I have been looking at the Argument from Morality (the AfM) and using as my primary source William Lane Craig, who is one of its foremost advocates. The concept of “objective moral values” plays a big part in Craig’s formulation of the argument, appearing on both premises of his syllogism:
– If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
– Objective moral values and duties do exist.
What are “objective moral values”? Craig’s definition is “values that are valid and binding whether anyone believes in them or not.” I am assuming that when Craig refers to “anyone” he is not including God. I am not going to take any point on that – let us assume that Craig means that these values must exist independently of whether any human believes in them if they are to be objective. This leads him to conclude:
“Without a divine lawgiver, there can be no objective right and wrong, only our culturally and personally relative, subjective judgments. This means that it is impossible to condemn war, oppression, or crime as evil. Nor can one praise brotherhood, equality, and love as good. For in a universe without God, good and evil do not exist—there is only the bare valueless fact of existence, and there is no one to say that you are right and I am wrong.”
There is a bait and switch going on here. “Objective” can mean independent of human opinion, that’s true. But like most words, it has shades of meaning. If something is not “objective” in the sense just described (“High Objectivity”) it need not follow that it is purely a matter of taste – “I like coffee, you like tea, and who’s to say either of us is right or wrong?”
In fact, much of what we do is based on an assumption that there is such a thing as an objectively correct opinion. Most conversations we have rely on a shared understanding of matters which depend on human opinion for their truth. If I say I “won’t be long” when I leave you standing outside Sainsbury’s looking after my dog, then come back two hours later, can anyone doubt that I did not keep my word? But the fact that I was long is not one which can be divorced from human opinions. It does not achieve High Objectivity. But it is true nonetheless.
At schools, public money is spent on educating children in subjects such as creative writing and art. Imagine parents of a bright, talented child who want to find out why she only got an “F” for her essay:
“Her last teacher said her vocabulary was far in advance of her age and she showed great originality of thought. He said she was one of the best in the class!”
“Well, Mr and Mrs X, it’s all just a matter of taste, isn’t it? Her last teacher just happened to like her essays, and I just happen not to. There’s nothing more to be said, is there?”
What makes a good essay is to some extent a matter of fact. So is what makes a good university, or a good cook, or a good driver. Or a good action. It is a different sort of “fact” from facts about rocks etc., facts which obtained before we humans existed and which will still obtain once we have ceased to exist, but it is still a fact.
What Craig wants to do is distract his audience from noticing that his definition of “objective” for the purposes of morality sets the bar unnecessarily high. If they do not notice that, then recoiling from the claim which follows – that murder, rape and genocide must be no more than a matter of taste, they fall into his trap.
Craig frequently invokes the example of the Nazis as an illustration of how morality without God is capable of endorsing anything. Next month I will have a look at this and whether it supports him or not.