In Defense of Moral Argumentation for God’s Existence.
A Response to AntiCitizen X
My capacity to respond to videos is often halted by my inability to watch and rewatch videos, while typing up a transcript. However, I am fortunate that the YouTube user AntiCitizen X (henceforth ACX) decided to publish a transcript of his video on his blog (which you can find here). Before I begin, I want to draw a distinction between the moral argument as I’ve often come across it online, as opposed to Moral Argumentation for God’s existence in general. The formulation that people like ACX and I are aquianted is the formulation provided by William Lane Craig, which is,
- If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
- Objective moral values and duties do exist.
- Therefore, God exists.
However, this is not the only formulation of the argument, I provide my own here. So, even if one does have reason to object to the validity of this formulation, it does not rule out other formulations of the moral argument.
With that point out of the way, I will begin by first addressing the greatest flaw of my interlocutor’s post, namely, that it is composed of a slew of irrelevant observations. Take for example the following,
Religions work very hard to intertwine themselves with the perception of absolute moral authority, such that giving up one’s faith is often seen as the equivalent of giving up all sense of human decency at the same time. Why else would believers consistently view atheists as the least trustworthy minority group in all of America ? It’s another deliberate psychological ploy designed to manipulate the believers into remaining believers, and not necessarily to build a viable case for God’s existence.
First off, let’s disentangle what the word ‘religion’ from the context of the moral argument. The main thrust of moral argumentation for the existence of God is that the truth of objective morality requires the existence of God. One need not be religious to believe in God, so, as far as I’m concerned, this is mere virtue signaling to other atheists that they’re special snowflakes, freed from the psychological ploys of the religious. Here’s is another one,
But even ignoring all of that, the one thing that makes this argument such a truly spectacular failure is the fact that Christians are specifically trying to prove the existence of Yahweh, the God of the Bible — the very same god that has openly and proudly endorsed some of the most unspeakable moral atrocities we can possibly imagine. We’re talking about a God that actively encourages:
1. Slavery (Exodus 21:20–21, Colossians 3:22, Ephesians 6:5)
2. Blood sacrifice (Genesis 8:20)
3. Human sacrifice (Genesis 22:1–18, Exodus 32:27)
4. Misogyny (Genesis 3:16, Exodus 21:7–8, Corinthians 11:8–9)
5. Genital Mutilation (Genesis 17:10–14, 1 Samuel 18:27)
6. Genocide (Genesis 6–9, Numbers 21:3, Numbers 21:33–35, Deuteronomy 2:33–34, Joshua 6:21–27, Joshua 10)
7. Infanticide (1 Samuel 15:3, Exodus 11–12)
8. Thought crimes (Matthew 5:27–28)
9.Rape (Deuteronomy 22:28–29)
10. and death penalties for trivial offences! (Exodus 35:2, Numbers, 15:32–36, 2 Samuel 6:6–7, 1 Kings 13:15–24, 2 kings 2:23)
The very idea that the Biblical God is supposed to serve as the ultimate standard of moral goodness is patently ludicrous. It practically gives a free-license to engage in the most destructive, antisocial behaviors in human history.
Again, irrelevant. Moral argumentation need not be used for the God of Christianity. Even if it were, the Christian need not commit themselves to Biblical inerrancy. Further, even Christians who do accept inerrancy, there is still an apologetic offered (for example, my own defense of Biblical slavery). Sometimes, the apologetic is as simple as pointing out that one’s interlocutor is too stupid to read. For example, Matthew 5:27–28 reads,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
However, since a thoughtcrime is an Orwellian neologism used to describe an illegal thought, and nowhere is Jesus proscribing some form of punishment, it does not fit the category. Granted, Jesus does suggest that it’s sinful, but to be sinful is not necessarily to incur some punishment. Jesus also says
“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
Notice, Jesus says divorce is and was sinful, but permitted (and hence, did not incur punishment) under the law of Moses. It’s quick observations like these that expose such lists as less daunting than they appear. I could go on, but I’d like to go to the meat of the argument. The first objection is that,
But what is morality, really? Because for all this talk about morals and values, it’s surprisingly rare for anyone to actually break them down into rigorous, coherent terms. So let’s begin with the simple observation that the core of all morality is implicitly defined by choice. That’s why we only tend to punish people for things they consciously decide to do or not do, and never for things that just happen. But it’s also equally important to realize that choice itself has no practical meaning unless one is trying to actualize some desirable outcome. “Good” and “right” choices are those which can reliably produce a specified result, while “bad” and “wrong” choices ultimately fail in that goal.
