bookmark_borderAre Atheism and Moral Realism Logically Incompatible?

I am a regular reader of Victor Reppert’s blog, Dangerous Idea. In the combox for one of his recent posts, Steve Hays claimed that atheism and moral realism are logically incompatible. I wrote a lengthy reply to Hays in the combox and have decided to republish it here.
Before I republish my comments, I will make one general observation about moral arguments for God’s existence.

  1. Theists often claim that the so-called ‘problem of evil’ (read: arguments from evil for atheism) and the ontological foundation for morality are linked: one cannot ‘consistently’ run an argument from evil without having an ontological foundation for morality; morality somehow requires a theistic ontological foundation; therefore, arguments from evil are really arguments for God’s existence.
  2. In the context of arguments from evil, it is standard to make a distinction between logical arguments from evil (i.e., arguments which claim that God’s existence is logically inconsistent with some known fact about evil) and evidential arguments from evil (i.e., arguments which claim that some known fact is either improbable on theism or less probable on theism than on naturalism). Theists will often argue that there is no good logical argument from evil, based upon Alvin Plantinga’s famous critique of J.L. Mackie’s logical argument from evil. (These same theists often seem to be unaware that philosophers J.L. Schellenberg and Quentin Smith, among others, have formulated new versions of the logical argument from evil, or they are aware but assume that Plantinga’s critique of Mackie also applies to Schellenberg and Smith. But that’s another topic for another post.)
  3. In general, there seems to be a double-standard on the part of theists (not necessarily Steve) who try to link arguments from evil for atheism with moral arguments for God’s existence: these theists do not apply the same degree of skepticism to what I will call logical arguments from moral ontology (i.e., arguments which claim that atheism is logically inconsistent with moral realism) and logical arguments from evil. Just as many atheists incorrectly assume that defending a logical argument from evil is much harder than it actually is, I believe that many theists incorrectly assume that defending a logical argument from moral ontology is much harder than it actually is.

I want to emphasize that, in our exchange, Steve Hays did not employ this double standard. I mention this double standard in this introduction because, in my experience, many theists (not Steve) who claim, “atheism and moral realism are logically incompatible,” are guilty of this double standard. This is where my my recent interaction with Steve Hays becomes relevant: I think my interaction with Steve Hays shows that it much harder to adequately defend claims of the logical incompatibility of atheism and moral realism, than it is to make such claims.
 


LOWDER
Steve Hays references atheists who reject moral realism. Putting aside the obvious rhetorical value of quoting ‘hostile witnesses,’ , what logical or evidential value could these references have?
First, the references could be an argument from authority. Contrary to what some people (not necessarily Steve) think, arguments from authority can be logically correct inductive arguments. One inductive argument form is the statistical syllogism:

(1) Z percent of F are G.
(2) x is F.
(3) [probable] x is G.

The closer Z is to 100, the stronger the inductive evidence.
Arguments from authority are a form of statistical syllogism:

(1′) The vast majority of statements made by x concerning subject S are true.
(2′) p is a statement made by x concerning subject S.
(3′) [probable] p is true.

As philosopher Wesley Salmon explains in his textbook, Logic, the following are “misuses of the argument from authority:”

  1. The authority may be misquoted or misinterpreted.
  2. The authority may have only glamor, prestige, or popularity.
  3. Experts may make judgments about something outside their special fields of competence.
  4. Authorities may express opinions about matters concerning which they could not possibly have any evidence.
  5. Authorities who are equally competent, so far as we can tell, may disagree.

Suppose we charitably interpret Steve’s references to atheists who reject moral realism is supposed to be an (inductive) argument from authority. Then if we let:

X=”atheists Sharon Street; Massimo Pigliucci; Michael Shermer; Owen J. Flanagan, Jr; Alex Rosenberg; Joel Marks; Daniel Dennett; Michael Ruse; and Quentin Smith.”;
S=”metaethics” (which includes whether moral anti-realism is true); and
p=”moral realism is false”

then Steve’s argument would have the following logical form.

(1′) The vast majority of statements made by x concerning subject S are true.
(2′) p is a statement made by x concerning subject S.
(3′) Therefore, p is true.

That argument is example of what Salmon called a “misuse of the argument from authority,” for at least three reasons.
First, Michael Shermer is not a philosopher and definitely not an expert on metaethics. (One could say the same about Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne, names which often appear in lists like the list posted by Steve.) Likewise, when Massimo Pigliucci made the statement referenced in Steve’s post (in his debate with William Lane Craig), Pigliucci was a biologist only, not a biologist and a philosopher. Even today, Pigliucci is not an expert on metaethics. (It may also be the case that Pigliucci has changed his views since his earning his doctorate in philosophy; I don’t know.) Similarly, Michael Ruse is a philosopher of biology and Alex Rosenberg is a philosopher of social science, economics, and science; neither specialize in metaethics. Likewise, Daniel Dennett’s areas of specialization are philosophy of science, cognitive science, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of biology; metaethics is not one of his areas of specialization.
Second, what about atheist philosophers who do specialize in metaethics and reject moral realism, such as Flannagan and Mackie? I’m going to put to the side the interesting question of whether Smith and Street should even be counted as moral anti-realists; both have highly nuanced views and it would take a long blog post to give the topic the attention it deserves.
But putting those two names to the side, there are still other names available who were or are without a doubt atheists, experts on metaethics, and moral anti-realists. There are plenty of competent authorities on metaethics or the philosophy of religion—both theists and naturalists—who disagree with p (“moral realism is false”). Off the top of my head, I can think of at least ##. The atheist camp of moral realists includes: David Brink; Michael Martin; G.E. Moore; John Post; William Rottschaefer; Russ Shafer-Landau; Stephen J. Sullivan; and Erik Wielenberg.
Third, the definition of X arbitrarily limits who counts as expert: if we are interested in whether atheism is logically compatible with moral realism, the proper reference class is all metaethicists, not just atheistic metaethics. But then broadening the scope of X adds even more authorities who reject statement p. The theistic camp of metaethicists who reject the claim (“atheism is incompatible with moral realism”) includes people like Robert Adams and Mark Murphy (a Catholic and a natural law theorist). Then there are metaethicists whose religious views are unknown to me, but would join Adams in rejecting the claim that atheism is logically incompatible with moral realism: Avi Sagi and Daniel Statman.
Accordingly, as an inductive argument from authority, the argument is inductively weak and logically incorrect. The premises do not confer a high probability on the conclusion. So, rather than name-dropping a selective list of atheists (or even merely summarizing the arguments made by those names), what we need is actual engagement with the arguments made by metaethicists and, in particular, the work of Robert Adams and Mark Murphy on the theistic side and Erik Wielenberg on the atheistic side. I’ve written about some of the atheistic error theorists listed above here.
We also need to distinguish between authorities who say “moral realism is false because theism is false” vs. those who say “moral realism is false or meaningless for reasons that have nothing to do with God’s existence.”


HAYS
Jeff’s comments are a lengthy exercise in misdirection:
i) I didn’t quote Shermer, Dawkins, or Coyne. So mentioning them in response to me just a diversionary tactic.
ii) I didn’t make an appeal to authority. Rather, if you bother to read the links, many of them provide arguments for their rejection of moral realism. Pity Jeff doesn’t know the difference between quoting someone as an authority figure and quoting someone for their arguments.
iii) Furthermore, even if it were, in some cases, an argument from authority, when Christians point out that atheism is incompatible with moral realism, and some atheists respond by acting as if that’s an ignorant, defamatory attack on atheists, it’s perfectly legitimate to cite counterexamples from their own side to demonstrate that this isn’t a Christian caricature of atheists, but something that many prominent atheists concede.
And in my experience, not a few internet atheists have no idea that there are real live atheist thinkers who deny moral realism. They just imagine that must be a Christian strawman.
iv) Jeff then acts as though, unless someone is an expert in metaethics, you should simply ignore their arguments. But isn’t that self-refuting? Is Jeff an expert on metaethics? I guess we can safely discount everything he said in his two lengthy comments. What makes Jeff an expert? That he’s an autodidact on metaethics?
v) I’d add that Jeff likes to artificially compartmentalize knowledge. But when, for instance, the topic at hand is evolutionary ethics/evolutionary psychology, it’s preposterous to suggest a philosopher who specializes in philosophy of mind or evolutionary biology can’t have anything worthwhile to say on the subject. These are interdisciplinary debates.
vi) Having made a dismissive comment about “the obvious rhetorical value of quoting hostile witnesses,” Jeff does the very same thing by citing Robert Adams and Mark Murphy.
Likewise, Jeff complains about “name-dropping a selective list of atheists (or even merely summarizing the arguments made by those names…” even though his second comment is nothing but name-dropping (or summarizing) a selective list of theists and atheists.
vi) Finally, I’ve often responded to the subset of atheists who struggle to defend moral realism. It’s not as if I haven’t engaged their arguments.
But I do understand Jeff’s need to throw a lifeline to his drowning cohort, Angra.


LOWDER
It’s ironic that, in an exchange about the alleged superiority of theistic metaethics, Steve is rude to his dialectical opponents who are atheists. (To avoid any misunderstandings, I’m not complaining that my feelings are hurt or that I am offended.) Unlike Steve’s reply to me, there was no intent to be snarky in my last comment and there is no intent to be snarky in this comment.
Steve tries to dismiss the entire point about inductive arguments from authority, as if that were an idiosyncratic interpretation of his remarks. I don’t claim to be able to read his or anyone else’s mind, so if it was not his intent to make an argument from authority, then I will take him at his word. Steve wasn’t making an argument from authority. But I think the reader can be forgiven for getting that apparently wrong impression from the following exchange:

Angra Mainyu: “I challenge you to show the alleged inconsistency between atheism and moral realism.”

