Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Moral Argument and William Lane Craig (part 2)

This entry is part 2 on a series of the moral argument and William Lane Craig. The entries in the series:

  1. The Moral Argument and William Lane Craig (part 2)—Addressing the first premise of the moral argument.
  2. —Addressing the second premise of the moral argument

The Moral Argument

William Lane Craig’s moral argument:

  1. If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

In this entry I’ll address premise 1 of the above moral argument.

Justifying Premise 1

Both in his oral debates (where he sometimes modifies the first premise to be “If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist”) and in his writings, William Lane Craig’s defense of the first premise is very weak. To illustrate the weakness in his oral debates, see 15:07 of William Lane Craig’s 2009 debate with Ronald DeSousa where he argues for the first premise of the moral argument. He mentions that many atheists agree with theists on the first premise (true, but irrelevant; there are also many atheists who disagree with Craig on the first premise) and quotes an atheist to prove such agreement exists. At 16:42 of the DeSousa debate, he claims, without any real justification, that “on the atheistic view, there’s nothing really wrong with your raping someone.” The closest he comes to such justification is at 16:15 where he says he doesn’t see any reason to think that in the absence of God the morality evolved by humans is objective. But “I don’t see any reason to believe p, therefore p is false” is an argument from ignorance, not a real justification.

William Lane Craig often does a better job in his writings, but not by a whole lot. In page 173 of Reasonable Faith (3rd Edition), Craig says:

If theism is false, why think that human beings have objective moral value? After all, on the naturalistic view, there’s nothing special about human beings. They’re just accidental byproducts of nature which have evolved relatively recently on an infinitesimal speck of dust called the planet Earth, lost somewhere in a hostile and mindless universe, and which are doomed to perish individually and collectively in a relatively short time.

First thing to note is that Craig makes the mistake of conjoining atheism with naturalism (disbelief in the supernatural). While many atheists are naturalists, not all are. Second, why think on naturalism that there’s nothing special about human beings? Even if our existence came about by accident and even if within a few million years or so our race is destined to perish, none of that is really relevant. What’s special about human beings is that we are an intelligent, sentient, and self-aware species capable of making free choices; surely that is enough. Suppose for example we came across an alien species that like us is intelligent, sentient, etc.; perhaps something akin to the Vulcans in Star Trek. Wouldn’t we say that they have moral value too even though they aren’t human?

Moral Properties and Supervenience

The closest thing Craig gets to addressing this sort of thing (i.e. the properties of our species conferring moral value upon us) in Reasonable Faith is where he talks about moral properties supervening upon natural states of affairs. In philosophy, A-properties supervene on B-properties when B-properties determine A-properties, e.g. some philosophers believe that brain states determine mental states, and thus believe that mental states supervene on brain states. On page 177 of Reasonable Faith, he asks, “Why think that on an atheistic view of the world the curious, non-physical property of moral goodness would supervene on a human female’s nursing her infant?” The atheist can give the same reason as the theist for this and for accepting the second premise. What is that reason? On page 179 Craig has this to say in support of premise 2:

Premise (2) of the moral argument asserts that, in fact, objective moral values and duties do exist. The way in which moral theorists test competing ethical theories is by assessing how well they cohere with our moral experience. I take it that in moral experience we do apprehend a realm of objective moral values and duties, just as in sensory experience we apprehend a realm of objectively existing physical objects….As Sorely emphasized, there is no more reason to deny the objective reality of moral values than the objective reality of the physical world.

To explain why she believes in objective moral values and duties, an atheist moral objectivist, like the theist, could appeal to moral experience and the absence of any adequate reason to deny moral objectivism. The atheist, like the theist, can cite her own moral experience as why she believes humans and their infants have objective moral value and why the property of goodness supervenes on a mother caring for her baby. On page 177 Craig goes on to say:

Why, given naturalism, would the strange, non-physical property of moral badness supervene on a man’s leaving a shop carrying certain items for which he has not left the currency demanded by the shop owner? I see no reason to think that a full specification of all the natural properties of a situation would determine or fix any moral properties of that situation.

Maybe Craig doesn’t see such a reason, but it’s easy for the naturalist to think of one. The full specification of all natural properties allows us to be aware of intelligence, sentience, etc. so that all the relevant stuff for objective morality is present. Also, recall that one can be an atheist without being a naturalist.

As for why moral properties supervene on certain natural states of affairs, the naturalist can say that this is a brute fact, something that is true but has no further explanation for its truth. Unless we are to have an infinite regress of explanations for why a certain human action is morally wrong, we’ll need to come to some sort of stopping point anyway, and even the theist must come down to brute facts. For example, if the theist says that moral obligations supervene on God’s ought-to-be-obeyed commands, one can ask “Why does God have an ought-to-be-obeyed quality?” The theist would probably just answer “He just does” and leave that as his stopping point. Why not cut out the middle man and just use the state of affairs (e.g. a man stealing merchandise) as a stopping point? It’s simpler and there appears to be no reason to appeal to a deity here.

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