Humanism for children

The American Humanist Association is promoting a new Web site that is designed to furnish children with a naturalistic or … Continued

The American Humanist Association is promoting a new Web site that is designed to furnish children with a naturalistic or atheistic perspective on science, sexuality, and other topics. The stated goal of the Web site is laudatory: “to encourage curiosity, critical thinking, and tolerance among young people, as well as to provide accurate information regarding a wide range of issues related to humanism, science, culture, and history.”

The problem is that those values have no inherent connection with naturalism, which is a philosophical viewpoint that holds that there is nothing beyond the physical contents of the universe. One doesn’t need to be a naturalist in order to endorse curiosity, critical thinking, tolerance, and the pursuit of accurate information on a wide range of topics.

Ironically, the AHA has been remarkably uncritical in thinking about the truth of naturalism and of humanism in particular.

For example, why think that naturalism is true? The last half century has witnessed a veritable renaissance of Christian philosophy. In a recent article, University of Western Michigan philosopher Quentin Smith laments “the desecularization of academia that evolved in philosophy departments since the late 1960s.” Complaining of naturalists’ passivity in the face of the wave of “intelligent and talented theists entering academia today,” Smith concludes, “God is not ‘dead’ in academia; he returned to life in the late 1960s and is now alive and well in his last academic stronghold, philosophy departments.”

This renaissance of Christian philosophy has been accompanied by a resurgence of interest in arguments for God’s existence based on reason and evidence alone, apart from the resources of divine revelation like the Bible. All of the traditional arguments for God’s existence, such as the cosmological, teleological, moral, and ontological arguments, not to mention creative, new arguments, find intelligent and articulate defenders on the contemporary philosophical scene.

But what about the so-called “New Atheism” exemplified by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens? Doesn’t it signal a reversal of this trend? Not really. The New Atheism is, in fact, a pop cultural phenomenon lacking in intellectual muscle and blissfully ignorant of the revolution that has taken place in academic philosophy. In my debates with naturalistic philosophers and scientists I have been frankly stunned by their inability both to refute the various arguments for God and to provide any persuasive arguments for naturalism.

Moreover, naturalism faces severe problems of its own. The philosopher Alvin Plantinga has argued persuasively that naturalism cannot even be rationally affirmed. For if naturalism was true, the probability that our cognitive faculties would be reliable is pretty low. For those faculties have been shaped by a process of natural selection which does not select for truth but merely for survival. There are many ways in which an organism could survive without its beliefs’ being true. Hence, if naturalism were true, we could not have any confidence that our beliefs are true, including the belief in naturalism itself! Thus, naturalism seems to have a built-in defeater that renders it incapable of being rationally affirmed.

The problem for the humanist is even worse, however. For humanism is just one form of naturalism. It is a version of naturalism that affirms the objective value of human beings. But why think that if naturalism were true, human beings would have objective moral value? There are three options before us:

• The theist maintains that objective moral values are grounded in God.

• The humanist maintains that objective moral values are grounded in human beings.

• The nihilist maintains that moral values are ungrounded and therefore ultimately subjective and illusory.

The humanist is thus engaged in a struggle on two fronts: on the one side against the theists and on the other side against the nihilists. This is important because it underlines the fact that humanism is not a default position. That is to say, even if the theist were wrong, that would not mean that the humanist is right. For if God does not exist, maybe it is the nihilist who is right. The humanist needs to defeat both the theist and the nihilist. In particular, he must show that in the absence of God, nihilism would not be true.

The new humanist Web site never encourages kids to think critically about the tough questions concerning the justification of humanism itself. Humanists tend to be condescendingly dismissive of theism and oblivious to nihilism. Meanwhile, they blithely extol the virtues of critical thinking, curiosity, and science, apparently unaware of the incoherence at the heart of their own worldview.

William Lane Craig is a theologian and philosopher as well as founder of ReasonableFaith.org, a nonprofit organization that aims to provide a Christian perspective on the most important issues concerning the truth of the faith today.

  • RossJ

    It looks like atheists have descended on the comments in full force. It’s a pity that so many fail to engage the article, but instead resort to personal attacks against the author.

    Craig’s argument here looks pretty strong.

    The AHA just assumes the “humanist” position is right, no different from fundamentalists of any other creed.

    How about practising what you preach, AHA?

  • itsthedax

    Let’s practice Craig’s tactics instead, shall we?

    a. I define christianity as being contained within the principles of Zoroatrianism.
    b. The bible does not address Zoroastrianism.
    c. The bible has therefore failed.

    This is essentially what’s done in his “strong” argument about naturalism/humanism.

  • RossJ

    What in the world are you talking about?

  • TheTexanCanadian

    Critical thinking is what leads one away from theism. If it’s a choice between raising nihilistic children or humanistic children, that’s going to be a no-brainer for the vast majority of parents.

    What’s hilarious is that all of this is couched in philosophy… it just goes to show how culturally isolated Craig is. Parents often don’t even know algebra, much less formal philosophy… just as skepticism has two meanings, so does naturalism. All of this is a straw man to make himself look smart, nothing more.

  • Youknowwho

    @itsthedax: From the first paragaph of your link: “They urged that reality is exhausted by nature, containing nothing ‘supernatural’” – how more atheistic can you get?

