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_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_borderPaul Copan’s Noseeum Argument Against Ethics Without God

Over the last fifteen or so years, Paul Copan has written a variety of articles, chapters, and books which argue against ethics without God. (To be precise, Copan argues against atheistic or naturalistic metaethics.) As I interpret him, Copan offers several independent arguments against ethics without God. I call one of those arguments “Copan’s Noseeum Moral Argument” and that is the argument I want to discuss here.
The basic idea of the argument is this. since we see no ontological foundation for objective moral values in a naturalistic universe, there are no objective moral values in a naturalistic universe. This argument is highly similar to one of William Rowe’s evidential arguments from evil, according to which our failure to see an outweighing good for every evil in the world is evidence that there is no such outweighing good and hence that God does not exist. Just as Stephen Wykstra has labeled Rowe’s argument “Rowe’s Noseeum Argument from Evil,” I shall call Copan’s moral argument “Copan’s Noseeum Moral Argument.”[1] Copan writes this:

What is it within [an atheist’s] worldview that furnishes us with such an ontology or metaphysic of personhood as being of intrinsic value or worth? Nothing, so far as I can see.[2]

And again:

I simply do not see that his worldview has the ontological resources to bring about this remarkable transformation [of moral value].[3]

What we have, then, is the following inference:

P. We see no ontological foundation for objective moral values in a naturalistic world; so, it is quite probable that
Q. There is no ontological foundation at all for objective moral values in a naturalistic world.

Copan’s argument contains an implicit premise that objective moral values (OMVs) exist. Copan’s argument also seems (?) to implicitly assume that if OMVs exist, then they must have an ontological foundation. Let’s call this assumption “OF.”
Copan seems to suggest that the combination of Q and OF entail that there are no OMVs in a naturalistic world. In his words, “the atheistic worldview lacks such [ontological] resources.”[4]  In contrast, he says, theism provides the necessary ontological foundation for OMVs and hence OF is true. Hence, on Copan’s view, OMVs are much more probable given theism than given naturalism and, hence, any evidence for OMVs is also evidence for theism and against naturalism.[5]
So what should we make of Copan’s noseeum moral argument? One obvious point of contention is P, but I want to leave that aside and assume for the sake of argument that P is true.  Why then should one make the inference from P to Q?
It seems to me there are at least two problems with that inference. First, it’s far from obvious that OF is true. On the assumption that OMVs exist, it ‘s possible that OMVs exist without any ontological foundation. At least, it’s not obvious that it’s impossible. If Copan has an argument against that possibility, he hasn’t told us what it is.
Second, the inference from P to Q is justified only if we have no good reason to be in doubt about whether, if there is an ontological foundation for ethical truths, we would quite likely see that foundation. Assume that metaphysical naturalism is true, OMVs exist, and OMVs have an ontological foundation. In that scenario, why should we believe that it’s more likely than not that humans would have discovered by now the ontological foundation for OMVs? Perhaps the foundation is simply elusive or inscrutable. Again, if Copan has an argument here, he hasn’t told us what it is.
In fairness to Copan, I want to end by mentioning two points. First, Copan nowhere formally presents the argument I have called the “Noseeum Argument.” This is a reconstruction of that argument, based upon an interpretation of one of his essays. Copan may or may not agree that he, in fact, offered the argument I just attributed to him. (As an aside, in the interest of clarity, I wish Copan would explicitly state the logical form of his arguments in his writings.)
Second, even if my interpretation is correct and Copan did make a “noseeum argument,” Copan also defends many other arguments against ethics without God. The argument I’ve considered here is probably the weakest of the bunch, so it would be a mistake to judge Copan’s total case based upon this one argument.
Notes
[1] Stephen John Wykstra, “Rowe’s Noseeum Arguments from Evil” The Evidential Argument from Evil (ed. Daniel Howard-Snyder, Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1996), 126.
[2] Paul Copan, “Can Michael Martin Be A Moral Realist?: Sic et Non,” Philosophia Christi, Series 2, 1/2 (1999): 45-72 at 50.  Italics are mine.
[3] Copan 1999, 54.  Italics are mine.  See also the reference to “no obvious [ontological] resources” on p. 56.
[4] Copan 1999, 61.
[5] Copan 1999, 56.

