Atheistic Moral Realism – Part 4

Here, once again, is William Craig’s MOVE (Moral Objective Values Exist) Argument:

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

2. Objective moral values do exist.


3. God exists.

I am considering one possible objection, namely rejection of, or doubt about, premise (1). Atheists who are inclined towards moral realism or belief in objective moral values will be inclined to challenge premise (1) rather than premise (2).

Craig raises three objections to what he terms Atheistic Moral Realism (AMR), which is moral realism held by those who reject belief in the existence of God.  Craig’s second objection can be stated this way:

AMR is incompatible with the nature of moral duty.

Craig argues for this objection in a single lengthy paragraph, which I will divide up into five bite-sized pieces. The first piece states his conclusion:

Second, the nature of moral duty or obligation seems incompatible with atheistic moral realism. (WIAC, p.76)

Based on this conclusion, we should expect Craig to make a claim about the nature of moral duties, pointing to a specific aspect of moral duties, and to make a claim that AMR has a specific implication, and then he should show that the alleged specific aspect of moral duties is logically incompatible with the alleged specific implication of AMR.

Now for the second piece of Craig’s long paragraph on this objection:

Let’s supposed for the sake of argument that moral values do exist independently of God.  Suppose that values such as mercy, justice, love, forbearance, and the like just exist.  How does that result in any moral obligations for me?  Why would I have a moral duty, say, to be merciful? (WIAC, p.76)

First, note that Craig jumps from the idea that ‘moral values do exist independently of God’ to the idea that moral values ‘just exist’.  Given that in the previous paragraph Craig criticized the idea that justice was an abstraction that exists independently of persons, it seems like Craig is once again assuming that AMR implies that moral values are abstractions that exist independently of persons. But this is a false assumption. AMR does not imply this metaphysical view of the nature of moral values. Thus, if Craig’s second objection depends on this alleged implication of AMR, then his second objection fails for the same reason as the first objection.

However, I suspect that the second objection does not require this assumption about AMR, and that it might be possible to state his second objection in a way that avoids this problem. We will need to clarify the content of the second objection in order to determine whether it requires this questionable assumption about AMR.

The last two questions asked by Craig seem significant:

How does that result in any moral obligations for me? Why would I have a moral duty, say, to be merciful? (WIAC, p.76)

David Hume would have asked the same questions that Craig asks here.

Suppose there are some odd metaphysical entities that we refer to by moral value expressions like “justice” and “mercy”.  These entities may be odd and non-physical, but if they were real, then they are merely additional facts or data about reality.  They would fall into the IS category, rather than the OUGHT category in Hume’s scheme of things.  Hume pointed to a logical gap between IS statements and OUGHT statements, between facts and values.  He argued that we cannot logically deduce an evaluative claim from a factual claim.

So, Craig seems to be invoking the spirit of David Hume, and saying, in effect: “So what if there is an odd odd entity that we call ‘justice’? This would just be another fact about reality, and facts do not, by themselves logically imply values.  We cannot derive an OUGHT from what IS.”

Craig makes no mention of Hume, and does not say anything about the gap between IS and OUGHT, so I might be reading too much into these two questions. However, if Craig is invoking the skeptical move made by Hume, then it is important to note that he is wielding a two-edged sword that could inflict injury not only to AMR but also to Craigs own viewpoint: Theistic Moral Realism (TMR).

If “justice” refers to an aspect of the nature or character of God, thus providing Craig with a metaphysical reality upon which to base the moral value of justice, then Craig’s view is subject to the same humean objection: “So what if there is a metaphysical reality that we call ‘justice’ which is a part of the nature of God? This would just be another fact about reality, and facts do not, by themselves logically imply values. We cannot derive an OUGHT from what IS.”

To be continued…