Friday, February 24, 2017

Advice for Michael Nugent - Part 2

Last week I wrote a post dealing with a wide variety of problems for the Kalam Cosmological Argument as a piece of advice for Michael Nugent in his upcoming debate with Christian apologist William Lane Craig.

While I don't intend to go into nearly as much depth here, I did want to sketch a few objections I find to be very strong to the common arguments Craig presents: The Fine Tuning Argument and the Moral Argument.

So lets begin.

The Fine Tuning Argument

The fine tuning argument goes like this:

  1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.
  1. It is not due to physical necessity or chance.
  1. Therefore, it is due to design.
I believe that physicist Sean Carroll did a particularly good job responding to Craig on the design argument in their debate.  A quick summary is on the Why Evolution is True blog that I found helpful. I want to highlight a few key points from there and offer a few points of my own.

First is the idea that the universe is finely tuned for life.  One of the most often overlooked points in the design argument is the assumption that our universe is finely tuned for life, except we don't really have a very good definition of what life is, or what forms intelligent life could take if the constants of physics were in some other kind of range.   So until Craig and co can offer us arguments as to why we should think life forms of our kind are the only kind that can sustain conscious, intelligent life - we should reject the fine tuning argument.

Second is the fact that by looking at the universe as a whole we would not infer that it is designed for life. The overwhelming majority of the universe is hostile to intelligent life, at least as far as we exist.  This is akin to looking at an otherwise mud and filth covered car, observing a small circle where the car is perfectly clean, and then using the existence of that spot as evidence that the car must belong to Mr. Clean.

Third is to point out that that we do not have enough knowledge about the laws of physics to say that the values various cosmological constants have is not due to necessity of our laws of physics.  In the history of the fine tuning argument there were some constants that were argued that needed to be finely tuned, only that when we obtained a better understanding of the laws of physics we found that the value of that constant couldn't have been anything else.  The point of this is to say that until we get a "Theory of Everything" (assuming such a thing is even possible) for the laws of physics, we have no business saying that the values for specific constants could have been something different.

Fourth is to point out an objection brought up by two Christian philosophers - Timothy & Lydia McGrew - which points out that the argument is formally invalid because of the use of probability. This is what is known as the normalizability objection.  The main problem is that to say that the values various cosmological constants could take fall within a specific probability range can't be coherently defined - because the argument presumes that there is no upward bound on the possible values that those constants could take.  This means there are an infinite number possible values that those constants could take, but if that's the case the total probability space can not be summed up to be 1. This is required to be able to make coherent use of probability math.

The Moral Argument

The moral argument goes like this:

  1. If god does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  1. Objective moral values and duties exist
  1. Therefore god exists
Before we get to anything I think about the subject, it would be a very good idea to read the absolutely fantastic Primer in Religion and Morality written by Jeff Lowder.

Personally I think my second video on the subject deals well with the moral argument, though I'm not happy with the presentation of the best objections to the argument in a video format that was largely responding to Craig.  So let me sum up the important parts here.

First is the objection that Craig's own meta-ethical view, Modified Divine Command Theory (MDCT) provides the kind of "objective" moral values that he claims.  MDCT says that objective moral values are "ontologically equivalent" with "god's nature", and that objective moral duties are constituted by god's divine commands to us.  So on Craig's view something like "love" is only "objectively good" because god's nature is loving, and something like "murder" is wrong because "god has commanded us not to murder".

The problem here is that Craig defines objective in this sense as something that is "mind independent".  This results in a problem for him because Craig believes that his god is an unembodied mind.

But if love is good only because it is a property of god's nature, and god himself is an unembodied mind, how is that possibly "mind independent"?  How can the nature of a mind be "mind independent"?

The only response is to say that if a god exists as apologists conceive of him, then it would be a “mind independent fact” that his nature as loving.

This kind of objectivity is purely descriptive in its nature, and if apologists want to use that kind of objectivity to serve as their foundation for their meta-ethical theory then it’s actually pretty easy for an atheist to achieve the same thing.

One possible method of objectivity in this way would be universal human desires. After all, even on atheism humans have a nature as dictated to us by the brute facts of our biology. All of these facts would be “mind independent” in the same way apologists say facts about god’s nature would be.  This view is defended by philosopher Larry Arnhart in his book: Darwinian Natural Right: The Biological Ethics of Human Nature.

Second is the objection that both theistic and atheistic meta ethical theories boil down to what we accept as the "brute facts" about what it is that constitutes making something "good".  FYI, a brute fact is a fact that is not a necessary fact, but otherwise lacks an explanation as to why it is so.  

