Craig’s Five Ways, Part Two

Let’s resume our discussion of this article, by William Lane Craig, in which he presents five arguments for belief in God. We found his first two arguments to be inadequate. Do his other three fare any better?

3. God provides the best explanation of objective moral values and duties. Even atheists recognize that some things, for example, the Holocaust, are objectively evil. But if atheism is true, what basis is there for the objectivity of the moral values we affirm? Evolution? Social conditioning? These factors may at best produce in us the subjective feeling that there are objective moral values and duties, but they do nothing to provide a basis for them. If human evolution had taken a different path, a very different set of moral feelings might have evolved. By contrast, God Himself serves as the paradigm of goodness, and His commandments constitute our moral duties. Thus, theism provides a better explanation of objective moral values and duties.

Once again, Craig’s argument is hard to follow. The fact to be explained, apparently, is that there is widespread agreement among virtually all people that certain things are right and certain things are wrong. People manage to arrive at these conclusions regardless of their opinions about religion. “Even atheists,” Craig informs us, manage to arrive at the right answers about moral questions, at least some of the time.

Craig’s explanation for this is what? He doesn’t tell us. He just tells us that God serves as a paradigm, apparently even for those who do not believe in Him. What does that even mean? Why is there so much disagreement over moral questions if God is providing an objective standard for everyone? And even if we grant for the sake of argument that God exists, how are we to know what He wants from us? How does he think atheists so often get it right on moral questions when we do not acknowledge the existence of God?

A better explanation for our strong moral intuitions is that evolution and social conditioning bequeathed to us a measure of empathy for our fellow creatures as well as a sense of basic fairness. Given that, the answers to most moral questions follow pretty quickly. Craig wonders what would have happened had human evolution taken a different course, but it is likely that widespread immoral behavior would simply have been nonadaptive and naturally unselected.

I always find it funny when theists insist that God is the only sound basis for morality. The argument seems to be that if you believe murder, say, is wrong because you regard it as obvious that humans have certain obligations towards one another, then you are being capricious and arbitrary and have no firm basis for your moral beliefs. But if you believe murder is wrong because you hypothesize God into existence and then assert that He has commanded us not to murder, then you have a firm, solid ground for morality. That is not reasonable.

4. God provides the best explanation of the historical facts concerning Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Historians have reached something of consensus that the historical Jesus thought that in himself God’s Kingdom had broken into human history, and he carried out a ministry of miracle-working and exorcisms as evidence of that fact. Moreover, most historical scholars agree that after his crucifixion Jesus’ tomb was discovered empty by a group of female disciples, that various individuals and groups saw appearances of Jesus alive after his death, and that the original disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe in Jesus’ resurrection despite their every predisposition to the contrary. I can think of no better explanation of these facts than the one the original disciples gave: God raised Jesus from the dead.

Craig is just making stuff up here. I can promise you there is no consensus among serious historians that Jesus actually performed miracles or that the tomb was empty. How could there be? What we know about Jesus’ ministry and burial is found, in its entirety, in the Gospel accounts in the New Testament. These accounts were written decades after the fact by propagandists who were specifically trying to win support for their religious beliefs. They were not written by eye-witnesses, and they were not written independently of one another. So there is no reason at all for believing that the tomb was empty.

But let’s suppose that it really was empty. We are to imagine that a body was placed in a tomb, and three days later there was no body in the tomb. How are we to explain this? Craig’s explanation is that this particular dead body was God in human form, and that He resurrected Himself to the delight of the masses. Indeed, he can think of no better explanation than this.

An alternative explanation is that someone moved the body.

Why would someone move the body? I have no idea. But I do know that if Craig were given these same facts under any other circumstances, it would never occur to him to accept a supernatural explanation.

Which brings us to Craig’s final argument:

5. God can be personally known and experienced. The proof of the pudding is in the tasting. Down through history Christians have found through Jesus a personal acquaintance with God that has transformed their lives.

Of course, followers of other religions also claim to have experiences of their Gods and prophets, but Craig has no problem at all dismissing their veridicality. Why should atheists feel differently about his own claimed experiences?

