William Lane Craig Versus Objective Morality
It’s true. Craig has already been exposed numerous times (here on IP and elsewhere) as essentially a whore for religious apologetics. He’ll pretty much say anything for apologetic expedience.
A reader recently contacted me and asked me to give my $0.02 on a video snippet featuring Craig responding to a question about Objectivist morality. This short video can be found here. Apparently internet apologists, including even presuppositionalists (who otherwise disparage Craig’s so-called “classical” apologetic approach – see for example Five Views on Apologetics) are apparently impressed with Craig’s effete analysis of the Objectivist ethics.
The video is just over three minutes long, and about half of it is taken up by the question to which Craig is responding. The questioner points out that Craig has erred in supposing that “all or most atheists are materialists about human beings,” a common assertion which apologists of all stripes make in order to lighten their apologetic burdens. Apologists love to focus on “the material” vs. “the immaterial” because it allows them to ignore the fact that their own worldview lacks a theory of concepts and is consequently unable to provide a genuine philosophical analysis of things like knowledge, logic, induction, and so on, topics which they often make central to their debating ploys. (For a discussion of how this apologetic liability falls apart when confronted with an analysis which benefits from the objective theory of concepts, see my refutation of Sye Ten Bruggencate’s “proof” of his god’s alleged existence.) Thus, it is crucial to the pretended success of their defenses that apologists frame the debate in terms of “the material” vs. “the immaterial.”
In addition to pointing out that Objectivism is not a variant of materialism, the questioner also points out that Objectivism is not deterministic in nature. While the relevance of this point does not come to the fore in his question or Craig’s response, it is an important point in that the Objectivist ethics is focused on man’s capacity to choose between alternatives, the most fundamental being the alternative between life and death. Determinism in metaphysics always involves the assumption of the primacy of consciousness, whether explicitly (as in Christianity’s determinism of an all-powerful god dictating all happenings in reality in accordance with its predetermined “plan”) or implicitly (as in eastern notions of “karma”).
In an overtly deterministic worldview, such as Christianity, morality is ultimately irrelevant to one’s character and life course. This is because, according to such forms of determinism, one’s future “fate” has already been pre-decided for an individual, and there’s nothing he can do about it. Man would have no volition; he would be essentially an automaton, a puppet being pushed and pulled by supernatural forces that have already been geared toward a grand premeditated outcome. Christians are often quite open about the deterministic underpinnings of their worldview (that is, especially, when they aren’t discussing morality), and they appear completely aloof to the dramatic morality-negating tensions this creates when assessing the relevance of moral principles to the human condition.
Apologist Greg Bahnsen, as though there were any question here, makes it crystal clear that Christianity assumes a determinist metaphysics, which follows naturally from Christianity’s assumption of the primacy of consciousness. For example, he writes:
”God’s thoughts make the world what it is and determine what happens – which is why all facts are revelatory of God…” (Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 243),
“God controls all events and outcomes (even those that come about by human choice and activity) and is far more capable and powerful than modern machines.” (Ibid., p. 489n.43.)
Notice also how the Christian metaphysic reduces to “wishing makes it so.” Such “presuppositions” clearly put believers at odds against their own statements when they make statements like “saying doesn’t make it so” and “just because you don’t believe it doesn’t mean it’s not true.” What their worldview lacks in a consistent and principled understanding of the relationship between consciousness and its objects, the most fundamental issue in all philosophy. For on the one hand, they show that they implicitly recognize the truth of the primacy of existence when they say things like “saying doesn’t make it so” (cf. wishing doesn’t make it so), but then explicitly affirm the primacy of consciousness when they assert their god-beliefs (e.g., “God’s thoughts make the world what it is and determine what happens…” – cf. wishing does make it so). The degree and level of cognitive compartmentalization required for a mind to affirm such fundamentally contradictory positions are too much for a man of genuine rational conscience to accept and maintain.
The questioner who confronts Craig in the video snippet also makes it clear that the Objectivist conception of morality is focused on how to live, which therefore results in “an ethics which is quite different from Christian ethics, but which is taken as objective in the sense that, if you want to promote your life as a rational being, then you must take certain action because the world is a certain way.” Curiously, Craig does not contest this point of contrast, namely that Objectivism’s focus on providing a morality directed at living life results in “an ethics which is quite different from Christian ethics.” We will not find Craig hastening to correct this; Craig nowhere affirms in his response that “Christian ethics” is also focused on teaching man how to live, especially in the context of a reality which does not conform to human wishing, emotions, imagination, preferences, and the such, and which therefore must be obeyed on its own terms, i.e., objectively. This is all very telling, but it will no doubt fly right over most listeners’ heads, especially those sympathetic to Craig’s subjective worldview.
Objectivity, we must remember, is “cognition informed by the facts which we discover in the world by looking outward and aligned in uncompromising adherence to the primacy of existence in all areas of knowledge, judgment and action” (Glossary of Terms). By contrast, Christianity assumes a subjective view of the world: the world is the product of and conforms to conscious activity which holds essentially magical power over everything within it, and consequently man’s knowledge must be gained, not by assessing facts that one discovers by looking outward, but by looking inward and consulting one’s feelings, wishes, hopes, imagination, etc., and summarily calling it “revelation.” In short, according to Christianity, a conscious subject holds metaphysical primacy over any and all objects, and since a reality that conforms to conscious intentions can provide no stable standard for cognitive input, one must direct his focus internally, into the content of mystical speculations based ultimately on imagination, emotions, wishing, and the like. Hence, subjectivism.