Steve Hays: “You could begin by reading atheists who take that very position. For starters: ….” (followed by a long list of links to blog posts).

Almost all of the linked blog posts quoted atheists, but not all. (More on that later.)
So instead of making a logically incorrect inductive argument from authority, it is instead the case that Steve has simply brought up a bunch of irrelevancies to support his claim that “Atheism and moral realism are logically incompatible.” As evidence for that claim, let’s go through the first four of Steve’s links.
Sharon Street: Steve’s first link is about Sharon Street’s paper, “A Darwinian Dilemma about Realist Theories of Value.” Street’s paper has nothing do with an alleged contradiction between moral realism and atheism. In fact, Street’s paper has nothing whatsoever to do with moral ontology. Street’s paper is about moral epistemology: she argues that if evolutionary naturalism is true, we have an undercutting defeater for trusting our second-order ethical intuitions. In plain English, it’s as if she says:

“Many people think moral realism is true because it seems like moral realism is true. But that isn’t a good reason to think that moral realism is true if you are an evolutionary naturalist. If evolutionary naturalism is true, it would ‘seem’ that moral realism were true even if it weren’t. So the ‘argument from seeming’ [my name] isn’t a good reason for evolutionary naturalists to think that moral realism is true.”

But since that is the essence of Street’s argument, it follows that Street’s Darwinian Dilemma is irrelevant to the claim that atheism is logically incompatible with moral realism. The most charitable interpretation I could give to why Steve linked to an irrelevant paper by Street is that he was giving an inductive argument from authority, based upon the proposition, “Sharon Street is an atheist expert on metaethics who denies moral realism.” Again, Steve says his argument wasn’t an argument from authority, but the motivation to categorize his argument was my attempt to be charitable to Steve. Since it wasn’t an inductive argument from authority, the alternative is that it was just an irrelevant premise. Even if Street’s Darwinian Dilemma is correct, it still would not follow that atheism and moral realism are logically incompatible. To think otherwise would be to confuse moral epistemology with moral ontology.
Massimo Pigliucci:  His next link was to a quotation of Massimo Pigliucci on moral realism. As I explain here, the logical form of Pigliucci’s argument is as follows:

(7) Human beliefs about morality have changed over time.
(8) The best explanation for these changes in human beliefs is that there are no objective truths about morality.
(9) Therefore, there are no objective truths about morality.

Even if this were a good argument — and it is not — it still would not follow that atheism is logically incompatible with moral realism. Again, in an attempt to be charitable to Steve, I took him to be making an inductive argument from authority. Again, Steve says he wasn’t doing that. And again, in that case, I say, “Fine. Then it’s an irrelevant reference to a bad argument.”
Paul Pardi: His next link was to a statement by Paul Pardi. Paul is a Christian lecturer or professor of philosophy; in fact, at least for part of the last decade, he taught at Seattle Pacific University. Paul was commenting in the combox on a blog post by J.P. Moreland about Michael Shermer. (This is why I mentioned Shermer in my previous post.) So, as interesting as Paul’s comments are, Paul Pardi’s comments do nothing to show what atheists say about atheism and morality. Furthermore, Paul Pardi’s comments actually undercut Sharon Street’s Darwinian Dilemma. As Pardi points out, “To say that on evolution, our moral beliefs and practices wouldn’t track truth assumes what it’s seems to want to prove: that moral laws are something outside of the human mind that beliefs must correspond to.”
Again, the most charitable interpretation (of Steve’s bizarre decision to reference Pardi’s comment) I could come up with was that: (1) Steve mistakenly thought Pardi shared Shermer’s views (presumably because Pardi gave objections to Moreland’s argument against Shermer); and (2) what really mattered to Hays was the support that Shermer, as an atheist, lends to an evolutionary account of morality. But, putting aside the fact that Shermer is not a philosopher, the empirical fact about moral epistemology, if it is a fact, that:

A: The correct explanation for the origin of our moral beliefs involves our evolutionary history.

provides zero support for the logical claim about moral ontology that:

B: Atheism and moral realism are logically incompatible.

And so, again, instead of saying (with charitable intent) that Steve Hays was making an argument from authority, we must instead conclude that he was simply providing another link to another irrelevant statement.
Own Flannagan, Jr.: Flannagan’s sociobiological explanation for the origin of our moral beliefs is similar to Shermer’s. It is irrelevant to establishing Steve Hays’ claim that atheism and moral realism are logically incompatible, and for the same reason.
Alex Rosenberg: Steve’s next link was to an interview about Alex Rosenberg. Here’s the entirety of what Rosenberg had to say about metaethics in that interview.

“What is the difference between right and wrong, good and bad?
There is no moral difference between them.”

So the interview Rosenberg contains no argument proving the alleged inconsistency between atheism and moral realism; all we find is the mere assertion that moral realism is false.
The other part of Steve’s Rosenberg post includes the same basic point about natural selection tricking us into believing moral realism is true. It fails for the same reason as Shermer’s and Flannagan’s.
Again, I thought I was charitable in interpreting Steve as offering an inductive argument from authority. Again, I was mistaken. And again, the link to his blog post is irrelevant because the quoted material doesn’t even make the claim that atheism and moral realism are logically incompatible, much less provide an argument for that claim.
Furthermore, if one goes beyond the material quoted by Steve and looks at Rosenberg’s journal article on metaethics, we do not find an article which tries to prove the alleged inconsistency between atheism and moral realism. Rather, what we find is an argument against moral realism which has nothing do do with an alleged inconsistency between atheism and moral realism. (See here).
Joel Marks: Steve’s next link was to an article in the New York Times by Joel Marks, in which Marks talks about his change from “moralism” to “amoralism,” which can be thought of as the change from being a moral realist to a moral anti-realist. His article was published by the New York Times, not the American Philosophical Quarterly, so his article was not written for philosophers. Based on what Marks wrote, it’s hard to tell if he even believes that atheism and moral realism are logically incompatible. But, in order to be charitable to Steve, let’s assume that Marks believes precisely that. What support does Marks give for that claim in his article?
Marks makes only one statement (or series of statements) which could possibly be relevant to a claim of logical incompatibility between atheism and moral realism:

“The dominoes continued to fall. I had thought I was a secularist because I conceived of right and wrong as standing on their own two feet, without prop or crutch from God. We should do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, period. But this was a God too. It was the Godless God of secular morality, which commanded without commander – whose ways were thus even more mysterious than the God I did not believe in, who at least had the intelligible motive of rewarding us for doing what He wanted.”

And later in the same essay he writes:

“Think of this analogy: A tribe of people lives on an isolated island. They have no formal governmental institutions of any kind. In particular they have no legislature. Therefore in that society it would make no sense to say that someone had done something “illegal.” But neither would anything be “legal.” The entire set of legal categories would be inapplicable. In just this way I now view moral categories.”

This is a variation of the old “laws require a lawgiver” argument. As I explain here, that argument fails because of the following negative analogy:

(8) The laws of nature, logic, mathematics, and (objective) morality did not begin to exist.
(9) The laws of nature, logic, and mathematics also do not have lawgivers.
(10) Therefore, the laws of (objective) morality do not have a lawgiver.

John Maynard Smith: Steve’s next link was to an article by John Maynard Smith, in which Smith endorses Daniel Dennett’s view that, without something like the Bible, there is no epistemologically objective way to determine moral right from wrong.
Again, even if Smith (and Dennett) were correct about that, it wouldn’t follow that moral realism is false. The sentences “Moral realism is true” and “Moral skepticism is true” are logically consistent: it could be the case that there are objective moral values and duties, but we have no realiable way of knowing what they are.
More important, neither Smith nor Dennett claim “Atheism and moral realism are logically incompatible.”
Thomas Nagel: Steve’s next link is to a blog post quoting Thomas Nagel. Quoting Daniel Dennett, Nagel endorses the view that if everything reduces to physics, then there is no naturalistic answer to a cosmic question. The cosmic question is put into square brackets. I haven’t read Nagel’s 2010 book, so I can’t tell if the words in the bracket come from Nagel or from Steve. I don’t have enough context for the quotation to make sense of the question put in the square brackets. In any case, I agree that with Nagel that naturalism is nonteleological.
I do not find, however, an argument (in Steve’s post) for the conclusion that the non-teleological nature of naturalism is logically incompatible with moral realism. To be charitable to Steve, perhaps the idea is that if physical reality is not teleological (which, according to naturalism, it isn’t), then moral realism is necessarily false. But the truth of that is far from obvious. There is no logical contradiction between “There is no cosmic teleology (i.e., the universe was not created for a purpose)” and “Moral realism is true.” First, it could be the case that God does not exist, in which case there is no cosmic teleology, but some version of Platonism is true (and so moral values exist as abstract objects). Second, it could be the case that God does not exist and a neo-Aristotelian approach to ethics like that found in Larry Arnhart’s book, Darwinian Natural Right, is correct. But Arnhart’s neo-Aristotelian (and Humean and Darwinian) approach to ethics is a realist approach to ethics.
Michael Ruse: Steve’s next link is to a post which mentions Michael Ruse and myself. Regarding Steve’s numbered points in that blog post, I will say this. I agree with Steve’s (i): it is legitimate to quote what various atheists have said about morality, in order to defend the claim that some atheists have made certain statements about morality. (ii) I agree with this also. This is why the moral anti-realist arguments of Shermer, Rosenberg, and others fail. Turning to (iii), Steve argues that I have misinterpreted Ruse. Now that would require an entire blog post of its own.
For now, I will simply point out that (1) even if Ruse’s argument were correct, it would provide no support for the claim that atheism and moral realism are logically incompatible; and (2) Ruse’s moral anti-realist argument fails because it commits the genetic fallacy. Indeed, it contains the very confusion Steve described in his (ii): Ruse confuses moral psychology with moral ontology. So both Steve and I agree that Ruse’s argument against moral realism fails.
Quentin Smith: Steve’s final link is to a post which appears to quote from either the abstract or body of an essay by Smith. Steve’s post quotes from Smith’s own website, which is now defunct, which makes it impossible to get the paper from that website. (An Internet search for a copy of the paper on other websites was equally unsuccessful.) But it appears Smith’s website published an article of his 2003 essay, “Moral Realism and Infinite Spacetime Imply Moral Nihilism,” which was published in an anthology.
I find everything about that blog post fascinating. Smith wrote a book (“Ethical and Religious Thought…”) published in 1997 by Yale University Press in which he defends moral realism. But I did come across an essay by philosopher Michael Almeida, which aims to refute Smith’s essay. (See here.) Almeida’s essay begans with the following sentences:

