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_borderNaturalism, Theism, and Moral Ontology: A Reply to William Lane Craig

(Reposting since this seems to be so popular. So far as I am aware, neither WLC nor anyone else has responded to this.)
Abstract: This paper considers William Lane Craig’s metaethical argument for God’s existence. Roughly, the argument is that the existence of objective moral values provides strong evidence for God’s existence. I consider one by one Craig’s various reasons in support of the argument’s major premise, namely, that objective moral values and the nonexistence of God are at odds with each other. I show that Craig’s supporting arguments play fast and loose with the meaning of objectivity, and that they have no force whatsoever. I conclude that Craig’s argument does not succeed in showing that the existence of objective moral values, by itself, makes God’s existence more probable than not.
[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yH5B5UZvuhw[/youtube]
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bookmark_borderNaturalism, Theism, and Moral Ontology: A Reply to William Lane Craig

Abstract: This paper considers William Lane Craig’s metaethical argument for God’s existence. Roughly, the argument is that the existence of objective moral values provides strong evidence for God’s existence. I consider one by one Craig’s various reasons in support of the argument’s major premise, namely, that objective moral values and the nonexistence of God are at odds with each other. I show that Craig’s supporting arguments play fast and loose with the meaning of objectivity, and that they have no force whatsoever. I conclude that Craig’s argument does not succeed in showing that the existence of objective moral values, by itself, makes God’s existence more probable than not.
[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yH5B5UZvuhw[/youtube]
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bookmark_borderG&T Rebuttal, Part 6: Chapter 7

Chapter 7. Mother Theresa vs. Hitler

 
In this chapter, G&T present a version of the moral argument for God’s existence which I call the “Moral Laws Require a Moral Lawgiver Argument,” which they formulate as follows.

1. Every law has a law giver.
2. There is a Moral Law.


3. Therefore, there is a Moral Law Giver.

Like the earlier arguments, this argument is deductively valid. Like the earlier chapters about this argument, I plan to briefly summarize G&T’s defense of this argument before offering my critique.
(i) Moral Laws, Lawgivers, and Obligations: For the most part, G&T defend premise 1 through the use of simplistic slogans, such as “every prescription has a prescriber” (170) and “there can be no legislation unless there’s a legislature” (171). The most charitable interpretation of G&T’s appeal to these slogans is that these slogans function as arguments from analogy. But the analogies with the Moral Law are weak. “Laws” require a “lawgiver” only if they are, in fact, given (made). Statutory (governmental) laws are the paradigm example of laws that require a lawgiver, but, to use one of William Lane Craig’s trademark expressions, statutory laws (“legislation”) began to exist. Not all laws are made, however. The laws of nature, logic, and mathematics are three examples of laws that are discovered, not invented. Not only do these examples undercut the support for premise (1), they actually provide the basis of an argument from analogy against premise 1, based on the following negative analogy.

4. The laws of nature, logic, mathematics, and morality did not begin to exist.
5. The laws of nature, logic, and mathematics also do not have lawgivers.


