Lawrence Krauss on God and Morality

angry atheism apologetics atheism Debates Ethics Philosophy Philosophy of Religion

“Ah, those silly creationists are at it again. Every real scientist knows that evolution is fact, and then these people with no real experience in science come along and bumble through the issues without understanding them at all. And as for those geographers! I have no real time for geography myself, but pah! Everyone knows the earth is flat!”

Ironic, right? Anyone who would say this is playing by an obvious double standard, and they would look a bit silly, to put things mildly. They would be doing the very thing they complain about others doing. Just imagine my surprise then when I read through Lawrence’s Krauss’s reflections (I think after reading it you might be justified in calling it a bit of an outburst) on his debate with William Lane Craig.

Now, what he says is more or less what one might expect, human nature being what it is. Everyone’s tale of the battle they were in is likely to be a tale of their great and glorious victory. In Krauss’s case it’s nearly (but not quite) like that. Instead it’s a case of him explaining why he mightn’t have seemed impressive on the night – but he really does actually have the better arguments. He complains about the way that people were carrying on after the debate (online), spouting about how Bill Craig won and so on. But, says Krauss, he didn’t use his real knock down arguments in the actual debate, because he’s a nice guy and he wanted to “consider the sensibilities of the 1200 smiling young faces in the audience.” We wouldn’t want to scare them or look mean, you see. But now he’s happy to unleash them in a format where Bill’s not standing there, waiting to reply. Essentially, Krauss opines, Craig’s foray into arguments related to science in that debate really amounted to “disingenuous distortions, simplifications, and outright lies.” He wasn’t just wrong, says Krauss, he was wrong, he knew he was wrong, and he lied. Evidently Krauss was pretty disappointed in how the debate went, because on the face of it this looks like very poor form indeed.

The “I didn’t want to shock you by giving them then, so I’ll give them now” arguments that Krauss shared online after the debate largely boil down do the claim that Craig had nothing more than “God of the gaps” arguments (a phenomenon I commented on back in June 2010). Now I think this is a simple misunderstanding of Craig’s case. It is preposterous, for example, to refer to the Kalam cosmological argument and then to complain that Craig was “Simply arguing that one doesn’t understand the results, or doesn’t like the results and therefore one has to resort to supernatural explanations.” Craig offered specific reasons for maintaining that the cause of the universe had to be timeless, spaceless and personal. By all means argue against the arguments if you don’t agree with them. Say that those reasons fail, but mischaracterising them this way is intellectually disappointing to say the least.

But that’s not what got my attention here. Krauss is a physicist, and he is complaining here that Craig just doesn’t understand the nature of scientific argument, physics in particular. And yet just look at this gem that pops up when Krauss tries to swiftly floor the moral argument for God’s existence:

As I tried to explain to Craig, paraphrasing Steven Pinker, if there were a God, either God would have the choice to determine what is right and wrong or not. But in this case, if God determined that raping and murdering 2 year-olds is morally acceptable would it be so? If not, as reason and experience suggests, then God really has to resort to other considerations, kindness, compassion, etc (except for the Old Testament God!), on which to base God’s decisions. But if that is the case, why not just dispense with the middle-man.

Here Krauss poses what is apparently meant to be a devastating objection, and yet if he were familiar with the literature on the moral argument or divine command ethics (the view he appears to be tackling), he would know that this objection has been addressed numerous times. He is critiquing the view that God’s commands or God’s will are constitutive of moral obligation (i.e. what God commands is what’s morally right, and what God forbids is what is morally wrong). But doesn’t this, Krauss rather confidently suggests, lead to the absurd view that God could just command any awful thing like rape or torture, making it right? And if we say no, and instead say that God bases his commands on what’s kind or loving, then why even bring God into it? Why not just say that kind or loving deeds are morally required, and God is irrelevant?

Here Krauss does not even pause to consider the responses to this complaint. It’s like he’s not even aware that they exist. In fact I’d put money on it, and here’s the problem. Krauss knows a lot about physics (in spite of him misdiagnosing Craig’s arguments that relate to science). On the whole he knows his subject well, and if he disagrees with someone (especially a religious someone, it turns out), he takes them to task for not – so he thinks – really understanding science. And yet when it comes to arguments outside of that field (like meta-ethics in this case), he charges like a bull without even the slightest background in the relevant arguments and ends up thinking that he has made a victorious rebuttal, not knowing that this is a rebuttal that has been relegated to a long, long list of failed arguments already. The argument is one that should be returned to Krauss with “revise and resubmit” written in red pen on the front.

I’m sure Dr Krauss doesn’t read my blog (I’m not a scientist), but even a relative small timer like me has addressed this in the past (in 2007), when I attempted to explain that the mere fact that God has reasons for commanding as he does cannot, by itself, show that morality is not grounded in God’s commands. The condensed version of the response is to point out that being good for people or being loving or kind does not in itself make something morally required. There are two easily stated reasons for this (and perhaps more). Firstly it falls afoul of the fact/value distinction, as noted by Hume (who note that no strictly evaluative conclusion or ought statement can be inferred solely from non-evaluative, descriptive premises). Secondly, inferring directly from “good, kind” etc to “morally required” has the absurd conclusion that we are morally required to do a vast number of things most of which are incompatible (since it would be good for people if I became a foreign aid worker, and it would also be good for people if I did other things here in New Zealand, for example).

I followed the above blog post up much later with a blog about how God’s reasons for commanding as he does do not require him to command in a given way, they merely offer constraints. Others have made the point before me; Philip Quinn, Baruch Brody, John Hare, Robert Adams. But if one is going to get hot under the collar and complain about another person’s ignorance in a field of study, and then bring out the “big guns” and offer a purportedly devastating critique, one really cannot afford to then just offer a weak old objection that has been squarely addressed multiple times. But Krauss seems oblivious to all of this.

There’s a valuable lesson here about having one’s house in order before trying to mend others’, or about glass houses and stone throwing (the other lesson is about writing about your disagreements with people while still angry). While I don’t think that it’s acceptable for other people to fall prey to such ignorance combined with confidence just because “Krauss does it too” (and as I said, I don’t think Craig’s arguments succumb to Krauss’s criticisms anyway), given that Krauss himself complains that others blunder into territory that the simply don’t understand, I cannot resist the comeback: Physicist, heal thyself! (Badum tish).

Glenn Peoples

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{ 55 comments… add one }

  • Matthew Flannagan April 14, 2012, 10:34 pm

    “As I tried to explain to Craig, paraphrasing Steven Pinker,”

    That’s a gem, Steven Pinker is cited as the source for the Euthyphro dillemia? Next we’ll here of how Stephen Hawkings has come up with the idea that “I think therefore I am”

  • Glenn April 14, 2012, 10:42 pm

    Indeed – but you have to realise, Matt, no matter what subject area a problem lies in, it’s up to real thinkers – scientists – to save the day!

  • Zachary April 14, 2012, 11:30 pm

    I was intrigued with how Krauss started off by denying that the world contains any evidence of “goodness, fairness, or purpose” (hence the need for weekly Christian doctrine-reinforcement) and then a few paragraphs later decides, at least on my reading, that the answer to the Euthyphro dilemma is to effectively posit a bunch of brute (Godless) moral facts on the basis of “reason and experience”.

    It was also very generous of him to try to explain issues in the philosophy of time concerning the beginning of the universe to Craig. One suspects that Krauss either has not read the books Craig has written on this topic (perhaps the one issue from the debate that he should have some competence in) or is being a little disingenuous.

  • Ben April 15, 2012, 2:45 am

    beretta-online.comberetta-online.comGlenn,

    I don’t think you’ve really addressed the objection Krauss gave to DCT. The point is, as Krauss wrote, that we can “dispense with the middle-man.” If God has good reasons for valuing certain “moral” behaviors/thoughts/etc., then we can appeal to those reasons without appealing to God’s commands. On the other hand, if God doesn’t have any good reasons, then it’s not obvious why we should obey his commands on the subject. At least that’s how I understood Krauss, and it seems like a good objection against accepting DCT.

