Paul Copan falls victim to a nowadays unusual error. He realizes clearly that the nature or essence of a human being is fundamentally different from the nature of rock, a merely material object.
Natural sciences have acquired such prestige that they have almost entirely eclipsed the contributions of moral and social sciences. It is considered a manifestation of the philosophical virtue of “tough-mindedness” to be a champion of exact quantitative sciences. Studying man has degenerated into a pissing contest of which philosopher is more thereby tough-minded. Human sciences have all but disappeared; those that have not have tried to imitate physics at least in their methodology if not always conclusions. The fallacy of reducing humans to inanimate nature or plants (in the extreme, humans are “really” “just” bags of chemicals or “just” colonies of fungus) or at best, to animals is known as “scientism.”
This is an infelicitous term, to be sure, because economics, ethics are sciences, too — as in, theoretical edifices, but we’re stuck with it, and that’s what I’ll be using.
Mises, on the contrary, as a preamble to economic reasoning recommends if not metaphysical than at least methodological dualism:
In the present state of our knowledge the fundamental statements of positivism, monism, and panphysicalism are mere metaphysical postulates devoid of any scientific foundation and both meaningless and useless for scientific research. Reason and experience show us two separate realms: the external world of physical, chemical, and physiological phenomena and the internal world of thought, feeling, valuation, and purposeful action. No bridge connects — as far as we can see today — these two spheres. (Human Action, 18)
Copan’s objections to scientism are different: they center not on what humans beings somewhat obviously are but on how they apparently came to be. Our author keeps hammering on that point throughout his paper:
affirmation of human dignity, rights, and duties is something we would readily expect if God exists — but not if humans have emerged from valueless, mindless processes. (143)
Why think impersonal/physical, valueless processes will produce valuable, rights-bearing persons? (146)
So anyone can know that humans have rights and dignity and obligations. But, more crucially, how did they come to be that way — particularly if they are the result of valueless, cause-and-effect physical processes from the big bang until now? Theism offers the requisite foundations. (146)
In the case of morality, we are still left wondering how value and obligation came to be thrust upon a valueless context of unguided matter in motion to have a context for the truth of “Murder is wrong.” (148)
How then do we best account for the existence of valuable, morally responsible, self-aware, reasoning, truth-seeking, living human beings who inhabit a finely tuned, beautiful universe that came to exist a finite time ago? Is this best explained naturalistically — namely, the result of disparate valueless, mindless, lifeless physical processes in a universe that came into existence from nothing? (149)
Thomas Nagel puts it candidly: “There is no room for agency in a world of neural impulses, chemical reactions, and bone and muscle movements.” (155)
If humans are simply more developed animals, why think there are moral duties to which they must subscribe — or that they are even morally responsible? (156)
I think these quotes are sufficient to bring to light Copan’s argument. He is obsessed with the problem of “where we came from.” Unfortunately, since little is known about it, Copan’s case is built upon sand as judged by his own standards. Theism, for him, is little more than inference to best explanation: if man could not have arisen by blind evolution, then he must have been created. Hence, God. QED, apparently.
We shall deal with this line of reasoning shortly; I, at any rate, agree with the atheist philosopher David Stove that “Such questions strike me, in fact, as overwhelmingly uninteresting: like the questions (say) where the Toltecs came from, or the Hittites, and how they came. They came, like our species itself, from somewhere, and they came somehow. The details do not matter, except to specialists. What does matter is, to see our species rightly, as it now is, and as it is known historically to have been: and in particular, not to be imposed upon by the ludicrously false portrayals which Darwinians give of the past, and even of the present, of our species.” (Darwinian Fairytales, vii, emphasis mine)
Not only is the question of our origins uninteresting, it is supremely irrelevant for theology.
For example, when challenged with an argument that the world must have began and was therefore created by something or someone, a skeptic may reply that for all he knows, the universe has existed forever. Recent empirical evidence from physics is inconclusive and is of little philosophical value. Leave physics to the physicists. The kalam argument, too, is unsatisfactory: it tries to show that it is impossible to traverse an actual infinite year by year or second by second. But, since time is neither infinite multitude (of real objects) nor magnitude — which I admit cannot exist — perhaps the infinitude of time was traversed in some other way. If there was no such way, then unfortunately, Copan (and Craig) would prove too much: that God, who is actually infinite, is also impossible. The argument is that if eternal existence is possible, then a fortiori, something much less amazing and spectacular that it, viz., everlasting existence, is possible, as well. Modus tollens.
That the universe has a beginning is not a deliverance of reason but an article of faith.
Now let’s take a further step. I hereby claim (purely philosophically) that humans, too, have existed forever. There is an endless cycle of deaths and rebirths. Each individual upon death goes to some sort of afterlife where he might linger for a few years or a few billion years, until he is reborn unto this world anew. Then Copan’s argument is immediately undone. The “impersonal/physical, valueless processes” have gone on forever, but so have the “personal value-laden” processes. Both will perhaps continue to do so.
