Craig’s Explanation of Moral Argument

Because of comments, questions or misunderstandings of Moral Argument for the Existence of  God,in both Arguments for Existence God article, and The New Atheist’s Self-Deluded Logic or Self Exceptional Fallacy. I will give William Lane Craig’s explanation of Moral Argument Based upon Moral values and Duties.

Read through Craig’s defense for each premises and the way he refute Richard Dawkin’s God Delusion view of this argument.

I am using William Lane Craig explanation because I believe he is the easiest to understand and gives brilliant insight of this argument, far better than I could have.(Bold is my way of asking an extra look from you on what Craig explains)

The Moral Argument Based upon Moral Values and Duties
William Lane Craig

A number of ethicists such as Robert Adams, William Alston, Mark Linville, Paul Copan, John Hare, Stephen Evans, and others have defended various moral arguments for God.16

In order to understand the version of the moral argument which I’ve defended in my own work, it’s necessary that we grasp a couple of important distinctions.

First, we should distinguish between moral values and duties. Values have to do with whether something is good or bad. Duties have to do with whether something is right or wrong. Now you might think at first that this is a distinction without a difference: “good” and “right” mean the same thing, and the same goes for “bad” and “wrong.” But if you think about it, you can see that this isn’t the case. Duty has to do with moral obligation, what you ought or ought not to do. But obviously you’re not morally obligated to do something just because it would be good for you to do it. For example, it would be good for you to become a doctor, but you’re not morally obligated to become a doctor. After all, it would also be good for you to become a firefighter or a homemaker or a diplomat, but you can’t do them all. So there’s a difference between good/bad and right/wrong. Good/bad has to do with something’s worth, while right/wrong has to do with something’s being obligatory.

Second, there’s the distinction between being objective or subjective. By “objective” I mean “independent of people’s opinions.” By “subjective” I mean “dependent on people’s opinions.” So to say that there are objective moral values is to say that something is good or bad independent of whatever people think about it. Similarly, to say that we have objective moral duties is to say that certain actions are right or wrong for us regardless of what people think about it. So, for example, to say that the Holocaust was objectively wrong is to say that it was wrong even though the Nazis who carried it out thought that it was right, and it would still have been wrong even if the Nazis had won World War II and succeeded in exterminating or brainwashing everybody who disagreed with them so that everyone believed the Holocaust was right.

With those distinctions in mind, here’s a simple moral argument for God’s existence:

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.

Premises 1 and 2

What makes this argument so compelling is not only that it is logically airtight but also that people generally believe both premises. In a pluralistic age, people are afraid of imposing their values on someone else. So premise 1 seems correct to them. Moral values and duties are not objective realities (that is, valid and binding independent of human opinion) but are merely subjective opinions ingrained into us by biological evolution and social conditioning.

At the same time, however, people do believe deeply that certain moral values and duties such as tolerance, open-mindedness, and love are objectively valid and binding. They think it’s objectively wrong to impose your values on someone else! So they’re deeply committed to premise 2 as well.

Dawkins’s Response

In fact, Dawkins himself seems to be committed to both premises! With respect to premise 1, Dawkins informs us, “there is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference. . . . We are machines for propagating DNA . . . . It is every living object’s sole reason for being.”17 But although he says that there is no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference, the fact is that Dawkins is a stubborn moralist. He says that he was “mortified” to learn that Enron executive Jeff Skilling regards Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene as his favorite book because of its perceived Social Darwinism.18 He characterizes “Darwinian mistakes” like pity for someone unable to pay us back or sexual attraction to an infertile member of the opposite sex as “blessed, precious mistakes” and calls compassion and generosity “noble emotions.”19 He denounces the doctrine of original sin as “morally obnoxious.”20 He vigorously condemns such actions as the harassment and abuse of homosexuals, the religious indoctrination of children, the Incan practice of human sacrifice, and prizing cultural diversity over the interests of Amish children. He even goes so far as to offer his own amended Ten Commandments for guiding moral behavior, all the while marvelously oblivious to the contradiction with his ethical subjectivism!21

In his survey of arguments for God’s existence, Dawkins does touch on a sort of moral argument that he calls the Argument from Degree.22 But it bears little resemblance to the argument presented here. We’re not arguing from degrees of goodness to a greatest good, but from the objective reality of moral values and duties to their foundation in reality. It’s hard to believe that all of Dawkins’s heated moral denunciations and affirmations are really intended to be no more than his subjective opinion, as if to whisper with a wink, “Of course, I don’t think that child abuse and homophobia and religious intolerance are really wrong! Do whatever you want—there’s no moral difference!” But the affirmation of objective values and duties is incompatible with his atheism, for on naturalism we’re just animals, relatively advanced primates, and animals are not moral agents. Affirming both of the premises of the moral argument, Dawkins is thus, on pain of irrationality, committed to the argument’s conclusion, namely, that God exists.