“Quentin Smith has recently advanced an argument for ‘moral nihilism’. He derives moral nihilism, unexpectedly, from global moral realism and a principle of value aggregation….”

So, according to one of Smith’s critics (Almeida), even in Smith’s 2003 essay, Smith still accepted moral realism. Furthermore, notice how Almeida summarizes Smith’s argument for nihilism: because “global moral realism” and “value aggregation theory” are true, then nihilism is true. That shows that Smith was not defending the claim that atheism and moral realism are logically incompatible.
Moving onto point (iv) in Steve’s comment, he writes, “Jeff then acts as though, unless someone is an expert in metaethics, you should simply ignore their arguments.” No. Steve is tearing down a straw man of his own creation. Steve’s objection forgets the fact that I was (mistakenly) responding to his references to other atheists as if they were inductive arguments from authority. In THAT context, it is appropriate to point out that some of Steve’s atheists do not have the relevant expertise.
I agree with Steve that if we are told that we should believe X on the basis of some argument Y (and Y is not an argument from authority), then it is of course legitimate to consider argument Y, regardless of whether the person making it has the relevant expertise or not.
Regarding (v), Steve saddles me with a view I do not hold and, again, tears down a straw man of his own creation. The issue is not whether this person or that person has something worthwhile to say on the subject of evolutionary ethics or evolutionary psychology. The issue is whether this person or that person is an expert on metaethics. Expertise in evolutionary ethics or evolutionary psychology does not constitute expertise in metaethics.
As for (vi), I look forward to reading Steve’s critiques of especially G.E. Moore’s Principia Ethica and Erik Wielenberg’s Robust Ethics.
 


HAYS
Jeff says Robert Adams would reject the claim that atheism is incompatible with moral realism. Perhaps Jeff can quote where Adams has said that.
In Finite and Infinite Goods, Adams details a position in which the standard of goodness is defined by the divine nature. Finite things are only good insofar as they exemplify divine goodness. Given that framework, it’s hard to see how Adams could also say atheism is consistent with moral realism, absent the necessary source and standard of goodness. So is Jeff saying Adams has elsewhere taken a position that’s logically at odds with what he said in Finite and Infinite Goods?

“Steve tries to dismiss the entire point about inductive arguments from authority, as if that were an idiosyncratic interpretation of his remarks. I don’t claim to be able to read his or anyone else’s mind, so if it was not his intent to make an argument from authority, then I will take him at his word. Steve wasn’t making an argument from authority…So instead of making a logically incorrect inductive argument from authority, it is instead the case that Steve has simply brought up a bunch of irrelevancies to support his claim that ‘Atheism and moral realism are logically incompatible.'”

i) So Jeff is telling us that he doesn’t know the difference between testimonial evidence and an argument from authority. When an atheist reacts to the statement that consistent atheism denies moral realism as if that’s a Christian strawman, it’s both relevant and legitimate to quote prominent atheists who concede that very claim.
That’s testimonial evidence to the contrary. A witness needn’t be an authority figure to be a reliable witness.
ii) Over and above that, there are atheists who give reasons for their rejection of moral realism. So that’s hardly an argument from authority, as if you should accept their position on their say-so alone. Rather, they explain why they reject moral realism, given their commitment to atheism, and the attendant implications thereof.
Jeff’s characterization is muddle-headed.


LOWDER
Jeff says Robert Adams would reject the claim that atheism is incompatible with moral realism. Perhaps Jeff can quote where Adams has said that.
This is one of those times where a person reads something they wrote the day before, shake their head, and ask, “What was I thinking when I wrote that?”
Steve is right and I was wrong. I got my theists mixed up. I meant to write Louis Pojman, not Robert Adams.
But Adams did write something very interesting in his book, Finite and Infinite Goods. I’ll have to find the passage when I get home, but the gist of it was something like this:

“Because I define excellence in a way that relates moral obligation to the commands of a loving God, excellence in that sense could not exist in a world without God. But a naturalist or an atheist could define excellence in an objective, realistic way that would be very similar [I think he uses the word “indistinguishable”] to what I call excellence, and so there would be little practical difference between the two.”

Or something to that effect. Given my mixup on Adams vs. Pojman, I won’t blame anyone if they want to wait until I produce the exact quotation.
[A short time later, I (Lowder) posted the following:]
Found it, courtesy of Amazon’s “Search Inside” feature:

“What is true about goodness if God does not exist, or is not in fact a suitable candidate for the role of the Good? This is a conditional question about the actual world, not about other possible worlds; and I am confident of my answer to it. If there is no God, or if God is in fact not a suitable candidate for the role of the Good, then my theory is false, but there may be some other salient, suitable candidate, and so some other theory of the nature of the good may be true.
“Against the background I offer the less ambitious approach to the corresponding question about other possible worlds, which I asked on the assumption that God does exist, and is a suitable candidate, in the actual world. A deity would have to satisfy certain conditions (for instance, not being sadistic, and not loving cowardice) in order to be the salient candidate for filling the role indicated by our concept of the Good, thought it is part of the point of my theory that such requirements do not completely determine what the deity would be like. If there is a God that satisfies these conditions imposed by our concepts, we might say, then excellence is the property of faithfully imaging such a God, or of resembling such a God in such a way as to give God a reason for loving. In worlds where no such God exists, nothing would have that property, and therefore nothing would be excellent. But beings like us in such a world might have a concept subjectively indistinguishable from our concept of excellence, and there might be an objective property that corresponded to it well enough, and in a sufficiently salient way, to be the property signified by it, though it would not be the property that we in fact signify by ‘excellent’.
— Robert Adams, Finite and Infinite Goods, p. 46.
(All italics are from the original; boldface is mine)

I’ve always respected Adams’ work on theistic metaethics and this highly nuanced passage is an example of why.
I could be wrong, but I interpret Adams to be saying:

(1) Atheism is logically incompatible with moral realism, IF realist/objective moral obligations are determined according to Adams’ theory of excellence and his modified divine command theory are true.

He does NOT seem to be saying:

(2) Atheism is logically incompatible with moral realism about moral obligations.

In fact, depending upon how you interpret it, the end of the quotation I just provided seems to be either (a) Adams, saying in his own words, that atheism is compatible with moral obligation, if his theory of moral obligation is wrong; or (b) the difference between what counts as morally right/wrong/permitted on his theory vs. some secular alternative makes no practical difference.
And I think that Adams rejects:

(3) Atheism is logically incompatible with moral realism about moral value.

I think that Adams rejects (3) because he defends a Modified Divine Command Theory of moral obligation (what is morally permitted, prohibited, or obligatory), but he subscribes to a Divine Independence Theory (my name) of moral value (what is morally good or bad).
In fact, now that I think about it, the statement:

(4) Atheism is logically incompatible with moral realism.

Entails both (2) and (3). Even if it were the case that atheism were logically incompatible with realism about moral obligation, it could still be the case that that atheism is logically consistent with realism about moral value. Because (4) doesn’t make a distinction between moral obligation and moral value, showing that atheism is logically compatible with moral value is, all by itself, sufficient to refute (4).
So maybe I was correct to list Robert Adams after all.


HAYS
‪Jeffery Jay Lowder‬ 

”It’s ironic that, in an exchange about the alleged superiority of theistic metaethics, Steve is rude to his dialectical opponents who are atheists.”
i) Suppose for the sake of argument that Jeff’s allegation is true. Keith Parsons, who’s a regular contributor to the Secular Outpost, routinely makes rude comments about Christians.
Likewise, the historical library and modern library at the Secular Web contains articles by atheists that make rude comments about Christians. So it’s instructive to see Jeff’s double standard on display (even assuming that his allegation is true).
ii) But this brings us to a substantive point: Jeff thinks that he is important. That his dignity is important.
This is one of Jeff’s intellectual problems. He’s never allowed himself to appreciate the reductionistic consequences of atheism for human significance.
If atheism is true, then Jeff is worthless. Everything is worthless.
Jeff is a temporary entity that came into existence for no good reason, that will soon pass out of existence. Jeff is interchangeable with billions of other human biological units. He will be replaced.
If atheism is true, Jeff’s existence has no intrinsic value. At best, it’s only subjectively valuable–the way some Nazis (alleged) valued Jews as as raw material for lamp shades.


