bookmark_borderAtheistic 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…

bookmark_borderAtheistic Moral Realism – Part 3

William Craig’s MOVE argument is simple:
1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
2. Objective moral values do exist.
3.  God exists.
One obvious atheistic objection would be to reject or cast doubt on premise (2).  If one rejects or doubts that objective moral values exist, then this argument will fail to be persuasive.
Another possible objection is to reject or cast doubt upon premise (1).  Some atheists accept moral realism, and thus believe that the non-existence of God is logically compatible with objective moral values.  I will be focusing on this particular objection to the MOVE argument.  Craig refers to this view as Atheistic Moral Realism.
Craig raises three objections to atheistic moral realism (hereafter AMR):
AMR is incomprehensible.
AMR is incompatible with the nature of moral duty.
AMR implies a fantastically improbable coincidence.
Let’s consider his first objection to AMR:
I must confess that this alternative strikes me as incomprehensible, an example of trying to have your cake and eat it too.  What does it mean to say, for example, that the moral value justice just exists?  I understand what it is for a person to be just, but I draw a complete blank when it is said that, in the absence of any people, justice itself exists.  Moral values seem to exist as properties of persons, not as abstractions–or at any rate, I don’t know what it means for a moral value to exist as an abstraction.  Atheistic moral realists, seeming to lack any adequate foundation in reality for moral values, just leave them floating in an unintelligible way. 
(WIAC, p.76)
My first thought is that Craig is being rather skeptical here, which is a good thing.  However, people who live in glass houses should avoid swinging sledge hammers around in their living room.  Whenever one makes a skeptical move (for example, making use of Occam’s Razor), it is important to avoid doing this in a biased way,  using skeptical moves against ideas that one dislikes while never making use of the skeptical move against ideas that one favors.
I’m not positive that Craig is being hypocritical here, but I strongly suspect that the sort of skeptical move he makes here could also be used to inflict serious damage to many of the beliefs that Craig holds dear.  Nevertheless, I am a skeptic, and I fully appreciate the kind of skeptical thinking that Craig appears to be engaged in here.  So, although he may be wielding a two-edged sword, one that inflicts damage to both AMR and Theism, I will ignore any possible bias and hypocrisy on Craig’s part, and only think about whether his skeptical move works against AMR.
Perhaps Craig is correct that some thinkers who accept AMR believe that justice exists as an abstraction independent of any human beings or persons, but this is NOT a logical implication of AMR, as far as I can see.  Moral realism claims that moral judgments can be true or false, and that some moral judgments are in fact true.  It is hard to see how one can get from these claims to the metaphysical claim that justice is an entity that exists independently of humans or persons.
The word ‘green’ refers to a color.  The sentence ‘Grass is green.’ makes a true statement.  In making these claims,  I do NOT imply that the color green is an abstract entity that exists independently of any blades of grass, or trees, or shirts, or houses, or any other physical objects.
Similarly, if I say that the sentence ‘It was unjust for Hitler to order the killing of millions of innocent civilians’  makes a true statement,  this does NOT imply that justice is an entity that exists independently of any human being or person.
Justice, it seems to me, is primarily an attribute or characteristic of actions, and actions can only be performed by agents or persons. Thus, justice cannot exist independently of agents or persons, because justice cannot exist independently of actions, and actions cannot exist independently of agents or persons.
I think Craig is correct in being skeptical about justice existing as an abstract entity independently of the existence of agents or persons.  If justice is, first and foremost, an attribute or characteristic of actions, then it does appear to be implausible to think of justice as an abstract entity.  However, an attribute (such as ‘green’) may be correctly ascribed to a particular entity (such as ‘grass’ or ‘this patch of grass’) without it being the case that the attribute constitutes an independently existing entity.
So, I am not persuaded by Craig’s objection here.  He may have a legitimate objection to the stated views of some particular thinkers who accept AMR, but this objection does not appear to be relevant to AMR itself.

