Should our laws enforce our morals?

Into the Jungle

What should we be compelled to do?

I would like to propose a thought experiment. Imagine two explorers, John and Jane, are preparing for a quick expedition from camp. They know there is some danger, but they are looking forward to the excitement of the brief adventure. In order to reach their journey's starting point, they will need to take a brief ride in their utility vehicle. Little did they know that the utility vehicle which they had rented had a surprise in the trunk. A local named Joe had, unbeknownst to himself, happened upon a meeting of some unscrupulous individuals when he sat down for lunch. Joe was a loner - no family, no friends, and he lived a simple life of not bothering or being bothered. However, not wanting to be overheard, the criminals drug Joe's cola and then leave him in the trunk of the same utility vehicle which sat in the rental car lot next to the restaurant. As you can imagine, the

bumpiness of the road leading to the jungle caused quite a stir, enough to unceremoniously wake Joe from his drug-induced nap. As John and Jane stopped the vehicle just past the jungle's entrance, Joe, still not quite himself, kicks his way out of the old vehicle's trunk and stumbles to his feet. Joe, who by this time we recognize is quite unlucky, is unaware of his location, and flounders into the jungle off to the left. Jane and John gasp. The most dangerous part of their expedition could be avoided by simply heading north, to the right, as the south was filled with old munitions, mines, and traps from a civil war which had only ended a few months ago. Jane and John carefully follow Joe into the jungle to try and steer him back to safety, but they are too late. Joe walks straight into a tripwire and falls face first onto, if you can believe it, a mine.…

Two Heartbeats

I have been delaying this post for quite some time as I have wanted desperately to be as charitable, knowledgeable and thoughtful with regard to abortion as one can possibly be. To describe it as a hotbed issue is a severe understatement. On one hand, its opponents portray the action as a literal genocide of the innocents while its proponents portray it as defense of bodily integrity (perhaps the single most obvious moral value). There can be no doubt as to why such an issue would bring great division, anger and even violence. So what do I intend to accomplish with this piece, aside from solving the debate for everyone so we can all just get along? Well, I want to try and shed some light on how proponents and opponents, especially those at the forefront of the debate, cast the issues unnecessarily in binary, black and white terms, most of which are irrelevant to the ultimate question with regard to abortion. First,

let's load the deck for the Pro-Life position... For the sake of this discussion, we will assume that life begins at conception. We will assume both that the Biblical passages and the scientific/philosophical arguments for life beginning at conception succeed, and that the Biblical passages and scientific/passages against life beginning at conception fail.For the sake of this discussion, we will assume that "personhood" also begins at conception. We will assume both that the Biblical passages and the scientific/philosophical arguments for personhood beginning at conception succeed, and that the Biblical passages and scientific/passages against personhood beginning at conception fail. For the sake of this discussion, we will assume that all people know these truths (whether they admit it or not). We will assume that anyone having or performing an abortion knows they are killing a person. Thus, for the sake of this discussion, we will assume that abortion is intrinsically immoral. Unless it is counterbalanced by stronger moral…

An argument proposed by atheist philosopher Sobel. He outlines this argument as follows. P1. This is not the best possible world.P2. That the world is not the best possible world is incompatible with a perfect being.C. There does not exist a perfect being. I would like to focus on Premise 2 of this argument because it is also an important part of standard formulations of the Problem of Evil. Is a Perfect World a Coherent Concept? Let's start with a thought experiment. Imagine there is a perfect baker who can create any cake that is good and no cake that is bad. He has been tasked with creating cakes to commemorate several different events in a single day. The first event is a wedding, the second is a birthday, the third is a graduation and the fourth is a funeral. If there were a single, perfect cake, then the baker could create a single cake that would perfectly satisfy all

attendees. But is this conceivable? Isn't part of what makes a cake valuable to the celebrants the uniqueness of the cake, the cake being specific and personalized. Does the existence of a cake that is not perfect for their occasion but perfect for another mean that the baker is imperfect (he did, after all, create an imperfect cake with respect to the preferences of 3/4 parties)? It seems to me that the perfect baker would create cakes that are appropriate for each occasion. But we can take this even further... Is the Perfection of which Sobel Speaks an Objective or Subjective Perfection? Imagine again the perfect baker. Today he is tasked with merely creating a single cake for a wedding. Is it reasonable to think that the perfect baker can create a cake that satisfies to perfection the appetites of all of the attendees? It seems that this request is reasonable iff the preferences of all attendees is compatible. I…

