December 4, 2010
Here and here, I argued that Luke Muehlhauser misled the audience at Colorado State University by declaring as subjective a God-based morality William Lane Craig does not actually endorse [a.k.a., refuting a strawman].
Luke’s response was to attack my character by labeling me a troll in his 7-point rejoinder, which I believe I successfully rebutted. Now, instead of responding to that rebuttal, Luke has declared in some sort of odd, melodramatic exit stage left that he’s “finally given up” on me. I won’t tire you with why I think that’s not a move a person with good desires would make. I’d rather dig a little deeper into one of the counterarguments I made in my aforementioned responses.
To clarify that counterargument: as defined by Luke Muehlhauser, objective morality is fully consistent with a morality decreed by the God of the Bible, who is typically described as omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent and incorruptible.
Luke of course claims that “God-based morality is a SUBJECTIVE theory of morality, just by definition.” We ought to begin with an obligatory heads-up to two of the biggest troublemakers in moral philosophy: the terms objective and subjective can be tricky words that often convey different concepts for different people, so much so that some [wiser] philosophy professors actually prohibit their freshmen students from using them. So, in the interest of maximum clarity, let Luke explain precisely what they mean in his arguments:
…usually, the phrase “OBJECTIVE moral value” means something like “moral value grounded in something beyond the attitudes of a person or persons.” Right? If what you’re calling “moral value” is just based off somebody’s personal attitudes, that’s called SUBJECTIVE morality. [The Science of Morality: No Gods Required]
Well, God-based morality says there’s this person named God, and whatever he thinks is good, is good! So this is another subjective theory! If God approved of rape, rape would be good. If God approved of racism, racism would be good. God-based morality is a SUBJECTIVE theory of morality, just by definition. [ibid.]
Fortunately, those are pretty clear statements. My only concern is that Luke doesn’t explain what he means by “grounded in.” What does it mean to say that X is “grounded in” Y? In common use, we say a boat has grounded when it ceases to float on water and becomes fastened unto land, right? This would seem to imply that stability need be inherent in any reasonable definition of “grounded in.” To head in a different direction, an electrical engineer might use the term grounded in to denote the reference point in an electrical circuit from which other voltages are measured.
Now that we’ve established some relatively firm goalposts to play with, recall my counterargument: as defined by Luke Muehlhauser, objective morality is fully consistent with a morality decreed by the God of the Bible, who is typically described as omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent and incorruptible.
Next, recall that Luke’s definition of objective moral value is, “moral value grounded in something beyond the attitudes of a person or persons.” The key word there is attitudes, and Luke makes clear that he means attitudes of the arbitrary or whimsical variety when he says, “If God approved of rape [and racism], rape [and racism] would be good.” As I’ve said before, I wholeheartedly agree with Luke that this kind of God-based morality cannot rightfully be called objective. However, it is not valid to infer that type of God-based morality from any reasonable exegesis of scripture. As we saw yesterday, the Bible strongly implies that God cannot pronounce moral truths arbitrarily [cf. Hebrews 6:18, 13:8 ]. In other words, the Bible clams that God cannot decide via mere change in attitude that lying – or rape or racism – are suddenly “morally good.”
To further support this, I offer the non-controversial claim that truths or facts about the real world cannot rightfully be described as mere attitudes. As such, if the Bible is true, then God would necessarily retain unbridled access to all truths and facts about the real world, and this would seemingly have to include moral truths and facts. Therefore – and this is where desirism might actually come into play – any decree issue by such a God is necessarily grounded in an empirical, mathematical evaluation of the moral calculus [inviolably executed via God’s omnipotence; correctly determined via God’s omniscience; benevolently motivated via God’s omnibenevelonce, and eternally stable via God’s incorruptibility]. Provided you agree that truths and facts are not equivalent to attitudes, it should be easy to see how a biblical God-based morality cannot rightfully be called subjective by Luke’s definition. New objections may be offered at this point, and I’ll address a few below, but Luke’s claim that “God-based morality is a SUBJECTIVE theory of morality” only applies to the “based-on-God’s-arbitrary-attitude” morality that the Bible denies and Luke wrongly attributed to William Lane Craig.
