The Science Of Morality: Luke Muehlhauser Responds With A Personal Attack!

Posted in Common Sense Atheism, Desirism, Responses, Science, Uncategorized on  | 9 minutes | 2 Comments →

I kid you not, in no less than twenty minutes of posting my critique of his speech, Luke Muehlhauser fired off two admittedly hurried responses here and here, the former of which contains a personal attack. He labeled me a “troll” when all I did was write a critique of his speech on my own blog! Do those sound like acts a person with a desire for careful and rigorous philosophy would perform? To contrast, I took two hours crafting my critique, let it settle for three more, and then proofread it three times. Nonetheless, let’s see if we can refute some or all of Luke’s claims without resorting to the unprofessional insults and distortions he’s growing unusually fond of.

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Luke’s first claim was that I was “calling for censorship” at college campuses. This is false, and Luke did not offer even a single scintilla of evidence for this real-world claim of his. He didn’t cite me, nor did he check to make sure he understood what I was saying as I intended it, and yet, he wants us to take his appeals to rationalism and intellectual integrity seriously!

I just disagree that only people with certain credentials should be allowed to speak on college campuses. I defend free speech instead. Nobody was required or even pressured to attend my talk. And certainly, nobody was required to agree with it.

Luke claims that he defends free speech, eh? Does anybody remember the name of the commenter who Luke banned from Common Sense Atheism? Is banning speech we disagree with consistent with defense of free speech? I don’t think so, but I digress.

I believe in free speech, too, but that DOES NOT entail that anyone and everyone should be able to spout anything and everything on our college campuses’, and it also DOES NOT entail that college campuses’ should tolerate baseless claims about the real world. Further, as bossmanham noted in this salient comment – even if Luke’s allegation was true, which it is not – what would be the difference between my [alleged] call for censorship versus Hector Avalos’ and the rest of the anti-ID fanatics out there? I’m sorry, but asking for standards is not tantamount to a call for censorship. Luke has simply misrepresented what I said.

cl writes that the phrase God-based morality implies there is only one such theory. No it doesn’t. Obviously, there are tons of God-based theories of morality. Christians don’t agree about morality among themselves.

No, I didn’t, and Luke is showing a real lack of concern for accuracy and the principle of charity. The phrase “God-based morality” does not – in and of itself – imply that there is only one such theory. I said, “Luke’s use of the singular “God-based morality” implies that only one type of God-based morality exists: the kind that is grounded in the attitudes of a God or gods.” In the context of the talk he gave, it is Luke’s selective focus on only one type of God-based morality that forms the basis of my objection. Further, that Christians disagree on God-based theories is irrelevant to this discussion, so I have no idea why Luke mentioned it.

cl says I put up a straw man and knocked it down. Not true. I explicitly quoted one Christian theist’s views on morality, represented them accurately, and then explained why they didn’t work. At the end of that section of my speech, I said that of course there are other arguments I don’t have time to cover in such a short talk, but none of them work for me.

Okay, lots to unpack there. As other commenters have noted, and as I have attempted to explain to Luke several times before [see the links in yesterday’s post], Luke IS NOT representing Craig’s views accurately:

Have I misunderstood Craig’s moral views? In what way does Craig think that moral value is not grounded in the attitude/nature/will of God? I know he seems to endorse Adams’ view that there are brute value facts apart from God’s authority, but he doesn’t call those “moral” facts. [Luke]

You didn’t say “grounded in the attitude/nature/will of God” you characterized Craig’s position as, “God-based morality says there’s this person named God, and whatever he thinks is good, is good!” and “God-based morality is suddenly an “objective” theory of morality even though it’s grounded in the attitudes of a person.” Craig’s position couldn’t be that morality is grounded in all three of those things. Craig’s position is that the nature of God is what is the good and His attitudes and will flow from that. Not that His attitudes constitute what the good is. [bossmanham]

Even a rudimentary knowledge of scripture would show this claim false [cf. Hebrews 6:18, 13:8]. If the God of the Bible exists as described, then it is logically impossible for that God to define morality according to mere attitudes. That is to say, if what the Bible says about God is true, then God could  not one day – via some change in attitude – decide that lying is good. Luke DID NOT represent Craig’s position charitably, hence, the strawman charge stands, and, why was Luke addressing somebody who wasn’t there to defend himself anyways? Is that charitable?

Further, unless it does not exist, I do appear to have missed Luke’s reference to “other arguments” he claims to have made “at the end of that section.” That’s not very specific, and unfortunately, Luke doesn’t cite his claim, so now I have to go back and reread even more. [pause…] The result? If by “that section” Luke is alluding to everything between the lines, “Well, let’s look at that claim a bit more closely,” and, “But: I still haven’t shown how objective morality DOES exist,” then I will respond that I see no such claim in the section on WLC. If you can find it, let me know, and I’ll recant this minor point.

cl says that the usual definition renders desirism a subjective theory. This is both irrelevant and false, as I have already explained to cl. I said nothing at all about desirism in my speech. Furthermore, desirism grounds moral value in more than just the attitudes of persons. In fact most desires, I suspect, are held by minds that do not belong to persons.

