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Arguing against what he calls the metaphysical notion of analyticity, Paul Boghossina says (in “Analyticity”):

For how can we make sense of the idea that something is made true by our meaning something by a sentence?

Consider the sentence ‘Either P or not P’. It is easy, of course, to understand how the fact that we mean what we do by the ingredient terms fixes what is expressed by the sentence as a whole; and it is easy to understand, in consequence, how the fact that we mean what we do by the sentence determines whether the sentence expresses something true or false.  But as Quine points out, that is just the normal dependence of truth on meaning.  What is far more mysterious is the claim that the truth of what the sentence expresses depends on the fact that it is expressed by that sentence, so that we can say that what is expressed wouldn’t have been true at all, had it not been for the fact that it is expressed by that sentence.

I wonder if this is so.  Consider:

  •  1. “I bid you good afternoon this fine day”

1 is made true by my meaning it.  Of course, the sentence might have been true even if it had not been expressed (if, for example, I had simple said “Good afternoon”, 1 would be true even though it was not expressed).

So consider,

  •  2. “I now pronounce you man and wife”

Let’s say 2 is uttered by a priest in front of John and Mary at 12:03 on April 11, 2009.  The indexical creates an interesting feature: If, for example, the priest utters the same words at some other time than the actual time of utterance, he is expressing some other statement than 2.  Thus, 2 is only true given that it is expressed at that very time.  2 would thus not have been true at all had it not been expressed by that very statement.


I’ve been reading a new collection called Is Goodness without God Good Enough? (edited  by Robert K. Garcia and Nathan L. King).  The collection begins with a debate between Paul Kurtz and William Lane Craig (which bears the same title as the book) and includes several essays inspired by the debate topic as well as closing comments by Kurtz and Craig.  It is a nice collection with some good articles (especially one by Mark C. Murphy called “Theism, Atheism, and the Explanation of Moral Value”).

As expected, Craig defends the theses that  (I) if theism is true, then we have a sound foundation for morality and (II) if theism is false, then we do not have a sound foundation for morality.  While reading through Craig’s arguments I was struck by something that often occurs to me when I read modern apologists.  There is a certain form of argument that is incredibly problematic and yet is often appealed to by apologists (most notably those of the presuppositionalist school).  This kind of argument begins by pointing out some allegedly difficult-to-account-for phenomenon(morality, say, or meaning, or even consciousness, or the very existence of the universe itself).  The apologetic move is to then assert that this phenomenon, whatever it is, cannot be explained under the assumption of a naturalistic universe.  If all that exists is matter and the void, they claim, then it is not possible for there to be genuine morality (or ultimate meaning in life, or veridical beliefs, etc).  However, if God exists, then we can account for this stuff (we can have real meaning, objective moral values, etc.), or so the argument goes.

The problem is that there is a great big gaping hole here: we have no explanation for how God is able to produce (or realize, or bring into existence, or sustain, pick you favorite expression) the thing the existence of which, we supposedly agreed, was difficult to explain.  We just have this bare assertion that with God we can have what it is impossible to have without God.  But how does God do it?  How does God’s existence help us account for it?

Craig and others apparently find the ethical dimension of reality to be rather difficult to account for.  So difficult that it requires intervention from a non-natural order.  But what is wanting, on Craig’s account, is an explanation for how the non-natural realm can accomplish what the natural realm, left to its own devices, cannot.  What is it about God and God’s nature that enables Him to ground ethical principles?  What does God have that the universe does not?  Unless we know this, then how can we be in a position to claim that if God does not exist, then there is no sound foundation for morality?

One would hope that Craig would see this hole and offer some kind of argument for the conclusion that if God exists, then objective moral values exist.  But in fact he offers nothing of the kind.  Indeed, he seems to think that this conclusion is so obvious that there is no need to argue for it.  He says, “The first contention, that if theism is true, we have a sound foundation for morality, should not really be a point of controversy.  Even nihilists will generally concede this conditional claim.” (p. 168)

At another point he says a bit more: “On the theistic view, objective moral values are rooted in God.  He is the locus and source of moral value. God’s own holy and loving nature supplies the absolute standard against which all actions are measured.” (p. 30)

The vacuousness of this is hard to overstate.  True, if God exists then He has a nature (and maybe its all-loving and all that), but I also exist and I also have a nature that is very loving (if I do say so myself) [and I have the added virtue that you don’t need to have faith that I exist].  How is it that God’s nature supplies the absolute standard against which actions are judged while my nature (or the nature of any other person) cannot supply this standard?  Again, what is so special about God?  How does His nature do it?

To really see just how vacuous Craig’s theistic account of morality is, imagine an atheist said the following: “On the atheistic view, objective moral values are rooted in the universe.  It is the locus and source of moral value.  The loving nature of the loving sentient beings in the universe provides the absolute standard against which all actions are judged.”

This is completely empty as an account of moral value.  It gives us no idea, really, where morality comes from; it offers no compelling metaphysic grounding of objective moral values.  But what goes for the atheistic version must also go for Craig’s theistic account.

Jason Thibodeau

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