A Critique of Dr. Craig’s Moral Argument

A Critique of Dr. Craig's Moral Argument

Dr. Craig responds to a critique from The Secular Outpost.

Transcript A Critique of Dr. Craig's Moral Argument

KEVIN HARRIS: Dr. Craig, we always keep up with some of the writers and bloggers at the Secular Outpost. They talk about your work quite often and reference your work. “Does Theism Explain The Necessity of Moral Truths?”[1] This talks about your moral argument and says that it fails. What is your take from why there would be a bug (as Jeff says in this article) and not a feature in your moral argument for God’s existence?

DR. CRAIG: The argument he gives is a rather complex argument for thinking that the existence of God would not suffice to explain necessary moral truths. He seems to want to defend a kind of Atheistic Moral Platonism, though that is not entirely clear.


. . . “Theism expresses a necessary proposition,” is itself a necessary (but not a sufficient) condition for God’s existence to explain necessary truths, including necessary truths about the existence of moral values.

DR. CRAIG: Here I think he has not expressed himself very well. We shouldn’t say theism expresses a necessary proposition. I am not even sure what that means. What the theist wants to say is that the sentence “God exists” expresses a necessary proposition. That sentence does not itself express a necessary proposition because if the English language never existed, or example, then it would not be true that the sentence “God exists” expresses a necessary proposition. That is a contingent feature of the fact that English exists. But I do think that the proposition expressed by the sentence “God exists” is a necessary truth. I do think that the existence of God does serve to explain the existence of necessary moral values and other moral truths.


As software engineers might say, this is a bug, not a feature, in Craig’s moral argument for God’s existence.

DR. CRAIG: I take it by that he means this is some sort of a defect in the moral argument, I guess. Go ahead.


If Craig’s moral argument requires that theism be a necessary proposition, then it is much more likely that theism is necessarily false . . .

DR. CRAIG: I don’t understand why he thinks that that would be the case. I think the moral argument does lead to the necessary truth of the proposition, “God exists.” But I see that as an entailment or implication of the argument, not as a defect. The question is why does he think that is problematic?


Paul Draper explains the point well. “Suppose that theism is not a contingent proposition. Then it is much more likely that it is necessarily false than that it is necessarily true.”

DR. CRAIG: OK, now that is odd. Let’s assume that the proposition “God exists” is either necessarily true or impossible. Jeff thinks it is much more likely that this is an impossible proposition than a necessarily true one. Why does he think that?


This is made clear by any objective comparison of the available reasons for thinking that theism is necessarily true to the available reasons for thinking that it is necessarily false.

DR. CRAIG: That seems to me to confuse the epistemology with ontology. The reasons for thinking that theism is necessarily true has nothing to do with the necessity of the proposition that “God exists.” That would only have to do with whether or not we have warrant for believing that proposition. But that seems to me to be completely irrelevant to the necessary truth of that proposition.

Similarly, the reasons that he gives for thinking that this proposition is impossible are the old coherence of theism objections that it is improbable that there should be a being which is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect. You can’t just assert that. You’ve got to argue that. I don’t think any of those sorts of objections go through. There has been an enormous amount of ink spilled over the question of the coherence of theism, and I don’t think anybody has even come close to demonstrating that the concept of God is a logically incoherent concept.[2] So I don’t think we’ve seen any reasons given here by Jeff for thinking that the proposition “God exists” is probably impossible.

To give a non-theological example. Take the mathematical proposition called Goldbach’s Conjecture. Nobody knows whether Goldbach’s Conjecture is true or false. But if it is true it is necessarily true; if it is false it is necessarily false. The fact that we have no good reason to believe Goldbach’s Conjecture doesn’t do anything at all to undermine the fact that this could well be a necessarily true proposition. So these epistemic considerations are simply irrelevant to the necessary truth of the proposition in question.


Let’s put that to the side and assume that God’s existence really is broadly logically necessary.