Imagine inviting some neighbors over to play Monopoly. Three players are white, one is black. This is the 1960’s, so the white players create unfair rules: the black player can only buy property on the first row, gets randomly thrown into jail and collects 1/2 when passing go. We don’t know who would win the game, but we know who would lose: the black player. As far as analogies goes, this is fairly generous towards U.S. history as it ignores slavery altogether, but I think just considering Monopoly with Jim Crow-like laws is sufficient to make my point. Now, imagine the next morning the kids of those same players show up and decide to play Monopoly as well. The white kids know that racism is wrong and say “we aren’t going to do that anymore, from now on the rules are completely equal.” The black kid then reaches to the bank to start the game over but the others exclaim, “wait, no, we start where our parents left off.” This is American capitalism. It is relatively uncontested that parental

education influences future child Quality of Life. We also know that wealth in general influences scores on cognitive skill tests in early childhood, behavioral problems in schools, high school completion, teen pregnancy, and most importantly, future wealth.  I am 38 years old. My parents went to segregated schools in the south. That means that many if not most of my Black peers were born into a system rigged against them, just like the Black Monopoly player described in my analogy. This is because the largest, unequal value transfer in capitalist economies is the transfer of wealth and knowledge from parents to their children. Capitalism claims that it is a moral distribution of wealth insofar as people succeed based on how much value they add to the economy. However, we know this is false. Money and knowledge are transferred both annually in the form of expenditures on children (~$12,800 per US family) and then…

I am working my way through Professor Josh Rasmussen's and Professor Felipe Leon's excellent book, "Is God the Best Explanation of Things. A Dialogue." and was struck by an illustration Professor Leon provided regarding our modal intuition. Professor Leon attempts to justify a moderate modal skepticism, giving the following illustration to illuminate this point. Dr. Leon begins with imagining an iron bar floating on water. He explains that he can imagine or conceive of such a thing as being possible, but under further investigation he realizes that such an thing is not possible. He explains that in order for such a thing to occur, iron would need to cease being iron, or water water, and a different thing altogether such that their natural properties could bring about the state of affairs where an iron bar floats on water. I was, admittedly, confused with this example. Within moments my mind wandered, as it tends to do, towards solving the puzzle of how an iron

bar might float on water, thereby undermining Dr. Leon's illustration. Several examples came to me within just minutes, as I am sure they could come to you. A current of water exactly the size of the iron bar could be flowing upwards beneath it with just enough strength to keep the bar afloat and in-place.A force could be pushing all of the water towards the location directly under the iron bar such that the water exerts just enough pressure to keep the bar afloat.A magnetic force above the iron bar could be strong enough to attract it upwards until the downward pressure of the bar was low enough that it would float on water but not be pulled away from the water.There could be a hydrophobic coating or preparation of the iron bar such that it does not sink.The iron bar could be spread so thin/flat as to not break the surface tension. Pure Iron Bar Now,…

Checkers and the Problem of Evil

What would happen if we all played checkers against one another but with a different set of rules?

Imagine for a moment that you sit down at a standard checker board to play your friend. However, this checkerboard comes with slightly different rules. While the movements remain the same, the goal is very different. Instead of trying to take your opponent's pieces, the goal is to reach a stalemate with the largest number of pieces remaining on the board. The game has now become cooperative. How do you think the two of you would fare? Assuming you had to move if a move were available, do you think you would accidentally end up in a spot at least once or twice where your only move required taking your friend's piece? Do you think your friend might make similar errors? Now, I ask that you further imagine that while playing the pieces occasionally move on their own, disappear, or reappear. When these events occur, would you be able to recognize whether or not the change to the board was

good (advantageous to the end goal of maximizing the number of pieces left on the board in a stalemate)? Or would you more often than not assume that when a piece went missing, it was harmful to the outcome, when a piece was added, it was positive toward the outcome, and when a piece moved, it could go either way? Would you know? Multi-Player Checkers Examples of multi-player checker boards. I now ask you to imagine, as best as you can, a multi-player checkers board. This board is large enough to give every person on the planet a seat at the table. It seems incomprehensible yet, at the same time, possible. There doesn't appear to be any reason, in principle, that such a game could not be constructed. Of course, this new version with billions of players would be far more complex that we could fathom. We would have difficulty determining the "goodness" of any move outside of its local…

