael) would father a great nation—the Jewish people. However, Abraham could apparently have asked a very glaring question: at the time that God commanded him to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice, Isaac was still single, and if Isaac would die now, how could he possibly father the nation which was to be born from Abraham? Moreover, isn’t God eternal and unchanging, as God declares: “I have not changed” (Malachi 3:6), implying that He does not change His mind?

Abraham believed with faith that if this is what God was telling him to do now, this was surely the right thing to do. It was passing this test that was remarkable even for someone of Abraham’s stature.

In The Binding of Isaac, Religious Murders & Kabbalah, Lippman Bodoff argues that Abraham never intended to actually sacrifice his son, and that he had faith that God had no intention that he do so. Others suggest[who?] that Abraham’s apparent complicity with the sacrifice was actually his way of testing God. Abraham had previously argued with God to save lives in Sodom and Gomorrah. By silently complying with God’s instructions to kill Isaac, Abraham was putting pressure on God to act in a moral way to preserve life. More evidence that Abraham thought that he won’t actually sacrifice Isaac comes from Genesis 22:5, where Abraham said to his servants, “You stay here with the ass. The boy and I will go up there; we will worship and we will return to you.” By saying that we (as opposed to I), he meant that both he and Isaac will return. Thus, he didn’t believe that Isaac would be sacrificed in the end.[5]

In The Guide for the PerplexedMaimonides argues that the story of the Binding of Isaac contains two “great notions.” First, Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac demonstrates the limit of humanity’s capability to both love and fear God. Second, because Abraham acted on a prophetic vision of what God had asked him to do, the story exemplifies how prophetic revelation has the same truth value as philosophical argument and thus carries equal certainty, notwithstanding the fact that it comes in a dream or vision

In Glory and Agony: Isaac’s Sacrifice and National NarrativeYael S. Feldman argues that the story of Isaac’s Binding, in both its biblical and post-biblical versions (the New Testament included) has had a great impact on the ethos of altruist heroism and self-sacrifice in modern Hebrew national culture. As her study demonstrates, over the last century the “Binding of Isaac” has morphed into the “Sacrifice of Isaac,” connoting both the glory and agony of heroic death on the battlefield.

Jihad (English pronunciation: /ɪˈhɑːd/Arabic: جهاد‎ ǧihād [dʒiˈhæːd]), an Islamic term, is a religious duty of Muslims. In Arabic, the word jihād translates as a noun meaning “struggle” or “resisting”. The word jihad appears in 23 Quranic verses.[1] Within the context of the classical Islam, particularly the Shiahs beliefs, it refers to struggle against those who do not believe in the Abrahamic God (Allah).[2] However, the word has even wider implications and interpretations.

Jihad means “to struggle in the way of Allah”. Jihad appears 41 times in the Quran and frequently in the idiomatic expression “striving in the way of God (al-jihad fi sabil Allah)“.[3][4][5] A person engaged in jihad is called a mujahid; the plural is mujahideen. Jihad is an important religious duty for Muslims. A minority among the Sunni scholars sometimes refer to this duty as the sixth pillar of Islam, though it occupies no such official status.[6] In Twelver Shi’a Islam, however, Jihad is one of the 10 Practices of the Religion.

There are two commonly accepted meanings of jihad: an inner spiritual struggle and an outer physical struggle.[3] The “greater jihad” is the inner struggle by a believer to fulfill his religious duties.[3][7] This non-violent meaning is stressed by both Muslim[8] and non-Muslim[9] authors. However, there is consensus amongst Islamic scholars that the concept of jihad will always include armed struggle against persecution and oppression.[10]

The “lesser jihad” is the physical struggle against the enemies of Islam.[3] This physical struggle can take a violent form or a non-violent form. The proponents of the violent form translate jihad as “holy war”,[11][12] although some Islamic studies scholars disagree.[13] The Dictionary of Islam[3] and British-American orientalist Bernard Lewis both argue jihad has a military meaning in the large majority of cases.[14] Some scholars maintain non-violent ways to struggle against the enemies of Islam. An example of this is written debate, often characterized as “jihad of the pen”.[15]

According to the BBC, a third meaning of jihad is the struggle to build a good society.[7] In a commentary of the hadith Sahih Muslim, entitled al-Minhaj, the medieval Islamic scholar Yahya ibn Sharaf al-Nawawi stated that “one of the collective duties of the community as a whole (fard kifaya) is to lodge a valid protest, to solve problems of religion, to have knowledge of Divine Law, to command what is right and forbid wrong conduct”.

