Monday, November 6, 2017

An Atheological Cosmological Argument Criticized

An Atheological Cosmological Argument Criticized

Statement of Argument

Emily Thomas, assistant professor of philosophy at Durham University, has a recent article in which she summarizes a newer argument for atheism.  Here article, “Does the Size of the Universe Prove God Doesn’t Exist?” articulates the argument in the following manner:[1]

Over the last few decades, a new way of arguing for atheism has emerged. Philosophers of religion such as Michael Martin and Nicholas Everitt have asked us to consider the kind of universe we would expect the Christian God to have created, and compare it with the universe we actually live in. They argue there is a mismatch. Everitt focuses on how big the universe is, and argues this gives us reason to believe the God of classical Christianity doesn’t exist.

To explain why, we need a little theology. Traditionally, the Christian God is held to be deeply concerned with human beings. Genesis (1:27) states: “God created mankind in his own image.” Psalms (8:1-5) says: “O Lord … What is man that You take thought of him … Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty!” And, of course, John (3:16) explains God gave humans his son out of love for us.

These texts show that God is human-oriented: human beings are like God, and he values us highly. Although we’re focusing on Christianity, these claims can be found in other monotheistic religions, too.

If God is human-oriented, wouldn’t you expect him to create a universe in which humans feature prominently? You’d expect humans to occupy most of the universe, existing across time. Yet that isn’t the kind of universe we live in. Humans are very small, and space, as Douglas Adams once put it, “is big, really really big”.

After a discussion of the empirical data regarding the size of the universe, Thomas concludes:

Clearly, there is a discrepancy between the kind of universe we would expect a human-oriented God to create, and the universe we live in. How can we explain it? Surely the simplest explanation is that God doesn’t exist. The spatial and temporal size of the universe gives us reason to be atheists.

As Everitt puts it:

The findings of modern science significantly reduce the probability that theism is true, because the universe is turning out to be very unlike the sort of universe which we would have expected, had theism been true.

Analysis of Argument

1.     Note that the argument seeks to posit a tension between the Christian worldview and the state of the world (i.e., the empirical facts regarding its size).  In light of this it is important to recognize that the argument needs to take into account the full resources of the Christian worldview and accurately note the relevant background features that impinge upon the discussion.  This is something the argument, at least as so far formulated, does not do.

2.     The argument cites three Scriptural texts: Genesis 1.27; Psalm 8.1-5; John 3.16.  From this set of references it concludes: “These texts show that God is human-oriented.”  But this conclusion is not strong enough to generate the problems and tensions alleged in the argument.  In order for the argument to work the premise needs to be strengthened to the following: “These texts show that God is merely or only human-oriented.”  Without this change to the premise the argument will not work effectively.  The texts cited do show God has a human-orientation; he does value humanity.  But it is possible that there are other orientations that God has that also have relevance to the size of the universe.

3.     There are also biblical texts which speak of God’s orientation and concern for other intelligent beings (e.g., angels).  His purposes toward these other beings might require a larger universe.  Consider the biblical text Job 38.4-7:

4Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?  Tell me if you have understanding, 5who set its measurements?  Since you know.  Or who stretched the line on it?  6On what were its bases sunk?  Or who laid its cornerstone, 7when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

            In specific reference to verse seven John Piper has the following meditation:

All the angels had evidently been created before the universe.  And it is not hard to see why.  God meant there to be an audience when he created the world.  I am sure he said, “Watch this!” when he spoke the galaxies into existence.  Imagine the awe and wonder that exploded among the angels.  They had never seen or even imagined matter.  They are all “ministering spirits” (Hebrews 1:14) and have no material bodies as we do.  When God brought material stuff into existence with all its incredible variety and utterly unheard of qualities of sight and sound and smell and touch and taste, this was totally unknown to the angels.  God had made it all up.  It was not like the unveiling of a new painting made of all the colors and paints we are all familiar with.  It was absolutely, totally, unimaginably new!  And the response of the sons of God was to shout for joy.[2]

There are also texts which speak of the interplay between God’s purposes for humanity and its revelatory aspects for heavenly beings.  The apostle Paul in speaking of the redemptive plan made known in Jesus Christ for the Gentiles speaks of one of the purposes behind this:
… so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.  (Ephesians 3.10)[3]

Although this text does not mention the creation of the physical universe, as did the passage from Job, it does show God’s purposes encompass more than humanity.  This serves to undermine the argument under consideration.

4.      God also has an orientation toward himself and the manifestation of the intrinsic value of his glory.  It is important to recognize that God has desires that are not human-centered but, rather, revolve around his character and his desire to express his unique individuality.  As Notre Dame Philosopher Michael Rea notes:

“One odd feature of much contemporary philosophy of religion is that it seems to portray God as having a ‘personality’ that is almost entirely empty, allowing his behavior to be almost exhaustively determined by facts about how it would be best for others for an omnipotent being to behave.  But why should we grant this portrayal, or anything like it?  God is supposed to be a person not only of unsurpassable love and goodness, but of unsurpassable beauty.  And it is not at all clear that God could be that sort of person if the portrayal of God as (effectively) a cosmic, others-oriented utility-maximizing machine were correct.  For it is hard to see how a person could manage to be unsurpassably beautiful, or even very beautiful at all, without having a highly complex personality and motivational structure.”[4]

            Psalm 19.1 states something about the created order and God’s glory:

The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of his hands.

Since God is pursuing the manifestation of his glory it is entirely plausible that God would create a massive universe so that the proportion of the universe relative to humanity is of such a magnitude as to highlight the extremity of his glory.

