Monday, February 8, 2010

Atheism and Moral Skepticism

In this post I will argue that if one is an atheist then they ought to be a skeptic with respect to moral facts. But it seems that moral skepticism is false and hence if atheism entails moral skepticism then atheism is false.

P1: If God does not exists then moral skepticism obtains
P2: It is false that moral skepticism obtains
C: Hence, God exists


The argument is as follows:

P1: If God does not exists then moral skepticism obtains

If atheism is true then there is no good reason to trust our moral intuitions because moral facts or objective moral propositions do not have causal control over anything. In other words, they are causally impotent. These moral facts or objective moral propositions are impersonal, necessary, immaterial, and transcend the physical world. There seems to be no thing in the natural world alone to ensure in any sense that we will have reliable moral intuitions that correspond to the objective moral propositions. Moral skepticism is the position that we do know what is in fact right or wrong. Hence, if atheism is true we do not know what is in fact right or wrong.

P2: It is false that moral skepticism obtains

Premise 2 seem more reasonable to affirm than it's negation because the truth that 1+1=2 seems just as clear as it is wrong to torture a infant for no good reason. These truths are obvious and apparent to us. Hence, it seems that I know more that it's wrong to torture infants for no good reason than I know that moral skepticism is a reasonable position.

C: Hence, God exists

If God exists then he is a necessary immaterial personal being that has causal power and causes us to have reliable moral faculties. Theism provides us with moral knowledge rather than moral skepticism. Hence, because I have moral knowledge this entails the truth of theism.



12 comments:

  1. Premise 1 is false. There's a long list of accounts of moral facts that depend on the existence of God. Kantian, virtue ethical theories, social contract theories, Rawls, Hobbes, Hume, Mill, etc. all give moral theories and assert the reality of moral facts without any reliance on God.

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  2. Hello Matt,

    We develop ethical theories that account for our present moral intuitions. If our cognitive faculties are not brought about or directed to have our intuitions correspond or connection to moral facts then we would have no reason for trusting our moral reasoning or the theories that would be a result of our moral reasoning. Hence, it seems to me that you have not given any good reason for thinking that premise 1 is false and I have given reason for thinking it true. In order to show that my premise is false a defeater would need to be provided. I look forward to your thoughts on this. Thank you for your time.

    God Bless,

    Nate

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  3. If I follow, your first premise is that atheism allows for moral relativity( Not so much skepticism).

    Atheism provides that we do not know an absolute right from wrong. However, there are still morals(many differing) among atheists and all societies and cultures regardless of religion, hence the truth of moral relativism. Morals are not arbitrarily derived from an omnipotent, omniscient being, but a product of cultural and societal symbiosis with the goal of progression and hence organization and harmony with morals, rules, laws, principles etc as natural tools that allow for this.

    Your second premise is faulty because you arbitrarily equate a mathematical fact (1+1=2) with a “correctness” of your personal moral. If moral relativism obtains as the first premise says, no moral can never be equated as fact or be “obvious” or “apparent” as you say. Take for example the Senjero Tribe of Africa that sacrificed their newborns for a bountiful harvest.

    http://www.deathreference.com/Ho-Ka/Infanticide.html

    They had no moral qualms with killing their own infant children, yet you and I would condemn it as morally wrong. This only further proves the idea of moral relativism and we cannot know an actual right from wrong except by our own subjective determinations as a society.
    Thus theism of any sort, provides a moral “knowledge” that is as subjective and relative as any other and fails to prove God exists

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  4. Hello There,

    I responded to your comments below.

    If I follow, your first premise is that atheism allows for moral relativity( Not so much skepticism).

    Atheism provides that we do not know an absolute right from wrong. However, there are still morals(many differing) among atheists and all societies and cultures regardless of religion, hence the truth of moral relativism. Morals are not arbitrarily derived from an omnipotent, omniscient being, but a product of cultural and societal symbiosis with the goal of progression and hence organization and harmony with morals, rules, laws, principles etc as natural tools that allow for this.

    Response: It would seem that moral skepticism would lead one to descriptive and meta-ethical moral relativism, but not to normative relativism. So I do not see how anything you have said above is a defeater of my argument.

