bookmark_borderThe Object of Moral Concern Problem for Divine Command Theory

Suppose that I steal your laptop on Friday afternoon. As the weekend sets in, I begin to be plagued by guilt. Initially, taking your laptop seemed like a great idea. I need a new computer, and yours is much nicer than mine. It is newer, has a faster processor, more memory, a bigger screen, etc. I had imagined with great anticipation how much better life would be with a nice, new, up-to-date laptop. But now–now that I must live with having committed the theft–every time I open the computer, every time I so much as look at it, I am overcome by intense feelings of remorse. After a few days of this agony, on Monday morning I decide that I cannot live with myself unless I admit my wrongdoing and try to make amends. What should I do?
Presumably one of the things that I ought to do is apologize. For the purposes of this thought experiment, let’s grant that an apology is a verbal expression of sorrow that consists of three elements: (1) an acknowledgement that I (the apologizer) have done wrong; (2) an attempt (by me) to make amends (i.e., an offer to compensate or make up for, if possible, the wrong that I have done); (3) my promising to avoid engaging in such wrongdoing in the future. [Perhaps you disagree with this account of apology. Perhaps you have your own preferred account, which you believe is superior in some way. No matter. The point I am making depends not at all on my getting the concept of apology correct. All that matters, with respect to the point I want to make, is that there are instances in which a person might decide to do (1), (2), and (3) and that in some such instances, doing (1), (2), and (3) is morally appropriate.]
So, to whom do I apologize? For what do I apologize? And, how should I offer to make amends?
I contend that divine command theory (DCT)  gets the answer to these questions wrong. The answers surely depend upon the answers to two other questions: First, whom did I wrong? And second, what makes it the case that what I did was wrong? That is, since I ought to apologize to the person that I wronged, the question of to whom I should apologize depends on whom I wronged. Further, since I ought to apologize for that which I did in virtue of which what I did was wrong, what I should apologize for depends on what makes it the case that what I did was wrong. And, since my offer to make amends ought to consist of an offer to compensate for the wrongdoing that I have done, how I ought to offer amends depends, again, on what makes it the case that what I did was wrong.
On divine command theory, what makes it the case that any instance of wrong-doing is wrong is the fact that it is a violation of divine command. So, on DCT, the answer to the second question (for what do I apologize?) is: I should apologize for doing something that violates a divine command. And the answer to the first question seems to be: God. I should apologize to God because it is his command that I violated and it is in violating his command that my wrongdoing consists. How we should answer the third question is less clear. It is not clear how I can compensate God for the wrongdoing that consists of my violating his commands. However, it is clear what I ought to do to find out what, if anything, I can do to make amends: I should ask God. I should say, “God, I have violated your command and for that I am truly sorry. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to make it up to you.” Further, since God is the wronged party, if I offer a sincere promise to refrain from so-acting in the future, the person to whom that promise is directed ought to be God.
Let’s say that the person to whom we should offer apology when we have engaged in wrongdoing is the object of our moral concern. On DCT, it seems clear that the object of my moral concern, with respect to the wrongdoing consisting of my stealing your laptop, is God.
That is the wrong answer. When I have stolen your laptop, the proper object of my moral concern is you. You are the person I have wronged and it is to you that I owe an apology. What I should apologize for is taking something that belongs to you without your consent. Furthermore, the person to whom I should offer amends is you. I ought to return your laptop to you and ask if there is anything else I can do to make it up to you. And it is to you that I should offer my promise to never again engage in such wrongdoing. Therefore, DCT misidentifies the object of moral concern.
A defender of DCT may respond to the above argument thusly: It is true that, on DCT, God is an object of moral concern. On DCT, every time that a person engages in wrongdoing, that person owes an apology to God. But this does not imply that God is the only object of moral concern on DCT. Nothing prevents the divine command theorist from saying that, in addition to God, the person from whom you stole the laptop has also being wronged, and is therefore, an additional object of moral concern.

