Atheistic Moral Realism – Part 10

When I argue against the resurrection of Jesus, I generally take a two-pronged approach. First, I argue that there are various good reasons to doubt the claim that Jesus was alive and walking around on the first Easter Sunday. Second, I make a concession for the sake of argument; I grant the supposition that Jesus was alive and walking around on the first Easter Sunday. Then I point out that this assumption, an assumption that Christian apologists work very hard to try to prove, actually provides a powerful reason to doubt that Jesus died on the cross on Good Friday, and thus the concession hurts the case for the resurrection.

In general, this is a strong way to argue for a skeptical position. First, lay out skeptical arguments that cast doubt on your opponent’s basic assumptions. Second, grant for the sake of argument some of the key assumptions of your opponent, and show that even if those assumptions are true, your opponent’s conclusion does not follow (or better: your opponent’s conclusion is cast into doubt by his own assumptions).

In thinking about Craig’s third objection to AMR, it occurs to me that he is probably using this same strategy in making his case against AMR. His first two objections are arguing that atheism and moral realism are logically incompatible ideas. One can be an atheist but this rules out moral realism, or one can be a moral realist, but this rules out atheism. Craig is arguing that we cannot have our cake and eat it too.

But the third objection that Craig makes against AMR is NOT an argument for the view that atheism and moral realism are logically incompatible. Rather, it is an argument that moral realism makes atheism unlikely or improbable. The idea is that moral realism provides the basis for a version of the teleological argument or argument from design.

Namely, it is unlikely that random natural processes would produce creatures who have natures that fit well with objective moral values, if there were such a thing as objective moral values. However, if there were a morally perfect person who created the universe, then this creator would have a good reason to bring about the existence of creatures with natures that fit well with objective moral values. Thus, the existence of such creatures provides inductive evidence for the existence of a perfectly good creator, whose existence would make it somewhat likely or probable that creatures with natures that fit well with objective moral values would come to exist.

Craig is in effect saying, “Suppose for the sake of argument that I’m wrong, and that moral realism and atheism are logically compatible ideas. Nevertheless, moral realism provides a strong inductive reason for rejecting atheism, so moral realism comes with a serious cost for atheists who wish to claim that their atheism is a rationally justified belief.”

This sort of teleological argument for the existence of God is at the heart of the case for God made by Richard Swinburne. Swinburne believes that there are objective moral values, but that the basic principles of morality are necessary truths, and thus that their truth is independent of the existence of God.

So, Craig could have said this:

“Look at Swinburne, he believes that there are objective moral values, and that these values don’t depend on God. Nevertheless, Swinburne argues that human creatures have just the sort of characteristics that make it possible for humans to have morally significant lives: free will, the ability to grasp moral truths, desires that bring temptation to act contrary to morality, desires to be good and loving towards others, and lots of opportunities to be good and helpful towards other people and creatures or to be bad and harmful towards other people and creatures.

If the universe in general, and humans in particular are merely the product of random natural processes, then all of these facts about the universe and human beings would be a very improbable coincidence. But if the universe and human beings are the product of a perfectly good creator, then these characteristics of reality and human beings are to be expected, or are at least somewhat probable.”

To be continued…

  • phillippe42

    This “strategy” is childishly naive. For, in order to make your arguments, on the one hand, you admit to the Bible saying that Christ died and was resurrected, but then, on the other hand, totally reject that what the Bible claims is true. On what grounds do you reject the testimony of six eye witnesses in what the Bible says is untrue? You don’t have any, other than you don’t like it, you can’t understand it, it offends you, in your own experience it’s not possible, etc… all personal objections without a shred of evidence, proof, or valid argument to disprove what the Bible says is untrue. There is no valid argument for not believing the Bible. You are lying to yourself if you believe otherwise and, as the Bible says, “…suppressing the truth in all unrighteousness”.

    BTW, Your particular fallacy that makes this argument invalid is equivocation. The Bible makes it no ambiguity that Christ died, was then resurrected and then seen by His disciples. However, you glaze over the whole died and resurrected bit to try and argue that since He was walking around He never died. Vanity, vanity, everything is vanity.