bookmark_borderAn Incompatible-Properties Argument against Objective Values

In this post I want to sketch an argument against objective values (moral or otherwise).
I shall first analyze the noun “value” and then the expression “moral value.” Finally, I will use these definitions to explicitly formulate an argument that objective values, so defined, have logically incompatible properties. In other words, the concept of an “objective value” is self-contradictory in the same way that “a married bachelor” or “a four-sided triangle” is self-contradictory.
The Objective-vs.-Value Argument
1. To be valuable, an entity must be valued (by someone).
2. To be objectively valuable, an entity’s value must not depend on being valued (by someone).[1]
3. Therefore, it is impossible for anything to be objectively valuable.(from 1 and 2)
Premise 1 might be challenged on the grounds that it equivocates between two senses of “valuable.” Premise 1 expresses the first sense of “valuable”: an entity that is valued (by someone). This sense is captured by the slogan, “Values requires valuers.” But, a critic might argue, there is another, equally legitimate sense of “valuable.” An entity can somehow have objective value, even in the absence of valuers, simply by being desirable or worth having.[2]
Premise 2 might also be challenged, on theological grounds. Theists have traditionally believed that God is the sustaining cause of everything else that exists. But premise (2), taken at face value, combined with the belief in God as a sustaining cause, entails that nothing else exists objectively. Not only would “God-based” moral values not be objective, but even the existence of things like rocks and rivers not be objective. But this counter-intuitive implication should be rejected. “Objectivity” should not be defined in such an absolutist way; rather, we should simply say that objective value does not depend upon the subjective states of humans. If moral values depend upon the subjective states of God, that shouldn’t disqualify moral values from being “objective.”
Whether or not this argument or either objection succeeds is hard to say. I am inclined to agree with premise 2, but I am less confident in the truth of premise 1. In other words, I’m not claiming that this argument is sound. Also, for the record, I don’t claim the argument is original with me, but I have never seen it explicitly made by anyone else. (If anyone has any references for anyone else stating or defending an argument like this, references would be most appreciated.)
Notes
[1] Nicholas Rescher, Introduction to Value Theory (Prentice-Hall, 1969), p. 56.
[2] Joel J. Kupperman, Value… And What Follows (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 3; Louis P. Pojman, Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong (Third ed., Belmont, CA: Wadsowrth, 1999), p. 84, 91.

bookmark_borderMassimo Pigliucci on Metaethics, Part 1

William Lane Craig and Massimo Pigliucci debated the existence of God in 1998. (Click here to read the transcript.) In his opening statement, Craig presented his standard moral argument for God’s existence.

(1) If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
(2) Objective values do exist.
(3) Therefore, God exists.

In his opening statement, Pigliucci denied (2).

Finally, the problem of morality, which I’m sure we’ll have more to say about–oh yeah, I agree with Dr. Craig when he cited Dr. Ruse, a philosopher of science. There is no such a thing as objective morality. We got that straightened out.

Although this was much too quick to constitute anything much like an effective debate rebuttal, this quotation is useful for another reason. It reveals that Pigliucci agrees with Michael Ruse’s argument against (2). Regular readers of this blog will remember that Ruse’s argument for error theory has been the subject of much criticism by philosophers (see here and the references provided; cf. the links here), but Pigliucci says nothing in the debate which would answer or pre-empt those objections. In fairness to Pigliucci, some or all of those criticisms were published after the debate. The point here is not that Pigliucci should be faulted for failing to refute objections before they are published. Rather, the point is that he (apparently) relied upon a fallacious argument to justify his denial of (2).
He continues:

Morality in human cultures has evolved and is still evolving, and what is moral for you might not be moral for the guy next door and certainly is not moral for the guy across the ocean, the Atlantic or the Pacific Ocean, and so on. And what makes you think that your personal morality is the one and everybody else is wrong? Now a better way of putting this is that it is not the same as to say that anything goes; it is not at all the same. What goes is anything that works; there are things that work. Morality has to work. For example, one of the very good reasons we don’t go around killing each other is because otherwise the entire society as we know it would collapse and we’d become a bunch of simple isolated animals. There are animals like those.

I, for one, find that statement to be so  vague as to be of little philosophical value. What, precisely, does Pigliucci mean when he says, “Morality in human cultures has evolved?” And what does that have to do with the branch of metaethics known as moral ontology, the actual focus of Craig’s moral argument? One possible answer is that Pigliucci is simply making the point that human beliefs–about moral goodness and badness; moral obligation, permittedness, and prohibition; and the like–have changed over time. If that is what Pigliucci meant, then perhaps his point was that changes in human moral beliefs over time is further evidence against (2).
But if that is the sort of argument Pigliucci had in mind, it’s hard to see how it could be successful. Consider the following argument.
(4) Human beliefs about the laws of physics have changed over time.
(5) The best explanation for these changes in human beliefs is that there are no objective truths about the laws of physics.
(6) Therefore, there are no objective truths about the laws of physics.
I think probably everyone would agree that this argument fails because (5) is false. Now consider the parallel argument from changes in moral beliefs over time.
(7) Human beliefs about morality have changed over time.
(8) The best explanation for these changes in human beliefs is that there are no objective truths about morality.
(9) Therefore, there are no objective truths about morality.
It’s far from obvious why the moral beliefs argument is any better than the physics belief argument.
In Pigliucci’s First Rebuttal, he said this:

Let’s go back to this thing of objective morality. I think that there’s a little bit of twisting and turning around here with terms. Again, it’s not a matter of “Is there out there an objective morality?” We know that there isn’t. There are some components of your own morality that are not shared by other human beings. So either you are pretentious enough to think that your morality for whatever reason is the only correct one, or everybody else in the world is wrong.
I think that that is pretentious. ….
 

