Why Religious Arguments Don’t Persuade

by Luke Muehlhauser on August 2, 2010 in Video

Faust, “Can Religious Arguments Persuade?

Anselm, Proslogion

Dawson, “When Prophecy Fails and Faith Persists: A Theoretical Overview

Belief in God without Arguments” (Muslim video quoting Plantinga)

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{ 55 comments… read them below or add one }

Hermes August 2, 2010 at 6:05 am

Insert fairies into the two WLC and Plantinga quotes, and they make as much sense to me.

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Hermes August 2, 2010 at 6:33 am

I take the omnimax deity question ( as described by Epicurus (341 to 270 BCE ) to be neutral to the facts or the deity in question.

It does not say “here is proof that there are no gods” it doesn’t even say “here is proof that a specific named deity does not exist”. Instead, it says “here is why a specific category of deities — omnimax deities — do not exist”. As such, it would be good to have Christians or any theist who holds their set of deities to be omnimax to re-evaluate that presupposition.

[ waits for WLC-style and other canned answers ]

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Bill Maher August 2, 2010 at 6:40 am

This video could have just summarized George Lakoff’s “Don’t think of an Elephant”.

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MC August 2, 2010 at 6:43 am

Most of ProfMTH’s videos are worth watching.

I’m glad this video has been given a greater audience; thanks, Luke.

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Martin August 2, 2010 at 7:26 am

He says that non-theists are frustrated by the imperviousness of religious believers to argumentation. Non-theists make valid and sound arguments against religion only to see theists shrug them off.

????????????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This exactly how I feel about non-theists in religious debates! Has he watched any actual debates with sophisticated theists?! Most WLC debates seem to follow this pattern:

WLC: “Here is my argument: X, Y, therefore Z. Here is support for the two premises: A, B, C.”

Atheist: “Derp! You can’t prove anything! You just believe in God because you are desperate! Derp derp! How do you know all this?! Derp derp derp!”

WLC: “Here is my second argument: P, Q, therefore R. Here is support for the two premises: D, E.”

Atheist: “Oh yeah, well then who made your god (<—-note the lower-case "g")?! Huh?! Can't answer that, can ya buddy?! What about the Crusades and the Inquisitions?!! Durrrrrr!"

Then, later, in the atheist blogosphere:

Atheist blogger: “Wow! He, like, totally kicked WLC’s ass! Did you see that? How can people believe the shit he spews?! Also, he has, like, a big nose. And also he’s just an asshole masquerading as a philosopher. And also his eye is twitchy.”

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Chris August 2, 2010 at 7:52 am

Martin,

This blog (and several of its regular commenters) must be a real breath of fresh air for you. I mean, if you’re a regular reader, you know that kind of stuff doesn’t fly here. Right?

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Bill Maher August 2, 2010 at 8:11 am

Martin,
I used to be a Dr. Craig fan until I learned something about biology and physics. I really wanted him to be right, but I.D, the KCA, and all of the rest of his arguments are just wrong and only function on fringe positions in science. What was even worse was when I started studying history in regards to his Jebus arguments.

Also, how would you feel if someone stereotyped you? If I said that all Christian writers and readers where idiots because of how fucking awful the Shack and Purpose Driven life are I am assuming you would take offense to it.

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Martin August 2, 2010 at 8:31 am

Chris,

I’m always praising Luke for his excellent blog. It slips here and there from time to time, but Luke is an obvious example of rationality in a world of irrational atheists.

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Martin August 2, 2010 at 8:42 am

Bill Maher,

Also, how would you feel if someone stereotyped you?

I’m only responding to the point in the video about “theists impervious to argument” and “non-theists presenting valid and sound arguments.”

As far as many of the debates goes, this is actually reversed. It is the non-theists who seem impervious to argumentation. I wasn’t saying all non-theists are like that. It’s just that in general, the above seems to be the way many debates seem to go.

I used to be a Dr. Craig fan until I learned something about biology and physics. I really wanted him to be right, but I.D, the KCA, and all of the rest of his arguments are just wrong and only function on fringe positions in science.

If so, then this only strengthens my case. Such supposedly easily refutable arguments and yet non-theists repeatedly mount impotent responses or just attack Craig personally.

