Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve — Matthew 20:28

Max and ACX Part Deuce:

Breakin’ Loose

After responding to AntiCitizen X’s (henceforth ACX) original post on refuting moral argument, I was fortunate enough to get a response. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very impressed. Let me begin with not by addressing his post, but illustrating a fallacy often used in ACX’s original article. In Latin, it’s called Ignoratio elenchi, but it translates to ‘ ignorance of refutation’. The fallacy amounts to presenting an argument that may or may not be logically valid, but fails nonetheless to address the issue in question [1]. To give an example from the Wikipedia page,

A and B are debating about the law.
A: Does the law allow me to do that?
B: The law should allow you to do that because this and that.
B missed the point. The question was not if the law should allow, but if it does or not. [2]

So, what is the ‘issue at hand’? In this case, it’s the moral argument for the existence of God, and whether or not ACX can provide a convincing refutation of the argument. He might bring us an issue that’s related, but in order to be relevant, it has to attack either the argument’s premises, or presuppositions contained within those premises, anything else is irrelevant.

With that bit of exposition out of the way, let’s get to the response. For the sake of convenience, when I quote ACX last post, I will an indent. When I quote his original post, I will indent and use italics, and when I quote him quoting me I will indent and use bold text.

He begins his post by quoting me when I make the distinction between the moral argument, and moral argumentation. He claims that he;

was actually quite clear in my presentation that there “dozens of variations floating around” with respect to the moral argument for God’s existence.

Except, if you read his original post, that bit he quotes says in fuller context,

And while there are of course dozens of variations floating around, they all generally share the same basic structure

This is why I wanted to pronounce that distinction, as a way of preempting any attack on the validity of the argument. In the original post, after he writes the above quote, he then quotes Craig’s formulation. The above quote seems to try and commit us to that basic structure. He also says,

it is important to realize that I made almost no effort to attack the formal structure of the argument itself.

ACX does at one point in the original post claim attack the structure of the argument. He argues that:

Can someone please now tell me in what logical universe does any of this imply anything that even remotely resembles the singular deity of classical monotheism? The very first premise of this argument might just as well have said that if apples don’t grow on trees, then the moon is an onion. There’s simply no logical connection between these two statements.

Now, while it is true that this took little effort, if he knew of those variations of the argument, he would not have been so quick to claim there was no connection between the antecedent (the first part of the first premise) and the consequent (the second part of the first premise) since they are more explicit in the connection between the necessity of theism with objective morality.

Instead, the overwhelming majority of my criticism was levied at the very ideas required to state the argument in the first place. Those fundamental ideas, including divine command theory, moral realism, and moral objectivity, are almost universal across the entirety of Christian moral philosophy. So yes, Maximus, any criticism I offer against Craig’s version of the moral argument does indeed transfer quite happily to practically all other variations you could possibly hope to offer. Unless you hold to a fundamental conception of morality that wildly differs from the overwhelming majority of mainstream Christianity, then this comment of yours is completely false.

While the validity of the argument was a minor point, it’s still worthy of being touched on. Any point that did touch on the content of topics like moral realism, moral objectivity, and divine command theory, I was happy to address. Furthermore, divine command theory is not the only game in town when it comes to Christian ethical theories, a Thomistic doctrine of natural law theory is rather popular among most Catholic moral thinkers, as even Pope John Paul II writes,

The Church has often made reference to the Thomistic doctrine of natural law, including it in her own teaching on morality. [3]

I would hardly say that the moral theory of the biggest Christian denomination counts as some fringe view. For more on the saint Thomas’ natural law theory, I would consult Edward Feser’s post here.

Now, let’s move onto ACX’s first criticism.

With that point out of the way, I will begin by first addressing the greatest flaw of my interlocutor’s post, namely, that it is composed of a slew of irrelevant observations. Take for example the following,
Religions work very hard to intertwine themselves with the perception of absolute moral authority, such that giving up one’s faith is often seen as the equivalent of giving up all sense of human decency at the same time. Why else would believers consistently view atheists as the least trustworthy minority group in all of America [3]? It’s another deliberate psychological ploy designed to manipulate the believers into remaining believers, and not necessarily to build a viable case for God’s existence.
Maximus doesn’t seem to appreciate the basic, running theme of my videos. It’s not enough to merely refute some random philosophical argument. I like to present some of the relevant psychology that compels people to embrace bad arguments in the first place. I also like to present big picture information as to why such an argument is actually worth responding to, given the huge variety of nonsensical claims that exist. To that effect, I cited a study wherein atheists actually ranked lower than rapists on a perceived measure of distrust. I did this specifically to emphasize the broader social impact of this subject. Yet Maximus is summarily dismissing the whole thing outright as “irrelevant observations” — -as if such information couldn’t possibly inform the discussion in any capacity whatsoever!
Good grief… It’s called “context,” you moron. It’s what good writers do to invite their audience into the discussion. You don’t just dive head-first into nuanced philosophical discussions without introducing the topic a little. That would be boring. Your comments on this matter are completely pointless, except to take a cheap shot at my character.