Thus, the questioner rightly points out, Craig has not “accounted for all of the possibilities of an atheistic ethics” and asks why Craig has not addressed it in his talk.
So with these background points in mind, let’s take a look at what Craig does say (Craig begins his response at 1:33 – this is my own transcription):
Uh, Ann [sic] Rand’s philosophy is not one that is… uh… very influential or widespread. Obviously, in what I said tonight, one hits high points. But what I would say is that I think it’s still subject to the same critiques that I offered, namely if there is no God, I see no reason to think that she’s right. Why think that human flourishing is objectively good? Why think that the virtues of self-reliance and making your own way in life are really true? It seems to me that that is just the socio-cultural, uh, residue of human development, and I see no reason at all to think that that’s not just arbitrary. Secondly, I don’t see why anybody would have a duty to do that. Why would anybody have a duty to become a self-made person or to realize his own potentialities, or any of the virtues that she talks about? I, again, would just say that’s just purely arbitrary. I can’t see any basis for thinking that human beings have such a moral obligation. And of course there’s still no moral accountability on that view because it’s atheistic. So there isn’t any accountability for how you’ve lived your life – there’s no immortality. So, I think that all three of the points that I made apply… uh… in excelsis to Ann [sic] Rand’s philosophy
Much more important to the topic at hand is: if the purpose of morality is to equip man to live in the reality in which he exists (i.e., a reality which does not conform to wishing, preferences, emotions, imagination, etc.), which morality is proper to man given his nature? Indeed, what is man’s nature? Can man control reality by means of wishing, imagination, desire, preferences, commands, emotional tantrums and outbursts? No, he cannot. Nor can he control his own nature by such means. Man is a biological organism possessing a specific nature, and part of that nature is the nature of his consciousness, a consciousness to whose internal content reality does not conform.
Clearly, then, just as man’s epistemology must be consistent with the kind of consciousness he possesses (see Dawson’s Razor), so his morality must be consistent with the nature he possesses as a biological organism. Man’s life is conditional, which means he needs values in order to live, and thus he needs a moral system which teaches him how to identify the values he needs and distinguish them from non-values, and also how to identify those actions he must take to achieve and preserve those values which his life requires. These facts, which do not conform to anybody’s wishing or preferences or imagination, are the foundational basis for moral concepts such as ‘good’ and ‘proper’. Without an objective theory of values (something the bible nowhere provides), there is no objective basis for moral concepts. The objective theory of values is the basic framework for an authentically objective system of morality.
But sadly, Craig does not take any of these facts into account in his assessment of a morality geared towards man’s life. Instead, approaching morality as something other than a guide suited toward furthering man’s values, Craig prefers an assessment of man’s nature underwritten by the cartoon universe premise of theism, a premise which takes the primacy of consciousness seriously as though it accurately described reality. This can only result in a form of morality that operates against man’s life, his interest, his values, including most significantly, reason. This is because the primacy of consciousness does not accurately describe either reality generally or man’s nature specifically, let alone his interaction with reality. Indeed, does Craig hold that merely saying something makes it so? Does he hold that wishing makes it so? If not, can he assemble a defense for Christianity which is consistent with the recognitions that wishing doesn’t make it so and that saying something doesn’t make it so? No, he cannot. No Christian can. But of course, Craig won’t go there. Indeed, he’ll be happy to gravitate to anything that distracts our attention from such questions.
Second, notice that Craig does not present any argument whatsoever in his response to the questioner. He does not identify any series of premises which, when integrated in a non-contradictory, logical format, leads to a conclusion, such as “therefore, the Objectivist ethics is…” untrue, unfit for man, unreasonable, arbitrary, or whatever it is he thinks he can accomplish.
What does Craig offer in place of arguments? The record is clear: instead of arguments, Craig asks a number of questions and makes several statements about what he himself cannot see. Neither questions nor autobiographical statements of one’s own inability to do something (e.g., “I can’t see…”) constitute arguments.
Suppose I respond to theistic claims with just, “I see no reason to suppose they’re right.” Do theists think this would be impressive or compelling in some way? I strongly doubt it. So why should Craig’s statements to the same effect be considered as anything more than an expression of his own short-sightedness?
Interpreting Craig’s statement as charitably as possible, we see that he raises three objections to “Ann Rand’s” Objectivist ethics. They have to do with the following topics: human flourishing, “duties,” and moral accountability. We will examine these topics in turn below, but before he gets to these, Craig explained why he did not originally address Objectivism in his talk. So I will begin there.
Objectivism is Not “Very Influential or Widespread”
Craig’s initial reaction to the questioner is that “Rand’s philosophy is not one that is… uh… very influential or widespread.” This may be so, but even if it is, it’s besides the point. Objectivism is atheistic, and it has a unique morality of its own, just as it has a unique metaphysics, epistemology, political theory and theory of art. It is also systematic and based on universal principles rather than on claims of what some ancient tribal hero allegedly did four thousand years ago. And, importantly, Objectivism is quite distinct from other secular worldviews in that, unlike the majority of secular positions, Objectivism has not inherited any of the corrupt baggage of religion – such as subjectivism, authoritarianism, sacrificial ethics, collectivism, etc.
