Maverick Christian

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This debate is on the truth of the first premise of the following moral argument:
  • If God does not exist, then objective morality does not exist.
  • Objective morality does exist.
  • Therefore, God exists.
Maverick Christian will start first defending the truth of the first premise, Aleph Naught will be attacking the truth of the first premise, and Bertuzzi will be the debate moderator.

The debate has the following restrictions:

Opening statements: 3,000 words max
First Rebuttal: 2,300 words max (e.g. critique of opponent’s opening statement)
Second Rebuttal: 2,300 words max (e.g. replying to opponent’s critique)
Closing Remarks: 2,300 words max

EDIT: The Comment Thread is now up.
« Last Edit: August 02, 2015, 08:10:48 pm by Maverick Christian »

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Maverick Christian

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DEBATE: If God doesn’t exist, then objective morality doesn’t exist?
« Reply #1 on: August 02, 2015, 08:08:22 pm »
The Moral Argument

A popular form of the moral argument goes something like this.
  • If God does not exist, then objective morality does not exist.
  • Objective morality does exist.
  • Therefore, God exists.
The topic of this debate is whether the first premise is true.


General Approach

To illustrate my general approach, let’s consider how one can be justified in believing, “If it rained recently, then Sue’s car is wet” without knowing it with absolute certainty. Suppose I know Sue parked her car out in the open air ten minutes ago, she has not left my side since then or given her car keys to anyone, and she’s the only one with the car keys.  While it is possible that it rained recently and Sue’s car is not wet (e.g. maybe some weird person is randomly throwing tarps on people’s cars, including Sue’s car) it is unlikely given the information that I have.  Given that it rained recently, Sue’s car is probably wet—to the point where if I learned that it had rained recently, I would be justified in believing that Sue’s car is wet.  Hence I am justified in believing, “If it rained recently, then Sue’s car is wet” even though I don’t know it with absolute certainty.

My approach to defending the first premise uses the same sort of reasoning: given atheism, objective morality probably doesn’t exist—to the point where given atheism, one would be justified in believing objective morality does not exist.  I say “probably” because I’m not claiming that on atheism we’d know for certain that objective morality doesn’t exist, but I do think the probability is high enough such that on atheism we’d be justified in believing that objective morality doesn’t exist.  If that’s true, we’d be justified in believing “If God does not exist, then objective morality does not exist” even if we wouldn’t know it with absolute certainty.

I’ll kind of assume for sake of argument that atheism is true and then argue objective morality does not exist—in so doing I’ll be justifying the claim that “Given that atheism is true in the real world we are in, objective morality does not exist.”

But what exactly is objective morality?

What is Objective Morality?

Moral objectivism is the idea that there are moral truths that hold independently of our belief and perception of them.  For example, it’s morally wrong for a man to torture an infant just for fun and it would remain wrong even if a baby torturer thought otherwise and killed everyone who disagreed with him.  An action is morally wrong for someone only if they ought not to do it, and it’s important to know what kind of “ought” the moral argument is talking about.

In some cases terms like “ought” and “should” have a purely descriptive meaning, e.g. “If you want to live, you ought to breathe” meaning something like, “As a matter of practical necessity, you need to breathe to live.”  Here the word “ought” is a shorthand for some purely descriptive meaning.  Call these oughts “descriptive oughts.”

On the other hand, sometimes a term like “ought” is not a shorthand for some purely descriptive meaning, e.g. “You should not torture infants just for fun.”  This type of ought is (a) prescriptive; and (b) does not have a purely descriptive meaning.  Call this type of ought the “prescriptive ought.”

The type of ought the moral argument has in mind is the prescriptive ought; e.g. where an action is morally wrong for someone only if they ought not to do it.  This is important because to get around the moral argument’s first premise I’ve seen some atheists redefine morality so that it doesn’t use the prescriptive ought (this happened in my first live debate with an atheist—though I used different terminology; when I told him that most have the prescriptive ought in mind, he didn’t believe me!).

What the claim is not

Now that we know what objective morality is I want to note what the claim is not. The claim is not that objective morality can’t exist if God doesn’t exist, the claim is that objective morality doesn’t exist if God doesn’t exist.

That’s important because I’ve seen some atheists attack the first premise by arguing that God does not or might not ground morality, such as by providing a possible foundation of morality that isn’t God.  But while that might show that objective morality can exist if God doesn’t exist, this won’t matter if we have sufficient reason for believing that objective morality doesn’t exist if God doesn’t exist, which is what the first premise actually claims.

But why on atheism should we believe that objective morality doesn’t exist?  I’ll give a quick overview.

Overview

On a theistic worldview it makes perfect sense that there’d be some component of reality transcending our opinion that says people shouldn’t do certain things.  Theism also (at least potentially) makes sense of moral knowledge, e.g. God designed us in such a way (by evolution or otherwise) such that when our cognitive faculties are functioning properly we intuitively apprehend elementary moral truths, just as we intuit elementary truths of logic and arithmetic.

In contrast, atheism strongly suggests that objective moral oughtness isn’t real.  Suppose atheism is true.  On atheism objective moral oughtness is rather strange; it’s invisible, nonphysical, and empirically undetectable. So why shouldn’t the consistent atheist reject the existence of this invisible nonphysical thing that cannot be empirically detected, if the atheist is to reject the existence of invisible nonphysical deities that have not been empirically detected?  Given atheism, it seems more likely that people’s belief in moral oughtness is a delusion brought about by evolution to get us to behave in certain ways and help our species survive.  Given atheism, objective morality probably doesn’t exist.

Moral properties are empirically undetectable

To explain what I mean by objective moral oughtness being empirically undetectable, consider the following illustration. Imagine a moral nihilist (who disbelieves in moral oughtness) and a moral realist (who believes in moral oughtness) observe some jerk kicking a dog just for fun; the dog whimpers in pain and runs away. Both agree on all physiological and psychological facts, e.g. that the dog felt pain and suffered minor injury.  The moral nihilist says, “I don’t think moral oughtness (like moral wrongness) is attached to that action.”  The moral realist says, “I think moral oughtness (moral wrongness) is attached to that action.”

There is no empirical way to determine who is right here, because both views agree on all the same empirically observable facts.  Not only do we have zero empirical evidence for the existence of moral properties, we can’t have empirical evidence for moral properties since they’re empirically undetectable.

This also raises an important question for the atheist moral objectivist: if moral properties are empirically undetectable, how do we know about them?

How do we know morality exists?

I’m raising the question of how on atheism we’d know moral objectivism is true because one approach I’ll be using to argue for the first premise is this:
  • Given atheism, we would not have good reasons for believing in objective morality.
  • Given atheism, we would have (at least) prima facia grounds for believing objective morality doesn’t exist.
So how do we know moral properties are real?  One straightforward idea is that we know of moral properties through intuition. One problem with this on atheism is that which moral intuitions we’d get from sociobiological evolution is unguided and random—random in the sense that it could have been otherwise and there’s no external intelligence like God directing which intuitions we’d get.  On naturalism we could have had very different moral codes, even more different from the variations we’ve seen in human history, because moral intuitions would likely track adaptive behavior (behavior conducive for survival and reproductive fitness) rather than truth.  That’s problematic because evolution could even have evolved a species where adaptive behavior would be to kill one’s own sibling, and we know this because it’s already happened (the Nazca booby bird).  All things considered, it would be a remarkable coincidence that our moral intuitions happen to coincide with what these invisible and causally inert moral properties are really like.

To illustrate why this is a problem, suppose someone asks another “Why do you accept your moral beliefs?”  The person replies, “Moral intuition; by remarkable coincidence my intuitions happen to line up with what these invisible moral properties are really like.”  She replies, “But if it’s just blind luck, how do you know your randomly chosen moral intuitions are correct?”  And there isn’t a good answer for that.

