Atheistic Moral Realism – Part 4

Here, once again, is William Craig’s MOVE (Moral Objective Values Exist) Argument:

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

I am considering one possible objection, namely rejection of, or doubt about, premise (1). Atheists who are inclined towards moral realism or belief in objective moral values will be inclined to challenge premise (1) rather than premise (2).

Craig raises three objections to what he terms Atheistic Moral Realism (AMR), which is moral realism held by those who reject belief in the existence of God.  Craig’s second objection can be stated this way:

AMR is incompatible with the nature of moral duty.

Craig argues for this objection in a single lengthy paragraph, which I will divide up into five bite-sized pieces. The first piece states his conclusion:

Second, the nature of moral duty or obligation seems incompatible with atheistic moral realism. (WIAC, p.76)

Based on this conclusion, we should expect Craig to make a claim about the nature of moral duties, pointing to a specific aspect of moral duties, and to make a claim that AMR has a specific implication, and then he should show that the alleged specific aspect of moral duties is logically incompatible with the alleged specific implication of AMR.

Now for the second piece of Craig’s long paragraph on this objection:

Let’s supposed for the sake of argument that moral values do exist independently of God.  Suppose that values such as mercy, justice, love, forbearance, and the like just exist.  How does that result in any moral obligations for me?  Why would I have a moral duty, say, to be merciful? (WIAC, p.76)

First, note that Craig jumps from the idea that ‘moral values do exist independently of God’ to the idea that moral values ‘just exist’.  Given that in the previous paragraph Craig criticized the idea that justice was an abstraction that exists independently of persons, it seems like Craig is once again assuming that AMR implies that moral values are abstractions that exist independently of persons. But this is a false assumption. AMR does not imply this metaphysical view of the nature of moral values. Thus, if Craig’s second objection depends on this alleged implication of AMR, then his second objection fails for the same reason as the first objection.

However, I suspect that the second objection does not require this assumption about AMR, and that it might be possible to state his second objection in a way that avoids this problem. We will need to clarify the content of the second objection in order to determine whether it requires this questionable assumption about AMR.

The last two questions asked by Craig seem significant:

How does that result in any moral obligations for me? Why would I have a moral duty, say, to be merciful? (WIAC, p.76)

David Hume would have asked the same questions that Craig asks here.

Suppose there are some odd metaphysical entities that we refer to by moral value expressions like “justice” and “mercy”.  These entities may be odd and non-physical, but if they were real, then they are merely additional facts or data about reality.  They would fall into the IS category, rather than the OUGHT category in Hume’s scheme of things.  Hume pointed to a logical gap between IS statements and OUGHT statements, between facts and values.  He argued that we cannot logically deduce an evaluative claim from a factual claim.

So, Craig seems to be invoking the spirit of David Hume, and saying, in effect: “So what if there is an odd odd entity that we call ‘justice’? This would just be another fact about reality, and facts do not, by themselves logically imply values.  We cannot derive an OUGHT from what IS.”

Craig makes no mention of Hume, and does not say anything about the gap between IS and OUGHT, so I might be reading too much into these two questions. However, if Craig is invoking the skeptical move made by Hume, then it is important to note that he is wielding a two-edged sword that could inflict injury not only to AMR but also to Craigs own viewpoint: Theistic Moral Realism (TMR).

If “justice” refers to an aspect of the nature or character of God, thus providing Craig with a metaphysical reality upon which to base the moral value of justice, then Craig’s view is subject to the same humean objection: “So what if there is a metaphysical reality that we call ‘justice’ which is a part of the nature of God? This would just be another fact about reality, and facts do not, by themselves logically imply values. We cannot derive an OUGHT from what IS.”

To be continued…

  • peter

    If god exists, objective moral values do not exist

    Objective moral values exist

    Therefore god does not exist.

    Is the premise and conclusion any more or less valid than the one stated by Craig?

    One can support the premise by pointing out the – lets say politely – flawed moral values in the OT, permitting the wholesale slaughter of innocents as decreed by this god.
    I do not consider that objective morality, but immorality as decreed by a an unevidenced superior being to fulfill the political and power aspirations of a tribe.

    • Bradley Bowen

      Peter – I completely agree with you that the god of the OT is morally flawed.

      However, the first premise of your argument is false:

      1. If God exists, then objective moral values do not exist.

      The claim ‘God exists’ logically entails the claim that ‘A perfectly morally good person exists’. But it is impossible for it to be the case that a perfectly morally good person exists unless objective moral values exist. So, ‘God exists’ logically entails ‘Objective moral values exist’. So, your first premise contains a logical self-contradiction, and it is thus a necessary falsehood, similar to the claim ‘If this is a triangle, then it has four sides.’