The Quran contains at least 109 verses that call Muslims to war with nonbelievers for the sake of Islamic rule.  Some are quite graphic, with commands to chop off heads and fingers and kill infidels wherever they may be hiding.  Muslims who do not join the fight are called ‘hypocrites’ and warned that Allah will send them to Hell if they do not join the slaughter.

In the US most pro-lifers are at the same time pro-gunners. In fact, pro-life, pro-gun, and anti-homosexuality is the tripod base of the moral issues that define the conservative right in the US. The same voices that claim that God is the source is the source of morality proclaim that Science is the source of Evil:

As a watchman on the tower, I feel to warn you that one of the chief means of misleading our youth and destroying the family unit is our educational institutions. There is more than one reason why the Church is advising our youth to attend colleges close to their homes where institutes of religion are available. It gives the parents the opportunity to stay close to their children, and if they become alerted and informed, these parents can help expose some of the deceptions of men like … Charles Darwin.

Ezra Taft Benson

In the United States at the turn of the 20th century, Darwinism was greeted with glee because it seemed so compatible with the prevailing ideology of theday,  where robber-baron capitalists like the Carnegies, Mellons, Sumners, Stanfords and yes, even Jack London, could not stop rattling on about how the “survival of the fittest” justified crushing unions, exploiting immigrant labor or being left unregulated to amass huge fortunes while administering monopolies. A ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality is deeply entrenched in our culture. Despite the fact that this Wild West mentality  is a historical by product, it is now attributed to Darwin’s Origin of the Species.

Religious fundamentalists are sincere on their view of the World as a battleground between Good and Evil. For them anything that undermines faith in God, especially with regards to children, is utterly evil. The teaching of Science to children, in particular Evolution, is seen as a threat to children indoctrination. Nonetheless,  the attack on Evolution is an attack on Science as a whole. Science is not about what to believe but rather a method to perceive Reality. It is the critical objective look at reality aspect of Science that is perceived as a treat by the religious establishment. However,  teaching religious ideas as an alternative to factual descriptions of reality undermines science education by misinforming students about the scientific method — the basis for science literacy. It must be said that there is a propagandistic perversion of language, and there are religious groups that use the language of science to mislead and actually undermine a scientific conceptualization of Reality.

Because Science wins over Religion on factual description of Reality, the attack on Science is made nowadays on moral grounds.  From the point of view of religious fundamentalists, Science is a competing religion, although a silly one at that. Then the scientific community is under attack with this straw-man argument against evolution:

But if design, conversely, is rational, why do so many scientists reject it? Because this is not an issue of science, but of religion. Their religion is that of materialism and naturalism, and they are under no illusions as to the implications of design.

James M Tour, in the blog entry Layman’s Reflections on Evolution and Creation. An Insider’s View of the Academy, claims insufficient understanding of what he calls Macroevolution.  At the end of his article, Tour makes a reference to the movie, “Expelled. No Intelligence Allowed.” He asserts that a subset of the scientific establishment is retarding the careers of Darwinian skeptics. He closes citing  Viktor Frankl , The Doctor and the Soul with the comment If Frankl is correct, God help us:

“If we present a man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him. When we present man as an automaton of reflexes, as a mind-machine, as a bundle of instincts, as a pawn of drives and reactions, as a mere product of instinct, heredity and environment, we feed the nihilism to which modern man is, in any case, prone.

“I became acquainted with the last stage of that corruption in my second concentration camp, Auschwitz. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment; or as the Nazi liked to say, ‘of Blood and Soil.’ I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some Ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers [emphasis added].”

