Right and wrong, of course, are conceptually connected with value. The objectivity of right and wrong therefore comes down to two considerations: (1) Are there objective values that our actions might promote or impede? (2) Can it be objectively the case that our actions do promote or impede the realization of certain values or the prevention of certain disvalues? There is no reason whatsoever that a naturalist cannot answer “yes” to both questions, and so no reason that right and wrong cannot be objective for naturalists. So, the claimed advantage of theism over naturalism is spurious.
Dianelos Georgoudis, in reply to my post “Atheism Debunked! Again!,” has conveniently and succinctly offered both “conceptual” and a “practical” moral arguments for theism. I take the liberty of putting the first of these in premise/conclusion format and try to express it a bit more rigorously. I do hope I have not distorted his meaning. For his original wording, please see the comments section of the earlier post.
The Conceptual Argument:
1) For naturalists, that is, those who believe that the natural world is the only world and that there are no supernatural agents, there is no objective right or wrong. (premise)
2) It follows that for naturalists, the concepts of “right” and “wrong” can only be social conventions or names for convenient means of achieving practical ends. (from 1)
3) However, some actions, such as torturing a child for fun, are intrinsically and objectively wrong, whatever our social conventions might say. (premise)
4)Theism, unlike naturalism, accommodates the fact that some actions, like torturing a child for fun, are intrinsically and objectively wrong. (premise)
Therefore: Theism is compatible with the existence of objective right and wrong, but naturalism is not.
Again, I sincerely hope I have not distorted Dianelos’ meaning.
My objection, of course, is to premise (1). To say that values are objective means that they their worth is intrinsic, not a matter of convention or convenience. Objective values are not made; they are discovered. We do not decide that they are valuable; we find that they are so. Naturalism has no conceptual problem whatsoever with the existence of intrinsic worth or value in that sense. For instance, learning is intrinsically satisfying, even when it has no practical end (in fact, I would say especially when it has no practical end). Simply satisfying your natural curiosity by learning about the world is intrinsically satisfying to creatures such as human beings. It is how we are put together biologically, as Aristotle observed long ago. All humans, by nature, desire to know. Nature has made curiosity as natural for us as bipedalism, so just as we value being able to walk upright, so we value being able to satisfy our curiosity. The objective value of knowledge for human beings is therefore no more mysterious and no more incompatible for naturalism than is the objective value of walking upright.
Furthermore, just as we find value in knowledge, so we find value in each other. We are social creatures. Like other primates, we form strong personal bonds with each other, and social interactions matter a great deal to us. Why? Again, that is just the kind of organism Homo sapiens is. The value we find in friends and family is not a convention; we do not simply ascribe such value or impute it. It is there. Valuing companionship when I am lonely is just as natural and unmysterious as valuing good food when I am hungry. There is nothing here naturalism has the least problem accommodating.