What’s So Great about What’s So Great about Christianity?

A few years ago, Dinesh D’Souza wrote a book titled, What’s So Great about Christianity? His book contains numerous arguments for theism and against atheism. Since I mentioned D’Souza’s version of a moral argument for theism in my last post, I want to expand on it here.

In chapter twenty, “Natural Law and Divine Law: The Objective Foundations of Morality,” D’Souza argues for the following thesis:

Morality is both natural and universal. It is discoverable without religion, yet its source is ultimately divine. (225)

A little farther down, D’Souza clarifies that there are three central issues:

[(1)] Is there a universal or objective morality? [(2)] Does it have a religious foundation? [(3)]How can it be known? (225)

D’Souza’s answers to these questions may be summarized as: (1) yes; (2) yes; and (3) through conscience.  While I am inclined to agree with D’Souza about (1), I think he has overstated his case for (2).

How does D’Souza defend his claim that morality has a religious foundation? By appealing to the old “laws must have a lawgiver” slogan. He writes:

If there are moral laws that operate beyond the realm of natural laws, where do these laws come from? Moral laws presume a moral lawgiver. In other words, God is the ultimate standard of good. He is responsible for the distinction between good and evil that we universally perceive as binding on human action. The fact that these standards are distinctive to human beings implies that there is something special about us, and that God has a special interest in how we live. (233)

Now, off the top of my head, I can think of six (6) contemporary theistic philosophers who’ve defended some sort of moral argument for God’s existence: Robert Adams, David Baggett, Jerry Walls, William Wainwright, Phillip Quinn, and C. Stephan Evans. None of them defend this argument. So why should anyone agree with D’Souza that “moral laws presume a moral lawgiver?” Laws require a lawgiver only if they are, in fact, given (or made). Statutory (governmental) laws are the paradigm example of laws that require a lawgiver, but, to use one of William Lane Craig’s trademark expressions, statutory laws began to exist. Not all laws are given, however. The laws of nature, logic, and mathematics are three examples of laws that are discovered, not invented. Not only do these examples undercut the support for D’Souza’s slogan, they actually provide the basis of an argument against it, based on the following negative analogy.

(1). The laws of nature, logic, mathematics, and (objective) morality did not begin to exist.
(2) The laws of nature, logic, and mathematics also do not have lawgivers.
(3) Therefore, the laws of (objective) morality do not have a lawgiver.

(3) entails, accordingly, that the slogan, “laws require a lawgiver,” is false.

Furthermore, not only did the laws of (objective) morality not begin to exist, a moment’s reflection should reveal that objective moral laws are the sort of thing which cannot be invented. To say that morality is objective is to say that the truth of objective laws is independent of the subjective states of minds. For example, if it’s an objective truth that it’s  prima facie morally wrong to harm someone, then it’s prima facie wrong to harm someone regardless of how many people agree or disagree. So how could any mind invent an objective moral law? Any would-be moral law that a mind might invent would seem to be a subjective moral law (or inter-subjective, in the case of agreement of many minds). This shows that objective moral laws cannot have lawgivers.

 

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://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

    The laws of nature, logic, mathematics, and (objective) morality did not begin to exist.

    How did the laws of nature exist before the universe (i.e., nature) existed?

    To say that morality is objective is to say that the truth of objective laws is independent of the subjective states of minds.

    I haven’t read D’Souza’s book so I’m not claiming this is D’Souza’s approach. Could he posit that the objective moral law is embedded in the universe much like the laws of nature are? It seems this would make the moral law as objective as the laws of nature.

    So how could any mind invent an objective moral law?

    Through the act of creation. Just as the creation of the universe involved the creation of laws of nature so it also involved the creation of moral laws.

    • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

      “How did the laws of nature exist before the universe (i.e., nature)
      existed?”

      Prior to the universe existing, the proposition: the universe exists would
      not be true. Hence the law of non contradiction seems to before the
      universe exists.

  • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

    “Furthermore, not only did the laws of (objective) morality not begin to exist, a
    moment’s reflection should reveal that objective moral laws are the
    sort of thing which cannot be invented. To say that morality is objective is to say that the truth of objective laws is independent of the subjective states of minds.
    For example, if it’s an objective truth that it’s prima facie morally wrong to harm someone, then it’s prima facie wrong to harm someone regardless
    of how many people agree or disagree. So how could any mind invent an objective moral law? Any would-be moral law that a mind might invent would seem to be a subjective moral law (or inter-subjective, in the case of agreement
    of many minds). This shows that objective moral laws cannot have lawgivers.”

    This seems to equivocate on the word objective, its doubtful that a theist
    who believes God exists would claim that objectivity means things are
    true or false independently of any mind (including God). In that sense of the word even the universe does not objectively exist. Similarly, on the definition of subjective used even ideal observer theories or ethical naturalism would be subjectivist theories seeing the natural world depends on God for its existence and an ideal observer theory makes moral rules depend on what an ideal observer would prescribe. Perhaps the only theory which would not be objective
    in this sense would be non naturalist platonism and on theistic activist or divine conceptualist accounts this would be subjective too.

    In the context of meta-ethical discussions it seems unless the question
    is begged against theism subjective and objective must have a more
    limited meaning. They are used to refer to the independence of moral
    properties of human beliefs and prescription. I think I discussed
    this in my Philo article.

    • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

      Let’s make a distinction between mere theism, on the one hand, and theism conjoined with an auxiliary hypothesis about divine aseity, on the other hand. The former does not entail the latter; the former is logically compatible with things being true or false independently of any mind, including God. This is why theists such as Richard Swinburne can consistently say “God exists” and “autonomous (i.e., a se), ontologically objective moral values and obligations exist.” For the same reason, the definition of objectivity I’ve offered does not beg the question against mere theism. And as Geoffrey Sayre-McCord (Essays on Moral Realism) noted, this definition of objectivity has the advantage of being consistent with the way the words “realism” and “objective” are commonly understood in other branches of philosophy.

      • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

        Not sure I agree,

        First, I dont think I require asiety to esthablish my point, all thats required is that the universe is created and sustained by God ( which I would have thought was part of mere theism). If this is true then any natural property will be dependent upon God for its existence and so be subjective on your sense of the world. The truth of heliocentricism for example will a subjective fact because the sun and orbits of planets are created and sustained by God and hence dependent upon him

        Second, I dont think this is consistent with how realism is understood in other branches of philosophy. It don’t think it would be accurate to describe a person who believes that the sun and planets really exist independently of human cognition and have a real substantive material existence and believes contemporary astronomy accurately describes how these entities behave are subjectivists about the existence of planets because they believe in God. Nor would it be accurate to call a theist convinced of the truth of Cornell realism in ethics a subjectivist because the properties they identify with goodness are natural properties and hence created and sustained by God.

        • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

          Matt — Sorry for the late reply.

          I’m not sure that mere theism includes the proposition that the universe is sustained by God. But let’s assume that it is. Then we can coin a new word, call it “theism lite,” which is equivalent to mere theism minus the belief that God sustains the world. So the definition of objectivism I’ve offered is fully compatible with a pretty robust hypothesis about a supernatural person existing. This matters because it shows that one doesn’t have to assume atheism or metaphysical naturalism is true in order to accept the point.

          Plus we also have theistic philosophers like Richard Swinburne who don’t share your views on God and morality. Whether one agrees with Swinburne’s arguments on God and morality or not, they seem to prove that even theists can consistently believe that objective moral truths are not dependent upon God. At least, no one has ever shown otherwise.

          • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

            “I’m not sure that mere theism includes the proposition that the universe is sustained by God. But let’s assume that it is. Then we can coin a new word, call it “theism lite,” which is equivalent to mere theism minus the belief that God sustains the world.”

            OK,but the I’ll make the point simply in terms of God being the creator of the world. If God is the creator of the natural world then no natural property can exist without him first will that it does. So it will follow on your definition that Cornell realism is a form subjectivism unless you assume the world was not created, that seems to me a pretty non standard definition of objectivism. So it seems one could only use a standard definition if one assumed there was no creator. Perhaps there are forms of theism compatible with that, but it still seems to beg a substantial question.

