Monday, July 16, 2007

William Lane Craig's Moral Argument for theism

4 comments:

Dan'l said...

The key flaw with Craig's argument lies here:

Today I want to argue that if God exists, then the objectivity of moral values, moral duties, and moral accountability is secured, but that in the absence of God, that is, if God does not exist, then morality is just a human convention, that is to say, morality is wholly subjective and non-binding.

This is a false dichotomy. It is possible for morality to be neither handed down as an absolute law, nor a human convention: for example, in a nontheistic universe-of-discourse it may be that morality is a genetic (and thus not subjective in the meaning of the act) response to evolutionary pressures, that is, that a tendency to the kind of behavior we call "moral" provides an evolutionary advantage to the genes that promote it. And, of course, there is in "selfish gene" evolutionary psychology plenty of evidence that "moral" or "altruistic" behavior often does provide such advantage.

(Please note that I am not arguing against the existence of God -- I am a Catholic Christian -- but against bad logic.)

Victor Reppert said...

Dan'l: Of course you have to distinguish between having an explanation for how we come to have moral beliefs, and the question of whether, however we got those beliefs, those beliefs have an objective validity. Moral behavior may frequently give us an advantage, either to ourselves or our selfish genes. It may not. We are sometimes morally obligated to perform actions that will result in our own immediate deaths, resulting in the end of our own lives and our dropping out of the gene pool.

Further, is there anything wrong with me if I don't care one iota whether I pass on my genes or not?

The problem is that if morality is a genetic response to evolutionary pressures, and I decide that this is indeed the case, does this give me a reason to go ahead and be moral when my self-interest, and maybe even the interest of my selfish genes, is telling me to do just the opposite? My desire to keep my ass alive regardless of what is right or wrong might be a good deal psychologically stronger, and have a much stronger evolutionary foundation, than my moral feelings. Why should I listen to those moral promptings, when they may cost me my life?

Sturgeon's Lawyer said...

(For some reason, the server made me change my user ID. This is Dan'l.)

Of course you have to distinguish between having an explanation for how we come to have moral beliefs, and the question of whether, however we got those beliefs, those beliefs have an objective validity.

Take a step back here: You are saying that we "have to" make this distinction; perhaps you might care to justify that assertion? There are a couple of sub-points that need justification; for example the idea that the concept of "objective" even applies to something like the validity of a belief. There is a much more basic distinction that I suggest we "have to" make, between what is factual and what is true. While we're at it, we should also keep separate in our minds the concept of what is real, but as that applies to phenomena rather than statements, the distinction is relatively easy to make. Of these, only the factual can be "objective."

To say that a moral belief has "objective validity" is then meaningless. "Murder is immoral" may be true, but it is not factual -- "murder is illegal," contrariwise, is factual, because it describes an objective, or, if you prefer, an empirically verifiable state of affairs in the world. Moral beliefs do not, and cannot, describe such states of affairs.

Moral behavior may frequently give us an advantage, either to ourselves or our selfish genes. It may not. We are sometimes morally obligated to perform actions that will result in our own immediate deaths, resulting in the end of our own lives and our dropping out of the gene pool.

Undoubtedly true, though your personally dropping out of the gene pool does not necessarily disadvantage your genes. Dying to save one's children (which is generally considered a moral act) preserves one's genes better than allowing one's children to die to preserve one's own act (which is generally considered an act of cowardice).

Further, is there anything wrong with me if I don't care one iota whether I pass on my genes or not?

Of course not. There is no "caring" involved in such things; they are tendencies to behave in certain ways, but only tendencies. Nor does it matter whether you are even aware that you have genes.

The problem is that if morality is a genetic response to evolutionary pressures, and I decide that this is indeed the case, does this give me a reason to go ahead and be moral when my self-interest, and maybe even the interest of my selfish genes, is telling me to do just the opposite?

Two points here.

First, nobody sane (to the best of my knowledge) is saying that morality, or any other specific behavior, is genetically programmed into us -- I note that you did not use that phrase, so I assume you're up on at least some of this debate. For those who aren't, though, morality as a "genetic response to evolutionary pressures" would produce something as vague as a genetic tendency to acquire language -- the specific (and quite complex) linguistic behaviors a child acquires depends on the child's environment. Any "genetic tendency to morality" would be quite as variable and complex, in humans, as this.

Second ... the evolutionary development of "altruism" (I use quotes because it's a biological rather than a moral term in this usage) is statistical in nature. It's bascially a gene that wagers that by accepting an apparent disadvantage, it increases the chance that copies of it will be propagated through the environment. The example I gave above, of a parent dying to save his/her children, illustrates this well. That the parent loves the children and does it because s/he loves them is undoubtedly true; it is just as true if s/he loves them because his/her ancestors' genes survived better because the ancestors loved their children.

My desire to keep my ass alive regardless of what is right or wrong might be a good deal psychologically stronger, and have a much stronger evolutionary foundation, than my moral feelings. Why should I listen to those moral promptings, when they may cost me my life?

This question is based on the idea that the individual organism is the unit of evolution. It isn't. What evolves are genes, and organisms (from this point of view) are complex structures built by genes to help them reproduce. You've no doubt run across the famous statistic that ninety-something percent of our genes are common with chimpanzees? Clearly, an even larger percentage of my genes and yours will be common; only a small fraction of one percentum of the genes of one human are different from those of another (at least, if they are of the same sex -- just to allow for that weird half-chromosome).

What this means is that if I give my life to help others survive, a few genes which are unique in me may be lost, but this is counterbalanced by the large number of copies of most of my genes that get saved. The more closely the people I save are related to me, the more of my genes will be preserved by such an action. By a cold calculus of probability, genes that tend to encourage us to behave in a manner that preserves our families, our "tribesmen," and others of our species, will tend to be successful in the long run.

There are other pressures that cause us to compete. But because of this "cold calculus," in most species, competition for scarce resources, or for mates, almost never results in killing. Why does it in humans? Because we are far less tightly programmed by our genes than any other species. As Dawkins says, every time we use contraception, we're defying our genes' most urgent demand...

stunney said...

Instincts, dispositions, and desires vary tremendously among humans–--some are instinctively aggressive, others instinctively deferential and compliant, some are extremely egoistic and cruel, others loving and altruistic. They vary from ethnic cleansing to caring for lepers. The naturalist is left having to face the fact that some people's ends are truly horrifying from a moral point of view. But in that case, one can't reduce morality to the ends people happen to be disposed to pursue, since those ends include ridding Europe of Jews.

The biological perspective is simply that people have different urges to do different things. But biology provides no criteria for deciding why one set of urges should be labelled more 'moral' than another. We would be left describing the atrocities of the Pol Pot regime as yet another 'interesting' manifestation of humankind's factual dispositions.

If evolutionary biology is to explain morality, it must show the link between morality and adaptive behavior. The trouble with this is that a very large range of human behavior is agreed to be immoral, while evolution has to hold that nearly all behavior derives from the adaptive features of our genetic makeup. From this it would follow that much, perhaps even all, immoral behavior is adaptive. But then adaptiveness cannot be that in terms of which moral (as against immoral) behavior is defined, or that from which specifically moral (as against immoral) behavior springs.

Some naturalists are prepared to bite the bullet about this. That is, they are ready to say that there is no such thing as morality in any robust sense. There are just various human desires and human inclinations to talk a certain way about them. Morality, if the term is to be retained at all, simply refers to whatever happens to be the majority of, or most commonly possessed, sets of dispositions and ways of speaking with regard to inter-human conduct.

The problem with this view is that it falls foul of naturalism's most basic starting point—human experience. Naturalism privileges science as a form of knowledge because it relies on the most immediate data yielded by our consciousness of the world. Among these data are most certainly the deliverances of our sensory and perceptual abilities. But these are not the only kind of data of consciousness. There is also the utter conviction that shooting defenceless innocent children as they attempt to escape (as happened at Beslan) is something we are morally bound to condemn—--that it is objectively prohibited to act thus, whether anyone (such as the Beslan terrorists) subjectively wants to or not. There is the absolute certainty we find our conscious mind giving us that leaving a man to die of thirst in the desert while driving off in a full water-tanker is an abhorrent act of callousness that violates an ineluctable moral obligation (unless one is racing to save the lives of others who would die if you stopped to help—--in that case one's obligation is different–--saving the others–--but it's still an obligation).

In other words, naturalism rests its case on the sheer force and given-ness of sensory experience. But that force and given-ness is at least, if not more, present in the case of people's consciousness with respect to major moral duties and moral values. One is more ready to attribute an experience of green to optical illusion or bodily malfunction (such as color-blindness) than to give up as 'illusory' the idea that one must not kill kids or leave dying men in the desert. One is more ready, in a laboratory, to attribute the position of the dial to a random electrical disturbance, than one is to attribute the notion that we should not rape our grandmothers to an illusion, or to a mere lack of desire to do so. Naturalism, in order to dismiss morality as a projection or illusion with no real objective claim upon us, ends up having to deny the validity of the only thing that would even render itself (naturalism) plausible in the first place—the deliverances and character of the subjective but epistemically fundamental conscious experiences of human beings.