6. Therefore, the laws of morality do not have a lawgiver.

This entails, accordingly, that premise 1 is false.
G&T’s second supporting argument for premise 1 implicitly appeals to what’s known as a “social theory of obligation.”[1] That G&T make this appeal isn’t obvious, so I first need to defend that interpretation before addressing it. Although they don’t use the phrase, “social theory of obligation,” they do argue, “if there are moral obligations, there must be someone to be obligated to” (171).  That argument presupposes a social theory of obligation, which holds that “obligations” are made in the context of a relationship between persons in which a demand is made. Thus, I think the most charitable interpretation of this statement is to treat it as a second supporting argument for premise 1.
I’m inclined to agree with G&T that obligation is inherently social, but notice there is a difference between individual obligations and the concept of obligation itself. Thus, let us distinguish between (a) the source of obligation in general; and (b) the source of specific obligations.
Regarding (a), the important question, a question that J.L. Mackie asked, but that most defenders of divine command theories of moral obligation have ignored, is how obligation in general could be created by the commands of any person (including God).[2] Let us suppose that God exists and commands us to perform action A. God’s commandment to perform A could make A morally obligatory if and only if there were a prior moral obligation to obey God’s commands. But if there is a prior moral obligation to obey God’s commands, then that entails the existence of at least one autonomous moral obligation. It follows, then, that God is not the source of all moral obligations. Thus, as a potential explanation for all moral obligation, the appeal to divine commands reduces to “The reason there are moral obligations is because there is at least one true moral obligation,” which is no explanation at all. At best, this explanation merely describes the relation between religious moral obligations (i.e., obligations based on God’s commands) and an autonomous, secular moral obligation (i.e., an obligation which is not based on God’s commands). We’re still left with the prior obligation to obey God’s commands, an obligation which cannot be justified by God’s commands. So the appeal to divine commands does not explain the deeper issue of why there are any moral obligations at all. This blatant circularity renders God’s commands worthless as an explanation for moral obligation in general.
As for (b), individual obligations are created by persons, but the obligations need not be the result of conscious acts by those persons. If the relevant prior obligation exists, then a person can create an obligation through a conscious act like commanding. For example, if God exists and has commanded that humans observe the Sabbath, then that command creates a further moral obligation because of the prior obligation to obey God’s commands. Or again, to pick a secular example, if a parent tells a child to take out the garbage, then that command creates a further moral obligation because of the prior obligation children have to obey reasonable requests made by their parents.
But other obligations do not seem to be the kind of obligations which need to be commanded. One example is the prior obligation to obey God’s commands, despite the fact that no person created that obligation. Another example would be the prima facie moral obligations which parents have to their children, despite the fact that infants obviously cannot command anything. These examples show that the source of obligations can be relational (i.e., grounded in a personal relationship) but not dependent upon a conscious act. This also explains why impersonal objects—what G&T call “materials” such as atoms, molecules, and other physical particles—cannot be the source of obligations. Obligations cannot come from an impersonal universe, but it doesn’t follow that there are no obligations in an impersonal universe.
In sum, if even one moral obligation can exist without God, then there’s no reason to think that most moral obligations can’t exist without God.
(ii) The Existence of a Moral Law: G&T offer eight reasons in support of the Moral Law: (1) the Moral Law is undeniable; (2) we know it by our reactions; (3) it is the basis of human rights; (4) it is the unchanging standard of justice; (5) it defines a real difference between moral positions (e.g., Mother Theresa vs. Hitler); (6) since we know what’s absolutely wrong, there must be an absolute moral standard of goodness; (7) the Moral Law is the grounds for political and social dissent; and (8) if there were no Moral Law, then we wouldn’t make excuses for violating it.
While there are various points of detail in G&T’s case for the Moral Law’s existence I would dispute, I’m going to skip over them. I agree with their overall point that what they call the “Moral Law” exists.
(iii) Confusions about Absolute vs. Relative Morality: G&T identify and address what they call six “confusions” about absolute morals: (1) absolute morals vs. changing behavior; (2) absolute morals vs. changing perceptions of the facts; (3) absolute morals vs. applying them to particular situations; (4) an absolute command (what) vs. a relative culture (how); (5) absolute morals vs. moral disagreements; and (6) absolute ends (values) vs. relative means.
I’m not sure that there is much to argue with here. Like their defense of the Moral Law, there are various minor points I could make but, again, I’m going to let them pass. I agree that, as they stand, many objections to the Moral Law are weak because they confuse various distinctions.
(iv) ‘Darwinist’ Explanations of the Moral Law: G&T offer a multi-pronged critique of E.O. Wilson’s Darwinian explanation for the evolution of a moral sense. (1) The Moral Law is immaterial and so cannot be reduced to matter. (2) Morality cannot be merely an instinct. (3) Darwinism cannot explain self-destructive or altruistic behaviors. (4) There can be no “real good without the objective Moral Law” (188). (5) Darwinists confuse moral epistemology (how one comes to know the Moral Law) with moral ontology (the existence of the Moral Law). (6) “Darwinists cannot explain why anyone should obey any biologically derived ‘moral sentiment’” (188).
Following prominent moral philosopher Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, let’s divide moral theory into two branches: substantive ethics and metaethics. Substantive ethics is probably what the average nonphilosopher has in mind when thinking about “morality;” it has to do with what is morally good and bad, right and wrong, and so forth.  Metaethics is literally “about ethics,” in the sense that it is focused on the nature of substantive moral claims. Sinnott-Armstrong has identified six branches of metaethics, shown below in Figure 1.