This response is devastating for DCT. Once we acknowledge that, in some instance of wrongdoing, there is someone other than God that has been wronged, it becomes untenable to claim that what makes any instance of wrongdoing wrong is the fact that it violates divine command. Presumably, if what makes you a proper object of my moral concern is the fact that I have wronged you, then it is possible for me to have wronged you even if I have not also wronged God by violating his command(s). But if it is possible to wrong a person without wronging God by violating his command(s), then it cannot be that what makes each and every action wrong is the fact that it violates God’s command(s).
Think again about the above questions: to whom do I apologize? for what do I apologize? how should I offer to make amends? If I have wronged you, then I ought to apologize to you. But for what should I apologize? The answer to this question depends on what makes it the case that what I did was wrong. Again, on DCT, what makes it wrong is that it violated God’s command. But does violating God’s command wrong you? And is that what I should apologize to you for? Should I say,
“I sincerely apologize for taking your laptop. I know that in doing so I violated God’s command and for that I am truly sorry.”
No. This gets the nature of the wrong wrong. I might have, in some sense, wronged you by violating God’s command. But that is not the proper locus of my doing wrong to you. Rather, what I have done to you is taken a piece of your property without your consent. That is what makes my taking your laptop wrong; the failure to respect your autonomy by seeking your consent before I took your laptop. The wrong-making feature here is something that I have done to you, not something that I have done to God. If this is the correct analysis of the nature of the wrong that I have committed, then it is clear that it is possible to commit wrongdoings even in the absence of divine commands. This is because there are wrong-making features that have nothing to do with violations of divine command. It cannot be, then, that, for all wrongdoings, what makes the action wrong is that it is contrary to the commands of God.
Furthermore, my offer to make amends is misplaced if it is an offer to God to make up for violating his commands. To make amends for the wrong I have done (the wrong consisting of the taking of your property without your consent), I must make an offer to you. The obvious offer to make is to return the laptop (and/or purchase a new one to replace it) and to compensate you for the time, effort, and worry that you experienced during your stressful efforts to deal with the theft of your laptop. Offering to compensate God cannot compensate you; my offer of compensation must be to the wronged party.
Notice that, to make sense of the idea that you are an object of my moral concern and to properly identify both that which I need to apologize for and how I ought to go about attempting to make amends, we need to allow that what makes my action wrong has to do with harms that I have inflicted on you. What makes my theft wrong has everything to do with violating your autonomy and has nothing to do with violating God’s commands. Even if I had not violated any divine command (because, e.g., there are no divine commands), I still would have done something wrong because I still would have done something that has a wrong-making feature (namely, the feature of being an action that violates your autonomy).  Let me be as clear as possible: I am not denying that, in stealing your laptop, I have wronged God. What I am saying is that this cannot be the only wrong that I have committed. I have also wronged you. And this wrong (the wrong to you) has nothing to do with having violated God’s commands. Therefore, if the divine command theorist acknowledges that you are a proper object of my moral concern, this is a tacit admission that there are wrong-making features other than the feature of being contrary to the commands of God. Accordingly, DCT is false.

bookmark_borderNaturalism, Theism, and Moral Ontology: A Reply to William Lane Craig

(Reposting since this seems to be so popular. So far as I am aware, neither WLC nor anyone else has responded to this.)
Abstract: This paper considers William Lane Craig’s metaethical argument for God’s existence. Roughly, the argument is that the existence of objective moral values provides strong evidence for God’s existence. I consider one by one Craig’s various reasons in support of the argument’s major premise, namely, that objective moral values and the nonexistence of God are at odds with each other. I show that Craig’s supporting arguments play fast and loose with the meaning of objectivity, and that they have no force whatsoever. I conclude that Craig’s argument does not succeed in showing that the existence of objective moral values, by itself, makes God’s existence more probable than not.

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bookmark_borderDivine Commands and Informative Identity

Last week I had an exchange with Matthew Flannagan on divine command theory (DCT) in the comments section of the post “Does William Lane Craig Actually Believe in Evil?” I raised some standard Euthyphro-type objections and asked for his response. He graciously replied even though he has treated the topic in much greater depth and detail elsewhere, particularly in his book, coauthored with Paul Copan, Did God Really Command Genocide? (Baker Books, 2014), and in his article “Is Ethical Naturalism more Plausible than Supernaturalism? A Reply to Walter Sinnott-Armstrong,” in Philo Vol 15, #1. I hope to respond at much greater length to his full treatment. In the meantime, I cannot resist making a few preliminary points in reply to his challenging comments in defense of DCT.
In my comments I offered the following statement of the “arbitrariness” horn of the dilemma:

“…it certainly seems intuitive for very many that moral goodness is not something that can be established by fiat, not even the command of an all-powerful being. Neither a consequentialist nor deontologist metaethic would countenance the possibility that sheer assertion can make an action morally worthy or unworthy. That bearing false witness, e.g., is wicked is not something that can be established by naked proscription, not even the proscriptive utterance of Jehovah on Mt. Sinai. For any such command to have authority, it must have the backing of some creditable axiological basis (e.g. The Categorical Imperative; The Principle of Utility). To deny that commands need such a basis would seem to have the disastrous consequence of making might equal right, that is, the rules we must follow become the ones arbitrarily imposed by those with the power to punish.”

Matt, replies that I have construed DCT as a theory of moral goodness, whereas he intends it as a theory of moral obligation. Actually, I am not sure that these topics are easily separable. Surely, it is necessary that an act be morally good for it to be obligatory. Of course, the moral goodness of an act is not sufficient for it to be obligatory, since the act could be one of supererogation rather than obligation. However, that an act is morally obligatory does appear to entail that it is morally good, and so nothing, not even a divine command, can make an act obligatory if it is not morally good. Therefore, God’s command per se cannot make an act morally obligatory unless, in addition to and independently of that act of command, the act has the quality of moral goodness. So, divine command alone seemingly cannot be the whole story of moral obligation, but let’s see the rest of Matt’s arguments.
Matt is willing to allow my objection to be rephrased so that it addresses the claim that the DCT is a theory of moral obligation. He quotes Wes Morriston’s statement of the arbitrariness dilemma, a statement which I endorse:

“Either God has good reasons for his commands or he does not. If he does, then those reasons (and not God’s commands) are the ultimate ground of moral obligation. If he does not have good reasons, then his commands are completely arbitrary and may be disregarded. Either way, the divine command theory is false.”

