As most of my readers know, one of the main reasons I give for being Christian is that it offers a much more coherent view of my overall moral beliefs than does atheism. It is my opinion that answering the question “what should I do?” is far more important than any scientific question. Accordingly, I form my noetic structure around this question.
Now there are many different views that atheists can hold to be sure. Some are realists and many are various anti-realists. But I think it’s an insurmountable problem for them. Sure even Christianity has some weak points, but this is one that atheism has and I think it is demonstrated in this discussion. It’s a discussion, I presume based on the title, that involves only naturalists and deals with morality.
By saying this is a shambles I do not mean at all to impugn the intelligence of the people involved. They are all very intelligent people. But IMO they are dealing with an intractable problem, when they try to reconcile naturalism with the belief that we made moral progress.
In particular, I would point out that I found the comments by Steven Weinberg and Sean Carrol to be very insightful. Weinberg, in particular, made several quite interesting comments that help cut to the quick. For example, at about 1:27:00 after he says he can’t argue with a pro-life advocate who just believes abortion is wrong due to human life being sacred, at which point
Daniel Dennet says: don’t even try and you let time pass and will find that people gradually change their mind by all sorts of subtle forces…
Weinberg cuts in: “but not rational arguments…”
And Dennet does not offer disagreement.
As I listened it seemed that many seemed to agree on some sort of “moral progress,” but at the end it seems that what people understood that to actually mean fell apart. Sean Carrol agreed that views change, but are we closer to the truth? To which Massimo Pigliucci said I thought we agreed there is no truth with a capital “T” regarding morality. From his blog I think Massimo meant that morality is just a matter of peoples own views and not based in reality. I am not sure everyone agreed with that. (But Massimo would know these people better than I do.)
For a realist “moral progress” would mean that societies beliefs better mirror moral truths of reality. E.g., our views of slavery show moral progress because slavery is really wrong.
But if there are no moral truths in reality and morals are just a matter of subjective opinion then what could “moral progress” mean? Does it mean everyone is agreeing with me more? Does it mean everyone just agrees with each other more? So that if it were a Nazi society but there was more agreement with it, then it would be morally better?
I am hesitant to ascribe such positions to the people involved but sadly they had to break for coffee before they could even explain what they meant by moral progress. I am curious how an anti-realist would understand the term “moral progress.”