How Not to Debate ‘the’ Moral Argument: Reply to PZ Meyers

In a recent post, PZ Myers complains that a couple of atheists botched their response to ‘the’ moral argument for God’s existence.[1] He writes:

There is a common line of attack Christians use in debates with atheists, and I genuinely detest it. It’s to ask the question, “where do your morals come from?” I detest it because it is not a sincere question at all — they don’t care about your answer, they’re just trying to get you to say that you do not accept the authority of a deity, so that they can then declare that you are an evil person because you do not derive your morals from the same source they do, and therefore you are amoral. It is, of course, false to declare that someone with a different morality than yours is amoral, but that doesn’t stop those sleazebags.

Even if Myers were right that the question is insincere, that still doesn’t refute the argument. With all due respect to Myers, I detest, in any context, the presumptuousness of assuming that one person is inside another person’s mind and knows their thoughts, feelings, and motives. I think he is flat out wrong about the sincerity of the question; I think many people do have genuine questions about the foundations of morality.

Other than (perhaps?) the question, “Where do your morals come from?”, Myers doesn’t quote anything the Christian debaters actually said, so I don’t know which argument the Christian debaters used. Myers put the words “objective morality” in the title of his post, however, so I’m going to assume that the Christians used an argument similar to William Lane Craig’s version of the moral argument. If that assumption is wrong, Myers can correct me.

Myers summarizes his “objective humanist morality” as based upon interest, consent, harm, and stigma.  Unfortunately Myers seems to have mixed up normative ethics, which is concerned with what we ought or ought not to do, with metaethics, which, among other things, is concerned with the ontological foundation of moral properties (like moral obligations and moral values). Even if his normative principles of interest, consent, harm, and stigma are perfectly correct, Myers still has said nothing about what makes his principles objective. At best, his calling morality an “objective humanist morality” simply summarizes the conclusion of an argument he hasn’t (yet) provided: Myers has given no argument which shows that objective morality can exist without God.

To say that morality is objective is to say that it doesn’t depend upon the subjective states of a person like feelings, beliefs, emotions, thoughts, etc. So when someone says, “Moral principle X is true,” we can ask, “What makes X true?” Take, for example, harm. Myers writes:

I avoid behaviors that cause harm to others.
Again, this is not done because an authority told me to do no harm, but is derived from self-interest and empathy. I do not want to be harmed, so I should not harm others. And because I, like most human beings, have empathy, seeing harm done to others causes me genuine distress.

So here we have a (normative) moral principle: we should avoid behaviors that cause harm to others. What makes that true? According to Myers, the answer is “self-interest and empathy.” This simply pushes the problem back a step. What makes moral principles “derived from self-interest and empathy” true? If the answer is, “That’s what humans have decided,” then that’s not an objective morality, by definition. Nor is the question asking, “Why should I be moral?” That’s a different subject.

Update: 8-May-12 5:15PM

I just identified the Christian debate opponents for the debate witnessed by Myers: Paul Chamberlain and Michael Horner. Horner’s account of the debate is available online. Based upon my familiarity with Horner’s arguments, I am now even more confident that the moral argument used by Chamberlain and Horner was essentially the same as the version used by William Lane Craig in his debates. 

Note

[1] I’ve put ‘the’ in scare quotes because there are many distinct types of moral arguments for God’s existence, so it’s misleading to suggest there is only one. This is not to suggest that PZ Meyers makes this mistake, however.

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.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    'Myers put the words "objective morality" in the title of his post, however, so I'm going to assume that the Christians used an argument similar to William Lane Craig's version of the moral argument'

    Is that the same William Lane Craig who recently claimed that possibly the best thing that could happen to some people was to become a Nazi, as they would then commit such horrors that they would repent and find salvation?

    PZ Myers claims he was asked 'Where do your morals come from?'

    He answered.

    You point out that saying where your morals come from doesn't answer the question of why you should be moral.

    But Christians never ask the question 'Why should I be moral?'

    Have you seen a Christian web site that asks the question 'Why should I be moral?'

    I mean, ever seen such a web site…

    (The answer is that you should be moral because otherwise you will be tortured by God.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Is that the same William Lane Craig who recently claimed that possibly the best thing that could happen to some people was to become a Nazi, as they would then commit such horrors that they would repent and find salvation?