I fail to see how the moral argument is a ‘random’ philosophical argument? Did ACX pick it out of a hat without looking? Or, is the use of needless adjectives also something that good writers happen to do? Now, I’m not saying my writing is immaculate, but if you’re going to puff yourself up, you shouldn’t leave yourself open.

In any case, he writes that he just doesn’t want to refute the argument, but he also wants to (poorly) psychologize people who accepted the bad argumentation in the first place to give some context. Before we disentangle the stupid in the response, we need to first revisit the fallacy laid out earlier.

There is a distinction made between saying something is related, and that it is relevant. In order to be considered relevant, ACX must provide some objection to the conclusion of the argument by attacking the soundness or validity of the argument’s premises — which he does in other places of his post. Those attacks are considered relevant. Anything else, like the case of background psychology, while related, is not relevant — like how what ought to be the law, is related to what is currently the law. While he is certainly free to argue that is why we accept such argumentation, so long as they do not address the truth of the conclusion, I can ignore them for the time being and proceed onto his attacks of the argument in question.

Now, maybe because the topic is still related, I should apologize for attacking ACX’s character. But, then again, perhaps I should accuse some larger group he is a part of, of using a

psychological ploy designed to manipulate the believers into remaining believers, and not necessarily to build a viable case for God’s existence

Christian apologists who write using the moral argument are quick to admit that the purpose of the argument is not so that God is necessary to be moral, but rather, he is necessary to ground moral claims. This is a distinction made and seen the more you look into the introductory stuff to Christian apologetics. As William Lane Craig writes,

It would, indeed, be arrogant and ignorant to claim that people cannot be good without belief in God. But that was not the question. The question was: can we be good without God? When we ask that question, we are posing in a provocative way the meta-ethical question of the objectivity of moral values. Are the values we hold dear and guide our lives by mere social conventions akin to driving on the left versus right side of the road or mere expressions of personal preference akin to having a taste for certain foods or not? Or are they valid independently of our apprehension of them, and if so, what is their foundation? [4]

Even Young Earth Creationist groups don’t make this mistake,

In fact, atheists not only can, but must be (at least to some extent) good without believing in God — even if they hate God with every inch of their being [5].

If this is a ploy to manipulate believers that those who give up on God “lack any sense of decency”, it’s a terrible one. If anything, it might encourage believers to be more sympathetic with atheists, reminding the Christian that atheists are likewise made in the image of God.

ACX also seems adamant that I respond to his irrelevant study, which is fine. The study in question was done by W. M Gervais. and A. F Shariff., and A. Norenzayan. It’s titled, “Do You Believe in Atheists? Distrust Is Central to Anti-Atheist Prejudice”, and was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The link to the study can be found here.

Now, I won’t deny that atheists (wrongly) are distrusted. However, is it to the same, or even nearly to the same extent as rapists? The study itself created the following narrative, and asked students to read it,

Richard is 31 years old. On his way to work one day, he accidentally backed his car into a parked van. Because pedestrians were watching, he got out of his car. He pretended to write down his insurance information. He then tucked the blank note into the van’s window before getting back into his car and driving away. Later the same day, Richard found a wallet on the sidewalk. Nobody was looking, so he took all of the money out of the wallet. He then threw the wallet in a trash can [6]

The students were then asked;

whether they thought it more probable that Richard was either (a) a teacher or (b) a teacher and XXXX. We manipulated XXXX between subjects. XXXX was either “a Christian” (n ! 26), “a Muslim” (n ! 26), “a rapist” (n ! 26), or “an atheist (someone who does not believe in God)” (n ! 27). [7]

However, if you look at the results of the study, the error bars are rather wide.

As Vlad Chituc was kind enough to point out in his article on Patheos,

One thing is immediately clear in this graph: the difference between atheists and theists aren’t significant. The skinny lines going up and down from each of the graphs is called the error bar, which is the range where the real value the statistic is meant to represent lies. Small error bars are in general good, while huge error bars are bad. If you’ll notice, not only are all of the bars huge, but the “rapist” and “atheist” error bars overlap a lot. That pretty much guarantees any difference between the two numbers is statistical noise; the results are “nonsignificant,” which the study itself says clearly. This means you can’t actually say whether atheists or rapists are “distrusted” more; you can only say that how distrusted atheists and rapists are lies somewhere in those huge bars, and we don’t know which one is higher or lower.
On its face, it might seem equally bad that atheists and rapists aren’t “significantly different,” but this is based on some assumptions on the study design that may not be reliable. First, the subjects of this study are University students in Canada, and perhaps their attitudes aren’t generalizable (one could imagine they’d be more tolerant of muslims than the general population). Second, it might be the case that the measure used is sensitive enough to pick out the differences we’d want. Perhaps it’s just the case that only so many people (around half) would make the implicit error the study measures. If that’s the case, then a population where people distrust rapists far more than atheists would look identical to a population that trusts them the same, because the measure would “ceiling,” so to speak. Maybe a more sensitive measures would show atheists at 50 and rapists at 90. We just don’t know. But it’s clear, however, that for a a claim so strong, we need better evidence than this one implicit measure applied to Canadian students. [7]

With that out of the way, let’s move forward.