At the heart of the Kalam Cosmological argument is the question of a past infinite universe is coherent or actual. Over the last 20-30 years, most of the development of the argument has centered on the growing body of evidence that our universe had a beginning approximately 13.7 billion years ago. While the research is promising and fruitful, it faces a notoriously petty objection of "we just don't know". Science primarily practices inductive reason, making certain knowledge, especially about the distant past, difficult to erect a case on. To be fair, this objection has been used on both sides - atheists writing IOUs for some future model that will extend the Universe into the past eternally and Young Earth Creationists writing IOUs that further examination will yield a young Earth. Thus, while this may be fertile grounds for exploration, it will never provide the certainty that math and logic can provide. Causal Finitism Causal Finitism is the principle that causal chains

cannot be past infinite. It has always had a certain intuitive appeal, but it has been difficult to draw out the exact logical incoherence. Drs. Pruss and Koons may have effectively exposed this incoherence once and for all.  Some Historical Objections First, let's talk about the objections to causal finitism through the years. The original formulations against causal finitism have aimed at the idiosyncrasies of the thought experiments that accompanied the argument. Perhaps the most famous of these arguments is the grim reaper experiment.  A grim reaper is assigned to kill Jack at 12:30 AM. However, another is assigned to kill Jack at 12:15. Yet another at 12:07:50 and so on and so forth, each time halving the time between Midnight and the last reaper. The paradox is this: there is no way for Jack to live past midnight, but there is also no grim reaper who can kill Jack, as there are always an infinite number of reapers between any…

Is the reference class of possible universes too restricted?

Before reading my response, readers should address their attention first to Aron Lucas's work Naturalism, Fine Tuning and Flies. While a brief summary follows, it is always worth consulting the original work in order to make sure that it is fairly represented by the critic (in this case me). Possible Universes The crux of Aron Lucas's argument is a very straightforward objection: The Fine Tuning argument posits a narrow class of possible universes, restricted to only those consistent with our laws of physics. The set of possible universes on naturalism includes those with different laws of physics, not just different constants and quantities. This set is inscrutable and, thus, on naturalism, the probability of life permitting universes itself is inscrutable. I think one important question here what we mean by "alternate laws of physics". We can think of this in a number of ways: Alternate functions representing existing lawsRemoval of existing laws altogetherCompletely new lawsCompletely new fundamental substances Possible Objections There

seem to be three rebutting objections to this response to the argument from fine tuning, which I will list here and then elaborate on each. Two can play at this gameWe are warranted in ignoring these possible universes (those governed by different laws)These possible universes are not, in fact, inscrutable (or at least to the degree at which it is meaningful) Two Can Play at this Game One of the key goals of Aron Lucas's objection is to extend the possible universes in a way that makes it impossible to infer the likelihood of life permitting universes among those possible universes. By opening up the floodgates of an infinite number of possible universes with wholly different laws, within which life permitting universes may be plenteous (or not). Well, can the proponent of the FTA make a similar move that multiplies his or her probabilistic case? I think so. Aron Lucas refers to the current state of possible universes in…

One of the smartest, most genuine people I have met gave up his faith many years ago (before we met), and it has led to many profitable and interesting conversations. Recently, in our discussions, I pointed out to him Alexander Pruss's 2009 version of the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument which I find to be particularly convincing. His response was humorous but pressing... Holy shit, I gotta read that whole tiny print document just to maybe accept a First Cause that is still light years from necessarily being your Christian God? Not to discredit him in any way, but I have run into this line of reasoning before and find it terribly frustrating. The reason I find it frustrating is that we have these arguments for the existence of God that... If they are true, it doesn't matter whether it is difficult or not. It is true, and...The development and defense of these arguments are predicated on the degree of skepticism raised

by non-believers. I will focus on (2) for the remainder of this post. Let's take a somewhat controversial subject in American society, evolution. It is important to realize that the question here is not what you believe about it, but the role of the skeptic dialectic into coming to knowledge about a particular subject matter. Please put your position on evolution aside for the moment, and focus on this issue of skeptical dialectic. A crude outline of the dialectic process behind about learning evolutionary theory in America. Our first introduction in the United States to evolution is likely somewhere in elementary school where our teacher subtly introduces the concept of our relationship to "lesser" animals. However, some children may at this point already have been taught something of this matter by their parents when reading books on dinosaurs, for example. The real introduction to the theory happens in middle school, where Darwin and his theory of natural selection acting on…

How are we to decide what to do with our time in a moral sense? What guides us? How do we know?

