Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Moral Argument and William Lane Craig

This entry is part 1 on a series of the moral argument and William Lane Craig. The entries in the series:

  1. The Moral Argument and William Lane Craig (part 1)
  2. —Addressing the first premise of the moral argument.
  3. The Moral Argument and William Lane Craig (part 3)—Addressing the second premise of the moral argument

The Moral Argument

William Lane Craig, perhaps the most notorious living Christian apologist in atheist circles, has a moral argument goes something like this:

  1. If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

One thing this argument has going for it is that it is deductively valid, i.e. the conclusion follows logically and necessarily from the premises. In William Lane Craig’s moral argument, moral values have to do with what is good and bad (e.g. kindness is good), and moral duties have to do with stuff we morally ought and ought not do, i.e. right and wrong behavior.

What Does “Objective” Mean?

What does Craig mean by “objective” here? In page 173 of Reasonable Faith (3rd edition), Craig says that, “To say that there are objective moral values is to say that something is good or evil independently of whether any human being believes it to be so.” One might object saying that the correct definition of “objective” means “mind-independent” and not just independent of human opinion. With that objection, there are two things to consider.

First, in the context of the moral argument, this sort of meaning for the word “objective” isn’t unique to William Lane Craig. A glance at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entry on the moral argument speaks of moral properties being “objective in the sense that they hold or not regardless of human opinion.”

Second, we need to be careful about getting sidetracked; we should keep in mind that even if William Lane Craig is using the wrong word to communicate the meaning of his premises, that really doesn’t do anything with whether we should believe the truth of the premises. Even if we insisted that using the word “objective” in the wrong way doomed the argument to failure somehow, William Lane Craig could easily adapt by changing the wording of his premises:

  1. If God does not exist, then moral values and duties that hold independently of human opinion do not exist.
  2. Moral values and duties that hold independently of human opinion do exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

So to really refute the moral argument we need a more substantive objection; we need to pick a premise and attack its truth, not its wording.

Attacking a Premise

With William Lane Craig’s moral argument being deductively valid, the conclusion being false means that one of the premises is false. So the logical thing for the atheist to do then is to pick a premise and attack it. With that we have a problem though, because when it comes to the moral argument there are at least two groups of atheists:

Group #1: Some atheists believe that given atheism and the rest of the information we have, it is unlikely that objective moral values and duties exist. These atheists would thus agree that premise 1 is probably true, i.e. that even if objective moral values and duties could have existed on atheism, it’s likely that objective moral values and duties do not exist in the real godless world. An atheist might see it this way: theism + our background knowledge about this world = objective moral values and duties probably exist (on theism, God is presumably good independently of human opinion), whereas atheism + our background knowledge about this world = objective moral values and duties probably do not exist. Thus if God does not exist, objective moral values and duties probably don’t exist either, and thus premise 1 is probably true. At any rate, group #1 atheists reject premise 2 but agree with premise 1.

Group #2: Some atheists believe objective moral values and duties do exist in the real godless world. Such atheists thus agree with premise 2 but disagree with premise 1.

There are of course other possible sorts of atheists (e.g. those who are uncertain about which premise is false) but the existence of groups #1 and #2 means I can’t just pick a premise to attack and expect to make all atheists happy. In this series on critiquing William Lane Craig’s moral argument, I’ll take group #1’s side in one blog entry, and take group #2’s side in another blog entry. After I criticize Craig’s justification for both premises I’ll let you the reader decide which if any atheist group is right.

Coming up next: .