First off, let’s disentangle what the word ‘religion’ from the context of the moral argument.
Dude, it’s called “The Moral Argument for the Existence of God.” In what logical universe are we supposed to disentangle religion from a literal argument for God’s existence?

As opposed to a metaphorical argument for God’s existence? That must be ACX’s good writing skills shining through again. The logical universe you disentangle those is the same one wherein you recognize that there are religions that are not theistic, and theists who are not a part of a religious organization. For an example of a non-religious theist, take for example the deist Thomas Paine. A deist is understood to mean

One who believes in the existence of a God [hence a type of theist], but denies revealed religion, but follows the light of nature and reason, as his only guides in doctrine and practice; a freethinker [8]

Paine himself rejected religion (at least, the ones designated some special revelation by way of sacred scripture or tradition, which I would say rules out any religion as typically understood), writing,

Since, then, all corruptions, down from Moloch to modern predestinarianism, and the human sacrifices of the heathens to the Christian sacrifice of the Creator, have been produced by admitting of what is called revealed religion, the most effectual means to prevent all such evils and impositions is not to admit of any other revelation than that which is manifested in the book of creation, and to contemplate the creation as the only true and real word of God that ever did or ever will exist; and that everything else, called the word of God, is fable and imposition [9]

However, Paine still recognized the existence of God was still necessary for morality, writing,

Here we are. The existence of an Almighty Power is sufficiently demonstrated to us, though we cannot conceive, as it is impossible we should, the nature and manner of its existence. We cannot conceive how we came here ourselves, and yet we know for a fact that we are here. We must know also that the power that called us into being, can, if he please, and when he pleases, call us to account for the manner in which we have lived here; and, therefore, without seeking any other motive for the belief, it is rational to believe that he will, for we know beforehand that he can. The probability or even possibility of the thing is all that we ought to know; for if we knew it as a fact, we should be the mere slaves of terror; our belief would have no merit, and our best actions no virtue [10]

Thus, we have a solid example of a theist, using the moral argument, but not subscribing to a religion.

The main thrust of moral argumentation for the existence of God is that the truth of objective morality requires the existence of God. One need not be religious to believe in God, so, as far as I’m concerned, this is mere virtue signaling to other atheists that they’re special snowflakes, freed from the psychological ploys of the religious.
So the fact that atheists are considered less trustworthy than literal rapists is an entirely irrelevant point in your mind? Do you really fail to see how this little piece of information might have some relevance to the way people respond to the moral argument? Come on, Maximus. You can’t possibly be that dense

Again, we have another example of ACX failing to comprehend the distinction between relevance and relatedness. The moral argument and the equivalence of distrust between atheists and rapists might be related (supposing the contentious accuracy of the journal article), but it does not follow that it is relevant to the truth of the premises.

Here’s is another one,
But even ignoring all of that, the one thing that makes this argument such a truly spectacular failure is the fact that Christians are specifically trying to prove the existence of Yahweh, the God of the Bible — the very same god that has openly and proudly endorsed some of the most unspeakable moral atrocities we can possibly imagine. We’re talking about a God that actively encourages:
1. Slavery (Exodus 21:20–21, Colossians 3:22, Ephesians 6:5)
2. Blood sacrifice (Genesis 8:20)
3. Human sacrifice (Genesis 22:1–18, Exodus 32:27)
4. Misogyny (Genesis 3:16, Exodus 21:7–8, Corinthians 11:8–9)
5. Genital Mutilation (Genesis 17:10–14, 1 Samuel 18:27)
6. Genocide (Genesis 6–9, Numbers 21:3, Numbers 21:33–35, Deuteronomy 2:33–34, Joshua 6:21–27, Joshua 10)
7. Infanticide (1 Samuel 15:3, Exodus 11–12)
8. Thought crimes (Matthew 5:27–28)
9.Rape (Deuteronomy 22:28–29)
10. and death penalties for trivial offences! (Exodus 35:2, Numbers, 15:32–36, 2 Samuel 6:6–7, 1 Kings 13:15–24, 2 kings 2:23)
The very idea that the Biblical God is supposed to serve as the ultimate standard of moral goodness is patently ludicrous. It practically gives a free-license to engage in the most destructive, antisocial behaviors in human history.
Again, irrelevant. Moral argumentation need not be used for the God of Christianity. Even if it were, the Christian need not commit themselves to Biblical inerrancy. Further, even Christians who do accept inerrancy, there is still an apologetic offered (for example, my own defense of Biblical slavery). Sometimes, the apologetic is as simple as pointing out that one’s interlocutor is too stupid to read.
What a wonderful tool of argumentation. Simply dismiss a monumental observation as merely “irrelevant” and don’t even bother addressing the key point at hand.
Look Maximus, this is really simple. If you are Christian, then it stands to reason that you worship the deity known as Yahweh. If you are also a supporter of the Moral Argument for God’s existence, then it necessarily follows that everything you believe about the relationship between God and morality must also apply to that very same Yahweh character described in the Holy Bible. If you actually bothered to read your Bible, you would further find several records of Yahweh happily endorsing all kinds of horrible things like slavery, genocide, rape, etc. Therefore, if you believe Yahweh is the standard for all moral perfection and goodness, then you are also implicitly arguing for the moral “goodness” of slavery, genocide, rape, etc. If you cannot wrap your little brain around the fatal problems this might present for your entire moral philosophy, then you’re quite literally too stupid to be involved in this conversation.