LOWDER

‪i) Suppose for the sake of argument that Jeff’s allegation is true. Keith Parsons, who’s a regular contributor to the Secular Outpost, routinely makes rude comments about Christians.

You can’t be serious. You’re using the same excuse my children use, “But he did it, too!”, as if that makes it okay. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
I don’t remember off the top of my head Keith Parsons making sweeping generalizations about all Christians. But if I’m wrong about that and/or if he has been rude in some other way, then he was wrong to do so and I will condemn it.

Likewise, the historical library and modern library at the Secular Web contains articles by atheists that make rude comments about Christians. So it’s instructive to see Jeff’s double standard on display (even assuming that his allegation is true).

I tried very hard to prevent this from happening in the modern library at the Secular Web while I held a leadership position and I doubt very much that this happened while I was the editor. If it has happened, that is regrettable. I am even willing to try to bring any items in this category to the attention of Keith Augustine, who is the current editor, to try to get them fixed. But, again, this is mere deflection by Steve. This doesn’t excuse Steve’s rudeness.

ii) But this brings us to a substantive point: Jeff thinks that he is important. That his dignity is important.

This is just more deflection on Steve’s part. In effect, he’s saying, “I’m justified in being rude to atheists because atheists can’t justify condemning me for my rudeness.” Even if it were the case that an atheist could not justifying a complaint about being treated rudely, it would still be the case that, as a theist, Steve is a moral realist. But as we’ve seen, Steve has been unable to demonstrate a logical inconsistency between atheism and moral realism.

This is one of Jeff’s intellectual problems. He’s never allowed himself to appreciate the reductionistic consequences of atheism for human significance.

This is one of Steve’s intellectual problems. (See how easy it is to mirror Steve’s condescension right back at him?) He’s never been able to grasp the significance of the distinction between ‘cosmic’ or ‘ultimate’ significance and non-cosmic, non-ultimate significance, or the fact that “life has no ultimate significance” allows for “life has significance.” It’s a bit like complaining that winning one million dollars or even just one hundred dollars from the lottery has no value because the money won’t last as long as you would like.

If atheism is true, then Jeff is worthless. Everything is worthless.

If everything is worthless, then the fact that “everything is worthless” is itself worthless and we should pay no attention to it.

Jeff is a temporary entity that came into existence for no good reason, that will soon pass out of existence. Jeff is interchangeable with billions of other human biological units. He will be replaced.

Analogy:
If I win a finite amount of money from the lottery, that money will not last forever.
Therefore, it has no value.
That argument fails for the same reason Steve’s argument fails. A thing does not need to have an infinite amount of value–or value for an infinite duration–in order to have value.

If atheism is true, Jeff’s existence has no intrinsic value. At best, it’s only subjectively valuable–the way some Nazis (alleged) valued Jews as as raw material for lamp shades.

Although this statement begs the question, it doesn’t work. Steve, like many theists and atheists, has confused “intrinsic value” with “objective value.” But these are separate concepts. There are four possibilities:
(1) Objectively intrinsically valuable
(2) Objectively extrinsically valuable
(3) Subjectively intrinsically valuable
(4) Subjectively extrinsically valuable
(These four possibilities become eight if you add in the possibility of having disvalue.)
A better name for “intrinsic value” might be “non-derivative value” and a better name for “extrinsic value” might be “derivative value.” If I ask you, “Why do you like to go rowing?” and you answer, “Because I love the feeling of the scull breaking through the water when the boat is at a full sprint,” your answer reveals that, for you, rowing is extrinsically or derivatively valuable: it is valuable because it is a means to an end. If you then ask, “Why do you like the feeling of the scull breaking through the water when the boat is at a full sprint?” and you answer, “I just do,” then that feeling is intrinsically (non-derivatively) valuable to you: it is an end, not a means to an end.
The point is that, as soon as you make the distinction between intrinsic vs. extrinsic or derivative vs. non-derivative types of value, it is trivial to show that, even on the most reductionistic, materialistic versions of atheism, there can still be intrinsic (aka non-derivative) value.


In fairness to Steve, I’ll mention that, as of the time I wrote this blog post, he had written a couple of other replies to me I have not quoted here. I have not quoted them because I think they are either redundant or irrelevant, but interested parties can judge for themselves. See here and here.


In summary, Hays has been unable to justify his assertion that atheism and moral realism are logically incompatible. As support for that claim, he referenced the statements and/or arguments of 10 alleged atheists. But, as summarized below, none of these alleged atheists, in the statements quoted by Steve, provide any support whatsoever for his claim.

  • 1 of the alleged atheists (Pardi) is a Christian philosopher. Furthermore, nothing Pardi wrote supports Hays’ claim of a logical incompatibility between atheism and moral realism.
  • Of the 9 actual atheists:
    • 7 of the 9 atheists made statements and/or presented arguments which were utterly irrelevant to the alleged logical incompatibility of atheism and moral realism:
      • 1 atheist (Sharon Street) argues that evolutionary naturalism provides a defeater for the belief that moral realism is true. (In other words, she is making a point about moral epistemology, not moral ontology. But Hays’ argument is ontological.)
      • 3 atheists (Owen Flannagan, Michael Ruse, and Alex Rosenberg) presented an evolutionary explanation for the origin of our belief in moral realism, but, unlike Street, did not claim it was a defeater for moral realism (for naturalists).
      • 1 atheist (Massimo Pigliucci ) presented an argument against moral realism that had nothing whatsoever to do with the alleged logical incompatibility of atheism and moral realism.
      • 1 atheist (John Maynard Smith) presented a pragmatic, epistemological argument against moral realism. Smith’s argument provided no support for Hays’ ontological claim.
      • 1 atheist (Quentin Smith) is a moral realist. The paper referenced by Steve provided no support whatsoever for the claim that atheism and moral realism are logically incompatible.
    • 2 of the 9 atheists which might be charitably interpreted as making an argument relevant to the alleged logical incompatibility of atheism and moral realism.
      • 1 atheist (Joel Marks) presented the discredited, “Laws Require a Lawgiver Argument.”
      • 1 atheist (Thomas Nagel) made the observation that naturalism is non-teleological. It was difficult to understand Nagel’s point without having additional context about the passage from which Hays quoted. But Hays’ quotation of Nagel did not contain an argument for the conclusion that the non-teleological nature of naturalism is logically incompatible with moral realism.

bookmark_borderYet Another Atheist Misrepresents a Theistic Argument (the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument)

The title of this blog post is hardly shocking, but it should be. When a philosopher explicitly lays out their argument with numbered premises and a conclusion, we should expect nothing less from critics than representing the argument by quoting the author’s formulation. As we will soon see, however, yet another atheist has failed to do this.
As I’ve mentioned before, William Lane Craig defended eight (8) argument for God’s existence in his debate with Alex Rosenberg. Craig apparently (?) published those eight (8) arguments in the journal Philosophy Now (see here). I use the word “apparently” because the article is behind a paywall and I do not have access.
Meanwhile, Coel Hellier, a Professor of Astrophysics at Keele University in the UK, has blogged about these arguments in a post with the dismissive title, “William Lane Craig’s Eight Special-Pleading Arguments for God’s Existence.” What I want to do is to compare Hellier’s summary of Craig’s arguments to what we know about Craig’s arguments themselves.
 

Argument # Craig’s Formulation Hellier’s Summary
1 God is the best explanation why anything at all exists
1. Every contingent thing has an explanation of its existence.
2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is a transcendent, personal being.
3. The universe is a contingent thing.
4. Therefore, the universe has an explanation of its existence.
5. Therefore, the explanation of the universe is a transcendent, personal being.
– which is what everybody means by ‘God’.
God is the best explanation why anything at all exists
1. Everything needs an explanation of its existence.
2. Except God, of course, which doesn’t.
3. Therefore God created everything else.

This argument is the Leibnizian cosmological argument, based upon the distinction between necessary and contingent existence. Hellier, however, is apparently not familiar with either this distinction or the argument. He begins his critique as follows:

(I) God is the best explanation why anything at all exists
Right, so in order to “explain why anything at all exists” you start off with something unexplained, namely God. Anyone can “explain” why something exists if you’re allowed to start off with something!

This reply is just embarrassing, for it shows Hellier doesn’t understand what he is talking about. Craig’s position is that God exists necessarily, whereas the universe does not. You can disagree with that position, but you cannot honestly dismiss it as the view that God exists and is “something unexplained.”  Indeed, one could be just as snarky as Hellier and say, “Anyone can make an argument look stupid by tearing down a straw man!”
Hellier then mentions the necessary-vs.-contingent distinction:

Admittedly, even Craig can see that flaw, so he uses special pleading. While claiming that everything needs an explanation, he then exempts his god, which of course doesn’t need explaining. He does this by claiming a distinction between “contingent” things (which need explanation) and a “transcendent personal being” (which doesn’t). Thus his argument becomes:
1. Everything needs an explanation of its existence.
2. Except God, of course, which doesn’t.
3. Therefore God created everything else.