The Euthyphro Dilemma

Although Dawkins doesn’t raise the following objection, one frequently hears it raised by nonbelievers in response to the moral argument. It’s called the Euthyphro Dilemma, named after a character in one of Plato’s dialogues. It basically goes like this: Is something good because God wills it? Or does God will something because it is good? If you say that something is good because God wills it, then what is good becomes arbitrary. God could have willed that hatred is good, and then we would have been morally obligated to hate one another. That seems crazy. Some moral values, at least, seem to be necessary. But if you say that God wills something because it is good, then what is good or bad is independent of God. In that case, moral values and duties exist independently of God, which contradicts premise 1.

The weakness of the Euthyphro Dilemma is that the dilemma it presents is a false one because there’s a third alternative: namely, God wills something because he is good. God’s own nature is the standard of goodness, and his commandments to us are expressions of his nature. In short, our moral duties are determined by the commands of a just and loving God.

So moral values are not independent of God because God’s own character defines what is good. God is essentially compassionate, fair, kind, impartial, and so on. His nature is the moral standard determining good and bad. His commands necessarily reflect in turn his moral nature. Therefore, they are not arbitrary. The morally good/bad is determined by God’s nature, and the morally right/wrong is determined by his will. God wills something because he is good, and something is right because God wills it.

This view of morality has been eloquently defended in our day by such well-known philosophers as Robert Adams, William Alston, and Philip Quinn. Yet atheists continue to attack the straw men erected by the Euthyphro Dilemma. In the recent Cambridge Companion to Atheism (2007), for example, the article on God and morality, written by a prominent ethicist, presents and criticizes only the view that God arbitrarily made up moral values—a straw man that virtually nobody defends. Atheists have to do better than that if they’re to defeat contemporary moral arguments for God’s existence.

For more details on this Argument’s,debates, and podcasts can be found on William Lane Craig site, and in his Books:Reasonable Faith and On Guard is your place to dig deep.

16 Robert Adams, Finite and Infinite Goods (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); William Alston, “What Euthyphro Should Have Said,” in Philosophy of Religion: A Reader and Guide (ed. William Lane Craig; New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002), 283–98; Mark Linville, “The Moral Argument,” in Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (ed. William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland; Oxford: Blackwell, 2009), 391–448; Paul Copan, “God, Naturalism, and the Foundations of Morality,” in The Future of Atheism: Alister McGrath and Daniel Dennett in Dialogue (ed. R. Stewart; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2008), 141–61; John Hare, “Is Moral Goodness without Belief in God Rationally Stable?” in Is Goodness without God Good Enough? A Debate on Faith, Secularism, and Ethics (ed. Nathan King and Robert Garcia; Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008); C. Stephen Evans, Kierkegaard’s Ethic of Love: Divine Commands and Moral Obligations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).
17 Cited in Lewis Wolpert, Six Impossible Things before Breakfast: The Evolutionary Origins of Belief (New York: Norton, 2006), 215. Unfortunately, Wolpert’s reference is mistaken. The quotation seems to be a pastiche from Richard Dawkins, River out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (New York: Basic, 1996), 133, and Richard Dawkins, “The Ultraviolet Garden,” Lecture 4 of 7 Royal Institution Christmas Lectures (1992), http://physicshead.blogspot.com/2007/01/richard-dawkins-lecture-4-ultraviolet.html. (Thanks to my assistant Joe Gorra for tracking down this reference.)
18 Dawkins, God Delusion, 215. 19 Ibid., 221. 20 Ibid., 251. 21 Ibid., 23, 264, 313–17, 326, 328, 330. 22 Ibid., 78–9.

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13 thoughts on “Craig’s Explanation of Moral Argument

  1. You haven’t properly accounted for Euthyphro’s dilemma, you’ve only shifted the question to God’s “nature”.

    Where did God’s nature come from? Did God create it himself? In which case the criticism still applies. Good and Bad in the Christian worldview are subject to the whims of God. If God didn’t create it, then either this good and bad is inherent in some way (thus God is not the arbiter), or someone else created God’s nature (in which case the question is then moved to that entity).

    • Thank you Stacey.

      I think Scott Rae correctly argued that, “Morality is not grounded ultimately in God’s commands, but in His character, which then expresses itself in His commands.”( Moral Choices–An Introduction to Ethics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995 p.32) compelling as Plato himself moved to solve this false dilemma by grounding morality to what he called “The Good”.

      God as believed in Judeo-Christianity is Plato’s “The Good.” Notice God is The Good, but The Good is not God. Meaning that goodness is a neccessary character of God.

      Stacey could you define “nature”? Because I believe we may have different definitions, thus crossing each other. Could we start by clearing terms, then move toward understanding each other position. Would not that be great Stacey?