That people sometimes have powerful psychological experiences is scarcely in doubt, but the interpretation of those experiences as communications from God certainly is. As it happens, I devote a chapter to this topic in Among the Creationists, so I won’t belabor it here.

So, Craig’s arguments amount to nothing. And when you consider that such feeble offerings must compete with the problem of evil and the problem of divine hiddenness as arguments for actively disbelieving in the Christian God, I’d say atheists have little to worry about.

Comments

  1. #1 MNb
    December 19, 2013

    @3: Eutyphro dilemma.
    @4: WLC is lying.
    @5: That’s the only valid argument – alas for WLC it means that faith is not reasonable anymore.

  2. #2 Tulse
    December 20, 2013

    Why is there so much disagreement over moral questions if God is providing an objective standard for everyone?

    Indeed, and if the standard is objective, how is it that it appears to have changed over time? The Old Testament god approved of genocide, slavery, rape, and adultery — how is it that those things are now supposedly wrong, if the god of the Bible’s morality is objective?

    And why is it that even Christians can’t agree on basic issues like abortion, gay marriage, women’s place in the home and in society, government’s role in people lives, the environment, etc. etc. etc.?

  3. #3 Tom
    Seattle, Earth
    December 20, 2013

    For argument #3 there are serious arguments against Godly moralities.

    In the Old Testament God promotes or allows things like genocide, slavery, and misogyny. Slavery and misogyny even leak into the new testament.

    [Godwin warming] Secondly, Hitler drew influence from the writings of Martin Luther, he of the 95 Theses. Martin Luther apparently wrote a number of anti-Semitic screeds, which thankfully are now ignored by modern Lutherans.

    Honestly speaking this makes the Abrahamic god, as preached by most of its followers, immoral.

  4. #4 Steven Carr
    December 20, 2013

    Early Christians did indeed believe Jesus was alive after his death, just as they believed that their god created Adam from dead matter.

    But it is apparent from 1 Corinthians that early Christian converts were scoffing at the idea of their god choosing to raise corpses.

    Paul himself simply disses the idea that a resurrected being is made from what a corpse becomes – dust.

    1 Corinthians 15
    The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.

    To translate this….

    Paul thought we first had a natural body, made of dust and natural things.

    This perishes and after it perishes we get a spiritual body, made of spirit substance (whatever that is, Paul could not produce any eyewitness details of what a resurrected body was like)

    In short, Paul believed that Jesus became a spirit after his death, and corpses simply stayed in the ground and rotted.

  5. #5 Steven Carr
    December 20, 2013

    CRAIG
    If human evolution had taken a different path, a very different set of moral feelings might have evolved.

    CARR
    And if evolution had taken a different path, we might have evolved to digest Warfarin.

    But everybody knows rat poison is objectively poisonous!

    How can atheists say Warfarin is poisonous when we might have evolved to eat it as a breakfast food?

  6. #6 MNb
    December 20, 2013

    @2 Tulse: “how is it that those things are now supposedly wrong, if the god of the Bible’s morality is objective?”
    Because WLC’s god ordered it. This is called the Divine Command Theory. Summarized:

    genocide, slavery, rape and adultery are objectively wrong unless god whispers in your ear that they are objectively right.

    http://www.reasonablefaith.org/slaughter-of-the-canaanites

    See if you can read this without getting sick. Highlight:

    “So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites? …..
    the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves. Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children? The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.”

    It is interesting and instructive to compare this with

    http://www.go2war2.nl/artikel/2610/Einsatzgruppen.htm?page=13

    Alas in Dutch and too long to translate entirely.

    “In naoorlogse getuigenissen beklaagden velen zich erover hoe zwaar hun opdracht was geweest.”
    After the war many complained how hard their task has been.

    “gaf Himmler …. de opdracht te zoeken naar een moordmethode die voor de psyche van de uitvoerders minder belastend was. ”
    Himmler ordered to find a method of killing which was less of a psychological burden for the executioners.

    http://www.go2war2.nl/artikel/1560/Blobel-Paul.htm
    “Blobel toonde gedurende zijn proces geen berouw en had enkel medelijden met de daders die belast waren geweest met dit zware werk.”
    During his process Blobel didn’t show any remorse and only had pity with the offenders who had to do this hard work.”

