The debate on video:
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.
My impressions of her were confirmed by J.W. Wartick’s blog post.
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 fact has 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. For her, it’s enough that people have feelings about what they like and don’t like, and that they have the feeling that they ought to act in line with their feelings. And if you challenge her about obviously evil people, e.g. – radical Islamists blowing up innocent children for their ideology, well she has no reason to say that their feelings-based morality is any more rationally grounded than her own. The problem with atheists is that they approach morality with the goal of explaining it away. They want to avoid having to comply with objective, prescriptive morality, but they also want to justify themselves to theists by saying “look at me, I have standards too, I’m not a sociopath!” So, they invent a subjective morality based on their need to feel good and get the praise of their peers and congratulate themselves about acting according to a subjective standard. Problem solved! The fact is that there is no way to get to an objective moral standard that applies in all times and places on atheism. Accidental universe = anything goes. Period. End of issue.