Saturday, March 22, 2008

Evil Bender on Morality

Well, it's a couple weeks old now, but I wanted to respond to a post by "Evil Bender" on the rational justification of morality. Here is an excerpt from Evil Bender's post on Feb. 28 which adequately explains the circumstances (with those expressions for which in our house a bar of soap in the mouth is the preferred treatment censored):

Martin Cothran, DI contributer, praised a couple of posts on the supposed moral problems of evolutionary theory (1, 2). Cothran praises them as excellent challenges to the Neodarwinian synthesis, which is exceptionally embarrassing, because one doesn’t even need to deal with the specifics of these arguments to see how flawed they are. You see, they overlook two important points:

1. What moral conclusions you choose to draw from a scientific theory is not the result of the theory, but of your philosophical analysis of that theory, and

2. That you do not like the supposed moral implications of a theory doesn’t mean ****. The truth of a theory is not tied to whether you freakin’ like it.

The posts in question, which you can see at the Vulgar Moralist blog, discuss the positions of several of the neoAtheists, most specifically, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Stephen Pinker, that he believes imply moral nihilism. In other words, Vulgar Moralist argues that "NeoDarwinism," which he implicitly defines as philosophical naturalism, undermines the rational justification of morality. If NeoDarwinism (read NeoAtheism) is true, then any kind of objective morality cannot be rationally justified.

Vulgar Moralist uses the term "NeoDarwinist," which under many definitions does not imply atheism, as synonymous with "NeoAthiesm," but it is fairly clear from the post what Vulgar Moralist is talking about. Evil Bender's first point targets one statement in Vulgar Moralist's post that seems to imply that he is believe science per se implies philosophical naturalism. Once again, Vulgar Moralist's terminology is a little confusing here, but it is fairly clear from the post what he means to say. In addition, Vulgar Moralist states clearly elsewhere on his blog that he does not believe science per se is morally nihilistic.

It is easy to take ambiguous terminology in someone's blog post and make it the main issue, as Evil Bender does, and think you have slain a dragon. But in doing it in this case Evil Bender just commits the very same error of which he accuses Vulgar Moralist: of conflating two positions that are, in fact, distinct. Vulgar Moralist was clearly arguing that philosophical naturalism which characterizes the thought of Richard Dawkins et al. is morally nihilistic. Making Vulgar Moralist's point out to be the science is itself morally nihilistic may make Evil Bender feel better about himself and his superior exactitude in his use of terminology, but it doesn't even tough Vulgar Moralist's main argument.

So I concede his first point while pointing out that it doesn't affect Vulgar Moralist's argument in the least.

On the second point--that the truth of a theory "is not tied to whether you freakin’ like it"--I will have to agree once again, pointing out, once again, that IT SAYS NOTHING ABOUT VULGAR MORALISTS ARGUMENT.

So far, the only responses I have seen have taken one minor terminological error in Vulgar Moralist's post and used it as an excuse to attack a position that Vulgar Moralist does not hold and to ignore the position he very obviously defends in his post.

There are a couple terminological ambiguities in the post, but it is clear that they are terminological ambiguities by just reading the post. Now get over it people and address his main argument.


Anonymous said...

Not to mention that Vulgar Moralist is himself an atheist/agnostic Darwinist.

(Which I'd know, being his son)

Martin Cothran said...

My son rats on me too (just kidding). Are you a philosopher like your father? My son is on his way himself.

Anonymous said...

Sort of. More interested in politics than philosophy, though, and my dad definitely got me into that.