Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Moral Argument and William Lane Craig (part 3)

This entry is part 3 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 1)
  2. —Addressing the first premise of the moral argument.
  3. The Moral Argument and William Lane Craig (part 3)—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 2 of the above moral argument.

Justifying Premise 2

Recall from part 1 of this series what the group #1 atheist believes: that objective moral values and duties do not exist seems to be true given that God does not exist and the rest of the information we have. The “God does not exist” part seems important here, because the sort of God that William Lane Craig seems to have in mind (e.g. Craig doubtlessly believes his God is perfectly good independently of human opinion) entails the existence of objective moral values and duties, such that if God exists then so do objective moral values and duties. Yet with that, Craig will have a difficult time arguing his case for premise 2 before group #1 atheists in a way that doesn’t beg the question in favor of theism. Since group #1 atheists accept the first premise but deny the second, how does Craig argue for the second premise?

The short answer is that he doesn’t, not really. In his oral debates, where he sometimes modifies the first premise to “If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist,” he usually appeals to a “deep down we all know it” sort of approach (see 16:48 William Lane Craig’s 2009 debate with Ronald DeSousa where Craig argues for the second premise). In page 179 of Reasonable Faith (3rd Edition) Craig says:

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.

William Lane Craig appeals to the intuitive moral experience of objective morality that people already have. The problem is, atheists who reject objective morality don’t have this kind of experience. It’s a bit like arguing that God exists because people personally experience God; you won’t believe you’ve personally experienced God unless you already believe that God exists.

The Evolution Objection

So much for an argument for the second premise. What about objections to it? One objection William Lane Craig deals with is that sociobiological evolution undermines our warrant for the second premise. In philosophy, warrant is something that makes true belief knowledge, e.g. one’s warrant for her belief might be some kind of evidence for it. Belief in objective morality, e.g. that it is objectively morally wrong to steal and murder, has survival value for our species even if objective morality is illusory. Sociobiological evolution selects for survival value, not necessarily for truth. If a false belief has survival value, it might well be selected. With sociobiological evolution being what it is, we have a plausible account of why people “experience” the alleged objective reality of moral values and duties, and this account doesn’t require moral objectivism. In responding to the evolution objection, here’s William Lane Craig on page 180 of Reasonable Faith:

If there is no God, then our moral experience is, plausibly, illusory. I said as much in my defense of premise (1). But why think that naturalism is true? To undermine the warrant which our moral experience gives to our moral beliefs, much more must be done than hold out possibility that naturalism may be true. For if theism is true, then our moral experience, even conditioned by biology and society, is probably not wholly illusory but is reliable to some degree.

One problem here: it’s the theist’s job to convince the atheist that premise 2 is true. Naturalism and evolution are (for many atheists) a plausible worldview. An atheist can effectively say, “I don’t have any reason to believe in objective morality; your appeal to intuitions won’t cut it because in my view moral intuitions aren’t to be trusted due to my view of evolution.” Even if evolution won’t be enough to rationally convince the theist as Craig seems to think, that’s somewhat beside the point. When convincing someone you want to appeal to agreed upon facts. When the theist appeals to intuitions as an allegedly reliable source of information on objective morality’s existence, this appeal is a bad one because the atheist believes intuitions are an unreliable guide to objective morality’s existence. And with sociobiological evolution, we have a plausible account of why people would have moral intuitions whereby such moral intuitions would have survival value whether objective morality existed or not. So why not choose the simpler worldview in which objective morality doesn’t exist?

William Lane Craig’s second response to the evolution objection:

Second, the objection is self-defeating because on naturalism, all our beliefs, not just our moral beliefs, have been selected for survival value, not truth, and are therefore unwarranted.

This is apples and oranges. Belief in objective morality, e.g. that it is objectively morally wrong to steal and murder, has survival value completely independently of whether objective morality exists. In contrast, forming true beliefs about the physical world is much more likely to have superior survival value. If you think falling from a great height will injure you, you are less likely to be injured; if you think falling from a great height will not injure you, you are more likely to be injured. Believing that certain plants are good to eat will help you survive if that belief is true; believing that a poisonous plant is good to eat will hurt your chances of survival. Even when denying the existence of the supernatural, it’s quite plausible for evolution to give us sense organs and brains that are fairly reliable at giving us true beliefs about the physical world. That sort of thing does help us survive, after all.

Another thing to point out here is that Craig’s rebuttal to the evolution objection makes the mistake of conjoining naturalism with evolution. While many atheists are naturalists, not all of them are.