Flanagan’s Response to Me (Re: Jerry Coyne on Explaining Morality)

Matthew Flanagan has written a response to my post on Jerry Coyne and explaining morality. I am quoting his response in its entirety, with Flannagan’s permission.

Hi Jeffery, I tried posting this on your site but couldn’t, feel free to do so.

You write: ”I suspect that C.S. Lewis’ moral argument for God’s existence is probably much more influential among the average reader of USA Today than the work of Robert Adams. And Lewis does appeal to a variety of moral phenomena in in Mere Christianity as part of his moral argument for God’s existence. That phenomena includes not only what Lewis calls the “Moral Law,” but also moral emotions (e.g., guilt, obligation).”

I agree Coyne is probably referring to popular arguments like those by Lewis. (or Craig) .

However, I am inclined to see Lewis as offering a popularised version of Adam’s I spell this out in my article “God and the Moral Law in C S Lewis” which is forthcoming in a anthology on Lewis. In fact the phenomena of “guilt” is one of Adam’s central arguments in Finite and Infinite Goods, if you remember he argues that the such things as guilt, blame, and so on are central to the concept of obligation and suggest obligations are social requirements. The point I think in both authors is that guilt is not a feeling, it points to the state of being guilty, its possible for example to feel guilty for something and also know that reality its not your fault and you are not in fact guilty of the infraction.

I need to think about his thoughtful response before commenting. I hope to reply soon.

Update (21-Nov-11)

I just posted the following reply to Flanagan.

Hi Matt — Sorry for the delay in responding. You wrote:

I agree Coyne is probably referring to popular arguments like those by Lewis. (or Craig)

Fair enough. But if you agree that Coyne is probably referring to popular arguments like those by Lewis (or Craig), then I think you also must agree that Coyne’s naturalistic explanation for moral emotions is at least relevant to those arguments. Putting aside the issue of whether Coyne’s explanation is accurate, the problem with his response is that it is, at best, incomplete. As I argued in my original response, there is a distinction between the feeling of obligation and obligation itself.

You wrote:

However, I am inclined to see Lewis as offering a popularised version of Adam’s I spell this out in my article “God and the Moral Law in C S Lewis” which is forthcoming in a anthology on Lewis. In fact the phenomena of “guilt” is one of Adam’s central arguments in Finite and Infinite Goods, if you remember he argues that the such things as guilt, blame, and so on are central to the concept of obligation and suggest obligations are social requirements. The point I think in both authors is that guilt is not a feeling, it points to the state of being guilty, its possible for example to feel guilty for something and also know that reality its not your fault and you are not in fact guilty of the infraction.

I assume that you do not mean Lewis was familiar with and literally relying upon Adams’ work, since Adams hadn’t yet published anything on DCT when Lewis originally delivered his talks on the BBC which later became the book we know as Mere Christianity. Rather, I interpret your comment to mean that Lewis argued that the evidence to be explained includes not only the feeling of obligation, but also moral obligation itself. I agree with that interpretation of Lewis.

Still, I want to defend Jerry Coyne a little bit here. Lewis’ presentation of his moral argument is not exactly the clearest piece of analytic philosophy; it’s not like he he presents the logical form of his argument with numbered premises and a conclusion. In fact, I’ve read different Christian authors who are Lewis fans but who present his argument in different ways. (In fact, I think the clearest formulation of Lewis’s argument is to be found in a book by an atheist — Erik Wielenberg’s God and the Reach of Reason!) My point is simply that Lewis’s argument is not as clear as it could be. On the other hand, if Coyne were a philosopher, he probably would have recognized the distinction between the feeling of obligation and obligation.

As an aside, if you would be so kind to send me a copy of the article you wrote for the Lewis anthology, I would be grateful for the chance to read it. It sounds interesting!

About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.


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