Craig’s Eight Arguments for God, Part VII: “God is the best explanation of objective moral values and duties”
In our experience we apprehend moral values and duties which impose themselves as objectively binding and true.
Also, what could Craig as a Christian mean by “moral value”? I have searched my bibles for this term, and sadly I cannot find it anywhere. (Here are some search results: KJV; a search of the NASB can be found NASB; NIV; NLV.) Thus it appears not only that Craig is using a non-biblical expression, and it also appears that we will not learn about moral values from the bible in the first place.
That Craig package-deals moral values with “duties” is unconscionable, yet predictable given the inherent dishonesty of the theistic worldview and Craig’s concern to obscure genuine issues in morality. Values and duties are not one and the same; in fact, in the sense that Christianity has in mind for “duties,” they are not even compatible. And whatever Christianity could possibly deem to constitute a value, it would be trumped by whatever “duties” are thought to have been issued in the form of divine commands. Christianity’s version of morality is inherently authoritarian in nature: it consists of commandments which are treated as “duties” that one must obey and practice regardless of their impact on one’s values. The example of Abraham and Isaac teaches precisely this: Abraham loved his son (a value), but he was instructed by an invisible magic being to prepare his only son as a burnt offering (a duty). Regardless of how valuable his son was to him, Abraham was to carry out his duty all the same. Value, then, becomes irrelevant. Of course, what an invisible magic being, especially one that is characterized as being omnipotent and in need of nothing, could possible do with a burnt offering is never explained. Certainly it would not need a burnt offering for any reason; it would not be a question of values on the part of the Christian god itself, for it cannot value anything (see Anton Thorn’s article Why an Immortal God Cannot Value).
So in spite of Abraham’s value for his own son, and in spite of the fact that an omnipotent, immortal and indestructible god would have no metaphysical basis to value anything, Abraham was expected to do as he was commanded and prepare his son accordingly. Duty always trumps values. Did Abraham question this commandment? Not according to what we read in Genesis 22. Did Abraham try to reason with the invisible magic being? Not according to what we read in Genesis 22. Did Abraham do anything to make sure he was not misunderstanding the commandment in question? Not according to what we read in Genesis 22.
Unlike duties that are issued from a supernatural source, man’s values have their basis in his nature as a biological organism. Unlike the Christian god, man’s existence is conditional – he faces a fundamental alternative: to live or die. He needs values in order to live. These include basic life needs – such as food, water, shelter – as well as intellectual needs: reason, knowledge, a worldview suited for living on earth, pleasure, happiness, etc. But these things are not simply provided to man
The advice which the gospel of Matthew puts into Jesus’ mouth is exactly the opposite of the kinds of principles man must abide by if he is to live. There we read (6:25 – 31):
Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
Christianity also undermines independence with its emphasis on obedience and humility. Believers are taught to humble themselves before authorities (even secular authorities, cf. Rom. 13:1-5, Col. 3:22, Tit. 3:1, etc.) and to maintain a mentality of obedience. Treating humility as a virtue is a hallmark of enslavement: if you are a slave, you are taught that being humble is virtuous, and thus simply tolerating the injustice of a situation is thereby commended. This only succeeds in giving free reign to those who seek to deal with others through intimidation and the threat of force, two vices that are characteristic of the Christian god itself.
We have already seen the example of Abraham and Isaac. But we should also consider the example of Jesus himself. Jesus’s entire purpose in coming to earth was not simply to die, but to die as a sacrifice. His goal was death. This reverberates throughout all Christianity; for example, the apostle Paul writes in Phil. 1:21 that “to die is gain.” But notice how incoherent – and antithetical to values as such – Jesus’ example serves as a model of moral action. Ayn Rand brings this tragic point out in all its vivid repugnance:
Christ, in terms of the Christian philosophy, is the human ideal. He personifies that which men should strive to emulate. Yet, according to the Christian mythology, he died on the cross not for his own sins but for the sins of the nonideal people. In other words, a man of perfect virtue was sacrificed for men who are vicious and who are expected or supposed to accept that sacrifice. If I were a Christian, nothing could make me more indignant than that: the notion of sacrificing the ideal to the nonideal, or virtue to vice. And it is in the name of that symbol that men are asked to sacrifice themselves for their inferiors. That is precisely how the symbolism is used. (Interview with Ayn Rand, Playboy, March 1964.)