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Hermes August 2, 2010 at 9:02 am

Martin, as you are talking to Bill why not address Bill and not non-theists in general? (In other words, you can’t say that what Bill said supports your case in general, when he was talking specifically about what he thought. If you want details for why Bill changed his mind, then ask Bill for details.)

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Poban August 2, 2010 at 9:09 am

Martin

I think you should read WSA WLC debate, then you would know how evasive WLC can be. His support for his premise, if objective moralities don’t exist ,then god doesnt exist, is Friedrich Nietzsche said so, Kai Neilsen said so, therefore objective moralities cannot exist without god. All in all its all he about said this, he said that, he agrees with this. And debate gets over. I dont think almost any people are theist for reason their arguments being valid and good. But I think you do agree that most of them are somekind of particular theist believing a particular god because of their place of birth and culture of their upbringing.

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Reginald Selkirk August 2, 2010 at 10:58 am

Martin: “Oh yeah, well then who made your god (<—-note the lower-case "g")?!

Yes, and? The lower case ‘g’ is appropriate in that usage, referring to any such god in the generic sense. God with upper case G is only appropriate when using it as a proper name for one specific god, aka Yahweh, aka Jealous (Exod. 34:14). You seem to try very hard to be offended.

I am in general agreement with “Bill Maher” concerning WLC’s arguments concerning biology and mathematics. They are crap. Apparently you do not have the knowledge in relevant fields to recognize that.

The above videos also made references to nonbelievers being impervious to argument. If you found such references to theists offensive and stereotypical, but didn’t even notice the remarks about atheists, then the problem lies within you. I will pay no more attention to your whingeing.

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Rob August 2, 2010 at 11:00 am

Hey Martin,

I’m just curious. Since you think there are good arguments for the existence of some god, why do you think the overwhelming majority of philosophers think the arguments fail? In other words, most people whose job it is to evaluate arguments think the arguments fail. In your opinion, why is this so?

(note: this is NOT an argument that the arguments fail)

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Matthew D. Johnston August 2, 2010 at 11:35 am

Martin – I don’t know if any of that undermines what ProfMTH is saying here. Both WLC and Plantinga openly admit that they did not personally come to Christian belief as a result of the arguments that they present (although WLC thinks higher or natural theology than does Plantinga). They also admit that they would not be inclined to give up their beliefs even if they suddenly realized that theistic arguments failed or the arguments against theism could be shown to succeed. As true Calvinists, they believe that they just know, that God has revealed Himself personally to them, and that’s the end of the story.

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Kaelik August 2, 2010 at 12:03 pm

I think and interesting part of the discussion was the claim that “People just disagree with a premise because it is opposed to a fundamental belief, and then the argument it over” part.

In particular, comparing Cosmological argument and Problem of Evil.

When faced with the Cosmological argument, I don’t dismiss the premise that a non physical entity created the universe out of hand like the video said because it contradicts “fundamental belief” instead, I say, “I don’t agree that this premise is true. Here are some reasons I disagree, do you have any argument why this premise would be true?”

However, in my experience, the same is never true of theists dealing with the Problem of Evil. They never say “I don’t agree with this premise.” Because the premises are so simple and inherent in their own conceptions of how the world works. When a theist talks about how a perfectly good god is compatible with evil, they always come off with ineffability and maybes, precisely because they actually accept the premises (the more basic ones about god’s nature and the world), but not the conclusion, IE that god’s supposed nature is not reflected in the real world.

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Martin August 2, 2010 at 12:16 pm

Poban,

His support for his premise, if objective moralities don’t exist ,then god doesnt exist, is Friedrich Nietzsche said so, Kai Neilsen said so, therefore objective moralities cannot exist without god.

WLC goes into detail about that premise in his writings; a debate setting might be too squished to have time to deal with it properly. It does seem to be a legitimate philosophical problem: if naturalism is true, then how is it possible for morality to be objective?

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Martin August 2, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Rob,

Since you think there are good arguments for the existence of some god, why do you think the overwhelming majority of philosophers think the arguments fail? In other words, most people whose job it is to evaluate arguments think the arguments fail. In your opinion, why is this so?

I don’t think they are good per se. They certainly aren’t rationally compelling. I just think they are not bad. I think of them as akin to the arguments for Platonic realism. Might be true, might not. Hard to tell.