      Prayson

      • Thanks for replying Prayson.

        It would seem to me that “nature” and “character” are being used interchangeably in the argument, thus as synonyms (correct me if I’m wrong). Notice how it is used in both of these paragraphs.

        “The weakness of the Euthyphro Dilemma is that the dilemma it presents is a false one because there’s a third alternative: namely, God wills something because he is good. God’s own nature is the standard of goodness, and his commandments to us are expressions of his nature. In short, our moral duties are determined by the commands of a just and loving God.

        So moral values are not independent of God because God’s own character defines what is good. God is essentially compassionate, fair, kind, impartial, and so on. His nature is the moral standard determining good and bad. His commands necessarily reflect in turn his moral nature. Therefore, they are not arbitrary. The morally good/bad is determined by God’s nature, and the morally right/wrong is determined by his will. God wills something because he is good, and something is right because God wills it.”

        Here is oxforddictionaries.com definition of “nature” that I believe accurately applies to both words as used in this discussion. Tell me if you disagree.

        “2 [in singular] – the basic or inherent features of something, especially when seen as characteristic of it:
        -the innate or essential qualities or character of a person or animal:”

        Regardless of which word we use, I think my criticism applies. Did God create his nature? Did God create his character?

        But the entire argument is further confused when one says that God is THE Good. What does this mean? We need an outside standard by which we can determine whether or not this is true, don’t we? Otherwise you’re defining “good” as whatever God is/does/says/commands. It would be akin to me holding a hammer and saying “This hammer is THE Good. This is what Good is.”. Not only does it not make sense but it attempts to pervert our colloquial and otherwise academic understanding of what “good” means, by defining it as something completely different.

        I hope I’ve communicated myself effectively but please tell me if I have not made myself clear.

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  6. @David:

    “But occasionally you also encounter confused people like Christian Myers seems to be – who wants to have his cake and eat it to.”

    I can see where you can get this idea from, I have accidentally used varying definitions of objective morality. The morality I am referring to is really, in essence, subjective. Morality lies in our heads. But I have called it objective because humans naturally have some of the same basic morals, so most humans have the same sense of morality naturally. It is still subjective, but I like to think of it as subjective, objective morality. Defining rules of morality are hardwired into our brains, but they are in our heads, and are not absolute.

    I see what you are saying with the stone analogy, but really there is no difference between the two, just as a stone should fall the the ground, humans expect that one should not lie. Your Dawkins quote is very fitting.

    • Dear Myers,

      “It is still subjective, but I like to think of it as subjective, objective morality.”

      If we think this way, The Laws of Non-Contradiction will sue us:

      Subjective and Objective are like fire and water. If we use the above way of thinking we would have something like this:

      “It is still A, but I like to think of it as A, not-A morality”

      A= Subjective
      not A = Objective(not Subjective)

      Yours,
      Prayson

  7. Hi Prayson and Myers

    Great to see you Prayson debating the atheists on this argument. I also find it persuasive, but curiously because what makes it persuasive is the fact that the atheist seems to divide in how they react to the argument. Half of them reject the existence of objective moral duties, the other half reject that they are ontologically dependent upon God for their existence.
    But occasionally you also encounter confused people like Christian Myers seems to be – who wants to have his cake and eat it to. The sense in which you – Christian Myers deem morality objective seems to be:

    “Because of evolved empathy, humans would have a sense of “objective morality” hard-wired into their brains because in the new evolved society helping others helps humans to survive. Really, the “objective-morality” isn’t objective, but sense it occurs in most every human, we can consider it to be.”

    It is true that an objectivity is saved through this – but is only the same kind of objectivity which we also encounter in stones falling to the ground. They should do that – but they are not morally obliged to do so. You have to differentiate between two kind of should – the one we use when we are moral – the imperative one: You should not lie! And the indicative one: This stone should fall to the ground. We could give you that the second kind of should can be had in a naturalistic worldview, but you have to give a reason for how the first can survive evolution. I find the atheists Michael Ruse and Richard Dawkins right when they say:

    “morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate that when somebody says ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless, such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction . . . and any deeper meaning is illusory”
    Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,” in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262-269

    Richard Dawkins:

    “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”
    Richard Dawkins, River out of Eden

    The argument has been thoroughly dealt with in Why Be Moral, by the atheist Kai Nielsen – who ends up saying:

    “We have not been able to show that reason requires the moral point of view or that all really rational persons, unhoodwinked by myth or ideology, not be individual egoists or classic amoralists. Reason doesn’t decide here. The picture I have painted for you is not a pleasant one. Reflection on it depresses me. … The point is this: pure practical reason, even with a good knowledge of the facts, will not take you to morality.”

    I must say – all three atheist seems to be right. What reason could we give to the contrary – a reason that takes into account a difference between the two kind of “should” mentioned above?