According to the gospel narratives, Jesus had a “duty” to sacrifice himself to vicious, sin-ridden and innately depraved creatures, not out of guilt, but out of “love.” Love, then, on Christian terms, is not devotion to what is valuable, to determination to sacrifice that which is valuable. And this is not due to some objective need that we find in the world, but due to someone’s wishes. As Jesus’ famous words on the night before his crucifixion make clear, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). Duty has no objective basis; it is to be performed expressly to fulfill someone’s desires. As Craig makes clear in this video (1:02 – 1:11):
Our moral duties are constituted by God’s commands, so that when he issues commands to us, they become our moral duties.
If, however, we understand morality to be a code of values which guides an individual’s choices and actions (cf. Ayn Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” The Virtue of Selfishness), then the notion of either a supernatural being or an omnipotent state is completely antithetical to morality. On such a view, it is man’s nature as a biological organism – a factual state of affairs that obtains regardless of the dictates of any invisible magic beings or government bureaucrats – which determines what is a value to his life and what threatens it. The fundamental facts of man’s nature – e.g., that he faces a fundamental alternative (life vs. death), that he needs values in order to live, that he must act in order to achieve those values which he needs to live, that he needs a means of knowledge by which he can determine what is a value and what is not, etc., etc. – are what inform the basis of his morality and explain why he needs morality to begin with. What I am describing here is the moral code of life, and it tells us what morality is and why it is so important to man’s life. Nothing that Craig offers in his “explanation” of morality speaks to either concern.
In fact, while the rational conception of morality is focused exclusively on man’s needs for living, Christianity’s “morality” requires the believer to “die to self in his complete surrender to Christ. Perhaps Craig could tell us if there’s anything he would not give up for Christ. Craig apparently has a very comfortable life: he dresses in nice suits, he has oodles of education, he most likely receives slavish adoration from fawning believers wherever he goes, he most likely lives in a nice home which is heated in the winter and cooled in the summer, etc., all of which is fine - on my worldview. But then again, my worldview is not one that tells individuals that they have a “duty” to “die to self” and surrender their values to an invisible magic being. Perhaps Craig is borrowing from my worldview while he’s out preaching for Christianity.
So we’re on our own here in understanding what “moral values” are. The questions to consider here include:
1. What are moral values?2. Does man need moral values?3. If man does need moral values, why does he need them?
But Christianity assumes the exact opposite principle, the primacy of consciousness. It teaches that a form of consciousness created reality and that everything distinct from itself conforms to its conscious intentions. So the affirmation of Christianity completely undermines any claim to objectivity and truth. Christian theism, beginning with its metaphysics, its notions of knowledge (lacking any actual epistemology), its moral code and its application to interpersonal relationships, is not in any way compatible with the necessary underpinnings of objectivity and truth. Consequently, its moral doctrines cannot be objectively true.
So how does Craig specifically address the questions given above? I don’t know. He gives no indication as to what his answers might be in his argument from moral values, but perhaps he does elsewhere. Since he lumps “duties” with moral values, I know generally what to expect if he does address them.
We must keep in mind that morality has specifically to do with making choices. Being born of one sex or the other, or without a right hand, or with autism, is not something one chooses to do. Such outcomes are not open to moral evaluation since they were not chosen in the first place. Moral evaluation applies to chosen action, such as deciding to pursue a degree in biology, paying one’s bills, running a business, stealing from one’s boss, getting behind the wheel of a car after drinking a pint of whisky, etc. In such examples, an individual’s choices are involved; they are the motivating causality behind the outcomes of such actions, and it is because they are chosen actions that they are subject to moral evaluation: was the choice moral (i.e., pro-value) or not (i.e., anti-value)?
