Tag Archives: Moral Argument

A Harvard University student explains how evidence changed her mind about God

Harvard University student discovers apologetics
Harvard University student discovers apologetics

Here’s a must-read article  about the effectiveness of apologetics on college campuses in Christianity Today.

Excerpt:

I don’t know when I first became a skeptic. It must have been around age 4, when my mother found me arguing with another child at a birthday party: “But how do you know what the Bible says is true?” By age 11, my atheism was so widely known in my middle school that a Christian boy threatened to come to my house and “shoot all the atheists.” My Christian friends in high school avoided talking to me about religion because they anticipated that I would tear down their poorly constructed arguments. And I did.

As I set off in 2008 to begin my freshman year studying government at Harvard (whose motto is Veritas, “Truth”), I could never have expected the change that awaited me.

It was a brisk November when I met John Joseph Porter. Our conversations initially revolved around conservative politics, but soon gravitated toward religion. He wrote an essay for the Ichthus, Harvard’s Christian journal, defending God’s existence. I critiqued it. On campus, we’d argue into the wee hours; when apart, we’d take our arguments to e-mail. Never before had I met a Christian who could respond to my most basic philosophical questions: How does one understand the Bible’s contradictions? Could an omnipotent God make a stone he could not lift? What about the Euthyphro dilemma: Is something good because God declared it so, or does God merely identify the good? To someone like me, with no Christian background, resorting to an answer like “It takes faith” could only be intellectual cowardice. Joseph didn’t do that.

And he did something else: He prodded me on how inconsistent I was as an atheist who nonetheless believed in right and wrong as objective, universal categories. Defenseless, I decided to take a seminar on meta-ethics. After all, atheists had been developing ethical systems for 200-some years. In what I now see as providential, my atheist professor assigned a paper by C. S. Lewis that resolved the Euthyphro dilemma, declaring, “God is not merely good, but goodness; goodness is not merely divine, but God.”

Joseph also pushed me on the origins of the universe. I had always believed in the Big Bang. But I was blissfully unaware that the man who first proposed it, Georges Lemaître, was a Catholic priest. And I’d happily ignored the rabbit trail of a problem of what caused the Big Bang, and what caused that cause, and so on.

By Valentine’s Day, I began to believe in God. There was no intellectual shame in being a deist, after all, as I joined the respectable ranks of Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers.

I wouldn’t stay a deist for long. A Catholic friend gave me J. Budziszewski’s book Ask Me Anything, which included the Christian teaching that “love is a commitment of the will to the true good of the other person.” This theme—of love as sacrifice for true good—struck me. The Cross no longer seemed a grotesque symbol of divine sadism, but a remarkable act of love. And Christianity began to look less strangely mythical and more cosmically beautiful.

Now, I’m going to get into a lot of trouble for saying this, but I think that if you are a Christian and you are in a secular university, then you really need to have put in the effort to study the areas of science, history and philosophy that are relevant to the Christian faith. This is regardless of your personal abilities or field of study. We must all make an effort regardless of how comfortable we are with things that are hard for us to learn.

Granted, most people today are not interested in truth, because we just have this cultural preoccupation with having fun and feeling good and doing whatever we want to do whenever we want to do it. Most atheists I’ve met are like that, but some are more honest, open-minded, and they just have never encountered any good reasons or evidence to think that God exists and that Jesus is anything other than a man. There are a lot of atheists like that who are just waiting to hear some decent evidence. Our job is to prepare for them and then engage them, if they are willing to be engaged.

I think that definition of love she cited – self-sacrifice for the true good of another person – is important. I don’t think that ordinary Christians like you or me spends time on apologetics because we “like” it. I know lots of Christians who are in tough, expensive academic programs trying to get the skills they need to defend truth in areas that matter. They do this because they know that there are people out there who are interested in truth, and who are willing to re-prioritize their lives if the truth is made clear to them. We need to be willing to serve God by doing hard things that work.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Is asking “Am I going to Hell?” a good rebuttal to scientific arguments for theism?

A conflict of worldviews
A conflict of worldviews

I want to use this woman’s story to show how sensible atheists reach a belief in God.

Excerpt:

I don’t know when I first became a skeptic. It must have been around age 4, when my mother found me arguing with another child at a birthday party: “But how do you know what the Bible says is true?” By age 11, my atheism was so widely known in my middle school that a Christian boy threatened to come to my house and “shoot all the atheists.” My Christian friends in high school avoided talking to me about religion because they anticipated that I would tear down their poorly constructed arguments. And I did.

As I set off in 2008 to begin my freshman year studying government at Harvard (whose motto is Veritas, “Truth”), I could never have expected the change that awaited me.