5.     Continuing with the above (4.) it is interesting to consider the apostle Paul’s argument in Romans chapter one. 

20For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.  21For even though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.  (Romans 1.20-21)

Paul’s argument is that the created order reveals something of God’s character—“his eternal power and divine nature.”[5]  This knowledge of God is of such clarity that it renders all those who experience it as being in a state of “without excuse” for refusing to worship God and give him thanks.  Since the created order reveals attributes of God and renders humanity inexcusable then when there is a greater depth of understanding of this created order this reveals more of his character.  When this is combined with the traditional understanding of God’s omniscience as including all future realities there becomes a plausible reason why God would create such a massive universe.  As future generations came to understand the depths of the created order—both its expansive magnitude and its microscopic intricacy—this would actually reveal more of the character of God and thus render humanity all the more inexcusable for failing to respond rightly to this revelation.  In short, God creates a massive universe with a view to the future when humanity has the tools and insight to become aware of its magnitude so as to progressively reveal the depths of his character. 

Conclusion

The article by Emily Thomas quoted Nicholas Everitt as concluding:

The findings of modern science significantly reduce the probability that theism is true, because the universe is turning out to be very unlike the sort of universe which we would have expected, had theism been true.

But in light of the analysis above Everitt’s argument is without substance.  The probability of theism in light of the size of the universe can only be properly assessed when all the relevant background features are taken into account.  This is something the above argument does not do.  The argument selectively cites Scripture and ignores key elements of the Christian worldview that would affect the nature of the probability under discussion.  Perhaps the argument can be reformulated to take into account these criticisms but as it stands now the argument is fundamentally flawed.

           
Appendix: The Knowledge of God in Romans Chapter One

There is a debate as to whether this passage is teaching that God is knowable or whether he is known.  In other words, is Paul teaching that people can reason to God through empirical means or is it the case that God’s existence is apprehended immediately through the natural order?  One author put it this way:

Two features of 1:19 are relevant to this discussion.  The first of these concerns the meaning of the phrase τ γνωστν το θεο.  Does this phrase refer to actual or merely potential knowledge?  In other words, is there a real sense in which unsaved men know God, or is Paul simply saying that God is ‘knowable’?  This second view has the support of many well-known scholars.  However, H. G. Liddon’s statement is hard to disprove: ‘The phrase…must, according to the invariable New Testament and LXX use, mean that which is known not that which may be known about God.’...  While γνωστς may have a potential meaning in Classical Greek, it seems best in light of both NT usage and the context to understand it as a reference to a real yet suppressed knowledge.  There is no warrant here to speak of a potential knowledge of God to be gained by probability argumentation.  Paul is certainly not attempting a ‘cosmological argument.’  Rather, he is speaking of an actual knowledge of God obtained from nature.[6]

 Now may it may be possible to argue for the existence of God by using a discursive process that has its foundation in the natural order but this is not what Paul is doing in Romans 1.  Paul seems to be claiming that all people “know” the true God in some sense.  Specifying exactly how this knowledge is to be construed is difficult.  Reformed theologian Greg Bahnsen has attempted to articulate a philosophically nuanced perspective on the knowledge of God held by the unbeliever in light of the teaching in Romans 1.

When we say that men “know” that the living and true God exists, we are (in part) asserting that they “have evidence” that justifies the belief that He exists.  A word should be added here about the general nature of the warrant for believing, to which we implicitly allude in claiming that all men know God.

We do so because of a common but simplistic (and thus misleading) tendency to make inferential or discursive knowledge the model for all cases of knowing.  If Sam knows that milk gives him indigestion, he came to this conclusion through certain “steps of reasoning.”  He recalled a number of past experiences in which ingestion followed his drinking of milk, but could not remember any cases of ingestion where milk had not been in his diet, so he made a general association and interpreted it in a casual fashion, etc.  Sam did not simply look at milk and immediately apprehend it ingestion-producing quality (although some children claim to have this kind of intuitive ability when they encounter new vegetables); rather, he inferred the truth from his experience.  Likewise, if Sam knows that 487 multiplied by 139 equals 67,693, it would be highly unusual if he did not gain this knowledge by making a mathematical computation.  In a large number of cases, our knowledge of a proposition is warranted by a discursive process of inference.  For example, all of the union truckers are on strike; Sam is a union trucker; therefore, Sam must be on strike.  Such inferential or discursive knowledge is common, but that does not mean that knowledge arises only from such reasoning.  There are obvious cases of noninferential knowledge; it is implausible and artificial to insist that they must somehow be the product of an “unconscious” inference.

Surely there are times when one believes certain propositions with good reason, without inferring them from other propositions—as when one believes that one is typing with both hands, or believes that the music is painfully loud, or believes that one is not the same person as one’s neighbor, or believes the times tables in math.  When Sam knows that a black cat is in path, he does not infer it from propositions about his sensations, about forms of appearance, about animal categories, etc.  His knowledge is not discursive, following certain steps of reasoning to a likely conclusion; he immediately (without mediating lines of inference) apprehends the truth that a black cat is in his path.  (We need not concern ourselves here with debates over how to account for such noninferential cognition, whether by linguistic conventionalism, behaviorism, an intuitive faculty, etc.).  Such a non-propositional experience (an acquaintance with an object) is not something mystical and ineffable; rather, people have the ability to express and define the experience propositionally (thus describing it and relating it to other beliefs so that it is available for reference, memory, assertion, inference, application, etc.).  The “immediate” apprehension may very well be caused (“mediated”) by natural factors, but the recognition takes place in the absence of discursive inference (drawing a conclusion through the mediation of reasoning from premises).

