Moral Arguments for God and Coining a Name for a Common but Fallacious Objection
In response to Wintery Knight’s recent blog post on the plausibility of objective morality on atheism, I posted a comment in the combox on his site. The comment consisted solely of a link to my YouTube video, “Naturalism, Theism, and Moral Ontology: A Reply to William Lane Craig.” In response to that link, WK wrote a response, which you can read on his blog. (I cannot figure out how to link to an individual comment on his blog or I would provide a direct link. In any case, I recommend you do read his comment and then come back to this post.) What follows is my follow-up reply to WK.
(Note: WK moderates the combox on his site and I just submitted my comment, so if you are unable to find this comment on his site when you look for it, that could just mean that WK hasn’t gone through the moderation queue for his blog. It doesn’t mean he has censored or blocked my comment.)
Holy fallacious objection, Batman!
Let’s review the exchange so far:
1. WK claims that atheists cannot help themselves to objective morality. In support, he links to a YouTube video by WLC and then summarizes WLC’s three objections to what WLC calls ‘atheistic moral Platonism’:
(i) ‘The Unintelligibility of Atheistic Moral Platonism’
(ii) ‘Lack of Moral Obligation on Atheistic Moral Platonism’
(iii) ‘Improbability of Atheistic Moral Platonism’
2. JJL posts a link to his own YouTube video refuting WLC’s moral argument, including these three objections.
3. WK responds, not by directly engaging anything JJL actually said in his video, but by quoting something JJL wrote about same-sex marriage (SSM). I realize that the topic may be red meat on a Christian website with a primarily Christian audience — indeed, this may be an instance of the ‘poisoning the well’ fallacy — but it’s a logically fallacious response. And so, as interesting as the topic of SSM may be, I’m not going to take the bait. Instead, I’m going to focus on the plausibility of objective morality on atheism.
Indeed, JJL’s views on same-sex marriage are as irrelevant to the plausibility of ‘objective morality on atheism’ as atheistic objections to Biblical morality are irrelevant to WLC’s moral argument for theism. Both WK’s same-sex marriage objection (to JJL’s defense of objective morality on atheism) and the atheistic objection from alleged instances of Biblical immorality (to WLC’s moral argument) are instances of a type of objection which, to my knowledge, has never been given a formal name. I propose we call such objections this: “objections from undesirable normative ethical consequences.”
The problem with both theistic and atheistic objections from undesirable normative ethical consequences is that they confuse metaethics with normative ethics. As I explain in my Primer on Religion and Morality, (see here — skip down to page 7), metaethics is the study of the nature of status of normative ethical claims, beliefs, and theories. In contrast, normative ethics is the study of what is morally good or bad, what is morally right or wrong, what morally ought or ought not to be done, and so forth.
The upshot is this. Even if, for the sake of argument, the Bible did or does contain immoral divine commands, that would simply tell us that the Bible had or has the wrong normative ethics. That wouldn’t tell us anything about whether morality is objective or, if it is, whether it is a supernatural foundation.
Similarly, even if, for the sake of argument, JJL has the wrong views on same-sex marriage, that would simply tell us that JJL had or has the wrong normative ethics. That wouldn’t tell us anything about whether JJL’s objections to WLC’s argument are successful or, more broadly, whether objective morality is plausible on atheism.