An excellent response

A few weeks ago, Dennis Prager (of Dennis Prager University) posted a video about morality, specifically asking the age-old question of how you justify your moral values. (The video doesn't really contain anything new in terms of ideas and I predict that most sensible people will spend the bulk of the five minutes silently screaming "you dunce, you just don't get it" but be frustrated that there doesn't seem to be a concise way to articulate why. So... really not worth watching.)

Prager points out a very important problem but offers a profoundly misguided solution. The problem is that of how you convince someone who disagrees with you. If you think murder (or rape or theft or wearing mismatched socks) is wrong and you're sitting on the subway beside someone who also thinks murder is wrong. Why you think murder is wrong is an academic point. Why only matters when one of you disagrees and needs to find a way to convince the other. 

For all practical purposes for humans, few of us have ever thought about it all that seriously. Our objection to murder is something we were indoctrinated to believe growing up. Indoctrination isn't necessarily a bad thing. You can indoctrinate your children to look both ways before crossing the road well before the age that they can understand why that's a good thing. To put it in the language of Daniel Dennett, since I've been on a kick with his new book, you can have moral competence without moral comprehension, and it will probably be just as effective.

But a belief resulting from indoctrination is different from a reasoned conclusion. How do you reason someone out of a position they did not reason themselves into. What Prager (and an enormously long list of defenders of religion) is seeking is a mechanism which can elevate moral intuitions and opinions to the status of absolute moral laws. 

Their proposed mechanism, that many find goofy, is to nominate one person — usually a fictional character — to have the authority to say, "Because I said so." Further the claim is anything short of that results in moral anarchy. It's little more than handwaving distracting you while they push the Why question back one step. 

Dr. Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine, offers up this rebuttal which is fantastic. (The Prager video has been making the rounds and I've seen several rebuttals, but this is the best."