Saturday, June 10, 2017

Quick Counters to the Moral Argument - Moral Duties

Note: What follows below is a transcript of the video
I wanted to cover some of the best objections to the moral argument for gods existence in their own smaller, easier to digest videos.
To sum things up quickly, here’s the standard moral argument for god’s existence:

1.      If god does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.

2.      Objective moral values & duties exist

3.      Therefore god exists

This video is going to show the numerous problems with saying if god does not exist, then objective moral duties cannot exist.

In order for the moral argument to work, an apologist must assume a theory of ethics known as Modified Divine Command Theory. In philosophy, this is what is called a meta-ethical theory. That’s a theory that attempts to explain what makes something morally valuable, and what constitutes our moral obligations.

Modified Divine Command theory says that objective moral values are equivalent to “gods nature”, and that objective moral duties, that is what we “ought to do” morally speaking, are made up of god’s divine commands to us.

There are at least three major problems when we look at what Modified Divine Command Theory entails and apply it to the moral argument.

The first major problem for the moral argument (not Modified Divine Command Theory) is that it derives an ought from an is. In moral philosophy, this is known as the is/ought problem, brought up by philosopher David Hume.  The issue is that philosophers infer what “ought to be” from “what is the case”. 

This is one of the most famous problems when it comes to dealing with moral obligations, and we can see apologist William Lane Craig actually admit that Modified Divine Command Theory derives what we ought to do from what is - namely the fact that god commanded us to do something:

“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.”

Now my 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 a 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. 

The next objection is that Modified Divine Command Theory doesn’t really explain where objective moral duties come from, it merely assumes them.

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?

Again, 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 at least one of the objective moral duties we have doesn’t come from god’s commands, it comes from the nature of authority.  This is nothing more than a definition of what duty arises from, and it’s fine as far as it goes. I may not agree with it, but it is at least a meta-ethical theory about moral obligations.  But notice that we don’t need a god to be in the picture for the underlying assumption Modified Divine Command Theory makes in order to bring a god into the theory. 

This leads to my final objection - the fact that once we acknowledge the previous point about the meta-ethical theory that underlies the Moral Argument, the moral argument becomes self defeating! 

This is because if the moral obligation to follow gods command arises from the response to an imperative from a competent authority, and our moral duties arise from the commands of a loving god, even if god does not exist, we still have the objective moral obligation to obey the commands of a competent authority!

Now an apologist might give up the idea that the obligation to follow gods commands derives from the nature of authority, and embrace a kind of infinite regress of obligations – saying that god commands us to obey his commands.  This might well save Modified Divine Command Theory from being self-defeating, but it still derives an ought from an is. All it does in terms of the moral argument is reduce premise one down into a definition an atheist has no reason to accept. 

These problems with modified divine command theory are reason enough to reject the idea that somehow atheists can’t account for objective moral duties. Once we have granted that a meta-ethical theory can violate the is/ought problem to ground objective moral duties – it is trivial for an atheist compatible meta-ethical theory, like say secular humanism, to achieve the same kind of objectivity in grounding moral duties that is achieved in theistic ethical systems.

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