Over time I have become more firmly sceptical (in the true sense of only giving credence on the basis of evidence, rather than refusing to believe even in the face of good evidence, like climate “scepticism”), and this naturally leads to atheism, since there is no good evidence for any of the many thousands of deities that have been dreamt up by people over the ages. I have therefore ended up having the odd argument (mostly online) with people who take a variety of different views. One thing I’ve noticed is that many of the arguments of the religious use vague or ambiguous terminology in the middle of very sweeping arguments.
Wanting to get a better grasp of how to handle such arguments, and to understand the process of argument itself that up until then I’d learned organically, I recently spent a few months tackling a free online course run under the auspices of coursera.org, entitled “How to Reason and Argue”. I found the course, run as a series of mini-lecture videos followed by quizzes, with longer quizzes at regular intervals and the opportunity to take part in online debates and a variety of Google Hangouts, very useful and interesting, and have been trying to use my new knowledge to be more precise and clear in argument, and also in analysing the arguments of others.
In particular, I recently watched a Cambridge Union Society debate from October 2011 on the following topic: This House believes that God is not a delusion. The debate was between William Lane Craig and Peter S Williams for the motion and Arif Ahmed and Andrew Copson against. Part of the argument for the motion (from Peter S Williams) was a sequence of 3 “logical” arguments for the existence of god, those being the moral, cosmological and ontological arguments. I was singularly unimpressed by them at the time, but didn’t have much opportunity to analyse them to see why. Now however, I have time to go over them a little more closely. The moral argument (with my objections interspersed) follows below. If you have any comments, particularly in defence of the argument or against my objections, I would very much like to hear them! The cosmological and ontological arguments will follow in subsequent posts.
The Moral Argument for the existence of God (with objections)
1) If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
(Objection: Use of the word “objective” is ambiguous. Does it mean “regardless of context or situation”? If so, then even “it is wrong to kill” may not be an objective moral value, since there are situations in which to kill is arguably the moral course. If it means “universally agreed” then it derives its force from the fact of agreement, a collaborative societal act rather than an externally imposed commandment. Finally, if it is based upon an understanding of how human minds and bodies work, and observations that certain actions cause objectively identifiable suffering or harm, this again does not require an observer external to the universe to provide such objectivity).
(Objection: suppressed premise – it is unclear what properties of a supernatural being would be necessary or sufficient to allow the existence of objective moral values).
2) At least one objective moral value exists.
(Objection: Assertion without evidence, again problematic due to ambiguity of “objective”. However, I am prepared to accept that (depending on the definition of “objective”) such values may well exist, e.g. it is wrong to cause suffering gratuitously)
3) Therefore, God exists.
(Objection: Due to the problems with premises 1 and 2, the conclusion is at best unproven)