William Lane Craig and his nonsense ethics

Christian apologist William Lane Craig, author of Reasonable Faith (the irony of this title will soon become apparent) argues that if objective moral values exist then God must also exist. Objective moral values do exist, he asserts, therefore God exists. One might be forgiven for thinking that someone with a Ph.D. In philosophy would be able to formulate a cohesive argument in favour of his assertion that objective moral values do indeed exist. One would be mistaken however. His reasoning is as follows; “objective moral values do exist and deep down we all know it.” This is an utterly asinine philosophical argument that is almost too embarrassing to dignify with a refutation. Nonetheless I shall endeavour to persist.

His argument can, without parody, be translated thus; I have a gut feeling that something is wrong therefore it must be objectively wrong. But there are lots of things that human beings have strong aversions to; consider eating rotten meat for example. Most of us would wretch if we were presented with a platter of semi-decomposed carrion. Our strong abhorrence, or gut feeling that rancid flesh should not be consumed does not mean that it is objectively wrong to do so. There is no universal law that prohibits such an act – plenty of organisms do feed off fetid meat. Humans however, have evolved an innate sense of disgust in response to it as a defence against the potential diseases that we might contract from consuming it.

Similarly, our conscience doesn’t necessitate the existence of a universal code of ethics. It merely necessitates that we have evolved a defence against certain destructive modes of behaviour. If you imagine there are two populations; one in which the people have no qualms about murder, theft and other such detrimental behaviour, and another in which the people have a fully developed conscience that prevents them from committing such actions. It is easy to see how the first population would fail to prosper. Their socially destructive behaviour would prevent the necessary cohesion that is required to persist as a population with for any great length of time. The second population on the other hand would cooperate and trust one another with ease, their society and institutions would flourish and they would have the means to deal with the challenges that face any culture. Whilst the first population are too busy squabbling and killing each other to solve even the simple challenge of making sure everyone gets fed, the second population could gain the strength and resources necessary to form armies and conquer the first population with ease – thus eliminating them, and their destructive habits. It is clear to see why having an aversion towards certain behaviours is an advantage in evolutionary terms, without appealing to the existence of objective values.

 

In order to move on however, I shall be unusually generous and put all that aside. Lets assume for the moment that there is some substance to Craig’s claim that objective moral values do exist. Does it follow from this that God exists?
Craig’s reasoning is predicated upon the assumption that only God could provide the grounding for objective morality. If one subscribes to the ‘divine command theory’ – which states that an act is either good or evil depending on whether God commands it or prohibits it – then there are some problems with this assumption. If we take an act generally considered to be immoral, such as killing a child, for example. Is killing a child wrong because God prohibits it, or does God prohibit killing children because it is intrinsically wrong?

If God prohibits killing a child because it is intrinsically wrong, then it is wrong regardless of whether or not God exists – and thus objective moral values do not necessitate that God exists. If something is right simply because God commands it, and wrong simply because God prohibits it then anything can become right or wrong based upon the whim of God. Thus if God commands a person murder a child (a problem which is amplified by the fact that God does command exactly this in the Bible) then this would be the right thing to do by definition. This renders morality completely subjective, and arbitrary.

Some will respond to this problem by stating that goodness is derived from God’s nature. However this creates a very similar dilemma. Is helping a suffering individual good because it is in God’s nature, or is helping a suffering individual in God’s nature because it is already intrinsically good? The latter option again removes the necessity of God, and the former can be refuted with an example from the Bible. Consider Jeremiah 19 verse 9: “And I will cause them to eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters”. Here God is causing people to cannibalise their own children – thus we can consider it to be in God’s nature to induce others to eat their own progeny, and as such we can conclude that doing so is good. If one protests that causing people to eat their own offspring is morally wicked then they are either appealing to a moral standard that is beyond the nature of God, or they are saying that God is capable of acting against his own nature. But if it is in God’s nature to be capable of acting against his own nature then the whole argument is rendered meaningless.

Either objective moral values do exist, but God is superfluous – which is contradictory to Craig’s argument. Or objective moral values do not exist, and morality is down to the subjective and arbitrary whims of God – which again, contradicts the original assertion that objective moral values do exist. Craig’s moral argument falls flat on its face.

