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Good God Panel Discussion with Baggett, Walls, Copan, and Craig (Part III)

Part I

At the 63rd Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, Dr. Baggett and Dr. Walls were invited to participate in a panel discussion of their book Good God with Paul Copan and William Lane Craig offering some critique and feedback on their work. Baggett and Walls provide a concise summary of the book, which is a cumulative and abductive moral argument for theism, while Copan and Craig offer insightful analysis. If you are interested in better understanding the moral argument in general or its abductive version in particular, this discussion will be well worth your time.

In Part III, the panelists (Baggett, Craig, Copan, and Walls) field questions about the effectiveness of abduction, the consistency of the abductive moral argument, and a few more on the subject of Calvinism.

Image: By Internet Archive Book Images – The Prodigal Son. Creative Commons. 

Good God Panel Discussion Q and A


Response to Chapter 15 of Russ Shafer-Landau’s book Whatever Happened to Good and Evil? “Does Ethical Objectivity Require God?” Part III

By David Baggett 

As we continue to examine Shafer-Landau’s (SL) case that ethical objectivity doesn’t require God, we turn directly to what he has to say about why most people—mistakenly, on his view—find compelling the notion that ethics is objective only if God exists. Personally, as I’ve said, I would prefer to argue less ambitiously that God provides the best explanation, or at least solid evidence, for God’s existence. The more deductivist-sounding “ethics is objective only if God exists” is devilishly hard to show, and it’s likely false in real ways. By raising the bar so high for his interlocutors, SL is lowering the bar for himself. This means, though, that by puncturing a hole in a case one might try building for so ambitious a claim, SL won’t have shown that God doesn’t function at the foundation of ethics. (It’ll be interesting to observe whether he draws only minimal and judicious conclusions; warning: he won’t.) The effect of his case might be to lessen confidence in certain formulations of the moral argument, but less-than-deductive versions don’t seem so much as touched or even remotely threatened. At any rate, let’s see what he has to say.

SL claims that, in his experience, people tie objectivity to God because of a very specific line of thought, namely, “that all laws (rules, principles, standards, etc.) require a lawmaker.” If there are any objective moral laws, then the lawmaker can’t be any one of us. Why? “Objectivity implies an independence from human opinion.” If objective moral rules aren’t authored by any one of us, but still require an author, they require a nonhuman creator. Enter God.

A word about criteria involved in theory selection. Not to belabor it, but the logic just described by SL is one among other ways to infer to God as the foundation of morality. SL’s language tends to favor casting God as the “author” of morality, which I’ve noted is likely strategic and not, to my thinking, anywhere near the best way to approach this. Here’s another formulation, and one I think is considerably better: what explains the existence of objective morality? In light its features, its authority, the personal nature of morality, the guilt we experience for failing to comply, etc., what would the best explanation of morality be? Here’s yet another formulation: in light of the evidence of morality, does such evidence render theism more likely than not? And here’s another formulation: in light of the evidence of morality, does such evidence render theism more likely than it would otherwise be? How we cast the question reveals something about our criteria for theory selection. Are we expecting the evidence in question to provide a nail-tight case? Or good inductive evidence? Are we trying to provide the best explanation of the evidence? Are we trying to show the evidence shows a hypothesis to be true? More likely than not? More likely than it would otherwise be?

Note that SL’s formulation of the question under consideration assumes for a salient criterion that theism must provide the only possible explanation of objective morality. For God to be “required” for moral objectivity, no nontheistic hypothesis would be possibly true. This is a very high standard to satisfy, to say the least, and it’s altogether unclear to me how one would even go about trying to establish such a case. I assume, for example, that Platonism is a living possibility—brute moral facts in existence somehow on a par, in the minds of many, with mathematical facts. I don’t know how to argue that this is impossible, but I still think, as theories go, it leaves a great deal less explained than robust theism does. On my lights, therefore, I would give the nod to theism over Platonism. But that’s a far cry from insisting I have reason to say Platonism and every other nontheistic account of moral objectivity is impossible. I suspect that just about every effort to make such a case will fail. And the attempt that SL is critiquing is sure to fall prey to devastating criticisms, but this in no way gives us reason to think that God is ontologically irrelevant to morality. His criticism is predicated on an overly narrow criterion for theory selection.