When we encounter a person at the store and “know” that he is our friend Sam, our belief can indeed be warranted without being derived or reached by a series of mental arguments, computations, or inferences.  The same is true when we directly identify his signature on a letter.  There is evidence that justifies what we believe, but it is noninferential and direct.  This claim should not be too controversial, but it does require some attenuation.  In those cases where “knowing” is immediate or noninferential, we are speaking of the evidence as it is apprehended by a particular individual at the initial time of assenting to the proposition warranted by it.  No doubt somebody else who is unfamiliar with Sam might not immediately apprehend that this letter is from Sam.  And if someone should raise some doubt whether the letter is, after all, from Sam, the kind of “evidence” that would be brought forth to defend or vindicate the challenged belief would be the discursive or inferential kind, rather than the initial evidence of direct apprehension.[7]

Bahnsen, following his theological mentor Cornelius Van Til, goes on to apply these basic epistemological principles to Romans 1 and the knowledge of God.

Van Til maintained, following the teaching of Paul in Romans 1-2, that all men have a knowledge of God that is justified by direct apprehension of His handiwork in the world and within themselves.  Even without a discursive argument or a chain of inferences from elementary observations about experience, all men see and recognize the signature of their Creator in the world that He created and controls, as well as in themselves as His created image… This knowledge of God is mediated in the sense of being caused by the stimulus of the external world and man’s internal constitution, but it is apprehended immediately without argumentation, computation, or self-conscious reasoning.[8]

It is important to affirm that this reality of the unbeliever’s knowledge of God is a revealed truth.  It is not a truth that is drawn from empirically questioning the unbeliever.  Bahnsen recognizes that unbelievers will claim they have no such knowledge.  According to Bahnsen’s understanding the unbeliever is in a complex epistemic state in which he both knows God and also engages in a process of self-deception. 

With these elements of the complex situation at hand, we can adequately resolve the paradox of saying that the unbeliever believes or (by extension) that the man who does not know God knows God.  We will take Sam as our hypothetical unbeliever.  When we say that Sam does not believe in (or know) God, we are describing him according to certain features of his behavior and thinking: for example, his immoral conduct and attitudes, his refusal to glorify God, and especially his profession not to believe in God.  After all, Sam acts and talks like a person who sincerely disbelieves; indeed, he argues vehemently against believing in God’s existence.  However, the fact of the matter is that Sam actually does believe in God.  When we say that he believes in God, we are (in accordance with the diagnosis of God’s word) describing him according to certain features of his behavior and thinking that manifest belief: for example, his living in terms of some kind of moral standards, his acceptance of the need for logical consistency, his expectation of uniformity in nature, his fear of death, and his assuming of freedom of thought.  As in the case of believers, we say that Sam knows God in the sense that he has justified, true beliefs about Him.  So then, it turns out that Sam’s belief is mistaken.[9]



     [1] Emily Thomas, “Does the Size of the Universe Prove God Doesn’t Exist” (November 2, 2017)—online: https://theconversation.com/does-the-size-of-the-universe-prove-god-doesnt-exist-86645.
     [2] John Piper The Pleasure of God: Meditations on God’s Delight in Being God (Portland, Oregon: Multnomah, 1991), 84-85.
     [3] Cross reference also 1 Peter 1.12 which speaks of the salvation of God’s people as “things into which angels long to look.”
     [4] Michael C. Rea, “Narrative, Liturgy, and the Hiddenness of God,” in Metaphysics and God: Essays in Honor of Eleonore Stump, ed. by Kevin Timpe (NY: Routledge, 2009), 18 [note: page number is to online version available here: https://www3.nd.edu/~mrea/papers/Narrative%20and%20Hiddenness.pdf.
     [5] This concept of the knowledge of God as revealed in the created order has been understood in various way.  It is not the purpose of this essay to adjudicate this controversy but see the appendix for some thoughts.
     [6] David L. Turner, “Cornelius Van Til and Romans 1:18-21: A Study in the Epistemology of Presuppositional Apologetics” Grace Theological Journal 2 (1981), 53.  Online: http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/NTeSources/NTArticles/GTJ-NT/Turner-Rom1-GTJ-81.pdf
     [7] Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1998), 182-183.
     [8] Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, 184.
     [9] Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, 450.

Monday, October 30, 2017

God & Truth V: God, Morality and the Euthyphro Challenge

Glendale Community College's panel discussion God & Truth: God, Morality, and the Euthyphro Challenge on October 24, 2017.  My presentation was entitled "What's Your Problem?" How Euthyphro Challenges Us All.




Here is a rough breakdown of the contents:

7:05  Welcome: Peter Lupu

8:05  Comments by GCC president Dr. Teresa Leyba Ruiz

9:35  Peter Lupu: Introduction to speakers and topic of Euthyphro dilemma

17:10  Dr. Michael Valle

28:00  Dr. Owen Anderson

37:30  Dr. Tuomas Manninen

47:50  Richard Klaus

1:04:30  Professor Peter Lupu

1:24:30  Begin Question and Answer

1:24:30  Context of Euthyphro dilemma
1:28:40  Take God out of the context; what if God had not given commandments; explicit vs. implicit revelation
1:36:00  Trustworthiness of New Testament text
1:38:50  Humanity as flawed and Jesus as human; difficult to understand Jesus; how do we know what is written
1:44:14  Problem of evil; did God create evil?
1:51:14  Goodness and "necessariness"
2:05:27  What is God--a being or a set of properties?  Personalistic conception of God vs. Transcendent conception of God.  Humanity as a manifestation of God or created in his image?  God's wrath.
2:15:25  Knowledge, certainty, and the method of inquiry.
2:22:13  What if God comes from morality and morality comes from man?  What if humans invented morality and invented God?  If we did not exist would God exist?  Conceptual idolatry.
2:33:30  Distinction between truth and falsity.  Thoughts as true or false.
2:35:49  Integrity of Bible and factual claims about its development.
2:39:45  Why can't morals be seen as merely instinct? 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

