In the context of his metaethical argument[a], William Lane Craig contends that only theism can provide an ontological foundation or grounding of morality – or of “objective moral values and duties”.
As Morriston explains, when Craig talks about “grounding” of moral values, etc., he means an “informative” identification. That would be similar to the way in which heat is identified with molecular motion, and water with H2O.
Yet, Craig does not give any good reasons to suspect that lacking a plausible non-theistic theory of informative identification would raise any problems for non-theists, let alone establish that theism is true.
On that note, let's consider some other cases of informative identification:
Moreover, for most of history, the identification was not known. In fact, philosophers managed to figure that out only after the development of the relevant physics, and of new terminology – i. e., hydrogen atom, electron, etc.
Without those developments, the identification would not have been discovered.
The same applies to the case of heat and molecular motion.
In the case of moral obligations, moral goodness, etc., no such science has been developed.
In fact, moral psychology, and psychology in general, are in their infancy compared to physics, and there is no known a posteriori informative identification informed by scientific discoveries of, say, kindness, cruelty, hatred, illness, etc. [c]
Given the previous considerations, the fact that there is no known a posteriori informative identification informed by science in the cases of moral goodness, immorality, etc., is unsurprising.
Whether one should expect that philosophers will eventually come up with an a posteriori identification of moral goodness, etc., informed by future science, is another matter, but at this point, one should not expect such identification to be forthcoming.
So, if the non-theist is in no position to offer one such identification, that is not a problem for her. She has no such burden.
What about some sort of a posteriori identification that is not informed by science?
It's hard to see what else such an identification might be informed by without science, but in any case, one may point out the lack of such a posteriori identification not informed by science in the cases of water, or heat – there are identifications informed by science -, and also in the cases of cruelty, kindness, illness, etc. [c]
Given all of the above, the non-theist may properly say that while she does not know of any a posteriori informative identification in the cases of moral obligations, or moral goodness, etc., she has no burden to come up with them. In fact, not having an a posteriori informative identifications is a very common occurrence, and there seems to be no particular reason why the non-theist would have any burden to come up with such theories in the case of moral duties, etc.
In the cases of water, or heat, there is no known a priori non-analytical identification. In the cases of cruelty, hatred, kindness, and greenness, there is no known a priori non-analytical informative identification, either, just as there is no known a posteriori informative identification.
In fact, cases in which there is no known a priori non-analytical informative identification are by far the most common. [e]
It seems this is not just because philosophers have not attempted to come up with that. Rather, it seems that coming up with such identifications, if possible at all, is notoriously difficult. [e]
As before, given all of the above, a non-theist may properly say that while she does not know of any a priori non-analytical informative identification in the cases of moral obligations, or moral goodness, etc., she has no particular burden to come up with one. Even if she's a metaethicist, lacking such a theory should not put any significant particular pressure on her.
3. Analytical informative identification.
We're only left with analytical cases. Also, in order to be informative, the identification would have to be based on a non-transparent analytical statement.
Does a non-theist have a burden to come up with an analytical informative identification?
There seems to be no good reason to think so.
Moreover, there seems to be no good reason to believe that there is an identification of that sort between moral obligations, moral goodness, etc., and properties or entities we usually describe in terms that appear to be non-moral terms.
As for analytical identifications involving terms that are clearly moral ones, such as moral obligation, immorality, etc., some identifications of that sort may not be so difficult to find. But in those cases, one might question how informative they are. Moreover, to the extent that some identifications of that sort are available, there seems to be no good reason to think the non-theist would have a particular problem with them.
4. Is it there a possible non-theistic informative identification of moral goodness? What about cruelty?
Perhaps, a theist might argue that given non-theism, no informative identification of moral goodness (or moral obligation, etc.) will ever be forthcoming , and indeed it is not possible – it's allegedly an ontological problem for the non-theism -, and that that is the problem for the non-theist. But no good reason to think so has been given by Craig. [a]
Moreover, for that matter, one might suggest that without a necessarily existent maximally cruel agent, there can be no informative identification of cruelty, or even that that would be an ontological problem for non-necessary-cruel-agent-ism. The claim that without God there is no moral goodness seems to be relevantly similar.
Q1.1: If C-god did not exist, objective cruelty would not exist.
Q2.1: Objective cruelty does exist.
C1.1: Therefore, C-god exists.
If the omnipotence condition is an issue, one may remove it and define a c-god as an essentially maximally cruel agent, and then suggest the parallel:
Q1.2: If no c-god existed, objective cruelty would not exist.
Q2.2: Objective cruelty does exist.
C1.2: Therefore, at least one c-god exists.
