Tag Archives: theism

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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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.

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William Lane Craig Argues Himself Into A Corner

In solution to the problem of evil Christian apologists such as William Lane Craig often retort that God may well have good reasons for permitting evil and suffering in the world. On his website William Lane Craig states:

God may well have morally sufficient reasons for permitting the suffering in the world. We all know cases in which we permit suffering because we have morally sufficient reasons for doing so. What Law would have to prove is that it’s improbable that God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting the suffering in the world. But how could he possibly prove that? God’s justifying reasons might never appear in our lifetime or locale or even in this life. Suppose, for example, that God’s purpose for human life is not happiness in this life but the knowledge of God, which is an incommensurable good. It may be the case, for all we know, that only in a world suffused with natural and moral evil would the maximum number of people freely come to know God and find eternal life.

(http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=9162)

So in essence suffering and evil may well be permitted for the ‘greater good’ and we simply are not in any position to know why it is permitted. Craig goes further in his debate with Arif Ahmed and states:

“The premise that pointless suffering exists, or gratuitous evil exists is extremely controversial. We are simply not in the position to make these kinds of inductive probability judgements”

(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-NF-LlVFHM)

So here Craig is saying that pointless suffering and gratuitous evil might not exist. If this is true then no act of evil would be ‘ without apparent reason, cause, or justification’ and we can thus conclude that all evil is acted out for a reason, has a cause and a justification. One can assume that Craig’s doubts over the existence of gratuitous evil and pointless suffering tie in with his notion that God permits suffering for the greater good. So the reason and justification for evil is because it is part of God’s plan for the greater good.

Here’s Craig’s argument taken to it’s logical conclusion:

1. Gratuitous evil and pointless suffering might not exist because if God has a plan for the ‘greater good’ then no evil is gratuitous and no suffering is pointless.

2. If this is true no act of evil is truly evil because it is ultimately for the greater good.

Therefore

3. Because of 1 & 2 we have absolutely no way of knowing if an evil act was truly evil or whether it was actually contributing to the greater good.

It follows logically from this that despite Craig’s frequent assertion that ‘we just know some actions are objectively wrong’ – here he asserts that we have absolutely no way of making such a judgement because for all we know there is no gratuitous evil – and therefore the reason for it is ultimately good (according to Craig’s views). Craig has argued himself into the corner that Christian apologists often try to back atheists into.

Craig cannot say whether the murder of 6 million Jews in Nazi Germany was evil because if gratuitous evil does not exist, then this must have happened for a reason, and that reason according to Craig is to fulfil God’s ultimately good plan. Therefore we cannot classify this act as evil, because it may have actually been for the greater good (I apologise for breaking Godwin’s law here, however I’m sure you can forgive me).

In his attempt to escape the problem of evil, Craig has put himself in a position where he can make no moral judgements whatsoever (which runs contrary to his “argument” for objective moral values in which he states that we all ‘just know’ the difference between good and evil). Well done Bill!

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Killing the Kalam Cosmological Argument

1.  In order for the Kalam Cosmological argument to be valid, it must deny that the universe has an eternal cause. If it does not deny this then the argument can be refuted by positing that the universe was caused by an event in a prior eternal, or timeless state. There is no evidential reason to make this assumption therefore it must be assumed as a logical impossibility.

 

2. In order for the Kalam Cosmological argument to be valid, it must assume that something springing into existence from nothing without cause is logically impossible. If this assumption is not made then the argument fails because it could simply be refuted by positing a universe which sprang into existence from nothing without cause.

 

3. In order for these assumptions to be consistent then God can neither be eternal, nor have sprung into existence from nothing without cause. If these assumptions can be invalidated in the special case of God then there is no reason why the opponent cannot claim that the assumptions are invalid for the universe.

 

4. The Kalam Cosmological argument is invalid if it doesn’t assume point’s 1 & 2, but it is invalid if it does assume them. Therefore it fails on it’s own terms.

 

Try harder next time…

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The Cop Out

When faced with the awkward problem that there is absolutely no evidence for the existence of God, some theists will claim that God exists in a realm outside of space and time, and therefore will remain elusive and immeasurable. This is all very well in a sense (other than the fact that there is no reason whatsoever to believe that such a being exists), but it is in direct contradiction to other attributes often ascribed to God.

