.@clreese Here's the thing: imagine you say God is the greatest conceivable being in terms of humor. God is maximally funny. But if I say "so, what is humor?" You say "it's whatever God says or does that's funny."
Me: That seems a bit circular. So, we can tell when God is being funny because people laugh, right?
You: No, not necessarily. Humor isn't something that exists apart from God, so we can't use an independent definition like "when people laugh." Whatever God does that's funny, is funny.
Me: So, slapping someone until they cry could be a "funny" thing for God to do?
Me: That doesn't make much sense to me. We have to have an understanding of the concept of "funny" outside of God for it to make any sense to call God the greatest conceivable comedian. Otherwise you can just say anything God does is humorous and the concept of humor is meaningless.
Anyway, I think we have to do the same thing with morality in order for the phrase "God is the greatest conceivable moral being" to make any sense.
Back to naturalistic morality, though: the firing of neurons can take different configurations: rage, love, joy, self-sacrifice... firing of neurons leads to the greatest depravities (genocide) or the highest achievements (art, science)...
It's like saying "if everything is just clusters of atoms, then a tree is no different from your mother." Well, that's obviously preposterous. My mother is made up of a very special set of atoms that makes her much more special than a tree. Calling her what she is - a set of atoms - doesn't reduce her significance in any way.
Finally, here's how I think ethics can be derived in a meaningful way in an atheistic world: from human values, we can discover objective virtues and vices. There are certain motivations people have - call them "desires" - that people generally have good, strong reasons to promote. One good example is honesty. Humans have very strong reasons to promote honesty in others, because that brings about states of affairs where we're happy and safe. Even thieves want to promote honesty.
It's a virtue, because that tendency to have a positive impact is objectively discoverable. It's not relative or subjective: Nobody's opinion will change the fact that a world where more people *desire* to be honest is better than one where they desire to be dishonest.
It's not a simple concept to convey, but hopefully that's a start. What do you think?
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