Followup on the Moral Argument for Theism

A commenter named Nikki argued against my post Fundamental Reality XII: The Good, and the Not.

Nikki writes:

I don't think the post's argument works - I'd argue that non-theistic morality can be objective and well-grounded, or at least be no worse off in those regards than theistic morality is.

So the first part of this post that really jumped out at me is the claim that if morality is objective, it must be like a mind. Frankly, to me this seems not only false, but a category error. Morality is things like systems, principles, rules, etc. - I'm not sure what the exact best word choice is. The point, though, is it is a thing that minds use, but not in and of itself a mind. You describe morality as approving or disapproving certain things, but this seems to be conflating things like "this abstract system contains claims that X is good/bad," which could validly be said about morality, and "this abstract system itself consciously judges that X is good/bad," which could not. It is us who use morality to consciously make those judgements.

As an analogy, personality traits are part of minds, but not minds themselves - to speak of them, by themselves, being conscious, thinking, willing, etc. would be a fundamental mistake. (Though Inside Out was a pretty fun movie). I'll admit though, I don't actually think that's the best analogy. I'd argue the set of laws of logic or mathematics are an even better example of something that is a feature of minds - but is not, and could not possibly be, a mind in itself. However, you've said in an above comment that logic is also a description of God's character.

(Perhaps a bit of a sidetrack here, but I don't think this could be true either. I believe that you've stated elsewhere that while you believe God is metaphysically necessary, he is not logically necessary - but of course, it is logically necessary that the laws of logic or mathematics are true. I don't think the dependence you're arguing for could work, even if God exists in some sense. That said, as one might guess, I don't think God is metaphysically necessary in the first place.

In fact, I have doubts that there is even a "metaphysical necessity" distinct from logical necessity at all. I find Chalmers' arguments in his paper "Does Conceivability Entail Possibility?" fairly convincing in this regard. I do think there are some weak points, but it seems to me that at least it shows that even if there is a metaphysical modality separate from logical modality, we don't currently have a good reason to believe in it. I know there are several relevant arguments on this blog, but well, I can't discuss every single reason for and against the existence of God in this post, so here I'm trying to stick with things related to the original topic/what's been mentioned in previous comments on it. I might debate the other arguments later.

As a note, Chalmers' arguments there are important for the case he makes that consciousness is not physical, because they counter the reply of some materialists that consciousness is metaphysically the same as a physical property, even if it cannot logically be derived from other physical facts. Others have argued that this causes problems for theists who both defend the metaphysical necessity of God and the non-physicality of consciousness. I suppose this may not apply to you because you've said you can't rule out that consciousness is physical in some sense, as in what Chalmers calls "Type-B Materialism," but I did think it was interesting).

Alright, back to the main topic. Does an objective morality depend on God? The whole field of moral philosophy is certainly not something I can fully describe in one post, but I'll start with something interesting you said in your own previous post in this series:
"Even people who say there's no such thing as ethical truth suddenly sound quite different when somebody treats them unfairly."

I suspect that in that statement is at least a hint at what the basis for a nontheistic objective morality might be like. If there is an objective morality, I think it has something to do with the symmetry between you and others - if you don't treat others well, what's to prevent them from doing things to you that you don't want? Even if evil may sometimes have short-term rewards, people committing acts like theft or murder or terrorism ultimately make things worse for everyone, including themselves. Note that these statements do not depend on God to make them true. And I think several strands of thought, such the Golden Rule, Kantian morality, Rawls' veil of ignorance, and even some game-theoretic analyses, among others, all point towards something like this in a sense.

Now, this may not be very compelling - I'm being vague and have not spelled out a fully detailed nontheistic system. Furthermore, many of the systems I've cited actually contradict each other. Nevertheless, I think that there are important shared elements that don't depend on a belief in God to be convincing (well, Kant's morality was theistic and the Golden Rule is a part of many religions, but I don't think everything along the lines that I've mentioned is). So it seems that the claim that no secular account of morality can possibly succeed isn't very certain. I'll note that you linked in your previous article to the SEP's article on Moral Naturalism, but merely said those systems were "problematic" without really discussing the individual ideas presented there, although there are many important nonreligious thinkers whose ideas on morality are much more detailed than mine. (I won't complain about that too much though - after all, I'm not discussing every form of theistic morality in this post myself).

Some more notes: 1. Speaking of moral naturalism, even on atheism, that isn't the only option available for an objective morality. While I agree naturalism and atheism are often found together in practice, it is still possible for an atheist to be a non-naturalist, including about morality. So even if morality cannot be justified on naturalism, you would have to show that God specifically is the only one who can ground morality, not some other non-natural element.

2. Above, Scott Church argues that on naturalism, the universe does not care about us and we are fundamentally unimportant, so it cannot ground objective morality. But the universe itself does not have to care about us/be a moral agent for morality to be objective! I'd argue that if morality, say, applies to all rational beings, it is objective, and the universe not obeying it does not matter because the universe is not a rational agent. The laws of rationality themselves are a good analogy for this - the universe, itself, does not reason, and it requires minds to use reason, yet the standards of rationality are fully objective (and not derivable from physical equations, by the way). And even on theism, it is agreed that some things, like inanimate objects, are not and cannot be moral, yet again, that does not prevent morality from being objective. Related, while pure pleasure-maximization/pain-minimization has several well-known problems, so I doubt that's the full objective morality, I do think there are non-arbitrary reasons why those are at least important. They are necessarily important to us by their very nature - no one can truly be indifferent to them even if they claim to be. And even if the universe does not care about them, I take the anti-nihilistic view that it is precisely the fact we care that matters - it's not as if the universe has any rule against that!

3. I've seen this part stated before in some other comments on the blog, but I think it's important enough that I'll state it again (especially since unless I'm missing it, I don't think I've seen a response). Escaping the Euthyphro dilemma by saying that God is identical to goodness can only work if we have good reasons to believe that the two could possibly be identical. I don't think we have those (unlike for the triangle case, in which we do have reasons to believe that "having three sides" and "having three angles" are the same, even though those are logically necessary), but we do, in fact, have reasons to believe the opposite. As I wrote at the beginning of my post, if God is to be viewed as even like a mind, he cannot possibly be identical to morality even if he is an (ultimately) moral agent. For instance, one of the important reasons to consider God like a mind is that he is supposed to be able to take actions, but morality cannot, by itself, take actions. (Also, I'll admit I don't know whether your analysis of Plato is accurate, but even if it is, it's generally fine to take inspiration from an argument and adapt it to your own views. After all, in the original article, you said you used "Hume's Is-Ought dictum in a manner which he would have thoroughly disapproved of!")

As a final statement, I don't think theism is actually better at convincing people of being moral than secularism. There's some evidence that nonreligious people are even more moral than very religious people, but interpretations are controversial and I'm focusing more on purely philosophical points here. (I do suspect nonreligious people being more moral than the religious, if true, would be a particularly big problem for theism and theistic morality. I think the evidence at least shows that the nonreligious are generally not less moral than the religious, but you've agreed in another article that for some senses of "good," religion is not strictly necessary for it, so that may not be a big problem for you). But anyway, you've agreed that not all rational people might be convinced by theistic arguments, and it's been pointed out above that you can always ask questions like "Why should you follow God's commands?" so that seems to be an issue. Of course, you might very well always be able to ask similar questions about any nontheistic system, and rational people might not find it convincing. But my point was that secular morality is at least equal to theistic morality in this regard, and while this is a bit speculative, perhaps some of the reasons above might make the former even more convincing than the latter.

My reply got pretty long, so I'm turning it into a blog post.

Dear Nikki,
Welcome to my blog, and thanks for your interesting comment. However, I am not sure that your arguments are actually directed against the specific argument I am making. Here are some replies (not in the order of your points):

I. Objective Morality is a Premise in the Moral Argument

You make a good case defending this proposition: It is possible for a non-theist to rationally come to believe in the existence of an objective ethical system, without thereby coming to believe in God. However, I also believe that this is the case!

In fact, if this were not true, there would be little rhetorical point in presenting a Moral Argument for God's existence.  In order for an argument for God's existence to be capable of being convincing, there have to be some people out there who agree with the premises of the argument, but have not yet realized that the conclusion follows (or at least, is made more probable) by the premises.  I obviously do not deny the existence of non-theistic moral realists, because they are the target audience for my post!  (That is why I presented an argument for ethical realism in part XI before describing how  I think Theism grounds ethics in part XII.)

Now obviously, if the a nontheistic argument for objective ethics happened to take the form of an entirely satisfactory reduction of concepts like ethical obligation into naturalistically acceptable terms—e.g. in terms of physical facts of the sort that even Sean Carroll would accept—then the Moral Arguments for Theism would fail, since there would be no additional work for God to do in terms of grounding ethics.  (There might still be a need to ground the laws of physics in some way, but no additional and separate need to ground ethical truths.)  But of course, if you could show that this were true, you would have just solved a very famous and important problem in philosophy!  So I sort of doubt you really think that we can know this to be the case.  And if we cannot know it to be the case, then there is room for discussing non-naturalistic groundings of ethics, in a probabilistic argument for Theism.

You sketch some ways in which you think an non-theistic grounding for objective ethics might work (which fall into the rough family category of what I called "Kantian approaches'' to ethics in part X).  As I explicitly stated in that post, Kantianism is not as friendly to the Moral Argument, as Platonism or Aristotelianism is; although I don't think it is utterly hopeless on that front.  (Kant himself made a sort of pragmatic argument for Theism from Morality, but he didn't agree with metaphysical arguments of the sort I'm discussing.)   The only conclusion I explicitly drew from Kantianism was:

If Ethics can be deduced rationally as in the Kantian system, then one can at least deduce that if the Universe originates from something like a mind, that mind should also be able to appreciate ethical truths.

So the point you are making was to some extent already acknowledged in this series.  (Of course, on classical forms of Theism, where God is something like the ultimate Reason or Logos behind the Universe, this would still end up identifying God with moral goodness in some deep sense; but such classical views are necessarily bordering on Platonism anyways...)