Omnipresence would imply that on some level God exists everywhere in spacetime, whether or not this would be detectable to us is another matter entirely, but according to this God would be everywhere you look, woven into the very fabric of space as it were. How can a God exist outside of space and time, yet exist everywhere in space? That would be like saying I am inside a room whilst also not being inside it at the same time. It’s not logically consistent to assert that God is omnipresent and outside of space and time.

To move water molecules, you’d need some kind of input energy – an arm moving a paddle, for example. In order to part the red sea, God would either have had to transfer some energy from somewhere in order to move the water molecules, or God would have had to have broken the laws of energy conservation and created some energy out of nothing. Again it is not logically consistent to assert that a being that exists outside of space and time could have that level of interaction with matter and energy within space and time. Also, whether or not God himself is directly detectable, had we established some kind of measuring devices during the supposed parting of the red sea we would have seen an input of energy either being transferred inexplicably or coming from nowhere – in other words evidence for God would be within the grasp of science.

The Judeo-Christian God doesn’t just input energy into moving water molecules either, he inseminates a young lady, and then is born into a human body. It is ludicrous to assert that a being that exists outside space and time could do such a thing, and again if such a thing did happen and there were people around to observe it, some more indirect evidence of God would be available.

The reason that theists assert that God is beyond space and time is because this gets them out of the awkward predicament of their being absolutely no evidence in favour of the existence of God, by stating that you never will be able to find the evidence. However the central tenants of their beliefs are in direct contradiction to this. Their God very much has a role within space and time, and should thus be at least indirectly observable. It is logically inconsistent to state the God can be omnipresent, and have an active role in events within the universe if he exists outside of it. Either God is outside of space and time, and cannot interact with matter or be omnipresent, or God is within space and time and thus at least indirectly observable. Theists use the ‘outside space and time’ notion as a cop out to avoid the awkward lack of evidence, however it doesn’t really make sense. Theists need to face up to the fact that their God should have evidence, but doesn’t….

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What Is The Meaning of Life?

“What is the meaning of life?” is probably one of the most profound questions ever to strike our collective conciousness. Even the least philosophically inclined person might ponder this riddle at some stage in their life. Some people profess that there is an absolute meaning and purpose for existence – a meaning that applies to the whole of humanity, whether they agree with it or not. Religion clearly defines an absolute purpose and meaning – that we should devote our lives to some form of God, and appease him/her/it with rituals and liturgy. Religious people will often view those, like myself, who deny what they see as the fundamental reason for existence as believing that life has no meaning whatsoever. I do not believe that life has an absolute meaning, but that does not mean to say that I do not believe life has any subjective meaning. I feel that people make their own meaning, and very often that changes throughout a lifetime.

 

The very fact that different people arrive at different answers to this fundamental question is proof of its subjective nature. I can see why it can be psychologically pleasing to believe in an absolute meaning of existence. I believe, however, that the truth is more important that what we might find psychologically satisfying.

 

Humans are a conceited bunch. We feel that we are the reason that the universe exists, despite the fact that we continually discover this not to be the case. We are not separate from the animal kingdom like we once thought, we are the cousins of all life on this planet, not the custodians. Our planet is not even special, every year we discover more and more solar systems like our own. Our star is not special, we have no privileged place in the galaxy, or the universe, we are lost amidst countless stars, and galaxies. To think that our little rock is the sole reason for everything, to me is absurd. Everything we know tells us that we are part of something grander than our forefathers could ever have guessed.

 

I do not find it a particularly unpleasant thought, in fact it fills me with awe and wonder.  How many other intelligent civilizations might there be? – This is the kind of question that gives me goosebumps, and there is much about the cosmos to bring about this feeling; the tremendous beauty of galaxies and nebulae – art on a scale we can scarcely imagine, the vast distances that light travels to reach our eyes, sizes beyond comprehension.

 

I do not feel that this lack of absolute meaning should plunge us into desperation and hopelessness. We can make our own meaning. Some might think life means religiously watching your favourite football team every weekend, or to find true love and happiness, others might think it should be spend in devotion to God – and that’s fine by me.

