bookmark_borderCraig’s Dismissive Attitude Towards Arguments from Evil

On Twitter, user @BissetteHunter tweeted this fifteen second video clip of William Lane Craig discussing arguments from evil:


In the case the link doesn’t work, here is the transcript:

“Therefore, this problem of evil, I think, though emotionally powerful–I grant it is emotionally powerful–philosophically it is very difficult to  run any kind of successful argument against God based on the evil and suffering in the world.

Commenting on this clip, user @ChristourLord1 tweeted the following:


There are several points I want to make regarding the statements from both Craig and @ChristourLord1.
(1) Craig’s statement is pure bluster. Consider: what does it mean for an argument–any argument–to be successful?
(a) Coerciveness. Well, one standard might be coerciveness. One might say that an argument is coercive if anyone who understands the argument believes the conclusion to be true. While a coercive argument would indeed seem to qualify as a “successful” argument, the standard of coercion seems much too high; we need a more modest standard.
(b) Soundness. Another standard might be soundness. A deductive argument is valid if the conclusion necessarily follows from the premises; a sound argument is a valid argument in which all of the premises are true. While soundness might be sufficient to render an argument “successful,” it is hardly necessary. There are many inductive argument patterns regarded as successful, but which are invalid. So soundness cannot be the only way for an argument to achieve “success.”
(c) Strength. Another standard might be strength. An inductive argument is strong if the premises are true and the premises make it probable (but not certain) that the conclusion is true. Inductively strong arguments are successful.
I don’t claim the above three standards constitute an exhaustive list; there may very well be other standards of argument “success” besides those I’ve listed here. But even if that is the case, it would still be true that soundness is a sufficient condition for a successful deductive argument and strength is a sufficient condition for a successful inductive argument.
But are any arguments from evil or suffering successful in either sense?
Consider Paul Draper’s evidential argument from pain and pleasure.
(1) E is known to be true, i.e., Pr(E) is close to 1.
(2) T is not intrinsically much more probable than N, i.e., Pr(|T|) is not much greater than Pr(|N|).
(3) E is much more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true, i.e., Pr(EN & B) >> Pr(E | T & B).
(4) Other evidence held equal, T is probably false, i.e., Pr(T | B & E) < 0.5.
Although classified as an “evidential” argument (for reasons which are not important here), Draper’s argument is a deductive argument and thus should be assessed using the soundness standard described above. So… is Draper’s argument sound? It is clearly valid: (4) follows from (1), (2), and (3) based on the pattern of probability relations specified by Bayes’s theorem. And, contrary to Craig’s attempts to suggest otherwise, the premises are true. It follows that Draper’s argument is sound, which, in turn, entails that it is a “successful” argument in that sense.
(2) References to ‘the problem of evil’ obscure the fact that there is a robust family of arguments against theism based on known facts about evil, suffering, and imperfection. In my experience, when theistic apologists refer to ‘the problem of evil,’ they almost always proceed to divide the problem into (at least) two types: the so-called “emotional” or “pastoral” problem of evil and the “intellectual problem of evil,” which is a kind of umbrella category for all philosophical arguments against theism based on evil and suffering. @ChristourLord1, however, takes this tendency to the next level. He denies that there is an intellectual problem of evil at all. He accomplishes this amazing philosophical feat–why didn’t any theistic philosopher in the last 4000 years think of it?–by collapsing ‘the intellectual problem of evil’ into ‘the emotional problem of evil.’ Here, again, is the tweet:


What @ChristourLord1 claims is not only nonsense, but dismissive nonsense. It is one thing to claim, as Craig incorrectly does, that there is no successful argument from evil and suffering against God. It is entirely another thing to claim, as @ChristourLord1 does, that there are no “intellectual” arguments from evil and suffering against God. In order to get the point across to ignorant theists like @ChristourLord1, I am half-tempted to propose that atheists stop dignifying theistic arguments as “arguments” and instead refer to them as “problems” and specifically as “emotional problems.” For example: instead of the “moral argument,” we have the “emotional problem of morality without God.” We then declare, by fiat, that there is no intellectual problem of morality without God, only an emotional problem, and it is dishonest to pretend otherwise.
When theists understand why that is is a ludicrous reason to dismiss moral arguments for theism, they will understand why it is equally ludicrous to dismiss arguments against theism from evil, suffering, and imperfection as mere “emotional problems.”

bookmark_borderReply to William Lane Craig on Evangelical Support for Trump

I’ve published an article on my political blog, Data-Driven Politics, which should be of great interest to many Secular Outpost readers:
William Lane Craig on Evangelical Christian Support for Donald Trump
On a related note, I’ve also published on that site my Presidential Effectiveness Dashboard, which is a work in progress, and likely also to be of interest. Link to latest version:
Presidential Effectiveness Dashboard (Trump): Economic Metrics Added
 

bookmark_borderDraft: William Lane Craig on the Evidential Argument from Evolution

This is a draft article I’ve been working on. Any feedback would be appreciated.


Abstract: Paul Draper defends what may be called an “evidential argument from evolution” against theism, viz., an argument which purports to show that evolution constitutes strong evidence against theism. In response to this argument, William Lane Craig argues that Draper’s argument depends upon three “dubious” probability estimates. I examine one by one Craig’s objections to these estimates and show how they miss the mark.


Introduction

The idea that evolution is somehow a threat to “religion” is nothing new. Ever since the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, there have been allegations of a “war” between “science” and “religion,” with evolution arguably constituting one of the war’s front lines. For most of this “war’s” history, the philosophical “fighting” has focused on questions of logical compatibility, such as whether evolution is compatible with Christian theism (specifically, with a literal interpretation of the Biblical book of Genesis) or, more broadly, whether it is even compatible with “mere” or “generic” theism; no one had bothered to make a serious effort to consider, apart from questions of logical compatibility, whether the truth of evolution might constitute evidence against theism even if it is consistent with it. This changed in 1997. Philosopher of religion Paul Draper, well-known for writing what is widely considered one of the best versions of the argument from evil (1996), developed what may be called the “evidential argument from evolution.” It takes the following form:

(1) Evolution is antecedently much more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true.
(2) The statement that pain and pleasure systematically connected to reproductive success is antecedently much more probable on the assumption that evolutionary naturalism is true than on the assumption that evolutionary theism is true.
(3) Therefore, evolution conjoined with this statement about pain and pleasure is antecedently very much more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true. (From 1 and 2)
(4) Naturalism is at least as plausible as theism.
(5) Therefore, other evidence held equal, naturalism is very much more probable than theism. (From 3 and 4)
(6) Naturalism entails that theism is false.
(7) Therefore, other evidence held equal, it is highly probable that theism is false. (From 5 and 6) (Draper 1997)

Strictly speaking, the argument is both an evidential argument from evolution and an evidential argument from evil: (1) appeals to the fact of evolution, whereas (2) appeals to facts about pain and pleasure (a type of so-called “natural evil”).
The argument includes several propositions in the relevant background knowledge:

B1: Pain and pleasure, if they exist, have intrinsic moral value.
B2: A physical universe—which operates according to natural laws, is intelligible, and which supports the possibility of intelligent life—exists.
B3: Living things, including sentient beings, exist on Earth. These sentient beings include, but are not limited to, human beings.
B4: Some (Earthly) sentient beings are not moral agents but are biologically very similar to (Earthly) embodied moral agents.
B5: Humans are goal-directed organic systems, composed of parts that systematically contribute to the biological goals of these systems.