It was a brisk November when I met John Joseph Porter. Our conversations initially revolved around conservative politics, but soon gravitated toward religion. He wrote an essay for the Ichthus, Harvard’s Christian journal, defending God’s existence. I critiqued it. On campus, we’d argue into the wee hours; when apart, we’d take our arguments to e-mail. Never before had I met a Christian who could respond to my most basic philosophical questions: How does one understand the Bible’s contradictions? Could an omnipotent God make a stone he could not lift? What about the Euthyphro dilemma: Is something good because God declared it so, or does God merely identify the good? To someone like me, with no Christian background, resorting to an answer like “It takes faith” could only be intellectual cowardice. Joseph didn’t do that.

And he did something else: He prodded me on how inconsistent I was as an atheist who nonetheless believed in right and wrong as objective, universal categories. Defenseless, I decided to take a seminar on meta-ethics. After all, atheists had been developing ethical systems for 200-some years. In what I now see as providential, my atheist professor assigned a paper by C. S. Lewis that resolved the Euthyphro dilemma, declaring, “God is not merely good, but goodness; goodness is not merely divine, but God.”

Joseph also pushed me on the origins of the universe. I had always believed in the Big Bang. But I was blissfully unaware that the man who first proposed it, Georges Lemaître, was a Catholic priest. And I’d happily ignored the rabbit trail of a problem of what caused the Big Bang, and what caused that cause, and so on.

By Valentine’s Day, I began to believe in God. There was no intellectual shame in being a deist, after all, as I joined the respectable ranks of Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers.

I wouldn’t stay a deist for long. A Catholic friend gave me J. Budziszewski’s book Ask Me Anything, which included the Christian teaching that “love is a commitment of the will to the true good of the other person.” This theme—of love as sacrifice for true good—struck me. The Cross no longer seemed a grotesque symbol of divine sadism, but a remarkable act of love. And Christianity began to look less strangely mythical and more cosmically beautiful.

So, I want to point out the progression of her beliefs from atheist to deist to Christian. First, she listened to the scientific arguments for God’s existence, which took her to deism, which is a variety of theism where God just creates the universe and then doesn’t interfere with it after. Those arguments, the Big Bang and the cosmic fine-tuning, were enough for her to falsify atheism and prove some sort of theism. After that, she remained open to the evidence for Christian theism, and finally got there after looking at other evidence.

But this makes me think of how some of the atheists that I talk to do the exact opposite of what she did. I start off by explaining to them scientific evidence for a Creator and Designer. I explain the mainstream discoveries that confirm an origin of the universe (e.g. – light element abundance predictions and observations), and I cite specific examples of fine-tuning, (e.g. – the gravitational constant). I explain protein sequencing and folding, and calculate the probabilities of getting a protein by chance. I explain the sudden origin of the phyla in the Cambrian explosion, and show why naturalistic explanations fail. I talk about the fine-tuning needed to get galaxies, solar systems and planets to support life. But many of these atheists don’t become deists like the honest atheist in the story. Why not?

Well, the reason why not is because they interrupt the stream of scientific evidence coming out of my mouth and they start to ask me questions that have nothing to do with what we can know through science. See, evangelism is like building a house. You have to start with the foundation, the walls, the plumbing, the electricity, etc., but you can’t know all the specific details about furniture and decorations at the beginning. But militant atheists don’t care that you are able to establish the foundations of Christian theism – they want to jump right to the very fine-grained details, and use that to justify not not building anything at all. Just as you are proving all the main planks of a theistic worldview with science, they start asking “am I going to Hell?” and telling you “God is immoral for killing Canaanite children”, etc. They want to stop the construction of the house by demanding that you build everything at once. But, it is much easier to accept miracles like the virgin birth if you have a God who created the universe first. The foundation comes first, it makes the later stuff easier to do.

So rather than adjust their worldview to the strong scientific evidence, and then leave the puzzling about Hell and Old Testament history for later, they want to refute the good scientific arguments with “Am I going to Hell?”. How does complaining about Hell and unanswered prayer a response to scientific evidence? It’s not! But I think that this does explain why atheists remain atheists in the face of all the scientific evidence against naturalism. They insulate their worldview from the progress of science by focusing on their emotional disappointment that they are not God and that God isn’t doing what they want him to do. That’s the real issue. Authority and autonomy. In my experience, they are usually not accountable to science, although there are, thank God, exceptions to that rule.

Video, audio and summary of William Lane Craig vs Peter Millican debate

British Spitfire and German Messerschmitt Me 109 locked in a dogfight
British Spitfire and German Messerschmitt Me 109 locked in a dogfight

Here’s a debate with a well-qualified atheist and Dr. Craig.

