Monday, April 18, 2016

Philosophy of Religion – Final Three Questions

For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion students 
Final oral exams are the week of April 25


1. Spell 'Nietzsche.' (I once put wrote this question on a written exam. 95% of my students got it correct.)

2. Explain what Nietzsche means by "the horizon of the infinite.'

Nietzsche is writing to the European, especially German, atheists of his time. The metaphysical foundation of their culture, the "land" upon which they stood which provided the basis for their understanding of morality, is Christian theism. But once a person adopts the worldview of atheism, that metaphysical foundation and all that is built upon it must be abandoned. The result is that now the atheist is sailing alone in a boat upon a sea with an "infinite horizon." By "infinite horizon" is meant: there is no "land," no new metaphysical foundation, in sight.

This is one way of expressing Nietzsche's struggle with nihilism. "Nihilism" is the belief that life has no meaning.

3. Explain the "parable of the madman."
  • In the parable the madman is Nietzsche.
  • The madman is an atheist and enters a "village" of atheists. In this village there are "village atheists"; viz., "atheists" who do not have a clue about the philosophical ramfications of their atheism.
  • They mock the "mad"-but-logically consistent atheist, who rants depairing, dismal things like: "The earth has been ripped out of its orbit around the sun and we're spinning out into total blackness!"
  • The "sun" for us was Christian theism. It was our light and life, and gave meaning to our existence. Once we abandon that worldview we're out in the infinite blackness of space, looking for a sun to orbit around. Nietzsche's point is: when you abandon a worldview, you leave all its propositional truth behind. This includes the moral values that come from a God as divine command-giver. At this point, for Nietzsche, everything is up for grabs; we have begun de novo.
  • On atheism there is, of course, no God of Christian theism. That's what we got out moral values from. That's the "village" we've been living in. One can no longer live in the village if one is an atheist.
  • This realization that there is no God is the greatest event ever, "and whoever is born after us will on account of this deed belong to a higher history than all history up to now." This is because an entire world of meaning and value (viz., the Christian theist worldview upon which Europe exists) has been taken away. It is as if, to use a metaphorical analogy, the entire world was seen as the game of baseball, and the truth is the entire world is actually the game of tennis. In tennis the rules and values of baseball do not apply.
  • The madman stares at the pseudo-atheists, holding his little lamp since there's no longer a sun to light our way. They don't have a clue. He smashes his lamp on the ground, says "I guess I've come too early," and goes into an empty European church and Gregorian-chants "God is dead."
  • Such is the logic of atheism. Village atheists are those who live as if there's a moral foundation beneath ("land") while in reality they are all alone in an infinite situation.


What, then, are the beliefs of atheism? Some (but not all) atheists have come forth with them. The famous British philosopher and atheist Bertrand Russell has done so, in his 1907 essay "A Free Man's Worship." I think Russell has done an admirable and logical job; i.e., were I an atheist I would believe the following four things.

1. Humanity is the product of causes that had no prevision of his appearing.
I am certain Russell is correct on this. If there is no Creator-God, then the universe and all that is in it is not some "creation," like every work of art has a creator-artist. If there is no Supreme Personal Agent who has made everything and is responsible for everything, and who is the cause of it all, then no one or no thing or no being "had us on their mind" when the universe began. Sometimes I hear someone who self-designates as an "atheist" and believes there is some reason or purpose for their existence. They don't realize that, on atheism, such thinking is nonsense. Humanity just is, for no reason.

2. Humanity is but the result of an accidental collocation of atoms.
A "collocation" is a "coming together," a "being located together," a "co"-"location." An "accidental collocation" is an unplanned, random "coming together." For example, I am writing this from my home office, located on the second floor of our house. I'm looking down on our front lawn, and leaves from one of our maple trees are scattered randomly. Why are the leaves scattered as they are? Not because an intelligent agent arranged or designed them that way. Purely natural conditions caused them to lie where they do. Beyond this, there is no meaning or purpose. Sometimes I read an atheist who believes their existence is more than some cosmic accident. But this is more nonsense. On atheism the formation of humanity is no more than the random, accidental blowing of the leaves on my front lawn.

3. There is no personal existence after death.
Russell was once asked what he thought would happen to him after he dies. He responded, "I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my own ego will survive.” (In Paul Edwards, “Great Minds: Bertrand Russell,” Free Inquiry, December 2004/January 2005, 46) If the worldview of atheism is true, then I am certain this logically follows. On atheism all that exists is matter (accidental collocations of atoms). There is no non-physical, non-material reality. Persons have no spiritual being or essence or "soul" or "mind" that survives physical death. Obviously, on atheism, "soul friends" don't exist. "You" and "I" simply will not be, on death.