In this passage, Pigliucci seems to be stating a version of the argument from moral disagreement. But, as it stands, this argument is multiply flawed. First, Pigliucci conflates “the existence of ontologically objective moral values” with “my [the speaker’s] moral beliefs are the only correct moral beliefs.” The former neither entails nor makes probable the latter; this argument is a non sequitur. Second, Pigliucci fails to consider rival explanations to error theory, such as “the fact that much moral disagreement is due to disagreement about non-ethical facts” and “moral disagreement is much more surprising on the conjunction of theism and moral objectivism than on moral objectivism and metaphysical naturalism.”
Moving on, Pigliucci next makes a comparison between the behavior of human beings and other animals.

Of course there are some universals that all human beings share. Just today, for example, I told my students in a biology class that there are some things that human beings and society would never approve because of the way human societies are built. One, of course, is homicide; another one, of course, is rape. However, what we call homicide or rape or, in fact, even infanticide is very, very common among different types of animals. Lions, for example, commit infanticide on a regular basis because they want to make sure that the little offspring that is being raised by the lioness is their own and not someone else’s. Now, are these kinds of acts to be condoned? I don’t even know what that means because the lion doesn’t understand what morality is, that’s for sure.

It’s not entirely clear to me what point Pigliucci is trying to make in this passage. Perhaps his idea is that human “universals,” such as the beliefs that homicide and rape are morally wrong, aren’t evidence for an “objective morality” because those same behaviors are common in other animals. Again, it’s far from clear how such an argument would work. Here are two objections. First, humans are moral agents whereas lions are not. (Note: the previous sentence should not be interpreted as implying that humans possess libertarian free will.) Second, even if there were such a thing as ‘lion morality,’ it’s far from obvious why facts about ‘lion morality’ have any relevance to or bearing upon human morality. If Pigliucci has an argument, he hasn’t yet told us what it is.

Morality is an invention of human beings. It’s a very good invention. I’m not suggesting we should abandon morality. I’m not suggesting, more to the point, that we should abandon ethics. Ethics is a perfectly valid way of thinking about things. We can all agree as a society that there are things that are wrong and things that are good. We can act on them, and we can enforce those things, but there is no higher power or no higher reason to tell us that this is right or this is wrong. Unfortunately, we are on our own; that’s my humble opinion. I would really like for somebody to come down from the sky and tell me what is right and what is wrong. My life would be much, much easier. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen.

The key claim in this paragraph is its first sentence: “Morality is an invention of human beings.” There’s no argument presented for that claim, however.
Finally, it’s worth noticing the reasons Pigliucci gives to deny the existence of objective moral values and obligations. He doesn’t claim, “Objective moral values and duties can exist only if God exists, but God doesn’t exist; therefore, objective moral values and duties don’t exist.” Rather, Pigliucci gives independent reasons for rejecting moral objectivism, i.e., reasons that are independent of his atheism. The upshot is this: although Pigliucci denies the existence of objective moral values and obligations, atheism does not entail the non-existence of objective moral values and obligations.

bookmark_borderDo the Bee Police Enforce God’s Law? Or Are They Darwinian Nihilists? by Larry Arnhart

I want to a link to another terrific blog post by philosopher Larry Arnhart.
One worry–perhaps the worry–about basing morality on the biology of human nature is that it makes morality species-specific. Darwin himself voiced this concern in The Descent of Man:

“In the same manner as various animals have some sense of beauty, though they admire widely different objects, so they might have a sense of right and wrong, though led by it to follow widely different lines of conduct.  If, for instance, to take an extreme case, men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters; and no one would think of interfering.  Nevertheless, the bee, or any other social animal, would gain in our supposed case, as it appears to me, some feeling of right or wrong, or a conscience” (Penguin Classics, 2004, pp. 122-23).

Arnhart’s response:

As I have said, this argument from people like Cobbe, West, and Forde assumes a Platonic expectation of a moral cosmology–that morality is somehow woven into the fabric of the cosmos as a dictate of a cosmic God, a cosmic Reason, or a cosmic Nature.

I reject this Platonic moral cosmology, because I see no reason why morality cannot rightly be understood as grounded in our evolved human nature, so that what is moral for us would not necessarily be moral for any other species that might develop a moral sense.

Contrary to Cobbe, West, and Forde, I see nothing nihilistic in admiring the bee police for their evolved system of law enforcement, and in seeing this as showing that Friedrich Nietzsche was right to view “the entire phenomenon of morality as animal.”

LINK