If this is what moral properties are really like, if they’re so metaphysical that on naturalism we’d have to rely on coincidence, it’s looking increasingly unlikely on atheism that our intuitions of moral properties existing are veridical. Moreover, such reliance on remarkable coincidence suggests that we wouldn’t have real knowledge of objective moral truths; at best we’d have coincidentally true beliefs.

It gets worse.  Unfortunately for atheism our best theory (on atheism) for why we believe in morality is unguided sociobiological evolution giving us such moral intuition, and this atheistic theory for why we believe morality exists does not require morality’s existence. That’s unsurprising since moral properties are causally inert; their presence or absence wouldn’t affect the evolutionary outcome at all.  The fact that our best theory for why we believe in morality has no need for morality’s existence strongly suggests that we don’t have rational grounds for believing in morality.

All things considered, if atheism is true we do not have rational grounds for thinking objective moral oughtness exists.  On atheism, do we have rational grounds for believing that morality doesn’t exist?  I think we do, and to argue for it I’ll use the argument from queerness.

Argument from Queerness

To illustrate the general idea behind it, suppose someone claims there is an invisible unicorn floating above my head.  This claim is possible, but not plausible.  I would be justified in disbelieving in this unicorn.  The unicorn is “queer” enough to be prima facia implausible, and we are prima facia justified in rejecting its existence, that is, in the absence of good reasons to believe it exists, we’re justified in rejecting its existence.  Objective moral oughtness likewise seems “queer.”

Atheist philosopher J.L. Mackie thinks prescriptive objective moral values would be “qualities or relations of a very strange sort, utterly different from anything else in the universe.  Correspondingly, if we were aware of them, it would seem to be by some special faculty…[that is] utterly different from our ordinary ways of knowing everything else.”[1]

I kind of touched on this before when I noted that moral properties are empirically undetectable, and relying on remarkable coincidence for our intuitions to line up with objective moral properties seems insufficient; it seems we’d need something like supernatural clairvoyance to know they exist.

Objective moral properties are:
  • invisible, nonphysical, empirically undetectable;
  • yet exist somehow independently of our perception of them; and
  • it seems we’d need something like supernatural clairvoyance to know they exist.
The queerness objective morality is arguably akin an invisible and nonphysical deity.  And when you think about it, it’s very akin to an invisible nonphysical deity because what is objective morality?  Objective morality is this invisible component of reality transcending our opinion that says we shouldn’t do certain things.  That sounds kind of like a deity.  All things considered, on atheism we have at least prima facia justification for rejecting the existence of objective moral oughtness.

The Argument from the Unbiased Atheist

To kind of bring this all together, suppose there’s an unbiased atheist who has no intuitions of morality existing or not existing.  She isn’t biased by prior moral intuitions.  Then she meets people claiming to have a veridical intuition of morality’s existence.  Let’s consider what our Unbiased Atheist would know given atheism:
  • Zero empirical evidence for objective moral properties.  This supports my view that on atheism we don’t have rational grounds for believing moral objectivism.
  • It’d be a remarkable coincidence if moral intuitions happened to line up with what these invisible, causally inert moral properties are really like. Such reliance on remarkable coincidence suggests that we wouldn’t have real knowledge of objective moral truths; at best we’d have coincidentally true beliefs.
  • Objective moral properties are suspiciously queer, akin to invisible and nonphysical gods.  Thus there’s at least prima facia justification for disbelieving objective morality’s existence.
  • Evolution occasionally gives false beliefs (e.g. gods).  So there’s precedent for evolution giving humans false beliefs.  And belief in gods potentially serves some evolutionary purpose: “Don’t do stuff that harms the group even if we’re not watching because the gods are watching and they’ll punish you for doing bad stuff.”
  • Moral beliefs have evolutionary value whether true or not.  Suspiciously enough, moral beliefs is kind of like the false belief in gods in potentially serving some evolutionary purpose: to get us to behave in the right ways.  Moral beliefs have evolutionary value whether true or not.
  • Our best theory for why we believe in morality doesn’t require morality’s existence.  This strongly suggests we don’t have rational grounds for believing in morality.  And we don’t need to posit something so extravagant as these invisible and highly metaphysical properties to explain moral beliefs; we can just say it’s a trick of evolution to get us to behave in certain ways.
The reasonable conclusion for our Unbiased Atheist is that like intuitions of gods existing, moral intuitions are probably delusory and not veridical.  I’m not saying the Unbiased Atheist would know for certain that objective moral oughtness doesn’t exist, but given the above facts I think she’d be justified in believing it doesn’t exist.

Part of my argument for the first premise was this:
  • Given atheism, we would not have good reasons for believing in objective morality.
  • Given atheism, we would have prima facia grounds for believing objective morality doesn’t exist (i.e. in the absence of good reasons to believe that objective morality exists, we’d be justified in believing objective morality doesn’t exist).
I think the facts that the Unbiased Atheist has to consider support (1) and (2).  We can make a deductive argument from the Unbiased Atheist that goes like this:
  • If the Unbiased Atheist would be justified in believing moral intuitions are not veridical, then given atheism moral intuitions are probably not veridical.
  • The Unbiased Atheist would be justified in believing moral intuitions are not veridical.
  • Therefore, given atheism moral intuitions are probably not veridical.
The first premise is true because the unbiased atheist is rationally considering all the evidence including the existence of human moral intuition.  The second premise is justifiably due to the reasons I’ve already mentioned (no rational grounds to believe morality, morality’s queerness gives prima facia grounds for rejecting its existence, etc.).

Conclusion

Suppose atheism is true; then we should consider these facts:
  • Objective moral oughtness is very queer (confer J.L. Mackie’s argument from queerness), so why shouldn’t the consistent atheist reject the existence of this invisible nonphysical thing that can’t be empirically detected, if the atheist is to also reject the existence of invisible nonphysical deities that have not been empirically detected?
  • Our best theory (on atheism) for why people believe morality’s existence doesn’t require that morality exists, especially since moral beliefs have evolutionary value whether they’re true or not.
  • The case of the Unbiased Atheist further establishes that moral intuitions are probably not veridical if atheism is true.
Although on atheism we wouldn’t know for certain that objective morality doesn’t exist, on atheism we would have pretty strong grounds for believing objective morality doesn’t exist, to the extent that we’d be justified in believing objective moral oughtness isn’t real.  Thus we have good reason to accept “Given that God does not exist, objective morality does not exist,” and thus we have good grounds for believing “If God does not exist then objective morality does not exist.”

My questions to Aleph Naught: why on atheism should we believe our evolved intuitions of invisible objective moral oughtness is veridical, instead of being like the delusory evolved intuitions of invisible nonphysical deities?  With regards to my argument from the Unbiased Atheist, which premise do you reject and why?


Citation

[1] Mackie, J.L. Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (New York, New York: Penguin Putnam Inc., 1990) p. 38

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aleph naught

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Opening Statement:

First of all, I would like to say that I'm sorry for taking so long to respond. I will be much quicker in the future!

Now, Is God necessary for morality? Where my opponent says yes, I say no. And, where he has a burden of proof, so do I. Happily, mine is significantly lighter. My argument is simply that, if there is no apparent reason to believe something then we shouldn't believe it. And, as I will demonstrate in this opening post, no reason has been offered in support of the claim "if God doesn't exist, then objective morality doesn't exist".

In the General Approach section Maverick outlines his argument, which takes the following form:

1. If P then probably Q
2. Therefore, if I know P then I'm justified in believing Q
3. Therefore, I am justified in believing "if P then Q" (despite not knowing it with certainty).

But when stated like this, his argument is clearly not valid. Neither the first nor the second premises, nor their conjunction entails statement (3). Part of this might stem from a confusion Maverick seems to have about entailment. If P can be the case while Q is not, then by definition P does not entail Q. That it is possible for someone to have thrown a tarp on Sue's car shows that the statement "if it rained recently, then Sue's car is wet" is false. After all, saying "if P then Q" and "if not-Q then not-P" is saying the same thing as "Q is necessary for P" and "P is sufficient for Q". While I can't quite think of any way to disprove it, I can see no valid way to infer "Pr(if P then Q) is high" from "if P then Pr(Q) is high" or "Pr(Q|P) is high".