William Lane Craig doesn’t stop his ethical embarrassment here by any means. In his debate with Arif Ahmed, he openly declared that: “The premise that pointless suffering exists, or gratuitous evil exists is extremely controversial. We are simply not in the position to make these kinds of inductive probability judgements”. What does he mean by this? He appears to be casting doubt on the existence of gratuitous evil, in other words, evil that is without reason, cause or justification. So, if we accept the implications of this, then we must accept that all evil and suffering exists to serve some kind of purpose. What might that purpose be? Well, God’s purpose of course, as Craig states on his website reasonablefaith.org:

“God may well have morally sufficient reasons for permitting the suffering in the world. We all know cases in which we permit suffering because we have morally sufficient reasons for doing so. What Law would have to prove is that it’s improbable that God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting the suffering in the world. But how could he possibly prove that? God’s justifying reasons might never appear in our lifetime or locale or even in this life. Suppose, for example, that God’s purpose for human life is not happiness in this life but the knowledge of God, which is an incommensurable good. It may be the case, for all we know, that only in a world suffused with natural and moral evil would the maximum number of people freely come to know God and find eternal life.”

So, if evil exists to serve a purpose, and that purpose is God’s supreme plan – which is ultimately good (unless you want to concede that God is evil), then it follows logically that all evil is ultimately good. Such a perfect way to commit moral suicide! Although to be fair on Craig, he doesn’t assert that gratuitous evil definitely does not exist. However, his doubtful stance does completely undermine his ability to make any moral judgements whatsoever. If, for example, the torture of a small child for fun cannot definitely be said to be gratuitously evil, and that it might be a part of God’s ultimately good plan, then there is no way to say for definite whether such an act is ultimately good or evil. Thus contrary to his laughably inane assertion that we can just know that something is right or wrong, Craig’s own position actually undermines his ability to make moral judgements.

 

From Craig’s asinine argument from objective morality, to the absurd conclusions that follow inevitably from his scepticism over the existence of gratuitous evil, it is evident that his theological beliefs do nothing to advance any real ethical philosophy. That is not to say that William Lane Craig, is himself devoid of coherent ethics, however I think it is safe to say that they stem from somewhere other than the whims of a supernatural law-giver.

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11 Comments

Filed under Philosophy, Random

11 responses to “William Lane Craig and his nonsense ethics

  1. Paul

    I stopped reading after your rotten meat example.

    I have an aversion to rotten meat, as most people do. The problem with your analogy is that no one would agree that eating rotten meat is always wrong under every circumstance past or present. If I was starving I wouldn’t think it was wrong or if someone a hundred years ago ate it because they were hungry I would not think it was wrong. I don’t think eating rotten meat is objectively wrong. Our strong abhorrence or aversion to something says nothing about its moral value. I don’t like turnips – does mean I think it is wrong for everything to eat turnips, of course not.

    I do, however, think rape is wrong today and at any time in the past and any time in the future. Rape is always wrong regardless of the perpetrator or when/where the act was committed. You completely mis-understand the argument.

    • Laurens

      You seem to miss my point. My point is that something cannot be described as objectively wrong simply because one has a strong gut feeling about it. I am not saying that there are no arguments that one could put forth that rape is objectively wrong, just that ‘I just know it is wrong’ is not a good argument.

      There are ethicists and moral philosophers who could put forth excellent arguments for why rape is wrong. Craig isn’t one of them. Let me illustrate this clearly by changing the proposition ‘rape is objectively wrong’ with another, let’s say ‘God does not exist’. Does the statement ‘I just know God does not exist’ sound like a reasonable argument to you?

  2. Hej Doctor,

    I love your blog and this article is awesome. You brilliantly refute that argument. I think though you misrepresented his moral argument. He does not argue “if objective moral values exist then God must also exist. Objective moral values do exist, he asserts, therefore God exists” but:

    1. If God does not exist, the objective moral values and duties do not exist
    2, Objective moral values and duties exist
    3. Therefore God exists.

    This is a valid argument. The argument you so eloquently refuted is not Craig’s, sadly nor classical moral argument. His case could be wrong, but I think we ought to represent his case correctly before refuting it. I could be wrong 🙂

    Your blog new follower and reader.
    Prayson

    • Laurens

      I think that my post still refutes that argument when phrased in that way.

      “1. If God does not exist, the objective moral values and duties do not exist”

      I refute this when I talk about morality either being down to the subjective commands and whims of God, or they exist independent of God – in other words they could exist whether or not God does.

      “2, Objective moral values and duties exist”

      I refute this by going after his argument in support of this premise. The ‘deep down we all know it’ thing. He provides no strong support for objective moral values and duties, and even if he did, I showed that his first premise was also flawed.

      “3. Therefore God exists”

      This is refuted by the failure of the first two premises.

