Atheistic Moral Realism – Part 9

I have argued previously that Craig’s first two objections to AMR are weak at best. The third objection might not be as weak as the previous two. However, the third objection is the most unclear of the three, so if it turns out to be a strong objection, that will be because we help Craig to clearly formulate his third objection.

William Craig’s third objection to AMR is given in a single brief paragraph:

Third, it is fantastically improbable that just the sort of creatures would emerge from the blind evolutionary process who correspond to the abstractly existing realm of moral values. This would be an utterly incredible coincidence. It is almost as though the moral realm knew that we were coming. It is far more plausible that both the natural realm and the moral realm are under the hegemony or authority of a divine designer and lawgiver than to think that these two entirely independent orders of reality just happened to mesh. (WIAC, p.76-77)

Because the objection is stated in just four sentences, it is less than clear what the premises of this argument assert.

What, for example, does Craig mean by “creatures…who correspond to the abstractly existing realm of moral values”? What specifically does he mean by the closely related phrase “two entirely independent orders of reality…mesh”? Before we can evaluate Craig’s objection, we need to be clear about the nature of the alleged “coincidence” to which he is pointing, but his vague and skimpy characterization of this “coincidence” makes it difficult to identify the basic premise or assumption of his argument.

I can only make some educated guesses at what “coincidence” Craig has in mind here:

A. Human beings naturally evolved with free will, and thus were moral agents who are potentially subject to moral duties and obligations.

B. Human beings naturally evolved to have minds that are capable of discovering and understanding objective moral truths.

C. Human beings naturally evolved to have a moral conscience, to have a significant degree of motivation to act in accordance with objective moral duties and obligations.

I suppose Craig might have all three of these points in mind, given that objective moral values would have significance for humans only if all three of these conditions were met: humans have free will; humans are able to discover moral truths; humans have some inclination to act in accordance with objective moral values.

If these are the sort of things that Craig had in mind, then the issue is: Why would the natural process of evolution bring about all three of these necessary conditions for morality to be of significance in human lives? A perfectly good creator would have reason to bring about the existence of creatures that satisfied these conditions, for the very purpose of having creatures for which morality and immorality were real possibilities. But the random and blind forces of evolution would seem to have no such guiding purposes. Natural selection merely favors characteristics that help a species to be good at surviving and passing their DNA to the next generation; good and evil, and right and wrong, have no role to play in such a random, natural process.

One response to this objection that comes to mind, is to try to show that these three aspects of humans have some significant survival value, that they help humans to survive and reproduce more often than if we lacked these three characteristics. For example, altruistic actions, where an individual creature is motivated to put its own life at risk in order to protect its young or the young of its group from a predator, seem to have survival value, in terms of passing on DNA to future generations.

If the sacrifice of one adult in a herd or group preserves the lives of some of the young of that group from being killed by a predator, then that may be a successful strategy for the survival of that species, including passing on the DNA which in turn preserves the tendency of adults to engage in such altruistic behavior. Thus, altruism, an important tendency or motivation that makes morally good behavior a real possibility, can be given an evolutionary explanation.

Let’s suppose that human free will and the capacity of human minds to grasp objective moral truths can also be given a plausible evolutionary explanation. If such explanations were available or became available, would that be sufficient to silence Craig’s third objection to AMR?

I have a feeling that some Christian apologists and philosophers would respond to such evolutionary explanations for the origin of morality in humans along the lines of Richard Swinburne’s divine providence argument. If evolution does provide a good explanation for the origin of morality among humans, then this points back to the existence of God, for a highly intelligent designer would be required to explain how just the right amount and kinds of physical matter and energy and natural laws were present at the start of this universe to make it likely that creatures who were fully capable of being morally good and morally bad arose out of purely random natural processes.

But then, to move to that view of evolution, a view put forward by Swinburne in his case for God, would be, I think, to discard the argument from “coincidence” presented by Craig.