Likewise, just because our knowledge of P justifies our belief that Q, it does not follow that we would be justified in believing "if P then Q". This one is all the more obvious. Knowing that Sue has parked outside in the rain surely justifies our belief that Sue's car is wet. But we would be irrational to think from this that "if Sue's car is parked in the rain, then it is wet" since for all we know someone has thrown a tarp over it.

It's worth pointing out that William Lane Craig takes a very different approach to defending the conditional premise of his moral argument. Like Maverick, he doesn't want to defend this premise to a point of certainty. But instead of trying to fallaciously move between "if P then probably Q" to "probably, if P then Q" or between "if P then justifiably Q" to "justifiably if P then Q", he instead defends certain theories of moral ontology as being probably (or justifiably) true. And, these theories of moral ontology directly entail the conditional premise of his moral argument: if moral obligations just are divine commands, then there couldn't be moral obligations without divine commands. And so Craig is able to validly conclude that the conditional premise of his moral argument is probably (or justifiably) true.

Craig's approach is valid, but it requires him to try to defend extremely controversial (and, quite frankly, incredibly implausible) claims about moral ontology. Though valid, Craig's supporting arguments are not sound. Maverick's approach is much more interesting in that, while it's invalid, it's at least plausible. The supporting arguments he tries to use are arguments that meta-ethicists would actually use—unlike Craig who is without any basis in contemporary meta-ethics. That Maverick's argument is invalid doesn't have to be a problem, because he could easily make a valid argument if he was willing to give up Craig's syllogism. Instead of trying to make a modus tollens argument, he could give a baysian argument with a similar form to Draper's evidential argument from evil and Collins' fine tuning argument:

1. Given atheism, objective morality is unlikely
2. Given theism, objective morality is likely (or, at least, not unlikely)
3. Therefore (granting a few assumptions that I would not care to challenge), theism is more likely given objective morality than is atheism.

So, as you can see, many of Maverick's supporting arguments are still very relevant, since they seek to defend premise (1). In fact he's even said a little in support of premise (2), even though defending premise (2) is useless as far as Craig's syllogism goes. In my rebuttal phase I will address these supporting arguments, trying my best to refute them.


Edit: Maverick has given me permission to edit the opening statement a bit. I realized there's a bit more I could say. I'm mostly only going to reinforce the points I've already made:

Here is a short proof that (A) "if P then probably Q" does not entail (B) "probably, if P then Q". I know he never explicitly said this, but I'm attacking it preemptively in case he tries to fall back on it later:

A. P → Pr(Q) > 50%
B. Pr(P→Q) > 50%
B1. .: Pr(not-P or Q) > 50%
B2. .: Pr(not-P) + Pr(Q) - Pr(not-P and Q) > 50%

Now suppose P is probably true but in fact false, and that Q is a contradiction. Statement (A) is true, even though statement (B2) is false: Pr(not-P) would be lower than 50%, Pr(Q) would be zero, and Pr(not-P and Q) would be non-negative. And since (B2) is logically equivalent to (B), statement A does not entail statement B.

I already proved that "if I know P then I am justified in believing Q" does not entail "I am justified in believing if P then Q", but here's another example: Suppose it's true that if you know P then you're justified in believing Q. But now suppose you know that P does not entail Q: you are very aware that sometimes P is true when Q is false. You cannot be justified in believing something you know to not be the case, so the inference is invalid.

Now finally, I should point out that even on theism, one would be justified in believing objective morality does not exist. Many of the arguments against moral realism apply regardless of whether or not God exists (e.g. Mackie's queerness argument, which is different from the queerness argument Maverick has presented). But surely Maverick doesn't think we're justified in believing that, if God exists, then objective morality does not exist.
« Last Edit: August 13, 2015, 07:12:55 pm by aleph naught »

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Maverick Christian

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This debate is discussing the first premise of this moral argument:
  • If God does not exist, then objective morality does not exist.
  • Objective morality does exist.
  • Therefore, God exists.
It’s notable how little Aleph Null addressed my opening statement.

To support the truth of premise (1) I used the Argument from the Unbiased Atheist, and we’ve heard to no response to that yet.  I also employed these two points:
  • Given atheism, we would not have good reasons for believing in objective morality.
  • Given atheism, we would have (at least) prima facia grounds for believing objective morality doesn’t exist.
So far we’ve heard no rebuttal to point (1).  We’ve seen no evidence for evolved intuitions of moral oughtness being any less delusory than intuitions of gods existing.  Recall I’ve also given reasons for why we don’t have rational grounds for believing objective moral oughtness on atheism (zero empirical evidence for moral oughtness, our best explanation for why we believe in morality has no need for morality’s existence, especially since belief in moral oughtness has evolutionary value whether it exists or not, etc.).

Nor have we heard any rebuttal to point (2), though I provided reasons for it (argument from queerness with the invisible unicorn illustration, objective morality’s queerness is akin to nonphysical gods, the precedent of evolution giving humans delusory intuitions of gods existing etc.).

General Approach

Aleph did attack my General Approach though.  To illustrate how one can be justified in accepting if-then statements, I used the following scenario: I know Sue parked her car out in the open air ten minutes ago, she has not left my side since then or given her car keys to anyone, and she’s the only one with the car keys.  I claimed I’d be justified in believing “If it rained recently, then Sue’s car is wet.”  Incredibly, Aleph Null says not only is this if-then statement unjustified, it’s actually false!

Some logic lingo: an “If P, then Q” statement is called a conditional, where the P part is called the antecedent and the Q part is called the consequent.  Aleph Null suggested that if it’s possible for there to be a true antecedent with a false consequent, then the conditional is itself false, e.g. it’s possible (though unlikely) some weird person is randomly throwing tarps on people’s cars, including Sue’s car, and thus it’s possible (but unlikely) for “If it rained recently, then Sue’s car is wet” to have a true antecedent with a false consequent.

To illustrate the folly of this approach, consider the following.  A mayor concerned with the safety of bridge X wants to know whether we’re justified in thinking, “If an ordinary car travels over bridge X, the bridge will support the weight.”  She hires a large team of the best, most reliable, most scientifically minded bridge inspectors on earth to inspect the bridge, and the inspectors unanimously ensure the bridge can handle the weight and much more.  Ordinarily we’d take this as superb grounds for accepting, “If an ordinary car travels over bridge X, then the bridge will support the weight,” but Aleph Null’s reasoning leads us to believe that if-then statement is not only unjustified but also false!

Why?  Because it is possible (though unlikely) that the bridge inspectors made a mistake. Even if our bridge inspectors are superhumanly reliable, it is possible (though unlikely) that the scientific grounds we use for making judgments like this are false (scientific theories are often rational to believe but they are not strictly proven) in a way that the bridge would collapse under the car’s weight.  It is possible, albeit unlikely, that the antecedent is true and the consequent is false for “If an ordinary car travels over bridge X, then the bridge will support the weight,” and thus this if-then statement is unjustified and false, even with superhumanly reliable bridge inspectors saying otherwise.  But clearly this is absurd; Aleph has raised the standard of proof for accepting if-then statements to an unreasonably high level.  “If an ordinary car travels over bridge X, then the bridge will support the weight” is a justified belief in this scenario, even if it’s not known with absolute certainty.

The Actual Claim

I am not claiming that God is necessary for morality in this debate; in my opening statement’s “What the claim is not” section I pointed out the claim is not “that objective morality can’t exist if God doesn’t exist, the claim is that objective morality doesn’t exist if God doesn’t exist.”

