Tuesday, 18 October 2011

My criticisms of Craig's Moral and Resurrection arguments

This is what I used against Craig's moral and resurrection arguments for the existence of God in last night's debate. His only other argument was the cosmological, which I ignored as irrelevant to Craig's showing that his good god exists as opposed to say, an evil God (for which a "cumulative case" based on the cosmological argument could also be based, and which we all nevertheless know can be justifiably rejected on the basis of observational evidence) Craig pretended that this was an amazing concession that it was a good argument and that my view was deism was true!


Let’s start with Craig's moral argument. It runs:

If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
Objective moral values do exist.
Therefore, God exists.

The vast majority of philosophers reject this argument. Take, for example, the Christian philosopher Professor Richard Swinburne of Oxford University. Swinburne says, “I cannot see any force in an argument to the existence of God from the existence of morality.”

So Professor Craig is putting up against a mountain of evidence against what he believes an argument that even one of the world’s leading Christian philosophers finds utterly unconvincing.

If Professor Craig wants, nevertheless, to run his moral argument, the onus is clearly him to show that its premises are true. Both are highly questionable.

The first premise is, again, rejected by the vast majority of moral philosophers.

So what argument does Professor Craig offer for supposing it is, nevertheless, true?

He points out that an evolutionary explanation of why we believe rape is objectively morally wrong wouldn’t make rape objectively morally wrong.

Well, so what? We all knew that. That doesn’t show that that belief isn’t or cannot be true, given atheism.

Remember, the onus is on Professor Craig to show that no atheist-friendly account of the objective truth of moral claims can be given. The fact that evolution provides no such account very obviously doesn’t entail no such account can be given.

The onus is on Professor Craig to show that all such atheist-friendly accounts are wrong – even the ones we haven’t thought of yet. And don’t forget, as theists regularly do, that they needn’t even be naturalistic accounts.

So far, Craig has shown one atheist-friendly account is wrong. Well, as I say, we knew that already.

What of the second premise of Craig’s moral argument? Objective moral values exist.

This is undoubtedly a belief that just seems obviously true. But of course that doesn’t guarantee it is true.

Yes it seems like there are objective moral values. That isn’t a belief we should abandon easily. But it’s by no means irrefutable.

After all, we have a powerful impression that the Earth doesn’t move. It really, really doesn’t seem to move. But if we’re given powerful evidence that it does move, and it’s also explained why it nevertheless seems like it doesn’t, then the rational thing for us to believe is that our initial, highly convincing impression was wrong.

The moral is, even if Professor Craig could show his first premise is true, he can’t deal with the problem of evil by just digging in his heels and saying, “But look, it really, really seems to us as if there are objective moral values, so there must be a God.”

When placed next to the problem of evil, Craig’s argument does little to undermine the problem. Rather, it just combines with it to deliver the conclusion that there are no objective moral values.

That conclusion would be further reinforced by an evolutionary explanation of why it would still seem to us that there are objective moral values even if there aren’t.

Now I don’t doubt Professor Craig doesn’t want to believe there are no objective moral values. Hey, I don’t want to believe it. But this isn’t an exercise in wishful thinking.

So, even if its first premise were true, Craig’s moral argument still hardly offers much of a riposte to the evidential problem of evil.


Let’s now turn to the resurrection argument.

It turns on claims made in the New Testament: that there was an empty tomb, that there were independent eyewitness reports of Jesus alive after the crucifixion, and so on.

The claim is that the best explanation of these alleged facts is that Jesus was resurrected by god. You should always be suspicious of arguments to the best explanation in such contexts.

Let me tell you a UFO story from 1967. There were reports of a strange object appearing nightly over a nuclear power site in Wake County. The police investigated. An police officer confirmed “It was about half the size of the moon, and it just hung there over the plant.” The next night the same thing happened. The Deputy Sheriff described a “large lighted object.” The County magistrate saw, and I quote, “a rectangular object, looked like it was on fire… We figured it about the size of a football field. It was huge and very bright.” There was, in addition, hard data: a curious radar blip reported by local air traffic control.

Now, what’s the best explanation for these reports? We have multiple attestation. We have trained eye-witnesses – police officers – putting their reputations on the line by reporting a UFO. We have hard, independent confirmation – that blip on the radar scope. Surely, then, it’s highly unlikely these witnesses were, say, all hallucinating, or lying, or merely looking at a planet. Clearly, by far the best explanation is that they really did see a large, lighted object hovering close to the plant, right?

Wrong. Here’s the thing. We know, pretty much for sure, that what was seen by those police officers was the planet Venus. Journalists arrived on the scene, were shown the object, and chased it in their car. They found they couldn’t approach it. Finally, they looked at it through a long lens and saw it was Venus. That radar blip was just a coincidence.

What does this show? Every year there are countless amazing reports of religious miracles, alien abductions, ghosts, and so on. In most cases, it’s easy to come up with plausible mundane explanations for them. But not all. Some remain deeply baffling.

So should we believe in such things, then?

No. For, as my UFO story illustrates, we know that some very hard-to-explain reports of miracles, flying saucers, and so on are likely to crop up anyway, whether or not there’s any truth to such claims. That 1967 case could easily have been such a baffling case.

So, let’s suppose that Biblical documents written a decade or more after the events they report, written exclusively by devotees of a new religious movement, not even by first hand witnesses, detailing events for which there’s pretty much no independent confirmation, constitutes really, really good evidence that there was an empty tomb and that the disciples did report seeing the risen Christ.

Is that, in turn, good evidence Jesus was resurrected?

Evidence supports a hypothesis to the extent that the evidence is expected given the hypothesis is true, and unexpected otherwise.

The absolutely crucial point to note is this: we have good reason to expect some baffling, very hard-to-explain-in-mundane-terms reports to crop up occasionally anyway, whether or not there are any miracles, gods or flying saucers. So the fact that an otherwise baffling, hard-to-explain case has shown up provides us with little if any evidence that a miracle happened.

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