            But there is a second issue here, suppose one takes a definition of objectivism whereby it refers to what Walter Sinnott Armstrong calls“strong objectivity” moral properties exist independently the will of any person including God. It will be true that in this sense a divine law account of morality will not be objective, it will also follow that naturalist accounts, and ideal observer accounts are not objective either so the denial of objectivity in this sense wont amount to much other than the denial of non naturalist platonism.

            Still one can claim that moral properties are objective in a weaker sense of the term, where it means something like independent of the will of actual human beings or communities, and a divine law account will be objective in this sense.

            The problem is one can ask in which sense are deontic properties plausibly held to be objective, do the reasons we think these properties are objective and the reasons we think they are not subject provide a basis for attributing strong or weak objectivity to deontic properties and it seems to me that the answer will be that they provide only a basis for something like weak objectivity. The standard arguments for realism and against subjectivism dont seem to me to apply to beings
            like ideal observers and Gods or even natural properties they apply to the rules laid down by human communities.

            So all the defender of the moral law argument needs to is simply offer a qualified definition of objectivity and repeat the argument.

          • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

            Plus
            we also have theistic philosophers like Richard Swinburne who don’t
            share your views on God and morality. Whether one agrees with
            Swinburne’s arguments on God and morality or not, they seem to prove that even theists can consistently believe that objective moral truths are not dependent upon God. At least, no one has ever shown otherwise.

            Sure if the claim is simple consistency, (though I do have some questions of wether Swinburne’s reasons for rejecting the necessity of Gods existence is compatible with his stance on necessary moral truths).
            However, while Swinburne can hold that moral truths are not dependent upon God its not clear to me he can hold that moral properties are. If these properties supervene upon natural properties and actions and God created and sustained all natural properties then it seems to follow moral properties depend on God even for Swinburne.

  • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

    While I dont defend the “laws require a lawgiver” argument without significant qualification. It seems there is wiggle room here, you write

    “(1) The laws of nature, logic, mathematics, and (objective) morality did not
    begin to exist.
    (2)The laws of nature, logic, and mathematics also do not have
    lawgivers.
    (3)Therefore, the laws of (objective) morality do not have a lawgiver.”

    But, I can think of good reasons for denying (1) here is why, deontic moral properties such as being right or wrong, are properties of actions. If no actions exist then these properties don’t exist, hence unless agents subject to moral duties exist eternally, moral properties came into existence.

    What plausibly could be said to not to begin to exist is not, moral duties themselves, but rather true conditionals about duties. Such
    things as: If a person tortures a child to death then he is doing something wrong. The problem is if then statements of this sort can be true even when there are no deontic properties at all.

    • http://notnotaphilosopher.wordpress.com/ Jason Thibodeau

      Let’s talk about propositions rather than properties. Take the proposition (T) It is morally wrong to torture infants. Why not think that (T) is true prior to the existence of the act of torture? It seems to me that (T) expresses a timeless, necessary truth. As such, the truth it expresses did not begin to be true.

      • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

        Jason

        (T) seems to me to be ambiguous. A person who uttered it could mean (T1) the action of torturing children posses the property of being wrong, or they could mean (T2) If a person tortures a child then that action has the property of being morally wrong. (T1) seems to me to be a contingent truth which depends on the existence of actions. (T2) on the other hand seems to me to be a necessary truth. I assume that you have something like (T2) in mind.

        The problem with choosing to talk about propositions a is that the argument above does not an infer Theism from the existence of true moral propositions. Its an argument to God’s existence from the existence of a moral law: that is the existence of a conjunction of requirements and prohibitions on certain sorts of actions. Hence, its deontic moral properties that are the explanandum. Consequently, whats relevant in this context is whether
        deontic moral properties begin to exist.

        Let me add that the existence of a moral law giver seems compatible with the claim there are necessarily true moral propositions. Just as there can be true moral propositions such as (T2) which are true prior to the existence of any moral
        properties. So there are analogous true theological/legal propositions prior to the existence of any acts of divine legistaion.

        A theist could for example contend that the propositon. (T3): If a
        person tortures a child then God prohibits there action. Would be
        necessarily true. So nothing about the moral law giver argument requires denying the existence of necessary moral truths. What it denies at most is the denial that moral properties have always existed, and seeing deontic properties are properties of actions and actions depend on agents to exist this seems perfectly sensible.to suggest there properties have no always existed.