As for why most philosophers are atheists, you could look at this another way. I think something like 99% of philosophers used to be atheists, until the collapse of logical positivism in the mid 20th Century. Now, 85% of philosophers are atheists, so the number is actually going down. I would also add that philosophy is a broad field, and many philosophers might not even be aware of the strong(er) case that theists have been making.

Daniel Dennet, for one. He seems blissfully ignorant of Kalam, even though he is a philosopher. If he didn’t already have a strong bias against theism, and you sat down with him and laid out the case for and against, I would bet he would agree there is at least a live debate on the subject and he might be more inclined to take my position: 50/50 agnosticism.

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Márcio August 2, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Rob,

“Since you think there are good arguments for the existence of some god, why do you think the overwhelming majority of philosophers think the arguments fail?”

I think that contrary to other things, there will never be an empirical argument or evidence for the existence of God.

When you see the New Testament for example, despite the fact that Jesus performed a lot of miracles and helped a lot of people, He was still hated and rejected.

Even if God writes in the sky “I exists” there would still be people who would say that that was natural and that God doesn’t exists.

I think the arguments are good because they put a person in the right direction, but to really know the truth about God, a person will always need faith.

That is why people that thinks that faith is absurd will never believe in God.

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Rob August 2, 2010 at 1:02 pm

Márcio said:

“I think the arguments are good because they put a person in the right direction, but to really know the truth about God, a person will always need faith.”

Could you explain what you mean by “faith” in this context?

Also, since so many believers disagree about “the truth about God”, by what method do believers use to figure out whose model of God is more accurate?

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Jacopo August 2, 2010 at 1:29 pm

Yes Dennett is ‘blissfully ignorant’ of the Kalam, which is why he’s personally been to see its foremost defender, WLC, lecture on it, and been recorded to give a lengthy response to it:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wb10QvaHpS4&playnext=1&videos=MO0EMf_BbyY

His core complaint of the Kalam, that it takes our intuitions where they’ve no real license to go, has been explicitly endorsed by the author of this blog. I would not call him ignorant, would you – ?

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Bill Maher August 2, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Martin,

You are ironically generalizing and straw-man’ing in your accusation of atheists straw-man’ing and generalizing.

When I started learning about physics, it became apparent that the discipline runs on a different theory of time (the B-theory of time) that makes Craig’s argument meaningless. This theory is validated by its predictive power. And as far as I.D. goes, I hopefully should not have to explain to you how all of the cases of irreducible complexity have been shown to be bunk and of the predictable power of evolution.

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other eric August 2, 2010 at 2:29 pm

embarrassingly, i haven’t read Faust’s article, but i’d still like to take a stab at suggesting an explanation for PofMTH’s conclusion that religious arguments do sometimes persuade.

in the video he represents Faust as suggesting that “God exists” or “no gods exist” are core beliefs. perhaps for those people who are persuaded by arguments the belief that “rational arguments based on good evidence are the best way to understand reality” is more core than either gods existing or not.

perhaps that is obvious to the point of not needing to be mentioned. if so, my apologies.

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Matthew D. Johnston August 2, 2010 at 3:20 pm

WLC goes into detail about that premise in his writings; a debate setting might be too squished to have time to deal with it properly. It does seem to be a legitimate philosophical problem: if naturalism is true, then how is it possible for morality to be objective?

That’s the hardly the biggest problem with WLC’s moral argument. His biggest problem is his justification for the assumption objective morals exist which is, well, he feels like they do. When I was reading “Reasonable Faith”, I was expecting at least some sort of stab at an ontological argument for moral objectivity (since he draws the distinction between moral ontology and moral epistemology ad nauseam) but he does not even wade into the waters. (That’s not to say the arguments for moral objectivity are good or bad, but I was surprised—pinnacle of Christian thought that he is often made out to be—he doesn’t even think he needs to give an argument.)

When you see the New Testament for example, despite the fact that Jesus performed a lot of miracles and helped a lot of people, He was still hated and rejected.

