Objective moral values may exist. A god doesn't.

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Flamenca's picture
Objective moral values may exist. A god doesn't.

@Aposteriori Unum recently opened a thread called "A brief attack on the moral argument", in which he asserts that objective moral values don't come from any god and he adds: "I would argue that objective moral values don't exist." It seems like every atheist who has replied agree with that idea.

Although I'm aware of gods being fictional and that there's a subjective (and changeable over time and place) component of moral values, I'd like to defend my interpretation of Sam Harris' ideas about the possibility of discerning objective moral values through Science, and that objective moral values already exist in a way. @AUnum is a guy who uses Harris' face in his profile, so I'll better roll my sleeves up.

These objective moral values come from a place of subjectivity (death is not always morally wrong in every society, depending on scenarios such as war or death penalty where it's legal) but we -as a species- are able to establish which values should be considered objective, and we have a tool called Science which can help.

This is the main idea in my own words about three months ago: "According to Harris, moral and immoral (good and bad) can be measured by these factors: The worst possible misery for everyone (that would be objectively "bad") and the moral (good) thing to do is to avoid the "worst possible misery for everyone" and look for the well-being for everyone.

Well-being comprehends several factors, that can be objectively measured, so we don't have to depend on different subjective opinions. In this sense, there would be then a scale in between, in terms of good-bad, in which the worst possible misery for a majority would be a little less bad, but still not completely good... etc. If your beliefs cause suffering to anyone, then they shouldn't be considered moral. And the more people suffer because of that, the more immoral they should be considered".

I also want to add that objective moral values already exist, since we have legal systems, which could be considered also achievements in terms of social well-being and that they are basically the development of moral codes, catalogs of wrong behavior in society and the specific punishment to those who misbehave. So I'm just talking about going one step farther (and always "one god further") so to extend the Human Rights Declaration (and that of the Animal Rights) based mainly on a scientifical basis.

If we want a better world, a world with as less suffering to beings as possible, and free of religious commandments, the pursuit of an objective morality -based on different moral criteria than those inherited from religion- is crucial.

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Nyarlathotep's picture
Making objective moral codes

Making objective moral codes is easy. I suggested one earlier:
Anyone with the letter "N" in their forum name is evil.

The hard part is convincing other people that your objective moral codes are worth adopting.

MCDennis's picture
My sisters Nina and Nancy

My sisters Nina and Nancy will be very upset with you.

Flamenca's picture
@Nyar, it's not different

@Nyar, it's not different than making any other law (usually, a more complex subject that the one you propose); experts write them, politicians agree on the idea, the rest of us accept it eventually. You can teach them in school... The point is to apply objective reasons to that, in terms of suffering, not of offending magical beings.

I usually use this example as sth that should be legislated in those terms: Tobacco and alcohol are often considered morally innocuous, thus legal. Not marihuana in most Westernized places, despite not having a single record of deaths on its behalf, and being helpful to patients with cancer. If we care about scientifical facts, laws (and morals) would probably become more reasonable.

P.S. Evil is not contemplated in our legal systems, but what actions should be considered punishable (according to what our society consider evil actions) are. So it's a joke you made, and it's not...

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
What if you use statistics to

What if you use statistics to turn an 'is' into an ' ought.'

For example, we can observe that most of the world eats, thus conclude that eating is something we ought to do. Or most of the world behaves as if murder is wrong, so murder ought to be treated as wrong.

It's a notion that treats the minority opinion as wrong by definition. Thus you don't have to convince people that a value is worth adopting. They either already adopted it and are part of the majority. Or they are part of the minority and by definition wrong.

Sheldon's picture
Except once most of the world

Except once most of the world thought slavery was fine, that women should be no more than chattel to their male relatives and husbands. This also of course denied the right for women or slaves to express an opinion. Morality is more complex than a mere consensus. The idea one is morally wrong because one is in a minority is too absurd to take your claim seriously. abolitionist were once a minority, the amount of Germans who opposed Hitler and fascism were minority. I could go on of course but your claim is demonstrably erroneous anyway.

mykcob4's picture
I totally and respectfully

I totally and respectfully disagree. Morals are created and maintained by the society that subjects the populace to them.

Aposteriori unum's picture
Are they objective or can one

Are they objective or can one use an objective way to determine what is right or wrong? I would say that one could use objective ways to determine morality, but that is one of many possible ways to determine morality, making it, ultimately subjective. Can you use objective ways to determine the quality of a piece of art? Sure. But is that an actual beautiful piece of art? Well that depends on who you ask. You may say it is ugly... Based on the type of paint used, based on certain techniques, based on a particular arrangement of colors that most people don't enjoy... But what's to stop someone else from thinking that it is beautiful?