      If objective moral values do NOT exist, then it would be impossible to correctly identify some person as being perfectly morally good. Thus, it would be impossible to correctly identify someone as being God. If it is logically impossible to identify someone as being God, then God cannot exist. Thus, if objective moral values do NOT exist, then God cannot exist.

      • peter

        The claim that god exists and that this logically entails that a perfectly morally good person exists is only valid if the definition of god entails this god to be perfectly moral.

        But where does his definition stem from? Circular reasoning? God is morally perfect because he is morally perfect?

        Evidence is that most gods created or postulated by humans (including the OT Yahweh) are not perfectly moral – go back to the greek gods, to the gods of the Incas, Mayas, the Norse gods, the pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses etc., all no perfect gods.

        Since morally perfect gods do not exists (i.e. as evidenced by the atrocious actions of Yahweh) is it not reasonable to postulate that if god exists no objective moral value exists because the demands by those gods are often in contradiction of objective moral values, and even one of those contradictions eliminates the logical necessity that without god no objective moral values exist?

        “If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.”

        The short of it: a stupid claim by a man trying to sound smart. It all depends on human defined values for god, a human invention as shown by the myriads of their existences.

        • Bradley Bowen

          Peter said:

          The claim that god exists and that this logically entails that a perfectly morally good person exists is only valid if the definition of god entails this god to be perfectly moral.

          But where does his definition stem from?

          ======================
          Response:

          It comes from Christian philosophy and theology.

          More importantly it comes from William Craig. We are discussing an argument about God given by William Craig, so that means we are discussing an argument about what Craig understands by the word ‘God’, not what Charles Manson means by the word ‘God’, not what Marco Polo means by the word ‘God’, not what Julius Ceasar means by the word ‘God’.

          Different people and different cultures may have different concepts of God, but that is not relevant to figuring out whether Craig’s argument is a good or bad argument. What is relevant is Craig’s concept of God.

          You can challenge Craig’s understanding or definition of the meaning of the word ‘God’ if you wish, but if you want to seriously depart from his understanding of this word, then, it seems to me, that you are really just trying to change the subject rather than addressing Craig’s argument.

          There might well be problems and even contradictions in Craig’s concept of God, but I think Craig has a pretty good handle on what most Christian philosophers and theologians mean by the word ‘God’. So, I don’t see much point in challenging his concept of God in this context.

          Craig is the one offering a proof of the existence of God, so Craig gets to determine what sort of a being it is that he wants to show exists.

          • peter

            “Craig is the one offering a proof of the existence of God, so Craig gets
            to determine what sort of a being it is that he wants to show exists”

            I thought Craig somehow refers to the god of the old testament. I guess each theologian his own god.

          • Bradley Bowen

            Craig does believe that the deity of the OT is God. So, the point about Jehovah being morally flawed is an objection to Craig’s beliefs about God. But what the objection points out is that Jehovah cannot possibly be God, if we understand the word ‘God’ in the traditional christian sense as implying a person who is perfectly morally good.

            I don’t think Craig would define ‘God’ in terms of Jehovah and the OT. He just believes that God and Jehovah are one and the same person.

  • busterggi

    If god exists, then he is so beyond humanity that his moral values are unknowable and subjective.

    Objective moral values exist.

    Therefore god does not exist.

    Anyone can play this game, its like Mad Libs without the little bookets to fill in the blanks.

    • Bradley Bowen

      busterggi – Your argument has an unstated premise:

      “If God is so beyond humanity that his moral values are unknowable and subjective, then it is NOT the case that objective moral values exist.”

      This is a bit unclear. I think by ‘subjective’ here, you mean that it is difficult or impossible for humans to figure out the content of God’s moral values. This is also hinted at by the word ‘unknowable’ in close association with the word ‘subjective’. I think you mean that everyone will come up with different and conflicting interpretations and theories about God’s moral values because God’s thinking, if God existed, would be beyond the ability of human beings to figure out.

      This is an interesting thought, and it is certainly plausible to say that the thinking or mind of an eternal and omniscient person would be difficult for a human being to figure out. However, assuming I have interpreted the unstated premise correctly, I think this premise is false. I don’t see why we should deny the existence of objective moral values just because we cannot figure out the mind or thinking of God.

      If you think that objective moral values could only exist if there was a God who believed or accepted certain moral values, we might still be able to infer that God had some moral values or other even if we could not figure out exactly what was the content of those moral values.

      Since God is, by definition, a morally perfectly good person, I think we have to conclude that IF God exists, then there is at least one person who not only has moral values, but whose moral values are true. Thus, IF God exists, then there are objective moral values, whether or not we are in a position to figure out the precise content of those moral values.

