#461

February 14, 2016

Do Theistic Arguments Prove God?

Dear Dr. Craig,

The Moral Argument seems to have a flaw. Premise 1 has a semantic problem.

1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.

What if we can imagine a supernatural, God-like entity, that is in some important respect distinct from God as such, which could also ground objective moral values? Perhaps omnibenevolent, but not omnipresent, say?

Perhaps all of God's properties are necessary to ground objective moral values, but this strikes me as implausible. Some of God's properties appear to have nothing to do with objective moral values.

If I have identified this as a flaw, then the moral argument fails on its own terms, because objective moral values would have a possible basis other than God.

This question hints at a deeper issue. What is the relationship between the phenomena to be explained in theistic arguments, and the thing that does the explaining. None of the arguments prove God as such, but all serve to yield a key piece of the puzzle. But how do we know these arguments refer to the same explanation, and how can one offer the nonbeliever a single argument to show God exists, when there is always an ambiguity in what this word entails? What do you mean when you say that a certain argument leads to "God"?

Sincerely,

Jarl


United States

You’re making a good point about all the theistic arguments, Jarl, though I think it shows, not a flaw, but simply the limits of each argument.

Just as the moral argument doesn’t prove God to be omnipresent, neither does the cosmological argument show God to be morally good nor the teleological argument God to be omniscient or eternal. The explanatory ultimate in each case does not yield a full-orbed doctrine of God. What the moral argument gives us is a metaphysically necessary, personally embodied Good; that’s a rich enough concept to merit the name “God,” I think, but if you find that concept too thin theologically to be called “God”, then I’ll just stop with a metaphysically necessary, personally embodied Good. Similarly, the kalam cosmological argument gives us an uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and unimaginably powerful, personal Creator of the universe, a conception rich enough, I think, to deserve the label “God.” But if you protest that such a being hasn’t been shown to be good and therefore God, that’s fine—I’ll just content myself with the description of the explanatory ultimate reached by the argument.

As I have said before, it would be a bizarre form of atheism, one not worth the name, which admitted that, say, a metaphysically necessary, personally embodied Good exists or that a transcendent, personal Creator of the universe exists. So in answer to your question, “What do you mean when you say that a certain argument leads to ‘God’?”, I mean that the argument implies the existence of a being that is most plausibly to be identified as God.

What your question underlines is that the theistic arguments constitute a cumulative case, such as a lawyer presents in a court of law, in which independent lines of evidence reinforce one another to support the overall conclusion not implied by any single argument. This raises the question, “how do we know these arguments refer to the same explanation?” Though much could be said about this, I think that the simplest and wholly adequate answer to this question is Ockham’s Razor. We shouldn’t multiply causes beyond necessity. It’s more plausible to think that the Creator of the universe proved by the kalam cosmological argument is also the Designer of the universe proved by the teleological argument than to think that these are two beings. Similarly, it’s more plausible to think that the metaphysically necessary ground of the universe proved by the argument from contingency is also the metaphysically necessary, personally embodied Good proved by the moral argument than to think that these are two realities. One of the impressive virtues of theism is its explanatory scope: it unites so many diverse things under a single explanatory ultimate.

You also ask, “how can one offer the nonbeliever a single argument to show God exists, when there is always an ambiguity in what this word entails?” This was the very question which burdened St. Anselm. He wanted to find a single argument which would prove that God exists in all His greatness. He had just about given up, when he discovered his ontological argument. This argument, if successful, proves the existence of a greatest conceivable being. I think that the ontological argument is a sound argument for God’s existence. But I don’t see it as a stand alone argument; it, too, is part of the theist’s cumulative case, for the other theistic arguments provide reason to think that it is possible that the greatest conceivable being exists, which is the key premise of the ontological argument.