Hellier’s failure to quote Craig’s formulation of the argument combined with the expression, “Thus his argument becomes…”, should immediately make one suspicious that we’re about to get is a less-than-accurate representation of the argument. And that is exactly what we find. It is as if Hellier had never heard of the distinction between contingent and necessary things. (At least, that is the only way I can make sense of Hellier dismissing Craig’s reasoning as “special pleading.”) If he was familiar with the distinction, he gives no explanation as to why Craig’s usage of that distinction is wrong. More important, Hellier doesn’t clearly identify which premise(s) of Craig’s argument he rejects or why he rejects it (them).
Let’s review what “special pleading” means. To commit the fallacy of special pleading, a reasoner must fail to apply his or her own principles consistently. Hellier’s straw man does indeed commit the fallacy of special pleading. Why? Premise 1 states a principle or general rule:

1. Everything needs an explanation of its existence.

But then the very next premise states that God is an exception to that rule:

2. Except God, of course, which doesn’t.

This is, indeed, a textbook example of the fallacy of special pleading.
Now compare Hellier’s straw man with Craig’s actual formulation of the Leibnizian cosmological argument. The relevant rule or principle is stated in premise 1:

1. Every contingent thing has an explanation of its existence.

Now if Craig’s argument did commit the fallacy of special pleading, it would also contain a premise like this.

2′. God is a contingent thing that does not require an explanation of His existence.

But, as should be obvious from Craig’s formulation of the argument, his argument does not contain 2′ or anything which implies 2′. In fact, anyone who is familiar with Craig’s work in the philosophy of religion knows that Craig rejects 2′. Craig does not claim that God doesn’t have a cause because he believes 2′ to be true. Rather, Craig claim that God exists necessarily, which entails that 2′ is false.
Readers who are interested in a critique of the Leibnizian cosmological argument which is both fair and competent should consult the work of Ex-Apologist and Angra Mainyu. See here, here, herehere, here, here, here,
I worry that the remainder of Hellier’s discussion (of Craig’s other arguments) contains equally appalling errors, but I’ve lost interest in combing through his piece. I’ll leave the evaluation of the remainder of his article as an exercise for the reader to complete in the combox.

bookmark_borderIndex: Atheist Error Theorists

Many atheists have claimed that atheism entails that moral realism is false; many theistic apologists gleefully quote those atheists. But how do those atheists support their claim? This page provides an index to other Secular Outpost posts which discuss specific atheists’ arguments for the claim that atheism somehow supports moral nihilism or error theory.

Related posts:

