The Best Defense…

hulk-smash1-300x199Next in Hallquist’s discussion on William Lane Craig, we come to the moral argument. The argument is summarized as follows:

1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.

2. Objective moral values do exist.

3. Therefore, God exists.

The first response Hallquist (aka ‘The Uncredible Hallq’) makes is the claim that Craig’s definition of “objective” needs work. Craig defines “objective moral values” to mean the idea that something is good or evil regardless of whether or not any human happens to think so. Here, I’m somewhat inclined to agree with Hallquist. He rightly points out that this wouldn’t exclude alien-opinion (or any other kind) as the basis of ‘objective’ morality.

Where I diverge from Hallquist is in his suggestion that we replace “human” with “anyone”, then (given that God is included in “anyone”) dismiss God as a source of morality. He claims that Craig has simply rigged his definition to avoid this response, but I think it is much more likely that Craig simplified his definition for a lay audience. Really, it seems to be Hallquist’s treatment of the matter that is ‘rigged’.

Craig’s divine morality isn’t based on what God happens to think, but on God’s moral nature. Beyond that, his argument only requires that morality not be based on the subjective view of finite beings (like humans and aliens). I think it is fairly clear that Craig is simply trying to avoid confusing the reader by sticking to humans in his lay-level definition. But Hallquist, keen as he is to accuse Craig of dishonesty, doesn’t even consider this possibility.

And it strikes me as more than a little suspicious to throw out accusations of dishonesty while ignoring the perfectly innocent possibilities as to why Craig might do something.

But, refreshingly, Hallquist agrees with Craig that morality should be objective. As one who’s always believed that morality based simply on what people think is not morality (and, yes, I believed this before I was a Christian), I’m glad to see some common ground here.

That being the case, it is disappointing that Hallquist doesn’t actually offer a theory of morality, but simply attacks Craig’s. The key point isn’t to discredit Craig; it is (or, at least, should be) to show that there is a view superior to the best of the Divine Command theories of morality.

Many, if not most, Divine Command theorists claim that God’s morality is based on his good nature: that morals are neither arbitrary nor based on an external standard. This is significant because Hallquist asserts that this theory is insane because it asserts that “our moral duties are whatever God says they are”.

Whether Hallquist is spinning, or has simply misunderstood, this is a horrible distortion of Craig’s position. More importantly, it isn’t a valid refutation of Divine Command moral theory. And this is a problem for a writer who can’t seem to get through a page without asserting that “Craig is either dishonest or incompetent”.

But we need an alternative moral theory that Hallquist actually supports. Without this, we are left with an extremely common situation: a passionate atheist quick to dismiss arguments from a theist, but completely unwilling to present an alternative view for equal consideration. If that is one’s modus operandi, one need not have anything like a reasonable position in order to ‘win’ the argument.

Which is why this tactic has always struck me as highly suspicious.

10 responses to “The Best Defense…

  • Atomic Mutant

    Replacing a morality based on what people think with one that is based on what people think their god thinks is not really an improvement. Instead, accept that objective morality does not exist and instead try to search for the best non-objective one. You will not find it, but you’ll get at least better on the way.

    • dpatrickcollins

      Thanks, Atomic Mutant (I wish I had thought of as creative name for my wordpress login 🙂 )

      I commend you on your position that objective morality does not exist. But for me, I am not sure the problem is the one you have solved. The question is not “Gee, it seems like right and wrong is real; quick! Let’s make up a god to feel better about it!” but rather: Does right and wrong exist? Period.

      The strength of the the moral argument for me is the self-evident nature of morality, i.e. the sense there is in fact right and wrong, so much that we speak in those terms every day. It is odd for example that evolutionary accidents would have a sense of right and wrong even when that sense is not necessarily what they feel inclined to do, as C.S. Lewis points out. It would seem more likely that right and wrong would not be a question of right and wrong but purely instinct, like our sex drive.

      But there is nothing wrong with concluding right and wrong is just illusion and ultimately subjective. The problem for me is: What else that presents itself as self-evident to the human soul is also illusory? Is reason itself? Perhaps it too is merely a survival mechanism but has no correspondence to what is really true.

      • Atomic Mutant

        Right and wrong exists (in the moral sense)- as something humans invented.

        “Is is odd” is just another version of an argument from ignorance – or an argument from “I don’t feel so” – so let’s skip it, ok? I think it’s odd that people get treated for talking to invisible rabbits, but as soon as you call it “god” it becomes ok. Fortunately for most people, what I think of as odd doesn’t really matter.