I like that ACX thinks I don’t address the key points at hand, despite giving, in the quoted passage, reasons why I believe problematic bible verses are irrelevant:

  1. The Moral argument need not be used to justify the existence of the Christian God (again, one could be a theist in the same sense as Thomas Paine was).
  2. Biblical inerrancy — the notion that the Bible contains no errors — is not essential to be a Christian (in fact, you can find a number of criticisms of inerrancy made by Christians in the Wikipedia entry). This is why a Christian need not be committed to the proposition that “If you are also a supporter of the Moral Argument for God’s existence, then it necessarily follows that everything you believe about the relationship between God and morality must also apply to that very same Yahweh character described in the Holy Bible”, since the Bible might get certain facts about God incorrect, like moral facts.

Once again, we have a related criticism of the moral argument, but not a relevant one. Too bad ACX is too dense to make the connection. He then takes umbrage with my example illustrating his incapability to read the following passage:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
However, since a thoughtcrime is an Orwellian neologism used to describe an illegal thought, and nowhere is Jesus proscribing some form of punishment, it does not fit the category. Granted, Jesus does suggest that it’s sinful, but to be sinful is not necessarily to incur some punishment.
Let me get this straight. Jesus states flat-out that lust is a sin of the same magnitude as adultery.

Notice that Jesus nowhere in the verse says that lusting after a woman was of the same magnitude as physically committing adultery. He merely said that if you lusted after a woman, then you’ve committed adultery in thought. To use a corollary example,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not murder’. But I tell you that anyone kills another without forethought, he has already committed murder in negligence.

Notice here that while the speaker is claiming that both second and first degree murder are murder, he is nowhere proscribing that we treat second and first degree murder with the same magnitude. ACX goes onto say,

However, since Jesus didn’t explicitly prescribe a punishment for that particular act, that somehow makes it all okay? As if I can lust after women all day long and God will not hold a single one of those sins against me in the afterlife? Do you even know what you’re saying? And how does any this comment even come close to addressing the issue at hand?

Just because a punishment is not prescribed does not entail that doing such an action is good. The government does not prescribe punishments for drunkenness in the privacy of your own home, but does campaign against alcohol use. Why? It’s because excessive drunkenness can lead to worse vices later on, and it’s better not to engage in that kind of behavior in the first place. Such a thing would not have been a foreign concept to Jesus.

In fact, in Jewish tradition there is a practice called Khumra, wherein rabbis build a fence around a mitzvot (commandment in the Torah) as a way of making sure that the mitzvot would not be broken. For an explanation straight from a Rabbi, I would go here.

Jesus also says
“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
Notice, Jesus says divorce is and was sinful, but permitted (and hence, did not incur punishment) under the law of Moses. It’s quick observations like these that expose such lists as less daunting than they appear. I could go on, but I’d like to go to the meat of the argument.
First off, Jesus never says that divorce is permissible in any objectivist sense of the word. He simply says that “Moses permitted” divorce for various reasons. So your comment doesn’t even jibe with the quoted facts of the Bible as you just barely stated.
Secondly, Jesus also goes on to say that divorce is still sinful except for very specific conditions. It is therefore a complete mystery to me what Maximus is even trying to argue with this point. If the Bible does not explicitly prescribe some direct punishment for a given sin, is that supposed to automatically mean everyone is free to engage in such behavior without any consequences whatsoever? Where is he even going with this? This entire comment from Maximums is just a giant non-sequitur.

The first point is just nonsense, ACX is literally telling us that Jesus never said divorce was permissible in any ‘objectivist [by which I believe he means ‘objective’] sense of the word’, and then gives us a sense in which Jesus permitted divorce, namely under the law of Moses.