4. All the heroism and human fire in the world cannot stop the fact that all man’s accomplishments will ultimately be destroyed and come to nothing in the vast heat-death of the universe.
According to physics, this is true. Of course, it's not going to happen tomorrow. Nonetheless, on atheism, it will happen. Nothing can stand in the way of Nature (Russell capitalizes it). I use this analogy to explain. Imagine life is a voyage on the Titanic. Imagine also that we know the fate of the Titanic, and that nothing can prevent it. We can choose to polish and rearrange the deck chairs if we desire to do so. But in the end all this labor will be undone. All heroic talk of "Let's make a better world" is, ultimately, futile. This atheistic fact has caused a number of atheists to despair (see especially atheistic existentialists)

State Russell’s “Temple”
For Russell, these four truths are certain. They form the pillars of a "temple" upon which humanity erects a scaffolding and dwells within. Russell writes: "Within the scaffolding of these truths, which are nearly certain and cannot reasonably be denied, humanity must build its temple for worship on a foundation of unyielding despair. (“Unyielding” refers to the inexorable destructiveness of Nature. "Despair" describes the emotion felt about the absurdity and meaninglessness of life.

State Russell’s “Free Man’s Worship”
Astoundingly, nature has produced “man” as a conscious and self-reflexive being. (Here is the matter of consciousness arising from unconscious matter, no less astounding today than it was in Russell's time.) Even though nature is and will do its horrific thing, in our minds we are free and should not bow to Nature (as Nietzsche calls us to do). This is our freedom in the face of the inevitable – free to create, act, live, be moral, rational agents.


Craig's essay is: “The Indispensability of Theological Meta-Ethical Foundations for Morality.”

First, state the argument.

1. If there is no God then objective moral values and duties do not exist.
2. Objective moral values and duties exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.

Second, explain how Craig defends premise 1 (P1).

Define “Objective Moral Value”
Many atheists affirm P1. Nietzsche, for example.
- If there's no moral lawgiver, then we're just making moral values and duties up. Such things are only subjective. If they are only subjective, then they are not binding.
“Objective moral value” defined: 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.
• A moral duty is whether something is right or wrong.
o This has to do with the obligatoriness of something.
o Right and wrong are not the same as good and bad. Right and wrong have to do with moral obligation, what I ought or ought not to do.

“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.

Third, explain how Craig defends premise 2 (P2).

- Objective moral values are properly basic beliefs.
- Moral duties logically imply that there is someone to whom we are morally responsible.

How does Craig defend premise 1?

Imagine you are a student in a class where the professor is never seen. Every day you come to class and assignments are written on the board, such as: "Do problems 1-50 on p. 100." One day you ask, "Who is teaching this class?" Someone replies: "No one. This class does not have a teacher." At that point you respond: "Then I see no reason why I have to do these problems."

Analogically, if there is no God who issues moral commands, then moral values are only invented by "the students." Thus they are not binding on us. As Ivan Karamazov never said, "If there is no God, then everything is permitted." Craig cites ethicist Richard Taylor:

"A duty is something that is owed . . . . But something can be owed only to some person or persons. There can be no such thing as duty in isolation . . . . The idea of political or legal obligation is clear enough . . . . Similarly, the idea of an obligation higher than this, and referred to as moral obligation, is clear enough, provided reference to some lawmaker higher . . . . than those of the state is understood. In other words, our moral obligations can . . . be understood as those that are imposed by God. This does give a clear sense to the claim that our moral obligations are more binding upon us than our political obligations . . . . But what if this higher-than-human lawgiver is no longer taken into account? Does the concept of a moral obligation . . . still make sense? . . . . the concept of moral obligation [is] unintelligible apart form the idea of God. The words remain, but their meaning is gone."

Conversely, if God exists, then God’s commands make things right and wrong. This view is called Divine Command Theory.

For an introduction to Alston's, Adams's, and Quinn's reasoning that Divine Command Theory does not fall by the sword of Plato's Euthyphro Dilemma, see
the article in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

How does Craig defend premise 2?

NOTE HERE that evolutionary explanations claiming to explain how moral reasoning evolved do not affect Craig's argument, and if intended to they commit the genetic fallacy.

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 “properly basic.” 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.

For example, President Obama referred to the bombing in Boston as an act of "evil." That such an act is evil implies "for everyone." The statement bombing innocent people is evil is objectively true.

But what about the person or persons who did this evil act? What about people who can’t tell the moral difference between Mother Teresa and Joseph Stalin? Craig's (and others') answer is: 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.

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 Nielsen 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.”

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.