Matt comments:

“I agree the second horn of this dilemma that if God lacks good reasons for commanding as he does they are completely arbitrary. The real bone of contention is the first Horn, and I just think this horn is false.”

So, Matt apparently accepts (second horn) that if God does not have good reasons for his commands, then his commands are arbitrary. Put simply, the moral authority of a command, even God’s, cannot issue from the command itself. Rather, the command’s prescriptions or proscriptions must be just, fair, equitable, or evince some other right-making quality. If, on the other hand, the command lacks such a right-making quality, then it has no moral authority, however august or powerful the commanding agent might be. Thus, the Jim Crow laws of the State of Mississippi fifty years ago, though backed by duly constituted legal authority, had no moral authority since they contravened fundamental principles of justice, arbitrarily reducing nearly half the state’s population to second-class citizen status.
He expresses the first horn of the dilemma, the one with which he disagrees, as follows:

“COND: If God has reasons for commanding as he does, then those reasons (and not God’s commands) are the ultimate ground of moral obligation.”

However, Matt sees the phrase “ultimate ground of moral obligation” as ambiguous and suggests two possible interpretations:

“…’ground of moral obligation’ as I see it this can have several different meanings. Sometimes when we talk of one thing being the ‘ground’ of a moral obligation, we refer to some property, distinct from the property of being morally obligatory, which stands in an asymmetric dependence relationship to this latter property, so that the existence of the latter depends on the former. This is often what people mean when they talk of a right making property. A second use of the phrase ‘ground of moral obligation’ refers to what Mark Murphy calls an explanation in terms of informative identification, such as when ‘we explain the nature of water by identifying it with H2O, or explain the nature of heat by identifying it with molecular motion.’” (emphasis in original)

On the first interpretation of “ground of moral obligation,” an act A can be morally obligatory only if A possesses some property, distinct from being morally obligatory, which, as Matt says, stands in an “asymmetric dependence relation” with the property of being morally obligatory. It is the former property that people normally refer to as the “right-making property.”
Matt says that he accepts that moral obligation must have grounding in the first of the above senses Matt therefore appears willing to accept each of the following propositions:
(1) If God’s commands have moral authority, then God has morally good reasons for his commands.
(2) “…if God has reasons for commanding as he does, then there is a property distinct from the property of being obligatory that is such that moral requirements exist because this property does.”
Matt is willing to accept these propositions because he holds that they are compatible with the claim that moral obligation is also grounded in the second sense of grounding, which he takes as the core claim of DCT. In that second sense, to say that moral obligation is grounded in divine commands is to offer an explanation of moral obligation in terms of informative identification, as we do when we say that water is H2O or that heat is molecular motion. Matt puts it like this:

“DCT doesn’t deny that there can be properties distinct from the property of being obligatory, which ground that latter property in this sense. What a DCT typically claims, or at least in the form advocated by Adams, Craig, Alston and Evan, is that God’s commands ground moral obligations in the sense that moral obligations are informatively identified with Gods commands.”

From (1) and (2) it follows by hypothetical syllogism:
(3) If God’s commands have moral authority, then “…there is a property distinct from the property of being morally obligatory that is such that moral requirements exist because this property does.”
And what might that property be? It cannot be God’s act of command itself. As Matt admits, being commanded, per se, cannot explain moral obligation. An arbitrary or immoral command has no moral authority, and so can impart no moral obligation. Rather, a command has moral authority only if its imperatives are just, fair, equitable, or evince some other right-making property. In that case, it is not the command, per se that accounts for the obligatory nature of the imperative, but some other property that authorizes the command. If God’s commands have moral authority, then something other than God’s commands must account for that authority.
The upshot that the DCT as Matt construes it is false. What makes an “informative identification” informative? It is that such an identification plays an explanatory role. Identifying water as H2O permits us to explain the observed properties of water, such as the fact that it expands when it freezes, in terms of the nature of the water molecule, its atomic constituents and the bonds that form between them. Likewise, the phenomena of heat are explained by the identification of heat with rapid molecular motion. Similarly, the apparitions of the Morning Star are explained with reference to the constitution and orbit of Venus.
However, identifying moral obligation with divine commands tells us nothing at all unless we are further assured that all of the commands will possess some right-making property (e.g. they will be just, fair, righteous, equitable, etc.). In that case, what does the informing is the adduced right-making property, not the fact of command. When you are told that water is H2O, you have been told everything you need to know to understand the physical properties of water. When you are told that a morally obligatory act is commanded, that alone tells you nothing about why the act is morally obligatory. You must in addition be told what morally authorizes the command.
It appears, therefore, that “The morally obligatory is what is commanded by God” is not an informative identification like “H2O is water,” or “heat is rapid molecular motion.” Therefore, DCT as Matt construes it must be false.

bookmark_borderNaturalism, Theism, and Moral Ontology: A Reply to William Lane Craig

Abstract: This paper considers William Lane Craig’s metaethical argument for God’s existence. Roughly, the argument is that the existence of objective moral values provides strong evidence for God’s existence. I consider one by one Craig’s various reasons in support of the argument’s major premise, namely, that objective moral values and the nonexistence of God are at odds with each other. I show that Craig’s supporting arguments play fast and loose with the meaning of objectivity, and that they have no force whatsoever. I conclude that Craig’s argument does not succeed in showing that the existence of objective moral values, by itself, makes God’s existence more probable than not.

