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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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Notes on the Problem of Evil

Okay, first we need a definition of evil that we can all agree upon, so how about:

 

Intentionally acting in such a way as to increase harm and suffering without remorse

I’m pretty sure most people can agree upon that. Next we need to define the kinds of entities that are capable of committing evil. Moral awareness is an important prerequisite. We cannot classify a lion as evil for killing other animals at any given opportunity because they have no sense of right and wrong. So in order to be able to do evil you need the capacity to be aware of your actions, their consequences and how they affect others. As far as we know humans are the only beings possessing of these traits.

So in order for something to be evil it needs to be carried out by a morally aware being. An event which causes suffering and harm repeatedly, but is not down to the actions and intentions of a morally aware being cannot be classified as evil. This means that natural disasters and diseases etc. are not evil. So far so good.

However, when you throw and all-powerful deity into the mix this is when things get difficult (for the theist at least). God fulfils the requirement of being a morally aware entity, most theists will state that God is the source of moral truth, so clearly such an entity is very aware of their actions and the consequences of them.

The attribute of omnipotence creates a problem which is famously termed ‘the problem of evil’. Let me explain it using malaria as an example; malaria kills thousands of children every single day so there is no doubt that such a thing increases suffering and causes harm to others, however without God malaria is not evil because it is not caused by the actions and decisions of a morally aware entity. On theism this is different.

The theist has two choices when it comes to malaria; either God created it himself, or allowed it to happen. Either way this removes malaria from the context of having not been caused by the actions and intentions of a morally aware entity to one in which it is very much in the hands of a morally aware entity.

If God created malaria then he is evil because he intentionally created something that causes large amounts of pain and suffering, apparently with no remorse. If God allows malaria then this creates problems also; because if God cares about our suffering and wants to relieve it then he should want to use his power to prevent malaria, this gives rise to a contradiction because it’s very apparent that God has done nothing to prevent malaria, so either God does not care about our suffering, or God does care about it, but can do nothing (thus meaning God is not omnipotent).

The problem of evil arises because positing the existence of an omnipotent God removes disasters, diseases and famines etc. from the context of being events with no moral agent behind them, to being ones that do. So the theist must then explain the contradiction between omnipotence and omnibenevolence that arises in this situation. This is, in my opinion, the heart of the problem of evil.

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William Lane Craig Argues Himself Into A Corner

In solution to the problem of evil Christian apologists such as William Lane Craig often retort that God may well have good reasons for permitting evil and suffering in the world. On his website William Lane Craig states:

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.

(http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=9162)

So in essence suffering and evil may well be permitted for the ‘greater good’ and we simply are not in any position to know why it is permitted. Craig goes further in his debate with Arif Ahmed and states:

“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”

(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-NF-LlVFHM)

So here Craig is saying that pointless suffering and gratuitous evil might not exist. If this is true then no act of evil would be ‘ without apparent reason, cause, or justification’ and we can thus conclude that all evil is acted out for a reason, has a cause and a justification. One can assume that Craig’s doubts over the existence of gratuitous evil and pointless suffering tie in with his notion that God permits suffering for the greater good. So the reason and justification for evil is because it is part of God’s plan for the greater good.

Here’s Craig’s argument taken to it’s logical conclusion:

1. Gratuitous evil and pointless suffering might not exist because if God has a plan for the ‘greater good’ then no evil is gratuitous and no suffering is pointless.

2. If this is true no act of evil is truly evil because it is ultimately for the greater good.

Therefore

3. Because of 1 & 2 we have absolutely no way of knowing if an evil act was truly evil or whether it was actually contributing to the greater good.

It follows logically from this that despite Craig’s frequent assertion that ‘we just know some actions are objectively wrong’ – here he asserts that we have absolutely no way of making such a judgement because for all we know there is no gratuitous evil – and therefore the reason for it is ultimately good (according to Craig’s views). Craig has argued himself into the corner that Christian apologists often try to back atheists into.

Craig cannot say whether the murder of 6 million Jews in Nazi Germany was evil because if gratuitous evil does not exist, then this must have happened for a reason, and that reason according to Craig is to fulfil God’s ultimately good plan. Therefore we cannot classify this act as evil, because it may have actually been for the greater good (I apologise for breaking Godwin’s law here, however I’m sure you can forgive me).

In his attempt to escape the problem of evil, Craig has put himself in a position where he can make no moral judgements whatsoever (which runs contrary to his “argument” for objective moral values in which he states that we all ‘just know’ the difference between good and evil). Well done Bill!

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Context and Objective Morality

One of the most sickeningly annoying arguments that theists like to make is that atheists have no objective standards by which we can judge right and wrong. Of course the standard response to this is to point out the many examples of hideously immoral acts condoned in the Old Testament, examples such as this:

 

“Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”

– 1 Samuel 15:3 (KJV)

 

Here we have genocide and the killing of small children and babies condoned in a single verse. What is the standard response to this? Whether you’re a theist or an atheist you probably can guess what it is; ‘you have to understand the context of that verse’…

 

Here’s the thing; if killing babies and children is objectively wrong this means that by definition there is no context in which it can be permissible. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say that the Bible gives you objective moral standards, and then when faced with the inconvenient fact that the Bible (or at least the Old Testament) depicts a psychotic genocidal God who commands suckling infants to be slaughtered, claim that one has to understand the context. If killing is objectively wrong, then there needs to be no discussion about context, killing is wrong in every context – that’s what objectively wrong means. If there is a context which needs to be understood, and which makes the event permissible then you are arguing from a subjective standard.