"What's Your Problem?": How Euthyphro Challenges Us All

* My notes from my presentation at the Glendale Community College panel discussion "God & Truth V: God, Morality, and the Euthyphro Challenge.  For more resources related to this presentation see HERE.

**Note: a cleaner copy of these notes can be found at my Academia.edu page.

“What’s Your Problem?”: How Euthyphro Challenges Us All
Richard Klaus
October 24, 2017
Glendale Community College’s “God and Truth V:
God, Morality, and the Euthyphro Challenge”


1.    Everyone has a worldview: metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics

2.    What happens when worldviews come into conflict?  At least three things are attempted…[1]

a.    Proof: the positive demonstration of one’s worldview using reasons and evidence

b.    Defense: answering and defending against objections

c.     Offense: critical probing of the weaknesses of alternative worldviews

·      This is nothing new.  Think of “debates” about what the best movie is or where the best pizza place is—we offer reasons for our choice, defend against criticisms, and attempt to undermine the reasoning offered for alternatives.


3.    Euthyphro dilemma has been used to challenge either:

a.    the coherence of the conception of God or

b.    the need for a theistic basis for morality since if the “good” exists independently of God then God is not needed to ground moral value

4.    As such the Euthyphro challenge is usually seen as challenge to which the Christian theistic worldview must provide some defense.

5.    I want to step-back and look at the actual dialogue that Plato gives us in the piece Euthyphro.  Here we see that it is about the concept of moral value. 

* In particular… about justifying the basis for moral value.

6.    Every worldview faces the challenge of moral value!

a.    Defining its nature

b.    Explaining its basis or grounding (or lack thereof)

7.    My presentation … go on the offense and probe some other worldviews as to how they deal with the issue of moral value.

a.    Not necessarily a moral argument for God’s existence

b.    Rather, a critical exercise that will clear away some intellectual debris

·      Will make space for a consideration (or reconsideration) for a theistic alternative as the proper grounding for moral value and obligation.

8.    Focus: Naturalism—(naturalism can be difficult to define)

a.    “Naturalism denies that there are any spiritual or supernatural realities transcendent to the world or at least we have no good ground for believing that there could be such realities… It is the view that anything that exists is ultimately composed of physical components.”
 -Kai Nielson[2]

b.    By all accounts naturalism is the reigning philosophy influencing higher education today. 

9.    How are naturalism and moral value related?

a.    Naturalism does not comport well with moral realism.

b.    Moral realism:

·      objective moral values exist; moral values are discovered—not created

·      these moral values are valid and binding whether anybody believes in them or not

10.         Quotations regarding the difficulty of reconciling naturalism/atheism with moral realism.

a.    Jean-Paul Sartre

“The existentialist, on the contrary, finds it extremely embarrassing that God does not exist, for there disappears with Him all possibility of finding values in an intelligible heaven.  There can no longer be any good a priori, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it.”[3]

b.    Julian Baggini

“If there is no single moral authority [i.e., no God] we have to in some sense ‘create’ values for ourselves… [and] that means that moral claims are not true or false… you may disagree with me but you cannot say I have made a factual error.”[4]

c.     Friedrich Nietzsche

“There are altogether no moral facts”; indeed, morality “has truth only if God is the truth—it stands or falls with faith in God.”[5]

d.    Tamler Sommers and Alex Rosenberg—“Darwin’s Nihilistic Idea: Evolution and the Meaninglessness of Life” (2003)

“Darwinism thus puts the capstone on a process which since Newton’s time has driven teleology to the explanatory sidelines. In short it has made Darwinians into metaphysical Nihilists denying that there is any meaning or purpose to the universe its contents and its cosmic history. But in making Darwinians into metaphysical nihilists, the solvent algorithm [random variation acted on by natural selection] should have made them into ethical nihilists too. For intrinsic values and obligations make sense only against the background of purposes, goals, and ends which are not merely instrumental.”[6]

“…morality is at most an instrumentally useful illusion.”[7]

“But when we combine an evolutionary account of ethical beliefs with the conception of Darwinian theory as a ‘universal acid’… the result is moral nihilism.  If all apparently purposive processes, states, events, and conditions are in reality the operation of a purely mechanical substrate neutral algorithm, then as far [as] explanatory tasks go, the only values we need attribute to biological systems are instrumental ones.  An evolutionary account of moral belief will not only explain ethics but it will explain it away.”[8]

11.                  This leads Christian philosopher Mitch Stokes to conclude:

“If naturalism is true, there’s no morality apart from what humans value, want, or prefer.  Morality is purely a matter of taste.  In short, naturalism implies moral nihilism, the view that there are no human-independent moral rules.”[9]

12.                  How can the naturalist respond to this charge of moral nihilism?

a.    Accept moral nihilism—but this has problems

·      Violates our fundamental moral intuitions (e.g., “Torturing babies for fun is wrong” is not reducible to relatativism)

“Like sense perception, we have certain moral intuitions or instincts that are basic to properly functioning humans.  If we don’t have them, something’s wrong with us.  And in the absence of strong reasons to overturn these intuitions, they should be taken seriously.”[10]

·      Lose the objective basis for human rights

·      Lose the objective basis for condemning morally abhorrent people and practices

-Hitler, Bin Laden
-Rape, torture

·      Lose the objective basis for moral motivation—“Why uphold some arbitrarily chosen moral standard; especially if such a standard puts unwanted restrictions on me?”