How do you know that pain is necessarily bad and that the lack of pain is necessarily good? Are there no masochists? They might say that pain is good. What if someone absolutely despises this world and is suffering intensely and wishes to leave it? Can you say that not killing them does no harm? Or is killing them a relief of suffering? If harm and well being is your metric...

Flamenca's picture
@Aposteriori Unum: Are they

@AUnum: Are they objective or can one use an objective way to determine what is right or wrong?

What's determined by objective means, shouldn't be also called objective? Is it not precisely how Science determines facts?

Can you use objective ways to determine the quality of a piece of art? Sure. But is that an actual beautiful piece of art?

As you said, we can use objective ways to determine its quality, and if this was the case, hang a canvas print in the museum next to it saying: "an objectively high-quality piece of art." Yet there's no possible way of determining objective beauty, not even symmetry is in any way a valid parameter to establish what's beautiful, and that's the reason why we can never call anything "objectively beautiful".

Are there no masochists? They might say that pain is good. Lol. The suffering I'm referring in my OP to is not particularly that of physical pain, but that in terms of well-being. Anyways, as my example above, if we can measure pain -even physical one (or at least I have that idea from movies about torture devices), we can also call something "objectively painful", right?

Even Sam Harris has a hard time at defining well-being; I'd say it's the whole of basic human needs, regarding survival: health (food, medical and mental care) comfort, security, even convenience...

The treatment of homeless kids would be an example of how sth determined by Science could become a shared moral by humanity. At a certain point, in most Westernized societies, children were granted as a collectivity we have to care about (possibly, that led to the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959), so now it's not just illegal, but immoral to let children live in the street. I think that Science could have determined that (for evolutionary reasons, no need to look any further) a long time ago, and it could easily being implemented as a moral value in every society of the world. And I know this is a utopian goal...

Sushisnake's picture

Ah! Now I'm with you. I'm pretty sure science would deem consumer capitalism objectively immoral. The waste, the inequality, the habitat destruction, the deaths - ours and other species. The climate change. I'd want all species well being included in the discussion.

Flamenca's picture
@Sushi. I'm glad that you get

@Sushi. I'm glad that you get the picture because it's indeed a difficult question for me to explain: I could say it's my own utopia (and Harris', I guess...). In a sense, it's what I'd would call "a more feminine world", because of the importance of the empathetic element: A world where Science (meaning Sociology, Anthropology, Psychology, Medicine...) will become the best moral foundation of our societies, in terms of looking for the well-being of the vast majority and to avoid unnecessary suffering to anyone: Lack of health care, of a proper home, of education, of rights... all of that can be measured, and that could be argued as negative for society using Science, as well as in terms of morality.

Because some human actions which are considered innocuous from a moral perspective (such as ruin natural environments on purpose, or killing mammals as a sport) are deeply immoral -and disturbing- to me, and they could be argued against from a scientifical point of view.

jonthecatholic's picture
I find this exchange very

I find this exchange very interesting. Aposteriori has a point in saying that harm and well-being being a metric for morality don't quite work. His response in rejecting an objective morality makes sense.

However, he likens morality to art which I find disturbing.

Aposteriori unum's picture
I only use the analogy

I only use the analogy because art is judged subjectively. How good or bad it is. Not that I think morality is like art in any other way. Make sense? It was only meant to draw a line between the reasoning behind determining good or bad, right and wrong. Not the subjects at hand.

Nyarlathotep's picture
Kind of sad you had to

Kind of sad you had to explain that.

bigbill's picture
I say that moral values are

I say that moral values are objective and come from outside of us. They ARE a given to society by a moral law giver. we have no say in carrying them out to our liking for them to be considered breaking or violating the particular moral code.

Aposteriori unum's picture
Wow... How insightful and

Wow... How insightful and deep. Now that you put it that way....

Old man shouts at clouds's picture
Here's a troll. Do Not feed

Here's a troll. Do Not feed the TROLL.

Flamenca's picture
Hi, @AB. I would be delighted

Hi, @AB. I would be delighted to read an actual argument about the real issue being discussed in the OP, which is the possibility of determining international morals through Science, in terms of well-being, and if these could be considered objective. Btw, the title of the thread already gives you a clue that magical beings are not in dispute here.