Now let’s turn to the the corollary question: Can God-based morality as described in the Bible be rightfully called objective by Luke’s definition? I say yes, God-based morality can be rightfully called objective by every sense of Luke’s definition. Other commenters have echoed various iterations of the argument I’m making. In fact, it happened again just a few days ago, and Luke’s most recent response went like this:
I still think God-based morality can be objective. If there is an all-perfect being, wouldn’t he or she know all objective truth, including moral truth? [Jugglable]
But then that’s not God-based morality in the sense I mean it. That’s a theory where morality is grounded in something beyond God, and God is a messenger. [Luke]
Luke’s response to Jugglable is essentially a truncated version of the response he gave me in the thread of his post, Dr. Craig and Objective Morality:
… If God is really a Desirist who just has more epistemic access to moral truth than we do, then Desirism is correct, and God is a messenger of moral value rather than a ground for it… . Such a theory would be as objective as Desirism because it IS Desirism. But I’ve never heard anyone propound such a theory and call it divine command theory. Am I missing something?
Now, about the ellipsis, lest anyone mistake them for an attempt at quote-mining or cherrypicking, I deliberately removed Luke’s remarks about DCT because I am not concerned with addressing the type of DCT Luke argues against, and I provided you with the courtesy of a first-order source. Remember, I’m simply claiming that biblical God-based morality is compatible with Luke’s definition of objective moral value, not that DCT as defined by Luke is objective. Those are two different claims, and I’m unconcerned with the latter because Luke defines DCT as “grounded in the attitudes of God.” That said, the part of Luke’s response that I’m concerned with is, “If God is really a Desirist who just has more epistemic access to moral truth than we do, then Desirism is correct, and God is a messenger of moral value rather than a ground for it[.]”
Objection 1: Is God merely a messenger of moral truths and facts given the God-based morality I offer? Is morality grounded in something besides God in the God-based morality I offer? These questions run corollary to the Euthyphro dilemma, and I believe the answer is no to both of them. In the God-based morality I’m offering, God is first author and then messenger of moral truths and facts. Okay, but when I say “God is first author,” aren’t I faced with the “morality is based on God’s attitudes” objection all over again? In other words, couldn’t God have simply “authored” another morality where things like lying, rape and racism are good? I believe the answer is no, because – if the Bible is true – any decree by God is non-contingent, i.e. necessarily grounded in an empirical, mathematical evaluation of the moral calculus [inviolably executed via God’s omnipotence; correctly determined via God’s omniscience; benevolently motivated via God’s omnibenevelonce, and eternally stable via God’s incorruptibility]. Recall the electrical engineer’s definition of grounded in as denoting the reference point in a circuit from which other voltages are measured. The Bible claims that God is the same yesterday, today and forever, and also that it is impossible for God to lie. Given these statements and a God that is omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent and incorruptible, it would be 100% correct to describe God as the point in the moral circuit from which all other moralities must be measured. IOW, morality would be grounded in God, not something beyond God, as Luke argues.
Objection 2: Can the God-based morality I offer be rightfully called desirism? Again, I believe the answer is no. The God-based morality I’m offering cannot possibly be desirism, because desirism makes no allowance for “decrees of the Gods.” As Alonzo has said many, many times, and as Luke echoes here, “desirism refers only to things that exist.” Since, according to desirism – in fact, straight from the mouths of Luke and Alonzo – God does not exist, then it is incoherent for Luke to claim that the God-based morality I offer “is desirism.” Further, the desirist definition of a morally good desire as “a desire that tends to fulfill other desires” is incompatible with the God-based morality I offer. No theory grounded in God’s decrees or that denies the desirist defintion of a morally good desire can be rightfully called desirism. It appears to me that Luke is contradicting himself.
In conclusion, I say yes, Luke, you are missing something, in fact a few things:
1) William Lane Craig doesn’t argue the “based-on-God’s-arbitrary-attitude” morality you mistakenly attributed to him;
2) the “based-on-God’s-arbitrary-attitude” morality you mistakenly attributed to William Lane Craig doesn’t flow logically from the Bible;
3) the morality I offer does flow logically from the Bible and is 100% compatible with your definition of objective moral value;
4) the morality I offer cannot possibly be desirism, because no theory grounded in God’s decrees or that denies the desirist defintion of a morally good desire can be rightfully called desirism.
I believe I’ve those claims. What do you think?