B. Moral Naturalism and Non-Naturalism

By the way, I revisited the SEP article, and found to my dismay that it had been edited in a way that removed (without refutation) some of the critiques of Moral Naturalist positions. Here is the original version of the article.  If you look, for example, at the original article's section 4.3, you can see what appears to me to be a pretty desperate attempt by Jackson to make naturalistic ethics work, together with (what appears to me to be) a pretty strong refutation in terms of the permutation problem.  But the main point is not the refutation of that particular idea, but that I don't see any way forward mentioned in the article which doesn't seem to have serious problems.

You write:

Speaking of moral naturalism, even on atheism, that isn't the only option available for an objective morality. While I agree naturalism and atheism are often found together in practice, it is still possible for an atheist to be a non-naturalist, including about morality.

Yes, obviously.  Such views exist (which is why I mentioned them in part X of this series). In fact, individuals with such views (e.g. Moral Platonists) are closer to being the target audience of this post, then perhaps you are.

So even if morality cannot be justified on naturalism, you would have to show that God specifically is the only one who can ground morality, not some other non-natural element.

No, because as I tried to make it clear at the beginning of this series that I wasn't trying to present a deductive, logically watertight argument for Theism.  As I said in Part I:

Even if there are no strictly deductive arguments (from indisputable premises), there are still going to be plausibility arguments pointing in various directions.  It's irrational to put too much faith in plausibility arguments, but it's also irrational to be completely insensible to them.

So the mere existence of logically possible positions, besides the one I argue for, doesn't bother me.  The question is which positions are most credible.

On the plausibility front, it seems to me that once you start modifying your metaphysics in order to accommodate objective ethics, it would be irrational not to take that into account when assessing the probability of other metaphysical hypotheses.  Ethical Monotheism is, among other things, the belief that a fundamentally good being exists.  The plausibility of this statement depends in part on what we think moral goodness is.  For example, on the view that:

1. "Morality is a emergent and subjective set of feelings found in some of the higher apes, conducive to their evolutionary survival, but having no basis in any metaphysical reality"

then the idea that there exists a fundamentally good being outside the physical universe—which did not evolve—is totally absurd.  On the other hand, if:

2. "moral facts are necessary truths, which tell us something substantive about the structure of non-physical realities",

then the idea of a fundamentally good being is, though not logically compulsory, at the very least far more plausible than on viewpoint (1) than (2).  Do you agree with that?  If so, then you are necessarily agreeing with me that the Moral Argument for Theism has significant probabilistic force.

[Notes: I am not saying these are the only possible views.  Also, hypothesis (2) does not necessarily deny biological evolution, as it is possible for evolved systems to recognize necessary truths such as mathematical theorems.]

C. The Role of Analogies

Let me remind you a bit of the context of my argument in the Fundamental Reality series.  In parts II-VI, I argued that it is plausible that there exists some fundamental reality which explains everything else, I discussed some properties this entity should have, and after reviewing various candidates I suggested that (based on the mathematical character of the laws of physics) the two most plausible metaphors for understanding this fundamental reality are:

* something like an equation
* something like a mathematician

Now it is important to remember that both of these ideas involve metaphors!  Obviously, if a Naturalist says that some equation provides the deepest truth about the Universe, that doesn't mean this assertion is being made about a set of chalk lines on a blackboard.

Similarly, if a Theist says that God is like a mind, that doesn't mean that this Mind is like our mind in every respect.  In particular, Classical Theism proposes a mind for whom there is no distinction between its subjective beliefs and objective reality, and also no distinction between its subjective preferences and objective morality.  This is obviously very different from evolved primate minds like our own!

You wrote:

So the first part of this post that really jumped out at me is the claim that if morality is objective, it must be like a mind. Frankly, to me this seems not only false, but a category error. Morality is things like systems, principles, rules, etc. - I'm not sure what the exact best word choice is. The point, though, is it is a thing that minds use, but not in and of itself a mind. You describe morality as approving or disapproving certain things, but this seems to be conflating things like "this abstract system contains claims that X is good/bad," which could validly be said about morality, and "this abstract system itself consciously judges that X is good/bad," which could not. It is us who use morality to consciously make those judgements.

and

As I wrote at the beginning of my post, if God is to be viewed as even like a mind, he cannot possibly be identical to morality even if he is an (ultimately) moral agent. For instance, one of the important reasons to consider God like a mind is that he is supposed to be able to take actions, but morality cannot, by itself, take actions.

I think perhaps you missed the amount of qualifying words I put into my reasoning.  What I wrote was (emphasis added):

But now observe that morality is at least a little bit like a mind, insofar as it approves or favors certain things, and disapproves or disfavors other things. So a fundamental morality would have something analogous to will or desire, and in that respect it would be more like a mind than like an equation, as in Theism.

The point here is not that an objective morality is exactly like a mind, but that it in certain respects more similar to a mind than (say) the equations of the Standard Model are, namely that the Standard Model does not encode any judgements that certain states of affairs are desirable or undesirable (as opposed to probable vs. improbable).

Now, obviously, when we say that God is personal, and can do things like forgive or create, we are adding more to our concept of God then is implied by the mere abstract notion of a metaphysical objective morality.  In my understanding of God, we are adding more to our idea of divinity than the idea of a Platonic form of the Good, but we are not necessarily taking anything away.

In other words, in my conception of God, God is such that he is good, not in an accidental (happenstance) way, but in an essential way, because all goodness in the universe in some sense participates in his goodness, just as all existence participates in his existence.  (The latter claim, of course, obtains for any fundamental reality which is taken to explain all other things.)

D. God Transcends the Abstract/Concrete Divide

Another commenter, St. David Madison, replied to your comment by saying (in part):

"You draw an analogy between morality and personality traits and then point out that personality traits are not conscious and do not themselves think. However, personality traits cannot exist without a personality that possesses those traits."

This is certainly a reasonable distinction to draw in general; and we could indeed escape from the supposed category error by simply replacing the words "objective ethics" with "that which grounds objective ethics, whatever it is."  But I think I am instead going to double down on this idea, and say that this supposed category distinction between abstractions and concrete objects breaks down when one is speaking about divinity, just as the distinction between particles and waves breaks down at the subatomic scale.  If God is the source of all else that exists, he must unify within himself the perfections of both abstractions (necessary, eternal, unchanging) and concrete realities (which are causally active, definite, individual etc).

This is indeed, already implied by certain sorts of religious language, in which God is portrayed not as some good or beautiful thing, but as the Supreme Goodness or Truth or Beauty or Life etc.  For example, in the Gospel of John, Jesus asserts his divinity by saying that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, which is not the sort of thing that a Positivist philosopher would consider a well-formed statement (a person cannot be an abstract quality).  But I am not convinced we can restrict our language in the way the Positivists wanted to do (I don't think Positivism even satisfies its own criteria of meaningfulness).  What this religious language points to, is an insight into the nature of divinity as a necessary being, in which all other realities are grounded.  A proposition about a created being can be true, but only the ultimate reality can be the Truth.  In other words, denying the applicability of the concrete/abstract distinction is not something I am doing merely to avoid a logical puzzle, but is already implied by standard religious language about God.

This sort of language about God makes Classical Theism radically different from traditional forms of polytheism, in which the gods are simply regarded as more powerful individuals than us, who still can be born/killed, have conflicts with each other, make mistakes etc.  Yeah, obviously the preferences of finite beings like ourselves can't possibly ground objective ethics, which was the whole reason why Plato went in a platonic direction instead.

Furthermore, I don't think we can avoid postulating this sort of concrete/abstract unification, simply by rejecting Classical Theism, as Naturalism seems to me to imply exactly the same thing.  For example, if the fundamental reality is something like a mathematical equation, then we are asserting that it is both an abstract piece of mathematics—which can in principle be understood by humans—AND ALSO the governing principle controlling the universe.  In other words, when a Naturalist does physics, they are still are postulating that the fundamental reality is a λογος, i.e. a rational principle.

Of course, I'm not saying that the equations we write on the blackboard, or in our minds, are strictly identical to the actual laws of physics, which obviously exist whether or not we ever discover them.  But if we asked, "what are the fundamental laws of physics like" we can't point to anything other than to our abstract human formulation of the equations, and then lamely add "except that it also exists as an actual concrete reality, in a way which transcends our human abstractions".

In the same way, objective morality exists even apart from human processes to reason about what is or is not moral—So I'm not saying, that this latter, social process of reasoning is equal to God.  Rather it is goodness as it actually exists (which our human reasoning is a mere approximation of) that is rooted in God's nature, as the ultimate Goodness that other things participate in.

E. Implications for Euthyphro

Escaping the Euthyphro dilemma by saying that God is identical to goodness can only work if we have good reasons to believe that the two could possibly be identical.

This is a strange way to discuss this subject, given that the (modern) Euthyphro dilemma is typically phrased, not in the form of a deductive argument, but in the form of a challenge to Theists to explain their beliefs more clearly.  It's phrased in the form: "Do you believe A, or B?" (both of which have unpalatable consequences).  But if A and B are not, in fact, exhaustive possibilities, because some other option C is conceivable—and if in fact C was the belief of most ethical monotheists historically, as well as myself—then merely pointing this out is sufficient to defuse the dilemma.

That being said, there is a good reason to think that, if God exists at all, he can ground morality.  Recall that God is, by definition, the explanation for all entities other than himself.  (That's the whole point of Mono-theism, to have only one ultimate entity.)  So if God exists at all, he either grounds or creates all other realities.  Now if there is objective ethics, then ethics counts as one of these realities.  Since it doesn't make sense to create ethics (since at least some ethical principles are non-arbitrary, necessary truths) then he must ground it.  (The same argument would hold for logic or mathematics.)

Now, to be clear, this is an argument that God grounds ethics.  It is not an argument which explains how God grounds ethics.  To understand how God grounds ethics we would have to first have direct perception of the divine essence, which we don't possess.  Instead, we only know the things which proceed from the divine essence, and we have to learn about what God is like, as best we can, from that.

If you like, you can take "a concrete reality which grounds ethics" as a defining property of God, and then ask questions like i) what other properties would such a being need to have, and ii) is there good reason to believe that such a being exists?

