Tag Archives: atheist

More on William Lane Craig’s Morality

In the comments section of my last post on this topic, it was highlighted to me by Prayson Daniel that I may not have exactly presented Craig’s case accurately. Though I feel that many of the points I made were valid against his argument, I figured I would redo my rebuttal it, and some his others in a new post quoting only his words. I shall provide links for all quotations so that you can see the context. So here goes, I shall dive in:

 

This is Craig’s moral argument in his words:

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

2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.

3. Therefore, God exists.

Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/moral-argument#ixzz2JP8r21DE

 

Let us begin with premise one; “if God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist”. Lets see what he offers in support of this:

Consider first the question of objective moral values. If God does not exist, then what basis remains for the existence of objective moral values? In particular, why think that human beings would have objective moral worth? On the atheistic view human beings are just accidental byproducts of nature which have evolved relatively recently on an infinitesimal speck of dust called the planet Earth, and which are doomed to perish individually and collectively in a relatively short time. On atheism it’s hard to see any reason to think that human well-being is objectively good, anymore than insect well-being or rat well-being or hyena well-being. This is what Dr. Harris calls “The Value Problem”

Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-the-foundation-of-morality-natural-or-supernatural-the-craig-harris#ixzz2JPCFI1EF

and

On a naturalistic view moral values are just the behavioral byproducts of biological evolution and social conditioning. Just as a troop of baboons exhibit cooperative and even self-sacrificial behavior because natural selection has determined it to be advantageous in the struggle for survival, so their primate cousins homo sapiens have evolved a sort of herd morality for precisely the same reasons. As a result of socio-biological pressures there has evolved among homo sapiens a sort of herd morality which functions well in the perpetuation of our species. But on the atheistic view there doesn’t seem to be anything that makes this morality objectively binding and true.

Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-the-foundation-of-morality-natural-or-supernatural-the-craig-harris#ixzz2JPCgyOgm

 

I essentially agree with this point. On naturalism there is no independent, timeless, objective system of ethics that exists outside of our own consciousness. This does not mean that a rational account for morality cannot be advanced. Science has shown us that there is a neurological basis for empathy – we are literally hard-wired for compassion. Let me explain; when you observe a person drowning and crying out for help, there will be a certain set of neurons that fire to coordinate their movements and actions as the person struggles in the water. As you observe this a certain subset of those same neurons fire as though your brain were mirroring what that person were going through – hence the name of these brain cells: Mirror neurons.

 

During the course of our evolution, our brains grew larger and we developed a much more complex system of mirror neurons. This would provide an advantage because it allows us to imitate the actions of others, and would play a vital role in the development of tool use. It has also give our brains an intrinsic connection between our own minds and those of others. When we see someone suffering we can literally put ourselves in their shoes through the “mirroring” of their actions in our brains. Similarly when we someone overjoyed or relieved, we share this experience with them. It is in our nature to be empathetic, as neurologist V.S. Ramachandran states:

 

Within some of these regions [of the brain], there is a special class of nerve cells called mirror neurons. These neurons fire not only when you perform an action, but also when you watch someone else perform the same action. This sounds so simple that its huge implications are easy to miss. What these cells do is effectively allow you to empathise with the other person and “read” her intentions—figure out what she is really up to. You this by running a simulation of her using your own body image.

 

When you watch someone else reach for a glass of water, for example, your mirror neurons automatically simulate the same action in your (usually subconscious) imagination. Your mirror neurons will often go a step further and have you perform the action they anticipate the other person is about to take—say, to lift the water to her lips and take a drink. Thus you automatically form an assumption about her intentions and motivations—in this case, that she is thirsty and is taking steps to quench her thirst. Now, you could be wrong in this assumption—she might intend to use the water to douse a fire or to fling in the face of a boorish suitor—but usually your mirror neurons are reasonably accurate guessers of others’ intentions. As such, they are the closest thing to telepathy that nature was able to endow us with.”

The Tell-Tale Brain page 22

 

Thus we have good grounds to believe that it is in our nature to be empathetic and compassionate. We see a person drowning and we want to help them because we can visualise ourselves in that position. Thus, though there may not be a law of the universe that states ‘we should be good’ it is an intrinsic part of our consciousness to be kind, and that is one perfectly adequate reason to be good – its in our nature!

