1. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Same old same old. To the “law equivocator”:

    There’s this thing called the Münchhausen trilemma.
    At the end of the day, all knowledge is based on presuppositions, aka axioms, aka foundational beliefs. Further, I hold to the is-ought distinction. When you combine those things, it necessarily follows that any moral claim is based on a moral presupposition. I have no answer for you why the standard is the well-being of conscious creatures. This deficiency exists for all moral systems. It’s the basic problem of hard solipsism. The possible existence of your god changes absolutely nothing. Might does not make right, and your god (if it exists) has the same rights and responsibilities over me that human parents have over their children, because of the standard of well-being, and that standard is applicable because I say so.

    If you disagree that it’s all about well-being – if you want to increase needless suffering and misery, then you are my enemy, there is no more conversation to be had, and we will do battle (such as in the political space).

  2. Persephone says

    Stomping through the minefield of whether or not black people have voted against civil rights for another minority because of the influence of Christianity in black culture. . . yeah. . . Don, what were you thinking? I felt like I was watching a cringe-type show, like Extras or The Office. This is one of those topics where unless you have the statistics or some really good sociological research in front of you, from multiple sources, you never, ever just wing it. That’s the time to say “I don’t know” and then stop talking.

  3. omar j says

    Seth in Idaho agreed that slavery was wrong. But the “infallible source” from which he gets his world view justifies it. So if his holy book says that slavery is right, then it’s right, even though he admits that it’s wrong. So where did his belief that slavery is wrong come from?

    BTW, Seth, a lion killing an antelope does so as a matter of survival. Has anybody ever faced the choice of enslaving someone else or starving to death? And the law of gravity would still apply even if we suddenly disappeared from the universe. I’m (almost!) certain that gravity would still behave the same way we’ve described it.

  4. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    From the show:
    “Because no other position makes sense.”
    Guess what – that’s the fallacy of appeal to consequences. Perhaps the right answer is that no position “makes sense” under your definitions of the terms. I happen to agree. I happen to argue that all sane coherent collections of belief and knowledge are based on unjustified, unjustifiable starting principle, aka axioms, aka presuppositions, and that absolute certain is basically impossible.

  5. says

    Seth from Idaho = Derivative Sye-clone using the same script and same aggressive argument style (ie: constantly asking questions which may or may not be answerable and/or meaningless to keep you on the defensive e.g. “how do you account for x?”), only his angle of attack was morality instead of knowledge. But the structure is the same.

    And he only wanted to talk to Don because Matt had heard (and debated) that tactic before and it’s the sort of presuppositional word-foolery that only works once on people, like a sleight-of-hand magic trick with language.

    As for the content of his argument: I don’t understand what he means by “in a materialistic universe there are no laws”. Every word in that claim needs to be defined, defended and proven in order for it to mean anything. I think the way he is defining “materialistic universe” (is there a non-materialistic universe somewhere we should know about?) and “laws” is different than how they are properly defined, but I think he was speaking strictly of moral laws.

    He asserts that if humans are just evolved animals (let’s set aside the fallacy inherent in that statement), then there is no morality. But on the contrary, all sorts of animals have displayed stunning examples of morality. Chimpanzees live in very sophisticated social orders where they act appropriately, share, get along, and even punish criminal behavior. Pack animals group themselves under alphas and develop pecking orders, birds take care of their young, etc… all these things point to an internal sense of morality — a set of behaviors that improve cooperation and group cohesion — that animals have toward their own species. It’s not the same morality as human morality, but it is morality.

    But just because animals don’t act like humans doesn’t mean humans should act like animals. We developed our own systems of morality slowly over time, seemingly on a trial-and-error basis and pretty much as a necessity: In order for everyone to get along nicely in large population dwellings like cities. Over time, some of the tried-and-true behaviors that worked were codified into laws for posterity and then religions came along to take credit for their existence. That’s all that’s happened; there’s nothing supernatural or mystical or transcendental about it. People living together made agreements on how everyone should get along, and that’s the basis for all our moral codes.

    And finally, always be extremely skeptical of anyone who’s MO is to argue in parables and analogies (and examples and anecdotes) instead of facts. Analogies are not arguments. They are red herrings, usually weighted in the argument’s favor, set up to simplify the argument to make it more persuasive. Analogies should never be used as arguments or to replace arguments (it’s okay to use an analogy to clarify an argument if the other side misunderstands your argument, but never as the argument itself nor the main thrust of the argument).

    It is a common tactic among all theologians, charlatans and hustlers, to argue in analogies instead of facts. Don’t let them derail the discussion.

  6. Kevin W says

    Seth has called multiple times before and bought up the ‘what’s wrong with owning an evolved animal’ stuff. Matt had previously gotten him to admit that if the bible says slavery is moral then slavery is moral. Obviously he only wanted to talk to Don, because sorry Don, you’re not as good debater as Matt (Seth was very passive aggressive). I do believe there is moral problem with the Pet issue, but that would be more the case if intend to own animals as slaves. I am not a vegan or a vegetarian, but there is a moral problem with the treatment of animals as slaves or food when you can’t just say ‘humans are different – Just Because’.

  7. Dmoney says

    Seth went about this in a “troll” like manner trying to attack Don’s beliefs to get a certain response. When Matt stepped in, Seth got a little scared and then tried to go after Don again as if Seth knew Don would struggle over the questions asked. I mean why would it matter who you talked to? Seth, if you want productive answers ask an expert instead next time. Don, it helps to do your home work on your beliefs. It will make your answers stronger, bolder, and have more substance (I think I said that right). This will weed out the future uneducated callers, making them pause in bewilderment, yet feel educated. #secondopinions

  8. Chirthorpe says

    The guy who called in to specifically badger Don, I’m absolutely certain he’s called in before. He’s under the false assumption that “an animal owning another animal can’t be wrong” or something stupid along those lines. When he called in last time, Matt put him in his place, which is why he was trying to avoid matt. I wish they’d cottoned on to this so that we could have heard from a better caller.

  9. Nyquist says

    I think theists often confuse objective morality and universal enforcement. Seth asks ‘what if a society chooses to accept the consequences of slavery?’. Obviously we believe nothing will happen (beyond those negative societal consequences), but that doesn’t make it right. Seth seems to think that right and wrong don’t exist unless there is some kind of omnipotent enforcement system that guarantees justice (ie heaven and hell).

  10. Robert, not Bob says

    Wow, there’s an echo from my Adventist childhood. I too was told that dinosaurs were genetically engineered by the superintelligent (and for some reason 16-foot tall) antideluvians. And that neanderthals were the result of biomedically assisted crossbreeding with apes, kind of like Spock.

    Assuming he’s honest, Seth is suffering from an unconscious presupposition regarding supernaturally prescribed law, that is, that F only equals ma because Somebody said so. And no, Matt didn’t get through.

  11. says

    When it comes to whether I’m “absolutely certain slavery is wrong”, it’s a word game.

    I think that slavery is always wrong, but I don’t think it’s absolutely wrong. I didn’t contradict myself. Me saying “I don’t think it’s absolutely wrong” is not a concession that it’s ever not-wrong. It’s a distinction about whether the morality of slavery is somehow written into the universe, or in other “absolute” way. Since I think morality is a set of opinions we have about how to maximize benefit and minimize harm, we’re always bound to think slavery isn’t moral, while acknowledging that someone else in the universe might not agree.

