Tuesday, May 05, 2009

A moral argument for God

Here is a moral argument I have developed, based on some ideas that I have presented here earlier.

1. Probably, if there is no God, then there cannot be objective moral values.

2. If there are no objective moral values, then there are no inalienable human rights. A society could either give people rights or not given them rights. In some societies it is considered permissible to enslave other persons. In some societies old people are exposed to death. In still others women are treated like chattel. Unless there are objective moral values, then there are no absolute rights that people in these societies are trampling upon.

3. But these people do have rights, whether their society recognizes those rights or not.

4. From 3 and 2, we must conclude that there are objecctive moral values.

5. 1 and 4, we must conclude that, probably, God exists.

41 comments:

unkle e said...

Victor

I was heavily influenced by CS Lewis's moral argument when I was a teen, and I still think it has force. I like your use of "probably" in #1 and hence in #5.

But can you really say in #3 "these people do have rights"?

I am not a philosopher, but I would have thought that the more cautious statement would be "But most of us believe that these people do have rights". This is less questionable, and leads (I think) to the only slightly weaker conclusion: "Most of us must conclude that, probably, God exists."That then leaves people with either denying people have those rights or accepting the probable existence of God, which I think is a fair conclusion.

Victor Reppert said...

But what you are saying is that 3, as I have it, is something that I can get most people to agree to. Most people think 3 is true. I think it is true, too. But the trick is to get people who agree with 3 to think through the logical conclusions of their position.

Gordon Knight said...

Victor,

I really want to see an argument for 1. Neither Aristotelian nor Platonic ethics rely on a deity. Nor Kantian ethics..


Further, unless you are a divine command theorist, any argument for the converse of one will be self-defeating. For, if its not a matter of God's whim, then the moral truths embodied in God are themselves real, objective properties. If God can have such a property, why can't states of affairs in the world have them?

Doctor Logic said...

Your argument fails in two places. First, claim (1) is broken, as Gordon says.

But the part that annoys me the most is (3). I really don't think that the entire theistic (or is it just apologetic?) community can be so obtuse as to see what is wrong with it.

A right is something that I will not sign away in a social contract. Sometimes, a right is something I will not even allow others to sign away. A right is something that I am unwilling to compromise unless it protects my other rights in some fashion.

For example, I will not negotiate away my right to personal freedom (i.e., will not succumb to slavery), and would rather fight.

This definition of rights does not require me to believe that my rights are objective. I am free to defending rights I recognize even if they are subjective.

Here's another way to see the flaw. You are assuming that I am objectively prohibited from acting to stop a moral offense if there is no objective basis for the offense. But that assumption represents an objective moral principle, so it begs the question.

If I get offended at the acts of another person, I don't need an objective law or principle at work in order for me to take action to stop the offense, or prevent future offenses.

Anonymous said...

Gordon, the ethical systems you mentioned are normative ethical systems, i.e., they are views on the right-making features of moral actions. They do not explanatorily account for the existence of objective morality, which is a meta-ethical issue.

Doctor Logic said...

I just want to clarify my last comment...

When one says "X is a right!" one means that "I will not negotiate away the right to X, nor will I tolerate the limitation of others' right to X unless I am trading off against other rights that I value."

It is a misreading to say that one means "There is an objective abstract principle that guarantees the right to X, and, therefore, I have objective justification to fight for the right to X if I want to. And I want to fight!"

Crude said...

DL,

Another way to say what you're saying is "I can do whatever I want and I don't need to have an objective justification." That and changing the definition of right to reflect your subjective desires and likes. That's fine, I suppose.

But just because you disagree doesn't mean the argument is flawed. The argument seems designed to show what probably follows if a person really believes that there objective moral values, using a popular moral judgment (inalienable rights) to illustrate what probably follows.

Arguing "Well if I completely change the definition of rights you're using then I can believe in rights yet reject your argument" is like a lame parlor trick. Hey, I'll redefine God to mean "mechanistic materialism" - and now the existence of objective values proves that materialism is probably true! That was easy!

Logically Perfect Calculator said...

Doctor's posts are riddled with logical errors and mistakes in reasoning. First, he merely claims that (1) is "broken" but does not cite any reasons why. It is a mistake in reasoning to assert something without basis and expect others to take your word for it. Not to mention, premises are just not the sort of things that can be "broken." They're either true or false, or probably true or probably false, etc.

Secondly, and more importantly, he fails to distinguish between acting in ways that do not assume rights are objective and the objectivity of rights themselves. Even if many people did not act in ways that assume the objectivity in rights, this doesn't mean that rights aren't objective.