 

I am willing to grant Craig his assertion that on naturalism there is no truly objective grounding for morality, however I do think there are issues with Craig’s unstated assumption that God is the source of objective morality. I shall return to the dilemma I highlighted in my previous post on this topic. Here is the problem:

 

1. If something is good because God commands it then this is a subjective basis for morality

2. If God commands something because it is already good then objective moral values exist independent of God

3. Therefore God cannot be the source of objective morality and Craig’s first premise is false

 

Lets take an example of Biblical morality, perhaps the most obvious; “Thou shall not kill”. If this is an objective indictment then there would be no context in which killing is permissible. Yet we have another passage from the Bible (this is not an isolated instance either):

“If your own full brother, or your son or daughter, or your beloved wife, or you intimate friend, entices you secretly to serve other gods, whom you and your fathers have not known, gods of any other nations, near at hand or far away, from one end of the earth to the other: do not yield to him or listen to him, nor look with pity upon him, to spare or shield him, but kill him.  Your hand shall be the first raised to slay him; the rest of the people shall join in with you.  You shall stone him to death, because he sought to lead you astray from the Lord, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.  And all Israel, hearing of this, shall fear and never do such evil as this in your midst.”

(Deuteronomy 13:7-12 NAB)

 

How can God’s commands be an objective basis for morality when in one instance he states; do not kill anyone, and in another he states; go out and kill? If killing is both okay and not okay in separate instances then it is not objectively wrong. It is determined by the subjective whims of God.

 

Prayson brought up the following point of contention with this in the comments to my previous post:

 

“[A] common reply offered in this literature is that objective moral values and duties base on God’s own nature. Plato called it The Good. Thus it cannot exist independent of God because God is The Good, they contended.

So what God commands reflects his nature. It is for that reason that he cannot command something against his nature.”

 

This does nothing to solve the confusion of the above dilemma. If God’s commands reflect his nature, then his nature must require that killing is both okay and not okay – his nature, according to scripture and this reasoning, is contradictory. So we still cannot arrive at the objective decision “killing is wrong” via this line of reasoning.

 

In conclusion, Craig’s first premise is flawed because an objective grounding morality requires that moral injunctions such as those against killing be true in all instances, yet this is contradicted by instances in scripture in which God endorses and encourages killing. Neither the divine command theory or the argument about God’s nature escapes this dilemma.

 

Let’s turn to premise 2: “Objective moral values and duties do exist.” And see what he offers in support of this assertion:

 

But the problem is that objective moral values and duties plausibly do exist. In moral experience we apprehend a realm of moral values and duties that impose themselves upon us. There’s no more reason to deny the objective reality of moral values than the objective reality of the physical world. Actions like rape, cruelty, and child abuse aren’t just socially unacceptable behavior—they’re moral abominations. Some things, at least, are really wrong. Michael Ruse himself admits, “The man who says it is morally acceptable to rape little children is just as mistaken as the man who says 2+2=5.”2 Some things, at least, are really wrong.

Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-craig-krauss-debate-at-north-carolina-state-university#ixzz2JPerUoXk

 

The problem of this is that he does not provide any real reason to accept that we are actually apprehending a realm of moral values and duties that are an objective reality. He merely states that there is no reason to deny it. Yet there are reasons to deny it.

 

As I highlighted earlier in this post there are neurological groundings for empathy and compassion – we undoubtedly experience feelings of guilt and conscience. But this does not necessarily represent a realm that objectively exists outside of our consciousness. I explained that there are good evolutionary reasons for why we feel empathy and compassion.

 

Other morally guiding emotions such as shame and guilt, have equally sound evolutionary explanations. A short example of this would be, we may have evolved guilt and remorse as a defence against habitually dangerous behaviour – for example; adultery – the more our ancestors committed adultery the higher the frequency of getting caught and injured or killed. The unpleasant emotions of remorse and guilt prevent us from putting our lives at risk from “pissing too many people off” as it were. Likewise, friendship, cooperation etc. are advantageous, those who cooperate can survive much more efficiently than those who are constantly fighting with each other. There are many good naturalistic explanations for our moral experience that do not require the existence of moral principles that exist beyond the functioning of our brains.

 

Whilst it is undoubtedly true that most normal human beings experience what can be described as a ‘moral realm’ – however there is no reason to assume that this realm exists external to our consciousness. It is a part of who we are as a species, but it does not necessitate the existence of objective moral principles that exist in anything other than the internal realm of our experience.

