Response to Frame's Response

Michael Martin

 

My reply to Frame in "A Response to John Frame's Rebuttal of The Transcendental Argument for the Nonexistence of God (TANG)" appeared on the Internet and now Frame has replied to my response in "A Second Response to Martin. " In my present reply I respond to what I take to new points raised by Frame.

Science

One aspect of TANG is that science presuppose the nonexistence of God since science excludes miracles which are assumed by Christianity. Frame tries to combat TANG by using the Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God (TAG). He says that rather than science presupposing that God does not exist, science presupposes that God does exist since all events are miracles. Divine causality, he says, "is the ultimate causality of everything that happens." Frame's use of "miracle" here seems to be a misleading way of stating the traditional cosmological argument-- an argument that I refuted in previous publications.[1] In any case, this sense of "miracle" is not what I was talking about. Nor is this sense of "miracle" what believers use when they speak of Jesus performing miracles and of the miracles at Lourdes. If all events are "miracles," as Frame suggests, then miracles are not unique and remarkable. A miracle, in the sense relevant to my discussion, is an event that can only be explained by supernatural intervention, that is where there is a supernatural cause operating directly on the event in question. Clearly, Christianity assumes that there are miracles in this sense, for example, the Resurrection, Jesus' cures, and so on. However, given the fallibalism of science, this is precisely what science cannot assume. To suppose otherwise would be to suppose that science knows all the natural causes operating in the universe and thus knows that none of these are the cause of the event in question. For example, to suppose that God intervened in the natural course of events and caused the cure of apparently terminal cancer to occur presupposes that science knows all the natural causes and cures of cancer. A belief in miracles would stop scientific examination of those events in which miracles are postulated. For example, assuming that Jones' cure was a miracle would prevent science from ever discovering whether the cure was the result of natural causes.

It is not relevant that some scientists have forsaken miracle explanations. Qua religious believer a scientist might believe in all manner of things. The question is, however, how a scientist should operate qua scientist, that is, when his or her behavior is governed by the methodological rules that define scientific practice?

Logic

I argued that if logic is dependent on God, logical principles are contingent. But they are not. Frame's counter is that logic is an intrinsic part of God's nature and thus logic is necessary since God does not change. But how is one to understand this idea? It seems to imply that if God did not exist, there would be no logic and this, in turn, would mean that if God did not exist, the law of contradiction would not hold. Not only is there no reason to maintain this, there seems to be good reason to reject it. Unless the ontological argument that God exists by definition is is valid-- and I know of no good reason to accept any version of the ontological argument--there is nothing incoherent about denying the existence of God.[2] But it is incoherent to deny the law of contradiction. Indeed, Frame admits that there is no inconsistency in denying that God exists and affirming the law of contradiction "in regard to these two statements taken in themselves." But then he goes on the claim that logic (L) cannot exist without God (G). I find these two claims incoherent. If L and not G are not inconsistent, how can L not exist without G? The phrase "in regard to these two statements taken in themselves" does not in any way dispel the incoherence.

Morality

I argued that objective morality cannot be based on Christianity since morality is based on God's arbitrary decision. Frame tries to combat this point by a theory of morality which is similar to his theory of logic. Moral goodness is an intrinsic part of God's nature, he says, and is thus unchanging and absolute. Again how is one to understandd this suggestion? The only way I can understand it is that if God did not exist, objective morality would be impossible. Indeed, if Frame's idea were true, it would be incoherent to deny the existence of God and affirm objective morality. But, as far as I can see, there is nothing incoherent about this. For example, one is not being incoherent if one says: God does not exist but cruelty is objectively bad.

Moreover, in addition to there being no need to postulate God in order to make objective moral judgments, such postulation invites moral skepticism. If I criticize Jones for being cruel, the criticism might well be correct even if God does not exist. Why have I justified my judgment only if I go on to add "Kindness is an intrinsic part of God's nature?" Indeed, moral skeptics would be less impressed by the theological addition than by the original claim. The theological addition invites the reply, "Why should I believe that this God exists? It seems much more likely that cruelty is wrong than that there is a God with such intrinsic properties. And in any case, why should this theological fact -- assuming it is fact--provide any additional support for the original claim?"

I also argued that the claim of the objectivity of Christian morality is undermined by two other considerations: The difficulty of rationally deciding between conflicting claims of divine revelation from different religions such as Christianity and Islam, and the conflicting interpretations of revelation within a given tradition such as Christianity. How does Frame deal with conflicting claims of divine revelation? Frame maintains that there is good historical reason to prefer Christian over Islam and, consequently, Christian moral principles over Muslim ones. (Presumably Frame would also have to claim that there is good historical reason to dismiss Judaism's rejection of the NT and the Church of the Latter Day Saints' acceptance of the Book of Mormon and, consequently, good reason to dismiss any conflicting moral principles that are derived from Judaism or the Book of Mormon.) But to base his case on historical evidence for Christianity is a weak foundation indeed for the objectivity of Christian ethics. As I showed in The Case Against Christianity the major doctrines of Christianty -- the Resurrection, the Virgin Birth, the Incarnation -- rest on little solid historical evidence. I do not dismiss Christian apologetics in a couple of sentence, as Frame claims. On the contrary, I argued for the falsehood of Christianity at great length.

What about the problem of conflicting interpretations of Christian ethic? Frame indicates that his answer to this problem would be the same as his answer to the problem of conflicting sources of revelation. Since the latter was an appeal to historical evidence, presumably his answer to the problem of conflicting interpretations of Christian ethics would be the same. If so, the identical problem as that pointed out above arises: the historical evidence is weak and is itself subject to different interpretations.

Appealing to the two thousand year history of Christian theology hardly supports Frame's case. A cursory glance at the controversies within Christian theology must surely banish any illusions of the objective nature of Christian belief and of the moral doctrines which rest upon them. Although Christians may agree that an appeal to historical evidence should be used to reconcile their differences, such appeals have hardly been effective. The many sectarian and denominational squabbles, the numerous heresies, the schisms within the major churches show that any objectivity associated with Christian belief is illusive. Yes, there has been some agreement among Christians. But how does agreement on the Nicene Creed, for example, help to reconcile differences among Christians over, among other things, the morality of the death penalty, war, abortion, premarital sex, homosexuality, private property, social drinking, and gambling? Frame points out that there have been conflicts in philosophy and science. Whatever the rational status of philosophy, theology can only be compared to science to theology's disadvantage. One obvious difference is that scientific controversies are not settled by appeals to claims about miraculous events occurring two thousand years ago. In any case, the question is not whether other disciplines are free from controversy but whether a Christian foundation of morality is objective. Enough has been said to cast doubt that it is.

Notes

[1] The misleading implication of Frame's use of "miracle" is shown by noticing that the argument from miracles to the existence of God is not an argument from the existence of events in general to their ultimate cause. This is the cosmological argument. (For a critique of this argument (See my Atheism: A Philosophical Jusitification, Chapter 4.) The argument from miracles is the argument from events that no natural laws can apparently explain to the existence of God.

[2] See my Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, Chapter 3.


Michael Martin's contributions to "The Martin-Frame Debate on the Transcendental Argument for the Nonexistence of God" are copyright © 1996 by Michael Martin. All rights reserved.
The electronic version is copyright © 1997 by Internet Infidels with the written permission of Michael Martin. All rights reserved.

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