I agree that morality first has to be defined, and I think morality necessarily concerns the choices of agents. However, the notion that “choice itself has no practical meaning unless one is trying to actualize some desirable outcome” is contentious. Some things should be recognized as a good in themselves. Take for example reason itself, it could not be solely valuable because if its practical outcome because knowing any practical outcomes presupposes the value of reason in the first place.
It is from this point where ACX sneaks in consequentialism,
So which goals are specifically “moral” in nature and which ones are not? This is another one of those sticky philosophical issues that sparks all kinds of academic debate to this day. Yet despite all the contention, most people do tend to agree that any coherent concept of seemingly “moral” behavior must revolve around some kind of ultimate, social interaction. Morally “good” choices tend to manifest through desirable, pro-social consequences while morally “evil” choices are those which tend to do the opposite. But no matter what the specifics may be, it’s important to always bear in mind that the whole notion of morality itself is utterly meaningless and irrelevant without some form of consequentialism at its foundation.
And just like that, with no argument made, another assertion is just thrown out there, and ACX just expects us to swallow it whole. It’s as if virtue ethics or deontology aren’t viable eithical frameworks. However, let’s agree with ACX, could not a Christian be a consequentialist? If God’s will determines right and wrong, then what has greater consequence than heaven and hell? If this makes God a moral monster, with no virtue, then I have to ask why isn’t ACX a virtue theorist who thinks that it’s manifesting proper character in an agent which makes something ‘right’ or ‘wrong’?
Strangely enough, however, most Christian philosophers actually reject this principle outright, claiming instead that morality is an objective feature of the universe itself, like the law of gravity or the charge of an electron; that even if the entire human race went extinct today, then certain laws of morality would still be absolutely true and universally binding on all sentient beings across the cosmos.
It’s at this point that ACX slips from normative ethics and into meta-ethics. For those who don’t know, meta-ethics concern the nature of ethics (what does it mean to say X is right or wrong), and normative ethics concern methods of figuring out what is right and wrong. Consequentialism is a normative theory, and while one can be a moral anti-realist and a consequentialist, it is not necessary. G.E. Moore is one such example of a realist, and a consequentialist.
ACX then proceeds to attack moral realism, but is fully unconvincing.
It’s another one of those tempting philosophical views called moral realism, and while it may appeal to certain naive intuitions, it utterly fails before it even begins. Because to say that anything is morally “good” or “evil,” in and of itself, without any reference to goals or consequences, is just incoherent gibberish.
For example, just stop ask yourself: what on Earth is an objective moral value supposed to look like? Like if some guy were to say to you that, “human life has objective value,” or that “human life is objectively good,” what does that even mean?
Again, the realist can be a consequentialist, so this does not preclude moral realism from being true, even if ACX’s assertion regarding the necessity of consequentialism was the case. ACX also provides us little reason to think that saying something is good in itself is gibberish. The only argument is that it isn’t susceptible to our senses. But so what? ACX has not given us any argument which commits us to empiricism. Asking what an “objective moral value supposed to look like” makes little more sense than asking what does green taste like, or what does sour look like.
It’s little more than a category error. Objective values are picked up by our moral intuitions. That is human beings have a cognitive predisposition to believe in the rightness or wrongness of some action. Can these intuitions be wrong, or even naive. Sure they can, but so can our senses (for example, most solid objects are made of empty space, a fact which our senses speak to the contrary). However, this doesn’t entail we abandon our senses, and deny the existence of the external world. The next claim ACX makes is to reduce categorical norms (we ought to do X for its own sake) to hypothetical norms (if we want Z, it is necessary we do X).
What about the claim that there exist such things as objective moral duties? That is to say, things we “ought” to do and things we “ought not” do. Well, again, to say that anyone ought to do anything is to say that there exists some desirable state of affairs that can be conditionally actualized through specific actions. For example, if we desire to raise our children into happy, healthy, well-adjusted adults, then it necessarily follows that we probably ought not torture them in their infancy. However, if we have no interest whatsoever in promoting the health, happiness, or emotional well-being of children, then there really is no good reason for us to refrain from torturing babies, now, is there?