 

Despite his assertion that there is ‘no good reason’ to deny the existence of an objective moral realm – I have shown that there are good reasons to. He offers nothing else in support of his argument. What Craig really needs to do is show us why there are no good reasons to deny his assertion, until he does so, I shall consider his point refuted.

 

Thus his conclusion “God exists” is not shown to be true due to the flaws in both of his premises that I’ve highlighted.

 

I hope this provides a more accurate and in depth analysis of his argument. Feel free to discuss in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Philosophy, Religion

Notes on the Problem of Evil

Okay, first we need a definition of evil that we can all agree upon, so how about:

 

Intentionally acting in such a way as to increase harm and suffering without remorse

I’m pretty sure most people can agree upon that. Next we need to define the kinds of entities that are capable of committing evil. Moral awareness is an important prerequisite. We cannot classify a lion as evil for killing other animals at any given opportunity because they have no sense of right and wrong. So in order to be able to do evil you need the capacity to be aware of your actions, their consequences and how they affect others. As far as we know humans are the only beings possessing of these traits.

So in order for something to be evil it needs to be carried out by a morally aware being. An event which causes suffering and harm repeatedly, but is not down to the actions and intentions of a morally aware being cannot be classified as evil. This means that natural disasters and diseases etc. are not evil. So far so good.

However, when you throw and all-powerful deity into the mix this is when things get difficult (for the theist at least). God fulfils the requirement of being a morally aware entity, most theists will state that God is the source of moral truth, so clearly such an entity is very aware of their actions and the consequences of them.

The attribute of omnipotence creates a problem which is famously termed ‘the problem of evil’. Let me explain it using malaria as an example; malaria kills thousands of children every single day so there is no doubt that such a thing increases suffering and causes harm to others, however without God malaria is not evil because it is not caused by the actions and decisions of a morally aware entity. On theism this is different.

The theist has two choices when it comes to malaria; either God created it himself, or allowed it to happen. Either way this removes malaria from the context of having not been caused by the actions and intentions of a morally aware entity to one in which it is very much in the hands of a morally aware entity.

If God created malaria then he is evil because he intentionally created something that causes large amounts of pain and suffering, apparently with no remorse. If God allows malaria then this creates problems also; because if God cares about our suffering and wants to relieve it then he should want to use his power to prevent malaria, this gives rise to a contradiction because it’s very apparent that God has done nothing to prevent malaria, so either God does not care about our suffering, or God does care about it, but can do nothing (thus meaning God is not omnipotent).

The problem of evil arises because positing the existence of an omnipotent God removes disasters, diseases and famines etc. from the context of being events with no moral agent behind them, to being ones that do. So the theist must then explain the contradiction between omnipotence and omnibenevolence that arises in this situation. This is, in my opinion, the heart of the problem of evil.

38 Comments

Filed under Religion

Ramblings on Morality

Morality is fundamentally based upon how we define the words ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, or ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviour. Of course, like any word we can, and often do define these terms subjectively – however this does not mean that morality itself is subjective. Morality for me is emphatically objective despite the criticisms that you cannot have objective morals without God. How is this so? Well it’s all about how you define those aforementioned terms. The following are how I would define ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ – and I am sure that most people would agree upon these definitions:

 

Right – an action that promotes happiness and well-being, or health, or that relieves suffering and does not cause unnecessary harm or loss.

Wrong – an action causes unhappiness, suffering, and causes unnecessary harm or loss.

 

In light of these definitions stealing something, for example is objectively wrong because it causes unhappiness, suffering and loss. These states of mind related to happiness and unhappiness can also be objectively measured. If you hook up someone to an EEG machine when they were experiencing happiness and pleasure different parts of their brain would be active to if you measured them when they were sad or anxious etc. These are real states that we can objectively measure and have some real basis in fact, rather than just being arbitrary and subjective.

 

Of course if someone wants to define right and wrong differently then they can derive a different morality from it, but this is about how I define those terms to arrive at an objective moral standard that does not require God – something which a theist would deny to the death.

 

Morality doesn’t have to have cosmological significance in order to be objective. Just because the actions I carry out in this life do not reverberate through eternity, does not mean that they have no worth and should be abandoned. There are plenty of reasons to be good. If you invite a guest to your home you would expect them not to be rude and obnoxious, and to respect your property – there is no reason then to act in such a way when you are a guest in someone else’s home. Treat others how you wish to be treated. This is perhaps the oldest principle in moral philosophy; the Golden Rule.