If you will allow me to make a more meta-level argument.  It seems to me that giving the Euthyphro dilemma as an objection to Classical Theism is historically obtuse.  It's like proposing the Equivalence Principle as an objection to General Relativity, when the Equivalence Principle was in fact the motivating thought experiment that led to GR in the first place.  In the same way, the question of what the gods (or really God) has to be like in order to justify treating piety as a virtue, was the underlying question motivating the Euthyphro dilemma.  But somehow atheists never say to themselves, "Geez, the fact that this famous philosophical argument was introduced in a Platonic dialogue, by a theist whose ideas laid the groundwork for the most mainstream philosophical formulation of Monotheism, maybe is a reason to think I've missed something and the argument isn't actually a knock-down in favor of Atheism."

(To be sure, arguments aren't "owned" by philosophers and there is no reason in principle why an argument by a philosopher P can't sometimes be turned against P's own worldview.  So sure, maybe there is some very subtle reason why GR is still inconsistent with the best formulation of the Equivalence Principle.  But if somebody sends me and email about why they think GR is inconsistent with the EP, and it shows no awareness of why some people have historically thought that GR satisfies the EP, then it's unlikely that their "gotcha" question about how the EP refutes GR has much merit.  Ditto for Classical Theism and Euthyprho.)

F. Metaphysical vs Logical Necessity

Now to be fair, you did explain why you don't believe in scenario C.  In addition to your "category error" assertion, you add this:

In fact, I have doubts that there is even a "metaphysical necessity" distinct from logical necessity at all. I find Chalmers' arguments in his paper "Does Conceivability Entail Possibility?" fairly convincing in this regard.

So on your recommendation, I read through this Chalmers article and I found it pretty unconvincing.  Why should reality be fundamentally scrutable to us?  Or said another way, why can't there be propositions P which are necessary, but only a mind fundamentally more powerful than the human mind could see why they are necessary?  It seems hubristic to think that human reasoning has access to every possible necessary truth.

Ironically, the reason I don't believe in Chalmers' thesis here, is actually very similar to the reasons why I side with Chalmers over Dennett when it comes to Consciousness.  While Dennett makes an interesting philosophical case for the reducibility of conscious experience to neurological facts, ultimately I concluded that Dennettism can only work if Dennettism is true by logical necessity.  In other words, that once you've specified all the physical facts then Dennett's views on consciousness follow automatically.  And it seems to me that this is simply not the case.

Similarly, Chalmers' idea that if we specify all the physical nonmodal facts, then a single set of views about modal necessity must logically follow (to idealized human reasoners) seems plainly false to me.

(Assuming it even makes sense to distinguish between "modal" and "nonmodal" facts in this way.  This is an important distinction between analytic philosophy and traditional medieval philosophy.  Analytic philosophy sees modality as primarily a feature of certain propositions, and only secondarily as a property of things.  While Aristotelian/scholastic philosophy sees modality as primarily as a property of things, while only secondarily as an attribute of propositions.  A scholastic might argue that the analytic habit of immediately jump to always reasoning about maximal "possible worlds" obscures the role that modal concepts play in causal reasoning, which involves specific concrete entities.)

Anyway, since you hold to something like Chalmers' view, here's a dilemma for you: Is the proposition expressing this view itself a logically necessary truth?

(P) There are no metaphysically necessary truths, other than logically necessary truths.

If you say that P is logically necessary, then there must be a proof that it is true which follows deductively from the definitions of the words.  What is that proof?  As far as I can tell, none exists.  Certainly Chalmers doesn't give a logically conclusive proof in that article, he just gives some reasons why he considers belief in P to be plausible, which is not the same thing.

On the other hand, if is not logically necessary, then either it is contingent (which is inconsistent with the usual S5 rules for modal logic) or else it is an example of a metaphysically necessary (but not logically necessary) truth, in which case it refutes itself.

One could make a similar, superficially less "meta" argument for the same conclusion by considering the proposition:

(N) A necessary being exists.

A standard analytic argument from S5 modal logic implies that either: i) N is necessarily true, or ii) N is necessarily false.  So which of these is logically necessary?  I say neither, but if you disagree then what do you think the proof of N or its negation would look like?

G. Can God be the grounds of Logic?

I believe that you've stated elsewhere that while you believe God is metaphysically necessary, he is not logically necessary - but of course, it is logically necessary that the laws of logic or mathematics are true. I don't think the dependence you're arguing for could work, even if God exists in some sense.

This is a little compact, but I'm guessing your argument is something like the following:

1. A contingent truth cannot ground a necessary truth.*
2. God's existence is logically contingent.
3. But logic itself is logically necessary,
4. Therefore, God cannot ground logic.

[*I suppose there is some sense in which, if a Cat walks onto a Mat, this arguably grounds the necessary proposition: "Either the Cat is on the Mat or the Cat is Not on the Mat" by virtue of being a truthmaker for one of its disjunctives.  But I won't pursue this possible counterexample further, since I don't think it is relevant to the sense in which God grounds logic.]

But this argument is fallacious, because when I say that God grounds logic, I am making a metaphysical statement rather than a logical one.  From the perspective of metaphysics, both logic and God are (in my view) metaphysically necessary, and it is not at all impossible for a necessary statement to ground another necessary statement.  In other words, we have to distinguish between:

1a: A logically contingent truth cannot logically ground a logically necessary truth.

which is true, and:

1b: A logically contingent truth cannot metaphysically ground a logically necessary truth.

which does not in any way follow from 1a, and I would say it is false.

H. What Metaphysical Necessity Means

Actually, there is a better way to put this which makes the concept of "metaphysical necessity" somewhat less mysterious.  The right way to talk about this is to make Aristotle's distinction between that which is necessary to us (axioms of human thought) and that which is necessary in itself (propositions which could not have been otherwise).

When we say that a proposition is metaphysically necessary, we merely mean it falls into the latter category.  The adjective is misleading since, unlike the cases of "logical necessity" or "nomic necessity" (which mean necessary given certain specific principles), the phrase "metaphysically necessary" simply means whatever is necessary simpliciter, i.e. that which (without adding any qualifications) could not have been otherwise (whether or not the reason for its necessity is known to human beings.)

On the other hand, logical necessity is an example of what is necessary to human beings, i.e. an axiom of human reasoning, or a particular technique L used to prove the impossibility of certain propositions.

So, the proposition P from earlier boils down to:

(Equivalent to P): If a proposition cannot be proven to be impossible by technique L, then it really is possible.

while I see no reason to believe that technique L is sufficient to uncover all possible cases of necessity.  Especially since technique L does not even seem to be powerful enough to refute the statement that no concrete entity whatsoever exists.

This relates of course to cosmological considerations as well.  As is well-known, if P is true, then the basic principles of existence are just contingent "brute facts" which means they are not true for any reason at all.  So there is an obvious reason to postulate a necessary concrete entity, which is that it serves as a starting point to explain why anything else exists at all.

This reason to want a necessary being, does not seem to depend on us being able to know why the being is necessary.  This is the Thomistic viewpoint on the Cosmological Argument, and it seems to me to be the only possible middle ground between Anslemian positions (there is a valid Ontological Argument for a necessary being from pure logic) and explanatory nihilism (there is no good reason why the universe exists, it just does).

(Now you could just double down and say, I have no idea what you mean by the phrase: ``could not be otherwise'', please explain it to me; and then refuse to accept any answer I give other than one which reduces it to logical implication.  But the same technique could be done to motivate skepticism towards practically any other concept, including the other concepts in this discussion like "mind" or "good" or "abstract" or "grounds".   (It is not even clear that logical necessity can be fully explained without an infinite regress, as  St. Lewis Carroll pointed out in his Achilles and the Tortoise dialogue.)  I don't claim to have a definition of metaphysical necessity that would satisfy Socrates, but if we make that the standard, there aren't going to be very many philosophical terms left!)

I. An Irrelevant Topic

As a final statement, I don't think theism is actually better at convincing people of being moral than secularism.

This is just so totally irrelevant to the metaphysical questions behind the Moral Argument for Theism, that perhaps I should simply refuse to respond to this entirely.  It's really just a complete change of topic.

God could be the metaphysical grounds for morality, even if every single human being on Earth were an atheist, or even if every single theist were morally worse than every single atheist.  These motivational questions really have nothing whatsoever to do with the question about what metaphysical theses are made more plausible, if we subscribe to moral realism.  I wrote my blog post Is it Possible to be Good without God? precisely because I was annoyed by how regularly people seem to conflate these totally unrelated questions.

(I'm not saying that the degree of goodness of religious people can't potentially be used as an evidential argument for or against the existence of God.  What I am saying is that it is a mistake to allow such sociological questions to contaminate our interpretation of the thesis that God grounds ethics.)

That being said, I''ll take the bait and say I do think there is some pretty serious question begging required for a non-circular argument that atheism is fully compatible with moral behavior.  For one thing, if a being such as is described by Classical Theism in fact exists (a perfectly wise and holy and good being, who created us and is the source of all our goodness), then we have the moral obligation to worship and obey that being, and to reflect God's holiness through a life of prayer and repentance, dedicating our earthly activities to the glory of God.  It is difficult to see how an atheist can satisfy that obligation, because for the atheist these activities are just distractions from a different, more secular understanding of what the good life consists of.

(To be sure, if the atheist has some intellectually honest reasons why they think God does not exist, then this may well be a mitigating circumstance that reduces—or even eliminates entirely—their culpability for this omission.  But if we are discussing the question of which beliefs make it easier to be moral, then usually mitigating circumstances are considered mitigating precisely because they make it harder to be moral.  Furthermore, a lack of culpability does not remove all of the causal consequences of trying to place our ultimate happiness in things other than God—what Christians call idolatry.)

I do suspect nonreligious people being more moral than the religious, if true, would be a particularly big problem for theism and theistic morality.

From the standpoint of Christian doctrine, it is not actually clear why this should be.  Merely having knowledge of God's existence does not necessarily translate into obedience, and in some cases knowledge can make people morally worse since they ought to behave better but don't.  As Jesus' brother St. James said:

You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!  (James 2:19)

and as Jesus himself said:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in your name?’  Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from me, you lawbreakers!’ ”  (Matthew 7:21-23)

The Pharisees were among the most "religious" people in Jesus' day, and many of their leaders handed Jesus over to Pilate to be crucified.  See also St. Paul's observations of religious people in Romans 2.

According to Christianity, what people need to be transformed morally, is not so much knowledge as grace.  Knowledge is good if it helps us acknowledge our need for grace, but not so much if it makes us look down on other people.

I think the evidence at least shows that the nonreligious are generally not less moral than the religious...