  • Jason Thibodeau

    “If “justice” refers to an aspect of the nature or character of God, thus providing Craig with a metaphysical reality upon which to base the moral value of justice, then Craig’s view is subject to the same humean objection”

    Bradley,
    This is exactly correct. WLC’s method is to adopt the position of the moral skeptic when it comes to evaluating atheistic moral theories, but then ignore skeptical arguments that are aimed at theistic moral theories. I have never seen him even acknowledge that skeptical arguments apply to theistic moral theories, let alone attempt to respond to such arguments. (Of course, I’m not an expert on Craig’s arguments; I may have missed something)

    • Bradley Bowen

      Thank you. I’m not certain that Craig was invoking the skeptical move of David Hume in the essay, but Craig sounds a lot like Hume in the passage I quoted.

  • Mark

    It is heartbreaking to see someone working so hard to disprove the obvious. Why would you even care if God exists if you really don’t believe Him to be real? Who would create a blog warning people not to believe in the flying spaghetti monster, or the tooth fairy? Why waste all that time and effort on something you know to be a lie? Deep down you know from science that there must be a designer (DNA), you know from the science of history that there is a God, and your conscience tells you that there are moral absolutes. A moral standard, thus a moral law, thus a moral law giver. The science of logic. The only way you could prove that there is no God (assuming you deny the existence of DNA) is to know everything there is to know about everything in the universe, which would make you God. Thus claiming there is no God is a self-defeating statement.

    When someone claims to have “left Christianity” you know that they were never a Christian in the first place. I know many Christians and even pastors who claim to be that which they are not. They chose a career, and live a lie. Look at all the false teachers out there. No wonder Jesus said “few will find it”. You can tell they have no depth to their faith when they focus on works as some kind of evidence. The one thing that differentiates Christianity from every other religion, is that is it not based on works. All false religions (RC included) are based on works.

    When someone is saved, and are enlightened, and are able to see for the first time (went from blindness to sight) they never want to become blind again. If you don’t have a conversion story, then there probably has been no conversion. An authentic Christian will tell you of the miracle they have personally experienced when they were saved. This is why so many know, without a doubt, and are willing to die and be persecuted in such huge numbers every year.

    Read Ravi Zacharias’ book “Can Man Live Without God”. Google his talks on Youtube and hear a brilliant man, born in India, raised a Hindu, he hears the truth on a bed of suicide, gets saved, earns his doctorate, and is now expressing truth from an intellectual perspective at the best universities around the world. Compare his wisdom, to the nonsense you read here.

    • Bradley Bowen

      Mark said:

      It is heartbreaking to see someone working so hard to disprove the obvious. Why would you even care if God exists if you really don’t believe Him to be real? Who would create a blog warning people not to believe in the flying spaghetti monster, or the tooth fairy? Why waste all that time and effort on something you know to be a lie?

      ===============
      Response:

      I was raised as a Christian. I attended Sunday school, memorized the books of the Bible, heard stories about Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, King David, Solomon, and learned stories about Jesus and some of the teachings of Jesus. I was born-again and baptized as a teen, and I carried a Bible with me to high school every day. I led Bible studies and prayer meetings at my high school. I supported the Billy Graham crusade when it came to the Sonoma County fair grounds in Santa Rosa. I attended Church and Youth Group meetings weekly. I prayed both in public meetings and privately when I was by myself. I read and studied the Bible in public meetings as well as on my own in private devotions and Bible study. I was a devout Christian for about a decade of my life.

      My mother is a devout Christian believer, and so are my four sisters, as well as their husbands. My father was a devout Christian as a teen and as a young man, but he eventually left Christianity behind as an adult.

    • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

      Because people do believe in this deity and they are actively trying to push their religious-based views on other people – that’s why it matters. No one believes in the flying-spaghetti monster, but if people did, and were trying to have that taught in schools – then it would be justified in writing blogs against it.

      Can you name one moral absolute that is backed up by scripture? I’d like to see one example.

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  • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

    Craig says that the “ought” problem with theism is solved through god’s commandments. God’s commandments determine what we ought to do and what our moral obligations are.

    The thing is, his brand of Protestantism believes we are saved through grace alone and our deeds bare no weight in whether god punishes or rewards us. So one could be a serial killer and slaughter 50 people, and all they’d need to do is come to god in repentance and god fast tracks them into heaven – where they might bump into their victims!

    Given this, why should I do good if it ultimately means nothing? It’s like a law system that says “Do not commit murder. But if you do, all you have to do is feel sorry about it and there’s no penalty.” That would be a peculiar system.


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