How are we to decide what to do with our time in a moral sense? What guides us? How do we know?

A friend of mine who I admire quite deeply brought up a simple question about moral epistemology. How do we know we are doing right and how do we discern from whom we should be guided? He writes, "I have zero way to verify if what they’re telling me is actually the true will of the invisible judge." Now, I'm sure some would simply respond "read the scripture", but that begs the question in favor of a particular scripture. One would need to first come to a belief in the scripture, but even then the variety of interpretations may be a hindrance. However, I think there is a path forward, guided by our current position in our faith journey, that can be reasonably agreed upon. People should only be held accountable for what they are able to do.If there is a best or set of best possible things a person can do,

he or she should do it.We can conceive of the best possible thing we are able do with our time (in the next 5 minutes, 10 minutes, hour, etc.)We ought to do the best possible thing of which we can conceive. Unfortunately, this leads to a difficult if not depressing conclusion. None of us really takes the time to think, "what is the best possible thing I can do in the next hour" and then actually does it. We always live our lives not only below what a perfect being might desire of us, but below what we know we are capable of. I think this ultimately sheds light on the depravity of humanity. We constantly choose short term marginal pleasure (a better coffee, a new video game, another drink at the bar) over maximal relief (charity for those in dire straits). I am doing this now in writing this post.

If our physical features are the product of natural selection, then they are honed to be adaptive, but not necessarily "true". Can we trust our cognitive faculties on Naturalism and Evolution?

If our physical features are the product of natural selection, then they are honed to be adaptive, but not necessarily "true". Can we trust our cognitive faculties on Naturalism and Evolution?

The Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism is a novel argument which presents the case that because our mental faculties are developed for adaptive capacity and not for truth making, a person who holds to both naturalism and evolution should doubt the reliability of their mental faculties in terms of truth-making. This would produce a universal undercutter of one's beliefs. One of the most common responses to this argument is that it seems likely that at least some of our cognitive faculties are tuned to true belief insofar as forming true beliefs about extreme selective pressures would be valuable. Thus, we would expect as a behavior can be described as highly adaptive, it is more likely to based on strong cognitive faculties related to that behavior. While there might not be much in the way of adaptive benefit in able to figure out the truth of a calculus formula, it would be adaptive to know that fire hurts when applied to the skin,

and that those types of cognitive faculties are reliable in producing such beliefs. But where does this get us? It seems at best, this response would allow the naturalist to feel confident about the truth of a certain set of beliefs that conform to high selective pressures (like avoiding fire). However, the EAAN doesn't need to provide a universal undercutter to succeed in its primary goal, which is to cast doubt on naturalism. Thus, I propose the following response to the naturalist who responds to the EAAN above... If our cognitive faculties are reliable, why do more people form the belief that naturalism is true?If there is a scale of general reliability regarding cognitive faculties related to selective pressures, it seems naturalism would fall on the far end of non-essential cognitive faculties. If this is the case, we still have an undercutter for belief in naturalism.If the naturalist claims that there are other factors which influence belief, like the…

This is another common objection raised by non-theists. It is a complex question but one that I think is best answered with Molinism

Do we still have free will if God knows our future?