I'm not sure what evidence you are referring to here, or how you could actually know this to be the case.  If your claim is just that religious people can be morally weak and inadequate, well I already knew that from my own life, without looking at anybody else's.

If it refers to survey data, you have the problem that what many polls of religious affiliation captures a lot of individuals who only identify as religious in a nominal sense.  Polling nominally religious people, and asking about their rates of divorce, adultery etc. is sort of like asking whether watching the Olympics on TV makes people more physically fit!  It's the wrong question to study.

If you are referring to personal experience, I can only say that while I know good and bad seeming people (emphasis on "seeming", it's not my place to judge them) who are both religious and non-religious, the most loving and self-sacrificial people I know seem to be religious.  And religion also often plays a significant role when very bad seeming people repent and turn their lives around.  Furthermore I have very often heard people refer explicitly to God when they explain why they did something morally difficult, while I cannot ever recall in my personal experience ever hearing somebody say that they did something morally difficult because atheism is true.  (I mean, I could imagine such a motivation: e.g. God isn't going to save this person, so I have to.  But I don't think I've ever heard anyone explicitly say this "in the wild" so to speak.)

By comparison, studying secular ethics seems to itself have little observable consequences in terms of making people better.  This could be taken as a critique of secular ethics, but it might be better taken as a critique specifically of what modern analytic philosophers mean by ethics as a discipline (as opposed to ancient philosophies, which were typically viewed as a way of life that had to be put into practice, in order to be understood).  I mean, why should studying little numbered arguments about whether ethics is objective, or arguing about what to do in some controversial edge case involving trolleys, actually help one to build habits of life that make one treat your fellow human beings better, and a community which helps support you in doing so?  Religion is one of the few ways of getting such support in the modern era.  (There are some others, but they are getting sparser in an increasingly disconnected age.)  While this isn't necessarily an argument for God's existence, it does make your thesis that serious religious practice is totally orthogonal to ethical accomplishment seem pretty implausible.

I called this an "irrelevant topic" because it isn't terribly relevant to the validity of the Moral Argument.  But of course, from the perspective of what ultimately matters, it is this section that is most important, and the rest which are of lesser relevance.  If Christianity is true, then what will matter the most in the end is not whether you are persuaded by this or that specific argument for Theism, but more whether your heart is open or closed to God at a deeper level than that.  Jesus has promised that those who truly seek God will find him.

If you take it as a goal to be as moral of a person as you can possibly be, then that is at least a start along that road—even if the final destination is going to be, in some ways, quite different than what you expected when starting out on that journey.  But somewhere along the way comes the recognition that you can't actually be good, and need help to do better, and that is where concepts like grace and salvation start to make more sense...

Blessings,
Aron

About Aron Wall

I am a Lecturer in Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge. Before that, I read Great Books at St. John's College (Santa Fe), got my physics Ph.D. from U Maryland, and did my postdocs at UC Santa Barbara, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and Stanford. The views expressed on this blog are my own, and should not be attributed to any of these fine institutions.
This entry was posted in Ethics, Metaphysics, Theological Method. Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to Followup on the Moral Argument for Theism

  1. Zsolt Nagy says:

    Sorry for my dumb question, but are such concepts like grace and salvation considered by a religious conservative person, when that religious conservative person decides to be pro-life and pro-gun at the same time?
    It's difficult to believe and imagine that to be the case.

  2. Christopher Zimmermann says:

    Your question can only be answered by introspection. So you better address it to a "religiously conservative" person actually holding those views. If you do that politely this person might do some introspection to answer your question.

  3. Zsolt Nagy says:

    Since I live here in Europe I have very limited capabilities of communicating with such a "religious conservative" being pro-life and simultaneously being pro-gun.
    I tried once in the comment section of a YouTube video and here in the blog post "Comparing Religions VIII: Honest Messengers".
    I wouldn't consider either of those attempts of understanding the reasons behind such contradictory ethical stances being successful.
    How about you, Christopher? Did you have contact with such "religious conservatives" taking auch contradictory ethical stances? Or do you know or are your even remotely capable of suspecting, why such people would take such contradictory ethical stances?
    I can not even suspect proper reasons for for taking such contradictory ethical stances. (Of course I can imagine a lot of improper reasons like bigotry and such.)
    Thank you in advance for your response.

  4. Christopher Zimmermann says:

    I'm in Europe, too. I know gun owners. I don't know anyone being against gun-control.

    You posted a link to this paper:
    Christian Nationalism and Opposition to Stricter Gun Laws.You may want to read it again. It offers some hypotheses on therelation of christian nationalism and anti-gun-control.

    Abortion is a topic that should be talked about in way more nuanced terms than "pro-life" or "pro-choice".

    You ask how people can hold contradictory opinions at the same time. In general keep in mind that holding a completely consistent set of opinions is a pretty high bar to clear. Specifically you assert pro-life and anti-gun-control were contradicory. In a very superficial sence I see that contradiction: Guns take lives. But in the more nuanced reality I can not see any obvious contradiction between the two.

  5. Zsolt Nagy says:

    Do you mean the following hypothesis?

    The authors propose that the gun control debate is complicated by deeply held moral and religious schemas that discussions focused solely on rational public safety calculations do not sufficiently address. For the substantial proportion of American society who are Christian nationalists, gun rights are God given and sacred. Consequently, attempts to reform existing gun laws must attend to the deeper cultural and religious identities that undergird Americans’ beliefs about gun control.

    And are those gun rights also constituted to be sacred in the bible as life or human life has been constituted to be sacred in the bible?
    Again, I know of some improper reasons for being pro-life and simultaneously being anti-gun-control.
    What I don't get, is the rationality behind it and the proper justifications for it.

    If you are living in Europe and also have grown up in Europe, then I guess, that you can be glad about not ever have been bothered by the thought of horrific violence done with and by guns while going to your school.
    In my childhood I was already horrified by the violence occuring with knifes in my and other schools here. I can only imagine how horrifying this must be for school children in the USA.

  6. Christopher Zimmermann says:

    And are those gun rights also constituted to be sacred in the bible as life or human life has been constituted to be sacred in the bible?

    Read the article yourself. The bible is not mentioned. It rather talks about people believing in a god-given constitution including its second amendment. This belief they call "christian nationalism" On a sidenote: The bible is older than guns. So don't expect it to talk about guns.

    What I don't get, is the rationality behind it and the proper justifications for it.

    It seems to be an issue of (supposedly god given) law.

  7. Doc says:

    Your understanding of those who are pro-gun seems to be misguided. The vast majority of people who are pro-gun don't believe in categorically unlimited gun rights without any restrictions at all, nor do they have any interest or intention of going around slaughtering people. They're pro-gun in the sense that they want gun ownership rights for protecting themselves, and for recreation, such as target shooting or game hunting. Pro-life and pro-gun are, for the vast majority of people, not contradicting of one another at all. Pro-gun is believing in the right to protect yourself & other innocent people, and pro-life is believing in protecting unborn babies, who obviously cannot protect themselves against a selfish parent or parents.

  8. Zsolt Nagy says:

    Yeah, but I still think, that the association of pro-gun with pro-selfdefence is false or to say, that the position of pro-selfdefence doesn't have to include the position of pro-gun, since there exist alternitives to guns and fire arms. Again, why is the right to owning a fire-arm in any given way supposedly "God given", when no fire.arm is God given but man made?
    Fire arms are as man made as the second amendment is man made and yes, the bible is older than guns - exactly.
    If the second amendment is supposedly "God given", then why is there no such amendment given by God constituting to permit of owning a human being?
    Again, I can imagine improper reasons for the position of pro-gun. But proper reasons? No.

    Well, you and your children have to live with such nonsensical laws supposedly given by God there in the US. Luckily I don't have to live with that here in Europe.

  9. Gloria Wall says:

    Ok, as Aron's mom, still living in the US, and having contact with all sorts of Christians, I'll give it a shot. Obviously, you can't be pro-gun in the most radical sense and be pro-life in the most far reaching sense, but there are a couple of different postitions you can have and still be consider yourself to be both pro-life and pro-gun.

    One is to belong to a rural tradition where a gun is a useful tool in everyday life, where people defend themselves from wild animals and hunt in order to eat, and even though some of those areas have become much less rural, those traditions still endure. One of Aron's college roommates came from a place like this, where teenagers drive to school with gun racks on their pickups, and then lock their guns in the school gunsafe to be used later in school sponsored activiies. Note that we aren't talking about "handguns" here, and it is possible to be such a person and a thorough-going pacificst who would believe it wrong to kill anyone under any circumstances, though probably most of these people also fall under later categories I will discuss. But pretty much all of them think of gun control as a threat to their way of life, and as something citified people decide to do without understanding rural ways of life. These are the "guns don't kill people, people do" people, who figure that lots of stuff they use in everyday life in dangerous and could be used to hurt people and don't see guns as all that different. These are the "rifle" group.

    Then there are the people who are not complete pacificist in the strict logical sense, but who think that killing can be justified under certain circumstances, mostly to protect others, so would consider the death penalty to be sometimes appropriate, or war to be sometimes justified, like if someone is invading your country. I hold this position philosophically, though I have never touched a gun and don't want to. I have fanily members that have served in wars as medics because they couldn't bring themselves to actually kill anyone, but still felt that the war was primarily to protect the weak. These people would certainly call themselves pro-life but think you sometimes have to make hard choices, which might even involve killing. I would philosophically think it was ok to shoot someone to protect my children, for instance, though since we don't have any guns it's pretty unlikely. And I think that if you live in a modern suburb like I do haven't a gun is more likely to hurt someone than to save you. In fact there is an elderly couple who live around the block from us where the wife shot her husband one night becuase she thought he was a burgler breaking in! (They are still there by the way, and apparently still happily married, though I don't really know them.) We do not live in an area where this kind of thing happens a lot, but some people do, and even though I think it is usually a mistake, I know people who think they need guns to protect themselves from the much more dangerous areas they live in. And some of these people also think that abortion is (obvously to them) killing a baby, and people shouldn't do that. These people range from thoughtful people who could give you good arguments to justify their position to people who are so overwhemed with life that they never think philosophically at all and just feel deeply that "you gotta protect the kids" includes both gun ownership and anti-abortion voting. This is the "handgun" goup.