Granted, defenders of Craig's metaethical argument might try to get around this on different grounds, perhaps suggesting a difference in terms of analyticity of certain statements, or supervenience, or something like that. But the burden would be on them.[g]
5. Theistic accounts.
It might be suggested that even though the non-theist wouldn't have
the burden to offer a theory informatively identifying moral
obligations, goodness, etc., with something described by other terms,
there is pressure because the theist has a plausible account, like –
allegedly – Craig's DCT.
But this is not so, either, since the non-theist may reply that:
5.1. Any theistic account is committed to the existence of God. That alone makes the account's [prior and final] probability negligible. Of course, a theist would deny that, but disagreement is to be expected as usual. It's beyond the scope of this post to argue that point, but that is no particular pressure on the non-theist.
5.2. Any theistic attempt to provide an informative identification will have to include a reference to God – in one way or another – among the properties or entities moral obligation, moral goodness, etc., are identified with – else, it wouldn't be theistic, even if it were logically compatible with theism.
But furthermore, given that “God” is defined in terms of moral terms, there will be moral properties that will not be informatively identified with anything else. But then – the non-theist might ask -, why should one think that there is an informative identification of moral obligations, or moral goodness?
5.3. As Morriston explains, according to the account defended by Craig, moral goodness is - allegedly - informatively identified with resemblance to [some aspects of] God. But according to Craig, God is to be understood as the “greatest conceivable being”, and that's a definition.
Yet, moral goodness is a great-making property, so it seems that greatness is a complex property, a conjunction of moral goodness and some other properties, apparently involving knowledge and power, and perhaps lovingness and some other properties. So, a maximally great being would be maximally morally good, it seems.
But moral goodness is identified with resemblance to God, and God is a being that has some properties or traits to a maximal degree, including power, knowledge, and moral goodness. How is that identification informative?
If the identification is not between moral goodness and resemblance to God, but between moral goodness and some properties of God, the problem remains given the definition of “God”.
There are ways for the theist to try to get around this, like saying that the ontological grounding condition is a matter of ontology not epistemology and allegedly it does not matter whether it's informative – but then, why would Craig say he was talking about informative identification? Would informative identification not matter in the ontological sense? -, or saying that one can pick the right entity – namely, God -, without giving a definition, but otherwise pointing to him, etc. In my assessment, they all fail, but in any case, the burden would be on the defender of the metaethical argument.
Craig[a] claims – among other things - that non-theists have no grounding of moral obligations and moral values, where “grounding” is understood in terms of informative identification. But non-theists have no burden to come up with such an identification at this point, and Craig has not provided any good reason to think that theists are or will ever be better equipped to come up such a theory.
[a] I posted a much more thorough reply to Craig's metaethical argument in another post, and elsewhere. Some parts of it are outdated, in the sense that I would write them somewhat differently if I did it now, but for the most part, I would make the same arguments today.
For example, two agents A and B could both have no kindness whatsoever, and yet A could be more cruel than B. For instance, A may be completely indifferent to the suffering of others – or, indeed, to anything that happens to others, good or bad -, whereas B revels in torturing others for pleasure. Neither A nor B has any kindness at all, but B is more cruel than A. Yet, if cruelty were merely the absence of kindness, two agents that are equal with respect to kindness would be also equal with respect to cruelty.
Also, it might be suggested that cruelty is not objective in the relevant sense. But it is. One may mirror Craig's arguments on the matter. For example, the Holocaust was a cruel act. And it would have been cruel even if the Nazis had won the war and convinced everyone that it wasn't cruel, and even if some of the Nazis themselves failed to see it was cruel.
Moreover, whether an act is cruel is a matter of fact, not a matter of opinion or taste.
So, cruelty is objective in the relevant sense.
[d] By “non-analytical” informative identification I mean an informative identification between properties or entities that can't be established on the basis of the meaning of the words that pick those properties or entities alone, plus logic.
Conversely, by “analytical identification”, I mean one that is not non-analytical.
[e] There is no need here to address here the issues of whether there is at least one known non-analytical, a priori identification, or even whether a non-analytical, a priori identification is possible. It's sufficient to point out that at least, in most cases, there is no known a priori, non-analytical identification.
[f] Craig also holds that it's impossible that God does not exist, so I guess he considers that “If God did not exist, rape would be cruel” is a non-trivially true counterpossible, or something like that. But in any case, I don't intend to object in this post to Craig's use of what he believes are counterpossible scenarios.
[g] It's beyond the scope of this post to assess potential replies and show they fail – though I hold they do fail -, but the burden to defeat the parallel is, in any case, on the defender of the metaethical argument.