Moreover, there is of course some evidence which suggests that Objectivism is more influential than Craig allows. For example, there’s the famous Book-of-the-Month club survey from 1991, administered on behalf of the Library of Congress, which found that Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged was second to the bible as the most influential book of all time. Cumulative sales of Ayn Rand’s books alone have, according to various sources, currently totals from 30 to 40 million (and counting), and with the internet the reach of her ideas has spread immeasurably. It’s true that probably the vast majority of academics reject Objectivism (not that they embrace Christianity in its stead, mind you), but that is to be expected for a good number of reasons (e.g., Rand herself was not an academic, but a businesswoman and thus an outsider daring to tread on sacred academic grounds; she advocated capitalism, and most academics lead left – indeed, most academics are government employees reluctant to bite the hand that feeds; Rand challenged numerous long-held assumptions of academic philosophy which educators themselves are for various reasons uncomfortable to challenge, etc.). Outside of academia, however, where academics themselves have less direct influence, Rand’s ideas are alive and well.
Additionally, “atheism” as such is a not a philosophy, and Craig would simply be exposing his own self-inflicted ignorance if he thought the term ‘atheism’ denoted a widespread monolithic philosophy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Granted that many self-professing atheists are left-leaning secularists whose worldviews are a mishmash of bad ideas, Christian apologists routinely overlook the fact that many of their ideas are in fact secularized versions of religious notions (e.g., authoritarianism, anti-rationality, anti-selfishness, collectivism, innate guilt, and the like). Objectivism represents as much a striking contrast to much in conventional “secularism” as it does to religious worldviews.
Also, I would point out that, on the scale of western human civilization as such, Rand’s philosophy is extremely young. Rand herself died in 1982, just over 30 years ago, and yet the influence of her philosophy has spread like wildfire by comparison to the long-dormant incubation period of classical Aristotelianism. Christians often point to the rapid rise of Christianity as somehow evidence for its supposed truth. But unlike Christianity, Objectivism has not been pushed on populations through state controls; indeed, it could very feasibly be argued that state controls (through academia and the media, for example) have in various ways sought to stifle the spread of Objectivism.
Perhaps Craig did not raise the example of Objectivism in his talk because it would run contrary to his apologetic purpose, namely to malign any positions that are non-Christian in nature, especially if they are explicitly atheistic, as in the case of Objectivism. A discussion of Objectivism might hazard the risk of drawing attention to a philosophy which is in fact explicitly rational, objective and morally fit for man, virtues that Christianity and other secular rivals cannot claim for themselves. So it is no surprise that Craig would refrain from even mentioning Objectivism in passing in his efforts to slander alternatives to Christianity.
The Good, Objectivity, Human Flourishing and Self-Reliance
Craig states at several points in his brief statement that he doesn’t “see” certain things, such as a “reason to think that [Ayn Rand]’s right.” Craig’s brief treatment of the matter suggests that he’s more concerned about whose ideas are in question here rather than the content of those ideas, and yet he does not offer any argument to show that Rand’s ideas are wrong. Rather, he merely asks questions. For example, “Why think that human flourishing is objectively good? Why think that the virtues of self-reliance and making your own way in life are really true?” Questions are certainly welcome, but they are not arguments and should not be confused as such.
And even though Craig offers no refutation of Objectivism, I’m happy to explore these questions.
First, let us ask: What does it mean to say that something is “objectively good”? I have searched various translations of the Christian bible for a definition of this concept, but I cannot find one in any of its 66 books. In fact, I find no discussion in the bible of objectivity and what it means. Perhaps this is one reason why Christians are often so confused on the topic of objectivity.
But Rand does make it clear, in the framing of her moral philosophy, that “all [man’s] virtues pertain to the relation of existence and consciousness” (Atlas Shrugged, emphasis added). That is because the concept of objectivity has to do with the relationship between consciousness and its objects. As pointed out above, objectivity is “cognition informed by the facts which we discover in the world by looking outward and aligned in uncompromising adherence to the primacy of existence in all areas of knowledge, judgment and action” (Glossary of Terms). So whatever “objectively good” might possibly mean, it must be informed by facts and aligned with the primacy of existence. In other words, objective goodness must have its basis in facts (as opposed to fantasized alternatives to the facts) and wholly congruous with the recognition that wishing doesn’t make it so, that “saying doesn’t make it so,” that believing something doesn’t make it so, that widespread agreement does not make something true, that reality does not conform to conscious activity.
Second, let us ask: What do we mean by ‘good’? Again, I cannot find a clear definition of this crucial moral concept anywhere in the bible (so confusion regarding what good and evil are on the part of Christian apologists should not surprise us). But I can find one in Ayn Rand’s writings: “All that which is proper to the life of a rational being,” she writes, “is the good; all that which destroys it is the evil” (For the New Intellectual, p. 122).