    @TheTexanCanadian: Your statement has been disproven by critical thinkers that have become theists. Any comment that their thinking was flawed can be as easily pointed to your own thinking.

  • itsthedax

    You mean this statement: “Humanism encompasses a variety of nontheistic views (atheism, agnosticism, rationalism, naturalism, secularism, and so forth) while adding the important element of a comprehensive worldview and set of ethical values—values that are grounded in the philosophy of the Enlightenment, informed by scientific knowledge, and driven by a desire to meet the needs of people in the here and now.”

    No. On the basis of that, I don’t see the need to retract anything.

  • RossJ

    So you’re okay with contradicting yourself?

    Go on, tell me about how atheism is so rational again.

  • itsthedax

    Youknowwho, are you claiming that the scientific method and religion are mutually exclusive, or that religion is equivalent to superstition.

  • itsthedax

    Ross, I’m not an atheist.

    Because a website makes a passing reference to “naturalism”, along with several other ‘isms’ doesn’t mean that it is encompassed within naturalism. Just the opposite.

  • YvonneF

    This section shows very poor understanding of probability and natural selection: ” For if naturalism was true, the probability that our cognitive faculties would be reliable is pretty low. For those faculties have been shaped by a process of natural selection which does not select for truth but merely for survival. There are many ways in which an organism could survive without its beliefs’ being true.”

    Craig cannot have paid much attention to the *details* of evolutionary studies of animal behavior… Reliability in the match of cognitive predictions to environments – including social and physical environments, for primates – is absolutely crucial to survival and reproduction. “Simple” animals absolutely must have analagous matches.

    This is basic stuff and I cannot believe that no scientist has brought it up with Craig. Perhaps he finds details to shoot down a couple of examples and ignores the preponderance of evolutionary evidence?

  • Joel Hardman

    I agree. I feel like I’m missing something in the Plantinga argument. Natural selection isn’t completely random and it seems trivially obvious that accurate perceptions of the natural world would aid survivability immensely. Why wouldn’t that lead to increased ability to perceive the world accurately?

    Maybe the disconnect is that Plantinga and Craig think naturalism has no claim to some ill-defined higher truth. The naturalist has access to what I consider a more useful form of truth: empirical evidence.

  • Secular1

    I hadn’t until today thought of this aspect in terms of truthiness of intuition. Obviously intuition A if is statistically more truthful of the hostile environment than intuition B, then creatures with intuition A have differentially better chance of survival than those with intuition B. As simple as that and Craig is either an idiot not to see this or is purposely obfuscating. Or he is without integrity to put forth such deceptive argument.

  • Joel Hardman

    This article (and some of the awesome comments below) are a tremendous summary of the type of mental gymnastics necessary to be a theistic apologist. To wit:

    - Naturalists can’t be sure that our natural world is as it appears to be, yet can and do know that god exists.

    - Philosophical proofs of god are more reliable in some way than empirical evidence of the natural world.

  • RossJ

    I don’t recall the article saying that naturalists can know that God exists.

    Nor do I see any empirical evidence that contradicts philosophical arguments for God’s existence.

    To wit you’re wrong, Joel.

  • Mark Travers

    This article is a stock-standard Craig response to contrary opinions that he dislikes. He has followed the same formula with Dawkins and Stephen Hawking, and it follows as:

    Step 1 – rather than discuss the whole contrary argument, he focuses on one aspect
    Step 2 – Labes that aspect as a form of an obscure philosophy that few are familiar with (regardless of wether its an accurate representation)
    Step 3 – Allude to his academic credentials by saying he thinks that obscure philosophy is flawed and substandard.

    Basically, most of his arguments are long, convoluted “argument from authority” fallacies.

  • HankMcGee

    Why is it trivially obvious? Suppose I met what I believe is the most interesting woman in the world. In actuality, her round hips and plump breasts simply make for a very fertile partner to reproduce. I see no reason to think that survivability equals truth.

  • Joel Hardman

    HankMcGee,

    I don’t think your example is very helpful. In it you’re perceiving the world accurately, then making a subjective value judgment. Just because we can’t evaluate the truth of your subjective judgment doesn’t mean your perception is inaccurate.

    I think a better example would be if you misperceived a grizzly bear to be a beautiful woman. That would actually be a misperception and it would have definite survival implications.

  • Joel Hardman

    RossJ,

    Yeah, your first objection is the result of a typo. Sorry about that. My first sentence should read:

    - Naturalists can’t be sure that our natural world is as it appears to be, yet theists can and do know that god exists.

    As to your second objection, Craig presents an argument that we can’t be sure that our perceptions of the natural world are accurate. We have a tremendous amount of empirical evidence to suggest that our perceptions of the natural world are accurate. We can make predictions about the movement of objects, build machines that work, etc. On the other hand, Craig has only philosophical “proofs” to suggest that god exists. He rejects naturalism and embraces theism, thereby implying that philosophy is more reliable than empirical evidence.

  • Secular1

    Joel Hardman, I disagree that Craig has anything philosophical or otherwise. The subject matter here is existence of a being that affects the physical world leave the morality and ethics aside. For such a creature no philosophical or logical proofs are sufficient. In fact I would say that i have not even seen philosophical proofs, either. All these proofs I have seen are very labored wishful thinkings and run along the lines of Reductio ad absurdum paradigm. Only they are not correct, as their axiomatic assumptions do not hold water.