bookmark_borderI Seem to be Thinking about Alex Rosenberg

Here are some preliminary thoughts about Alex Rosenberg’s Atheist’s Guide to Reality, particularly his claim that we do not think about things (hence the snarky title to this post). Sorry for the inordinate length. Once again, the writing is meant for the general, educated reader rather than the professional philosopher, though, naturally, I want to make sure that it is philosophically sound.
Rosenberg freely embraces the label “scientism,” generally regarded as a pejorative term. His tone is uncompromising and even flippant. Here is how he thinks science requires us to answer the “big questions” about the meaning of life:
Is there a God? No.
What is the nature of reality? What physics says it is.
What is the purpose of the universe? There is none.
What is the meaning of life? Ditto.
Why am I here? Just dumb luck.
Does prayer work? Of course not.
Is there a soul? Is it immortal? Are you kidding?
Is there free will? Not a chance!
What happens when we die? Everything pretty much goes on as before, except us.
What is the difference between right and wrong, good and bad? There is no moral difference between them.
Why should I be moral? Because it makes you feel better than being immoral.
Is abortion, euthanasia, suicide, paying taxes, foreign aid, or anything else you don’t like forbidden permissible or sometimes obligatory? Anything Goes.
What is love and how can I find it? Don’t look for it; it will find you when you need it.
Does history have any meaning or purpose? It’s full of sound and fury but signifies nothing.
Does the human past have any lessons for our future? Fewer and fewer, if it ever had any to begin with (2-3).
Wow. Atheist debaters often face religious apologists who make precisely some of the charges against atheism that Rosenberg enthusiastically affirms. Anyone trying to get a hearing for atheism might think that with “friends” like Rosenberg, we don’t need enemies! In fact, though he rejects theism he equally repudiates secular humanism (277-82). Clearly, Rosenberg has taken on a big task and has a heavy burden of proof. Since we have introduced the topic, let’s consider his arguments against free will.
Rosenberg says that the scientific case against free will is simple and direct:
The mind is the brain, and the brain is a physical system, fantastically complex, but still operating in accordance with all the laws of physics—quantum or otherwise. Every state of my brain is fixed by physical fact. In fact, it is a physical state. Previous states of my brain and the physical input from the world together brought about its current state. They were themselves the result of even earlier brain states and inputs from outside the brain. All these states were determined by the laws of physics and chemistry. These laws operated on previous states of my brain and states of the world going back to before my brain was formed in embryogenesis…When I make choices—trivial or momentous—it’s just another event in my brain locked into this network of processes going back to the beginning of the universe, long before I had the slightest “choice.” Nothing was up to me. Everything—including my choice and my feeling that I can choose freely—was fixed by earlier states of the universe and the laws of physics. End of story (236).
Someone might object that Rosenberg is assuming strict determinism, when we know that indeterminism rules at the quantum level. At the quantum level the old bumper sticker slogan applies (cleaning it up): Stuff happens. Might not quantum indeterminacy make room for free choice? However, Rosenberg notes that if a random, uncaused quantum event in the brain were to initiate a chain of causes resulting in an act of choosing, that act would be no freer than the effect of a deterministic causal chain. The “choice” would still just be something that happened to me, not something I did. Personal agency is a necessary aspect of free choice (237).
But what about introspection?
Introspectively it just feels like you choose; it feels like it is completely up to you whether you raise your hand or stick out your tongue. That feeling is so compelling that for most people it tips the scale against determinism. They just know “from inside” that their will is free (238).
However, for Rosenberg, introspection is not reliable.He cites famous experiments done by Benjamin Libet and replicated often since (152-4). In these experiments, subjects were asked to perform a simple task, like pushing a button whenever they wished. They also recorded when they first consciously decided to push the button. It takes about 200 milliseconds from the time of one’s decision to push the button to the actual flexing of the wrist. Yet 500 milliseconds before the wrist flexed, Libet detected activity in the subjects’ motor cortex that initiated the wrist flexing. In other words, the “choice” came after the process was already initiated by the brain! Apparently, the brain initiates both the “choice” and the movement! Hence, the subjects’ subjective perception of freely choosing was an illusion. We think that “we” make conscious choices but our brain makes them for us—and then makes us think that our conscious choices had something to do with it!
I think that many philosophers, myself included, would reply to Rosenberg as follows: “Quite unaccountably for a professional philosopher you seem to overlook the compatibilist position on free will, namely, that causal determinism is quite compatible with free will in the everyday sense, and, in fact, that this mundane sense encompasses all the freedom we need. In the everyday sense, being free to choose means that I am not compelled, either externally or internally, but get to decide a course of action based on my beliefs, my values, and my desires. This is quite compatible with determinism. Freedom consists not in being exempt from causation, but in the ability to deliberate, either with ourselves or with others on the proper courses of action to realize our ends. Philosophers going back to Aristotle have identified human autonomy—not with indeterminism—but with our ability to make and execute rational plans for the realization of our purposes.”
Rosenberg, however, will have none of this idea of freedom deliberation either:
Since the brain cannot have thoughts about stuff, it cannot make, have, or act on plans, projects, or purposes it gives itself. Nor, for that matter, can it act on plans that anyone else favors it with. There are no plans. That’s just more of the illusion Mother Nature exploited for our survival (238).
Is he serious? We never think about things? We never make plans? We never have purposes? This seems absurd. However, the history of philosophy is replete with ideas that appear quite absurd on their face (e.g. Berkeley’s claim that matter does not exist; Wittgenstein’s assertion that you cannot know that you are in pain; Quine’s claim that we can never really know what speakers of other languages are talking about) but these assertions were not gratuitous absurdities but offered on the basis of rigorous argument. Hence, even if, in the end, they are actually absurd, they cannot be dismissed but have to be argued out. So, we have to examine Rosenberg’s arguments for these extraordinary claims. As the saying goes, though, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and we are justified in putting a heavy burden of proof on Rosenberg’s arguments.
Thoughts appear to be about things. For instance, I seem to be thinking about my cat and the endearing but sometimes irritating way that she will climb onto my chest, even when I am trying to drink my morning coffee and read the newspaper. “Intentionality” is what philosophers call this “aboutness” of thought. Our thoughts seem to have this intentional quality even when we are considering things that do not exist. For instance, it certainly seems to me that I can think about mermaids, centaurs, Santa Claus, honest politicians, and other non-existent beings. Intentionality seems to just be a datum, a given of our conscious experience. Indeed, intentionality and qualia—the felt qualities of sensations, like the smoothness of silk or the richness of cream—seem to constitute the essence of consciousness. Conscious states just are those qualitative or intentional states. How could we be wrong about that?
I think that many—perhaps most—philosophers would at this point just dismiss the claim that intentionality is an illusion as a pathological aberration. I think that they would justify peremptory dismissal like this: That all thinking is thinking about is just a datum of consciousness. The idea that there could be a content-less thought seems just ridiculous, in fact, contradictory, like saying that there could be a colorless green nightgown. Therefore, in denying intentionality, Rosenberg is denying thought and asserting that we do not think. Such an assertion is no more worthy of philosophical rebuttal than the assertion that one is a poached egg..
Just dismissing Rosenberg’s claim therefore is therefore an eminently understandable response. Still, since Parmenides one purpose of philosophy has always been to push the limits of reason, to see whether reason can justify claims that seem false, even outrageously so. I think that this is an important, if, no doubt exasperating and fatiguing enterprise, that is worth doing only if, in the end, we return to our familiar beliefs with a deeper understanding of why we hold them.
Rosenberg’s answer, in a nutshell, is that thought is a physical thing—a configuration of neurons and their states in the brain—and no physical thing can be about another physical thing. Let’s consider the kinds of thoughts we call memories. My wife and I visited Paris in 2004 and we have many wonderful memories from that trip. Such memories must be encoded in highly complex neural connections, but neural connections are just physical states, like the wires of an old fashioned telephone exchange. Physical states and things may be related to each other in a number of ways, but none seems to be capable of being about another. We may use a key to open a lock, but the key is not about the lock. How, then, can my memories, a physical state, be about some other physical entity—the city of Paris?
But are not some physical things in fact about other physical things? Isn’t an octagonal red sign with letters spelling out “S-T-O-P” about the physical act of stopping your car? However, a stop sign, considered as a physical entity, is nothing but metal shaped and colored in certain ways. It is no more intrinsically about stopping a car than a pair of green trousers hung in the intersection. Rosenberg puts it this way:
There is nothing that is intrinsically “Stop”-ish about red octagons. Downward pointing yellow triangles—yield signs—could have been chosen as stop signs as well. Red octagons are about stopping because we interpret them that way. We treat them as the imperative…expressed in English as “Stop!”…(176).
Well, then, might not the brain serve as its own interpreter? Might not the brain interpret some of its own neural states as being about Paris? Yet the interpreter in the brain could be nothing other than another neural state, and we face the same problem all over again, namely how one physical state can be about another one. If neural state #2 is the interpreter of neural state #1, interpreting it as being about Paris, then there would have to be a third neural state to interpret#2 as being about #1! And then the same problem arises for #3! Clearly, rather than solving the problem, we are on the road to an infinite regress. Our proposed solution just recreates the same problem again, i.e. how one physical state can be about another physical state.
The upshot seems to be that we cannot have any memories about Paris, since memories are physical things and Paris is a physical thing, and physical things do not bear any intrinsic aboutness relations to each other. One would have to be interpreted as being about the other, but because the interpreter in the brain can only be another physical thing, we are just making the problem worse. Further, what holds for memories would hold for any other thoughts, including those that would be about plans or purposes.
This argument seems to rest upon an equivocation on the word “memory.” By “memory” we could mean either the physical traces in the brain that encode information and is passively awaiting retrieval, or we could mean the active, conscious memories that we create by accessing that stored information through a process we call “remembering.” Paul Thagard describes the process of recalling a concert you had once attended:
Retrieval of a memory works by reactivating a pattern of firing in a population of neurons. Suppose someone starts telling you about another concert that is similar to the one you went to, perhaps because the bands played the same kind of music. Hearing about the new concert may produce a pattern of firing in roughly the same population of neurons that encoded the various aspects of the old concert. The newly generated pattern of firing will then generate additional neural activity by virtue of synaptic connections, possibly producing a pattern of firing that is roughly similar to your original experience. That activation of a firing pattern of neurons constitutes your recalling the memory (49).
By reactivating a particular pattern of neuronal firings, the brain draws upon stored, encoded information to create an active, conscious memory. Memory is a creative process, by the way; remembering is not playing back a recording, but an active (and error-prone) reconstruction.
My memories of Paris in the sense of patterns of neuronal connections caused by a trip to Paris are there whether I am consciously remembering Paris or not. Memory in that sense—patterns encoded in the brain—are not intrinsically about Paris any more than the travel guide to Paris when nobody is looking at it. When nobody is looking at the travel guide it is just marks on paper, just another physical thing, and likewise for the stored information encoded in the neuronal connections in a brain. However, when we actively remember and that stored information is drawn upon to create a conscious recollection, then we have more than passive storage. We have a conscious (self-aware) process of remembering, actively reconstructing memories by drawing on stored information—a process physically realized in the reactivated patterns of neuronal firing. Memory in this latter sense can most definitely be about Paris or anything else.
At a more fundamental level, Rosenberg seems to conflate the doer with the doing. The singer is the doer, and hitting high C is what she does. She accomplishes this remarkable vocal feat entirely with her physical apparatus for creating and projecting sound. However, the accomplishment itself, hitting that true note, is not a physical thing, and you commit a grave category mistake if you classify it as such. Of course, to say that it is not a physical thing does not imply that it is a nonphysical thing. It is not a thing at all. It is something done by things. Of course, hitting high C is an event in space and time and it is entirely physically realized, but the aria, of which that note is a part, is the organized pattern of notes and words as arranged by the composer and librettist. The aria is not a physical thing, but a particular kind of order, a way of organizing things, that can be physically realized in innumerable ways. What is true of arias is true of memories and all sorts of other thoughts.
The upshot is that speaking of a brain’s relation to Paris is not like talking about the relation of one lump of clay to another. Lumps of clay are passive; they just sit there and one definitely cannot have any sort of “about” relation to the other. The living brain, however, is not a lump, but is constantly, fantastically active. It is doing things all the time, and Rosenberg has given us no reason whatsoever to think that it is incapable of generating thoughts about things. One of the many amazing things a brain can do is to think about Paris. If you can think about Paris, then you can think about plans, purposes, and the whole intentional shebang.
Rosenberg would not be impressed with the above line of argument. What the brain does, he indicates, is no different from what the brains of sea slugs or rats do, and no different, in principle, from what computers do. What sea slugs and rats do when they learn is to rewire their neuronal connections to create new input/output circuits that create a new habit. Thus, sea slugs and rats can be conditioned to acquire new habits and the conditioning works by effecting neuronal reconnections. Rats, for instance, can learn how to locate a life raft in a water tank. There is no reason to think that sea slugs or rats acquire new habits by thinking about them. Their brains simply change to correlate input with different output. The same thing seems to have happened with you when, in early infancy, you learned to recognize your mother’s face:
When the rat acquires and stores information “about” the location of the life raft in the tank, that’s just the neurons in its hippocampus being reorganized into new input/output circuits. They have changed in the same way the neurons in the sea slug have changed. Similarly, knowing what your mother looks like or that Paris is the capital of France is just having a set of neurons wired up to an input/output circuit (185).
Neither the sea slug, nor the rat, nor you need to think about these things to get them right. It is all input and output.
Computers can do very complex tasks that previously only humans could accomplish, like playing chess well enough to beat the human champion or even to excel at the TV game show Jeopardy! But computers, like Watson, the computer that plays Jeopardy!, do not think about things at all. Once again, it is merely input and output. Watson is cleverly programmed so that when the input is a Jeopardy! answer, the output is something we interpret as the appropriate Jeopardy! question (in Jeopardy! you are given the answer and required to give the appropriate question). Rosenberg says that the brain is just a computer:
[The brain is] composed of an unimaginably large number of input/output circuits, each one a set of neurons electrically connected with other through their synapses. The circuits transmit electrical output in different ways, depending on their electrical inputs and on how their parts—individual neurons—are wired up together. That’s how the brain works (188).
So, in answer to my suspicion that he is conflating the doing with the doer, Rosenberg could reply that we know precisely what the brain does, and the brain does just what a computer does. If a computer is incapable of thinking about anything, then the brain is incapable of thinking about anything.
Unquestionably many of the things our brains do can be explained in terms of input/output and intentionality does not enter into it at all. Recognizing your mom’s face is certainly one of these; you have been doing it automatically since you were a small infant, and doing it without any thought at all. The same goes for many other operations of our brains. For instance, as soon as I see certain politicians’ faces on TV, I immediately begin to mutter expletives. There must be an input/output circuit in my brain such that when the input is an image of politician P, the output is a string of monosyllabic words of Anglo-Saxon derivation.
On the other hand, some of our mental operations, prima facie, certainly are not easily explicable merely in terms of input/output, that is, stimulus/response reactions. Consider doing philosophy. Can we believe that Rosenberg’s production of The Atheist’s Guide to Reality was nothing but a complex concatenation of automatic inputs and outputs? Didn’t he have to think about it? This is not an ad hominem argument or a too-quick “hoist with your own petard” kind of maneuver. Rather, I am just pointing out that reflective thought, and innumerable other things we do with our brains certainly are not obviously merely input/output events. Let’s put it this way: If reflective and creative thought (recall Beethoven’s Eroica symphony again), for instance, are explicable in terms of inputs and outputs, we can say that such an explanation currently exists only as a promissory note. That puts it far too weakly. It is more like a third-party, postdated check drawn on a bank in Burundi.
I think that Rosenberg’s basic fallacy is not to mistake the doer with the doing, but to think that what the part is doing must be what the whole is doing. Invoking a musical analogy once again, no musician performs a symphony; symphonies are performed by orchestras. Each individual in the orchestra plays his or her part, and the result of a hundred people doing that correctly is a symphony. An individual neuron is just an input/output device. However, thinking involves the very complex, hierarchical, multiply-patterned, parallel-processed, and highly coordinated interactions of ensembles of millions or billions of neurons: the cerebral symphony.
With respect to any activity involving the coordinated interaction of numerous units, any question about what is being done can only be answered by specifying the level that we are talking about. Otherwise the question is meaningless. What is your car doing as you drive down the road? Well, what the car is “doing” depends on what level of organization you are talking about. The fuel injection system is doing one thing and the engine cooling system something else. Locomotion is an emergent property that comes in only when we are talking about the vehicle as a whole. By analogy, asking “What is your brain doing?” is unclear unless the level of organization is specified. The organization of the brain begins with individual neurons, which are organized into systems, which are organized into systems of systems, and then systems of systems of systems…all interacting in astonishingly complex ways with multiple feedback loops and cross connections. Reflective thought seems to be one of the higher level activities of the brain. Individual neurons cannot consider philosophical propositions, but millions or billions coordinated and interacting in the right way maybe can. Perhaps “Philosophy” is one of the tunes the cerebral orchestra can play.
But how can individual events that are about nothing add up to an event that is about something? Suppose that we arrange 10,000 people in a stadium in a 100 × 100 square. On each seat is a specific monochrome card for the occupant to hold up on cue. On cue each holds up his or her card, and when seen from across the stadium, the cards create a 10,000 pixel portrait of, say, Barack Obama. Each individual card is a portrait of nothing; it is just a solid color. However, when displayed all at once and in the correct order, they create a detailed and highly accurate portrait. Of course, this is just an analogy, but it does indicate how a picture of something can be constituted entirely by bits that are pictures of nothing.
It is not even clear that Rosenberg is right about computers and their capacities. Is it certain that no computer, or system of computers, could ever be programmed to think about things? Why not? Perhaps Rosenberg has an argument demonstrating the impossibility of intentional machines, but it is not to be found in The Atheist’s Guide to Reality.
Before continuing, a nagging question that has been waiting in the wings during this whole discussion and must finally be addressed: How can I think that I am thinking about P without being able to think that P? Conscious experiences have the peculiar property that appearing to be in a conscious state is to be in that conscious state. If it seems to me that I have a splitting headache, then I do have a splitting headache. If I seem to be hearing the opening notes of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, then I am having the experience of hearing the opening notes of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, even if I am having an auditory hallucination. How, then, can I seem to be thinking about, say, my cat, unless I am actually thinking about my cat? Well, maybe I have made a dreadful mistake and the cat that I am thinking about as mine is actually my neighbor’s cat and not mine. But even in this case I am still thinking about something, namely, my neighbor’s cat.
think that Rosenberg must at least admit that when I think that I am thinking about my cat, i.e. I seem to be thinking about her coloring, her temperament, etc., then my subjective experience—the way it seems to me—will be the same as if I were actually thinking about her. How could it be any different? What content would the state of really thinking about her have that only seeming to think about her would lack? But if a brain can achieve the one state—thinking that I am thinking about my cat—how can it not be able to achieve the subjectively identical state—actually thinking about my cat? How can one mental act be possible and a second phenomenologically identical one be impossible? Rosenberg may have an answer, but I have not found it.