  12. says

    Seth’s constant refrain of ‘I called to talk to Don’ was a tacit acknowledgment that he knows that Matt has already answered his points, so he’s going to get one over on the ‘easier target’. Which is not to denigrate Don in any way. Presup arguments are designed to bamboozle. The best, and in some cases, only response is to badger them with the same tenacity they display.

    That he ignored everything Don actually said, in favour of picking up on the parts he said ‘I don’t know’ speaks to his dishonest tactics – for example, Don’s comments on harm being an indicator.

    I’m constantly intrigued by the idea that knowledge and morality require god. It’s a very insular view as it completely fails to account for the 2/3rds of the population of this world that don’t believe in your specific god.
    The argument that they borrow from your worlkdview , while a clever twist, is simply a rhetorical device with no evidentiary support.

    While I cannot be absolutely sure that he’s not a poe, I think it’s more likely that he’s the smug, presup, follower of Sye he seems to be.

  13. says

    @ Jasper of Maine

    “I think that slavery is always wrong, but I don’t think it’s absolutely wrong. ”

    That’s a distinction that your average presup isn’t allowed to acknowledge.
    It displays an ability to think in shades of grey.

  14. says

    Sorry for the comment bomb….

    Equating pets with slavery can only come from someone who has never owned a cat.

    If I could post a picture of my arm at the moment, it’s pretty clear who’s in the dominant position….

  15. says

    @ Simon Firth
    Agreed. I think Don and/or Matt should have called Seth out on his arrogant belief that HE is allowed to dictate which way the conversation flows and the rules of who “gets” to respond. Demanding that you have the right to call in THEIR show and play word games in the hopes that someone falls into a pre-designed word trap is poor form.

    Produce your own call-in show. Make a video spouting your beliefs. Just don’t expect the right to hijack someone else’s program.

  16. petrander says

    An earlier caller from way back had already made the same point namely that basing morality on what one “feels” somehow makes it less rational and just “subjective”. I think this was posed to Martin Wagner. This is either the same caller or the current one decide to rehash the argument. I still think it is a poe caller and I perhaps even it’s the same guy as the one calling in every single show lately just with different names and accents and taking up way too much time with his inane babbling and evasions.

    In any case, since when have human feelings become irrelevant to this question and to be disregarded just because they’re supposedly subjective? Human emotions matter because they affect our experience and behaviour. When it comes to explaining where morality should be derived from I always use the formula: “Ethics and empathy!” The first part for explaining the rational reasons for avoiding harm and creating a world that is for the most optimal good for all. And the second part for explaining how any moral person would not even want to do otherwise.

  17. xscd says

    The caller “Seth,” who asks, “in a purely material world there are no (moral) laws, so where does our morality come from?” is obviously trying to bring the conversation to his conclusion that there can be only one guide against we can measure whether something is good or bad, moral or immoral, and that guide must come from an absolute authority, and that absolute authority happens to be his God.

    Morals are nothing more than human value judgements about various aspects of human behavior, and the morality we encode into law, and which can persist without major dispute within society, is that which we can almost all agree upon, like prohibitions of murder and theft.

    Morality changes from time to time, culture to culture, as various collections of human beings consider their behavior, reasons for it, and consequences thereof. That’s why murder in war is condoned by some people and societies, why slavery has been condoned at times, etc.

    So it’s up to us to consider and agree upon a moral (and legal) code that we can comfortably live with as a society.

    Regarding Seth’s other argument about absolute certainty, especially in cases where there is little or no evidence, a sense of absolute certainty does not necessarily indicate truth (as so many people have pointed out). To me, the presuppositionists’ argument boils down to: God exists because He told me so, and I know He exists with absolute certainty, while you don’t know He doesn’t exist with any certainty at all.”

  18. gshelley says

    Seth was a little frustrating to listen to and Matt and Don indulged him too much. He seemed to be trying to go to an argument from morality – that the only way we can say anything is immoral is if God tells us, but as Matt and Don wouldn’t go down the path he was expecting, couldn’t get there, so just kept going in circles. It could have been a much shorter discussion if they had started the way they finished – asking him to support his view

  19. Monocle Smile says

    I’m pretty sure Seth from Idaho is Seth from Seattle who called in a few times like 50 episodes ago.

    The best call was with Russell and Lynnea. Seth was presented with an “alternative” worldview that worked itself out logically just fine, and tried to get out of it by accusing Lynnea of not being serious.

    My blunt opinion? Seth’s problem is that he’s not anywhere near as smart as he imagines. Presups always think they have the perfect counterarguments and traps, but it’s all just semantics and bullshit. They have no actual response to anything; all they have is a very, very simple scripted flowchart. Russell’s posted before about the smug, self-congratulatory nature of presuppositionalism, and both Seth and Sye ten Bruggencate are excellent examples.

    The end of the call saw the exact argument given to Seth before. He was asked to support his view with actual evidence, and of course he bitched out.

  20. says

    The entire strategy appeared to be to engage in word-play to navigate the opponent into saying something that can be taken as ignorance. Any “I don’t know” on any subject, and kind of stall from the opponent is a victory.
    How on Earth this suddenly equates to “Therefore God is real!” is beyond me. Apparently, leading a single host down the rabbit hole somehow makes the caller correct.

    This reminded me of Ray Comfort’s videos, where he shoves the microphone into the face of unsuspecting people and unloads a barrage of obscure questions.

    Kudos to Matt for taking charge. “No, I want to talk to Don….. I’m too terrified to talk to Matt!”, and also Kudos to Don for handling it as he did. I would have done far worse!

  21. says


    I think you’re right about Seth’s earlier calls.

    Lynnea threw him right off his script with that – it was a thing of beauty. As was the prophecy that he’d call again.

    It’s a very unpleasant aspect of the presup argument, that it uses the skeptic’s natural honesty against them. Lynnea’s logically sound….lie….caught him off-guard and he, I recall, called her position unreasonable.. Oh, the irony…

    I’m going to have to find that episode again, now…

  22. says

    While Seth was just obnoxious, I think that both Matt and Don (and other hosts) need to make it clear that the callers are calling *THEIR* show, it’s not a democracy and the callers don’t dictate the rules. There are two hosts and either of them can answer any caller any way they wish. If they callers don’t like it, they’re welcome to hang up and call another show that is more to their liking. The only reason that Seth didn’t want to talk to Matt is because Matt would easily shred his claims, which is exactly what happened.

  23. Conversion Tube says

    I was just on an Atheist/Christian debate page for quite a while this morning.

    I got into it with a presup for a while. It was great, I used Matt’s technique.

    He asked something about being absolutely sure.

    I said, ok give me a definition of absolute, with example and how you determined it.

    He asked again in another way.

    i responded the same.

    This went on for about 15 minutes in a circular fashion. You were lucky with Seth.

    This guy would never answer of course. But I did stop him dead in his debate tracks.

    Then another guy came in spoofing saying there is an all mighty robot.

    He asked how do you know anything. I used Matts response in a previous show.

    1. My 5 senses and confirmation from others.
    2. Scientific method.

    He said, but how do you know?

    I said, I just told you.

    Then this went around in a circle for a while.

  24. rodney says

    The first call was entertaining because of Seth’s fear of Matt, it was hilarious how he was so terrified of Matt joining the conversation.

  25. Monocle Smile says

    Wow, Seth’s an even bigger dipshit than I imagined. Here’s a guy who has done exactly zero research on world history. Slavery isn’t good for the slaves, but it isn’t even good for the slave owners. The society itself is unhealthy and breaks down.