    Well, I'm not certainly not going to defend Craig. And that claim of his has nothing whatsoever to do with the moral argument for God's existence.

    PZ Myers claims he was asked 'Where do your morals come from?'

    He answered.

    For the reasons I explained in my post, I don't think he did. Simply describing criteria like interest, consent, harm, and stigma, doesn't say where his morals came from. At best, saying that avoiding harm derives from self-interest and empathy only explains where "avoiding harm" comes from in terms of another moral principle. It does not explain what makes that other moral principle true.

    Suppose we have 2 systems of morality.

    1. A system derived primarily from self-interest and empathy.

    2. A system derived primarily from pleasure.

    What reason is there to believe 1 is true and 2 is false?

    You point out that saying where your morals come from doesn't answer the question of why you should be moral.

    No, you got it backwards. What I said is that answering the question, "Why should I be moral?", does not answer the question, "What makes moral principles true?"

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    Jeffery,

    Good points, and I agree of course that P.Z. Myers misunderstood Craig's argument.

    Misunderstanding about the meaning of 'objective' in this context is really common, in my experience.

    On the other hand, theistic characterizations of what they mean by 'objective' in this context, and generally what they mean to ask from the non-theist, are often obscure at best.

    So, while I'd say that Myers and others should study the argument more carefully before addressing it (or just leave it alone), on the other hand Craig presents his metaethical argument to the public at large, and allegedly, this is an argument that people with no knowledge of philosophy can normally understand.

    However, a question like 'What makes moral statements true?' is not clear at all – at least, it's not a question that non-philosophers regularly deal with -, and the use of 'objective' in metaethical arguments is (to say the least) in many cases unclear as well.

    Craig does give a couple of examples to illustrate what he means by 'objective', but that is not clear enough, and he does not even try to explain (at least, in most presentation of his argument) what it would mean for something to make a statement true (examples from daily life would help, but he does not give them).

    Then again, I'd say Craig wouldn't get away with so much if he were clearer.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06847717704454032165 Eric Thomson

    Maybe by 'objective' he just means once they are set in place, you can crunch out the morality of a given proposition. So he means 'objective' in the sense that everyone should get the same answer. Not in the sense that it is independent of human psychology.

    Like a 'moral grammar.'

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Hi Eric — If that is what he meant, then he has misunderstood the argument. That isn't what theists have in mind when they talk about "objective morality" or an "ontological foundation for morality." If Myers were speaking the same language as theists, his response would be something like this: "I don't have an objective secular morality in your sense of objective–I don't claim to have a secular morality that is ontologically objective. What I do have, however, is a secular morality that is epistemologically objective: given some set of moral principles as a starting place, you can crunch out the morality of a given proposition."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09689451026838986088 Rick Warden

    Hello Jefferey,

    Compared to PZ Myers' comments on morality, your post is a breath of lucid fresh air. Myers refers to me in his post and so it was a bit of a reply to me. However, I never asked this question:

    “where do your morals come from?”

    I had asked PZ three simple questions in an email, which he seems quite reluctant to answer:

    1. Should bestiality be considered morally acceptable in your opinion?
    2. Should bestiality be legalized in your opinion?
    3. What is the logical justification of your views.[7]

    When I asked if bestiality should be morally acceptable, I was referring to an objective basis of morality. Myers basically dodged all of my questions. It's much easier to call someone an idiot and leave it at that. :-)

    I had sent Myers a follow up email asking him to answer the specific questions I had asked him, but I don't have my hopes set on receiving an answer. My response is published as a post:

    A Reply to PZ Myers’ ‘Objective’ Moral Tools

    http://templestream.blogspot.com/2012/05/reply-to-pz-myers-objective-moral-tools.html

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Hi Rick–

    You wrote:

    I had asked PZ three simple questions in an email, which he seems quite reluctant to answer:

    1. Should bestiality be considered morally acceptable in your opinion?
    2. Should bestiality be legalized in your opinion?
    3. What is the logical justification of your views.[7]

    When I asked if bestiality should be morally acceptable, I was referring to an objective basis of morality.

    I understand your intent was to refer to an objective basis of morality. In my opinion, given your intent, it would be better to revise and condense your three questions into two.

    (1) Is bestiality morally acceptable? Why or why not?

    (2) What makes an answer to (1) true?

