Objective Morality vs cannibalism

(Oliver Abadeer) #1

I had a friend who argued against objective morality citing the following regarding canabalism. How do I respond to this?

Morals vary dramatically across time and place. One group’s good can be another group’s evil. Consider cannibalism, which has been practiced by groups in every part of the world. Anthropologist Peggy Reeves Sanday found evidence for cannibalism in 34% of cultures in one cross-historical sample. Or consider blood sports, such as those practiced in Roman amphitheaters, in which thousands of excited fans watched as human beings engaged in mortal combat. Killing for pleasure has also been documented among headhunting cultures, in which decapitation was sometimes pursued as a recreational activity. Many societies have also practiced extreme forms of public torture and execution, as was the case in Europe before the 18th century. And there are cultures that engage in painful forms of body modification, such as scarification, genital infibulation, or footbinding – a practice that lasted in China for 1,000 years and involved the deliberate and excruciating crippling of young girls. Variation in attitudes towards violence is paralleled by variation in attitudes towards sex and marriage. When studying culturally independent societies, anthropologists have found that over 80% permit polygamy. Arranged marriage is also common, and some cultures marry off girls while they are still pubescent or even younger. In parts of Ethiopia, half the girls are married before their 15th birthday.

(Omar Rushlive Lozada Arellano) #2

Hello @oliver.abadeer. Good question, this is something which I get as well as a rebuttal against my affirmation of objective morality when I talk about it. Morality is a complex discourse, and I hope I do justice to it as I answer. This reminds me of the typical confusion people have regarding the debate about morality. Norman Geisler and Frank Turek made a good distinction about it in this book:


Let me share my understanding here:

  1. In the book, they shared about Absolute Morals vs. Changing Perception of Facts. Here, they gave an example of Indians, believing the souls of deceased beings enter animals, so they won’t eat cows. And Americans does not believe that about the souls of beings, so they eat cows. Though they both disagree in their perception of facts, whether a soul of their loved one is in the cow or not, they both agree that it’s wrong to eat grandma. This aspect shows the objectivity of morality. It’s the same thing when we have different perceptions of the same event. Though we have different accounts of the event, it does not follow that the event did not happen.

Let me give some examples based on some of the practices that you shared:

  • Cannibalism - The Korowai of New Guinea has no understanding of microbes, if someone dies mysteriously, they eat the body of the person. This is because they believe that the person died because of a witch man from the underworld. They must eat this invisible khakua, which is the one who killed a person mysteriously, as part of their revenge-based justice system. We could see here that they believe in justice, even if their basis and their perception of the facts are misplaced. Another tribe is the Mai-Mai of Congo. They eat the dead to gain the knowledge of the dead. Gaining knowledge is not bad in itself, it’s good for everyone at all times in all places, but because of their wrong perception of the facts, they eat people.
  • Infibulation and footbinding - In China, footbinding for them is an enhancement of the woman’s beauty, and infibulation is supported by women, because they believe that the values such as honor and chastity are tied to the practice.
  1. Another aspect shared in the book is Absolute Morals vs. Moral Disagreements. The example given here is the controversial view of abortion. But having different opinions about an issue does not automatically mean that morality is relative. Those on both sides of the debate defend their position with what they think as an absolute moral value, which are protecting life and allowing liberty, which we know that both are not wrong in and of themselves. We know that there is moral disagreement, because people suppress the truth.

Romans 1:18-23 said,

"The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles."

(Andrew Bulin) #3

I would say your friend is right, especially if there is no God. Civilization proves its changing nature looking into history. The question then is what is the point then to morals if we have no absolute ontic referent (point of reference)? How can we argue right and wrong when someone from another culture thinks removing your existience is the right and moral thing?

I liked this message from Ravi where he speaks on the lack of an objective morality removes morality entirely.

Just because historically humankind was okay with one manner of immorality does not make it okay. After the fall, we can see how hopelessly lost we are without God. The book of Judges is a sad historical look at what happened to God’s special chosen people when they did whatever they thought right in there own eyes.

If we argue morality is not objective then it will be in the hands of the most powerful to define.

Outside of the historical reference, I wonder how your friend would speak to the modern evils, particularly if it effected them? Or perhaps they have suffered and are questioning what is the point.

Can science explain morality? Can it tell us right from wrong?
(Oliver Abadeer) #4

Hello Omar, thank you for the very prompt and thorough response. This has been very helpful.

(Oliver Abadeer) #5

Hello Andrew, I also thank you for the very prompt and insightful response.

(Omar Rushlive Lozada Arellano) #6

You’re welcome, @oliver.abadeer. I’m glad that it helped.