    WLC defends nazi ethics.

  7. #7 Steven Carr
    December 20, 2013

    Craig defends Nazi ethics?

    Well, not quite, but he did claim that becoming a Nazi was one path which led to salvation.

    No doubt there are other paths to salvation in Craig’s playbook I doubt if he meant that becoming a Nazi was the only way to be saved.

    CRAIG
    ‘Paradoxically, being a Nazi may have been the best thing that happened to Heinrich, since it led to his salvation.’

    Craig continues ‘Of course, one may wonder about those poor people who suffered in the death camps because of Heinrich.’

    One does wonder that, doesn’t one……

    CARR
    But why would God permit such an evil is Nazi atrocities?

    Surely that evil can’t be justly permitted.

    Wrong!

    CRAIG
    ‘The claim is that we have no basis for saying that any evil we experience is not justly permitted by God.’

  8. #8 MNb
    December 20, 2013

    ” I doubt if he meant that becoming a Nazi was the only way to be saved.’
    I doubt that too and so it’s not what I wrote. What I wrote is that part of WLC’s ethics is pitying the offenders iso the victims, which is an essential part of nazi ethics as well.
    Read that link. Replace Israeli soldiers with Einsatzgruppe and Canaanites with Eastern-European jews and tell me the difference. I don’t see it.

  9. #9 Tulse
    December 20, 2013

    I think that Divine Command Theory is really the only philosophically honest response to the Euthyphro Dilemma, by essentially biting the bullet and saying that there is no objective morality beyond what the Christian god defines, and we may not be privy to that morality — “we have no basis for saying that any evil we experience is not justly permitted by God”.

    But that of course completely undermines Craig’s argument for his Point 3, which rests precisely on the notion that universally shared moral sentiments are evidence of objective moral standards (“Even atheists recognize that some things, for example, the Holocaust, are objectively evil”). The whole point of Divine Command Theory is that human judgement about right and wrong is insufficient, and thus any moral sentiments we have may be incorrect, even about something like the Holocaust. Craig can’t consistently believe both that Divine Command Theory is correct, and use our human sense of morality to justify objective moral standards. He either doesn’t fully understand the implications of his beliefs, or he is being intentionally disingenuous in his argument.

    More to the point, DCT means that we really can’t even apply the human terms of “good” and “evil” to the Christian god, since we have no understanding of what those terms “actually” mean. Saying “God is good” is essentially meaningless, since literally anything the Christian god does would be good, even genocide (as Craig has famously argued).

    What is interesting is that presumably the structure of the arguments that Divine Command Theory makes about good and evil also apply to other qualities ascribed to the Christian god, just as Love, Justice, and Mercy. In these cases as well, the definition of those terms is solely dependent on how that god defines them, and in principle could be completely unrelated to how humans do.

    What this all means is that the Christian god could turn out actually to be Cthulhu, and Craig would have to say that all the arguments still apply — by definition Cthulhu would be Good, Loving, Just, and Merciful.

  10. #10 Nathan
    Harrisonburg, VA
    December 20, 2013

    Comment #1 is right: the Euthyphro dilemma is an effective answer to Craig’s point #3, about objective moral duties. If moral values and duties are objective, then by the very meaning of the word “objective”, they are always true regardless of anyone’s opinions—even God’s, even if we grant that God is the greatest possible being. If God is the explanation for morals, then they are inescapably subjective.

    Some theists have objected that the Euthyphro dilemma doesn’t apply to God because objective morals come from God’s inherent nature, and others have proposed that divine commands are always good because they come from an *omnibenevolent* God (I believe this last argument was called “modified divine command theory”). Notice that this type of reply uses ideas (like “benevolence”) that, since they’re being used to describe God, must exist apart from Him. In addition, this simply pushes the dilemma back one level: is God all-good because goodness is part of the nature of reality, or because he willed it to be so? If the former, goodness exists irrespective of God’s existence, and God would simply be a wise guide (although many parts of the Bible would testify otherwise); if the latter, Craig would have to concede that morals only *seem* objective.