    In the first blog post you cited, you complain that the relation “is the reason for” is not transitive, and indeed not. But it doesn’t need to be for the objection here to track.

    In the second blog post you cited, you note that God’s reasons can constrain without controlling his decisions. Again this seems fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t deal with the objection here. In characterizing morality, we can also appeal to the same constraining (but not controlling) reasons, and so to the extent that God’s decisions would not be arbitrary neither will ours.

    In this blog post you argue against such inferences as that since some action is, say, kind, then therefore it is morally required of us to act in that way. I agree that these inferences are invalid and lead to absurd conclusions such as you describe. Again, though, this seems not to address Krauss’s objection, which is that we can appeal directly to whatever reasons God has for us to behave “morally,” regardless of whether God happens also to have commanded that behavior.

    –Ben

  • Nick Peters April 15, 2012, 5:41 am

    Another great example of this is when new atheists espouse the Christ myth theory. When it comes to anything biblical from them, the only people I see them reading are Dan Barker and Bart Ehrman. No one else seems to exist.

  • Crude April 15, 2012, 7:26 am

    As I tried to explain to Craig, paraphrasing Steven Pinker, if there were a God, either God would have the choice to determine what is right and wrong or not.

    As near as I can tell, this is mistaken. According to Craig, moral values are grounded in God’s unchanging nature. He makes a distinction between God’s commands and moral values. The values grounded in said nature and the nature itself give force to the commands. So whatever God is ‘choosing’, His ‘choice’ is not based on something external to Himself.

  • matt April 15, 2012, 12:02 pm

    Did Craig even argue for DCT in the debate. I think most likely Krauss is, in his mind, objecting to the moral argument here, which makes it more confused as a rebuttal (if I am right).

  • Glenn April 15, 2012, 2:02 pm

    Ben, you’ll need to unpack that. On the face of it, Krauss’s objection is simply that if morality depends on God then God could command just anything – unless we say that God’s commands are constrained by things like goodness, kindness etc. Krauss infers that this makes God’s role redundant.

    But this does not obviously make God redundant and thus undermine DCT unless we can “cut out the middle man” and actually infer directly from goodness to obligation – something that I think Hume was correct to say that we cannot do. So it’s not clear why you think I haven’t adequately responded to Krauss’s swift dismissal of DCT.

    You don’t say what is doing the moral work in whatever moral theory you have in mind. Are you implying that perhaps we could cut God out as a middle man and just do that job ourselves by issuing our own commands which do the work required by moral objectivism? Or did you have something else in mind? Because as it stands all I can see is a denial that I have responded adeuqately to Krauss with no explanation of how my response is inadequate.

  • Thomas Larsen April 15, 2012, 3:07 pm

    Nick Peters:

    And Ehrman isn’t even a Christ mythicist.

  • Glenn April 15, 2012, 3:54 pm

    Nick, they do also seem to like Robert price a lot.

  • Ben April 16, 2012, 12:12 am

    Glenn,

    Well there are lots of secular moral theories out there, and I don’t presume to know which ones (if any) accurately capture our moral experience. But I don’t think we need that for the objection.

    Nor do I think we human beings need to issue moral “commands” the way God is said to do. When I write of God’s commands, that’s really just a shorthand for referring to that part of God’s nature which leads him to issue such commands. Craig’s view is that God’s nature, not his commands, make up the standard of goodness and morality. For Craig, God’s commands are expressions of his nature, and determine moral duties; but the underlying standard of morality is technically independent of God’s commands.

    So instead of developing a robust secular moral theory, we need only inquire why that part of God’s nature which constrains him to issue moral commands is not arbitrary. Craig writes:

    God is essentially compassionate, fair, kind, impartial, and so on. His nature is the moral standard defining good and bad. His commands necessarily reflect His moral nature. Therefore, they’re not arbitrary. (On Guard, p136.)

    The implication here is that considerations such as compassion, fairness, kindness, and impartiality are not arbitrary for motivating a moral standard. Well, okay. But we don’t need God to appeal to such considerations. We can just let such things as compassion, fairness, kindness and impartiality inform our own moral values. Our moral values will in that case be no less arbitrary than God’s.

    Now, so far I’ve only dealt with moral values, and not moral duties (or obligations, if you prefer). As you point out, just because X is moral doesn’t make X morally obligatory. But of course we can say the same thing for God’s nature. Just because God has a moral nature doesn’t mean his commands are going to be morally obligatory. But just as with moral values, we can ourselves appeal to those considerations which lead God to issue his commands. So, again, to the extent that such considerations are not arbitrary for determining moral duties, our own God-independent moral duties will not be arbitrary either.

  • Nick Peters April 16, 2012, 12:52 am

    Oh yes. Bob Price. Also nowadays Richard Carrier and John Loftus. The only valid Bible scholars after all are those who deny the Bible. Then, watch as they complain about people going to writings of the ID movement on evolution. Lovely double-standard.

  • Glenn April 16, 2012, 7:52 am

    “Now, so far I’ve only dealt with moral values, and not moral duties (or obligations, if you prefer).” Well with all due respect, Ben, I don’t think you’ve dealt with the issue touched on in this blog post at all. Thus far we have you saying that I’ve not addressed Krauss’s argument, but you don’t really explain why.

    As far as I can see I have: Krauss says that if God’s instructions/commands/will/determinations are based on considerations like kindness, then God is redundant in the process.

    But this is not so precisely because moral obligations or duties is really the issue here. In Craig’s Divine COmmand Theory, it’s God’s will or commands that constitute or moral obligations. Kindness/goodness obviously doesn’t result in any moral obligations, and hence God has not been rendered redundant. You say “But we don’t need God to appeal to such considerations,” yet it’s not clear why this is relevant, since you can’t infer directly from “good” to “required” – so our ability to recognise, say, goodness or beauty, tells us nothing in terms of objective morality (and that was the issue).

    Craig’s position is that God’s nature makes up the standard (more specifically the exemplar) of goodness, sure, but when you introduce anything with moral force (e.g. why we are required to do one thing and not do the things that Krauss refers to, “raping and murdering 2 year olds”) it is God’s will or commands that come into play (as you may know, Craig shares the view of Divine Command ethicist Robert Adams).

    So again, the mere fact that God’s will or commands are motivated by God’s love of goodness/kindness etc doesn’t in any obvious sense make God a redundant middle man.

  • Matthew Flannagan April 16, 2012, 5:10 pm

    Ben I don’t think you’ve really addressed the objection Krauss gave to DCT. The point is, as Krauss wrote, that we can “dispense with the middle-man.” If God has good reasons for valuing certain “moral” behaviors/thoughts/etc., then we can appeal to those reasons without appealing to God’s commands.

    Yes we can have reasons “for valuing them”, But Craig never said you needed Gods commands for these things to be valuble. His position is you need Gods commands for them to be obligatory. So if your claim is that certain things can be morally valuble in virtue of being loving kind just and so forth without Gods commands, your not actually addressing Craig’s position he accepts that, instead your attacking a straw man

    On the other hand if your claim is that the fact that these reasons are sufficient to make things obligatory you contradict yourself. Because you concede the reasons in question are not sufficient to make something obligatory you write

    In this blog post you argue against such inferences as that since some action is, say, kind, then therefore it is morally required of us to act in that way. I agree that these inferences are invalid and lead to absurd conclusions such as you describe.

    Exactly to suggest that these reasons themselves can ground moral requiredness or moral obligation is absurd.

    this seems not to address Krauss’s objection, which is that we can appeal directly to whatever reasons God has for us to behave “morally,” regardless of whether God happens also to have commanded that behavior.

    This again hides an ambiguity, the word “behave morally” can mean behave in a way that is morally good, or behave in a way that is morally obligatory. If you mean the former then Krauss is correct but his point irrelevant because Craig never said Gods commands were necessary for moral goodness. If the latter then Krauss has to make the “absurd” inferences you refer to. He has to show that the fact an action is just or loving, and so on is sufficient by itself to make the action obligatory.

  • Ben April 17, 2012, 12:23 am

    Matthew,

    Thanks for the response.