        And yes, we can of course think about the question if we can trust our reason, but there are two details to notice:

        a) Without reason, religion also doesn’t make any sense. Jesus is a white flower and his father is the elephant of Cairo. Totally valid without reason. Nothing makes sense without reason, so assuming that reason is invalid simply leads nowhere. You can assume it, but where to go from there? Nowhere.

        b) Reason has brought us up to the moon. It seems to work pretty well, giving us cures for illnesses, nice technology, etc.etc. So, it seems to work. As soon as the world turns into a yellow pudding, we can probably start assuming that it doesn’t, but as long as it works, we can at least assume that it’s good enough.

        Do you really think that I never considered the question “Can we trust reason?” or “Can we trust our senses?”? I have, as did many philosophers. “No, but I can trust in blind faith, that I got from hearing about it because I reason that my parents told me the truth” is not really a good answer. I think about stuff like that a lot, also about free will and other topics.

        And yes, right and wrong is ultimately subjective – but that doesn’t mean we can find a definition to agree upon. We won’t agree on an objective morality, right, but who cares? We can argue about right and wrong and find out, which one has more advantages, for us as a species, for every individual, for any group of people…

        I understand the wish to find something absolut to hold on. The thought of reality, of our own insignificance can be really frightening. But you don’t have be afraid.

        • dpatrickcollins

          Thanks, AM. In no particular order.

          Do you really think that I never considered the question “Can we trust reason?”

          No, I don’t. Having just met you in cyberspace, I assume very little about you 🙂

          Next Awesome Point of Discussion

          So it sounds like — assuming for a moment we accept that an inborn sense of right and wrong seems to be a universal phenomenon of humanity — you are saying that sense is illusory, but rationality is reliable.

          And if I were to ask you why, it sounds like you feel that way for two reasons: 1) Rationality got us to the moon, 2) Without rationality, what have we got? I would tend to agree with these points (there is a deeper dive here). But of course, believing in something (as reliable) just because without it I have no options does not for that reason make it true. My question is: Why does rationality exist at all. I am okay with you cannot be bothered.

          I understand the wish to find something absolut to hold on. The thought of reality, of our own insignificance can be really frightening. But you don’t have be afraid.

          Gee, you sound just like a preacher! No offense, but I find it somewhat amusing when people assume so much about those who believe in God, namely that they only do because their parents told them to, or that they have an inward fear of embracing the “true reality” of insignificance. But it is really begging the question, isn’t it? Insignificance is a bit terrifying, but so is believing that we might face eternal judgment for how we conduct our lives. Neither one makes it true, however. As I am sure you would agree.


    • Debilis

      I’d echo much of what dpatrickcollins has said. This is not about what people “think their God thinks”. It is about what is true regardless of what people think.

      But, even if it were the case that theistic morals are not objective (which it isn’t), there is no such thing as a “best non-objective” moral system. The entire concept of “best” presumes objectivity.

      That is to say, if all that is is human opinion, the opinions of those who base their morality on their religious beliefs are as good as anyone else’s.

      • Atomic Mutant

        If someone who doesn’t believe in an objective morality, talks about “best” he can’t mean “objectively best” – I thought that would be pretty obvious.

        But that doesn’t mean that we cannot find good systems (in other words “systems that do what they were invented to do”) and compare them, we just have to agree on the premises and goals of morality. It’s the same thing as in any discussion: In reality we simply start from shared assumptions. For example, I think we can agree that freedom is pretty important, as is happiness, stability of the society, etc.etc. – and from these basics we can develop a morality that supports all of it.
        We don’t have to find an absolute morality, we can discuss and see what advantages every system has, for humanity as a whole, for every individual, for any group of people. Good enough for me.

        • dpatrickcollins

          Absolutely. Though, in that case, it is not really morality anymore. It is just socially-agreed upon mandate.

        • Debilis

          Whether or not it was objective was the entire point, however. If you aren’t interested in that question, I have neither the ability nor the desire to compel you to be interested. But a personal lack of interest does not invalidate the argument.

          So, yes, we can agree on some premises, then ask ourselves how to achieve the goals set by them. But that has nothing to do with the moral argument. That is certainly ‘good enough’ when discussing what to do. But it is completely beside the point when asking what the rational justification for belief in those premises actually is.

          Those of us who feel that our moral beliefs should be rational are concerned about this latter point.

      • dpatrickcollins

        for what it is worth, well said. And . . . I really got to get back to work 😀

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