  8. You are still missing the point of what “objective morality” really is.

    “If God does not exist, Objective moral value and duties do no exist.
    Objective moral value and duties do exist.(which you affirm/accepted this)”

    This is exactly what I am arguing against. Objective morality does not rest on the existence of God, because it has nothing to do with the supernatural. There are still morals even though God does not exist. Objective morality is still in a real sense subjective, it is just the morality that has been hardwired into our brain through natural selection.

    Let me explain how this undermines your statement. If there is no God, we are created through, chance and evolution. Animals do not have any real sense of morality. They often do things that would be considered by us to be immoral. They lack morality because it is not necessary for their survival. As you go further up the evolutionary chart there are more social animals because being able to communicate is an advantage and animals that are able to use this advantage are more likely to survive and to pass on their genes, through a process called natural selection. Over time all the most advanced species will be social animals. When humans evolved from apes, a major thing separating us from them is our even more advanced ways of communication. This advanced communication combines the ability to read body language as well as the ability to understand what others are thinking, and what they know. This allows for humans to have empathy for other beings as we can in a sense, put ourselves in their shoes.

    Because of evolved empathy, humans would have a sense of “objective morality” hard-wired into their brains because in the new evolved society helping others helps humans to survive. Really, the “objective-morality” isn’t objective, but sense it occurs in most every human, we can consider it to be.

    So what I have shown is that even without a God, we would still have a sense of what you may call objective morality, meaning that the morality would be the same for most every person.

    Therefore your argument is dismissed, God or no God there would still be morality.

  9. First of all, I think you are still not seeing that “objective morality” is a product of evolution. As I have explained before, empathy is what leads to our sense of objective morality. It once again comes back to The Golden Rule. Humans are social animals, they want to be liked, and in order to survive in society need to be liked by others. Therefore, those with a good sense of empathy will have the best chance of survival and the best chance of passing on their genes.

    An understanding of evolution clearly shows how objective morality is a product of natural selection, therefore it exists whether there is a God or not. Also, you could make a case that objective morality is taught rather than absolute, I am not an expert or anything so I don’t know. Either way, we naturally have objective morality even if there is no God.

    Once that is understood it is easy to see that Craig’s argument crumbles beneath him.

    Subjective morality is a product of our complex thinking. It is a mixture between empathy and our ability to predict what action will cause which affect. Subjective morality is usually influenced by life experience and philosophies. An example: One man might join the army because he thinks it is his moral duty to help his country. Another man may view it as his moral duty not to join the army because he doesn’t believe in fighting.

    They both have different views of life that are products of their life experience and their philosophies of life.

    In either case, Good and Evil is not decided by a supreme being, but by humans natural sense of morality.

    This sense of morality can even be flawed at times, further showing that good, and evil are subjective terms to begin with. Another example:

    Imagine that in a hospital their are several dying patients all in need of a particular organ. There are no organs for you to give them so they will die. But in the waiting room is a healthy man with healthy organs. The truly moral thing to do would be to kill the man in order to save the 5 or so dying patients, but that does not seem to be the right thing to do by us. Shouldn’t it be moral to kill one person in order to save 5?

    People will generally answer no, you shouldn’t kill the man, but we must ask why not? There is no good answer, the reason we think you should not kill the healthy man is because our evolutionary morality speaks against it.

    When it comes to morality there are plenty of gray spots. If there was truly absolute morality what is right and what is wrong and what is good and what is evil should be obvious, but it is not.

    • Dear Myers:

      How am I to thank you for bring your insight on this own. Thank you so much

      “First of all, I think you are still not seeing that “objective morality” is a product of evolution” If we reason this way, we will be in a risk of committing either “Genetic Fallacy” or “Speciesism”

      Lets define Genetic Fallacy and Speciesism for those who are not into Philosophy.

      Genetic Fallacy is a fallacy of irrelevance where a conclusion is suggested based solely on something or someone’s origin rather than its current meaning or context. This overlooks any difference to be found in the present situation, typically transferring the positive or negative esteem from the earlier context.

      Speciesism is the assigning of different values or rights to beings on the basis of their species membership.

      Just because Objective Moral Value and Duties are the product of Evolution, does not change or undermine that Objective Moral Values and Duties exist.

      You have accepted that Objective Moral Values and Duties exists, the only conclusion you can reach the is that God exist.

      If you agree that Objective Moral Values and Duties exist, then you can not deny the conclusion which follows. It does not matter how we come to acquire/discover(Ontological) or learn(Epistemological) these Objective Moral Value and Duties. That is not the case here. That is left for another argument.

      If God does not exist, Objective moral value and duties do no exist.
      Objective moral value and duties do exist.(which you affirm/accepted this)

      Therefore Myers you can not escape the Conclusion:

      Therefore God Exist.

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