    In order to avoid having your questions misunderstood, you could even provides examples of potential answers. Regarding (1), potential answers could certainly include the following.

    * Bestiality is morally right because it brings pleasure to people who enjoy it.
    * Bestiality is neither morally right nor morally wrong because there is no such thing as right or wrong.
    * Bestiality is morally wrong because it violates God's commands.
    * Bestiality is morally wrong because it violates natural law.
    * Bestiality is morally wrong because it violates the biological ethics of human nature.
    * etc.

    As for (2), potential answers here could be: the Platonic Form of the Good, the commands or will of a loving God, the speaker's opinion (such as "Yuck. It's disgusting"), what an Ideal Observer would approve of, what society approves of, natural law, etc.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    Jeffery,

    Craig says that by 'objective' he means 'independent of people's opinions', and he says that "to say that there are objective moral values is to say that something is good or bad independently of people's opinions".

    Source: [3] Craig, William Lane: "Five Arguments for God": the article can be found on his site: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/

    Craig uses the Holocaust to provide an example, saying that it was morally wrong regardless of the Nazis' belief that it was right, and it would have been morally wrong even if the Nazis had won the war and brainwashed everyone into thinking that it was right.

    That does not seem related to whether moral properties are mind-independent. Rather, it seems confused.

    Regardless, I think we shouldn't let theists get away with the question 'what makes it true?' without explaining what that means, by presenting other examples, etc.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    @Eric Thompson,

    What do you mean by 'an objective basis for morality'?


    1. Should bestiality be considered morally acceptable in your opinion?

    That depends on the case.
    For instance, if a human drugs and rapes a chimpanzee for fun, that's immoral-
    If a human has sex with a chimp that consents because another human is telling him to do it or die (while pointing a gun at the former), then it's morally acceptable in many cases.
    It's a matter to be decided on a case by case basis.


    2. Should bestiality be legalized in your opinion?

    It depends on the case, but I would have to think about general cases; if the non-human is willing, the chances of inter-species disease transmission could be lowered enough, and legalizing such cases wouldn't result in too much social unrest, I guess lawmakers should legalize it.
    Otherwise, probably not…unless there is also a stronger reason for it.
    It depends on the case, and I've not studied the subject in detail.
    However, it's not relevant to the matter at hand, and incidentally, my position would be the same if I were to stipulate, for the sake of the argument, that theism (not Christianity) is true, so the matter is not relevant to the metaethical argument.


    3. What is the logical justification of your views.[7]

    What do you mean by 'logical' justification?
    I use my sense of right and wrong. As others normally do.
    Unless I have reasons not to trust my intuitions, generally I do.

    Incidentally, if someone were to show, by means of a metaethical argument, that an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect creator exists (or something like that), that would not affect either my approach to assess the matters, or my assessment thereof.

    Moreover, I would still conclude that the biblical god is a non-existent monster, no better than, say, Darth Vader.


    When I asked if bestiality should be morally acceptable, I was referring to an objective basis of morality.

    a) What do you mean by that?
    b) Why would there be any burden on the non-theist?
    c) What's your objective basis for morality, and how is whatever you call an 'objective basis' related either to a usual, colloquial meaning of 'objective', if at all?

    As an example used to illustrate the issue of objectiveness, Craig says that even if everyone were colorblind, there would be a difference between green and red, and the same goes for morality: there would be a difference between right and wrong, good and bad, etc., even if no one could see that.

    Source: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/PageServer?pagename=podcasting_main

    Imagine someone had claimed that they had a metachromatic argument for theism, and that non-theists have the burden to provide an 'objective basis of color. Clearly, that would be wrong-headed, and clearly, the non-theist would have no burden whatsoever.

    In fact, even if the demand were to be presented, say, 500 years ago, before there was any knowledge of modern physics of light and very little knowledge of the physiology of the human eye, the demand would be wrong-headed.

    Well, why would the demand is any less wrong-headed in the case of morality?
    More precisely, what is it that you demand, and why is it any burden for the non-theist?


    Myers basically dodged all of my questions. It's much easier to call someone an idiot and leave it at that. :-)

    That's a possibility. It's also possible (and more probable, I would say) that he did not understand the (frankly, obscure) questions that you raise.
    But his motivations are not relevant to the matter at hand, so while I can speculate about them and discuss them, I'd rather focus on the actual matters at hand.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    Sorry, the immediately previous post is meant as a reply to Rick Warden, not Eric Thompson.

