My perspective is that evolution is just a learning process in which God plays the role of a teacher, so even if the values/morality originally came from the guidance of a creator, it came through a process of teaching by which those values were learned - but they are learned because they work not because God said so.
That's interesting. Do you mean biological evolution or are you thinking of evolution in a broader sense? I guess I would have a hard time seeing some of the "lessons" of biological evolution as ones that a "good" God would teach. For example, evolution "taught" men to have sex with as many women as possible, and to fight to the death over the last piece of meat. Through evolution, we've "learned" how to ensure that our offspring survive, but that's pretty much it. In some cases, we actually need to fight what we've "learned" through evolution in order to "do the right thing," or the thing that will actually make us happier in the long run.
Now, if you are thinking more of the evolution of societies, it would make more sense to me. I think a lot of our morality comes from what works for society, in other words what enables us to live together, and we had to learn that over the course of the last few thousand years, and we're still learning. I actually see religion as part of that process (not that it was/is religion's only function, but an important one).
Angela wrote: I would say "what works" is a better place to start.
I would too -- basic pragmatic approach.
Yippee! Mitch and I agree on something!
Angela wrote:But I take it that the basic disagreement is whether or not there is an objective (oh dear there is that word again) basis for morality. What is your stand on this question?
my position on this question was given in my intro as a pluralist compromise between absolutism and relativism -- and if you read the explanation there you will see a pragmatic basis for the non-relativistic aspects of morality.
OK, i think I found it:
. . . . is a core of absolutes that can be derived from a pragmatic examination of what makes a society a productive contribution to the lives of its members
Again, it looks like we are pretty much on the same page here. Only. . . .I don't see how these pragmatically derived moral precepts can be called absolutes, since societies, and what it means for individuals to lead productive lives within them, change.
as I indicate in the subsequent discussion of valuing life, some values are implicit in the nature of ones existence. This is because we do not start from scratch. Our existence as a product of billions of years of the accumulation of genetic information in the creative endeavor of life, which is founded on values not only implicit in the process itself but in the direction that the process has taken. On top of that are a set of what is more usually called values learned in human history and transmitted by human communication. So on top of the values implicit in being a living organism and a primate, are values implicit in being human as well.
Well said. It's interesting; I basically agree with you as to the best way to go about understanding morality. Where we differ is best seen in your use of the word "implicit." I don't understand how values can be "implicit in a process," unless, of course, you are assuming a valuing being behind the process. And I know you do believe that God is in some sense behind evolution. But I also understand that you don't believe that moral absolutes depend on the existence of God. But you have to have a person valuing before you have values.
Some choices of what to value are better than others and what this depends on is the nature of your existence. To take an extreme silly example a person could choose to model his life after that of a tree, valuing only what a tree values, but this would use so little of his capabilities as a human being that I think it is obvious this choice is inferior to a choice that would make more use of what he is capable of. In other words contradicting values upon which your very existence is founded, is implicitly inferior.
Well, I would certainly find that an inferior existence. But does the hypothetical tree person? Evidently he doesn't value his capabilities as a human being. Or perhaps he doesn't have the capabilities we generally associate with human beings. Maybe he is profoundly mentally challenged. Maybe this tree existence is the most creative, beautiful expression of life possible for this person.
It may seem to you that I am playing devil's advocate, or "arguing for the sake of arguing," to quibble with your admittedly extreme silly example. But the reason you chose the example is because it seems to so obviously illustrate your point. It is similar to the "torturing babies for fun" example in the other thread. The persuasive power of these examples comes from the fact that pretty much anyone you ask is going to agree with the values that makes these things "wrong." Obviously if everyone acted like trees, or tortured babies for fun, well, we'd be in trouble as a species. But (as you and I agree), both "you should not torture babies for fun" and "you should not spend your life behaving as if you were a tree" depend on values.
Your argument (correct me if I am wrong) is that some values are "implicit in the nature of our existence" and thus absolute, thus the morals we derive from those values can be considered absolute. But again, values are not implicit in anything unless there is someone to do the valuing. It is more accurate to say that there are things that people as a rule tend to value (because of things we share that you mention above, genetic and historical), which is why we can agree on shared moral codes. But this doesn't make these shared morals absolute.
For example, the fact that we are alive does not mean it is inherently or implicitly valuable to be alive. I value life, you value life, almost everyone values life. And if as a species, we didn't value life, we would be extinct. But there may be someone who believes that the universe would be better off without human beings. What does that person value? Something other than human life. Are that person's values inferior? By whose standard? I don't agree with his values, you don't agree with his values, and if this person were to act on these values by systematically killing people, I would be right next to you trying to stop him, and if there were ever a case where capital punishment were called for, I think that would be it. Still, it is not absolute values that makes the person's actions immoral, it is our shared values.
Angela wrote:What I find impossible to fathom is that people would choose suffering over bliss.
I would. But I think you have the choice here a little mixed up. People do not choose what their future is going to be. They choose what they are going to do right now. And the choice right now that leads to these two different results is the choice between what is easy (or comfortable) and what is difficult. I think we already talked about that somewhere.
I'd like to respond to this as well, but this post has gotten so dang long. . .. so I'll save it for another time.