Thoughts from William Lane Craig’s debate with Louise Antony

I read Dr. Craig’s report of his debate with Louise Antony on the topic of God and morality. My impression from his review was that she hadn’t prepared for the debate and didn’t understand the moral argument at all (she is from Amherst, Massachusetts, so… they are pretty sheltered). She strikes me as the typical student who goes off to college, starts drinking and partying, and then adjusts her philosophy to suit her peer group – and her superiors.

My impressions of her were confirmed by J.W. Wartick’s blog post.

Summary:

It will be my purpose in the following arguments to show that secular humanistic theories which try to ground moral ontology fail–and fail miserably.

Recently, I listened [again] to the debate between William Lane Craig and Louise Anthony. Some have lauded this debate as a stirring victory for secular ethics. (See, for example, the comments here–one comment even goes so far as to say “I swoon when someone evokes the Euthyphro Dilemma and frown at the impotent, goal-post-moving, ‘Divine nature’ appeal.”) In reality, I think Louise Anthony did indeed present the case for secular metaethics. The problem is that this case is utterly vacuous. 

I’ll break down why this is the case by focusing upon three areas of development in secular and theistic ethics: objective moral truths, suffering, and moral facts.

Here’s the snarkiest part:

Louise Anthony seems to be just confused about the nature of objective morality. She says in response to a question from the audience, “The universe has no purpose, but I do… I have lots of purposes…. It makes a lot of difference to a lot of people and to me what I do. That gives my life significance… The only thing that would make it [sacrificing her own life] insignificant would be if my children’s lives were insignificant. And, boy you better not say that!”

Craig responded, “But Louise, on atheism, their lives are insignificant.” Anthony interjected, “Not to me!”

But then she goes on to make this confused statement, “It’s an objective fact that they [her children] are significant to me.”

Note how Anthony has confused the terms here. Yes, it is an objective fact that according to Louise Anthony, her children matter to her. We can’t question Anthony’s own beliefs–we must trust what she tells us unless we have reason to think otherwise. But that’s not enough. What Craig and other theists are trying to press is that that simple facthas nothing to do with whether her children are actually valuable. Sure, people may go around complaining that “Well, it matters to me, so it does matter!” But that doesn’t make it true. All kinds of things can matter to people, that doesn’t mean that they are ontologically objective facts.

It matters to me whether the Cubs [an American baseball team] win the World Series. That hasn’t happened in 104 years, so it looks like it doesn’t matter in the overall scheme of the universe after all. But suppose I were to, like Anthony, retort, “But the Cubs matter to me! It’s an objective fact that them winning the World Series is significant to me!” Fine! But all the Cardinals [a rival team] fans would just laugh at me and say “SO WHAT!?

Similarly, one can look at Anthony with incredulity and retort, “Who cares!?” Sure, if you can get enough people around Anthony who care about her children’s moral significance, you can develop a socially derived morality. But that’s not enough to ground objective morality. Why should we think that her values matter to the universe at large? On atheism, what reason is there for saying that her desires and purposes for her children are any better than my desires and purposes for the Cubs?

She doesn’t even understand the difference between objective and subjective morality! Sigh.

8 thoughts on “Thoughts from William Lane Craig’s debate with Louise Antony”

  1. Louise can say that her children are objectivity significant to her, in the same way, she can argue that she is necessary for their existence. But it doesn’t follow that since she is necessary for their existence that she is a necessary existent being. Likewise, just because their objectively special to her it doesn’t follow that they are ontologically special-apart from they’re being imagio deo.
    BW

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  2. Why is Antony’s real experience of affection towards her children not proof of objectivity?

    Are not most parents affectionate towards their children? Are we really going to play the game of “well not all parents are affectionate towards their children therefore not objective”?

    Likewise I can claim that not all of god’s deeds are “good” according to human standards therefore human morality is the “objective” morality and “divine command” is nothing but subjective schlock.

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    1. D,
      I don’t think anyone is playing the game entailed in your second paragraph, and therefore your third paragraph is just out of place in regards to the discussion.

      What do you think it means for something to objectively exist? I have tried to give a brief distinction above, between something being personally objective and ontologically objective. What Dr. Craig and others are trying to argue is that on atheism nothing is objectively meaningful i.e. independent of our proclivities.

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    2. Since God is the one who creates the universe for a purpose, his opinion of how the universe ought to be is authoritative, just as my design for my software determines how it ought to be. In a theistic universe, sin is a bug in the implementation of the design. The designer decides. Not the created programs that are running. They may THINK that there is no bug, but their opinion is subjective. The one who creates and designs the reality makes it apply for everyone else.

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  3. I’m a layman and it truly shocks me at how so many ‘intellectual’ people fail to understand the basic difference between objective and subjective reality.

    It must be due to an emotional block rather than an intellectual one because the concept is not that difficult at all.

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  4. “I read Dr. Craig’s report of his debate with Louise Antony on the topic of God and morality.”

    What report? I searched Craig’s site and couldn’t find Craig’s report on his debate with Dr Antony. Did he even compose one?

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