Saturday, August 13, 2016

Debate: Objective Morality Without God? (p. 7)

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 Q & A





(1) Why does the Unbiased Atheist not have any (or why does she choose to ignore her) rational intuitions of basic moral truths?


First a recap of what the Unbiased Atheist is. The Unbiased Atheist has no preconceived opinions about whether morality exists, and initially 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).

Recapping some symbolism:

M = Moral oughtness exists.
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.


Back to the question: why use a fictional character who doesn’t have any initial intuitions for morality’s existence, including basic moral truths? Why have someone who doesn’t have any intuitions for or against morality’s existence? I employed the Unbiased Atheist because it’s a useful way to see what Pr(not-M|A&K) would be if we excluded propositions like Morality exists from K (while also excluding propositions like Morality doesn’t exist from K).[1] But why exclude propositions like Morality exists from K in the first place? Why consider the vantage point of the Unbiased Atheist for Pr(not-M|A&K)?

To see my point of view on why I thought it was important to use this sort of vantage point in my argument, suppose an atheist proposes a probabilistic argument from evil, arguing that Pr(not-God|Evil&K) is high where K is some appropriate background knowledge (including e.g. free will for the theist who attempts a free will theodicy).[2] Suppose I argue that since belief in God is a rational intuition, we should include it in K, and when we do we effectively get Pr(not-God|Evil&God) which of course is extremely low, and thus Pr(not-God|Evil&K) is low. Therefore, I argue, the probabilistic argument from evil fails. Even though I think the intuition that God exists is a rational intuition, this maneuver does not seem philosophically appropriate. The intuition of God’s existence, while perhaps rational, is a subjectively experienced intuition, and the objective evidence would still be strongly against theism if Pr(not-M|Evil&K) were high when propositions like God exists are excluded from K.

Similarly, in this debate I’ve been offering a sort of “probabilistic argument from atheism” against moral objectivism, arguing that atheism makes moral objectivism unlikely, and that Pr(not-M|A&K) is high when K doesn’t include propositions like Morality exists, though K would include propositions like People have intuitions of morality existing. Suppose an atheist argued that since belief in morality is a rational intuition, we should include it in K, and when we do we effectively get Pr(not-M|A&M) which of course is extremely low, and thus Pr(not-M|A&K) is low. This seems no more a legitimate maneuver than inserting God exists in K for Pr(not-God|Evil&K) in the probabilistic argument from evil scenario, even though I think the intuition of morality’s existence is a rational one. The intuition of morality’s existence, while perhaps rational, is a subjectively experienced intuition, and the objective evidence would still be strongly against morality’s existence on atheism if Pr(not-M|A&K) were high when propositions like Morality exists are excluded from K.

In general, when arguing that there’s evidence against some proposition P such that Pr(not-P|Evidence&K) is high when P is excluded from K, we don’t normally think putting P in K so that Pr(not-P|Evidence&K) is low really solves the problem. Let’s call situations where propositions like P is true from K in Pr(not-P|Evidence&K) a standard exclusion from K, e.g. a standard exclusion from K in Pr(not-God|Evil&K) is excluding God exists from K.


2) Given that our rational intuitions are justified by the Principle of Phenomenal Conservatism, why should any thoughtful atheist choose to ignore her rational intuitions of basic moral truths and adopt the vantage point of your Unbiased Atheist?


I don’t! I think the atheist should trust the moral intuition of morality existing, but I also think the atheist should recognize that the first premise of the moral argument (“If God does not exist, then objective morality does not exist”) is probably true, which would logically compel the atheist to convert to theism.

But let’s accept the spirit of the question, which I think is something like, “Why should the atheist take the vantage point of the Unbiased Atheist seriously in a probabilistic argument form atheism against moral objectivism?” Part of this I’ve already answered; just as it seems inappropriate to put God exists in K when responding to a probabilistic argument from evil for Pr(not-God|Evil&K), it seems inappropriate to put something like Morality exists in K when responding to a probabilistic argument from atheism for Pr(not-M|A&K). By excluding propositions like God exists from K in assessing Pr(not-God|Evil&K) we’re assessing the objective evidence against God’s existence, and if Pr(not-God|Evil&K) is high in that sort of situation, the objective evidence would indeed be against theism. Similarly, if Pr(not-M|A&K) is high when propositions like Morality exists are excluded from K, the objective evidence would still be strongly against morality’s existence on atheism.

But that’s only part of the answer. Is it possible for subjectively experienced intuitions to trump what the objective evidence indicates? Yes. Regarding the probabilistic argument from evil, suppose it is true that Pr(not-God|Evil&K) is high when we make the standard exclusions from K. It’s still possible for the theist to know God exists while being aware of Pr(not-God|Evil&K) being high if God exists and if God is supernaturally responsible for the theist’s intuition of God’s existence. So can’t we do something similar for the atheist moral objectivist somehow and solve the problem that way, where subjectively experienced intuition trumps objective evidence?

There are a couple problems. First, if Pr(not-God|Evil&K) really were high given the standard exclusions from K, I think the probabilistic argument from evil would be successful in at least some sense. After all, the only people who would accept the “God gave me the intuition” response are people who already believe in God. So when it comes to convincing agnostics and atheists vis-à-vis the probabilistic argument from evil, the “God gave me the intuition” response is a question-begging failure. The atheist moral objectivist’s appeal to subjectively experienced intuition against the probabilistic argument from atheism faces this same sort of weakness; e.g. it won’t provide any good reason for the agnostic to not accept the moral argument’s first premise.

