This is a continuation of my response to the popular Christian apologetics book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norm Geisler and Frank Turek. Begin with part 1 here. For part 1 of the critique of the moral argument, go here.
Fundamental problems with the Moral Law argument
Geisler and Turek (GT) formulate their moral argument as follows: 1. Every law has a law giver; 2. There is a Moral Law; 3. Therefore, there is a Moral Law Giver. What they don’t mention is that every law giver referred to in point 1 is a material being, but then they switch to an immaterial law giver in point 3. They do nothing to address or even acknowledge the fact that their argument can’t explain the change (thanks to commenter MNb for this insight). The problem with the argument becomes obvious when this is made explicit:
1. Every law has a material law giver.
2. There is a Moral Law.
3. Therefore, there is an immaterial Moral Law giver.
Here’s another variant that also skewers GT’s flabby argument from commenter primenumbers:
1. Moral values come from a mind.
2. Objectivity means independence of a mind.
3. Therefore, objective moral values don’t exist.
And are we even using the same definition of “law”? Yes, morality is related to human laws, which are to some extent codified morality, but while laws are arbitrary (rather than objective), some aspects of morality are innate and (from the standpoint of humans) unchangeable. The Golden Rule or a prohibition against killing without proper justification might be examples. Human laws have law givers, but morality is, in part, programmed and unchangeable.
The analogy and therefore the foundation of the argument fails, but let’s set that aside and see what else GT have up their sleeves.
One of the problems so far has been to nail down what this Moral Law actually is. They imagine objective moral laws, but what does that mean? Starting with objective morality as a morality grounded outside humanity—rules valid regardless of whether anyone believes in them—the definition changed to the morality that we feel. Then, they back away from the idea that we can reliably access this morality, so it becomes morality that we only dimly feel. Expect more reversals as their moral theory chafes against reality.
Let’s return to GT’s moral argument.
We can’t not know, for example, that it is wrong to kill innocent human beings for no reason. Some people may deny it and commit murder anyway, but deep in their hearts they know murder is wrong. (page 172)
Uh, yeah—murder is wrong by definition. The natural hypothesis (see part 1 for the natural morality hypothesis that I defend) is sufficient to explain our revulsion at killing innocent people.
Relativists make two primary truth claims: 1) there is no absolute truth; and 2) there are no absolute moral values. (172)
I make neither claim.
“1 + 1 = 2” may be an absolute truth. As for absolute moral values, I’ve simply seen no evidence to overturn the natural explanation of morality. I await with ill-concealed impatience any evidence for objective morality.
GT uses “relative morality” in opposition to objective morality, but because the term has been so clumsily defined by apologists, I prefer to state my position as “not objective morality.” For simplicity in this post, though, I’ll stick with GT’s “relativists” and “relative morality.”
Relativists are absolutely sure that there are no absolutes. (173)
Relative morality fails?
GT relate the anecdote of a paper written by an atheist student. The student argued, “All morals are relative; there is no absolute standard of justice or rightness,” and the professor gave it an F because of the color of the folder it was delivered in. When the student protested that the reason wasn’t fair, the professor asked, “But didn’t you argue in your paper that there is no such thing?” At that point, the student “realized he really did believe in moral absolutes.”
I don’t, and I doubt any student in that situation would. There are absolute morals, and then there are the ordinary kind as defined in the dictionary. The student appealed to the natural morality he shared with the professor.
This is the Assumed Objectivity Fallacy. GT assumes that everyone knows and accepts objective morality. We’ll be seeing more of this.
The moral of the story [about the paper graded F] is that there are absolute morals. And if you really want to get relativists to admit it, all you need to do is treat them unfairly. (173)
Treat relativists unfairly, and they’ll appeal to shared, natural morality just like the student.
People may claim they are relativists, but they don’t want their spouses, for example, to live like sexual relativists. (173)
So you think relative morality is no morality? Your “moral relativists” have morals; they just don’t pretend that the morals are grounded outside humanity.
Actually, I’m happy for my spouse to use relative morality for all aspects of her life, both because I know of nothing else and because the natural morality that we all use works pretty well.
This reminds me of a quote from Penn Jillette: “The question I get asked by religious people all the time is, without God, what’s to stop me from raping all I want? And my answer is: I do rape all I want. And the amount I want is zero. And I do murder all I want, and the amount I want is zero.” Natural morality—it’s not perfect, but it serves us pretty well.
GT moves on to the visceral horror we felt from 9/11.
Our reaction reinforced the truth that the act was absolutely wrong. (175)
Another redefinition! We’ve switched to emotional gut feelings, and objective morality is now strongly felt morality.
GT go on to admit that we often betray our moral sense with our actions (the bad things we do), but they claim that the Moral Law is “revealed in our reactions.” Our sense of the Moral Law isn’t good enough to keep us firmly on the right track, but the truth comes out when we react. So now—redefinition!—objective morality is instinctive morality.
GT’s sloppy thinking may work with the flock, but it has consequences. One Amazon reviewer of this book titled his comment, “I don’t have enough intellectual dishonesty to be a Christian.”
Continue with part 3.
Bless yourself with holy water, have Masses said, and so on;
by a simple and natural process
this will make you believe, and will dull you—
will quiet your proudly critical intellect.
— Blaise Pascal
Image credit: Megan Studdenfadden, flickr, CC