Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Bad Objections to the Moral Argument (p. 2)

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Bad Objections to the Moral Argument
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Bad Objection #3: Objective morality can exist without God

Objection:

The first premise of the moral argument says, “If God does not exist, then objective morality does not exist.” Yet objective morality can exist without God. It’s very conceivable that without God, objective morality just exists as a brute fact. Thus the first premise is false or at least unjustified.

Rebuttal:

This objection is irrelevant because nowhere does the deductive moral argument claim that morality can’t exist without God. One might think that the first premise claims that, but it doesn’t. Looking at the first premise again:

    (1) If God does not exist, then objective morality does not exist.


Notice that the first premise isn’t saying that objective morality can’t exist if atheism is true, it’s saying objective morality doesn’t exist if atheism is true. That’s important because it means the first premise isn’t making an impossibility claim like, “It’s impossible for objective morality to exist without God” but rather, “It isn’t the case that objective morality exists without God.” A theist could grant it’s possible for objective morality to exist without God while also believing it probably isn’t the case that objective morality exists without God. Consider the following argument that makes the “It isn’t the case that objective morality exists without God” meaning of the first premise more explicit:

    (1*) It isn’t the case that objective morality exists without God
(It’s false that moral objectivism and atheism are both true)
    (2) Objective morality exists
(Moral objectivism is true)
    (3) Therefore, God exists
(Therefore, atheism is false)


Notice that (1*) and (2) together entail (3). So the theist doesn’t need to show that it’s impossible for objective morality to exist without God. It’s enough for the theist to show that if we were to grant atheism as true, it is unlikely that objective morality exists. So given that objective morality probably doesn’t exist if atheism is true, we would then have good grounds for accepting (1) and (1*). Indeed, arguing that objective morality probably doesn’t exist if atheism is true was the approach I took to justify premise (1) in Does Objective Morality Exist If God Does Not Exist?

It bears repeating: to justify premise (1), the theist need not show that objective morality can’t exist without God; it’s enough to show that objective morality probably doesn’t exist if atheism is true. The claim that God isn’t needed for objective morality isn’t relevant to the issue at hand; the objection doesn’t do anything to show that the first premise is false or unjustified. The objection thus commits the red herring fallacy.


Bad Objection #4: The moral argument uses “God-of-the-gaps” reasoning

Objection:

In the God-of-the-gaps fallacy, one appeals to God as an explanation to plug some gap in our knowledge. With the moral argument, the claim is “I don’t know how objective morality could exist, therefore God is the explanation for objective morality.” This is an argument from ignorance and is thus fallacious.

Rebuttal:

Lots of objections could be raised against the so-called “God-of-the-gaps fallacy,” at least those which categorically reject appealing to God as an explanation (descriptions of the fallacy come in various forms). If there aren’t any non-divine gaps in our explanatory knowledge (i.e. if God isn’t a correct explanation for anything), appealing to God as an explanation will get us off track. But if there are such gaps, enforcing a principle to categorically restrict such explanations will also get us off track. It may be true that theists rely on us not knowing of a better explanation than theism when theists appeal to God as an explanation, but that sort of thing is hardly a unique practice (e.g. if we could think of a better explanation than the big bang theory, we wouldn’t accept the big bang theory).

But let’s ignore that and assume it’s true that appealing to God as an explanation for something is inherently fallacious. There’s a wee bit of a problem: the deductive moral argument never appeals to God to explain anything. Premise (1) for example simply states that objective morality doesn’t exist if atheism is true. While one could appeal to God as an explanation in an attempt to support premise (1), it’s not at all necessary. One can justify this premise by arguing it’s unlikely that objective morality exists if atheism is true. Even if God can’t be legitimately used as an explanation for whatever reason, this does nothing to show that any premise of the argument is false. Nor does it address the justification for believing in a premise.

So even if appealing to God as an explanation is illegitimate for some reason, that is irrelevant to the deductive moral argument, which doesn’t use God to explain anything. By claiming that the moral argument uses “God-of-the-gaps” reasoning when it doesn’t, the objection commits the straw man fallacy.

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2 comments:

  1. An atheist could object to premise 2. ie. objective moral values and duties do not exist. Moral values may simply be a continuum from white through shades of grey to black. Raping babies is pretty bad and respecting others is pretty good and other values are in between. But our assessment of these values could simply be an intelligent consensus based on how the world happens to be. We judge others who disagree with us, but it may just be a popular vote.

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    1. An atheist could object to premise 2. ie. objective moral values and duties do not exist.

      Yep, that would be an objection that at least has the decency of not being a straw man or red herring. Still, it seems that it would be difficult to do successfully considering the justification for objective morality’s existence.

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