So the argument can be restated as follows:

(1) Pr(E| N & B) >! Pr(E | T & B).
(2) Pr(P | E & N & B) >! Pr(P | E & T & B).
(3) Pr(E & P | N & B) >!! Pr(E & P | T & B). (From 1 and 2)
(4) Pr(|T|) =< Pr(|N|).
(5) Pr(N | E & P & B) >!! Pr(T | E & P & B). (From 3 and 4)
(6) Naturalism entails that theism is false.
(7) Therefore, Pr(T | E & P & B) <!! 1/2. (From 5 and 6)

In the twenty years since it was published, the evidential argument from evolution has attracted the attention of several philosophers, including William Lane Craig (2003, pp. 548-550), Alvin Plantinga (2011), and Daniel Howard-Snyder (2017). In this paper I want to critically assess Craig’s objections. Now if Craig claimed no more with respect to the evidential argument from evolution than the truism that “one man’s modus ponens is another man’s modus tollens,” namely, that one’s degree of belief in the falsity of an argument’s conclusion can exceed one’s degree of belief in an argument’s key premise (Craig 2003, p. 549), then the defender of the evidential argument from evolution would have no dispute with Craig, pointing out that the argument’s “other evidence held equal” clause preempts Craig’s punting to theistic arguments. Fortunately for discussion’s sake, Craig’s appraisal of the evidential argument from evolution is mostly independent of his appeal to theistic arguments.  According to Craig, “Draper’s argument hinges on three probability estimates which seem dubious in light of our discussion” (Craig 2003, p. 549). In this response, I hope to show that the argument is, in fact, considerably stronger than Craig acknowledges.

Part 1: Craig’s Objections in His Written Work

First Objection: The Argument for Pr(|T|) =< Pr(|N|)

Craig’s first objection is that Draper (1997) assumes that theism and naturalism have equal prior probabilities. In Craig’s (2003, p. 549) words, Draper assumes that

naturalism and theism are equally probable with respect to our general background knowledge (Pr (N) = Pr (T)), which we have seen reason to dispute (recall chaps. 23-24).

As an objection to Draper 1997, however, this is simply misguided.
(i) First, Craig has confused prior probability with intrinsic probability. The former is a measure of the probability of a hypothesis conditional upon the relevant, extrinsic background information, whereas the latter is the probability of a hypothesis determined solely by intrinsic factors related to the content of a hypothesis, e.g., its scope and modesty. Allow me to introduce some mathematical symbols to make this clear:
Let Pr(|X|) =df. the intrinsic probability of X
Let Pr(X | B) =df. the prior probability of X conditional upon background information B
So Craig’s objection assumes that Draper’s argument either contains (or implies) a premise which says:

(4′) Pr(T| B) = Pr(N | B).

But this is false. The actual premise in Draper’s argument is:

(4) Naturalism is at least as plausible as theism, i.e., Pr(|T|) =< Pr(|N|).

Even if Craig were correct that theism had a higher prior probability than naturalism, this would be irrelevant to (4), which states that theism is not intrinsically more probable than naturalism. So far as I am aware, Craig has never interacted with any of Draper’s work on intrinsic probability. (write a lot more here)
(ii) Even if Draper’s argument had claimed that theism and naturalism contained equal prior probabilities, Craig’s selection of background propositions—i.e., the propositions which constitute the relevant background knowledge—is biased. Again, Craig (2003, p. 49) writes:

naturalism and theism are equally probable with respect to our general background knowledge (Pr (N) = Pr (T)), which we have seen reason to dispute (recall chaps. 23-24).]

What, precisely, were the reasons offered in chapters 23 and 24? The cosmological, teleological, axiological, and ontological arguments. Here I think Craig has not expressed himself very well. What could it mean to say that a set of arguments constitutes “our general background knowledge”? I am not even sure what that means. One option would be to include the conclusions of those arguments in our background knowledge:

B6. A maximally great being exists, i.e., a maximally great being exists in every possible world including the actual world. (Craig 2003, p. 496)
B7. The universe has a cause. (Craig 2003, p. 468)
B8. The explanation of the existence of the universe is God. (Craig 2003, p. 466)
B9. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to design. (Craig 2003, p. 484)
B10. God exists. (Craig 2003, p. 495)

That can’t be right because several of those conclusions (B6, B8, and B10) either explicitly state or imply that God exists. It’s illegitimate to include, in the background knowledge of a Bayesian argument, a proposition which entails the truth or falsity of the rival explanatory hypotheses under consideration. But three of these conclusions (B6, B8, and B10) either state or imply God’s existence, which renders them unsuitable for inclusion in the relevant background knowledge of an evidential argument about God’s existence. Furthermore, B6, if true, would entail that God’s existence is metaphysically necessary. It would be very odd, I think, to include “God’s existence is metaphysically necessary” in the background knowledge of any evidential argument against God’s existence. If God’s existence were metaphysically necessary, then we wouldn’t say that fact ought to be included in an evidential argument against God’s existence. Rather, we would say that all evidential arguments against God’s existence are fundamentally misguided, since there is no possible world in which God does not exist.
Another option would be to include in our background knowledge the key evidence to be explained in each of those arguments.

B6′. It is rational to believe that it is possible that a maximally great being exists. (From Plantinga’s ontological argument)[1]
B7′. The universe began to exist. (From the kalam cosmological argument)[2]
B8′. The universe has an explanation for its existence. (From the Leibnizian cosmological argument)[3]
B9′. The universe is life-permitting. (From Craig’s teleological argument)[4]
B10′. Objective moral values exist. (From the axiological argument)[5]

This second option–focusing on the evidence to be explained–seems to be the most favorable to Craig’s goal of boosting the prior probability of theism over naturalism.
The second option fails, however, because it violates the inductive Rule of Total Evidence. Why does it violate the Rule of Total Evidence? Because it considers only some propositions (those which Craig believes to be favorable to theism) while ignoring other propositions (those favorable to naturalism). For example:

B11. It is rational to believe that it is impossible that a maximally great being exists.[6]
B12. The physical exists. (From the evidential argument from physicality)[7]
B13. It is rational to believe that it is impossible for a timeless being to create anything.
B14. So much of our universe is intelligible without appeal to supernatural agency. (From the evidential argument from the history of science)[8]
B15. Conscious states in general are dependent upon the physical brain. (From the evidential argument from mind-brain dependence)[9]
B16. The world contains an abundance of tragedy and relatively little triumph. (From the evidential argument from triumph and tragedy)[10]

To sum up: Craig’s first objection mistakenly treats intrinsic probability as synonymous with prior probability. Furthermore, even if premise (4) had appealed to prior probability, Craig would still have failed to show that theism enjoys a higher prior probability than naturalism.

