Trolley Car “Problem”?

Posted: October 1, 2017 in Uncategorized
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Dr. James A., PhD

In having a small Twitter debate with about 10 atheists, we discussed the foundations of morality (or rather, I discussed their foundations, the others punted to evolution). When I demonstrated that morality is not something that can be empirically tested and therefore can not fall under the umbrella of scientism, the Trolley Car Problem was raised to show that science can offer laboratory level evaluations of morality, and hence, there’s no need to posit God as the ontological foundation of morals because science can explain them through natural means.

However, that objection is somewhat of a red herring and a category fallacy. The argument was about the grounding of morality, not what dilemmas can be trumped-up by hypothetical scenarios. A laboratory may conduct experiments that observe behavior, but it can’t tell you how much a moral decision weighs, or what color thoughts are. It also can’t give you a scientific explanation as to why the scientist ought be honest in his interpretation of the data (perhaps deceiving people is the greater good because the population is too ignorant to understand the experts).

The reader can view the Wikipedia version of the Trolley Car Problem (since this was the reference cited by the atheist). It is called a “problem” because the solution appears to present an impossible conundrum that would demonstrate that there are no objective moral duties or obligations because nobody can point to a single set standard that would offer the right decision to make in the dilemma. However, there’s an enormous problem with this logic that serves to prove that objective moral duties and obligations actually do exist, and that the dilemma doesn’t serve as a valid rebuttal against objectivism (let alone as an objection against the grounding of morality).

First of all, whether the Trolley Car Problem attacks the grounding of morality is non sequitur. The dilemma merely shows that the expressions of morality, how they are implemented may be applied in different ways. But what’s overlooked is WHY this is even a dilemma in the first place! The dilemma actually presupposes that human life is valuable, and that regardless of what decisions CAN be made, the dilemma presupposes that some decision-whatever that may be- OUGHT to be made based upon some standard that saves the greatest amount of lives. Furthermore, it also presupposes that a decision that would result in the deliberate taking of a life would be objectively wrong in the event that killing one person to save another would be the “proper” choice. Any choice made is founded on the presupposition that human life has value. The dilemma does not posit that a person may make the wrong choice if the subject were a dog or porcupine. The dilemma is there because it is a HUMAN life at stake, which shows the innate recognition of the value of human life over animals. If a person were to pull the lever to save a wounded bird resulting in the death of children, we would conclude that person was insane.

 

The dilemma does nothing to refute that objective moral duties and obligations exists. Rather, it must presuppose them in order for this to even be accurately deemed a dilemma. If some transcendent standard of right and wrong does not exist, then why OUGHT I care who lives or dies in this dilemma? Perhaps the fat man is a serial killer and killing him would’ve been the right decision after all because it helps protect the species. But then again, why is protecting the species good in the first place?( The survival of the species presupposes that there is a good purpose for mankind, but even Richard Dawkins admits that evolution proves that we are made in a world that is purposeless. Even if these survival genes were naturally selected, how did natural selection know what would be good for the species in order to know how to craft the genes that would choose what is good? I digress.) Perhaps the serial killer only kills other sociopaths and in evolutionary concepts taken to their most logical conclusions, that helps propagate the species and is therefore a “good” thing. Atheists and evolutionists have no reasonable answers for why someone OUGHT to be moral, or why they SHOULD do what is right.

The Trolley Car Problem merely explains descriptions of different behaviors (or different possible behaviors), but this reduces morality to conduct, and that’s not the argument. It does not lead to a valid critique against the ontological foundations of morality, but rather, reinforces them. Thus, the Trolley Car Problem really isn’t a problem at all. It is merely a spin on the so-called problem of evil, which presupposes that there’s some standard of justice and righteousness that some action or inaction has deviated from. If there’s no God, objective moral duties and obligations do not exist. Objective moral duties and obligations exists, therefore, God exists. Where there’s a moral law, there’s a moral lawgiver, and this is a basic fact known to even the atheists that claim not to know so.

________________

I will address more on the difference between the order of knowing and being in part 2 of this as there is one more objection written by another critic in this same conversation. Atheists and evolutionists often confuse epistemology with ontology in arguing for the existence of morality, and that will be taken up in my next response.

 

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