Atheistic Moral Realism – Part 1

In his essay “Why I Believe God Exists”, William Craig gives three main reasons for believing in God (Why I am a Christian – hereafter: WIAC – edited by Norman Geisler and Paul Hoffman, Baker Books, 2001, p.62-80):

  • God makes sense of the origin of the universe (the Kalam Cosmological argument, p.62-68)
  • God makes sense of the complex order in the universe (the Fine Tuning argument, p.68-74).
  • God makes sense of objective moral values in the world (his argument from the Existence of Objective Moral Values, p. 74-80)

One problem with the Kalam cosmological argument is that it fails to establish the existence of a perfectly good person.  At best, the Kalam cosmological argument proves the existence of some sort of ultimate first cause in a causal chain that led to the formation of the universe.  But it is far from obvious that this first cause must be a perfectly good person.

The Fine Tuning argument, a modern version of the Argument from Design, suffers from the same problem.  Both the Cosmological argument and the Fine Tuning argument raise the problem of evil.  How can a perfectly good person be the first cause or the designer of a world that contains so much moral and natural evil?

It is essential that a case for God show the existence of a person who is perfectly good, not just the existence of an omnipotent or omniscient being.  Craig’s discussion about God as the source of moral values indicates why this point is crucial:

…by definition, God is a being who is worthy of worship.  When you think about what it means to worship someone, then it is evident that only a being who is the embodiment of all moral goodness is worthy to be worshiped. (WIAC, p.78)

If some very powerful and very knowledgable person is cruel, unjust, and blood-thirsty (like Jehovah, for example), then that being would NOT be worthy of worship, and thus could not possibly be God.  In fact, some very powerful and knowing person who is generally good but who sometimes does things that are selfish or morally wrong, would also be someone who was not worthy of worship.  So, any person who is to properly be called ‘God’ must be a perfectly good person.

The only argument here that has any hope of establishing the existence of a perfectly good person, is the argument from the Existence of Objective Moral Values.  So, that is the argument that I’m going to focus in on, analyze, and evaluate.

Craig states the argument very simply as something like a  modus tollens:

1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.

2. Objective moral values do exist.

Therefore:

3.  God exists.

It is not quite a modus tollens because the second premise and the conclusion of a modus tollens are negations:

IF P, THEN Q.

Not Q.

Therefore:

Not P.

But Craig’s argument can be re-stated as a modus tollens:

1A. If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.

2A. It is NOT the case that objective moral values do not exist.

Therefore:

3A.  It is NOT the case that God does not exist.

It seems a bit odd that Craig did not state his argument more straightforwardly as a modus ponens:

1B. If objective moral values do exist, then God exists.

2B. Objective moral values do exist.

Therefore:

3B.  God exists.

I’m not sure if this is significant, but we should keep these different ways of stating the argument in mind, in case there is some subtle difference between them that is significant.

TO BE CONTINUED…

  • Anonymous

    Can’t theists use the ontological argument to prove that a perfectly moral, omnipotent and omniscience being exists? But then again, I never really understood what makes “moral perfection” a great-making property, since not only does Craig define ‘moral’ in terms of God’s nature to avoid the euthyphro dilemma (which makes his moral argument circular), but I could easily use the ontological argument to prove that a perfectly evil, omnipotent and omniscience being exists.

    In his debates against Muslims, Craig often claims (without justification) that moral perfection entails infinite compassion, love, mercy, etc….but aren’t these qualities only considered ‘good’ under secular morality, where good and evil are defined in terms of well-being and suffering of conscious beings?

    Obviously, this kills the problem of evil since no amount of secular evil can disprove an all-good theistic God. But it also means that theists cannot know whether they’re being deceived by their God. For all they know, the God of theism could create sentient beings, and instantly send them all to Hell for no reason, and it’d still be the case that God = good under Craig’s definition.

    • Bradley Bowen

      Anonymous said:

      Can’t theists use the ontological argument to prove that a perfectly moral, omnipotent and omniscience being exists?

      ====================
      Response:

      They could if the ontological argument was sound. But it does not appear to be a sound argument, so no, that won’t work.

    • Bradley Bowen

      Anonymous said:

      …Craig often claims (without justification) that moral perfection entails infinite compassion, love, mercy, etc….but aren’t these qualities only considered ‘good’ under secular morality…

      ===========================
      Response:

      What do you mean by ‘secular morality’? Why wouldn’t ‘religious morality’ also consider compassion, love, and mercy to be morally significant attitudes?

      • Anonymous

        Secular morality is usually concerned with the well-being and suffering of conscious beings. If an action and/or attitude causes/promotes the well-being of conscious beings, it’s considered ‘good’ or ‘moral’. Therefore, the traits I mentioned are ‘good’ because they promote the well-being of conscious creatures. Love, compassion, and mercy are only morally relevant when there are 2 or more conscious creatures; how can God have mercy and feel compassionate towards anything prior to the creation of the Universe? Besides, we can pose a euthyphro-like dilemma for theists who insist moral perfection entails infinite love, compassion and mercy: Is God good because he is loving, generous, just, faithful, kind, and so forth? Or are these traits good-making because God has them? On the first option, the existence of God plays no role in moral ontology. On the second option, the theists beg the question.

        Theists like Craig rely on their subjective evaluations of ‘good’ when they claim God is loving, compassionate, etc as a result of God being morally perfect. But under any divine command theory, if God were to say “Hate, not love, is the new good”, then theists would be morally obliged to hate.

        • Bradley Bowen

          Anonymous said:

          Love, compassion, and mercy are only morally relevant when there are 2 or more conscious creatures; how can God have mercy and feel compassionate towards anything prior to the creation of the Universe?