    As I said the creature is capable of affecting our physical world. Unless one shows a positive proof of the creature affecting the physical world in a repeatable manner it all bunch of hot air. There is a ad nausseum list of things attributed to this creature have later on been shown to be just bah humbug.

  • Joel Hardman

    Secular1,

    I agree with you. That’s why I put proofs in quotation marks when discussing Craigs philosophical “proofs”.

  • Olav Thorsen

    Interesting. I am a humanist and a naturalist. I agree that humanism and naturalism is two different philosophies. One can believe in one of them or in both. They don’t exlude eachother.

    Humanism is not about what man can fully verify, it’s more a particular life philosophy putting human nature and thought i the centre, fighting for important moral values from a secular point of view.

    Naturalism is more about how you perceive the world is put together. Naturalism have no moral values. Naturalism is the laws of physics, evolution and the constellations of space and matter. How the world functions on an overall level. It’s about a hard single reality devoid of metaphysical phenomena. In naturalism there is no moral. Or in one way you could say that if there is a moral, it is nature itself.

    Humanism is not about how the world is put together, just about how we humans think and feel. The values we humans need to be free and protected individuals.

  • Secular1

    Very well put. They are the case of Stephen Gould’s true NOMA Non Overlapping MagestriA. Hope these theists can get their mind around it. Of course Naturalism and Humanism in their own domains Overlap with theism and in both cases theism (of whatever stripe) looses, because it is driven by magic

  • Kevin7Harris

    Joel,

    To imply or say that empirical evidence is superior to philosophical evidence is, itself, a philosophical statement . Your line of thought here is self-refuting.

    What you and I and everyone need to understand is that non-empirical things like inferences, propositions, relations, conclusions, transcendants, etc. are examined philosophically.

    BTW, the Empirical Verificationist Principle cannot itself be empirically verified so it fails its own tests.

  • hrobert02

    The theist maintains that objective moral values are grounded in God.

    Would that be the god that allows earthquakes, tsunamis, etc. to occur? You know, the guy that gives a fetus a ‘bad luck of the draw’ genetically and is born with a deadly recessive disease like Tay Sachs.

    You can have your god, but don’t call him moral, or merciful.

  • Kevin7Harris

    Secular1, Gould’s NOMO is rejected on both sides. Scientists pointed out that they could be theists or spiritual, etc. in their lives as scientists and Christians, etc. pointed out they could rigorously support and work in the sciences.

    There is no conflict between science and Christianity (or “religion”). The former is relegated to material cause and effect, etc. The latter has metaphysical considerations and conclusions that can be drawn from scientific discoveries. Both are undergirded by philosophy.

  • George14733

    “William Lane Craig is a theologian and philosopher as well as founder of ReasonableFaith.org, a nonprofit organization that aims to provide a Christian perspective on the most important issues concerning the truth of the faith today.” I think this explains a great deal. In terms of web traffic, I wonder what pre and post article publishing numbers were.

  • Kevin7Harris

    Prove that God, if God exists, cannot have morally sufficient reasons for allowing evil. In fact, if God does not exist, there is no ultimate standard by which to call anything “evil”!

  • Joel Hardman

    Kevin,

    Would you accept as fact that children on Earth die in pain every day? If so, do you really want to argue that an omnipotent god has morally sufficient reasons to allow that to occur?

  • Joel Hardman

    Kevin,

    More philosophical gobbledygook. Can you make a computer with philosophy? If you can “prove” that god exists with philosophy, will that affect anything in the physical world in any way.

    This is why I say that empirical evidence is superior to philosophical musings: it can do things. It can’t be philosophically proven, but you rely on the fruits of empiricism everyday when you use any technology. What has philosophy done for anyone lately?

  • Kevin7Harris

    Joel, there are two aspects to the Problem of Evil: the Logical/Philosophical Problem and the Emotional Problem.

    The former deals with the internal consistency of whether the God of Classical (or Christian)Theism can have morally sufficient reasons for allowing evil, and is destroying evil via the only process logically feasible for God (given free will, etc.). This is the domain of philosophers and theologians.

    The latter deals with the fact that, even given the consistency of the former, it still hurts like Hell! This is the domain of counselors and comforters.

    To answer your question, I may not know what those morally sufficient reasons are, but I certainly can argue that God can have them, and avail myself of Christian theology that sheds light on it.

  • Joel Hardman

    Kevin,

    Your answer to the problem of evil sounds like a huge cop out to me. It sounds like an abused spouse who says, “He must have his reasons.”

    If god is omnipotent, couldn’t he accomplish whatever goal he envisions, but without child misery? I don’t see what could possibly justify failing to do so. You can’t either. All you can say is that god COULD have a reason. Well woop di doo.

    To take this discussion another way, what makes god’s decisions moral? When god allows a child to suffer for his purposes, why is it right? Does might make right?

  • Kevin7Harris

    Joel, comparing what the eternal, infallible God of the omni-attributes does and what a finite, fallen abusive spouse does is a Category Error.

