bookmark_borderChristian Apologists Ignore the Best Objections to the Moral Argument

(Redated post originally published on 2 August 2014)
To be precise, there are many kinds of moral arguments for theism. The question in the title is really talking about what we might call “ontological” or “metaphysical” moral arguments, the kind which claim that we need God in order to have an “ontological foundation” for objective or absolute morality.
People who defend a version of this kind of argument include a veritable “Who’s Who?” of contemporary Christian apologists: C.S. Lewis (see here and here), Alvin Plantinga (see here and here), William Lane Craig, Paul Copan, J.P. Moreland, Randal Rauser, David Baggett, Jerry Walls, Norman Geisler, Frank Turek, Roger Olson, Michael Horner, and so forth.
While there have been many critics who seem to be clueless about how to refute such arguments (see here and here for just two of probably 100+ available examples), there are many other philosophers who understand the arguments perfectly well and–gasp!–actually offer relevant objections. (What a concept!) In my opinion, the two best critics of ontological moral arguments are Erik Wielenberg (see here and here) and Wes Morriston (see here and here). Why, then, do apologists who’ve written on the topic in the last decade continue to ignore Wielenberg and Morriston?
I’m starting to think Ex-Apologist has a great explanation, albeit one he didn’t invent specifically for this topic. In fact, I think he has a great name for this great explanation. In a post entitled, “Proposal for a New Entry in the Philosophical Lexicon,” he calls this behavior “craiging.” Here is how he defines it.

craig, v. (a) to engage in dialectically illegitimate argumentative maneuvering, such as (e.g.) construing an interlocutor as offering a rebutting defeater for P when it’s more charitable to construe them as offering an undercutting defeater for P[1]; (b) to maintain a somewhat positive image of one’s positions in part by choosing not to address, mention, or cite the strongest criticisms of them; (c) to take up, critique, and/or ridicule an uncharitable construal of the theses and arguments of one’s interlocutor.

[1] Relatedly: to infer or otherwise assume that because a reply fails to rebut P, it also fails to undercut P.

It is (b) which I think applies to contemporary defenders of ontological moral arguments for theism: they simply act as if these critiques don’t exist.

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.
[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_borderBooks Like This Should be a Warning Signal to Inerrantists

I just saw an announcement of a new book by Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan. Copan and Flannagan are good guys, but some of the positions they have to defend (because of their commitment to Biblical inerrancy) are not.  I’m embarrassed for inerrantists. Just look at the publisher’s description (presumably written by one or both of the authors).

Reconciling a violent Old Testament God with a loving Jesus
Would a good, kind, and loving deity ever command the wholesale slaughter of nations? We often avoid reading difficult Old Testament passages that make us squeamish and quickly jump to the enemy-loving, forgiving Jesus of the New Testament. And yet, the question remains.
In the tradition of his popular Is God a Moral Monster?, Paul Copan teams up with Matthew Flannagan to tackle some of the most confusing and uncomfortable passages of Scripture. Together they help the Christian and nonbeliever alike understand the biblical, theological, philosophical, and ethical implications of Old Testament warfare passages.

So they admit that the relevant passages are among “the most confusing and uncomfortable passages of Scripture,” passages which make even hardened inerrantists like Copan and Flannagan “squeamish.” But, being the faithful believers that they are, Copan and Flannagan will argue that, yes, a “good, kind, and loving deity” would command (and, in fact, has commanded) “the wholesale slaughter of nations.” How will they reconcile God’s goodness, kindness, and love with genocide? The book’s subtitle suggests that they will argue that “justice” is the answer.
The fundamental problem with books like this is that they fly in the face of what seems obvious to everyone else who doesn’t already hold the a priori belief that everything the Bible says must be true, just because the Bible says it. To paraphrase something Nick Trakakis wrote in another context, “Defenses of genocidal behavior by the OT god turn a blind eye to what seem clear and obvious to everyone else — that such behavior makes a mockery out of what any person would consider morally justifiable behavior.”[1]
[1] N.N. Trakakis, “Antitheodicy,” The Blackwell Companion to the Problem of Evil, 364. Trakakis was talking about theodicies in general, not disturbing passages in the OT.