    Perhaps I should have been more careful in the first place to distinguish between moral values and moral duties/obligations. My apologies for any ambiguity in that respect. I did not previously distinguish because Krauss’s objection is analogous for both cases. However, allow me to be more precise from here on out.

    So, it looks like you agree we don’t need to appeal to God’s commands to talk about moral values and goodness (as opposed to moral duty/obligation). Craig also agrees with this. But Craig does think we need to appeal to God’s nature as the standard of goodness and moral value, and this is part of his moral argument. Remember, the first premise in Craig’s argument is (emphasis mine):

    If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist. (On Guard, p129.)

    If we can show that objective moral values exist independent of God, that’s an important and very relevant step towards resisting the argument. We still will have to deal with the case for duties too, but it’s not as if talking about the values case is irrelevant to the argument.

    So I guess I’m curious if you agree with me that the objection holds up in the case of moral values. Whatever reasons God has for valuing certain “moral” behaviors/thoughts/etc., to the extent they are not arbitrary for motivating a standard of morality, we can use those very same reasons directly. So, for instance, Craig talks about how compassion, kindness, fairness, and impartiality are all motivators for God’s moral standard. Well, they can motivate us to adopt a standard too. We don’t need to first consult with a middle-man to characterize morality in those terms.

    So, in the case of moral values (considered apart from the case of moral duties), do you agree that we don’t need a middle-man?

    If you agree that Krauss’s objection works in the case of moral values, then we have an analogous situation with moral duties. God is either going to have non-arbitrary reasons to issue his moral commands or not. But to the extent that God has non-arbitrary reasons to motivate a code of moral duties/obligations, then we can appeal directly to those reasons, again without the middle-man.

    If you disagree that Krauss’s objection works in the case of moral values, then I’d have to ask why. It seems pretty convincing to me.

    Regards,
    –Ben

  • Mhssu April 17, 2012, 3:57 am

    Just jumping in here,

    I think that the kind of “goodness” that one can have without recourse to God is either something like the Aristotelian “goodness” that a thing might have insofar as it fulfills its own essence- things can be “better examples” of the kind of thing they are- or something like Platonic goodness where it conforms to some transcendent standard of the good. Either way, one could argue that, as Aquinas does, as the origin of natural essences (specifically, of human essences which determines what it is to be a good example of a human being qua human being), or as the referent that fixes the transcendent standard of the good in actuality, as Adams argues, God is necessary for both these kinds of “goodness” to obtain as well.

    I would argue that these aren’t, strictly speaking, “moral” values, but kinds of general excellence- such excellences can be instantiated in things which are not human or even conscious. Moral values, in the sense of ends around which our actions ought to be oriented, and which we ought to esteem wherever we find it pursued, seem to me to exist only insofar as they are the ends toward which we are directed by some obligation of action or esteem, and these, plausibly, are grounded only in the authoritative prescriptions of God.

    While it may be true that God is motivated by love, kindness, and so on to establish the standards He does, it seems to me that these reasons only non-arbitrarily pick out our moral obligations if kindness, love and so on are part of the necessary character of a necessary supreme authority, and necessarily characterise His will for other beings. Unless there is some necessary connection between kindness and actual authority, after all, it seems difficult to say that kindness is a non-arbitrary reason for a moral standard. Such a necessary connection seems difficult to supply unless there is an actual necessary being in which both kindness and the power of authority are necessarily instantiated. Thus, it is only in virtue of kindness and love being part of God’s character, that the values and obligations God prescribes as a result of that character are at all actually and non-arbitrarily authoritative.

    By contrast, as non-necessary, non-authoritative beings, kindness and love in us, in themselves cannot, as far as I can see, be anything but arbitrary reasons for establishing a moral standard.

  • matt April 17, 2012, 4:34 am

    Ben, I believe the point being made is that values do not exist independently of God, who is the exemplar of them. He is the condition for their existence. It’s not that God is more compassionate, loving and so on (we must be careful to avoid anthropomorphic speech here), but that these things exist in God as part of Gods nature. If there is no God then these characteristics may be appealing, but ultimately out of fashion than of some “cosmic” significance. People could root their imperatives in these ideal traits only as long as they agreed on the notion that they were ideal. As soon as the cultural paradigm shifts, so does what is ideal and without a transcendent foundation the ideals really do evaporate with shifting tastes.

    P.s. I’m not Dr. Flannagan, I am a lay-Matt, if you will.

  • Matthew Flannagan April 17, 2012, 10:59 am

    Hi Ben

    I actually think Krauss is applying the argument to duties, opens by states“either God would have the choice to determine what is right and wrong or not.” And the example he gives is of wether the “action” of raping someone is acceptable. This sounds like he is talking about the rightness and wrongness of actions not whether character traits are good or bad.

    So I guess I’m curious if you agree with me that the objection holds up in the case of moral values. Whatever reasons God has for valuing certain “moral” behaviors/thoughts/etc., to the extent they are not arbitrary for motivating a standard of morality, we can use those very same reasons directly. So, for instance, Craig talks about how compassion, kindness, fairness, and impartiality are all motivators for God’s moral standard. Well, they can motivate us to adopt a standard too. We don’t need to first consult with a middle-man to characterize morality in those terms.

    To be clear, I think there are problems with Craig’s account of goodness ( its also not Craig’s its actually an account suggested by William Alston and developed with great detail by Robert Adams).

    But it seems to me the argument you provide here rests on a couple of mistakes.

    First, on Craig’s view certain character traits, behavours and so on, are not good because God, values them. They are good because the resemble God’s character. So even if one grants your conclusion that these things are good prior to and independently of God valuing them, that’s beside the point because Craig accepts this, he does not base moral value on God’s valuing things.

    But second, suppose Craig were offering the view that something is good if God values it. I am not sure your argument does show that things can be morally good, independently of Gods valuing them in the relevant sense here. The sense that Craig and other people who make moral arguments mean when they say goodness is not independent of God is metaphysical, the claim is that moral values cannot exist independently of God. Things cannot “be” valuable if God does not exist. The claim is not that we cannot know whether moral values exist, or what values things are valuable independently of any appeal to God. These are quite different claims.

    So suppose one grants your point that, whatever reasons God has for valuing certain things, we can appeal to value those things as well. That might be correct, but its again beside the point.

  • Matthew Flannagan April 17, 2012, 11:01 am

    mandm.org.nzCraig and others would grant that yes, we can know certain things are valuble without appealing to God or his nature to do so, that’s not the issue. The issue is wether these things would actually be valuble if there was no divine nature which it resembled.

    To be sound your argument would have to be that, if God has reasons which motivate him to value something, then those reasons themselves can make the thing good independently of God. I think this argument faces transivity problems Glenn alludes to and also commits the fallacy of equivocation. In that it conflates motivating reasons with constitutive reasons. I have spelt out how it does so with regards to duties here:http://www.mandm.org.nz/2009/07/walter-sinnott-armstrong-on-god-morality-and-arbitrariness.html But would say the same thing regarding its application to moral value.

    Finally, it seems your argument also has an important premise which is dubious you state

    Whatever reasons God has for valuing certain “moral” behaviors/thoughts/etc., to the extent they are not arbitrary for motivating a standard of morality, we can use those very same reasons directly.

    This seems to suggest that, for any non-arbitrary reason God, an omnsicent being has for valuing something, humans who are not omniscient can use or appeal to the same reasons, in there evaluative judgements. That seems to me to be clearly false.

  • Ben April 17, 2012, 1:19 pm

    Matthew,

    You wrote:

    First, on Craig’s view certain character traits, behavours and so on, are not good because God, values them. They are good because the resemble God’s character. So even if one grants your conclusion that these things are good prior to and independently of God valuing them, that’s beside the point because Craig accepts this, he does not base moral value on God’s valuing things.

    That doesn’t sound quite right. For instance, I don’t think Craig would say that God’s character traits are good because they resemble his character.

    Regardless, though, this seems a quibble which doesn’t affect the structure of the argument. The point is, Craig has to show that whatever part of God he takes to characterize morality is not arbitrary. Whether that part of God is his value motivations or his nature, or whatever else, we can always inquire, why are those parts of God non-arbitrary for characterizing morality? So he must appeal to considerations external to God, such as kindness, compassion, etc. Well, we can make those appeals too, without the divine intermediary.

    (cont. below…)

  • Ben April 17, 2012, 1:21 pm

    (cont.)

    But second, suppose Craig were offering the view that something is good if God values it. I am not sure your argument does show that things can be morally good, independently of Gods valuing them in the relevant sense here. The sense that Craig and other people who make moral arguments mean when they say goodness is not independent of God is metaphysical, the claim is that moral values cannot exist independently of God. Things cannot “be” valuable if God does not exist. The claim is not that we cannot know whether moral values exist, or what values things are valuable independently of any appeal to God. These are quite different claims.

    Do you mean ontological independence? That’s the sort of independence I’m talking about, not epistemic independence. (I’m not sure what “metaphysical” independence would involve.) In fact God could be quite an epistemic help to us, if only he existed. However the moral argument deals in the ontology of morality, not epistemology. So we can talk about that which makes morality non-arbitrary without knowing what that is (which is essential to my objection). It could be reasons God has for valuing certain behaviors, character traits, etc. But whatever that is, if it is independent of God (as it must be if he wants to say that it is not arbitrary), then we might as well appeal to it directly to characterize morality. We don’t need God to exemplify, say, kindness, in order to say that kindness helps characterize morality.

    (cont. below…)

  • Ben April 17, 2012, 1:22 pm

    (cont.)

    To be sound your argument would have to be that, if God has reasons which motivate him to value something, then those reasons themselves can make the thing good independently of God. I think this argument faces transivity problems Glenn alludes to and also commits the fallacy of equivocation. In that it conflates motivating reasons with constitutive reasons.

    My objection here—that is, my interpretation of Krauss’s objection—does not have the structure you attack in your blog. Recall, Craig is trying to defend his first premise that if God does not exist then neither do objective moral values and duties. His support of this premise (as it appears in On Guard, anyway) is a bit vague, but I take him to be arguing that without God a foundation for morality must be arbitrary. For instance, he asks the question in On Guard (p131), “if God does not exist, what is the basis of moral values?” In his debate with Sam Harris he added, “in the absence of God, there isn’t any reason, any explanation, for the existence of objective moral values.” Well I’m saying that whatever non-arbitrary reason or explanation that he claims theism has for morality may be stripped of its theistic components without making it arbitrary. So, to take just one example, if kindness helps characterize morality on Craig’s view without being arbitrary, then it can also help characterize morality on a secular view without being arbitrary. So for instance, maybe compassion doesn’t help constitute morality, but if it did then it would be no less arbitrary than a compassionate God’s nature.

    This seems to suggest that, for any non-arbitrary reason God, an omnsicent being has for valuing something, humans who are not omniscient can use or appeal to the same reasons, in there evaluative judgements. That seems to me to be clearly false.

    Well this isn’t true for values which depend on God’s subjective point of view, but then if God values something based on his subjective point of view then his value won’t be objective, which Craig needs it to be for his argument.

    Regards,
    Ben

  • Matthew Flannagan April 17, 2012, 6:25 pm

    “That doesn’t sound quite right. For instance, I don’t think Craig would say that God’s character traits are good because they resemble his character.

    I don’t think you understand Craig’s position, he follows Alston who distinguishes “platonic predicates” from “particularistic predicates” The former are analysised in terms of a set of necessary and sufficient conditions the object must posses in order to have the property in question. So for example if I ask, what is a batechlor I can analysis this in terms of a set of conditions such as being male, of marriage age, and unmarried. Whether something is a batchelor is determined by whether they meet these conditions or not

    The other is analysised not in terms of a set of conditions but in terms of a paradigm exemplar, so we analysis whether something had the property not by proposing a set of conditions needed to have the property but pointing to a single exemplary instance of the thing in question and saying “that is an X” and anything like it is an X. The example Craig uses is the French meter bar, one determines whether something is a meter by pointing to a bar and saying that’s a meter and anything that approximates to it is a meter.

    His claim is that goodness of persons is a “particularistic predicate” there is not a set of conditions that a person must meet that determines whether they are good. Rather there needs to be a perfect example of goodness which people can point to as an exemplar that moral value can be compared with. His argument is that if God exists, then he is the best candidate to fill the role.

    Once you realise goodness is a particularistic predicate, one can see how it can be the case that goodness is understood as resemblance to God, without it being the case that Gods goodness is understood in terms of God resembling himself.

  • Matthew Flannagan April 17, 2012, 6:27 pm

    My objection here—that is, my interpretation of Krauss’s objection—does not have the structure you attack in your blog. Recall, Craig is trying to defend his first premise that if God does not exist then neither do objective moral values and duties. His support of this premise (as it appears in On Guard, anyway) is a bit vague, but I take him to be arguing that without God a foundation for morality must be arbitrary. For instance, he asks the question in On Guard (p131), “if God does not exist, what is the basis of moral values?” In his debate with Sam Harris he added, “in the absence of God, there isn’t any reason, any explanation, for the existence of objective moral values.” Well I’m saying that whatever non-arbitrary reason or explanation that he claims theism has for morality may be stripped of its theistic components without making it arbitrary. So, to take just one example, if kindness helps characterize morality on Craig’s view without being arbitrary, then it can also help characterize morality on a secular view without being arbitrary. So for instance, maybe compassion doesn’t help constitute morality, but if it did then it would be no less arbitrary than a compassionate God’s nature.

    Ok this is again a straw man.

    Here you interpret Craig’s as arguing [1] “without a foundation moral values and duties are arbitrary. You then suggest [2] the features Craig appeals to such “kindness” even though these features don’t “constitute morality” they are considerations which make secular morality non arbitrary.

    The problem is this again misunderstands Craig’s point. Craig does not argue that secular accounts are arbitrary in the sense you refer to. His claim is that if God does not exist, there does not exist any property or properties which can be said to plausibly “constitute” moral obligations. If as you accept having a motivating reason based on kindness to do something does not constitute it being wrong, then appealing to these features will not address Craig’s criticism.
    Of course its true the atheist can say, I did X because it was kind and compassionate and those gave be motivating reasons to do X so that X was not arbitrary in the sense of I had no reason to refrain from it. But Craig would not dispute this, his position is not that athiests can’t have motivating reasons to do certain things, or even that they cannot have reasons for doing what is right. His point is that its implausible that those reason don’t

  • Glenn April 17, 2012, 6:29 pm

    If you agree that Krauss’s objection works in the case of moral values, then we have an analogous situation with moral duties. God is either going to have non-arbitrary reasons to issue his moral commands or not. But to the extent that God has non-arbitrary reasons to motivate a code of moral duties/obligations, then we can appeal directly to those reasons, again without the middle-man.

    Ben, this version of the argument has the same problem that I have identified: You can’t infer directly from non-moral goodness (e.g. love, beauty) to moral obligations. We agreed on this already.

    So if God’s will/commands are, on the DCT, part and parcel of moral obligation, then you cannot simply cut out the middle man (God) just because God has reasons for commanding as he does – because the direct inference from goodness to duty doesn’t work.

    You grant this in the above comments you’ve made, and you even deny that the transivity issue is relevant here, but somehow you still seem to keep making the argument that is subject to this very rebuttal:

    Well I’m saying that whatever non-arbitrary reason or explanation that he claims theism has for morality may be stripped of its theistic components without making it arbitrary. So, to take just one example, if kindness helps characterize morality on Craig’s view without being arbitrary, then it can also help characterize morality on a secular view without being arbitrary.

    But this is mistaken. Remember – kindness does not characterise morality in any sense related to obligation on the view in question here. Kindness only characterises goodness. It is in some sense God-like. But as we’ve agreed, you do not make an inference from goodness to rightness (i.e. obligation), so although you keep saying that we can just cut out the middle man, it has become incumbent on you to elaborate how we can do that without making the sort of inference that you and I reject.

    You’ve also characterised God’s point of view (i.e. omniscience, perfect wisdom and foresight, perfect goodness etc) as subjective. This seems strange, since surely the very essence (and problem) of human subjectivity is that it is limited in knowledge, biased etc. This is why R M Hare invoked the idea of the Archangel – precisely to get away from subjectivity. If you’re going to talk about the perspective of perfect knowledge, wisdom, goodness etc that way, you’re changing the terminology significantly.

  • Ben April 17, 2012, 11:44 pm

    reasonablefaith.orgreasonablefaith.org.

    Matthew,

    Thanks for the response.

    Craig definitely does attack the arbitrariness of secular moral theories, and it is no “straw man” to point this out. For instance he claims that Shelley Kagan’s view is “wholly arbitrary” and “ad hoc” (source); in defending DCT in he claims that “God is the least arbitrary” standard of value (Reasonable Faith, p182); the so-called “stubborn humanist” view he criticizes on grounds of “arbitrariness and implausibility” (On Guard, pp139-40). So showing that a non-divine moral grounding need be no less arbitrary than Craig’s DCT seems an important and relevant step towards resisting his moral argument.

    On the other hand, now that I look more carefully, I see that indeed he does seem to want to also defend the claim you have attributed to him, that moral values and duties must have some kind of concrete exemplar. (In my defense, in On Guard, which has been the primary source for my interpretation of Craig’s DCT and moral argument, Craig is not very clear on this point.)

    So what can we say about this claim? Well, first I need to ask, what do you think is the best defense for it? I can’t find much by Craig himself, except that he seems to think that moral values must have a real “ontological foundation” or “grounding” in order that they themselves be real (source).

    If he means that moral values must be constituted by something existing in order to themselves exist, then sure. But they do exist insofar as we really do value certain behaviors/thoughts/etc., and I don’t see why this moral experience itself cannot be its own “ontological foundation.” In other words, moral values are constituted by our values. Why does the existence of our moral values require the existence of some other thing to “ground” them? I cannot find a reason to think that, and so the idea that an external concrete exemplar must exist in order for our moral values to exist seems baseless.

    However probably you have in mind a better defense than Craig’s brief remarks from the Kagan link. Maybe something by Alston? Feel free to point me to a good source. But the claim does need a defense, as there is no obvious reason to think it is true.

    Regards,
    Ben

  • Ben April 18, 2012, 12:10 am

    Glenn,

    You wrote:

    this version of the argument has the same problem that I have identified: You can’t infer directly from non-moral goodness (e.g. love, beauty) to moral obligations.

    The argument does not require that we infer solely from nonmoral goodness to moral obligations any more than God is moved solely by nonmoral goodness to issue his commands. But to the extent that we cannot infer solely from goodness to obligation, neither can God’s commands be motivated (or “grounded,” or whatever) solely by goodness. So there must be some extra stuff at play in moving God to issue moral commands. Whatever makes that extra stuff non-arbitrary can also make a secular grounding of moral obligation non-arbitrary, regardless of whether God happens to exist.

    You’ve also characterised God’s point of view (i.e. omniscience, perfect wisdom and foresight, perfect goodness etc) as subjective. This seems strange, since surely the very essence (and problem) of human subjectivity is that it is limited in knowledge, biased etc. This is why R M Hare invoked the idea of the Archangel – precisely to get away from subjectivity. If you’re going to talk about the perspective of perfect knowledge, wisdom, goodness etc that way, you’re changing the terminology significantly.

    By “subjective” I mean dependent on a particular point of view. If God is moved by objective concerns, i.e. those which are independent of his point of view, then we can be moved by the same objective concerns precisely because they do not depend on having a particular point of view. So the transitivity we need holds up. Only if we insist that God’s concerns depend on his unique point of view does transitivity fail. That’s why I remarked before that we don’t need the kind of broad transitivity you (rightfully) denied. We only need transitivity of those concerns which are not dependent on a particular point of view.

    Regards,
    Ben

  • Ben April 18, 2012, 12:12 am

    By the way, thanks to everyone for the feedback. It’s very helpful in organizing my thoughts, and getting a good handle on the relevant issues.

  • Walt April 18, 2012, 1:41 am

    Are we surprised that a physicist and philosopher are going to misunderstand and misrepresent one another? What was the goal of this debate?

  • Jeremy April 18, 2012, 9:00 am

    If God is the creator and sustainer of creation, of all things, surely the idea of “God is moved by objective concerns, i.e. those which are independent of his point of view” is meaningless. What exists that is independent of his point of view?

  • Glenn April 18, 2012, 6:17 pm

    “Are we surprised that a physicist and philosopher are going to misunderstand and misrepresent one another?”

    I’m not sure how Krauss was misrepresented.

  • Glenn April 18, 2012, 6:24 pm

    The argument does not require that we infer solely from nonmoral goodness to moral obligations any more than God is moved solely by nonmoral goodness to issue his commands. But to the extent that we cannot infer solely from goodness to obligation, neither can God’s commands be motivated (or “grounded,” or whatever) solely by goodness. So there must be some extra stuff at play in moving God to issue moral commands. Whatever makes that extra stuff non-arbitrary can also make a secular grounding of moral obligation non-arbitrary, regardless of whether God happens to exist.

    Ben, On Bill Craig’s view (as on Adam’s view), moral obligations are constituted by God’s commands. So there’s no inference at all from goodness, kindness etc to moral obligation. So you can’t just plug something else in via a secular theory to to do the same partially inferential work, because there’s just no such inference. God’s love of goodness and kindness etc are an explanation of God’s motivation to command as he does, but they do not causally contribute to moral obligation at all. What makes God’s commands non-arbitrary just is that it is grounded in God’s love of the good. That’s it. But that doesn’t make goodness causal for obligation. So if you’re going to say that there could be some other theory that can do the work from goodness to obligation, the time has come where it won’t do to say that you don’t need to explain any such theory. You really do.

    “By “subjective” I mean dependent on a particular point of view.” OK, but then you’re not using it in the sense in which Craig and others are when they contrast a subjective perspective with an objective one. Because a perspective that is based on all facts everywhere, which is not biased or skewed in any way, is precisely what people are aiming for when they say that they are trying to be objective, and that is the sense in which the word “objective” is relevant here. So if the worry is that God has purely subjective reasons for commanding as he does, the typical worries that one has about somebody’s opinion being “merely subjective” don’t seem to come into play at all. This is all the more true if non-moral goodness is itself objective, being measure in terms of the way in which it is like God.

    Moreover, if morality is constituted by God’s will or commands (and not by God’s reasons for commanding), then this is a universal fact regardless of what any of us believe (in fact it is even true irrespective of what God believes!), and hence it is objectively true. If there’s another way to think of subjectivity and objectivity, it is irrelevant however interesting it might be.

  • Ben April 19, 2012, 3:32 am

    Glenn,

    Regarding subjectivity versus objectivity, I realize that I do differ from Craig on this, but that’s only because, first, Craig’s definition of “objective” doesn’t comport well with what I would consider ordinary usage of the term, and second, it appears in danger of circularity. Recall that he defines “objective” to mean “independent of human opinion” (On Guard, p131). But that seems wrong, since that which is independent of human opinion but still dependent on a nonhuman opinion (e.g. as we might find given the existence of a hypothetical race of intelligent aliens) ought to likewise be considered non-objective, i.e. subjective. So a better definition would be “independent of human or nonhuman opinion.” (And this first modification is all we require to preserve the point I made earlier.) However I don’t like this very much either, since I don’t know how to distinguish between opinion and non-opinion without making reference to subjectivity, which would be circular. So to resolve this, I prefer to characterize objectivity as “independence from point of view.”

    Regarding getting from goodness to obligation, in fact there does have to be such an inference even on DCT. For as you point out, God can’t just command any and every good thing, because then we run into various absurdities. For example, God can’t issue incompatible commands on your view. Well, that’s one more (presumably non-arbitrary) constraint on moral obligation than just goodness. But there’s nothing stopping nontheists from making the same move, and characterizing moral obligations as being necessarily compatible. So to the extent that DCT’ists infer that compatibility is a non-arbitrary requirement for moral duty, so too nontheists can do similarly.