Note: Four observations about moral facts and explaining them[11]

1.     Moral facts are not physical in nature; they don’t have physical properties.
2.     Moral facts are a kind of communication; a proposition which is a command.  Commands only make sense with two minds involved.
3.     Moral facts have a force of feeling—a feeling of “oughtness.”
4.     Moral facts can be violated and this produces a certain kind of discomfort—a sense of guilt.

How to explain—moral rules are…
1.     an Illusion
2.     an Accident
3.     a product of Intelligence

b.    The other option a naturalist might try: reject moral nihilism and attempt to ground moral realism on a naturalistic basis.

13.                  Some attempts to ground moral realism in naturalism

a.    Evolutionary accounts—evolutionary mechanisms simply produce moral realism

·      Stuart Kauffman Reinventing the Sacred (2008)[12]

·      Kauffman attempts to show how moral norms evolved:

“A wonderful experiment was carried out with Capuchin monkeys.  The experiment consists of two monkeys in two cages facing one another but separated by a partition so neither can see the other.  Adjacent to these two cages is a third cage in which a third monkey can observe both of the other two.  The experimenter feeds one of these two apples, bananas, and so forth.  The second monkey receives scraps.  At some point, the observer monkey, well fed himself, is given extra food.  What does this animal do?  It gives the extra food to the monkey who received the scraps.  These monkeys have evolved a sense of fairness.”  (Kauffman, 2008, p. 260)

·      Problem: Kauffman begs the question!

“…two questions will illustrate the fallacy.  1) Is fairness ethical simply because monkeys evolved it?  2) Or did monkeys evolve towards an ethical standard that is independent of themselves?”[13]        (a Euthyphro-like dilemma!)

         --can’t be second option since this takes us out of the range
 of naturalism

--If (1) then what about other behaviors that have evolved
among animals: male lions hoarding female harems, some
animals eat their young

                               “Clearly, Kauffman presupposes ‘fairness’ is ethical, and then
goes looking for an example to support his conclusion.  But if evolution is the source of our moral norms he cannot appeal to a standard external to evolution to discriminate between naturally evolving behaviors.  Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer’s book, A Natural History of Rape (2000) defends rape as a normal reproductive strategy developed to guarantee the survival of one’s genes.  Few evolutionists will sympathize with their thesis.  But how can an evolutionist condemn the evolution of rape and condone the evolution of fairness without presupposing an ontologically, transcendent standard of behavior?”[14]

·      Problem: Reduces morality to conduct and neglects non-behavioral components such as motive and intentions.

“We can’t infer actual moral obligations from the mere fact of a chimp’s conduct.  We can observe that chimps in community share food and that when they do they survive better.  But we cannot conclude from this that Bongo ought to share his bananas or else he’ll be immoral because he hasn’t contributed to the survival of his community.”[15]

“Motive and intent cannot be determined simply by looking at behavior.  In fact, some good behavior might turn out to be tainted, depending on the motive and intent: giving to the poor when one wants to be well thought of, instead of having a genuine concern for the recipients.  Indeed, it seems one can be immoral without any behavior at all, such as plotting an evil deed that one is never able to carry out.

“Morality informs behavior, judging it either good or bad; it’s not identical to behavior.  Rather it is something deeper than habitual patterns of interaction.  Therefore we can’t draw conclusions about animal morality simply based on what we observe in their conduct.”[16]

·      Problem: Kauffman concedes his arguments are insufficient

“Still ethical and moral reasoning goes far beyond what can be accounted for by evolutionary arguments.” (Kauffman, 2008, p. 262)

b.    Sam Harris: grounding objective value in scientifically demonstrated well-being

·      Problem: reduces moral value to prudential value

-prudential goods: good for a subject

-moral good: good, period.

·      “In other words, he [Harris] seems to be in danger of changing the subject and not giving us a theory of morality at all.  Well-being alone seems to be a prudential good, something that is merely good for the subject experiencing it.  Another way of stating the problem with Harris’s view is that the concepts of morality and well-being can come apart.”[17]

·      “At the end of the day Harris is not really talking about moral values.  He is just talking about what’s conducive to the flourishing of sentient life on this planet.”[18]

c.     Erik Wielenberg’s non-theistic moral realism.  Paul Copan summarizes key components of Weilenberg’s view:

“Atheist Erik Wielenberg claims that objective morality’s foundation consists of certain brute ethical facts: they “have no explanation outside of themselves; no further facts make them true” (the ontological claim), and we can know these brute ethical facts immediately without inferring them from other known facts (the epistemological claim). Necessary moral truths didn’t evolve with humanity but are “part of the furniture of the universe,” he claims. They “constitute the ethical background of every possible universe,” creating the framework for assessing the actions of any moral agent (whether human or divine).”[19]


·      Problem: Arbitrary and unwarranted assumption that objective value has emerged from valuelessness.[20]

“But to assert is not to justify, and this claim hangs on a mere metaphysical wish that maybe value could emerge from valueless matter; the claim is not anchored in ontological realities.”[21]