Second Objection: The Argument for Pr(P | E & N & B) >! Pr(P | E & T & B)

Craig’s second objection appeals to what I call the “skeptical theism defense” (Lowder 2016). Craig (2003, p. 549) writes:

Second, he believes that the probability of the distribution of pain/pleasure in the world is greater on naturalism and evolution than it is on theism and evolution (Pr (P/E&N) > Pr(P/E&T)). But we have seen reason to question whether we are in an epistemic position to make justifiably this sort of probability judgement.

What reason is that?

What makes the probability [that God has no morally sufficient reasons for permitting the evils that occur] here so difficult to assess is that we are not in a good epistemic position to make these kinds of probability judgments with any sort of confidence. As finite persons, we are limited in space and time, in intelligence and insight. But the transcendent and sovereign God sees the end of history from its beginning and providentially orders history so that his purposes are ultimately achieved through human free decisions. In order to achieve his ends God may well have to put up with certain evils along the way. Evils that appear pointless or unnecessary to us within our limited framework may be seen to have been justly permitted within God’s wider framework. (Craig 2003, p. 543)

By interacting solely with Draper 1997, it appears that Craig missed the fact that Draper 1996 (p. ##) already answered this objection. To sum up: it’s possible that God has unknown reasons for allowing evil. But it’s also possible—and antecedently just as likely—that God has unknown reasons for preventing evil. So the possibilities of unknown reasons for allowing evil and unknown reasons for preventing evil “cancel out.” We’re right back where we started, namely, working with what we do know: P. In fact, this is pretty much the point of using epistemic probabilities. If we had perfect, complete information, then we wouldn’t need to use probabilities at all. So human ignorance is not a good objection to comparing Pr(P | E & N & B) to Pr(P | E & T & B).
Furthermore, as numerous philosophers (nontheists and theists alike) have pointed out, logically consistent natural theologians cannot appeal to the limitations of human cognitive abilities to defeat evidential arguments from evil (Draper 1996b, p. 188). Allow me to explain. If human cognitive limitations really did prevent us from assessing whether God has morally sufficient reasons for allowing evil, including facts about pain and pleasure, then Craig can kiss goodbye all of his arguments from natural theology for God’s existence. Consistent skeptical theists should also insist that human cognitive limitations prevent us from assessing:

  1. the antecedent probability of our universe beginning to exist on theism, i.e., Pr(beginning | theism);
  2. the antecedent probability of so-called cosmological ‘fine-tuning’ on theism, i.e., Pr(‘tuning’ | theism); and
  3. the antecedent probability of the Resurrection on theism, i.e., Pr(Resurrection | theism).

This is why logically consistent natural theologians, like Oxford University philosopher Richard Swinburne, don’t rely upon skeptical theism. Instead, they attempt to provide theodicies—explanations for why God, if He exists, would allow facts about the kinds, amounts, and distribution of evil in the world to obtain (Draper 2010, p. 18).
Finally, Craig is completely silent on Draper’s supporting arguments for believing that Pr(P | E  & N & B) !> Pr(P | E & T & B). As I read him, Draper gives three such arguments. First, our background knowledge includes the fact many other parts of organic systems are systematically connected to reproductive success. Second, Draper points out that evolutionary naturalistic Darwinism (E & N & D) provides an antecedent reason for believing that pain and pleasure, like anything else produced by natural selection, will be systematically connected to reproductive success, which is what P states. In fact, evolutionary naturalism (E&N) entails nothing that would provide an antecedent reason for doubting that pain and pleasure will resemble other parts of organic systems by being systematically connected to reproductive success. Third, given E&T, however, P would be true only if the biological goal of reproductive success and some unknown justifying moral goal happened to coincide in such a way that each could be simultaneously satisfied. That’s a really big coincidence that E & N & D doesn’t need.
Thus, on the assumption that E&N is true, it would be extremely surprising if pain and pleasure appeared to be anything but morally random, whereas on the assumption that theism is true, a discernible moral pattern would be less surprising. Draper concludes, accordingly, that (2) is true and Pr(P & E & N & B) >! Pr(P | E & T & B).

Third Objection: The Argument for Pr(E| N & B) >! Pr(E | T & B)

Craig’s third objection seeks to undercut (1) by appealing to the (alleged) improbability of life on naturalism. In his (2003, p. 549) words:

Finally, he argues that the probability of evolution on naturalism is greater than the probability of evolution on theism (Pr(E/N) > Pr(E/T)). For if naturalism is true, evolution is the only game in town; but if theism is true, God had more alternatives. But this assessment is confused. What Draper’s argument supports is the assessment that evolution is more probable relative to naturalism and the existence of biological organisms than to theism and the existence of biological organisms (Pr(E/N&B) > Pr(E/T&B)). But we have seen from our discussion of the teleological argument (chapter 23) that the existence of biological organisms (and, hence, their evolution) is virtually impossible relative to naturalism alone and that we should therefore expect a lifeless world given naturalism, which cannot be said of theism. Without his three crucial probability estimates Draper’s evidential argument from evil founders.

As an objection to (1), however, this objection is multiply flawed.
(i) I think Craig is being uncharitable to Draper. In Draper’s writings, he does not explicitly refer to background knowledge in his probabilistic notation; thus, “Pr(E / N)” can be charitably restated in its more explicit form as, “Pr(E / N &  B),” where “B” represents the relevant background information. Indeed, this is precisely how I have presented Draper’s argument in this article. The key point here is that, in Draper’s original article, “probability of evolution on naturalism” means “probability of evolution on naturalism and our background information” and “probability of evolution on theism” means “probability of evolution on theism and our background information.”
(ii) What about the possibility of biological organisms on naturalism alone? Here Craig attempts to change the subject by appealing to the teleological argument. Let’s grant, but only for the sake of argument, that the probability of a life-permitting world on theism is greater than the probability of a life-permitting world on naturalism, i.e., Pr(life-permitting world | T) > Pr(life-permitting world | N). That fact, if it is a fact, is not of obvious relevance to the evidential argument from evolution. For the evidential argument from evolution compares the antecedent probability of evolution on naturalism and on theism, i.e., Pr(E | N & B) > Pr(E| T & B). Craig seems to think that if he can show that if a life-permitting world is extremely improbable on naturalism, it somehow follows that (1) is false. In other words, Craig seems to move from:

The probability of a life-permitting world on naturalism is extremely low, i.e., Pr(life-permitting world | N) << 0.5.

to:

It is false that the probability of evolution on naturalism (and background information) is greater than the probability of evolution on theism (and background information), i.e., it is false that Pr(E | N & B) > Pr(E| T & B).

The problem, however, is that this does not follow. For the sake of argument, it may be the case that the fact that our universe is life-permitting is more probable on theism than on naturalism, but, given that our universe is life-permitting, the fact that all living things are the gradually modified descendants of earlier living things is evidence favoring naturalism over theism. Indeed, this is precisely Draper’s (2001) position!
 
