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Richard Carrier and the Arbitrariness Objection

September 5th, 2014 by Matt

In, “Is ethical naturalism more plausible than Supernaturalism“, I criticised Walter Sinnott-Armstrong’s objection that a divine command theory (DCT) makes morality arbitrary. Armstrong argued:

“Let’s assume that God commanded us not to rape. Did God have any reason to command this? If not, his command was arbitrary, and then it can’t make anything morally wrong. On the other hand, if God did have a reason to command us not to rape, then that reason is what makes rape morally wrong. The command itself is superfluous. Either way, morality cannot Carrierdepend on God’s commands.”[1]

This argument can be summarized as follows:

[1] Either: (i) there is a reason, r, why God prohibits rape; or, (ii) there is no reason, r, why God prohibits rape.

[2] If there is no reason, r, why God prohibits rape, then God’s commands are arbitrary.

[3] If there is a reason, r, why God prohibits rape then, r, is what makes rape morally wrong.

[4] If r is what makes rape morally wrong then God’s commands are superfluous.

In response, I argued this argument commits the fallacy of equivocation because the word “makes” in premise [3] and [4] is ambiguous. I noted the word “makes” can be used in at least two different senses.

One sense refers to constitutive explanations, such as when one affirms that what makes a cup of clear liquid a cup of water is that fact the liquid is H20. The second refers to a motivational explanation, as in, when I state that my love for my children makes me persevere in parenting. If the word makes is used in the constitutive sense, [4] is true but [3] is false. If it’s used in a motivational sense [3] is true but [4] is false. Either way the argument fails.

Armstrong’s Dilemma
In a footnote, Carrier dismisses this response as “hand waving” and “completely off point”:”When Armstrong says “reason [r] is what makes rape morally wrong” he simply means “r is the reason rape is morally wrong.” Thus “r is what makes rape morally wrong” simply means “rape is morally wrong when r.”[2]

There are two problems with this response.

First, Carrier’s assertion that Armstrong “simply means ‘r is the reason rape is morally wrong’” is not supported by the text. Two pages earlier, Armstrong explicitly states he intends [Read more →]

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Video: “Discussing Divine Command Theory” Special Guest: Matthew Flannagan

September 1st, 2014 by Matt

Last week I was invited to be part of a discussion on divine command ethics in Google hangouts. The full discussion is now on-line as episode 22 of Ode to Dialogue: “Discussing Divine Command Theory.” Enjoy.

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Ethical Supernaturalism is still more Plausible than Naturalism: Carrier’s Preliminary Objections

August 20th, 2014 by Matt

Last year I had an article Is Ethical Naturalism more plausible than Supernaturalism: A reply to Walter Sinnott Armstrong published in the journal Philo. In the comments section a reader asked me to comment on a response to that article published by classical historian Richard Carrier. This post will be the first of several where I do so.Carrier

In, Is Ethical Naturalism more Plausible than Supernaturalism, I did two things. Firstly, I briefly explicated a conditional that has recently been proposed explicitly by William Lane Craig but which is also defended by several others, and secondly I rebutted several arguments raised against this conditional by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong. Carrier argues my rebuttals fail, but before he does so he offers three preliminary arguments against the positive thesis I was defending against Armstrong. It is these that I will address in this post.

The Contention

The conditional I explicated as follows:

Craig’s contention is that if theism is true then we can plausibly explain the nature of moral obligation by identifying obligations with God’s commands, analogous to the way “we explain the nature of water by identifying it with H2O, or explain the nature of heat by identifying it with molecular motion.” By “God” Craig means a necessarily existent, all-powerful, all-knowing, loving and just, immaterial person who created and providentially orders the universe.[1]

Note three things.

First, this is a conditional, if affirms that if theism is true then then we can plausibly explain the nature of moral obligation by identifying obligations with God’s commands.

Second, I define the concept of God used in this conditional as a necessarily existent, all-powerful, all-knowing, loving and just, immaterial person who created and providentially orders the universe.

Third, this conditional specifies the kind of grounding relationship I am addressing, one where the relationship between God’s commands and moral obligations is one of identity. It’s the same kind of [Read more →]

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“Telling the Big Story” (or how not to engage culture with theology)

May 4th, 2014 by Matt

One thing that tends to make my eyes glaze over is the mantra, expressed so frequently by some evangelicals in New Zealand,  that we live in a post-modern society and so theology should, instead of involving the rational defense of truth, be focused on “telling the big story” or “sharing the narrative”, and we should invite others to partake and find meaning.

William Lane Craig, expresses well some of the reservations I have with this position in the video below.

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Open Letter to Maurice Williamson

May 2nd, 2014 by Matt

Dear Maurice Williamson,

Maurice Williamson and his "big gay rainbow"I hear you are having some troubles in the media at the moment. Apparently there are moral questions swirling around you about honest disclosure, potential abuse of power, unduly influencing the police in favour of a person who donated money to you, and so on.

Don’t let judgmental people like Prime Minister John Key discriminate against you any longer. Such people clearly believe they can make moral judgments about what is appropriate and impose them onto you. Stand up to the bigots.

Here is my advice to you.

Call a press conference and do the following:

  1. Point out that the moral rules about lying and bribing being an abomination come from that archaic book, The Bible. While you are at it, make a sarcastic jab about how some people think you will go to hell for doing such things, then mock this belief with silly jokes about the physics of hell.
  2. Observe that there was recently a rainbow in New Zealand somewhere and opine that this proves that God approves of your actions.