          =================
          Response:

          God could have love and compassion for angels. God the Father could have love and compassion towards God the Son, and God the Son could have love and compassion towards God the Father.

          If God was aware that he would create human beings at some future point in time, and if God was aware that some of these human beings would suffer and experience sorrow and grief and pain and misery, then God could have had some kind of love and compassion towards human beings who did not yet exist, but whom God knew would someday come to exist.

          On the other hand, the concepts of ‘love and compassion’ seem to be connected with human emotions, but it is hard to see how a bodiless person could experience anything like human emotions. I suppose we could stip away the emotional content of these concepts and focus exclusively on behavioral tendencies, such as an inclination to help or an inclination to provide comfort to a suffering person. But, clearly any ‘love and compassion’ on God’s part will be very different from ordinary human love and compassion.

          Furthermore, ‘love and compassion’ are connected with desires in human people. But if God also has desires, then it would seem that God could be tempted to do evil, just as humans are sometimes tempted by desires to do evil. On the other hand, if God has no desires, and thus God’s ‘love and compassion’ have no association with any desires in God’s mind, then God’s ‘love and compassion’ is a cold and strange thing that is very unlike human love and compassion.

    • Bradley Bowen

      Anonymous said:

      For all they know, the God of theism could create sentient beings, and instantly send them all to Hell for no reason, and it’d still be the case that God = good under Craig’s definition.

      ====================
      Response:

      This seems like it might be a very important point to keep in mind. Can you say a bit more about, and in support of, this objection to Craig?

      • Anonymous

        As I explained in my other response, moral perfection does not entail infinite love, compassion, etc, so God would be under no obligation to love His creation. As a result, He’s free to do anything He pleases since whatever He says/does will be, by Craig’s definition, ‘good’. This is why I said secular evil cannot disprove an all-good theistic God. Have a look at this YouTube video on theistic morality: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9cUVj7rdWyA

        • Bradley Bowen

          Anonymous said:

          As I explained in my other response, moral perfection does not entail infinite love, compassion, etc, so God would be under no obligation to love His creation. As a result, He’s free to do anything He pleases since whatever He says/does will be, by Craig’s definition, ‘good’.

          ======================
          Response:

          It seems to me that a person who is unloving and uncompassionate would be something less than a morally perfect person, so I disagree with the statement that ‘moral perfection does not entail infinite love, compassion, etc.’

          But I think what you are saying is that moral perfection does not imply being loving and compassionate IF one assumes the point of view taken by William Craig, namely the Divine Command Theory or something similar to the Divine Command Theory. Based on the Divine Command Theory, love and mercy are only good if God commands us to be loving and merciful. Furthermore, based ont eh Divine Command Theory, being loving and merciful would be morally wrong if God had commanded us to be unkind, cruel, and merciless.

          • Keith Parsons

            There is no plausible definition of “perfect goodness” that would be compatible with permitting gratuitous suffering. It need have nothing to do with love or compassion. The motivation to prevent unnecessary suffering could be based on a Kantian-style recognition of the intrinsic value of sentient creatures and of the concomitant duty, at least prima facie, to treat them as ends in themselves. Indeed, a perfectly good being would need no motivation other than the recognition of moral obligation.

            Would God have duties towards his creatures? Why not? Sometimes theists say that God’s role as sovereign creator preempts such duties. We owe everything to God, including our very being, so we have no right to demand anything of God. I confess that I have trouble following such reasoning so I look for analogies that I do understand. For instance, if I were to create a sentient android capable of physical and emotional suffering would I, as the android’s creator, have the right to consign such a being to a life of lonely, painful drudgery? Intuitively, I would not, and so I have to wonder why the same conclusion would not apply to God.

      • Anonymous

        As I explained in my previous reply, moral perfection does not entail infinite love, generosity, compassion, etc. The consequence of this for theists is that God is not obliged to love His creation, and whatever He commands/does will be, by Craig’s definition, ‘good’. Theists like Christians cannot know whether or not God could be lying (since God is not obliged to tell the truth under Craig’s definition) to them about the whole “accept Jesus as your personal savior to be saved”, since there’s nothing stopping God from saying “Haha! I lied! Too bad you’re all going to burn now!” One simply cannot derive the content of moral perfection if one defines God’s nature as ‘good’.

        • Anonymous

          Oops, I thought the other comment didn’t go through so I typed up a new one. Ignore this one.

  • TaiChi

    “It seems a bit odd that Craig did not state his argument more straightforwardly as a modus ponens”

    I expect it’s for rhetorical effect. The idea that “if God does not exist, everything is permissible” is very familiar to his Christian audience, and so they’re liable to give it a pass without thinking about it. The transposition, by contrast, sounds like something new, and is much more likely to be judged critically.

  • mikmik

    “How can a perfectly good person be the first cause or the designer of a world that contains so much moral and natural evil?”

    Does ‘perfectly good’ mean ‘only good’? No, it only means ‘as absolutely good as is possible,’ or ‘contains the maximum amount of good.’

    • Bradley Bowen

      mikmik said:

      Does ‘perfectly good’ mean ‘only good’? No, it only means ‘as absolutely good as is possible,’ or ‘contains the maximum amount of good.’

      =================
      Response:

      OK, but I don’t see where you are going with this comment.

      Are you saying that God is ‘perfectly good’ even though God is somewhat evil or slightly evil? Are you saying that God is maximally good even though God is somewhat evil or slightly evil, because it is logically impossible for any person to be fully and completely good and without any evil?

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  • Joseph O Polanco

    Jehovah God can no more be evil than a diamond gemstone be gelatinous, a cerulean sun can be gelid or rain can be dehydrated: http://bit.ly/15mmyNx


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