First, let me begin by saying that Molinism is unnecessary to solve this problem. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy has an exceptional article explaining how arguments which attempt to show a contradiction between free will and divine foreknowledge commit a fallacy in modal logic. However, this is quite technical and can be difficult for many to follow. It was for me until I really dug down and worked with modal logic and its symbolic form. I think there is an easier explanation if one takes Molinism to be true. Briefly, Molinism is the belief that God's omniscience includes knowledge of "subjunctive conditionals of creaturely freedom". What are "subjunctive conditionals of creaturely freedom"? Well, they look something like this... If Sally would go to the party tonight, then she would freely choose to drink too much.If Johnny sees the car wreck, then he would freely choose to run to save the victims Basically, it is a claim that if a person were

in some situation, they would freely behave in one way or another. This type of knowledge is also called "Middle Knowledge" as it is neither God's natural knowledge (mathematical and logical truths, for example) which he possesses before creation, nor his free knowledge of the creation he manifests. Rather, it sits between these two types of knowledge. Now, I will not get into arguments here as to whether Middle Knowledge exists. While I wouldn't say that it is terribly controversial, it is disputed. So, how does Middle Knowledge or Molinism answer this question about Divine Foreknowledge and Free Will? Well, one could imagine God could create an infinite number of possible universes. However, God desires to choose universes that have free will, since free will is essential to moral significance (if we don't have free will, then there is no moral responsibility, we are just glorified puppets). Let's delineate all worlds from those that have free will as possible…

A common (albeit unsophisticated) objection to God has been whether omnipotence is a logically coherent concept. This syllogism shows that the objection holds no weight.

Does this age old question carry any weight?

God is omnipotentOmnipotent either entails doing the logically impossible or it does not entail doing the logically impossible.If omnipotence entails doing the logically impossible, then the answer is Yes and No , as God can violate logical laws like the law of non-contradiction.If omnipotence does not entail doing the logically impossible, then the answer is No, but this does

not impact his omnipotence because omnipotence does not entail doing logically impossible things. Furthermore, on the issue of whether omnipotence entails logically incoherent acts... God is omnipotentOmnipotence means "able to do all acts"For an act to be done, it must be logically possible.Logically incoherent acts are not logically possible. Omnipotence doesn't entail doing logically impossible acts.

I spent many years trying to think of the best arguments for and against abortion. I make no claims about what policy prescriptions are appropriate relative to this argument, but I do find it hard to contend with despite my progressive political leanings.

There is a lot of confusion around life, abortion, and women's rights. It is a complex issue. Does its complexity give us direction on this tough moral question?

The moral wrongness depends on intent.Intent depends on knowledge. Acting without knowledge is negligent (immoral)Killing an innocent person is morally wrong. We are uncertain of when "personhood" begins.Abortion requires acting without knowledge.Abortion requires negligence possibly resulting in killing an innocent person.Abortion is immoral. Now, I am sure there are ways to clean this argument up, but from an apologetic perspective, here is how one would present the argument... Pro-Lifer: How certain, on a scale of 0 to 100, are you that an unborn child at 9 months gestation (days before birth) doesn't have a right to life and we can abort it? Interlocutor: 0%, of course we shouldn't abort at that point. Pro-lifer: What about 8 months, when the unborn child is still wholly viable? Interlocutor: ???% (variable based on

the interlocutor) Pro-lifer: What about 6 months.... ~ Eventually we get to the first trimester and inevitably the person might say they are 99.99% certain that the unborn child is not a person and therefor has no right to life. Pro-lifer: Ok, well, 99.99% is 1 in 10000. Imagine if I told you right now you have two choices. One, you will magically become pregnant and be forced to carry the baby to term or, two, you can take this gun and shoot it into a crowd, knowing that there is a 1 in 10,000 chance you will murder someone. Would you pull the trigger? In my experience, almost no one has supported pulling the trigger. Ultimately, many people are confused and uncertain about abortion and that confusion and uncertainty may be sufficient on its own to avoid abortion.

This was one of my first novel arguments for the existence of God. It occurred to me that most people think that our Universe is better than neutral, and by no small amount. It doesn't deny suffering, but it asks the question why should we expect a world with as much good as it has?

Is our Universe on the whole more pleasurable than not? If so, what does that tell us about its inception?