    Apologies for the mixed up.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Angra — Totally off subject, but I need to contact you offline and don't have your email. Can you email me? Click here to send me an email.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    Jeffery,

    I do not know at this point whether we agree or disagree, or to which extent we agree or disagree, but I'd be very interested in discussing the matter. :-) (in my view metaethical arguments for theism are among the ones with the worst consequences, and so I find tackling them particularly important).


    As for (2), potential answers here could be: the Platonic Form of the Good, the commands or will of a loving God, the speaker's opinion (such as "Yuck. It's disgusting"), what an Ideal Observer would approve of, what society approves of, natural law, etc.

    I would first say that there appears to be no burden on the non-theist to answer that (e.g., the color example), but that aside, I would like to discuss how any of that might be the answer to the question – and also what the question means.

    On that note, I'll pick 'the commands of a loving God' as an example (please pick another one if you prefer), but the following is not meant to be only an [introduction to an] objection to that particular answer, but an example that I think might get to the issue of what the question actually means, and/or what kind of answer might be expected.

    I'm not sure whether by 'God' you mean something like 'an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being, creator of all other beings', or something else, so I'll consider both possibilities.

    1) The word 'God' in this context means 'an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being, creator of all other beings' (or similar definitions, including moral terms; pick your variant if you like).

    So, let's stipulate for the sake of this part of the argument that there is indeed a being that created all other beings, and ask the following question:

    Q1: What makes the proposition 'the creator of all other beings is morally perfect' true?

    Whatever the question means, it seems to me that even theist defenders of metaethical arguments wouldn't reply something like:

    R1: What makes the proposition 'the creator of all other beings is morally perfect' true are the commands of an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being, creator of all other beings.

    Now, maybe some of them would reply that. But then, I would ask: what does that even mean?

    The alternative is:

    2) The word 'God' is not defined in terms of moral terms. So, maybe 'God' names any being that is the creator of all other beings (or some other definition, but not including moral terms).

    Then, let's assume God exists, and let's consider the following question:

    Q2: What makes the proposition 'Every created moral agent ought to obey the commands of God' true?

    As before, and whatever the question means, it seems to me that even theist defenders of metaethical arguments wouldn't reply something like:

    R2: What makes the proposition 'Every created moral agent ought to obey the commands of God' true are God's commands.

    Also, as before, maybe some of them would reply that. But then, I would ask: what does that even mean?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    'Craig says that by 'objective' he means 'independent of people's opinions', '

    SO if an alien says Craig should stone someone to death for gathering sticks on the Sabbath, then Craig would do it?

    'Objective morality' doesn't answer the question 'Why should I be moral?'

    What is the objectively best way to get to Manhattan from 42nd Street?

    Suppose we answer that question.

    Are then people obliged to go to Manhattan because they know know the objectively best way to go there?

    All theists can say is that people should be moral because otherwise their god will torture them in Hell.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    Craig claims being a Nazi led to people's salvation.

    LOWDER
    And that claim of his has nothing whatsoever to do with the moral argument for God's existence.

    CARR
    It certainly does! How on earth can you say it does not?

    Craig claimed 'God may have known that through the guilt and shame of what Heinrich did under the Third Reich, he would eventually come to repent and find salvation and eternal life. Paradoxically, being a Nazi may have been the best thing that happened to Heinrich, since it led to his salvation.'

    OK, why should I be moral if there is a god who knows that if I commit enough bestiality, I will repent and find salvation and eternal life?

    Why is bestiality wrong if there is a god who knows that people who commit bestiality will repent and be welcomed by him into Heaven?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    LOWDER
    What I said is that answering the question, "Why should I be moral?", does not answer the question, "What makes moral principles true?"

    CARR
    Yes it does.

    Why on earth do you think it does not?

    OK, what makes football principles true?

    If football plays are a matter of opinion and there is no god of football, why is it 'true' that you should not run the ball on 4th and 22 backed up on your 1 yard line after 2 mins of a game?

    That is 'true' because of the aims of a football game.

    OK, so what makes moral principles true is what you are trying to achieve through morality.

    So why should you be moral?

    What is the point of being moral? To avoid being tortured by God in Hell?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Steven,

    Here is the logical form of Craig's moral argument for God's existence.

