Saturday, March 31, 2012

Refuting William Lane Craig: The Moral Argument

Dr. William Lane Craig has made quite a name for himself as a Christian apologist. He is considered by many to be one of the best and most talented polemicists, perhaps in the world. He is a prominent Christian theist, with a strong YouTube presence and has debated many atheist public intellectuals, including Daniel Dennett, A. C. Grayling, Lawrence Krauss, and Christopher Hitchens. Upon hearing him debate, he becomes instantly recognizable as one of the more clever arguers for theism. However, to the clever listener, his arguments simply do not hold up under scrutiny. He does have the uncanny ability to package his arguments in such a pretty neat little package, and with such emotion, which masks the underlying bullshit so well, that it can make the neutral spectators adherents. If there is one person, who enthusiastically argues in defense of god, and for theism, that I would like to see utterly defeated in a debate, it is William Lane Craig.

In almost every debate Dr. William Lane Craig makes the same basic arguments in favor for the existence of the Christian god. First, he makes the cosmological argument, then the fine tuning argument, the ontological argument and usually last but not least, the moral argument. I want to address many of what I think are Dr. Craig’s main argumentative shortcomings, starting with his moral arguments for the existence of god, because it is here where many of the weakest of all his selling points can be found.

Dr. Craig’s moral argument for god, goes a little something like this:

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

Dr. Craig is very fond of deductive reasoning and uses it with all of his main arguments. Deductive reasoning has a way of over simplifying the rationalization of end results and relies heavily on its asserted premises being accepted as fact. So for example, if one is convinced that objective moral values and duties do not exist (premise 2), then logically they will not agree with premise 3 (that god exists). The moral relativist is not persuaded by Dr. Craig’s moral argument for the existence of god. Now while it is true that many atheists are moral relativists, I differ from them in that I believe a basis for objective morals does indeed exist naturally, and furthermore that there are also basic moral objectives, maybe not moral absolutes, that are endemic to our species and are the result of our socio-biological evolution.

The Euthyphro Dilemma for the Theist

The first challenge to Dr. Craig’s moral universe is the 2,400 year old Euthyphro Dilemma, from Plato. In it, Socrates asks a pious man to consider the origin of moral values with the following question:

Is something moral because god commanded it, or does god command it because it is moral?

Dr. Craig’s stated response is that the Euthyphro Dilemma asks the wrong question, because there is a third option. That is, that god’s very nature is moral goodness and perfection, and that whatever he does and commands is good because it is a reflection of god’s inherent moral character. In Dr. Craig’s debate with Louise Antony, a professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts titled “Is God Necessary for Morality”, he responds to the Euthyphro Dilemma by stating that god’s nature determines what is good, and that the atheist who uses the Euthyphro against the theist is confusing moral ontology with moral semantics. He explains that moral semantics studies the meaning of moral terms and sentences, moral epistemology is how we come to an understanding of moral truths, and moral ontology studies the metaphysics of morals, and their foundation in reality. Craig states that when we say that good comes from god, it is an ontological claim of their foundation in reality. It is not a semantical claim about the meaning of the word good. And furthermore, he states that theists typically maintain that god is the ontological foundation of moral values and without him objective moral values would not exist. Theists do not maintain the implausible semantical thesis that the word “good” means anything that is commanded by god. He concludes that the Euthyphro argument is thus a false dilemma and therefore, logically invalid. It does nothing to show that moral values cannot be grounded in god. God’s own nature determines what is good, and his commandments then constitute our moral duties. And finally he challenges the atheist that he must show this alternative to be impossible.

So here Dr. Craig is avoiding the Euthyphro Dilemma entirely and proposing the third option, that the existence of morals are ontologically grounded in god’s existence. This forces me to address, in part, the ontological argument for god’s existence. If moral goodness is an essential property of god’s existence or nature, than that property can apply to other things. It’s just like how being hot is an essential property to the existence of fire, in that we cannot have cold fire, but being hot can apply to many things completely absent of fire. One big problem I have with ontological arguments for god is that theists simply define existence as a property of god, and that therefore god must exist. This is nothing more than clever philosophical word play. With regard to morality, theists like Craig are simply defining the existence of goodness as being metaphysically tantamount to the existence of god, while ignoring the reasons why goodness is good. The ontological claim that goodness is grounded metaphysically in the existence in god, is quite a wild assertion, and it shows.