In the Q&A section of his talk Religion and Morality, Objectivist philosopher Onkar Ghate explains what it means to say that man’s life is the standard of objective moral values. He states (59:00 – 1:02:47):
That question I think amounts to: Why is man’s life the standard in morality? Why is it your gauge of what is valuable and not valuable, or what is good and what is evil? And the answer to that is complex, so let me sketch it, but you definitely need to read more to get the full answer. You can approach the issue [this way]: What are values? Where do values come from? And that is a real question, and [Ayn Rand] holds that it has an answer. And one path to get to the answer is to broaden your field of what you look at; don’t look just at man – look at other living things. You have a dog: Is it a value to him that he gets water, or that he doesn’t? Is it a value to him that he gets food, or that he doesn’t? You have a plant: Is it a value to it that it gets sunlight, or that it doesn’t? Is it good for the plant to get sunlight, or is it bad… for the plant to be shut in a cupboard that doesn’t have any sunlight? The answer is readily apparent… The water is good for the dog; the food is good for the dog; the sunlight is good for the plant; being shut up in a cupboard is bad for the plant. A dog left at home for three weeks without water – that’s bad for it, and you might come home and it’s dead. It’s the issue of life and death that gives rise to values, and you have identified something as a value by its contribution to life. You do that for every living organism, and it is true for man as well. Everything that contributes to his survival – that is what a value is. A value is that which contributes to the survival of a living organism. So for man, his values are those things that contribute to his life, that is that further, that advance, his life. So it becomes the standard. You use the requirements of man’s life, just as you would use the requirements of a dog’s life. You would say, “Well, it needs food, it needs water, or it needs to be taken out, and so forth, it needs exercise… These are the requirements of its life. Those are the things that are good for it.” And you do the same in regard to man. But man has one crucial, and I mean really crucial difference: Other organisms, to the extent of their ability, pursue their life automatically. A dog will go in search of water; a plant will go in search… its roots for water, its leaves for sunlight, and it does that automatically as far as it is capable of… I mean you can put it in conditions where it’s unable to cope. But insofar as it can cope, it goes after what it needs to live. Man does not. Man has to choose to live, and he has to choose to discover all the requirements of his life, all the things that are in fact valuable to him. And that at a fundamental level is what morality does: it looks at what are the fundamental that shape a person’s life, regardless of whether he happens to be a teacher, an engineer, a scientist, a CEO. What are the fundamental things that he has to pursue in order to realize his life to the fullest extent that is capable to him, and that is what moral values are: they’re chosen values of a fundamental nature. So other [organisms] don’t have moral values, but they have values. And that is why life, [Rand] holds, is the standard, and it’s only life that gives rise to the distinction of things being beneficial or harmful, valuable or non-valuable, good or bad, good or evil. So it is the only standard in morality.
So, to be objective, the very meaning of moral concepts like ‘good’ must have its basis in facts relevant to man’s life.
Flourishing is living the most personally fulfilling life possible to an individual. As such, it is the ultimate reward for unflinching moral ambitiousness. Craig asks how this can be objectively good. But now that we see that the good, objectively understood, takes man’s life as the standard of moral values, it should not be difficult now to see that flourishing is objectively good. Flourishing is objectively good because, as the reward for moral ambitiousness, it provides man with the highest incentive for moral living. Flourishing, then, is proof that man benefits from his own commitment to moral standards. This takes into account the fundamental recognition human action is inherently goal-oriented and that the goal of chosen actions should work to the proper requirements of a rational being’s life, thus an application of the law of causality to the nature of human effort.
Consider the opposite scenario: effort that goes unrewarded disincentivizes further effort to the degree that positive rewards are not returned for effort. This is because effort is always goal-oriented, just as is all biological activity (hence purpose is concurrent with biology). A man who puts effort towards a goal that he can never achieve, especially if it exhausts resources which he needs to live, will eventually stop putting forth effort, just as a heart that pumps blood that never gets to the organs it needs to feed will stop pumping.
Very simply, then, human flourishing is objectively good because it provides man with the highest incentive for moral action.
What is the alternative to human flourishing? The inevitable alternative to human flourishing would be some combination of languishing, stagnation and degradation. Suppose you leave a piece of uncooked chicken out on your kitchen table for days on end. What will happen to it? Of course, it will begin to rot. Human life is not fundamentally different in this regard. As mentioned above, man is a biological organism which, like other biological organisms, faces a fundamental alternative: life vs. death. Rand’s fundamental case for the Objectivist ethics is that, if one chooses to live, he needs a morality that is suited to his nature as a biological organism. Those values which he needs in order to live, then, cannot simply be taken for granted. Rather, he must act in order to achieve them. The reward for successful moral action, as informed by Objectivism, is not stagnation, languishing and degradation, but life, enjoyment, and happiness.
Thus in the case of human flourishing, Craig clearly has nothing to offer from the Christian perspective. Indeed, he simply asks “Why think that human flourishing is objectively good?” Craig is apparently unaware of how Rand might have addressed such questions (see for example here). This all goes over Craig’s head (and his audience, if they are as uninformed as he is) because man’s happiness is not important in Christianity. That should tell us something, if we’re paying attention: Christians pretend that their religion has some kind of corner on the market in regard to morality, and yet man’s happiness is of no concern to the Christian worldview.
If William Lane Craig does not think he himself is fit for human flourishing, then he tells us about himself here. This is the only proper reply to those who seek to denigrate the desire to achieve happiness and live a fulfilling life. That Craig, a proponent of mysticism, would seek to discount this aspect of the Objectivist ethics, is no surprise given his commitment to Christianity. This is because personal fulfillment and happiness in life are deeply antithetical to the Christian devotional program: if a person achieves happiness and fulfillment in his life, he won’t be susceptible to religious guilt-tripping, self-doubting and irrational fear.
I think that “philosophers” who fail to take human flourishing – i.e., happiness and personal fulfillment – seriously as a goal of moral endeavor, take much for granted (including their own happiness and fulfillment) and thus have nothing of lasting value to offer in moral philosophy. Detractors of Objectivism are welcome to dismiss this as the musings of someone who wants to live and enjoy his life.
That is to say… If the William Lane Craigs of the world prefer that human beings spend their time focusing on how to suffer and die instead of on how to live and enjoy life, they should simply govern their own actions accordingly.
