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Random thoughts and views of Tim Young

William Lane Craig’s Moral Argument for God’s Existence

with 15 comments

  1. If God does not exist, then there are no objective moral values or duties.
  2. There are objective moral values and duties.
  3. Therefore, God exist.

It seems to me that those who want to reject this argument will do so by denying the second premise.  In that case he’d likely be a non-cognitivist or a relativist.  In response I think Craig would push his point about there being circumstances in which we can just see that certain acts are right or wrong.  We can just see, for example, that many of the acts done by Hitler were immoral.

I suppose some would want to reject the first promise.  So, for example, they might give a naturalistic account of moral properties.  They might argue, for example, that “keeping your promises is good” is equivalent to “keeping your promises is N” (where “N” is some natural property like “maximally conducive to human wellbeing.”).   Or they might give a non-naturalistic account of moral properties, in which case “good” would refer to some irreducible moral property (i.e. a property that could not be reduced to “N”).  I think in both cases Craig’s response would be “So what?  Why should either case create objective moral duties for me?”

His argument seems good to me, but I suppose I have my own biases.

Thoughts?

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Written by Tim

January 15, 2010 at 9:58 am

15 Responses

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  1. I don’t pretend to know what Craig would say in response to my own, personal, atheistic viewpoints, but I would reply to his arguments as follows.

    “If God does not exist, then there are no objective moral values or duties.” I believe that, like you mentioned, real, bedrock principles of morality are rooted in evolution. The only things that we, as a species, universally agree are wrong are those things which, if universally condoned, would be detrimental to our ability to survive as the social, community-oriented, animal that we are. With that being said, I would further argue that even the most devout Christian (or Muslim, or Jew, or etc.) does not derive his or her morality from their religion. They may believe that they do, but the simple fact is that all religious followers pick, choose, and interpret which lessons and laws they will follow (not a lot of people being stoned to death for working on the sabbath, for example). This process of picking and choosing one’s own morality is the true source of objective morality–it comes from one’s own mind, one’s own evolutionarily programmed sense of right and wrong.

    “There are objective moral values and duties.” I believe that there are objective moral values–but there are far fewer than most would like to believe. At first glance, most people would agree that stealing or killing are wrong. Yet, if you look at humanity as a whole, you will find that there are countless circumstances where these acts are not only permitted, but encouraged. It’s a little hard to say that “murder is wrong” qualifies as an objective moral standard when every culture can and does define murder differently. That’s not exactly objective.

    “Therefore, God exist.” I would argue that the world operates and behaves EXACTLY as one would expect it to if there were no God. Does that mean that there is no God? No. Most people know that it is incredibly difficult–if not impossible–to prove a negative. There could be a God, but without any reason to believe that there is and with no evidence to show that he exists, I see no reason to believe such a hypothesis.

    John Gault

    January 15, 2010 at 10:18 am

    • It looks like you’re giving a relativistic account of moral facts. For example you say, “This process of picking and choosing one’s own morality is the true source of objective morality–it comes from one’s own mind, one’s own evolutionarily programmed sense of right and wrong.” Well, I might pick that murder is right, and you might choose that murder is wrong, but that would be completely subjective. If this is what you’re saying, then I think this would work as an objection to the second premise, but not the first. In that case, I think Craig could response by bringing to our attention circumstances where we could just see that the act in question was immoral. For example, torturing newborn babies for fun is wrong and we can see that it is wrong. If this is the case then relativism is false. Also I think he could raise the standard the objections to relativism.

      With regard to moral disagreements, I think you raise a good issue. Historically different cultures have viewed differing practices as moral and immoral. Some cultures thought it was ok to sacrifice their young, but that practice is no longer acceptable to most cultures today. So I agree with you that there is the appearance of moral disputes; however, I think the question to ask is if many of these are genuine moral disputes. My own thinking about this issue is that moral disagreement isn’t nearly as widespread as it might seem. A lot of moral disputes are not genuine moral disputes, they are just a disagreement over the nonmoral facts involved. So a Jehovah’s Witness, for example, thinks it is immoral to accept blood transfusions but a protestant Christian sees no problem with it whatsoever. You might think that this is a genuine moral disagreement, but in all likelihood it is not. The Jehovah’s Witness thinks that a blood transfusion is equivalent to eating blood (a practice the Old Testament condemns). The Protestant on the other hand, does not think that accepting a transfusion amounts to eating blood. So, both the JW and the Protestant might believe that it is dishonoring to God to eat blood, but they disagree over whether blood transfusion count as eating blood. That’s not a moral disagreement—both feel they ought to honor God—is a disagreement over a nonmoral fact.

      Tim

      January 15, 2010 at 11:27 pm

  2. I gotta admit I am not only NOT swayed by this argument, but that it is rotten to the core. The first premise is easily attacked. It is presented without any proof. Just because Craig cannot see how morality can come about doesn’t mean that there is not another possibility. It’s an enormous argument from ignorance fallacy. Indeed, there is such a possibility. Morals are just another behavior and it is well understood that behavior in species is largely under evolutionary control.

    I also throw out 2. Morals are organic – they change with times. They are rules by which social groups can remain cohesive. As society changes, morality changes. We no longer stone homosexuals or keep slaves. Why? Because they are not moral in the current zeitgeist. Indeed, it is the shoehorning of a morality from 2000 years in the past that creates significant problems in present day society.

    Rejecting 2 does not make one a relativist. It just means that what is considered moral is constantly changing, albeit slowly. But even the meaning of the ‘do not murder’ commandment has changed drastically over time. When it was first written, it meant ‘do not kill a fellow Jew’. Gentiles were fair game, even up to the 12th century (and probably later). If killing were wrong, war would be wrong, yet there was Aquinas and his ‘Just War’ concept. The idea that morals are objective is laughable, but that does not mean that it is ‘anything goes’. I find it so strange that people who fall for this argument can’t see that.

    Shamelessly Atheist

    January 15, 2010 at 10:59 am

    • You’ve said a lot and I’m not sure I can respond to it all!

      Firstly, to be fair here, Craig actually *does* argue for the first premise. I think he does it in two ways: 1) he argues that non-theistic accounts of objective morality fail and 2) he argues that there are elements of theism that are necessary for objective moral values and duties. So, for example, he argues that given the story of evolution there is no reason for thinking that humans have any special value over other living and non-living things. And he argues that since duties are held to persons, this requires a theistic account of objective duties.

      Also, I agree with you that people have held differing moralities, but I think Craig could response that moral disagreements are not as widespread as they might seem. (See my response to John). Also, the application of a moral duty might differ culture to culture, person to person, but that wouldn’t mean the moral duty in question is subjective. For example, suppose that everyone has the moral duty to save a drowning child. Say that you and I happen to be present at a river where a child is drowning. I don’t know how to swim, but you do. Since I don’t know how to swim, the right thing for me to do would be to run and find help, but since you can swim the right thing for you to do might be to jump in and save the child. In this case the action required by the duty is relative to the person, but the duty is still objective. So the fact that people and cultures have had differing practices doesn’t necessarily entail that moral duties are subjective.

      With respect to the command against murder, I don’t think it was ever understood to prohibit killing in general. People had a right to self defense, for example. Killing a person because he was going to unjustly kill your family, wouldn’t count as murder. Also, you mention stonings. Since the same law that prohibited murder also allowed for stonings, it couldn’t be the case that all forms of killing were prohibited. There were cases where killing another human was justified and cases were it was not. Just War Theory is a play of this. It’s doesn’t deny that murder is wrong.

      Tim

      January 16, 2010 at 12:11 am

      • Craig can argue that non-theistic accounts of objective morality fail till he’s blue in the face, but the empirical data obtained from a variety of disciplines, particularly primatology, clearly refute Craig. If humans are somehow special, then why do our closest relatives display every single aspect of our own behavior, including morality? (Read primatologist Franz de Waal’s Your Inner Ape for a primer.) In fact, all social mammalian species demonstrate what we would describe as moral behavior to varying extents. Premise 1 remains undemonstrated and an exercise in wishful thinking. Given the choice between empirical data and Craig’s opinion, I’ll take the former without needing any time to think about it at all. (I’m not a fan of Craig. Anyone who can justify genocide as being moral just because it’s ordered by god makes me sick. Indeed, this is another example of the nonexistence of objective morality and how religion can twist a human being in order to maintain a screwed-up view of the world. Sorry. I’m on a soapbox again.)

        Also, I agree with you that people have held differing moralities, but I think Craig could response that moral disagreements are not as widespread as they might seem.

        Are you saying that they are subjectively objective? They are either objective or they are not. There is no wiggle room at all here. And I think the examples I gave are far more than wiggling.

        Speaking of moarl duties, what about honor killings? There are cultures which consider them to be moral duties. We revile these things and do not consider them to be moral duties at all, but that is SUBJECTIVE. Again, objectivity is out the window.

        Also, you mention stonings. Since the same law that prohibited murder also allowed for stonings, it couldn’t be the case that all forms of killing were prohibited.

        That’s exactly my point. Stoning (and its modern equivalent) can be viewed as societally-sponsored murder. In fact, I don’t see how it can be viewed in any other way. It is the intentional, premeditated killing of another human. I happen to think that is immoral. Many do not. Where is the objectivity here?

        And then of course, Craig has no answer to the Euthrphro Dilemma. Is what is moral commanded by god because it is moral, or is it moral because it is commanded by god? Neither fork is very attractive. In the latter what is moral is up to god’s whim. In the former, god is unnecessary to morality – he’s just a middle man.

        Shamelessly Atheist

        January 16, 2010 at 10:19 am

      • Shamelessly Atheist,

        I don’t think you’ve adequately attacked Craig’s first premise…in fact I don’t think you’ve even touched it. For example you write,

        Craig can argue that non-theistic accounts of objective morality fail till he’s blue in the face, but the empirical data obtained from a variety of disciplines, particularly primatology, clearly refute Craig. If humans are somehow special, then why do our closest relatives display every single aspect of our own behavior, including morality?

        You seem to being saying that given atheism and modern science we shouldn’t think that humans hold any special value. But that is precisely Craig’s point! If there is no God there is no reason to think that humans hold any special value. And there’s no reason for believing we have any objective duties. Hence his first premises: “If God does not exist, than there is no objective moral values or duties.” If there is not God, and all we have is the story primatologists and other scientist tell us, then why believe humans have a special value, or that we have objective moral duties?

        With regard to what I’ve said about moral disagreement, I don’t think my answer entails that moral values are subjective. Sometimes people object to objective moral values on the grounds that nobody seems to agree on what those values are. They think that if there really were objective moral values, then there would be much wider agreement among people and societies. What I was pointing out was that moral disagreement isn’t really as widespread as it might seem. On the one hand, many disagreements are over nonmoral facts (such is if blood transfusions count as eating blood), and on the other hand objective moral duties sometimes require different actions for individual actors. The right thing for you to do might be to jump in a river to save a drowning child, while the right thing for me to do might be to run and get help since I don’t know how to swim. Even though both of us have the same objective moral duty to save the child, the actions required to carry out this duty differs from you to me. In anycase, I agree with you that different societies have valued different practices (honor killings, or stoning, for example) but I disagree that this works as an argument against objective morality.

        With regard to the Euthyphro Dilemma Craig actually *does* respond to this in a number of places. For example see here or here. Or consult one of his most recent works, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. Alternatively you could view the works of any Christian philosopher who deals with the subject, because the answer to the dilemma is pretty standard. For example, see Greg Koukl’s answer to the dilemma which is very accessible.

        Tim

        January 16, 2010 at 1:16 pm

      • Oh, and I remember now what my point was with Aquinas (and didn’t state well at all). My point is that while ‘do not murder’ is cross-cultural and transcendent of time, what constitutes murder is not. Aquinas ‘just war’ concept was simplayh an exercise in post hoc rationalization. Whether killing is a willful and premeditated act, killing an outsider not a Jew (the original intent of the commandment not to murder), an act of passion, self-defence, in defense on one’s country – the result is always the same: the death of an individual or group. When Craig justified the slaughter of Canaanite children by saying that it was moral because then they would not grow up learning the wicked ways of their parents (which thoroughly disgusted me), he was engaging in that same post hoc rationalization. I think Aquinas has a better case than Craig, but it’s still the same form of rationalization.

        I’m not saying killing can’t be justified, but what I am saying is that the justifications change with culture and time. Hence I think maintaining that there is an objective morality is silly.

        Shamelessly Atheist

        January 17, 2010 at 12:05 pm

      • Oh, and I remember now what my point was with Aquinas (and didn’t state well at all). My point is that while ‘do not murder’ is cross-cultural and transcendent of time, what constitutes murder is not. Aquinas ‘just war’ concept was simplayh an exercise in post hoc rationalization.

        But I don’t think moral disagreements are as widespread as they might seem (see the two examples I gave). Also even if they are, this still wouldn’t work as an argument against objective morality. For example, it might be that there are objective moral facts, but that nobody knows what they are. In this case, there would likely be differences in the moral systems of different cultures, but that fact alone would not disprove objective morality. Now I do know that Craig thinks we can know moral facts, I’m just trying to point out that this is a completely separate issue.

        Also, All acts of killing are taking a life, yes, but not all acts of killing are murder. This is of no small important, imo, because the Bible prohibits murder not killing. Murder was the unjustified taking of anyone’s life, not just a Jew.

        Tim

        January 20, 2010 at 1:06 pm

      • You seem to being saying that given atheism and modern science we shouldn’t think that humans hold any special value. But that is precisely Craig’s point! If there is no God there is no reason to think that humans hold any special value.

        No, no, no, no, NO! I do NOT argue this. Craig is WRONG! Humans hold special value to other humans. Why? Because we rely on each other for survival! I think this misconception of evolution lies in a misinterpretation of what it means that the individual acts in accordance with its own needs. For some reason, people seem to think that this can only lead to selfish behavior, but that is so much hogwash. If co-operative behavior gives the individual a greater chance of survival, then the tendency will be for more co-operative behavior.

        Humanity (and many other species) make use of a social strategy. Distribution of labor, strength in numbers – this is a strong strategy born of chance, contingency and circumstance. I can not think of a greater value to place on a fellow human than that they help me to survive. Morals are simply the grease which lubricates the wheels of living in groups. Without them, groups simply could not remain cohesive. I stand by my initial statement that premise 1 is refuted.

        Oh, my. I just read one of those ‘refutations’ of the Euthryphro Dilemma. This guy has the gall to call himself a philosopher? He’s actually okay with the first horn!!!! I now understand why he justified genocide – he had no choice in order to maintain this position! Wow. That’s incredible. And he’s talking about morality? At some point he should really step back and look at his overall position. It’s TERRIBLE! And, frankly, monstrous. God can not be called moral without first looking at the acts of god. Take away the fact that it is god (this has been done with children, by the way. It was a fabulous demonstration of post hoc justifications…), since who is doing the action is irrelevant to judging the morality of the action, and look at the order to slay the Canaanites. Is genocide ever moral? I don’t think so. But Craig says that moral perfection is a property of god. How can this be? Well, it can’t. Craig has it backwards. Moral character is not a property of a being, but assigned after external judgement based on the actions of that being. Yeeks.

        Shamelessly Atheist

        January 17, 2010 at 1:25 pm

      • No, no, no, no, NO! I do NOT argue this. Craig is WRONG!

        You say, “Humans hold special value to other humans. Why? Because we rely on each other for survival!” and “I can not think of a greater value to place on a fellow human than that they help me to survive.” The problem with this is that it is completely subjective (like saying “Bernie Mac is funny” Or “Bernie Mac is funny to me.”). So I don’t see how this is supposed to work as a ground for objective values and duties.

        Also, you mention the Euthryphro Dilemma again. I’m not sure who you’re referring to when you say “He’s actually okay with the first horn!!!!” Could you provide a link? Also you claim “God can not be called moral without first looking at the acts of god.” What is that supposed to mean exactly? That we must assess God to see if He is good or not? I want to be sure that I understand you.

        Tim

        January 20, 2010 at 1:17 pm

  3. Compare these two moral dilemmas:

    “Situation 1: An out of control trolley is hurtling down the railroad tracks. In its path are five people who have been tied to the tracks by the mad philosopher. You are at a switch in the track, and can flip the switch to divert the trolley down another track so that it does not run over the five. However, down that second track, one person has been tied there by the mad philosopher. Should you flip the switch?”

    “Situation 2: As before, an out of control trolley is hurtling down the tracks towards five people. You are standing on a footbridge, which the tracks pass under. You can stop the trolley dropping a heavy weight in front of it. The only heavy weight at hand is an immensely fat man. The only way to stop the trolley is to push him off the bridge. If you do so, you will kill him but save five. Should you proceed?”

    In cross-cultural studies of these problems, involving participants from over 100 countries, around 95% of participants would flip the switch in Situation 1. This is consistent across cultures and societies. Just as consistently, 95% of people would not push the fat man off the bridge in Situation 2.

    This indicates that either God is not the source of morality (since people respond similarly regardless of culture, and hence they get their morality from some other source), or else, if God is the source of morality, it is not necessary to believe in God to be moral as people respond similarly regardless of culture).

    For further info, see the Wikipedia article on the trolley problem.

    Rob F

    January 15, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    • I thought of putting trolley problems in here too. Tying it into the Euthyphro Dilemma was a nice touch.

      Shamelessly Atheist

      January 15, 2010 at 10:49 pm

    • Hi Rob,

      I’m confused about your argument. I’m taking you to be arguing this:

      1. There is moral agreement.
      2. Therefore either God is not the source of morality, or He is the source, but belief in him is not necessary to be moral.

      On the one hand, I don’t see how (2) follows from (1). I mean, perhaps God is the source of morality, and there is moral agreement, but everybody get’s it wrong. They agree that murder is wrong when it is really right, say. And maybe *one* requirement of getting it right would be to believe in God. In this case (1) would be true, but (2) would be false.

      On the other hand, though, I completely agree with you that belief in God is not necessary in order to lead a moral life. But I’m not seeing how that works against Criag’s argument. Could you explain?

      Tim

      January 16, 2010 at 12:25 am

      • We can further clarify 2:

        There are three possibilities:

        (1) God is the source of morality and someone needs to worship God to be moral;
        (2) God is the source of morality and someone does not need to worship God to be moral;
        (3) God is not the source of morality, and therefore one does not need to worship God to be moral (because morality comes from somewhere else)

        Possibility 1 is disproven by the trolley problem info given in the start of my first comment.

        As for your possibility about people being wrong… If you followed deontological ethics, you might be able to argue that you should not flip the switch as you have a duty not to cause harm to others, but I’ve never seen a serious argument in favour of pushing the fat man off the bridge.

        As for responding to Graig’s argument, my response does not disprove the existence of God per se. However, as possibilities (2) and (3) both give the same result whether or not God exists, the existence of God is unnecessary as far as morality is concerned. One can therefore appeal to parsimony and “cut God out” as it result.

        My argument does not per se disprove the existence of God as showing that the existence of God is not necessary for morality is not the same thing as showing that God does not exist. Furthermore, rejecting the argument from morality in no way requires one to reject any other argument for the existence of God.

        Rob F

        January 17, 2010 at 11:50 am

  4. Rob,

    I guess I just don’t see how this is supposed to work as an argument against Craig’s moral argument.

    Possibilities (1), (2), and (3) are certainly possibilities, but they are problematic when posed as response’s to Craig’s argument. Neither (1) nor (2) defeat his argument, and (3) is question-begging. Keep in mind that Craig’s point is precisely that there cannot be objective moral values and duties apart from God’s existence since God is the source of morality. (3) might be a possibility, but is it a possibility that Craig is specifically arguing against. So I don’t see (3) as a compelling option unless you can first argue for the possibility of objective moral values and duties apart from God. That’s really what you need to be doing in order to defeat his first premise. You should be providing examples of atheistic systems that allow for objective moral values and duties.

    Also, I think you’re assuming the trolley thought experiments prove more than they really do. For our purposes, all they show, imo, is that there is moral agreement among cultures. HOWEVER, they do not show that cultures are in fact acting morally, i.e. in accordance with objective moral duties and values. The fact that cultures X and Y have moral agreement does not entail that culture’s X and Y are acting in accordance with some objective standard. Non-cognitivism, subjectivism, or nihilism might be true yet there would still be agreement among different cultures about whether or not to push the fat man off the bridge, or pull the level to divert the train. So non-cognitivism, subjectivism, and nihilism are all compatible with the moral agreement found among cultures over the trolley problem. But neither non-cognitivism, subjectivism, or nihilism give us objective moral facts. So it doesn’t seem to me that the trolley problem in any way shows that objective moral values are duties are possible apart from God.

    Tim

    January 17, 2010 at 3:30 pm


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