Second, whereas within the theistic worldview there is a plausible mechanism for knowledge of God’s existence if the theist faced objective evidence to the contrary, no such plausible mechanism seems to exist for the atheist moral objectivist. To illustrate my point of view, suppose my belief of the sky’s color was decided by me randomly throwing darts on a dartboard, where what I’d believe depends on where the dart lands. Even if the dart landed on the correct belief, my true belief wouldn’t be knowledge. The same goes for randomly throwing darts to decide whether I’d accept moral realism (“morality exists”), moral nihilism (“morality doesn’t exist”), or moral skepticism (“nobody knows”). Even if the dart happens to land on the correct position, it’s not knowledge.

With that in mind, consider how we’d come to believe morality. On my theistic worldview, God used divinely superintended evolution to give us moral intuition, and thus there’s a mechanism whereby this intuition of morality’s existence constitutes knowledge. But on atheism, evolution is unguided and random. Whereas nature evolved our senses to detect the physical world around us, there is no such sense (barring something like supernatural clairvoyance) for detecting non-natural moral properties being associated with events in the physical world. Instead, on atheism it’s just nature randomly throwing darts on a dartboard to decide which intuitive beliefs the sapient species would evolve. Nature could have evolved a sapient species where the majority have a moral nihilist intuition, or a moral skeptic intuition. But if it’s simply blind chance choosing the intuitive belief about morality’s existence, not some sensory mechanism, then it’s not really knowledge even if the randomly chosen intuitive belief happened to be correct. Theism has (within its worldview) a plausible mechanism for moral intuition constituting knowledge, but no such plausible mechanism exists for atheism; just blind natural forces throwing darts on a dartboard. Consequently, there is no plausible mechanism on atheism for subjectively experienced intuition to trump the objective evidence.

In short, on atheism the objective evidence is against moral objectivism, and while on the theistic worldview there is a plausible mechanism to override the putative evidence against theism in the probabilistic argument from evil, no such mechanism appears to be available for the atheist moral objectivist to override the objective evidence in the probabilistic argument from atheism. So it seems to me that the atheist moral objectivist ought to seriously consider the ramifications of the Unbiased Atheist’s viewpoint.


3) If you found out tomorrow (with reasonable certainty) that God did not exist, then would you really believe that it was not only rational but morally acceptable to seek unjustified death, disability, pain, loss of freedom, or loss of pleasure for their own sake?


I don’t think it would be necessarily rational since behaving that way wouldn’t necessarily meet any of my goals. Would I think it was morally acceptable? Well, yes in the sense I would think that moral nihilism would be true and I wouldn’t think anything is morally wrong. If I were convinced that atheism is true, I would find it very likely that my would-be intuition of morality existing is very likely the product of nature throwing darts on a dartboard, and so such an intuition would be undermined, at least in the light of the strong objective evidence against such an intuition being veridical.


4) If you had sufficient reason to believe that God had commanded you (without justification) to rape, kill, and eat your children, then would it be morally good to perform this action? Would you have a moral obligation to carry out said action?


In that situation I’d ask my friend the married bachelor.

To understand what’s behind my admittedly flippant response, suppose someone made this argument against virtue ethics:
If raping innocent people were a virtue, then raping innocent people would be ethical. But raping innocent people cannot possibly be ethical, therefore virtue ethics is false.
Something’s wrong here, but what? True enough, if raping innocent people were a virtue, raping innocent people would be ethical. However, if raping innocent people cannot possibly be ethical, then it is equally impossible for raping innocent people to be a virtue. So whatever answer a virtue ethicist might give to a question like, “If raping innocent people were a virtue, then would it be morally good to carry out this action?” it wouldn’t really show virtue ethics to be false.

The same principle applies to my theistic moral ontology. On my theology, an essential attribute of God is that God is (among other things) the incarnation of objective morality. Thus if raping my children cannot possibly be ethical, then it is equally impossible for God, qua the personification of objective morality, to command me to do it. So whatever answer I give to, “If God commanded you to eat your children, would it be morally good to carry out this action?” it wouldn’t show my theistic moral ontology to be false.

Back to the question: yes, if per impossibile God, qua the personification and incarnation of objective morality, commanded eating my children etc. it would be morally obligatory for me to do so. But if such actions cannot possibly be ethical, then it is equally impossible for God, the personification of objective morality, to make these commands. This is like asking, “If raping innocent people were a virtue, would it be morally good?” Technically yes, but in the end questions like these don’t really prove anything.


5) If God is required to explain the veridicality of our moral intuitions (and those of some other primates), then is God also required to explain our (and some other primates) veridical intuitions of mathematics? Logic? Science? Playing chess?


Well, I think supernatural clairvoyance could allow moral intuition to be knowledge too, but it just seems so far-fetched on atheism. As for other intuitions, it seems to me that some sort of supernatural component is needed (not necessarily God, but something supernatural) for us to have real knowledge if for no other reason than it seems to me that the evolutionary argument against naturalism is a sound argument.



[1] Any propositions that have morality’s existence implicit in them would also be excluded, e.g. Raping innocent people is morally wrong has morality’s existence implicit in it and so would be excluded from K as part of the “standard exclusions” from K in Pr(not-M|A&K).

[2] For the record, I do not believe that Pr(not-God|Evil&K) is high, but the hypothetical scenario of it being high does serve as a useful illustration.

No comments:

Post a Comment