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bookmark_borderG&T Rebuttal, Part 6: Chapter 7

Chapter 7. Mother Theresa vs. Hitler

In this chapter, G&T present a version of the moral argument for God’s existence which I call the “Moral Laws Require a Moral Lawgiver Argument,” which they formulate as follows.

1. Every law has a law giver.
2. There is a Moral Law.

3. Therefore, there is a Moral Law Giver.

Like the earlier arguments, this argument is deductively valid. Like the earlier chapters about this argument, I plan to briefly summarize G&T’s defense of this argument before offering my critique.
(i) Moral Laws, Lawgivers, and Obligations: For the most part, G&T defend premise 1 through the use of simplistic slogans, such as “every prescription has a prescriber” (170) and “there can be no legislation unless there’s a legislature” (171). The most charitable interpretation of G&T’s appeal to these slogans is that these slogans function as arguments from analogy. But the analogies with the Moral Law are weak. “Laws” require a “lawgiver” only if they are, in fact, given (made). Statutory (governmental) laws are the paradigm example of laws that require a lawgiver, but, to use one of William Lane Craig’s trademark expressions, statutory laws (“legislation”) began to exist. Not all laws are made, however. The laws of nature, logic, and mathematics are three examples of laws that are discovered, not invented. Not only do these examples undercut the support for premise (1), they actually provide the basis of an argument from analogy against premise 1, based on the following negative analogy.

4. The laws of nature, logic, mathematics, and morality did not begin to exist.
5. The laws of nature, logic, and mathematics also do not have lawgivers.

6. Therefore, the laws of morality do not have a lawgiver.

This entails, accordingly, that premise 1 is false.
G&T’s second supporting argument for premise 1 implicitly appeals to what’s known as a “social theory of obligation.”[1] That G&T make this appeal isn’t obvious, so I first need to defend that interpretation before addressing it. Although they don’t use the phrase, “social theory of obligation,” they do argue, “if there are moral obligations, there must be someone to be obligated to” (171).  That argument presupposes a social theory of obligation, which holds that “obligations” are made in the context of a relationship between persons in which a demand is made. Thus, I think the most charitable interpretation of this statement is to treat it as a second supporting argument for premise 1.
I’m inclined to agree with G&T that obligation is inherently social, but notice there is a difference between individual obligations and the concept of obligation itself. Thus, let us distinguish between (a) the source of obligation in general; and (b) the source of specific obligations.
Regarding (a), the important question, a question that J.L. Mackie asked, but that most defenders of divine command theories of moral obligation have ignored, is how obligation in general could be created by the commands of any person (including God).[2] Let us suppose that God exists and commands us to perform action A. God’s commandment to perform A could make A morally obligatory if and only if there were a prior moral obligation to obey God’s commands. But if there is a prior moral obligation to obey God’s commands, then that entails the existence of at least one autonomous moral obligation. It follows, then, that God is not the source of all moral obligations. Thus, as a potential explanation for all moral obligation, the appeal to divine commands reduces to “The reason there are moral obligations is because there is at least one true moral obligation,” which is no explanation at all. At best, this explanation merely describes the relation between religious moral obligations (i.e., obligations based on God’s commands) and an autonomous, secular moral obligation (i.e., an obligation which is not based on God’s commands). We’re still left with the prior obligation to obey God’s commands, an obligation which cannot be justified by God’s commands. So the appeal to divine commands does not explain the deeper issue of why there are any moral obligations at all. This blatant circularity renders God’s commands worthless as an explanation for moral obligation in general.
As for (b), individual obligations are created by persons, but the obligations need not be the result of conscious acts by those persons. If the relevant prior obligation exists, then a person can create an obligation through a conscious act like commanding. For example, if God exists and has commanded that humans observe the Sabbath, then that command creates a further moral obligation because of the prior obligation to obey God’s commands. Or again, to pick a secular example, if a parent tells a child to take out the garbage, then that command creates a further moral obligation because of the prior obligation children have to obey reasonable requests made by their parents.
But other obligations do not seem to be the kind of obligations which need to be commanded. One example is the prior obligation to obey God’s commands, despite the fact that no person created that obligation. Another example would be the prima facie moral obligations which parents have to their children, despite the fact that infants obviously cannot command anything. These examples show that the source of obligations can be relational (i.e., grounded in a personal relationship) but not dependent upon a conscious act. This also explains why impersonal objects—what G&T call “materials” such as atoms, molecules, and other physical particles—cannot be the source of obligations. Obligations cannot come from an impersonal universe, but it doesn’t follow that there are no obligations in an impersonal universe.
In sum, if even one moral obligation can exist without God, then there’s no reason to think that most moral obligations can’t exist without God.
(ii) The Existence of a Moral Law: G&T offer eight reasons in support of the Moral Law: (1) the Moral Law is undeniable; (2) we know it by our reactions; (3) it is the basis of human rights; (4) it is the unchanging standard of justice; (5) it defines a real difference between moral positions (e.g., Mother Theresa vs. Hitler); (6) since we know what’s absolutely wrong, there must be an absolute moral standard of goodness; (7) the Moral Law is the grounds for political and social dissent; and (8) if there were no Moral Law, then we wouldn’t make excuses for violating it.
While there are various points of detail in G&T’s case for the Moral Law’s existence I would dispute, I’m going to skip over them. I agree with their overall point that what they call the “Moral Law” exists.
(iii) Confusions about Absolute vs. Relative Morality: G&T identify and address what they call six “confusions” about absolute morals: (1) absolute morals vs. changing behavior; (2) absolute morals vs. changing perceptions of the facts; (3) absolute morals vs. applying them to particular situations; (4) an absolute command (what) vs. a relative culture (how); (5) absolute morals vs. moral disagreements; and (6) absolute ends (values) vs. relative means.
I’m not sure that there is much to argue with here. Like their defense of the Moral Law, there are various minor points I could make but, again, I’m going to let them pass. I agree that, as they stand, many objections to the Moral Law are weak because they confuse various distinctions.
(iv) ‘Darwinist’ Explanations of the Moral Law: G&T offer a multi-pronged critique of E.O. Wilson’s Darwinian explanation for the evolution of a moral sense. (1) The Moral Law is immaterial and so cannot be reduced to matter. (2) Morality cannot be merely an instinct. (3) Darwinism cannot explain self-destructive or altruistic behaviors. (4) There can be no “real good without the objective Moral Law” (188). (5) Darwinists confuse moral epistemology (how one comes to know the Moral Law) with moral ontology (the existence of the Moral Law). (6) “Darwinists cannot explain why anyone should obey any biologically derived ‘moral sentiment’” (188).
Following prominent moral philosopher Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, let’s divide moral theory into two branches: substantive ethics and metaethics. Substantive ethics is probably what the average nonphilosopher has in mind when thinking about “morality;” it has to do with what is morally good and bad, right and wrong, and so forth.  Metaethics is literally “about ethics,” in the sense that it is focused on the nature of substantive moral claims. Sinnott-Armstrong has identified six branches of metaethics, shown below in Figure 1.

