Does Moral Realism and Infinite Spacetime Entail Atheism?
Vlastimil Vohánka send me an email recently asking for my thoughts on the following reconstruction of an argument recently proposed by Quentin Smith.
1. Necessarily, global moral realism is true (everything, or rather, every physical entity, has a positive amount of value). PremiseThe gist of the argument is that if something exists that is infinitely valuable, if some such thing would exist regardless of what we do, and if our contributions are at best finite, then nothing we do makes any real difference to the aggregate value of what exists (since ∞ + 1 = ∞). Hence, nothing we do really matters.
2. Necessarily, aggregative value theory is true (each physical location has a finite positive amount of value; a location can be a person, any other animal, a plant, a particular of matter or energy, a point of space or time, or some larger complex of particulars of these kinds, for example, a forest, an orchestra or an hour of time; values add up). Premise
2*. Necessarily, the performance of an action is morally indifferent iff the performance of that action neither increases nor decreases the amount of value in the universe. Premise, or from (2)
3. Contingently (and according to contemporary physics), spacetime is infinite, both temporally -- there are infinitely many non-overlapping future hours --, and, more controversially, spatially -- at each time there are infinitely many non-overlapping, equal sized cubes of space. Premise
3*. Necessarily, every human action has only finite effect on the amount of value in the universe. Premise
3**. Necessarily, neither any finite addition to nor any finite detraction from an infinite amount of value neither increases nor decreases the amount of value. Premise
4. Moral nihilism is contingently true (it does not morally matter what humans do, it does not matter what actions humans perform). From (1)-(3**)
5. Humans have no intrinsic dignity (from 1-3**); humans have no rights (from 1-3** or from 4); human life has no meaning (from 1-3** or from 4); every human's life is less valuable than the entire state of his being dead (from 1-3**).
5*. God (at least as traditionally conceived) does not exist. From (4) or (5)
Now, I think that premise (3) of this argument is particularly questionable. I don't think there are any empirical results from physics that establish or that even could establish the existence of an infinite spacetime. But the argument could be reconstructed without that premise. For example, instead of infinite spacetime, we could start from the assumption that God necessarily exists and has infinite value. The result, if the rest of the argument is sound, would be a reductio ad absurdum of theism.
If there's a fundamental flaw in the argument, it has to do with its assumptions about the nature of value. There are several that I find particularly questionable.
I'm skeptical about (1). If all that ever existed was a diffuse cloud of hydrogen, would it have positive value? I'm inclined to think not. I suggest, rather, that there may be no value that is not value to someone or, more broadly, to some sentient being. This is reflected in the notion of the good as that which is desirable, a notion that has no application apart from beings capable of desiring.
I'm also skeptical about (2). Can values simply be added up? Not if there are incommensurable kind of value. It may well be that there is no common currency in which all values can be "cashed out" and then added up.
Finally, I'm skeptical about (3*). Why think that human actions have only a finite effect on the amount of value in the universe? Suppose, for example, that there is an afterlife and that one of the possibilities is heaven (infinite positive utility). Well, if I by my own choices and the grace of God can enter the kingdom of heaven, then haven't I done something that contributes infinite value? Or if inspire others to lives of virtue and godliness so that they enter the kingdom of heaven, then haven't I done something that contributes infinite value?