·      Problem: massive cosmic coincidence (“lucky coincidence objection”)

“Earlier he admitted that if ‘there is no God, then it is in some sense an accident that we have the moral properties that we do.’  He also acknowledged that his ‘view undoubtedly entails that certain elements of the universe (the actual laws of nature and basic ethical facts) fit together in a nifty and perhaps amazing way.’”[22]

“An example may help to illustrate: One evening in the middle of a Scrabble game you notice the phrase ‘do not go’ formed in the random spray of letter tiles on the table.  Is this a command that ought to be obeyed?  Of course not.  It’s just a random collection of letters.”[23]

“The non-naturalistic moral realist in this case holds that (a) certain necessary moral facts exist and (b) self-reflective, morally responsible and intrinsically valuable beings eventually appear on the scene (through unguided, highly contingent evolutionary steps) who both can recognize these pre-existing facts and are duty-bound to them. This Platonic-like moral realm, it appears, was anticipating our emergence, just waiting for us to comply with it—a remarkable cosmic accident! A far simpler, less ad hoc explanation is available, however: a good, personal God—the very locus of objective moral values— created human beings with dignity and worth. Moral fact-hood and moral worth have always existed since both applied to God before his creation of human beings. Theism affords a far more elegant and natural explanation.”[24]


d.    Impersonal Transcendent Source of moral value (Platonic and Platonic-like views): see appendix

14.                  What I’ve attempted to show (in a quick fashion)… naturalism cannot provide the preconditions for moral realism.

15.                  In contrast… Christian theism does provide a worldview that more readily comports with moral realism.

a.    God is the standard of moral value—he is himself “the good”

b.    God’s commands provide a basis for our moral duties

c.     God as a personal, righteous Judge ensures moral accountability—evil will be punished appropriately and justice vindicated

Excursus: More fully developed thoughts on the above by William Craig

·      William Craig offers the following three points that are illustrative of Christian-theistic ethics and compatible with the teaching of Jesus.

·      (1) “First, if theism is true, we have a sound basis for objective moral values.  To say that there are objective moral values is to say that something is good or evil independently of whether anybody believes it to be so.  It is to say, for example, that the Holocaust was morally evil even though the Nazis who carried out the Holocaust thought it was good.

“On the theistic view, objective moral values are rooted in God.  He is the locus and source of moral value.  God’s own holy and loving nature supplies the absolute standard against which all actions are measured.  He is by nature loving, generous, just, faithful, kind, and so forth.  Thus, if God exists, objective moral values exist.”

·      (2) “Second, if theism is true, we have a sound basis for objective moral duties.  To say that we have objective moral duties is to say that we have certain moral obligations regardless of whether we think so or not.

“On the theistic view, God’s moral nature is expressed toward us in the form of divine commands that constitute our moral duties.  Far from being arbitrary, these commands flow necessarily from his moral nature.  On this foundation we can affirm the objective goodness and rightness of love, generosity, self-sacrifice, and equality, and condemn as objectively evil and wrong selfishness, hatred, abuse, discrimination, and oppression.”

·      (3)  “Third, if theism is true, we have a sound basis for moral accountability.  On the theistic view, God holds all persons morally accountable for their actions.  Evil and wrong will be punished; righteousness will be vindicated.  Despite the inequalities of this life, in the end the scales of God’s justice will be balanced.  We can even undertake acts of extreme self-sacrifice that run contrary to our self-interest, knowing that such acts are not empty and ultimately meaningless gestures.  Thus, the moral choices we make in this life are infused with an eternal significance.”[25]


16.                  Proof, Defense, & Offense… again!

a.    My primary goal has been to be on the offense—critically probing the internal consistency of naturalism as a foundation for moral realism.

b.    This does not prove Christian theism

c.     But it does provide a ground-clearing function so that a fresh hearing for Christian theism and its philosophical resources for undergirding moral realism may be heard.

d.    And that is what I would commend to you!


Appendix: Impersonal Transcendent Source for Moral Value

Perhaps moral value is simply a brute given—a primal reality without explanation.  This seemed to be Plato’s view of the form of the Good.   We can call this the impersonal transcendent source view (ITS).    Some might attempt to argue that the ITS view is  simply a species of naturalism but this seems to be too quick and facile.  Naturalism, as defined above with the illustrative quotations, is a different sort of philosophy than ITS.  George Mavrodes draws attention to the contrast between a Platonic world and a “Russellian” world.  By “Russellian” world he is drawing on Bertrand Russell’s ideas of naturalism in which all of life is an “accidental collocation of atoms” as noted in the following quotation:

“That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand.  Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”[26]

  In light of Russell’s view, Mavrodes notes:

Perhaps, Plato did think that goodness, or some such thing related to morality, was an ultimate fact about the world.  But a Platonic world is not very close to a Russellian world.  Plato was not a Christian, of course, but his world view has very often been taken to be congenial (especially congenial compared to some other philosophical views) to a religious understanding of the world.[27]

Mitch Stokes outright denies that Platonism is a form of naturalism.  He argues:

You might reasonably think that a view like Plato’s is a way to support moral realism on the assumption of naturalism.  On the Platonic view, moral reality is ultimately dependent on eternal forms that exist independently not only of humans but also of the cosmos itself.  Although the issues surrounding Platonism are deep and perplexing, the fact that this independent moral reality—if such there be—is outside the natural world immediately renders naturalism false.  Platonic forms, strictly speaking, would be supernatural.[28]

