If you've been reading a lot of my posts for a while, you have probably got the impression that I'm not a big fan of PragerU. This is true, however, I think they are probably the least insufferable of all right-wing YouTube channels. First of all, the speakers they have on typically speak in a very calm tone, contrary to the loud obnoxious mannerisms of many right-wing YouTubers. I find that people saying crazy bullshit calmly is usually much more tolerable than them saying it loudly. Secondly, in any video about a particular issue, they usually try to sell you on that issue and that issue alone. Other right-wing YouTube channels typically preach to the choir and go on a long rant about how the left is ruining things via political correctness and cultural Marxism, etc, etc. Take PragerU's video on modern art, for instance. They make a clear and concise argument for why they dislike modern art, one which is intended to convince anybody, regardless of whether they are conservative, liberal, socialist, etc. By contrast, some of Paul Joseph Watson's videos on modern art assume that the viewer is on the political right, and he goes on to rant about how the left is causing decadence in regards to modern culture. Finally, I like the flashy animations in their videos. I think they're cute.
That being said, their arguments are just as bad as those made in other right-wing YouTube channels, and the three things I like about them are pretty much just tools to try and get people to take them seriously. They're very effective tools though, and I applaud them for being such excellent propagandists.
Anyway, a while back, they made a video entitled "Where Do Good and Evil Come From?" in which their guest speaker, Peter Kreeft, argues that they come from God. This is what he says:
Let's say that good and evil really do come from God (and from hereon out, when I speak of "God", I will mean the God of Judaeo-Christian theism as that is the one PragerU believe in). There are only two ways that this can be the case. Either:I'm going to argue for the existence of God from the premise that moral good and evil really exist. They are not simply a matter of personal taste. Not merely substitutes for "I like" and "I don’t like."
a) God is higher than good. God decides what good and evil really are, and if he had decided to say "Thou shalt commit adultery" (as a typo in some old Bibles made out that he did), that would make adultery moral. Thus, adultery is not bad due to any reasons regarding the upset it could cause to one's spouse. Rather, it is bad because God says it is bad and we have to please God.
b) Good is higher than God. There is an objective moral reality that exists, completely independent of a deity. God only acts as the messenger of good to humans.
If (a) is the case, then moral good and evil are indeed a matter of personal taste, only this time they come from the personal tastes of a supreme being, rather than from humans. They are merely substitutes for "God likes" and "God doesn't like", invalidating Kreeft's argument.
If (b) is the case, then we don't need God for morality to exist, as it exists completely independent of him. As a matter of fact, PragerU pretty much implies that (b) is correct, and that God simply acts as an interpreter for what good is. In their video on the Ten Commandments, Dennis Prager states that they are "all that is necessary to make a good world, a world free of tyranny and cruelty.", implying that this is why God put forward the ten commandments. Well, if that is the case, then there is an objective moral standard which exists independently from God. Goodness is making a world free from tyranny and cruelty. We do not need a God to try and aspire to this.
Some theists would argue that a supreme being would be able to judge what would create a world free from tyranny and cruelty far better than any human would. They are right, however, this does not prove that morality can't exist without a God. It only proves that it is much more difficult to understand morality without a God to interpret it.
So, if morality does exist, how can we understand it without a God? Well, I think that Prager's vision of a "world free of tyranny and cruelty" is a noble one. However, I don't believe that such a world is achievable unless we extinguish all life from the face of the earth. Tyranny and cruelty are always going to exist in one form or another. No moral system, least of all the Ten Commandments, can eradicate tyranny or cruelty. The best we can do is to minimise the impact that these will have through systems of democracy and utilitarianism.
Democracy minimises the impact of tyranny by ensuring a rule of the many, and letting the people have their say rather than having them ruled over by a monarch or dictator. At its worst, it can lead to a tyranny of the majority, however, the alternative is a tyranny of the minority. It has been said that democracy means two wolves and a sheep voting on what is for dinner. However, this is preferable to one wolf using a dictatorship, monarchy, or first-past-the-post style system to exert his will onto many sheep.
Utilitarianism minimises the impact of cruelty by, again, ensuring a rule of the many. Bentham's greatest happiness principle aims for the maximum amount of pleasure and the minimum amount of pain for the maximum amount of people. This ensures that, if cruelty is inevitable, it happens to the smallest extent possible. One problem with utilitarianism is that one can't always predict what the consequences of our actions will be. This is true, however, doesn't negate the fact that it is better to focus on the possible consequences than to arbitrarily claim certain actions are inherently moral or immoral, regardless of consequences.
Democracy and utilitarianism are the worst systems in place... except for all the other systems. This is because it is inevitable that bad consequences should come from these systems, however, it is inevitable that bad consequences should come from any systems. These systems ensure that tyranny and cruelty are imposed to the smallest extent possible.