bookmark_borderAlex Rosenberg’s 2012 Argument for Nihilism

 

In his 2012 book, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, Alex Rosenberg defends an argument for nihilism.[1] In this article I want to evaluate his argument.

Definitions

Before we turn to his argument, we first need to understand how Rosenberg defines his terms. Let us begin with the word “scientism.” In his own words, Rosenberg defines “scientism” as follows.

But we’ll call the worldview that all us atheists (and even some agnostics) share “scientism.” This is the conviction that [1] the methods of science are the only reliable ways to secure knowledge of anything; [2] that science’s description of the world is correct in its fundamentals; and [3] that when “complete,” what science tells us will not be surprisingly different from what it tells us today. We’ll often use the adjective “scientistic” in referring to the approaches, theories, methods, and descriptions of the nature of reality that all the sciences share. Science provides all the significant truths about reality, and knowing such truths is what real understanding is all about. (brackets are mine) (6)

As an aside, I don’t think Rosenberg anywhere shows that all atheists share the view he calls scientism; in fact, I think that’s plainly false. Suppose we adopt a so-called ‘strong’ definition of “atheism”: atheism is the belief that there is no God. How, precisely, are any of the three core beliefs of scientism supposed to follow from atheism? They don’t. A person can consistently believe both that atheism is true and that any (or all) of scientism’s three beliefs are false. For example, given the relative immaturity of the science of cosmology (compared to older disciplines such as chemistry), an atheist may justifiably doubt the claim that, when “complete,” what cosmology “tells us will not be surprisingly different from what it tells us today.” Furthermore, philosopher Thomas Nagel seems to be a prime example of an atheist who rejects scientism, as evidenced by his latest book, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False.[2] Whatever one thinks about Nagel’s book, the fact remains that not all atheists share a belief in scientism.

Next, let’s turn to “nihilism.”

Nihilism tells us … [that] moral judgments are … all wrong. More exactly, it claims, they are all based on false, groundless presuppositions. Nihilism says that the whole idea of “morally permissible” is untenable nonsense. As such, it can hardly be accused of holding that “everything is morally permissible.” That, too, is untenable nonsense.

Moreover, nihilism denies that there is really any such thing as intrinsic moral value. … Nihilism denies that there is anything at all that is good in itself or, for that matter, bad in itself. (pp. 95-97)

With definitions out of the way, let us now turn to Rosenberg’s argument.

Rosenberg’s Argument

According to Rosenberg, nihilism is “scientifically and scientistically unavoidable” (101). He claims that, “by substantiating a couple of premises, we can establish the truth of nihilism.”

* First premise: All cultures, and almost everyone in them, endorse most of the same core moral principles as binding on everyone.

* Second premise: The core moral principles have significant consequences for humans’ biological fitness—for our survival and reproduction. (101)

But how shall we evaluate Rosenberg’s claim? It isn’t clear or obvious or self-evident that those premises “establish” the truth of nihilism. So, even granting the truth of both premises, why should we think that nihilism is true? By themselves, the two premises combined do not yield a valid argument for nihilism:

(1) All cultures, and almost everyone in them, endorse most of the same core moral principles as binding on everyone.

(2) The core moral principles have significant consequences for humans’ biological fitness—for our survival and reproduction.

(N) Therefore, nihilism is true.

Notice, however, that (N) does not follow from (1): it’s logically possible that human beings have evolved a set of “core moral principles” which have significant consequences for humans’ biological fitness and which are correct. What to do?

Let’s go back to Rosenberg’s earlier claim that nihilism is “scientifically and scientistically unavoidable.” This suggests two variants of Rosenberg’s argument: a scientific and a scientistic argument for nihilism.

A Scientistic Argument for Nihilism

Here is a scientistic argument for nihilism.

(1) All cultures, and almost everyone in them, endorse most of the same core moral principles as binding on everyone.

(2) The core moral principles have significant consequences for humans’ biological fitness—for our survival and reproduction.

(3) Scientism is true.

(N) Therefore, nihilism is true.

Like the previous argument, this one is invalid. Even when we add the assumption that scientism is true, other options besides nihilism remain. Both ethical naturalism and moral skepticism are compatible with scientism.

Perhaps, however, a more charitable interpretation is to read Rosenberg as presenting an explanatory argument (really, a fragment of an inductive argument) for nihilism. We can complete the argument as follows.

Let us divide the evidence (allegedly) relevant to nihilism into background evidence and the evidence to be explained.

B: Background Evidence

1. The methods of science are the only reliable ways to secure knowledge of anything.

2. Science’s description of the world is correct in its fundamentals.

3. When “complete,” what science tells us will not be surprisingly different from what it tells us today.

E: The Evidence to be Explained

1. All cultures, and almost everyone in them, endorse most of the same core moral principles as binding on everyone.

2. The core moral principles have significant consequences for humans’ biological fitness—for our survival and reproduction.

Finally, let us define the competing explanations.

H: The Rival Explanatory Hypotheses

nihilism (N): the theory that all moral judgments are wrong and that there is no intrinsic moral value.

skepticism (S): the theory that there are true moral judgments but we cannot know which ones are true. (Note: skepticism is ontologically neutral between ethical naturalism and non-naturalism.)

relativism (R): the theory that the truth of moral judgments is relative to culture or time period.

ethical naturalism (EN): the view that moral facts and properties are nothing but natural facts and properties.[3]

ethical non-naturalism (ENN): the view that moral facts and properties are irreducible, sui generis facts and properties that cannot be further analyzed or explained.

Criteria of Adequacy

  • Simplicity: the number of assumptions made
  • Conservatism: how well a theory fits with existing knowledge
  • Testability: whether there is some way to determine if a theory is true
  • Fruitfulness: the number of novel predictions made
  • Explanatory Scope: the amount of diverse phenomena explained
  • Assessment

    Then we can evaluate these hypotheses according to the criteria of adequacy. Although I lack the space to defend it here, the following table summarizes my assessment of the rival explanations according to the
    criteria of adequacy.

      N S R EN ENN
    Simplicity Smile Smile Smile Smile Sad smile
    Conservativism Smile Smile Smile Smile Sad smile
    Testability Smile Smile Smile Smile Sad smile
    Fruitfulness Smile Smile Smile Smile Sad smile
    Explanatory Scope Sad smile ? Sad smile Smile Smile

     

    But then it becomes far from obvious that nihilism is the best explanation. On my analysis, nihilism is no better than relativism. More important, nihilism is a worse explanation than ethical naturalism!