That depends on your perspective. If you are an insider, who believes strongly in a particular tradition, this becomes evidence that people are stubborn and self-righteous (as you take it). If you are an outsider, who believes strongly in the consistency of human experience across time and cultures, this becomes evidence that the claims of Jesus’ miracles and deeds are exaggerated (at least to some degree). It is slightly incredulous to believe, for instance, that somebody today could perform the miracles Jesus is purported to have performed (walking on water, feeding thousands with a few loaves, turning water to wine, raising the dead, healing the sick, etc.) and yet have the people who were closest to him and knew him best (brother James, disciples, etc.) consistently depicted as being skeptical of him. That would strain all sorts of credibility, and yet that is the attitude expressed towards his pre-resurrection ministry (at least in the earliest sources). But which option that supports depends on your perspective.

Even if God writes in the sky “I exists” there would still be people who would say that that was natural and that God doesn’t exists.

I don’t even know where to begin with.

Well, let’s not start with your hypothetical situation. (If such a thing happened in sort of a one-off occurrence, it wouldn’t be much evidence of anything. Even if we had to accept that there is something mysterious, beyond our current understanding, out there somewhere, this would tell us nothing about it unfortunately.)

But let’s suppose that God openly and consistently interacted with the human race. The presidents of great nations call out for him, and he comes down so that everybody can see him and hear him (no private, subjective visions!), just as you could see and hear any other person (and just like the ancient Greek gods were supposed to have done), and he tells us in clear terms, with sound reasonable, what he feels on the issue. We ask the big questions, and instead of receiving vague appeals to “faith” and the “ineffability” of the “divine” from a religious authority (who will say a different thing depend on the culture they come from), we receive word from God directly, and that word matches up with what everybody else hears around the world – across vast cultures and timescales!

Are you really willing to say that, if all that were true, you think there would still be people who would deny the mere existence of God? (I would happily concede that people would argue over the meaning of it, the implications of it, what was actually said, as people inevitably do about every historical occurrence, but I find it hard to believe there would be serious debates entitled “Does God Exist?”, any more than there are “debates” over the holocaust, at any rate.)

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Márcio August 2, 2010 at 5:54 pm

Rob,

I think that faith is a belief that doesn’t depends of empirical evidence.

So, if you are waiting for empirical evidence for the existence of God, i think you will die waiting.

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Hermes August 2, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Márcio, the same could be said about just about any fantastical belief. If you want someone else to take up your specific set of beliefs, then point to faith isn’t going to win them over. If it were, then you should take up many beliefs that you don’t currently have.

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ShaneSteinhauser August 2, 2010 at 6:33 pm

Luke did you find Prof’s channel due to my mention of him? Or did you find it on your own?

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Márcio August 2, 2010 at 7:21 pm

Hermes,

I was just trying to point that most people doesn’t believe in God because the arguments and evidence are not empirical.

We have the 5 arguments WLC and friends usually presents, but what you want is something that can be tested on a test tube in a lab, and that is not gonna happen.

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Martin August 2, 2010 at 7:26 pm

His biggest problem is his justification for the assumption objective morals exist which is, well, he feels like they do.

That’s because it’s difficult to make arguments for this type of thing. It’s like the problem of other minds; how do you make an argument for that? You generally don’t. You just appeal to how it seems. If you are constructing an argument one premise of which is that other minds exist, you would probably just have to appeal to intuition.

Also, most philosophers seem to adhere to objective morality, so Craig probably thought it was a fairly well established premise already.

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Hermes August 2, 2010 at 7:37 pm

Márcio: We have the 5 arguments WLC and friends usually presents, but what you want is something that can be tested on a test tube in a lab, and that is not gonna happen.

I do? Did we — you and I — actually have this conversation already, and did I forgot what I actually think? Or are you extrapolating based on some generic stereotype?

Let me be clear. If you want people to take your faith as support for a fact about reality then you are opening yourself up to rampant relativism where not only should your faith be taken seriously as evidence but that all faith claims are equally valid.

Point being: You can’t demand an exception to the rule for yourself and your beliefs and at the same time deny the same thing to all other claimants. We’re in one world — one reality — or we’re dipping into solipsistic nonsense.

By all means, have your beliefs. If you want to communicate them to others, then the bar for what qualifies as evidence — facts that are sharable not just private — is much higher since other people can’t just take your word for what qualifies as convincing.

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anon August 2, 2010 at 7:42 pm

I suppose one could reasonably doubt that objective moral values exist, but isn’t the biggest problem for his moral argument the premise that objective moral values entail the existence of a god?