Consider any culture in which religion is the dominant worldview. Take for example, in the Middle East today where Islam is the dominant worldview, or in Dark Ages Europe when Christianity was the dominant worldview. What distinguishes such cultures from what we enjoy and generally take for granted today in the west if not widespread stagnation, languishing, state-sanction brutality and suppression, a relatively (much) shorter life expectancy, empty boring experience spent in servitude, etc.? Such cultures make the Great Depression look like a walk through a park. The alternative to a reason-centric culture is always a culture of mass human degradation, and that is what religion, when its influence on political theory goes unchecked, always creates. History shows this without exception.
But is self-reliance necessary for moral action? If moral action is action guided by rational principles (and it is), then clearly the answer is a resounding Yes! Self-reliance results from taking moral responsibility for one’s own life and therefore his own mind, character and actions. It arises from the determination to apply one’s own mind to his own moral endeavors as well as the refusal to exist as a parasite on others. This is the essence of the Objectivist virtue of independence. As Rand puts it:
Independence is the recognition of the fact that yours is the responsibility of judgment and nothing can help you escape it—that no substitute can do your thinking, as no pinch-hitter can live your life— that the vilest form of self-abasement and self-destruction is the subordination of your mind to the mind of another, the acceptance of an authority over your brain, the acceptance of his assertions as facts, his say-so as truth, his edicts as middle-man between your consciousness and your existence. (See here)
Fortunately, in the west, Christians today generally do not live consistently with their denunciations of rational philosophy. On the contrary, having grown up in a post-Enlightenment culture, believers in the west unwittingly benefit – and routinely borrow – from advances in human civilization that have come, not as a result of Christian influence, but in spite of Christian intolerance for human progress.
Yet still Craig raises these questions – which Objectivism answers in a manner that is wholly consistent with its own foundations – not because he is genuinely interested in these matters. On the contrary, he raises these questions – with the false implication that Objectivism cannot answer them – because his own worldview, Christianity, not only finds no value in human flourishing and self-reliance, but abhors such virtues outright as vile objects of contempt. In contrast to Objectivism, Christianity views man in the lowest possible regard, as a groveling sinner begging for mercy at the hands of an all-powerful tyrant which would just as soon cast him into eternal flames (see for example the quote from Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” which I included in this post). Destined to be forever sorry and pitiful, man should not, according to Christianity, presume himself worthy of enjoying his life and living to his fullest potential. So Craig’s mocking derision is right on schedule.
Craig wants to characterize human flourishing and the virtue of self-reliance as “just the socio-cultural, uh, residue of human development.” But this is particularly naïve coming from someone so educated as Craig. He wrongly treats human flourishing and self-reliance as automatic outcomes of forces acting on their own inertia. But this entirely ignores the volitional nature of both. Again, leave a piece of chicken out on a table for a few days and observe what happens. Or, as Ghate points out, leave your dog at home without food and water for three weeks and see what happens. Life requires action, and human achievement requires rationally guided, focused and sustained action. Indeed, it requires planning. Why? Because we do not live in the deterministic fantasy of Christianity’s cartoon universe.
Take a look at history and compare cultures of different regions of the world to each other. Most cultures, even today, are saddled with overt mystical influences, and those same cultures are very much collectivistic. Take a drive through rural Thailand – something I have done many times in recent years – and tell me you see human flourishing. Most people throughout the world, and even many in the west, are far from self-reliant, particularly in the area of intellectual development. Religion in particular stifles independent thinking by means of pietistic intimidation: if you happen to follow certain premises to their conclusion, you may very well be branded a heretic. In the “good ol’ days” when Christianity was in lock-step with the state, those deemed guilty of heresy were ostracized, imprisoned, sometimes even executed, and by horrific means in public in order to keep anyone else from daring to think for himself as well. This was not so long ago in the west, and it still happens in various places in the Middle East, where religion is still the predominant influence.
Frankly, it is disheartening to find today’s “intellectuals” – both religious and secular – taking the unprecedented progress of the west so much for granted. It is precisely because our “leading thinkers” do take it all for granted that we are in danger of losing it all. Then human flourishing and self-reliance will become ancient relics of the past. Craig dismisses not only human flourishing and self-reliance as “arbitrary” (as “it seems” that way to him), but everything which results as a consequence of such values, including western civilization as such. “Civilization,” wrote Rand, “is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men” (For the New Intellectual, p. 84). People who want to destroy western civilization will not come out and advertize their true intentions. Rather, they will do what Craig does – attack its root causes with ridicule and condemnation. And like Craig, they conceal the inevitable alternatives.
Suppose a parent adopts the view Craig is essentially affirming here. Such a parent would in effect be choosing not to teach his child how to achieve happiness and fulfillment in his life or how to be self-reliant – since, according to Craig, these are “arbitrary.” Indeed, what would a parent teach in such a case? Teaching typically involves imparting skills that one needs to take care of himself and live a moral and prosperous life. But such outcomes are “just the socio-economic residue of human development,” and since they are “arbitrary” according to Craig, why teach one’s child to grow into healthy, mature adulthood? In Craig’s ideal world, everyone would be systemic, inbred dependents unable to do anything for themselves (for self-reliance is “arbitrary”), from feeding oneself to wiping one’s own rear-end, and no one would ever achieve happiness and fulfillment in life (for flourishing is “arbitrary”). Thus in the Lane-Craigian utopia, misery and utter stagnation reign the day. Why? Because Craig doesn’t see how anything better than this would not be arbitrary.