      Thanks for the comment, I’m glad you enjoy my blog 🙂

      • Before I address your objections to the two premises, I wish to show that my main aim was to show that we ought present one case correctly before we attack it. Otherwise we are killing a straw-man.

        On P1: Contending that morality is “either being down to the subjective commands and whims of God, or they exist independent of God” a version of Euthyphro Dilemma I believe fails because it creates a false dilemma.

        I common reply offered in this literature is that objective moral values and duties base on God’s own nature. Plato called it The Good. Thus it cannot exist independent of God because God is The Good, they contended.

        So what God commands reflects his nature. It is for that reason that he cannot command something against his nature.

        On P2: I think Craig is right. All sane humans knows the difference between Mother Teresa and Stalin. If you think that torturing children for fun is morally wrong, or child-molestation by Catholic priest is wrong no matter what they think, then you “deep down we all know it’ thing”.

        Michael Ruse, atheist philosopher, put it this way: “The man who says that it is morally acceptable to rape little children is just as mistaken as the man who says, “2+2=5”.”(Ruse 1982: 275).

        Last, one of brilliant atheist philosopher late J. L. Mackie agreed with Craig’s case:

        “[I]f we adopted moral objectivism, we should have to regard the relations of supervenience which connect values and obligations with their natural grounds as synthetic; they would then be in principle something that a god might conceivably create; and since they would otherwise be a very odd sort of thing, the admitting of them would be an inductive ground for admitting also a god to create them.(Mackie 1982: 118)”

        I do not wish to convince you that it is good argument, but what Craig contend is not new in contemporary philosophy literature. This is why I wish we try first to understand someones case, then present it correctly before we even begin to try to answer it.

        Your blog reader,
        Prayson

  3. David McClain

    Thank you for your article. Prior to reading this I had not really given this argument much thought. After reading your article I decided to check out Craig’s argument in greater detail to get his defense of it. In doing so I conclude several things.
    1. Your rebuttal seems to miss the point of his argument. Your illustration of two populations only makes the case that from that from an evolutionary perspective it makes sense to have values that protect a society- but why should I, or anyone else for that matter, care what society thinks or that evolutionary social development promotes. It doesn’t make it objectively wrong. If I want to blow someones head off- why should I care what society, you, or anyone else thinks. Especially if I can get by with it society can despise me all they want but who cares what society or social evolution thinks- what makes it the arbitrator of morality? Frankly, I could care less what society or evolution thinks I should or should not do. Yet for some reason I, and I suspect others, know (objectively) that there is something intrinsically wrong with it and if you are arguing that social evolution is the objective reason I should not blow someones head off you have essentially just given me permission to do.
    2. The quote from Jeremiah 29 is appropriately disturbing to all of us- and should be for anyone with objective moral values. But you did not mention the context. God is judging is people that had abandoned basic morality and were sacrificing babies and others, had sexual coercion and deviancy practices as part of their worship of a false God (Baal- their worship practices are well documented). They had practices that violated basic human dignity. The judgement was intended to be severe and would create an environment that these already evil people would feel forced to eat their own (since they did have a morality that would prohibit it anyway).
    3. Your use of ad hominem arguments regarding Craig (asinine, absurd) is what makes a legitimate debate unlikely and diminishes your argument.

    • Laurens

      “1. Your rebuttal seems to miss the point of his argument. Your illustration of two populations only makes the case that from that from an evolutionary perspective it makes sense to have values that protect a society- but why should I, or anyone else for that matter, care what society thinks or that evolutionary social development promotes. It doesn’t make it objectively wrong. If I want to blow someones head off- why should I care what society, you, or anyone else thinks. Especially if I can get by with it society can despise me all they want but who cares what society or social evolution thinks- what makes it the arbitrator of morality? Frankly, I could care less what society or evolution thinks I should or should not do. Yet for some reason I, and I suspect others, know (objectively) that there is something intrinsically wrong with it and if you are arguing that social evolution is the objective reason I should not blow someones head off you have essentially just given me permission to do.”

      My point with the illustration about the two populations was to refute Craig’s assumption that a feeling deep down equals objective morality – it doesn’t. Evolution has given us a conscience, to prevent us from acting in ways that might be detrimental to our own survival, but that doesn’t mean that this proves that morality is objective in the sense that Craig means.