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Hermes August 2, 2010 at 8:09 pm

Anon, yep.

On the issue of objective moral values, they imply universal perfection. Nothing is perfect, though. Morality is difficult and messy and can require quite a bit of care and intense thought that may be emotionally stressful and against our natural impulses. Moral quandaries such as the trolley experiment highlight this.

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anon August 2, 2010 at 8:23 pm

Thanks, Hermes. I guess, though, my thought is this. Craig’s argument is this:

1. If objective moral values exist, then God exists.
2. Objective moral values exist.

3. Therefore, God exists. (by 1 and 2, Modus Ponens)

Now (1) is undercut if it’s at least epistemically possible for objective moral values to exist without God. But such a scenario does seem epistemically possible (e.g., it’s epistemically possible that non-theistic utiltarianism is true, and yet there is no god). So it seems that there is an undercutting defeater for (1), no?

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Márcio August 2, 2010 at 8:28 pm

Hermes,

If buddhists have arguments, i want to hear what they have to say. I’m not demanding an exception for myself. Actually i think that christianity is the only religion that is trying to present some arguments.

Until now i have never seen islamics, buddhists, hinduists or some other religion arguments, nothing close to the arguments presented by christians. And the arguments from atheists that i know about, expecially the “problem of evil” or “your argument fail, therefore no God”, didn’t sound to good for me.

And the major problem is atheists are so defensive. If God doesn

And about the “test tube” thing, i’m sorry if i was wrong about you.

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J August 2, 2010 at 8:53 pm

Martin: “He says that non-theists are frustrated by the imperviousness of religious believers to argumentation. Non-theists make valid and sound arguments against religion only to see theists shrug them off.
????????????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
This exactly how I feel about non-theists in religious debates! Has he watched any actual debates with sophisticated theists?!”

(Sigh) Martin, did you even make it to 3:30 in the first video? To quote: “Additionally, advocates of religious belief also express frustration at what they see as non-believers shrugging off valid and sound arguments for religious belief.”

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Márcio August 2, 2010 at 8:56 pm

Hermes,

If buddhists have arguments, i want to hear what they have to say. I’m not demanding an exception for myself. But i think that christianity is the only religion that is trying to present some arguments, i’m not sure though.

Until now i have never seen islamics, buddhists, hinduists or some other religion arguments, nothing close to the arguments presented by christians. And the arguments from atheists that i know about, expecially the “problem of evil, therefore no God” or “absence of evidence, therefore no God”, didn’t sound to good for me.

And the major problem is that most atheists that i know are so defensive. This whole thing of negative atheism really frustates me. If there is no God because A, B and C, just say it.

That is why i admires christianity, it is really positive and straightforward. I can see that christians are changing. A lot of christians are not saying anymore that God exists just because the bible says so. We say that our God exists because A, B, C, D and E (5 arguments) and until now i think we are really ahead of any other religion.

And about the “test tube” thing, i’m sorry.

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Márcio August 2, 2010 at 8:59 pm

I’m sorry about the double post. I hit submit by accident the first time so i had to finish the post and submit it for a second time

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Matthew D. Johnston August 2, 2010 at 9:12 pm

I suppose one could reasonably doubt that objective moral values exist, but isn’t the biggest problem for his moral argument the premise that objective moral values entail the existence of a god?

Okay, okay, there are multiple problems with the argument – his justification for the objective moral values exist premise just seemed the most striking to me.

That’s because it’s difficult to make arguments for this type of thing. It’s like the problem of other minds; how do you make an argument for that? You generally don’t. You just appeal to how it seems. If you are constructing an argument one premise of which is that other minds exist, you would probably just have to appeal to intuition.

I’ve yet to read God and other minds, so you’ll have to pardon my ignorance, but what about the argument from analogy (I know other people who seem to have all the same features necessary to give rise to conscious thoughts in me, ergo, there are probably other minds)? At least, this seems stronger than any argument one might give for other difficult examples, like why 1+1=2, etc., although this is getting off-topic…

Still I somehow think objective morality should be different than this. If you believe that a world in which objective moral truths existed and a world in which no objective moral truths existed would be in any way different, shouldn’t you be able to point to that and say, “Hey, there it is, the thing that differentiates our world from one without objective moral truths?” I know sociology wades more into moral epistemology rather than ontology (and you can always rationalize why people don’t behave according to a moral code, even if one exists) but still – doesn’t WLC believe a world in which moral objective truths exist is differentiable in any way from one without them, beyond appealing to his feelings?