The universe is, on the whole, good relative to pain and pleasure. This is either due to chance, necessity, or design.It is not plausibly due to chance or necessity.The universe is designed. Now, defense of the premises is essential in this one, but if you are familiar with the FTA, I wanted to go ahead and point out and important feature of the argument. Premise #1 of this argument entails Premise #1 of the Fine Tuning Argument. That is to say, in order for there to even be pain and pleasure, there must be conscious creatures. The entire thrust of the Fine Tuning Argument serves as a foundation of this argument. This argument builds upon the FTA, saying that there is another feature of our Universe (pleasure) which also needs to be explained. We could have a Universe that is fine tuned for life but is miserable. At one point, I called this my "But Wait, There's More" argument because it could be run like

this... The universe is fine tuned for sentient life This is either due to chance, necessity, or design.It is not plausibly due to chance or necessity.But wait there's more, the universe is on the whole more pleasurable than painful.This is either due to chance, necessity, or design.It is not plausibly due to chance or necessityThe universe is designed Now, the crux of the Argument from Neutrality is Premise 1. My goal in defending it is not to convince a person the universe is, on the whole, more pleasurable than painful, but to demonstrate to them that they already believe that it is. The defense goes something like this… Measuring whether the universe is, on the whole, more pleasurable or painful is a seemingly difficult task. How would we go about this? We might imagine a line where on one end is the worst possible universe in terms of pain and pleasure and on the other end is…

One of the more common critiques of Christian theology is the Doctrine of Original Sin. The position that we are born guilty seems intuitively unfair. However, I intend to show that any robust moral realist position entails some form of intrinsic sinfulness of humans. That is to say, if there are real moral values and duties, regardless of how you ground them, then all persons violate, at least to a modest degree, those norms.

Are we really born with sin? How can this possibly be fair? It turns out that this isn't just a problem for Original Sin, it is a problem for morality in general.

A few assumptions are required for this argument: Moral values and duties are real.People are not responsible for events outside their control.There is sufficient human freedom to make moral decisions. Imagine for a moment that two men are independently planning to mug someone. One set his alarm clock for 8:00AM and the other for 8:05AM. The early riser of the two men sets out to find a victim, but discovers it is just too early in the morning to find a victim. However, at 8:02AM, an innocent bystander strolls out of his apartment where he finds himself between the two would-be muggers. Since the first mugger has passed, he does not notice the innocent man. The second mugger, though, proceeds to strike the innocent man and steal his wallet. On moral realism, we would likely agree that the successful mugger has commited a serious wrong in injuring and robbing the innocent man. We would also likely agree that the first

man who intended to assault and rob an innocent individual has committed a wrong, although perhaps not as serious. His intent to violate moral norms is itself a violation of those norms. We recognize this widely in legal systems today as "conspiracy" to commit a crime is itself a crime. Now, imagine that the second mugger (the one who successfully commited the crime) had lucked upon a winning lottery ticket on the ground with a cash value $2500. This amount of money was sufficient for him to not consider mugging anyone, despite having done nothing to earn the money. Here is the pivotal question. Is the first attempted mugger, whose motivation was financial, worse than the second successful mugger given this new scenario, even though all that has changed is the circumstances and nothing about the persons themselves? We know that had he not stumbled upon the $2500, he would have intended to and followed through with mugging. Are we…

This is a short syllogism that I wrote. If counterfactuals can be true, then it seems we have an interesting argument for the existence of at least a minimalist form of moral realism.

Whether morality is real or not has long been a subject of debate in Philosophy. Here is a brief argument I produced in support of moral realism.

(P1) If a moral claim is true, it is good to behave in accordance with that claim. (P2) Premise 1 is a moral claim

(C1) At least 1 moral claim (Premise 1) is true (C2) Moral realism is true This whole argument hinges on (P1). Can subjunctive or counterfactual claims be true?

This question is often posed by non-believers as evidence of an egotistical God. This is the syllogism I present to show why God, in being the grounding for Goodness itself, logically necessitates that he command worship.

Some argue that a true God wouldn't demand worship - why would he need it? This simple syllogism shows why an all good God would necessarily command worship.

(P1) Worship means to show reverence for or adoration.(P2) Reverence means to show deep respect for.(P3) It is good to adore, revere, or show deep respect for what is good.(P4) God is Goodness itself (Mark 10:18, 1 John 4:8, 1 John 4:16).(C1) It is good to adore, revere or show deep respect for Goodness.(C2) It is good to adore,

revere or show deep respect for God.(P5) It is good to oblige one's dependents to be good.(C3) It is good for God to oblige us to be good.(C4) It is good for God to oblige us to adore, revere, or show deep respect for God.(C5) It is good for God to oblige us to worship God.

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