William Lane Craig’s moral argument

Now for Craig’s moral argument (or “axiological argument”), which I’ve sometimes thought is Craig’s worst argument (though picking a single worst argument from Craig is hard). Here’s the basic argument:

  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.

The first question to ask here is, “what does Craig mean by ‘objective'”? Here’s the definition from Reasonable Faith:

To say that there are objective moral values is to say that something is good or evil independent of what any human being believes. Similarly to say that we have objective moral duties is to say that certain actions are right or wrong independently of whether any human being believes them to be so (p. 173).

This is a silly definition. On this definition, someone who believes morality is whatever space aliens tells us it is counts as a believer in objective morality. A more sensible definition would be something like “morality independent of what anyone says or thinks.” And I do think morality has to be objective in something like that sense.

Craig’s reason for defining “objective morality” the way he does is that he wants to claim the only moral theory that works is one based on God. Craig is trying to rig the definition of “objective morality” to favor God. But not only would this be ruled out by a sensible definition of “objective morality,” Craig’s moral theory is in fact completely insane.

Craig’s theory of morality is known as divine command theory, according to which our moral duties are whatever God says they are. That means that if God commanded genocide, on Craig’s view, genocide would be a moral duty.

In his debates, Craig is fond of saying things like, “Actions like rape, cruelty, and child abuse aren’t just socially unacceptable behavior–they’re moral abominations.” He thinks this is just obvious, and I agree. But I think it’s equally obvious that those things would be wrong even if a god commanded them.

And this is not a purely hypothetical worry for Craig, given that he’s a believer in Biblical inerrancy, and in the Old Testament the Israelites are frequently commanded to wipe out entire tribes (when they’re not being told to keep the virgin girls alive “for themselves” and kill everyone else.) Craig has explicitly said that on his view, God ordering these things makes them right.

Similarly, in his debate with Sam Harris on morality (which I saw in person), there was this exchange during the Q&A at the end of the debate:

Harris: This is the kind of morality that you get out of divine command theory that, again, offers no retort to the Jihadist other than, “Sorry buster, you happen to have the wrong god.”
Craig: But that’s exactly your retort, Sam, that God has not issued such a command, and therefore, you’re not morally obligated to do it.
Harris: No, if God did, he would be evil. So I can get behind that God, if God is issuing that command, he’s an evil bastard.
Craig: The problem is that you see, on atheism, you don’t have any basis for making that kind of moral judgment.
Harris: I’ve tried to give you a basis, sorry.

This won Harris massive applause from the audience. It’s worth noting everything that happened here. Craig didn’t deny Harris’ description of his view, but instead responded by telling falsehoods about Harris’ view.

Craig misrepresenting his opponents’ views isn’t unusual, but since this was during the Q&A, Harris could correct him immediately. Once corrected, Craig just changed the subject in a way that ignored everything Harris had said up to that point in the debate.

In short, Craig’s moral argument depends on claiming that his insane theory of morality is the only possible one. I could move on to the next argument now, but I want to say a couple things about how Craig argues for premise (2) of his argument. Frequently in his debates, his entire argument for premise (2) is to cite atheists who (he claims) agree with him about (2).

This is a terrible argument because many atheists, as well as some theists like Richard Swinburne, disagree with Craig about (2). This has been frequently pointed out to Craig, but he has yet to drop his appeals to authority. Once, in fact, he defended his appeals to authority by citing yet another philosopher, Wesley Salmon, saying appeals to authority are sometimes legitimate. He ignores the fact that Salmon also said:

Authorities who are equally competent, as far as we can tell, may disagree. In such cases there is no reason to place greater confidence in one than the other, and people are apt to choose the authority that gives them the answer they want to hear. Ignoring the judgment of opposed authorities is a case of biasing the evidence. When authorities disagree it is time to reconsider the objective evidence upon which the authorities have supposedly based their judgments. (Salmon, Logic, p. 66)

The other thing is that in making his moral argument, Craig frequently attacks naturalism, determinism, materialism, etc. I have already explained repeatedly why such arguments are worthless when the topic is supposed to be God.

(As with my previous post, if you want to read more on this issue you can look at a longer post at my old blog.)

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