Thursday, January 26, 2006

A Reply to John Loftus

Loftus comments can be found here:
http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2006/01/what-motivates-atheist-to-be-good.html

John: I'd very much like to see your response to this paper, by Steve Lovell, on the Euthyphro dilemma.

If there are objective moral values then we have a situation in which there are two sets of facts; facts about the way things are, which are describable, perhaps, by science in naturalistic terms, and facts about how things ought to be, which, at least on the face of things, defy scientific description. At least if Hume was right in saying you can't get an ought from an is.

There seems, on the face of things, to be a profound tension between moral success, on the one hand, on most understandings of morality, and Darwinian success, which is measure in terms of the extent to which a person passes on his genes. Consider the case I mentioned earlier on this blog of Screamin' Jay Hawkins, who managed to pass on his genes anywhere from 50 to 75 times. This is the ultimate in Darwinian success, but I don't think it comes close to being a moral success, by anyone's standards.

Contrast this with the view of human beings as the product of a loving God, whose in which case fulfillment of human nature and doing the will of God can be identified. Simply having an intended purpose by a designer does nothing by itself to provide underpinnings for morality, since we could be being raised for food by aliens, in which case our good and the good of those who made us would be at odds. But if God has created us in such a way that our intrinsic good, what fulfils our nature, and the purpose intended for us by the one who made us, are the same, then it is hard to argue that, yeah, that's what God wants for us, but why should we do it?

21 comments:

Steven Carr said...

What is the intended purpose for us of our creator?

Christians simply cannot agree.

Romans 9:22 What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction?

Many people just don't believe Paul when he said the purpose of creating some people was to give God an opportunity to be wrathful.

John W. Loftus said...

A response to Steve Lovell’s chapter. This was a very good chapter, with some very helpful distinctions. Below in his own words, for those who don’t take the time to read it, here is a crucial juncture for him:
------------------------------------

The position we have been defending avoids the Euthyphro dilemma by contending that God’s commands are rooted in His essential nature. The Divine Nature Theory (hereafter DNT) secures God’s commands and reasons in His character, it effectively makes the divine nature the ultimate standard of moral value.

Neilsen’s reformulated objection contends that we cannot legitimately use the beliefs and faculties that God Himself has given us to reason back to the goodness of God. Imagine that you live in a land whose ruler is an evil tyrant. Unknown to you, this ruler has implanted a microchip into your brain that dictates the kind of thoughts you are able to have. Wouldn’t this undermine your belief that the ruler was a good man?

This argument has a certain appeal, and I must grant that it has a valid point. The point is that any explicit justification of my belief that God is good will be circular. But that point can be happily conceded. Circularity need not be vicious, and the kind of circularity involved here is not in any way peculiar to my position. Indeed, any theory that posits objective values will face the same problem, which is essentially a sceptical one. A fair sceptical challenge is one that does not fault a position for not answering questions that no position could be expected to answer. But no position could help us to provide explicit non-circular justifications for all of our moral beliefs, and DNT is no exception here.

-----------------------------

My comments:

What Steve Lovell defended is indeed circular, as he admits. I have two questions. One question remains to be defended is whether he’s correct that any theory that posits “objective values” will face “the same problem.” If by the term “objective values” he means “ultimate objective values,” or “values objectively grounded in a divine being,” then he is indicting his own theory all over again, and hence, his accusation here is true by definition. It would also mean Lovell is not offering a fair alternative to his own theory for comparison, since there are alternative non-ultimate objective ethical systems which do not face an infinite regress of moral standards.

The second question is whether or not the circularity that is inherent in defending the DNT reveals something metaphysical about the nature of God’s existence? I personally think the inherent circularity in trying to defend the DNT points to the non-existence of God.

But there is a lot of room for thought here.

Irritated Oblong said...

Come, come, Steven.

Why didn't you type out verse 23, the verse after it?

"What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory --"

Ah, so it seems that some are damned in order for others to be saved; and it follows from this that God's purpose in creating the damned is not solely to give himself an opportunity to be wrathful.

Jason said...

Steven Carr and I won't agree on many things, but I think he and I will both strenuously agree that such a defense of Romans 9:22 is morally reprehensible. (Possibly IrOb would agree, too; I can't tell if his reply is meant to sound sarcastic or not.)

One of the things I doubt Steven and I would agree on, however, is that there is a legitimate reading of that chapter, taking certain cultural contexts into account, which removes the difficulty and rather significantly alters the typical understanding of what Paul is trying to say; pulling the first half of the Romans epistle into a tighter thematic coherency in the process. It's easier to diss Christianity leaving the standard interpretation the way it is, after all. {wry s} Nevertheless, Steven _is_ right to be doing this particular dissing, so long as Christians insist on doing interpretations of that chapter that way.

Now, he may not have a coherent explanation in mind for why his dissing is ethically right, as far as it goes; and he may not even care whether it's ethically right or not, so long as he can be doing some dissing; and from experience I rather suspect he may not much like the metaphysical implications of being ethically correct about this and not only asserting his own opinion or doing the genetic equivalent of emitting gas upon being irritated by something. Nor do I think he's ever likely to get into the habit of looking for ways to grant me the kind of real credit I've often gone out of my way to try to give him (including here).

But he _is_ right, and ethically right, to be dissing this.

Jason said...

While I'm at it, I can also agree pretty much at all points with John's reply (as far as it goes here) to Steve Lovell's chapter. This includes agreeing that there are non-objective 'ethical' systems which don't end in such circular justification attempts, so far as I know. My main problem with them being, that they succeed by not being really 'ethical'. {s}

Anyway, I gladly commend John for refusing to aquiesce in a proferred circular justification attempt, no matter how benignly and frankly put. (Even though the attempt comes from someone whom I would otherwise consider to be an ally.)

After all, it's the ethical thing for me to do... {g!}

Mike D said...

Victor said:
" But if God has created us in such a way that our intrinsic good, what fulfils our nature, and the purpose intended for us by the one who made us, are the same, then it is hard to argue that, yeah, that's what God wants for us, but why should we do it?"

I think the struggle may be between what may be God's best for me and what I think is God's best for me. If God's purpose was my happiness and prosperity, I would go along with that with no objection. However, God's purpose seems to be for me to honor him. That probably does not include my perpetual happiness and success. It likely includes depravation and possibly suffering. I am not always willing to do this although it brings satisfaction and a sense of purpose when I do it. The promise of heaven does not help for me. In one sense it does not motivate because it is distant. In the other sense it does not motivate because a reward would remove the satisfaction of doing the right thing for the right reason. I know heaven is important for many Christians who seek relief from frustration or justice for inequity. I am in line with that. I find more satisfaction in joining the grand and glorious adventure of advancing the kingdom of God.

Jason said...

_To_ which, I can also add (as long as I'm handing out compliments to people whom I don't agree with about something {g}--er, after a comment from MikeD meanwhile, whilst I was reading and composing...):

Steve's paper is, by and large, a fairly high-quality discussion of the issue; and I think he's actually correct about DNT (rather than DCT, though I'm not entirely sure he escapes rendering DNT as simply another variant of DCT. I'd have to read through it again a few times.)

He's on the right track, I think. But I also think he's working at the problem somewhat backwards, which is leading to the problem John noted (which notation could be greatly multiplied in a longer analysis of Steve's attempt.)


And now I really am gone for the weekend! See y'all Monday (I hope)!

Irritated Oblong said...

Jason,

Your reply genuinely astonishes me. Unless, of course, you are being sarcastic, but I rather doubt you are. I can assure you, however, that I meant what I said; (I'd also believe it too, if I decide to be an Arminian rather than a Calvinist (Indeed, I thought it was one of the advantages of Arminianism!)).

I'd very much appreciate an explanation as why, exactly, it is so reprehensible.

But if you disgaree with me, how then do you explain God's creation of the damned? How, if not for the salvation of others, can God be exonerated for the creation of those he knows he will damn; why not simply refuse to create them?

I really don't think you have much chance of proving that it is immoral for God to act in the way I suggested, though. I reason that Heaven is greater a good than Hell is a terrible evil. And if people's counterfactuals of freedom are such that they won't freely choose Christ unless there are some damned present in the world, then God is wholly justified in creating them, it seems to me, for the sake of the saved. Providing, of course, that he has the best ratio of saved to damned that it was possible for him to get, but we have reason to believe that we aren't living in a world with such a ratio.

Irritated Oblong said...

Make that

"but we have NO reason to believe that we aren't in living in a world with such a ratio"

Ahem.Ó

Steven Carr said...

Is Steve Lovell write that God's nature is essentially good?

Is God really the sort of person who is so wonderful and good that
he just cannot stop himself helping old ladies across the road, or rescuing dogs from burning buildings, or saving children from drowning?

Lovell would have to reply that because God does not always save a drowing child, it is not always good to save a drowning child, because, by definition, God is good.


But ,as Loftus pointed out, this is all just circular.

Steven Carr said...

Oblong says

' And if people's counterfactuals of freedom are such that they won't freely choose Christ unless there are some damned present in the world, then God is wholly justified in creating them, it seems to me, for the sake of the saved.'

If it wasn't for the people going to Hell, everybody would be going to Hell???

(Something seems wrong with that logic, somehow)


But if true , I hope we heroic atheists are praised and cheered for our sacrifices to help others.

Steve Lovell said...

Thanks for taking the time to comment on my paper. As readers of my piece will know, I admit that my position commits me to a certain kind of circularity.

The circularity in question is this: In order to justify our belief in God's goodness, we use our moral intuitions, conscience or other moral faculties. But the question then arises as to whether these intuitions (or whatever) can be trusted. Do we have a justification for accepting the deliveries of our conscience? On my theory, our conscience can be trusted because it is given to us by a God who is good. And there, it seems, is our circularity.

But this is only an objectionable ciruclarity if we confuse the fact which explains the reliability of our moral faculties with the beliefs which justify our belief in the reliability of those faculities.

As a theist and advocate of Divine Nature Theory, I have all the same reasons for accepting the deliveries of conscience as anyone else. In addition, I also have a certain theory about how my moral conscience gets to be so reliable: God gave it to me.

It might be helpful to consider the similarities of a non-moral case: trusting our senses.

One theory of why we should trust our senses is that natural selection would have eliminated species whose senses weren't reliable. But why should we accept this theory? Because it's confirmed by scientific data? But that data comes to us through our senses! The justification is circular.

I don't think this is a good objection to the evolutionary explanation of the reliability of our senses. (There may be other reasons for rejecting it, but that's another matter.)

As far as I can see, the cases are exactly similar in all relevant respects. The attempt at a full and explicit justification will end in circularity, but we can, if we choose, put off the completion of the loop for quite a long time. Moreover, in the process of offering those justifications, we will be using beliefs which nearly everyone accepts.

For example, part of my justification for believing in God's goodness might be that God is kind and forgiving and that these are virtues ... a fact which we can all agree upon.

All the justifications we have for believing in God's goodness remain intact when placed within the context of DNT. When we attempt to make the justifications full and explicit a circularity emerges, but that circularity is no more objectionable than that faces the "evolutionary theory" sketched above.

It all rather reminds me of Chrisholm's material on the criteria for knowledge ...

Steven Carr said...

Thank God Hitler could tust his conscience because it was given to him by a god that was good.

Can we trust our sense because they were created by natural selection or because they were given to us by a god that was good?

Steve Lovell said...

I presume Carr does not mean to say that we have no way of reliably making moral judgements. And DNT of course doesn't entail that our judgements are infallible. Even if it did, the appeal to Hitler would hardly be a conclusive refutation of DNT, since Hitler may well have been acting against his conscience, indeed it seems rather likely to me that he was.

Going back to the circularity point, Carr said

----
Lovell would have to reply that because God does not always save a drowing child, it is not always good to save a drowning child, because, by definition, God is good.

But ,as Loftus pointed out, this is all just circular.
----
Is this just an attempt to press home the problem of evil against my position? But all theists (that I know) agree that God is by definition good, though some may not think that he is essentially good. If Carr's objection here is good against DNT it's good against theism in general. But since it obviously isn't good against theism in general, neither is it any good against DNT.

Perhaps there's a misunderstanding the dialectic here. I haven't actually offered any arguments for DNT I've merely been defending it from objections. If I was offering arguments for it, the kinds of circularity Carr and Loftus point out would cause problems for those arguments. But I'm not offering arguments for it, I'm just elucidating a position that many theists will find appealing and defending it from objections. One objection is that it removes the foundation of ethical knowledge by making full and explicit justifications of such knowledge circular. For reasons explained in my previous note, I think this objection fails to discredit DNT.

John W. Loftus said...

Steve Lovell said...

It might be helpful to consider the similarities of a non-moral case: trusting our senses.

We are able to justify our senses pragmatically, but that’s all. They seem to help us live and work and play in our world. Is that the analogous case for our moral faculties?

Can we trust our senses to tell us what is real? No. Reality is filtered through our human senses. With the senses of a dog, a porpoise, a snake, or a bird, reality would look and feel different to us. We know there is much more to see than what we can see, and we know there is much more to hear than what we can hear. But if we saw and heard it all, it might be likened to "white noice."

About the only thing we can trust our senses to tell us is that something is there, but even that can be questioned.

Likewise, our moral faculties may help us live and work and play in a pragmatic sense in this world. But what we want to know is whether or not we can trust them to tell us something about God.

John W. Loftus said...

There's an obvious typo in my last comment. It should read "white noise."

And I think Victor gave the wrong link which started this whole discussion. Instead, see:

The Christian Illusion of Moral Superiority

Victor Reppert said...

John: Thanks for the correction on the original link. You are, of course, right.

Jason said...

IrOb (I'm putting his quotes in {{double brackets}}),

{{Your reply genuinely astonishes me.}}

Yeah, I get that a lot. {g}

{{I can assure you, however, that I meant what I said; (I'd also believe it too, if I decide to be an Arminian rather than a Calvinist (Indeed, I thought it was one of the advantages of Arminianism!))}}

This confuses me a bit: you meant what you said... but you don't believe it? (And this isn't sarcasm? Perhaps there's a cut-n-paste editing blip.)

In any case, the notion that God pre-elected to damn x-number of people (or even one single person), in order to (pre-?)save others, is certainly held by some strident Calvinists. I know: strident Calvinists have deployed it to me on occasion. {s} The Arminians are the ones who aren't so big on predestination (including because of this as a resultant doctrinal implication.)


John Piper, a fairly popular Calvinist theologian, makes precisely this claim near the bottom of this sermon:

http://www.desiringgod.org/library/topics/doctrines_grace/
sovereign_god_love.html


While all Calvinists don't believe it, per se (and I have no idea if Calvin himself propounded it), I think Piper's correct about it following as an implication of strongly Calvinist positions.

I reject it. With intensity. (To say the least. {s})


{{I'd very much appreciate an explanation as why, exactly, it is so reprehensible.}}

God (according to this notion) enacts evil to certain people from their creation; and then refuses to help them; but instead decides to torture them hopelessly forever (or perhaps to torture them for some finite period of time before annihilating them completely. I'm not a fan of annihilationism, either.)

At every point, the emphasis is on God enacting hopelessness and evil. So, I call it what it is: evil! (i.e. morally reprehensible.) If someone claims God actually does do hopeless evil, and I agree that He would be doing hopelessly evil things if He did do this, then why is there a surprise? Am I supposed to call what is explicitly named as evil, good?

This isn't even a case where the claim can be explained as being poetic force within an overarching story aimed toward the salvation of the ones being done "evil" to (with the concurrent aim of also saving other people from the sins of _those_ people.) This is a theological claim of God doing actual evil _in principle_. Yep, I agree, it would be evil for God to be doing evil; no contest from me there! (But then when I agree that this would be evil, you're greatly surprised I would say so. This is why I wondered if maybe you were being sarcastic, in your reply to Steven. Perhaps you were greatly surprised that I would reject divine evil?)


{{how then do you explain God's creation of the damned?}}

Since I don't claim God _creates_ the damned (as in being hopelessly pre-damned), I don't have to explain it. Original sin is another matter; properly understood, it is _not_ the same as God creating the damned. (Though the sloppy theology of identifying the two notions is endemic among many branches of Christendom--and productive of heresies in numerous other branches in an attempt to escape it.)

The whole thing runs on people believing they have to either accept a fallacious notion of damnation, or else to accept no condemnation at all. I'm not sure which is worse, though the former certainly leads (and has long led) to far more rampant disbelief and rejection of the gospel.

Anyway, I affirm God's condemnation of my sins, and also His condemnation of _me_ so long as I insist on holding to my sins. I deny that God pre-decided my sins for me or is witholding His offer of salvation from me (here the Arminians and I would agree); and I deny that His condemnation of my sins, or even of me, is hopeless for me (here the Arminians would part company from me, though the Calvinists might be back on board with irresistable grace--so long as I'm one of the chosen few and not one of the equally dis-chosen many. No grace, resistable or otherwise, for them...)


I understand part of the insistence on pre-diselection (so to speak) follows from an insistence on predestination, which in turn follows from a genuine concern to preserve (and rightly preserve) the sovereignty of God. The problem, aside from a heathenish notion of God in the first place (i.e. the power to cause effects is the most important and central thing in all reality), stems from a misunderstanding of God's transcendence, which inadvertently requires Him to be acting within-and-only-within the space-time of our Nature. The usual theological counter to this, 'open' theism, involves accepting the same restriction from the outset--Gregory Boyd, whom I otherwise admire in some respects, is a good modern example. This attempt at an option has a tendency to slide into pantheism (e.g. emergent or process theism); the typical Calvinist position into nominal deism where not into cosmological dualism.

Lewis, following Boethius, has it right. (cf appendix B of MaPS, also put less technically and more colorfully in _The Screwtape Letters_.) God doesn't _fore_-see us doing things (and neither does He make omnicompetent estimates about possibilities and probabilities which He may plan to influence from the outset, per open theism). He _sees_ us doing things here, and here, and there, temporally as well as spatially. I'm no less free to do what I want (however free that may be for a dependent creature such as myself), simply because someone can presently see me doing it. Since all this happens in God's eternal present (from His perspective), He can do actions at any point of the space-time continuum in conjunction with the actions He allows me to do.

Admittedly, it's hard to picture (partly because 'picturing' it requires analogizing into spatial forms, instead of temporaly ones), but it's a little like how I can interact with the characters in books I write. (Always keeping in mind that I can't really create real persons in those characters; their apparent free will really _is_ an illusion. The situation is different with us--or so we have to necessarily presume in order to do any argumentation.)


In any case, I am not even remotely in the position of having to try to "exonerate" God for creating people He knows He will damn. That's only a problem for theologians whose notion of God's transcendence is for Him to be trapped under _our_ temporal restrictions (and thus either having to pre-decide everything from the getgo, or else having to concede His omnipotence and/or omniscience from the getgo): a pretty weak, not to say contradictory, notion of 'transcendence' if ever there was one! (Such "exoneration" is also only a problem for people who insist on preaching a gospel of hopelessness. I, by contrast, have the same hope for everyone, in God, which I have for myself: to be saved from our sins.)


{{I reason that Heaven is greater a good than Hell is a terrible evil.}}

Whereas, I reason that Hell is a good, and not an evil at all. Hell belongs to God, and is on God's side, against sin--and (ultimately) _for_ the person who is sinning. (Jesus Himself practically says this straight out, reported in GosMark 9:49-50.) My _sin_ is a terrible evil: God willing, my sin will be destroyed, so that I may be reconciled with God and with God's creation. (Or will you contend there is more than one eternal consuming fire, one which is God Himself, and one in Gehenna? This would be the heresy of cosmological dualism; which I reject.)

Really, though, there's little point trying to assert and counterassert such things, without having first covered prior theology, including the character of justice. One can hardly say that God is _made_ fair by creating some damned people so that others may be saved (or even _made_ fair at all while still being God), nor that God is acting toward fair-togetherness in doing so, except in some way non-essential to His own fundamental character and characteristics. But to claim that God refuses to act toward fair-togetherness for _everyone_ (and everything), is to imply a denial of the existence and/or the unity of the Trinity (at the very least of the Father and the Son, God self-begetting and God self-begotten, two persons in one eternal substance): it means that fair-togetherness (the Greek word translated variously 'righteousness' and 'justice' in English) is not an intrinsic characteristic of God. The doctrine of the Trinity, though, involves this being an intrinsic characteristic of God at the most foundational level of His own self-existence.

God _is_ love. If He isn't acting ultimately toward fulfilling love and justice in and toward everyone (and even toward everything--for God so loved the _cosmos_, all creation...), then He cannot _be_ love; and so orthodox trinitarianism must be false. This I deny; I affirm the other.


{{I really don't think you have much chance of proving that it is immoral for God to act in the way I suggested, though.}}

For what it's worth, I would agree with this--if I was a Muslim, or some other mere monotheist. If God is not an interpersonal relationship in His own intrinsic self-existence, then 'morality' is simply arbitrary; or else God is following a standard more basic than himself, and we should stop discussing him as God and be looking toward that standard instead. (Which standard itself won't be a real standard of ultimate morality unless _it_ is an intrinsically self-existant interpersonal unity upon which everything in reality depends for existence. So we're back to at least bi-nitarianism.) So of course, in that case, I _wouldn't_ have any chance of proving that it is immoral for God to do what is explicitly claimed to be 'evil'. William the bishop of Ockham would be correct: if God does 'evil' it must be 'good' because He (or he) is the supreme power. The Greatest Might Maketh Him Right.

Fortunately, I'm not a mere monotheist. {g}


Steven Carr adds: "But if true, I hope we heroic atheists are praised and cheered for our sacrifices to help others."

(aha, so you _are_ an atheist. {g} You'd been dodging that earlier...)

An excellent reply, btw. Apparently, it isn't God's sacrifice of Himself for sinners we should be praising, but the damned! (Who are being condemned not for any actual sins of theirs, but to save the, um, saved!)

Unless we're supposed to be praising God on the Stalin principle, perhaps. (Hooray! God didn't arbitrarily decide to banish me to the gulags! All hail Darkseid the Destroyer! "Worship Moloch if you will, but call him Moloch!" as George MacDonald once put it.)

I will add, as an aside, that notions such as this are why 'arbitrarily' is now a morally negative term. By all rights, it ought to be linked to 'arbitration' (which still properly connotes the ideal of fairness.)

"Thank God Hitler could tust his conscience because it was given to him by a god that was good."

This, on the other hand, is somewhat off-base: Hitler hardly strikes me as a person who did anything much more than play at appealing to conscience; his private remarks (not to say public) show a man more insistent on enacting a credo of Might Makes Right (specifically his own might), than on _following_ a conscience.

If you're reaching for an applicable stereotype, I suggest the 9/11 terrorists instead. They certainly believed the people they were killing were pre-damned, and so they were only completing the will of God.


Jason Pratt

Jason said...

Steve Lovell replies to the objection of circularity:

{{[T]his is only an objectionable circularity if we confuse the fact which explains the reliability of our moral faculties with the beliefs which justify our belief in the reliability of those faculities.}}

Now I have an _extra_ problem with this explanation. {g} Which perhaps I should have anticipated; but I didn't expect to find it from a student of Lewis.

It's logically illegitimate to justify our justification abilities. We can logically analyze their proposed existence to some extent, and consider what would be counterfactually true if they didn't exist, etc.; but in doing that we're _already_ _necessarily_ presuming our justification faculties can in fact be reliable. We can draw conclusions about them (possibly reliable ones), but we can't justify them.


In any case, I'm somewhat failing to see how justifying our beliefs in God's goodness by appealing to God's goodness, is _not_ (in effect) the same as confusing the fact which explains the reliability of our moral faculties (i.e. God's goodness) with the belief (in God's goodness) which justifies our belief in the reliability of our moral faculties.

So, you've agreed that this _would_ be an objectionable circularity. Um, me too. {g} In a different application of the same principle, that same objection is why I conclude I should disbelieve atheism and believe not-atheism to be true. I'm certainly not going to turn around and appeal to it in my favor.


{{One theory of why we should trust our senses is that natural selection would have eliminated species whose senses weren't reliable. But why should we accept this theory? Because it's confirmed by scientific data? But that data comes to us through our senses! The justification is circular.

I don't think this is a good objection to the evolutionary explanation of the reliability of our senses. (There may be other reasons for rejecting it, but that's another matter.)}}

Actually, the reason this isn't a good objection (in itself), is that the justification in question is _not_ primarily based on reliability of our senses. (Except for theorists who in effect have to equate our cognitive faculties with reliability of our senses. In which case they have to appeal to circular justification of their own justification ability. We routinely call coup on eliminative materialists for doing this.)


Really, the objectionable thing is that when you appeal to such justifications, you're basically making a sheer assertion and dressing it out as something other than a sheer assertion, with the expectation that we should accept the claim with the relevance proper to something _other_ than a sheer assertion. When you write (for instance) "part of my justification for believing in God's goodness might be that God is kind and forgiving and that these are virtues ... a fact which we can all agree upon", this _looks_ on the face of it like you're drawing a conclusion from evidence and asking us to accept a valid reasoning; when instead, because of the circularity involved behind it, you might as well have just stopped with asserting "Part of my reason for believing God is good, is because God is good. Why? There is no why. I just say so. Accept it."

I can hardly blame an atheist, or other sceptic, for pooping on that. {shrug} For that matter, I could hardly blame someone for bailing _into_ hyperscepticism, when faced with this. They learn their lesson, and then go on to apply it; unbelief (or at best a sheer fideism, rejecting all grounds for support, including scriptural claims) is the result. (As well as postmodern subjectivism, etc. etc.)

Come to think of it, Steven's sarcastic retort about Hitler might have some real relevance along this line, too...


{{But since [Carr's objection about saving a drowning child] obviously isn't good against theism in general, neither is it any good against DNT.}}

But the only reason you give for his objection being 'obviously' not good against theism in general, is because theists in general merely _assert_ the goodness of God--or so you have seemed to claim.

If you're not offering positive arguments for God's goodness, then we're down to mere assertion. And you've admitted that you can provide no legitimate positive arguments along your line of approach. ("If I was offering arguments for it, the kinds of circularity Carr and Loftus point out would cause problems for those arguments. But I'm not offering arguments for it, I'm just elucidating a position..." Which elucidation involves proffering apparent justifications for it on occasion; which looks like positive argumentation.)

So it's a position many theists will find appealing. So what? Atheists are entirely capable of sheerly asserting other things which some people (especially if they're atheists by natural temperament?) will find appealing, too. (Hitler certainly succeeded very well along that line... for a time.)

Jason

Steve Lovell said...

Clearly, the dialectic has been misunderstood.

When I said ...

---
"But this is only an objectionable ciruclarity if we confuse the fact which explains the reliability of our moral faculties with the beliefs which justify our belief in the reliability of those faculities."
---

... I was trying to say that DNT isn't an attempt to justify our belief in our faculties (which would, I agree, be problematic and curious from a Lewis scholar), but rather an explanation for their reliability.

In effect, I assume the general reliability of our faculties. (How can I, or anyone else do anything else?)

In the same way an evolutionary explanation of the reliability of our senses could provide a correct and illuminating explanation for the general reliability of our senses without providing any justification for belief in the reliability of the senses (since the justification would be circular).

Let me try to make DNT a little clearer. According to DNT:

(1) Whatever faculties we have for reaching moral knowledge were faculties given to us by God.
(2) Moral goodness consists in conformity to God's nature.
(3) Although the moral knowledge that results from the proper use of our God-given faculties, has it's ultimate origin in God, the person using those faculties need not be aware of this.

Moving on to the entirely separate matter of how we justify belief in God's goodness, Jason makes some strange objections to my position.

Here's me:

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"Part of my justification for believing in God's goodness might be that God is kind and forgiving and that these are virtues ... a fact which we can all agree upon"
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Here's Jason:

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"this _looks_ on the face of it like you're drawing a conclusion from evidence and asking us to accept a valid reasoning; when instead, because of the circularity involved behind it, you might as well have just stopped with asserting "Part of my reason for believing God is good, is because God is good. Why? There is no why. I just say so. Accept it." I can hardly blame an atheist, or other sceptic, for pooping on that. {shrug} For that matter, I could hardly blame someone for bailing _into_ hyperscepticism, when faced with this. They learn their lesson, and then go on to apply it; unbelief (or at best a sheer fideism, rejecting all grounds for support, including scriptural claims) is the result. (As well as postmodern subjectivism, etc. etc.)"
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The quote from me, in effect, offered the following little argument:

(1) Being forgiving and kind are virtues.
(2) God is forgiving and kind.
(3) Therefore, God is good.

I don't claim that the argument should be persuasive to atheists, I just claim that we could come to know that God is good by coming to know (1) and (2), or something like them. (The fact "we can all agree on" is (1)) The argument isn't circular, the conclusion doesn't appear among the premises. Moreover, the truth of (1) and (2) is perfectly consistent with DNT, as is the assertion of our ability to know the truth of (1) and (2).

How does "the circularity involved" reduce this little argument to "Part of my reason for believing God is good, is because God is good"?

Jason seems to be victim of the exact confusion I was pointing out. He seems to think I reason as follows:

(1) God is good.
(2) God has given us our moral faculties.
(3) Therefore, our moral faculties are reliable. (From 1 and 2)
(4) Our moral faculties tell us that being kind and forgiving is good.
(5) Therefore, being kind and forgiving is good. (From 3 and 4)
(6) God is kind and forgiving (from some other evidence)
(7) Therefore, God is good. (From 5 and 6).

If it's supposed to persuade anyone of its conclusion, the argument is terrible and I join Jason in rejecting it in this sense. Nevertheless, as an advocate of DNT I think the argument is sound (valid with true premises). As such it provides a useful further elucidation of DNT.
Premises (3) through (6) describe reasoning that people who don't endorse DNT are capable of performing. The addition of (1) and (2) shows how DNT is consistent with coming to such knowledge of God's goodness. So contra Nielsen, our ability to justify our belief in God's goodness does not depend on having an "independent" source of moral beliefs.

Lastly, I would like to explain the difference between elucidating a position, affirm a position, and claiming that all should accept a position. (I've done the first two with DNT, but not the third.)

To elucidate a position is to explain it, to say what it involves. To affirm a position is to claim that a position is true. Therefore, one can elucidate a position without asserting it.

One can also elucidate and even affirm a position without claiming that all should accept it ... and this is precisely what I have done with DNT.

Jason writes:

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So it's a position many theists will find appealing. So what? Atheists are entirely capable of sheerly asserting other things which some people (especially if they're atheists by natural temperament?) will find appealing, too. (Hitler certainly succeeded very well along that line... for a time.)
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In many ways, yes, "So What". I haven't tried to persuade the atheist of much at all, merely that certain objections to DNT fail, that DNT is at least viable.

While this conclusion perhaps isn't as interesting as one might like, it certainly isn't entirely uninteresting:
Given the obvious attractions that DNT will have to many theists, this may be enough to move them in the direction of DNT. It will also serve to bolster the moral argument for God, which seems difficult to get through unless some form of theistic ethics can be defended against the Euthyphro and allied objections.

On a lighter note: I think the irrelevant appeal to Hitler should be pointed out as an informal fallacy in courses of introductory logic.

Jason said...

Steve,

I apologize for the lateness of the reply--between one thing and another, the thread seems to have moved off the bottom of the main page before I got back around to checking it. (Or possibly I misremembered what the comment tally was, and thought there was still no reply when scanning past it.) In any case, I didn't realize there had been an answer until Victor linked back to the discussion several months later. (early Oct 2006)

I have a very large number of things on the desk this morning (Fri Oct 6, 2006), but I will try to work up an answer this weekend, or this afternoon after work. Thank you, in the meanwhile, for taking the time to make such an in-depth reply in defense of your paper. {bow!}

Note: the reply, when I can get around to it, will be posted in the new comment thread Victor set up called "Some Previous Dialogue Concerning the Euthyphro". This is for the sake of people who may arrive at this thread later doing searches on Victor's site.

Jason Pratt