 

The contortions that theists go to when defending their bigoted genocidal maniac of a God is quite amusing to observe. All you have to do is ask a few straight forward questions and they tie themselves in knots. Is something right because God says it is right? Does that mean that eating your own children would be right if God makes you do it (Jeremiah 19:7-9)? If not then doesn’t that mean God has nothing to do with objective morality?

 

There is actually quite interesting philosophical discussion to be had about whether or not objective morality exists (I don’t know if it does or not), but there is one thing that is clear to all free-thinkers; the God of the Bible is a sickeningly evil demon of a God who deserves no apologies from anyone, and it only makes a mockery of any kind of moral discussion to try and advocate such a being as the source of all that is right and true.

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Religion, Oppression, Hatred, Injustice, Killing and So On

When an atheist addresses the fact that religion has been used throughout history to justify hatred, oppression, injustice, genocide, murder, war and so on, the response from theists is almost universally the same; “You can’t fault the religion for the things that are done in the name of that religion. It’s not the religion that kills people” etc. Whilst I don’t deny that the abstract concept of religion itself cannot physically kill or harm people, that’s not the point. The abstract concept of racism, nazism, fascism, communism etc. cannot physically harm people either, but those concepts have undoubtedly been used to justify harm throughout history.

 

There are many instances throughout history in which people have justified evil using religion. The most recent pertinent example would be 9/11. I can say without a shadow of a doubt an atheist could never be convinced to fly a plane into a building full of innocent people. The hijackers were undoubtedly motivated by their religious convictions, they saw themselves as martyrs, and believed that they would be rewarded in paradise for their actions. If the concept of religion was absent from the world, then the chances are that the Twin Towers would still grace the New York skyline.

 

The abstract concept of religion did not hijack those planes, that is correct, but it did hijack the minds of the people who did.

 

Anti-Semitism is most commonly associated with Nazi Germany, but it has its roots much earlier than that, and was directly justified by Christian scriptures. The Christians held the Jews accountable for the death of Jesus. In their eyes his blood was upon them and their children, as written in the Gospel of Matthew:

“So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves. And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and our own children!” – Matthew 27:24-25

 

Anti-Semitism is justified in other parts of the Bible, take this quote from Thessalonians  for example:

“For ye, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judaea in Christ Jesus: for ye also suffered the same things of your own countrymen, even as they did of the Jews; who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove out us, and pleased not God, and are contrary to all men; forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved; to fill up their sins always: but the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.” – Thessalonians 2:14-16

 

Once Christianity became the state religion of Rome in 312 CE under Constantine, hatred and oppression towards Jews became extreme. Laws were passed that revoked many of the civil liberties previously granted to Jews. Jews were excluded from the military, from holding high office, and were forbidden to proselytize  or have sexual relations with Christian women – under penalty of death. The Justinian Code of the 6th century declared the legal status of Jews null and void, outlawed the Mishnah, and made disbelief in the resurrection a capital offence [1]. I have to ask, would this oppression and injustice have existed without the religious justification?

 

Here’s another example of a Biblical commandment that was used to justify evil:

“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” – Exodus 22:18

 

Witches, despite not existing, were persecuted for some three hundred years, and those tortured and murdered under suspicion of this imaginary crime number at around 40,000 to 50,000 [2]. Again I ask, without the religious justification, would this have happened?

 

Then you have the inquisition, justified by verses such as this:

” If you hear it said about one of the towns the LORD your God is giving you to live in that troublemakers have arisen among you and have led the people of their town astray, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods you have not known), then you must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly. And if it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done among you, you must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. You must destroy it completely, both its people and its livestock. You are to gather all the plunder of the town into the middle of the public square and completely burn the town and all its plunder as a whole burnt offering to the LORD your God. That town is to remain a ruin forever, never to be rebuilt,” – Deuteronomy 13:12-16

 

Countless people were horrendously tortured and killed during the inquisition, without the religious justification this would not have happened. I could go on citing examples, such as how the Bible was used to justify slavery [3], Manifest Destiny [4] and many others. Now, I am not arguing that all religious people are advocates of Anti-Semitism, torturing witches and heretics, slavery etc, what I am saying is that religion was undoubtedly used to justify these things, and in most cases, without the religion these actions would have had no justification whatsoever.

 

I do not deny that religion can motivate people to do good, but it can also give overwhelming justification to evil – when you feel that you are justified in doing something by the omnipotent creator of the universe, you have a real problem. As Stephen Weinburg said:

“Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion.”

 

No one is blaming the abstract concept of religion for harming people, the problem with religion is that it is often used to justify evil, and for that reason it is highly dangerous, and should be opposed.

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[1] Wistrich, Anti-Semitism pages 19-20

[2] R. Briggs, Witches and Neighbours: The Social and Cultural Context of European Witchcraft page 8

[3] http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_slav1.htm

[4] http://gbgm-umc.org/umw/joshua/may7180.stm

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