    Seth and Bruggencate have this nasty habit of going the Frank Turek route and bootstrapping materialism to atheism so they can beat up a straw man. They KNOW that atheism by itself can’t be attacked because that commits a category error, so they have to instead tilt at windmills. Seth made a habit of attacking positions the hosts didn’t hold in prior calls, and he hasn’t changed a bit.

  26. corwyn says

    “Because no other position makes sense.”

    ‘Argument from ignorance’ fallacy aside, in this age of quantum mechanics (as many other have said), ‘making sense’ is no longer a useful gauge of the truth. Anyone with a laser pointer and a razor blade can repeat the two-slit experiment for themselves. Until one can describe what happens in that, in a way that ‘makes sense’, one doesn’t get to use it as a criteria for judging truth.

  27. favog says

    It is true that Matt is a much more practiced debater than Don, and it may well be true that Matt is also much more naturally talented at it. But the only help Don needed was dealing with Seth’s thuggish and unfair style of arguing. As Matt pointed out, Don answered all of Seth’s points, several of them already at the point Seth brought them up. The only place I see Don making a mistake: “I don’t know” should have been “I already told you, don’t you listen?”.

    My question for Seth: You say that a solely materialistic universe (I think he meant solely material universe) can have no laws, prescriptive or descriptive. If it has no descriptive laws, it cannot be described. If it cannot be described, it cannot be called solely material because that is itself a description. How do you resolve the way you’ve contradicted yourself? How can you even claim that what you said even means anything? You are, in the words of Paul Dirac, “not even wrong”.

  28. says

    Seth, Seth, Seth. That was a long time to spend on a caller who seemingly just wanted to play “gotcha” (and failed miserably.

    Regarding the distinction of owning animals vs. human beings:

    I am strongly opposed to factory farming techniques—most non-ag people don’t realize it, but sheep and cattle are not raised in factory-type situations (except veal calves), but 99 percent of hogs and nearly as high a percentage of poultry is. Anyone who shrugs this off has a problem with empathy, since the suffering of these animals, perhaps especially highly intelligent hogs, is truly brutal.

    That said, there is surely a distinction here: We generally accept that animals (at least the kind we tend to keep as pets or raise for food and fiber) do not have the ability for abstract thought, living very much in the moment (which makes their torture even worse, doesn’t it?). In other words, a pig raised her whole life in a cramped crate in a windowless, cement-floored pork-producing machine doesn’t, probably, imagine what life would be like if she were free. It’s even arguable that a pig raised for a year in an open barnyard then transferred to a factory situation wouldn’t pine away for her previous freedom.

    The same cannot be said of humans, and that, Seth, you mindless god-robot, is a real distinction.
    Here are reasons most humans have decided slavery is “wrong” (though I don’t think there is any objective Morality or Right or Wrong):

    Empathy – we can put ourselves in the slaves’ position. We wouldn’t want to suffer and we extend that to them.

    Theory of mind — Simply put, we can envision ourselves and project that onto others like us.

    Evolution — This is tricky, I admit, but a driving force for humans is social interaction and contact. Most of us tend not to act in ways that would increase social isolation or ostracization. I would argue that in small communities like tribes, without mass/distance communication, it was easier to portray human slaves as “other” and therefore not feel the consequences of enslaving them. But as we became more aware of the wider world, the consequences of keeping slaves perhaps became more tangible.

    Retribution — Sure, slavery works … but probably not forever. At some point, revolt becomes likely, endangering your profits (and perhaps your life and your family’s).

    All this much too succinctly put. But Seth’s obvious belief that “slavery is wrong” is some objective Truth handed down by a vast, omnipotent creator is ridiculous. If it were true, than that omnipotent being is a complete idiot: Not only do its books endorse slavery, but for most of human history, so have humans.

    Surely the hosts recognize when these same damned people keep calling, often changing their names and cities, but unable to disguise the sound of their voice. I say, kick ’em off. We’ve heard plenty from bozos like Seth and he deserves no more of Matt or Don’s (or our) time!

  29. gshelley says

    The only place I see Don making a mistake: “I don’t know” should have been “I already told you, don’t you listen?”.

    I think the mistake Don made was thinking Seth cared what he had to say or was interested in an honest discussion

  30. EnlightenmentLiberal says


    Anyone with a laser pointer and a razor blade can repeat the two-slit experiment for themselves. Until one can describe what happens in that, in a way that ‘makes sense’, one doesn’t get to use it as a criteria for judging truth.

    Thank you. Well said.

  31. caligulathegod says

    Did Don really say what it sounded like he said about African-American Obama voters turning out? I know it was turn of phrase, but it was a bit amusing. Just one of those slips that doesn’t occur to you is inappropriate.

  32. tprc62 says

    Yes, this is Seth from show #839. He has the same “what is wrong with owning cats?” argument.

    The best part of Show #839 is Seth saying “! am in favor of slavery” and then go “Hold On” when what he just said hit his brain. This is at 52:40 on the podcast, and is a classic TAE moment.

    I have saved this show on my MP3 as one of my TAE “best-of” shows. Always fun to listen again.

  33. says

    I’ve been hearing this tactic a lot recently, asserting that “a material universe can’t produce X.” Doesn’t that presuppose that we know everything about what material universes (whatever those actually are: I think the more we learn about “material,” the more fluid it seems to be) can and can’t do? I don’t know of any actual physicists who make that claim; only theologians, who seem to know less than the average about the material universe.

  34. Erba says

    Seth was basically being a bully. The tactic he used was equivalent to a school yard bully picking on someone and chastising anyone trying to intervene for not letting the target stand up for themselves. The sad thing about this tactic is, that it works really well since it will make the target feel really bad whether they’re helped or not.

  35. azhael says

    I’m pretty sure Seth was posting about that same shit on Pharyngula a few days ago until PZ banned him for being a boring, dishonest arsehole, just like in the show. Same stupid points, same irrational refusal to accept or recognize basic concepts and just generally the exact same bullshit…
    Presupositionalists like him are such boring, predictable people…