 

References

Craig, William Lane (2003). “The External Problem of Evil,” in J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (pp. 548-550). Downers Grove: InterVarsity.
Draper, Paul (1996). “Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem for Theists.” Noûs, 23 (3): 331-350. Reprinted in Daniel Howard-Snyder (Ed.), The Evidential Argument from Evil (pp. 12-29). Indianapolis, IA: Indiana University Press.
Draper, Paul (1997) “Evolution and the Problem of Evil” in Louis Pojman (Ed.), Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology (pp. 219-230). 3rd ed., Belmont: Wadsworth.
Draper, Paul (2001). “Seeking But Not Believing: Confessions of a Practicing Agnostic” in Daniel Howard-Snyder and Paul Moser (Eds.), Divine Hiddenness: New Essays (pp. 197-214). New York: Oxford University Press.
Draper, Paul (2010). “God and Evil: A Philosophical Inquiry” (October 1, 2010). Talk presented at the University of Notre Dame Ninth Annual Plantinga Lecture, Notre Dame, Indiana. <https://philreligion.nd.edu/assets/44795/1011lecture.pdf>
Howard-Snyder, Daniel (2017). “The Evolutionary Argument for Atheism” in John-Christopher Keller (Ed.), Being, Freedom, and Method: Themes from Van Inwagen (pp. 241-62). New York: Oxford University Press.
Lowder, Jeffery Jay (1998). “Summary and Assessment of the Craig-Draper Debate on the Existence of God (1998).” The Secular Outpost blog. <https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2016/02/20/summary-and-assessment-of-the-craig-draper-debate-on-the-existence-of-god-1998/>, site accessed December 20, 2016.
Lowder, Jeffery Jay (2016). “In Defense of an Evidential Argument from Evil: A Reply to William Lane Craig.” The Secular Web. <https://infidels.org/library/modern/jeff_lowder/pain-and-pleasure.html>, site accessed September 1, 2019.
Oppy, Graham (2016). TBD
Plantinga, Alvin (2011). Where The Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, & Naturalism. New York: Oxford University Press.
Notes
[1] I think the truth of B6′ is far from obvious. Indeed, as Graham Oppy (2016, p. TBD) points out, “opponents of the argument are bound to challenge the acceptability” of B6. He continues, “And, of course, they do. Let’s just run the argument in reverse.” Oppy then runs the argument as follows:

There is no entity which possesses maximal greatness.
(Hence) There is no possible world in which there is an entity which possesses maximal greatness.

Oppy concludes: “Plainly enough, if you do not already accept the claim that there is an entity which possesses maximal greatness, then you won’t agree that the first of these arguments is more acceptable than the second. So, as a proof of the existence of a being which possesses maximal greatness, Plantinga’s argument seems to be a non-starter.”
[2] Even if we assume, but only for the sake of argument, that B7′ is more probable on theism than on naturalism, this argument commits the fallacy of understated evidence. Given that the universe began to exist, the fact that it began to exist with time, not in time, is more probable on naturalism than on theism.
[3] Even if we grant that the universe has an explanation of its existence, it doesn’t follow that the explanation is God. Other possible explanations include: (i) an infinite regress of contingent universes; and (ii) our universe’s factual necessity. If our universe is factually necessary, then its existence would be partially explained by its own nature (which is uncaused, beginningless, and independent / free-standing) and partially explained by virtue of other things that happen to exist (i.e., nothing around it has what it takes to knock the universe out of existence). I owe this objection to Felipe Leon.
[4] Even if we assume, but only for the sake of argument, that B9′ is more probable on theism than on naturalism, this argument commits the fallacy of understated evidence. Given that the universe is life-permitting, the fact that so much of it is hostile to life is more probable on naturalism than on theism. Furthermore, given that the universe is life-permitting, the fact that life is the result of evolution is much more probable on naturalism than on theism.
[5] B10′ is not more probable on theism than on naturalism. Theism assumes, not explains, the existence of objective moral value.
[6] TBD
[7] TBD
[8] TBD
[9] TBD
[10] TBD

bookmark_borderWhy the moral argument fails

Of all the arguments for the existence of God, there is one argument (or one style of argument) that I have never had any sympathy with and never understood why anyone has any sympathy with, and that is the moral argument. It seems to me and has pretty much always seemed to me (at least as long as I have reflected on the issue) that the claim that moral phenomena depend for their existence on God is pretty clearly false. I want to emphasize that this is not just an intuitive reaction, it is a considered judgement. The idea that God is somehow the foundation of moral reality strikes me as one of the strangest, not to mention most unfortunate, ideas that humans have ever come up with.
By “moral argument” I mean to include any argument that involves any claim that some aspect of moral phenomena depends on God, or any inductive argument to the effect that some aspect of moral phenomena makes it more likely that God exists. Of course, there are many types of moral argument, and, limited as I am, I cannot hope to have exhaustive knowledge of every version of every argument that falls under the umbrella of “the moral argument.” What I can say is that I have never come across anything that falls under that umbrella that has seemed remotely convincing. But lest this become merely an exercise in Jason expressing uninteresting biographical facts about himself, I will try to explain what is so unconvincing about the moral argument.
None of what I am saying here should be taken to imply that I don’t think that moral arguments can’t be interesting, sophisticated, or important. I have learned quite a bit about morality by considering moral arguments for the existence of God. And there is no doubt that very skilled and insightful philosophers have produced interesting versions of the moral argument. What I want to say has nothing to do with the intellectual sophistication or significance of moral arguments. Furthermore, I cannot hope to address what is wrong with every instance of a moral argument. But what I can do is point to a fundamental problem that, I believe, lies at the heart of any suggestion that moral phenomena are evidence that God exists.
Let me start by removing one potential misunderstanding. One might claim that every concrete individual thing that exists depends for its existence on God. Thus, if God does not exist, then the states of affairs, actions, experiences, etc. that are the bearers of moral properties would not exist and so there would be no moral properties. I doubt that such a claim can be substantiated, but, regardless, it misses the point. This kind of dependence is irrelevant to the moral argument. The moral argument identifies a type of property, moral properties, and claims that these would not exist if God did not exist and that therefore their existence indicates that God exists. If this argument depends on the claim that no concrete thing exists and no properties exist if God does not exist, then this is no longer a moral argument. The moral argument claims that there is something special about the moral realm that indicates the existence of God, not that everything indicates God’s existence. If the existence of every individual thing and every property is evidence or proof that God exists, then first, we don’t need a moral argument, and second, there is nothing special about moral phenomena, as opposed to other phenomena, that indicate that God must exist. Furthermore, the kind of dependence currently under discussion is not the right kind of dependence. It is one thing for the things that bear moral properties to depend for their existence on God, another thing for moral properties themselves to depend on God. It is the latter claim that underlies the moral argument.
One reason that the moral argument is a failure is the Euthyphro problem, which, in my considered judgement, decisively shows that God does not have the power to create moral properties. (If you are interested, you can read this paper, which explains, in part, why I think this.) But, in addition to this, there is something that I think of as a more basic and fairly obvious point, which I want to make here.
Here is the point: that particular actions, states of affairs, experiences, etc. have the moral properties that they do have does not depend on God because God’s existence is irrelevant to those features that plausibly give actions, experiences, and etc. their moral properties. It is easier to see this with an example of an act for which there is almost universal agreement about its moral status. So, consider the moral status of child torture. That the torture of small children is morally wrong depends on the fact that torturing a child causes severe undue suffering. It does not depend in any way on the existence of God and it is very unclear how God’s existence, or anything God could do, could make a difference to the moral status of child torture. Such facts as that children exist and that some people are capable of torturing children might depend on God. But that torturing children is wrong is not a fact that could depend on God. And by this I mean that so long as there are children, it is wrong to cause them unnecessary suffering. God could do nothing to change, and his existence could have no implications for, the moral status of child torture.
I realize that pointing out that something is obvious to me is hardly an argument. But two points: First, I doubt that I am the only one who has this reaction, the only one for whom it is obvious that God’s existence is irrelevant to morality. Second, because of this, it is incumbent on those who wield the moral argument to explain precisely how morality does depend upon God. It is not enough, for example, when employing the moral argument, to just claim, as William Lane Craig has done, that if God does not exist, there is not a sound foundation for morality. If you are going to defend the moral argument, you need to explain both how the lack of God would eliminate moral phenomena and how the presence of God guarantees their existence. Any defense of the moral argument should explain, for example, how it can be that something like child torture would, in the absence of God, be morally unproblematic.
I have read many professional papers that attempt to articulate and defend some version of the moral argument. But I have never encountered so much as an attempt to explain how God’s non-existence would imply that child torture is morally unproblematic. Nor have I encountered concerted efforts to explain why the moral status of any action, person, or state of affairs would be affected by God’s non-existence. All too frequently defenders of the argument say things like the following, from William Lane Craig:

on the atheistic view, there’s nothing special about human beings. They’re just accidental by-products of nature that have evolved relatively recently on an infinitesimal speck of dust called the planet Earth*

But for an attempt to prove that without God, moral properties do not exist, such claims are utterly useless. It is merely an assertion of the conclusion. Given that we are talking about human beings, the bearers of mental states such as pleasure and pain, beings that are capable of making decisions and who value making their own decisions, who conceive of themselves as beings that persist through time and make plans accordingly, the, as Derek Parfit puts it, “animals that can understand and respond to reasons”, there is every reason to think that, even if God does not exist, human beings are morally significant. If all the above features of human beings are not sufficient to make us morally significant, it is very unclear how God could change that. So why should we think that, in an atheistic universe, there is nothing special about humans? What would account for that? Craig does not tell us.
God could change some things. An all-powerful being could make it so that children do not suffer when they are subjected to torture. Indeed, an all-powerful being could completely eliminate suffering. But this would not change the fact that it would be wrong to cause a child to suffer needlessly. The fact that torturing a person causes intense suffering is already, all by itself, enough to make it prima facie wrong to torture a person. It is not at all clear what role there is for God to play with respect to the deontological status of inflicting torture on small children.
If we think otherwise, that is, if we think that only God could make child torture wrong, then we must make the case that God’s existence makes a difference. We must therefore answer the following questions: What could the existence of God have to do with the wrongness of torture? What does the existence of God add to the situation that would account for its wrongness? If the fact that torture causes severe physical and emotional suffering is not sufficient to make it wrong to torture innocent children, then what could God do to make it wrong?
Let’s take a look at one (admittedly not very sophisticated) example of an apologist employing a a moral argument (Why talk about it if it is not very sophisticated? Mainly because I find it very annoying that people can so confidently assert things for which there is no ground whatsoever. In addition, I think that in its failure to even attempt to address the points that must be addressed by any moral argument, it is indicative of a larger trend.)
In this article, Frank Turek says the following,

In an atheistic universe there is nothing objectively wrong with anything at any time.

Why does Mr. Turek believe this?
First, let’s consider what an odd claim this is. To say that some act is objectively wrong is to say that there are overriding reasons to not engage in that act and that these reasons are objective. To say that they are objective is to say that the existence of these reasons does not depend on the reactions, beliefs, or judgements of any subject (individual or collective). So, if we believe that some things are objectively wrong, we believe that there are reasons for action and that some of these reasons are overriding in the sense that they are stronger than other reasons with which they may compete. So, if we believe that nothing is objectively wrong, we believe that there are no objective reasons for action that are overriding in the sense describe above.
At first glance, there does not appear to be any reason to think that in a world without God there could not be such reasons. Consider, for example, the act of rape. If God does not exist, rape is still wrong. Consider the facts that rape is a violation of a person’s autonomy and causes severe emotional and physical suffering. Even if God does not exist, these facts about rape would still be true. On the assumption that these provide us with overriding reasons not to rape, even if God does not exist, rape is still wrong. And if we thought that these do not provide us with overriding reasons not to rape, what difference would God’s existence make?
If you think that in an atheistic universe nothing is objectively wrong, then you think that these facts about rape (that it violates autonomy and causes severe emotional and physical suffering) do not provide us with overriding reasons to not engage in rape. That is a very odd thing to believe. In addition, you must believe that God can do something that somehow makes it the case that rape is wrong (or maybe that his mere existence can make it the case that rape is wrong). This is also a very odd thing to think. On this view, an act of rape, considered in isolation from God (i.e., considered merely as an action in a context in which God and his capacities are not present) is not wrong. So, on this view, God has the capacity to take an action that is not wrong (considered in and of itself and in isolation from God) and make it wrong. How does God do it? What kind of power is that? Turek does not answer these questions and has nothing to say about how God is able to accomplish this amazing feat. Turek’s is a very strange view.
So, there are two reasons that the view that Turek expresses, namely that in a universe without God there is nothing objectively wrong, is so odd: (1) It implies that facts such as that an act causes severe undue and uncompensated suffering are not sufficient to make an act morally wrong, and (2) It implies that God has the special and unexplained ability to take an action that would otherwise have no moral properties, and make it have moral properties.
Given the strangeness of the view, someone who want to defend it should provide something by way of argument in its favor. So, what does Turek offer? Not much. Here, as far as I can tell, is the sum total of the considerations that Turek offers in favor of the thesis that without God there would be no morality:

If material nature is all that exists, which is what most atheist’s claim, then there is no such thing as an immaterial moral law.  Therefore, atheists must smuggle a moral standard into their materialistic system to get it to work, whether it’s “human flourishing,” the Golden Rule, doing what’s “best” for the most, etc. Such standards don’t exist in a materialistic universe where creatures just “dance” to the music of their DNA.