    I think the book “Reasonable Atheism” by Aikin and Talisse sets out some good ideas about how morality can be constructed apart from God. One that comes to mind is the fact that lying is an inherently conflicted activity; it only works because people expect to be told the truth. If people expected to be lied to, lying would lose its power. The point is that there’s something about truth and lies, pleasure and pain, etc., that would probably be the same regardless of how humans evolved.

    Also, regarding Craig’s point #5, that God can be personally experienced, is, although unfalsifiable, damaged by the numerous deep disagreements among Christians who claim God revealed Himself to them (in contradictory ways). Here’s an analogy: if my siblings and I were trying to describe our dad, and we disagreed on fundamental facts—say, his political ideology, occupation, religion, age, where he lives, etc.—wouldn’t it be reasonable to wonder whether we really have the same father?

  11. #11 Nathan
    Harrisonburg, VA
    December 20, 2013

    @Tulse (comment #9):

    Interesting point. I agree. Actually, many theist arguments only “win” by undermining some other core theist position. As you point out, Divine Command Theory can only “win” by logically denying the existence of true objective moral standards. Similarly, Skeptical Theism (which Jason recently brought up) only “wins” by eviscerating the concept of God’s objective goodness, the reality of evil, and our ability to judge between the two.

  12. #12 couchloc
    December 20, 2013

    Here is something I don’t understand and that seems worrying for Jason’s reply to #3, or at least I’m not sure at the moment how it doesn’t present a problem. I don’t have a view in mind I’m just trying to think this through. The concern raised in #3 is related to the grounding of values in the divine command theory of ethics. This claims that X is good because god commands X. The standard objection to this view is the Euthyphro dilemma as MNb says. A problem with claiming that something is good because god commands it, is that this makes something’s goodness dependent upon god’s commands. And this seems wrong because we can imagine god having different beliefs and commanding something different than what he does now, and so those different things would have to have been good. But this makes ethics capricious and random.

    In response Jason claims that evolution is a basis for morality since “evolution and social conditioning bequeathed to us a measure of empathy for our fellow creatures as well as a sense of basic fairness.” But I don’t think I understand how Craig’s reply to this doesn’t get a foothold. He observes that evolution does “nothing to provide a basis….. If human evolution had taken a different path, a very different set of moral feelings might have evolved.” Isn’t his complaint about evolution here the same point we just made to the divine command theory? He is pointing out that evolution is contingent too. So my concern is why is contingency an objection to the divine command theory of ethics, but not an objection to the evolutionary theory? They are both trying to provide a basis for ethics in something contingent. The point that “it is likely that widespread immoral behavior would simply have been nonadaptive and naturally unselected” does nothing to remove the contingency I think..

  13. #13 Tulse
    December 20, 2013

    why is contingency an objection to the divine command theory of ethics, but not an objection to the evolutionary theory?

    In my view, it’s because naturalists are quite happy to acknowledge that the notion of ethics may be bound to the particular aspects of an organism, including its evolutionary history — we don’t have to declare that there is a single Objective Morality floating around in the fabric of universe. We’re ok with morality being contingent.

    For example, if humans reproduced by spawning thousands of eggs that were externally fertilized, and produced thousands of offspring with each fertilization, don’t you think that it would be appropriate for our notions of both sexual morality and abortion to be different? (At the very least, external fertilization would make the notion of “rape” superfluous.) If we were eusocial creatures like bees, the whole morality around self-sacrifice would likely be different. If our young developed via a larval stage that eventually ate their mother, you don’t think that our views on the morality of maternity would be changed?

    Of course our morality is contingent our our evolutionary history. This doesn’t mean we have to be slaves to natural selection and our genes, but it does explain why we have many of the moral sentiments we do. As I see it, the project of morality is to rationalize those sentiments as much as possible, to provide some sort of principled basis by which we can formalize and extend morality. But that can be done while at the same time acknowledging that there is no morality “out there” in the cosmos, and that our project is always relative at least to our biological nature.