    Then there's a further set of people which overlaps both of those two, who think that if there isn't a segment of the population that is armed and ready to defend themselves, then someone might somehow take over the government and turn our country into a autocracy of some kind, They figure that the USA and its liberties only exist because some guys with guns fought some other guys with guns back in the 1700s and won. And it only exists now because we've got big weapons and otherwise Russia would just roll over us like they want to do the Ukraine. And you know what, there are days I think that too. Maybe not the autocracy part, but the history part is what we were taught in school and the Russia part seemed pretty likely during several eras of my life.

    So maybe you can see why people who think like that might find themselves falling into an "AK47" group and think that right to bear arms ought to include weapons that only make sense in warfare. Personally I think that if our civil liberties become at risk because of bad politics then the random gun fanciers who have romantic notions of saving people won't be much help, but that is not really a philosophical objection.

    Although I know people who hold all these positions, some of whom could make better arguments than I am making here, I am sadly sure that lots of people haven't really thought about how the different things they believe work together well, but just have positions because they were brought up that way, or because everyone around them holds them, or because they have found a supportive group to belong to, or even because they are rebelling against the beliefs that surround them because they can tell something is wrong with them, though they don't really quite know what.

  10. Zsolt Nagy says:

    I apriciate the given perspective on pro-gun/anti-gun-control and the justifications or warrants for such positions.
    I partly agree but also partly disagree with the provided justifications or warrants.
    (I guess, that this is just a common theme between me and the Wall's family.)

    If history, to be more specific European history, can teach us any lessons, then it's that, that wars are no good and it certainly cannot be avoided by nations weaponizing themselves till the teeth are also weaponized.
    Wars are more horrible than ever given today's horrific technologies. Shaking hands, making and holding agreements on the other hand is a much better strategy to avoid such terrible and horrible wars than weaponizing the nation till it might kill the entire human population
    and race over multiple times.

    One might think, that by gun-control their freedom of owning a gun is somehow taken away. But that thinking is simply wrong. Any one has the freedom of owning and driving a car with the appropriate licences. Also by gun-control still any one would have the freedom of owning a gun with the appropriate licences, such that it is made clear and certain, that such a person actually owning a gun is also actually suitable for that.

    I'm not proclaiming with this, that guns and owning guns in general should be prohibited.
    But I'm proclaiming persons supposedly holding a pro-life position actually following those convictions of such a position to the extent, or to say, those persons supposedly thinking themselves being "pro-life" actually being or actually becoming pro-life and actually acting upon such convictions. Other wise you just make a fool out of yourself and degrade the word "pro-life" to mean nothing really.
    "The Daily Show John Oliver's Australia & Gun Control's Aftermath Complete 3 Part Series"
    "Switzerland: So Many Guns, No Mass Shootings | The Daily Show"
    I guess, that "we just have to agree to disagree" on this subject matter.

  11. Aron Wall says:

    Zsolt,
    To be honest I'm not thrilled by you starting an (off-topic) debate thread about guns on my blog in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy. The blog post you were responding to is about metaphysics, not politics. Furthermore, this is the second time you've posted on this same topic here. There are lots and lots of blogs out there dedicated to debating contemporary American political issues, why don't you go find one of those?

    Furthermore, I would appreciate it if you do not imply that I or my family are "pro-gun", which is very far from being the case. Niether my Mom nor I keep guns or are at all enthusiastic about guns. We just don't agree with demonizing people who have a different opinion or culture than us. (I would personally be absolutely fine with supporting a campaign to repeal the 2nd amendment, but until that happens it's part of the Constitution. And no, that doesn't mean I think the Constitution is more important than the Bible, I just recognize it as the actual political charter governing the country I live in.)

    If you read my mother's post more carefully you will notice that she isn't giving her own opinions, she's explaining the opinions of other people. But there are lots and lots of ways someone might believe people should be allowed to own guns that are compatible with also thinking that it should be illegal to vountarily kill your own unborn children. People's views are allowed to be complicated; there are vegans who would euthanize a sick pet, pacificists who eat meat, soldiers who oppose capital punishment, and yes also people who oppose abortion but own guns for whatever reason (as well as the reverse, pro-choice people who want more gun-control). None of these people are being inconsistent in treating two things differently, so long as they think there are actual differences between the topics in question which justify treating them differently. Different things are different. People's views are allowed to be more nuanced then just picking either KILL or DON'T KILL and having that determine your position about everything else. If you have a problem with people having such nuanced views, I would suggest you take it elsewhere. Perhaps you could start your own blog?

  12. Zsolt Nagy says:

    Aron,
    First, check the date of my first comment here and when exactly that tragedy occured.
    At one point exactly does correlation become a causation or at one point exactly does a "lucky guess" become a prediction?
    You as a physicist should know, what this question is supposed to mean.
    So I wouldn't necessarily consider my ongoing debate about this having started in the immediate aftermath of this particular tragedy.

    I know, that you and your family are not necesseraly "pro-gun". I've read that previous post from your mother and I've also read the following from that:

    *Although I know people who hold all these positions, some of whom could make better arguments than I am making here, I am sadly sure that lots of people haven't really thought about how the different things they believe work together well, but just have positions because they were brought up that way, or because everyone around them holds them, or because they have found a supportive group to belong to, or even because they are rebelling against the beliefs that surround them because they can tell something is wrong with them, though they don't really quite know what.

    I truly appreciate every bit of her given opinions on this subject matter and since she was so nice sharing and telling these opinions, I thought, that it would be also nice and only fair, if I would also share and tell my opinions on this subject matter here.
    So again I know, that you and your family are not necesseraly "pro-gun".
    But also - How should I put this? - you also appear to be not necesseraly for anti-gun-laws or you do not appear to be being also for anti-gun-laws. And I don't know why exactly?

    So coming back to my original question and tying this debate back to the main thread here:
    As you said:

    If you take it as a goal to be as moral of a person as you can possibly be, then that is at least a start along that road—even if the final destination is going to be, in some ways, quite different than what you expected when starting out on that journey. But somewhere along the way comes the recognition that you can't actually be good, and need help to do better, and that is where concepts like grace and salvation start to make more sense...

    So then how can a man being gracefull and believing in salvation and simultaniosly looking at the empirically and physically measured high, very high, unnaturally high numbers of violence with guns in a periode of a time and a given region consinder himself to be "pro-life" and simultaniously not being anti-gun-laws or even being pro-guns?
    "Not So Pro-Life After All: The Daily Show"
    I guess, that I just simply have a hard and difficult time properly understanding this.

    Note, that I'm not interested in creating another echo-chamber.
    My credo is, that a man not being in an echo-chamber is a better man for it.

    *Sidenote: I'm glad to see, that I'm not the only person making such "monstrously" long sentences. Nice

    Best regards,
    Zsolt

  13. Aron Wall says:

    Zsolt,
    You are right---your first comment was posted before the school shooting. Thanks for your understanding.

  14. Gloria Wall says:

    In fact, I consider myself to be anti-gun. I am in favor of most gun restriction laws, and there have never been any guns in my house, and I was raised by people that did not allow children to play with toy guns, and I didn't let my children have them either. (Well, there was an exception for water pistols, though I remember my parents searching for the ones that looked the least like any real gun...) This was just an honest attempt to explain the viewpoints of people I know personally.

    If you were reading the conservative writers I am reading now, you would see a lot of struggling as people try to adjust their positions now. I'm seeing some condemnations of what might be called "cosplay" gun culture, and a real discussion of what can be done and how much that might actually help. But I would say that the thing holding reasonable laws back the most is binary thinking, this idea that there is no middle position, that you either have to let everyone have all the guns they want, or nobody have any, because otherwise, some slippery slope will be slid down. If you want to talk about pro-life I see the same thing in abortion laws--most of the people who protest on either side seem to think that you either have to ban all abortions no matter how early or how terrible the circumstances, or allow them all, no matter how late or how horrible the proceedure. Even though it can be easily shown that almost all people you survey think the right position is somewhere in the middle on both postions! I expect that what is going on here is that when most people are conflicted and have complex ideas, only the ones who have more extreme ideas are willng to take the time and effort to make a fuss.

    But I must say that part of why I decided to answer you here is that your original comment is an example of this kind of binary thinking, and I believe that no progress will be made until we at least acknowlefge the reasons people believe what they do instead of just declaring them non-underatndable.

  15. David says:

    I think the existence of objective moral duties, in addition to objective moral values is difficult to explain.

    Suppose that moral values were objective and naturalism were true and therefore in a manner of speaking ‘the universe is telling you that murder is wrong’. Why does it matter? Why care what ‘the universe’ is telling you? Why should you align your behaviour with what is objectively right?

    The answer, I think, is that morality has a ‘motivational-pull’ over us in a way no other fact has. It doesn’t just tell us what is or isn’t true about certain category of facts, it by its very nature compels a certain action.

    When you think about it, that’s a very weird relation or property for a thing to have. It’s very odd on naturalism at least, to explain how these moral facts aren’t just true statements but that they exert themselves over us.

    One possible response is already suggested in the quoted comment at the start of the post, that we don’t have moral duties as such but we behave morally only because we have a rational desire to be moral. Something external to morality explains why we behave morally.

    I think our commitment to moral behaviour is more than just a desire — compare how different it is to any other first order desire, for example — even so, I think that response indicates that there is at least some feature(s) of objective morality that can’t be explained well, given naturalism.

    On Theism you could say that God’s nature is perfectly good and moral duties follow from His commands.

  16. Zsolt Nagy says:

    Well Gloria, I'm not exactly declaring reasons for people, what they do, to be under attainable or unattainable.
    But I do indeed questioning and critiquing such reasons by actually acknowledging them.
    - well of course not in the sense of accepting them, since those reasons are reasonably false in my opinion, but in the sense of recognizing them, since in order for providing any proper critique one most actually recognize and acknowledge the thing, which is to be critiqued. Hopefully, I just did that here.

  17. Scott Church says:

    Zsolt Nagy,

    Abortion and gun control are pretty far off-topic for this post. But unless I'm missing something (and you're welcome to correct me if I am), your intent here is to address Aron's claim that from a Christian perspective, grace is more important for moral transformation than knowledge (including secular knowledge) by putting it to a specific "boots on the ground" test. If so, then I see at least two fundamental problems with that.