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TaiChi August 2, 2010 at 9:33 pm

Anon,
You haven’t quite got Craig’s argument right. It should be..

1.If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
2.Objective moral values and duties do exist.
3.Therefore, God exists.

.. by modus tollens. It’s a subtle difference, but it makes the argument more persuasive: it avoids the difficult questions of how God secures objective morality.

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anon August 2, 2010 at 9:38 pm

Thanks for fixing my formulation of the argument, TaiChi. Still, doesn’t my point apply, with the relevant modifications, to the fixed formulation? For (1) is undercut if there is an epistemically possible scenario according to which God does not exist, and yet objective moral values exist. But then such a scenario does seem at least epistemically possible (e.g., one according to which God does not exist, and yet (say) some version of utilitarianism is true.). Thus, there is an undercutting defeater for (1).

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Derrida August 2, 2010 at 10:07 pm

WLC: “Here is my argument: X, Y, therefore Z. Here is support for the two premises: A, B, C.”

Atheist: “Derp! You can’t prove anything! You just believe in God because you are desperate! Derp derp! How do you know all this?! Derp derp derp!”

WLC: “Here is my second argument: P, Q, therefore R. Here is support for the two premises: D, E.”

Atheist: “Oh yeah, well then who made your god (<—-note the lower-case "g")?! Huh?! Can't answer that, can ya buddy?! What about the Crusades and the Inquisitions?!! Durrrrrr!"

Then, later, in the atheist blogosphere:

Atheist blogger: “Wow! He, like, totally kicked WLC’s ass! Did you see that? How can people believe the shit he spews?! Also, he has, like, a big nose. And also he’s just an asshole masquerading as a philosopher. And also his eye is twitchy.”

Unfortunately, Martin, that’s how most conversations go, on the internets. But surely, to be fair, you need to compare like with like. Talk to an average theist, and they probably won’t understand the nuances of the sophisticated arguments put forth by professional theistic philosophers.

On the other hand, professional atheistic philosophers, like William Rowe, Michael Martin, Quentin Smith, John Schellenberg, Adolf Grunbaum, et al, have given good, thoughtful objections to the arguments Craig and others use.

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lukeprog August 2, 2010 at 10:19 pm

Shane,

I don’t recall. If it was you, thanks.

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Alexandros Marinos August 2, 2010 at 11:23 pm

Marcio, you mention the Kalam cosmological argument as one of those that christians have come up with. Does the name sound strange? Yup, it’s an argument that was first formulated by muslims. Wanna know the funniest bit? I know of modern islamist preachers in the UK that use WLC’s arguments including his formulation of the kalam, to spread their religion. I’m sure WLC is overjoyed.

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TaiChi August 3, 2010 at 1:10 am

Anon,
Yes: your 1 follows from my 1. As for whether the epistemic possibility of a non-theistic ethics undercuts the argument, I’d have to say no: the mere possibility that a premise is wrong does not sink an argument. However, if you think utilitarianism is more than merely epistemically possible, but is in fact plausible, then.. perhaps. It all depends upon what Craig means by ‘objective morality’, something that I’m not clear on.

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Hermes August 3, 2010 at 2:13 am

Anon: “So it seems that there is an undercutting defeater for (1), no?” [or TaiChi's (2)]

Yes. As objective morality implies perfection, there can’t be a set objective morality.

Without reading the storm of comments that followed your original post, I’m guessing that the complaint by Christians is that there is objective morality and each event is judged by their deity. That makes it situational, and thus arbitrary. (Wash, rinse, repeat.)

Let’s see what folks actually said…

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Hermes August 3, 2010 at 3:03 am

Márcio: If buddhists have arguments, i want to hear what they have to say. I’m not demanding an exception for myself. Actually i think that christianity is the only religion that is trying to present some arguments.

Until now i have never seen islamics, buddhists, hinduists or some other religion arguments, nothing close to the arguments presented by christians. And the arguments from atheists that i know about, expecially the “problem of evil” or “your argument fail, therefore no God”, didn’t sound to good for me.