Remember, Moses permitted divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1, and it was a part of his general laws that he claimed “the God of your ancestors, has given you to possess — as long as you live in the land.” in Deuteronomy 12:1. Furthermore, if it was given by God, then it was given, in some sense, by Jesus who is claimed by the Gospel of John to be God (see John 1:1–18). Hence, it would be Jesus working through Moses.

The second point posits a false dichotomy, that either something is wrong and worthy of punishment, or that it is okay and free to do. Is it not possible as mentioned above, that Jesus tells us not to do something because engaging in such a behavior leads to breaking God’s commands, which themselves occur punishment?

As to where the comment is going, as I stated in my prior post,

Sometimes, the apologetic is as simple as pointing out that one’s interlocutor is too stupid to read

By apologetic, I mean an apologetic defending the inerrancy of the Bible from certain dark passages.

The first objection is that,
But what is morality, really? Because for all this talk about morals and values, it’s surprisingly rare for anyone to actually break them down into rigorous, coherent terms. So let’s begin with the simple observation that the core of all morality is implicitly defined by choice. That’s why we only tend to punish people for things they consciously decide to do or not do, and never for things that just happen. But it’s also equally important to realize that choice itself has no practical meaning unless one is trying to actualize some desirable outcome. “Good” and “right” choices are those which can reliably produce a specified result, while “bad” and “wrong” choices ultimately fail in that goal.
I agree that morality first has to be defined, and I think morality necessarily concerns the choices of agents. However, the notion that “choice itself has no practical meaning unless one is trying to actualize some desirable outcome” is contentious.
So you agree that morality is implicitly defined by choice, but you dispute the idea that choice has any logical connection to actions and consequences. Okay, fine. Name me a single example of a choice that is morally good, in and of itself, independent of any goals or consequences.

I proceeded to give the following example,

Some things should be recognized as a good in themselves. Take for example reason itself, it could not be solely valuable because if [sic] its practical outcome because knowing any practical outcomes presupposes the value of reason in the first place.

The response I got was the following,

This is a textbook example of the incoherent gibberish I was talking about. What does it even mean to say that “reason is good?” The only way I know how to justify that proposition is through the observation that reason tends to actualize desirable, pro-social outcomes by properly informing decisions. Maximus, on the other hand, seems to think that goodness is just some inherent metaphysical quality of reason itself — -that even if, by some happenstance, reason were to result in the consistent propagation of pain and suffering on a global scale, that aura of goodness would still surround every act of reason, just ‘cuz.

If ACX’s argument for consequentialism is that “The only way I know how to justify that proposition is through the observation that reason tends to actualize desirable, pro-social outcomes by properly informing decisions”, this strikes me as a textbook case of an argument from incredulity. Also, I fail to see how my justification is gibberish. My argument was that you can’t ground the value of reason in some practical outcome because all practical evaluations presuppose the value of reason in giving you the correct conclusion in the first place.

Lastly, he claims that my conclusion is false because it would mean that, on the off chance that an act of reason leads to apocalyptic consequences, I’d still have to consider it good. But this is just the fallacy of an appeal to consequences. At the very most, all ACX has shown is that the outcome would not be desirable, not that it wouldn’t be good. In any case, even if the outcome is bad, this by no means proves that it is reason which made it bad (it could be instead the surrounding circumstances, etc.).

Notice that Maximus hasn’t actually bothered to define morality yet, and already he is making bare assertions that certain things are just good. How do you even know that? What does goodness even mean? What rules do you apply when assigning that label? What is it about reason that makes it a good thing and not a bad thing? You haven’t even bothered to address these question in the slightest shred of detail.
My video already explains these exact problems in painstaking detail, even citing numerous examples of how it falls apart when put into practical use. All Maximus is doing here is reasserting the very thing I went out of my way to debunk.

I didn’t define morality because I’m not positing a system of morality, I’m merely responding to objections. I could be a consequentialist, atheist, and moral anti-realist, and my objections would still hold up. Even when I provided an argument for why reason is a good in itself, I proceeded by saying ACX’s claim was contentious, not that it was false. I also never made an assertion, I provided an argument why it was justifiable to hold that reason was a good in itself.

It is from this point where ACX sneaks in consequentialism,
How it is sneaky to state openly and proudly that consequentialism is a logically necessary component of all coherent morality? For fuck’s sake, Maximus, I even wrote the word “consequentialism” in giant orange letters on the screen! In what logical universe is that being “sneaky?” Morality implies choice, choice implies goals, and goals imply actions and consequences. This is not a subtle train of thought, you jackass.
I apologize in advance for my growing impatience and profanity, but Maximus is being completely disingenuous with his choice of words, here. I have no patience for people who have to deliberately lie so brazenly when engaging in basic philosophical discussions.

