This is a debate between me and SeekSecularism over the truth of the first premise of the following moral argument:
- If God does not exist, then objective morality does not exist.
- Objective morality does exist.
- Therefore, God exists.
- Opening Statements
- Maverick Christian
SeekSecularism’s Q & A
1) It is my view that on atheism the best explanation for why we believe in morality is this: evolution gave humanity physical brains that predispose them to believe in moral oughtness in the environments humanity finds itself in. This atheistic evolutionary explanation doesn’t require morality’s existence (belief in morality has evolutionary value whether it exists or not). You’ve disagreed with the idea that on atheism this evolutionary explanation is the best explanation for why we believe in morality, but then what better explanation is there on atheism that does require morality to exist for us to believe in it?
I want to start off by clarifying that I argued that basic moral truths cannot fail to be true. If pain really is intrinsically bad, then it’s intrinsically bad in all possible worlds i.e. it’s a necessary truth. Since I also argued that universals exist necessarily, it follows that it is not metaphysically possible for there to exist a world with conscious beings and no moral properties. MaverickChristian is suggesting that a belief in moral properties has evolutionary value regardless of whether those moral properties actually obtain. I argue that it is not possible for those properties to not obtain. Moral facts are completely and necessarily determined by non-moral facts i.e. moral properties supervene necessarily on non-moral properties. The only thing left to explain is how we’ve come to have knowledge of these properties. Here’s such an explanation:
Since I believe that morality is a function of reason in general, I consequently think that the correct explanation for why we have veridical moral intuitions will refer to whatever is the explanation for why we have the capacity for reason in general. With that said, I think such an explanation will include biological evolution, however, it will not be the rather crude explanation that MaverickChristian offers. An explanation of veridical moral intuition would be impossible without first identifying the target of explanation (i.e. the moral system) and how it fits into our world. I think MaverickChristian and I could both agree that a moral system must be impartial to everyone's interests if it is to be considered a moral system at all. However, a crucial point that is glaringly lacking from MaverickChristian’s explanation of morality is the acknowledgement that peaceful cooperation provides benefits to all that generally outweigh any benefits that could be gained by the exploitation of others, and conflict with others causes harms that generally outweigh any benefits that might be non-cooperatively obtained. In other words cooperation has survival value, but conflict does not. For example, stealing food from my neighbor does not have survival value if a fight ensues, and I break my arm. However, cooperatively hunting with my neighbor and respecting each other’s property rights so that fights do not ensue does have survival value. However, peaceful cooperation of this kind requires rational assent to an agreed upon set of rules, and agreement on a set of social rules is very unlikely if those rules do not impartially take into account everyone's interests. For example, if I am operating under rules that are biased in my favor (i.e. I can steal from you, but you cannot steal from me), then I am unlikely to find anyone else who agrees with them. In order to achieve peaceful cooperation with others I need to accept rules that impartially account for both my interests and the interests of others i.e. rules whose being universal laws would make things go best, rules whose being universal laws everyone could rationally will, and rules that no one could reasonably reject.
With these considerations in mind, an alternative (and I think superior) explanation to the one MaverickChristian suggests is that people with a capacity for veridical moral intuition would enjoy the advantages of agreeing with each other on a set of rules that best permits social cooperation. People who lack veridical moral intuition might see no reason to accept a set of social rules, or might be inclined to accept a biased or skewed set of rules. If this were the case, then it is likely that such people would neither enjoy the advantages of finding agreement nor would they converge on rules whose being universal laws would make things go best. Since there is only one truth, those with veridical moral intuitions would avoid this problem by being able to use their faculties of reason to converge on moral truths that everyone could rationally will and no one could reasonably reject e.g. it is wrong to cause unjustified death, disability, pain, loss of pleasure, or loss of freedom.
I think my claims for this explanation are modest, and they are certainly much more modest than “supernatural clairvoyance” or the insertion of the radically dualistic metaphysics of Theism into the clockwork of ethics, because my explanation asserts less stuff, makes fewer essential claims, and thus has fewer ways of being false. I think this explanation plausibly demonstrates that it is at least possible for veridical moral intuition to have survival value, and this explanation would require the existence of moral properties, because otherwise there would be no “true target” for our rational intuitions to converge on. To be sure, I do not deny that sociobiology can teach us something about ethics, because it’s certainly possible that evolution may have endowed us with biases that affect our moral judgments. Sociobiology could then help us identify those biases in order to correct for them and thereby improve our moral cognition.