bookmark_borderAtheistic Moral Realism – Part 2

I am going to engage in a bit of logic chopping now.  But for those who do not have an appreciation for logic chopping, do not despair;  my close examination of the bark on one tree will lead me to make some broader points that have significance for philosophy of religion, ethics, and serious thinking about God.  The broader points might even have some relevance to evaluation of William Craig’s argument from the Existence of Objective Moral Values (Let’s rearrange those words a bit: “Moral Objective Values Exist”; hence I will refer to this as Craig’s MOVE argument).
In Part 1 of this series,  I pointed out a couple of alternative ways of stating Craig’s MOVE argument.  One of the alternatives was a modus tollens argument:
1A. If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
2A. It is NOT the case that objective moral values do not exist.
3A.  It is NOT the case that God does not exist.
It seems to me, that (3A) is ambiguous, at least when considered by itself, apart from this argument.  It could mean either of the following:
3A’. The sentence ‘God does not exist’ asserts a false statement.
3A”. The sentence ‘God does not exist’ does NOT assert a true statement.
Notice, however, that while (3A’) is incompatible with atheism, (3A”) is perfectly compatible with atheism.  A number of atheist philosophers in the 20th century argued that sentences like ‘God exists’ and ‘God does not exist’ only appear to assert statements that are true or false, but in fact do not assert statements at all, and so these sentences are neither true nor false.
The conclusion (3A”) is compatible with atheism of the sort I just described, because such atheists would gladly agree that the sentence ‘God does not exist’ does NOT assert a true statement, because it does NOT assert any statement at all, which is why, they would argue, we should all be atheists, why we should all reject the belief that ‘God exists’, as well as rejecting the belief that ‘God does not exist’.  Both beliefs should be rejected, not because they are false, but because they only appear to assert something about the world, they only appear to describe how things are, but in fact do not assert anything nor do they describe even a possible state of affairs.
So, if (3A) can reasonably be interpreted as asserting (3A”), then the conclusion of Craig’s argument does not rule out atheism, at least not atheism of the sort that was popular among philosophers in the 20th century.
I don’t know if this objection would hold up under close scrutiny, so I’m not going to insist on it.  Even if the objection works, Craig could discard this particular way of stating his MOVE argument and use one of the other ways of stating it.  That might be enough to avoid this objection.
There are at least three sorts of objections to the assumption that the sentence ‘God exists’ makes a coherent statement:

  • The sentence ‘God exists’ makes an incoherent statement, a statement that involves an internal logical contradiction, a self contradiction.
  • The divine attribute of ‘perfect goodness’ fails to describe an objective characteristic, thus making it logically impossible for anyone to be correctly and objectively identified as being ‘God’.
  • No evidence is relevant to confirming or disconfirming the truth of the sentence ‘God exists’, so this sentence does not actually assert a statement or description of how things are or might be.