Video:

Audio:

Description from the Youtube upload:

This debate on “Does God Exist?” took place in front of a capacity audience at the Great Hall, University of Birmingham. It was recorded on Friday 21st October 2011 as part of the UK Reasonable Faith Tour with William Lane Craig.

William Lane Craig is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, La Mirada, California and a leading philosopher of religion. Peter Millican is Gilbert Ryle Professor of Philosophy at Hertford College, University of Oxford and a noted scholar in studies of Hume.

The debate was hosted by the University of Birmingham Student Philosophy Society, and the debate was moderated by Professor Carl Chinn.

Dr. Millican proved to be an amazing debater, and that allowed Dr. Craig to show the full range of his talents in a way that he has never done before. This was a great debate – right up there with Craig’s two debates against Austin Dacey and Paul Draper. Dr. Millican is excellent at analytical philosophy, had studied cosmology and physics, and he came prepared to answer Craig’s arguments. There is NO SNARK in my debate summary below, out of respect for Dr. Millican. However, I haven’t proof-read it, so please do point out any errors. There is about 30 minutes of Q&A time at the end.

Dr. Craig’s opening speech:

There are good reasons to believe that God exists.

There are no good reasons to believe that God does not exist.

A1) The origin of the universe

  1. The universe began to exist
  2. If the universe began to exist, then the universe has a transcendent cause.
  3. The universe has a transcendent cause.

The origin of the universe is confirmed by philosophical arguments and scientific evidence.

There cannot be an actual infinite number of past events, because mathematical operations like subtraction and division cannot be applied to actual infinities.

The Borde-Guth-Vilenkin (BGV) proof shows that every universe that expands must have a space-time boundary in the past. That means that no expanding universe, no matter what the model, cannot be eternal into the past.

Even speculative alternative cosmologies do not escape the need for a beginning.

The cause of the universe must be transcendent and supernatural. It must be uncaused, because there cannot be an infinite regress of causes. It must be eternal, because it created time. It must be non-physical, because it created space. There are only two possibilities for such a cause. It could be an abstract object or an agent. Abstract objects cannot cause effects. Therefore, the cause is an agent.

A2) The fine-tuning of the universe

  1. The fine-tuning of the universe is either due to law, chance or design.
  2. It is not due to law or chance.
  3. Therefore, it is due to design.

The progress of science has revealed that the Big Bang was fine-tuned to allow for the existence of intelligent life.

Type 1: Constants like the gravitational constant are finely-tuned, and are not dependent on the laws of physics.

Type 2: Quantities like the amount of entropy in the universe, are not dependent on the laws of physics.

The range of life-permitting values is incredibly small compared to the possible values of the constants and quantities. (Like having a lottery with a million black balls and one white ball, and you pick the white ball. Even though each individual ball has the same tiny chance of being picked, but the odds are overwhelming that the whichever ball you pick will be black, and not white).

Not only are the numbers not due to laws, but they are not due to chance either. It’s not just that the settings are unlikely, it’s that they are unlikely and they conform to an independent pattern – namely, the ability to support complex life.

A3) The moral argument

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

Objective moral values are values that exist independently of whether any humans believe them or not.

Michael Ruse, an atheist philosopher agrees that if God does not exist, then there is only a “herd morality” that is determined by biological evolution and social evolution. There no objective moral standard, just different customs and conventions that vary by time and place. Anyone who acts against the herd morality is merely being unfashionable and unconventional. On the atheistic view, there is nothing objective and binding about this evolved “herd morality”. However, people do experience objective moral values, and these cannot be grounded on atheism.

Furthermore, God must exist in order to argue that there is evil in the world. In order to be able to make a distinction between good and evil that is objective, there has to be a God to determine a standard of good and evil that is binding regardless of the varying customs and conventions of different people groups. Even when a person argues against God’s existence by pointing to the “evil” in the world, they must assume objective moral values, and a God who grounds those objective moral values.

A4) The resurrection of Jesus.

  1. There are certain minimal facts that are admitted by the majority of historians, across the ideological spectrum: the empty tomb, the appearances and the early belief in the resurrection.
  2. Naturalistic attempts to explain these minimal facts fail.
  3. The best explanation of these facts is that Jesus rose from the dead.

A5) Religious experience

People can know that God exists through experience. In the absence of defeaters for these experiences, these experiences constitute evidence for God’s existence.

Dr. Millican’s opening speech:

Dr. Craig has the burden of proof because he claims that God exists.

