Carrier, Moreland and Morality, Part III

[This is the third part of a series on Richard Carrier's attempted rebuttal of J.P. Moreland's argument on Morality found in his book Scaling the Secular City. Carrier's original essay can be found here and the first part of this series can be found here, and the second part can be found here.]

Tu Quoque Or Not Tu Quoque; That Is The Question

As I noted last time, Carrier doesn’t claim that there is a firm philosophical foundation for morals in the atheistic world view. Instead, he pulls a form of tu quoque, i.e., he argues that while atheism doesn’t have a foundational basis, neither does Christianity. He does this by attaching onto a statement by Moreland concerning the basis for Christian theism's alleged superior philosophical foundation for acting morally, and tries to show that it is no better than atheism's views.

While the tu quoque argument is a logical fallacy in some circumstances, I don’t believe it’s being used in that way by Carrier. The tu quoque fallacy, which has also been called the “two wrongs don’t make a right” fallacy, is essentially the act of using another’s wrong to justify your own wrong. If Carrier were saying, “its okay to not have a philosophical foundation for morality because you don’t have one either,” he’d be committing the fallacy. Instead, he seems to be engaging in what Greg Koukl calls a “Pee Wee Hermann Tactic,” i.e., he is pointing out that Christians cannot complain about the lack of a philosophical foundation because they don’t have one either.

The Pee Wee Herman Tactic is used to point out (appropriately) that sometimes epistemological problems can be shared and are not merely the property of one world view. Thus, for example, it is used when someone points out that Christians have no answer for the problem of evil. In such a case, it is appropriate to point out that the atheist also lacks an answer for the problem of evil, but moreover, they lack an answer for the existence of good. The tactic differs from the fallacy in that one is not trying to justify one’s position by pointing to a similar flaw on the other side, but rather one is trying to point out that the deficiency may not be suffered only by one side but may be a problem that all arguments suffer.

I view Carrier’s attack on Moreland in that light, and therefore view it as an appropriate use of the tactic and not a use of the fallacy. Of course, if Carrier is using in the fallacious way, then his entire argument is fallacious.

Carrier Fails To Rebut The Both Reasons For Loving God

As I stated earlier, there are several reasons for loving God. Carrier himself identifies two reasons: (1) We love God because God first loved us, and (2) God’s character is such that we ought to love Him. Carrier spends most of paragraphs RC1-RC3 seeking to refute the first reason but does nothing of any significance to refute the second reason. In fact, note the final sentence of paragraph RC3: "For even if a benevolent god did exist, we would love him not for what he does for us, but for his character and quality." Essentially, Carrier is conceding that a reason to love God independent of his love for us is God’s "character and quality."

Moreland. when understood in context, makes it fairly clear that such qualities are exactly why we ought to love God. In his argument, Moreland contends that from the Christian viewpoint that human history can be seen "as a struggle between good and evil, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness, which moves toward the vindication of God, justice, righteousness . . . ." In other words, the Christian view (which is consistent throughout history) is that God is perfectly good, right, holy and just. If a perfectly good, right, just and holy being loves you, for what possible reason would you not want to love him back? Even if He doesn't love you, shouldn't you love such a perfectly holy, just, righteous and good being?

So, what exactly is Carrier really doing in paragraphs RC1 through RC3? He runs in a circle. He spends the most of the three paragraphs arguing that there is no reason to love God simply because He loves us, but ends up right back where he started -- with the Christian assertion that we ought to love other people because we love God untarnished. In other words, he uses these three paragraphs to attack only one of the two reasons he himself acknowledges that Christians can give for loving God, but leaves the other reasons unassailed.

God, The Wife-Beater Analogy and the Problem of Evil

In RC2, Carrier sinks into a viewpoint that compares (1) returning the love of a perfect, just, holy and good God with (2) the love of a woman for a man who beats her. The analogy wholly misses the mark (as Tom Gilson, author of the excellent blog Thinking Christian notes: "The husband who loves his wife "but beats her to death anyway" is a ridiculous analogue to God or even to any kind of loving person"). There is no reasonable basis for not returning the love of God if Christian belief is correct that God is truly and perfectly justice, righteous, holy and good.

Apparently recognizing that this may be a problem to his position, in paragraph RC3 Carrier throws in the argument from evil as a reason to suspect the goodness of God in a attempt to make God no better than the wife-beating husband. Needless to say, this is one of those places where the argument has some superficial appeal, but it fails because the argument from evil is not as open-and-shut as Carrier seeks to pretend. Any objective examination of the arguments reveals, at a minimum, that Christians can make a very good rational case for reconciling the existence of God with the existence of evil in the world. I will not attempt to prove that the argument against the existence of God from evil fails in this short series of posts, but instead I merely note that it has been answered -- and answered in a way that many, many people find compelling -- in many places. (For anyone seeking to investigate this issue more closely, I invite them to review some of the fine articles posted on the CADRE Theodicy: Answering the Problem of Evil page.)

But Carrier goes farther in his effort to discredit God by arguing that God is drectly responsible for beating people through the "horrifying treatment that millions of people receive at the hands of Mother Nature" should be laid directly at the feet of God. Again, this claim has been discredited in Christain theology many, many times. The simple answer is that man led to the fall of the world which includes the fall of nature. This understanding that nature fell with the fall of man is standard Christian theology which Carrier seems to either ignore or of which he is ignorant. I find the latter impossible to believe, so I can only assume he wishes to ignore it for purposes of making his point. But making a point by making it look as if Christians hold a position that they don't hold is a logical fallacy. If he is making the claim that Christian belief is wrong on this point, then he needs to back it up and not merely assert his own worldview into the discussion without adequate support.

Carrier then continues: "it cannot even be proven that God exists, much less what his qualities are. It is easy to describe a god worth loving, but it is something else to prove that such a thing actually exists, and an atheist generally feels there is adequate proof that a genuinely benevolent god does not exist." Okay, granting his point for the sake of argument only (since I do think there is sufficient evidence in existence to establish for the sake of those who are sufficiently open-minded to conclude that God exists and that his qualities are those that are described in the Bible), so what? Moreland is making the case that Christian theism, which accepts the view that God exists, provides a more stable philosophical basis for acting morally than atheism. Now, Carrier seems to be saying, 'you can't establish this argument for the existence of God because you can't prove that God exists.' In other words, Moreland is making a case that the existence of God serves as a better basis for the existence of morality. Carrier for his part, seems to be countering, "so what? You can't prove that God exists." It is like arguing that the fact that we see colors is good evidence for the color spectrum, and having someone counter "but you can't prove that the spectrum exists." With all due respect, this seems a little sideways. Even Carrier seems to acknowledge this by noting that his objection is a digression and that the reason to love God can be found equally in the fact that we should love God for his character.

In the end, paragraphs RC1 through RC3 are just one long red herring. They make claims and arguments that either don't completely challenge the claim made by Moreland when taken in context or run in a circle proclaiming that long disputed arguments win the day.

Next time, I will discuss paragraph RC4.


John W. Loftus said…
For your information I am debating David Wood of answering on the problem of evil in front of an secular college university and sponsored by a church on the problem of evil, October 7th. We will have another debate in Feb or March, and will be writing up a book about it to be commented on by Victor Reppert and probably Paul Copan on the Christian side, and Andrea Weisenberger and Richard Carrier on the other side.

I'll save my comments for later, but the research I'm doing makes what my friend James F. Sennett said so true for the Christian: “By far the most important objection to the faith is the so-called problem of evil – the alleged incompatibility between the existence or extent of evil in the world and the existence of God. I tell my philosophy of religion students that, if they are Christians and the problem of evil does not keep them up at night, then they don’t understand it.” [Forthcoming book: This Much I Know: A Postmodern Apologetic].

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