It’s at this point where ACX is equivocating the way in which he is being sneaky. I am not saying he isn’t letting his audience know what he believes. That is, sneaking his consequentialism into his presentation, or his moral framework. Rather, that he is sneaking consequentialism from the following observation,

Yet despite all the contention, most people do tend to agree that any coherent concept of seemingly “moral” behavior must revolve around some kind of ultimate, social interaction. Morally “good” choices tend to manifest through desirable, pro-social consequences while morally “evil” choices are those which tend to do the opposite.

The above could all very well be true, however, it takes some mental (whether intentional or not) slight of hand to derive the following.

But no matter what the specifics may be, it’s important to always bear in mind that the whole notion of morality itself is utterly meaningless and irrelevant without some form of consequentialism at its foundation.

That is the proposition which I believe ACX is sneaking in, and the proposition I put in bold while writing my last piece.

It’s as if virtue ethics or deontology aren’t viable eithical [sic] frameworks.
During my video, I went out of my way to compare and contrast consequentialism against the standard Christian perspectives on morality. I elaborated in great detail how consequentialism provides simple, intuitive interpretations for various propositions, while Christian moral realism simply collapses under its own incoherence. Again, Maximus knows this because he spends a huge chunk of his essay engaging with those very arguments. This comment is therefore yet another lie, in that he acts as if I’ve casually disregarded such views without a second thought.

I fail to see how the failures of “the standard Christian perspective of morality” entails that virtue ethics and deontology aren’t viable ethical frameworks. Even if Christian moral realism “collapses under its own coherence,” that would not mean that virtue ethics and deontology are incoherent. This is something anyone would be able to figure this out, if they gave it a second thought.

However, let’s agree with ACX, could not a Christian be a consequentialist?
In principle, yes. But the overwhelming majority of Christians adhere to divine command theory (DCT), which is logically incompatible with consequentialism. This isn’t just my opinion, either, but the general consensus of practically every Christian philosopher I’ve ever talked to, listened to, or read about. They’re the ones who will go out of their way to reject consequentialist viewpoints as “moral relativism” and therefore unfit for Christian moral philosophy. Therefore, no, if you are anything like most Christians, you cannot be both.

Why is it logically impossible? No argument has been made, short of an appeal to popularity. A false one, too, given the official position of the Catholic Church is that of natural law theory (not consequentialism mind you, but still not DCT) and that most lay Christians have no systematic moral theology to speak of. Speaking of which, if there are any Christians interested in Christian moral philosophers who are consequentialists who are DCT, there is Robert M. Adams (the guy who famously put DCT back in the literature), wherein he formulates a new form of utilitarianism, motive utilitarianism [11].

Furthermore, consequences would not lead to relativism on Christianity, as, on Christianity, there are consequences in the hereafter to wrong and right action; whereas, if naturalism were true, you could be a totally evil person and not suffer any consequences in this life.

If God’s will determines right and wrong, then what has greater consequence than heaven and hell?
This is a point I actually went out of my way to belabor during later sections of the video, so it’s kind of weird that Maximus decided to argue it. It’s as if he either didn’t watch the video all the way through, or he honestly doesn’t understand the implications of what he is suggesting.
In short, the concepts of heaven and hell only make sense when viewed through the perspective of a self-interested, consequentialist morality. If you desire heaven, then it makes perfect sense to engage in whatever behaviors will tend to get you there. Such behaviors are the “right” things to do and you “ought” to do them. Under DCT, however, heaven and hell are irrelevant. God gives us commands, and we simply ought to follow those commands, irrespective of whatever personal gains they may produce. DCT is therefore logically incompatible with consequentialism, and obviously so.
The problem for Christians is that divine punishment for our sins is a core doctrine of all Christian religion. That means the very nature of Christian theology strongly urges you to adopt a consequentialist view on morality. After all, if “evil” decisions were guaranteed to produce admission into paradise, what possible reason could you give me to engage in “good” behaviors? No matter what arguments you have to offer, I can immediately destroy them with a casual statement of “Fuck your morality.” I want to go to paradise. Now what? It’s as if Maximus hasn’t even thought about the catastrophic implications of the very argument he’s just presented.

It’s at this point where an argument for the incompatibility of consequentialism and DCT is given, not a particularly good one, but still it’s at least an argument I could address. Well, let’s grant that hell and heaven only make sense from a “self-interested, consequentialist morality”. However, God tells us we ought to obey his commands, or else we will go to hell. Whereas if we obey his commands, we will go to heaven. Since we stand to gain more than lose, we would be obligated out of our own self-interests to follow his commands. Thus, we are first-order consequentialists, and second-order DCT. Heaven and hell become the bridge between the two ethical theories.

This is why, given the above scenario, if you were to say “fuck your morality, I want to go to heaven”, I could easily respond with, “okay, kill that Amalekite baby and we’ll go”, does it seem evil, sure, but if ACX’s consequentialism is true, and the problematic bible passages are also true, it would follow.