I’ve often wondered what the word ‘arbitrary’ could possibly mean to a theist, and what objections a theist could raise against arbitrariness, when his whole worldview is premised on “wishing makes it so.” When you worship a being which can simply choose to walk on unfrozen water or turn water into wine on a whim, what isn’t arbitrary? Everything in the universe, according to the Christian religion, was created ex nihilo. This would include all the causal relationships we observe within the universe. Such a view can only mean that all of reality is ultimately arbitrary. But apologists routinely take the path of unself-conscious disconnect, ignoring what their worldview actually teaches and assaulting every expression of rationality in the process. So while Craig “see[s] no reason at all to think that [human flourishing and self-reliance are] not just arbitrary,” I find a whole host of reasons screaming that Craig’s entire worldview is not only arbitrary, but expressly irrational.
Craig phrases his next objection, again, in terms of what he does not personally see:
I don’t see why anybody would have a duty to do that [i.e., flourish and be self-reliant]. Why would anybody have a duty to become a self-made person or to realize his own potentialities, or any of the virtues that she talks about? I, again, would just say that’s just purely arbitrary. I can’t see any basis for thinking that human beings have such a moral obligation.
Here Craig shows that he cannot perform an internal critique of the Objectivist ethics. Rather, he cannot resist looking at Objectivism through the filter of Christianity’s arbitrary and irrational presuppositions. That of course simply begs the question against Objectivism.
Rand wrote extensively exposing the immorality of the notion of ‘duty’, so much so that it’s hard to figure that anyone at all familiar with Objectivism would suppose that Rand thought men had any actual ‘duties’ in the first place. Yet here Craig is terminally puzzled, a condition resulting from importing a notion that does not belong to Objectivism, as if to shout out to the world, “Look at me! I really don’t know what I’m talking about!”
Far from repeating the philosophically corrupt view that man has a moral ‘duty’ to do anything, Rand rightly identified ‘duty’ as an anti-concept. She explains what a “duty” is as follows: “the moral necessity to perform certain actions for no reason other than obedience to some higher authority, without regard to any personal goal, motive, desire or interest” (“Causality Versus Duty,” Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 95). Think of those many, many examples throughout history of followers uncritically following the orders of dictators and tyrants. A “morality of duty” is suited precisely to such horrors.
Of course, Objectivism shows us why there is no such thing as “the supernatural,” including all forms of theism, given its anti-rational, subjective basis (beginning with the primacy of consciousness). So there is no “higher authority” standing over man to which he must prostrate himself in servile obedience. Man is on his own in the universe, so he needs to use the power of reason to discover what is proper for his life. There are no shortcuts here. Discovering and validating genuine knowledge that man can apply to his life is hard work.
Rand explains why the anti-concept ‘duty’ is immoral as follows:
If one were to accept it, the anti-concept ‘duty’ destroys the concept of reality: an unaccountable, supernatural power takes precedence over facts and dictates one's actions regardless of context or consequences.
“Duty” destroys reason: it supersedes one’s knowledge and judgment, making the process of thinking and judging irrelevant to one’s actions.
“Duty” destroys values: it demands that one betray or sacrifice one’s highest values for the sake of an inexplicable command—and it transforms values into a threat to one’s moral worth, since the experience of pleasure or desire casts doubt on the moral purity of one’s motives.
“Duty” destroys love: who could want to be loved not from “inclination,” but from “duty”?
“Duty” destroys self-esteem: it leaves no self to be esteemed. (Ibid.)
Christians find the rejection of the anti-concept ‘duty’ difficult to grasp because their worldview conceives of morality as a curse, a punishment, like a medicine that tastes awful and only succeeds in making one sicker than he was to begin with. Christians give away this fact when they argue that a divinely authored morality is required for man, for without it he would do whatever he wanted to do, thereby assuming two forms of whim: the divine whim vs. human whim. As the saying goes, “Without God, everything is permissible.” Rationality is arbitrarily excluded from consideration. Thus religious morality serves as a kind of leash holding us back from doing all kinds of horrible things (which believers apparently want to do). In turn, this “reasoning” turns out to be a sham since, according to Christianity, one can be forgiven his transgressions (“sins”) just for the asking. So the leash is not intended to teach man how to live and lead a happy, fulfilled life, or even to be good as such, but to forever spend his time sulking in unearned guilt, groping for any glimmer of relief from the resulting drudgery, and groveling for mercy for the sin of merely existing.
By contrast, Objectivism recognizes that morality, properly informed by the objective theory of values, addresses a genuine human need given his nature as a biological organism. On such a view, morality is not a curse or a straitjacket or a punishment, but a rational guide which teaches man how to govern his choices and actions in order to achieve happiness in life: “a code of values to guide man’s choices and actions—the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life.” (“The Objectivist Ethics,” The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 13). By ‘happiness’ Rand means “a state of non-contradictory joy” (For the New Intellectual, p. 132), “the successful state of life” and “that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s values” (Ibid., p. 123).
Thus, in Objectivism, there is no ‘duty’ to live or to flourish or be self-reliant, as Craig erroneously assumes. Instead, man lives by choice - man chooses to live, and Objectivism provides a morality suited expressly to helping him achieve that end. If something is genuinely good, then it is good for man because it is good given his nature, and through reason he can discover that it is good for him, which means that he does not need an imaginary being telling him that he must do it, “or else.” This is what the William Lane Craigs of the world detest: a morality which is geared to living a good life on earth and which is accessible to man by means of his own “unaided reason” – i.e., by looking outward at the world and consulting facts relevant to man’s life and his needs and identifying them in the form of concepts by means of an objective method – a method which explicitly recognizes that wishing doesn’t make it so and that the imaginary cannot substitute for the real. This is what Craig dismisses as “arbitrary” while paralyzed without an argument to refute it (and, very likely, hypocritically practicing to some degree in his own life).
