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 in the first part of his article, but I want to focus on the second part. Can Sam Harris’ atheism rationally ground his claim that human can make genuine moral choices?
Dr. Craig writes:
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.
Here’s a debate with a well-qualified atheist and Dr. Craig.
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
The universe began to exist
If the universe began to exist, then the universe has a transcendent cause.
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
The fine-tuning of the universe is either due to law, chance or design.
It is not due to law or chance.
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
If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
Objective morality does exist.
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.
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.
Naturalistic attempts to explain these minimal facts fail.
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:
An omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God created the universe.
This God cares about humans.
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.
The episode of the Ben Shapiro show that we’ve all been waiting for is here! They discuss arguments for God’s existence in the first 25 minutes. The spend the first 26 minutes on arguments for God,and the next 16 minutes on Christian distinctives. They spend a bunch more time responding to common arguments for atheism, and finally Ben asks Dr. Craig how he became a Christian.
William Lane Craig, philosopher, theologian, and best selling author of numerous books including “On Guard: Defending Your Faith With Reason And Precision,” joins Ben to discuss the hard sciences vs. philosophy, the cosmological and ontological arguments, Jesus, slavery, gay marriage, and much more.
Why are we seeing such a decline in religious belief in America?
Why are mainline denominations in Christianity and Judaism emptying out?
What was the driver behind the move away from religion starting in the 1960s?
Why is their a gap in the university and in the broader culture between reason and religious belief?
What is the strongest argument for God’s existence?
What is the most compelling argument for God’s existence for this culture?
Respond to Richard Dawkins’ challenge that God needs a cause.
Why does the universe have to have a cause?
Does Darwinian evolution provide grounds for our awareness of objective moral values and duties?
What is the strongest objection to the cosmological argument?
What is the strongest objection to the moral argument?
What about the objection that the existence of the universe is just a “brute fact” and doesn’t need an explanation for it’s existence?
What about David Hume’s objection to the law of causality?
What about objections to the cause of the universe from apparently uncaused events in quantum mechanics?
What is the ontological argument, and why is it frequently dismissed?
How do we get from an unmoved mover to a moral God?
Which arguments show that God is a mind?
How do you show that God is present and active in time now?
How do you move from God as Creator, Designer and moral lawgiver to a God who has revealed himself to human beings?
Who does Jesus claim to be in the gospels, and what is the evidence that his claims were correct?
From the Jewish perspective, this narrative has some problems. First, merely declaring yourself as the Messiah is not seen as a punishable offense.
Second, the real problem is that Jesus vision of himself as the Messiah is completely different than how Jews have understood the Messiah. The Messiah in Judaism has always been a political figure who is destined to restore the Kingdom of Israel, bringing more Jews back to Israel, etc. Claiming to be God, though would be blasphemy and a punishable offense.
Why is resurrection proof of divinity? Wasn’t Lazarus also raised from the dead?
The gospels were written decades after the events they claim to describe. Should we still see them as reliable enough to infer that the resurrection really happened?
Couldn’t legends have been introduced in the gap between the events and the time that the events were recorded?
Is it enough for us to have a Creator God, or is there a reason for God to reveal himself to us?
Tell us about your experience debating atheist scholars on university campuses.
Has any an atheist ever caused you to doubt your arguments?
The problem of human evil is easy to respond to, but how do you respond to the problem of natural evil, i.e. – suffering from events in the natural world, such as birth defects or natural disasters.
Atheists like to bring up specific disagreements they have with the Bible, e.g. – same-sex marriage, abortion, slavery, genocide. How would you respond to those?
Regarding slavery in the Bible, isn’t it the case that people sometimes do things that are not prescribed by God, and the Bible merely records that?
How would you respond then to people who push for same-sex marriage by arguing that this is a case where God wanted same-sex marriage, but couldn’t press for it because the people were not capable at that time and in that culture?
When discussing specific issues of morality, do you try to argue from a natural law perspective or from the morality in the Bible?
How would you respond to someone like Jordan Peterson who approaches religion teachings pragmatically, focusing on behaviors rather than the rational grounding of those behaviors?
How do you speak to young people about God without them losing interest?
How did you become a Christian?
As the influence of Judeo-Christian religion recedes, what do you see filling the void, and how do you see that affecting Western civilization going forward?
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.
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.
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 you are a physical object. And like every other physical object in the universe, your behavior is determined by genetic programming (if you’re alive) and external inputs. Material objects do not have the ability to make free choices, including moral choices.
