Category Archives: Moral Argument

“I Agree With You, But You’re Still Wrong.”

hulk2-243pic-1In discussing William Lane Craig’s moral argument, Chris Hallquist (aka “The Uncredible Hallq”) agrees that morality needs to be objective in order to be properly called morality. This strikes me as obviously true. Subjective morality is simply a matter of opinion, which one is free to dismiss without bothering to give a reason.

Hallquist further agrees that objective morality exists. As such, it is very strange that he spends more time arguing against Craig’s defense that there is such a thing as objective morality than with the idea that God is the basis of morality. He agrees with the point, but can’t seem to resist attacking Craig personally.

I mention this because I think it is a pattern that goes far beyond Hallquist. Obviously, the desire to attack an opponent in any way one can is a common human trait. We all feel it, from time to time. But I get the feeling that, with respect to Craig, it has long run unchecked.

To offer an example, Hallquist attacks Craig for only citing those people and points which support his case when he’s debating. Hallquist calls that dishonest, but I would call it “making an argument”. Citing opposed quotations would be his opponent’s job.

Surely, I’ve never heard any of Craig’s opponents cite someone who opposes them, but Hallquist doesn’t seem bothered by that. He’s never once accused, say, Sam Harris of dishonesty for failing to quote any of the (many) people who think his moral theory is bunk. Yet he condemns Craig for this. That being the case, this does rather seem like an attempt to make the argument feel weaker than it is by making irrelevant attacks on the presenter.

That is, it’s a case of ad hominem in the proper sense of the term.

Hallquist does include a point amidst all this Craig-bashing, however. He, applauds the idea that our ability to do amazing things makes humans special. One can always ask “but what’s so special about that”, of course, but he thinks this is a good answer to Craig’s insistence that God is necessary for moral value. We are special because we can do amazing things–end of story.

But, surely, I can be forgiven for suspecting that this isn’t thought, so much as a halt to thinking. Talk about a thing being “special” gets us into appeals to emotion, and taking an “end of story” approach is the opposite of reason. The only logical way a thing could be considered important in anything like an objective sense would be some objective standard of morality. It can’t simply be based on how amazing we happen to find the human nervous system, or anything else. Otherwise, it would be subjective.

This being the case, it is important that Hallquist makes no attempt to offer such a standard. He claims there is one, but doesn’t tell us a thing about what it is. He simply assures us that it isn’t God, and that, if you follow the logic of why such a thing exists, you won’t eventually get to the conclusion that God exists.

As such, he’s done a lot to attack Craig here, but nothing at all to show that the moral argument fails.


Mockery and Reason Are Different Things

flat,550x550,075,fIt’s amazing how many seem not to realize this.

As a case-in-point, I’d like to offer Richard Dawkins.  Following up on discussing Chris Hallquist’s failure to offer a secular moral theory in the face of the moral argument for God’s existence, I’ll respond to a recent interchange involving Dawkins making the exact same mistake.

And why he needs to learn more about the reason he claims to cherish.

Dawkins was confronted with the issue of a basis for morality in a recent interview. He launched into a series of attacks on religious traditions. And, as one who knows something about Dawkins, this was unsurprising to the point of tediousness. When asked for a secular basis for morality, Dawkins can be counted on to sidestep the issue and launch in to a gripe about (his deeply uninformed understanding of) the Bible and the Koran.

I mention it, however, for two reasons:

First is the fact that it has become so monotonous. Dawkins has had ample time to come up with a more substantial response than cheap mockery. If he wishes to rant about religion, that is his right. But one would expect him to either present an alternative for examination–or admit that he’s simply emoting without any real case to make.

After all, it is remarkably easy to play the critic (particularly against straw men); the difficulty comes in offering something better.

And Dawkins fails completely in this regard. He not only doesn’t do better, he doesn’t even try. He seems to systematically avoid putting his own concept of morality up for consideration–and that’s a little like challenging someone to a boxing match, but only on the condition that he’s not allowed to throw any punches.

Second is the aforementioned fact that he completely misrepresents theism. But I’ll not spend much time on this, because I think the fact is obvious to any who care to look. Rather, I’ll quote Dennis Prager in his response to Dawkins.

“Dawkins and his supporters have a right to atheism. They do not have a right to intellectual dishonesty about atheism.”

And that is what these rants from Dawkins, Hallquist, and the bulk of their fans seem to be:  a dodging of the question and a gripe about a version of theism that almost no one actually believes in. And that is exactly the kind of response one would expect to hear out of a group that has trouble understanding the difference between mocking a position and answering its challenges.