        • http://notnotaphilosopher.wordpress.com/ Jason Thibodeau

          I don’t see the ambiguity you mention,. Rather, I think that (T) implies both (T1) and (T2).

          So, I guess what the moral argument needs, from my perspective at least, is some argument that shows that, from necessary truths such as (T) and the existence of actions mentioned in (T), we cannot get to contingent truths such as (T1) (that is, not without a lawgiver). In other words, I will maintain, for the sake of this argument, that from necessary truths such as (T) plus contingent truths such as (A) There is at least one action that consists of the torture of an infant, it follows that the action referred to in (A) possesses the deontic moral property of being wrong.

          Why is this inference not allowed?

          • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

            “I don’t see the ambiguity you mention,. Rather, I think that (T) implies both (T1) and (T2).”

            I think there is a difference. T1 picks out an object in the world and ascribes a property to it, it therefore presupposes the object exists and has that property. T2 is compatible with the non existence of both the object and the property. It states that if the action in question existen then it would be wrong. Only the second is plausibly necessary in my opinion.

            So, I guess what the moral argument needs, from my perspective at least, is some argument that shows that, from necessary truths such as (T)
            and the existence of actions mentioned in (T), we cannot get to contingent truths such as (T1) (that is, not without a lawgiver). In other words, I will maintain, for the sake of this argument, that from necessary truths such as (T) plus contingent truths such as (A) There is at least one action that consists of the torture of an infant, it follows that the action referred to in (A) possesses the deontic moral property of being wrong.Why is this
            inference not allowed?

            I guess I dont see why a person who makes a moral argument must consider that inference to be disallowed. Because the moral argument being discussed here does not claim you cant draw inferences to the existence of moral truths.

            It claims God is entailed by the best explanation of certain moral properties.

            To see my point consider an analogy. Its a necessary truth that If X is blue then its coloured. If this is conjoined with a contingent truth At least one blue object exists it follows this object is coloured. Nothing about the validity of this inference however answers the question as to what is the best account of the nature of colours? nor does it provide us with any answers as to why coloured
            objects exist.

            Nor would you refute say a dispositional account of colours by noting this inference was sound. The person offering such an account would simply suggest you had changed the question from. What is the best account of the nature and existence of colours. To the question of whether one can make valid inferences of a certain sort to the existence of colours

            The same is true here suppose its true that one can
            infer that certain actions are wrong in the ay you suggest. That does nothing to address the question of what is the best account of the nature of wrongness or why wrongness exists.

            As I understand the lawgiver argument the claim is that certain moral properties those in the obligation or deontic family are jointly best understood as a law. And the claim is that laws of this sort are best explained as divine legislation. Thats an argument to God from the existence of moral properties and moral properties dont exist
            necessarily. Conditionals about moral properties and there relationship to various actions might be necessarily true but the existence of the properties themselves is contingent and hence the existence of the law is contingent.

  • Keith Parsons

    Jeff,

    It seems to me that such discussions could benefit by having all parties make the distinction, noted by John Searle, between the ontological and epistemic senses of objective and subjective. An assertion can be epistemically objective in the sense that it is known to be true or false independently of the prejudices, desires, or attitudes of knowers. Yet such an epistemically objective assertion can make claims about ontologically subjective states. For instance, it can be an epistemically objective truth that the biological constitution of the human organism is such that humans will find certain states or activities intrinsically satisfying, enriching, or fulfilling. If true, the truth conditions of this statement would be the facts of human biology, and therefore it will be true independently of what anyone thinks or wants.

    Yet feelings of satisfaction, enrichment, or fulfillment are ontologically subjective. They do not exist without a sentient subject to have those enjoyable experiences. If, as ethical naturalists claim, the human good is partially constituted by the enjoyment of intrinsically rewarding states and activities, then ethical rules will aim at the actualization of ontologically subjective goods. Further, though, as Matt notes, such rules might be eternally true if expressed in the appropriate conditionals, they will obviously have no application until there actually exist sentient creatures with the capacity to enjoy the appropriate satisfactions. In that sense, the rules of morality must wait until certain evolutionary processes are complete before they can have relevance.

