Analyzing Arguments: Facepalm Edition

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Can one objectively prove that rape is wrong apart from God? That’s what one atheist by the handle of “Cheshire Cat of Logic” tries to do in an Instagram post.

I realize that the photo and video sharing site is not exactly the best location to try to make an argument, but this post is definitely worth examining for a number of reasons, namely the number of logical problems with the argument. Shall we? Let’s look at it.

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The post begins with a scenario to provide a dilemma: two cultures, three individuals, and a question,

Are we able to determine, objectively, who is right and who is wrong in this dilemma?

His answer is “yes”; mine, “not so fast.”

He asks a second question,

What [abstract] objects should Subject B consider when determining whether or not rape is unethical [immoral]?

What does he offer? Three things for consideration:

  1. The well being of Subject C.

  2. The well being of society.

  3. Suffering.

His argument really begins in the caption, where he writes,

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We are a social species that has survived and thrived due to our consideration of conscious experience and our collective agreement that conscious experience matters.

Alright, that’s an interesting assertion that provokes at least one question: when, exactly, did we come to this supposed “collective agreement” that our “conscious experience matters“? Does he provide some justification? We’ll see as he continues, writing,

Why is conscious experience important? It’s all we could care about and it directly relates to well being and suffering of conscious creatures, and finding ways to maximize one and minimize the other. Conscious experience matters. Well being matters. Suffering matters.

Anyone notice the circularity? No actual justification as to why the conscious experience of one person should matter to another, it’s just asserted that it matters, as does the well being and suffering. Why should it matter? Tell me why. He anticipates an objection, writing,

Before you voice disagreement, consider your own ethical intuitions. What was your immediate intuitive response to the idea of condoning rape as an ethical behavior?

What does it matter what myintuitive response” response is? He’s the one making the claim that it is possible to objectively determine who is right and who is wrong. Shouldn’t he be the one providing the justification, not asking the audience to do the heavy lifting or asking for an emotional response? But as to the question, my initial response, as a Christian who operates on the presupposition that God has determined how his image-bearing creatures are to act in reflecting his goodness and glory onto one another and back to himself, was to look for the justification. He continues,

Were you reviled by it?

Irrelevant.

Were you unperturbed by it?

Again, irrelevant.

Your ethical intuitions are shaped by instinct, by cultural norms and through dialogue with others wherein you discuss your ethical intuitions.

I thought that he was supposed to be providing a justification for his assertion, not making more questionable assertions. But he continues,

Ethical intuition is subjective…

I will agree with that, because intuition is shaped by experience.

…cultural norms are relative…

Yeah, I’ll agree with that.

…instinct is objective…

If, by “objective“, he means goal oriented then he might have an argument. Newly born kangaroos instinctively climb into the pouch of their mothers. Babies instinctively suck when something touches their lips. Both instances are oriented toward survival and do not have to be learned. It could be argued, given the subject, that since the sexual drive of human beings is largely instinctive, occurring without being taught, how the instinct is acted out is what is questioned, but he continues,

…but as I’ve outlined in the post, subjectivity and relativism are not relevant to determining objective moral truths.

Wait, what? How did we get from a positive affirmation that it is objectively possible to determine whether something is right or wrong to refuting subjectivity and relativism, when he was appealing to a subjective response that is completely relative to how a person has been normalized by  the society in which he lives?

Let’s go back to the dilemma:

Subject A belongs to culture A.

Subject B belongs to culture B.

Subject C belongs to culture A.

Subject A believes raping subject C is ethical.

Subject B believes raping subject C is unethical.

What is the relevant difference between Subjects A and B? I’ll wait.

That’s right, culture. The fundamental difference is the implicit distinction of cultures, so it is a matter relative to the culture. What is ignored by the argument?

The culture.

What are the fundamental operating presuppositions of Subjects A and B in regards to Subject C? We aren’t told.

Why does the well being of Subject C matter? We aren’t told, it’s simply asserted.

Why does the well being of society matter? We aren’t told, it is simply asserted.

Why does suffering matter? We aren’t told, it is simply asserted.

