Before we get lost, let's go back to where this series began.
It began with yet another example of an error that permeates the atheist community in which the evolutionary account of what David Pinsof in previous comments has called "descriptive morality" is proof against the theist claim that evolution cannot account of objective prescriptive morality.
This is an equivocation - one that evolutionary psychologists seem to invite - or at best to have little interest in confronting. I suspect it is because of the disappointment of having much of their fan club - made up of those hungry for an atheist answer to religious arguments about the source of objective morality - disappear that they eagerly blind themselves to this equivocation.
The fact that so many atheists rush to commit this fallacy to defend a cherished belief also stands as proof that they are not as disposed to embrace logic and shun unreasoned support for cherished beliefs as they claim to be.
In my last post I recommended that evolutionary psychologists combat this misunderstanding by adopting another term for descriptive morality. Another possibility is for them to actually use the phrase "descriptive morality" - clarifying at least once in each article that "by this I mean the study of moral judgements regardless of whether they are correct or incorrect, potentially including such things as a moral objection to interracial marriage and to questioning religion, and the moral approval of genocide, slavery, and conquest."
That would help.
In comments to my last post I came to realize that what Pinsof has called "descriptive morality" is what I have long called "sociological 'morality'" - with the term 'morality' in scare quotes to indicate that this term being mentioned is not being endorsed or used.
A couple of decades ago, sociology was dominated by extreme forms of subjectivism (e.g., post-modernism) that took morality to be nothing more than the opinions of a person or culture. They built this philosophy into their use of moral terms, asserting that the term "morality" itself meant nothing more than the opinions of a person or culture.
At that time, people argued, "You can't actually argue against the holocaust or slavery. You can't say they are wrong in any objective sense. All you can do is express your disapproval. But your disapproval is objectively equal to the approval of the Nazi or slave owner."
We still see these arguments today, and ideas such as this do not die easily and become almost like a secular religion in some circles, where it will always be embraced regardless of any evidence brought against it.
Of course, religious groups at the time took this extreme subjectivism as proof that the academic community had lost its collective mind. Which, indeed, it had. Liberal academics lost a great deal of credibility. It grew worse as this extreme subjectivism found its way into history, literature, psychology, and anthropology.
It even started to challenge the objectivity of science and logic - claiming that scientific views and logical proofs were also mere opinions - objectively equal to all other mere opinions or ways of thinking.
(Ironically, many religious organizations embraced this branch of subjectivism because it allowed them to argue that creationism and other religious beliefs were just as valid as any claim made by scientists.)
Moral philosophers had a great many arguments showing that this view was incoherent. Moral philosophers were, in fact, coming out of a subjectivist phase where they were rejecting the claims of emotivism and non-cognitivism.
Pinsof's "descriptive morality" is - unfortunately - a continuation of the use of this sociologist's 'morality'. As such, I cannot argue that it is not used - or even that it is not widely used.
I can and do continue to argue that this use of the term is responsible for a great deal of misery and suffering. It gave a moral permission for any evil one can imagine - allowing the perpetrator to rationalize, "Your objections are no more valid than my desire." It continues to haunt public discussion where we hear that views on evolution, climate change, and the age of earth are all grounded on equally valid opinions that have a right to equality in schools, courts, and law. My objections to its use and my invitation to people (such as evolutionary psychologists) to invent a better language is not affected by how widely the term is actually used - only by its ill effects.
However, the religious community (and many moral philosophers) never embraced this extremely subjective account of morality. When they (we - meaning those who object to using the term 'morality' in this extremely subjective sense) complain that evolution cannot account for morality, the complaint is not that evolution cannot account for mere moral opinion. Indeed, if an evolutionary account of morality showed that there were no conditions under which humans could wipe out whole populations - men, women, and children, enslave others, rape and murder, kill people who hold opinions other than their own, and the like, then that account would have to be considered a failure because these types of events do exist.
The religious community (and many moral philosophers) are challenging evolution's ability to account for the fact that some of these things are wrong regardless of the moral opinions people are able to form.
Indeed, evolution cannot account for this. It is no myth. It is a fact. It is only argued to be a myth about evolution by people who equivocate between sociologist's 'morality' and morality.
I also hold that religion also fails to answer the challenge of accounting for objective morality.
However, atheists are mistaken to think that the answer is found in the evolutionary psychologist's account of "descriptive morality". The evolutionary psychologists has answers, but those answers belong to an entirely different set of questions. It is easy to confuse the questions the evolutionary psychologists are answering with the questions the religious community is asking because evolutionary psychologists have embraced a confusing terminology (itself having its source in a philosophy of extreme subjectivism).
But it is a mistake nonetheless. It commits the fallacy of equivocation - a logical mistake - a type of mistake that many atheists claim that people have a moral obligation to avoid making. They should practice what they preach.
Thursday, February 14, 2013
Before we get lost, let's go back to where this series began.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 7:52 AM