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.