Craig’s last objection to Objectivism is again couched in his mystical presuppositions – i.e., not an internal critique. Again, he states:
And of course there’s still no moral accountability on that view because it’s atheistic. So there isn’t any accountability for how you’ve lived your life – there’s no immortality. So, I think that all three of the points that I made apply… uh… in excelsis to Ann [sic] Rand’s philosophy.
But even Christians do not consistently hold that human beings always get what they deserve. For according to Christianity, all human beings are born into sin with an innately depraved nature, and thus deserve everlasting punishment; but they also believe that they themselves, even though they are to believe that they are deserving of everlasting punishment, somehow get excused from what they deserve. This nullification of justice (getting something one does not deserve) is what Christianity teaches its adherents to seek after while, in the same breath, condemning non-believers for having “no excuse” (cf. Romans 1), for according to Christianity’s own teachings, an exception to justice is made on their behalf. It’s as though they were chanting, “We get an excuse! You don’t! Neener neener neener!”
Christians who are taken in by such self-contradictory fantasies find it very difficult (if not impossible, given their mystical presuppositions) to grasp the Objectivist conception of moral accountability. To understand this requires the highly refined mental ability of conceptual integration, for without this, one is held captive to utterly shallow and superficial notions that only a concrete-bound savage could find significant.
Recall that Objectivism explicitly recognizes the primacy of existence as an unalterable absolute. Thinkers who take this truth for granted without consciously exploring its implications in every quadrant of philosophical thought, only do themselves a disservice by sabotaging their own ability to integrate universal truths, especially when it comes to morality. Given the primacy of existence, reality cannot be cheated, which means: anything that is real cannot be cheated. This includes most significantly man’s mind, his consciousness, his conscience. We saw above how Rand defined ‘happiness’ as “a state of non-contradictory joy” (For the New Intellectual, p. 132). But a conscience that is crippled by internal contradictions will never know what actual happiness is. To accept a view of reality and of oneself which is contrary to the world of facts, which requires him to treat facts as though they could be altered at whim and to deny his own nature (cf. Mt. 16:24: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself”), is to sabotage one’s own interaction with the world and thereby disable his own ability to achieve non-contradictory joy in life.
Rand often cited Francis Bacon’s famous dictum, “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.” If we apply this insight to our own moral make-up, it should be clear that we must take into account in a very serious manner our nature as human beings if we are to live moral lives and achieve non-contradictory joy. A man cannot fake his conscience just as he cannot fake his emotional experience. A man must work with the nature he has, just as he must work according to his own conscience. Pretending that one’s fantasies are real will only short-circuit one’s conscience. Thus reality has a way of exacting an uncompromising justice on man, a justice for which there is no get-out-of-jail-free card, a justice which cannot be wished away by prayers, a justice which cannot be evaded by the wave of a magic wand. There is no greater accountability than this, for there is no escaping it.
One Objectivist I knew often recited the motto, “May we each get what we deserve.” Such a motto makes Christians very uncomfortable. But not Objectivists. It’s a motto that I have used and that I agree with wholly. And I agree with this motto because I know that what I deserve, given my rational choices and actions, is good, valuable and pleasurable. I work for my own profit, I do not mooch off the sacrifices of others, and I do not sacrifice for others. I know that I exist in a universe in which rationally guided labor typically yields fruitful rewards. Why work if the case were otherwise? Why try if failure were always guaranteed? There in fact may be failures, but if my choices and actions in response to failure are to learn from those failures and continue trying for my goals, I increase my chances of succeeding and achieving the goals that I set out to pursue.
Rand identified the background recognition to this approach to reality and living by what she called “the benevolent universe premise.” She explains:
There is a fundamental conviction which some people never acquire, some hold only in their youth, and a few hold to the end of their days—the conviction that ideas matter . . . . That ideas matter means that knowledge matters, that truth matters, that one’s mind matters . . . .
Its consequence is the inability to believe in the power or the triumph of evil. No matter what corruption one observes in one’s immediate background, one is unable to accept it as normal, permanent or metaphysically right. One feels: “This injustice (or terror or falsehood or frustration or pain or agony) is the exception in life, not the rule.” One feels certain that somewhere on earth—even if not anywhere in one’s surroundings or within one’s reach—a proper, human way of life is possible to human beings, and justice matters. (“The Inexplicable Personal Alchemy,” Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution, 122)
According to Christianity, “we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6), meaning: no matter what we do, we are doomed to failure, doomed to falling short of the good, doomed to doing only that which is immoral.
But in spite of this, Christians want something which, according to their own worldview, they do not deserve, and they do not want their worldview says they do deserve. It is Christianity, not Objectivism, which teaches men to think that they can shirk moral accountability. On the Christian model, a man may spend his years pretending to himself and cheating those around himself, and in his last gasping breath ask for forgiveness and consequently spend all of eternity in paradise. Meanwhile, a person may find his life cut short due to a disease or famine and, even though he never cheated anyone or sought to fake his own character or conscience, Christianity condemns him to eternal suffering because he did not mouth the magic words “Jesus, forgive me.”