Metaethics
Figure 1

Of those six branches, three are relevant to various moral arguments for God’s existence. First, moral ontology “asks whether any moral properties and facts exist and, if so, what metaphysical status they have.”[3] Second, moral epistemology “concerns roughly whether, when, and how substantive moral claims and beliefs can be justified or known.”[4] Finally, third, moral psychology “asks about the nature and sources of moral beliefs and moral emotions, such as guilt and shame, as well as about our motivation to be moral.”[5]

Corresponding to these three branches of metaethics are three types of moral phenomena which are sometimes claimed as evidence for God’s existence.

Branch of Metaethics Fact to be Explained
Moral Ontology Moral Values, Moral Law, Moral Obligations
Moral Epistemology Moral Beliefs
Moral Psychology Moral Emotions (such as guilt, shame, obligation)

 
G&T’s moral argument is an argument about moral ontology. Wilson’s sociobiological explanation for morality is about moral psychology and epistemology. It follows, therefore, that objections (1), (2), (4) and especially (5) are irrelevant. (5) is particularly heinous since Wilson wasn’t even trying to explain moral ontology.
Let’s turn our attention to (3), the objection that  Darwinism cannot explain self-destructive or altruistic behaviors. In fact, as Paul Draper argues, Darwinian naturalism offers a much better explanation for the distribution of self-centered and selfless behaviors among human beings.[6]
In order to see why that is so, let’s begin with the fact that humans are effectively self-centered; our tendency to behave in self-centered ways is usually much stronger than any tendency to behave in selfless ways. Next, let’s divide altruistic behaviors into two types: kin altruism and non-kin altruism.
On Darwinian naturalism, the mixture of selfish and selfless (altruistic) behaviors we find in Homo sapiens is easy to explain.  The Darwinian naturalist explanation for our overwhelming tendency towards self-centered behavior is obvious. Kin altruism is also easy to explain: behaviors that promote the survival and reproduction of my kin make it more probable that my genes will be inherited by future generations. Non-kin altruism is weaker than kin altruism and also absent more often than kin altruism. Given that kin altruism exists, this pattern or distribution is exactly what we would expect on Darwinian naturalism.
With theism, however, things are quite different. On theism, either God created humans directly (special creation) or indirectly (Darwinian theism or theistic evolution).  Since God is omnipotent and omniscient, He could create humans without making them inherently self-centered. Since God is morally perfect, He would have good moral reasons for creating altruistic humans. Furthermore, He would not create inherently self-centered humans unless He had a morally sufficient reason for doing so. So given that humans are inherently self-centered, theism entails both that God is not constrained by biological goals like survival and reproduction (and hence does not need to create human beings who are inherently self-centered) and that He had a morally sufficient reason for creating inherently self-centered human beings.
While that is a logical possibility—it doesn’t disprove theism—that’s also a really big coincidence that Darwinian naturalism doesn’t need. The distribution of selfish and selfless behaviors among human beings is much more probable on naturalism than on theism. Therefore, that distribution is strong evidence favoring naturalism over theism.
Finally, what about G&T’s sixth objection, that  “Darwinists cannot explain why anyone should obey any biologically derived ‘moral sentiment’” (188)? There is much to be said about this topic, too much to address here. Instead, I will simply make one point: I think G&T are being uncharitable to the idea of “biologically derived moral sentiments.” G&T are saying that if contemplating a certain action, such as bestiality, causes a person to feel disgust, that feeling of disgust provides no reason at all for the person to avoid bestiality. But that’s false.  The desire to avoid the emotions of guilt, shame, and disgust are often powerful motivators. If G&T disagree, then I invite them to attempt to do something they find disgusting! They will quickly discover that their feeling of disgust does, indeed, provide a reason for not doing an action.