To conclude from a logical, rational point of view: doctor's post completely fails to refute any of the premises in the argument.

Doctor Logic said...

Crude,

I'm not the one changing the definition of a right. I'm stating an operational definition. The argument is question-begging because it translates an operational definition into an arbitrary metaphysical framework.

You are saying that an inalienable right is the same thing as an objective right. Again, I'm not seeing that. What is the operational meaning of inalienable? It means that no legislative decree or royal decree will be binding in the social contract. It does not mean that if the king uses force to enslave me, I am not enslaved. It means that if the king says I am a slave (or someone else is a slave) we won't accept the decree and will resist.

Doctor Logic said...

LPC,

In my critique of (1) I referred to what Gordon wrote. I think that was kinda specific.

[DL] fails to distinguish between acting in ways that do not assume rights are objective and the objectivity of rights themselves. Even if many people did not act in ways that assume the objectivity in rights, this doesn't mean that rights aren't objective.

Hmm. I don't follow. Isn't the point of (3) to show that a person who advocates for rights automatically believes rights are objective?

I think you are misreading me. I'm not talking about "acting in ways that do not assume rights are objective." I am talking about what it means for a person to act as if X is a right. You can act as if X is a right without any thought about objective or subjective morality. Acting as if X is a right does not commit you to objective morality. The fact that it is logically possible that morality is objective doesn't help the argument.

Clayton said...

What's the justification for 1? I worry that any argument for 1 that is at all credible is an argument against 3. Suppose, for example, you say that the argument for 1 is Mackie's argument from the queerness of moral properties. That would make 1 true and 3 false. A little help, Victor?

Crude said...

DL,

No, I'm saying that it's clearly implied just what the argument means by an 'inalienable right', and that wiggling the way you are on the definition is little more than a cheap trick. Just say you deny the existence objective moral values or rights so considered - you don't have to play this silly game. By 2, the argument assumes that there exist societies where people's inalienable rights are being violated anyway.

This argument obviously isn't meant to prove the existence of objective moral values. It's meant to show what follows if someone accepts and believes that there are objective moral values, and gives one example of a common value many people would say they believe in - along with the understanding of what they mean by that value. Obviously if by "these people have inalienable rights!" the person is really saying "and by that I mean I subjectively think they should be allowed X or protected from Y treatment!", then they don't believe in rights as the arguments it. The "rights" they believe in are personal preferences and whims about how others should be treated.

Doctor Logic said...

Crude,

How does step 2 start?

And what does 4 conclude?

And how does your last comment make any sense in light of this?

Crude said...

DL,

2 states that if there are no objective moral values, then there are no inalienable human rights - and that, for example, chattel slavery isn't really a violation of anyone's rights. 4 refers to 3 and 2, where 3 asserts that inalienable rights do in fact exist.

The argument itself isn't offering any reason to believe in rights (and therefore objective moral values.) At most it highlights a moral intuition or belief and shows what follows. If you don't believe in inalienable human rights, the argument won't be persuasive (and that includes redefining inalienable human rights to "whatever I think people should be allowed to do or forbidden from experiencing".)

G said...

For those who deny 1., please take out a scratch piece of paper, and write the following:

(P1) Nature is fundamentally amoral and impersonal, and nothing exists over and above nature.


(C) Therefore, there are some moral actions such that objectively we ought or ought not perform them.
On your piece of paper, please write down which logical inferences you would use to get from (P1) to (C). When you have accomplished that, please post them here for critical evaluation.

G said...

Hell Clayton,

You write:

What's the justification for 1? I worry that any argument for 1 that is at all credible is an argument against 3. Suppose, for example, you say that the argument for 1 is Mackie's argument from the queerness of moral properties. That would make 1 true and 3 false. A little help, Victor?That's baffling, since after Mackie advanced his argument from queerness against objective moral properties, he said that theism would render the existence of such properties more probable than not. Remember, Mackie's problem with objective moral properties was that, given naturalism, it's difficult to see how any supervenience base with only naturalistically acceptable properties could give rise to the intrinsic prescriptivity of moral properties.

So, one could use a queerness argument (for example) to justify 1., and if one is not a naturalist, one could defend 3 by other means (theism or whatever).

Steven Carr said...

' If there are no objective moral values, then there are no inalienable human rights.'

You mean we have the right not to be killed by God?

Have you told your fellow Christians this?

William Lane Craig writes :-

'God is under no obligation whatsoever to extend my life for another second. If He wanted to strike me dead right now, that’s His prerogative.

