bookmark_borderMoral Arguments for God and Coining a Name for a Common but Fallacious Objection

In response to Wintery Knight’s recent blog post on the plausibility of objective morality on atheism, I posted a comment in the combox on his site. The comment consisted solely of a link to my YouTube video, “Naturalism, Theism, and Moral Ontology: A Reply to William Lane Craig.” In response to that link, WK wrote a response, which you can read on his blog. (I cannot figure out how to link to an individual comment on his blog or I would provide a direct link. In any case, I recommend you do read his comment and then come back to this post.) What follows is my follow-up reply to WK.
(Note: WK moderates the combox on his site and I just submitted my comment, so if you are unable to find this comment on his site when you look for it, that could just mean that WK hasn’t gone through the moderation queue for his blog. It doesn’t mean he has censored or blocked my comment.)
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Holy fallacious objection, Batman!
Let’s review the exchange so far:
1. WK claims that atheists cannot help themselves to objective morality. In support, he links to a YouTube video by WLC and then summarizes WLC’s three objections to what WLC calls ‘atheistic moral Platonism’:
(i) ‘The Unintelligibility of Atheistic Moral Platonism’
(ii) ‘Lack of Moral Obligation on Atheistic Moral Platonism’
(iii) ‘Improbability of Atheistic Moral Platonism’
2. JJL posts a link to his own YouTube video refuting WLC’s moral argument, including these three objections.
3. WK responds, not by directly engaging anything JJL actually said in his video, but by quoting something JJL wrote about same-sex marriage (SSM). I realize that the topic may be red meat on a Christian website with a primarily Christian audience — indeed, this may be an instance of the ‘poisoning the well’ fallacy — but it’s a logically fallacious response. And so, as interesting as the topic of SSM may be, I’m not going to take the bait. Instead, I’m going to focus on the plausibility of objective morality on atheism.
Indeed, JJL’s views on same-sex marriage are as irrelevant to the plausibility of ‘objective morality on atheism’ as atheistic objections to Biblical morality are irrelevant to WLC’s moral argument for theism. Both WK’s same-sex marriage objection (to JJL’s defense of objective morality on atheism) and the atheistic objection from alleged instances of Biblical immorality (to WLC’s moral argument) are instances of a type of objection which, to my knowledge, has never been given a formal name. I propose we call such objections this: “objections from undesirable normative ethical consequences.”
The problem with both theistic and atheistic objections from undesirable normative ethical consequences is that they confuse metaethics with normative ethics. As I explain in my Primer on Religion and Morality, (see here — skip down to page 7), metaethics is the study of the nature of status of normative ethical claims, beliefs, and theories. In contrast, normative ethics is the study of what is morally good or bad, what is morally right or wrong, what morally ought or ought not to be done, and so forth.
The upshot is this. Even if, for the sake of argument, the Bible did or does contain immoral divine commands, that would simply tell us that the Bible had or has the wrong normative ethics. That wouldn’t tell us anything about whether morality is objective or, if it is, whether it is a supernatural foundation.
Similarly, even if, for the sake of argument, JJL has the wrong views on same-sex marriage, that would simply tell us that JJL had or has the wrong normative ethics. That wouldn’t tell us anything about whether JJL’s objections to WLC’s argument are successful or, more broadly, whether objective morality is plausible on atheism.

bookmark_borderSix Findings from Experimental Science Which Disconfirm Theism

This post is a sequel to my 2013 post, “Scientific Discoveries, Theism, and Atheism: Reply to Wintery Knight.” In that post, I showed:

  1. Wintery Knight misuses the word “compatible” when he he claims that “four basic pieces of scientific evidence” are “more compatible with theism than atheism.”
  2. The creation/design hypothesis is, at best, an incomplete explanation for his four putative lines of evidence. Or to put the point another way, in the words of Sean Carroll, the creation/design hypothesis “not well-defined.”
  3. Wintery Knight is uncharitable to atheists and atheism because he consistently interacts with weak objections to his arguments, while ignoring the stronger objections defended by atheist scholars, especially atheist philosophers of religion.
  4. Wintery Knight commits the fallacy of understated evidence.

Since Wintery Knight reposted his original 2013 post on experimental science and atheism–apparently with no edits whatsoever–I decided to post a follow-up reply. Here are six lines of experimental, scientific evidence which are better explained by naturalism than by theism.

  1. The universe began to exist with time, not in time.
  2. So much of the universe is hostile to life.
  3. Complex living things are the gradually modified descendants of simpler living things.
  4. All non-question-begging examples of minds are minds dependent upon a physical brain. (Similarly, excluding examples of so-called “complex specified information” allegedly related to intelligent design, all other examples of complex specified information involve a mind dependent on a physical brain.)
  5. Pain and pleasure appear to play a biological, not a moral, role in the lives of sentient organisms.
  6. Only a fraction of living things, including the majority of sentient beings, thrive. In other words, very few living things have an adequate supply of food and water, are able to reproduce, avoid predators, and remain healthy. An even smaller fraction of organisms thrive for most of their lives. Almost no organisms thrive for all of their lives.

Furthermore, in addition to these six lines of evidence, we have a seventh piece of evidence (really, meta-evidence): the history of science and the success of naturalistic explanations. Like the first six lines of evidence, this fact is also antecedently more probable on naturalism than on theism.
While I like Wintery Knight as a person, I’m sorry to say that his latest blog post–like many of his blog posts and like the writings of many apologists–is an example of what I have elsewhere called “obnoxious apologetics.” Let’s review.

Like many (but not all) of those other books in the apologetics genre, the basic approach [of obnoxious apologetics] seems to be the following.

  1. Present and defend the author’s preferred view as favorably as possible.
  2. Represent opposing views as unfavorably as possible.
  3. Reach the remarkable conclusion that–surprise, surprise–the author’s view is true.
  4. Suggest that anyone who disagrees is ignorant, irrational, or has ulterior (non-rational) motives.

The problem with obnoxious apologetics, which seems to afflict as many atheist apologists as theist apologists, is that it’s a fatally flawed way to search for truth. If our goal is the sincere pursuit of truth–and it should be–then the above approach is what not to do. Rather, if our goal is the sincere pursuit of truth, then our basic approach should be to represent opposing views fairly, in the best possible light, and interact with the best arguments both for and against the different viewpoints.