(v) The ‘Consequences’ of Darwinist Morality: According to G&T, Darwinist morality implies that the following are morally permissible: (1) racism and genocide; (2) infanticide; (3) using “retarded” people as laboratory subjects or food; and (4) rape. G&T support the claim that each of these alleged implications is an actual implication of Darwinist morality by appeals to authority.
I will make some general comments regarding this section as a whole before addressing each of these alleged consequences of Darwinist morality.
Some General Comments:
First, G&T, like many (but not all) theists who engage in moral apologetics, misuse the word “implication.” In logic, to say, “X implies Y,” means that Y is true whenever X is true. A corollary of this point is this: if it is possible for Y to be true when X is not, then X doesn’t imply Y. As a professional philosopher, Geisler is surely aware of this point, but he (inexplicably) seems to forget it when he (and Turek) repeatedly refer to what they call the “consequences,” “implications,” or “logical outworkings” of Darwinism. Each of their claims regarding the alleged “implication” of Darwinist morality is refuted by this simple point. If atheism is true, the Holocaust, infanticide, the abuse of the mentally disabled, and rape can still be morally bad. Since that is even possible, it follows that none of those things are “implications” of atheism.
Second, contrary to frequent claims in moral apologetics, atheism is neither moral nor immoral; rather, it is amoral. By itself, atheism does not make it obligatory, permitted, or forbidden to do anything. It’s neither a (substantive) ethical theory nor a metaethical theory.[7]
Third, in order to justify their claim that “Darwinism” has such outrageous moral consequences, G&T rely upon a series of arguments from authority. Again, as we saw earlier, arguments from authority can be logically correct (inductive) arguments in some circumstances, such as (a) the argument correctly quotes and interprets the authority; and (b) there are no equally qualified authorities who disagree with the authority quoted by the argument. As we shall see below, however, each of their arguments from authority fails to satisfy these requirements. It follows, therefore, that none of their arguments from authority make their conclusions probable: they fail to establish that “Darwinism” has the moral implications which G&T claim that Darwinism has.
Regarding (1) (racism and genocide), G&T quote the following passage from Adolf Hitler’s book Mein Kampf:

If nature does not wish that weaker individuals should mate with the stronger, she wishes even less that a superior race should intermingle with an inferior one; because in such cases all her efforts, throughout hundreds of thousands of years, to establish an evolutionary higher stage of being, may thus be rendered futile.
But such a preservation goes hand-in-hand with the inexorable law that it is the strongest and the best who must triumph and that they have the right to endure. He who would live must fight. He who does not wish to fight in this world, where permanent struggle is the law of life, has not the right to exist.[8]

Based on this passage, G&T conclude that “Adolf Hitler used Darwin’s theory as philosophical justification for the Holocaust” (189).
This example is multiply flawed, however. First, remember that G&T define “Darwinism” as a belief in impersonal, unguided evolution. In the passage just quoted, however, Hitler talks about nature’s “wishes.” Since the idea of nature (or Nature) as a conscious being with “wishes” and “efforts” is incompatible with Darwinism, this passage contradicts the claim that Hitler was a Darwinist, much less someone who subscribed to ‘Darwinist morality.’
Second, in the passage quoted above, Hitler commits the is-ought fallacy, viz., by moving from exclusively non-ethical premises to an ethical conclusion.[9] In its logical form, Hitler’s argument may be summarized as follows.