And @JoC, the same to you. I'm interested in your opinion. Do you think we can determine morals this way? (Regardless any god)

bigbill's picture
hia, well look at the

hia, well look at the morality of abortion it was science that brought this to fruition but we all know that it is murder of the helpless unborn. So to answer you NO science cannot be in the business of morals. if anything it is acting contrary to common decency and morals. Science has no place for decency or compassion A women goes for an abortion and snip snip it is done. No concern for the women at all, All in personnel, Euthanasia is another type of science they discovered it is in some states now very legal to assist and preside over someone who wants to die. You call it compassion, I call it legalized murder on part of the doctors and the state. unfortunately that is the path that science is taking us. And I cringe to what is happening in science today to culture norms.

Sheldon's picture
Could you stop making

Could you stop making sweeping claims about what "we all know please", as you don't speak for me in any way. No, the termination of a pregnancy is not murder, as the developing blastocyst is just a clump of cells, not yet sentient or even conscious, and has no central nervous system to feel pain.

"A women goes for an abortion and snip snip it is done."

You have to be one of the most ill-informed people I have ever encountered, seriously.

"Euthanasia is another type of science they discovered "

Really? You think Euthanasia is a scientific discovery? Just when I think you can;t say anything dumber you lower the bar.

"it is in some states now very legal to assist and preside over someone who wants to die. You call it compassion, I call it legalized murder on part of the doctors and the state."

You think it is more compassionate to leave someone die slowly suffering unimaginable and incurable pain? And theists wonder why atheists object to religious dogma.

bigbill's picture
you croon over the eventual

you croon over the eventual child not having a central nervous system, Well you haven`t seen the video silent scream which graphically shows the blastocyst crinching and in pain. You call it a clump of cells that sounds so insensitive to me or anyone who cares about human rights for children Rather you agree or not abortion is inhuman procedure. Where are the feminist now when potential children are maimed. You can`t see them what hypocrites!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Nyarlathotep's picture
agnostic believer - haven`t

agnostic believer - ...you haven`t seen the video silent scream which graphically shows the blastocyst crinching and in pain...

Skeptic alarm at a 9

Sushisnake's picture

Re: agnostic believer - haven`t seen the video silent scream which graphically shows the blastocyst crinching and in pain

Skeptic alarm at a 9

You're reading my mind.

algebe's picture
What does "crinch" mean? How

What does "crinch" mean? How can something with no nervous system feel pain?

Sheldon's picture
"you croon over the eventual

"you croon over the eventual child not having a central nervous system,"
>>>No I didn't, what are you talking about, is English your first language?

Well you haven`t seen the video silent scream which graphically shows the blastocyst crinching and in pain."
>>>That's correct, no one has, because a blastocyst can't scream, or feel pain. I don't know what crinching (sic) means sorry, is it a theological term?

" You call it a clump of cells that sounds so insensitive to me or anyone who cares about human rights for children "
I said a blastocyst is a collection of cells, because that is precisely what a blastocyst is, I never said nor even implied a child is just a collection of cells, so you're a liar without a shred of integrity. .

Am I the only one who's noticed that when evidence and facts are presented to the hysterical theists in any debate on abortion, their shrill hysteria reaches an apotheosis of lies and hyperbole. I can almost picture him spitting at his PC screen as he typed that bullshit.

a young human being below the age of puberty or below the legal age of majority.

a mammalian blastula in which some differentiation of cells has occurred.

an animal embryo at the early stage of development when it is a hollow ball of cells.

You'd have more compelling points and arguments if you had any understanding at even the most basic level of what you're arguing for and against, and understood the definitions of basic terms and words. Sadly you're just producing risible ignorant hysterical hyperbole. I shudder to think anyone as arrogant and ignorant as you ever has any power to decide what others rights should be.

I suppose it's too much to expect you'll apologise for implying I am insensitive to the rights of children? I'm finding it harder and harder not to point out that you're a bigoted arrogant moron, in love with his own opinion.

bigbill's picture
and tell me doctor and what

and tell me doctor and what point of gestation does the fetus feel pain just go online simple as that and type I doctor Nathansan who was an abortion provider who did and supervised many an abortion and get an experts point of view here. not mine not yours some one who could now be called objective since he lived and played both parts of the abortion battle. I fyour trying to sit in front of your computer and type this filth then you must be put straight on this. don`t go telling me that the potential child doesn`t feel any pain. you are the one who is acting totally ridiculous.

Sheldon's picture
"The American College of

"The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) said it considers the case to be closed as to whether a fetus can feel pain prior to 20 weeks of gestation, or later"

That's not one person's opinion it is the current scientific consensus. So your hysterical rants as usual have no basis in fact, you don't even know what a blastocyst is ffs, and claimed you felt offended when I referred to it as a collection of cells. I sense your hysteria is reaching an apotheosis here, but your anger is because you have made yourself look absurd, because you are making claims on a subject you haven't even a basic grasp of.