    But, I agree that God can accomplish any goal. The speculation is whether there is a logically feasible way for God to allow and then destroy evil without the resulting pain.

    The omni-attributes only extend to what is actually possible (e.g. God cannot make “square circles”). This shows that the POE is difficult for the theist but it CANNOT disprove God. It’s possible that this is the only way to the Best of All Possible Worlds.

    Therefore, I can offer you speculations as to the nature of evil and free will, etc. but I don’t really have to when it comes to God’s existence and character.

    God’s very nature is the “Good” that Plato sought in the Euthyphro Dilemma. God’s nature, being ontologically ultimate, IS the good. And as such, God is in keeping with his own nature and self-consistency, which provides the standard for morality.

  • Kevin7Harris

    Joel, you must stop this self-refutational bleeding! You are just offering more philosophy and you’re saying, in essence, “it’s my philosophy that we don’t need philosophy!”.

    Of course philosophy affects the physical world! Ideas have consequences! Are you saying Nazi philosophy didn’t effect the physical world?

    To say that “empirical evidence is superior to philosophical musings” is, itself, your philosophical musing! But both can work together. One can physically verify that a crime was committed, but why crime occurs and how to prevent it is philosophically determined.

    God is not material so is not empirically verifiable in nature. But an example, The Big Bang is verified by material science. The implications of the Big Bang and what caused it are philosophical. Further evidence can be examined.

  • HankMcGee

    I disagree. I believe that I’m attracted to a woman because of her sense of humor and intelligence but in reality my genes are just pointing me towards the most fertile partner possible.

    What if I believe a grizzly bear is an ugly woman? I’m staying away from that ugly woman!!!

    So…. I don’t we have any reason to think that survivability is equal to truth.

  • ThomasBaum

    Olav Thorsen

    You wrote, “Naturalism is more about how you perceive the world is put together.”

    Is it about how one perceives that the world is put together or how the world is put together?

    I ask this because one’s perception about something could be wrong so if it is about how the world is put together than “naturalism”, by your definition, is what science is about.

  • ThomasBaum

    Olav Thorsen

    You also wrote, “Humanism is not about how the world is put together, just about how we humans think and feel. The values we humans need to be free and protected individuals”

    Then humanism, by your definition, includes absolutely every “human” and means no more than that one is a human.

    Inherent in your definition is the fact that one can not say “We humans think this or feel that” for the simple reason that this would be “forcing” this thought or feeling on another and if they did not have this same thought or feeling than they would be less human, would it not?

  • ThomasBaum

    Olav Thorsen

    Who gets to decide on these so-called values?

    Who gets to decide what “being free” means?

    In other words, just who gets to force themself and by what means in this humanism, seeing as many humans will “think and feel” very differently.

    The all encompassing meaning of humanism that you gave “about how we humans think and feel. The values we humans need to be free and protected individuals”, pretty much renders it useless as any kind of guide or philosophy, does it not?

    All opposing points are just as valid seeing as it is a human that thought or felt that, correct?

  • Secular1

    The technical term to describe a person like who argues the way you are arguing, you are full SCAT. You don’t know what reason your sky daddy could have to let a child suffer, but you think you can defend those reasons. Thats what I call full of crap.

  • Chris Corbett

    If God does not exist, then the painful death of a child is merely a purposeless confluence of chemicals. It is neither bad nor good. A morally neutral universe doesn’t care. On the other hand, we KNOW that such a death is tragic; that tragedy and evil do exist; that those terms have objective meaning. So what worldview best explains that? Atheism can’t. But the Bible says that we intuitively know tragedy when we see it because (a) we are created in God’s image and have a yearning for the perfection for which we were created, and (b) nevertheless we live in a broken, fallen universe where something has gone wrong. What went “wrong” is humanity’s rejection of God; and the consequence of His withdrawal from us as a race. How God remains omnipotent yet allows freedom (and thus the open door for sin and brokennesss) isn’t a question we can, or need, to resolve. The evidence is that both things about God are true, and atheism has no satisfactory answer for the problem of pain.

  • Catken1

    “So what worldview best explains that? Atheism can’t.”

    Sure it can. We don’t need a god to explain why we care for our children – millions of years of natural selection does that. Parents who didn’t love and protect their children, and view their potential deaths as tragedies, didn’t pass on their genes.

  • Eva L

    Dr. Craig seems to be arguing that naturalists — i.e., non-theists — can’t have “coherent” (or “objective”?) moral values, but I don’t quite fathom his reasoning.

    By asking “Why think that naturalism is true?” he hints that non-theism is itself evidence of incoherent values. That is circular reasoning.

    He argues that non-theism can’t have evolved through natural selection. But even if that were true, how is it evidence of incoherent values? (Or is he arguing that there are no real non-theists?)

    With respect, the nihilism “option” is a red herring. There are many more “options” in that category: What about the determinist, who maintains that his choices are preordained? What about the existentialist, who maintains he cannot know if he has lived up to the responsibility of his moral obligations?

    If Dr Craig is saying that non-theists have “incoherent” philosophies, he is forgetting that determinists, existentialists, and whatever-ists (even nihilists!) can be theists as well.