And that’s what neurobiology is telling us: Our brains are simply meat computers that, like real computers, are programmed by our genes and experiences to convert an array of inputs into a predetermined output. Recent experiments involving brain scans show that when a subject “decides” to push a button on the left or right side of a computer, the choice can be predicted by brain activity at least seven seconds before the subject is consciously aware of having made it. (These studies use crude imaging techniques based on blood flow, and I suspect that future understanding of the brain will allow us to predict many of our decisions far earlier than seven seconds in advance.) “Decisions” made like that aren’t conscious ones. And if our choices are unconscious, with some determined well before the moment we think we’ve made them, then we don’t have free will in any meaningful sense.
Atheist William Provine says atheists have no free will, no moral accountability and no moral significance:
Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear — and these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.
If you don’t have free will, then you can’t make moral choices, and you can’t be held morally responsible. No free will means no morality. Can you imagine trying to get into any sort of enterprise with someone who has this view of moral choices? A marriage, or a business arrangement, etc? It would be crazy to expect them to behave morally, when they don’t even think that moral choices is possible. It just excuses all sorts of bad behavior, because no one is responsible for choosing to do the right thing.
Believers in materialism are 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.
Choosing to do the right thing
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 doing the right thing sets you back. 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 about their ability to do the right thing when it was hard for them to do it. They all deny free will of course, and think that trying to resist temptation is a waste of time.
Wallace explains how the awareness of free will and moral choices caused him to turn away from atheism, in this blog post.
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.
The topic: What are the arguments that make belief in God reasonable or unreasonable?
First speech: arguments for reasonableness of belief in God
Second speech: respond to arguments against reasonableness of belief in God
Contingency argument: God – a transcendent, personal being – is the explanation of why a contingent universe exists.
Cosmological argument: God is the cause of the beginning of the universe, which is attested by physics and cosmology.
Applicability of mathematics to nature: God is the best explanation for the applicability of mathematics to nature.
Fine-tuning argument: God is the best explanation of the fine-tuning of the universe to permit life.
Intentionality of conscious states: God is the best explanation of the intentionality of our mental states.
The moral argument: God is the best explanation for the existence of objective moral values and duties.
The resurrection of Jesus: God is the best explanation for the core of historical facts accepted by most ancient historians across the ideological spectrum.
Religious experience: God is the best explanation of our immediate experience and knowledge of his existence.
Dr. Rosenberg’s opening speech
First argument: The fallacy of ad hominem
I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry
Dr. Craig has said all of that before in other debates
You didn’t need to come out on this cold night
Craig’s arguments have all been refuted
Dr. Craig just doesn’t listen
Dr. Craig is not interested in getting at the truth
Dr. Craig is just interested in scoring debate points
The adversarial system is the wrong approach to decide truth
Dr. Craig is very confident about his take of physics
Second argument: The fallacy of arguing from authority
95% of members of the NAS are atheists
Therefore Dr. Craig cannot use science
Third argument: Effects don’t require causes
I am going to pretend that Craig said that “every effect requires a cause”
Quantum mechanics shows that some effects occur without causes
A particle of uranium (which is not nothing, it is something) decays without a cause
This uncaused effect is the same as the universe coming into being out of nothing uncaused
Therefore the principle of sufficient reason is false
Fourth argument: Silicon-based life and the multiverse
If these constants had been different, maybe we would have other kinds of intelligent life, like silicon-based life
Carbon-based life is not the only kind of life, maybe you can have other kinds of life, none of which have been observed
There could be different kinds of life in other areas of the universe that we can’t see
There are things we can’t see that disprove the current physics that we can see
Quantum foam is evidence that a multiverse exists
The multiverse would solve the problem of fine-tuning
Fifth argument: The Euthyphro dilemma
The moral argument is refuted by Euthyphro dilemma
Dr. Craig is such a moron that he has never heard of the Euthyphro dilemma ever before
This is found in the first and simplest of Plato’s dialogs
Why is Dr. Craig so stupid that he has not read this simple dialog ever before?
Evolution explains why humans evolve arbitrary customs and conventions that vary by time and place
Alternative moral theories: utilitarianism, social contract, etc. that don’t require God
Sixth argument: Mormonism undermines Dr. Craig’s three minimal facts about Jesus
Why is Dr. Craig so stupid and ignorant to persist in pushing such an ignorant, stupid argument?
Mormonism is a silly religion that is not historically well founded
Therefore, Jesus was not buried
Islam is a silly religion that is not historically grounded
Therefore, the tomb was not found empty
Scientology is a silly religion that is not historically grounded
Therefore, the eyewitnesses didn’t have post-mortem appearances
Eyewitness testimony is unreliable in some cases
Therefore, eyewitness testimony was unreliable in this case
Apparitions of Mary are bizarre
Therefore, the majority of historians are wrong to think that the disciples saw post-mortem appearances
Seventh argument: Deductive problem of evil
Evil and suffering are logically incompatible with an all good, all powerful God
Eight argument: God is not just to allow evil and suffering
God cannot make the evils of this life right in the afterlife
Dr. Craig’s first rebuttal
Dr. Rosenberg sketched the deductive argument from evil.