Notice how there’s nothing conceivably objective about any of this, except for the fact that actions have consequences and that people tend to find certain social outcomes more desirable than others.
The problem is that we have just as much trouble deriving hypothetical norms as we do categorical norms form descriptions of the world. As a nod to David Hume’s famous Is-Ought problem, let’s call this the Is-Is problem. In the philosophy of logic, there is a famous problem called the problem of deduction (separate from induction). Take the following,
P1 — If we desire to raise our children into happy, healthy, well-adjusted adults, then it follows that we probably ought not torture them in their infancy
P2 — we desire to raise our children into happy, healthy, well-adjusted adults
C — it follows that we probably ought not torture them in their infancy
The problem of deduction asks why are we committed to the conclusion, just because we are committed to the premises. According to some, it’s because to do otherwise is a contradiction.
P1* — If you accept P1 and P2, then you are committed to the conclusion on the pain of contradiction
P2* — you accept P1 and P2
C* — You are committed to the conclusion on the pain of contradiction
The problem here is that we can ask why are we committed to this new conclusion? It seems we’re using deduction to prove deduction in a circular fashion. This is worse than what Hume said, because now we can’t even get an ‘Is’ from another ‘Is’. So, the proposition ACX relies upon — if one values X, then in order to achieve X, they must do Y. — is likewise as untenable as deriving a moral ought. However, if we are rationalists who use epistemic intuition for the validity of deduction, why not be moral realists and use moral intuition? As a rationalist, I see this as a far easier justification than that of the empiricist.
in the view of Christian apologetics, all moral oughts are universally unconditional. It’s a vapid, worthless tautology wherein baby torture is simply deemed, as fact, to be “evil” for no other reason than pure, cosmic fiat. But then the only reason why we “ought not” torture babies in the first place is purely because it’s “evil” — as if the mere virtue of some arbitrary four-letter label is supposed to illicit immediate and unconditional compliance from our behavior.
Actually, that’s not true. Oughts are always (or at least, can be) conditional, namely they’re conditioned on the commands of God. However, this does not make God’s commands arbitrary, as God can issue his moral commands for non-moral reasons. If God wants to bring mankind into a personal and eternal loving relationship, then these could be the moral commands he deemed in the best interest. It might be that in some other possible world torturing babies might bring about that outcome, but it would be so dissimilar from ours given the facts about human psychology and biology within the actual world. However, the command would then be moral once God has issued it.
So once again, we have Christian apologists pushing yet another argument that was already bungled beyond all meaningful comprehension long before it ever even began. But let’s suppose we’re again feeling generous and decide to immediately grant the entire moral realist philosophy without contention. Can someone please now tell me in what logical universe does any of this imply anything that even remotely resembles the singular deity of classical monotheism? The very first premise of this argument might just as well have said that if apples don’t grow on trees, then the moon is an onion. There’s simply no logical connection between these two statements. Yet when we listen to Christian apologists, it apparently just goes without saying that the only viable source for objective morality is the express dictate of a powerful supernatural agent. It’s an absurdly authoritarian view known as divine command theory, wherein the ultimate measure of all good and evil in the entire universe is derived solely from the abject say-so of an invisible pan-galactic sky fairy. Literally, objective moral values and duties defined entirely by the whims and properties of a subjective agent!
An ‘invisible pan-galactic sky fairy’? Damn, I wonder how many fedoras he had to wear to come up with that one? To answer ACX’s question, I would say that God is necessary for moral perfection, and moral perfection is necessary for morality (again, see here). There are other arguments, there’s the Kantian moral argument as well, which argues that morality only makes sense through God bringing about justice.
Furthermore, what the hell is a ‘subjective agent’? Moral values and duties are determined by the non-moral reasons and properties of God, which are themselves objective. Just because I am a subject, does not entail there are not objective facts about myself. If I were to say I’m a kind person, that is a characteristic I have that could be rendered true or false, despite what I say to the contrary.
the moral argument for God’s existence completely incoherent and self-defeating from the very start, but also blatantly circular. After all, let’s not forget that the whole point of the moral argument in the first place is to prove God’s existence. Except you can’t do that when morality itself has already been predefined by the implied assumption of God’s existence! It’s like trying to argue that Elvis’ car proves the existence of Elvis. The very phrase “Elvis’ car” has no objective meaning until after we’ve established the existence of Elvis; not before . It’s another textbook example of classic logical question begging, and again, self-proclaimed “experts” in philosophy continually fail to recognize it to this very day.