What that implies is that God has the right to take the lives of the Canaanites when He sees fit. How long they live and when they die is up to Him.'

So if there is a God, then people do not have inalienable human rights.

Gordon Knight said...

Anon:

Well Platonism is certainly meta-ethical as are 20th century offshoots such as Moore's non-natural ethics.

I thought Aristotle grounded ethical truth in teleology. I suppose you can ask how this teleolgy got started, and some certainly thing you need a God to get it going. But its certainly debatable.

Kant grounds ethical truth in Reason.

Of course these views are controversial. The platonic view is the most plausible to me, and of course there are many variants.

If there are real objective ethical properties, these properties are just part of the furniture of the world.. not something God tacks on to it.


And G, of course if nature is "amoral" there are no objective moral truths! (I assume you mean by nature "all that exists") But that is precisely the question!

Why would there be moral truths in an impersonal universe? Plato of course thought moral truths were grounded on an ultimate impersonal good.

I agree that a world with objective moral values is "friendly" to theism, but that is about as far as the moral argument goes.

Doctor Logic said...

Crude,

So you read the argument like this...


1. Probably, if there is no God, then there cannot be objective moral values.

2. Assume that if there are no objective moral values, then there are no rights.

3. Assume you believe in rights.

4. From 3 and 2, we must conclude that there are objective moral values.

5. 1 and 4, we must conclude that, probably, God exists.

So, who is this argument for? You're saying this argument is directed at people who already believe moral values must be objective in order to have rights. Such people would already accept 2-4. But if they're not already theists, then they must think 1 (which is given without argument) must be wrong.

It makes no sense to me that Victor would lay out such an argument for people who thought 2-4 were trivially true. It looks much more like 2 and 3 are targeted at moral relativists who don't know what "rights" actually mean.

Victor?

Clayton said...

That's baffling, since after Mackie advanced his argument from queerness against objective moral properties, he said that theism would render the existence of such properties more probable than not. Remember, Mackie's problem with objective moral properties was that, given naturalism, it's difficult to see how any supervenience base with only naturalistically acceptable properties could give rise to the intrinsic prescriptivity of moral properties.Baffling? I'm baffled by your bafflement. I offered an example of a kind of argument that would offer a rationale for one premise while undermining the rationale for another. It may be a cartoon version of Mackie, but the point wasn't about Mackie's actual argument but the general point that it's hard to see what the rationale would be for 1 that doesn't threaten 3.

Fwiw, I don't think Mackie is right about the implications of naturalism so it will come as no surprise that I don't think Mackie is right about the implications of supernaturalism. He said that the theist might try to meet the difficulties for moral realism by appealing to some fact about the intended purpose of human life where the relevant intentions are divine intentions. For my part, I don't see why this sort of fact has the right kind of 'objective prescriptivity'.

Gordon Knight said...

Steven Carr: please do not use Craig as a paradigm Christian. Thanks.

Ilíon said...

GK: "... nor Platonic ethics rely on a deity."

And just what *do* Plato's unthought thoughts rely upon?

BLip said...

GK,

I think Carr realises that Criag's conservative Christinaity is really the only kind of Christianity worth bothering about.

If universalism weas true, I really don't think Carr woul give a monkeys.

:-)

Ilíon said...

I keep offering Doctor "Logic" the use of the first two letters of my name; so far he seems to imagine he has no need of or use for them (well, other than to call me "Iliot," which is vastly amusing).

Gordon Knight said...

Blip,

Craig represents one sort of evangelical christianity, but he obviously does not reprsent Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy, neither of which is plausibly described as liberal. Of course he also does not represent the UCC.

I think there are quite a few conservative Christians who take univesalism quite seriously--so I would not use that as a litmus test.

Ilíon said...

No one taking universalism seriously can plausibly claim to be a "conservative Christian," much less (and more importantly) an "orthodox Christian."

Christ himself says that some of God's creatures shall be lost to him. Universalism denies this thing which Christ asserts.

Victor Reppert said...

First of all, I have an argument addressed to people who are moral relativists, but who nonetheless think there are real human rights. That is, on some moral questions, they give all the relativist responses (who's to say?), but when basic human rights are violated, they say that is wrong. I teach ethics classes, and I can tell you there are plenty of people like that. What they don't realize is that the position is logically inconsistent. If the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are absolute, then there is an objective standard of moral value according to which they are absolute. I'm betting that when you point this out to them, they will admit that they believe in objective moral values, as opposed to relativism.