Why those three things? Why not out of fear that the sun will not rise tomorrow, or that all the color will drain out of the world, or that you’ll have to eat that tasteless peach sugar-free Jell-O for the rest of your life? Appealing to well being and suffering are just as absurd if you cannot provide a meaningful justification for the implicit claim that seeing after the well being of another person or even society are objectively good things themselves, an assertion that he doesn’t justify . What is the dilemma that is really implied? Whether Cheshire Cat of Logic has actually thought through his question or is simply trying to appear as if he has.

The argument is essentially,

  1. Subject A believes that raping Subject C is ethical.
  2. Subject B believes that raping Subject C is unethical.
  3. Subject B lives in a different culture from Subjects A and C.
  4. Well being is good.
  5. Suffering is bad.
  6. Therefore, rape is objectively unethical.

My response to such an argument, and probably yours too,

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But let’s go back to the question, “Are we able to determine, objectively, who is right and who is wrong in this dilemma?” Simply put, no, because there’s simply not enough data and any examination is dependent upon the presuppositions brought to the evidence under consideration (see here for that discussion). If one already presupposes that rape is immoral, then guess what, it is immoral, not because you’ve examined the evidence and come to that conclusion, but because you are confirming what you already are supposing (viciously circular reasoning in its fullest display).

But what about the second question which asks, “What [abstract] objects should Subject B consider when determining whether or not rape is unethical [immoral]?”

The question itself implies a moral requirement that Subject B should, which is a verb that implies a duty or an obligation, not “might” or “could” but should consider, is obligated, has a duty to consider the “objects” that are being presented.

Okay, who says? To whom is this duty owed? To whom is Subject B obligated to even make the consideration? Why? We simply aren’t told. It is merely asserted.

So, what’s the Christian response? How does a Christian who begins with the presupposition that God has spoken objectively deal with such a situation.

  1. God made man to bear his image and reflect it. (Genesis 1:26-27)
  2. God is love. (1 John 4:8)
  3. Therefore man is to image the love that is intrinsic to God.
  4. Love does no harm to its neighbor. (Romans 13:10)
  5. Rape causes measurable harm. (Deuteronomy 22:26)
  6. Therefore, to rape is to violate love.
  7. Man is meant to reflect love. (2 Corinthians 4:6)
  8. Rape is a violation of love. (John 3:20)
  9. Therefore man should not rape.

The point being that if premise 1 is true, all the rest necessarily follows from it because rape, as a behavior, is a rejection of the objective purpose of man as a bearer of the image of God to reflect the love of God. If one truly loves God, then he will truly love his neighbor who is a fellow image bearer and will seek their well being and do everything in their power to minimize suffering for the good of all. Cheshire Cat of Logic, in his urge to run away from the God he knows and is dependent upon for his necessary underwriting presuppositions, cannot help but to proclaim one of the objective purposes of man which is to seek after the well being of others, which is an act of love. The reason that he intuitively recoils from the thought is that he was brought up in a culture that was implicitly dependent God’s revelation to justify its claims because he has heard that man and woman were created in the image of their Creator and realizes what that actually entails. He’s imaging God, pointing to what an imager should do, but engaging in fallacious reasoning to try to cover it up.

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6 comments

  1. Then, at base, something has a particular moral quality because God decreed it so, at least back a couple of steps? Nice. Always refreshing to discover a fellow anti-realist.

    • Daniel, clearly you did not actually read the post and think through the arguments being made. You are merely reacting emotionally and not thinking logically and decided to engage in name-calling rather than interacting with the argument. That’s okay, I understand that so many people today are simply reactive rather than proactive in their thinking, which is what I was pointing out in Cheshire’s argument.

  2. […] We can also look to moral objectivism and say that it also has its problems, especially as it is often presented as being absolute. By stating that there is a moral absolute it poses stumbling blocks and creates a moment for cognitive dissonance and makes morality black and white, rather than reflecting a world of color. It doesn’t allow for movement in life. I’ve taken on this issue on two accounts, here and here. […]

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