DR. CRAIG: Now that’s a funny thing to do. If you put it to the side and you assume that God’s existence really is necessary then that’s the end of the debate! Right? Who needs a moral argument for God’s existence if you assume that God’s existence is broadly logically necessary? I think that what Jeff has done here is he is thinking that it is an assumption of the moral argument that God exists necessarily, which would threaten to make it circular, when it is actually an entailment of the moral argument. It is an implication of the moral argument. In fact the moral argument as I state it doesn’t really imply the necessary truth of God’s existence. The argument as I run it is:

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.

That doesn’t say anything about the necessity of the conclusion. That only arises when we reflect on the fact that objective moral values and duties themselves don’t seem to be contingent. It seems to be true in every possible world that torturing a child for fun is morally wrong. That would be an implication of the moral argument. It leads us not to a contingently existing God but it in fact leads us to a God whose existence is metaphysically necessary. That is an entailment, not an assumption of the moral argument.

KEVIN HARRIS: He continues,

If that were so, how would it follow that God’s (necessary) existence somehow explains the (necessary) existence of objective moral values?

DR. CRAIG: I think that people like Robert Adams, Philip Quinn, and William Alston have done a good job on this question. They argue that God himself is the paradigm of moral goodness, and that his commandments are the source of our moral obligations. Insofar as we human beings resemble God’s nature we, too, have intrinsic moral value and goodness. So I do think that there is explanatory depth in theism.

His response is to react to my argument against the alternative of Atheistic Moral Platonism which is the view that moral values exist as abstract objects. This connects interestingly with my work on divine aseity, doesn’t it? Because in talking about the challenge of Platonism to divine aseity we talk about the existence of abstract objects like mathematical objects, numbers, sets, and functions, or possible worlds, propositions, properties, and so forth. But we could also talk about moral values. If the Platonist thinks that moral values are abstract objects then this provides an atheistic alternative, but only at the expense, I think, of a very extravagant metaphysic, namely, you’re positing this realm of abstract moral objects presumably existing beyond space and time. And that raises a whole host of metaphysical questions, one of which is the one that he responds to here. I find it hard even to comprehend the Platonist view. As I say here, I understand what it means to say a person is just or that he acts justly. But I draw a completely blank when we are told that Justice just exists as an abstract moral value.[3] This is all the more obvious when you reflect that the abstract object Justice is no more just than Quickness is quick or Being-Five-Fingered is five-fingered or Redness is red or Wisdom is wise. These are not properties that these abstract objects have. So if Justice itself is not just and there are no human beings and no God then how is it that Justice exists? This is almost trembling on the brink of self-contradiction. I have a very difficult time – speaking just honestly – in even understanding Platonism.

KEVIN HARRIS: I wonder what the beef is here because he says your “selection of ‘justice’ as his example of a moral value is odd.”

DR. CRAIG: He wants to argue that justice is not a value concept; it is a duty concept. Well, we could quibble about that, but then he says, “Fortunately, Craig provides other . . . examples: mercy, love, and forbearance.” How does Forbearance exist as an abstract object? I don’t even understand what that means. I know what it means for a person to forbear with someone else, but when the Platonist says Forbearance exists as an abstract object, I just have a complete blank.

KEVIN HARRIS: The article continues,

Here I want to use moral values like mercy or love to show that God’s necessary existence is not a sufficient condition for explaining the necessary existence of moral values.

DR. CRAIG: Now wait a minute. I thought he was supposed to be defending Atheistic Moral Platonism. I don’t see that he’s defended it against my objection that it is unintelligible. Does Jeff really think that Love is an abstract object that exists beyond space and time independently of any persons? He is not responding to the objection that Atheistic Moral Platonism is unintelligible. Instead he’s trying to turn the tables now and say, Well, you theists don’t explain the necessity of moral values because God’s existence won’t explain the necessary existence of things like mercy and love.