 

We all want to be liked, we all want to be the kind of person that we would want to hang around with. There are plenty of good reasons to be a moral person – God is not necessary for this.

30 Comments

Filed under Philosophy, Religion

If God was a human

Imagine you’re at a dinner party and one of the guests drunkenly rises to their feet and announces “I want you all to bow down and worship me! I’m the only one worthy of your worship, if you refuse to worship me or you worship someone else then I shall take great pleasure in torturing and killing you.” Would you immediately bow down at their feet in adoration? I would hazard a guess that you would not. Why not? Because this person has done absolutely nothing worthy of adoration. All they’ve done is made demands and threats – behaviour which if displayed in our fellow humans is viewed as repulsive and arrogant. Okay so this hypothetical dinner party scenario is quite unlikely, but it’s to demonstrate a point; why should we worship a God who demands and threatens those very same things? We would rightly find it repugnant behaviour on the part of our drunken guest, why not apply that standard to God?

 

I shall list some characteristics, ask yourself if you would venerate a human being who possessed them. Vengeful, jealous, genocidal, wrathful, misogynistic, homophobic, racist, unjust, slavery endorsing, child killer. The God of the Bible is all of these things and more. I’m sure you’d agree that a human being possessing of those characteristics would be shunned rather than adored. Why is it then that God is worthy of adoration?

 

Because he sent down his only son to die for our sins is undoubtedly the objection I would get. But what sin? Someone stealing some fruit a long time before I was born? Why is that my problem? Why couldn’t God just forgive us without requiring his son to be tortured and killed? Again go back to the dinner party guest, would you respect him if he could only agree to forgive you after sacrificing his child, and you subsequently believing that child was sacrificed for you? I certainly wouldn’t, I respect people who can forgive you without some kind of prior arrangement, especially not a violent one.

 

If God was a human all of us would be repulsed and disgusted by his behaviour. He would be viewed as a dangerous and vile maniac, like a combination of Charles Manson and Adolf Hiter.

7 Comments

Filed under Religion

Christianity and History

Christianity is what I would call a historical religion, meaning that in order to be a Christian one has to accept certain claims about historical events. This is in contrast to a religion like Buddhism, where it’s followers would have no trouble with the central doctrine regardless of whether or not the Buddha was actually a historical person – the religion is not overly predicated upon the events of his life. The same could not be said for Christianity however; if one were to deny the resurrection of Jesus, and his ascension to heaven one could not be a Christian (at least not in the traditional sense).

 

There are many problems however with the historical claims of Christianity. Historians cannot establish with a degree of 100% certainty what happened in the past, they merely establish what probably happened based upon the sources that they have available to them. This is where Hume’s old argument against miracles comes in; a miracle is by (generous) definition extremely improbable – if people rose from the dead and walked on water all the time, there wouldn’t be anything particularly special about it, it’s the fact that it’s improbable that makes a miracle a miracle. How can a historian arrive at the conclusion that something which is by definition the least probable thing that could have occurred in a given scenario was the most likely thing to have happened in that scenario? Miracles have no historical worth even if they did actually occur – a historian could still not consider them to be the most likely explanation.

 

Ancient texts are full of miraculous claims, not just specifically Christian ones. This presents a further problem for the Christian making historical claims about miracles; if you are claiming that the miracles attributed to Jesus have historical worth what differentiates those claims from other non-Christian miracle claims? If you are willing to accept that Jesus rose from the dead, why is it that you would be unwilling to accept stories of yogis being able to levitate, or Muhammad riding a flying horse?

 

The only reason that Christians are willing to accept the miracles of Jesus and no one else is because they happen to be Christian. This is outright bias. Are we really supposed to believe that the only true documented cases of miracles are the ones that happen to be attributed to the leader of the faith you adopted or were born into? If you happened to be born into a Muslim family and culture you would be likely to argue that the miracles attributed to Muhammed were the only true miracles and that Jesus’ miracles didn’t happen. The only reason Christians believe in miracles is because it is necessary for their faith. An agnostic or atheist has no reason to give any more credibility to the miracles of Jesus than a Christian would give to the miracles of Muhammed.

 

Miracles have no historical worth, and the only reason one would claim that they do is because of a bias towards the religion they were brought up in, or adopted later in life.

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion