Monday, December 21, 2015

Debate: Objective Morality Without God? (p. 5)

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Preface



This is a debate between me and SeekSecularism over the truth of the first premise of the following moral argument:
  1. If God does not exist, then objective morality does not exist.
  2. Objective morality does exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.
The debate so far:




Maverick Christian’s Closing Statement



Recap



By descriptive ought I mean that type of ought that is nothing more than some purely descriptive state of affairs, e.g. “If you want to do well in school, you ought to study” meaning something like “As a matter of practical necessity, you need to study to do well in school.” By prescriptive ought I mean that type of ought that is not a descriptive ought, e.g. “You should not to torture infants just for fun.” By moral ought I (roughly) mean the prescriptive ought as applied to human behavior. For example, an action is morally wrong for someone only if they ought not to do it. When describing moral goodness and badness, SeekSecular defines “intrinsically motivating” as things that rational beings ought to (in the prescriptive ought sense) pursue in the case of moral goodness or ought to avoid in the case of moral badness. This too would be an example of a moral ought, particularly since this is attached to moral goodness and badness. By objective moral oughtness (OMO) I mean moral oughtness existing independently of whether we believe it to be so.

With the following symbolization key:

M = Moral oughtness exists.[1]
A = Atheism is true.
K = The relevant background data.
Pr(not-M|A&K) = The probability of M being false given A&K, i.e. the probability of moral oughtness not existing given atheism and the relevant background data.


My overall argument can summarized thusly, where the Unbiased Atheist is someone who has no intuitions of moral oughtness existing or not existing, including not intuiting propositions that have moral oughtness’s existence implicit in them (e.g. the Unbiased Atheist wouldn’t have the intuition that Something is morally wrong is true or probably true):

(P1) If the Unbiased Atheist would be justified in believing Pr(not-M|A&K) is high, then Pr(not-M|A&K) is high.
(P2) The Unbiased Atheist would be justified in believing Pr(not-M|A&K) is high.
(C1) Therefore, Pr(not-M|A&K) is high.
(P3) If Pr(not-M|A&K) is high, then Given atheism, moral oughtness probably doesn't exist is true.
(P4) If Given atheism, moral oughtness probably doesn't exist, then the first premise of the moral argument is probably true.
(C2) Therefore, the first premise of the moral argument is probably true.


Lines (P1), (P2), and (C1) are more or less the Argument from the Unbiased Atheist (AftUA). The main purpose of the AftUA was to show that on atheism, people’s intuitions of moral oughtness existing are probably delusory and not veridical, which of course implies Pr(not-M|A&K).

(P1) seems true due to what K can and can’t include. K cannot include question-begging propositions like M is true or M is probably false, since then we wouldn’t really be answering the question at hand, which is how likely M is in the first place on atheism and not e.g. how likely M is given A and M is probably true. SeekSecular balked at the idea of the Unbiased Atheist being a good vantage point for the objective evidential relation between A&K and M, but given which sort of data is admissible for K, what more could one reasonably ask for than someone like the Unbiased Atheist, since any good-vantage-point atheist wouldn’t have the a priori intuition knowledge of moral oughtness existing?

My support for (P2) was the following inductive argument (with each premise predicated with, “If atheism is true, this is true:”).
  1. There is zero empirical evidence for objective moral properties. This supports the idea that the Unbiased Atheist has no good reason to accept M.
  2. 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.
  3. OMO properties are suspiciously queer, akin to invisible and nonphysical gods.  To illustrate the general idea behind the Argument from Queerness (AfQ), 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. Moral oughtness is invisible, nonphysical, empirically detectable, and causally inert. To the Unbiased Atheist, moral oughtness likewise seems “queer,” giving her prima facia justification for disbelieving its existence.
  4. Evolution occasionally gives false beliefs (e.g. gods).  So there’s precedent for evolution giving humans delusory intuitions for invisible nonphysical things.
  5. Moral oughtness beliefs have evolutionary value whether true or not.  Moral oughtness beliefs potentially serve some evolutionary purpose: to get us to behave in the right ways.
  6. Our best theory for why we believe in moral oughtness doesn’t require its existence.  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) premise (P2) is true; the Unbiased Atheist would be justified in thinking that, like people’s intuitions of gods existing, people’s intuitions of moral oughtness existing are probably delusory and not veridical.

Note: I do not think any single premise by itself is enough to justify the conclusion, but I do think the combination of all six premises justifies the conclusion.

Line (P3) is true by definition, since what I mean by Given atheism, moral oughtness probably doesn't exist just is Pr(not-M|A&K) is high. Line (P4) is supported by a mathematical theorem.

One of my key claims that the AftUA illustrates is that on atheism the objective evidence suggests that people’s intuitions of M are probably delusory. In some cases our justification for beliefs comes from non-evidential grounds. For example, consider for example the following brain-in-vat (BIV) hypothesis: you are recently created (say, within the past five years) brain in a vat hooked up to a supercomputer feeding you all the memories, sense experiences, and intuitions you know have. We can’t justify our belief that BIV is false based on evidence, because there can’t be any evidence against it.[1] Instead it’s our intuition of its falsity that justifies our belief that BIV is false and that this perceived reality is real. The atheist moral objectivist (AMO) could similarly argue that he’s justified in believing OMO based on non-evidential intuition grounds, even if Pr(not-M|A&K) is high. But a crucial disanalogy is that in the case of BIV we don’t have any objective evidence suggesting BIV is true, whereas on atheism the objective evidence suggests that people’s intuitions of moral oughtness existing are probably delusory. This makes the a priori intuition option much less viable for the atheist.

Objections



SeekSecularism aims to undercut (P2) via his “Unbiased Observer” argument. (P2) says the Unbiased Atheist would be justified in believing Pr(not-M|A&K) is high. Showing that someone else would be justified in accepting A and M doesn’t attack the truth or justification for (P2).

The “Unbiased Observer” accepts moral oughtness because this observer has a subjectively experienced intuition of moral oughtness existing (namely, the “intrinsically motivating” facet of moral badness). Three problems:
  1. The Unbiased Atheist would not have this intuition, so this doesn’t affect the truth of (P2).
  2. X is morally bad is not admissible in K any more than X is morally wrong is since the conception of moral badness we’re using here has moral oughtness implicit in it.
  3. The Unbiased Observer argument fails to show that “this new observer can plausibility reason to both moral realism and atheism without tension” because it doesn’t address the tension I’ve argued for: the fact that given atheism, it seems that people’s intuitions of moral oughtness existing are probably delusory and not veridical.
In my inductive argument for (P2), Seek Secularism asserts, “(2), (4), (5), and (6) all presuppose that our unbiased observer is committed to sociobiological evolution to sufficiently explain the veridicality of rational intuition.” This is mistaken. (5) merely points out that moral oughtness beliefs (the right ones) would have evolutionary value in getting us to behave in certain ways. What (2), (4), and (6) actually assume is that evolution is responsible for our cognitive faculties, our cognitive faculties are responsible for our intuitions, and these intuitions are susceptible to societal and evolutionary pressures; e.g. moral oughtness beliefs affect behavior, and behavior is susceptible to evolutionary pressures. Some moral oughtness beliefs would be more evolutionary advantageous than others.

For (2), I noted the variations of moral beliefs in human history (if raised in a different society, we might have had very different moral beliefs) and I noted that moral intuitions would likely track adaptive behavior (behavior conducive for survival and reproductive fitness) rather than truth. 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 then, in the absence of the supernatural, we would at best get coincidentally true intuitions of what these invisible and causally inert moral oughtness properties are really like rather than having genuine moral knowledge. The atheist could abandon naturalism in favor of us having some sort of supernatural clairvoyance of moral oughtness, but this seems far-fetched. This of course helps support the AfQ in premise (3); moral oughtness is so metaphysical it seems we’d need something like supernatural clairvoyance to know it exists.

Three reasons support (6): (a) the truth of premise (5); (b) Ockham’s razor suggests we not multiply our explanatory entities beyond necessity, and we already have an explanatory entity for our cognitive faculties in general (evolution gave us brains, brains give us intuitions, shaped further by the societal environment); (c) moral oughtness is causally inert; its presence or absence wouldn’t affect the evolutionary outcome.

SeekSecularism says, “Undermining the veridicality of rational intuitions which also constituted any explanations of them would be analogous to sawing the very branch from which one sits.” True, but irrelevant; the claim is not that atheism undermines all rational intuitions, but rather that on atheism the objective evidence is against the intuition of moral oughtness existing (the same does not necessarily hold for all intuitions).

Conclusion



The best SeekSecularism could appeal to on atheism for is the subjectively experienced intuition of moral oughtness existing, whether it’s directly via an intuition like M is true, or intuiting a proposition that has moral oughtness’s existence implicit in it, e.g. the intuition of a particular action being morally bad. The Unbiased Atheist would not have any such intuition (though she would not intuit any proposition that has M is false implicit in it either) and if the Unbiased Atheist is a good vantage point for evaluating the objective evidential relationship between A&K and M as I’ve argued, then (P1) is true.

The AftUA is also a good vantage point from which to evaluate where the objective evidence points on atheism. People can have conflicting subjective intuitions about whether moral oughtness exists, but if on atheism the objective evidence suggests that people’s intuitions of moral oughtness existing are probably delusory, this seems like a serious if not fatal problem for the AMO.

Moral oughtness is 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. The AftUA helps show that given atheism, objective moral oughtness probably doesn’t exist, which in turn suggests that the first premise of the moral argument is probably true.


[1] This can be shown with the help of mathematics (given that the sort of “evidence” we have in mind is something that makes a hypothesis more or less likely); see p. 2 of Why evidentialism sucks.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Debate: Objective Morality Without God? (p. 4)

Home  >  Philosophy  >  Atheism/Theism

Preface



This is a debate between me and SeekSecularism over the truth of the first premise of the following moral argument:
  1. If God does not exist, then objective morality does not exist.
  2. Objective morality does exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.
The debate so far:




SeekSecularism’s Rebuttal



Recap



In my opening statement I defended a non-naturalist moral framework, specifically, ethical intuitionism [1]. In the semantic thesis, I maintained that moral terms like good, ought to, better than, etc. refer to objective and irreducible properties/relations of states of affairs, actions, or events. In the metaphysical thesis I maintained that some states of affairs, actions, or events exemplify these properties/relations. And in the epistemic thesis I maintained that we know the truth of some basic moral statements by means of rational intuition. In this rebuttal, I want to lay out a plausible compatibility between moral realism and atheism to undercut MaverickXtian’s second premise of The Argument from the Unbiased Atheist.

The Objects of Our Rational Intuitions



MaverickXtian seems to be operating under the supposition that the proposition ‘Moral oughtness exists’ is the object of our rational intuition. This, however, would be mistaken. It is the truth of basic moral statements which is self-evident and the object of our rational intuition not the proposition that moral oughtness exists. In what sense moral properties/relations can be said to exist will be a further question that will depend on metaphysical considerations like ontological commitments or theories of truth. For example, the proposition “two and two make four” is a self-evidently true proposition. If we clearly grasp the concepts at hand, then we can rationally intuit that two and two really do make four. Far from being an appeal to mere subjective experience, the truth of this proposition (and similarly basic moral statements) tells us something true about objective reality. However, this rational intuition alone doesn’t tell us much about what sense the numbers two or four can be said to exist. I would argue for a platonic ontology which grounded not only mathematical entities, but also moral properties/relations in abstract objects:

(1) The propositions “two and two make four” and “pain is intrinsically bad” are literally true.
(2) The propositions in (1) can only be literally true if the entities which its mathematical and moral terms refer are abstract objects.
(3) Therefore abstract objects exist.


A lot more could be said about these premises, but I cannot adequately say it here. One could deny the existence of abstract objects altogether, but this wouldn’t undermine the truth of the propositions in question. For example, one could hold to a coherence theory of truth rather than a correspondence theory of truth and avoid abstract objects altogether. MaverickXtian seems to think that the difference between a moral nihilist and a moral realist rests on their respective rational intuitions regarding the existential proposition: Moral oughtness exists. A moral realist and a moral nihilist could both agree on the self-evidence of basic moral statements, but disagree in their ontological commitments. By analogy, a platonist and a nominalist could both agree on the self-evidence of mathematical propositions, but disagree on the ontology which grounded them.

The Unbiased Observer



MaverickXtian has developed a vantage point he calls The Unbiased Atheist. An unbiased atheist is someone who has no biases that would initially favor moral oughtness existing or not existing and she is an atheist. MaverickXtian's argument implies that the truth of atheism is sufficient to imply moral nihilism. In short, if atheism is true, then moral nihilism is probably true. I will focus on undercutting this suggestion by arguing that it is plausible for both atheism and moral realism to be true- without tension- from the vantage point of what I will call The Unbiased Observer. An unbiased observer is someone who has no biases that would initially favor God or moral oughtness existing or not existing. Let it be clear at the onset that the unbiased observer has rational intuitions, and they are presumed veridical.

The Implausibility of Moral Nihilism



Moral nihilism holds that nothing is good, bad, right, wrong, or intrinsically motivating. What I want to argue is that the presumption against nihilism is very strong, so that the arguments for moral nihilism would have to be extremely powerful to move an unbiased observer to adopt it. If one accepts the Principle of Phenomenal Conservatism presented in my opening, then the natural view to take is that the more obvious something seems, the stronger its prima facie justification. Clear and firm intuitions should take precedence over weak or wavering intuitions[1]. Let’s examine an argument for moral nihilism:

(1) If moral good and bad exist, then they are intrinsically motivating i.e. they are things that rational beings ought to (in the prescriptive sense) pursue in the case of good or ought to avoid in the case of bad.
(2) Nothing is intrinsically motivating in the sense suggested in (1).
(3) Therefore good and bad do not exist.


Given the nihilist conclusion in (3), one could validly infer:

(4) It is not the case that torturing another sentient being for pleasure would be bad.
(5) It is never the case that pleasure is better than excruciating pain.


An unbiased observer who accepted (1) and (2) might be moved by the above reasoning to accept (4) and (5), however, a moral realist can argue against (1) and (2) as follows:

(1*) Torturing another sentient being for pleasure is bad.
(2*) Pleasure is sometimes (if not always) better than excruciating pain.
(3*) Therefore moral good and bad do exist.
(4*) If moral good and bad exist, then they are intrinsically motivating
(5*) Therefore there is something that is intrinsically motivating.


The relationship between the two arguments is symmetric i.e. each argument takes as premises the denial of the other argument's conclusion. How then should the unbiased observer decide between them? The strength of an argument depends upon how well justified the premises are and how well they support the conclusion. Both of the above arguments support their conclusions equally well, because both are logically valid. The better argument is the one whose premises are more plausible. Now which seems more prima facie plausible: ‘Pleasure is better than excruciating pain' or ‘Nothing is intrinsically motivating?’ I take the former to be imminently more plausible, and I do not think my judgment on this point is idiosyncratic. Therefore it would certainly seem unreasonable for an unbiased observer to reject the former proposition on the basis of the latter- at least prima facie.

A Plausible Argument for Atheism



My goal setting out was not to explicitly defend atheism, but an argument for it would be beneficial in illustrating a plausible compatibility between moral realism and atheism.

The Argument from Suffering

(1) If a perfectly loving God exists, then gratuitous suffering does not exist i.e. any perfectly loving being would not allow its creations to suffer needlessly.
(2) Gratuitous suffering does exist e.g. bone cancer in children.
(3) Therefore God does not exist.


(1) & (2) are, at least, prima facie plausible premises to which the unbiased observer can reasonably arrive at the conclusion “God does not exist.” Notice the premises here and in the previous two arguments are independent from one another. Committed moral realists and moral nihilists alike can reflect on this argument and plausibly arrive at the conclusion that God does not exist. With plausible arguments for both moral realism and atheism in place, the conjunction of the two leaves the unbiased observer in a reasonable position to affirm both the existence of objective moral facts and the non-existence of God without tension. It’s not obvious how the premises of The Argument from Suffering could even, in principle, undermine the premises for moral realism. The premises of The Argument from Suffering would have little to no influence on an unbiased observer when assessing the arguments for moral nihilism or moral realism respectively.

How strong is MaverickXtian’s case?



Given the vantage point of the unbiased observer, I take it as obvious that moral realism is the more plausible view even in conjunction with a commitment to atheism. MaverickXtian’s 6 evidences need to make the conjunction of ‘nothing is intrinsically motivating’ and ‘God does not exist’ a fortiori more plausible than such judgments as ‘Torturing sentient beings for pleasure is bad’ and they must be constituted, at least in part, by premises of The Argument from Suffering. I take this to be a tall order, so how well do his evidences accomplish this?

(1) There is zero empirical evidence for objective moral properties.
(2) It’d be a remarkable coincidence if moral intuitions happened to line up with what these invisible, causally inert moral properties are really like.
(3) OMO properties are suspiciously queer, akin to invisible and non-physical gods.
(4) Evolution occasionally gives false beliefs (e.g. gods).
(5) Moral oughtness beliefs have evolutionary value whether true or not.
(6) Our best theory for why we believe in moral oughtness doesn’t require its existence.


For starters, (1) is irrelevant, because moral truth and abstract objects aren’t empirically detectable things. (2), (4), (5), and (6) all presuppose that our unbiased observer is committed to sociobiological evolution to sufficiently explain the veridicality of rational intuition. I argued in my opening statement (see Point6) that atheism did not entail such a commitment. Recall that rational intuition is a function of reason, and notice that moral theory does not need to be positively validated by the theory of evolution any more than any other branch of a priori knowledge does. In order to know that two and two make four we do not have to first consult the sociobiologists and see whether evolution predicts that humans would have veridical mathematical intuitions. Any serious foundationalist regarding knowledge will maintain that at least some of our beliefs about the world will ultimately reduce to rational intuitions of them. Undermining the veridicality of rational intuitions which also constituted any explanations of them would be analogous to sawing the very branch from which one sits. In short, if we undermine rational intuitions, then we undermine our capacity for reason and fall into radical skepticism where knowledge becomes impossible. I’ve presented an argument for moral realism and atheism that, if sound, demonstrate that there must be some solution to any evolutionary concerns MaverickXtian may have about moral realism in conjunction with atheism.

The only evidence that I think has any merit is (3), because it’s a variation of J.L. Mackie’s Argument from Queerness[2]. Mackie argues that an intrinsically motivating property like moral oughtness would be a strange quality, property, or relation unlike anything else in the universe. He then argues that such strange entities probably do not exist. I do not find this line of reasoning cogent and insufficient to move an unbiased observer to adopt moral nihilism. Propositions, modal properties, numbers, shapes, and consciousness are all strange qualities, relations, and properties in their own right which can plausibly be argued to exist. Thus I don’t see adequate reason to think that moral oughtness should be considered any different.

Conclusion



My goal in this rebuttal was to undercut the second premise of the Argument from The Unbiased Atheist. In my opening statement I hesitated to move to the vantage point of The Unbiased Atheist, because it seemed to arbitrarily remove rational intuitions. In an effort to concede this vantage point, I removed this hypothetical observer’s commitment to atheism while demonstrating that this new observer can plausibility reason to both moral realism and atheism without tension. This provides an a fortiori defeater for any suggestion that atheism implies moral nihilism. Therefore it is not the case that The Unbiased Atheist/observer is justified in believing that moral oughtness probably doesn’t exist given atheism and background data. MaverickXtian needs evidence that is (a) constituted at least in part by the premises of The Argument from Suffering and (b) is a fortiori more plausible than the premises that our unbiased observer used to navigate to moral realism. In conclusion, I think the evidences MaverickXtian presents fail to meet both challenges and thus are not sufficient defeaters for an unbiased observer’s rational intuitions of objective moral facts in conjunction with a plausible commitment to atheism.

[1] “Ethical Intuitionism” by Michael Huemer

[2] “Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong” by J.L. Mackie

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Debate: Objective Morality Without God? (p. 3)

Home  >  Philosophy  >  Atheism/Theism

Preface



This is a debate between me and SeekSecularism over the truth of the first premise of the following moral argument:
  1. If God does not exist, then objective morality does not exist.
  2. Objective morality does exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.
The debate so far:




Maverick Christian’s Rebuttal



Recap



With the following symbolization key:

M = Moral oughtness exists.[1]
A = Atheism is true.
K = The relevant background data.
Pr(not-M|A&K) = The probability of M being false given A&K, i.e. the probability of moral oughtness not existing given atheism and the relevant background data.


My overall argument can summarized thusly, where the Unbiased Atheist is stipulatively defined as an atheist with no intuitions of M being true and no intuitions of M being false such that prior to examining the data, her intuitions aren’t biased for or against the existence of moral oughtness (we can further explicitly state that prior to examining the data, she has no preconceived opinions about whether moral oughtness exists):

(P1) If the Unbiased Atheist would be justified in believing Pr(not-M|A&K) is high, then Pr(not-M|A&K) is high.
(P2) The Unbiased Atheist would be justified in believing Pr(not-M|A&K) is high.
(C1) Therefore, Pr(not-M|A&K) is high.
(P3) If Pr(not-M|A&K) is high, then Given atheism, moral oughtness probably doesn't exist is true.
(P4) If Given atheism, moral oughtness probably doesn't exist, then the first premise of the moral argument is probably true.
(C2) Therefore, the first premise of the moral argument is probably true.


Lines (P1), (P2), and (C1) are more or less the Argument from the Unbiased Atheist (AftUA). The main purpose of the AftUA was to show that on atheism, people’s intuitions of moral oughtness existing are probably delusory and not veridical, which of course implies Pr(not-M|A&K).

Line (P3) is true by definition, since what I mean by Given atheism, moral oughtness probably doesn't exist just is Pr(not-M|A&K) is high. Line (P4) is supported by a mathematical theorem.

General Remarks



In the early part of SeekSecularism’s opening statement, he argues that the atheist moral objectivist’s (AMO’s) intuition of objective moral oughtness (OMO) existing provides prima facia grounds for accepting OMO’s existence. I agree with this, but I have a few remarks.

SeekSecularism claims that OMO facts are logically necessary. An atheist moral nihilist (AMN) would disagree, and SeekSecularism offered no justification for this claim. I think (at least some) OMO facts are metaphysically necessary, but there doesn’t appear to be anything self-contradictory in their denials.

SeekSecularism claims that OMO facts are truths of reason. An AMN would disagree, and SeekSecularism offered no justification for this claim. It seems more plausible that our intuitions of OMO existing are just that: intuition, rather than reason per se. I would similarly balk at the idea that a theist’s intuitions of God’s existence constitute a “truth of reason.” That said, I think believing in God and OMO is reasonable, and that a priori intuition often provides prima facia justification for these claims.

SeekSecularism’s justification for the atheist accepting OMO relies on a priori intuition of its existence. Appealing to intuition of this sort is an appeal to a subjective experience rather than objective evidence. An atheist who is unsure whether the first premise of the moral argument is true might rightly ask why she should believe the moral realist’s intuition over that of the moral nihilist’s. So such justification via intuition has its limits.

AftUA: The First Premise



Atheists have differing intuitions of whether moral oughtness exists. Some atheists intuit its existence and some do not. The question, “How likely is it on atheism that people’s intuitions of moral oughtness existing are veridical?” can be symbolized as Pr(not-M|A&K), but what does K include and what can’t K include?

K obviously can’t include question-begging propositions like M is true or M is false since that would make Pr(not-M|A&K) trivial and we wouldn’t really be answering the question we’re asking, which is how likely M is in the first place on atheism. By the same token, K can’t include M is probably true or M is probably false. Thus, a priori knowledge (or alleged knowledge) like M is true or M is false would not be in K. Given all this and that our a priori intuition knowledge of moral oughtness existing would be excluded from K, basically the only type of a priori intuition knowledge allowed in K is the sort that the Unbiased Atheist might have (recall that prior to examining the data, the Unbiased Atheist has no intuitions for or against the truth of M). A posteriori knowledge is “publically shared” data and would be shared by AMOs and the Unbiased Atheist, and would include things like People have intuitions of moral oughtness existing.

SeekSecular balks at the idea of the Unbiased Atheist being a good vantage point for the objective evidential relation between A&K and M, but given which sort of data is admissible for K, what more could one reasonably ask for than someone like the Unbiased Atheist, since any good-vantage-point atheist wouldn’t have the a priori intuition knowledge of moral oughtness existing?

Now let’s examine the four reasons SeekSecularism has for thinking that the Unbiased Atheist isn’t a good vantage point for Pr(not-M|A&K).
  1. SeekSecularism says the vantage point of the Unbiased Atheist is incompatible with the “Epistemic Thesis” in the sense that this vantage point excludes the a priori intuition of OMO existing. This seems irrelevant given what Pr(not-M|A&K) means. Remember, K can’t include any alleged a priori knowledge that OMO exists, just as it can’t include any alleged a priori knowledge that OMO does not exist.
  2. SeekSecularism says, “Any reason to be skeptical of moral intuitions would be reason to be skeptical of all rational intuitions,” and provides no justification for this claim. Suppose a theist claimed that “Any reason to be skeptical of my intuition that God exists would be reason to be skeptical of all rational intuitions.” An atheist might reply this isn’t true because while the objective evidence suggests that people’s intuitions of gods are delusory, the same does not go for all rational intuitions in general. Similarly, the AftUA suggests that while the objective evidence (on atheism) suggests that people’s intuitions of moral oughtness existing are delusory, the same does not go for all rational intuitions in general.
  3. SeekSecularism says, “My beliefs regarding evaluative facts are epistemically prior to my belief that God does not exist.” Maybe, but this seems irrelevant.
  4. SeekSecularism says, “My a priori knowledge of evaluative facts is not influenced by my a posteriori reasons for rejecting God’s existence.” Maybe, but this seems irrelevant.
All things considered, the Unbiased Atheist still appears to be a good vantage point for Pr(not-M|A&K), particularly given what K can and can’t include.

AftUA: The Second Premise



My support for (P2) was the following inductive argument (with each premise predicated with, “If atheism is true, this is true:”).
  1. There is zero empirical evidence for objective moral properties. This supports the idea that the Unbiased Atheist has no good reason to accept M.
  2. 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.
  3. OMO properties are suspiciously queer, akin to invisible and nonphysical gods.  Thus there’s at least prima facia justification for disbelieving moral oughtness’s existence.
  4. Evolution occasionally gives false beliefs (e.g. gods).  So there’s precedent for evolution giving humans delusory intuitions for invisible nonphysical things.
  5. Moral oughtness beliefs have evolutionary value whether true or not.  Moral oughtness beliefs potentially serve some evolutionary purpose: to get us to behave in the right ways.
  6. Our best theory for why we believe in moral oughtness doesn’t require its existence.  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) premise (P2) is true.

Note: I do not think any single premise by itself is enough to justify the conclusion, but I do think the combination of all six premises justifies the conclusion.

SeekSecularism never quite attacks this argument since his response is whether the AMO would be justified in accepting the conclusion, not the Unbiased Atheist, but I’ll comment on a few points.

Against premise (3) he says, “If it were supposed that some basic evaluative facts (known a priori) can only exist if they are like other kinds of facts (those known a posteriori) then it is clear that there probably aren’t any.” But the argument from queerness (AfQ) doesn’t say or imply that the queer entity needs to be non-queer to exist; it’s just saying that the queer entity is prima facia unlikely. To illustrate, consider the There is an invisible unicorn floating above my head claim. It’s strange in a way that makes it prima facia unlikely, but the claim could still conceivably be true and we could conceivably have evidence for it, e.g. if spray-painting above my head revealed a unicorn-shaped entity. So the AfQ can concede that maybe queer entity X exists and maybe we have evidence for X, but it’s still prima facia unlikely. The AMO could argue there is sufficient warrant to overwhelm this prima facia concern, but that wouldn’t contravene the claim of premise (3).

SeekSecularism claims premise (6) is unsupported. Three reasons support (6): (a) the truth of premise (5); (b) Ockham’s razor suggests we not multiply our explanatory entities beyond necessity, and we already have an explanatory entity for our cognitive faculties in general (evolution gave us brains, brains give us intuitions, shaped further by the societal environment); (c) moral oughtness is causally inert; its presence or absence wouldn’t affect the evolutionary outcome. All things considered, for our Unbiased Atheist the best theory for why we believe in moral oughtness doesn’t require its existence.

Where do we go from here?



In some cases our justification for beliefs comes from non-evidential grounds. Consider for example the following brain-in-vat (BIV) hypothesis: you are recently created (say, within the past five years) brain in a vat hooked up to a supercomputer feeding you all the memories, sense experiences, and intuitions you know have. We can’t justify our belief that BIV is false based on evidence, because there can’t be any evidence against it.[2] Instead it’s our intuition of its falsity that justifies our belief that BIV is false and that this perceived reality is real. The AMO could similarly argue that he’s justified in believing OMO based on non-evidential intuition grounds, even if Pr(not-M|A&K) is high.

But a crucial disanalogy is that in the case of BIV we don’t have any objective evidence suggesting BIV is true, whereas on atheism the objective evidence suggests that people’s intuitions of moral oughtness existing are probably delusory. This makes the a priori intuition option much less viable for the atheist.

Conclusion



The AMO and AMN can have different subjective intuitions about whether moral oughtness exists but the objective evidence favors AMN. If we exclude alleged a priori intuition knowledge of M in K (and to be fair, also exclude alleged a priori intuition knowledge of not-M in K) we see that Pr(not-M|A&K) is high, i.e. given atheism, moral oughtness probably doesn’t exist. The AftUA helps show this.

If the atheist accepts Pr(not-M|A&K) being high and concedes the moral argument’s first premise is probably true while also conceding the moral argument’s second premise, the atheist has little choice to but to accept atheism on faith. That would certainly be a strange concession—and a welcome one for the theist.


[1] SeekSecularism symbolized M as “objective moral oughtness” whereas my actual argument was “moral oughtness.” Still, “no moral oughtness” entails “no objective moral oughtness.”

[2] This can be shown with the help of mathematics (given that the sort of “evidence” we have in mind is something that makes a hypothesis more or less likely); see p. 2 of Why evidentialism sucks.