The movie Expelled main theme is that what it calls Darwinism inherently contain the seeds of Nazism, and even more Darwinism equals Nazism. This frighteningly immoral narrative is capped off a la Moore, with shots of the Berlin Wall, old stock footage of East German police kicking around those trying to escape through the wall to the West and some solemn blather by Ben, who calls upon each one of us to rise up in defense of freedom and knock down a few walls in order to get creationism back into the curriculum at American Schools.

Facts are neutral, and the mere fact  that man is part of nature does not justify on itself destructive and abusive ideologies. The morality of Science is best exemplified by the words of Bertrand Russell:

“I should like to say two things, one intellectual and one moral. The intellectual thing I should want to say is this: When you are studying any matter, or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only what are the facts and what is the truth that the facts bear out. Never let yourself be diverted either by what you wish to believe, or by what you think would have beneficent social effects if it were believed. But look only, and solely, at what are the facts. That is the intellectual thing that I should wish to say.

The moral thing I should wish to say… I should say love is wise, hatred is foolish. In this world which is getting more closely and closely interconnected we have to learn to tolerate each other, we have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things that we don’t like. We can only live together in that way and if we are to live together and not die together we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance which is absolutely vital to the continuation of human life on this planet.”

— BBC’s Face to Face interview of Bertrand Russell, British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, Nobel Prize

However, one must accept that there is a danger on overplaying the objectivity of Science. A lot of modern development of technology has been payed by the arms industry. The Wind Rises (風立ちぬ Kaze Tachinu?) is a 2013 Japanese animated historical drama film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, that deals with this ambiguity.  The Wind Rises is a fictionalized biography of Jiro Horikoshi (1903–1982), designer of the Mitsubishi A5M and its successor, theMitsubishi A6M Zero; both aircraft were used by the Empire of Japan during World War II. Jiro Horikoshi’s first work was the flawed Mitsubishi 1MF10, an experimental aircraft that never passed the prototype stage after some flight tests. However, lessons learned from this design led to the development of the far more successful Mitsubishi A5M (Allied codename “Claude”) which entered mass production in 1936. Some time later Horikoshi and his team at Mitsubishi were asked, in 1937, to design Prototype 12 (corresponding to the 12th year of the Showa era). Prototype 12 was completed in July 1940, and it was accepted by the Imperial Japanese Navy. Since 1940 was theJapanese year 2600, the new fighter was named as “Model 00” or “Zero” or A6M Zero, in Japan also known as the “Rei-sen” (literally meaning “zero fight”, shortened for Model zero fighter airplane). Subsequently, he was involved in many other fighters manufactured by Mitsubishi, including the Mitsubishi J2M Raiden (Thunderbolt) and the Mitsubishi A7M Reppu (Strong Gale). Despite Mitsubishi’s close ties to the Japanese military establishment and his direct participation in the nation’s buildup towards the Second World War, Horikoshi was strongly opposed to what he regarded as a futile war. Excerpts from his personal diary during the final year of the war were published in 1956 and made his position clear:

When we awoke on the morning of December 8, 1941, we found ourselves — without any foreknowledge — to be embroiled in war…Since then, the majority of us who had truly understood the awesome industrial strength of the United States never really believed that Japan would win this war. We were convinced that surely our government had in mind some diplomatic measures which would bring the conflict to a halt before the situation became catastrophic for Japan. But now, bereft of any strong government move to seek a diplomatic way out, we are being driven to doom. Japan is being destroyed. I cannot do [anything] other but to blame the military hierarchy and the blind politicians in power for dragging Japan into this hellish cauldron of defeat.[2]

I believe that moral values are a social construct and that they are the distillation of the knowledge of millennia of what behavior supports an stable society. Every time we engage in activities that hurt others, we will at the end hurt ourselves. This is the ultimate meaning of morality: what is good for ourselves. Epicurus emphasized minimizing harm and maximizing happiness of oneself and others as the basis for morality:

It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly (agreeing “neither to harm nor be harmed”), and it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life.

About arnulfo

veterano del ciberespacio
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