Anyway, Kreeft goes on to talk a bunch of things many atheists claim determines morality, and utilitarianism is one of them. So let's see what he says:
Not true. It would all depend on whether the pleasure of those who are doing the enslaving outweighs the suffering of the slaves. If so, then some versions of utilitarianism would say that slavery is right in this instance. However, others would not. For instance, according to Karl Popper's version of utilitarianism which some have termed "negative utilitarianism", we should prioritise minimising pain over maximising pleasure. Because of that, slavery would still be immoral in this situation*.Utilitarianism is the claim that what is morally right is determined by whatever creates ‘the greatest happiness for the greatest number.’ But to return to our slavery example: if ninety percent of the people will get great benefit from enslaving the other ten percent, would that make slavery right? According to utilitarianism it would.
Funnily enough, PragerU clearly seems to recognise that some version of utilitarianism is necessary. In their video about whether it was moral for the United States to drop the atomic bomb on Japan in World War Two, they argue that it was because it minimised the number of casualties. This appears to take consequentialism into account and to fly in the face of absolutist ideas, such as the sixth of the ten commandments**.
But it seems Kreeft would beg to differ:
Much like his friend Prager (see second footnote), Kreeft thinks that he can get away with not defining something which is the premise of his argument. What is "God"? Well, first off, if he is a "moral lawgiver" as Kreeft claims, that seems to show that God is higher than good. If that's the case, then we needn't concern ourselves with creating a world free of tyranny and cruelty. Both of those things would be entirely acceptable if God had decided to make them so. If God had commanded us to rape, it would be moral to rape, etc. But regardless, what does "God" mean? Does "God" mean an omnipotent, omnibenevolent being, defined by Anselm as "that than which nothing greater can be conceived". If so, why would this being have to be necessary to determine morality? Couldn't a lesser supernatural being have done this? And if "God" can mean any supreme supernatural being, are they an uncaused being? If they do not need a cause, why does morality need a cause?We’ve seen where morality can’t come from. Now let’s see where it does come from. What are moral laws? Unlike the laws of physics or the laws of mathematics, which tell us what is, the laws of morality tell us what ought to be. But like physical laws, they direct and order something. And that something is right human behavior. But since morality doesn’t exist physically -- there are no moral or immoral atoms, or cells or genes -- its cause has to be something that exists apart from the physical world. That thing must therefore be above nature -- or super-natural. The very existence of morality proves the existence of something beyond nature and beyond man. Just as a design suggests a designer, moral commands suggest a moral commander. Moral Laws must come from a moral lawgiver. Well, that sounds pretty much like what we know as God. The consequence of this argument is that whenever you appeal to morality you are appealing to God whether you know it or not; you’re talking about something religious, even if you think you’re an atheist.
In conclusion, morality does not need to be caused by anything, least of all a God. Kreeft (thankfully) agrees with me that it is perfectly possible for an atheist to be a moral person, however, he argues that atheists can be moral in spite of their atheism. I fundamentally disagree with him here. Atheists have no less reason to be moral than theists, as morality can exist without a God. Kreeft appears well intentioned, and I sincerely doubt that it is his goal to make atheists look like monsters, however, if one followed his points to their logical conclusion, they would be led to believe that atheism is a plague on society, as due to the belief that morality doesn't exist that supposedly forms from it, when an atheist acts immorally, they are doing it because of their atheism, and when an atheist acts morally, they are doing it in spite of their atheism. This is completely false, and if Kreeft's view gains in popularity, there will almost definitely be a wide amount of misconceptions about what atheists actually believe, inevitably leading to bigotry and a refusal to engage with their ideas. This will certainly not help to minimise tyranny and cruelty in society, thus, if anybody hears somebody stating that God is necessary for morality to exist, then regardless of whether they are a believer, an atheist, or anybody in between, they should in all good conscience challenge that assertion.
*Unless, of course, slavery is necessary to minimise the amount of pain for most people, which is unlikely.
**In PragerU's video on the sixth commandment, Dennis Prager argues that the original Hebrew actually states "Thou shalt not murder", rather than "Thou shalt not kill". He defines murder as being different from merely killing, as it is the illegal or immoral taking of a life. Conveniently enough, he doesn't define what would differentiate an immoral killing from a moral killing, so he can basically just use his YouTube channel to claim that the killing he agrees with is moral whilst the killing he disagrees with is immoral, without having to worry about people calling him out on his doublethink, because he rejected both the idea that killing can be necessary for utilitarian reasons and the idea that killing is always wrong, and yet never came up with an actual alternative to either of these ideas.