Sunday, May 19, 2013

William Lane Craig versus Rosenberg (part 6)

My series on the February 2013 debate between William Lane Craig and Alex Rosenberg:
  1. The Leibnizian Cosmological Argument
  2. The Kalam Cosmological Argument
  3. The Applicability of Mathematics to the Physical World
  4. The Fine-Tuning of the Universe for Intelligent Life
  5. Objective Moral Values and Duties in the World
  6. God can be Personally Known and Experienced
  7. Arguments Against Naturalism
  8. The Argument from Evil
  9. Wrap-Up


In February 2013 atheist philosopher Alex Rosenberg debated Christian philosopher William Lane Craig over whether faith in God is reasonable (debate begins at around 17:14). I’ve mentioned before the reason why William Lane Craig wins debates, and since this debate is a good example of how not to debate William Lane Craig, I have been going through some of what Rosenberg did wrong and how he could have done a lot better. One happy benefit from this is that in so doing I’ll also be refuting William Lane Craig’s arguments. In this entry I’ll address Craig’s moral argument for God.

Objective Moral Values and Duties in the World

In the debate Craig gives the following argument:

  1. Objective moral values and duties exist.
  2. But if God did not exist, then objective moral values and duties would not exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

What Rosenberg did

Around 48:49, Rosenberg starts his rebuttal against the moral argument. Rosenberg brings up Euthyphro dilemma, which doesn’t attack either premise of the moral argument Craig actually gave. The Euthyphro objection is an argument against the idea that only God can underwrite human values, but no premise of the argument assumes this. The Euthyphro objection doesn’t refute premise 2 here, since even Rosenberg agrees with premise 2 (he believes atheism + background knowledge = objective moral values and duties probably don’t exist). Remarkably, Rosenberg doesn’t attack either premise of the argument at all. That’s right, Rosenberg never disputes any premise of the argument in the entire debate.

Craig doesn’t call him out on this, perhaps because he believes that God does underwrite objective morality and to save time he thought he’d kill two birds with stone and simply attack the Euthyphro dilemma (thereby defending the moral argument and his belief that God grounds morality) by presenting a third alternative to the dilemma (1:10:39). Still, Craig does point out that Rosenberg agrees with him on premise 2 at 1:29:14 and re-affirms premise 1, and notes that the conclusion follows from premises 1 and 2. Rosenberg had no response to this.

One problem with Rosenberg’s Euthyphro objection, other than the fact that it doesn’t attack Craig’s argument, is that Craig has repeatedly given a third alternative in his writings and talks. One might argue that Craig’s third alternative is unsatisfactory in some way, but the point is that Rosenberg was completely unprepared for Craig’s rebuttal. If you are going to use the Euthyphro dilemma against Craig in a debate, you should at least be prepared for the “third alternative” response.

Craig’s moral argument is deductively valid (the conclusion follows from the premises) even if it is unsound (where soundness = validity + true premises), which makes Rosenberg’s main failure with the argument worth repeating: Rosenberg never disputes a premise of the moral argument in the entire debate. This is almost unconscionable once one realizes that a false premise is the only way Craig’s moral argument could fail to be sound.

What Rosenberg should have done

Even if Rosenberg agrees with premise 2, he could have attacked the justification Craig gave for premise 2. Craig claimed that walking into an elementary school and shooting boys, girls, and teachers is morally wrong before asserting, “on a naturalistic worldview, there’s nothing really wrong with this.” Two things: (1) naturalism does not equal atheism; (2) naturalism by itself doesn’t say either way whether moral wrongness exists. I attacked premise 2 (and premise 1) already in my series on the moral argument and William Lane Craig. Craig presented a deductively valid moral argument for God; it should be common sense that the way to refute a deductively valid argument for God is to attack the premises, but apparently it isn’t, not even to a philosopher of Rosenberg’s caliber.