All living things are engaged in a struggle for survival; only the fittest survive. [non-ethical premise]


Therefore, it is right to allow the strongest to survive and wrong to allow the weakest to survive. [ethical conclusion]

This argument is deductively invalid, however. Its conclusion does not follow from its (sole) premise.
Third, Hitler (and his racist followers) were (and are) factually incorrect. A key part of his argument is the presupposition that some human races are ‘superior’ to others. Not only is that presupposition false, but notice that it does not follow from evolution, much less Darwinism.
Fourth, as an argument from authority, G&T’s appeal to Hitler is logically incorrect. If we abbreviate the conclusion of Hitler’s argument as G, then the logical form of G&T’s corresponding argument from authority is as follows.

(5) The vast majority of statements made by Adolph Hitler concerning metaethics are true.
(6) G is a statement made by Adolph Hitler about metaethics.


(7) Therefore, G is true.

Even if Hitler had been an authority on metaethics, this argument would fail because all or virtually all competent authorities disagree. But Adolph Hitler was not an authority on metaethics. So G&T’s argument from authority is evidentially worthless: it provides no evidence at all—nada, zero, zilch, zip—for the claim that “Darwinist morality implies that racism and genocide are ethically right.”
Regarding (2) (infanticide), G&T quote moral philosopher Peter Singer’s statement, “the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee.”[10] G&T then go on to argue that a consequence “of Singer’s outrageous Darwinian ideas” is infanticide: “He believes that parents should be able to kill their newborn infants until they are 28 days of age!” (190).
This argument is only marginally better than the last. G&T’s quotation of Singer fails to establish the conclusion that “Darwinist morality implies that infanticide is morally right or permissible.” (a) While Singer is an authority on moral philosophy, this argument from authority fails because equally competent authorities, including Darwinists such as James Rachels, disagree. (b) G&T commit the is-ought fallacy by moving from an exclusively non-ethical premise (“Darwinism is true”) to an ethical conclusion (“infanticide is morally right or permissible”).
Reading (3) (the moral status of the mentally disabled), G&T reach this remarkable conclusion by quoting the late moral philosopher James Rachels. Here is what G&T write (190):

Speaking of retarded people, Rachels writes:

What are we to say about them? The natural conclusion, according to the doctrine we are considering [Darwinism], would be that their status is that of mere animals. And perhaps we should go on to conclude that they may be used as non-human animals are used–perhaps as laboratory subjects, or as food?22

As horrific as that would be–using retarded people as lab rats or food–Darwinists can give no moral reason why we ought not use any human being in that fashion.


22 James Rachels, Created from Animals: The Moral Implications of Darwinism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 186.

Suffice it to say that G&T nowhere say or even hint at the fact that Rachels opposed the very view which G&T attempt to saddle Darwinism with.
As someone who has read Rachels’ important book several times, I am baffled how G&T could possibly justify this outrageous, slanderous interpretation of Rachels. First, notice the bracketed word [Darwinism]. Rachels was not considering the doctrine of ‘Darwinism’ at this point in his book. Rather, he was talking about the doctrine of “qualified speciesism.” Here is how Rachels defines it.

But there is a more sophisticated view of the relation between morality and species, and it is this view that defenders of traditional morality have most often adopted. On this view, species alone is not regarded as morally significant. However, species-membership is correlated with other differences that are significant. The interests of humans are said to be more important, not simply because they are human, but because humans have morally relevant characteristics that other animals lack.[11]

With that definition in mind, let’s review what Rachels actually wrote about qualified speciesism.