  • Roy Speckhardt

    Dr. Craig attacks humanism on the basis that it contains no “objective moral value.” It’s true that humanists accept the idea that our moral and ethical values change over time. And we have both the ability and the responsibility to change them when circumstances change or when new information is brought to light that affects us and the world around us. This is not a negative. I seriously doubt that even Dr. Craig would continue to support the ideas of ancient cultures that women are to be treated as second-class citizens, witches should be burned at the stake to “save their souls,” rape victims should be forced to marry their attackers, and slavery should be seen in a positive light. The humanist point of view is one of responsibility, something which can’t be done with ancient contradictory dogma unfit for a modern world with better information at our disposal.

  • ThomasBaum

    Catken1

    You wrote, “Parents who didn’t love and protect their children, and view their potential deaths as tragedies, didn’t pass on their genes.”

    If it were genes and genes alone that accounted for what you are saying, I think reality shows that this statement of yours is not 100% as you seem to imply.

    Also, it seems to imply that we are controlled by our “genes”.

    I don’t know for a fact but I would say that identical twins would have identical genes and they can be completely different according to studies done.

    Just as there is more to the world than meets the eye, so to speak, there is more to a human being than their collection of genes.

  • Kevin7Harris

    Secular1, your use of “sky daddy” shows your ignorance of theism. Maybe we should get definitions straight before we continue. I don’t argue for a materially localized, finite, contingent being.

    I said I don’t know all the reasons but can speculate (hopefully congently). But, that it’s not necessary when considering the existence of God, only the internal consistency of God.

  • ThomasBaum

    Roy Speckhardt

    You wrote, “The humanist point of view is one of responsibility”.

    Is this your opinion or is there some handbook of dogma that one has to adhere too, to be able to claim that they are a humanist?

  • Joel Hardman

    I also think it’s worth pointing out that even the “objective” moral values of Christians change over time. For example, try to find sizable numbers of modern Christians who think that slavery is acceptable. Why did the opinions of Christians change? The Bible didn’t change, right?

  • Kevin7Harris

    Roy,

    Your examples only show how moral values are *applied* sometimes changes. It does not show that moral values and duties are not objective.

    You use terms like “better” (which implies a “best”) and we “should” (ought) to do this rather than that. Both require an objective standard by which to adjudicate options.

    You also managed to get two digs in at the Bible. Any reputable commentary will shed light on the context of laws concerning rape (which protected women by the way) and what slavery entails in the ancient near east. Either way, you still require an objective standard to judge (what you think) ought not to have been done. Secular Humanism cannot supply that. It can describe what people do morally, but cannot prescribe what they ought to do.

  • Joel Hardman

    Kevin,

    I’m beginning to suspect that you’re not reading my replies. Do I need philosophy to determine that my computer works? Do I need philosophy to know that an airplane will fly or how? No!

    Perhaps philosophy is useful in helping us figure out what to make of the universe. Is that what Craig is doing? Nope. If he admitted that he can conclude ONLY PHILOSOPHICALLY that a supreme being exists and that we cannot determine any way in which that supreme being influences the physical world, he would be intellectually honest. Of course he would never do that because he uses philosophy in an attempt to disprove things like evolution.

  • Joel Hardman

    HankMcGee,

    You seriously believe that perceiving the world accurately doesn’t have survival benefits? You’re only showing that some misperceptions might not have negative survival consequences, not that no misperceptions will have negative survival consequences.

    I think you’re just being contrary. Please engage my analogy about the bear rather than just changing it to fit your point. In any case, I’ll point out that even in your twist on my analogy, the misperception would probably have bad survival effects. How do you react when an unattractive woman is around? Is it an appropriate reaction to the presence of a bear?

  • Joel Hardman

    Kevin,

    Secular humanism can prescribe what groups of people with shared goals ought to do. We, as people who live in society, have many shared goals. Secular humanism can prescribe what we ought to do to achieve them.

  • McX

    Joel, the problem is that those moral prescriptions will just be merely subjective, not objective, if there is no grounding for the truth of those prescriptions. To respond that there are indeed objective oughts concerning how to achieve shared goals doesn’t solve the humanist’s problem. This is because it changes the subject from moral values to mere instrumental values.

  • McX

    Roy,

    In your examples, all that’s going on there is that people were simply wrong. You see, people can be mistaken about which things are good and evil, but that mundane fact doesn’t count against there being objective good and evil. Nor does it change the fact that that objectivity must be grounded in a locus of moral value–namely, God. Indeed, if people can be wrong in their moral judgments, this implies that there is moral objectivity. And if you agree that there is moral objectivity, then you need an explanation for it. The only candidate explanation is God.

  • McX

    About the coherency of naturalists being coherent–the point is that naturalists can hold to objective moral values, but cannot do so consistently with their naturalism. That’s the incoherency.

    Also, the claims isn’t that belief in naturalism “can’t have evolved through natural selection.” Rather, it’s that if naturalism is true, no one is rational to believe it. This is Plantinga’s argument.

    About the additional options you mention, Craig has no red herrings there. For one, even if there are other options, it only makes his point all the more, which is that humanists can’t simply assume that if theism is false, then humanism is true. But about those other options, it’d be pointless to mention them because, in the case of determinism, it’s prima facie logically consistent with all three views; and in the case of existentialism, it entails it nihilism. And regarding nihilism, it is in fact logically *inconsistent* with theism–because theism entails objective moral values and duties.