Let’s take a look here at Dr. Craig’s claim that atheists are confusing moral ontology with moral semantics. He is saying here essentially that the way we define or come to know moral terms is different from what the moral terms are ultimately grounded in. I guess an appropriate analogy here would be how we use our logic and reason to understand gravity, but gravity’s existence is ultimately grounded in the laws of physics. So in a sense Dr. Craig is saying we may use logic and reason to define and understand moral terms such as goodness (semantics), but ultimately the existence of good will be in god (ontology). In other words, god is goodness and goodness is god; the two are one in the same. But this ontological concept does not explain how god’s permittance of human slavery and commands for genocide are compatible with being essentially loving, kind, impartial, fair, and just as Dr. Craig describes god’s attributes. And furthermore, why wouldn’t attributes such as being loving, kind, impartial, fair, and just, be any less good if god didn’t exist? There must be something inherently good about these attributes for a reason. If one were to ask Dr. Craig to justify why kindness and fairness are good, he has prevented himself from saying that it is because god wills them to be so since he doesn’t believe goodness can be defined as merely that which is commanded by god. He must therefore give reasons why kindness and fairness are morally good, and presumably they would be good because of the positive benefits to the beings they affect. If this is so, why can’t we appeal to the effects or consequences of kindness and fairness as the reason and foundation of why they are morally good, instead of postulating god in determining them to be morally good? Why is god therefore needed at all?

Surely traditional Christian thinking, and certainly all of Islamic thinking on morality, must stem from divine command theory and the presupposition of human free will. The divine command theorist agrees with the first horn of the Euthyphro Dilemma, that morality comes directly from god. There is really no way out of taking a side on the Euthyphro Dilemma and as much as one likes to try to wiggle out of it, as I will demonstrate to you below. Dr. Craig’s version of divine command theory beliefs runs him into some trouble, that ultimately reveals that he really believes that morality comes from god's commandments and no other source, but is afraid to admit it.

  1. If god’s intrinsic nature is that of perfect moral goodness, as Dr. Craig maintains, and his commandments are a reflection of his character, then his commandments must also be perfectly good. If one could somehow follow all of god’s commandments, they would be perfectly good as well. If one ever broke even one of god’s commandments, one would cease to be perfectly good. Therefore, if god himself ever broke just one of his own commandments, god would also cease to be perfect moral goodness. If you are then going to argue that god is the lawmaker and not bound to his own commandments, you must concede that god is not perfectly good and moral. In order to be morally perfect, god too would have to set the example and abide by his own moral commandments, just as we expect our politicians and the police to. 
  2. If you still disagree with my first argument, you will have to subscribe to divine command theory, and agree with the first horn of the Euthyphro Dilemma. The second horn of the dilemma, implies a set of morals that are objective even to god, and that means nothing could be morally right or wrong, solely on the basis of god commanding it. 
  3. In Dr. Craig’s view, god’s intrinsic nature is tantamount to perfect objective morals. But even if I were to grant this premise, would those same morals be any less true, absent of god? For example, would kindness and generosity be any less kind or generous, absent of god? Would murder and apathy be any less murderous and apathetic, absent of god? No. They would be exactly the same and have the same exact consequences on living beings given no god. God is therefore an unnecessary middleman, to be rendered irrelevant, as is in so much of business. To refute this, Dr. Craig would have to argue that kindness and murder operate under totally different pretenses, with totally different affects if god didn’t exist. He likes to argue that absent of god, all morality is just the spin-off of socio-biological evolution, and that moral behavior is merely just socially advantageous. Craig doesn’t like this idea, and tries to use his emotional bias as a key ingredient in his argument. 
  4. Dr. Craig’s acrobatic justification for the so-called atrocities perpetrated by the Jews who were commanded by god to exterminate the Canaanite tribes (except for the unmarried girls), so that the Jews could return to the promised land that god had given them, would have been immoral had it not been for god to command such an objective. Likewise, Abraham sacrificing his son would have been morally wrong, had god not commanded it. If something objectively moral wrong, such as human sacrifice, or morally abominable such as genocide, only becomes morally good when god commands it, then you cannot plausibly retain the notion that god is intrinsically good. You will also have clearly stated your affiliation with divine command theory, or the first horn of the Euthyphro Dilemma, since what is is moral or immoral depends solely on divine commandment. 