    • Kevin

      “There is no valid argument for not believing the Bible”. Do you really mean this? Surely you understand that you start off not believing something, then look for reasons to believe it and not the other way around. Even if there were six Eyewitness accounts(which there aren’t, none of the gospels were written by people who saw the alleged events, that’s a fact even Christians agree on), that isn’t nearly sufficient evidence to believe a supernatural claim. Imagine you were serving jury duty, and the defense called six witnesses who all said that rather than being killed, the victim and been abducted by aliens. Would that be sufficient evidence for you?

      • Bradley Bowen

        Nice example, Kevin.

        I think we should start off believing an historical account, and become skeptical as we find reasons to doubt the accuracy or reliability of the account or the credibility of the source.

        Of course, if we don’t know much about the author, then we cannot start off with 100% confidence level.

        In the case of the Gospels, we don’t know much about the authors, although we can make informed guesses about them. In any case, they were at best ancient historians/biographers, and based on track record of ancient historians/biographers, we should begin with a healthy dose of skepticsim. Then add in the fact that we are dealing with religious propaganda that asserts various fantastic miracles and supernatural events, and the skepticism bumps up significantly.

        So, anyone who wants to give the Gospels a high historical reliabilty rating (say 80-90% reliable on historical details) has to come up with some pretty damn strong evidence for this claim, in view of the fact that (1) we don’t know much about the authors, (2) ancient historians/biographers are usually fairly unreliable, (3) the authors have a strong motivation for bias, and (4) there are many fantastic miracles and supernatural events reported in the Gospels.

        There are other reasons, besides these, that suggest the Gospels are less than reliable, but these are reasons that are on the surface, reasons that meet the eye even of those who are not familiar with the scholarly study of the Gospels.

      • phillippe42

        Kevin said “Even if there were six Eyewitness accounts(which there aren’t, none of the gospels were written by people who saw the alleged events, that’s a fact even Christians agree on)…”

        Wrong, there were eyewitness accounts, but if you only limit yourself to the gospels then you won’t see them. Try reading the whole new testament.

        “that isn’t nearly sufficient evidence to believe a supernatural claim”

        And that’s the point that the Bible makes as well. For some there is no amount of evidence that will change their hearts or minds. Or do you think every person believed in Christ after they saw Him heal people, and raise people from the dead? No, there were some who after seeing these things still did not believe. God could part the Atlantic Ocean for you and you still would not believe in Him. You should be fearful.

        • Kevin

          OK, for a stubborn, illogical person, no amount of evidence will change their mind. I’m talking about a logical, truth-seeking person. There are way more than six eyewitness accounts of aliens, bigfoot, nessie, Et cetera. None of those things have met their burden of proof to reasonable people and neither have the supernatural claims of the bible.

          • phillippe42

            That’s comparing oranges and apples. Jesus did all His miracles in the
            sight of hundreds and thousands. Not just a few here and there with no
            one to corroborate their story. So your argument lacks balance.

    • Chris

      “BTW, Your particular fallacy that makes this argument invalid is equivocation.”

      Totally wrong. The equivocation fallacy involves using the same word to mean two different things. Denying the Resurrection initially and then supposing it’s true for the sake of argument not only isn’t an equivocation fallacy, it isn’t any kind of fallacy at all. But the fact that you say the bible has six eyewitness accounts of the Resurrection, when it has no eyewitness accounts at all, shows that you are the one who is ‘childishly naive.’

      • Bradley Bowen

        Good points. Thanks Chris.

      • phillippe42

        Chris said “Totally wrong. The equivocation fallacy involves using the same word to mean two different things.”

        Oh my goodness, you better read beyond the first definition and example of equivocation in your children’s schoolbook.

        The Bible clearly states there are eyewitnesses. You must be playing semantic games. Maybe not six but there are definitely three eyewitness accounts.

        • Bradley Bowen

          phillipe42 said:

          The Bible clearly states there are eyewitnesses.

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

          That would be hearsay.

          What matters is whether there are any accounts of the life and/or death of Jesus that were written by an eyewitness to the events described.

          There are NOT six such accounts. There are NOT three such accounts. There are ZERO acounts of the life or death of Jesus written by an eyewitness to the events described.

          Also, if you are going to make factual claims as an argument to persuade me or others of your views about Jesus, then you need to provide actual facts, not just your subjective summarizations of facts.

          If there are six accounts written by eyewitnesses, then name the accounts; point us to them. Quote from them. If you cannot name the accounts or point us to them, then don’t bother making implausible claims that are true only in your imagination.

