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.