And the major problem is atheists are so defensive. If God doesn

And about the “test tube” thing, i’m sorry if i was wrong about you.

Apology accepted. Talk to individuals and stop making blanket statements about a group.

Márcio: This whole thing of negative atheism really frustates me. If there is no God because A, B and C, just say it.

Why is it my responsibility to address the claims of countless and shifting different theist groups (not just Christians!), sub-sects of those groups, and individuals in those sects?

It’s the responsibility of the person making a claim to back that claim with positive evidence. As I have not found any of those claims to be backed by positive evidence that makes their theism (not just religion — their theism; belief in deities) credible, I am an atheist. If I did find any credible, in that instance I’d stop being an atheist and start being some kind of theist.

As for refuting a specific instance of a deity, I’ll say that in general the Christian deity is self-refuting, but there are so many individual variations on it that I can’t say that some instance is not possible if not plausible. Without talking about those details, it’s not possible to give A, B, C, … and get anywhere as I’ll be accused of telling someone else what it is that they believe and they will be right to object that I got it wrong.

In the case of atheists, ask yourself what you can say about all theists without overreaching. The scope of potential atheists is at a minimum at least that wide if not wider. Why? An atheist isn’t a theist. That’s it. Most atheists don’t even bother mentioning that they are, and many don’t even know that they are. For about 10 years I was both a Christian and an atheist (and did not know I was by name), so are some active priests (and they know it by name).

As for Buddhists… how does their involvement impact your ideas? Why mention them? Don’t your ideas and claims stand on their own? (One note, where do you think the word Kalam came from?)

The POE isn’t a defeater for your deity. It’s a wake up call that *if* your deity exists, it’s not an omnimax deity (‘all good, all knowing, all powerful’ or some sufficient overlap where any of the previous are implied subsets). It might be a good idea to know what deity it is that you do worship, right? [Note: In my case, I noted this in my second message in this thread.]

If an atheist is defensive it’s probably with good reason because as a group we are often referred to as immoral. Yet, it often goes beyond attacking those evil atheists (they’re so evil that they have higher educations, have fewer divorces, and commit fewer crimes, so they must be doing something to avoid being caught). Even words like pluralism are used to divide people in my country as it works against an implied theocratic government. Yet, pluralism is just a single word that expresses a larger idea that is quite noble; ‘from many people, we come together as one’; ‘out of many, one’; E Pluribus Unum.

On the issue of immorality, I’m hungry, and it’s breakfast time! Yum!

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Haecceitas August 3, 2010 at 3:48 am

Alexandros Marinos,

Arguably the origins of the Kalam Cosmological argument go back to John Philoponus though the name now associated it goes back to the period when it was used by certain Muslim thinkers.

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Bill Snedden August 3, 2010 at 5:15 am

1.If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
2.Objective moral values and duties do exist.
3.Therefore, God exists.

I can’t even begin to see how the second premise would be supported. “Value” presupposes a valuer. In other words, “values” are subjective by definition. There is and can be no such thing as an “objective value”. Even if God exists, his values are still subjective (residing in his mind). The relationships between subject and object that render certain things valuable to the subject may certainly be objective and this could yield what we might call, in a non-technical sense, “objective morality”, but the values themselves will still be subjective.

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anon August 3, 2010 at 6:17 am

Hi TaiChi,

Good thoughts. I agree that the epistemic possibility I mentioned doesn’t sink the argument in the sense of showing the conclusion to be false, or at least unlikely. However, I had no intention of showing that. My aim was to show that the epistemic possibility I mentioned undermines the argument’s basis for rationally persuading the antecedently unconvinced (say, the agnostic) to accept the conclusion. Do you think it succeeds on that score?

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Martin August 3, 2010 at 7:10 am

Bill Snedden,

Most philosophers lean towards moral objectivity. Here is a good essay that argues convincingly for them.

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Reginald Selkirk August 3, 2010 at 8:25 am

TaiChi: 1.If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.

I anticipate you may have some difficulty establishing your first point.

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Hermes August 3, 2010 at 11:10 am

Reginald, I don’t think TaiChi was trying to support the argument but was instead providing an accurate representation of the argument from the POV of people who do.