Do this and I am certain you will be hailed as a man of great moral insight. All will agree that you have given a decisive answer to the serious moral questions raised about your conduct. Perhaps David Farrar will blog about it on Kiwiblog, you’ll get offers to stand for Governor in several states in America, and someone in Hollywood might even offer you a spot on their show to obtain your insight.

We all know, after all, that serious moral questions can be adequately set aside by engaging in these kind of tactics, and given your well known moral insight and wisdom, that’s all you need to do. You have led the nation utilising such wisdom and discernment in the past, I am sure you can do it again.

All the best,

Matthew Flannagan

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Shawn Bawulski and the Problem of Hell: Part One

April 26th, 2014 by Matt

The traditional conception of hell understands the punishment of the finally impenitent to be conscious eternal torment. The punishment of hell is eternal in the sense of it being of unending duration and it involves conscious torment. Annihilationists, on the other hand, argue the traditional view is contrary to scripture. They contend that, in scripture, the punishment of hell is eternal destruction, which involves the total and irreversible destruction of the wicked. Hell is eternal in the sense that the ultimate punishment inflicted in hell, death, is permanent; one is dead forever and is never resurrected or reincarnated to live another life.

HellMuch of the debate over this in evangelical circles is exegetical. It focuses on the meanings of biblical phrases such as “eternal fire,” “eternal destruction,” “death,” “perish,” “everlasting contempt,” “eternal punishment,” “unquenchable fire,” “second death,” “killing the body, “soul,” “lake of fire,” “the smoke of their torment rises forever,” “blackest darkness [that] has been reserved forever,” “outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth”, and so on. Traditionalists take these passages to refer to eternal conscious torment where as annihilationists argue that, in their contexts, they signify permanent destruction of the wicked.

In his article, “Annihilationism, Traditionalism and the problem of Hell”[1], Shawn Bawulski brackets these exegetical issues and focuses on the ability of each conception to answer an objection to the concept of hell. He dubs this objection as “the logical problem of hell”. His conclusion is that traditionalism offers a more plausible answer to this objection than annihilationism does. I think Bawulski’s arguments for this conclusion fails. Here, however, I will simply comment on the “problem of hell” as he articulates it.

Bawulski’s elucidates the problem of hell as follows:

(A) Justice demands that punishment for sins must be proportionate to their seriousness; it is unjust for punishment of sins to be disproportionate to their seriousness.
(B) No human sin or lifetime of human sinning can be infinite in seriousness.
(C ) Hell is infinite punishment.
(D) To punish human sins with hell is to punish human sins disproportionately to their seriousness. (From (B) and (C)).
(E) Therefore, hell is an unjust punishment for human sins.[2]

This argument turns on the notion of “infinity.” Bawulski notes: “The language of infinitude in this discussion can be vague and slippery” and the argument “has the liability of possibly equivocating” and can, be used in at least two different senses. The first sense, is the sense Bawulski officially states [Read more →]

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True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism – in Paperback

March 31st, 2014 by Madeleine

True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New AtheismThe paperback version of the Kindle book, True Reason: Christian Responses to the Challenges of Atheism,  which Matt wrote a chapter for, recently arrived from the publishers. This release has been re-released as True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism (the link takes you to the book’s official website).

True Reason is still edited by Tom Gilson and Carson Weitnauer and is still published by Kregal Publications; however, this edition has been updated and expanded and it has two additional chapters. The table of contents is as follows:

  1. The Party of Reason?
    Tom Gilson
  2. The Irony of Atheism
    Carson Weitnauer
  3. Dawkins’s Delusion
    William Lane Craig
  4. Richard Dawkins’s Illusions
    Chuck Edwards
  5. Unreason at the Head of Project Reason
    Tom Gilson
  6. John Loftus and the “Outsider-Insider Test for Faith”
    David Marshall
  7. Atheism and the Argument from Reason*
    Lenny Esposito
  8. The Explanatory Emptiness of Naturalism
    David Wood
  9. Reason in a Christian Context
    Peter Grice
  10. The Marriage of Faith and Reason
    David Marshall
  11. Faith and Reason in Historical Perspective*
    David Marshall and Timothy McGrew
  12. A Sun to See By—Christianity, Meaning, and Morality
    Samuel J. Youngs
  13. Are Science and Christianity at Odds?
    Sean McDowell
  14. God and Science Do Mix
    Tom Gilson
  15. The Problem of Evil and Reasonable Christian Responses
    John DePoe
  16. Historical Evidences for the Gospels
    Randy Hardman
  17. Did God Command the Genocide of the Canaanites?
    Matthew Flannagan
  18. Christianity and Slavery
    Glenn Sunshine
  19. Epilogue
    Carson Weitnauer

*Chapters Seven and Eleven are new additions in the second edition, not included in the Kindle version of True Reason.

Read the author’s bios here.

The blurb from Amazon is as follows:

Today’s New Atheists proclaim themselves our culture’s party of reason. It is a claim they cannot sustain. Reason is the New Atheists’ weakness, not their strength and in fact, the Christian faith is a far better place to look for True Reason.

In sixteen carefully constructed essays by more than a dozen Christian thinkers including William Lane Craig, Sean McDowell, and Timothy McGrew,True Reason unmasks the frequent irrationality displayed by leading atheists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. The authors go on to show the great extent to which the Christian faith has historically supported sound reasoning, and that Christian thinkers, past and present, have demonstrated real excellence in reasoned, rational thinking.

Making their case accessible to the first-time inquirer as well as the serious student, this top-flight team of writers presents a sound defense and a strong introduction to the true reason uniquely found in Christianity.

You can buy the paperback version of True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism on Amazon here.

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