Admittedly, at times SL doesn’t sound like he’s trying to give a definitive refutation of theistic ethics as he’s simply instead trying to show that believers and unbelievers alike have good reasons to be moral objectivists. I resonate with this goal, but when he subtly shifts his argument to suggest that “ethics doesn’t need God,” disambiguating between a less ambitious epistemic point that’s right and an extremely ambitious metaphysical point that’s weak is vitally important.

At any rate, SL argues that theists and atheists should reject the “argument from atheism,” which goes like this: Ethics is objective only if God exists. But God does not exist. Therefore ethics isn’t objective.

CoverTheists would reject the second premise, of course, but atheists, he claims, should reject the first premise—the premise that ethics is objective only if God exists. And I largely agree with him that atheists should indeed reject this premise, for this reason: the evidence for morality is strong in and of itself. We needn’t settle the God question first, and the morality question later. We all of us should affirm the existence of objective moral duties and values. Once we do, we can then explore whether or not morality suggests, points to, hints at, intimates at, or provides evidence for God, or if it doesn’t.

I suspect that SL is conflating two very different questions: (1) Must one first believe in God to be rational to believe in objective morality? & (2) Does morality provide evidence for God’s explanatory relevance to morality? He and I would agree that the answer to the first question is no, but I would completely reject any suggestion that this shows God’s ontological irrelevance to objective morality. This questions remains an altogether open one. For the answer to the first question might well be no, and yet God might still be the best explanation of morality. In light of the fact that epistemic and metaphysical matters are distinct in a certain way, an answer of no to the first question wouldn’t even preclude God’s being the only explanation of morality. But again, how to establish so ambitious a case is a task beyond most of us. But the main point is that an answer of no to the first question doesn’t so much as broach the issue of the evidential significance of morality on the question of theism.

In the next installment, we’ll consider the reason SL gives for why atheists should reject the idea that moral objectivity requires God.


Good God Panel Discussion with Baggett, Walls, Copan, and Craig (Part II)

Part I

At the 63rd Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, Dr. Baggett and Dr. Walls were invited to participate in a panel discussion of their book Good God with Paul Copan and William Lane Craig offering some critique and feedback on their work. Baggett and Walls provide a concise summary of the book, which is a cumulative and abductive moral argument for theism, while Copan and Craig offer insightful analysis. If you are interested in better understanding the moral argument in general or its abductive version in particular, this discussion will be well worth your time.

In Part II, Jerry Walls explains why it was necessary to address Calvinism in their moral argument. William Lane Craig responds to the critique of the deductive moral argument in Good God. And finally David Baggett responds to Craig by offering a defense of the abductive moral argument.

Part IIA – Jerry Walls on Calvinism

Part IIB – William Lane Craig Defense of Deduction

Part IIC – David Baggett Defense of Abduction

Good God Panel Discussion with Baggett, Walls, Copan, and Craig (Part I)

Part II

At the 63rd Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, Dr. Baggett and Dr. Walls were invited to participate in a panel discussion of their book Good God with Paul Copan and William Lane Craig offering some critique and feedback on their work. Baggett and Walls provide a concise summary of the book, which is a cumulative and abductive moral argument for theism, while Copan and Craig offer insightful analysis. If you are interested in better understanding the moral argument in general or its abductive version in particular, this discussion will be well worth your time.

In Part I, moderator Mark Foreman introduces the panelists and explains the context of the book. David Baggett provides a summary of their moral argument. Paul Copan offers what he thinks are the major highlights, a response to John Hare’s criticisms, as well as some criticisms of his own.





Download Good God panel discussion


Chapter 6, God and Cosmos, “Moral Knowledge” (Epistemic)


by Frederick Choo

To start off this chapter, Baggett and Walls give a set of scenarios. Suppose you look at a clock tower at 2 o’clock and form the belief that it is 2 o’clock. The first scenario is the discursive knowledge case. The clock is accurate and fully functional in this case. Given this, one seems to have justification and (inferential) knowledge. The second scenario is the nondiscursive knowledge scenario. While the clock is accurate and fully functional, one does not infer the time from such factors. Rather, having glanced at the clock, you simply find yourself believing it’s 2 o’clock. Or you intuitively know the time accurately without even looking at the clock (though this seems farfetched for us in the actual world). The point here is that this is something more intuitive and perhaps even properly basic, which counts as knowledge.