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TaiChi August 3, 2010 at 2:46 pm

Anon,
Here’s what I’ll say: I think that consideration undermines Craig’s argument as it is defended in I’ve linked to.

Reginald,
As Hermes said.

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Martin August 3, 2010 at 8:11 pm

anon,

My aim was to show that the epistemic possibility I mentioned undermines the argument’s basis for rationally persuading the antecedently unconvinced (say, the agnostic) to accept the conclusion. Do you think it succeeds on that score?

I’m agnostic, and I agree that for me that is the Achilles heel of that argument. I agree with premise #2 for the most part, but as for premise #1 I’m not convinced that objective morality is not possible without God, but I’m also not convinced it is.

Hence, my agnosticism… :)

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Hermes August 4, 2010 at 2:30 am

Martin, objective morality isn’t possible because it assumes perfection in all situations for different people — even when their moral acts are in conflict. There are examples of this in the news daily, as well as in books and movies, and we often call those tragedies, but sometimes they are just quandaries.

I gave an example of one of those in a previous message, but maybe you can answer for me what the true moral answers are for a new one that you may have encountered before?

A group of villagers are attempting to escape from a genocidal mob. Except for the slaughter itself and the russetting of the mobs as they move from place to place, the world is deathly quiet. As the villagers are hiding in a particular place from a passing gang, a baby carried by one of the party members begins to cry. The mother attempts to calm and quiet the baby, but babies do as they want and this one wants to cry uncontrollably. If it continues to cry, the gang will more likely than not track down the villagers and chop them all — including the baby — into pieces. What is the moral thing to do? Smother the baby and probably kill it, or allow the baby to cry and probably give away the location of the villagers? As a side note, is the baby itself being immoral by forcing the issue and crying?

[ modified from another source, though a dramatized version appears in the previous link after the trolley quandary; http://www.wnyc.org/shows/radiolab/episodes/2007/07/06 ]

Keep in mind that answers — usually introducing unstated unknowns or other immoral acts — could be given that address problems in the above example so as to preserve the pretense of objective morality, though I think the baby example does well enough as a demonstration.

* * *

That objective morality doesn’t exist does not eliminate the possibility of a deity of some sort existing, but it does show that arguments promoting objective morality are flawed at best.

Point being: The issue of objective morality only impacts this one attempt to prove a god or gods exists that relies on the existence of objective morality. The attempt to prove a god or gods has failed, but no disproof is offered.

The burden of proof, though, stays with the claimant; the theist who says that they know for a fact that a god or gods exists.

* * *

As for deities existing or not, I’ve only found two categories that are logically consistent; deist and pantheist deities. It may be that they both can’t be disproven unlike many other deities, they can’t by definition be positively supported either by pointing to evidence. Any attempt would lead to incoherence; the deist deity is not around to identify, and the pantheist deity is everything allowing for no distinctions to be drawn. Plus, they are contradictory concepts; they both can’t be right.

As such, I can’t say I know for a fact that the deist or pantheist deities don’t in fact exist. Nor can I say that I know that they do in fact exist. This makes me an agnostic.

Yet, I have no belief that they or any other deity I’ve heard of actually does. This makes me an agnostic atheist.

From what you’ve said, it looks like you are an agnostic theist; you believe a god or gods exist, but you don’t know for a fact that they do and as such don’t claim knowledge that they do. Is this correct?

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Bill Snedden August 5, 2010 at 8:58 am

@Martin: That essay is more of an extended argument against moral relativism than an argument in favor of moral objectivism, but if in fact the author is attempting to defend the mind-independence of values, he/she falls far short of the mark. The only real attempt made is to compare values to universals (like red), but a nominalist (or any other species of non-realist about universals) will find this comparison unconvincing. It also appears to be a category error; objects can indeed have properties that many people might assume to be inherent, but actions?

I’m also unsure if the author understands “objective” to be “mind-independent”; at least, it’s not clear from the essay if this is the case. I consider myself to be a moral objectivist in the sense that my meta-ethical system is based upon objective reality, yet I hold that values are themselves mind-dependent and thus subjective. I would agree with the author’s conclusion regarding relativism and yet would still disagree about the objectivity of value.

Value, as properly understood, is not a property of objects or actions, but rather a relationship between subject(s) and object(s). Value cannot be intrinsic because there is always a context (the subject/situation) to be considered.

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