Thursday, February 14, 2013

William Lane Craig on the Moral Argument

Craig's version of the moral argument goes like this:

1. If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist. (Premise)

2. Objective moral values and duties exists. (Premise)

3. Therefore, God exists. (From 1 and 2)

Say what you want about the argument's truth or falsity, but I'm much more interested in something else.  You see, according to Craig, the Good, which is God himself, is concrete.  With that I have no qualms whatsoever.  Nevertheless, Craig denies that abstract objects exist.  Instead, he adopts a form of nominalism.  With that in mind, how can the commands of God (the Good) also be concrete?  A command isn't something tangible, so I'm at a loss as to how I'm to understand what Craig is really saying.

If God's commands don't exist, by virtue of their being abstract, then they are nothing more than useful fictions.  It's difficult for me to reconcile this with how Craig could possibly support premise (2) of his argument.  If moral values and duties are abstract objects, and abstract objects are nothing more than useful fictions, then how can moral values and duties exist?

My own view on abstract objects is conceptualism, which I think has the potential to save the moral argument.  It's entirely possible that I'm missing something.  Craig is a much smarter philosopher than I am, and I'm willing to be corrected.


  1. You can rest assured, Doug, you are a much smarter philospher than Craig is, and the incredible weakness of his 'moral' argument is a very good illustration of this. Among Christian philosphers, people like Kreeft, Plantinga, Swinburne and even Feser and Pruss are much better philosophers than Craig. Admittedly, Craig is by far the best debater in the business, but his philosophy is shallow.


  2. Thank you for the semi-compliment, Walter. :D

    Craig is actually a first-rate philosopher. The work that he's done on the kalam argument alone is exemplary. Before his 1979 dissertation, the KCA had long been forgotten. He made it respectable again, your feelings on the argument notwithstanding. You don't have to agree with the argument in order to praise his meticulous defense of it.

    For the record, I think Plantinga is the greatest living philosopher.

  3. Doug

    Craig's meticulous defense of the KCA is, for the biggets part, not a philosophical defense. It's mainly based on his (mis)understanding of scientific findings. Moreover, the second part of the KCA, which makes it an argument for God, namely 'this cause must be God' is little more than an assertion.
    The reason I said that you are a smarter philososher is that, despite the fact that I don't agree with your arguments, at least you show some consistency.. Craig just uses wathever he thinks helps him in his apologetics , even if it actually contradicts other things he believes in.
    And your take on the moral argument is a good illustration of Craig's inconsistency.
    As for the conceptualist argument, I think it can 'save' the moral argument, but only in a trivial sense. If you can convince people that without God 1 + 1 would not be 2, then you can use the same argument to show that without God there would be no objective morality, no carrots and no chicken soup. That's pretty much the way Edward Feser treats the moral argument, BTW. According to Feser, nothing can exist without God and as a result, neither can morality. But it is a long way from there to Craig's moral 'argument'.


  4. Craig's defense of the KCA is primarily philosophical. I'm not sure if you've ever read his published book based on his dissertation, but it's called The Kalam Cosmological Argument. The vast majority of his defense is philosophical, but he does appeal to scientific evidences as a way of confirming the philosophical arguments.

    I do think his defense of the moral argument is his weakest point, but we shouldn't throw out the baby with the bathwater. We also have to consider his defense of the KCA, LCA, the fine-tuning argument, as well as the historical evidences of the resurrection of Jesus. Even Richard Carrier admitted he didn't win his debate with Craig on the latter issue. It's not just because Craig is a good debater. The dissertation for his second doctorate - this one in Theology - was a defense of Jesus's resurrection. He's very knowledgable in a vast number of philosophical areas. I think he deserves much more credit than you're giving him.

  5. By the way, you do seem to agree with my defense of the argument from order. We agree that the laws of nature are not the result of chance alone. The only disagreement we have is that I hold that they're the result of design, whereas you hold that they're the result of necessity (with some chance involved in the process of evolution). Am I right?

  6. I hold that the laws are probably the result of necessity combined with some chance, but this chance is not necessarily confined to evolution. There may be chnace involved in other domains too.

  7. I do have a question about this very subject. It probably stems from the fact that I don't know a ton about philosophy or universals.

    But if we assume Craig's nominalism and moral values for a moment, according to the Bible, God has made commands that seem to be universal to all humans (do not murder, do not steal, do not commit adultery, love God, love your neighbor, etc.).

    However, it seems to me that a commandment given "for all people" presupposes a universal - "person." Otherwise in what sense can God give a commandment to all people? How are we to know to whom seemingly universal commandments are given - how does God define a "person," or does he? How do I know his commandments apply to me?

    Is this question clear? Or do I have something terribly confused?

  8. Hi Syphax,

    It's possible that I've misunderstood your question, but it seems to me you're raising three separate issues. The first is that moral commandments must apply to a single universal person in order to be considered universal. In theism, God (tripersonal according to Christianity) is the locus of moral values and duties. God is often referred to as a universal and necessary mind. Given that we are created in the image of God, it follows that our likeness extends to the moral law inherent in God's own being.

    Next, you ask: how does God define a person? I think the answer is that a person is an entity with consciousness or the capability of consciousness.

    Finally, how do we know God's commandments apply to you or anyone? I think we know that there are objective moral obligations simply because we perceive them. That's not to say that we perceive them in the same way as we do with empirical observations, but what's interesting is that any argument against the objectivity of morality can be used equally against the objectivity of empirical observation. Take the Golden Rule, for example: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The person who rejects this moral objectivity will also be the first cry "injustice!" once their rights have been compromised.

    In other words, it is impossible to live apart from the notion that morality is objective. We have one of two options at this point. We can either a) live consistently with our beliefs; or b) live inconsistently with our beliefs. The moral subjectivist prefers the latter, but to live inconsistently with one's beliefs is the height of irrationality.

  9. Thanks for answering my question. Perhaps I didn't clearly state my original thoughts. I'll try to boil them down more simply.

    On Craig's nominalism, what does it mean for God to issue a moral command to all people? Because in my mind it would seem that it presupposes that there is a real class of things (people), and every member of that class is bound by the commandment. Your answer seems to have side-stepped the issue and so it's probably a good answer, but I guess my question is just a broader question of how, on nominalism, God can issue a command to all men without presupposing that "men" is a real thing/class that all humans participate in.

  10. Okay, I think I understand your question now. On Craig's view, even though there is no universal abstract object known as "mankind," there are still individual human beings, each of which has been created in the image of God. With this in mind, each concrete particular human being is bound by the objective moral law grounded in God's inherently good nature.

  11. Okay, that pretty much answers my question (and I asked another person the same question elsewhere and their answer was similar). Nominalism does not mean there cannot be two things that are the same, it just denies that their sameness represents a real, separate property of the universe. I'm sure that's not precisely accurate but perhaps now you know what I mean. Thanks!

  12. You're certainly welcome! I hope my modest answers were of some help. I honestly feel that Craig should either modify his version of the moral argument, or else adopt conceptualism.