    First, as has already been shown, both of these topics are far more nuanced than their black-and-white extremes, and overall, have at least some reasonable moral overlap. But for the sake of argument, let's presume their most extreme and morally inconsistent forms--hardcore prohibition of all abortion as murder, and virtually unrestricted access to guns of any type, no questions asked. Your juxtaposition of these views within "Christian nationalism" presumes prima facie that it is in fact Christian--essentially, that the Christian nationalism you refer to is legitimate Biblical Christianity lived out in a uniquely American context, not the idolatrous worship of American empire sanitized with superficially "Christian" window dressing. That's not at all clear.

    Now, I'm not suggesting that Christianity and Christian nationalism are, across the board, mutually exclusive, nor that one cannot be a Christian and hold at least some Christian nationalistic views. But at a bare minimum, the two are anything but synonymous--particularly in the most extreme forms that have arisen here in America since 2016. And the further one goes down the latter path the more dissonant the two become, and the more difficult it is to Biblically justify allegiance to both.

    This brings me to the second point... Your test also presumes that for all intents and purposes, discipleship and growth are foreign to Christianity--that those who outwardly profess Christianity may be de-facto presumed to be living examples of Christian doctrine in every corner of their lives. While it is true that real faith will lead to changed hearts and minds, there is virtually no Biblical or evidential justification for that. The vast majority of the Bible is devoted specifically to the issue of, as the Apostle Paul put it, working out our salvation with fear and trembling because God is at work in us (Phil. 2:11-13) with the end result that eventually He will complete the work He began in us (Phil. 1:6). Until that work is complete, it isn't reasonable to think that sincere practicing Christians aren't going to display at least some cognitive, moral, and spiritual dissonance in their lives, including some morally dissonant views in need of repentance.

    To be sure, this test, as you have proposed it, should lead those with Christian nationalistic views to spend a lot of time in self-examination and on their knees. But to the extent that the grace of God in our lives is an ongoing work of transformation--one that is inevitably going to involve tears, blind alleys, and field dressing of wounds (including those we inflict on each other along the way)--it's neither a meaningful truth test of Christian doctrine nor a valid critique of the larger question of whether Christianity is ultimately more, or less likely than its secular counterparts to produce moral lives.

  18. Zsolt Nagy says:

    Dear Scott Church,

    You are totally correct in the sense of me trying to poking at Aron's claim from a Christian perspective of grace and salvation being necessary elements to morality. Or in other words they are essential for morality.
    By the way, do you really think, that this particular claim by Aron implies the claim of "grace" and "salvation" being more important for morality or being moral than knowledge (including secular knowledge)?!?
    If so, then I guess, that my to be belittled attempts of poking those claims are all better for it.
    Yes, I know, that these attempts are pretty weak. They were never intended to be more than that.
    But I'm quite amazed, how weak of a reaction and responses I did get from these weak attempts of mine. I was expecting much more solid answers than which I've gotten here, given how much has been said about morality in this blogpost. I guess, that theory and the knowledge thereof is one thing and the practice of it - putting that knowledge into some use is another different thing.

    Apropos, knowledge! Of course knowledge is an essential part of morality.
    I think, that any moral questions like "Is stealing wrong? If so, then why is it wrong? If not so, then why not?" are similar to epistemological or empirical questions like "Is the sky blue? If so, then why is it blue? If not so, then why not?". So I guess then, that it shouldn't come as a surprise, but instead it should come naturally (wink, wink) in the mind, that morality can be and actually is thought in terms of epistemology: "Moral Epistemology" from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

    But are "grace" and "salvation" more important for morality than "knowledge"?
    This question or the mere assertion of the claim certainly implies Aron's actual claim of them being essential for morality. So let's just check, if Aron's actual claim here is true or not.

    My abductive argument against it:
    P1) If "grace" and "salvation" are essential for morality or for being moral, then there are no such persons supposedly embracing those concepts of "grace" and "salvation", being supposedly moral with those concepts and proclaimg to be "pro-life" and to be "anti-(anti-guns)" or to be "pro-guns" at the same time, which is irrational to do so.
    P2) There are some persons supposedly embracing those concepts of "grace" and "salvation", being supposedly moral with those concepts and proclaimg to be "pro-life" and to be "anti-(anti-guns)" or to be "pro-guns" at the same time, which is irrational to do so.
    (Proclaiming to be "pro-life" and to be "anti-(anti-guns)" or to be "pro-guns" at the same time is just a contradiction. It is as contradictory as to proclaim to be a "married bachelor". Of course there are reasons to be "married" or to be "pro-life" and of course there are reasons to be a "bachelor" or to be "pro-guns". But there are no rational reasons to be a "married bachelor" as there are no rational reasons to be "pro-life/pro-guns". Hence, proclaiming to be "pro-life" and to be "anti-(anti-guns)" or to be "pro-guns" at the same time is irrational to do so.)
    C) Therefore, "grace" and "salvation" are not essential for morality or for being moral.
    Or to say, that "grace" and "salvation" are not a necessary thing for morality and not a necessary thing for being moral. (from P1 and P2 by modus tollens)

    In my opinion premise P1 is just question begging. Why? Just formulate the contraposition:
    P1) If there are some persons supposedly embracing those concepts of "grace" and "salvation", being supposedly moral with those concepts and proclaimg to be "pro-life" and to be "anti-(anti-guns)" or to be "pro-guns" at the same time, which is irrational to do so, then "grace" and "salvation" are not essential for morality or for being moral.
    And how is this question begging? Because from SOME persons SUPPOSEDLY embracing those concepts of "grace" and "salvation", being SUPPOSEDLY moral and irrational doesn't necessarily follow those concepts to be not essential for morality or for being moral, since those examples of persons might have not actually been embracing those concepts to the fullest, such that they could have been actually moral and rational. So those examples of persons can be and are irrational AND the "grace" and "salvation" can still be essential for morality and for being moral.
    (Tipp: Just hide your question begging by formulating your arguments with modus tollens. In that form question begging or even other kinds of fallacies are more difficult to spot than in an argument with the form of a modus ponens.)
    Also in my opinion this is a much more solid answer to my weak and to be belittled attempt of poking at Aron's claim here.

    As for objecting premise P2: I still don't get it. Well, I have "acknowledged" those objections to the extension of me having recognized (and being quite amazed) by those weak objections. But certainly I'm not "acknowledging" those weak objections to the extension of me accepting them. Nuh, nuh.
    Sure, you can claim yourself to be a "married bachelor". But please, don't expect me to accept such a ridiculous claim without questioning it. Besides that, what do we do with contradictions in logic or in our knowledge and epistemology? We reject them by the law of non-contradiction. So I do the same with contradictions in morality or in moral epistemology by the law of non-contradiction.
    And I'm amazed at a lot of persons proclaimg themselves to be rational and moral not doing the same thing.

    Best regards,
    Zsolt Nagy

  19. Scott Church says:

    I've been meaning to address Nikki's comments above soon as work allowed. Apologies for the delay. According to her,

    Scott Church argues that on naturalism, the universe does not care about us and we are fundamentally unimportant, so it cannot ground objective morality. But the universe itself does not have to care about us/be a moral agent for morality to be objective! I'd argue that if morality, say, applies to all rational beings, it is objective, and the universe not obeying it does not matter because the universe is not a rational agent.

    I never said the universe does not care about us nor that we are fundamentally unimportant. What I said was that the very concept of a caring materialistic universe is meaningless. To see why, let's examine what we mean by the terms Good and Bad--Moral and Immoral. If I claim that A is good and B bad, what exactly am I asserting about A and B?

    There are several ways this question could be approached, but at the most fundamental level it comes down to questions of value and purpose. We consider A to be good if we deem it precious against a standard/s of value we embrace or if it fulfills some purpose/s for which it was intended. Likewise, we consider B to be bad if it does not. We consider murder to be immoral but not swatting mosquitos because we deem human life to be more precious than mosquito life. Likewise, we consider dereliction of duty immoral because duties incumbent on us are intended to fulfill a higher purpose and neglecting them leaves that purpose unfulfilled. This leaves materialism with a dilemma however, because consideration and intent are uniquely mental qualities. It's meaningless to speak of anything being precious or purposeful apart from a mind that deems them so. The Higgs boson doesn't consider or intend anything... it's a scalar field. It obeys some differential equations and boundary conditions and just does what it does. Same for fireplace bricks, hubcaps, roast beef sandwiches, and dinosaur-killing asteroids (which BTW, per paleo history, the earth that is home to all of our rational minds and their attendant moral values is now statistically overdue for).

    Nikki is right that morality applies to all rational beings, and that the universe is not a rational agent. But this begs the question. The issue isn't whether she or any other rational agent can formulate consistent moral codes--clearly, they can. The issue is that according to her worldview, the same blind matter in motion that produced her rational mind and its attendant moral codes also produced those of Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Friedrich Nietzsche, Pol Pot, and more--all of whom, I might add, were also materialists like her (Hitler pretended to some form of religious belief publicly but only for Machiavellian reasons, while in private he referred to Christianity in particular as "nonsense founded on lies"). In a universe where all rational minds are equally products of blind chance (emphasis on blind) there are no preferred inertial moral reference frames, and morality borne of her rational mind is no more or less objectively defensible than theirs, any more than her taste in music and hamburger condiments are.

    This leaves us with exactly two choices: Moral Relativism or Moral Nihilism.

    One might counter on utilitarian grounds, as many have, that some moralities are still more rationally normative than others in that they're more conducive to general happiness and the survivability of our species (e.g., the Golden Rule). But this in turn presumes that we should be happy and survive--that a universe that accidentally creates dinosaur-killing asteroids and sends them hurtling toward our equally accidental moral minds at statistically predictable intervals is somehow obligated to place a higher premium on our survival than that of the cockroaches it has left far better equipped to survive an asteroid strike. That is anything but clear. It could just as easily be argued that humans are a cancer on the earth in need of being cured. We recklessly consume its resources, endanger its biosphere with anthropogenic climate change, poison its rivers, oceans, and ecosystems, and even raise the specter of destroying the entire biosphere with global thermonuclear war. If we were wiped out, nature could start over and see if next time evolution couldn't produce a species that was intelligent without being toxically savage and opportunistic. I'm not advocating this, of course. I'm simply pointing out that from a purely materialistic perspective it's no more or less defensible than any other moral worldview.

