Apologetics Against Christian Apologetics

Apologetics Against Christian Apologetics

Dr. Craig takes a look at a writer who tries to counter everything in Christian apologetics with atheistic apologetics.

Transcript Apologetics Against Christian Apologetics

KEVIN HARRIS: Well, no one can accuse us of not looking at objections and counter-arguments on the Reasonable Faith podcast because we certainly do. Today we are going to take a look at the work of a blogger named Counter Apologist. He says his number one goal is to counter Christian apologetics with reason, evidence, and logic. In other words he is doing apologetics against Christian apologetics. He seems to want to take on the enterprise of Christian apologetics rather than the truth of Christianity, at least as far as I can see.

In this article he wants to counter the moral argument for God's existence.[1] Let's take a look. Dr. Craig, he quotes you a lot. He begins by defining the moral argument which is:

1. If God does not exist then objective moral values do not exist.

2. Objective moral values do exist.

3. Therefore, God exists.

Bill, lately you've added another word to this syllogism.

DR. CRAIG: “Duties” as well as “values.” Duties are even more difficult to explain on atheism than simply values. By “duties” I mean moral prohibitions and obligations. It is very hard to see how, on atheism, we would have a moral prohibition against some behavior because there is no moral lawgiver. Or a moral obligation to do something for the same reason.

KEVIN HARRIS: Counter Apologist wants to decisively show why the moral argument is false. So he begins,

Objection 1: What does god have to do with moral values?

It’s not immediately obvious what god has to do with morality and at first glance it appears that the moral argument is an example of a valid, yet unsound argument like this:

1.) If 2+2=4, then leprechauns exist.

2.) 2+2=4

3.) Therefore leprechauns exist.

That took me aback a little bit on what does God have to do with moral values. I see them as very intricately interwoven.

DR. CRAIG: And I think historically they have been seen that way by philosophers. He just gives an example here of an argument that is valid but has false premises. He needs to show that this is analogous to the moral argument. I think that the moral argument is a valid argument with true premises, and certainly the apologist, as he calls them, has the burden to give a link between God and morality to justify premise (1). I attempted to do that. Far from losing its force, as he suggests, I think that the argument becomes very powerful because it is, I think, very plausible that if atheism were true there wouldn't be any objective moral values and duties and a whole host of atheists from Friedrich Nietzsche to Bertrand Russell to Jean Paul-Sartre to Joel Marks and Alex Rosenberg agree with that conclusion. This is not a theistic claim. This is a claim that many, many atheists have themselves made.


Objection 2: Defining “Goodness” is the central issue in moral philosophy

Moral philosophy has debated the nature of goodness and what makes something good for millennia. Modified Divine Command Theory is literally one theory out of thousands, with the vast majority of those meta-ethical theories being completely compatible with atheism.

OK. Defining goodness is the central issue. Do you think that is true?[2]

DR. CRAIG: No, it is certainly not true. I think goodness is widely regarded as a primitive moral property that is undefinable in terms of something more basic. He also goes on to say that, “Apologists could be interpreted as saying that 'objective' moral values means that they must be 'object-like.'” That is completely wrong. What one means by “objective” here is “mind-independent” – that they are not subjective. He mentions Moral Platonism as an alternative to theism. But in my published work I've offered three objections as to why I think Moral Platonism is a less plausible theory of meta-ethics than theism. Certainly there are other theories, as he says, but that goes no distance toward showing that these theories are preferable to theism. You've got to do more than just list these other theories. You need to show that they offer a more compelling account of morality than does theism.


Objection 3: Morality can be objective without being its own metaphysical object

DR. CRAIG: Again, this seems to be based on this confusion about the meaning of the word “objective.” One is not claiming that there are objects called “moral values.” He also points out that a number of other theories “provides a basis for moral agents to be able to tell the difference between right and wrong in an objective way.” But the moral argument for God's existence isn't a matter of moral epistemology. It is not about how to tell the difference. I can agree with all of these other theories that might be offered. I have no particular account to defend about how we tell the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. This argument is an argument about the grounding of right and wrong, good and evil. I think the best explanation of its grounding is in God regardless of the epistemological question of how we come to know them.


Objection 4: Moral Intuitions

The problem with Premise 2 of the moral argument is that no one can actually show that objective moral values exist.

DR. CRAIG: Now this is sort of funny because a lot of his other objections are based upon atheistic moral theories that affirm the objectivity of moral values. One wonders what does this fellow himself actually believe? Does he think that objective moral values and duties exist, or does he agree with the first premise that they don't exist? It is very confusing. He seems to just want to take pot shots at the argument rather than really enunciate a view.

I would argue that we have good grounds for believing that objective moral values and duties exist in our moral experience. In the absence of some defeater of that experience I am perfectly justified in accepting what my moral experience tells me – that there are objective moral values and duties.

In our debate on the moral argument, Louise Antony, who is herself an atheist, I think very wisely pointed out that any argument from moral skepticism is going to be based upon premises which are less obvious than the existence of objective moral values and duties themselves. Therefore, you would never be justified in accepting an argument from moral skepticism in response to premise (2).