So ITS seems more metaphysically robust than naturalism but it can still be atheistic since it denies a personal nature to the transcendent source.  Perhaps it can be considered “quasi-atheistic.”[29] 

There are, however, problems for a view that posits an impersonal transcendent source for moral value.  Remember that for ITS there is no subjectively aware being with causal powers that has teleological intentionality (i.e., no personal deity).  Consider the following problems and tensions:

1.                     The issue of the origination of humans with the requisite reasoning capacity to perceive the moral value derived from ITS seems problematic—especially if conjoined with the naturalistic accounts of evolution.  The standard neo-Darwinian model of evolution gives no reason to think that its non-teleological process will sufficiently ground the needed reason which is a precondition for understanding and engaging with moral value.  J. P. Moreland, in a short essay analyzing Thomas Nagel’s recent work Mind and Cosmos, draws attention to Nagel’s critique of naturalistic evolution and the mind in this way:

Since our natures/capacities are contingent (they didn’t have to be this way), how is it that they are able to gain contact with the realm of necessary truths of, for example, logic and mathematics, when we can easily imagine worlds in which they fail to have this ability?  How can we explain creatures with these abilities, especially when they go far beyond what is needed in the struggle for survival?[30]

Moreland goes on to summarize Nagel’s objections to naturalistic evolution as the source for reason.
           
But there are several problems Nagel mentions with the naturalist attempt to account for the faculty of reason itself:
           
(a) Reason isn’t just pragmatically useful; indeed it is self-refuting and circular to assert that it is.

(b) Reason isn’t a contingent, local, perspectivalist feature of our evolved nature.  It has universal applicability.  Evolution produces local, contingent dispositions, not universal, necessary ones.

(c)  Reason is intrinsically normative.

(d) Reason takes us beyond appearances to the hidden, intelligible structure of the world.

(e) In contrast to the senses, which put in contact with objects via causal chains, reason is not mediated by mechanisms that could be selected by evolutionary processes; rather, reason puts us in immediate, direct contact with the rational order.

(f)  Reason is active and involves agency (for example, it isn’t Sphexish); sensation is passive.[31]

2.                     Apart from the issue of humans’ rational faculty above there is also the problematic correlation between the impersonal transcendent source of value and the contingently developed human being.  Naturalistic evolution is a contingent process but the ITS view has to maintain that this process produced a being sufficiently correlated to necessary moral facts.  Paul Copan notes that “This Platonic-like moral realm, it appears, was anticipating our emergence, just waiting for us to comply with it—a remarkable cosmic accident!”[32]  Of course, one could attempt to circumvent this objection by positing some teleological mechanism that guides the evolutionary pathways in a purposeful manner.  But this runs into at least two problems.  One, this appears ad hoc in that arbitrarily positing such a teleological mechanism within a background of an impersonal transcendent source does not seem to fit well.  One is ultimately alleging a purposive process directed to some teleological end by a transcendent source that is not subjectively aware, does not have causal power, and cannot engage in teleological intentionality.  The second problem is that such a teleological mechanism places one at odds with contemporary neo-Darwinian explanations of human evolution. 

3.                     Apart from the reason problem (#1 above) and the contingently correlated problem (#2 above) there is the further difficulty of explaining moral obligation.  Even granting the ad hoc notion of a teleological mechanism that guides human evolution to be sufficiently correlated with  previously existing objective moral properties, this does not explain why humans are morally obligated to align themselves with this moral source of value.  John Frame brings attention to this issue:

The fundamental question is whether any impersonal principle provides a sufficient basis for morality. In my judgment, the answer is no.  Even if the universe were governed by an impersonal principle, and even if it were possible for people to discern what kinds of behavior that principle rewarded or punished, it would remain an open question whether we ought to practice the rewarded behavior.  And I cannot imagine any reason why we should feel morally bound by the dictates of any impersonal principle at all.  Impersonal principles, like gravity, electromagnetism, and the like, have the power to push us around, but they don’t have the power to tell what we ought to do.  To claim they do is to commit the naturalistic fallacy.[33]