  14. #14 couchloc
    December 20, 2013

    “We’re ok with morality being contingent.”

    But my point is that you can’t then run the Euthyphro dilemma against Craig because that depends on claiming the divine command theory makes ethics too contingent. I don’t see how you’ve addressed my worry yet.

  15. #15 Nathan
    Harrisonburg, VA
    December 20, 2013

    @couchloc:

    To me, your question sounds like a very good one. For my part, I’m happy to acknowledge that I do not understand where ethics and morals come from.

    My best guess is that none of us fully understands this, and that includes theists. It seems to be very difficult, at best, for anyone to establish an airtight theory of morals—and, again, this applies to theists, thanks to the Euthyphro dilemma. But, and this is the important part, I (and those like me) are willing to say “I don’t know”, in contrast to Craig.

  16. #16 Nathan
    Harrisonburg, VA
    December 20, 2013

    @couchloc:

    My argument would not be that “Dr. Craig is wrong because his version of morality is contingent.”

    Rather, it would be “Dr. Craig claims to have an objective standard for morality, which he defends using a subjective (Divine Command Theory) standard.” Or, to put it another way, “Claiming, as Dr. Craig does, that ‘objective moral standards and duties depend on God’s existence’ is an incoherent statement because the idea of ‘dependence’ is the very meaning of the word ‘subjective’”.

  17. #17 Tulse
    December 20, 2013

    But my point is that you can’t then run the Euthyphro dilemma against Craig because that depends on claiming the divine command theory makes ethics too contingent

    The argument is about the consistency of the Christian view of morality (and any system that argues for divinely provided morality), and not morality in general. In other words, it is not that morality per se can’t be contingent, but rather that for Christians (and anyone else arguing that morality comes from the divine), morality either pre-exists their god or is arbitrary. Remember, the argument isn’t just about morality, but the relationship of a god to morality. If you take gods out of morality, the dilemma no longer exists.

    Most atheists avoid the Euthyphro Dilemma by rejecting both alternatives — morality is neither given by a divine being nor exists in some abstract absolute sense as part of the fabric of being. It is instead in part biologically contingent and in part socially constructed, or it is rationally derived from some other principles, or a host of other solutions that do not involve the divine. These answers are not available to the Christian, and so they’re stuck with the dilemma.

  18. #18 Jr
    December 20, 2013

    The Gospel of Matthew reports a rumour that Jesus’ followers stole his body.

  19. #19 Nihilist
    December 20, 2013

    I agree with Couchbloc that the contingency arguments works against evolution as a basis for morality…which at best can only motivate a discussion and never be a grounds for anything.

    Most modern socities have in fact accepted that morality is contingent. It is called ‘positive law’. There is no other basis for morality other than that a bunch of humans decided something is wrong. I am not sure why we need some sort of rhetorical Archimedean point to establish some fictional basis for ‘objective moral’. The establishment of the law is the objectification of the moral rule…that provides its objectivity. There is no other reason why something is wrong. Feeling revulsion is no basis for morality. This can easily be unlearned. The military relies on this when it trains soldiers to kill other human beings. Blowing someone’s head of as a sniper is no different from swatting a fly for some soldiers. If the gov’t commands the killing, it is just, if not, it isn’t. We all live in a positive law ( divine command ) world.

  20. #20 Nihilist
    December 20, 2013

    “@17 Most atheists avoid the Euthyphro Dilemma by rejecting both alternatives — morality is neither given by a divine being nor exists in some abstract absolute sense as part of the fabric of being.”

    Double opposable thumbs up!

  21. #21 Anton Mates
    December 21, 2013

    Even atheists recognize that some things, for example, the Holocaust, are objectively evil.

    This is a baffling claim. The Holocaust was carried out by an entire nation-state, with most citizens at least partially aware of what it involved. Clearly, many many people–Christians, atheists, and others–did not recognize that it was objectively evil; they thought it was good, or neutral.