 There are a host of atheist compatible meta-ethical theories that would give us objective moral values which rely on moral brute facts. Theists will disagree with these brute facts, but that does not mean that they do not exist or are not possible ways to derive an objective moral value system compatible with atheism.

I already mentioned universal human desires as one possibility, but atheistic Platonism of the sort defended by Erik Wielenberg in “Value & Virtue in a Godless Universe” is also a possibility.  In any case the point is to show that these kinds of theories are at least on par with Craig's theistic based meta-ethic.

On Craig's MDCT for something like love to be considered “morally good” it has to be a part of god’s nature.  In fact, anything that is part of god’s nature is considered good, and Christians conceive of god as a host of things: Loving, Kind, Truthful, etc. and so all those qualities count as good.

The problem with this view is that the fact that god’s nature has any given property is itself a brute fact!

So the fact that Christians conceive of god being loving instead of hateful has no explanation any more than Christians can explain why their god is a trinity instead of a duet or quintuple. Those are all just brute facts about their god.

If apologists assumed that moral values existed apart from god, they could at least say that “since god is defined as the greatest conceivable being, he must necessarily be loving because loving is good”.

But this doesn’t work, because Modified Divine Command Theory says that the only things that are good are the things that are in god’s nature. So if god was say: Hateful, Mean, and Deceitful – then those things would be “good” on that view.  As such there’s no logically necessary reason to think god’s nature must be “Loving” instead of “Hateful”, it just happens to be that way – according to apologists.

Similarly, apologists can’t appeal to their conception of god as a necessary being to explain why god’s nature has one set of properties over another.   

A necessary being or thing is something that exists the same way in every possible world.  We typically consider things like mathematics or logical laws to be necessary, so when we say 2+2=4, there is no possible world where 2+2=5.  When it comes to god, it just means that whatever set of properties god has, he has those properties in every possible world.

So if you say it’s logically necessary that god is loving because god is loving in every possible world, that’s because you’re assuming god is loving in the first place. There’s no logical reason you can give to say why god is loving instead of hateful, because even if god is a necessary being he could just as easily have a hateful nature in every possible world instead of a loving nature.

Since Craig's meta-ethical theory ends up relying on a kind of moral brute fact just like every other meta-ethical theory out there, there is no inherent advantage to theistic meta-ethics that compels us to accept it over the variety of other atheist compatible meta-ethical theories.

The third objection to Craig's moral argument is to point out that it is false to say that objective moral duties can only exist if a god exists. 

This is because Modified Divine Command Theory doesn’t really explain where objective moral duties come from, it merely assumes they exist in the first place.

After all, the theory says that our moral duties are constituted by the commands of a loving god, but where exactly does the obligation to follow god’s commands themselves come from?

We can quote William Lane Craig in his own words:

“Someone might demand, “Why are we obligated to do something just because it is commanded by God?” The answer to that question comes, I think, by reflecting on the nature of moral duty. Duty arises in response to an imperative from a competent authority.”

So on Craig's own view, we have a duty that arises in response to an imperative from a competent authority.  The important part here is that this assumption undercuts the moral argument itself! Because even if god does not exist, given Craig's assumption about moral duty arising from an imperative to a competent authority, we would still have the moral obligation to follow the commands of a competent authority.

It is important to note that Craig's response above is not the only response to the question "where does the duty to obey god's commands come from".  Craig would probably be better served to say that this is a nonsensical question and that moral duties just are "following god's commands".  This would actually be just fine as far as making MDCT coherent as a meta-ethical theory, but it comes at a steep price!

This is because in order to take this view (or even his previously stated view about duties), Craig must derive an ought from an is. Again quoting Craig:

“So how does Divine Command Theory derive an “ought” from an “is”? Well, it says that we ought to do something because it is commanded by God. That is deriving an “ought” from an “is.”

It's important to note that this objection is NOT that Modified Divine Command Theory derives an ought from an is, and therefore its false.

My objection is that once we grant any meta-ethical theory the ability to violate the is/ought dichotomy in order to derive moral obligations, it is utterly trivial to come up with atheist compatible conceptions of objective moral obligations.

To say that theistic meta-ethics can violate the is/ought dichotomy to derive objective moral duties, but atheistic meta-ethics can not is special pleading.


This wraps up two other major arguments Craig is very likely to give in your debate.  If you're willing to read it, I intend to give one final piece of advice on strategy to take in the debate itself.  In any case, I hope you find this helpful.

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