Craig’s moral argument for the existence of God

For a while now I’ve been dissatisfied with William Lane Craig’s moral argument for the existence of God. Or more to the point, (seeing as I suspect that the argument is actually sound), I’m dissatisfied with how he normally defends the argument. I want to use this space to explain what I see as his method’s shortcomings. However, a caveat I give is that I’ll be critiquing Craig’s defence as I’ve come across it in his debates and online material. Craig is no fool and charity requires acknowledging the possibility that he does things differently in his scholarly published works, or that I’ve simply misunderstood the argument. At any rate, for what they’re worth, here are my thoughts on the matter.

The form of the argument he typically gives is this:

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

The first premise is the one I want to concentrate on. As a material conditional, it is false if and only if the antecedent is true and the consequent is false. That is, the premise is false if God does not exist and moral values and duties do exist.

Presumably there are a number of atheists who think that is precisely how things are. They think that atheism is true and that this fact does not affect the existence of moral duties and values whatsoever. Not every atheist is a “subjectivist” about moral values and duties. So how does Craig aim to convince these atheists, or other folk who think this atheist position is not absurd?

From what I’ve seen, Craig defends the first premise by examining various naturalistic accounts of ethics (naturalistic as in non-supernatural, not naturalistic in the more technical sense used in metaethics) showing that they fail to account for, or “ground”, objective moral values and duties. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Craig’s critiques of these accounts are on the money. We’ll ignore any problems we might have with his criticisms or any quibbles we might have with his understanding of “objective” etc. If we’ve successfully put such worries aside then, we’ll be willing to explore the thought that, as Craig claims, there are no plausible naturalistic accounts of how it is that objective moral values and duties can exist.

The question that springs to my mind at this moment is “so what?” Perhaps there is no successful naturalistic account of these important ethical features to hand. Are we to think that a plausible naturalistic account could never be formulated? What stops the atheist from saying, “that’s right I don’t have a plausible naturalistic metaethical account, but I know intuitively that there are objective moral values and duties. I don’t need to explain how something is so to know that it is so. Perhaps we will know how it all fits together in the future.” As far as I can tell an atheist would be perfectly within their rights to say that. Showing that there is no adequate naturalistic account of values and duties available is not the same as showing that objective values and duties can’t exist given naturalism.

As such it seems to me that Craig either needs to do more to defend the first premise, or argue for a weaker conclusion, such as “theism is the best explanation of objective moral values and duties.” To adequately defend the first premise he needs to, by my understanding, give an analysis of the necessary conditions for the existence of objective moral values and duties, and demonstrate that, necessarily, atheism cannot meet those conditions.


6 thoughts on “Craig’s moral argument for the existence of God

  1. “To adequately defend the first premise he needs to, by my understanding, give an analysis of the necessary conditions for the existence of objective moral values and duties, and demonstrate that, necessarily, atheism cannot meet those conditions. ”

    If I remember correctly, Craig says in one of his Defender podcasts that, in an argument, you don’t need to prove that the premises are true beyond a reasonable doubt, only that they are more plausible than their negations. So Craig might argue that a worldview which demonstrably provides a foundation for objective moral values and duties (Christian worldview) is more plausible, everything being equal, than a worldview (naturalism) which, by all accounts, does not provide such a foundation.

  2. Hey!

    You’re probably right. I guess I keep wanting to read the first premise as an “if and only if” proposition, like “objective moral values and duties exist if and only if God exists” when it isn’t that strong.

  3. Pingback: Bill Craig loses a debate! (and all sorts of goodies are revealed) | ApologiaPad

  4. The problem is Craig’s assertion that naturalism cannot provide objective moral values is simply wrong, and easily proven so once you step outside philosophy and read a little modern science. AFAIK he thinks attributing morals to Evolution means morals must, by definition, be subjective (a matter of choice or social convention) — but this is a gross misunderstanding how Evolution as a process works.

    First it is important to,understand Evolution is a dictator, not a democrat. At no point does anyone (individual or species) get asked whether they’d prefer feet or flippers, or how many arms they’d like today — so why does Craig assert our brain’s moral coding is a matter of subjectivity or choice? Second, Craig fails to comprehend the history of intelligence in the human species; specifically he seems unaware that intelligence is a very very recent development. Because his religion treats morality as one single ‘thing’, he looks for one concept in Evolution which provides an answer; but in fact morality is a construct of at least two layered components. The first is an ancient core instinct tailored by Evolution around our ancestry as social creatures, and comparable to the moral instincts of other mammals (and the closer to us they get on Evolution’s tree, the stronger the match), The second, built atop the ancient core, is our application of those instincts to the complex societies made possible by the recent (and sudden) explosion of our intelligence. The former is ancient and rigid, and does not vary from culture to culture (‘nature’). The latter is modern and shaped by culture and environment (‘nurture’).

    While I love philosophy, I do feel that philosophers can spend far too much time chasing each other’s tails on morality, while in the last 50 years science has developed experimental approaches to Psychology,that demonstrate what we ACTUALLY do in moral situations, and Neurology has equipment to show which bits of the brain light up when we do it :)

    • Hey there, thanks for the comment.

      Remember that by “objective” Craig just means “mind-independent.” So even if you’re right, and human moral beliefs aren’t a matter of a subject’s choice, but are evolutionarily hard-wired in somehow, that doesn’t mean that there is some sort of external reality to which those moral beliefs correspond. Perhaps we do believe that one ought to not murder because evolution has hard-wired us think so. But that tells us nothing about whether it really is wrong to murder. And that’s what Craig’s argument focusses on – the objectivity of moral values and obligations.

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