Monday, February 06, 2012

Defending Premise 2 of Craig's Metaethical Argument for God's Existence (Revised again)

Art object, in Sioux Falls
(For my Philosophy of Religion Students, with more slight revisions.)

William Lane Craig’s meta-ethical argument for the existence of God can be stated this way:

P1 – If there is no God then objective moral values and duties do not exist.
P2 – Objective moral values exist.
C – Therefore, God exists.

An “objective moral value” (OMV) is a moral value that is valid independently of our apprehension of it. An OMV says is something that is good or evil independently of whether any human being believes it to be so.

• A moral value is about whether something is good or bad.
o This has to do with the worth of something.

“Objective”: to say that something is objective is to say that it is independent of what people say or perceive.

“Subjective”: to say that something is subjective is to say that it is not objective; that is, it is dependent on what human persons think or perceive.

If moral values are only subjective, then they function like personal tastes, such as, e.g.: I like Coke better than Pepsi. If moral values are only subjective, then I have no moral obligation or duty to follow them.

Is P2 true? Do objective moral values exist? I think so, for the following reasons.

Moral values are examples of “properly basic beliefs.”

Like, e.g., sense experience, or the laws of logic.

A “properly basic belief” is one that we assume to be true even though we cannot evidentially prove it to be so. (This is anti-W.K. Clifford stuff.)

We assume, for example, sense experience to be veridical (true). We cannot evidentially “prove” it to be so. Because that would require using our sense experience to “prove” its own veridicality.

Likewise we assume, e.g., modus ponens to be logical. (“If P, therefore Q. P. Therefore Q.”) We can’t prove it to be so by using logic, since that would require we trust in logic to “prove” that we can trust in logic. The claim here is that we are to view our apprehension of objective moral values in just this way, and that it is reasonable to do so.

To further explain, we are wise to assume that our senses, our powers of reasoning (Plantinga calls this “our belief-forming mechanisms), and our most fundamental moral instincts, are not systematically deceiving us. They are all to be trusted in the absence of a defeater. Even the most radical skeptic trusts in his sense experience and in logical reasoning. Thus statements like “I perceive a world external to myself” and “1+1=2” are “properly basic.” While it’s certainly true that we can misperceive things and make logical mistakes, such mistakes hardly call into question the general reliability of our sense or reasoning powers; indeed, they presuppose it. The ability to detect error presumes an awareness of truth.

Just as we can be mistaken re. our senses and our reasoning, so also we can by mistaken re. the making of moral judgments. In spite of this there still are certain moral truths that we can’t not know unless we suppress our conscience or engage in self-deception. We possess an inbuilt “yuck factor” – basic moral intuitions about the wrongness of torturing babies for fun, of raping, murdering, or abusing children. We can also recognize the virtue of kindness or selflessness.

The recognition of moral difference requires an appeal to objective moral values.

Is there a moral difference between, e.g., Mother Teresa and Joseph Stalin?
Consider this example. Imagine two roads, A and B.
Road A
Road B

Now consider this statement: 1. Road A is straighter than Road B. Is this statement true? If you agree with me that it is true, our agreement is based on a shared understanding of "straightness." That is, there is such a thing as "straightness," without which we would be incapable of evaluating statement 1.

Now consider this: 2. Mother Teresa was morally better than Josef Stalin. If you agree with me that this is true, it is because we have a shared understanding of moral greatness. That is, there is such a thing as moral greatness, without which we would not be able to evaluate statement 2.

We "recognize" both 1 and 2 to be true because we agree on the objective standards of "straightness" and "moral greatness."

If this is true, then basic moral beliefs are “discovered,” not “invented.” Just as a person who cannot understand the logic of a disjunctive syllogism is logically dysfunctional, and just as a person who is skeptical that they are now eating breakfast when they are, so also are persons morally dysfunctional who cannot see that torturing and raping little girls for fun is objectively wrong.

But what if humanity has evolved to believe in objective moral values?

What if we have not discovered but invented moral values. The common explanation of the "inventing of moral values" is that of evolutionary theory. For example, atheist Michael Ruse states that “morality” has evolved as an aid to survival and allows our species to perpetuate itself? What can we say about this?

• At its worst, this kind of reasoning is an example of the genetic fallacy.
• At its best it only proves that our subjective perception of objective moral values has evolved.
• Craig – “If moral values are gradually discovered, not invented, then our gradual, fallible apprehension of the moral realm no more undermines the objective reality of that realm than our gradual, fallible perception of the physical world undermines the objectivity of that realm.”
• Many of us think we do apprehend objective moral values.
• Even Ruse writes: “The man who says that it is morally acceptable to rape little children is just as mistaken as the man who says, 2+2=5.” (Ib., 92)

Those not recognizing such truths as properly basic are simply wrong and morally dysfunctional, like someone who believes that “1+1=3.” Note: we imprison persons who like to rape little girls for fun. We believe they have done something that is morally wrong.

Some atheists do believe that moral values are objective and properly basic.

Are moral values, like sense experience and logical reasoning, properly basic? Is our moral awareness epistemically foundational and “bedrock?” Even some atheists think so. Atheist David O. Brink states: “Our commitment to the objectivity of ethics is a deep one.” Atheist Kai Neilsen writes:

“It is more reasonable to believe such elemental things [as wife-beating and child abuse] to be evil than to believe any skeptical theory that tells us we cannot know or reasonably believe any of these things to be evil… I firmly believe that this is bedrock and right and that anyone who does not believe it cannot have probed deeply enough into the grounds of his moral beliefs.”


Atheist Daniel Dennett has written that, if there is no God and evolutionary naturalism is true, ethical decision-making “holds out scant hope of our ever discovering a formula or an algorithm for doing right.” (Copan, 145) This idea of Dennett supports P1 of the moral argument.

Practically, when I meet a person who thinks torturing and raping are only subjective preferences, I won’t let them near my kids. Philosopher Paul Copan puts it this way: “Although basic moral principles – to be kind, selfless, and compassionate; to avoid torturing for fun, raping, or taking innocent human life – are accessible and knowable to morally sensitive human beings, some improperly functioning individuals may be self-deceived or hard-hearted sophists.” (144)

Copan says: “Thus, we should reasonably believe what is apparent or obvious to us unless there are overriding reasons to dismiss it – a belief that applies to our sense perception, our reasoning faculty, and our moral intuitions/perceptions.” (144) Just as we perceive a world external to us, and intuit certain laws of logic that are properly basic, so also we apprehend certain moral truths to be objective.

How could we convince someone that there are objective moral values? That, e.g., it's wrong to rape little girls for fun? Perhaps rthe wisdom of philosopher Thomas Reid applies here. Reid “claimed he did not know by what reasoning – demonstrative or probable – he could convince the epistemic or moral skeptic.” (Copan, 144)

Paul Copan, “God, Naturalism, and the Foundations of Morality.” (In The Future of Atheism: Alister McGrath and Daniel Dennett in Dialogue, 141-161)

William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith; “The Indispensability of Theological Metaethical Foundations for the Existence of God”