The Christian God hypothesis:

  1. An omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God created the universe.
  2. This God cares about humans.
  3. This God has acted in history though the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

This is a factual claim, and we are discussing the evidence for whether these claims are true or false. We are not interested in religious practice, or the consolation of religious belief, nor any other religions.

A1) Religious pluralism and epistemology

Human beings are purpose-finding creatures – we are prone to prefer explanations that involve purpose.

Human beings are pattern-finding animals – we tend to find designs in states of affairs.

Human beings have an interest in maintaining religious hierarchies because of the power it gives them.

Religious beliefs are not determined by rational considerations, but are determined by geographic location.

The same non-scientific method of generating religious beliefs (purpose-finding, pattern-finding, geographic location, parental teaching, charismatic speakers, praise songs and worship, religious education, ancient holy books) is being used in several religions, and it leads to different, contradictory truth claims. So at least some of those conflicting claims are false. And if the method is generating some false claims, then it’s not a good method, and it undermines all the religions that use those methods.

A2) Absence of evidence is evidence of absence

There is no scientific evidence for God.

A3) Mental processes depend on physical systems

There is no scientific evidence for a disembodied intelligence.

Our universal human experience is that intelligence and mental operations require a physical brain.

The quality of our thinking depends on physical conditions, like being tired or on drugs.

But Christian theists believe that mental processes can exist independently of an underlying physical reality, unimpaired by the death of the physical body and the brain.

R.A1) The origin of the universe

1. There is no evidence that whatever begins to exist requires a cause. All the evidence we have of things beginning to exist are when something is created from rearrangements of other things that already existed.

The closest analog we have to something coming into being from nothing is quantum particles coming into being from nothing, and that causation is random.

There is no evidence that thoughts can bring about physical effects, and Bill is arguing for a mental cause to the origin of the universe.

Even if things that begin to exist IN the universe have causes, it doesn’t hold for the universe as a whole. Bill is committing the fallacy of composition.

Time begins with the universe, but our experience of causation is that it is a temporal process. So if there is no time “prior to” the universe’s beginning, then how can there be a cause to the universe?

It’s possible that there could be something outside our universe that is eternal.

It’s also possible that the Big Bang could be wrong, and this universe could oscillate eternally and not require a beginning.

2. There are cosmological theories that avoid the beginning of the universe by positing a prior period of contraction prior to the Big Bang.

The beginning of this universe depends on general relativity, and that theory breaks down at the level of quantum mechanics.

3. There is no evidence that minds can exist without an underlying physical system. So even if there is a cause of the universe, then it is neither an abstract object nor a mind. It would have to be something else, and not something we are familiar with – we are just not in a position to speculate of what it could be.

R.A3) The moral argument

Atheists do believe in a standard of morality that is not based on what groups of humans believe.

Utilitarians think there is a standard of moral values that is objective, because the measure of human happiness (for the greatest number) is objective, even if people are mistaken about what promotes that happiness.

Kantians have a rational process for determining which moral imperatives should be universalized.

Humeans have a system that is rooted in natural human sentiment.

Dr. Craig’s first rebuttal:

I do not have the only burden of proof. The topic is “Does God Exist?”. If Dr. Millican answers “no” then he has a burden of proof, otherwise we are left with agnosticism.

R.A1) Religious pluralism and epistemology

First, there is no single common method of adopting a religion.

Second, MY method this evening is logic and evidence and personal experience – which is the same as his method. So his comments about how people in different religions adopt their religion through parents, church, singing, etc. have no bearing on the arguments I will be making.

R.A2) Absence of evidence is evidence of absence

Absence of evidence is only evidence of absence if we can reasonably expect that there should be some evidence that is not present. He would have to show that there should be more evidence for God’s existence that the 5 arguments that I already presented – something that we should expect to see that we don’t see.

R.A3) Mental processes depend on physical systems

No response by Dr. Craig. (but see below)

A1) The origin of the universe

1. He says that there are speculative cosmologies like the multiverse that escape the need for a beginning, but that’s false, the BGV proof applies to them, and they do need a beginning.

He says that you can escape BGV by positing a contraction prior to the expansion. However Vilenkin says that any contraction phase is unstable and would introduce additional singularities that would hamper any later expansion phase.

He  says that we need a theory of quantum gravity in order to describe the early universe. But Vilenkin says that the BGV proof is independent of gravity as defined by general relativity.

He did not respond to the philosophical arguments for a beginning of the universe.

2. He says that we don’t have experience of things coming into being except from material causes. However, it would be even more difficult to explain the universe coming into being on atheism since you can’t appeal to a material cause nor to an efficient cause. Even Hume recognizes that things can’t pop into being without causes.