"The science shows that based on gestational age, the fetus is not capable of feeling pain until the third trimester," said Kate Connors, a spokesperson for ACOG. The third trimester begins at about 27 weeks of pregnancy.

To find out more, Live Science dug into the research and spoke with a leading expert on fetal pain. Here's a look at what we found."

""What we can say about the fetal nervous system is that based on the best science we have" on the neurons that carry pain signals is that the "system isn't developed until the third trimester of pregnancy," Davis told Live Science.

Scientists' knowledge of the fetal nervous system was summed up in a 2005 review in the journal JAMA. The authors of that review outlined in detail the evidence on how this system develops, based on a number of previous studies on the anatomy of the fetus at various stages of development.

Davis, who was not involved with that review, noted that though it was published in 2005, the research is still valid, because the scientific community's understanding of fetal development is "pretty much stable." Indeed, since the publication of the review, "no research has contradicted its findings," said a recent statement from ACOG.

In the review, the researchers highlighted several key points in fetal development that are required in order for a fetus to perceive pain. One is that the receptors in the skin that sense an injury must be developed. Research has shown that this happens between 7.5 and 15 weeks of pregnancy, depending on the location of the receptors on the body, according to the review. For example, receptors in the skin around the mouth develop at around 7.5 weeks, whereas receptors in the skin on the abdomen develop at around 15 weeks, according to the review.

Second, the neurons in the spinal cord that transmit that signal up to the brain must be developed. Researchers who looked at fetal tissues reported that this happens at around 19 weeks, the review said.

Third, the neurons that extend from the spinal cord into the brain need to reach all the way to the area of the brain where pain is perceived. This does not occur until between 23 and 24 weeks, according to the review.

Moreover, the nerves' existence isn't enough to produce the experience of pain, the authors wrote in their review. Rather, "These anatomical structures must also be functional," the authors wrote. It's not until around 30 weeks that there is evidence of brain activity that suggests the fetus is "awake."

Davis noted that while these time frames aren't exact — some fetuses may develop a little earlier, and some fetuses may develop a little later — "there isn't any science to suggest that those pathways [for pain] are complete around the 20th week" of pregnancy.

"It's a complicated development process, and it goes in stages," Davis said.

According to a statement from ACOG, a fetus's brain and nervous system "do not have the capacity to process, recognize or feel pain during the second trimester."

Indeed, it's important to remember that early on in pregnancy, the fetus isn't just a very small version of what it looks like later in pregnancy, Davis said. Rather, things are changing and organs are forming, she said. There are number of fetal conditions that can't be diagnosed until later in pregnancy, because the development simply hasn't happened yet, she said."

That's the current scientific consensus, Bernard Nathanson who you quoted is a pro life activist, and offering merely his own opinon, you can Google it, as can everyone else. "


So you can shout all you want Billy, and stamp your foot if you like, you're rhetoric is bullshit, the same as your creationist rhetoric was bullshit.


"Dr. Bernard Nathanson was also the former director of New York City’s Center for Reproductive and Sexual Health, but later became a pro-life activist. He was the narrator for the ****controversial*** 1984 anti-abortion film The Silent Scream."

"The Silent Scream is a 1984 anti-abortion educational film directed by Jack Duane Dabner and narrated by Bernard Nathanson, an obstetrician, NARAL Pro-Choice America founder, and abortion provider turned pro-life activist, and produced in partnership with the National Right to Life Committee.[2] The film depicts the abortion process via ultrasound and shows an abortion taking place in the uterus. During the abortion process, the fetus is described as appearing to make outcries of pain and discomfort. The video has been a popular tool used by the pro-life campaign in arguing against abortion,[3] but it has been criticized as misleading by members of the medical community."
"Many members of the medical community were critical of the film, describing it as misleading and deceptive. Richard Berkowitz, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Mount Sinai Medical Center, described the film as "factually misleading and unfair". John Hobbins of the Yale School of Medicine called the film's use of special effects deceptive, a form of "technical flimflam." He pointed out that the film of the ultrasound is initially run at slow speed, but that it is sped up when surgical instruments are introduced to give the impression that "the fetus is thrashing about in alarm." Hobbins questioned the titular "scream", noting that "the fetus spends lots of time with its mouth open", that the "scream" may have been a yawn, and also that "mouth" identified on the blurry ultrasound in the film may in fact have been the space between the fetal chin and chest. Edward Myer, chairman of pediatrics at the University of Virginia stated that, at twelve weeks, the brain is not sufficiently developed for a fetus to be able to feel pain. Similarly, Hart Peterson, chairman of pediatric neurology at the New York Hospital, stated that the "notion that a 12-week-old fetus is in discomfort is erroneous."