The author here says,

The problem is that the meta-ethical theory that supports the moral argument will end up violating our deeply held moral intuitions.

Well, that remains to be seen. We'll have to see what his other objections are.


Objection 5: Philosophical Primitives

If you’ve paid attention to the moral argument, you’ve probably heard about the Euthyphro Dilemma given by Socrates a couple thousand years ago:

Yes, we've talked about that a lot.

Both horns of the dilemma are bad for Divine Command Theory. Either something is good because god says so, in which case goodness is simply arbitrary. On the other hand if god says something is good because of some other quality, then god has nothing to do with what makes something good or evil. This is why theologians came up with “Modified Divine Command Theory” which attempts to split the horns of the dilemma

Modified Divine Command Theory? I didn't know that that was a response to the Euthyphro.

DR. CRAIG: No. It is not. Of course. The theistic position is not developed in response to the Euthyphro Dilemma. It is its own position. Theists have then responded to the Euthyphro Dilemma by simply saying this is a false dilemma. I don't agree with either of the horns of the dilemma.[3] I think that moral values are rooted in God. God is himself the paradigm of moral goodness. He is essentially loving, kind, just, fair, and so forth. This nature is expressed toward us in the form of commands that constitute our moral duties. So we have an objective grounding for moral values in God.

He recognizes this response, but then wants to ask the further question: “Are the properties like loving-kindness, impartiality, and generosity good because god possesses them in his nature, or does god possess them in his nature because they are good?” The answer is the first! They are good because they are possessed by God. He is the ground of moral values.

Then he says but this violates our moral intuitions. This is what he claimed in the earlier objection. He gives the example,

Two humans express love for each other. . . . According to Divine Command Theory if god exists, this can be called good. However if god does not exist, this exact same situation cannot be called good.

I think that is absolutely correct! I see nothing counter-intuitive about that. On the atheistic view this love relationship just turns out to be an electro-chemical reaction in the brains of these relatively advanced primates. I don't see any reason to think that they have intrinsic moral goodness or that moral goodness attaches to this state. By contrast, if God exists then you have a foundation in God that makes love a good and is then reflected in the loving relationship between these two persons. I don't see anything that is counter-intuitive about that.

This is not to say that the motivations and consequences of an action have zero bearing, as he claims, on whether something counts as good or bad. Obviously if I hate you or attack you or slander you, that is going to count as bad on theism as opposed to complimenting you and supporting you and so forth. Of course they have a bearing on it, but they are not the ground – they are not the foundation – for their goodness or their badness.

KEVIN HARRIS: That is so strong – everything you just said – especially about love as a chemical reaction. In my own experience, love has produced a lot of chemical reactions in me! [laughter] But chemical reactions have never produced love.

Objection 6: Brute Facts

Once we recognize that a meta-ethical theory will reduce goodness down into a philosophical primitive, we quickly run into the idea that this primitive will end up being a kind of moral brute fact.

DR. CRAIG: He says:

A brute fact is simply a fact that is not logically necessary, but is simply a true fact that has no further explanation.

I would deny that on theism. I think that the goodness of love and courage and faith and other virtues are logically necessary. They are in every possible world. They are grounded in the nature of God who exists in every possible world. So it is not a brute fact.

I think what he really means is that it is an explanatory ultimate. That is certainly true. You get to an explanatory ultimate in any ethical theory you offer beyond which you cannot ask further, “Why is that good?” You have to finally just say, “I've come to my explanatory ultimate.” What I would maintain is that theism provides a more adequate explanatory stopping point than these alternative theories. When you look at alternative theories their explanatory stopping point – for example, human beings or abstract objects that are values – are premature or arbitrary. They are not as adequate as explanatory stopping points as is theism.

So, for example, he references Erik Wielenberg who

defends an atheistic meta-ethical theory where moral values terminate in this kind of a brute fact, called 'non-natural moral realism'. On this view love 'just is' good, with no further explanation required.

Well, again, is this thinking of a kind of Moral Platonism? I've offered objections to that that need to be answered. Is it just saying human love is just good and that's all? I just see no reason to think that that is the case on an atheistic view. That is a premature and arbitrary stopping point.[4]


Objection 7: Why Value That?

Once we’ve recognized that meta-ethical theories will reduce down to philosophical primitives that end up being a kind of brute fact, it becomes clear that the moral argument is simply a farce.

DR. CRAIG: That is very ungenerous. Brilliant scholars like William Sorley and ethicists like Robert Adams are not farcical. There is obviously more to this argument than Counter Apologist would have us to believe.

It is not clear to me what the problem is. He seems to want to defend a sort of humanism here, at least the viability of humanism, because we have qualities that differentiate us from, say, lower forms of life. He says, “we have the ability to reason, do calculus, poetry, and philosophy. We have the ability to love and form relationships, and the ability to be happy or sad.” Well, fine. Now he seems to be affirming that there are objective goods which before he said couldn't be proved. The question would be not “Do we have these properties?” (which we certainly do) but “why in the absence of God would they count as good?” That is what I don't see. I certainly think they are good – that is the second premise of the moral argument (objective moral values and duties do exist). But the question would be: why on atheism should we think that the ability to do calculus, poetry, and philosophy counts as a good?