    Regards,
    Ben

  • Glenn April 19, 2012, 8:00 am

    Ben, just two things: What you take to be a common usage of the term “objective” just doesn’t matter all that much. If you’re going to say that DCT doesn’t – contrary to its own claims – yield objective morality, the only sort of critique that will really have teeth is the sort that tries to show that DCT doesn’t provide morality that is objective in the sense that DCT advocates claim it to be objective. I hope we can agree on this. You can re-characterise objectivity in any sense you like different from the way that DCT advocates use it. But of course, if you do, you can’t then turn around and fault them for not being true tot he “real meaning” of objectivity. Who cares? They were trying to defend the claim that their view would provide objectivity in a certain sense, and therefore that is the sense that matters. As for circularity, no I really don’t think so. Recall that we’re talking about what human beings are required to do (or not do). I think Craig can quite happily (and even should happily) say that objective means “independent of opinion.” I touched on this in my last comment, but since the objection has come up once more I will respond to it again. If -as on Craig’s view – moral obligations are constituted by divine commands – that is, they are identical with them – then whether or not moral obligations exist and what they are is not even a matter of God’s opinion. Human obligation would this exist even if God didn’t realise it (although of course God does realise it since God is omniscient). I said this in my last comment but it seemed to slip under your radar. The same would hold on a different DCT as well – namely a causal one. If human obligation is caused by divine commands then these obligations too would exist even if God had amnesia (!!!) and forgot that this is how moral obligations were generated. So even in the sense of objectivity your’s talking about, DCT provides objective moral duties. So this objection just has no teeth at all.

    Secondly, I don’t think “inference” means what you think it means. The fact that God is motivated by his love of the good does not at all mean that “there does have to be such an inference even on DCT.” Inference is a process of logical deduction, and the fact that God loves the good and commands us to do things out of that motivation doesn’t involve inferring moral duties from the presence of goodness.

  • Ben April 20, 2012, 12:27 am

    Glenn,

    You write:

    If you’re going to say that DCT doesn’t – contrary to its own claims – yield objective morality, the only sort of critique that will really have teeth is the sort that tries to show that DCT doesn’t provide morality that is objective in the sense that DCT advocates claim it to be objective. I hope we can agree on this.

    Sure, but that’s not what I’ve been saying. DCT morality may well be objective in the sense Craig describes. It may even be objective in the ordinary sense, so long as one endows his concept of God with a suitable set of traits.

    Rather, my point is that in defending DCT he undermines his defense of the premises in his moral argument.

    Anyway, I think Craig does agree that independence from point of view is required for objectivity, based on his comments in Reasonable Faith, where he affirms in the context of the moral argument that “the distinction between ‘here’ and ‘there’ is not objective: whether a particular event at a certain spatial location occurs here or occurs there depends on a person’s point of view” (p173). So my interpretation of objectivity may be quite accurate to what Craig has in mind.

    You can re-characterise objectivity in any sense you like different from the way that DCT advocates use it. But of course, if you do, you can’t then turn around and fault them for not being true tot he “real meaning” of objectivity. Who cares? They were trying to defend the claim that their view would provide objectivity in a certain sense, and therefore that is the sense that matters.

    That seems to me a far too inflexible approach. To illustrate what I mean, consider the following proposition:

    (A) There exists a race of nonhuman alien beings with a “moral” dimension akin to our own, i.e. beings who understand that it is “wrong” to murder, rape, enslave, etc., and have a sense of goodness.

    Suppose (A) is true; in that case, perhaps moral values and duties depend on the feelings and opinions of the nonhuman aliens, but because they are not human, these values and duties are “objective” in the sense you take Craig to define (call this Craig-objectivity), regardless of whether or not God happens to exist. So if God does not exist and (A) is true, then Craig-objective moral values and duties exist, and hence the following is false:

    (1) If God does not exist, then Craig-objective moral values and duties do not exist.

    (cont. below…)

  • Ben April 20, 2012, 12:28 am

    (cont.)

    So we have a hypothetical scenario in which (1) is false, and which we have no good reason to think unlikely. Thus we have no good reason to accept (1), and Craig’s moral argument fails.

    In a certain narrow sense, this seems to me a very good objection to the argument as Craig frames it. However it’s also pretty cheap, because it only works in that narrow interpretation of his argument. I really don’t think Craig intended objectivity to include the (perhaps fleeting) opinions hypothetical alien beings. And even if he did, a given third party is probably not going to share his odd hang-up.

    Now I do agree that Craig-objectivity needs to be addressed in any treatment of the moral argument. But because of Craig’s unusual understanding of objectivity, a good criticism of the moral argument should also discuss alternative interpretations such as what I have proposed.

    If -as on Craig’s view – moral obligations are constituted by divine commands – that is, they are identical with them – then whether or not moral obligations exist and what they are is not even a matter of God’s opinion.

    But this seems false. To the extent that we take commands to be expressions of God’s desires and values (which in this context I think we should class under “opinions”), then his commands do indeed depend on his opinions. If you want to instead complain that desires and values are, strictly speaking, not opinions, then we can say the same about human desires and values, which seems contrary to the spirit of Craig’s argument.

    And besides, this would conflict with alternative definitions of objectivity offered by Craig, for instance that “to say that something is objective is to say that it is independent of what people think or percieve” (Reasonable Faith, p173). Since commands depend on the thoughts to issue commands, then dropping the requirement of humanity from the term “people” results in God’s commands being subjective.

    Finally, let’s not forget that this is all really beside the point, since my objection isn’t that DCT fails to leave room for objectivity, but rather that Craig’s defense of DCT undermines his defense of the premises in his moral argument.

    (cont. below…)

  • Ben April 20, 2012, 12:29 am

    (cont.)

    Secondly, I don’t think “inference” means what you think it means. The fact that God is motivated by his love of the good does not at all mean that “there does have to be such an inference even on DCT.” Inference is a process of logical deduction, and the fact that God loves the good and commands us to do things out of that motivation doesn’t involve inferring moral duties from the presence of goodness.

    An inference need not be deductive, e.g. in the case of inductive inferences. But anyway, I’m not saying that God makes an inference to issue his commands (though he may—I’m not ruling that out), but rather that DCT’ists must infer somehow from God’s influences/motivations/etc. that those commands are not arbitrary. To the extent that those things have meaning independent of God (such as, say, kindness has meaning independent of God), nontheists can make a similar move.

  • matt April 20, 2012, 6:46 am

    Ben, you’ve picked a strange nit to pick. Perhaps Craig could be more clear in his meaning of ‘Objective’ but your semantic quibbles do no damage to the argument at stake. Your story about aliens does fly quite wide of the mark.

    Additionally, your criticisms of the argument depend on describing God in very anthropomorphic terms. I am not sure that a being that is omniscient could be described as having opinions. If God is the paradigm of Goodness, then there is no other thing out there called Goodness that God need refer to in coming up with commands (since Craig is a nominalist, I think this is how he’d put it). In the same way we would not recognize this or that good independently from its relationship to that which it has its being in, namely God. So, for instance, to show that kindness can have a meaning independent of God, you would need to show that it can exist independently as such. I suppose you could bring in some Platonic notions to that effect (remember the Good has to be real if you want your argument to work, not simply a descriptive term for a preferable state of affairs), but you’d still be left with the problem of moral obligation (even if you could show that it would be more reasonable to want “good” things to happen than “bad” things).

    I am not personally sure of DCT, mostly because I’m not very well versed in moral theory, but I don’t see how your objections should make me more unsure. If God issued the commands then they would exist, regardless of the subjective experience of any sentient being one could dream up and any which fell within the purview of those commands could be judged or excused by them (if DCT is the correctest moral theory out there). It seems very clearly that you are not evaluating the theory on its own terms, and using a popularization of it designed for church Bible studies while holding said popularization to a rather unrealistic standard of technicality in order to show how a related argument, in your opinion, fails. The point you’re making is, of course, relevant to the post and the Krauss-Craig debate, but you very much appear to be wrong in showing how Krauss’s comment demonstrates the failure of DCT. There may be other ways to show that, but so far Krauss (and Pinker as well) still looks uninformed as to the state of the literature concerning DCT.