As I said, I have never heard an argument made that successfully detoured the two horns of the Euthyphro Dilemma. It is one of the great philosophical gifts the wisdom of the ancient Greeks bestowed upon us. Dr. Craig is a divine command theorist who believes that what is moral is so because god commands it. He cannot try to pretend otherwise. The moral argument against divine command theory is not an attempt to disprove god’s existence, but rather to prove that god is not needed for a morality, at all.

We clearly do not get morality from the god of the bible as Jews and Christians so proudly proclaim. I really cannot wrap my head around the mind of someone who thinks so. I suppose they are either delusional or extremely misinformed. The god of the bible permits slavery; the forced marriage of underage girls; and the killing non-virginal brides, witches, homosexuals and adulterers. Dr. Craig’s only defense of slavery is to say that it was different in the ancient world than it was in the American South. Sure, slavery in the ancient world wasn’t necessarily based on race or ethnicity, and it wasn’t always a life sentence in that one could become free, though for many it was. He paints biblical slavery as nothing more than indentured servitude (as if this is perfectly moral). Sure indentured servitude existed in biblical times, but so did real life slavery. In the spoils of war, conquered peoples were forced into labor and servitude, sometimes for life, as were their children, and they were owned by their conquerors. So don’t tell me, “Dr”. Craig, that slavery in the ancient world was about as bad as having to paying off student loans is today. The mental gymnastics one has to go through to justify god’s “perfect” commandments is astonishing. Only religion could make an otherwise perfectly rational human being make such foolish reprisals.

Dr. Craig isn’t finished here on his moral perspective. On his site, reasonablefaith.org he states, “Since God doesn’t issue commands to Himself, He has no moral duties to fulfill. He is certainly not subject to the same moral obligations and prohibitions that we are” and that “God had morally sufficient reasons for His judgement upon Canaan, and Israel was merely the instrument of His justice, just as centuries later God would use the pagan nations of Assyria and Babylon to judge Israel.” So Dr. Craig thinks highly of the idea that people can be used as instruments in the divine will and made to mass slaughter those deemed wicked by god, who is of course above the law. Rather than directly pass judgment on evil doers himself, as done in Sodom and Gomorrah, god tires of this and decides it is better to command others to do the dirty work for him. He knows of course that whatever he commands will instantly become moral, even if it contradicts his previous “perfect” commandments, eliminating any possible guilt. The theist who can enthusiastically proclaim that not a single moment of god’s life is anything other than absolute total moral perfection, is a testament to the moral bankruptcy that religion forces its adherents to be deeply in debt to. This is further evidenced by the fact that it is the Israelite soldiers, who massacre the terrified Canaanite women and children that Dr. Craig most sympathizes with. But then, who am I to judge “perfect” morality.

Under Dr. Craig’s divine command theory, morality is not really objective but rather subjective to the will of god. Consider that what can be commanded as being wrong, can subsequently be suspended and be commanded as being morally right; right and wrong therefore depend on whether god decides it is or it isn’t at that moment. But even Dr. Craig has expressed his disgust for the idea that morality can be so arbitrary. The theist like Dr. Craig and many like him, can never say what is so obviously true when one debates morality in the theistic concept: that the god of Abraham is clearly not a conduit from which all morality flows. He is most certainly a figment of the minds of a great many bronze and Iron Age tribal desert dwellers, and his wrathful and capricious nature is direct evidence of this. The theist will always have to justify whatever god supposedly did or commanded us to do, no matter how bizarre, and he will never be able to come to any other conclusion that god is perfect in every way.




Further reading on arguments against god:

The Kalam Cosmological Argument
The Fine Tuning Argument
Objective Morality Without God
Refuting William Lane Craig: "Is Good from God?" A Debate Review
The Logically Implausible God
The Logically Implausible God Part 2
God, Time & Creation: More Problems For William Lane Craig
The Ontological Argument: Putting the Absurd Where it Belongs

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