Objection 8 – Modified Divine Command Theory entails an unworkable Moral Absolutism

DR. CRAIG: What he is saying here is that he thinks divine command theory will lead to situations where you have moral conflicts. For example, should you lie in order to save the lives of some Jewish persons who are trying to escape the Nazi Gestapo? I think he is just naive here. He is the one who illustrates his lack of familiarity with various divine command theories of ethics which also will treat these problems of moral dilemmas. It is not a sort of brittle absolutism as he suggests.

He uses Michael Horner here as propounding this, but I think Horner probably gets it from Norm Geisler. What Geisler would say is, yes, there are prima facie ethical duties like “tell the truth,” “love your neighbor,” but Geisler would say that these are not all equal. They are graded so that if you come into a moral conflict, your obligation to preserve the life of your Jewish neighbor is greater or supersedes your obligation to tell the truth to the Nazi Gestapo knocking at your door. That is a perfectly plausible solution from a theistic point of view.

KEVIN HARRIS: A couple more objections here.

Objection 9 – Christianity + Modified Divine Command Theory Entails Moral Absurdities

DR. CRAIG: Here we have the old genocide of the Canaanites that I have responded to on the Reasonable Faith website. It seems to me that at most, even if we conceded this objection, all this is is an attack upon the biblical inerrancy of these Old Testament stories. You would have to say these stories don't really get it right about God. They are unworthy of God, so these must either be legends or exaggerations. The Israelis mistakenly thought God had commanded them to exterminate their enemies. But this wouldn't do anything to undermine the truth of theism or much less a divine command theory of ethics. This is just an attack upon the reliability of the Old Testament. As such, though I've offered a defense of this, I think it is not an objection to a divine command theory of ethics.


Objection 10 – Modified Divine Command Theory is Self-Defeating on Moral Obligations

A moral obligation is something that we “ought” to do – for instance if we see someone drowning and we have the ability to save them, we ought to go in and save the person.

Modified Divine Command Theory claims that our moral obligations and prohibitions are directly constituted by a loving god’s commands.

But this is self-defeating. Because if our moral obligations are constituted by god’s commands, where does our moral obligation to follow god’s commands come from?

Does god issue a command to follow his commands? What about the obligation to follow that command? This quickly falls into an infinite regress problem.

DR. CRAIG: I think this is a really good question.[5] I think there are two possible ways to respond to it. One would be to affirm the infinite regress but say it is non-vicious. I think that is the case here. You are obligated to obey God's commands because he commands you to, and you are obligated to obey his command to obey his commands because he commands you to do that. As far as I can see, this is a benign infinite regress. There isn't any viciousness to this. It would be like an infinite regress like the proposition “p is true” and the proposition that “p is true is true” and the proposition that “p is true that p is true is true.” That will go on to infinity. That is a benign infinite regress. There is no viciousness there.

KEVIN HARRIS: A vicious infinite regress would be something that kind of undermines it?

DR. CRAIG: Yes, it would be that at every level there is a contradiction. There is some incoherence. And there isn't one here. So it seems to me that if there is an infinite regress it is benign. But what I suggest, and he quotes me on this, is that we don't need to have the infinite regress; we can just say this is my theory of obligation. My theory of obligation is that obligations arise from the commands or imperatives of a competent authority. That seems to me to be a very plausible account of what constitutes a moral obligation.

He goes on to admit that really any meta-ethical theory is going to confront this sort of problem – ultimately you just have to state your explanatory ultimate and what you think is the nature of moral obligation and whence it arises. So this isn't a problem unique to theism or divine command ethics. It is true of every meta-ethical system. The question then will be: is this a plausible stopping point? Is this a plausible explanatory ultimate? I think in the case of theism it is much more plausible than atheistic attempts to account for moral obligations and prohibitions.

KEVIN HARRIS: In conclusion today, in the beginning of this article he says the moral argument (one of the reasons he is trying to refute it) is extremely common. I think you've probably noticed that. In your work, no matter what the subject is, it always seems to come up! It is just that compelling, I guess.

DR. CRAIG: I think so. I think it is predicated upon premises that are very plausibly true. As I say, many atheists, past and present, have recognized that in the absence of God that there are no objective moral values and duties. And yet, as the author himself says, we have this deep sense that it is wrong to walk into a grade school with an automatic weapon and shoot little boys and girls and their teachers. Why in the world should we deny that that is objectively wrong? It seems to me that the atheist would owe us here an incredibly powerful defeater. But he has none. So it seems to me that both premises of the moral argument are very plausibly true, and this gives too reason to think that God exists.[6]

[1] See http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/2016/05/countering-moral-argument.html (accessed August 29, 2016).

[2] 5:00

[3] 10:10

[4] 15:06

[5] 20:17

[6] Total Running Time: 24:27 (Copyright © 2016 William Lane Craig)