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In the closing stages of writing my latest book, The Resurrection: A Critical Examination of the Easter Story [UK] (please grab yourself a copy!), I had a few test readers. One was David Austin, down in Australia, who has provided a few guest articles for your delectation. Here is another one from David – thanks muchly to him (as I am insanely busy researching the hell out of the Pentateuch):

Morality, the Euthyphro Dilemma & William Lane Craig

William Lane Craig (WLC), a noted Christian apologist, uses the “Argument from Morality” as one of his arguments for the existence of God.

This is probably one of the weakest arguments put forward by apologists for the existence of God, as the following article will illustrate.

William Lane Craig puts forward his “Morality” syllogism thus:-

Premise 1) If God does not exist then objective moral values & duties do not exist

Premise 2) Objective moral values & duties exist

Conclusion) Therefore, God exists.

Premise 1 is an example of a “Begging the Question” fallacy i.e “smuggling” in a desired conclusion into one of the premises. There is no justification to assert that morality is contingent on the existence of a deity, and it is thus a “non-sequitur”, On this basis, one would be equally justified in saying “If 2+2 does not equal 4, then God does not exist; However, 2+2 does equal 4; Therefore, God exists”.

Worse than this, he does not even specify what “God” he is referring to. Would the Roman god Mars be somehow linked with morality? It seems somewhat unlikely. Even if WLC is referring to the Judeo/Christian god of the Bible, it is still problematic, as Yahweh of the Old Testament appears to encourage his followers to smite numerous Canaanite tribes with genocidal fury. Not what one would associate with moral behaviour. This leads to the conclusion that, WLC is probably referencing the Christian god of the New Testament.

Premise 2 is also just an assertion with no evidence presented to support it. In his debates, WLC asserted something like “Deep down, we know this to be true”, with no further justification. This is just an “Appeal to Emotion”, and hardly an intellectual defence of this premise.

Since Premises 1 & 2 are problematical, it follows that the conclusion does not warrant belief.

In any event, the moral argument is easily refuted using the Euthyphro Dilemma.

The dilemma, which is adapted from a Socratic discourse, is expressed thus:-

“(a) Does God say something is moral because it is moral, or (b) is something moral because God says so”

If the answer is (a) then there must be a standard outside God for judging what is moral, so God is just passing along moral standards external to him, and thus it makes God redundant in determining what is moral.

If the answer is (b) then God’s commandments are basically arbitrary. One day God could say murder, rape & robbery was OK and we would have no choice but to follow his commandments, because he is all-powerful, and can impose any standard he likes on his subjects (“Might makes Right”).

Apologists, like WLC, try to circumvent this dilemma, by saying there is a third option (ie a Trilemma), that is God’s commandments are “good” because “God’s nature is good”. So, they are trying to use (b) with the extra condition that it is impossible for God to issue any commandment that is not “good”.

This presents a whole raft of problems since this is saying that God has no “free will”, since he can never initiate any “evil” command or do any “evil” deed by his action, or inaction. How can theists say that “free will” is such an important attribute given to humankind, even though it will allow some evil, when even God does not possess it? Does this mean that humans have a power that even God doesn’t have, and he is therefore NOT omnipotent? That seems to be the case, if this is proposed. Apologists argue, it is not that God could do evil and simply “decides” not to do evil, it is “impossible” for God to do evil because of his “nature”.

Actually, it is even worse, since, if God is also “omniscient”, he will know exactly what action he will ever do in the future, so he cannot possess “free-will” anyway.

This also has the consequence that, if God did not prevent a tsunami which killed 230,000 people, somehow this must have been a “good” deed, and apologists struggle to figure out what “good” it actually achieved, and usually resort to saying “God moves in mysterious ways”,  “God’s ways are higher than our ways”, or “Our brains are too feeble to comprehend God’s motives for any action”; These are non-answers and explain nothing.

This also begs the question: Is there free will in Heaven? If it exists there, and it is a perfect environment, why didn’t God initiate such a scenario on Earth? If there is no free will in Heaven, then how will we be able to enjoy the freedoms we had on Earth, that God believed was so important for us? It was, apparently, very important to God that we had free will on Earth, even though it did allow some suffering.

The interesting point is that this “dodge” does not get God out of the bind that is at the heart of the Euthyphro dilemma (or trilemma). If apologists, like Craig, say that “God’s nature is good”, we can ask a similar question to the original dilemma ie (a) Is God’s nature “good” according to an “external” standard, or (b) is his nature “good” when based on his “internal” standard?

If (a) then his nature is based on criterium external to him, or if (b). then we could still say his nature is arbitrary. The statement “God’s nature is Good” can be defined as a “Barren Tautology”, that is, you need to define “good”, or the statement is meaningless. Otherwise, the statement can be read as “God’s nature is God’s nature” or “good is good”. To analogise, the statement “A puppy is a young dog” is meaningless unless you define or understand what a “dog” is.

WLC (in a YoutTube video), whilst discussing the Euthyphro Dilemma, asserted that “God is compassionate, just, fair, kind & loving”, so, essentially, he is defining what “good” is. So, Craig has defeated his own argument, because he is now defining God’s nature by an “external” standard separate from God. This puts the argument back into the (a) part of the original dilemma “God says something is moral because it is moral”, and thus makes standards of morality external to God.

The other big problem with the “Moral Argument” is that, even if we were to grant that God is the “grounding” of morality, how are theists supposed to access this morality. Do they go by the Bible, and decide that homosexuals, people working on the Sabbath and women who are not virgins upon marriage should be stoned to death (plus many other “laws”).  Do Christians believe that, as Jesus said, “Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven” Matthew 12:31. Blasphemy is a victimless crime (unless you think a perfect God can be upset by what a mere mortal says), so why can it never be forgiven?

If you ask different Christians their views on Capital Punishment, Abortion, and other “hot-button” issues you will get different answers. So, what is the point of having some, supposedly, God-given “objective” morality, if it is impossible to access this important and vital information?

The “God being the grounding of objective morality” is a bad argument for the existence of God, fatally flawed, and unconvincing to non-believers.


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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...