      “2. The quote from Jeremiah 29 is appropriately disturbing to all of us- and should be for anyone with objective moral values. But you did not mention the context. God is judging is people that had abandoned basic morality and were sacrificing babies and others, had sexual coercion and deviancy practices as part of their worship of a false God (Baal- their worship practices are well documented). They had practices that violated basic human dignity. The judgement was intended to be severe and would create an environment that these already evil people would feel forced to eat their own (since they did have a morality that would prohibit it anyway).”

      Since when is it moral to give out twisted punishments to immoral people? Especially children, what can a child have done to deserve being eaten? The context doesn’t make it any less evil.

      “3. Your use of ad hominem arguments regarding Craig (asinine, absurd) is what makes a legitimate debate unlikely and diminishes your argument.”

      I said his arguments were asinine and absurd, but I don’t spend the whole post insulting Craig personally. I might be a bit harsh on Craig, but mostly I make good points.

      • Laurens

        And just to make a further point on your second point, objective morality would mean that something is wrong regardless of context. The fact that you are bringing context into the argument means that you are arguing from a subjective stand point. One of ‘forcing people to kill is okay in certain contexts’.

  4. Laurens

    “Before I address your objections to the two premises, I wish to show that my main aim was to show that we ought present one case correctly before we attack it. Otherwise we are killing a straw-man.”

    I appreciate that this is what you are trying to do, but I would still contend that my portrayal of Craig’s argument was not that different to how he actually states it. I paraphrased it, and much of my objections still apply.

    “On P1: Contending that morality is “either being down to the subjective commands and whims of God, or they exist independent of God” a version of Euthyphro Dilemma I believe fails because it creates a false dilemma.

    I common reply offered in this literature is that objective moral values and duties base on God’s own nature. Plato called it The Good. Thus it cannot exist independent of God because God is The Good, they contended.

    So what God commands reflects his nature. It is for that reason that he cannot command something against his nature.”

    I address this reply in my post too. The problem with asserting that the Biblical God is ‘The Good’ is that there are numerous examples in the Bible in which God commands people to do things that most people would consider evil. So are the commands to rip open pregnant women as in Hosea 13:16 good? Is that in accordance with his nature? I think any moral person would state that ripping open pregnant women is not ‘good’ under any circumstances – personally I think it is one of the most abominable things you could do. But if it is in God’s nature to command such things then doesn’t that make it good? This seems the only conclusion if you state that God cannot command something against his own nature.

    “On P2: I think Craig is right. All sane humans knows the difference between Mother Teresa and Stalin. If you think that torturing children for fun is morally wrong, or child-molestation by Catholic priest is wrong no matter what they think, then you “deep down we all know it’ thing”.

    Michael Ruse, atheist philosopher, put it this way: “The man who says that it is morally acceptable to rape little children is just as mistaken as the man who says, “2+2=5”.”(Ruse 1982: 275).

    Last, one of brilliant atheist philosopher late J. L. Mackie agreed with Craig’s case:

    “[I]f we adopted moral objectivism, we should have to regard the relations of supervenience which connect values and obligations with their natural grounds as synthetic; they would then be in principle something that a god might conceivably create; and since they would otherwise be a very odd sort of thing, the admitting of them would be an inductive ground for admitting also a god to create them.(Mackie 1982: 118)”

    I do not wish to convince you that it is good argument, but what Craig contend is not new in contemporary philosophy literature. This is why I wish we try first to understand someones case, then present it correctly before we even begin to try to answer it.”

    I see your point, but I think my contention still stands. I see no reason to believe that our conscience is aligned with some kind of cosmic principle that exists independent of it. I feel repulsed and indignant towards a lot of acts, but I don’t think there is an inherent part of the universe that states certain things are wrong. Its down to our consciousness that has evolved, and that doesn’t make it any less pertinent or make killing any less of an immoral act.

    Kind regards
    Laurens

    • Thanks Laurens.

      Since my primary aim was to show that your case is not as defended by Craig and it seems you know as you contended that you “would still contend that my portrayal of Craig’s argument was not that different to how he actually states it.”, I think I have fulfill my goal.

      We you present someone’s case we should avoid it been “not that different”. We should present there case as they defend it. Defending “If not-A then not-B” is not the same as defending “If B then A”.

      Your blog reader,
      Prayson

      • Laurens

        Okay what I’m going to do is make a new post going into some of what Craig has said, and address this argument verbatim. I will address the argument as you presented in these comments it there, and I may also examine some of his other claims. I think that would be easier for people to see, and I want to keep this one open, rather than edit it for the sake of honesty.

        Thanks for the inspiration, I haven’t posted in a while.

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