He talks about how in quantum physics virtual particles appear out of nothing. But that’s false, because the quantum vacuum in which virtual particles appear is not nothing, it is a sea of subatomic particles and energy. Quantum physics is not an exception to the idea that things that come into being require a cause.

He mentions the fallacy of composition. But I am not saying that everything in the universe has a cause, therefore the universe as a whole has a cause. I am saying that non-being has no capacity to bring something into being. Non-Being doesn’t even have the potential to bring something into being.

3. He says that there are no unembodied minds, so the cause of the universe can’t be an unembodied mind. But the argument concludes that there is a non-material cause, and it can’t be an abstract object, so it would have to be a mind.

In addition, we ourselves are unembodied minds.  This is because physical objects cannot have the properties that minds have, like the property of having feelings.

Material conceptions of mind don’t explain identity over time.

Material conceptions of mind don’t explain free will.

Material conceptions of mind don’t explain intentional states (thinking about something).

Material conceptions of mind don’t explain mental causation.

The best explanation for our own first person experience of the mental realm is a substance dualism. We are non-material minds, and we can cause effects in the physical world. And God does the same thing. He is a mind, and he causes physical effects.

A2) He gave no response.

A3) He says that there are atheistic theories of morality that don’t depend on the opinions of groups. But these theories all depend on the idea that human beings have instrinsic value – that they are the sorts of things to which moral considerations apply. Naturalism cannot ground this moral value – human beings are no more valuable any other animal.

Also, there are no objective moral obligations in naturalist systems of morality, because there is no one in authority to command them. Moral prescriptions require moral prescribers.

A4) He gave no response.

A5) He gave no response.

Dr. Millican’s first rebuttal:

R.A2) The fine-tuning argument

We have to be careful not to judge what counts as finely-tuned through our intuitions.

We have to be careful about reasoning for a sample size of this one observable universe.

We don’t really know about the full range of possibilities for these constants and quantities.

There might be other universes that we can’t observe that aren’t fine-tuned, and we just happen to be in the one that is fine-tuned.

The fine-tuning might be solved by future discoveries, like the inflationary cosmology removed some of the fine-tuning.

There might be a multiverse that we don’t have evidence for right now.

We need to be careful about using science to prove God because science might change in the future.

The universe is very big and mysterious.

This argument doesn’t prove that God is good. He could be evil = anti-God.

God created the universe inefficiently if his goal was to produce life.

God created the universe too big.

God created the universe too old.

God created too many galaxies and stars that are not hospitable to life.

If the universe were fine-tuned for life, then there should be more aliens.

If the universe were fine-tuned for life, then there are probably lots of alien civilizations. But then Jesus would have to appear to all of the aliens too.

R.A1) The origin of the universe

2. It’s not a big deal that you can get multiple solutions to equations involving subtraction of actual infinities. For example, the equation 0 x y = 0 has many solutions for y, but that doesn’t mean that multiplication doesn’t work in the real world.

A2) Absence of evidence is evidence of absence

I would expect that there would be more evidence than there is.

R.A1) The origin of the universe

2. The BVG proof might be overturned by future scientific discoveries. We have no reason to be confident in current physics.

I agree that the quantum vacuum is something and not nothing, but it’s similar to nothing.

We don’t have any reason to believe that things that come into being require causes – except for our universal experience that this is always the case.

3. As to the cause of the universe coming into being, you said that it could only be an abstract object or a mind, and it can’t be an abstract object because they don’t cause effects, so it must be a mind. But there are all sorts of things we’ve never thought of that it could be other than a mind.

I agree that mental properties are not physical properties and that epiphenomenalism is incorrect. Physical objects can have “algorithmic properties” as well as physical properties, it doesn’t mean that computers have minds.

Dr. Craig’s second rebuttal:

R.A2) Absence of evidence is evidence of absence

He expressed his personal opinion that there should be more evidence, but that’s not an argument.

God knows how people will respond to getting more evidence or less evidence and he has to be careful not to take away their free will to disbelieve by piling them up with coercive evidence. God’s goal is not just to convince people that he exists. God’s goal is to have people respond to him and pursue him.

A1) The origin of the universe

2. He said that multiple answers to equations are no problem. But the problem is that you can’t translate multiple answers into a real world context.

The problem is that you are subtracting an identical number from an identical number and getting contradictory results, and that cannot be translated into the real world, where subtraction always gives a definite single result.

He talks about how you can get multiple answers with multiplication by 0. But 0 is not a real quantity, it is just the absence of something, and that cannot translate into the real world, because it has no being.