It’s even worse. Belief in an afterlife as such, far from supplying a condition upon which moral accountability is possible, only cheapens the life that man actually does have. It teaches him to take life for granted for, after he dies here on earth, he will go to a magic kingdom where a supernatural king resides and basks in endless fawning adulation. On such a view, one has an endless supply of life, and thus there’s no incentive to treat it as the precious thing that it is. What value can a grain of sand have in an endless desert of dunes?
There is, of course, no evidence for an afterlife. Just as I was not a consciousness floating around the universe or some other realm before I was born, I will not be a consciousness floating around after my death. As I have argued already, consciousness is a type of biological activity, just as is digestion, respiration, circulation, aging, and other biological activities. And just as a corpse does not continue to digest food, process oxygen, and circulate blood, so it does not perform conscious activity: it does not see, it does not hear, it does not feel, it does not taste, it does not think, it does not form opinions, it does not know.
We can, of course, imagine otherwise, as Christianity encourages, but why not face facts and engage reality on its own terms? Why try to fake reality and pretend that fantasized alternatives to reality are really real? Indeed, pretending that our fantasies are real and that reality can be reshaped to suit our imaginative preferences, is yet one more way in which Christianity cheapens man’s life.
But this is not the only way that Christianity undercuts the value of man’s life. Consider how the Christian worldview holds pride as one of the chiefest of sins, as the most heinous expression of selfishness. It is important to consider the human context of pride in order to understand what exactly Christianity is condemning here. Consider first the facts that man cannot conform reality to his wishing, that he must apply effort to achieve any goal he sets before himself, and that he can fail in his efforts to achieve his goals. In fact, men very often fail to achieve their goals. We learn these facts quite early in life in innumerable ways – from trying to get our food into our mouths (for toddlers, food often winds up somewhere else than in their mouths) to tying shoes, from mastering multiplication tables to drawing a circle freehand, from getting the job we want to successfully negotiating that big merger. Pride in one’s own successes and the skills he’s developed to make them achievable is the rightful response to one’s fruitful labors.
But Christianity condemns this. It tells man that he should abstain from the “sin” of pride, because it will “puff” him up and rouse the Christian god’s delicate jealousies. Such a consequence is intolerable on the Christian view, for even the smallest bit of pride in one’s own achievements will show man that he can control reality in his own small way (again, “nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed”), and even small successes will contribute to one’s self-esteem. Christianity cannot compete with self-esteem because it feeds on broken spirits, on souls which have been reduced to something less than man, to a shadow of his former self, a near zombie walking without ambition or even the slightest confidence in his own abilities. For all his righteousnesses, the bible says, are as “filthy rags,” so nothing man does on his own can result in anything good. He is cursed through and through and possesses an innately depraved nature worthy of everlasting punishment. His existence, then, which has no life, is to be spent in abject subservience to an imaginary tyrant which he cannot reason with. And this tyrant is called a “father,” a father which will never be proud of the believer, a father which would just as soon cast the believer into eternal flames for the sheer pleasure of tormenting its creation.
In contrast to Objectivism, Christianity unmistakably ascribes power to evil, if not the triumph of evil here on earth, in men’s lives. According to Christianity, evil is so irresistible that it spread from a single individual to all creation as a result of a single transgression. It took only one bad apple to cause all apples to rot from the inside, according to Christianity. In fact, it’s even worse: according to Christianity’s spokesman Greg Bahnsen, the Christian god “has a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists” (Always Ready, p. 172). This not only means that the Christian god is on cozy terms with evil (it’s happy to use evil means to achieve its ends), but also that, whatever it is that Christianity means by “morality,” it is compatible with the bizarre and horrific notion that there can be such a thing as a “morally sufficient reason” for evil. With a “morality” such as this, what could the concept ‘immorality’ possibly mean? Blank out.
Thus, in a most twisted example of irony, since Christianity teaches that our natures are already depraved at birth (or earlier), it basically says man has no choice about his moral condition. To say that man is born sinful is to say that he can’t help but be sinful in his ways. If there were such a thing as an excuse for evil behavior, this would take the cake.
So if Craig were truly concerned about accountability as an important component in one’s morality, then his appeal to religion, with its unaccountable god, its premeditated condemnation of man’s nature as innately evil, and its whim-based formula for redemption, is inexplicable. Religionists want human beings to be submissive, overcome with guilt, and “accountable” to a supernatural being which is indistinguishable from what is merely imaginary, and yet this supernatural being itself, held up by believers not only as a supremely moral being but also the very standard of morality as such [sic], is not accountable to anything, even to a mind-independent reality which can be the only objective standard for moral concepts (e.g., good, evil, value, virtue, vice, right, wrong, etc.) to begin with.
By simply dismissing the Objectivist view of morality with a series of questions (which Christianity itself cannot answer) in lieu of arguments and autobiographical admissions (“I see no reason…”, “I can’t see…”, “It seems to me that…”), all of which are conspicuously uncompelling, Craig only proves that the “material” vs. “immaterial” dichotomy in which he (along with other apologists) frames the matter is a red herring, one that only a most superficial mind could find at all satisfying. Before he is challenged, Craig predictably makes “material” vs. “immaterial” a central issue in discounting non-theistic views of morality (since “most atheists are materialists,” he says); but once he is confronted with a position which is not materialistic, well that no longer matters after all: there’s still no “God,” so Craig has already decided that any view that dispenses with his god must therefore be “arbitrary,” an assessment he buttresses with a series of “I can’t see…” statements.
But all of this is yet another lesson underscoring the simple fact that the only alternative to an objective approach to philosophy is some form of subjectivism. And William Lane Craig has been answered once again.
by Dawson Bethrick