    Your second premise is faulty because you arbitrarily equate a mathematical fact (1+1=2) with a “correctness” of your personal moral. If moral relativism obtains as the first premise says, no moral can never be equated as fact or be “obvious” or “apparent” as you say. Take for example the Senjero Tribe of Africa that sacrificed their newborns for a bountiful harvest.

    http://www.deathreference.com/Ho-Ka/Infanticide.html

    They had no moral qualms with killing their own infant children, yet you and I would condemn it as morally wrong. This only further proves the idea of moral relativism and we cannot know an actual right from wrong except by our own subjective determinations as a society.
    Thus theism of any sort, provides a moral “knowledge” that is as subjective and relative as any other and fails to prove God exists

    Response: Certain eastern Religion reject the law of non-contradiction and there could be a crazy person that does not think that 1+1=2, but we do not conclude that the necessary truth of 1+1=2 and of the law of non-contradiction is truth relative. Moral truths, logical truths, and mathmatical truths are derived by faculties of intuition so the same skepticism applied to one can be applied to the others. Citing a tribe in African that murders baby is not a defeater because the tribes people could either be mistaken, insane, or immoral..either way this is not a defeater of premise 2. Thanks for your time.

    God Bless,

    Nathanael P. Taylor

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  5. "Response: Certain eastern Religion reject the law of non-contradiction and there could be a crazy person that does not think that 1+1=2, but we do not conclude that the necessary truth of 1+1=2 and of the law of non-contradiction is truth relative. Moral truths, logical truths, and mathmatical truths are derived by faculties of intuition so the same skepticism applied to one can be applied to the others. Citing a tribe in African that murders baby is not a defeater because the tribes people could either be mistaken, insane, or immoral..either way this is not a defeater of premise 2. Thanks for your time."

    It is a defeater of the premise because your premise is that there exists absolute morality. You tried to cite an extreme (torture of a baby or as I have pointed out the murder of a baby) as being absolutely wrong based on intuition(which you attribute to God). I have cited an African tribe that finds murdering babies is NOT morally wrong thus defeating the premise unless you don't consider the tribe a part of the human race subject to God and his supposed moral influence. Could they be "wrong" "mistaken" "insane"? Yes, because these are all relative terms, they could be wrong/mistaken relative to us....much the same way you could mistaken, insane, immoral.

    The point is there are no absolute morals and trying to prove the existence of God from such a premise cannot work.

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  6. Hello again,

    If someone did not think there was moral facts then this argument would not be convincing to that person, but I see no good reason for thinking this. The tribe I would think is mistaken, insane, or immoral, but it seems to me that with respect to this moral question I am not mistaken, insane, or immoral. You have not given me any reason for thinking that I am and you have not given me any good reason for thinking that moral facts do not exists. So it is pretty clear that those things are wrong to me and that they are in fact wrong. Hence, there does not seem to be a defeater here for my argument. The same logic and argumentation you are doing here could be applied to logic and mathematics but it seems like those are in fact necessarily true even if I or anyone else were to disagree with one another on those issues. People disagree all the time, but there is no reason for thinking that when there is no agreement that there is no truth value to the proposition that disagreed upon. In order for your point to be a defeater you would have to infer from the fact that people disagree about a proposition P that there is no way to know the truth value of a proposition P, until you do that my argument is not defeated and still stands. Thank you for your thoughts and your time.

    God Bless,

    Nathanael P. Taylor

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  7. Of course you don’t see a good reason for thinking there is moral relativity, it would defeat your argument. You have relied on what “seems” right to you but that is hardly basis for fact and any sort of absolute. If we were to stick with my example of the tribe:

    Say you refuse to kill your child, you have angered the gods and put the tribe at risk for a ruinous harvest and potential starvation. They would see your act as wrong/immoral/mistaken for NOT murdering the infant. You are the insane one. Assuming their gods existed, the murdering of the child is an attempt to help benefit the society, which as I said in my first post is where morality is derived from. If you were exposed only to their belief system from birth you would surely not think this murdering is wrong.

    You said: “People disagree all the time, but there is no reason for thinking that when there is no agreement that there is no truth value to the proposition that disagreed upon.”

    Your proposition is that is no disagreement. Thus your proposition is defeated by the fact there exists disagreement.
    There is no proof of moral absolutism but there is plenty of proof for moral relativism. The fact that people disagree is proof that there is an issue in question, which is the point of moral relativism. If there was no issue then moral absolutism would obtain. However, clearly that is not the case. Thus it cannot be said to exist and cannot be claimed as a reason for God’s existence.

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  8. Anonymous,

    Actually, Nate's example was "torturing an infant for no good reason." There's a big difference there. This tribe in Africa believes they have a very good reason (even a moral reason) for killing these babies, namely to preserve their entire culture (they need a good harvest to survive). If you asked this tribe in Africa if it was OK to torture (i.e. cause more pain than simple killing) an infant for no good reason, I'm sure they'd say no. And of course, without providing an example of a tribe somewhere that has a practice of torturing its infants for sport, you have not actually provided a counter-example to Nate's argument. You are forced to concede that, in fact, it seems that everyone does indeed hold the intuition that torturing infants for no good reason is wrong.