  36. Frank G. Turner says

    @ gshelly #33, Erba # 40 and azhael # 41 and anyone else interested
    In general I would make the same argument that presupositionalists are boring predictable people not interested in an honest discussion or who care what anyone else has to say as they are just school yard bullies who care more about “winning the argument” in an immediate sense rather than anything productive. However, to equate all of them would be bigotry so I will state that many, pretty much everyone that I have known aks that way to some degree. I did know one that was not a bully (though he did use a lot of passive aggressive tactics) and to some degree was interested in honest discussion but believed the way he did out of fear and often defaulted to the Pascal’s Wager fallacy.
    I would not be surprised if on their own websites they are congratulating themselves for doing so well at “winning” the argument by bullying the opponent, even when they have intellectually “lost” the argument for not presenting a clear position. It is basically thinking like a politician.
    @ somnus # 38
    The “material universe” they are talking about seems to be, at least to the person making said argument, a denial of the possibility of any supernatural “other” spiritual world beyond the physical one. Albeit it is not really denying that such a think is possible, merely that the evidence does not support such conclusion and the default position in that instance is to say that it does not exist, which to some is basically claiming that it does not exist. I think that this type of argument style comes from a person who is,
    #1: Uncomfortable with the idea of this being it and there being no universe beyond ours that we will go into in our afterlife.
    #2: Unopened to the idea of saying that we “don’t know” about said spiritual universe and that it might be possible but that we have no proof.
    I meet a lot of the second one, not just among presuppositionalists but among those who don’t understand the scientific method or don’t want to apply it certain ways.
    There is a woman who works in my building who knows that I am agnostic who asked me, “How can you deny that you have a soul?”
    I respond with, “I didn’t say that I deny it, I think that it is possible, but I have no hard evidence to support it so I conclude that I don’t know”
    She responded with, “So you think that you don’t have one?”
    I responded with, “No, I said that I don’t know.”
    She can’t really get the idea that saying “I don’t know” is NOT the equivalent of “I know there is not.” Seth seems to be in the same area, a very black or white thinker. The presuppositionalist I mention who defaulted to Pascal’s wager was a lot like that, he even said once that “I understand that the world is not completely black or white but that doesn’t mean that everything has to be shades of gray.” I responded with, “I agree with that but how do you determine what is shades of gray and what isn’t?” I never got a clear answer to that and I asked that many times over the years. I sometimes wonder if his brain just was not wired to conceptualize that.
    Matt D. said something a few weeks ago on The Scathing Atheist when referencing his debate with StB about how sometimes the available evidence does not lead you to the correct conclusion. He pointed out that for a long time humans did not have the knowledge or evidence of the earth rotating around the sun, it appeared that the sun rotated around the earth based on the evidence that we had. So the evidence we had led to the false conclusion, but it was still a pretty good conclusion given the evidence. When you follow the evidence and come to the wrong conclusion, at least you are not denying the evidence. What presuppositionalists don’t seem to get is that if you ignore the evidence because it is not leading to the conclusion that you wish it to, you are in a much worse state.

  37. says

    At 45 minutes Seth is asked whether he is certain that slavery is wrong, and he replies with an emphatic “Yes!”. Then not three minutes later he claims that he gets his worldview from scripture?!

  38. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Wow. You think that’s the same guy? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that he’s that wacky and detached from reality. That’s some impressive shit there. Thanks for the link!

  39. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I am really starting to like the phrasing I used up-thread: If someone asks for justification for wanting and trying to make the world into a better place, I will answer that if they do not like it, then the conversation is over, and they should know that I will battle them in order to make the world a better place (such battling in the political space).

    I like it because it’s accurate and confrontational. I like it because it is not an exaggeration at all. I like it because I hope it will shock someone into realizing that they’re actually siding against making the world a better place, and realize how deep their shenanigans go. Meh. I’m too hopeful sometimes

  40. Frank G. Turner says

    @ azhael # 45
    No need to apologize, it is not like I asked for the reference yet. Thanks for providing it when I did ask though. I still wonder upon what grounds you think it is the same guy. On a previous post I did a little style and text analysis to figure out that adam was posting under an alternate name. I had previous text postings though to do my analysis. (And after I made the accusation he stopped posting too).
    Like the caller Seth, Real Jethro definitely seems detached though, a bully more bent on building up his own ego through metaphorically “winning arguments” and putting people down than actually providing something useful to the conversation or learning anything. Not surprising on the show given that he was trying to dictate which peers (Don) review his ideas. That is something Matt D should address on the show, if your ideas are worth anything it should not matter who reviews them. In the science community you don’t get to pick which peers review your ideas. If the peer reviews are bullshit, that will be pointed out by other peers. If you are reading Matt please point that out on the next show, make it part of the introduction (if you have not thought of doing this already).

  41. edmond says

    Seth, when humans make use of other humans as a workforce, that’s “slavery”. When we make use of another SPECIES as a workforce, that’s “symbiosis”.

  42. happyperson says

    Don was put on the spot. would definitely have given better responses if given more time to think/research/reflect. good on him for being able to laugh at himself.

    seth’s performance was embarrassing and obviously no match for Matt. i would be embarrassed if i got called so easily on my BS re: certainty

  43. Frank G. Turner says

    @ edmond $ 49

    Seth, when humans make use of other humans as a workforce, that’s “slavery”. When we make use of another SPECIES as a workforce, that’s “symbiosis”.

    My suspicion is that Seth somehow needs to feel that we humans are “special” in order to make use of another animal as a workforce without it being considered slavery. Of course being evolved to a point of sentience, i.e.: self awareness is not good enough for him unless it has some magical properties like divinity. If other animals had a degree of sentience and were aware of themselves being used and could make it known that they don’t want to be used as a workforce then I would agree that we should let them off and not use them as I would consider that slavery too. What many an animal raised by us as a workforce does if released into the wild is, well die as they have no knowledge of survival in the wild.
    He is probably also unaware due to a lack of knowledge of biology that OTHER animals using other species of animal as a workforce despite a certain lack of sentience. (I often think of ants and aphids as a good example).

  44. Robert, not Bob says

    @ Frank #51

    The “your pets are slaves” thing is nothing but a rhetorical trick that’s been used against Matt a number of times. If there were no soul, there’d be no moral difference between different animal species, therefore you’re logically inconsistent to be against slavery, checkmate!! Just an attempted logical trap, and whether it reflects the caller’s actual beliefs is irrelevant as he’s being dishonest.

  45. Frank G. Turner says

    @ Robert, not Bob # 52
    It sounds like a rhetorical trick fromt he standpoint that one is only making an assertion that without a soul there is no moral difference between animals. Why not? First of all, I would ask that the person asserting this proves that one has a soul. Second, why the hell does a soul need to be present for there to be morality? Do (human) sociopaths without morality lack a soul?
    That sounds like it winds up being a rhetorical trick because a lot of people accept the idea of people having a soul and it bestowing morality without actualy asking themselves if that assertion holds any merit.
    I watched some other videos of Seth (including the links) and he sounds pretty arrogant and dishonest. It sounds like he just calls the show to inflate his own egomaniacal attitude and has nothing meaningful to add. Asked a direct question he just side steps and redirects. Sounds like a typical politician.

  46. Fair Witness says

    I was having a hard time deciding exactly what fallacy Seth was committing with his argument about humans being animals, and therefore in a materialistic worldview it should be OK for humans to behave “like animals”. I finally found a description of the Reductive Fallacy here:!#3

    It specifically lists “Man is just an animal” as an example.

  47. Monocle Smile says

    @Fair Witness

    It’s a variant of the Naturalistic Fallacy with a hasty generalization fallacy thrown in (animal behavior between species is extremely diverse). It’s the same reason Seth got obsessed with “is-ought” later on.

  48. Narf says

    Are other primates “just animals,” as well? Many of them almost exactly duplicate our moral behavior, with a bit less self-analysis and such, not having our ability for generational communication and the accumulation of knowledge as a species.

  49. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    A Christian’s response to Narf:
    > Nuh uh!

    I think Planet of the Apes (original) put it best:

    Did we create his mind too? Not only
    can this man speak. He can write. He can

    He can reason? With the Tribunal’s permission,
    let me expose this hoax by direct examination.

    Proceed. But don’t turn this hearing into a

    Honorius crosses to the defendant’s table and favors Taylor with an
    evil smile.

    Tell the court, Bright Eyes — what is
    the second Article of Faith?

    I admit, I know nothing of your culture.

    Of course he doesn’t know our culture –
    because he cannot think.
    (to Taylor)
    Tell us why all apes are created equal.

