Tag Archives: bible

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.

 

 

 

 

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Context and Objective Morality

One of the most sickeningly annoying arguments that theists like to make is that atheists have no objective standards by which we can judge right and wrong. Of course the standard response to this is to point out the many examples of hideously immoral acts condoned in the Old Testament, examples such as this:

 

“Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”

– 1 Samuel 15:3 (KJV)

 

Here we have genocide and the killing of small children and babies condoned in a single verse. What is the standard response to this? Whether you’re a theist or an atheist you probably can guess what it is; ‘you have to understand the context of that verse’…

 

Here’s the thing; if killing babies and children is objectively wrong this means that by definition there is no context in which it can be permissible. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say that the Bible gives you objective moral standards, and then when faced with the inconvenient fact that the Bible (or at least the Old Testament) depicts a psychotic genocidal God who commands suckling infants to be slaughtered, claim that one has to understand the context. If killing is objectively wrong, then there needs to be no discussion about context, killing is wrong in every context – that’s what objectively wrong means. If there is a context which needs to be understood, and which makes the event permissible then you are arguing from a subjective standard.

 

The contortions that theists go to when defending their bigoted genocidal maniac of a God is quite amusing to observe. All you have to do is ask a few straight forward questions and they tie themselves in knots. Is something right because God says it is right? Does that mean that eating your own children would be right if God makes you do it (Jeremiah 19:7-9)? If not then doesn’t that mean God has nothing to do with objective morality?

 

There is actually quite interesting philosophical discussion to be had about whether or not objective morality exists (I don’t know if it does or not), but there is one thing that is clear to all free-thinkers; the God of the Bible is a sickeningly evil demon of a God who deserves no apologies from anyone, and it only makes a mockery of any kind of moral discussion to try and advocate such a being as the source of all that is right and true.

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How Am I Supposed To Believe?

All religions stake their claim as the source for ultimate truth. The Torah, The Christian Gospels, The Qur’an, The Vedas, The Bhagavad Gita, The Book of Mormon, The Guru Granth Sahib, The Avesta of Zarathustra, and many others all claim to be divinely inspired, and the source for ultimate truth. If we are to accept that all of these books are the inspired word of God, then we are faced with the problem that they do not agree with each other, essentially meaning that they cannot all possibly be right in claiming divine inspiration. How then are we to decide which of these claims are true, and which are false in light of the fact that there is no compelling evidence in favour of any one of them?

 

If you are reading this, and you believe that one of the books listed is the inspired, infallible word of God – the only source of truth – then how do you explain those who believe exactly the same about a different book? Are they misguided? Then why is it that they would claim it is you and not them who have placed their faith in the wrong text? Who exactly am I supposed to believe?

 

If religion is supposed to be the quest for ultimate truth then why is it that almost all religions disagree with each other? Surely the outcome of a quest for ultimate truth would be agreement? This is the opposite of what we see, even if we confine our analysis to one religion alone. Within any given religion there are rival sects and movements, all in disagreement about the supposed ultimate truth of their scripture. Over time, more and more sects split off from one another – they are actually getting further and further away from agreeing upon the truth over time, rather than closer. In light of this how could I possibly decide upon one particular version, of the many interpretations of the so called ultimate truth contained within one text out of a whole set of conflicting texts that all claim the same thing?

 

Even if there is one true interpretation of one true text, how am I supposed to decide which one it is? There are those who claim to have experienced the truth of their particular God, but you find these people in all religions so their testimony is not very useful. There is absolutely no evidence that one particular God, or one particular text is true, and that all the others are the mistaken and misguided attempts of fallible humans. You can find websites that claim to have evidence in favour of a particular Holy book – the only problem being that you can find similar websites making similar claims about all Holy books. How am I supposed to believe in any of them? I feel that it is more likely that all of them are the mistaken and misguided attempts of fallible humans, and I shall stand by that until someone can provide evidence to the contrary.

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