Did I say Luke said anything about desirism in his speech? Since I did not, I have no idea why he feels the need to assert irrelevant side issues. As far as the meat, Luke is simply repeating himself here, and – of course – he fails to include a link to this purported explanation of his. No worries though; I included links to his flawed responses for you, in yesterday’s post. Decide for yourself whether Luke pleads specially. I say yes.

cl writes: ” For example, he has claimed that if everybody desired to blast loud noise out of a boombox all day, that this would be moral. So then, what, exactly, is the difference between a person declaring as good that which fulfills their desires, vs. people declaring as good that which fulfills their desires?” This is false, and the reason for its falsity has been explained to cl many times. This is not desirism.

Well, again, Luke’s objection suffers from a lack of clarity. What does the “this” in “this is false” allude to? If it alludes to whether or not Luke made the boombox claim, well… look right here on p. 27 of Luke’s e-book:

And if everybody desired to be surrounded by deafening noise, then it would be morally right to carry a blasting boombox everywhere you went.

Interesting. So, if everybody desired to be spun out of their brain, then I guess a meth lab in every American home would be morally right, too? Friends, that is the most preposterous line of “logic” I have heard in a long, long time. OTOH, if the “this” in “this is false” alludes to a concession that the boombox claim is false, I agree, but that prompts the question: if that is not desirism, why did Luke tell us that was desirism?

cl writes: “I would admonish Luke that his definition of objective morality is identical to Craig’s. After all, Luke just defined objective morality as “moral value grounded in something beyond the attitudes of a person or persons,” which is no different than Craig’s definition, since – as far as we know – all persons are Homo sapiens.” This is blatantly false, as explained in the very passage of my speech from which cl quotes. The difference is that Craig narrows the definition to consider only human persons. I explained what the differences result in – for example Craig would have to call a moral theory grounded in the attitudes of chimpanzee ‘objective’ while I would not. [emph. mine]

Do non-human persons exist? Why not aim for maximum clarity and just say sentient beings or all beings that have desires? Why risk misleading and confusing people?

God’s existence was not the topic of my debate. Obviously, people disagree. I did not claim that everyone agrees that God doesn’t exist. That would have been misleading. Instead I said God doesn’t exist, which is a claim I defend at length in my writing, but that was not the subject of my talk. cl seems to think my lecture should have been 100 hours long.

Did I claim that Luke claimed everyone agrees that God doesn’t exist? No. So, why does he respond to claims I’ve not made? The point is, just as rationalists should not tolerate arguments of the variety, “X is true because God exists,” neither should rationalists tolerate arguments of the variety, “X is false because God does not exist.”

In conclusion:

1) Responding to a speech on one’s own blog does not constitute trolling;

2) Labeling others as “trolls” without evidence is nothing less than a personal attack on their moral character, and utterly incompatible with the principles of charity and rationalism;

3) Banning commenters one disagrees with is incompatible with defense of free speech;

4) Desirism is just as subjective as the strawman DCT Luke attributed to Craig;

5) Misrepresenting the arguments of a man who is not present to defend himself is disingenuous and has no place whatsoever on any college campus.


  1. I must say, while I’ve never been impressed with his arguments, I have been impressed with Luke’s thoughtfulness and knowledge. But honestly, his last few posts contain blatant straw men, and he knows better. Not to mention the ridiculous attack on you. Seems he’s just devolving into a typical new-atheist.

  2. cl


    Hey there.

    As far as the attack, yeah, well… what can one do? People get pissed, it’s part of human nature, and I’m certainly not going to get mad at him for it. It’s pretty much “whatever” to me. My main concern is that such might preclude any sort of closure to the arguments. Even then, enough people echo most of the arguments I make that I’m confident Luke will have to address one or more of them at some point.

    As far as the arguments, I’d like to think Luke knows better, simply because he’s got such a large volume of WLC material on his blog. To me, it’s even worse because people were calling him on the “grounded in attitude” thing way before he made his speech at CSU. In other words, the issue had been brought to his attention, and he only presented one side of the issue not to mention the strawman thing. That’s why I felt it was misleading to present the same argument.

    Now, Luke can say that he responded to the argument – and it’s true that he did give a response to it – but even then I believe it was sufficiently shown at that time why his response didn’t work. I’ve got a post about to come out that will explain this in a bit more detail. It should be up within the hour.

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