Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Law's flaw

Christian philosopher, William Lane Craig, is currently in England on a speaking and debating tour (and Dawkins is on the run).  He had a debate with atheist philosopher, Stephen Law, last week which I have listened to, and have some reflections on.

Craig presented three arguments for the existence of God: the cosmological argument (1. If the universe began to exist, it has a transcendent cause; 2. The universe began to exist; 3. Therefore the universe has a transcendent cause); the moral argument (1. If God does not exist, objective moral values don't exist; 2. Objective moral values do exist; 3. Therefore God exists); and the argument from the resurrection of Christ.

I found Law's approach to be very strange.  He spent all his time trying to show that it is just as likely that an evil god exists than that a good God exists, and as we know that an evil god is an absurd idea then a good God is absurd too!

Before giving a summary of how Law tried to deal with Craig's arguments, I want to point out how Law's talk about an evil god just makes no sense at all.  If there is no God then there is no such thing as real, objective good or evil - there's just what is, and it has no moral quality or dimension to it.  If there is no God then there is no objective standard (just subjective standards we have invented) and there are no moral obligations (other than ones we as individuals or societies impose). 

If there is objective and obligatory morality then it must come from God, I mean there can't be an immaterial thing called "good" that transcends the universe and issues commands that we are obligated to obey.  What would it mean for "justice" or "tolerance" or "kindness" to exist as entities on their own, and what would make those qualities good or binding?  A non-personal thing cannot impose moral duties or give moral commands.  But even if non-personal things could impose moral duties, consider this, if "justice", "tolerance" and "kindness" exist as real entities then presumably "cruelty", "falsehood" and "hatred" also exist, so why are we obligated to follow some and not others? Is it only the "good" ones that issue commands?  If there is objective morality and if there are moral duties then they must be grounded in, and issue from, a personal God.  This, by the way, was Craig's second argument.

This is why it is foolish to talk about an evil God, because God cannot be evil - there is no standard of goodness that God is departing from; there are no moral obligations God is disobeying.  If God were to will and enjoy the things we call evil (not that this is possible - God cannot be any other way than He is), i.e. if it could be the case that God was a liar, or cruel, or a torturer, then the reality is that those things would be good, not evil, and we wouldn't think of them as evil.  If it could be the case that God thought that torture was the right thing to do, then by definition it would be the right thing to do, because there is not some detached thing called "good" that transcends God.  If good exists (and we know it does) then it is grounded in the nature of God.

Someone might say, "How do we know then that kindness is good and torture is evil?  Why could it not be the other way around? Maybe God delights in torture and hates kindness?"  Well, why then do we not feel a moral obligation to torture??  Why do we feel such a thing is wrong?  Why do we feel a moral obligation to be kind?  Why do we feel guilty about being cruel, and feel right about being self-sacrificial?  If there were an evil god then surely we would feel no such obligation to treat others well.  We have moral intuitions that some things are really wrong, and other things really good, and why should we be sceptical about these moral intuitions when Law gave absolutely no reason to be, and when we have many good reasons not to be?

Now I want to summarise how Law went about dealing with the arguments Craig gave.  He did say on his blog that he demolished Craig's arguments - this is just empty (and embarrassing) bluster.

Law ignored Craig's first argument, simply saying that this argument tells us nothing about whether God is good or evil, but of course it doesn't!  In the same way, the moral argument doesn't show that God is omniscient!  I can't figure out why he would ignore an argument because there is an attribute of God that the argument doesn't defend!?  Anyway, Law chose not to interact with it at all, merely saying he's sure there's something wrong with it!

In regard to Craig's second argument, his only response was that we can't be absolutely certain that the two premises to the argment are true (1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist; 2. Objective moral values do exist).  But surely it's not an adequate response to an argument just to say, "You can't be absolutely certain about that."  After all, there are so many things we believe about which we can't have absolute certainty.  An argument is a good one if the premises are more plausible than their negations, and Law admitted that the second premise of the moral argument is certainly more plausible than its negations (he said without the slightest argument to support it that the first premise is dodgy).  Why does he think he did a good demolition job when all he did was say, "It ain't necessarily so, but it probably is!"  And he gave no reason why we should not think the premises are true, while we have seen above that there are plenty of good reasons to think they are true.

In response to Craig's third argument, all Law did was speak about a UFO incident in the sixties, and conclude that weird things happen from time to time.  So Craig presents historical facts regarding the first century, and Law reckons he's demolished the argument by not even addressing the subject!!!  The fact that weird things happen doesn't explain what did happen.  Law at least has to try and come up with a theory that fits the facts.  The fact is there is no naturalistic explanation that accounts for the facts of the first Easter.  Thus the argument from the resurrection of Jesus Christ remains untouched, which is further evidence, not just of God's existence, but of His character.

Thus, God, by definition, is good; He has expressed His nature in the moral obligations He has put on our hearts and revealed in His Word (Craig's second argument).  We have failed in our moral duties, and have broken God's law, but God, in His grace, has done something about our guilt - He gave His Son to pay the penalty for our sin.  The Lord Jesus did that perfectly, and as proof of that God raised Him from the dead (Craig's third argument).  So the arguments Craig gave present a God by whom we have been created, before whom we are guilty, and to whom we can be reconciled through Christ.