One thing that I will briefly mention and then set aside is that it is a mistake to claim that atheism is committed to the claim that material nature is all that exists. Turek seems to recognize this, hence his use of the word ‘most.’ I don’t know if most atheists think this (I don’t), but even if it is true that most atheists think it, this is irrelevant to the issue of whether moral phenomena depend on God.
Another quick point: It is not clear what an immaterial moral law is. For that matter, it is not clear what a moral law is or what it would have to do with the existence of moral properties. It is telling that Turek does not believe that it is necessary to clarify in any way what ‘immaterial moral law’ is supposed to mean.
The main problem with Turek’s attempt here is that he does not in any way address the two points I made above. He does not explain why the intrinsic natural features of an action such as rape (e.g., that it causes severe suffering) are not sufficient to make the action morally wrong. More generally, he does not explain why the features that an action has independently of God are insufficient to ground the action’s moral properties. And he does not explain how the existence of God can make an action, e.g., morally wrong when, in the absence of God, the action would have no moral properties whatsoever. I don’t think that any moral argument can do either of these things. Again, I have not seen every version of the moral argument that does so. If you know of an argument that is more successful, please let me know.
It is unfortunate that apologists such as Turek believe that they need hardly defend their bold claims about the dependence of morality on God. I hope that those who, like me, are very skeptical of the moral argument can do more to push back against the unjustified presumption that God is intimately connected to morality.


 
*This quote comes from a debate that Craig had with Paul Kurtz, published in Is Goodness Without God Good Enough? I offered more extensive criticism of Craig’s use of the moral argument here.

bookmark_borderLink: Matthew Ferguson on “Understanding the Spirit vs. the Letter of Probability”

A while back, I wrote a brief commentary on William Lane Craig’s critique of Bart Ehrman on the probability of miracles. Matthew Ferguson recently weighed in. He agrees with my conclusions, but greatly amplified them by writing an entire essay expounding on supporting points. I highly recommend his essay to anyone interested in the topic of the probability of miracles in general and the probability of Jesus’ alleged resurrection in particular.

bookmark_borderIn Defense of an Evidential Argument from Evil: A Reply to William Lane Craig

Abstract: In a popular article about general arguments from evil against the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good God, William Lane Craig raises objections to such arguments that are consistent with those he earlier raised against Paul Draper’s evidential pain-and-pleasure argument from evil in an oral debate with Draper in 1998. In this article Jeffery Jay Lowder considers whether Craig’s points have any force in rebutting Draper’s writings on his pain-and-pleasure argument, ultimately concluding that they leave Draper’s argument unscathed.
LINK

bookmark_borderDoes Theism Explain the Necessity of Moral Truths?

The book, Does God Exist? The Craig-Flew Debate, contains a transcript of the debate between William Lane Craig and Antony Flew, responses by eight commentators, and final responses by Craig and Flew. Many of the commentators, including some of the theists, sharply criticized Craig’s moral argument for God’s existence because, they argued, some moral truths are necessary truths and so do not need an explanation. Let’s call this objection UNMT (for ‘Unexplained Necessary Moral Truths’).
In his reply to commentators, as I read him, Craig replied as follows: (i) Christian theists who press the UNMT objection do not believe that God’s existence is logically necessary, whereas “the mainstream Christian tradition has held that God’s existence is broadly logically necessary, so that He can be the explanatory basis of necessary truths” (169). (ii) Necessary truths can stand in relations of explanatory priority to one another; indeed, there is such a thing as “explaining that (or why) a necessary truth is true” (169).
Allow me to explain. Let’s start with (i). Assume for the sake of argument that the proposition, Objective moral values exist, is true in every possible world but that the proposition, God exists, is not true in every possible world. In that case, God couldn’t be the explanation for objective moral values, since it would be impossible for a contingent truth (in this hypothetical, God’s existence) to explain a necessary truth (the existence of objective moral values). This hypothetical shows that, in order for it to be even possible for God’s existence to explain the existence of objective moral values, God’s existence has to be necessary. In other words, “Theism expresses a necessary proposition,” is itself a necessary (but not a sufficient) condition for God’s existence to explain necessary truths, including necessary truths about the existence of moral values.
As software engineers might say, this is a bug, not a feature, in Craig’s moral argument for God’s existence. If Craig’s moral argument requires that theism be a necessary proposition, then it is much more likely that theism is necessarily false (and so God cannot be the explanation for necessarily existing moral values) than that theism is necessarily true (and so it is possible that God might be the explanation for necessarily existing moral values). Why? Purdue University philosopher Paul Draper explains the point well.

Suppose that theism is not a contingent proposition. Then it is much more likely that it is necessarily false than that it is necessarily true. This is made clear by any objective comparison of the available reasons for thinking that theism is necessarily true to the available reasons for thinking that it is necessarily false. The former are limited to various versions of the ontological argument, which is almost universally rejected by philosophers. Indeed, even Plantinga admits that this argument fails to prove its conclusion. The latter include a whole host of serious arguments for the incoherence of theism. Keep in mind that I’m not convinced by these arguments for the necessary falsehood of theism, but they are clearly more persuasive collectively than the notoriously unpersuasive ontological argument. Further, theism asserts that the natural world was created by an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect person, which assumes, not only that there is a maximum possible degree of power, knowledge, and moral goodness, but also that these three attributes are compatible with each other and with the existence of natural entities. Even ignoring specific arguments, clearly it is much more likely that some hidden incoherence lurks in the assertion that there exists a creator of nature possessing the highest possible degree of several distinct scaling properties than in the simple assertion that no such creator exists. Therefore, if I am mistaken and theism really is a necessary proposition, then it is very probably a necessary falsehood, which means that my assumption in my opening case that it is a contingent proposition is not only dialectically appropriate (for the reasons given in the previous paragraph), but dialectically generous. (LINK)

But let’s put that to the side and assume that God’s existence really is broadly logically necessary. If that were so, how would it follow that God’s (necessary) existence somehow explains the (necessary) existence of objective moral values?
A bit later in his response to commentators, Craig offers some clarification on the concept of a “moral value.” Regarding the metaethical position I call moral anti-reductionism (which Craig calls ‘atheistic moral Platonism’ but is far better known by the horrible label ‘non-naturalism’), Craig writes this:

First, it is difficult even to comprehend the Platonist view. What does it mean to say, for example, that the moral value Justice just exists? It is hard to know what to make of this. It is clear what is meant when it is said that a person is just; but is bewildering 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 mere abstractions – or at any rate, it is hard to know what it is for a moral value to exist as a mere abstraction. (169, italics in last sentence mine)

Craig’s selection of “justice” as his example of a moral value is odd. Craig is aware of the distinction between moral values and moral duties; indeed, he emphasizes it in his writings. But most definitions of “justice” introduce the concept of law through the back door. For example, the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy begins its article on justice with the words:

Justice is one of the most important moral and political concepts.  The word comes from the Latin jus, meaning right or law.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines the “just” person as one who typically “does what is morally right” and is disposed to “giving everyone his or her due,” offering the word “fair” as a synonym. (LINK)