In The Coherence of Theism, Richard Swinburne argues briefly against the Logical Positivist objection in the third bullet.  He spends much more time dealing with the problem of apparent logical  self-contradictions in the concept of ‘God’,  the objection in the first bullet.  In Chapter 11 he briefly makes a case for moral realism (or what he calls ‘moral objectivism’), a case which does not depend on either theism or atheism, and that case would take care of the second bullet.
Concerning the problem of apparent logical contradictions within the concept of ‘God’, Swinburne acknowledges that skeptics are correct about some of the contradictions that have been pointed out in the concept of ‘God’.  Swinburne gets around these correct objections by making modifications to some of the traditional divine attributes.
For example, Swinburne acknowledges that there is a contradiction between divine foreknowledge and human freedom.  But he points out a more important contradiction along the same lines between divine foreknowledge and divine freedom.  God, according to Swinburne’s analysis is perfectly free.  But if God knows everything that is going to happen in the future, then God knows everything that God will decide to do in the future, but then God would not be free to do anything else other than what he already knows he is going to do. Thus, God’s perfect freedom contradicts God’s unlimited knowledge or omniscience.
Swinburne gets around this problem by limiting the extent of God’s knowledge of the future.  God can know every little detail about the past and the present, but God does NOT have perfect and unlimited knowledge of the future, because God does not know with certainty today what God will himself decide to do tomorrow. In other words, God’s knowledge of the future is limited and constrained by God’s perfect freedom.
I think Swinburne was on the right track in trying to salvage the concept of ‘God’ from various apparent internal logical contradictions.  However, he did not go far enough, and thus left open various other potential logical contradictions.  It is very difficult if not impossible for a finite and imperfect human mind to anticipate all of the various complex logical relationships and interconnections between a set of several abstract concepts.  Swinburne is assuming that his careful examination of various historical objections to the concept of God would be sufficient to enable him to grasp all of the various possible logical implications and interactions between the several abstract concepts that constitute his definition or analysis of the concept of ‘God’.
The problem is, I believe, that when you add adjectives like “perfect” or “infinite” or “unlimited” to abstract characteristics like ‘knowledge’ or ‘power’ or ‘goodness’, the logical scope of those concepts is magnified tremendously.  In other words,  in pumping up these characteristics, one is bound to create logical contradictions between them.
Just as theists argue that there can only be ONE God, ONE supreme being, similarly there can only be ONE divine attribute that trumps all the other attributes.  If, for example, perfect freedom comes into conflict with perfect knowledge, then one of those attributes must be sacrificed for the other.  That is to say, one of the two conflicting attributes must be qualified or limited in relation to the other conflicting attribute.
Another similar philosophical problem occurs in the field of ethics. Mill’s Utilitarianism proposed a criterion for moral evaluation of actions.  An action was good or right if, in comparison with alternative actions, it would result in the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.   But this criterion is problematic, because it really contains two different criteria or values:  (1) the greatest happiness and (2) the greatest number.
But sometimes these two values or goals come into conflict with each other, and a hard choice must be made. Suppose you have to choose between one action A that would bring about a moderate amount of happiness for a large number of people and another action B that would bring about a large amount of happiness for a moderate number of people.  The principle of Utilitarianism does not help decide which of these two actions is best.  It fails to provide an answer because the two criteria in that principle point in opposite directions in this case.
In ethics, when you have multiple basic values or goals or criteria to use in evaluating the goodness or rightness of an action, the most reasonable strategy seems to be to give differnt weights or priorities to different values or goals.  In other words, when one needs to employ multiple values or criteria to make an evaluation, one should set up some sort of hierarchy of values/goals.  What is the most important value or objective?  What is the second most important value or goal?
Take for example, the following classic moral dilemma:  “If  you lived in Germany when Hitler was in power, and some Jews were hiding in your house, if a Nazi official came to your front door and asked you if you had seen any Jews in the neighborhood recently, should you lie to protect the lives of the Jews hiding in your house, or tell the truth which would almost certainly result in the Jews being taken to a concentration camp and murdered?”  Although some people think that it is always wrong to lie, most sane people recognize that in this situation the moral duty to tell the truth is outweighed by the duty to protect human lives.
Truth telling is not as important as life saving.  The above scenario is only a dilemma for stupid people who fail to recognize the obvious truth that moral principles and values can sometimes come into conflict, and thus that moral principles and values need to be arranged into a hierarchy so that we are not stuck without any guidance when two rules or two values do come into conflict.
It seems to me that if one is to have any realistic hope of constructing a concept of God that will not run into various internal logical contradictions,one must set up a hierarchy of divine attributes.  For Swinburne,  perfect freedom was more important, more basic to his concept of God than the divine attribute of omniscience. So, Swinburne allows the attribute of perfect freedom to limit the attribute of omniscience.  Setting up an overarching hierarchy of divine attributes seems to be the only possible way of making sure that one avoids internal logical contradictions or incohernce in the concept of ‘God’ and in the claim that ‘God exists’.
Only ONE divine attribute can be supreme. Only one divine attribute can be utterly and completely unlimited, and all the other attributes must be subject to limitation by that supreme attribute. Only ONE attribute can be second in importance, and all other attributes, besides the supreme attribute and the secondary attribute, would be subject to limitation in relation to those top two divine attributes, and so on.