What it is not is a rational defense of secular morality.

Nor would it defend Dawkins to say that he’s sincere. Personally, I believe that he is. I’d imagine that he’s so focused on inventing clever and vitriolic statements that he’s personally never noticed that he hasn’t answered the question being asked.

If so, then he’s more interested in what feels true (and making something feel true to others) than in what actually is true.

And this is always where I find myself in considering the New Atheism: for all the bluster about reason, they seem much more interested in mockery and other emotional tactics. The fact that Dawkins can’t offer even a single reason in defense of his moral theory hasn’t slowed him down one bit.

And that leaves me wondering how much he really cares about taking a reasonable view of life in the first place.


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.


Atheism vs Meaning

The-meaning-of-life-41955043789_xlargeContinuing on with David Smalley’s “Top 10 Reasons I’m an Atheist”, we have this:

2. Living by the means of man helping man, and realizing time on earth is not a practice run, creates an urgency of life that requires fulfilling.

The first thing that occurs to me, in reading this, is to wonder if Smalley realizes that this doesn’t remotely make atheism true. I don’t think he’d really argue that something is true just because it makes us feel a sense of urgency. But, if not, why does he list it as a reason to be an atheist?

Perhaps he simply means that it is something that makes him feel better about being an atheist. If so, he’s allowed it, but I don’t see why anyone should be persuaded by this.

But, moving on to my second point: It’s simply not true that only atheists have a sense of urgency about life, or can help one another. I occasionally run into materialists who seem to think that theists have no sense that their life is meaningful, and I always find it astonishing.

Truly, we all see life as precious. But I think the atheist has a bigger problem here.

Smalley can love life, of course, and feel urgent about it. What he can’t rationally  do, however, is believe that there will be any lasting difference to come out of his life. Deep fulfillment means creating things that matter in the end, and atheism denies the very possibility of this. And even temporary meaning, on an atheistic view, is purely subjective in any case.

Really, all Smalley has done is point out that atheism creates a need for fulfillment (“requires fulfilling”), not that it offers any such thing.

So as to make it clear that I’m not diving into the same fallacy mentioned above, let me state directly that this doesn’t prove that theism is true. What it proves is that, if theism were true, life would meaningful (for theists and atheists alike) and meaningless if theism were false.

Of course, this would mean that anyone who believes that life is meaningful would need to be a theist in order to be rational, but I’ll leave each to decide whether he or she thinks life has meaning for his or her self.


Rejecting the Obvious

willfully-ignoring-the-obviousThere are no natural rights— rights one has just by virtue of being human. (The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, p. 288)

This runs very counter to what most people believe, but, given atheism, it seems very hard to deny. After all, the materialism which is the basis of nearly all modern atheism denies the reality of any moral truth or value.

Most atheists I know would agree with this, but would emphasize that a person need not believe in moral truth in order to be a nice person. One can claim that morality is simply culturally relative, biologically advantageous, or otherwise subjective, and still be a good person.

This seems true enough, but is a side issue. Whatever I may think of a particular atheist, or even the impact of atheism on social health, the question is over truth. Is it more likely that humans have rights, or that God does not exist? Personally, I think most of us wouldn’t be confident enough of God’s non-existence to accept the idea that people don’t have rights beyond what governments happen to give them. Rather, I think we would say that a government which enslaves its people, or slaughters a racial minority, is in the wrong.

And this is because we have a sense of the moral that is as basic as our sense of the physical. The fact that there is no physical evidence for the moral no more refutes the moral than the lack of moral evidence for the physical refutes the material.

But this does make materialism seem rather arbitrary. It would be rather tidy if we could dismiss all knowledge that isn’t as easily reduced to mathematics as the material. But, setting aside the convenience of it, and the rhetorical value of being “scientific”, I don’t see any reason to think that it is true.

Rejecting a basic fact of human experience as illusory requires a reason that is more palpably true than the experience itself. This could be done in theory, but no one has yet to offer a reason to believe in materialism (or in atheism) that is as obviously true as the fact that it is wrong to torture innocent people.


The Nature of Natural Rights

Self-ownership1

There are no natural rights— rights one has just by virtue of being human. (The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, p. 288)

This runs very counter to what most people believe, but, given atheism, it seems very hard to deny. After all, the materialism which is the basis of nearly all modern atheism denies the reality of any moral truth or value.

Most atheists I know would agree with this, but would emphasize that a person need not believe in moral truth in order to be a nice person. One can claim that morality is simply culturally relative, biologically advantageous, or otherwise subjective, and still be a good person.