In this context, “law” and “right” (including “morally right”) are deontological (duty) concepts, not axiological (value) concepts. This muddies the waters; if we say that “justice” is a moral value, it seems to be a different animal from other moral values which don’t refer to deontological concepts in their very definition. Perhaps we might call “justice” a ‘second-order moral value,’ since it is a moral value which is conceptually dependent upon a deontological concept, and say that we want a first-order moral value, a value which doesn’t combine concepts. Fortunately, Craig provides other, neater examples: mercy, love, and forbearance (170).
Here I want to use moral values like mercy or love to show that God’s necessary existence is not a sufficient condition for explaining the necessary existence of moral values. If moral values like mercy or love “exist as properties of persons, not as mere abstractions,” it would seem that they are relational and so would require that two or more persons exist. But, even if we assume that (mere) theism is necessarily true, the proposition, “More than one person exists,” is a contingent proposition. Mere theism doesn’t entail Christian theism, which in turn means it does not entail the Christian doctrine of the trinity is true, and so it does not entail the existence of multiple divine persons. Furthermore, mere theism doesn’t entail the existence of any non-divine persons. So, even if it were the case that theism is necessarily true, it wouldn’t follow that more one person exists.
But if, “More than one person exists,” is a contingent proposition, this creates a problem for Divine Nature Theorists (DNT-ists) like Craig who want to argue that God’s nature explains all objective moral values, including relational moral values like love and mercy. Sure, there is a sense in which we can talk about a person loving themselves or having mercy on themselves, but I think it’s clear that not what people usually have in mind when they talk about “love” and “mercy” as moral values. (Besides, it’s hard to imagine how or why God would have “mercy” on Himself.) So if moral values are properties of persons; if some moral values are relational; and if “More than one person exists” is a contingent proposition, then there are possible worlds in which God exists but relational moral values do not exist. Thus, God’s existence, even God’s necessary existence, cannot explain necessary truths about all objective moral values because it cannot explain necessary truths about relational moral values. But that entails Craig’s moral argument fails.

bookmark_borderCases for God

I’m thinking about which cases for the existence of God to focus in on, for my evaluation of Christianity.  Right now, I’m thinking about examining the cases of four well-known Christian apologists:

  • Norman Geisler
  • William Craig
  • Peter Kreeft
  • Richard Swinburne

I just realized that two of these philosophers are Thomists, and two are not Thomists.
Geisler is a conservative Evangelical Christian, but his favorite argument for God is a Thomist cosmological argument, and his concept of God is clearly shaped by the thinking of Aquinas (see his Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics entry “God, Nature of”, especially the sections on “Simplicity” and on “Immutability”).
Kreeft is a Catholic philosopher of religion, and his favorite arguments for God are the “Five Ways” of Aquinas (which reflects a complete misunderstaning of Aquinas, since the “Five Ways” are NOT arguments for the existence of God), and Kreeft has written a commentary on selected sections of Summa Theologica by Aquinas (called Summa of the Summa).  The commentary is an attempt to make the thinking of Aquinas about God and theology more accessible to the general public, because Kreeft admires Aquinas and believes most of what Aquinas has to say about God.  So, Geisler and Kreeft are both Thomists.
Craig, however, rejects the key Thomist notion of God’s “simplicity”:
According to the doctrine of divine simplicity God has no distinct attributes, he stands in no real relations, his essence is not distinct from his existence, he just is the pure act of being subsisting.  All such distinctions exist only in our minds, since we can form no conception of the absolutely simple divine being.  While we can say what God is not like, we cannot say what he is like, except in an analogical sense.  But these predications must in the end fail, since there is no univocal element we assign to God, leaving us in a state of genuine agnosticism about the nature of God.  Indeed on this view, God really has no nature; he is simply the inconceivable act of being.
[…]
The doctine [of divine simplicity] is open, moreover, to powerful objections.  For example, to say that God does not have distinct properties seems patently false: omnipotence is not the same property as goodness, for a being may have one and not the other. … (Philosophical Foundations For a Christian Worldview by J.P. Moreland and William Craig, p.524)
It’s wonderful to have Craig’s help to destroy the cases for God by Geisler and Kreeft, since Craig provides some powerful reasons for rejecting the Thomist concept of God as incoherent and as logically implying “agnosticism about the nature of God”.  I’m starting to like Craig a bit more now.
Swinburne clearly rejects the immutability and timelessness of God, which are key aspects of the Thomist concept of God, so Swinburne also provides some very good reasons for rejecting the Thomist concept of God, and thus one of the brightest and best modern Christian philosophers will also help me to destroy the cases for God by Geisler and Kreeft.
My work is already half done, and I have not even begun!
====================
UPDATE on 10/12/16
====================
William Craig made a podcast earlier this year in which he criticized the Thomist concept of God:
http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-it-possible-god-is-not-personal
“Is it Possible God is Not Personal?”
Dr. Craig takes on two interesting questions on the personhood and nature of God.
[Transcript of a podcast with Kevin Harris and William Craig. Date: 04-09-2016]
Edward Feser replied to Craig’s criticisms (in the above podcast) of the Thomist concept of God :
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2016/04/craig-on-divine-simplicity-and-theistic.html
FRIDAY, APRIL 15, 2016
“Craig on divine simplicity and theistic personalism”
[blog post by Edward Feser]
 

bookmark_borderQuibbling over Semantics While Missing the Point

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’m a linguistic relativist. I don’t think words have objective meanings. I think the meaning of words is relative to time and place. So when I encounter someone who is adamant about defining a word in a different way than I do, I just shrug my shoulders. I’m much more interested in the concepts represented by certain labels than the labels themselves.
I recently discovered (or re-discovered) an exchange on this site in which a Christian apologist responds to my critique of William Lane Craig’s moral argument for God’s existence. Responding to a comment from reader “Andy,” who had promoted my critique, Timothy Stratton begins his critique by denying that I am a naturalist.
You said, “The biggest exponent of the moral argument is of course William Lane Craig. I’ll recommend to everyone again to view Jeffery Jay Lowder’s takedown of Craig’s version of the argument…”

Do you really think JJL’s argument is a good one, Andy? This is anything but a “takedown.” For starters, his title is “Naturalism, Theism, and Moral Ontology,” but he sure does not defend naturalism; in fact, he argues against naturalism!

Let’s see. I started one of the first atheist websites on the Internet, a website devoted to promoting metaphysical naturalism on the Internet. I claim to be a naturalist and, in that critique, I claim to be defending naturalism against an argument for God’s existence based on moral ontology. So why would Stratton deny that I am a naturalist? He continues:

He is anything but a naturalist as he states that there are many immaterial abstract objects that ontologically exist without beginning! He specifically references the laws of nature (which are not nature themselves), mathematical laws, and the laws of logic.