  • Glenn April 20, 2012, 8:07 am

    The purpose of introducing a character limit was to stop people writing essays in the comments section – not to create multi-part essays!

    I’ll trawl through it later when I have a large chunk of time (!!!).

  • Ben April 20, 2012, 12:06 pm

    matt,

    I completely agree that it would be silly to exploit Craig’s definition like that. That was sort of the point of my criticism—to show that a slavish commitment to Craig’s defective characterization of objectivity is not going to get us anywhere!

    As for what you find wrong about Krauss’s criticism, or my elaboration/interpretation of it, you will have to be more specific. What about the criticism seems “uninformed”? Why would you say that I “appear to be wrong”? What about my argument gives this appearance?

    + + +

    Glenn,

    Sorry for going over the word limit. Since I too am beginning to get internet-argument-fatigue, so to speak, how about you go ahead and have the last word on the subject. (I may keep responding to others for a while though, if you don’t mind.)

    Regards,
    Ben

  • matt April 20, 2012, 3:38 pm

    I was assuming much of what Dr’s Flannagan and Peoples had been saying in response to Krauss’s critique and your reinforcement of it.

    But I did say

    1. Your critique relies on and anthropomorphic understanding of God and Goodness, or God’s Goodness (as demonstrated by your continued recourse to opinion and the like)

    2. You haven’t successfully shown why a certain state of affairs (that people are kind to each other and so on) entails any obligation, in which case we’d still need God to be commanding stuff.

    It would be fine if you just said ‘and this is why there is no such things as morals qua morals’ (in which case you’d need more argument for that claim) but you aren’t saying that. You seem to be arguing for the strange position that we could issue commands to ourselves, and that these commands would have some force to them. I’d like to see how you think that this would be true (that our issuing commands to ourselves would oblige us and others to follow them – the “others” are, after all, quite important when it comes to morality).

  • Glenn April 20, 2012, 8:35 pm

    Ben, I’ll make this my last response then. You say: “DCT morality may well be objective in the sense Craig describes. It may even be objective in the ordinary sense, so long as one endows his concept of God with a suitable set of traits.” OK. So we should therefore be able to simply dispense with the claims that DCT doesn’t (if true) provide objective morality. That’s good.

    Your alien example mischaracterises what you call “Craig-objectivity,” unless your aliens are in the privileged position of being perfectly good (in fact the exemplar of non -moral goodness) and all knowing (ie they are like God), and morality is constituted by their commands. But if they are (and hence we’re talking about Craig-objectivity), then I just say: DCT by any other name is still DCT!

    Lastly, I think you misapprehend what people mean when they say that moral obligations are “constituted by” divine commands. it may well be the case that one of the reasons that God commands is he does is because of his opinion, but that doesn’t mean that what the obligations constituted by those commands are is a matter of opinion. Take a human lawgiver. he might legislate because of his opinion, but it is certainly not a matter of opinion that such legislation exists or what it requires of people. That would be an objective fact. His acts of legislation constitute people’s legal obligations. Of course the difference here (and what would make this example subjective) is the limited perspective of a human legislator, but it’s not true that the obligations are simply a matter of the legislator’s opinion.

    The same holds for a causal DCT. I might cause something to happen because of my desires (which you call opinion). But what, precisely, happened – that is not a matter of my opinion at all.

    Over and out. :)

  • scrubone April 20, 2012, 10:38 pm

    Reminds me of the science blogger who was sniffing about how creationists didn’t understand science then proceeded to tell us that there were two different stories of creation in Genesis 1 & 2.

    I was seriously tempted to ask him if he was engaging in satire.

  • Glenn April 20, 2012, 10:50 pm

    There are two different stories in Genesis 1 and 2.

  • Matthew Flannagan April 21, 2012, 2:32 pm

    Ben,
    You state

    “Craig definitely does attack the arbitrariness of secular moral theories, and it is no “straw man” to point this out. For instance he claims that Shelley Kagan’s view is “wholly arbitrary” and “ad hoc” (source);”

    Ben, I think you need to read that source a bit more carefully, here is the relevant section

    Rather Kagan must be taken to mean that our moral obligations are actually constituted by how ideally rational people would say we ought to act in a particular situation. But then the question I raised in our dialogue presses: why think such a thing? Why think that if you could assemble a committee of perfectly rational human beings and they all would agree that you should do some action A , this constitutes a moral obligation for you to do A ? As a foundation for objective moral values and duties this explanation seems wholly arbitrary.

    Note what the issue is here, Craig states the question is whether, if atheism is true anything exists which can plausibly said to constitute moral obligations? If Kagan is addressing this question then he must be claiming that moral obligations are constituted by what “ideally rational people would prescripe”. The question then is wether this a plausible candidate to constitute moral obligations.
    Craig’s reference to arbitrariness, in this context, then is in reference to his claim that there is no reason for thinking that, given atheism, what ideally rational beings would command is a more plausible account of what constitutes moral obligation than any other purported naturalistic fact that he can point to nor, does Craig think, given atheism it is more plausible than error theories which contend that moral obligations are illusory.

    So the issue here is not “arbitriarness” in the sense you suggested, in the sense of wether a person has reasons based on various features such as love, or justice or compassion, for endorsing a particular rule, Craig is quite willing to accept that people might have such reasons, the issue is wether, if God does not exist, there is anything that can be plausibly said to constitute moral obligations.

  • Matthew Flannagan April 21, 2012, 2:47 pm

    So what can we say about this claim? Well, first I need to ask, what do you think is the best defense for it? I can’t find much by Craig himself, except that he seems to think that moral values must have a real “ontological foundation” or “grounding” in order that they themselves be real (source).

    The paradigm of a relationship of “constitution” is the relationship between water and h20 or heat and certain types of molecular motion. In otherwords a constitution relationship, in Craigs sense is a kind of identity relationship, hence if moral obligations or values are to exist as real things they must be constituted by existent real things.

    If he means that moral values must be constituted by something existing in order to themselves exist, then sure.

    Exactly

    But they do exist insofar as we really do value certain behaviors/thoughts/etc., and I don’t see why this moral experience itself cannot be its own “ontological foundation.” In other words, moral values are constituted by our values. Why does the existence of our moral values require the existence of some other thing to “ground” them? I cannot find a reason to think that, and so the idea that an external concrete exemplar must exist in order for our moral values to exist seems baseless.

    Well Craig I think provides a reason for rejecting this, identifying moral values or duties with “our values” would make them lack objectivity, that moral values and duties have. For example, human beings and entire human communities can make mistakes and value things which are immoral and prescribe things which are immoral, for example human sacrifice, or racism, and so on. If moral obligations are constituted by what humans in fact prescribe and value then this would be impossible and humans could never make moral mistakes like this, any practised endorsed or valued by “us” would be correct, and that seems implausible, given the widespread history of human beings and societies supporting unjust practises. One would end up with meta-ethical subjectivism which has almost universally been rejected for good reasons.

    Note: Kagan himself an ethicist, himself provides an example which is designed to avoid these very implications. He attempts to claim that moral duties are constituted by what “ideally rational” human beings would prescribe. In otherwords he attributes to human beings would prescribe if they were fully informed and rational

  • Mike D May 6, 2012, 8:06 pm

    I’m sorry Glenn, but I think you’re massively confused on this issue.

    Let me start with a premise that I think we ought to be able to agree upon:

    * Obedience to authority is in itself neither necessary nor sufficient to establish an action as im/moral. Obedience only implies that action is being taken for either fear of punishment or the promise of reward. To establish an action as im/moral, it must be rationally justified as such independently of authority.

    Saying that a moral action is rationally justified is simply to say that there are rational, objective reasons for taking a certain course of action. But when there are rational reasons to behave morally, it makes authority superfluous. For example, God might say, “Love thy neighbor as yourself”. But why? If it’s simply an arbitrary command that is merely to be obeyed, it cannot be im/moral. But if we have rational justification for loving our neighbors as ourselves (if God is commanding it because it’s rationally in our best interest to behave that way) then there’s nothing that God commanding it adds to the equation. The divine command is superfluous.

