Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Is God A Consequentialist?

Whenever I come up dry for material for this blog I can always turn to William Lane Craig bashing for inspiration. I get such great pleasure from deflating his dubious arguments. His new Q and A has him arguing that god isn't a consequentialist, when the record clearly indicates that he is. You can see the question here, I will focus on his answer below.

Craig starts out making a point he often makes in his writings and in his debates:

... on my view God has no moral duties to fulfill. Moral duties arise in response to imperatives issued by God. Since God does not issue commands to Himself, God has no moral duties. Rather God’s acts must simply be consistent with His perfectly good nature. So consequentialism cannot apply to God, having as He does no moral duties. His actions, such as permitting some evils in view of overriding goods, must simply be consistent with His being all-loving, punishing evil, etc.

If god's actions must be "
consistent with His perfectly good nature," and god's nature is perfect goodness, then why is god admittedly jealous and wrathful? Why can he essentially do what he wants and cause suffering and take life as he pleases? It seems to me that theists like Craig admit that their god is a god who can do whatever he wants because he "does not issue commands to Himself." In that case, if god's actions can violate his own commandments to us - commandments which are supposed to reflect his "perfectly good nature," then god cannot logically be perfectly good and all-loving. In other words, if my commandments are perfect, and I violate my own commandments, I cannot be perfect.

This upends the core of divine command theory since according to Craig, "it grounds objective moral values in God as the paradigm and source of moral goodness." If this supposed source of all moral goodness can act in ways contrary to his own commands of perfect moral goodness, the source cannot be perfectly good. Hence god plays a sort of "do as I say, not as I do" ethic. 

But it seems Craig fails to get this. He says:

God’s having no moral duties does not imply that He can do just anything; rather His actions must be consistent with His own nature.

Let's see what god can do. He can command child sacrifice, genocide, slavery, the killing of adulterers, witches and homosexuals, and he can take his anger out on people for not worshiping him properly and for offering inadequate sacrifices. Sounds to me like god can pretty much "do just anything." If all those things I mentioned above are consistent with "good nature," then I'd hate to see what bad nature is.

If god has no moral duties to fulfill, how can we even say that he is the "source of moral goodness"? It seems to me that theists like Craig simply just declare god to be the source of moral goodness regardless of what character he has. So if Islam were true, the god of the Koran would be the source of moral goodness, even though his character differs from the biblical god's character. It seems to me that under a divine command ethic, there is no way to determine what good is, other than to say it's whatever god's nature happens to be. But that, as I've argued before, makes the word "good" in the moral sense meaningless. 

I'd like to hear from Craig a list of things god can't do.

The issue Craig is responding to is whether god's actions in allowing evil and suffering to achieve a greater good, make god a consequentialist. Craig says, "don’t think that because God permits some evil act in light of an overriding good, that act is no longer evil. The human act is still evil despite the great goods which may come out of it." So if god is not a consequentialist, then what is he weighing in order to command or allow things that would result in a greater good? Craig quotes a philosopher named Steve Wykstra to explain:

[God] allows it ONLY IF doing so strongly serves some ulterior good purpose. It doesn't mean He allows it WHENEVER (if) it brings about a greater good. There may well be other constraints of a deontological sort. . . . The consequentialism to be most wary of, I think, would make ‘achieve a greater good’ both a necessary and sufficient condition for permitting some when-considered-by-itself evil.1

So basically, god sometimes allows evil and suffering for good purposes. In other words, god is not a strict consequentialist, he kind of mixes consequentialism with deontology, and applies each ethical theory depending on the situation. That's not really any different from what most secular moral realists do.

Craig finishes saying: 

[God] must have some overriding good in mind in permitting suffering and evil in the world, but He is not a consequentialist, not only because He has no moral duties to be determined, but also because the overriding good must be supplemented by other conditions, perhaps of a deontological nature, in order to suffice for His permission of suffering.

I'm not totally convinced god is not a consequentialist by Craig. Remember, god not only commands others to genocide, he commits it himself in the episode of Noah and the flood. If a worldwide genocide of all people except 8, and all animals except 2 of every "kind" supports some overriding good, what could that good possibly be in light of god's actions? I mean, if genocide is justified for a greater good, then what possible actions are off limits for god to commit? Furthermore, Craig's explanation exposes again the weaknesses of god's "perfectly good" character by his admitting that god can freely violate his own "perfectly good" commands whenever he wants.

Why can't god be an intrinsic consequentialist if he has no moral duties? Maybe god is the paradigm and source of consequentialism. And how could the overriding good of allowing suffering be supplemented by a conditional deontological nature? Where and when does god refrain from permitting or commanding an action for some ulterior good purpose, by a deontological restraint? Craig offers us no examples here. It's clear that god is not a deontologist. If he was, god would never permit or command any evil act regardless of what the consequences are. His morality would be absolute, regardless of the situation or context.

Any basic reading of the Bible shows you that in situation after situation, god is acting on behalf of some kind of greater good, most of the time, even if that greater good happens to be god's happiness. He sometimes kills for apparently no good reason other than his dissatisfaction with the infallible humans he created. And since he is the author of evolution, (according to theistic evolutionists) god used millions of species of animals and proto-human hominids as a means to an end of making human beings for no logically necessary reason. That not only makes him a consequentialist in the utilitarian sense, it makes him one who deliberately seeks unnecessary harm and suffering. Such a being cannot be called all-loving.   

For a good argument that god is a consequentialist see Jonathan Pearce's essay, God Is A Consequentialist.


  1. Thanks for the link! Incidentally, I think Craig's answer was a cop out. Pretty unimpressed.

  2. Nice post. The only thing I would say in Devil's Advocate would be in response to:

    In that case, if god's actions can violate his own commandments to us - commandments which are supposed to reflect his "perfectly good nature," then god cannot logically be perfectly good and all-loving. In other words, if my commandments are perfect, and I violate my own commandments, I cannot be perfect.

    Such that could God's commandments be perfect to humans but not to himself. But then this might smuggle in context and then consequentialism...



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