For sake of brevity, let’s use these symbols:
  • A = atheism is true
  • ¬M = objective morality does not exist.
  • Pr(¬M|A) = the probability of ¬M given A.
My actual claim (from my opening statement):

…given atheism, objective morality probably doesn’t exist—to the point where given atheism, one would be justified in believing objective morality does not exist.

I believe that given A, ¬M is probably true, i.e. I believe Pr(¬M|A) is high, and I believe Pr(¬M|A) is high enough to be justified in believing that “If A, then ¬M.”
 
Mathematics and Propositional Logic

I believe that if Pr(¬M|A) is high, then the probability of “If A, then ¬M” is high.  More generically, I believe Pr(Q|P) being high entails a high probability of “If P, then Q,” at least in propositional logic, and I’ll provide a mathematical proof for this.

In propositional logic, the “If P, then Q” material conditional says it is not the case that antecedent is true and consequent is false.  This is often good enough for philosophical arguments (such as the moral argument), since in a true material conditional, if the antecedent is true, the consequent is true as well—because a true material conditional prohibits the consequent from being false when the antecedent is true.  (Note: I’ve proved the following theorem before at my blog, and one can read that to see a quick refresher of basic set theory and probability).

In math and logic, a lemma is a claim that is proved to demonstrate something else later in a proof. For this proof I’ll be using several lemmas.

Recall that the “If P, then Q” material conditional means it is not the case that P is true and Q is false. Thus the probability that the material conditional is true can be mathematically depicted as this:

Pr(¬(P ∩ ¬Q))

Which means “The probability of it not being the case that P and ¬Q are both true.”

By “If P, then probably Q” I mean “Given P, Q is probably true,” which in turn means that Pr(Q|P) is high. So to show that high Pr(Q|P) entails a high Pr(¬(P ∩ ¬Q)), I want to prove the following:

Pr(¬(P ∩ ¬Q)) ≥ Pr(Q|P)

Lemma (1): (P ∩ Q) and (P ∩ ¬Q) are disjoint (mutually exclusive). We can show that no element in the universe can be a member of both (P ∩ Q) and (P ∩ ¬Q). Let x be an arbitrary element and let’s suppose x is a member of both (P ∩ Q) and (P ∩ ¬Q). With a bit of math logic, we show that there can’t be any x such that x ∈ (P ∩ Q) and x ∈ (P ∩ ¬Q) by assuming there is such an x and deriving an impossibility, like so:

(1) x ∈ (P ∩ Q) and x ∈ (P ∩ ¬Q)
(2) (x ∈ P and x ∈ Q) and (x ∈ P and x ∈ ¬Q), from (1) and definition of ∩
(3) x ∈ P and x ∈ Q and x ∈ P and x ∈ ¬Q, from (2)
(4) x ∈ Q and x ∈ ¬Q, from (3)

Of course, it’s impossible for there to be an element that is a member of a set and its complement, since (Q ∩ ¬Q) = ∅. Thus (P ∩ Q) and (P ∩ ¬Q) are disjoint, i.e. (P ∩ Q) ∩ (P ∩ ¬Q) = ∅.

With this in mind, let ξ be the universal set.

P ∩ ξ = P
⇔ P ∩ (Q ∪ ¬Q) = P
⇔ (P ∩ Q) ∪ (P ∩ ¬Q) = P

Lemma (2): Since (P ∩ Q) and (P ∩ ¬Q) and are mutually exclusive, by the rules of probability:
Pr(P ∩ Q) + Pr(P ∩ ¬Q) = Pr(P)

With those two lemmas in mind, consider this statement:

Pr(Q|P) = Pr(Q ∩ P)/Pr(P)

Now we swap Pr(P) for Pr(P ∩ Q) + Pr(P ∩ ¬Q), and this is a legitimate move thanks to the equality proved in lemma (2):

Pr(Q|P) = Pr(Q ∩ P)/[Pr(P ∩ Q) + Pr(P ∩ ¬Q)]
⇔  Pr(Q|P) =    Pr(P ∩ Q)/[Pr(P ∩ Q) + Pr(P ∩ ¬Q)]

Just to make this easier to read, let’s have x represent Pr(P ∩ Q) like so:

Pr(Q|P) = x/[x + Pr(P ∩ ¬Q)]

Given some value for Pr(P ∩ ¬Q), what is the highest Pr(Q|P) possible? One hint is this: given some Pr(P ∩ ¬Q), when x goes to zero, so does Pr(Q|P); a smaller x means a smaller Pr(Q|P) (some calculus rigorously proves this). So to get the highest Pr(Q|P) value given some Pr(P ∩ ¬Q), we want x to be as big as possible. Now since this is true:

Pr(P ∩ Q) + Pr(P ∩ ¬Q) = Pr(P) ≤ 1
    ⇔ Pr(P ∩ Q) + Pr(P ∩ ¬Q) ≤ 1
    ⇔ Pr(P ∩ Q) ≤ 1 − Pr(P ∩ ¬Q)

The highest Pr(P ∩ Q) (and thus x) can be is 1 − Pr(P ∩ ¬Q). So substituting the maximum value for x to obtain an upper limit for Pr(Q|P) gives us this:

Pr(Q|P) ≤ [1 − Pr(P ∩ ¬Q)]/[1 − Pr(P ∩ ¬Q) + Pr(P ∩ ¬Q)]
    ⇔ Pr(Q|P) ≤ [1 − Pr(P ∩ ¬Q)]/{1 + [−Pr(P ∩ ¬Q)] + Pr(P ∩ ¬Q)}
    ⇔ Pr(Q|P) ≤ [1 − Pr(P ∩ ¬Q)]/[1 + 0]
    ⇔ Pr(Q|P) ≤ [1 − Pr(P ∩ ¬Q)]/1
    ⇔ Pr(Q|P) ≤ 1 − Pr(P ∩ ¬Q)
    ⇔ Pr(Q|P) ≤ Pr(¬(P ∩ ¬Q))
    ⇔ Pr(¬(P ∩ ¬Q)) ≥ Pr(Q|P)

This means that Pr(¬(P ∩ ¬Q)) must be at least as great as Pr(Q|P), which means Pr(Q|P) being high entails Pr(¬(P ∩ ¬Q)) being high. This in turn means “Given P, then probably Q” entails “Probably, if P then Q.”  Thus, “Given A, probably ¬M” entails “Probably, If A then ¬M.” 

In response one could say that premise (1) as a material conditional doesn’t match the ordinary language if-then statement.  This is true; in addition to being a true material conditional, the natural language if-then statement must have the consequent follow from the antecedent in some relevant way.  I think this holds though; notice that God (as commonly conceived) is morally good independently of whether we think he is (e.g. God was good prior to humans existing) which would entail objective moral values (confer how I defined moral objectivism in my opening statement) and thus entails objective morality.  Replace God with atheism however, and we get a worldview that suggests objective morality doesn’t exist for reasons I explained in my opening statement.

Even if premise (1) of the moral argument weren’t a true if-then statement of ordinary language, the fact that premise (1) is a justifiably true material conditional is enough to intellectually trouble the atheist moral objectivist, since (1) and (2) together entail “God exists” even when (1) is “merely” a justifiably true material conditional.

Aleph’s proof

What about Aleph’s proof?  If I were to make the claim that “If P, then probably Q” entails “Probably, if P then Q” I’d be using “If P, then probably Q” to mean “Given P, probably Q” which means “P(Q|P) is high.”  Aleph attempts a counterexample in which “If P, then probably Q” is true when “Probably, if P then Q” is not.  Paradoxically, in Aleph’s counterexample “If P, then probably Q” is true (on his interpretation) when “Given P, probably Q” is false since P(Q|P) = 0 due to Q being a contradiction. The paradox thus results from Aleph interpreting “If P, then probably Q” differently from how I’d be using the phrase.

Tu quoque?

Aleph suggests my arguments against moral objectivism in my opening statement apply for theism, not just atheism.  Does it?  Not for a God like the Christian God.  As noted earlier, God as commonly conceived (e.g. in Christianity) entails objective moral values.  The Christian God gives commandments (e.g. thou shalt not steal) we ought to obey even if we disagree with them, and this implies objective moral duties.  Thus the argument from queerness wouldn’t apply if we knew this God exists (objective morality isn’t at all queer given the existence of this God).  On atheism however, objective morality is suspiciously queer for reasons I described in my opening statement.

What about the attack on moral knowledge?  The Christian God makes moral knowledge likely (confer Romans 2:14-15).  Notably, these theological beliefs are hardly unique to Christianity; even if I were a deist I’d still believe God is objectively morally good and I’d believe that God designed us (via evolution) in such a way that when our cognitive faculties are functioning properly we intuitively apprehend elementary moral truths.  On atheism however, it is (obviously) unlikely that there was a supernatural omniscient intelligence superintending evolution. Given atheism, it is far more likely that we don’t have rational grounds for believing in morality, for reasons I explained in my opening statement.

Conclusion

By and large, Aleph Null did little to attack my opening statement (all my reasons for thinking “Given A, then probably ¬M” went unaddressed; note also my questions at the end of my opening statement went unanswered), and his attack on my “General Approach” is unsuccessful.

4

aleph naught

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This is my second attempt at this first rebuttal, Maverick pointed out that my first attempt misunderstood many of his arguments. We talked a bit in private chat, and hopefully now I'll have addressed him properly.

First Rebuttal:

After seeing Maverick's proof, I agree that Pr(A|B) ≤ Pr(B→A). He's right that my refutation hinged on a different way of understanding "if A then probably B". For anyone who's might be having trouble with his proof, try drawing a venn diagram to see it visually. With that said, I admit his main argument is valid: he has presented a reason to believe that God is necessary for morality.

Now the burden falls on me to show that this is not a very good reason, which is something I had said I would do anyway. And so now throughout the rebuttal phase I will refute his sub-arguments.

A Queerness Argument: This argument might be summarized as,
1. On atheism morality is queer (meaning unlike anything else in the universe)
2. The queerness of an entity is prima facie reason to reject it
3. Therefore, on atheism there is prima facie reason to reject morality

Maverick thinks that morality is queer in virtue of it's being invisible, nonphysical and empirically undetectable; in virtue of its existing independent of our perception of it (in other words, being an external world object); and in virtue of it "[seeming as if] we'd need something like supernatural clairvoyance to know [it] exists." Let's go through each of these features.

On atheism, Is morality invisible, nonphysical and empirically undetectable? If we are dualists about morality, then the answer is yes. But in that case, premise (2) has little to no force. Of course dualistic properties are going to be unlike anything else in the universe, that's in part what it is to be a dualistic property! Dualists, in other words, have already come to accept that there are things in the universe which are unlike anything else. Premise (2), then, does not amount to much more than saying we have reason to reject dualism. But that is very controversial! And since theism is itself a dualistic position, theists aren't in much of a position to lean on this premise. On ethical naturalism, the answer is for the most part no. In this case moral properties would be identical to physical properties, and thus just as visible and physical and empirically detectable as any other physical property. Now here we should distinguish between being directly empirically detectable, and being indirectly empirically detectable. True, even if morality reduces to physicality, we cannot settle ethical disputes solely by sharing in sense experience. And yet morality would be no less empirically detectable than, for example, emotion. Imagine arguing with a psychopath over whether or not a cat is feeling pain when being kicked. The psychopath will look and say "I don't see pain! Where's the pain?" Of course the problem is that the psychopaths intuitions are broken. Unlike the rest of us, he doesn't have that same innate ability to recognize the emotion of others. The point is that we're justified in believing the reductive thesis on a priori grounds (e.g. that it's the best explanation of psychological/moral ontology), and from there we can start assessing psychological/moral questions empirically. Now as I've just shown, on ethical naturalism morality is only empirically undetectable in the same way emotion is. As such, there is nothing queer about morality in virtue of its being empirically undetectable in the direct sense.

On atheism, does morality exist independent of our perception of it? Yes indeed it does! Is that queer? Of course not! Practically everything exists independent of our perception of it. And so in this sense, morality is the very opposite of being queer.

Finally, on atheism need we have some kind of supernatural clairvoyance to know it exists? I've already shown that we can empirically assess ethical questions once we've accepted ethical naturalism (on a priori grounds). Also, I don't think Maverick has given us any good reason to think it would be a "...remarkable coincidence for our intuitions to line up with objective moral properties..." But I will get to that in the other section, when I address his evolutionary argument.

Finally Maverick has suggested that while on atheism morality is queer, on theism it is not. He says, "And when you think about it, it’s very akin to an invisible nonphysical deity because what is objective morality?  Objective morality is this invisible component of reality transcending our opinion that says we shouldn’t do certain things. That sounds kind of like a deity."

But this is quite incorrect: morality is not a component of reality that says we shouldn't do certain things. Morality is literally comprised of facts about what we shouldn't do that are ontologically distinct from facts about our attitudes (including propositional attitudes like opinions, but also including preferences, values, etc.). This is absolutely nothing like a deity. After all, theological facts don't constitute facts about what I should do independent of my attitudes! But there are other kinds of facts which are very much like moral facts, and which atheists commonly believe in: epistemic facts. These are facts about what we should believe and what sorts of methodologies we should practice. You shouldn't believe something just because you want to. Rather, you should follow the evidence wherever it leads. These are prescriptive facts very much like the facts of morality. One such epistemic fact I will utilize later on in the debate, sometimes called the principle of credulity, is this: that something appears to be the case is reason in of itself to believe it's so.

An Evolutionary Argument:[/i] In this section Maverick attacks the atheists ethical intuitions.

Maverick points out that on atheism, with a different evolutionary origin we could have had a very different set of ethical intuitions. I agree! But so what? It does not follow from this that our ethical intuitions are probably not reliable, nor that our ethical beliefs are not justified by our ethical intuitions. Furthermore, Maverick suggests that "[on atheism] moral intuitions would likely track adaptive behavior (behavior conducive for survival and reproductive fitness) rather than truth," but surely this is a false dilemma. Why shouldn't we think that awareness of moral truth was adaptive for our evolutionary ancestors, just as an awareness of physical truths was? On ethical naturalism moral facts are physical facts and, as such, could potentially have had an influence on our reproductive success. At the very least, Maverick has offered us no reason to think the truth of our ancestors moral beliefs didn't have an impact on their reproductive fitness. All he's really said is that other animals have evolved immoral behaviors, but then again other animals evolved all sorts of traits. That indicates nothing about human evolution, or the probability of certain traits evolving in humans. And even so, a tendency for immoral behavior isn't the same as unreliable ethical intuitions, anyway. I would point out that humans certainly did evolve a tendency for immoral behavior, along with intuitions to recognize it as such! Finally, Maverick says "it would be a remarkable coincidence that our moral intuitions happen to coincide with what these invisible and causally inert moral properties are really like," and yet this is surely not yet warranted by anything he's said. He has neither defended that moral properties are causally inert, nor that our ethical intuitions would probably not be veridical.

Maverick offers a second, similar argument. He points out that our best theory (on atheism) for why we have the ethical intuitions we do doesn't require these intuitions to be veridical. I have multiple responses.

First, I agree! But so what? Again this neither suggests that our ethical intuitions are not veridical, nor that they fail to justify our ethical belief. In fact, we can say the very same about a lot of things; including religious experiences. We need not appeal to the existence of gods or any supernatural beings, to explain why people have the religious experiences they do. But surely despite this, religious experience still offers the individual having that experience some amount of reason to believe. And this is important because for most people it's solely religious experience that has them convinced.

Secondly, this is true even on theism. The evolutionary account of moral psychology is the best, and really the only account on the table. It's well evidenced by successful predictions (our ethical intuitions are more or less exactly what you'd expect, given an evolutionary origin). And, even on theism we needn't appeal to God's touch to explain why we have these intuitions. Adding God to the mix adds no explanatory value, but rather only brings unnecessary complexity. Furthermore, it actually just detracts from the explanatory value and raises further questions. For example, if God designed our ethical intuitions, why would we need to refine them with philosophical methodologies (like running thought experiments) to reliably get at truth? And, why would there be such prevalent ethical dilemmas that affect how we conduct ourselves in the real world? If God designed our ethical intuitions, we should expect them to be a great deal more reliable. After all God very much wants us to do the right thing, and we can't do the right thing if we're not sure what it is.

Finally, Maverick takes this all to conclude "[a]ll things considered, if atheism is true we do not have rational grounds for thinking [morality] exists." Now my point before about the principle of credulity comes into play. As I had said, I believe that something appears to be the case is reason in of itself to believe it is. This is a form of non-inferential justification. In other words, I am not deriving P from a prior belief that it appears as if P. Rather, that it appears that P is an inherent good feature of P that offers prima facie support to my belief that P. If I'm correct about our ethical beliefs being non-inferentially justified, then this section of Maverick's argument is doomed to failure. In this section, he tries to offer undercutting defeaters for atheists ethical beliefs. But non-inferentially justified beliefs cannot be undercut, since there is no inference to prove valid or unreasonable. As such, we would always be left with some kind of reason to believe in morality.
And so if I'm correct, ethical beliefs must be rebut to be defeated. That being said, I am very doubtful that Maverick could rephrase (and defend) the arguments in this section as rebutting defeaters to ethical belief on atheism.

The Argument from the Unbiased Atheist: Maverick is making the argument disanalougous to actual atheist moral realists by supposing this unbiased atheist does not have moral intuitions. As I said, merely having moral intuitions puts us in a prima facie position to accept moral reality. Nevertheless, most of these are points I've already addressed. I'll summarize my refutations, then:

Zero empirical evidence for objective moral properties
True, but we don't need to appeal to empirical evidence to be justified in believing in morality

It’d be a remarkable coincidence if moral intuitions happened to line up with what these invisible, causally inert moral properties are really like
This was not well defended: just because our intuitions evolved doesn't mean they're not (or likely to not be) veridical. Furthermore because of epistemic externalism we needn't explain how or why our intuitions are reliable, for them to justify our belief. We can see here that Maverick has an incredibly heavy burden of proof if he wishes to defend this point.

Objective moral properties are suspiciously queer, akin to invisible and nonphysical gods.
On ethical naturalism, they're not queer at all. On ethical dualism, they're queer but so what? Every dualistic entity is wholly unique from the rest of the universe--that's what it is to be a dualist about something! And since Maverick is a dualist himself, he is not in much of a position to be running arguments that are little more than a bias against dualism. Finally, morality is nothing like gods, but it is a lot like rationality. If the dualist wishes to be a dualist not just about morality but about normativity, and ground both morality and rationality in this dualistic normativity (which he likely would), then even on dualism morality wouldn't be queer.

Evolution occasionally gives false beliefs (e.g. gods).
And we know how and why: humans have a hyperactive agent detection faculty. But this would have absolutely no influence on the veridicality of our ethical intuitions. Even so, our ethical intuitions and religious experiences are two entirely different sort of intuition. Unless he can show that they share a common origin, why shouldn't we view these as two wholly independent traits? For example, consider the wings of birds and the wings of bats and how little they have in common.

Moral beliefs have evolutionary value whether true or not.
We could say the same of religious experience. This doesn't offer us an undercutting defeater, and much less a rebutting defeater for ethical belief.

Our best theory for why we believe in morality doesn’t require morality’s existence.
This is the same point as the one just above, and I reject it for the same reasons.

In response to Maverick's question: If morality is grounded in facts about the flourishing and languishing of sentient beings, then it's in fact likely that we would have some sense of morality. After all, being aware of what constitutes the flourishing and languishing of yourself and those around you is crucial to your survival. And, it's hard to separate our concepts of morality from our concepts of well-being (which is in of itself strong evidence for ethical naturalism). I think this all shows that on atheistic ethical naturalism, we have good grounds for thinking our ethical intuitions are veridical. Of course we still need to use philosophical methodologies to reliably discern truth, and even then we're not always able to conclusively answer important questions (which, again, is even more evidence for a naturalistic origin of our ethical intuitions). And yet, this is no different from any other field of inquiry. Ethics, then, is on as solid a foundation as (or at least on the same level as), for example, biology or physics. And I think I reject every premise of your unbiased atheist argument! I especially doubt that "If the Unbiased Atheist would be justified in believing moral intuitions are not veridical, then given atheism moral intuitions are probably not veridical," but I'm aiming to address only the metaethical issues.

5

Maverick Christian

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In support of my claim “Given atheism, objective morality doesn’t exist” I employed these two points:
  • Given atheism, we would not have good reasons for believing in objective morality.
  • Given atheism, we would have (at least) prima facia grounds for believing objective morality doesn’t exist.
One rebuttal Aleph made to point (1) is that the atheist’s moral intuition would give the atheist prima facia justification to accept moral realism.  I’ll concede that point and rephrase what I meant by (1): Given atheism from the standpoint of the Unbiased Atheist, we would not have good reasons for believing objective morality.  We’ve seen no evidence for moral oughtness being real for the Unbiased Atheist (recall that the Unbiased Atheist isn’t biased by prior intuitions; she doesn’t have the intuition that morality exists nor does she have the intuition that it doesn’t exist).  From the Unbiased Atheist’s standpoint, we’ve still seen no evidence that our evolved intuition is any less delusory than people’s intuitions of gods existing.

The backbone of my support for point (2) is the Argument from Queerness, which Aleph did respond to, and I’ll discuss next.

The Argument from Queerness

The invisible unicorn scenario of my opening statement illustrates what it means for something to be “queer” in a way that makes it prima facia unlikely.  I argued that on atheism, the following combined three facts makes objective morality “queer” in this way:
  • Objective moral properties (in particular properties of objective moral oughtness like moral wrongness) are invisible, nonphysical, empirically undetectable;
  • yet exist somehow independently of our perception of them; and
  • it seems we’d need something like supernatural clairvoyance to know they exist.
Aleph counters (1) with the possibility of ethical naturalism (the view that moral facts are merely physical facts) but it seems clear that ethical naturalism doesn’t work with the type of morality I described in my opening statement (confer my stipulative definitions of “descriptive ought” and “prescriptive ought” in the What is Objective Morality? section, in which moral oughtness is the “prescriptive ought”).  The “Dog Kicker” scenario in my opening statement illustrates this, where the worldviews of the moral nihilist and moral realist agree perfectly on all the same physiological and psychological facts (e.g. the dog felt pain and suffered minor injury), yet disagree on whether moral oughtness is attached to a certain set of physiological/psychological properties.  We can extend the Dog Kicker scenario further and point out that the nihilist and realist worldviews perfectly agree on all the facts of physics, chemistry, and any remaining biology facts—yet still disagree on whether moral oughtness is attached to a certain set of physical properties (this is possible since the type of moral oughtness in question is the “prescriptive ought”).  This strongly suggests that moral oughtness is not only empirically undetectable but also nonphysical.

Upon reflection of moral oughtness’s nonphysical nature, it seems fairly clear that objective moral oughtness would have no more causal power than the number six.  So moral oughtness would also seem to be causally inert.

For (3), I argued that objective moral oughtness is so metaphysical that it seems we’d need something like supernatural clairvoyance to know it exists.  To illustrate the general idea, suppose evolution gave me a randomly-generated intuition of an alien spaghetti-shaped monster existing millions of light-years away, and there happens to be just such an alien monster.  My intuition gives me a true belief but not knowledge.  It isn’t plausible that my intuition tracks the truth (i.e. reliably keeps track of what is true) of the alien monster’s existence, since the alien’s existence or lack thereof wouldn’t affect whether I had the intuition.  There isn’t a relevant “link” between my belief in the alien monster and the alien’s existence that makes my belief knowledge.

On naturalism, the same sort of problem seems to apply to our non-clairvoyant intuition of empirically undetectable and casually inert objective moral oughtness.  Aleph seems to suggest that perhaps something non-supernatural (somehow!) makes our evolved moral intuitions truth-tracking, but this is not plausible; it seems that even the presence or absence of (invisible and causally inert) objective moral oughtness would have no effect on evolutionary outcome, including which intuitions we’d get.

Maverick points out that on atheism, with a different evolutionary origin we could have had a very different set of ethical intuitions. I agree! But so what?
So, since objective moral oughtness has zero effect on evolutionary outcome (due to our intuitions not clairvoyantly reacting to moral oughtness), it’d be a remarkable coincidence that our evolved intuitions happen to line up with what these invisible and causally inert moral oughtness properties are really like.  Evolution could have evolved a human-level-intelligent species with very different moral codes.  Moreover, we need not look to mere hypotheticals; sociobiological evolution has already given humans substantially different moral codes within our species.  All things considered, it’d be a remarkable coincidence that our current moral intuitions happened to coincide with what the causally inert objective moral properties are like.

Aleph says morality is not a component of reality that says we shouldn't do certain things, but of course it is since moral obligations prescribe our behavior (it’s not as though I was referring to a literal mouth/voice when I said objective morality dictates how we should behave).  Aleph apparently thinks objective morality is nothing like God, but the notion of a highly metaphysical component of reality transcending our opinion that says we shouldn’t do certain things clearly sounds something like God.  Objective morality’s rules are supremely authoritative (i.e. overriding any other “ought” like human legal rules) and universally binding (applying to all cultures and in all relevantly similar situations).  Objective morality is supremely authoritative, universally binding, highly metaphysical, unkillable by humans, and has rules we all ought to submit to.  This sounds kind of like a de-personified God.

Aleph tries to liken moral rules with rules of rationality.  The crucial disanalogy is that the “oughts” of rationality are “descriptive oughts” describing what we need to do to be rational (thus having a purely descriptive meaning), whereas the oughts of morality are “prescriptive oughts.”  Part of why objective morality seems like a de-personified God is that the highly metaphysical prescriptive ought is present in both cases.

The Argument from the Unbiased Atheist

The argument is this:
  • If the Unbiased Atheist would be justified in believing moral intuitions are not veridical, then given atheism moral intuitions are probably not veridical.
  • The Unbiased Atheist would be justified in believing moral intuitions are not veridical.
  • Therefore, given atheism moral intuitions are probably not veridical.
Remarkably, Aleph denies the first premise.  Recall that the type of justification in this argument is the “probabilistic” sort (the belief’s probability is so high we’re justified in thinking it’s true).  Aleph hasn’t explained why, if moral intuitions are probably delusory on atheism from an unbiased standpoint, intuitions aren’t probably delusory on atheism.  The first premise doesn’t seem plausibly false.

Aleph has more to say on the second premise, but much of Aleph’s objections to this argument (if that’s what they are) seem plagued with irrelevancies.  For example, Aleph notes that the Unbiased Atheist having no intuitions of morality existing is disanalogous “to actual atheist moral realists” (since they have moral intuitions) which is true but irrelevant; as long as the premises are true, the conclusion still follows.

Recall my support for the second premise was basically the following inductive argument, where on atheism the following would be true:
  • Zero empirical evidence for objective moral properties.  This supports my view that on atheism we don’t have rational grounds for believing moral objectivism.
  • It’d be a remarkable coincidence if moral intuitions happened to line up with what these invisible, causally inert moral properties are really like. Such reliance on remarkable coincidence suggests that we wouldn’t have real knowledge of objective moral truths; at best we’d have coincidentally true beliefs.
  • Objective moral properties are suspiciously queer, akin to invisible and nonphysical gods.  Thus there’s at least prima facia justification for disbelieving objective morality’s existence.
  • Evolution occasionally gives false beliefs (e.g. gods).  So there’s precedent for evolution giving humans false beliefs.  And belief in gods potentially serves some evolutionary purpose: “Don’t do stuff that harms the group even if we’re not watching because the gods are watching and they’ll punish you for doing bad stuff.”
  • Moral beliefs have evolutionary value whether true or not.  Suspiciously enough, moral beliefs is kind of like the false belief in gods in potentially serving some evolutionary purpose: to get us to behave in the right ways.  Moral beliefs have evolutionary value whether true or not.
  • Our best theory for why we believe in morality doesn’t require morality’s existence.  This strongly suggests we don’t have rational grounds for believing in morality.  And we don’t need to posit something so extravagant as these invisible and highly metaphysical properties to explain moral beliefs; we can just say it’s a trick of evolution to get us to behave in certain ways.
  • Therefore (probably), the second premise of the Unbiased Atheist argument is true.
The fact that (1) through (6) would be true on atheism provides a powerful cumulative case for the second premise.  Aleph’s responses:

(1) Zero empirical evidence

Aleph says that “we don't need to appeal to empirical evidence to be justified in believing in morality,” which is irrelevant since the second premise isn’t about whether we’re justified in believing morality but about whether the Unbiased Atheist would have good reason to believe our moral intuitions are veridical, and it seems the Unbiased Atheist would need some kind of empirical evidence for this.

(2) Remarkable coincidence

Aleph asks “why shouldn't we think that awareness of moral truth” enhanced reproductive fitness for our ancestors.  The problem is that on atheism, barring something like supernatural clairvoyance, it doesn’t seem like we could be genuinely aware of moral truths; the most we could hope for is accurate guesses from our intuitions, and coincidentally accurate guesses aren’t knowledge.

Perhaps Aleph thinks it’s possible that our moral ought-beliefs (“I ought to do X”) corresponded to adaptive behavior (e.g. “I ought to do X” where X is some adaptive behavior).  This bare possibility wouldn’t solve the “remarkable coincidence” problem, given how which behavior is adaptive is heavily dependent on evolutionary contingencies (hence obligate siblicide in Nazca booby birds and male langurs routinely killing non-weaned langurs after taking over a harem) and that sociobiological evolution has already given humans widely varying moral codes.  Evolution reveals the very strong possibility of very different moral intuitions, so all things considered, it’d still be a remarkable coincidence that our current moral intuitions happen to coincide with what these causally inert moral properties are really like.

Moreover, how would we know (from the Unbiased Atheist’s standpoint) that moral intuitions do have this fortunate coincidence of lining up with empirically undetectable and causally inert moral properties?

(3) Argument form Queerness

Much of this was already discussed; e.g. Aleph notes that objective moral properties wouldn’t be queer on ethical naturalism, but ethical naturalism appears false vis-à-vis the type of objective moral oughtness this debate is about.  From the standpoint of the Unbiased Atheist, objective moral oughtness appears “queer” in a way that makes it prima facia unlikely.

(4) Evolution occasionally gives false beliefs (like gods)

Aleph says that “ethical intuitions and religious experiences are two entirely different sort of intuition.”  Moral intuitions aren’t entirely different from intuitions of God for reasons I explained earlier (e.g. both God and objective morality are highly metaphysical and supremely authoritative).  So on atheism there’s precedent for evolution giving humans a somewhat similar delusory intuition, enhancing the plausibility that moral intuition is delusory (since moral intuition being delusory would fit in well with the Unbiased Atheist’s background knowledge, and how well a theory fits with background knowledge is one of the “rationality factors” we use when assessing a theory’s probability).

(5) Moral beliefs have evolutionary value whether true or not.
(6) Our best theory for moral intuitions doesn’t require morality’s existence.