2) If my view about whether to believe in morality’s existence was decided by randomly throwing darts on a dartboard, where what I’d believe depends on where the dart lands, would this belief constitute knowledge if the dart happened to land on the correct belief?
I don’t think so, because that belief would merely be coincidental. However, I do not think that atheism implies that our moral beliefs are randomly selected for in the same way a dart is randomly thrown at a dart board. See my answer to question 1.
3) My view of moral intuitions: God, who knows of morality’s existence, used evolution to give us intuitive awareness of morality’s existence (one possible way: by giving us intuitions of certain actions being morally wrong, allowing us to infer morality’s existence). One of my objections in this debate is this: objective moral oughtness is so metaphysically queer on atheism that it seems we’d need something like supernatural clairvoyance to know it exists (since there is no God to superintend evolution) otherwise it’s up to blind chance which intuitions we’d get and at best we’d get coincidentally true beliefs, like nature throwing darts on a dartboard. On atheism, what is the most plausible explanation you can think of for how our intuition of morality’s existence constitutes genuine knowledge, as opposed to something akin to nature throwing darts on a dartboard to decide which intuitive beliefs we’d get? Because supernatural clairvoyance is the best one I can think of.
To be sure, I explicitly deny the claim that moral properties are “metaphysically queer,” and I explicitly deny that we would need something like “supernatural clairvoyance” to know basic moral truths. I think MaverickChristian misunderstands moral realism by weighing it down with metaphysical baggage. In regards to a plausible explanation, see my answer to Question 1.
4) Premise (P2) of my argument is that the Unbiased Atheist would be justified in believing Pr(not-M|A&K) is high. Do you agree that premise (P2) is true?
I agree, but not for any line of evidence MaverickChristian offers. I only agree because the Unbiased Atheist is someone who has no epistemic means to discern basic moral truths. Recall, MaverickChristian intentionally designs the Unbiased Atheist this way. MaverickChristian’s Unbiased Atheist could no more have knowledge of basic moral truths than a complete blind person from birth could have knowledge of colors. There simply are no good reasons for a thoughtful, discerning, and consistent atheist to adopt this epistemically deficient vantage point.
5) I’ve argued that Pr(not-M|A&K) is high, arguing that the vantage point of the Unbiased Atheist should be used in assessing this probability, e.g. while People have intuitions of morality existing would be in K, propositions that presuppose moral oughtness’s existence like It is morally obligatory to not torture innocent sentient life just for fun would not be in K. You’ve argued that propositions of moral oughtness existing should be in K when assessing Pr(not-M|A&K), and when we do this Pr(not-M|A&K) is (trivially) low. To me this seems akin to saying “Pr(not-God|Evil&K) may seem high, but Pr(not-God|Evil&God) is low, and we should include God exists in K.” Why can’t the theist justifiably call God exists a “rational intuition,” include God exists in K, and refute the argument from evil this way?
I’ve argued that our rational intuitions of basic moral truths (and rational intuitions in general) are justified by the Principle of Phenomenal Conservatism and provide us with prima facie evidence for the truth of some basic propositions including basic moral truths. Indeed, all of our knowledge is founded on rational intuitions of basic propositions. It no more begs the question for someone to refer to her rational intuitions about moral truths anymore than it begs the question for someone to refer to her rational intuitions about logical truths, mathematical truths, reliability of perception, or the reliability of memory. With that said, I think a Theist does have prima facie evidence to believe in the existence of God based on rational intuitions, because a religious experience would be prima facie evidence of God’s existence. Notice that I use the qualifier prima facie and not ultima facie. That’s very important, because it may be the case that a particular rational intuition that a certain religious experience is veridical will come into conflict with other rational intuitions i.e. the premises of an argument from evil. These premises can serve as potential defeaters for such a rational intuition. In fact, I would argue that the dramatic variations in the nature and content of religious experiences and widespread religious disagreement is a defeater for the veridicality of the rational intuition that God exists. By contrast the widespread agreement of basic moral truths (i.e. it is wrong to cause unjustified death, disability, pain, etc) confirms the veridicality of rational intuitions of basic moral truths. There is far more widespread agreement about basic moral truths than there is about the nature and content of religious experiences. To be sure, I do not make the claim that rational intuitions are infallible. Clear and firm rational intuitions should take precedence over weaker or wavering rational intuitions. “Cruelty is wrong” is a much clearer and firmer rational intuition than “God exists.”
This ends the debate. You can see my post-debate reflections here.