Premise 1 is a little more complex, in there are obviously moral philosophies do not directly ground ethics in God which are nonentheless objective. However, these systems, as I pointed out in a previous post, make metaphysical commitments that conflict with contemporary naturalism, (Plato's forms which we knew in a past life, and recollect now, is a good example, Aristotelian entelechies would be another), and these world-views lend themselves to theistic arguments in a way that contemporary materialism does not. I do think that attempting to work out these metaphysical systems in a consistent way is going to lead one at least in the direction of theism.

Objects in a naturalistic world are not supposed to have moral properties. That is ruled out by any reasonable definition of naturalism. Particle arrangements are just not going to get you there.

So if we accept the idea of objectively binding human rights, we reduce the number of world-views which are acceptable, and enhance the probability of theism, on which the existence of these values can be easily understood.

Gordon Knight said...

Thanks for clarifying, Victor

If your argument is that objective moral truths is inconsistent with *naturalism,* then I think you have a case. But the falsity of naturalism does not entail the truth of theism, as I think you agree.

Is it true that working out objective non-naturalistic ethics leads to theism? I agree its friendly to theism, but I mean by that just that it fits in very nicely to a theistic world view. But it also fits in very nicely with any number of other non-naturalistic world views. So what I think your argument needs, is some detailed spelling out of these "workings out" if the aim is to prove theism. But if the aim is to destroy naturalism, then you have done it! You also do it with teh argument from reason, the existence of mathematical truth..consciousness, free will.... meaning... just about everything that is interesting in live contradicts naturalism

I don't see why I cannot say, with G.E. Moore and oodles of others, that there are objective properties and there also is no God

I think it is pretty easy to dispose with relativism. If morals are defined by my culture than it is impossible to legitimately criticize the values of one's own culture. If one goes subjectivist, then all sincere moral claims are true.

It is odd that there are people with very strong normative views, who don't seem to get how these views require objectivist meta-ethics.

Peter Singer is a smart guy, but the one part of _Practical Ethics_that really made me cringe was his cavalier and shallow treatment of theism and objectivism.

Doctor Logic said...

Gordon,

I think it is pretty easy to dispose with relativism. If morals are defined by my culture than it is impossible to legitimately criticize the values of one's own culture. If one goes subjectivist, then all sincere moral claims are true.

No, this is 100% incorrect unless you beg the question on "legitimately". It's the no true Scotsman fallacy. The term "legitimately criticize" in your statement means "criticize with an objective basis."

As I put it to Victor, you want to say that intuitive morality doesn't exist. Well, it clearly does. Intuition is how we define morality before the question of objectivity arises.

If you want to say that intuitive and non-objective morality won't permit every agent, regardless of intuitions, to eventually arrive at the same moral conclusion, I'm fine with that. But that's not a proof of objective morality. (Nor is it an argument against the value of moral discourse.)

Take gastronomic taste. That's subjective, right? Does it then not exist? If you say you absolutely won't eat bananas, must bananas be objectively bad? No.

But just because a personal taste is about the actions of everyone else, you assume that the personal taste must be a measurement of something objective. That's a non sequitur. Such arguments proceed only by equivocation on the meaning of objective, absolute and universal.

Steven Carr said...

GORDON
If morals are defined by my culture than it is impossible to legitimately criticize the values of one's own culture.

CARR
And if one head coach likes running plays and another head coach likes plays with 4 wide receivers, then it is impossible to legitimately criticise somebody who calls a running play on 4 and 16 from their own 2 yard line with just two minutes gone on the clock.


And why does declaring Craig not a pardigm Christian mean that his views about human rights are wrong?

If there is a God then human beings are subject to the whim of an amoral God, as Craig points out and as Gordon cannot refute except by irrelevant ad hominem argument that Craig is not a 'paradigm Christian'.

Why not produce a real argument that human beings have the right not to have a god pronouncing himself judge , jury and executioner of human beings, rather than simply say Craig is not a paradigm Christian?

Gordon Knight said...

the thing about taste is that we realize that it is not rationally compelling. I like anchovies, you don't. there is not justification for me trying to make you like anchovies it makes no rational sense.

clearly there can be the *behavior* of critiqueing one's own culture on any view, but it makes no logical sense. If moral truth is DEFINED by what my culture approves of, then for me to say "my culture is wrong" is for me to make a rather obvious factual mistake.

likewise if you think that "torture is wrong" means something like "I disaprove of torture" of course I can say such a thing but if its all a matter of taste there is no rational ground for prefering my claim to that of "Torture is cool"

I know there are things you can say in response. Hume i think works this out in some detail, but in the ends it remains a sort of nihilism. Why should i care about taste?