If this makes God a moral monster, with no virtue, then I have to ask why isn’t ACX a virtue theorist who thinks that it’s manifesting proper character in an agent which makes something ‘right’ or ‘wrong’?
I’m not a virtue theorist because I’m a consequentialist. I was nothing but clear and open about this from the very beginning. Consequentialism is meaningful and functional. Virtue theory is not. I don’t have to be a virtue theorist in order to claim “Person X is evil.” If God’s commands are not conducive to a productive, safe, healthy, flourishing society, then God’s commands are “evil.” This isn’t hard to grasp. Just because words mean different things to me as they do to you, that does not forbid me from using them in sentences.

I just want to grab him by the head and say “Think, ACX!”, just like I was Biff from Back to the Future. Well, no duh, I know you’re not a virtue theorist. My question was a challenge regarding how you would avoid calling such a being as God good on your ethic, without addressing the character of the being. I wasn’t describing your position. I would think you would have figured it out considering that you tried to (poorly) address my challenge. If God were to command you to do actions which would not be “ conducive to a productive, safe, healthy, flourishing society”, then it would not follow God was evil on consequentialism, so long as God outweighed the bad of doing the action with a heavenly reward (an eternal, and individualistic heaven), and/or, increased the pain relative to not doing the action (a hell which was far more non-conducive to a productive, safe, healthy, flourishing society by causing people pain).

Strangely enough, however, most Christian philosophers actually reject this principle outright, claiming instead that morality is an objective feature of the universe itself, like the law of gravity or the charge of an electron; that even if the entire human race went extinct today, then certain laws of morality would still be absolutely true and universally binding on all sentient beings across the cosmos.
It’s at this point that ACX slips from normative ethics and into meta-ethics. For those who don’t know, meta-ethics concern the nature of ethics (what does it mean to say X is right or wrong), and normative ethics concern methods of figuring out what is right and wrong.
No, I’m contrasting the consequentialist view of morality against the moral realist view as described by standard Christian philosophy. This comment is also somewhat weird, in that Maximus is basically accusing me of “slipping” into something that I was doing very deliberately. Not only that, but even if we accept his accusation at face value, Maximus seems to be under the bizarre impression that transitioning from a discussion on normative ethics into meta-ethics is somehow a bad thing — -as if those two topics have literally nothing to do with each other and don’t ever belong in the same essay. This comment is yet another pointless jab at my character for no good reason.

My point was that ACX was comparing apples to oranges. Consequentialism is a normative ethical theory, while moral-realism (the component of standard Christian ethics he is analyzing) is a meta-ethical theory. Is there something wrong in making such a comparison? No. However, as I go onto argue, the truth of one does not negate that of the other. He’d be much better off contrasting moral realism and anti-realism.

Consequentialism is a normative theory, and while one can be a moral anti-realist and a consequentialist, it is not necessary. G.E. Moore is one such example of a realist, and a consequentialist.
First off, just because some famous guy held to a particular view, that does not automatically prove the view is logically consistent or coherent. Maximus is just appealing to authority for no good reason.
Secondly, if Maximus were half as educated on this stuff as he claims to be, he would know that there is no single, unifying school of moral realism in the world of philosophy. All I can say is that, in this context, I am specifically the addressing Christian perspectives on moral realism, and that such perspectives are most definitely incompatible with consequentialism.

Well, I’m actually appealing to authority for a good reason, I’m suggesting that a trained and renowned philosopher is probably a better source of authority for what two ideas are both compatible, as opposed to what some guy on the internet asserts in his blog. If there is something incompatible about his idea, there is a link to the S.E.P wherein anyone can show it.

Furthermore, while I do recognize that there is no one unified school of moral realism (there are moral naturalists and moral non-naturalists), I’m educated enough to know that Christians can fit in either camp. Natural law theorists (who are mostly Catholics) are naturalists, wherein divine command theorists and Christian moral platonists are moral non-naturalists.

ACX then proceeds to attack moral realism, but is fully unconvincing.
It’s another one of those tempting philosophical views called moral realism, and while it may appeal to certain naive intuitions, it utterly fails before it even begins. Because to say that anything is morally “good” or “evil,” in and of itself, without any reference to goals or consequences, is just incoherent gibberish.
For example, just stop ask yourself: what on Earth is an objective moral value supposed to look like? Like if some guy were to say to you that, “human life has objective value,” or that “human life is objectively good,” what does that even mean?
Again, the realist can be a consequentialist, so this does not preclude moral realism from being true, even if ACX’s assertion regarding the necessity of consequentialism was the case. ACX also provides us little reason to think that saying something is good in itself is gibberish. The only argument is that it isn’t susceptible to our senses. But so what? ACX has not given us any argument which commits us to empiricism. Asking what an “objective moral value supposed to look like” makes little more sense than asking what does green taste like, or what does sour look like.
I issued you a challenge, Maximus: explain to me the meaning of a phrase like “Human life is objectively good.” This has nothing to do with empiricism and nothing to do with consequentialism. Those are all red herrings and you know it. Stop beating around the bush and explain to everyone what the fuck that expression means. Every interpretation of that sentence I can possibly think of is gibberish nonsense, except the interpretation given by a consequentialist perspective.