This seems true enough, but is a side issue. Whatever I may think of a particular atheist, or even the impact of atheism on social health, the question is over truth. Is it more likely that humans have rights, or that God does not exist? Personally, I think most of us wouldn’t be confident enough of God’s non-existence to accept the idea that people don’t have rights beyond what governments happen to give them. Rather, I think we would say that a government which enslaves its people, or slaughters a racial minority, is in the wrong.

And this is because we have a sense of the moral that is as basic as our sense of the physical. The fact that there is no physical evidence for the moral no more refutes the moral than the lack of moral evidence for the physical refutes the material.

All this, when understood, makes materialism seem rather arbitrary. It would be very tidy if we could reject all knowledge that isn’t reducible to mathematics. But, setting aside the convenience of it, and the rhetorical value of claiming to be “scientific”, I don’t see any reason to think that it is true.

Rejecting a basic fact of human experience as illusory requires a reason that is more palpably true than the experience itself. This could be done in theory, but no one has yet offered a reason to believe in materialism (or in atheism) that is nearly so obviously true as the fact that it is wrong to torture innocent people.

And, if one agrees that there is such a thing as moral truth, it is very hard to escape the conclusion that God exists.


Euthyphro Trades Sides

platoI’ve said that, if moral truth exists, then theism correct. This is because God’s existence is the only good explanation for moral truth.

I find that the best demonstration for this, ironically, is what may well be the most common response materialists give to the moral argument: the Euthyphro Dilemma.

The Euthyphro Dilemma is, in a nutshell, the question “Is something morally good because God commands it, or does God command it because it is good?”. If the former, then it seems that morality is arbitrary; if the latter, then it seems that the real standard of goodness is something other than God.

Now, it’s long since been pointed out that this is a false dilemma. It leaves out the significant option that God’s own nature is the source of goodness (which is what monotheists have traditionally claimed). That is, God commands what he does because it is right, but the “source” of rightness is his own nature. There’s no need to assume that such a thing must be separate from God. Thus, the dilemma is answered. What is the source of goodness? The nature of God.

But I think the theist can do better than this.

For, while this answer works quite well for monotheism, it is a very difficult challenge for every other system of ethics I know. Utilitarianism, the Veil of Ignorance, Natural Law, etc. have been unable to answer Euthyphro-like questions without appeals to either God or Platonism (which is well outside of materialism).

For instance, the Utilitarians claim that we should do what brings the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. Most of us would see that as a worthy goal (though there is trouble in the details). But, one could easily ask “Should we seek the happiness of others because it is good, or is something good because it brings happiness?”. There doesn’t seem to be a way to argue that human happiness is the standard of moral goodness in the way that a transcendent God’s nature is.

Hence, moral good becomes relativistic under utilitarianism.

And this is why the majority of materialists are moral relativists. The Euthyphro is much easier to answer if there is some absolute, objective goodness out there (like God). But, even if one believes in moral truth, explaining morality seems to require theism.

So, it strikes me as odd that the Euthyphro is most often heard from proponents of atheism. In my mind, it is one of the best reasons to believe in God.


The Moral Facts

KevinCarterchildA lot has been said to demonstrate the reasonableness of belief in the non-physical. But, if we know of things (such as the mind) which are not physical, we have very good reason to think that the physical senses don’t exhaust all ways of knowing.

In fact, real-world personal experience is our most fundamental way of knowing about reality. It isn’t perfect, of course, but gives us a basic sense of what exists.

That being the case, there is no good reason to throw out the idea of moral truth.

For every argument that there is no such thing as objective moral truth, a parallel argument could be made that there is no such thing as physical reality. It really makes no sense, then, to insist that we trust our physical senses, but not our moral sense.

One might say, for instance, that not everyone has the same moral senses–or that different cultures have different values. But this strikes me as no different than saying that green is a shade of blue in Japan, or that the sky is bronze according to the ancient Greeks. If this is not a reason to think that our sight is completely untrustworthy as a sense, it should not be a reason to reject the moral sense.

Or, one might say that there is no reason to believe in moral truth other than our moral sense. And this is no different from saying that there is no reason to believe in the physical world other than our physical senses. People have always trusted our basic sense of reality until we have a good reason not to.

There are a number of these arguments, but none of them establishes that moral truth is any more questionable than physical reality.

That being the case, the modern tendency to embrace moral relativism, while scoffing at solipsism, seems more a cultural assumption than anything which has been defended on logical grounds. Really, I doubt it would be accepted at all if not for the stereotype that relativism is the position of educated people.