SC: well on the trad. christian view, God is GOOD, so God does not arbitrarily will that we do anything. if god wills us to do something its because it really is good (and goodness is not defined by reference to divine decree--Divine command is a minority view, and yes a crazy one, in my view)

Gordon Knight said...

and Yo, Illion, so do you class Karl Barth with those wild eyed liberal christians?

Ilíon said...

GK: "and Yo, Illion, so do you class Karl Barth with those wild eyed liberal christians?"

If Barth denies what Christ has plainly said, then I class him with those who deny what Christ has clearly said.

Christ has said that some of God's creatures, both human and angelic, are lost to him. Therefore, universalism is not a live option for Christians to believe or argue or assert.

Ilíon said...

If you want to argue that the common (and traditional) belief of many Christians that the vast majority of the human race is lost to God is based on a misunderstanding of Scripture, I'm all ears.

If you want to argue that the common belief of many Christians, especially those of bureaucratic and episcopal traditions, that one must be a member of an ecclesiastical body to be saved is mistaken, I'm with you. For, after all, Christ himself says that some of his "good and faithful servants" seem taken aback at being so called.

But that doesn't seem to be what you want to do.

Steven Carr said...

GORDON
likewise if you think that "torture is wrong" means something like "I disaprove of torture" of course I can say such a thing but if its all a matter of taste there is no rational ground for prefering my claim to that of "Torture is cool"

CARR
And if a head coach likes running plays on 4th and 25, from their teams own 5 yard line, all we can say is that I disapprove of such a play.

I can't say it is objectively wrong unless God has written a football coaching manual.

Doctor Logic said...

Gordon,

the thing about taste is that we realize that it is not rationally compelling. I like anchovies, you don't. there is not justification for me trying to make you like anchovies it makes no rational sense.

However, taste is rationally compelling to the person who holds it.

likewise if you think that "torture is wrong" means something like "I disapprove of torture" of course I can say such a thing but if its all a matter of taste there is no rational ground for preferring my claim to that of "Torture is cool"

But if you wanted to persuade me that torture was wrong, you wouldn't do that by just saying "I disapprove of torture" or "Torture is wrong!" In order to persuade me that it is wrong, you have to provide me with reasons to see that I am also against torture because it violates my own tastes.

Suppose I support the torture policy. Being an average bloke, my support is not based on a taste I have for torturing people. Most people don't primarily have a taste for a policy, but for a broader goal. I have a taste for personal security, and the security of people that I care about. I also have an aesthetic taste for the American way of life. So, in your argument, you will appeal to me on the grounds of my own tastes. You'll say torture is ineffective (counter-effective, in fact), degrades our ability to fight a psychological war, that it is inconsistent with the American way of life, cowardly, etc.

That's how moral persuasion actually works. You don't persuade people by doing some sort of logical proof from first principles.

Gordon Knight said...

For those interested in a biblical case for universalism:

http://pantheon.yale.edu/~kd47/univ.htm

Edward T. Babinski said...

Does God require humans to make arguments for His existence?

And to defend his "most inspired book in the world" for Him?

Joe said...

The argument is deductively valid:

G=God
O=Objective Moral Values
R=Inalienable Rights
1. If -G, then -O
2. If -O, then -R
3. If -G, then -R (from 1&2)
4. R
Therefore
5. G (from 3&4)

However, there is not a single premise that is unquestionable. In order to make this argument work; you would have to prove the truthfulness of each premise. The most glaring example of question-begging is at 4. This is just a bald assertion. Inalienable rights exist? Prove it.

Also, -G then -O must be proven and there are two questions here. The first has to do with whether or not the existence of objective values depends on the existence of God. And the second is whether the existence of God really guarantees the existence of objective moral values.

The premise -O then -R works. But, what is so special about inalienable rights? And it is perfectly coherent to acknowledge the necessity of rights without regarding them as inalienable (for the record, I do not believe in inalienable rights).

Ilíon said...

Joe:… The most glaring example of question-begging is at 4. This is just a bald assertion. Inalienable rights exist? Prove it.

You really don't get it, do you Joe?

The syllogism you have put out is a disguised reductio ad absurdum. Everyone -- and most especially those who vociferously deny the reality of 'inalienable rights' -- is certain that he himself possesses 'inalienable rights.'

Ilíon said...

Of course, there is also the little problem that no rational person who uses the phrase "inalienable rights" means literally "inalienable rights."