Figure 1

Of those six branches, three are relevant to various moral arguments for God’s existence. First, moral ontology “asks whether any moral properties and facts exist and, if so, what metaphysical status they have.”[3] Second, moral epistemology “concerns roughly whether, when, and how substantive moral claims and beliefs can be justified or known.”[4] Finally, third, moral psychology “asks about the nature and sources of moral beliefs and moral emotions, such as guilt and shame, as well as about our motivation to be moral.”[5]

Corresponding to these three branches of metaethics are three types of moral phenomena which are sometimes claimed as evidence for God’s existence.

Branch of Metaethics Fact to be Explained
Moral Ontology Moral Values, Moral Law, Moral Obligations
Moral Epistemology Moral Beliefs
Moral Psychology Moral Emotions (such as guilt, shame, obligation)

G&T’s moral argument is an argument about moral ontology. Wilson’s sociobiological explanation for morality is about moral psychology and epistemology. It follows, therefore, that objections (1), (2), (4) and especially (5) are irrelevant. (5) is particularly heinous since Wilson wasn’t even trying to explain moral ontology.
Let’s turn our attention to (3), the objection that  Darwinism cannot explain self-destructive or altruistic behaviors. In fact, as Paul Draper argues, Darwinian naturalism offers a much better explanation for the distribution of self-centered and selfless behaviors among human beings.[6]
In order to see why that is so, let’s begin with the fact that humans are effectively self-centered; our tendency to behave in self-centered ways is usually much stronger than any tendency to behave in selfless ways. Next, let’s divide altruistic behaviors into two types: kin altruism and non-kin altruism.
On Darwinian naturalism, the mixture of selfish and selfless (altruistic) behaviors we find in Homo sapiens is easy to explain.  The Darwinian naturalist explanation for our overwhelming tendency towards self-centered behavior is obvious. Kin altruism is also easy to explain: behaviors that promote the survival and reproduction of my kin make it more probable that my genes will be inherited by future generations. Non-kin altruism is weaker than kin altruism and also absent more often than kin altruism. Given that kin altruism exists, this pattern or distribution is exactly what we would expect on Darwinian naturalism.
With theism, however, things are quite different. On theism, either God created humans directly (special creation) or indirectly (Darwinian theism or theistic evolution).  Since God is omnipotent and omniscient, He could create humans without making them inherently self-centered. Since God is morally perfect, He would have good moral reasons for creating altruistic humans. Furthermore, He would not create inherently self-centered humans unless He had a morally sufficient reason for doing so. So given that humans are inherently self-centered, theism entails both that God is not constrained by biological goals like survival and reproduction (and hence does not need to create human beings who are inherently self-centered) and that He had a morally sufficient reason for creating inherently self-centered human beings.
While that is a logical possibility—it doesn’t disprove theism—that’s also a really big coincidence that Darwinian naturalism doesn’t need. The distribution of selfish and selfless behaviors among human beings is much more probable on naturalism than on theism. Therefore, that distribution is strong evidence favoring naturalism over theism.
Finally, what about G&T’s sixth objection, that  “Darwinists cannot explain why anyone should obey any biologically derived ‘moral sentiment’” (188)? There is much to be said about this topic, too much to address here. Instead, I will simply make one point: I think G&T are being uncharitable to the idea of “biologically derived moral sentiments.” G&T are saying that if contemplating a certain action, such as bestiality, causes a person to feel disgust, that feeling of disgust provides no reason at all for the person to avoid bestiality. But that’s false.  The desire to avoid the emotions of guilt, shame, and disgust are often powerful motivators. If G&T disagree, then I invite them to attempt to do something they find disgusting! They will quickly discover that their feeling of disgust does, indeed, provide a reason for not doing an action.
(v) The ‘Consequences’ of Darwinist Morality: According to G&T, Darwinist morality implies that the following are morally permissible: (1) racism and genocide; (2) infanticide; (3) using “retarded” people as laboratory subjects or food; and (4) rape. G&T support the claim that each of these alleged implications is an actual implication of Darwinist morality by appeals to authority.
