“The Moral Argument” by Mark Linville (part 4)

by Luke Muehlhauser on February 16, 2010 in Ethics,Reviews

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I’ve been reviewing Mark Linville’s moral argument for God’s existence. In Part 1 I argued that Linville’s argument had three weaknesses:

  1. It never actually argues for the existence of God, nor presents a coherent alternative to naturalistic ethics.
  2. It does not defend its crucial premise, that objective moral facts exist.
  3. It only undermines theories of morality that depend on input from our moral intuitions, which is not the type of moral theory I defend, anyway.

(But problem #2 isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Plenty of good arguments don’t argue for a crucial premise because they are aimed at philosophers who already accept it. You can’t defend everything you believe in every single paper.)

In Part 2 I reviewed the second half of Linville’s article, which presents a similar but messier argument for God from the notion of ‘human dignity.’ This argument has the same problems as his first argument, but is weaker, so I decided to focus on Linville’s stronger argument.

In Part 3 I noted that if Linville thinks our moral intuitions can only be justified by appealing to the work of a timeless, spaceless, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good supernatural being, then he is wrong. A much simpler explanation is that aliens gave us accurate moral intuitions. But that is absurd, and the “God did it” theory is many orders of magnitude more absurd than that.

Now I want to conclude with some final thoughts about morality and atheism.

First, let us remember Linville’s argument:

(1) If Evolutionary Naturalism is true then the human moral sense is a by-product of natural selection.

(2*) If the human moral sense is a by-product of natural selection, then there is no moral knowledge.

(3*) There is moral knowledge.

(4) Therefore, Evolutionary Naturalism is false.

Linville never defends (3*), and for good reason. If Linville had defended (3*) with a theistic account of moral knowledge, atheists would rightly reply “But what reason is there to think that is true?As is argued elsewhere, it’s hard to see how “God did it” could be a successful explanation of anything, including moral knowledge. But if Linville had defended (3*) with an account of moral knowledge that made no reference to God, then he would have undermined (2*).

The core of Linville’s argument is the case against moral knowledge given naturalism. So let us say that Linville successfully persuades the naturalist that naturalism as yet provides no plausible account of moral knowledge. At that point, we must ask: “So why think theism is true?”

It remains open to the atheist to conclude that we just don’t know how we have moral knowledge. (Perhaps there is a moral faculty in the brain we can’t yet explain, just as there are many things we knew were true but could not explain 300 years ago.)

More plausibly in my view, the atheist may also conclude that we don’t have moral knowledge after all.

Of course, I have already explained a third way out. I think we can have moral knowledge that makes no reference to our evolved moral intuitions.

In conclusion, I am grateful to Linville’s article (and Street’s article, on which he draws heavily), for explaining precisely why I reject theories of moral realism that depend on data from our evolved moral intuitions. I just don’t think this gives us any reason to accept theism.

Magic Man done it” is no explanation at all.

If “Magic Man done it” is a good explanation, then Thales could have successfully offered the following argument for Zeus:

  1. If Magic Man does not create lightning, then lightning does not exist. (Because we ancient Greeks can’t even guess at what natural process could possibly produce lightning.)
  2. Lightning exists.
  3. Therefore, Magic Man does create lightning.

But of course this argument is absurd.

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