    The upshot is that the (atheist) ethical naturalist can claim epistemic objectivity for his ethics just as much as any theist. Yet such an ethical naturalist could claim that the facts of biology–that certain states or activities are experienced by humans as intrinsic goods–are a more reasonable basis for morality than any putative divine fiat.

  • Bradley Bowen

    “If there are moral laws that operate beyond the realm of natural laws,
    where do these laws come from? Moral laws presume a moral lawgiver. In
    other words, God is the ultimate standard of good” – D’Souza quoted by Jeff Lowder

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

    Jeff’s objection can be put in terms of a counterexample argument:

    Where do laws of logic come from?

    1. Laws of logic presume a logical lawgiver.
    2. God is the uliimate standard of logic.
    Therefore,
    3. God exists.

    Where do laws of mathematics come from?

    1. Laws of mathematics presume a mathematical lawgiver.
    2. God is the ultimate standard of mathematics.
    Therefore:
    3. God exists.

    If these arguments are invalid, then so is D’Souza’s argument.

  • Bradley Bowen

    “If there are moral laws that operate beyond the realm of natural laws,
    where do these laws come from? Moral laws presume a moral lawgiver. In
    other words, God is the ultimate standard of good” – D’Souza quoted by Jeff Lowder

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

    Comment 2:

    D’Souza has an analogy in mind:

    Where to laws come from?

    1. Laws exist.
    2. Laws presume a lawgiver.
    Therefore:
    3. There is a lawgiver.

    There is some unclarity here on quantification.

    How many lawgivers are there? If the conclusion means ‘There is at least one lawgiver’, then that is one thing, but if the conclusion means ‘There is exactly one lawgiver’, then we know this argument is invalid, because there are in fact MANY lawgivers. There are Seattle lawgivers, Washington state lawgivers, and US lawgivers, to name a few. Since our experience is primarily of laws that are produced by many people working together, the analogy supports polytheism at least as strongly as theism.

    In a democracy, no one person dictates laws. So, if a ‘lawgiver’ means a person who can dictate laws, then there are no ‘lawgivers’ in a democracy. There are only elected legislators who work together to write and pass laws, but no single person gets to dictate laws. So, depending on what one means by a ‘lawgiver’ it may be possible to have laws without having any ‘lawgivers’ at all.

    Of course, kings and dictators have made pronouncements, declarations, and dictates, and one could think of those speech acts as producing laws. So, even if our democratic system generates laws by committee, we can imagine laws being created by a single person, by a lone ‘lawgiver’.

    Suppose a dictator declares: ‘Kill all the Jews!’ Has this person created a new law? It is not clear that such an action does in fact create a new law. Why should anyone ‘obey’ this dictate? Perhaps the dictator has an army of thugs who will gladly beat or kill anyone who dares to refuse to obey this dictate. So what? Having an army of thugs does not give one the right or authority to create laws. The dictate ‘Kill all the Jews!’ is an evil and immoral idea, so one might reasonable conclude that such an idea cannot be a legitimate law. It is merely the wish of a violent ignorant homicidal maniac.

    What about the commands of a true king? Kings were thought to rule by divine right. God selects certain men to be rulers, and those rulers have legitimate authority given them by God. But this is problematic for a couple of reasons. First, we are here concerned with the question of whether there is a God. If there is no such thing as God, then clearly there is no such thing as the divine right of kings. No God, no authority of kings to issue legitimate commands to others. Second, suppose there is a God. If a king commands ‘Kill all the Jews!’ are we to obey this King? Isn’t this king just as much a violent, ignorant, homicidal maniac as the dictator who issues the same order? Isn’t it reasonable to conclude that such wishes of a violent ignorant homicidal maniac cannot be the basis for a legitimate law?

    In short, it might seem as if a king or dictator can simply speak and thereby create new laws, but on reflection it is not at all clear that this is so. I suppose there can be ‘bad laws’ but it is not clear (to me) that there can be awful laws. Morality and other criteria appear to have a role to play in determining whether the dictates of some person constitute laws. So, there are a couple of problems with the ‘lawgiver’ analogy. First, it is not clear that laws can be simply dictated; things are more complicated than that. Second, to the extent that morality comes into play as a part of the criteria for determining whether an alleged law is an actual law, problems with the concept and nature of morality get imbedded into the concept of law.


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