  • RossJ

    It’s nice to see Roy Speckhardt of the AHA respond.

    But bafflingly, his response raises more questions than answers. How does humanism make us responsible to change our morals? And why should we fulfill it?

    It seems like Roy and the AHA want us to take these claims on faith. I prefer not to. We all agree- claims need to be supported with reason and evidence.

    It’s about time the AHA’s Humanism provide some evidence for theirs.

    Reasons that go beyond the wholly imaginary “Flying ‘Responsibility’ Monster” that the AHA tries to hoist on our backs.

  • Kevin7Harris

    I am reading your replies carefully because I think you are closing in on some insights! I think I can see where you’re going on some things and what they unpack to.

    But rather than assume, give me your thoughts please: do you believe that science is the only way to accurate knowledge about life and the universe?

  • Eva L

    “[H]umanists can’t simply assume that if theism is false, then humanism is true”. Do any humanists actually assume this?

    The AHA website says humanism is “a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.”

    Thus the AHA appears to take the position that non-theists can CHOOSE to be humanist. It’s not saying that humanism is the ONLY alternative to theism.

    There may a different definition of “humanism” out there somewhere. But if so, it’s kind of confusing to use that definition instead of the AHA definition, since Dr Craig’s opinion piece is about the AHA’s position in particular. (It is especially confusing to us readers who didn’t really know much about humanism or the AHA before stumbling onto this opinion piece.)

  • ThomasBaum

    Eva L

    You wrote of the AHA website, “The AHA website says humanism is “a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.”"

    Seems as if this leaves things pretty wide open seeing as the Holocaust, not just of the Jews but all who were caught up in it, was thought by some for “the greater good of humanity”.

  • Catken1

    “And if you agree that there is moral objectivity, then you need an explanation for it. The only candidate explanation is God.”

    Why? Why not simple human wiring? Or the idea, developed by human reason, that human liberties should be protected up till the point where they interfere unduly with other people’s liberties?

  • Eva L

    Hmm. I’m finding only scant references to the Nazi definition of “humanism”, but it’s clearly not the same as the AHA definition. Numerous writings on the AHA site indicate that their definition of humanism rejects Nazi beliefs and actions.

    Now, if you’re implying that “humanism” in Dr Craig’s piece means the Nazi definition instead of the AHA definition, I can start to make more sense of his argument, or at least of the emotion behind it.

    (Though now his article is sounding to me kind of like Rosanna Rosannadanna going off on a tear after misunderstanding a word.)

  • McX

    @Catken1

    “Why not simple human wiring?”

    Because grounded in that, moral values and duties would be subjective.

    “Or the idea, developed by human reason, that human liberties should be protected up till the point where they interfere unduly with other people’s liberties?”

    Oh, I agree that that’s objectively good. But I’m a theist. The problem is *on humanism*, there’s no grounding for its being true.

  • McX

    Eva,

    Charity in understanding another’s position is important. I value it, too. However, I don’t think you’ve read them correctly. You see, given what the AHA says throughout its website, it would be a misunderstanding of their view to think they portray humanism as merely one position among others that one can choose. Rather, they hold humanism to be a *rational* choice–indeed the most rational choice (when conjoined with their assumption that theism is false).
    But they fail to consider not only the arguments for theism, but for nihilism, and against humanism. What are those arguments? Quite honestly, they give none.

  • Eva L

    Well, the AHA website’s very mission IS to promote their humanist worldview, isn’t it? I wouldn’t expect it to portray their brand of humanism as anything but rational. Nor would I expect it to offer any arguments for the alternatives.

    After all, we wouldn’t expect a webiste promoting bicycle commuting to portray bicycling commuting as irrational, would we? Nor would we expect it to offer any agruments for driving or for carpooling.

  • ThomasBaum

    Concerning the AHA website’s definition “responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity”, I merely tried to point out that some people’s idea of “the greater good of humanity” could be and has been and still is to wipe out another part of humanity.

    As far as “responsibility”, who decides just what is ethical, the individual, a group of individuals, majority rule?

    The definition, on the surface like a lot of things, sounds good but if one thinks about it, it becomes kind of meaningless.

    What is “ethical”? What is “personal fulfillment”? What is the “greater good of humanity”?

    One thing about it is that it might keep some people out of trouble while they argue back and forth about the meaning of some of the terms that they use.

  • Aspiring Inkling

    The issue is not just one of survival value. The problem as I see it is that there’s no way to translate logic into chemistry. I always thought this was faulty because the physical universe obeys the laws of logic, but about a year ago I realized that while you can do math with physics alone, there is no way to express the law of noncontradiction or any other law of logic via physics alone. Yet this is what our arguments really hang on. You can be as biased as you want and still produce a logical argument, but if our very sense of how logic itself works is not rooted in absolute reality then we have no good reason to assume it can lead us to truth. I’m not saying you have to be able to prove logic (that is impossible), but you do need to be able to justify it within your worldview. Under Naturalism, there is no room for human reason

  • McX

    Eva,

    “Well, the AHA website’s very mission IS to promote their humanist worldview, isn’t it? I wouldn’t expect it to portray their brand of humanism as anything but rational.”