The third case is a Gettier case. Suppose that the clock broke 24 hours before. It is just a coincidence that you look at the clock at 2 o’clock. Here Baggett and Walls distinguish between objective justification and subjective justification. Objectively speaking, one lacks justification because one is relying on a defective clock. However, one has subjective justification because one has no reason to suspect that the clock is broken and has good reason to believe that it is 2 o’clock. However, one presumably lacks knowledge in this case. The last scenario is the random time scenario. Suppose that the clock was never made to give accurate times, but instead its hands are guided by a random set of electronic signals. So the clock gives the time it does because of causes which are completely disconnected from the actual time. Suppose it gives the time 7:15 when you know well that it is early afternoon. Here there is no knowledge and no justification to think that the time indicated is accurate.

While some may think that naturalism rules out moral knowledge, it does not mean that naturalists lack moral knowledge. For them (and everyone else) to lack moral knowledge, it must be that naturalism rules out moral knowledge and that naturalism is true. However, Baggett and Walls want to maintain that naturalists have moral knowledge.

They start by discussing discursive moral knowledge. Consider three categories of people. The first have argued that on naturalism, both morality and logic lose their validity. Some examples are C. S. Lewis, Victor Reppert and Alvin Plantinga.

The second, such as J. L. Mackie, Richard Joyce, E. O. Wilson, and Michael Ruse, argue that on naturalism, theoretical reasoning retains its power and validity, but normative moral categories are lost.

The last category of people think that reason (and logic) is reliable, and so we should think that morality should be thought of as reliable too. Such are moral realists like Derek Parfit, Erik Wielenberg, David Brink, and David Enoch.51PlwfRvNxL._SY445_QL70_

For example, they may say that we are committed to the existence of other norms of reasoning with the same ontological and epistemological properties as moral ones. Angus Ritchie (a theist) argues that there are true statements which (1) are both descriptive of entities and are also prescriptive to those rational agents who come to know their truth, and (2) they are neither analytic nor knowable by empirical research alone. Ritchie identifies norms of theory choice in the physical sciences. Some call these epistemic norms. Ritchie uses inference to the best explanation (IBE) as an example. Physicists routinely make such inferences. The principle is both descriptive and normative, for it tells us what we ought to accept on the basis of evidence generated by empirical observation and experimentation.

Hence based on IBEs, we are committed to the existence of synthetic a priori imperatives. David Enoch takes another approach by arguing that human beings can’t help but engage in explanatory projects in order to make sense of the world. Since the practice of explanation is indispensable, and principles of IBE are indispensable to that practice, we have to take their deliverances seriously. Ritchie further conjoins this with the practice of reflective equilibrium where we take singular intuitively compelling judgments and systematize them into general rules.

Next Baggett and Walls discuss nondiscursive moral knowledge. Psychologists distinguish between the “adaptive unconscious,” whose operations are fast, automatic, and effortless, and the operations of the conscious mind, which are slow and require work. The former is known as System 1 and the latter as System 2. Some knowledge is nondiscursive. Some, like Plantinga, have argued that certain beliefs are rational, justified, and warranted without being evidentially supported by other propositions because they are properly basic. Baggett and Walls suggest that it is reasonable to think that certain foundational, axiomatic moral convictions might qualify as properly basic beliefs.

Baggett and Walls next discuss moral Gettier cases. Angus Menuge says that the shared claimed of variants of evolutionary ethics (EE) is that the moral sense of human beings is the result of their natural history, which is contingent and could have been different. He makes a distinction where weak EE says that it is only our moral psychology (our moral beliefs) that would be different if we had evolved differently, while strong EE says that moral ontology itself (what actually is right or wrong) would be different if we evolved differently.

Strong EE’s main problem is that it makes human rights contingent. It cannot account for moral values and obligations well. Furthermore, Menuge points out that if rights are based on our natural capacities, then some individuals who suffer physical or mental defects do not have rights. Another point is that natural selection may explain what is good for an organism, in that certain characteristics can increase the likelihood of survival and reproduction. Yet the fact that X is good for Y does not imply that X is morally good.

Weak EE on the other hand gives us no grounds for thinking that we could know moral reality. On weak EE, it seems that one is right just by mere coincidence, since our epistemic moral faculties are not properly connected to moral truth. Erik Wielenberg replies that it is a mistake to assume that humans could have evolved with radically different moral principles from the ones we actually possess. While he admits some luck is involved, he does not think it is significant since the same luck afflicts many of our nonmoral beliefs also.