I will make some general comments regarding this section as a whole before addressing each of these alleged consequences of Darwinist morality.
Some General Comments:
First, G&T, like many (but not all) theists who engage in moral apologetics, misuse the word “implication.” In logic, to say, “X implies Y,” means that Y is true whenever X is true. A corollary of this point is this: if it is possible for Y to be true when X is not, then X doesn’t imply Y. As a professional philosopher, Geisler is surely aware of this point, but he (inexplicably) seems to forget it when he (and Turek) repeatedly refer to what they call the “consequences,” “implications,” or “logical outworkings” of Darwinism. Each of their claims regarding the alleged “implication” of Darwinist morality is refuted by this simple point. If atheism is true, the Holocaust, infanticide, the abuse of the mentally disabled, and rape can still be morally bad. Since that is even possible, it follows that none of those things are “implications” of atheism.
Second, contrary to frequent claims in moral apologetics, atheism is neither moral nor immoral; rather, it is amoral. By itself, atheism does not make it obligatory, permitted, or forbidden to do anything. It’s neither a (substantive) ethical theory nor a metaethical theory.[7]
Third, in order to justify their claim that “Darwinism” has such outrageous moral consequences, G&T rely upon a series of arguments from authority. Again, as we saw earlier, arguments from authority can be logically correct (inductive) arguments in some circumstances, such as (a) the argument correctly quotes and interprets the authority; and (b) there are no equally qualified authorities who disagree with the authority quoted by the argument. As we shall see below, however, each of their arguments from authority fails to satisfy these requirements. It follows, therefore, that none of their arguments from authority make their conclusions probable: they fail to establish that “Darwinism” has the moral implications which G&T claim that Darwinism has.
Regarding (1) (racism and genocide), G&T quote the following passage from Adolf Hitler’s book Mein Kampf:

If nature does not wish that weaker individuals should mate with the stronger, she wishes even less that a superior race should intermingle with an inferior one; because in such cases all her efforts, throughout hundreds of thousands of years, to establish an evolutionary higher stage of being, may thus be rendered futile.
But such a preservation goes hand-in-hand with the inexorable law that it is the strongest and the best who must triumph and that they have the right to endure. He who would live must fight. He who does not wish to fight in this world, where permanent struggle is the law of life, has not the right to exist.[8]

Based on this passage, G&T conclude that “Adolf Hitler used Darwin’s theory as philosophical justification for the Holocaust” (189).
This example is multiply flawed, however. First, remember that G&T define “Darwinism” as a belief in impersonal, unguided evolution. In the passage just quoted, however, Hitler talks about nature’s “wishes.” Since the idea of nature (or Nature) as a conscious being with “wishes” and “efforts” is incompatible with Darwinism, this passage contradicts the claim that Hitler was a Darwinist, much less someone who subscribed to ‘Darwinist morality.’
Second, in the passage quoted above, Hitler commits the is-ought fallacy, viz., by moving from exclusively non-ethical premises to an ethical conclusion.[9] In its logical form, Hitler’s argument may be summarized as follows.

All living things are engaged in a struggle for survival; only the fittest survive. [non-ethical premise]

Therefore, it is right to allow the strongest to survive and wrong to allow the weakest to survive. [ethical conclusion]

This argument is deductively invalid, however. Its conclusion does not follow from its (sole) premise.
Third, Hitler (and his racist followers) were (and are) factually incorrect. A key part of his argument is the presupposition that some human races are ‘superior’ to others. Not only is that presupposition false, but notice that it does not follow from evolution, much less Darwinism.
Fourth, as an argument from authority, G&T’s appeal to Hitler is logically incorrect. If we abbreviate the conclusion of Hitler’s argument as G, then the logical form of G&T’s corresponding argument from authority is as follows.

(5) The vast majority of statements made by Adolph Hitler concerning metaethics are true.
(6) G is a statement made by Adolph Hitler about metaethics.

(7) Therefore, G is true.