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

    The fact that "Craig claims being a Nazi led to people's salvation" is irrelevant to (1) and (2). That is why it has nothing whatsoever to do with Craig's moral argument for God's existence.

    OK, why should I be moral if there is a god who knows that if I commit enough bestiality, I will repent and find salvation and eternal life?

    Why is bestiality wrong if there is a god who knows that people who commit bestiality will repent and be welcomed by him into Heaven?

    These are more irrelevancies to the issue at hand. (Your objections are relevant to Craig's claim about Nazis and salvation, but not his moral argument for God's existence.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    LOWDER
    What I said is that answering the question, "Why should I be moral?", does not answer the question, "What makes moral principles true?"

    CARR
    Yes it does.

    Why on earth do you think it does not?

    It is easiest to answer by providing an example. Consider the question, "Why should I be moral?" A theist could answer, "So I can be rewarded in the afterlife and/or avoid being punished in the afterlife." Now consider the question, "What makes moral principles true?" That same theist could answer in many ways:

    * moral principles are true if they are based on God's commands
    * moral principle are necessarily true
    * etc.

    This example should illustrate why answering one question does not provide an answer to the other.

    OK, what makes football principles true?

    If football plays are a matter of opinion and there is no god of football, why is it 'true' that you should not run the ball on 4th and 22 backed up on your 1 yard line after 2 mins of a game?

    That is 'true' because of the aims of a football game.

    As you know, the rules of football are conventional, invented by human beings. It seems odd to call the rules of football "true," but if I were asked what makes those rules true, I would say their truth is entirely subjective. If I want to know whether a certain play is allowed, I can look them up in a rulebook, which was written by a human being and accepted as a convention by the players and coaches of the game. That is what makes the rules 'true' — the rules are just a convention accepted by all players and coaches as binding.

    But notice this has nothing whatsoever with why someone should play football in the first place. The reasons for playing football would presumably be things like it is fun, it is good exercise, it builds teamwork, etc. Those reasons are very different from the subjective, conventional nature of football's rules.

    OK, so what makes moral principles true is what you are trying to achieve through morality.

    So why should you be moral?

    What is the point of being moral? To avoid being tortured by God in Hell?

    You seem to be confused about the difference between the reason(s) for adopting the moral point of view and the truthmakers for moral principles, for the reasons explained above.

    In fact, I'm not certain about this, but it seems to me that one's answer to "Why should I be moral?" is logically independent of "What makes moral principles true?" The answer to one question doesn't seem to have any impact at all on the answer to the other. At least, I can't think of any counterexamples.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    LOWDER
    A theist could answer, "So I can be rewarded in the afterlife and/or avoid being punished in the afterlife."

    CARR
    But Craig claims his god knows some people will commit such depravity that they will repent and so be rewarded in the afterlife.

    So why should I be moral?

    'As you know, the rules of football are conventional, invented by human beings'

    This totally missed the entire point.

    I wasn't talking about the rules of football.

    There is nothing in the rules that says a referee will penalise you if you attempt to run the ball on 4th and 22.

    So what makes it true that it is better football to punt on 4th down? (You won't get a yellow flag if you run the ball….)

    When , completely contrary to your claim, you can't look in a rulebook and see which play is allowed?

    Is it necessarily true? Does God say it is true that you should punt?

    Or is it all subjective opinion, in which case running the ball on 4th and 22 is as 'objectively true' as punting?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    Here is the logical form of Craig's moral argument for God's existence.

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

    CARR
    OK, so why is it objectively better for some people to become Nazis, commit such horror that they repent and find salvation?

    How can you have an 'objective' 'duty' to obey these moral commands when you are better advised to break them , commit moral atrocities and repent and so find salvation?

    Objective duties can't exist if you find salvation by repenting of not doing your duty.

    Therefore, God does not exist.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    Steven,


    SO if an alien says Craig should stone someone to death for gathering sticks on the Sabbath, then Craig would do it?

    That does not follow. Also, Craig's position probably is that intelligent aliens are personal beings.

    That said, as I mentioned, Craig presents this argument as an argument to persuade the public at large (i.e., not only people with knowledge of philosophy), yet most people actually don't understand it.


    Therefore, God does not exist.