According to Christianity, however, since all human beings are said to have been “created” by the Christian god by an act of will, choice was involved in their very becoming. A baby that was born blind, for example, was born that way because the Christian god chose this to be the case. Thus choice is involved, and since choice is involved, it is subject to moral evaluation: the Christian god chose for this individual to be born blind. Sadly, Christians insist that their god is above man’s moral evaluation, even though at the same time those same Christians claim that their god is all-good and perfectly moral, and that it always chooses good over evil. But this itself is an evaluation. So apparently one is not allowed to evaluate the Christian god unless they give it a perfect moral score.
Consider the example Craig gives to illustrate his argument:
For example, we recognize that it’s wrong to walk into an elementary school with an automatic weapon and shoot little boys and girls and their teachers.
But notice also that Craig treats knowledge that an action is wrong as if it were plainly self-evident and indisputable. And yet, there have been people who have opened fire on little schoolchildren with automatic weapons. The people who have done these things are characterized by Christianity as having been created by the Christian god after its image. Just as much as anyone else, murderers are a reflection of the god which Christianity says created them given their nature as its “image-bearers.” Additionally, given Christianity’s determinism, such attacks on schoolchildren were planned by the Christian god from all eternity to take place just as they did. And it very likely has more such attacks planned for the future. On the Christian view, such atrocities are destined to happen, which means the players involved in making them happen are essentially nothing more than puppets carrying out the Christian god’s eternal plan. So if it is objectively wrong to murder human beings, why does the Christian god build such actions into his “plan” to begin with? Blank out.
On a naturalistic view, however, there is nothing really wrong with this: moral values are just the subjective by-products of biological evolution and social conditioning, and have no objective validity.
Numerous examples in relatively recent history right here in North America show that even today, believers believe that their god has instructed them to kill. Consider the following:
Florida woman accused of killing 2-year-old while re-enacting Bible story (see the murderer’s own suicide note)
People have been using their belief in invisible magic beings for millennia to justify their actions, even when they result in the destruction of human values, including human lives. And this is to be expected: when an individual sacrifices himself to the supernatural, the first thing to go is his mind. And along with it, his character. This puts an individual in the position of being able to find justification for any action, for his character has been compromised from its very foundations, and his imagination fills the vacuum left as a result of rejecting reason as his standard of knowledge.
Philosophically, simply saying “God forbids this” does not explain why something prohibited is wrong, for it is possible to forbid a person from doing something that is not morally wrong. For example, a school teacher can prohibit her students from chewing gum in class while other teachers do not. Simply prohibiting the action does not explain why it is prohibited, let alone wrong. In fact, there may be nothing immoral about it whatsoever; indeed, who would say that chewing gum is immoral? So simply prohibiting an action does not make the prohibited action morally wrong. A proper policy would go as follows: if an action has been determined to be morally wrong, then – as a subsequent matter – it should be prohibited (at least so long as it would infringe on others’ rights).
But this is not what we find in the case of Christianity. On the contrary, we are told that certain actions are prohibited (e.g., “thou shalt not covet they neighbor’s ass” – Ex. 20:17), but it is not said that such actions are morally wrong, nor is any explanation given for why one should think they are morally wrong. And since it all boils down to “not my will, but thine, be done” (Lk. 22:42), the bible’s prohibitions essentially stem from the Christian god’s wishes and preferences, not from some worked out moral code. So while some may want to infer that coveting your neighbor’s ass is morally wrong from the premise that it is prohibited (and thus importing extra-biblical notions into the mix), one could just as easily infer that the Christian god prohibits it simply because it doesn’t like it (which is more in line with what we do find in the bible). Indeed, if there is some objective reason indicating that a certain action is morally wrong, that reason is sufficient for us to infer that we should not perform that action. This goes back to the old Euthyphro dilemma. If the Christian god forbids an activity simply because it doesn’t like it, that’s subjectivism – it’s based merely on its personal preferences, its likes, its dislikes, etc. If there is something objectively wrong with a type of activity, then this alone is what makes it wrong, and whatever the Christian god wishes or prefers is simply irrelevant.