He says that I am only using evidence from current physics. But that is the point – the evidence of current physics and cosmology supports the beginning of the universe.

3. He said that an umembodied mind can’t be the cause, but we are minds and we cause effects on our physical bodies.

In addition, the design argument supports the idea that the cause of the universe is intelligent.

A2) The fine-tuning of the universe

He says we should be cautious. Of course.

He says the probabilities can’t be assessed. But you can just take the current value and perturb it and see that the resulting universe loses its ability to support life, and you can test an entire range around the current value to see that that vast majority of values in the range don’t permit life.

He says that the current physics is not well-established, but there are so many examples of fine-tuning across so many different areas of science that it is not likely that all of them will be overturned, and the number of finely-tuned constants and quantities has been growing, not shrinking.

He says it doesn’t prove that God is good, and he’s right – that’s what the moral argument is for.

He says that God isn’t efficient enough, but efficiency is only important for those who have limited time and/or limited resources. But God has unlimited time and resources.

He says that the universe is too old, but the large age of the universe is a requirement to support intelligent life – (i.e. – you need third generation stars to provide a stable source of energy to planets, and those stars require that two generations of stars are born and die).

He said what about aliens, and theists are open to that, and God can certainly provide for the salvation of those beings, if they have fallen into sin.

Dr. Millican’s second rebuttal:

R.A1) The origin of the universe

3. Just because epiphenominalism is false, it doesn’t mean that substance dualism is true.

The majority of philosophers of mind do not accept substance dualism.

R.A3) The moral argument

The majority of philosophers are moral realists, but a minority of philosophers are theists. So that means that there must be some way of justifying morality on atheism, which I will not describe right now.

Atheists can express their opinion that humans have intrinsic moral value.

He grants that atheists can perceive moral values. But if atheists can perceive moral values, then why is God needed to enable that?

Atheists can express their opinion that humans are special. We can be rational, and that makes us special.

Atheists can express their opinion that it is good to care about other humans because they are of the same species.

R.A4) The resurrection of Jesus

We don’t have any reasons to believe i the supernatural.

The gospels are written late for the purposes of evangelism.

The gospels are not independent, e.g. Matthew and Luke depend on Q.

John is the latest gospel, and the Christology of John is the highest of all.

The four gospels agree because the early church rejected other (unnamed) gospels that didn’t agree.

Matthew 27 – the earthquake and the raised saints – is not recorded in any other contemporary non-Christian source.

Dr. Craig’s final rebuttal:

A3) The moral argument

He says that human beings are rational, and that gives them value. But atheists like Sam Harris prefer the flourishing of sentient life. He includes non-rational animals as having moral value. So without God, we see that the choice of who or what has moral value is arbitrary. And where would objective moral duties come from if there is no moral lawgiver?

The fact that most atheists accept objective moral values doesn’t mean that they can rationally ground those values on their atheistic worldview. You can’t provide a basis for moral values on atheism by counting the number of atheists who accept objective morality. It’s not surprising that atheists can perceive objective moral values IF they are living in auniverse created by God who grounds these objective moral values and duties that atheists perceive.

A4) The resurrection of Jesus

He cites Geza Vermes and Bart Ehrman as authorities on the historical Jesus, but both of them accept all three of the facts that I presented as minimal facts. Ehrman doesn’t accept the resurrection of Jesus because he presupposes naturalism. He rejects the resurrection on philosophical grounds, not historical grounds.

Dr. Millican’s final rebuttal:

R.A5) Religious experience

Religious experience is an unreliable way to test the claims of a religion, because lots of religions have them and they make contradictory truth claims. In the future, we may discover naturalistic ways of explaining religious experience.

R.A4) The resurrection of Jesus

Even if you can make a case for the resurrection based on these3  minimal facts, there are other stories in the New Testament like Matthew 27 that are quite weird and they undermine the 3 minimal facts that even Geza Vermes and Bart Ehrman accept.

R.A1) The origin of the universe

Bill hasn’t shown that there is any reason for thinking that things don’t come into being, uncaused, out of nothing.

A4) The problem of evil

Theists can’t explain what God’s specific morally sufficient reasons are for permitting the apparently gratuitous evil that we see.

Is Sam Harris successful at rationally grounding objective moral values and duties?

I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery
I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery

I just wanted to put out a few snips from this layperson-level article on the Reasonable Faith web site. The article is about atheist scholar Sam Harris, and his attempt to provide a basis for morality on atheism.

Here’s the Harris project:

The question then is, what is the best foundation for the existence of objective moral values and duties? What grounds them? What makes certain actions good or evil, right or wrong? Traditionally, God has been the highest Good (summum bonum) and His commandments constitutive of our moral duties. But if God does not exist, what foundation remains for objective moral values and duties?