    Indeed, I wouldn’t expect them to do otherwise either. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that they give no *reasons* to think humanism is true, yet this modeling of blind faith reasoning is the very intellectual vice they (wrongly) fault their interlocutors for.

  • Aspiring Inkling

    I don’t know where you got that version of Dr. Craig’s article, but that’s not the one he wrote. The reason that Naturalism goes against morality is mainly because it rejects supernatural reality and the moral law is about as supernatural as you can get. You could study physics for a million years, but you would never be able to produce a single moral truth. You talk for ages about the way things are and how to make them a different way, but you could never say anything about the way things should be. By the way, this is not something Christians invented. Most of the major atheists out there have admitted at one point or another to the failure atheism justify morality as objectively real. We’re all just dancing to our DNA as Dawkins puts it.

  • Eva L

    Speaking of meaning, I’m having trouble parsing phrases like “theism is true”, “theism is false”, “humanism is true”, etc. Theism and humanism are philosophical points of view. How can they be “true” or “false”? My inner English major is puzzled.

    For example, let’s say “blueism” is the philosophy that everything in life can and should be expressed in blues songs. I can comprehend assertions like “blueism is silly” and “blueists are deluded”. But, given that all it takes to be a blueist is to believe that its premise is true, what would it mean to say “blueism is true” or “blueism is false”? Blueism is true to those who accept it and false to those who don’t. No?

  • DOEJN

    Since I don’t know anyone who identifies as a “naturalist,” you lost me pretty early on in the article.

  • McX

    Think of it as a synonym for atheism. Close enough for government purposes.

  • Leonidas

    ‘William Lane Craig is a theologian and philosopher…’

    You better believe it…!

  • theBunga

    YvonneF: YOU SAID: “Craig cannot have paid much attention to the *details* of evolutionary studies of animal behavior… Reliability in the match of cognitive predictions to environments – including social and physical environments, for primates – is absolutely crucial to survival and reproduction. “Simple” animals absolutely must have analagous matches.”

    See my comments to Secular1 below.

    And Joel, YOU SAY: “it seems trivially obvious that accurate perceptions of the natural world would aid survivability immensely.”

    Agreed. No one, certainly not Plantinga’s argument, is suggesting that having reliable cognitive faculties wouldn’t be an aid to survival. The argument, rather, is saying that there are plenty of other ways our mental lives could have been selected to relate to the physical world (since the purpose of natural selection is only to adapt towards survival, not to adapt towards coming to have true beliefs… that’s only one of the ways).

    So, Secular1 (and YvonneF), here’s an example of a creature adapting to have an intuition not related to truth but equally advantageous in terms of survival: a young fawn evolves to form the belief, whenever she sees a lion, that the lion wants to play, and that the best way for it to play is to run and hide from it. This belief is equally advantageous in terms of survival as a cognitive faculty which reliably forms true beliefs. And there’s no prima facie reason to think such a ridiculous scenario wouldn’t be selected, since there is nothing particularly advantageous about having true beliefs. And there are countless other ways our cognitive faculties could’ve evolved and yet supported survival. There is only one way our faculties could’ve evolved which involved true belief. Therefore, says the arguments, the prima facie odds for the selection of reliable cognitive faculties is low, or, inscrutible, given Naturalism & Evolution.

  • theBunga

    Either way, we have a reason to doubt the reliability of our faculties now: if on Naturalism & Evolution the chances are low, than we probably don’t have reliable faculties. but if the probability is inscrutable (that is, we just can’t tell), than we ought to be agnostic as to whether or not we do have reliable faculties. but then either way, we ought to doubt, or be agnostic regarding any belief our faculties generate. but that includes the belief that Naturalism and Evolution are true. But then, Naturalism and Evolution, when taken together, leads to a belief that undermines them. But then the conjunction of Naturalism and Evolution is clearly incoherent.

  • K.W.

    I’ve been thinking that it is a bit odd that in the process of human evolution, one of the things that seems not to have evolved is the ability to remember that we evolved. Perhaps Comte’s Law of Three Stages would not exist if this were the case because there would have been no theological stage (or metaphysical stage). Of course, positivism has been on life-support for some time, despite some people’s best efforts to revive it.

  • Jeffery Jay Lowder

    William Lane Craig is right. There has been “a resurgence of interest in arguments for God’s existence .” So-called “new atheists” aside, what he fails to mention is that there has also been a resurgence of interest in arguments against God’s existence by philosophers like J.L. Schellenberg, Quentin Smith, Paul Draper, Stephen Maitzen, Michael Martin, and many others.

    Indeed, Craig’s biased, selective summary of recent work in philosophy of religion, like many of the arguments for God’s existence, understates the relevant evidence. As Draper has persuasively argued, these arguments, at best, successfully identify general facts which are evidence for God’s existence. They ignore other, more specific facts, which are evidence against God’s existence.

    For example, assume that the beginning of the universe is evidence for God’s existence. Given that the universe began to exist, the fact that it began to exist with time, not in time, is more probable on naturalism than on theism.

    Or again: assume that sentient life is evidence for God’s existence. Given that there is sentient life, the biological role of pain and pleasure is much more likely on naturalism (and nature is “blind” to the moral value of pain and pleasure) than on theism (which requires that all pain and pleasure have both biological and moral value).