The objection that the Christian god prohibits certain actions because this is in line with its own “moral character,” flies out the window once it is stated that the Christian god “has a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists” (Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready, p. 172). This could only mean that the Christian god’s “character” is such that it is not above using evil means to achieve its ends. Indeed, in order to accept this theodicy, one must suppose that
(a) there is such a thing as “a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists,” which neither Bahnsen nor anyone else has presented for examination, and
(b) at the same time the Christian god apparently does not have morally sufficient reasons for opposing and wiping out evil.
Moreover, since the Christian god is supposed to be an immortal and indestructible being which has no needs whatsoever, its “character” would have no objective basis for valuing any one thing over another. It could sit on its hands and do nothing for all eternity and it would never change; it would not wither and rot, nor would it go hungry. So if morality has anything to do with values, the Christian god – as the Christian worldview itself describes it – has no relevance whatsoever to morality. Only if one assumes that morality consists of subjective wishes and preferences styled as “duties” could one therefore suppose that the Christian god has anything to do with morality, and only morality so conceived.
Craig himself shows how willing he is to excuse his own god’s actions from moral condemnation. He shows just how easily it is for the believer to operate on a double standard when it comes to morality. Echoing Bahnsen’s claim that the Christian god “has a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists,” Craig too believes that his god is justified in whatever action it chooses to perform. In this excerpt from one of Craig’s debates (cited earlier), you can hear him affirming the following (1:02 – 2:52):
Our moral duties are constituted by God’s commands, so that when he issues commands to us, they become our moral duties. So Israel and the armies of Israel became in effect the instrument by which God judged these Canaanite peoples. The adults deserved the judgment that they received… Now the more difficult problem is the children. How could God command that children be killed, because these are innocent. And I think what I would want to say there is, that God has the right to give and take life as he sees fit. Children die all the time, every day, people’s lives are cut short. God is under no obligation whatsoever to prolong anybody’s life another second. So he has the right to give and take life as he chooses. Moreover, if you believe as I do in the salvation of infants or children who die, what that meant was that these… the death of these children meant their salvation. They were the recipients of an infinite good as a result of their earthly phase of life being terminated. The problem is that people look at this from a naturalistic perspective and think life ends at the grave. But in fact this was the salvation of these children, and it would be far better for them than continuing to be raised in this reprobate Canaanite culture. So I don’t think God wronged anybody in commanding this to be done. He didn’t wrong the adults because they were deserving of capital punishment. He didn’t wrong the children – if there were any that were killed, which we don’t know – because God has the right to take their lives, and in effect they were recipients of a great good. So I don’t think anybody that was morally wronged in this affair.
And if human beings who kill other human beings are merely the “instrument” by which the Christian god’s judgment is carried out, then how can anyone condemn any murderous actions or murderous characters? It’s all predetermined by “God’s plan” anyway, and William Lane Craig makes it clear that his god uses human beings as its “instrument” to “judge” people.
Craig says that “the adults deserved the judgment that they received.” But in fact, they got more than merely a judgment, they were victims of a genocidal attack. Craig’s statement suggests that the genocide was a consequence of some kind of legal proceeding. But where’s the due process in this? Where is there any trial? Where is there any chance for anyone who was accused to defend himself? Where’s a jury? How are the actions attributed by the storybook narrative different from a Mao Tse Tung, a Joseph Stalin, a Pol Pot or a Saddam Hussein who orders his political enemies to be slaughtered on sight?