          That won’t change anybody’s opinion, at least not here. Not at the Secular Outpost. Give us some actual facts, or go away.

        • Bradley Bowen

          Chris said “Totally wrong. The equivocation fallacy involves using the same word to mean two different things.”

          Oh my goodness, you better read beyond the first definition and example of equivocation in your children’s schoolbook.

          ======================
          Comment:

          Chris is correct. The fallacy of equivocation occurs when a word or phrase is used with two different meanings in the course of an argument, making it appear that two or more statements are logically connected, when the statements actually are not connected.

          The fact that you disagree with Chris further demonstrates your ignorance of logic. The fallacy of equivocation is a very basic fallacy that anyone who has had any exposure to logic or critical thinking would know.

          I noticed that although you totally reject the clarification of this fallacy given by Chris, you have nothing to offer in place of how Chris characterized the fallacy. That suggests to me that you literally have no clue what you are talking about.

          So, you use vague and unclear statements to characterize my views, then make logical criticisms of your mischaracterization of my views, criticism which does not hold up to the slightest examination. You make false claims about there being six eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus, you fail to provide any facts to back up your wild claims, you charge me with the fallacy of equivocation when I have not commited any fallacy at all, and clearly not the fallacy of equivocation, and you don’t even know what that ‘the fallacy of equivocation’ means!

          Your comments here are a mess. They reveal that your thinking is unclear, uncritical, illogical, ignorant, and likely based more on wishful thinking than on any actual facts and data.

    • Ryan M

      For someone who mentions “evidence, proof, or valid argument”, you do make it difficult to take you seriously when you say “There is no valid argument for not believing the bible”.

      Here is one valid argument for not believing the bible; 1. If the bible is true, then phillippe42 is intelligent. 2. phillippe42 is not intelligent. 3. The bible is not true.

      That argument is deductively valid, so unless you’re speaking about validity in a different sense then your previous assertion is now false (though it would have been false anyways since there are thousands of previously existing ‘valid’ arguments against believing the bible).

      • Bradley Bowen

        “valid argument” can also mean “good argument”.

        Those of us familiar with logic use “valid argument” to mean “a deductive argument with logically correct inferences”, so when someone uses “valid argument” to mean “good argument” we who are familiar with logic cringe a bit. It’s like the sound of fingernails scraping on a chalkboard.

    • Bradley Bowen

      phillippe42 said:

      This “strategy” is childishly naive. For, in order to make your arguments, on the one hand, you admit to the Bible saying that Christ died and was resurrected, but then, on the other hand, totally reject that what the Bible claims is true.

      ============

      Response:

      The claim “you admit to the Bible” is vague and unclear. If you want to show that someone has contradicted himself or herself, you first need to be CLEAR about what he or she asserted. Making such vague and unclear statements won’t work as logical criticism.

      I suspect that you mean “you admit that the Bible is 100% accurate and reliable”. If that is what you mean, then your first assertion is false. I do NOT admit that the Bible in general (or the Gospels in particular) is 100% accurate and reliable. Only an idiot or a fundamentalist Bible-thumper believes the Bible to be 100% accurate and reliable.

      Your second claim is that I “totally reject that what the Bible claims is true.” As with your first claim, this claim is also unclear. You can hardly expect to prove that I have contradicted myself, when what you attribute to me are two vague and unclear statements.

      You also undermine your own credibility here. You are making logical criticisms but showing ignorance or lack of skill in interpretation of claims.

      CLARITY is absolutely essential in logic and critical thinking. If you cannot write and think more clearly, then you demonstrate to others that you are not yet ready to provide logical criticism of the thinking of someone else. Remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

      If you mean that I reject 100% of the claims about Jesus in the Gospels, then your second assertion is false. I do NOT reject 100% of the claims about Jesus made in the Gospels.

      The Gospels are our primary historical source of information about Jesus. If one rejects 100% of what the Gospels say about Jesus, then this means that we have almost zero information about Jesus. Some skeptics believe that Jesus is a mythical person who never existed, but I am not such a skeptic.

      So, your first and second claims are both unclear, and if my clarifications of those claims are correct, then your first and second claims are both false.

      I’m not impressed with your ability to provide logical criticism. Don’t criticize what you don’t understand. Seek first to understand what I have said, and then, after you have a CLEAR understanding, put forward whatever objections you might have.