Like I said earlier in the post, to give a refutation does not commit me to providing my own moral framework. However, to give an example I gave earlier, to say that ‘human life is objectively good’ means that ‘a rationally consistent person ought to value human life’. Furthermore, empiricism is not a red herring, given that it underpins a presumption in the question.

It’s little more than a category error. Objective values are picked up by our moral intuitions.
I’m sorry, but did you just say “moral intuitions?” Do you mean to tell me that every time you assign labels like “good” and “evil,” you’re doing so entirely by gut-feeling? Literally, the phrase “human life is objectively good” is true because your moral intuition says so?
Okay, seriously, if that’s the road you want to go down, then you might as well just raise the white flag of philosophical surrender right now. You’ve just lose the argument via sheer force of your own idiocy.

This response amounts to little more than a straw-man, as I stated in the post,

human beings have a cognitive predisposition to believe in the rightness or wrongness of some action.

A cognitive predisposition is not a “gut feeling”. Ethical norms, and seeing the world through them, are ingrained in our psychology, they evolved — like our similar to our senses- because of grasping the truth of the world is more likely to help you survive (among the sociological benefits). I suggest ACX extends more charity.

Can these intuitions be wrong, or even naive. Sure they can, but so can our senses (for example, most solid objects are made of empty space, a fact which our senses speak to the contrary). However, this doesn’t entail we abandon our senses, and deny the existence of the external world.
Okay, just stop. When your entire argument starts revolving around “cognitive predispositions” and “moral intuitions,” then it’s safe to say you have no clue what you’re talking about. You’ve basically grounding your entire sense of moral philosophy on the gut feelings you get whenever someone behaves badly around you. How on Earth that little tingling sensation is supposed to lead us to “therefore, god exists,” is completely beyond me.

A lot of this seem beyond ACX, and I think this response serves as a nice testament to that. I am not grounding my entire moral philosophy on intuition, rather, just my moral epistemology. Namely, knowing that there is objective morality, not which morals are objectively right. That requires a normative ethic because we need a methodology whereby we weed out false moral beliefs from true beliefs.

The thing that’s really bizarre about this statement is how Maximus went out of his way to bash on empiricism as a viable path for understanding morality. Now here he is, grounding his entire argument in pure sense perception of some mystical moral essence surrounding human in. That’s an EMPIRICAL ARGUMENT, you idiot. What’s worse about this line of thinking is that it forces us back into the same conundrums I mentioned earlier.

Nowhere did I bash empiricism, I merely stated that ACX’s objection presupposed some sort of empiricism. All I did was analogize our moral intuitions with the senses, I never stated that they were a type of sense perception. In my view, they’re more akin to a synthetic a priori, a way of rationally making sense of the world, which is indispensable (like deduction, induction, and the existence of the external world).

If human beings possess some kind of innate moral sense that allows to perceive goodness, then what physical mechanisms govern that perception? Light carries information to our eyeballs, pressure waves in air carry sound to our ears, and chemical reception carries information about scent to our noses. If Maximus is right about this, then in principle I ought to be able to artificially replicate that perception in some kind of moral transducer. Yet Maximus himself went out of his way to patently reject that possibility outright when I asked what the units of calibration were for moral goodness.

The first statement, offering the conditional, presupposes that mental faculties and our perception of qualities present within the world are reductive to our neurological functions, yet, no argument is given for such a claim.

I’ll leave the last comment as a direct address to ACX. You know where you can contact me, if you like, we at the Legion would be happy to host you on our podcast for a moderated discussion. There, you can feel free to a more direct exchange of ideas, and we have hosted those who have disagreed with us before. If you find this unworthy of your time, we fully understand.

End Notes

[1] ‘Ignoratio elenchi’ Wikipedia, Link

[2] Ibid

[3] John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, Link

[4] William Lane Craig, Can We Be Good Without God, Link

[5] David Anderson, Can we be good without God? What is the connection between belief in God and morality?, Creation Ministries, Link

[6] W. M Gervais. and A. F Shariff ., and A. Norenzayan. , “Do You Believe in Atheists? Distrust Is Central to Anti-Atheist Prejudice”, and was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, page 1195 Link.

[7] Vlad Chituc, ‘Atheists aren’t less trusted than rapists’, Link

[8] ‘Deist’, Websters Dictionary of the English Language, 1828 edition, Link

[9] Thomas Pain, Age of Reason, page 34, Link

[10] Ibid, page 140

[11] Robert M. Adams, “Motive Utilitarianism,” Journal of Philosophy, vol. 73, no. 14 (1976): 467–481.