    While it's not clear what exactly Craig means by 'God' in the context of his metaethical argument, it is clear that he does not mean 'Yahweh', 'the biblical creator', etc.
    Granted, Craig also claims that the biblical creator exists and is God, and mentions Christian beliefs in the context of his debates on the metaethical argument (e.g., vs. Sam Harris); also, ultimately, his objective is to persuade people of the existence of that one.

    Still, his metaethical argument is not actually about the biblical creator.

    We might stipulate that the biblical creator does not exist for that matter, and that would not affect the metaethical argument (well, except that probably, as a human psychological fact, fewer people would care about the metaethical argument for theism if everyone agreed that the biblical creator does not exist; but that's another matter).

    So, in short, attacking the existence and/or moral character of the biblical creator may be a good tactic in some contexts, but that would not show why Craig's metaethical argument for theism fails.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12045468316613818510 Blue Devil Knight

    Good point Jeff if they clearly indicated that they meant "objective morality" in an ontological rather than epistemic sense, then his argument won't satisfy them.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    'That does not follow. Also, Craig's position probably is that intelligent aliens are personal beings'

    I was just going by your summary, which limited it to people.

    Is Craig's god an intelligent alien personal being?

    'Still, his metaethical argument is not actually about the biblical creator.'

    You are kidding, aren't you?

    Does Craig think there is more than one god?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16342860692268708455 Angra Mainyu

    Steven,

    My summary limited it to people because that's what Craig said. My point is that he would very probably consider sufficiently intelligent aliens to be personal beings; in other words, those would be people too, even if not human people.

    As for Craig's God, Craig is unclear, but he does claim God is a personal being, and the greatest conceivable being.

    As for his metaethical argument, I'm not kidding, and obviously Craig believes that the biblical creator is God. But he does not mean 'the biblical creator' when he says 'God' in the context of the metaethical argument. He claims they're one and the same, but that does not mean that the terms 'the biblical god' and 'God' have the same meaning, just as someone might mistakenly believe that, say, Bush is the POTUS, but they do not mean the same by the words 'Bush' and 'POTUS'; the two words mean different things (okay, Bush exists, etc., but that's not the point of the analogy).

    Craig does not claim that his metaethical argument establishes that the biblical creator exists, or is God. He claims that his metaethical argument establishes that God exists. He then uses other arguments in support of Christianity.

    As I mentioned, of course Craig uses his metaethical argument as part of his case for Christianity, and not just for theism.

    However, the metaethical argument on its own is an argument for theism. Granted, someone could say it's also for Christianity since, if successful, arguably that would make Christianity more probable as well, all other things equal.

    But in any case, what I'm trying to get at is that the metaethical argument is not an argument that concludes that the biblical creator exists, and the arguments (in the broad sense of 'arguing a case') given in support of the premises (at least, nearly all if not all of them) do not involve any considerations about the biblical creator.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Steven wrote:

    But Craig claims his god knows some people will commit such depravity that they will repent and so be rewarded in the afterlife.

    So why should I be moral?

    'As you know, the rules of football are conventional, invented by human beings'

    This totally missed the entire point.

    I wasn't talking about the rules of football.

    There is nothing in the rules that says a referee will penalise you if you attempt to run the ball on 4th and 22.

    You're right; I did completely miss the point of your example. Let me try this again:

    So what makes it true that it is better football to punt on 4th down? (You won't get a yellow flag if you run the ball….)

    When , completely contrary to your claim, you can't look in a rulebook and see which play is allowed?

    Is it necessarily true? Does God say it is true that you should punt?

    Or is it all subjective opinion, in which case running the ball on 4th and 22 is as 'objectively true' as punting?

    In your example, I guess the answer would depends on a combination of facts and values. The relevant, objective facts would be things like the relative frequency of teams (or just your team) who convert a fourth down into a first down, how much time is left in the game, the game's score, the performance of your team in the game so far, etc. By "values" I mean things like the desire to win, the desire to avoid looking stupid in front of the fans, etc.

    So, in your example, the values are totally subjective. The best way to achieve those values, however, is objective because it is based on the facts I described above. You can do a risk/reward analysis to figure out what is most likely to help you achieve your goals.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Steven wrote:

    OK, so why is it objectively better for some people to become Nazis, commit such horror that they repent and find salvation?