Baggett and Walls now discuss the challenge to justified moral beliefs. If moral beliefs are not dependent on the relevant moral truth-makers, then a tracking relation has not been established to show that our moral judgments essentially depend on actual moral truth. Gilbert Harman, for example, says that if moral beliefs can be given an evolutionary explanation, then they can be explained without appealing to their truth, and thus moral beliefs lack justification. Many others such as Guy Kahane, Michael Ruse, Richard Joyce, Sharon Street, and Mark Linville have advanced similar evolutionary debunking arguments.

Street, for example, assumes that our moral beliefs are fitness-aimed but asks if they are also truth-aimed. If there is no fitness-truth relation, then we should be skeptical about morality. If there is a fitness-truth relation, then it is either that moral beliefs have reproductive fitness because they are true (the tracking relation) or simply because of the fitness they have conferred (the adaptive link account). The adaptive link account leads to constructivism. The moral realist needs a tracking account but this seems implausible. A tracking account of paternal instincts, for example, has to say that such instincts were favored not just because such behavior preserved DNA, but also because it is independently true that parents ought to care for their offspring. Richard Joyce thinks similarly, yet thinks that there is wisdom in a fictionalist approach to ethics, acting as if there are binding moral truths for the purpose of social harmony.

How do secularists respond to the challenge? Baggett and Walls first consider replies by secular naturalists who take moral properties to be natural properties. They examine the Cornell realist account advanced by Boyd, Brink, and Sturgeon. Sturgeon replies to Harman by saying that moral facts are explanatorily relevant. Sturgeon thinks that moral facts are commonly and plausibly thought to have explanatory relevance since many moral explanations appear to be good explanations. Consider the case of Hitler. Harman thinks that we should not think that, over and above such natural facts about Hitler as his anti-semitism and will to power, there is a moral fact of Hitler’s depravity. Sturgeon follows Kripke in suggesting that moral terms rigidly designate natural properties, so moral terms pick out natural properties and track them. Justice, for example, picks out some properties such as equity displayed in the distribution of societal goods. This, however, seems to embrace weak EE which seems saddled with an intractable epistemic challenge.

Baggett and Walls then consider instead secular accounts which take moral properties to be non-natural properties (which supervene on natural properties). Neither David Enoch nor Erik Wielenberg provides a tracking account and, and both concede that our moral judgments are not likely directly caused by the relevant moral truths. Instead, they endorse a “third factor” explanation. If we can explain why (1) x causes y, and (2) x entails z, then we have explained why y and z go together.

For example, on one view in philosophy of mind, brain state B causes action A, and B entails mental state M (M supervenes on B), therefore we can explain why M and A go together. Enoch says that this is a (Godless) pre-established-harmony type of explanation. Enoch’s solution assumes that survival or reproductive success is at least somewhat good generally. Next he says that evolutionary selective forces have shaped our normative judgments and beliefs with the aim of survival or reproductive success. So the fact that survival is good pre-establishes the harmony between the normative truths and our normative beliefs. While Baggett and Walls think that Enoch’s approach has potential, they point out that other worldviews can also affirm the value of human beings and their survival, and arguably better.

Wielenberg’s approach is similar but identifies a different third factor. His third factor is certain cognitive faculties. He says that relevant cognitive faculties entail the presence of moral rights and generate beliefs about such rights. How do those faculties entail moral rights? Briefly, he thinks that in light of our cognitive faculties that recognize overriding normative reasons to act, rights are thereby entailed. The primary reservation Baggett and Walls have regarding Wielenberg’s account is ontological. They think his account does not do justice to the authority of morality, and does not satisfactory explain the existence of binding moral obligations and human rights.

To support the claim that theism better explains our moral knowledge than secular accounts, Baggett and Walls look to Ritchie. In From Morality to Metaphysics: The Theistic Implications of our Ethical Commitments, Ritchie advances a moral argument for God by accomplishing three central tasks. First he presses the distinction between justification and explanation of moral truths. Second, he engages secular accounts that address moral cognition. Lastly, he defends the theistic alternative. Ritchie asks three questions about the genesis and justification of our cognitive capacities. (1) What is the justification for our faith in their reliability? (2) What is the historical explanation for their development? (3) What is the explanation for their capacity for tracking truth? Ritchie grants the naturalist moral justification and even moral knowledge, but argues that naturalism fails to explain the truth-tracking ability of our moral cognition. He thinks that natural selection can tell a story of how humans come to have truth-tracking capacities for theoretical reasoning, namely, that we will survive better if we hold true beliefs that derive from theoretical reasoning. However, he denies that such correlation is nearly so plausible in the moral case. He thinks that a value system based on survival, replication, and pleasure alone is inadequate. He thinks that there needs to be a wider teleological explanation, one that ultimately involves the intentions of God.