    A Scientific Argument for Nihili
    sm

    In his book, Rosenberg doesn’t explain how nihilism is scientifically “unavoidable” from his two premises. In a 2003 article, however, he (and Tamler Sommers) do offer such an explanation.[4]

    Darwinian nihilism departs from [ethical] naturalism only in declining to endorse our
    morality or any other as true or correct. It must decline to do so because it holds that
    the explanation of how our moral beliefs arose also explains away as mistaken the
    widespread belief that moral claims are true. The Darwinian explanation becomes
    the Darwinian nihilist’s "explaining away" when it becomes apparent that the best
    explanation-blind variation and natural selection- for the emergence of our ethical
    belief does not require that these beliefs have truth-makers. To tum the Darwinian
    explanation into an "explaining away" the nihilist need only add the uncontroversial
    scientific principle that if our best theory of why people believe P does not require
    that P is true, then there are no grounds to believe P is true.[5]

    This suggests the following argument for nihilism.

    (1) All cultures, and almost everyone in them, endorse most of the same core moral principles as binding on everyone.

    (2) Our best theory of why people believe the same core moral principles is that such principles have significant consequences for humans’ biological fitness—for our survival and reproduction.

    (3) Our best theory of why people believe the same core moral principles are binding on everyone does not require that P is true. [from (2)]

    (4) If our best theory of why people believe P does not require that P is true, then there are no grounds to believe P is true.

    (5) Therefore, there are no grounds to believe that core moral principles are binding on everyone. [from (1), (3), and (4)]

    (N) Therefore, nihilism is true.

    Although Sommers and Rosenberg describe the scientific principle in (4) as “uncontroversial,” it seems to me that the principle is false. I take “why people believe P” to mean to what we might call “extra-rational” factors such as subjective experiences, psychology, or evolutionary history. While extra-rational factors may cause a person to correctly believe P (albeit on non-rational or even irrational grounds), such a coincidence is hardly guaranteed.

    In contrast, the statement, “there are no grounds to believe P is true,” implies that there are literally no grounds whatsoever to believe P is true. This belies the fatal flaw in (4): “there are no grounds to believe P is true” does not follow from the fact that “our best theory of why people believe P does not require that P is true.”

    I conclude, therefore, that premise (4) is false. Accordingly, even if we grant the truth of Rosenberg’s two main premises (and, indeed, even if we assume that scientism is true), Rosenberg’s argument for nihilism, as it stands, is not successful.

    Notes

    [1] Alex Rosenberg, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions (New York: W.W. Norton, 2012).

    [2] Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

    [3] I take it that, contrary to Brink’s semantics, but in line with Quentin Smith’s analysis of compositional vs. identity forms of ethical naturalism, identity naturalism is the superior interpretation of ethical naturalism. See Quentin Smith, Ethical and Religious Thought in Analytic Philosophy of Language (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), 167-168. Cf. David O. Brink, Moral Realism and the Foundations of Ethics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

    [4] Tamler Sommers and Alex Rosenberg, “Darwin’s Nihilistic Idea: Evolution and the Meaninglessness of Life,” Biology and Philosophy 18 (2003): 653-68.

    [5] Sommers and Rosenberg 2003, 667.

    bookmark_borderCraig’s Argument from Intentionality

    Here is my summary of Craig’s “argument from intentionality” in his recent debate with Alex Rosenberg.

    5. God is the best explanation for the intentional states of consciousness in the world.
    Philosophers are puzzled by states of intentionality, the state of being about something or being of something. It signifies the object-directendess of our thoughts, such as thinking about my summer vacation or about my wife. But no physical object has this capability. A chair, a stone, or a glob of tissue like the brain is not about or of something else. Only mental states or states of consciousness are about other things.

    As a materialist, Rosenberg recognizes this fact and so concludes that, on atheism, there really are no intentional states. Dr. Rosenberg boldly claims we never really think about anything. But this seems incredible. Obviously, I am thinking about Dr. Rosenberg’s argument! This is a reductio ad absurdum argument against atheism. But on theism, it is not surprising that there should be finite minds. Thus, intentional states fit comfortably into a theistic worldview.

    (1) If God did not exist, intentional states of consciousness would not exist.
    (2) Intentional states of consciousness exist.
    (3) Therefore, God exists.

    Maybe I am being dense, but what would be wrong with the following response?

    Regarding Dr. Craig’s argument from intentionality, he says, "But no physical object has the capability of intentionality." But that statement simply begs the question against materialism. The statement, "No physical object has the capability of intentionality," is true if and only if reductive materialism is false. If reductive materialism is true, then the mind just is the brain and the intentional states of consciousness just are brain states. So the proposition that "No physical object has the capability of intentionality" is both a premise and a conclusion in his argument, and thus his argument is massively question-begging. Indeed, a materialist would be no more guilty of begging the question if he were to declare, "But there is no such thing as a mental substance apart from a physical substance," and then argue from that to the falsity of theism. So I don’t think Dr. Craig has shown that God is the best explanation of the intentional states of consciousness.

    bookmark_borderWhen is a Debate “Win” Significant?

    A reader asked me if I had watched the debate between William Lane Craig and Alex Rosenberg. Here is my reply.

    No, I haven’t seen it. I’ve read some of Rosenberg’s book, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, however.  My prediction is that WLC not only “won” the debate, but that Rosenberg did awful. Why would I make such a prediction? Three reasons.

    First, Rosenberg is not a specialist in the philosophy of religion. Here is how he summarizes his areas of focus:

    My interests focus on problems in metaphysics, mainly surrounding causality, the philosophy of social sciences, especially economics, and most of all, the philosophy of biology, in particular the relationship between molecular, functional and evolutionary biology.

    Compare that to the topics discussed in the debate. According to a summary of the debate, Craig used eight (8) arguments for God’s existence: (1) the contingency argument; (2) the kalam cosmological argument; (3) the applicability of mathematics to nature; (4) the fine-tuning argument; (5) an argument from consciousness; (6) the moral argument; (7) the resurrection of Jesus; and (8) religious experience.

    At best, only two of those arguments are within Rosenberg’s area of specialization, whereas all of them are in Craig’s area of specialization (as arguments within the philosophy of religion). Let’s say that his focus on "metaphysics, mainly surrounding causality" makes him an expert on (1) and (2). To the best of my knowledge, he does not have the publication history Craig has on cosmological arguments. (His list of publications does not include a single publication about cosmological arguments.)

    Now look at his other areas of focus: philosophy of social sciences and philosophy of biology. It’s hard to see the relevance of either to what was actually discussed in the debate. (To be clear: I think expertise in the philosophy of biology could be relevant if biological design arguments had been brought up in the debate. But it appears they were not. So his expertise in the philosophy of biology doesn’t seem to be relevant to the specific issues discussed.)

    Now consider Rosenberg’s case for atheism: it apparently consisted solely of the argument from evil. Furthermore, he used a logical argument from evil. While there are contemporary atheistic philosophers of religion who defend a logical argument from evil (such as Quentin Smith and J.L. Schellenberg), it appears Rosenberg wasn’t aware of the standard criticisms of logical arguments from evil. This is further evidence that Rosenberg was debating a topic outside of his area of expertise.

    Second, in Rosenberg’s book, he argues for scientism. I’m sure that WLC was licking his chops when he discovered that Rosenberg adopts scientism, since scientism is an easy target.

    Third, while there are exceptions, WLC’s ivory tower opponents typically do awful.

    If Rosenberg did do awful, I make another prediction: Christians will trumpet Craig’s ‘amazing’ victory as if it were some sort of substantive accomplishment, rather than a rhetorical victory.

    The fact of the matter is that no atheist philosopher who specializes in the philosophy of religion advocates scientism, so the fact that an atheistic "scientism-ist" lost a debate on God’s existence–assuming Rosenberg did “lose”–is about as interesting as a theistic young earth creationist losing a debate on evolution vs. creationism.

    Consider an analogy. There is a controversy among oncologists about whether some condition, C, is a risk factor for some rare form of cancer. The American Cancer Society sponsors a debate between two doctors: one who argues that C is a risk factor and one who argues that C is not a risk factor. Arguing for the former is one of the leading oncologists in the world. Arguing for the latter is a distinguished neurologist who is not also an oncologist. The neurologist takes a position (and uses arguments) that are not representative of those used by the "anti-C" camp of oncologists. The oncologist trounces the neurologist in the debate.

    What would the significance of that debate be? The oncologist debater would have shown that the neurologist’s arguments were weak and the anti-C camp would join the oncologist in dismissing the neurologist’s arguments, quite possibly for the very same reasons used by the pro-C oncologist. For anyone familiar with the anti-C camp’s arguments for their position, should this undermine anyone’s confidence in the anti-C position? The answer is a resounding "no." Both pro-C and anti-C oncologists know that the anti-C camp’s arguments–arguments in the anti-C camp’s area of specialization but not in the neurologist’s area of specialization–weren’t tested in the debate.

    Just to be clear, I want to clear up possible misunderstandings.

    First, I don’t have any problem with Craig debating Rosenberg. Rosenberg is a professional philosopher who wrote a book about atheism. It’s just that Rosenberg’s position is not representative of what atheist philosophers of religion argue. (For a bibliography of such arguments, see here.)

    Second, nothing I’ve written should in any way be construed as suggesting that Craig did not "win" the debate (assuming that he did). Again, my point is that the win is not significant because the best arguments for atheism weren’t tested in the debate.

    Third, nothing I’ve written should be interpreted to mean that Craig always or usually debates people in his area of specialization but outside of theirs. My post is literally about Craig’s debate with Rosenberg and nothing else.

    Fourth, for the record, I do think Craig has won debates with opponents who were debating a topic within their area of specialization. To name just one example, I think Craig clearly won his debate on God’s existence with the late Antony Flew.