I’m lumping these together since Aleph’s response is basically the same, “We could say the same of religious experience.”  Even if true it’s irrelevant; it wouldn’t provide any grounds for the Unbiased Atheist to believe moral intuitions aren’t delusory.  The point of (5) and (6) is that the reality of objective moral oughtness is explanatorily superfluous to the point where the existence of moral intuition provides no real evidence for the objective morality’s existence.  The simpler and better explanation (from Unbiased Atheist’s standpoint) is that moral intuitions are a delusion brought about by evolution to get us to behave in certain ways.

Conclusion for the Argument from the Unbiased Atheist

The Argument form the Unbiased is unsound only if there is a false premise.  The case for the first and second premises seems very strong, and Aleph has not provided adequate grounds for thinking either premise to be false.  We seem to have good reason for believing this is a sound argument.

Conclusion

To support my claim “Given atheism, objective morality probably doesn’t exist” my approach so far is to assume arguendo that atheism is true and show that this leads to objective morality probably not existing.

There’s been no successful attack on either premise in the Argument from the Unbiased Atheist.  We’ve seen no evidence for moral oughtness being real for the Unbiased Atheist, and we’ve seen no reason (from the Unbiased Atheist’s standpoint) to believe that intuitions of morality existing are any less delusory than people’s intuitions of gods existing.

6

aleph naught

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Re: DEBATE: If God doesn’t exist, then objective morality doesn’t exist?
« Reply #6 on: September 06, 2015, 12:22:34 am »
In response to his argument from queerness I pointed out that on the popular metaethical thesis known as ethical naturalism, morality simply isn’t queer in any of the ways Maverick has suggested. To reiterate, ethical naturalism is the view that ethical facts are grounded in (and not merely ‘attached to’) natural facts—e.g. facts about the flourishing and languishing of sentient beings. With this, I need to stress that Maverick has misunderstood ethical naturalism. Ethical naturalism is silent on whether moral facts are descriptive or prescriptive. If moral facts are prescriptive, which I believe they are, all that follows on ethical naturalism is that some prescriptive facts are grounded in natural facts (and, in virtue of which, are natural facts). As such, Mavericks “Dog Kicker” scenario illustrates nothing. It’s epistemically possible that the wrongness of kicking dogs is grounded in the harm it does to dogs, and that nevertheless we should not kick dogs regardless of our attitudes towards kicking dogs.
Naturalists and nihilists agree on ontology, that is on all the entities and properties there are. But they do not agree on all the facts, namely the distribution of these properties. Where nihilists have a very limited list of things that constitute reason to act (subjective things; opinions, preferences, etc.), ethical naturalists will want to include objective things like that the action causes harm, or that the action promotes sentient well-being. And, by our stipulative definition, if the harmfulness of an action is itself reason to avoid it, then that is morality!

In defense of the causal impotence of moral facts and properties, Maverick only says “Upon reflection of moral oughtness’s nonphysical nature, it seems fairly clear that objective moral oughtness would have no more causal power than the number six. So moral oughtness would also seem to be causally inert.” Maybe he genuinely finds it intuitive, but I certainly don’t! Most theories of moral ontology (even the theistic ones) render at least some moral facts and properties causally potent. Divine commands, divine will and divine nature are not causally impotent. Sentient flourishing and languishing are not causally impotent. Even on ethical dualism, moral properties needn’t be anymore causally impotent than dualistic minds. I see absolutely no reason, then, to think that morality must be causally inert.

In fact, I can see some pretty significant reasons to reject this. If moral properties are really causally impotent, then we should wonder how even God could be aware of them. This would make God’s infallible ethical knowledge incredibly more mysterious than his general omnipotence. Morality couldn’t make an impression on God’s mind, and it would be for all intents and purposes as if it didn’t exist. But, somehow, God would just have—I suppose as a brute fact—knowledge of such things. Surely this is more queer than even morality might be; that there would be be an awareness of something, without even an indirect interaction between the beheld and the beholder.

Now notice that his evolutionary argument hinges on the causal impotence of morality. With this single presupposition challenged, the whole argument topples down. We are left with no reason to think that human moral intuitions are randomly generated, or a coincidence, or that they are not truth-tracking or reliable, or that their veridicality played no role in our ancestors reproductive fitness. Our ethical intuitions, then, are on no poorer and epistemic ground than our physical intuitions or metaphysical intuitions, on which we are constantly reliant (even just to make this argument!).

I should note that I don’t know what Maverick means by “so metaphysical”, since the claim that morality is “so metaphysical” keeps popping up in the premises of his arguments.

I had jumped on Maverick’s describing moral reality in terms of agency (“[morality is] a component of reality that says we shouldn't do certain things”), which he seemed to think was silly—and yet he keeps doing it! Moral obligations do not prescribe our behavior, they are prescriptive facts. These are two entirely different things. Of course if you describe morality in terms of agency then it’s going to sound a lot like God. But morality doesn’t literally say anything, and it doesn’t literally prescribe anything. Literally, it’s nothing like God. Consider that theological facts are not prescriptive, not being about what we should and shouldn’t do. They’re descriptive facts, describing God. Maverick suggests that moral rules are “supremely authoratative”, overriding any other “ought” like the human legal rules. But this just follows from their being objective. The “ought” of human legal rules is grounded in our preferences: we should obey the law if we don’t want to be punished. This is very different from morality, where we should do right regardless of our attitudes towards any potential punishment. Furthermore, when we talk about God being authoratative again we’re talking about agency. We’re saying God can do whatever he wants, but that’s obviously not a coherent description of morality! There is no sense I can imagine in which both God and morality can be described as “authoratative”.

I had pointed out that rationality is very similar to morality, and I stand by it. Maverick thinks rational oughts are descriptive, conditioned on our goals of being rational. But to be rational is just to believe only those things we should believe, and to utilize good methodologies. As such, there is no purely descriptive meaning (i.e. rationality is defined prescriptively). Again just consider the examples I gave:

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But there are other kinds of facts which are very much like moral facts, and which atheists commonly believe in: epistemic facts. These are facts about what we should believe and what sorts of methodologies we should practice. You shouldn't believe something just because you want to. Rather, you should follow the evidence wherever it leads. These are prescriptive facts very much like the facts of morality. One such epistemic fact I will utilize later on in the debate, sometimes called the principle of credulity, is this: that something appears to be the case is reason in of itself to believe it's so.

I should add to that rationality is objective as much as it is prescriptive. That someone is being rational or irrational is just as much an objective matter as whether or not they’re being moral or immoral.

The Argument from the Unbiased Atheist:

Maverick thinks it’s remarkable that I don’t think the inference in his first premise is valid, and yet it’s not my burden to demonstrate this. It doesn’t seem valid to me, maybe it would help if he broke it down into sub-inference so we could see the logic. My qualms are that he moves between two different treatments of epistemic probability. In the antecedent, he is talking about a particular group of people’s epistemic position (those who believe atheism, but have no intuitions for moral realism), whereas in the conclusion he’s talking about everyone’s epistemic position. Consider a parody: From the point of view of the modal realist who has no intuitions for mereological nihilism, mereological nihilism is epistemically unlikely (of course, because intuitions are the only reason to believe these sorts of abstract metaphysical theses!), therefore given modal realism mereological nihilism is epistemically unlikely. Surely this is not a valid inference! And yet, I don’t see how it’s any different from Maverick’s.
« Last Edit: September 06, 2015, 08:49:09 pm by aleph naught »

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I believe God exist and his morality has taught us a great lesson. There is a difference between religions and morality. People who goes to church doesn’t mean they are good people. Same logic for others about the concept of God. I believe in God and its morality lessons even if i don’t represent fully about my religion (church, etc). This is a long debate and people will always have a different way how to respond to this. In any case, for those who needs enlightenment, you can always check these people if you live in Norway as they’ve helped me clear my doubts in the past. They are not traditional and yet, they bring conventional ways on how you can understand a lot about God.