Even if Hitler had been an authority on metaethics, this argument would fail because all or virtually all competent authorities disagree. But Adolph Hitler was not an authority on metaethics. So G&T’s argument from authority is evidentially worthless: it provides no evidence at all—nada, zero, zilch, zip—for the claim that “Darwinist morality implies that racism and genocide are ethically right.”
Regarding (2) (infanticide), G&T quote moral philosopher Peter Singer’s statement, “the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee.”[10] G&T then go on to argue that a consequence “of Singer’s outrageous Darwinian ideas” is infanticide: “He believes that parents should be able to kill their newborn infants until they are 28 days of age!” (190).
This argument is only marginally better than the last. G&T’s quotation of Singer fails to establish the conclusion that “Darwinist morality implies that infanticide is morally right or permissible.” (a) While Singer is an authority on moral philosophy, this argument from authority fails because equally competent authorities, including Darwinists such as James Rachels, disagree. (b) G&T commit the is-ought fallacy by moving from an exclusively non-ethical premise (“Darwinism is true”) to an ethical conclusion (“infanticide is morally right or permissible”).
Reading (3) (the moral status of the mentally disabled), G&T reach this remarkable conclusion by quoting the late moral philosopher James Rachels. Here is what G&T write (190):

Speaking of retarded people, Rachels writes:

What are we to say about them? The natural conclusion, according to the doctrine we are considering [Darwinism], would be that their status is that of mere animals. And perhaps we should go on to conclude that they may be used as non-human animals are used–perhaps as laboratory subjects, or as food?22

As horrific as that would be–using retarded people as lab rats or food–Darwinists can give no moral reason why we ought not use any human being in that fashion.

22 James Rachels, Created from Animals: The Moral Implications of Darwinism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 186.

Suffice it to say that G&T nowhere say or even hint at the fact that Rachels opposed the very view which G&T attempt to saddle Darwinism with.
As someone who has read Rachels’ important book several times, I am baffled how G&T could possibly justify this outrageous, slanderous interpretation of Rachels. First, notice the bracketed word [Darwinism]. Rachels was not considering the doctrine of ‘Darwinism’ at this point in his book. Rather, he was talking about the doctrine of “qualified speciesism.” Here is how Rachels defines it.

But there is a more sophisticated view of the relation between morality and species, and it is this view that defenders of traditional morality have most often adopted. On this view, species alone is not regarded as morally significant. However, species-membership is correlated with other differences that are significant. The interests of humans are said to be more important, not simply because they are human, but because humans have morally relevant characteristics that other animals lack.[11]

With that definition in mind, let’s review what Rachels actually wrote about qualified speciesism.

There is still another problem for this form of qualified speciesism. Some unfortunate humans—perhaps because they have suffered brain damage—are not rational agents. What are we to say about them? The natural conclusion, according to the doctrine we are considering, would be that their status is that of mere animals. And perhaps we should go on to conclude that they may be used as non-human animals are used–perhaps as laboratory subjects, or as food?[12]

This leads to my second objection to G&T’s quotation of Rachels. Not only was Rachels talking about qualified speciesism, not Darwinism, but Rachels was describing a problem with qualified speciesism. In other words, Rachels was arguing against qualified speciesism. There is simply no justification for G&T trying to saddle Rachels with a view he explicitly calls a “problem” and, in fact, rejects.
A few pages later, Rachels goes on to make a distinction between “having a moral obligation” and “being the beneficiary of a moral obligation.” In his words:

… we must distinguish the conditions necessary for having a moral obligation from the conditions necessary for being the beneficiary of a moral obligation.
For example: normal adult humans have the obligation not to torture one another. What characteristics make it possible for a person to have this obligation? For one thing, he must be able to understand what torture is, and he must be capable of recognizing that it is wrong. (Linguistic capacity might be relevant here; without language one may not be able to formulate the belief that torture is wrong.) When someone–a severely retarded person, perhaps–lacks such capacities, we do not think he has such obligations and we do not hold him responsible for what he does. On the other hand, it is a very different question what characteristics qualify someone to be the beneficiary of the obligation. It is wrong [to] torture someone–someone is the beneficiary of our obligation not to torture–not because of his capacity for understanding what torture is, or for recognizing that it is morally wrong, but simply because of his capacity for experiencing pain. Thus a person may lack the characteristics necessary for having a certain obligation, and yet may still possess the characteristics necessary to qualify him as the beneficiary of that obligation. If there is any doubt, consider the position of severely retarded persons. A severely retarded person may not be able to understand what torture is, or see it as wrong, and yet still be able to suffer pain. So we who are not retarded have an obligation not to torture him, even though he cannot have a similar obligation not to torture us.[13]

The above passage proves that Rachels was opposed to “using retarded people as lab rats or food,” the exact opposite of the picture painted by G&T’s selective, misleading quotation of Rachels. In fact, rather than “downgrading” the moral status of mentally disabled humans to that of animals without rights, Rachels went in the opposite direction by “upgrading” the moral status of intelligent animals so that they, like even severely mentally disabled humans, can be the beneficiary of moral obligations.
At this point, I can only come up with two explanations for why G&T would do this: either they’re ignorant (they didn’t read or understand the book) or they’re dishonest (they knew full well that Rachels was talking about limited speciesism, not Darwinism, and Rachels opposed using the mentally disabled as lab rats or food). Neither of these explanations reflects well upon G&T.
Regarding (4) (rape), Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer wrote a controversial book, A Natural History of Rape. G&T apparently haven’t read the book, for instead of quoting it directly, they quote Nancy Pearcey’s quotation of Thornhill and Palmer. Pearcey quotes the following passage: rape is “a natural, biological phenomenon that is a product of the human evolutionary heritage,” just like “the leopard’s spots and the giraffe’s elongated neck.”[14] G&T are, once again, committing the is-ought fallacy. The argument seems to be this.