Given that the very concept “wrong” has been gutted of all meaning, there is clearly on the Christian view nothing “really wrong” with shooting little children on a schoolyard. For one, if this happens, it’s been “planned” for all eternity to happen, given “God’s plan”; no human being can stop “God’s plan” from unfolding. Second, the Christian god “has the right to give and take life as he chooses.” Third, the shooter is merely the Christian god’s “instrument” for carrying out its judgments. Fourth, “the death of these children meant their salvation. They were recipients of an infinite good as a result of their earthly phase of life being terminated.” Fifth, the Christian god “has a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists.”
If the Christian god’s own destructive actions can be characterized as “good,” then the concepts ‘good’ and ‘evil’, ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, etc., all lose their meaning. If you read a news article about a fire that engulfed an apartment building killing two adults and three children, Christianity gives you only reasons to rejoice: the adults received the judgment they deserved, and the children “were recipients of an infinite good as a result of their earthly phase of life being terminated,” for “this was the salvation of these children.”
From what Craig affirms here, it appears that Christianity gives plenty of reasons for slaughtering children rather than for continuing to raise them in a reprobate culture. Indeed, there is no talk in Christianity of individual rights which are to be cherished and protected. In fact, a believer would be tragically hard-pressed to make a case for individual rights from a consistent reading of the Christian bible. Christian apologist Robert Turkel (aka “J.P. Holding”) once wrote (in an article which has since been removed from the internet):
The idea of individual rights is a byproduct of modern individualism, a way of thinking that has only emerged in the last hundred or so years (with the Industrian [sic] Revolution) and only in Western nations. The ancients, and most of the world today, does not speak of "individual rights" but of group obligations. Thus there is no "right" to do anything. This is not in the Bible itself since it is a given in their cultural background…
Alex Rosenberg is brutally honest about the implications of his atheism here too. He declares, “there is no such thing as… morally right or wrong.” (The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, p.145); “Individual human life is meaningless… and without ultimate moral value.” (p.17); “We need to face the fact that nihilism is true.” (p.95).
Craig goes on:
By contrast, the theist grounds objective moral values in God, and our moral duties in His commands. The theist thus has the explanatory resources to ground objective moral values and duties which the atheist lacks.
On this note, let us ask Craig:
Would it ever be moral for a parent to stand by and let his own child be tortured to death at the hands of vicious, evil people when that parent has the ability and opportunity to intervene and rescue his child without harm coming to either himself or his child?Would Craig stand by and watch bad people torture his own child? Would it be moral to do so? What would Craig’s answer be?
Would it be moral to act in compliance with a command to prepare one’s own child as a burnt sacrifice?
Would it be moral to follow someone on faith when that person makes it a condition that one must first hate his father, his mother, his brothers and sisters, his wife, his child and even himself?
No, I don’t suppose any Christian believer would be able to give honest and consistent answers to such questions.
Craig summarizes his sixth argument as follows:
1. Objective moral values and duties exist.
2. But if God did not exist, objective moral values and duties would not exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.
In conclusion, Craig fails to demonstrate that the Christian god is “the best explanation” for morality since (a) he does not demonstrate that his god exists to begin with, and (b) his entire understanding of what constitutes morality is mired in subjective confusion. The notions which Craig passes off as “objective moral values” are in fact the diametric opposite. This becomes undeniably clear when he attempts to justify the Christian god’s murderous actions as described in the Old Testament. A “morality” which accommodates double standards at the drop of a hat is not worth defending, and to argue that “God is the best explanation” of such a conception of morality only underscores the unsuitability of Christian ethics to human life.
So we can safely say that Craig’s sixth argument is a complete failure. Things are indeed starting to look rather grim for Christianity’s most famous performance debater. But there are still two more arguments to go. Is it possible that Craig might still score a point on behalf of his god-beliefs? Stay tuned and see.
by Dawson Bethrick