     [1] I borrow these notions of proof, defense, and offense from John Frame Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1994), 2-3.
     [2] Quoted in Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro, Naturalism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2008), 9.  James Sire’s The Universe Next Door—5th ed. (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 2009) has a chapter—chapter four: “The Silence of Finite Space: Naturalism”—which contains a good discussion of philosophical naturalism. 
     [3] Quoted in Peter S. Williams “Can Moral Objectivism Do Without God?” (2011)—online: https://www.bethinking.org/morality/can-moral-objectivism-do-without-god.  Williams is quoting Sartre’s Existentialism Is a Humanism (New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 2007), 28.
     [4] Quoted in Peter S. Williams “Can Moral Objectivism Do Without God?” (2011).  Williams is quoting Julian Baggini Atheism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2003), 41-51.
     [5] Quoted in Paul Copan “Grounding Human Rights: Naturalism’s Failure and Biblical Theism’s Success” in Legitimizing Human Rights: Secular and Religious Perspectives, Angus J. L. Menuge, ed. (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013), 5.  Note: pagination is to online version: http://www.paulcopan.com/articles/pdf/Paul_Copan-Grounding_Human_Rights_in_Menuge_2013.pdf.  Copan is quoting Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols and the Anti-Christ (New York: Penguin Books, 1968), 55, 70.
     [6] Tamler Sommers and Alex Rosenberg, “Darwin’s Nihilistic Idea: Evolution and the Meaninglessness of Life” Biology and Philosophy 18(5); November, 2003, 653.
     [7] Tamler Sommers and Alex Rosenberg, “Darwin’s Nihilistic Idea: Evolution and the Meaninglessness of Life” Biology and Philosophy 18(5); November, 2003, 655.
     [8] Tamler Sommers and Alex Rosenberg, “Darwin’s Nihilistic Idea: Evolution and the Meaninglessness of Life” Biology and Philosophy 18(5); November, 2003, 661.
     [9] Mitch Stokes, How to Be an Atheist: Why Many Skeptics Aren’t Skeptical Enough (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2016), 227.
     [10] Paul Copan “A Moral Argument” in To Everyone An Answer: A Case for the Christian Worldview, Francis J. Beckwith, William Lane Craig, and J. P. Moreland, eds. (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 2004), 110.
     [11] These are taken from Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1998), 165-169.
     [12] This brief discussion and quotation of Kauffman’s work is dependent on the analysis provided by Brenton H. Cook, “Hume’s Guillotine and Evolutionary Ethics: Evaluating Attempts to Overcome the Naturalistic Fallacy” Answers Research Journal 8 (2015), 1-11.  Available online: https://assets.answersingenesis.org/doc/articles/pdf-versions/arj/v8/humes-guillotine-evolutionary-ethics.pdf.  For a recent analysis of Kauffman which argues that his entire philosophical program is at odds with the scientific endeavor itself see D. T. Timmerman “Are Naturalistic Theories of Emergence Compatible with Science?” Philosophia Christi 19 (2017), 37-58.
     [13] Brenton H. Cook, “Hume’s Guillotine and Evolutionary Ethics: Evaluating Attempts to Overcome the Naturalistic Fallacy” Answers Research Journal 8 (2015), 3. 
     [14] Brenton H. Cook, “Hume’s Guillotine and Evolutionary Ethics: Evaluating Attempts to Overcome the Naturalistic Fallacy” Answers Research Journal 8 (2015), 3.
     [15] Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1998), 160-161.
     [16] Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1998), 161.
     [17] Mitch Stokes, How to Be an Atheist: Why Many Skeptics Aren’t Skeptical Enough (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2016), 192.
     [18] William Lane Craig, “Navigating Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape” (2012).  Online: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/navigating-sam-harris-the-moral-landscape. Also see the debate between Craig and Harris—video and text available here: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/craig-vs-harris-notre-dame.
     [19] Paul Copan “Grounding Human Rights: Naturalism’s Failure and Biblical Theism’s Success” in Legitimizing Human Rights: Secular and Religious Perspectives, Angus J. L. Menuge, ed. (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013), 3—bold-face added.  Note: pagination is to online version.  Copan is quoting Erik J. Wielenberg “Objective Morality and the Nature of Reality” American Theological Inquiry 3 (2010), 79.
     [20] Wielenberg has written “I offer my own slogan in its place: From valuelessness, value sometimes comes.”  Erik J. Wielenberg, “In Defense of Non-moral, Non-theistic Moral Realism” Faith and Philosophy 26 (2009), 40n.
     [21] Paul Copan “Grounding Human Rights: Naturalism’s Failure and Biblical Theism’s Success” in Legitimizing Human Rights: Secular and Religious Perspectives, Angus J. L. Menuge, ed. (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013), 3.  Note: pagination is to online version. 
     [22] Adam Lloyd Johnson, “Debunking Nontheistic Moral Realism: A Critique of Erik Wielenberg’s Attempt to Deflect the Lucky Coincidence Objection” Philosophia Christi 17 (2015), 362-363.  Johnson is quoting from Wielenberg’s Robust Ethics: The Metaphysics and Epistemology of Godless Normative Realism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 56, 175.
     [23] Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1998), 167.
     [24] Paul Copan “Grounding Human Rights: Naturalism’s Failure and Biblical Theism’s Success” in Legitimizing Human Rights: Secular and Religious Perspectives, Angus J. L. Menuge, ed. (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013), 4.  Note: pagination is to online version. 
     [25] William Lane Craig, “Opening Statement” Is Goodness without God Good Enough? A Debate on Faith, Secularism, and Ethics; editors, Robert K. Garcia and Nathan L. King (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield), 30-31.
     [26] Bertrand Russell, “A Free Man’s Worship” (1903) in Why I Am Not a Christian (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957), 107.
     [27] George I. Mavrodes, “Religion and the Queerness of Morality” in Rationality, Religious Belief, and Moral Commitment: New Essays in the Philosophy of Religion, Robert Audi and William J. Wainwright, eds. (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1986), 224.
     [28] Mitch Stokes, How To Be An Atheist: Why Many Skeptics Aren’t Skeptical Enough (Crossway, 2016), 160.
     [29] See Peter Lupu’s essay “Why I Am a Quasi-Atheist” Maverick Philosopher (April, 30, 2011)—online: http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2011/04/why-i-am-a-quasi-atheist.html.
     [30] J. P. Moreland, “A Reluctant Traveler’s Guide for Slouching Towards Theism: A Philosophical Note on Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos,” Philosophia Christi 14.2 (2012), 435.
     [31] Moreland, “A Reluctant Traveler’s Guide for Slouching Towards Theism,” 435-436.
     [32] Paul Copan, “Grounding Human Rights: Naturalism’s Failure and Biblical Theism’s Success” in Legitimizing Human Rights: Secular and Religious Perspectives (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013), 4—note this pagination is to online version: http://www.paulcopan.com/articles/pdf/Paul_Copan-Grounding_Human_Rights_in_Menuge_2013.pdf.
     [33] John Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life (Phillipsburg, Penn.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2008), 62.