If moral values like mercy or love ‘exist as properties of persons, not as mere abstractions,’ it would seem that they are relational and so would require that two or more persons exist.

DR. CRAIG: I agree with that. If you look at my chapter on the Trinity in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, that is one of the plausibility arguments that I give for a trinitarian doctrine of God and against unitarian conceptions of God such as you find in Islam where you don’t have a plurality of persons. I think that for God to be loving requires that there be another to whom God gives himself away. Since that can’t be any created person (since created persons are contingent) there must be a plurality of persons within the divine being. But also the directedness of love – in love one gives oneself away to another. It just doesn’t center narcissistically in one’s self. I think this makes it plausible to think that God is a plurality of persons necessarily.

KEVIN HARRIS: Then he says,

Mere theism doesn’t entail Christian theism, which in turn means it does not entail the Christian doctrine of the trinity is true, and so it does not entail the existence of multiple divine persons.

DR. CRAIG: I think that depends on how you define theism. If you mean by theism simply the view that there is a creator and designer of the universe, I would agree.

KEVIN HARRIS: That would be mere theism or generic theism.

DR. CRAIG: Well, I don’t know. It wouldn’t imply the doctrine of the Trinity. But, as I say, if you say that love is an essential property of God then I’ve argued that theism does entail, not the doctrine of the Trinity, but at least a plurality of persons within God. That is my argument.

KEVIN HARRIS: So even if it were the case that theism is necessarily true, it wouldn’t follow that more than one person exists.

DR. CRAIG: And that is where I disagree with him. I’ve given an argument for thinking that that is the case.[4]


But if, “More than one person exists,” is a contingent proposition, this creates a problem for Divine Nature Theorists (DNT-ists) like Craig who want to argue that God’s nature explains all objective moral values, including relational moral values like love and mercy.

DR. CRAIG: And I would deny the antecedent of that sentence. I don’t think that the sentence “more than one persons exists” is a contingent proposition. That expresses a necessary proposition. This is seen through the argument that I have given for a plurality of persons in the Godhead.


Sure, there is a sense in which we can talk about a person loving themselves or having mercy on themselves, but I think it’s clear that not what people usually have in mind when they talk about “love” and “mercy” as moral values.

DR. CRAIG: Amen! I want to say, Jeff, thou art not far from the Kingdom of God! This is my argument against the Muslim and the Islamic conception of God. I think he is on the right track.


So if moral values are properties of persons; if some moral values are relational; and if “More than one person exists” is a contingent proposition, then there are possible worlds in which God exists but relational moral values do not exist.

DR. CRAIG: What would I deny in that statement?

KEVIN HARRIS: That it is a contingent proposition.

DR. CRAIG: Right. I think that it is not a contingent proposition that more than one person exists.

KEVIN HARRIS: He wraps it up saying,

Thus, God’s existence, even God’s necessary existence, cannot explain necessary truths about all objective moral values because it cannot explain necessary truths about relational moral values. But that entails Craig’s moral argument fails.

DR. CRAIG: And we’ve seen that that is based on this false reasoning. What doesn’t get said here is what alternative Jeff wants to offer to theistic-based ethics. Is he going to defend Atheistic Moral Platonism? If so, then he owes us a response to the intelligibility objection that I raise against Platonism.

KEVIN HARRIS: I want to say, again, that this shows the importance of your new book, God Over All because it gives such a grounding for when you encounter articles like this that delve into these deep philosophical issues.

DR. CRAIG: I must say, it almost makes me laugh how time and time again I have chosen these abstruse seemingly irrelevant topics like God and time or divine aseity as the focus of my research and again and again they prove to be relevant in unexpected ways in other areas.[5]

[1] See http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2016/11/06/does-theism-explain-the-necessity-of-moral-truths/ (accessed January 31, 2017).

[2] 5:00

[3] 10:11

[4] 15:00

[5] Total Running Time: 18:03(Copyright © 2017 William Lane Craig)