A Christian Philosopher’s Faulty Arguments: On the Need for God as Basis for Morality – Part I

By | March 31, 2011

In a long article, “The Indispensability of Theological Meta-ethical Foundations for Morality,” ** William. L Craig (Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California) argues that objective morality requires a theistic base. In other words, without God humans do not have an objective basis for moral values and moral judgments.

In the process of so arguing, Craig commits a variety of errors, false assumptions, invalid inference, and offers a rather weak argument. I will show this by a two-part critique of his article. This is the part I.

Summary of his argument: Theism and naturalism are contrasted with respect to furnishing an adequate foundation for the moral life. It is shown that on a theistic worldview an adequate foundation exists for the affirmation of objective moral values, moral duties, and moral accountability. By contrast, naturalism fails in all three respects. Insofar as we believe that moral values and duties do exist, we therefore have good grounds for believing that God exists. Moreover, a practical argument for believing in God is offered on the basis of moral accountability.

Here are excerpts from the first part of Craig’s essay interspersed with my critical response and remarks in highlighted brackets.
. . . . . . .
But wait. It would, indeed, be arrogant and ignorant to claim that people cannot be good without belief in God. But that was not the question. The question was: can we be good without God? When we ask that question, we are posing in a provocative way the meta-ethical question of the objectivity of moral values. Are the values we hold dear and guide our lives by mere social conventions akin to driving on the left versus right side of the road or mere expressions of personal preference akin to having a taste for certain foods or not? Or are they valid independently of our apprehension of them, and if so, what is their foundation?

[Response: When secularists deny that we need a supernatural sanction for moral values the implication is not that moral values are “mere expressions of personal preference.” Secular philosophers have developed ethical theories which invoke moral values that are applicable to human conduct and are not just subjective expressions of social convention. The case for secular morality may be compared to civil law. Laws are independent of any individual’s apprehension of the law, yet laws do not issue from a supernatural source.]

Moreover, if morality is just a human convention, then why should we act morally, especially when it conflicts with self-interest?

[Simple answer: To say that secular morality is “just a human convention” is a misleading statement. Secular morality does involve social convention. But this does not make morality a mere expression of taste or ‘convention.’ At least some humans are moral agents, who recognize and act according moral rules that may be contrary to self-interest. A supernatural authority is not a necessary condition for such moral action and moral consciousness.]

Or are we in some way held accountable for our moral decisions and actions?

[Response: Yes, we are accountable to each other and to the community. But we’re not accountable as super-naturalists would have it: as accountable to a supernatural being who distributes rewards or punishment in some imagined afterlife.]

Today I want to argue that if God exists, then the objectivity of moral values, moral duties, and moral accountability is secured,

[What exactly does this ‘objectivity’ mean, given that different cultures all basing their morality on a god set up different moral codes? ….and given that god believers don’t concur on moral values. That “moral accountability is secured” under divine authority is questionable. Morever, as with civil and criminal law, secular morality can also involve accountability. ]

.. but that in the absence of God, that is, if God does not exist, then morality is just a human convention, that is to say, morality is wholly subjective and non-binding.

[It does not follow that without God morality is “wholly subjectivity and non-binding.” There are many counter-examples of non-theists who conduct themselves moral ways that do not arise from mere subjective interests and desires. Furthermore, again the writer misleads us with this assumption that morality as human convention is not really morality. ]

We might act in precisely the same ways that we do in fact act, but in the absence of God, such actions would no longer count as good (or evil), since if God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.

[This is a false proposition. Along with many other secularists, I recognize some actions as morally good and others as morally bad; and we hold our share of moral values. The proposition that “moral values do not exist” is not even a coherent proposition with a clear meaning.]

Thus, we cannot truly be good without God. On the other hand, if we do believe that moral values and duties are objective, that provides moral grounds for believing in God.

[Belief that moral values and duties are objective does not rule out a variety of actual moral codes, values, and moral action. Historically and with regard to current cultures, this factual variety – which even involves conflicting views as to the “higher moral good” – suggests a variety of deities; not one law giver.]

Consider, then, the hypothesis that God exists. First, if God exists, objective moral values exist. To say that there are objective moral values is to say that something is right or wrong independently of whether anybody believes it to be so. It is to say, for example, that Nazi anti-Semitism was morally wrong, even though the Nazis who carried out the Holocaust thought that it was good; and it would still be wrong even if the Nazis had won World War II and succeeded in exterminating or brainwashing everybody who disagreed with them.

[One can agree with this without invoking objective values sanctioned by God. This is a high, moral imperative for which people (god believers and unbelievers) recognize no exception, but this does not require that we invoke a supernatural law-giver.
Moral imperatives, such as those forbidding genocide, arise from the experience, judgment and values of a society or culture. Moral good which is completely independent of all human experience and human society is a fiction.

On the theistic view, objective moral values are rooted in God. God’s own holy and perfectly good nature supplies the absolute standard against which all actions and decisions are measured. God’s moral nature is what Plato called the “Good.” He is the locus and source of moral value. He is by nature loving, generous, just, faithful, kind, and so forth.

[Nobody has ever shown in detail how human values and moral imperatives are based on “God's own holy and perfectly good nature.” One could stipulate such divine perfection or Plato’s highest form of the “Good” and yet not be able to show how these supernatural posits help resolve difficult issues of moral conduct, values and moral dilemmas. Furthermore, these pronouncements of God’s perfectly good nature are simply pronouncements of a doctrinal faith; they do not constitute an argument for objective morality at all. In fact the God of scripture is not at all portrayed as one having a perfectly good nature; many of his actions are not morally respectable at all!]

Moreover, God’s moral nature is expressed in relation to us in the form of divine commands which constitute our moral duties or obligations. Far from being arbitrary, these commands flow necessarily from His moral nature.

[Really? The commands “flow necessarily from his nature”? How exactly did you learn this? And what do we do when we have different interpretations of the commands that flow from “his moral nature”? For example, there is much contention among theists regarding such hard moral issues as the morality of war and the morality of birth control.]

In the Judaeo-Christian tradition, the whole moral duty of man can be summed up in the two great commandments: First, you shall love the Lord your God with all your strength and with all your soul and with all your heart and with all your mind, and, second, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On this foundation we can affirm the objective goodness and rightness of love, generosity, self-sacrifice, and equality, and condemn as objectively evil and wrong selfishness, hatred, abuse, discrimination, and oppression.

[Yes, these are the easy ones. How do these “standards” help to resolve the really hard moral dilemma, e.g. morality of war, of abortion, euthanasia, disparity between rich and poor, distribution of benefits when they won’t cover all, etc. ? Loving a supernatural Being – who is declared to be perfectly good- and loving my neighbor as myself do not get me very far when I have to resolve the difficult moral conflicts that we inevitably confront. For example, on the issue of the morality of war, you can find plenty of Christians, all who profess to recognize the two principles of “love,” on either side of the issue.]
———– End of Part I ————

** Source: William Lane Craig, “The Indispensability of Theological Meta-ethical Foundations for Morality.” Foundations 5 (1997): 9-12.


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