It can no longer be said that a valueless world has mysteriously yielded values; for according to this particular skeptic, values have always been around, since human souls are naturally immortal and have been subject to this cycle from all eternity. Whence, then, God?
For example, the Nagel quote above assumes in a grotesque reduction that humans are “really” “nothing more than” neural impulses, chemical reactions, and bone and muscle movements. This assumption is false, but theism has no influence on refuting it.
Let’s continue to “objective moral values” (OMVs). I would use the term “metaphysical” values, reserving “moral” for personal character traits (whether virtuous or vicious) one might cultivate (perhaps at the expense of other traits) to make his soul lovely, rather than natural law like “You shall not kill.” And that’s what OMVs are: they are propositions of natural law as elucidated by, say, Rothbard in The Ethics of Liberty.
On the one hand, to say that God, as conceived by classical theism, is the cause of OMVs is to do God injustice: God is the source not only of those fine things but in fact of everything, whether of objective moral values or of subjective metaphysical ideas.
Consider that level 1 creatures such as rocks, have their material and efficient causes deep inside of them. A rock is made of this-and-that and functions so-and-so.
Level 2 creatures, humans especially, have in addition their final cause inside: they live for the sake of their happiness. “What a man is for” is his own happiness. A 1st-level machine, on the other hand, has no purpose of existing other than to serve man in pursuit of this man’s happiness. A machine is a perfect slave; a man has no external to him purpose, and ethics rightly recognizes that “using” a person without giving proper consideration to that person’s own values is very wrong. A human being is (or has) an (or his) “end in himself.”
There are other differences between man and machine, such as than man has unique intelligence and a genuine personality or “traits of character.” Mises points out:
It is arbitrary to consider only the satisfaction of the body’s physiological needs as “natural” and therefore “rational” and everything else as “artificial” and therefore “irrational.” It is the characteristic feature of human nature that man seeks not only food, shelter, and cohabitation like all other animals, but that he aims also at other kinds of satisfaction. Man has specifically human desires and needs which we may call “higher” than those which he has in common with the other mammals. (HA, 20)
… reason, man’s most characteristic feature, is also a biological phenomenon. It is neither more nor less natural than any other feature of the species Homo sapiens, for instance, the upright gait or the hairless skin. (176)
But an exploration of these would take us too far afield.
As anyone can see, I have figured all this out without engaging in any theological reasoning. If we want, we can continue by saying that level 3 “Goodness” has at last the formal cause inside it, too. God is what He is, and His essence is uncaused. Yet humans are made by God, and God ultimately decides who shall become what. But only if we want.
If moral values are objective, then they must have a ground in something that is objective, too. I have suggested that it is human nature. Moral facts are part of our human nature and are inseparable from it. Hence, there is no “unexplained huge cosmic coincidence between the existence of these moral facts and the eventual emergence of morally responsible agents who are obligated to them.” (148) Moral facts come into existence with humans and go out of existence with them. This is a proximate cause. An ultimate cause may well be God, though that’s not saying much, because God is the ultimate First cause of everything. Why though go that far? At any rate, having gone that far, Copan produces no interesting attributes of God that his theologizing has revealed.
His output is that “humans have been made in the image of a faithful, truthful, rational, morally excellent, worship-worthy Being.” But humans, too, can be faithful, truthful, rational, etc. How does this description differentiate between humans and God?
Is God “really” “just” an unusually saintly person, according to Copan?
In a strange diversion, Copan shifts away from physics to psychology, declaring even it beyond the pale! A psychologist, he argues, would say that “Hitler, being bitter and angry, held many false beliefs about the Jews (for example, that they were responsible for Germany’s defeat in WWI). Hitler sought to destroy the Jews as a way of releasing his hostilities.” (156) Doesn’t he see that this explanation, though not involving OMVs, is already human, not material? Hitler’s bitterness is not the bitterness of caffeine. Anger is an immaterial subjective mental state. Moreover, this explanation actually seems enlightening. “Hitler was morally depraved” merely condemns Hitler without understanding him, though I’m sure there is room for both of these.
Even if humans are not “simply more developed animals,” and even if we properly reject scientism, I still do not see any reason in order to do ethics to wax theological. I might want to at some point, but the human and divine sciences are separate and distinct. Contributing to one science need not involve using the other.
Copan concludes: “If, however, we have been created in the image of a good, supremely valuable, and free being and have been endowed with moral value and ‘certain unalienable rights,’ then the theist is able to offer a much more plausible context for affirming human dignity, rights, and responsibility than the naturalist who wants to be a realist but doesn’t quite know how.” (157) That we are so created needs to be proven not just asserted as self-evident. “The idea that God could be evil or command evil is utterly contrary to the very definition of God (who is intrinsically morally excellent, maximally great, and worthy of worship).” (160) But we are not supposed to define God but to unfold His attributes one adequate argument after another and in such a way as to draw undeniable conclusions about the difference between Creator and creatures.
God is as much above me as I am above rocks. Nothing like this follows from Copan’s flawed theology and “reverse scientism,” wherein he confuses ethics with theology.