In summary, Baggett and Walls think that (assuming moral realism) moral knowledge is possible. Naturalism faces some challenges from those who Gettierize or challenge naturalists on the issue of moral justification. Instead of arguing that naturalism cannot account for moral knowledge, Baggett and Walls grants moral knowledge but thinks that theism provides a better explanation of our knowledge than naturalism. While they admit that third factor solutions seem to have potential, such solutions are entirely consistent with theism, and in Enoch’s case theism seems to feature better resources to deploy such a solution. So in agreement with Ritchie, they conclude that even if moral knowledge is consistent with naturalism, a better explanation is a theistic one.


Chapter 2: “The Case for Abduction” of God and Cosmos: Moral Truth and Human Meaning

Summary by Frederick Choo

In this chapter, Baggett and Walls motivate using an abductive moral argument over a deductive moral argument. They first review what they call the Anti-Platonist Moral Argument (APMA), such as the one proposed by William Lane Craig:

P1. If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist.
P2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
C3. Therefore, God exists

To prevent ruling out theistic ethics, Baggett and Walls take Craig’s definition of objective moral (deontic) truths to be facts according to which some actions and motivations are right or wrong independently of whether any human mind believes it to be so.

As previously mentioned in Good God, some theists have reservations about the argument. C. Stephen Layman, a theist himself, rejects APMA because of P1 which he thinks is unappealing to nonbelievers, especially Platonists. If Platonism is true, then P1 is false, because one can appeal to a possible world where God does not exist but objective moral value and duties do (since moral values and duties exist necessarily on their view). One may counter that God’s existence is necessary, so there is no such world and Platonism is false. However to do so would be to appeal to C3 which would be circular. Hence, Layman thinks that P1 lacks non-circular justification, wide enough support, adequate intuitive force, and sufficient obviousness.

9780199931194John Milliken, another theist, similarly rejects P1. He imagines a world such us ours without God. He thinks intuitively that, in such a world, morality still holds. In more philosophical terms, he takes P1 to be a nontrivially false counterpossible (since he is committed to Divine necessity).

In Good God, Baggett and Walls have also previously offered their criticisms, and in John Hare’s (another theist) review of Good God, Hare says that Baggett and Walls have argued convincingly that Craig’s view that atheism leads to moral nihilism is unlikely to be persuasive. Note that Baggett and Walls do not think Craig’s argument is bad or unsound, rather that it is relatively unpersuasive to many atheists for a few reasons. Hence they propose one should adopt their abductive moral argument instead.

For the classical theist, a world such as ours could not even exist without God, while for the atheist, the world is possible without God. Hence a world such as ours, with at least the appearance of love, relationships, satisfactions of morality, social harmony, clear moral apprehensions, etc., is possible without God for the atheist. Baggett and Walls think that it is better to approach atheists by affirming their common convictions about moral truth and then asking what better explains such facts, rather than encouraging them to assume such a world like the actual world is consistent with atheism, providing them a lot of theoretical resources to use, and inviting them to construct a secular moral theory. It would be strange if atheists could not come up with a substantive moral theory using the rich resources of a world like ours, which is only here (if theists are right) because God created it with such features. This allows atheists to travel some distance down the road in building an ethical theory. Hence Baggett and Walls prefer an abductive moral argument that does not rely on P1.

Craig however thinks that his formulation has the advantage of meeting the atheist in the world as he conceives it to be and asking whether morality would be objective without God. The problem however is that while one allows such a world with such rich resources to be consistent with atheism, one (potentially anyway) dismisses too hastily the atheists’ serious efforts to build a secular ethic. This explains why so many secular theories have emerged and sport considerable merit. It is not as if secular theories fail altogether to explain anything morally. They can get somewhere given the resources of the world. Baggett and Walls think however that this world conjoined with God provides a better explanation of the full range of moral facts.