If Darwinism is true, then rape has a biological explanation. [non-ethical premise]

Therefore, if Darwinism is true, then rape is ethically right or permissible. [ethical conclusion]

Like the previous arguments, this one is fallacious. The fact, if it is a fact, that rape has a biological explanation does not ‘imply’ that rape is ethically right or permissible. And it’s far from obvious that rape has a biological explanation. Again, if Pearcey’s quotation of Thornhill and Palmer is supposed to be an argument from authority, that argument is weak. First, if G&T are suggesting that Thornhill and Palmer believe that rape is morally acceptable, the former have misinterpreted the latter. As Pearcey explains, “The authors are not saying that rape is morally right.”[15] Second, as Pearcey’s own article admits, equally well qualified authorities disagree with Thornhill and Palmer. To cite just one example, evolutionary biologist (and Darwinist) Jerry Coyne has produced two scientific critiques of Thornhill’s and Palmer’s biological claims.[16] It’s unfortunate that G&T’s readers won’t know about this from reading their book.
Unlike G&T, Pearcey herself actually tries to bridge the is-ought gap. She writes, “to say that rape confers a reproductive advantage sounds perilously close to saying that it is useful or beneficial.”[17] At best, however, Pearcey’s statement merely expresses a half-truth. To say that rape confers a reproductive advantage may mean that it is useful or beneficial to the rapist. It does not mean, however, that it is useful or beneficial to the victim or to society at large. Furthermore, as Wilson, Dietrich, and Clark point out, even if rape confers evolutionary benefits on the rapist,

it does so at great expense to others, not just the rape victim but society at large. The fact that the actor benefits does nothing to change its moral status, since morality is defined in terms of common welfare. In fact, some of our most severe moral judgements are reserved for behaviors that obviously benefit the actor at the expense of others (e.g., betraying one’s country for a large financial reward), and therefore require an exceptionally strong moral response to counterbalance the personal gain.[18]

So in order to show that ‘Darwinism’ implies that rape is ethically permissible, G&T would need to show that, on ‘Darwinism,’ whatever may be useful to an individual is ethically permissible. G&T haven’t shown that.

Rebuttal to Geisler’s and Turek’s “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”

[1] Robert M. Adams, “Divine Commands and the Social Nature of ObligationFaith and Philosophy 4 (1987), 262-275; cf. Robert Merrihew Adams, Finite and Infinite Goods: A Framework for Ethics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 245-246.
[2] J.L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), 114-15.
[3] Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Moral Skepticisms (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 6.
[4] Sinnott-Armstrong 2006, 6.
[5] Sinnott-Armstrong 2006, 6.
[6] Paul Draper, “Darwin’s Argument from Evil” in Scientific Approaches to the Philosophy of Religion (ed. Yujin Nagasawa, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 49-70 at 61-63.
[7] Atheism does entail that overtly theistic metaethics (or, to be more precise, theistic moral ontologies), such as Divine Command Theories and Divine Will Theories, are false. By itself, however, atheism does not tell us which metaethical theory is true. If one defines “atheism” in a way that is compatible with theological noncognitivism, then just any nontheistic metaethical theory could be true. If, however, one defines “atheism” in a way that presupposes theological (and hence ethical) cognitivism, then the most we can say affirmatively is that atheism entails that ethical cognitivism is true. Even so, atheism still leaves wide open the question of which cognitive metaethical theory is true. Cf. Theodore Drange, “Atheism. Agnosticism, Noncognitivism” The Secular Web (1998),
[8] Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (London: Hurst & Blackett, 1939), 239-240, 242, quoted in G&T 2004, 189.
[9] Cf. David Sloan Wilson, Eric Dietrich, and Anne B. Clark, “On the Inappropriate Use of the Naturalistic Fallacy in Evolutionary PsychologyBiology and Philosophy 18 (2003): 669-682 at 671.
[10] Peter Singer, Practical Ethics (1st ed., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 122-23, quoted in G&T 2004, 190.
[11] James Rachels, Created from Animals: The Moral Implications of Darwinism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 184.
[12] Rachels 1990, 191-92. Italics are mine.
[13] Rachels 1990, 191-192.
[14] Thornhill and Palmer, quoted in Nancy Pearcey, “Darwin’s Dirty Secret,” World magazine, March 25, 2000, quoted in G&T 2004, 191.
[15] Pearcey 2000.
[16] J.A. Coyne, “Of Vice and Men: Review of A Natural History of Rape, by R. Thornhill and C. Palmer,” The New Republic (April 3, 2000) 27-34, republished electronically at; and Jerry A. Coyne and Andrew Berry, “Rape as an Adaptation: Is This Contentious Hypothesis Advocacy, not Science?Nature 404 (2000): 121-22.
[17] Pearcey 2000.
[18] Wilson, Dietrich, and Clark 2003, 678. Italics are mine.