Fetal development experts argued that, contrary to Nathanson's assertion in the film, a fetus cannot perceive danger or make purposeful movements. David Bodian, a neurobiologist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, stated that doctors had no evidence that a twelve-week-old fetus could feel pain, but noted the possibility of a reflex movement by a fetus in response to external stimuli such as surgical instruments. The size of the ultrasound image and of the fetus model used was also misleading, appearing to show a fetus the size of a full-term baby, while in actuality a twelve-week-old fetus is under two inches long. Jennifer Niebyl of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine said that what Nathanson described as the fetus recoiling from pain and seeking to escape is "strictly reflex activity" which Nathason made look purposeful by speeding up the film as the suction catheter was placed. Fay Redwine of the VCU Medical Center stated "Any of us could show you the same image in a fetus who is not being aborted."


You should learn to check your sources, as using pro life campaigners as if they are offering scientific facts is bound to be found out, BILLY. Now if you stick to facts and leave the proselytising and condescending insults alone I'll reciprocate, otherwise you'll get back precisely what you dish out BILLY. And trust me here, you are simply not equipped for trading insults, anymore than you are for intelligent debate, and I have held back up to know because I realised this fairly early on.

Sushisnake's picture

I haven't watched The Silent Scream and I don't intend to. I don't mind honest polemics, but dishonest propaganda is something else again. The film maker slowed the film speed down to show the fetus supposedly moving around serenely, then sped it back up to normal speed to give the fetus the appearance of thrashing around when the suction catheter was introduced.

You were conned by a film maker's trick, AB.

A 12 week old fetus can't move purposefully. It can't think. It can't feel pain. It can't, because it hasn't developed a cortex yet. No neural pathways. No brain, no pain. These don't develop until around 28 weeks.

It's important to remember that well over 90% of abortions are carried out before 14 weeks, long, long before a fetus can feel or think. Later stage abortions can endanger the mother's life and are only carried out if the pregnancy itself is endangering the mother's life, or if the fetus is unviable. Later stage abortions are incredibly traumatic. No woman in her right mind would put her hand up for one. A woman 28 weeks pregnant clearly intends to have her child. She's painting the nursery and checking out prams, not abortion clinics.

In my own country, as of 2015,  only South Australia keeps statistics on abortion, but that's useful here since SA is also one of if not the most progressive, liberal states. In 2012, 92% of abortions in SA were performed before the 14th week, 6% between the 14th and 20th week, and only 2% after the 20th week. Of the 96 abortions performed after the 20th week, 53 were because the fetus was unviable.

And we've sidetracked the thread more than enough for an abortion debate. Back to the topic!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!



algebe's picture
@Agnostic believer:

@Agnostic believer: "Euthanasia is another type of science they discovered "

It's not new science. Euthanasia is as old as humanity. The Roman army had excellent medical systems for the time, but they routinely euthanized badly wounded soldiers who had no hope of recovery.

Euthanasia has always happened in modern times, too. What's different is that some countries are trying to create legal mechanisms to protect patients, such as requiring approval by two or more physicians.

Agnostic Believer:
Who owns a person's life?

jonthecatholic's picture
Hey. Maybe check on Leah

Hey. Maybe check on Leah Libresco on why she converted to Catholicism. It began with her idea that morality is not something that we as humans build from the ground up like architects. It's something we uncover like archaeologists.

Whatever is already there, is all of objective morality. Going with the analogy, many cultures uncover the same essential truths. Some cultures actually uncover some truths which may be uncomfortable to them so they reject it. If morality were something we built up, wouldn't we have completely different sets of moral truths? And if it's something we built up, what power do we as a culture have on telling a different culture that what they're doing is wrong?

So I buy into the idea that morality is there for us to discover. Our duty is to protect this morality by not bending it.

Sheldon's picture
"I say that moral values are

"I say that moral values are objective and come from outside of us. They ARE a given to society by a moral law giver. we have no say in carrying them out to our liking for them to be considered breaking or violating the particular moral code."

If this were true you'd be nothing more than an amoral automaton, a blind slave blindly following rules you can make no moral assessment of, just because you're told they're moral. Perhaps this is why theists can so easily espouse the worst kind of homophobic prejudices, because they don't bother thinking about the morality of their actions, as they prefer to be told what is moral by archaic doctrine and dogma, it seems flock is more apropos than I'd ever imagined.


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