There is still another problem for this form of qualified speciesism. Some unfortunate humans—perhaps because they have suffered brain damage—are not rational agents. What are we to say about them? The natural conclusion, according to the doctrine we are considering, would be that their status is that of mere animals. And perhaps we should go on to conclude that they may be used as non-human animals are used–perhaps as laboratory subjects, or as food?[12]

This leads to my second objection to G&T’s quotation of Rachels. Not only was Rachels talking about qualified speciesism, not Darwinism, but Rachels was describing a problem with qualified speciesism. In other words, Rachels was arguing against qualified speciesism. There is simply no justification for G&T trying to saddle Rachels with a view he explicitly calls a “problem” and, in fact, rejects.
A few pages later, Rachels goes on to make a distinction between “having a moral obligation” and “being the beneficiary of a moral obligation.” In his words:

… we must distinguish the conditions necessary for having a moral obligation from the conditions necessary for being the beneficiary of a moral obligation.
For example: normal adult humans have the obligation not to torture one another. What characteristics make it possible for a person to have this obligation? For one thing, he must be able to understand what torture is, and he must be capable of recognizing that it is wrong. (Linguistic capacity might be relevant here; without language one may not be able to formulate the belief that torture is wrong.) When someone–a severely retarded person, perhaps–lacks such capacities, we do not think he has such obligations and we do not hold him responsible for what he does. On the other hand, it is a very different question what characteristics qualify someone to be the beneficiary of the obligation. It is wrong [to] torture someone–someone is the beneficiary of our obligation not to torture–not because of his capacity for understanding what torture is, or for recognizing that it is morally wrong, but simply because of his capacity for experiencing pain. Thus a person may lack the characteristics necessary for having a certain obligation, and yet may still possess the characteristics necessary to qualify him as the beneficiary of that obligation. If there is any doubt, consider the position of severely retarded persons. A severely retarded person may not be able to understand what torture is, or see it as wrong, and yet still be able to suffer pain. So we who are not retarded have an obligation not to torture him, even though he cannot have a similar obligation not to torture us.[13]

The above passage proves that Rachels was opposed to “using retarded people as lab rats or food,” the exact opposite of the picture painted by G&T’s selective, misleading quotation of Rachels. In fact, rather than “downgrading” the moral status of mentally disabled humans to that of animals without rights, Rachels went in the opposite direction by “upgrading” the moral status of intelligent animals so that they, like even severely mentally disabled humans, can be the beneficiary of moral obligations.
At this point, I can only come up with two explanations for why G&T would do this: either they’re ignorant (they didn’t read or understand the book) or they’re dishonest (they knew full well that Rachels was talking about limited speciesism, not Darwinism, and Rachels opposed using the mentally disabled as lab rats or food). Neither of these explanations reflects well upon G&T.
Regarding (4) (rape), Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer wrote a controversial book, A Natural History of Rape. G&T apparently haven’t read the book, for instead of quoting it directly, they quote Nancy Pearcey’s quotation of Thornhill and Palmer. Pearcey quotes the following passage: rape is “a natural, biological phenomenon that is a product of the human evolutionary heritage,” just like “the leopard’s spots and the giraffe’s elongated neck.”[14] G&T are, once again, committing the is-ought fallacy. The argument seems to be this.

If Darwinism is true, then rape has a biological explanation. [non-ethical premise]


Therefore, if Darwinism is true, then rape is ethically right or permissible. [ethical conclusion]

Like the previous arguments, this one is fallacious. The fact, if it is a fact, that rape has a biological explanation does not ‘imply’ that rape is ethically right or permissible. And it’s far from obvious that rape has a biological explanation. Again, if Pearcey’s quotation of Thornhill and Palmer is supposed to be an argument from authority, that argument is weak. First, if G&T are suggesting that Thornhill and Palmer believe that rape is morally acceptable, the former have misinterpreted the latter. As Pearcey explains, “The authors are not saying that rape is morally right.”[15] Second, as Pearcey’s own article admits, equally well qualified authorities disagree with Thornhill and Palmer. To cite just one example, evolutionary biologist (and Darwinist) Jerry Coyne has produced two scientific critiques of Thornhill’s and Palmer’s biological claims.[16] It’s unfortunate that G&T’s readers won’t know about this from reading their book.
Unlike G&T, Pearcey herself actually tries to bridge the is-ought gap. She writes, “to say that rape confers a reproductive advantage sounds perilously close to saying that it is useful or beneficial.”[17] At best, however, Pearcey’s statement merely expresses a half-truth. To say that rape confers a reproductive advantage may mean that it is useful or beneficial to the rapist. It does not mean, however, that it is useful or beneficial to the victim or to society at large. Furthermore, as Wilson, Dietrich, and Clark point out, even if rape confers evolutionary benefits on the rapist,