    Another example: assume that the existence of objective moral values is evidence for God’s existence. Given that objective moral values exist, the fact that there are reasonable moral disagreements is more likely on the assumption that naturalism is true (and the universe is morally indifferent) than that theism is true (and there is a morally perfect being who wants us to be moral).

    So at best, we have evidence both for and against God’s existence. It’s far from obvious that, on balance, the theist’s general facts outweigh the naturalist’s more specific facts.

  • Jeffery Jay Lowder

    But the ambiguity of the evidence is itself evidence: evidence against God’s existence. Surely that fact–that evidence about God’s existence is ambiguous–is much more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true (and the universe is religiously indifferent) than on the assumption that theism is true (and there is a perfectly loving God who wants a relationship with each of us). A loving father does not need “intelligent and articulate defenders” developing “creative, new arguments” to prove his existence to his children; a loving Father (capital ‘F’) even less so.

    But what about the argument that naturalism cannot be rationally affirmed? Draper has shown that “the long term survival of our species is much more to be expected if our cognitive faculties are reliable than if they are unreliable.” He concludes that the long term survival of our species is “strong evidence” that our cognitive faculties are reliable.

    Why should naturalists be humanists? Craig is right that humanism is not the only option for naturalists. Again, however, he doesn’t tell the full story. God-based morality is not the only option for theists. Plato believed that objective moral values exist abstractly, necessarily, and are metaphysically ultimate. That is to say, they are uncreated and impersonal.

    This is important because it underlines the fact that a supernatural person (God) is not needed to ground objective moral values. Indeed, if Platonism is true, then theists like Craig have it backwards. Goodness is not grounded in God; rather, God, if He exists, is in one sense grounded in the Good. Craig may not like this option because it conflicts with his version of theism, but it is an option, for both theists and naturalists.

  • Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Moreover, from a practical perspective, humanists believe that the ability to recognize moral values and handle moral disagreements is much more important than abstract, theoretical discussions about the grounding of morality. Even people who believe, like Craig, that God somehow grounds morality still reasonably disagree with one another about moral issues ranging from war, sexuality, abortion, capital punishment, gun control, and much more. Humanists, on the other hand, offer an approach to moral questions based on facts about human flourishing. So, again, it’s far from obvious that theism has an advantage over naturalistic humanism.

    Finally, as for encouraging kids “to think critically about the tough questions” concerning worldviews such as naturalism and theism, I think humanists clearly have the upper hand here. Humanists have always encouraged critical thinking through doubt and skepticism, even skepticism about skepticism! Craig, on the other hand, seems to want people to have faith in faith; he has even warned fellow believers to avoid “doubting their faith.”

    Theists have often written as if evidence about God is merely “nice to have.” Indeed, Craig himself has admitted he would continue to be a Christian, even if he saw with his own eyes that Jesus did not rise from the dead. Humanists, on the other hand, have always held that evidence about God, like any other topic, is a “must have.” Humanists believe we should examine all of the evidence and follow the evidence wherever it leads.

  • Jeffery Jay Lowder

    @Kevin7Harris: “Your examples only show how moral values are *applied* sometimes changes. It does not show that moral values and duties are not objective. ”

    I agree that his examples do not show that moral values and duties are not objective. I also agree that his examples *do* show that how moral values are applied sometimes change. I disagree that that is *all* that his examples show. His examples *also* show that moral ontology, BY ITSELF, makes very little practical difference. Ultimately, a complete metaethic must include not only a moral ontology (grounding) but also a moral epistemology (knowing). Consider two hypothetical situations.

    Situation 1: Two people, A and B, are arguing over whether abortion is morally permissible. Both A and B believe there are objective moral values and duties. A thinks abortion is morally permissible, while B thinks abortion is morally forbidden.

    Situation 2: Two people, A and B, are arguing over whether abortion is morally permissible. Both A and B deny there are objective moral values and duties. A thinks abortion is morally permissible, while B thinks abortion is morally forbidden.

    Situation 3: Two people, A and B, are arguing over whether abortion is morally permissible. A believes there are objective moral values and duties, while B denies this. A thinks abortion is morally permissible, while B thinks abortion is morally forbidden.

    From a practical perspective, situations 1, 2, and 3 are equivalent. Whether there are objective moral values and duties makes no practical difference when dealing with disagreements between like this. It doesn’t help moral objectivists who disagree with moral subjectivists Furthermore, it doesn’t help moral objectivists who disagree with one another. In all 3 cases, we’re stuck with a seemingly intractable, reasonable moral disagreement.

  • Owl_A

    Does anyone else see the irony in a naturalist trying to provide reasons for their belief??

    Considering that matter is all that there is and that is is governed by ‘law’ of nature, their brains have no choice in choosing truth over lies .. it is all up to the laws that govern their brain state. … but argue on you naturalists.

  • The Spiritual Naturalist Society

    Perhaps it has to do with the real and objective effects of our behavior on our happiness, well-being, and flourishing. These are things that can be examined. Best wishes friend!

  • McX

    @The Spiritual Naturalist Society

    This isn’t a successful answer to the issue. The problem isn’t that we’re unaware of what makes us happy, or promotes well-being and flourishing. The problem is rather why any of this would be *moral*.

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