    Now, you’re attempting to preserve God’s relevance by suggesting that only God commanding something can make it obligatory. It may be rational to behave kindly, to live cooperatively, etc., but it’s not obligatory unless God commands as such.

    This deeply confuses what it means to be obligated. When we say we’re obligated to do something, we mean two things:

    1. We’re obligated to someone
    2. We’re obligated for a specific reason, (i.e., “to what end?”)

    Why should I care that God has commanded me to do something? Why ought I do what is commanded of me? If you suggest that we’re obligated to obey God because he is the highest authority, you run right back into the first problem: the im/morality of an action must be ascertained independently of authority. If, on the other hand, you suggest that obedience is obligatory for a rational reason (i.e., behaving that way is in everyone’s best interest), you’ve again made God irrelevant. Moral obligation only arises relative to our interpersonal relationships with other rational agents and the social responsibilities those relationships entail.

  • Glenn May 6, 2012, 9:44 pm

    Mike, saying that I’ve “massively confused” the issue is rhetorical hype.

    Saying that a moral action is rationally justified is simply to say that there are rational, objective reasons for taking a certain course of action. But when there are rational reasons to behave morally, it makes authority superfluous.

    You actually show that you don’t believe this. Even though you don’t agree with my position, you do grant that there is a distinction between something being rational or prudent on the one hand, and something being obligatory on the other. And this is why divine commands aren’t “superfluous” (you use the word “authority,” but I never did). Sure, if there are rational reasons to want to do the things that God commands, then the obligation to obey God’s commands might be superfluous when it comes to giving us a non-moral, rational reason for doing something. But clearly that is not an objection to my claims, because I never denied this. You can have an action being desirable for a number of reasons without it being required.

    You try to anticipate this, but you go wrong:

    Now, you’re attempting to preserve God’s relevance by suggesting that only God commanding something can make it obligatory. It may be rational to behave kindly, to live cooperatively, etc., but it’s not obligatory unless God commands as such.

    Well, first note that there’s more than one divine command theory of ethics. In one version, the property of being morally required just is (i.e. is identical with) the property of being commanded by God. Obviously you’re not critiquing that theory, because here you talk about God’s commands making things obligatory, which is a causal view. So let’s go with that. Yes, what you outline here is a response to your objection from one who holds that view. And you think this is wrong because there’s just no reason to do what God commands. But if you mean no prudent or rational reason, that’s wrong as noted earlier. And if you mean no morally binding reason (as you seem to), then your objection is incoherent: You are asking what moral reasons we have for being moral. If there are no moral obligations prior to God’s commands, then the objection becomes nonsense. It’s like asking how many minutes elapsed before time began! Even if DCT is false, this objection to it must be dismissed.

  • Mike D May 6, 2012, 10:10 pm

    You actually show that you don’t believe this. Even though you don’t agree with my position, you do grant that there is a distinction between something being rational or prudent on the one hand, and something being obligatory on the other.

    There is indeed a distinction, but it’s not relevant to my point about God’s commands being superfluous; it’s relevant to the final point I made about our interpersonal relationships, and how this factors in with our cooperative social hierarchy. Furthermore, you seem to be blurring, if not outright overlooking, the fact that actions we consider obligatory must first be rational – again removing the need for divine commands.

    And you think this is wrong because there’s just no reason to do what God commands. But if you mean no prudent or rational reason, that’s wrong as noted earlier.

    No no no… I am not saying there is no reason to do what God (supposedly) commands. I’m saying that:

    1) if the reason is simply “because God commanded it” (an appeal to God’s authority), it cannot be an im/moral action – it’s simply obedience of an arbitrary command out of fear of punishment or the promise of reward.

    2) if, on the other hand, God has rational justifications for his commands (i.e., it is in humanity’s mutual best interest to behave in these ways) then they need not be commands at all – they would objectively and demonstrably valid.

    Something I think you need to consider is that all behavior, including moral behavior, is goal-oriented. Saying we’re obligated to behave morally only makes sense if we establish to what end. Once we recognize the purpose of moral behavior (i.e., to minimize unnecessary suffering and/or maximize well-being), we can discern objectively, without recourse to the divine, what the most rational course of action is.

  • Jeremy May 7, 2012, 8:49 am

    @ Mike D, if you are right please explain human history because it bears no resemblance to your explanations of morality.

  • Glenn May 7, 2012, 5:00 pm

    beretta-online.comberetta-online.com

    Furthermore, you seem to be blurring, if not outright overlooking, the fact that actions we consider obligatory must first be rational – again removing the need for divine commands.

    Mike, as I explained, it does not remove the need at all. According to a causal DCT (the view that you’re commenting on), having a prudential reason to act does not obligate. So this claim is false – having a prudential reason to act does not make divine commands superfluous, since DCT is a theory of obligation.

    “No no no… I am not saying there is no reason to do what God (supposedly) commands.”

    Well you said: “Why should I care that God has commanded me to do something? Why ought I do what is commanded of me? ”

    So you were in fact asking why we should obey God’s commands. I have explained why that question you asked makes no sense if you are talking about moral obligations. But in your new post you just run back into claims that have now been addressed:

    1) This actually accumulates more confusion than before. You assume here that if God’s commands are the only reason that actions are actually morally required, then those commands are arbitrary. But this old objection has been repeatedly rebutted. It is simply false if God has any reasons for commanding as God does.

    2) Here you just repeat the claim that I have already addressed: Namely, if God has any reasons for commanding as he does – objective reasons – then those reasons are all we need and we can dispense with God’s commands. But I have already explained why this fails: God may have reasons for wanting us to do things based on things like prudence, love for us, beauty and so on. But there is a difference between something being prudent or rational and something being obligatory. So this objection is a non-starter. I’ve commented on that before.

  • Hugh May 7, 2012, 5:14 pm

    No no no… I am not saying there is no reason to do what God (supposedly) commands. I’m saying that:

    Hmm did you note Glenn’s comment?

    You are asking what moral reasons we have for being moral. If there are no moral obligations prior to God’s commands, then the objection becomes nonsense. It’s like asking how many minutes elapsed before time began!

    If you expect a *moral* reason for following God’s commands then your complaint is akin to someone complaining that there’s no legal reason to obey the law. You’re simply obligated to obey the law by virtue of being a citizen of a country, so you’re obligated to obey God’s commands (constitutive of moral law) by virtue of the fact that you’re a human being.

    Note thus the problem with this:

    1) if the reason is simply “because God commanded it” (an appeal to God’s authority), it cannot be an im/moral action – it’s simply obedience of an arbitrary command out of fear of punishment or the promise of reward.

    That presupposes this:

    Obedience to authority is in itself neither necessary nor sufficient to establish an action as im/moral. Obedience only implies that action is being taken for either fear of punishment or the promise of reward.

    Firstly I’d like to point out that obedience implies no such thing. It could simply be that you love and respect the authority in question.

    Secondly, your 1) is begging the question as an argument against DCT as you’re presupposing what a moral action is defined by, which is what’s in question.

    2.) if, on the other hand, God has rational justifications for his commands (i.e., it is in humanity’s mutual best interest to behave in these ways) then they need not be commands at all – they would objectively and demonstrably valid.

    Glenn’s already pointed out that yes, they would be objectively and demonstrably valid *for having a rational justification for doing something*, but if you remove God from the equation then there’s nothing to make it required. That’s the issue here.

    Once we recognize the purpose of moral behavior (i.e., to minimize unnecessary suffering and/or maximize well-being)

    Ah, out comes the hidden utilitarianism!

  • Hugh May 7, 2012, 5:19 pm

    Sorry Glenn, I hadn’t refreshed my page quick enough to see that you had already responded.

  • Glenn May 7, 2012, 7:06 pm

    No problem Hugh. At least it’s not just me who sees these holes in the argument!

  • Andrew Gray May 8, 2012, 9:28 pm

    Krauss is a cranky old coot. I notice he still thinks that “nothing” is actually something. A mistake he made in his debate with Craig, and which fundamentally destroys his whole view on how the universe began. And now this gem on God and morality. Do other people actually see how ordinary this guys arguments are, or is it just the few of us?

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