    In a universe where all rational minds are on an evolutionarily equal footing, there is one, and only one way to objectively set any moral value system/s apart... And that is to appeal to an independent rational mind above and beyond all others that can adjudicate between them authoritatively... And materialism is committed to the claim that no such mind exists. As Richard Dawkins put it in River out of Eden,

    The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.

    Materialists like Nikki can certainly produce rational and compelling moral codes. But if they want to demonstrate how in their universe any of them can be objectively normative and binding on others whether they agree with them or not, they need something more convincing than blind assertions based on circular reasoning. They must demonstrate how blind pitiless indifference can render anything precious and purposeful and show their work. Not once in recorded human history has this ever been compellingly done. The closest anyone has ever gotten was Platonic reasoning that, as Bertrand Russell has pointed out, arguably boils down to little more than a question-begging misuse of language. For my part, I have to agree with Alfred North Whitehead who once said,

    "Scientists, animated by the purpose of proving they are purposeless, constitute an interesting subject for study."

  20. Zsolt Nagy says:

    Dear Scott Church,

    JameH, also a theistic commentator on this blog making an "inference [supposedly] to the best explanation", pointed out the "blind assertions [from naturalists or of naturalistic arguments being] based on circular reasoning".
    Dito!
    Your blind faith in

    "there is one, and only one way to objectively set any moral value system/s apart... And that is to appeal to an independent rational mind above and beyond all others that can adjudicate between them authoritatively."

    is also nothing but a "blind assertion based upon circular reasoning".

    If you didn't get the memo, then here it is:
    The General/strong Principle of Sufficient Reason (G-PSR: For ANY true proposition P, there is a sufficient reason SR for that true proposition P to be true.) is bollocks and any person referring to a "restricted" version of the PSR is actually referring to the Soft version of the PSR (S-PSR: For SOME true proposition P, there is a sufficient reason SR for that true proposition P to be true.).
    So of course any theory of any kind is starting from not specifically justified axioms, postulates or postulations - assumptions without any deductive proofs for them to be true. And we derive and deduce the other statements of the theory, the Rest of the theory, from those axioms, postulates and postulations.
    You have your own unjustified assumptions as a theist as we have our own unjustified assumptions as naturalists. We all use this very same kind of logical deduction system if not since the beginning of time, then since the beginning of there to be human rational thoughts.
    If you have a better logical deduction system than that, then please, be so kind as to share that with us.
    Let me guess, what that "better" logical deduction system of yours might be: It's another voice in your head providing you with revelations - THE Revelations. Am I correct with my guess or am I correct?
    It's to sad, that I don't here that other voice providing those Revelations in my head.

    As for morality: Sure, SOME things are relative such as time is relative.
    But from that, from SOME things being relative, alone doesn't follow, that ANY and every thing is relative.
    In my opinion to conclude from some things being relative any thing being relative is to make a hasty generalization.
    There are still absolutes. The effects of a cause is such an absolute even in relativity theory i.e. Bell's spaceship paradox from special relativity.
    As the consequences of actions are also such absolutes. We can and in my opinion we should base our morality on those absolute consequences.
    Further the postulation of there to be an objective morality or there to be universal moral laws and acting upon those categorically (Kant's Categorical Imperative) is already sufficient to be moral and to act morally.
    If it works, then it works, I guess.
    We need to be moral for ourselves and for our sakes and not for an external imaginary blindly presupposed and assumed being.

    Best regards,
    Zsolt Nagy

  21. Zsolt Nagy says:

    Dear Scott Church,

    JameH, also a theistic commentator on this blog making an "inference [supposedly] to the best explanation", pointed out the "blind assertions [from naturalists or of naturalistic arguments being] based on circular reasoning".
    Dito!
    Your blind faith in

    "there is one, and only one way to objectively set any moral value system/s apart... And that is to appeal to an independent rational mind above and beyond all others that can adjudicate between them authoritatively."

    is also nothing but a "blind assertion based upon circular reasoning".

    If you didn't get the memo, then here it is:
    The General/strong Principle of Sufficient Reason (G-PSR: For ANY true proposition P, there is a sufficient reason SR for that true proposition P to be true.) is bollocks and any person referring to a "restricted" version of the PSR is actually referring to the Soft version of the PSR (S-PSR: For SOME true proposition P, there is a sufficient reason SR for that true proposition P to be true.).
    So of course any theory of any kind is starting from not specifically justified axioms, postulates or postulations - assumptions without any deductive proofs for them to be true. And we derive and deduce the other statements of the theory, the Rest of the theory, from those axioms, postulates and postulations.
    You have your own unjustified assumptions as a theist as we have our own unjustified assumptions as naturalists. We all use this very same kind of logical deduction system if not since the beginning of time, then since the beginning of there to be human rational thoughts.
    If you have a better logical deduction system than that, then please, be so kind as to share that with us.
    Let me guess, what that "better" logical deduction system of yours might be: It's another voice in your head providing you with revelations - THE Revelations. Am I correct with my guess or am I correct?
    It's to sad, that I don't here that other voice providing those Revelations in my head.

    As for morality: Sure, SOME things are relative such as time is relative.
    But from that, from SOME things being relative, alone doesn't follow, that ANY and every thing is relative.
    In my opinion to conclude from some things being relative any thing being relative is to make a hasty generalization.
    There are still absolutes. The effects of a cause is such an absolute even in relativity theory i.e. Bell's spaceship paradox from special relativity.
    As the consequences of actions are such absolutes. We can and in my opinion we should base our morality on those absolute consequences.
    Further the postulation of there to be an objective morality or there to be universal moral laws and acting upon those categorically (Kant's Categorical Imperative) is already sufficient to be moral and to act morally.
    If it works, then it works, I guess.
    We need to be moral for ourselves and for our sakes and not for an external imaginary blindly presupposed and assumed being.

    Best regards,
    Zsolt Nagy

    PS: Missing a [/i] from last comment!

  22. David Madison says:

    Zsolt

    I'm afraid that I couldn't make any sense of your comment. It seems to me that you could have made either of two responses to Scott's comment. You could simply have denied that morality has any objective basis or you could have set out an alternative way of providing a basis. You don't appear to have taken the first option. So, presumably, you think that there can be a way of grounding morality that doesn't require God. But what is it? Your vague comments don't appear to answer that question.

  23. Zsolt Nagy says:

    Dear David Madison,

    Why is stealing wrong - supposedly morally wrong?
    Is stealing morally wrong, because God is not a thief?
    Or is stealing morally wrong, because anybody got the natural right to own some things and not be wrongfully robbed of those to be owned things?

    Is stealing in all cases necessarily morally wrong?
    How about Robin Hood "stealing" from the rich and giving those stolen goods to the poor - basically giving those things back to "the poor", which have been theirs in the first place and then wrongfully taken away by "the rich"?
    "Hero or Thief: Evaluating the Morality of Robin Hood’s Actions" by Alexander Vincenti, Freelance Writer, May 25, 2021
    I think, that Kant has some good points and perspective on this subject matter.

    As for morality being "grounded" in God - an omni-being, first how would such a being even know, what morality is, how would God know, how to properly and morally treat other beings, when he is supposedly the only being of his kind - a being above all beings, because that being alone supposedly "created" anything else and is not "a creator" but The Creator of Creation?
    Let me guess: God knows about morality and how to be moral, because God is omniscient. Duh. He already has "known", what morality supposed to be and how to be moral before his Creation, just like Mary supposed to "know" everything there is to know about "red" before she even has to chance of properly experiencing "red" and having the impression of what "red" supposed to be.
    So God knows, what morality supposed to be, because God is omniscient and therefore of course God knows, what morality supposed to be.
    And this explanation is somehow better than the supposedly "circular explanations" given by naturalists. Both theists and non-theists are only capable of providing some "circular explanations/reasoning/justifications" for such and such subjects. SO WHAT?
    We all need to start our reasoning at some starting point. You think, that morality can only be grounded in God. And I think, humans are "the ends" of morality, so of course morality is also supposed to be "grounded" in/on them - humans and their actions. Of course if we should ever discover other life-forms capable of being moral, then we shall expand our understanding and knowledge about morality to the extension of that made discovery - "The Moral Status of Animals" first published Tue Jul 1, 2003; substantive revision Wed Aug 23, 2017.
    So I reiterate: Humans (and maybe other non-human beings) are "the ends" of morality, so morality is to be grounded on humans (and maybe other non-human beings).
    And as morality being grounded on God - the Creator of Creation - the Creator of everything even the Evil in this world and his Creation, why are we supposed to be obliged to ground OUR morality in that Creator responsible for the existence of Evil in this world and his Creation?
    If any one is supposedly morally accountable for his or hers actions, then that Creator is also supposed to be morally accounted for his created Evil in his Creation, or not?
    And if so, then why even ground morality in such a morally imperfect and incapable being?

    Best regards,
    Zsolt Nagy

  24. David Madison says:

    Zsolt

    I am still confused. What you could have said is that our sense of moral obligation is an evolutionary accident. As a naturalist, you don't need to believe that we are really obliged to do or not do certain things. Yet you seem to take it for granted that our sense of moral obligation is not just an evolutionary accident. Why?

    A Christian has no choice in the matter. He can't deny that we have moral obligations. That is not an option. A Christian doesn't need a theory of morality in order to know that certain things are right or wrong. On the other hand, it seems to me that a naturalist does need a moral theory if he wants to affirm that we have moral obligations. This must be the case because denying that we have moral obligations is very much an option for the naturalist.

  25. Andrew2 says:

    Quick note that the notion that humans are ends in themselves doesn't have to be opposed to a theistic grounding of morality, and you could even argue something like the following: morality is grounded in humans being ends in themselves, but this is in turn grounded by God. Mark Linville has an extended argument to that effect here: https://appearedtoblogly.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/linville-mark-22the-moral-argument22.pdf (originally appeared in the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, I think)

    Best, Andrew.

  26. Zsolt Nagy says:

    Dear David Madison,

    Do you really have no choice in the matter as a Christian?!?
    I thought, that according to Christian/theistic beliefs there is only Evil in this world, because there is Free Will or there is some good having Free Will AND that humans have chosen freely to be Evil and therefore the necessity for divine punishment and Hell.
    So you can choose freely to be evil and sin as a human being and then choose and accept freely Jesus Christ as your Lord and "Saver". Christianity is about nothing but the free choice.
    Now I Am Confused.