 

So, what do I think that the meaning of life is? Firstly I would say that, for me, the meaning of life has always been in a state of flux. I have never had one set meaning that I have adhered to my entire life. At different times my life took on different meanings, and it shall no doubt take on more in future. The following are some things that I feel currently provide meaning to me; giving as much meaning and happiness to other people’s lives as I can, speaking out against injustice, acquiring knowledge, spreading truth, and being happy. Then there are more personal things such as music, sunshine, singing, writing, walking, talking, reading, learning, thinking, sitting around a fire at night beneath the stars.

 

The most important thing to me is to have fun, and enjoy it whilst I’m here. This existence is the only one we can be sure of, I feel its too precious to waste on bended knee to a higher power, or pursing a higher course. We shouldn’t bemoan the fact that we will one day cease to exist! The fact that we exist is a wonder in itself, and there are many, many potential people who never got a chance. A life devoid of absolute meaning, is not a meaningless life.

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Can Atheists Enjoy Life?

I don’t think anyone enjoys life all the time, theists and atheists alike are all burdened with the same problems; health, mortality, loss, ageing etc. Suffering is universal, however a potential difference could be argued between a theist’s capacity to cope with suffering and that of an atheist.

I would be inclined to think, however that a theist is not necessarily equipped to deal with suffering any better than an atheist, in fact I would argue the opposite. A theist’s view point is one of eternity, that we continue beyond this life in eternal paradise, or damnation. It could be argued that this tendency towards idyllic permanence is in conflict with reality. Nothing lasts forever, and acknowledgement of this fact reduces suffering because when one is faced with loss or change one can reflect upon the impermanence of things and understand that it’s part of the way things are. Could it be that one who’s mindset is inclined towards permanence may have difficulty accepting the truth of impermanence?
I think the counter argument to this would be that theism gives one the strength to rise above worldly troubles, but I think that this is often not the case. Theists will often question their faith when faced with suffering, rather that use it to escape suffering. This adds a whole other level of suffering to the mix, not only is one suffering problems, one also has questions rising about their fundamental view of reality – which in itself can be classed as a kind of suffering. I think theists often doubt their faith in times of trouble, then this will just reinforce their faith later on when things become more settled. Problems generally sort themselves out in time, but a theist would be inclined to believe that this was God helping them out, thus reinforcing their faith. So they end up with these stories of how they were faced with really hard times and even doubted the existence of God, but later everything was okay, so God proved himself to me by directly helping deal with my suffering.

I don’t think there are many honest theists who wouldn’t admit to having occasions in which they have doubted their faith, this is a problem that atheists are never faced with. An atheist would be less inclined to doubt their fundamental views on reality when faced with suffering (I say less inclined because I am open to the plausibility that an atheist might be converted to theism when faced with suffering), they would merely understand that it is part of life, and therefore in my opinion suffer less as a result.

An imagined relationship with a omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent being would be a psychologically bizarre relationship. As with most relationships they cause at times a certain degree of suffering. But nobody has an all seeing, all powerful, all knowing girlfriend. Imagine the nightmare that would be! If this girlfriend could read your thoughts, you would suffer immensely if, say you lusted after another woman, more so than you would if you did so, but managed to keep those thoughts to yourself (without acting upon them!). There would undoubtedly be a great deal of psychological torment in such a relationship. A theist would have similar problems in their relationship to God.

God wouldn’t like you thinking about other religions, or questioning his power. He doesn’t like sexual urges. And he promises eternal suffering as punishment for turning your back on him. It’s analogous to the worst kind of abusive and controlling relationship imaginable. Like a wife who can’t even think of hating her controlling and abusive husband because he can read her mind and he will torture her if she thinks anything bad about him.

I would say that theism, (at least how I have defined it here) is more of a cause for suffering than a relief. There are many psychological issues that theists would have to face because of their faith in God, this is a whole load of issues that people without faith never have to face.

An atheist would strive to find meaning and understanding in life. Understanding suffering for what it is, and knowing that the same principle that so often causes suffering, also takes it away eventually. Impermanence.

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