    Some apes, it seems, are more equal than

    Ridiculous. That answer is a contradiction
    in terms. Tell us, Bright Eyes, why do men
    have no souls? What is the proof that a
    divine spark exists in the simian brain?

    To the religious ape, it is obvious that humans are not intelligent creatures – even this speaking one – because he cannot give proof that the simian brain has a divine spark, or that all apes are created equal. Humans are indeed mere animals, beasts.


  50. Frank G Turner says

    @ MS # 55
    I would be prone to asking what it means to be “just an animal.” Other non humans animals engage in all sorts of things that humans do from funerals/death rituals (elephants, dolphins and chimpanzees), map making (several insects including ants and bees among others), mathematics and puzzle solving (various horses and birds, particularly parrots who can count and solve puzzles), dream (dogs and cats, among others), engage in exchange of goods and services even with other species (beavers are the main example primarily with deer but there are other examples including that behavior in gophers), farm plants and keep cattle of other animals (ants and aphids as I mentioned before). Yeah other animals may not build skyscrapers or computers or do highly complex mathematics problem solving but in our absence another one might develop.
    That hasty generalization of that type of person who does not think beyond this probably maintains this idea that animals act on pure instinct and act wild and do nothing more than scour for food and fight one another. That kind of individual probably does not have that deep of an education in zoological studies.

  51. Narf says

    I would be prone to asking what it means to be “just an animal.”

    What sort of responses do you usually get? I bet they somehow involve the word “kinds” or something similarly vague.

    Well, there’s humankind and animal-kind. God made the two different.

  52. Jenn W. says

    Wow Seth was a transparent asshole.
    Kudos to Don for keeping his cool.
    Seth: you are a smug, game playing moron who is not interested in honest debate. Get some help, please. Be better.

  53. KsDevil says

    God is a rather confusing entity. God doesn’t seem to have a problem with slavery unless the slave is a Hebrew and the master is an Egyptian. But a Hebrew can still own another Hebrew even if Moses seemed to consider being a slave is not a good thing after his little chat with god on the mountain.
    For an immortal all powerful entity, this god person sure sounds inconsistent.

  54. phil says

    If I may make some observations…

    Humans are animals and treat other humans like animals, in the senses that sometimes they treat others rather poorly, and in the sense that we have evolved moral codes to succeed in society. This is nothing that hasn’t been said above in other words.
    Is it moral to keep animals as pets? Has Seth never had a “pet” cat? As the adage goes, dogs have owners but cats have staff.
    The material universe contains much more than just matter (of course). For a start it includes time and space, and a host of emergent properties that result from those. And timey wimey stuff, naturally.

  55. Mouzfun says

    His argument is equivalent to saying that if your monitor contains only pixels, you can’t have it displaying pictures. It’s so stupid it’s almost like “why are there still monkeys”.

    For the full duration of the call i was frustrated to why woudln’t they point out this bullshit.

  56. Frank G. Turner says

    @Narf # 59 and phil # 61
    Yes I probably would get an answer to that question that involved some sort of vague word salad that did not really mean anything.
    Seth struck me as someone with a model for how the world works that was rather inflexible. He starts with a model based on scripture (as indicated in previous episodes based on things that he has said) and then like Ken Hamm takes the position that any observation which contradicts scripture must be considered wrong. So he probably has this weird idea that no non human animal demonstrates morality at all ever and acts by pure instinct and that no non human animal acts with a moral code unless taught that by humans.
    Of course he is faced with the idea that humans may not have been acting with an all too evolved moral code. At times we behave like other animals like treating one another poorly and that this is indicated by the Bible itself, but that contradicts his world model. Like any typical arrogant apologist he can’t change his model. So we here another individual trying to force fit his current model. He tries to change the evidence to fit his model rather than changing his model to fit the evidence and metaphorically trying to pound a square peg into a round hole. Funny how hard apologists are willing to shave the pegs down until they fit the hole rather than just changing the hole.

  57. Narf says

    So he probably has this weird idea that no non human animal demonstrates morality at all ever and acts by pure instinct and that no non human animal acts with a moral code unless taught that by humans.

    Yeah, I love this sort of stuff. Animals are just acting on instinct. And where does basic, foundational human morality come from? Hate to tell you this, fundamentalist nutjob …


    Funny how hard apologists are willing to shave the pegs down until they fit the hole rather than just changing the hole.

    You kinky bastard.

  58. corwyn says

    At times we behave like other animals like treating one another poorly

    Oh we treat each other *much worse* than any animal treats others of their own species.

  59. Frank G. Turner says

    @Narf # 63

    Funny how hard apologists are willing to shave the pegs down until they fit the hole rather than just changing the hole.
    You kinky bastard.

    What I mean metaphorically is how an individual will work really hard to make the evidence fit the model when it is much easier to just change the model. Many a Xtian knows that the victim gets sympathy so they see themselves are persecuted despite all the evidence showing that they are the persecutors. They are committed to the lie because it feels good.
    @ corwyn # 64
    True that is, no other animal had to come up with “cruel and unusual punishment” laws.

  60. Narf says

    Funny how hard apologists are willing to shave the pegs down until they fit the hole rather than just changing the hole.

    You kinky bastard.
    What I mean metaphorically is how an individual will work really hard to make the evidence fit the model when it is much easier to just change the model.

    Heh, I know. It just sounded like some serious BDSSM shit, to my 12 year-old’s sense of humor.

    True that is, no other animal had to come up with “cruel and unusual punishment” laws.

    It isn’t so much that they have no need of something like that. They just lack the social evolution necessary to develop the concept of laws. Our more advanced language skills and the racial memory created by our writing (and the oral tradition before that) give us that edge. Chimps commit violence against each other in pretty much the same manner that humans do against other humans.

    Here’s a fairly interesting article on the subject:

  61. tremendosity says

    Appalling episode that is worth deleting from the series.
    After the show has cited the pro-slavery immoral passages of the bible in at least 30 previous episodes, when finally teased out, Don folded like a cheap suit, and Matt agreed to talk aimlessly about his kitty w/o apparently figuring out where the call was going. Just painful to watch it unfold….
    You didn’t ask Seth to align any two outrageous ‘moral’ positions of the bible. Why didn’t you zoom back out, and ask how biblical morality can be distinguished from utter immorality to an impartial observer (as a Christian would need to, to gain new adherents)? The way forward is not always further granularity. Why didn’t you zoom back out, and merely ask if Seth knew anyone black? Where was your outrage that owning a human being, might be slightly different than owning a cat?
    I cringed from the start of Seth’s call to the finish. The flop sweat on display was painful to observe. This banter was not at the top of anyone’s game. 20 episodes like this and you might as well be Christians, because this level of arguing will persuade no one that atheist positions are more thought out than Seth’s hideous dogma.

  62. Jesse Sipprell says

    Speaking of “How do you know X is really wrong?”:
    I just heard, belatedly I’m sure, that Matt is going to be debating the humanist chaplain from Stanford whose been making all the podcast rounds lately promoting a new book.
    Debating on the philosophically objective or subjective nature of moral theory, specifically!
    I’m tremendously interested and excited about this! Not merely because philosophy of ethics is something I spend a lot of time on, but because of the refreshing vantage I’ll have. Like many, I’ve definitely been impressed with Matt’s debate skills, he’s incredibly talented. The problem is that I’ve always generally agreed with him in the past, aside from a few quibbles here and there, so I never really got to appreciate a sense of what being on the receiving end of his dialectic weaponry might be like.
    This time, however, I’ll finally be in the fortunate position of disagreement — seeing as I’m of the opinion that objective moral facts probably don’t exist and our intuitions are more accurately described as a confluence of subjective moral opinions arising subconsciously as an emotional experience (e.g. something more akin to the position David Silverman would take in a debate, or at least recent debates).
    Anyone else interested in where this will go? Or does the fact that it doesn’t actually involve dialogue with theists dampen it too much?

  63. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Jesse Sipprell
    It’s probably semantics.

    In my epistemology, I have is-statements and ought-statements. If you don’t accept that, then I think it will be a short conversation.

    I am a kind of positivist. Thus I hold the idea of moral realism or moral platonicism to be not right, and not even wrong. It’s incoherent.
    True ought-statements are not true in the same sense that is-statements are true. One uses evidence to justify is-claims, and one uses humanism (plus is-claims) to justify other ought-claims. Further, you cannot derive ought-statements from merely is-statements (the is-ought gap). Finally, I have one starting moral axiom, aka moral presupposition, loosely that we should make the world into a better place, mixed in with a bits of Rawls, Mill, etc. Aka humanism.

    If someone does not accept that hammers fall to the ground when released at a height in normal household conditions, especially after repeated demonstration, there is no argument I can possibly make. They’re batshit insane. However, in my epistemology, their insanity does not render controversial the position that hammers fall when released. Similarly, you might be able to find a person who says that we should make the world into a place where everyone suffers as much as they possibly can, for as long as they possibly can. They’re also batshit insane in a very similar way, and again their insanity does nothing to detract from the truth that we should make the world a better place.

    I’m a presuppositionalist. IMHO we all are, but some of us are better at recognizing our presuppositions. I’m a humanist, rationalist, scientist, skeptic – those describe my presuppositions.

  64. corwyn says

    Debating on the philosophically objective or subjective nature of moral theory, specifically!

    I have never been able to get a satisfactory answer to the question of where objective moral standards would come from. Morals that come from a god are to my mind, definitionaly subjective, they are ‘subject’ to that god’s commands, or that god’s nature, or something similar.

    It seems to me like claiming that the fundamental axioms of mathematics are ‘objective’. They are the axioms that we have *chosen* (perhaps because they are useful, or perhaps merely because they are fascinating). Ever once and a while some mathematician will decide to see what happens if we chose a different set of axioms, often to great effect. Imaginary numbers being a great example.
    These are thus subjective mathematical axioms. From whence would we get ‘objective’ mathematical axioms? If some god handed down a set of axioms to us, they would still be the axioms she chose. If not, then where did she get them?

    Framing the argument in terms of mathematics removes all the emotional baggage of moral axioms, without removing the essential question.

  65. frankgturner says

    @ corwynn # 71

    I have never been able to get a satisfactory answer to the question of where objective moral standards would come from. Morals that come from a god are to my mind, definitionaly subjective, they are ‘subject’ to that god’s commands, or that god’s nature, or something similar.

    Isn’t that basically the Euthyphro dilema? In a manner of speaking.

    These are thus subjective mathematical axioms. From whence would we get ‘objective’ mathematical axioms? If some god handed down a set of axioms to us, they would still be the axioms she chose. If not, then where did she get them?

    Framing the argument in terms of mathematics removes all the emotional baggage of moral axioms, without removing the essential question.

    I am not sure if one can completely remove the emotional baggage of moral axioms as a human. Too many individuals have an (instinctive?) fear of uncertainty. Trying to claim that there are principles upon which one can have objective conclusions almost sounds like an extension of that fear of uncertainty. People delude themselves into believing that some things are objective in this world to suppress that fear rather than having the courage to learn to live with it.
    I had a fellow chemist friend who got me to think of something. He was a scientist like myself and understood evolution very well. He felt that evolutionary theory had holes in it, but he would definitely acknowledge that the principles were based on a very solid foundation of factual observation and in many cases testable hypotheses. So while he did not think evolution was completely correct, he recognized that as an explanation it had great predictive and pragmatic capacity.
    He also recognized that creationism had no basis in hard factual evidence (outside of evidence that people made up stories that could not be confirmed). So while he had doubts about evolution, he recognized that the truth probably lied a lot closer to modern day evolution than creationism does because of the foundation upon which it is based.
    That is the power of axioms, not that they are objective, but that they lead to predictive and practical usage and observable facts on a repeated basis which provide a foundation for accepting the axioms. If the foundation changed, the axioms would change. What makes them so well accepted as axiomatic is that the foundation and observable facts are so solid. That’s what many a Xtian wants, but does not have. So they effectively try to make up a solid foundation in their imagination so that they don’t have to give up their presuppositions (effectively, THEIR axioms).
    I think Dawkins said something about how Xtianity was in danger for that reason. If it had been made explicitly clear at the begining of writing scripture that certain stories were being made up or were to be used for allegorical purposes only, they might have lasted better (who knows, they may have been explicitly stated as such, the Book of Job is). At some point that was either lost, not put in place explicitly, or Xtians started to feel that what was written needed to be claimed as factual, that they were making claims about reality. They probably never imagined that real factual observations forming a solid foundation would come along that could debunk said stories and the power that said foundation would have.

  66. Narf says

    I have never been able to get a satisfactory answer to the question of where objective moral standards would come from. Morals that come from a god are to my mind, definitionaly subjective, they are ‘subject’ to that god’s commands, or that god’s nature, or something similar.

    As near as I can tell, they rationalize it to themselves by conflating God with everything. The way they describe it, the physical universe is just a subset of God. But wait, Yahweh isn’t a pantheistic god; he’s a personal god who cares what you do with your penis … but God is everything.

    I don’t think you’ve gotten a satisfactory answer because it’s post hoc rationalization of Bronze Age mythology, and they know that. That’s why Catholics just leave it there and babble about the mystery of God.

  67. frankgturner says

    @Narf # 74
    Frankly even as a Catholic believer going through the motions it was that babble about the mystery of god that caused me to have so much doubt. I wanted and thought that I deserved a clear, complete answer. I don’t mind if it is long, I would rather you give me all the pasta and hot water than that you filter out the hot water and give me pasta. Alternately a definitive “I don’t know but I will at least try to look it up or direct you to where to get the answer,” would have at least been honest. However, they had something to hide and were being dishonest. As far as I am concerned that is as bad as if not worse than a direct lie.
    I would prefer that courts demand the facts, all of the facts, and nothing but facts. And you don’t get to get away with the “I was not asked that directly.” Withholding ANY information that is relevant, partially relevant, or even just slightly relevant is dishonest. In the words of George Carlin there should have been a commandment that said, “Thou shalt not been dishonest,” which would have convered a lot more ground.

  68. Narf says

    Same here, more or less. If we were dealing with something that demonstrably works, such as in engineering, you can wind it back to a certain point at which we don’t understand why something works. Fine, okay, I still want to know why it does what it does, but it obviously does it.

    When you’re dealing with something as undemonstrated as the Christian mythology, though, if you can’t show something, it damned well better be airtight. Through all of my years of CCD and being an altar boy, I never got a coherent answer for why I should believe anything in the Bible, beyond words that were associated with brainwashing, such as faith. I don’t understand how more people can’t see that they’re making the whole thing up as they go along or that they’re trying to rationalize something that someone else made up, back in pre-scientific times.

  69. frankgturner says

    @Narf # 76
    As far as I can tell they do know on some deeper level that it is all made up, it just comforts them. I have often heard it asked of me, “Would you rather be happy or right?” as though the answer was obvious that being happy was more important, even if it meant living a lie. Well for some of us the knowledge that it is a lie means that we can’t really be happy, we can’t delude ourselves into believing something that we know is bullshit for our own comfort. What has made me happy lately is knowing that others couldn’t do that either.
    Oh and I got the expression backwards. Too many people filter out the pasta and give me the hot water (filter out what was relevant in an attempt to be concise and give me meaningless crap). I would rather a long answer with the relevant stuff present. The Bible does a pretty god job of giving you pasta boiled in methane.

  70. Jesse Sipprell says


    It’s probably semantics.
    In my epistemology, I have is-statements and ought-statements. If you don’t accept that, then I think it will be a short conversation.
    I am a kind of positivist. Thus I hold the idea of moral realism or moral platonicism to be not right, and not even wrong. It’s incoherent.

    So is it fair to generally state that you embrace or favor moral non-cognitivism then? If so, I think I’m on board, or at least evolving in that direction. I just finished listening to the debate and the one thing I definitely got out of it was that there might be nothing to be ultimately be gotten out of it.
    Don’t get me wrong, I thought it was an interesting and enjoyable debate, or at least I valued it highly. (Sorry, moral philosophy humor never goes over well).
    I was pleased to see that Matt was quite consistent, meaning he was a little gruff but also demonstrated his sincerity by not treating his opponent better or worse than he would anyone else just because they agreed on the larger unrelated position of theistic non-ontology.
    I would also have to say Matt did a little better in my opinion, even though I’m not sure he was actually right, but he’s had a good deal of recent experience and public debate is something that benefits tremendously from regular practice .
    There were some areas though that I found a bit disconcerting, or at least unexpected. Specifically there seemed to be some rather important aspects of moral philosophy that were not mentioned at all by either party. For example , there was absolutely no consideration given in any way at all to a distinction or even a subtle difference between meta-ethics and normative ethics — and that distinction, at least as I’ve understood it, is highly internally (or perhaps embarrassingly) revealing of the “little” Humean problem you mentioned.
    There was also a great deal of talk, as I suspected there would be, about consequentialist forms of “well-being” (vs desires, preferences and opinions). But there wasn’t any discussion, either supporting or opposing, of the seeming lack of sufficiency of “well-being” for foundationally informing normative morality.
    What I mean by this is that even if we all agreed that “well-being” was really what it was all about, even if we agreed that well-being is an objective universal standard that we all ought adhere to and even if we all had some way to perfectly measure and determine well-being of others to a certitude we would still have the problem that people value the well-being of others to dramatically different and frequently ad-hoc degrees.
    It’s pretty trivial to construct a dilemma to illustrate the significance of this too. Take a specific situation with explicit potential consequences, say a man or woman dying of thirst in a desert environment who is too weak or proud to beg for help. You might ask different people if it is for the better or worse to give him water which has no guarantee of saving his life, but certainly will improve his well-being. You might also provide additional background information to ratchet up the dilemma, perhaps that a given that one’s personal and family water supply is currently quite limited but not desperately so and thus this action is not without some risk. Or perhaps that this person badly in need of refreshment is not known to necessarily be a “bad person” or to have done “bad things” but is also not very well liked or respected socially and may or may not be entirely trustworthy.
    What you’ll get from this in the final analysis is dramatically different answers from different people even when all else is as equal as you can manage (and you could put percentages on everything to avoid claims of being insufficiently precise). Some people will say that it is a greater good to improve the well-being of this near-stranger on the basis of empathy, reciprocity, pro-social modeling and general societal benefit — even if it involves some limited risk to oneself and one’s family. Others will say it is a greater good to worry about your family and loved ones first if there is a question about their potential future safety — and thus one is obligated to not squander precious resources when it isn’t really even known that they will be sufficient to save the person.
    Now, there are those who might be critical of this because “moral dilemmas are hard, not everyone will evaluate the consequences the same way. People can make errors”. I don’t think that’s what’s actually going on here though, I think people are pretty much all evaluating the various consequences in the same way (given the limited scope of the experiment). Instead, I suspect that people are intuitively and automatically apply a value to the inherent worth of those involved and concluding that there are those whose well-being is more important and those whose well-being is less important, and thus one “ought” act in whatever fashion improves well-being after it has been seasoned to personal taste.
    Of course, it doesn’t take much self-reflection to recognize that we all do this sort of thing to a lesser degree quite often (in much more comfortable circumstances I would hope), and it’s merely the urgency imposed by the dilemma that has brought it into such sharp relief. The fact that people, unless they have been pre-warned, will almost inevitably give justification and “rational” arguments that are suspiciously lacking direct acknowledgment of personal value judgements , irrespective of whichever moral direction they actually went, is highly suggestive to me of the truth of some type of non-cognitivism.

  71. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    So is it fair to generally state that you embrace or favor moral non-cognitivism then?

    No. As far as I can tell from reading this:

    It seems that label is often attached to those who favor the truthiness of facts over the truthiness of values. I do no such thing. I think Sam Harris still says it best. There is no such thing as facts without values. To even talk about facts, you have to accept certain values, such as: You should hold logically consistent beliefs. You should base your beliefs of our shared reality on the results of the scientific method. You should be intellectually honest. etc. Without being in a conversation where those values are given, it is impossible to talk about facts. Facts are the result of having a particular value system.

    Having said that, in the value system laid out above, I can talk about the material truth of facts. If both parties have that value system of science, reason, rationality, etc., then the truth of facts becomes a matter of the evidence.

    Values are not true in the same way that facts are true. Rather, values are the primary kind of truth, and facts are a secondary kind of truth. Without values, there are no facts.

    even if we agreed that well-being is an objective universal standard that we all ought adhere to

    I don’t know what “objective” means in that context. I don’t know what “universal” means in that context.

    Again, let me try it like this. I operate on the assumption that most people want to make the world a better place. I am willigng to fight and use violence to make the world into a better place (subject to certain restrictions inherent in the meaning of “a better place”). If someone does not admit to accepting that premise, I might try some persuasion, but if they persist in denying the premise and acting against the premise, then there is no recourse but violence.

    Similarly, if someone does not accept that hammers fall when released in normal household conditions, especially after repeated demonstrations, then my options are quite limited. There’s not much rational argument one can make in that situation. Of course, if they’re harmless enough, then there’s no need to use violence against them.

    people value the well-being of others to dramatically different and frequently ad-hoc degrees.
    It’s pretty trivial to construct a dilemma to illustrate the significance of this too.

    Yes, but that’s a rare scenario. When we get there, we can start to have serious discussions of the corner cases. At the moment, what we need to do to make the world into a better place is rather trivial and non-controversial. Currently, to almost every problem regarding public policy, the answer which helps me out the best also helps out my neighbor.

  72. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Let me put it like this.

    I don’t know about the technical terms. The more I read about this, the more I think that the definitions of things like “moral non-cognitivist” are too couched in assumptions which I think are wrong, or not even wrong.

    Holding a belief is an emotion in the general sense. It’s the feeling of being convinced that a particular assertion is true. Having a value is holding a belief. If I value X, that means the same thing as believing that I should seek X, or promote X, or obtain X, etc.