    More to the point though, the question you have to answer is: Do you believe that what these people are doing is actually wrong, or only "wrong" for our culture? If the former, then you too believe in objective moral facts. If the later, then you don't believe the practice to be wrong in any meaningful sense, only that it doesn't suite your own taste, and it wouldn't be considered conducive to a thriving society here in America (but of course, their society seems to be getting on all right, so it's totally fine for them).

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  9. There actually isn’t a big difference. What do you define as “good” reason? I’m sure you or Nathanael would define “for a bountiful harvest” as not a good reason. Now you’re dipping into the realm of motivation. What if they killed the babies for because a voice in their head told him to? We might say they’re just insane, yet I seem to recall a passage from the bible that’s eerily familiar…

    But if you want an example of the torture of infants, how about Islam:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Female_genital_cutting
    http://www.meforum.org/1629/is-female-genital-mutilation-an-islamic-problem

    We think the mutilation of a child’s genitalia in such an extreme and violent manner would be wrong as it has no therapeutic effect but is simply cultural, yet they think its perfectly moral, in fact they believe it encourages morality(less sexual desire).

    As I said before morals developed out of societal needs, and thus there is a lot of overlap but it cannot be said there are any absolutes. There are reasons we have morals, to promote justice, peace, progression, and enjoyment of life in society. We don’t torture babies or kill babies because we feel its deprivation of something we hold high as a living species: life and enjoyment of said life. This isn’t from some innate absolute, its what we’ve been brought up to value. Other religions and societies promote the afterlife, and have people commit suicide using bombs to kill others and this is often praised within their particular community as the right thing where as we would find it wrong.
    With regards to your question, it would be the latter. But just because I believe in moral relativism doesn’t mean my ideas of right and wrong are meaningless. They are quite meaningful with regards to my life as I consider the progression of the society of America important, and I live in said country and my morals correspond with its laws which allow me and my family to thrive amongst everyone else who share the same morals within the geographic location. Yes, the tribal African culture or Islamic culture gets along fine too, that’s the point, they may have morals that are counter to ours but they allow for progression within their particular society. Because its relative and not absolute.

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  10. Hello again,

    I have responded to what you have said below:

    Of course you don’t see a good reason for thinking there is moral relativity, it would defeat your argument. You have relied on what “seems” right to you but that is hardly basis for fact and any sort of absolute.

    Response: The fact that moral relativity would defeat my argument is not my reason for rejecting moral relativity. If I think it is intuitively reasonable to believe that moral facts exists why does that not sufficiently justify the proposition that moral facts exists?

    When I use the phrase torture babies for no good reason that means that there is no purpose for torturing babies in the mind of the person doing it, but of course if that were true then your tribe example would not be a legitimate counter example.

    But be that as it may if you found a counter example in which that did occur (after all it is logically possible) then as I have said earlier that still would not defeat my argument (I plan to show you why in response to what you have said below).

    You said:

    Your proposition is that is no disagreement. Thus your proposition is defeated by the fact there exists disagreement.
    There is no proof of moral absolutism but there is plenty of proof for moral relativism. The fact that people disagree is proof that there is an issue in question, which is the point of moral relativism. If there was no issue then moral absolutism would obtain. However, clearly that is not the case. Thus it cannot be said to exist and cannot be claimed as a reason for God’s existence.

    Response: I think you have misunderstood me. I believe that moral facts can exists but people can be mistaken about what those moral facts are. So I never said that there cannot be disagreement, so I am confused were you are getting that from. Showing that people disagree would only count against moral facts if I believed that if such facts existed then we would expect no disagreement about them. But I see no reason for thinking that. I think that moral facts exists and that people are mistaken, insane, or dishonest with themselves as to what is in fact right or wrong. So disagreement does not count against your view or my view it seems to me. In order to show God does not exist and that this argument is not reasonable I provided a challenge to you last time that you did not provide an argument for:

    "In order for your point to be a defeater you would have to infer from the fact that people disagree about a proposition P that there is no way to know the truth value of a proposition P, until you do that my argument is not defeated and still stands."

    All you have cited was that people disagree about a proposition P therefore the truth about P cannot be known, but that is begging the question because that what is being contested, namely that just because people disagree about a proposition P does not mean that the truth value of P cannot be know. There is no reason for thinking this so this cannot be a defeater for this existence of God, until that is you provide adequate argumentation for this point. Thank you so much for your time and your thoughts on this matter.

    God Bless,

    Nathanael P. Taylor

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