    Most atrocities on that scale have been supported or condoned by thousands or millions of apparently-sane human beings. That’s not very good evidence for the objectivity of moral duties and values.

  22. #22 MNb
    December 21, 2013

    @12 Couchloc: the way I understand it is that Evolution Theory explains why Homo Sapiens has developed ethics. It doesn’t judge ethics.
    If ants were capable of developing ethics it would have looked like something completely different, don’t you think? At the other side of the spectrum I point at cats.

    @19 Nihilist: “I agree with Couchbloc that the contingency arguments works against evolution as a basis for morality”
    As an atheist I agree as well. Evolution as a basis for morality is a natural fallacy.

    “The establishment of the law is the objectification of the moral rule…that provides its objectivity”
    I wouldn’t call it objectivity, but I get what you mean.

  23. #23 Daniel J
    Massachusetts
    December 21, 2013

    To me, morality is man’s ability to empathize with his counterparts in order to form a ubiquitous, ethical society.

    Empathy is mainly derived from our brain’s ability to glean the emotional state of someone else, a task undertaken by two neural structures, the amygdala and prefrontal cortex.

    However, this established neural network can be compromised by genetic disorder/mutation or by blunt trauma, the results of which can diminish our capacity to empathize. This is the case in several mental disorders including psychopathology.

    Psychopathology is commonly consistent with a shrunken amygdala and defects in the frontal lobe. These physiological differences result in a state where “aversive conditioning and the response to others’ fear is profoundly impaired” (Blair), where transgressional behavior may not elicit negative emotional repercussions.

    The physiological evolution of our minds produces many moral facets, some as distinct as psychopathology. Moral objectivity being absent, societal ethics consist of the averaged moral weight among men.

    http://www18.homepage.villanova.edu/diego.fernandezduque/Teaching/PSY8900_CogNeuropsych/z10_Morality/BlairPsychopathyTICS.pdf

  24. #24 james ainoris
    brooklyn ny
    December 22, 2013

    ImI would reccomend everyone to look up Rabbi Alvin Radkowsky Phd nuclear physicists paper called “miracles”. He was one of the top designers of nuclear reactors including the nautilus submarines unit. He was an orthodox jew who also studied TORAH 12hrs every day.He did a mathematical analysis of what the probability was for the DNA molecules to fall together by chance in the simple aomeba.I think it came out to be 10 to the 7000 th power to one against ramdom self replecation..in fact quantum mechanics states a self replicating unit is impossible…Shalom jim ainoris

  25. #25 MNb
    December 22, 2013

    “the probability was for the DNA molecules to fall together by chance in the simple amoeba.”
    Even orthodox rabbi’s who have studied nuclear physics sometimes make wrong assumption. The wrong one here is “by chance”.

  26. #26 Walt Jones
    December 23, 2013

    Bravo, MNb, for the marvelously pithy response that addresses both the fallacy of argument from authority and the faulty argument of that authority. I will be following your form in future arguments with an interlocutor whose logic professor told him that logical fallacies are valid arguments (at a Catholic university, of course).

  27. #27 MNb
    December 23, 2013

    Good for you.
    Thanks for not addressing “by chance”.

  28. #28 deepak shetty
    December 23, 2013

    Do his other three fare any better?
    The suspense is killing me.

  29. #29 sean samis
    December 23, 2013

    Deepak (#28)

    No. They are all incoherent garbage.

    sean s.

  30. #30 Pierce R. Butler
    December 24, 2013

    … it is likely that widespread immoral behavior would simply have been nonadaptive and naturally unselected.

    Say what? As social animals, we selected for cooperation, but that also expanded opportunities for cheating. If study of evolution tells us anything about morality, “Expect parasitism” belongs high on the list.

    MNb @ # 22: … I point at cats.

    On some planet out there in spacetime, a William Feline Craig assures his listeners:

    Catsmologists agree – the sacrosanct right of mothers to eat their newborns at whim is woven into the great Ball of Yarn in the Sky (aka String Theory), our promised 8th Life where mice and birds never cease to squirm no matter how long you maul them. Amew!.

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