    I hold the values of science, skepticism, rationalism, logic, etc. This conflux of beliefs creates a new class of beliefs called “facts”. One property of facts which necessarily follows from this is that facts are subject to falsification by observable evidence.

    Compare a non-fact belief with a fact belief: 1- I believe that the world is round. It is a fact that the world is round. It is a fact that I believe that the world is round. 2- I believe that we should make the world into a better place. It is a fact that I believe we should make the world into a better place. However, it is not a fact that we should make the world into a better place. – However, I believe both are true. I have beliefs of both.

    Most people already accept the values underlying facts; most people accept science, skepticism, rationality, logic, etc. (Mostly.) However, I think that many people wrongly (and of course without justification) hold the values underlying facts to be more self-evident, or more obviously true, or more justifiable, compared to other values (ex: we should make the world into a better place). I think that’s wrong. There is no reason to think that.

    I don’t think values, including what we conventionally call morality, are a substance in our shared reality. That’s what I originally meant by saying that moral realism and moral platonicism are wrong or not even wrong. There is no substance in our shared reality which is morality.

    I have little to no justification for any of this. This is simply my epistemology and my presuppositions.

    PS: Perhaps there is an error in there, and by persuasion and argument you can make me realize that my presuppositions are actually something else. I welcome people to try.

    Now, I have this friend. I mentioned to this friend the epistemic possibility that the Christian god exists, is sufficiently powerful to be indestructible by us, and evil (as described in the Christian bible). Effectively, my friend took objection and said that it doesn’t make sense to talk about evil and “oughts” when there’s no way to change the situation, such as with an evil omnipotent god. In all seriousness, I think this might be a sign of sociopathy. I don’t know how to explain to someone the meaningfulness of the claim that an omnipotent god might be evil. It seems to me to be one of the requisites to having a conversation about the topic. If you don’t understand what it means for an omnipotent god to be evil, then most of what I say will make little sense.

    Not sure if this is related. I think it is.

  73. EnlightenmentLiberal says


    So, I am not a moral relativist or a cultural relativist. A moral relativist is someone who says that if an action is in accordance with the consensus opinion of a particular culture, and the action is in that culture, then it’s ok. I am not that.

    If there was a hypothetical culture which had a (bogus) religious scripture which said to put out the eyes of every third child, it might have universal agreement in that culture, but it’s still wrong.

    There might another culture where they believe it’s right to enslave anyone with dark skin, and people with dark skin make up 10% of the population. Perhaps even the slaves believe it. It’s still wrong.

    I am willing to use violence to stop that. A cultural relativist is not.

    However, there’s another meaning of moral relativist, often used by religious people. As far as I can tell, it’s something to the effect of: You are a moral relativist if you cannot justify morality (from this set of self-evident principles), and the set of allowed starting principles includes only the values underlying facts, and facts, and no more. In effect, they are asking me to commit the appeal to nature fallacy and fallaciously bridge the is-ought gap.

    I think by that definition, everyone is a moral relativist, because I refuse to accept the logical validness of any argument which purports to bridge the is-ought gap. No mere collection of factual claims can lead to a claim about how we ought to behave. You need at least one starting principle, as small as that might be, such as Sam Harris’s example: The hypothetical world where everyone suffers as badly as possible, for as long as possible, is bad and should be avoided.

    Remember, the value that we should avoid the world of worst possible suffering is a value just like the value that one should use science to inform your beliefs. Both are commandments on how you should think and behave. However, the values underlying science (mostly) only deal with what to think and how to think, and not how to act. I think the general usage of the word “morality” to be the subset of (true) values that command interpersonal actions. The values that underlie facts deal (mostly) only with intra-personal beliefs and action.

  74. Sahuagin says

    Matt should not have allowed the “I only want to talk to Don” thing, even for the few minutes that he did. The only way that’s reasonable is if there is a certain expertise that is being inquired about, like Jen from the military or whatever. Otherwise “I only want to talk to Don” is a clear declaration that the caller is only here to antagonize you, not to have a productive conversation.

    For the arguments, like Matt did say, this being a material universe does not get rid of minds, it only gets rid of “souls”, “spirits”, “demons”, “gods”, etc. (ie: dualism).

    For “why is it wrong for one animal to enslave another”, it isn’t exactly. It’s wrong for one person to enslave another. A person is a participant in or member of the society. Owning a pet is not a violation, because a pet is not a member of the society. (In our world here on earth, we have avoided the problem of what to do with varying levels of sentience. There could theoretically be worlds with more than one sentient species, some of which maybe less intelligent than the other. Then you would get into serious problems surrounding equality between the species, and who are or aren’t “people”, even harder to figure out than the problems we have had with race/gender/sexuality.)

  75. AJH says

    Finally got to watch the episode, felt sorry for Don. Dealing with callers like this on live television has got to be hard to do and yet remain composed. My response to what authority do we have that slavery is wrong, is that there is no authority but rather it is a social construct based on that we can accurately communicate and empathise with slaves. This does not apply with “highly evolved” animals yet but because of this, in time we “may” one day be able to communicate at the same level as we did with slaves and at that point who knows whether or not we will come to the conclusion that owning “highly evolved” animals is wrong.

  76. Narf says

    @84 – Sahuagin

    Matt should not have allowed the “I only want to talk to Don” thing, even for the few minutes that he did. The only way that’s reasonable is if there is a certain expertise that is being inquired about, like Jen from the military or whatever. Otherwise “I only want to talk to Don” is a clear declaration that the caller is only here to antagonize you, not to have a productive conversation.

    That was more or less my thought, when listening to the episode, yeah. I’m sure that Matt was kicking himself the whole way home, for playing the douche-bag’s game as long as he did. It’s a little harder to judge things in the moment sometimes, though, and he stepped back in eventually, as you said.

    If you’re directing your question to someone with expertise, great. If you’re specifically excluding expertise to play an asshole game of stump-the-atheist, then you’re … well … an asshole. Congratulations, Seth, you’ve demonstrated that not every atheist has thought through every issue on the subject of religion or at least knows the subject well enough to expound upon it on command.

    Now, would you like to get a better answer from people who have thought through the question more thoroughly? No? You’d rather just posture and go for the weaker targets? Bye; not worth talking to.

  77. officalvillageidiot says

    In answer to Seth’s owning Pets question, I would like to answer that unlike slavery, Pet ownerships comes with many many positive benefits just one, I am ex-serviceman with a companion dog to help me with my deal with my PTSD, ( I don’t believe I have PTSD) but to say I own my Dog, (Bindi a female Border Collie) is a bit of a stretch I believe she thinks that she owns me.
    Here is a fun fact in Australia Bindi thorny prickle that gets struck in your bare feet and is very painful at times and can cause an infection, there is special poisons to get rid of it. Trust the Late Steve Irwins , American born wife to call her daughter a pain in the foot lol

  78. Ookami says

    I’m very surprised that Seth wasn’t immediately called out on his flawed analogy of a lion killing a gazelle and that not being particularly objectionable to anyone (other than gazelles of course). I really hope he’s a troll pretending to be a Sye-clone and not just too stupid to realize that a lion is a different species than a gazelle, while two humans are the same species. What is occurring between the lion and gazelle is a matter of survival, far removed from the situation of slavery which is a matter of mere convenience and profit for whoever is doing the enslaving. Simply pointing that out would have gone a long way in destroying the already dubious basis of his argument, whether he realized (or admitted to realizing) it or not.

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