I’m not sure what ACX is getting at here, surely you can reason from the existence of the effect to that of the cause. If I found a sleigh that could travel the world in a single night, powered by magical flying reindeer, with Mrs. Clause in the back, I would consider that sufficient evidence for the existence of Santa, even if I had yet seen the jolly fat man himself.
But who knows? Maybe the Christians are right. So let’s again be generous and immediately grant the entire moral argument without contention. Now what? What changes? Because if God really is the source of all human morality, then how exactly are we supposed verify any specific moral claim? After all, it’s not as if God has ever come out and actually told anyone that torturing babies is bad, so how do Christians even pretend to know that this is true in the first place? For all we know, maybe God absolutely loves it when people torture babies, and we’re all dangerously behind on our quotas.
At this point ACX confuses moral ontology (what is the nature of the good), with moral epistemology (how do we know that there is goodness). It’s possible that I know that something is right and wrong, even if I don’t know what it is, much like how our senses tell me that there is heat, or something is hot, even though we might not have discovered what heat consists of. Even if they can be fallible, they are still reliable enough to get the job done.
Or heck, even if God really did come out and issue us direct verbal commands, so what? What objectively binding incentive do I have to comply with such a standard and not some other standard of my own choosing? What’s to stop me from simply telling God Himself to “eat shit and die,” while I go out and torture babies anyway? Because even if the Biblical God indeed turned out to be real, the only physical effect he could possibly have on any of my choices is to artificially skew their costs and payoffs after the fact. What other purpose do heaven and hell possibly serve, except as a glorified carrot and stick? — Literally, rewards and punishments designed to influence my choices now by skewing their implied consequences later. The very core of nearly all monotheistic doctrine is an open admission that consequentialism really is the ultimate driver of all human moral behavior. And not just pro-social, altruistic consequences, either, but brutal, unfettered self-interest.
I’m not sure what ACX’s point is, I assumed he was all for consequentialist thinking. I mean, is there a big difference between God being the responsible party for the carrot and stick, or a universe purely indifferent to your whims? Furthermore, one need not appeal to consequences to convince ACX why he ought to follow God’s commands. If God exists, he is that which none greater can be thought. If God is that which none greater can be thought, then he is intrinsically good in himself, and not because of something else — only a lesser being requires something else for its value. If something is good in itself, then it is irrational to give it up for something conditionally valuable. Therefore, it follows that from God’s existence we have no reason to sacrifice him for something of conditional value (like torturing kids).
ACX goes onto provide a biological explanation for how morality emerges through evolutionary causal explanations, but that’s irrelevant. someone could explain my sense experience through neurology, however, this does not mean what you are experiencing is non-existent. Likewise, to explain how our moral intuitions evolved is not to explain away what they tell us about the world, it just provides an accurate explanation of how they came about.
Remember that the moral argument for the existence of God is supposed to be another one of those sophisticated go-to arguments, grounded in rock-solid logic, and refined over centuries of academic exchange. Yet the whole thing is so hopelessly bungled at every conceivable step that I can only describe it as pathologically deranged. It again offers no empirical predictions, it makes baseless assertions, it uses incoherent terminology, it argues in a circle, it contradicts itself internally, it gives no reason to care even if it turns out to be true, it implicitly utilizes the very philosophical principles it seeks to reject, it argues for a moral standard that happily permits slavery and genocide, and it attempts to magically explain a natural phenomenon that is already well-understood by science. The only conceivable reason this monstrosity even exists in the first place is because it serves as an excellent tool for overt psychological manipulation. In order to get otherwise decent, kind-hearted people to commit violent atrocities against their fellow human beings, it generally helps to have a good way of satisfying their conscience. And what better way to do that then to convince them that the ultimate standard of all moral virtue itself wholeheartedly endorses their actions, and will even reward them infinitely for their obedience?
The moral argument is, as far as I see, a good argument. It certainly deserves much more respect than it gets from internet atheists, deranged by the very idea that the faithful are just as capable of rational thought. ACX, at best, throws out questions that, while can be challenging, are not firm defeaters. I also understand ACX’s worry about false dogma’s making good people evil. However, that’s of secondary importance, I personally don’t care if Christianity breeds bad or good social consequence, I only care if it’s true.