Dr. Rosenberg presupposes naturalism. Naturalism is a false theory of knowledge:
1. It’s too restrictive: There are truths that cannot be proved by natural science.
2. It’s self-refuting: no scientific proof for naturalism exists.
That’s why epistemological naturalism is considered false by most philosophers of science.
But more importantly than that: Epistemological naturalism does not imply metaphysical naturalism. (E.g. – W. Quine)
Dr. Rosenberg has to present arguments in favor of (metaphysical) naturalism, not just assume that (metaphysical) naturalism is true.
Dr. Craig presented eight arguments against metaphysical naturalism taken from Rosenberg’s own book:
1. The argument from the intentionality (aboutness) of mental states implies non-physical minds (dualism), which is incompatible with naturalism
2. The existence of meaning in language is incompatible with naturalism, Rosenberg even says that all the sentences in his own book are meaningless
3. The existence of truth is incompatible with naturalism
4. The argument from moral praise and blame is incompatible with naturalism
5. Libertarian freedom (free will) is incompatible with naturalism
6. Purpose is incompatible with naturalism
7. The enduring concept of self is incompatible with naturalism
8. The experience of first-person subjectivity (“I”) is incompatible with naturalism
Metaphysical naturalism is false: it is irrational and it contradicts our experience of ourselves.
And epistemological naturalism is compatible with theism.
Rebutting Dr. Rosenberg’s responses:
1. Contingency: no response
2. Cosmological: he mis-states the first premise to say every effect… when it is whatever begins to exist…, the origin of the universe was not from a vacuum, virtual particles come from a vacuum not nothing, there are interpretations of QM that are compatible with determinism. Rosenberg has to believe that the entire universe popped into being from non-being.
3. Mathematics: no response
4. Fine-tuning: the multiverse is refuted by empirical observations of the universe. Without fine-tuning, it’s not that we still have silicon to make life out of. It’s that we lose basic minimal things like chemical diversity, matter, stars, planets, etc. No life of any kind, not just no carbon-based life.
5. Intentionality: no response.
6. Moral argument: the answer to the dilemma is that you split the dilemma: God is the standard of good, and the commands flow from his unchanging moral nature. The commands are not arbitrary, and the standard is not external to God. Dr. Rosenberg is a nihilist and he cannot ground good and evil on his nihilistic view.
7. Resurrection: The Gospels are early eyewitness testimony. Mormonism and Islam have nothing to do with the minimal set of historical facts about Jesus agreed to by the majority of ancient historians across the ideological spectrum, general statements against eyewitnesses do not refute the specific eyewitness testimony in this case.
8. Religious experience: No response.
Dr. Rosenberg’s first rebuttal
I wrote a book and you should buy it, because it got me invited to this debate. Let me repeat the title a few times for you. Please buy it.
Dr. Craig is right, there are multiple interpretations of QM, not just the one I presented, including deterministic ones.
All the disturbing implications of naturalism that Dr. Craig stated follow from metaphysical naturalism, and metaphysical naturalism is true. (Note: he equates science with metaphysical naturalism)
Science proves that metaphysical naturalism is true, but I won’t say what specific scientific tests prove my philosophical assumption of metaphysical naturalism.
I’ll pretend that the Big Bang (science) doesn’t disprove naturalism, like Dr. Craig said. Again. (covers ears) La la la, there is no Big Bang.
We didn’t come here to debate epistemological naturalism and metaphysical naturalism.
Let me explain the problem of intentionality since I’m so smart and no one knows what it means.
There are many answers to this problem of intentionality.
My answer is that most scientists are naturalists, therefore naturalism is true, regardless of the argument from intentionality of mental states.
That’s how I would respond to one of the eight problems with naturalism that Dr. Craig raised. I won’t answer the other seven problems.
It is an argument from ignorance to argue that the applicability of mathematics to the universe requires a designer, because there are non-Euclidean geometries. Craig’s argument, which he gets from people like respected physicists like Eugene Wigner, is bizarre. It is bizarre, therefore I refute Eugene Wigner and all the other scholars who make that argument. It is bizarre! Bizarre!
Deductive problem of evil: there is no response to this argument, certainly not Alvin Plantinga’s free will defense. The deductive argument from evil has not been entirely abandoned at all! It’s not like arch-atheist J.L. Mackie himself admits that the deductive problem of evil doesn’t lead to a logical inconsistency between evil and God.
Dr. Craig has to tell me why God allows evil or God doesn’t exist.
It is offensive that Dr. Craig cannot tell me why God allows every evil and suffering that occurs.