bookmark_borderAtheistic Moral Realism – Part 1

In his essay “Why I Believe God Exists”, William Craig gives three main reasons for believing in God (Why I am a Christian – hereafter: WIAC – edited by Norman Geisler and Paul Hoffman, Baker Books, 2001, p.62-80):

  • God makes sense of the origin of the universe (the Kalam Cosmological argument, p.62-68)
  • God makes sense of the complex order in the universe (the Fine Tuning argument, p.68-74).
  • God makes sense of objective moral values in the world (his argument from the Existence of Objective Moral Values, p. 74-80)

One problem with the Kalam cosmological argument is that it fails to establish the existence of a perfectly good person.  At best, the Kalam cosmological argument proves the existence of some sort of ultimate first cause in a causal chain that led to the formation of the universe.  But it is far from obvious that this first cause must be a perfectly good person.
The Fine Tuning argument, a modern version of the Argument from Design, suffers from the same problem.  Both the Cosmological argument and the Fine Tuning argument raise the problem of evil.  How can a perfectly good person be the first cause or the designer of a world that contains so much moral and natural evil?
It is essential that a case for God show the existence of a person who is perfectly good, not just the existence of an omnipotent or omniscient being.  Craig’s discussion about God as the source of moral values indicates why this point is crucial:
…by definition, God is a being who is worthy of worship.  When you think about what it means to worship someone, then it is evident that only a being who is the embodiment of all moral goodness is worthy to be worshiped. (WIAC, p.78)
If some very powerful and very knowledgable person is cruel, unjust, and blood-thirsty (like Jehovah, for example), then that being would NOT be worthy of worship, and thus could not possibly be God.  In fact, some very powerful and knowing person who is generally good but who sometimes does things that are selfish or morally wrong, would also be someone who was not worthy of worship.  So, any person who is to properly be called ‘God’ must be a perfectly good person.
The only argument here that has any hope of establishing the existence of a perfectly good person, is the argument from the Existence of Objective Moral Values.  So, that is the argument that I’m going to focus in on, analyze, and evaluate.
Craig states the argument very simply as something like a  modus tollens:
1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
2. Objective moral values do exist.
3.  God exists.
It is not quite a modus tollens because the second premise and the conclusion of a modus tollens are negations:
Not Q.
Not P.
But Craig’s argument can be re-stated as a modus tollens:
1A. If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
2A. It is NOT the case that objective moral values do not exist.
3A.  It is NOT the case that God does not exist.
It seems a bit odd that Craig did not state his argument more straightforwardly as a modus ponens:
1B. If objective moral values do exist, then God exists.
2B. Objective moral values do exist.
3B.  God exists.
I’m not sure if this is significant, but we should keep these different ways of stating the argument in mind, in case there is some subtle difference between them that is significant.

bookmark_borderScalar Connection to Meaning of Life?

Because I’ve written so much about arguments from scale lately, the following statement in Dennis Prager’s op-ed on atheism and consolation caught my eye.

“‘And we promise to work for more gun control. But the truth is we don’t
have a single consoling thing to say to you because we atheists
recognize that the human being is nothing more than matter, no different
from all other matter in the universe except for having
self-consciousness. Therefore, when we die, that’s it. Moreover, within a
tiny speck of time in terms of the universe’s history, nearly every one
of us, including your child, will be completely forgotten,
as if we
never even existed. Life is a random crapshoot. Our birth and existence
are flukes. And you will never see your child again.'” (emphasis mine)

This sounds very similar to the temporal aspect of arguments from scale: humans do not enjoy a temporally privileged position in the universe’s history.

Continue reading “Scalar Connection to Meaning of Life?”