Dr. Craig is able to show why Harris’ attempt to ground the objective moral value of humans in “human flourishing” fails, by using the law of identity to show that Harris’ rule doesn’t account for the possibility that those who do evil could possibly flourish and be happy. If Harris is right that objective morality is identical to human flourishing, then it cannot even be possible that this be the case. This can be a bit confusing to non-philosophers, though, so I’ll focus on Dr. Craig’s argument against Harris’ attempt to ground objective moral duties.

Dr. Craig writes:

That takes us to a second question: Does atheism provide a sound foundation for objective moral duties? Duty has to do with moral obligation and prohibition, what I ought or ought not to do. Here reviewers of The Moral Landscape have been merciless in pounding Harris’ attempt to provide a naturalistic account of moral obligation. Two problems stand out.

First: Natural science tells us only what is, not what ought to be, the case. As philosopher Jerry Fodor has written, “Science is about facts, not norms; it might tell us how we are, but it wouldn’t tell us what is wrong with how we are.” In particular it cannot tell us that we have a moral obligation to take actions that are conducive to human flourishing.

So if there is no God, what foundation remains for objective moral duties? On the naturalistic view, human beings are just animals, and animals have no moral obligations to one another. When a lion kills a zebra, it kills the zebra, but it does not murder the zebra. When a great white shark forcibly copulates with a female, it forcibly copulates with her but it does not rape her — for there is no moral dimension to these actions. They are neither prohibited nor obligatory.

So if God does not exist, why think we have any moral obligations to do anything? Who or what imposes these moral duties on us? Where do they come from? It is hard to see why they would be anything more than a subjective impression ingrained into us by societal and parental conditioning.

So we might feel morally obligated to do something, maybe what our herd expects of us in this time and place we live in. But on atheism those feelings are arbitrary. After all, societies have evolved where feelings of obligation are felt by people to perform suicide bombings against civilians. On atheism, those feelings are as valid and grounded as any other “duties” because they emerge from the same process in other times and places. Obligations change between time and place – they are not objectively real. But that means that our moral duties are not objective, they are arbitrary – if atheism is true. The same “socio-biological evolution” is generating opposite moral duties in different times and places. This is not “objective”.

And the second objection is even more lethal:

Second: “ought” implies “can.” A person is not morally responsible for an action he is unable to avoid. For example, if somebody shoves you into another person, you are not to blame for bumping into this person. You had no choice. But Harris believes that all of our actions are causally determined and that there is no free will. Harris rejects not only libertarian accounts of freedom but also compatibilistic accounts of freedom. But if there is no free will, no one is morally responsible for anything. In the end, Harris admits this, though it’s tucked away in his endnotes. Moral responsibility, he says, “is a social construct,” not an objective reality: “in neuroscientific terms no person is more or less responsible than any other” for the actions they perform. His thoroughgoing determinism spells the end of any hope or possibility of objective moral duties on his worldview because we have no control over what we do.

Harris recognizes that “determinism really does threaten free will and responsibility as we intuitively understand them.” But not to worry! “The illusion of free will is itself an illusion.” The point, I take it, is that we do not really have the illusion of free will. Not only is such a claim patently false phenomenologically, as any of us can attest, but it is also irrelevant. The fact remains that whether we experience the illusion of free will or not, on Harris’ view we are thoroughly determined in all that we think and do and can therefore have no moral responsibilities.

On Harris’ view, human beings are computers made out of meat. But if you cannot freely make moral choices, then you cannot choose to perform moral duties or not. What is amazing to me is why he wants to deny free will in the first place. He is surely very well aware of his own experience of free will, and his own consciousness, for that matter. Before we even start to look at scientific evidences against atheism like the origin of the universe, the cosmic fine-tuning, the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion, etc. we already have evidence within ourselves that naturalism is false.

Just in passing, my friend Micah sent me this article about Sam Harris’ academic credentials. Although Harris has a PhD in neuroscience, the underlying reality is a bit more complicated. When I watched him debate William Lane Craig, he seemed to be ignorant of simple problems with his utilitarian moral views, and his inability to ground libertarian free will. The problems with utilitarianism have been known for hundreds of years. You can watch the debate yourself and see if you think he was prepared or not.

New study: belief in free will linked to ability to behave morally and to help others

J. Warner Wallace: God's Crime Scene
J. Warner Wallace: God’s Crime Scene

This is a re-post because I am travelling today.