Other theistic ethicists seem to recognize this. Robert Adams, for example, thought social requirement theory had its strengths in explaining the idea that obligations are owed to persons. Human social requirement theory is not without resources to make sense of this, but adding God is crucial to complete the theory. Another example is Linda Zagzebski who grounds morality in motivations and admits that the first half of her theory can be constructed without reference to God at all. She then completes her theory by bringing God in.

Craig however thinks that when it gets down to showing that the best explanation of objective moral values and duties is God, one will slip into arguing that, given atheism, objective moral values and duties would not exist. So the abductive argument still ends up doing the same thing as the deductive argument. Contra Craig, Baggett and Walls think that they are doing something different. The deductive argument says, “Imagine the world is atheistic, now try to make sense of morality, you can’t.” The abductive argument instead says, “Suspend belief on whether the world is atheistic or theistic, try to make sense of morality. Given its features, you can make some progress. But what better explains the fuller range of moral facts in need of explanation, the world alone or the world and God?”

In short, they list five main problems in total with the deductive argument (TDA). In a footnote, they construct an Acrostic called CARBS:

1. Counterpossibles.
Counterpossibles are counterfactuals with an impossible antecedent. For example, “If a necessarily good and loving God commanded murder and torture for fun, it would be right to do so,” or “If there were a square circle, mathematicians would be puzzled.” For the classical theist, if God exists necessarily, then “God does not exist” would be impossible. Hence P1 is a counterpossible (according to classical theists), and a particularly intractable counterpossible—one in which the being presumed to be the very ground of being doesn’t exist. Presuming to know the features of such an intractably impossible world strains credulity. (Note that “If God doesn’t exist, then God didn’t create the world,” doesn’t seem particularly problematic, but it’s also analytic.)

2. Acknowledging the rich features of a world like this if it could exist without God.
The deductive method doesn’t allow enough room to acknowledge what would be the simply amazing features of a world like this if it could exist without God, whereas the abductive approach allows the world without God to explain some of morality, while providing the explanation for why it can.

3. Rejecting realism instead of naturalism.
By allowing the atheist to think this world with its features is compatible with atheism, it is easy for them to reject moral realism instead of naturalism, contributing to the escalation of nihilism Nietzsche predicted would ensue from the “death of God.” The abductive method instead keeps the moral facts in question front and center as the starting data in need of explanation.

4. Bridge-breaking.
The deductive version can sever the bridge with naturalists by focusing on differences rather than similarities. The abductive argument agrees that the world can account for some of the moral data to a certain extent, and then shows how adding God to the picture offers a considerably more robust explanation.

5. Saying uncomfortable things.
The deductive version makes us say very uncomfortable, unintuitive, and unnecessary things like “If God does not exist, then rape is not wrong.” The abductive version avoids this.

Introduction and Summary of David Baggett’s and Jerry Walls’ God and Cosmos: Chapter 1, “Alone in the Cosmos”

Summary by Frederick  Choo

In their previous book, Good God, David Baggett and Jerry Walls defended their theory of theistic ethics. Their theory grounds rightness in Divine commands and goodness in the Divine nature. In this second book, God and Cosmos, they aim to address competing secular ethical theories and show that they ultimately fail to provide an adequate account of the full range of moral phenomena in need of explanation. Instead, God and cosmos together best explain the moral phenomena (hence the title). Their methodology is to begin with various moral data, and then look at the explanations to see which best explains the various data. In short, they advance a cumulative abductive moral argument for God. In doing so, they assume moral realism, the view that objective morality exists. Whether moral realism is true will be addressed in another book to be published. God and Cosmos is rich in philosophy and many philosophical terms; in my summary, I will try to simplify it to be more accessible to the lay reader and highlight the main points.

Chapter 1: Alone in the Cosmos

Naturalism or materialism is the idea that the physical world exhausts reality. This view is held by many intellectuals. In this chapter, Baggett and Walls discuss naturalism and its history. They start a historical sketch all the way from the ancient philosopher Thales. Their brief sketch is meant to make three points.

The first point is what they call the deflationary fallacy. This fallacy is when one attempts to co-opt and appropriate a thinker (or insight) to the cause of one’s worldview, despite compelling counter evidence. For example, some might cast the stoic philosophers as allies of naturalism. But this is difficult because their ethical thought was bound up in their theology as seen in many of their writings.