And it is more a stereotype than reality. College professors are consistently less relativistic than their students. And the philosophy department (where specialists in ethics reside) are the least relativistic of professors. That being the case, the rhetorical force that relativism is somehow the sophisticated view loses its force.

So, to move on from stereotypes and rhetoric, philosophies should explain our experience of life, not call it illusory. I think we have a basic sense that causing pain, or refusing to help those in need is wrong–and that loving others and seeing to their needs is good. Dismissing these rather obvious truths as illusory would be trying to fit the facts to our theory, rather than the other way around.

But, if one sees the reality of moral truth, one is left trying to explain why it should exist. And that, I would argue, will lead one toward theism.


Rational Irrationalism?

censorship-1After pointing out that moral nihilism follows logically from his materialism, Rosenberg is quick to add that even moral nihilists tend to follow the same basic moral code as the rest of us.

And when we are completely honest with ourselves and others, we really do sincerely endorse some moral rules we can’t fully state as being right, correct, true, or binding on everyone. (Atheist’s Guide to Reality, p. 106)

The most obvious problem here is the fact that this is, by Rosenberg’s own admission, no more rational an approach than he accuses theism of being. And, of course, it is much less rational than theism actually is.

Even proponents of materialism admit that they contradict their position almost constantly in daily life, as materialism makes it irrational for one to believe in moral truth–even as one behaves morally.

So long as one is willing to reject this area of rationality, it seems inexplicable why many such people show such moral indignation at the supposed irrationality of others. This seems a pick-and-choose approach to reason, which I find difficult to accept.

All of this is over and above the fact that a sense of moral truth is as basic to our perception of reality as a sense of the physical universe. Presumably, the reasons to accept materialism are so powerful that we should be willing to reject our basic grasp of moral truth for the sake of it.

However, I’ve not personally seen any good arguments for materialism. And, just as it would make no sense to abandon belief in the physical universe without very good reason, this doesn’t seem nearly good enough to throw out moral truth (let alone all the other things this view asks me to throw out).

So, if materialism contradicts moral truth, so much the worse for materialism, particularly when materialistic nihilists openly admit that they take a clearly irrational approach to daily life.


Philosophical Hot Potato

dep_6413941-Hot-potatoYesterday, I wrote about Rosenberg’s commitment to genetic determinism. I think it is a fitting followup to write about his claim that, while people are “programmed” to have the same morals regardless of what we think, that people aren’t programmed to make the same mistakes.

At least, that is what he seems to be saying.

In trying to defend the idea that all humans are programmed to be good (and therefore don’t need to believe things about morals to be good), he addresses the rather obvious objection that we seem to commit so much evil:

Where most Nazis “went wrong” was in the idiotic beliefs about race and a lot of other things they combined with core morality, resulting in a catastrophe for their victims and for Germany. (“The Atheist’s Guide to Reality”, pp. 143-144).

That is, the Nazis shared our basic morals, they merely had bad science (in embracing racial eugenics).

This statement is far more controversial than its proponents insinuate. The fact that eugenics is making a comeback in academia is proof enough of that. But, if one needs more, a real look at the Nazis’ beliefs will show something very different from current moral convictions.

But the more obvious problem is the fact that Rosenberg gives no attention at all to what “idiotic beliefs” might be blinding the current generation–or future ones.

The racial darwinism of the Nazis was supported by respected scientists and philosophers of the time, but Rosenberg gives us no reason to think a similar thing couldn’t happen again. Is there any reason at all to think that we “programmed” humans aren’t going to fall victim to the same insanity if we accept some “bad science”.

As prime suspect number one in the case of bad science, I’d present Rosenberg’s own darwinistic nihilism. That seems as dangerous a pseudoscience as any.

But, in the event that his own bad science brought about something terrible, Rosenberg may well ask us to remember this about the Nazis:

But these decisions should not be misrepresented as scientific ones. Science is always neutral on what we should do. In these cases, as elsewhere, it’s core morality that does the deciding. (ibid, p. 290)

So, we can trust that we will behave well because we all have “core morality” programmed into us. Of course, it doesn’t work if we accept a piece of bad science. But, really, that is the core morality’s fault, nothing to do with science.

I’m genuinely confused as to why Rosenberg seems to think I should find this comforting.

At this point, it seems that Rosenberg needs either to bite the bullet and admit that his “nice nihilism” is simply “nihilism” or (as I would prefer) to consider that he might have been wrong to say that thoughts and morality are illusory. After all, these are as basic to human life as any other perception.

But that, of course, would lead him to reject his materialism.