    I think you still don't understand Craig's argument. As interesting as your question is, it is irrelevant to the truth of premises (1) and (2). If you disagree, please identify which premise you think is disconfirmed by your question and explain how.

    How can you have an 'objective' 'duty' to obey these moral commands when you are better advised to break them , commit moral atrocities and repent and so find salvation?

    Again, as interesting as your question is, it is irrelevant to the truth of premises (1) and (2). If you disagree, please identify which premise you think is disconfirmed by your question and explain how. For example, if you think your question disproves (2), then please explain how the falsity of the moral 'duty' to be a Nazi disproves the existence of objective moral values.

    Objective duties can't exist if you find salvation by repenting of not doing your duty.

    Therefore, God does not exist.

    With all due respect, you seem terribly confused about this topic. Have you ever taken an introductory, university-level course in ethics? If not, I recommend reading an introductory textbook. There are many good choices; I like Louis Pojman's Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00265673638659855406 Rosemary LYNDALL WEMM

    The problem that theists avoid at all costs is the fact that there is nothing like a consensus of opinion among Christians about what IS and objective moral.

    What is the point of their being a set of objective morals that are presumed to be issued or created by a god if the god followers have no reliable way of determining whose opinion of these objectives is correct? If you appeal to authority but have no objective way of determining what the objective morals are then you are in a far worse position than someone who uses a non-authoratative source for determining their morals and gets to agree with the bulk of the world wide community? None whatsoever.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Hi Rosemary — I agree with you.

    What your post shows is that a complete metaethics needs to address both moral ontology and moral epistemology. What it does not show is that the moral ontological claims of the "objective morality" argument are false. (I'm not claiming you were claiming to show that, however.)

    Jeff

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00265673638659855406 Rosemary LYNDALL WEMM

    Reposting of amended previous text because Blogger will not allow me to either edit or delete it. =============

    The problem that theists avoid at all costs is the fact that there is nothing like a consensus of opinion among Christians about what IS an "objective moral."

    What is the point of there being a set of objective morals that are presumed to be issued or created by a god if the god followers have no reliable way of determining whose rendition of these objectives is correct?

    If you appeal to authority but have no objective way of determining what the objective morals are then you are in a far worse position than someone who uses a non-authoritative source for determining their morals and gets to agree with the bulk of the world wide community.

    So there is no moral advantage for a Christian who believes that their personal choice of morals is "objective". The secularist has the advantage here.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01880367735395945164 jminion

    Craig says that by 'objective' he means 'independent of people's opinions', and he says that "to say that there are objective moral values is to say that something is good or bad independently of people's opinions".

    Craig's arguments always assume a god, without the the assumption the argument without any basis.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12045468316613818510 Blue Devil Knight

    jminion thanks for that. So that leaves open whether it is ontologically or epistemically independent. PZ focused on the epistemic case: everyone should get the same answer, like in a math question, even if you aren't a Platonist we can all agree. It seems if an atheist could have that, that would defuse many of the arguments.

    I'm not sure we can actually get that (given the variability in moral systems) but perhaps we can. After all there is a lot of variability in language, but some universals might be there.

    Part of me thinks this is the wrong way to approach it from a naturalistic perspective, though (just as I am suspicious of Chomskian linguistics).

  • http://blamer.wordpress.com/ blamer

    JJL, ought not the unqualified roughly explain their moral thinking??

    People are asking these naive morality questions all the time… ordinarily PZ's interlocutors aren't looking for a response in the form of an formal and nuanced academic paper. They get a straight answer. As expected.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Hi Blamer — I have the feeling that I'm not getting your point, so feel free to blame me if I've misunderstood you.

    ought not the unqualified roughly explain their moral thinking??

    Who do you have in mind by "the unqualified"? Myers was commenting on a debate between philosophers, so I certainly consider them qualified to talk about ethics and metaethics!

    People are asking these naive morality questions all the time… ordinarily PZ's interlocutors aren't looking for a response in the form of an formal and nuanced academic paper. They get a straight answer. As expected.

    I see your point. The problem is that Myers's interlocutors in this case were Christian philosophers, not the average Christian on the street. That doesn't mean Myers needs a "formal and nuanced academic paper," but it does mean he needs to get their argument correct if we wants to criticize. The alternative is to criticize a straw man.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    "we wants to criticze" should have been "he wants to criticize it."


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