A while back I finished reading “God’s Crime Scene”, the new book by J. Warner Wallace. I wanted to post something about some studies he mentioned in Chapter 6, on free will. This is one of the places where he found evidence in a surprising area.

Wallace says that free will makes more sense if theism is true, because we have non-material souls that interact with our bodies, but are not causally determined by them. On atheism, only matter exists, and you can’t get free will (or consciousness) from matter. So atheists like Sam Harris and Alex Rosenberg, for example, deny free will, because they are materialists and atheists.

Anyway, here’s what he writes on p. 256:

In 2008, researchers from the University of Minnesota and the University of British Columbia conducted experiments highlighting the relationship between a belief in determinism and immoral behavior. They found students who were exposed to deterministic literature prior to taking a test were more likely to cheat on the test than students who were not exposed to literature advocating determinism. The researchers concluded those who deny free will are more inclined to believe their efforts to act morally are futile and are, therefore, less likely to do so.

In addition, a study conducted by researchers from Florida State University and the University of Kentucky found participants who were exposed to deterministic literature were more likely to act aggressively and less likely to be helpful toward others.” Even determinist Michael Gazzaniga conceded: “It seems that not only do we believe we control our actions, but it is good for everyone to believe it.”” The existence of free will is a common characteristic of our experience, and when we deny we have this sort of free agency, there are detrimental consequences.

I decided to look up these studies.

Here’s the abstract for first study: (2008)

Does moral behavior draw on a belief in free will? Two experiments examined whether inducing participants to believe that human behavior is predetermined would encourage cheating. In Experiment 1, participants read either text that encouraged a belief in determinism (i.e., that portrayed behavior as the consequence of environmental and genetic factors) or neutral text. Exposure to the deterministic message increased cheating on a task in which participants could passively allow a flawed computer program to reveal answers to mathematical problems that they had been instructed to solve themselves. Moreover, increased cheating behavior was mediated by decreased belief in free will. In Experiment 2, participants who read deterministic statements cheated by overpaying themselves for performance on a cognitive task; participants who read statements endorsing free will did not. These findings suggest that the debate over free will has societal, as well as scientific and theoretical, implications.

And the abstract for the second study: (2009)

Laypersons’ belief in free will may foster a sense of thoughtful reflection and willingness to exert energy, thereby promoting helpfulness and reducing aggression, and so disbelief in free will may make behavior more reliant on selfish, automatic impulses and therefore less socially desirable. Three studies tested the hypothesis that disbelief in free will would be linked with decreased helping and increased aggression. In Experiment 1, induced disbelief in free will reduced willingness to help others. Experiment 2 showed that chronic disbelief in free will was associated with reduced helping behavior. In Experiment 3, participants induced disbelief in free will caused participants to act more aggressively than others. Although the findings do not speak to the existence of free will, the current results suggest that disbelief in free will reduces helping and increases aggression.

So what to make of this?

If you’re an atheist, then your worldview is telling you that what you are doing now is the result of genetic programming and sensory inputs. You’re not conscious. You can’t reason. You make no free choices, including moral choices. Naturally, someone who believes this is going to struggle with prescriptive morality, including self-sacrificial care and concern for others. Their worldview undermines the rationality of the moral point of view. You might find atheists acting morally for their own purposes, but their worldview doesn’t rationally ground it. This is a big problem for people who can see objective morality woven into the universe – and themselves – because they have the awareness of objective right and wrong.

I think what atheists like to say is “I can be moral, too”. That’s not interesting. What is interesting is whether it is rational for you to be moral when things start to get a bit uncomfortable. When I look at the adultery of Dawkins, the polyamory of Carrier, the divorces of Shermer and Atkins, etc. I am not seeing anything that really wows me. They all deny free will of course, and think that trying to resist temptation is a waste of time. What difference would it make if they did, anyway – there’s no afterlife on atheism.

Wallace explains how the awareness of free will and moral choices caused him to turn away from atheism, in this blog post.

He writes:

As an atheist, I chose to cling to naturalism, in spite of the fact that I lived each day as though I was capable of using my mind to make moral choices based on more than my own opinion. In addition, I sought meaning and purpose beyond my own hedonistic preferences, as though meaning was to be discovered, rather than created. I called myself a naturalist while embracing three characteristics of reality that simply cannot be explained by naturalism. As a Christian, I’m now able to acknowledge the “grounding” for these features of reality. My philosophical worldview is consistent with my practical experience of the world.

I think atheists who want to be honest about their own experience of first-person consciousness, free will, moral realism, etc. will do well to just accept that theism rationally grounds all of these things, and so you should accept theism. Theism is real. If you like morality, and want to be a virtuous person, then you should accept theism.