it does so at great expense to others, not just the rape victim but society at large. The fact that the actor benefits does nothing to change its moral status, since morality is defined in terms of common welfare. In fact, some of our most severe moral judgements are reserved for behaviors that obviously benefit the actor at the expense of others (e.g., betraying one’s country for a large financial reward), and therefore require an exceptionally strong moral response to counterbalance the personal gain.[18]

So in order to show that ‘Darwinism’ implies that rape is ethically permissible, G&T would need to show that, on ‘Darwinism,’ whatever may be useful to an individual is ethically permissible. G&T haven’t shown that.


Rebuttal to Geisler’s and Turek’s “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”

Notes
[1] Robert M. Adams, “Divine Commands and the Social Nature of ObligationFaith and Philosophy 4 (1987), 262-275; cf. Robert Merrihew Adams, Finite and Infinite Goods: A Framework for Ethics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 245-246.
[2] J.L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), 114-15.
[3] Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Moral Skepticisms (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 6.
[4] Sinnott-Armstrong 2006, 6.
[5] Sinnott-Armstrong 2006, 6.
[6] Paul Draper, “Darwin’s Argument from Evil” in Scientific Approaches to the Philosophy of Religion (ed. Yujin Nagasawa, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 49-70 at 61-63.
[7] Atheism does entail that overtly theistic metaethics (or, to be more precise, theistic moral ontologies), such as Divine Command Theories and Divine Will Theories, are false. By itself, however, atheism does not tell us which metaethical theory is true. If one defines “atheism” in a way that is compatible with theological noncognitivism, then just any nontheistic metaethical theory could be true. If, however, one defines “atheism” in a way that presupposes theological (and hence ethical) cognitivism, then the most we can say affirmatively is that atheism entails that ethical cognitivism is true. Even so, atheism still leaves wide open the question of which cognitive metaethical theory is true. Cf. Theodore Drange, “Atheism. Agnosticism, Noncognitivism” The Secular Web (1998), http://infidels.org/library/modern/theodore_drange/definition.html.
[8] Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (London: Hurst & Blackett, 1939), 239-240, 242, quoted in G&T 2004, 189.
[9] Cf. David Sloan Wilson, Eric Dietrich, and Anne B. Clark, “On the Inappropriate Use of the Naturalistic Fallacy in Evolutionary PsychologyBiology and Philosophy 18 (2003): 669-682 at 671.
[10] Peter Singer, Practical Ethics (1st ed., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 122-23, quoted in G&T 2004, 190.
[11] James Rachels, Created from Animals: The Moral Implications of Darwinism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 184.
[12] Rachels 1990, 191-92. Italics are mine.
[13] Rachels 1990, 191-192.
[14] Thornhill and Palmer, quoted in Nancy Pearcey, “Darwin’s Dirty Secret,” World magazine, March 25, 2000, quoted in G&T 2004, 191.
[15] Pearcey 2000.
[16] J.A. Coyne, “Of Vice and Men: Review of A Natural History of Rape, by R. Thornhill and C. Palmer,” The New Republic (April 3, 2000) 27-34, republished electronically at http://www.uic.edu/labs/igic/papers/others/Coyne_2000.pdf; and Jerry A. Coyne and Andrew Berry, “Rape as an Adaptation: Is This Contentious Hypothesis Advocacy, not Science?Nature 404 (2000): 121-22.
[17] Pearcey 2000.
[18] Wilson, Dietrich, and Clark 2003, 678. Italics are mine.