Rationality Rules vs The Moral Argument

This was an interesting video and well edited, but I think what drew my interest the most was the accent that came out of a guy looking like this.  He’s got kind of a Kid Rock goes to London vibe.

As far as his arguments go, he makes some serious mistakes.  The most common mistake, which is repeated throughout the video, is his critique that the moral argument does not lead to Dr. Craig’s specific God (that is, the God that Christians worship).  This is a wrongheaded complaint because the argument just isn’t trying to get to the Christian God.  The argument aims to show that the broad theistic worldview is true.  This critique is a bit like criticizing a ten foot ladder because it doesn’t extend to twenty feet.

the-digital-marketing-collaboration-267111-unsplashHe also seems to misunderstand the concepts of absolute/objective morality and ethics.  He says, for example, that morality is objective if it has an objective reference point (see minute 4:33).  He goes on to say that there are objective moralities apart from God because there are moral systems that have other objective reference points, such as Consequentialism, Moral Landscape, and Divine Command Theory (Craig’s view).  But these systems are mutually exclusive, they can’t all be true!  So when he says, “there are objective moralities,” it becomes difficult to understand in what sense he means this.  If there are no objective moral values and duties then there aren’t any true moral systems.  The moral systems we have are just human constructions meant to guide our own behavior.  These systems are only challenges to the Moral Argument if we were to say that they can describe true and objective moral values and duties apart from God’s existing.  It’s irrelevant to say that there are many different ways to build a telescope if there are no stars to look at.  It simply doesn’t matter how many systems we might construct for describing how someone should behave if there really is no “right” way to behave.

Even if the speaker could show that one of these non-Christian systems is better than the Christian one, it still wouldn’t support his position.  The systems he describes are ethical systems that deal with how one should behave.  They describe when or under what circumstances it is “right” to do such and such, but they do not describe why there is a “right” in the first place.  The Moral Argument that the speaker is trying to debunk deals with the latter rather than the former.

He goes on to criticize Craig for refraining from using the term “absolute” moral values while affirming that there are duties that are unconditional (see minute 5:14).  This shows a lack of sophistication in his understanding here.  An absolute moral imperative is one that holds in every situation regardless of the circumstances.  By contrast, affirming objective moral values means that in every situation there is a right or wrong answer, although what that is may vary from circumstance to circumstance.  One can affirm that there is an objective “right” answer without affirming that there will be the same “right” answer in every circumstance.  In this way one can deny absolute moral imperatives while affirming objective moral values and duties.

criminal-1563428_640One of the examples used was that of a terrorist who is threatening your family.  Craig rightly points out that an imperative against killing wouldn’t hold here due to the circumstances.  The speaker then criticizes Craig for saying elsewhere that we have the unconditional duty to be a loving and generous person.  What about loving and being generous towards the terrorist, says the speaker?

It is not at all obvious that a loving and generous person wouldn’t kill the terrorist to save his family.  In fact a man would have to be very unloving towards his family to let terrorists kill them when he could have intervened.  Regardless this really misses the point.  Craig doesn’t use the terminology of “absolute” moral values because it can confuse the discussion and cause people to think he is referring to situational ethics. Whether or not there are absolute moral imperatives is simply irrelevant to the moral argument itself, and it isn’t dishonest for Craig to avoid language that shifts the discussion away from it.  The moral argument deals with the nature of morality; are some things really wrong or do we just have negative dispositions toward them?

The speaker goes on to claim that the moral argument is an argument from ignorance (see minute 7:50).  He says that it boils down to, “We don’t know, therefore God.”  Presumably he means, “We don’t know where morality comes from, therefore God.”  This shows that the speaker has not thought the argument through carefully.  The argument doesn’t claim that since we can’t account for morality then we must need God to account for it.  Rather it makes the claim that if God doesn’t exist, then there is no morality to be accounted for.

artiom-vallat-688963-unsplashContrary to what the speaker says, Craig does give good reasons for thinking this is true.  If atheism is true, then it seems that humanity is just an unintended product of an unguided process of evolution which started by pure coincidence as random atoms bounced about in some primordial soup.  Life itself is just the accidental grouping together of atoms that then propagated itself through various forms through the years, developing mutations by sheer accident that were then acted upon by natural selection to weed out harmful mutations.  If this is the true account of man’s origins, then a few things follow.  First, it seems completely arbitrary to assign moral value to human beings.  Why should one random collection of atoms be any more valuable than another?  Why are the atoms that comprise your body somehow more valuable than the atoms that comprise the chair on which you sit?  It seems that if this atheistic worldview is true then it is absurd to say that there are objectively valuable things.  If we say that human life is valuable, we just mean that we value it, not that it has some intrinsic or objective value which we discover or recognize.  Therefore if we don’t value it, then it has no value.

Our minds are similarly just a collection of atoms we call our brain.  But this means that our thoughts and decisions are guided not by our will per se, but by the laws of physics acting on our neurochemistry.  Free will is simply an illusion. Each of our choices are dictated by our brain states.   If none of our choices are free, however, then it is absurd to talk about a moral “right” and “wrong”.  It is nonsense to talk about having made the wrong choice if it was a physical impossibility that you could have done otherwise.  You can’t have a moral duty to go right if you could only ever have gone left.

So it seems that if God does not exist then there are no objective moral values and duties.  Our moral experience, however, shows us that objective moral values and duties do exist.  People really do have intrinsic worth and there really are right and wrong ways to behave.  Since our moral experience gives us good reason to believe that objective moral values and duties exist, and since objective moral values and duties can only exist if God exists, then our moral experience gives us good reason to believe that God exists.

For more on this, see If You Believe in a Moral Right and Wrong, You Should Believe in God.  If you found this post interesting or helpful, please share and subscribe.

Image Attributions:

  1. Photo by The Digital Marketing Collaboration on Unsplash
  2. Photo by TheDigitalWay on pixabay.com
  3. Photo by Artiom Vallat on Unsplash