9780199931194The second point is to highlight the diversity among secular thinkers. While Baggett and Walls generally use words like “atheistic,” “secular,” and “naturalistic” interchangeably, they note that there is a need to disambiguate at certain points. For example, an ethical realist who believes that there is no God may believe that moral facts are not reducible to natural facts. He is an atheist and secularist, but not a naturalist. This is an example of the diversity among secular thinkers. One significant set of atheists, who stand in the tradition of Friedrich Nietzsche, thinks that the death of God results in having no objective morality. The result is moral nihilism where there is no God and no objective morality. Another significant set of atheists think instead that without God, nothing much changes at all. On such a view, objective morality still exists. They however disagree upon which secular ethical theory is correct. Various secular theories need to be addressed differently. In this book, Baggett and Walls aim to address a range of different theories which affirm objective morality (and, again, will address those who deny objective morality in a later book).

The third point they wish to bring out is a third option beyond theism and naturalism. Their salient example is Thomas Nagel’s account. Nagel thinks that naturalism is bound up with problems, yet he remains an atheist, resisting theism, by offering another alternative. In his book, Mind and Cosmos, Nagel argues that various features of the human condition – value, meaning, cognition, consciousness, agency – are beyond the ability of naturalism to account for. In finding an adequate explanation of value, Nagel divides the question into the constitutive issue concerning what value is all about and the historical question of how it could come about that we could recognize objective value and be motivated by it. Nagel opts for a nonintentional teleological (purposive) explanation. He writes that “these things may be determined not merely by value-free chemistry and physics but also by something else, namely a cosmic predisposition to the formation of life, consciousness, and the value that is inseparable from them.” So Nagel thinks objective morality exists, yet naturalism cannot ground it, and yet he resists resorting to theistic foundations.

Nagel’s recurring theme is also that the mind must be central to the story of reality, something that somehow guided the process form the start. However, Nagel is skeptical about theism for a few reasons. First, Nagel rejects theism because it does not seem to be a live option for him. He says while others may find it so, he has not been blessed with the sensus divinitatis (a sense of the Divine). Second, in finding an adequate explanation, he is committed to antireductionism and that certain things cannot be explained as merely accidental. The most important is “the ideal of discovering a single natural order that unified everything on the basis of a set of common elements and principles.” Nagel thinks that accepting the Divine mind as the stopping point leaves the explanation incomplete. Theism on his view “amounts to the hypothesis that the highest-order explanation of how things hang together is of a certain type, namely intentional or purposive, without having anything more to say about how that intention operates, except what is found in the results to be explained.” He further thinks theism and Cartesian dualism (the view that there exists a non-physical mind and physical body) fail to achieve a single natural order. For example, by appealing to miracles, one attempts to explain features of the world by appealing beyond the world. Hence he thinks that theism pushes the quest for intelligibility outside the world and fails to explain intelligibility from within the world. The only kind of theism that Nagel may accept is a non-interventionist one, where God created the world in such a way that it was henceforth self-sustaining and self-regulating.

Baggett and Walls offer a few replies. First, the fact that Nagel himself does not personally have a sense of the Divine is no evidence against theism. There is still the question of whether the arguments for theism are good ones. Second, Baggett and Walls argue that theism can meet Nagel’s aesthetic bias in favor of an integrated worldview. They note that C. S. Lewis himself seemed to have anticipated such an objection, where people find miracles intolerable. The reason why they find it intolerable is because “they start by taking Nature to be the whole of reality. And they are sure that all reality must be interrelated and consistent.” Lewis agrees with the aesthetic constraint for an integrated worldview but points out that the problem is taking nature to be the whole of reality. If God is real, then miracles still fulfill the aesthetic constraint. Lewis also addresses the concern that miracles are irregularities or arbitrary interventions. He says that if miracles have occurred, it is because they are the very thing this universal story is about; it is where the plot turns. Atoms, time, and space are not the main plot of the story. So miracles are not arbitrary or ad hoc interruptions. Lastly, Lewis also argued that if naturalism is true, we have no reason to trust our convictions that nature is uniform. But if theism is true, then it is plausible that our convictions are generally reliable, yet it also entails that miracles are plausible and are part of our world alongside the uniformity of majority of events. So theism can meet Nagel’s aesthetic constraint for an integrated worldview, and Nagel’s rejection of it is premature.