August 18, 2012

Everyone’s a critic, and some of them are trolls

So it appears that Josh Stein, a.k.a. the philosotroll, was not a fan of my most recent appearance on Life Report.  Well, can’t please em’ all I suppose. But I was curious as to what Stein found so objectionable in my appearance on episode #150 where I discussed the question, “What makes human beings valuable?”

Stein first attacks my discussion of the “imago dei” as being a sufficient reason to grant the right to life to unborn children and, in the end, all humans. According to this view, human beings are valuable because they are made in God’s image and are given a special value, or sacredness, because they stand in a special relationship to God.  I suspect that Stein is an atheist and so that is why he considers the view so objectionable. But aside from ridicule, he gives us no reason to reject the traditional Judeo-Christian ethic that humans are valuable because God created them.  

Even secular, pro-choice philosophers like David Boonin admit that this argument would work if God exists. Boonin evaluates the following pro-life argument in his book A Defense of Abortion:

P1. The fetus is a human life from the moment of conception
P2. Every human life is sacred
P3. If the life of an individual is sacred, then the individual has a right to life.
C. The fetus has a right to life from the moment of conception

Boonin says the argument is “plainly valid” and he assumes that P1 is true.  The question is whether P3 and P2 are true and follow from one another.  Boonin writes, “If ‘sacred’ is used in the religious sense in P2, then, as I have suggested, P3 may well seem reasonable.” [David Boonin. A Defense of Abortion. (Cambridge University Press, New York, 2003) 31.] So if the religious assumptions could be grounded or proved, then we would have a good moral (but not necessarily legal) argument against abortion.

Stein says I “aggressively ignored” how to explain the imago dei to an atheist, but I for the life of me can’t see what he means.  Of course, I would have to present some compelling reasons to believe that God exists in order for an atheist to understand or accept the imago dei argument. The atheist may disagree with those reasons, but that doesn’t mean he’s right.  For someone who thinks I’m so ignorant of Kant (or at least neo-Kantian philosophy) he seems to forget that the moral argument for God (though not the form I use) came from Kant himself so it isn’t some crackpot argument but has real merit that is explored by contemporary philosophers.

Stein then argues that my claim that objective truths must be grounded, and especially that they must (or even can) be grounded in God is “audacious” and “unjustified.”  Really? What about theists like Robert Adams, Phillip Quinn, and Jerry Walls who argue for moral realism based on theism.  Or, consider atheists who reject moral realism because moral realism would entail the existence of God.  J.L. Mackie, an influential atheist who wrote in his book The Miracle of Theism that, Moral properties constitute so odd a cluster of properties and relations that they are most unlikely to have arisen in the ordinary course of events without an all-powerful god to create them.”  [J.L. Mackie. The Miracle of Theism (Oxford, Clarendon: 1982), 115]

Stein says that I ironically begged the question when I said that using the Bible to prove abortion is wrong would be a fallacious appeal to authority but the imago dei is not such a fallacy. Here I simply disagree and would say that I have independent reasons to believe that God exists and endows humans with value (unlike the circular reasoning found in Biblical fundamentalism). So no, I haven’t begged the question at all.

Next, Stein says that I am completely mistaken that atheistic moral realism assumes that moral facts exist as brute facts without explanation. Here he is partially correct. I should have been clearer and said that under atheistic moral realism moral facts either have no explanation in any other facts (i.e. brute facts) or they are explained by themselves. After all, someone could be a Platonic moral realist who believes that moral facts or objective values exist as eternal forms and explain their own existence just as God explains his own existence. Even if this were true, we would still need the brute fact that explains why we should be morally compelled to follow platonic virtues like love and courage instead of platonic vices like hate or cowardice. Plato proposed the GOOD as that which grounds the other virtues. I just drop one of the “O’s” and I think we’ve found the answer.

So in regards to morality being a brute fact, that’s why during my appearance on the show I cited Dartmouth philosophy professor Walter-Sinnott Armstrong who answers the question, “Why is it wrong to cause harm without a good reason?” by saying “It just is, don’t you agree?” (Page 47) To me, this seems to be an appeal to the self-evident truth that it is wrong to cause suffering. But there’s no reason why it’s wrong. It just is -- or it’s a brute fact. Atheist Erik Wielenberg who authored the book Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe, writes:

Of the ethical states of affairs that obtain necessarily, at least some are brute facts. That pain is intrinsically bad is not explained in terms of other states of affairs that obtain. Moreover, at least some necessarily obtaining brute ethical facts are not trivial but substantive. Therefore, I have an ontological commitment shared by many theists: I am commit­ted to the obtaining of substantive, metaphysically necessary, brute facts. (Page 26)
(And a note to Stein: I have taken nominalism such as the kind advocated by people like Quine and Sellars seriously. I just think it’s a false view in metaphysics. Also, while popular, is certainly not a majority view in philosophy today.)

Stein also says that the future-like-ours argument does not work because some traits we have do not persist through time. For example, he writes, “Trent would not claim that the moral standing of a six-year-old is the same as the moral standing of a thirty-year-old when it comes to, for example, culpability.” Of course not, because moral culpability is a property that emerges from other properties and traits (such as intelligence, experience, and moral awareness).  Culpability refers to psychology so yes, it would be fluid and not persist through time in a constant fashion, but the FLO argument refers to metaphysics and Stein simply has not refuted it.

In the end I would say that in this post I’ve only seen complaints, and not arguments, that are supposed to refute the position I presented on Life Report.