He literally said this: “I will become a Christian if Dr. Craig can tell me why God allowed EVERY EVIL THAT OCCURRED IN THE LAST 3.5 BILLION YEARS”
Dr. Craig’s second rebuttal
We are not in a position to know why God allows specific instances of evil and suffering.
God cannot force people to freely do anything – freedom is not compatible with determinism. Freedom is a good, but freedom opens up the possibility of moral evil. You cannot have the good of free will without allowing people to choose to do morally evil things.
God can permit evil and suffering in order to bring more people into a relationship with him.
The atheist has to show that God could allow less evil and achieve more knowledge of God in order to say there is too much evil.
The purpose of life is not happiness, but knowledge of God.
Dr. Craig quotes agnostic Paul Draper (Purdue) and Peter Van Inwagen (Notre Dame) to state that the deductive problem of evil is dead because of free will and morally sufficient reasons for permitting evil.
1. Contingency: no response.
2. Cosmological: QM does not apply, because the universe came from nothing, not a vacuum, and QM only works in a vacuum.
3. Mathematics: He mentions alternatives like non-Euclidean geometry, but we have to explain the structure of THIS universe.
4. Fine-tuning: ???
5. Intentional states: intentional mental states proves that minds exist, which fits with theism better than it fits with atheism.
6. Moral argument: You need God to ground morality, and Dr. Rosenberg believes in morality. He needs God to ground objective moral values and duties.
7. Historical argument: He has to respond to the minimal facts supported by the consensus of ancient historians across the ideological spectrum.
8. The problems of naturalism: He says that you can’t have science without naturalism, but you can have science with EPISTEMOLOGICAL NATURALISM, and theists accept science and methodological naturalism. We don’t accept METAPHYSCIAL NATURALISM because of the eight problems Craig presented, like intentionality, first-person, persistence of self, etc. You can believe in both science and theism, by embracing epistemological naturalism, while rejecting methaphysical naturalism.
Dr. Rosenberg’s second rebuttal
Dr. Craig hasn’t answered many of my points, I won’t say which ones though.
Debates don’t work as a way of deciding what’s true, so we should overturn the entire criminal justice system.
The principle of sufficient reason is false because it is disconfirmed by quantum mechanics. And quantum mechanics (vacuum and virtual particles that exist for a short time) is similar to the origin of the universe (nothing and entire universe and 14 billion years).
We know that alpha particles come into being without cause all the time from a quantum vacuum for a tiny sub-second duration before going out of existence, so we can say that the entire physical universe came into being for 14 billion years from absolute nothing which is not a quantum vacuum.
Peter Van Inwagen is the best metaphysician working today, and he says that my deductive argument from evil is not decisive, it’s not a successful argument. (Why is he undermining his own problem of evil argument????!)
Dr. Craig invoked Plantinga’s free will defense to the deductive POE. Freedom allows us to do evil. God could have given us free will without evil and suffering. I won’t show how, but I’ll just assert it, because debates are such a bad forum for supplying evidence for my speculative assertions.
If you answer the question 3 + 5 as being 8, then you don’t have free will – you are biologically determined if you answer 8, because everyone answers 8, and that means everyone is biologically determined with no free will.
Why can’t God give us free will and then prevent us from making a free choice?
No scholars date the gospels earlier than 60-70 AD, especially not atheists like James Crossley who dates Mark to 40 AD. Therefore Jesus’ burial isn’t historical, like the majority of scholars across the broad spectrum of scholarship agree it is.
The original New Testament documents were written in Aramaic.
All New Testament scholars are orthodox Christians, like atheist Robert Funk for example.
Dr. Craig’s concluding speech
In order to sustain the deductive argument from evil, Dr. Rosenberg must show that God could create a world of free creatures with less evil.
Principle of Sufficient Reason: not using the general principle of sufficient reason, but a more modest version of this states that contingent things should have an explanation for their existence. And we know that the universe is a contingent.
The New Testament was not written in Aramaic, they were written in Greek. Dr. Rosenberg is wrong there too.
(Dr. Craig spends the rest of his concluding speech giving his testimony and urging people to investigate the New testament).
Dr. Rosenberg’s concluding speech
Some long-dead French guy named Laplace said that he has no need of that (God) hypothesis. He did not know about any of Dr. Craig’s arguments made in this debate tonight when he said that, though.
There is no need to explain how the universe began or how the universe is finely-tuned if you just assume metaphysical naturalism on faith.
The Easter Bunny, therefore atheism.
Most scientists are atheists, therefore atheism.
You can do a lot of science without God, just don’t look at the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe, or the other parts of science that Craig mentioned, as well as the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion, the habitability argument, and so on.
You can be a Christian, but good Christians should not use arguments and evidence.
Good Christians should be irrational and ignorant. Bad Christians look for arguments and evidence from science and history.
Good Christians should embrace the absurd. Bad Christians want to search for truth and use logic and evidence.