Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Full MP3 Audio here (HT: Brian Auten)
Dan Grossenbach also wrote a post debate review here.
Sean's contention during the debate was that God is in fact the best explanation for moral values. If there is no God there is no moral law-giver and hence no transcendent moral law which we can appeal to. In other words, without God we have no grounding or foundation for objective morality. We are left with mere subjective opinion.
It was not until late in the debate that Corbett actually offered an alternative explanation for the existence of objective moral values. Like many skeptics, Corbett finally appealed to evolution as an explanation for morality. But does this work?
Frank Turek Chimes In
Frank Turek offers some good insight on this issue in his article Evolution Cannot Explain Morality. He offers four important points which I will summarize and expand on:
1. If evolution is true, why is rape morally reprehensible? Rape can help the survival of our species in general and, on an individual basis, the genes of the rapist are passed on to the next generation. If evolution is concerned with the survival of the fittest and the rapist is strong enough to overpower a weaker woman to ensure his genes survive, why is this wrong? Why is this any different than the "rape" we see take place in the animal kingdom?
2. If evolution is true, why was the holocaust a great moral evil? Again, if evolution is concerned with the survival of the fittest what is wrong with the Third Reich eliminating those who are weaker and less able to adapt? And what is wrong with killing the handicap so they cannot procreate? Doing so will actually strengthen our gene pool and increase our chances for survival in the future.
3. If evolution is true, what sort of foundation does this provide for morality? Can morals themselves change and evolve? If so, this does not provide any meaningful grounding for morality. What is good and moral today may not be tomorrow. And if this is the case, we have no assurance that the morals we hold to today are anything but passing fancies.
4. Finally, skeptics are constantly confusing epistemology with ontology. I cannot tell you how often I hear this confusion. I have heard it from Michael Shermer in probably every debate. For the record, epistemology is concerned with what we know and how we know it. Ontology would deal with the actual existence of objective moral values. As Sean pointed out in his debate with Corbett, the question of how we best explain the existence of objective moral values (ontology) is a separate issue from our ability to know that objective moral values exist (epistemology).
Important: Being moral or knowing morality is not what the debate is about. You can be moral and know right from wrong and at the same time not believe in God. There, I said it. Will Michael Shermer please stop confusing this issue? But I digress.
As Frank Turek points out in his article, even if evolution is responsible for how we know right from wrong this still does not explain why something is right or wrong. Evolution cannot explain the existence of right and wrong nor can it function as an adequate foundation or grounding for right and wrong (this is often referred to as the "grounding" problem). How do morals evolve in a purely materialistic, mechanistic process? How does an immaterial transcendent moral law come from a purely material and natural process? In short, you can't get morals from matter. Furthermore, why would we be obligated to obey this evolved moral law? Obligation implies a mind or a person with whom we are obligated to, not an arbitrary set of evolved moral codes.
Paul Copan Chimes In
Paul Copan in his book True for You, But Not for Me addresses the claim "Biological Evolution Explains Morality" (pgs. 91-97) and offers some additional helpful insights which I will summarize and expand on:
1. If evolution explains morality then beliefs like "Love your neighbor" are simply hardwired into us to help us survive. There is nothing objectively good about them. That is, there is nothing that makes these beliefs good independently of the fact that they have been programmed into our make-up. They are subjective and could have evolved otherwise.
2. If evolution explains morality, why should we trust our beliefs? Evolution is concerned with survival, not truth. So the moral beliefs that we recognize as "true" may actually be false and only believed by us because they aid our survival. So if evolution is responsible for our beliefs we have no reason to trust them since any true belief we hold would only be accidentally true. We could not know them to be true since knowledge is true belief based on adequate justification. Knowledge thus becomes impossible.
3. If evolution explains morality, moral beliefs turn out to be arbitrary. This was already touched on above. There is nothing necessary or obligatory about our moral beliefs. They could have evolved otherwise. Furthermore, abhorrent practices may be rationalized away on this view as long as they help survival (i.e. rape).
4. Basing morality on evolution commits the is-ought or naturalistic fallacy. Even if evolution can describe what is it cannot prescribe what ought to be. As Greg Koukl points out in his article Monkey Morality, evolutionary ethics cannot answer the question "Why ought I be moral tomorrow?" On this view, our moral impulses are just as physical as our hunger impulses. There is nothing necessary about these impulses. They just are. Both are arbitrary and could have evolved quite differently.
5. If evolution explains morality, how do we account for acts of self-sacrifice that we consider praiseworthy or heroic? Self-sacrifice certainly does not fit the survival of the fittest mentality. If evolution is true why would we even develop a sense of moral obligation to help those in need when doing so would endanger our own existence? And why would we develop the urge to praise those who sacrifice themselves for others who are weaker when this may hurt our own survival? Why blame others when they do not help those in need if they are only keeping in accord with their evolutionary heritage by looking out for their own self-interest?
I think Sean was right. If God does not exist we do not have a solid foundation for moral values. If God does exist we do have a solid foundation for moral values. Evolution cannot function as an adequate foundation for a transcendent, objective moral law and we cannot deny this moral law without ending up with a subjective, relativistic system.