    Besides that,

    “Philosophy of Science is as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.”

    – Richard Feynman

    Sure, we don't need to know about morality in order to act morally, since it is written on everybody's heart's naturally.
    So knowledge about morality is not essential for being moral. But since you asked for that knowledge I provided that knowledge for you anyway.
    "Why?" - as for "why" I don't believe, that moral obligation is not just an evolutionary accident?
    Because the belief of is a properly basic belief - a sufficiently warranted belief that is sufficiently warranted by virtue of its immediate warrant, i.e., independent of any transferred warrant it might enjoy or in other words, that's a self-evidently true belief.
    Trust me! This is neither a "circle explanation" nor question begging. ; )
    Besides that, on the other hand the knowledge about the consequences of certain actions or the consequences of the lack thereof is essential for being moral.
    I mean, just look at the consequences in the USA of those loose gun-control laws of the USA.
    Hello? The "Wild West" of the USA should be a thing from the past and not a thing from current days and from the modern era - at least in my opinion.

    Best regards,
    Zsolt Nagy

  27. Zsolt Nagy says:

    Dear David Madison,

    Do you really have no choice in the matter as a Christian?!?
    I thought, that according to Christian/theistic beliefs there is only Evil in this world, because there is Free Will or there is some good having Free Will AND that humans have chosen freely to be Evil and therefore the necessity for divine punishment and Hell.
    So you can choose freely to be evil and sin as a human being and then choose and accept freely Jesus Christ as your Lord and "Saver". Christianity is about nothing but the free choice.
    Now I Am Confused.

    Besides that,

    “Philosophy of Science is as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.”

    – Richard Feynman

    Sure, we don't need to know about morality in order to act morally, since it is written on everybody's heart's naturally.
    So knowledge about morality is not essential for being moral. But since you asked for that knowledge I provided that knowledge for you anyway.
    "Why?" - as for "why" I don't believe, that moral obligation is not just an evolutionary accident?
    Because the belief of [there being moral obligations] is a properly basic belief - a sufficiently warranted belief that is sufficiently warranted by virtue of its immediate warrant, i.e., independent of any transferred warrant it might enjoy or in other words, that's a self-evidently true belief. ; )
    Besides that, on the other hand the knowledge about the consequences of certain actions or the consequences of the lack thereof is essential for being moral.
    I mean, just look at the consequences in the USA of those loose gun-control laws of the USA.
    Hello? The "Wild West" of the USA should be a thing from the past and not a thing from current days and from the modern era - at least in my opinion.

    Best regards,
    Zsolt Nagy

    PS: Corrected a thing and inserted a missed link here.

  28. David Madison says:

    Zsolt

    I think you misunderstood me when I said that a Christian has no choice. What I meant was that a Christian has no choice but to believe there are such things as moral obligations. That doesn't that a Christian cannot choose to sin. However, if a Christian sins then it must be in spite of the moral obligations that are entailed by Christianity.

    In contrast to this, an atheist can refuse to recognise that there are such things as moral obligations. He may feel an inclination to behave morally but regard this as the result of evolutionary programming and cultural indoctrination. As a matter of practicality, the atheist may refrain from a life sin but this need not be because of any philosophical beliefs.

    You say that morality is written on everyone's heart but this is compatible with the idea that morality is an evolutionary accident. It may have been favoured by natural selection but not have any basis beyond that. Furthermore, I don't see that your comments have established any basis for morality. When you say that moral beliefs are properly basic, you may be attempting to rationalise something that is really just evolutionary programming.

  29. Zsolt Nagy says:

    Nah, David, why are you implying such a double standard?!?

    It's not that an atheist can refuse to recognise, that there are such things as moral obligations. Since it is properly basic and self-evident, that there are moral obligations, an atheist "sins", only if it must be in spite of those self-evidently existing moral obligations, that are entailed by Nature, as a Christian sins, only if it must be in spite of those properly basically existing moral obligations, that can also only be entailed by Nature.

    What if that is compatible with the idea, that morality is an "evolutionary accident"?
    Do you know, what else is compatible with the idea, that morality is an "evolutionary accident"?
    Christians thinking about an imaginary being being necessary for their actual morality is also compatible with the idea, that morality is an "evolutionary accident"!
    By the way, what is an "evolutionary accident" and what is that supposed to be or mean?!?
    Natural selection is anything but an "evolutionary accident".
    So I'm not that much concerned with your "straw man" about biological Evolution here.

    Also what if our current morality may have been favoured by natural selection but not have any basis beyond that? What "basis" do you need?!?
    “Philosophy of Morality is as useful to moraly behaving people as ornithology is to birds.”
    SO WHAT?!? IS THAT "BASIS" OF YOURS OR ANY KIND EVEN NECESSARY? NO!

    "I don't see that your comments have established any basis for morality."
    Good - since I don't like commenting on unnecessary things.

    "When you say that moral beliefs are properly basic, you may be attempting to rationalise something that is really just evolutionary programming."
    So are you saying with this, that "evolutionary programming" is irrational?
    By the way, what is "evolutionary programming" anyway?
    "What is a Properly Basic Belief?" by drcraigvideos

    Best regards,
    Zsolt

  30. Zsolt Nagy says:

    Ah, maybe you mean a "grounding" of morality on something as a "basis" of morality, David?
    If so, then first Ctrl+F and then tipp the search term "So I reiterate:" into the search bar.
    There you have my comment establishing a or some "basis" for morality.
    I guess, that it is very common upon people with blind faith to "not see" or to more or less willingly "oversee" such hardly or difficult to miss comments.

  31. David Madison says:

    Zsolt, this is what you could have said:

    "I believe that certain things really are right or wrong. However, as an atheist, I accept the possibility that I am mistaken. My sense of moral obligation may be an illusion created by evolution. In other words, natural selection may have favoured those individuals who believe that it is wrong to steal or cheat or harm others but to ask whether it is really wrong to steal or cheat is to ask a meaningless question. I don't think that the question is meaningless but as an atheist, I must admit that my position entails this possibility."

    You didn't say that; therefore the conversation is at an end.

    Any Christians reading this will know that our position is different. We also face the possibility that we are mistaken (although we don't believe that we are) but this would be a different kind of mistake. We would be mistaken if God doesn't exist or Christ did not rise from the dead. However, if God does exist and Christ did rise from the dead then we know that our sense of moral obligation is not an illusion created by evolution. The possibility of being deluded is not something that is actually entailed by Christianity's being true. On the other hand, the possibility of being deluded is very much entailed by atheism.

  32. Zsolt Nagy says:

    You see, David, I think, that putting words in someone's mouth, which are not at all representing that person's convictions, is quite fallacious to say at least and not mentioning morality wise how that is actually looking like.

    This conversation is not over, because I didn't say a thing, which doesn't represent my convictions at all.
    This conversation is over, because you are incapable of listening.

    Since you are incapable of listening, I guess, that the following won't really matter at all.
    Besides, this conversation was already over before it began.

    "I, David, am blind to the empirical evidence for biological Evolution and further I'm incorrectly assuming a "straw man" version of biological Evolution to be the "basis" for morality for any atheists.
    Also I, David, believe, that the only possibility to be moral is for the sake of an imaginary being "justified" (well actually only suggested) by at least one voice different to my own voice in my head.
    This suggestion (- sorry I, Zsolt, mean here actually for you, David, to say) This justification and warrant is then to be called THE REVELATION."

  33. David Madison says:

    Zsolt

    As a person for whom English is a second language, perhaps you are overestimating your ability to communicate. You may not realise how your comments come across. When I imagined what you might have said, I was not setting up a target that I would find easy to hit; rather, I was making a plea for intellectual honesty. I am happy to hear an atheist present the case for a naturalistic basis for morality. However, if the atheist is unwilling even to consider the possibility that morality cannot be given a naturalistic grounding then I am not interested in the discussion. Anyway, I shall leave it there.

  34. Zsolt Nagy says:

    "Belief in God as Properly Basic - Part 3 - William Lane Craig" by drcraigvideos
    From 9:23 to 10:46:

    ... So for the unbeliever as well as for the believer the "ultimate basis" for his knowledge of the truth of Christianty is the witness of the Holy Spirit. The unbeliever, who is truly open to God, will be convinced of the truth of the Christian message, because the Holy Spirit will convict him, that it is true. And therefore, it seems to me, that whether we're talking about believers or we're talking about unbelievers, it is ultimately in the final analysis the self-authenticating work of the Holy Spirit, that gives one the assurance of Christianity's truth and so I would say, the truth of the existence of the biblical God is a properly basic belief, which is "grounded" in the inner witness and conviction of Holy Spirit and because this belief is formed in response to the witness of God himself, it doesn't require any sort of external authentication - it's "self authenticating".and isn't merely rational, but it actually provides knowledge, that God exists. This is a way of knowing, that the God of the Bible exists.

    Just letting with this Christians know, what the convictions of Christians actually are.
    You can say whatever, to William Lane Craig's Reformed Epistemology (- I mean, "WHATEVER" to it actually). But you can not say, that he's got some bad double standard in it apparently.
    It is self consistently bad in one way and not in two different ways.

    Best regards,
    Zsolt Nagy

  35. Zsolt Nagy says:

    Dito, David.
    if the theist is unwilling even to consider the possibility that morality can be given a naturalistic grounding or the mere possibility that morality is groundable on something else than on that theist's precious god, then then I am also not interested in the discussion. We can both leave it at that.

  36. Zsolt Nagy says:

    Since it is apparently so difficult for us as "theist" and "atheist" to have a rational conversation, how about the following, David?
    I admit as an "agnostic atheist", that there are some good arguments for the possibility, that morality can not be given a naturalistic grounding, as there are some good arguments for the possibility, that morality can actually be given a naturalistic grounding, if and only if you admit as an "agnostic theist" being sane meaning, that you don't hear another different voice in your head besides your own, but still believe, simply assume, the bible to be true and God actually existing on the basis, that this Assumption makes sense to you and to your world view subjectively.
    Is that a fair compromise?
    Deal or no Deal?

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If your comment fails to appear do NOT submit it again.  Instead, email me so I can rescue it from the spam filter.  You can find my email by clicking on "webpage".