      • phillippe42

        If you take what I said and separate them, as you have done, and what you probably do with the bible, then you will not be able to understand anything. But, if you read them in context it is quit clear that I am talking about your “strategy” for throwing doubt onto the resurrection of Christ and your absolute and total ignorance in thinking that this argument could strike down the eyewitness testimony of six persons. You would not make a good lawyer.

        Reading comprehension improves when you read everything through and don’t start critiquing after every coma and period.

        Your main problem is that you don’t treat the bible as any other historical book. All historical books are assumed to be true until proven otherwise and to do so is extremely difficult. Treating an historical book has not true by default is to be intellectually dishonest, and if one single example can be given of how it can be true then your claim becomes invalid.

        There are no valid arguments if you are intellectually and logically honest. But I no hope of finding either here.

        • Bradley Bowen

          phillippe42 said:

          If you take what I said and separate them, as you have done, and what you probably do with the bible, then you will not be able to understand anything. But, if you read them in context it is quit clear that I am talking about your “strategy” for throwing doubt onto the resurrection of Christ

          ======================

          Response:

          I did understand that you were talking about my strategy for “throwing doubt onto the resurrection of Christ”. But understanding what you purpose was, does not make the words you wrote any the less vague and unclear.

          If I misunderstood your statements, I’m sorry about that, but you also bear some responsibility to write with clarity, especially when you raise an objection to someone else’s reasoning, especially when you are characterizing someone else’s claims. What you wrote was vague and unclear, and I did my best to try to make sense out of it anyway.

          I am open to the possibility that I misunderstood what you meant. Note that I was not dogmatic in my attempt to understand your unclear statements. I said “If you mean that …” and “I suspect that you mean…”

          If you are willing to try to re-state your claims and to try to clarify what you intended, then I will gladly re-consider your objection.

        • Bradley Bowen

          phillipe42 said:

          Your main problem is that you don’t treat the bible as any other historical book. All historical books are assumed to be true until proven otherwise and to do so is extremely difficult.

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

          You are continuing to make vague and unclear statements.

          “All historical books are assumed to be true…”

          How can a book be true? It is claims or statements that can be true or false. A book can contain hundreds or thousands of statements. Is a book “true” only if EVERY statement in the book is true? What if a book contains 500 statements and 400 of those statements are true and the remaining 100 are false? Is that book true or false?

          Are you saying that historians start out believing that EVERY statement in a book that makes historical claims is true? That would be absurd. Even careful objective modern historical books contain errors and falsehoods.

          Ancient historians and biographers were much looser with facts than modern historians and biographers. One should start with the assumption that an ancient work of history or biography will contain a significant portion of fiction and errors mixed in with some true and accurate information.

  • Eric Sotnak

    I was going to point out what I thought was a likely Christian reply, only to see that phillippe42 more-or-less gave it. But here it is in standard form:
    1. The Bible is a reliable historical record.
    2. If (1), then Jesus was walking around on the first Easter Sunday.
    3. Therefore, Jesus was walking around on the first Easter Sunday.
    4. [But also] if (1), then Jesus died on the cross.
    5. Therefore, Jesus died on the cross.
    That is, the strategy is to suggest that by conceding 3, you have also tacitly conceded 1, 2, and 4, and would therefore be irrational in not conceding 5. But if this is the argument, the response is rather obvious. It is entirely reasonable to concede the partial reliability of the Bible without conceding all of it. One could say that ordinary standards of historical evidence make it at least not unreasonable to concede either 3 or 5, but not to concede both. In order to make it reasonable to think that both 3 and 5 are true, we would need “extraordinary evidence” and this is precisely what many who reject Christianity claim is lacking.

    • Bradley Bowen

      Well stated. Thank you for your comments.

    • phillippe42

      That is clearly stated but does not necessarily follow. If you reject 3 or 5 then you also reject the historical document. The historical document itself documents this “extraordinary evidence” for future generations. If you reject the testimony of eye witness accounts then there’s not much left that you will or can accept.

      There are plenty of things that you accept right now and everyday of your life without any evidence whatsoever. Even science accepts things without any evidence, and indeed, is built upon such presuppositions. But when it comes to believing an historical document you have trouble.

      So, to sum up. You won’t believe unless God gives “extraordinary evidence”. God did give extraordinary evidence in the past and it was documented, but you still do not believe, because you did not witness it. You know that there is a parable in the Bible that describes this very situation; Lazarus and the rich man.


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