So, according to Stratton, I’m not a naturalist because I’m open to the existence of abstract objects.
This is a very uncharitable way of responding to critique, so allow me to explain why. Like many things, the word “naturalism” means different things to different people. For some people it refers to epistemology (i.e., “methodological naturalism”) while for others it refers to ontology (i.e., “metaphysical naturalism”). Furthermore, even within the domain of ontology, there is no consensus among philosophers regarding what it means. Some people define “metaphysical naturalism” in a way that is synonymous with materialism, i.e., nature is all there is. Other people (including yours truly), however, define “metaphysical naturalism” in a much more modest way that makes no claims for or against the existence of abstract objects. In light of the many legitimate definitions of “metaphysical naturalism” among professional philosophers, it is simply uncharitable for Stratton to act as if I am using an idiosyncratic definition of “naturalism.”  If an author or speaker uses one of many legitimate definitions of a word that is probably polysemous, the charitable thing to do is engage the author or speaker on his or her own terms.
I don’t really care whether my worldview is called “naturalism,” “weak naturalism,” “atheistic moral Platonism,” or “shnaturalism.” I’m interested in the concepts or ideas represented by the label. So, with that in mind, let’s try to put my critique in context. William Lane Craig defends an argument for God’s existence from moral ontology; my presentation is a critique of Craig’s argument. Regardless of the label we assign to my worldview, it is still the case that an “atheist” (in Craig’s sense of “atheist”) can consistently believe in “objective moral values and duties” (in Craig’s sense of “objective moral values of duties”). Furthermore, it is still the case that Craig’s supporting arguments are completely unsuccessful. Nothing Stratton has written refutes anything in that presentation.
Instead, Stratton basically tries to change the subject and present an argument from abstract objects for theism. He writes:

Now, I think a strong argument can be made that the best explanation of all of these immaterial abstract and eternal things is the eternal existence of God (I have written on this topic on my website).

Craig’s moral argument is based upon the claim that ontologically objective moral values and duties are logically inconsistent with God’s nonexistence. Even if it were the case that God is the best explanation for abstract objects, this wouldn’t vindicate Craig’s argument from moral ontology to God’s existence since that argument makes a much stronger claim. But in fact I think apologists are going to have a very hard time defending the kind of argument Stratton describes. In my experience, when defending such arguments, Christian apologists play fast and loose with the definition of theism and, indeed, equivocate. Sometimes “theism” means theism and sometimes “theism” means theism conjoined with one or more auxiliary hypotheses, such as the doctrine of divine aseity (which denies that abstract objects exist a se). It may be the case that Christians have excellent theological reasons for believing that doctrine; I am not making any claims about that. But mere theism does not entail divine aseity. The existence of fully autonomous abstracta is logically consistent with ‘mere theism.’
The upshot is this: theists can appeal to an auxiliary hypothesis, such as a sectarian doctrine about divine aseity, in order to explain abstract objects. But this gain in “explanatory power” is offset by a loss in “intrinsic probability,” and the best explanation is the hypothesis which has the greatest overall balance of intrinsic probability and explanatory power. So it is far from obvious that theism (conjoined with an auxiliary hypothesis about divine aseity) is the best explanation. In fact, it is far from obvious that abstract objects, if they exist, even need an explanation. But that’s a topic for another day.

Be that as it may, why can all of these supernatural (other than nature) immaterial abstract things exist, but a supernatural immaterial concrete “Thing” cannot exist?

Again Stratton tries to summarize my views and, again, he does so in a very uncharitable way. Nowhere in my critique (or anywhere else) have I claimed that the supernatural “cannot” exist, so it is odd that Stratton would try to saddle me with such a strong claim. In fact, my actual position denies that claim: I believe that theism is possible, but improbable. As anyone who is familiar with my writings knows, my preferred style of argumentation is inductive; I defend arguments which try to show that theism is improbable, not impossible.

How ad hoc to posit all of these supernatural entities to avoid an argument deductively proving a supernatural immaterial Thinking Thing exists.

The phrase “all of these supernatural entities” is key, for it emphasizes the key confusion in Stratton’s commentary. Unlike Stratton, I don’t believe that abstract objects are “supernatural” by definition. The key difference between supernatural beings and abstract objects is this: supernatural beings can stand in causal relations, while abstract objects cannot. Because supernatural beings can stand in causal relations, this make it at least possible to devise empirical ‘tests’ for their existence in a way that cannot be done for abstract objects. Those ‘tests’ provide reasons to doubt the existence of supernatural beings, but they don’t provide reasons to doubt the existence of abstract objects. So, contrary to Stratton, there is nothing “ad hoc” about it.

This atheist is willing to posit an *infinite* amount of supernatural things, but is determined to avoid a supernatural thing if it is an immaterial thinking thing (a mind).

Again, notice the uncharitable comment. I’m not sure why Stratton tries to saddle me with the claim that an “infinite” number of abstract objects exist, but it really doesn’t matter one way or the other. What matters is whether the existence of abstract objects provides a reason to think that God exists. For the reasons given above, I don’t think ‘mere theism’ does that. And the parting shot about psychological motivations (“determined to avoid a supernatural thing”) is just that, an irrelevant parting shot, not an argument.
If this is the best that WLC’s defenders can do in defense of his moral argument, then I think his critics (including some theists!) are quite justified in regarding his argument as unsuccessful.

bookmark_borderOmnipotence and the Actual Infinite

According to William Craig’s defense of the kalam cosmological argument, an actual infinite cannot exist. This claim is important not only for Craig’s main claim that the universe had a beginning, but also for a followup response to the suggestion that the universe cannot be part of a wider, infinitely regressive history wherein our universe is only one of infinitely many that have existed. Instead of actual infinites, Craig proposes that only potential infinites can exist. A potential infinite is a collection of things that is finite in size at any given time, but is growing without limit.
So suppose that God has created Zeke and set him to run across an infinite number of flagstones. What God cannot do, according to Craig’s view, is to create Zeke at time t and place him on a path that (at t) already has an infinite number of flagstones on it, since such a path would be actually infinite, and this is what is claimed cannot exist. Instead, what God must do is place Zeke on a path that has some number n of flagstones at t, but then as Zeke runs, more flagstones get added to the path, so that (for example) at time t+1, the path has n+1 flagstones on it, at time t+2 the path has n+2 flagstones on it, and so on.
But what limits God at t, from creating all the flagstones that Zeke is going to run across? Since God can only create a finite number of flagstones at t, suppose Zeke is initially placed at the very end of the path. In order for Zeke to continue his run, God is obliged to create another flagstone at t+1 as Zeke takes his next step. But what prevents an omnipotent God from having already created that flagstone back at t?
If we are to say that God is omnipotent, it seems we should accept the following principle regarding omnipotence and creative power:

If God is omnipotent, then if it is logically possible for God to create x at t, then God can create x at t.

So when God creates Zeke at t and places him at the end of a path consisting of n flagstones, it is logically possible for God to have created, instead, a path consisting of n+1 flagstones at t, or n+2 flagstones at t, or n+3 flagstones at t, and so on.
To put it another way, to hold that God can only create potential infinites, but not actual infinites, is to hold that at any time t, God must create a finite number of things, and that if he wants more things, he can only add them later through successive addition. Although each successive addition to the collection is logically possible for God to add, he cannot add them all at t, but must wait and keep adding them later. But for any one of these additions, if God must wait until after t to create it, then he cannot have created it at t, in which case, by the foregoing principle, God is not omnipotent.