Moral Argument

#199

February 07, 2011

Moral Argument

Objections to the Moral Argument

The moral argument for God’s existence has been one of Dr. Craig’s primary lines of evidence when debating atheists. In this week’s Q&A, Stephen asks how Dr. Craig can declare actions such as child rape objectively wrong when the Bible, which is the written revelation of God’s source for Christian morality, doesn’t talk about it. Dr. Craig outlines and clarifies the moral argument, then demonstrates why the claim of insufficient condemnation from the Bible proves to be fallacious.

Hello Dr. Craig,

I attended your debate with Dr. Williamson at the University of Saskatchewan last night, and I was surprised to hear you use the example of child rape being universally viewed as wrong as evidence of objective morality coming from God. This is not to say that I disagree with you that child rape should be universally condemned - of course I do - but if you are to say that objective morality comes from God, and if, as a Christian, you believe that the Bible is the revealed word of God, as you seem to regarding the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, then how do you find child rape so abhorrent when there is nothing in the Bible condemning it? Indeed, Deuteronomy 22:28-29 NLT says that if a woman (regardless of age) is raped, the rapist must pay her father 50 silvers and marry the woman, which hardly seems a punishment to the rapist. This, of course, excludes engaged women, for whom the punishment for being raped is death if they don't cry for help (Deuteronomy 22:23-24 NAB). The only instance in which it is only the rapist who is punished is if the victim is engaged (possible but not likely if they are a child), and they cry for help (again, a child would very likely be intimidated into not calling for help, and therefore, by Biblical law, be killed). This is of course to say nothing regarding the sexual abuse of male children, for whom it seems that Leviticus 20:13 would dictate that a molested boy be put to death for the crime of being a rape victim. Therefore, your objection to child rape can not come from the Bible. Therefore, how can you argue that this sense of pedophilia's objective immorality, as well as the sense of the immorality of other acts that the Bible does not discuss, comes from God? If it is due to the personal experience of God achieved by opening your heart, as you argued in the debate, what of those of us who have not been fortunate enough to receive this personal relationship with God, but are still morally repulsed by pedophilia?

Thank you,

Spencer

Canada

The Moral Argument

I’m glad you came to the debate, Spencer (though the tone of your question leads me to think you were cheering for the other side!). It was a substantive and entertaining exchange, wasn’t it?

I’m afraid that you’ve seriously misunderstood me, Spencer. Here’s the moral argument for God that I defended:

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.

The argument is logically valid; so if you want to deny the conclusion, you must reject one of the two premisses. So which one do you deny? Although you present your reservations as worries about (2), it’s evident that you agree that (2) is true, for you say not only that you are “morally repulsed” by child rape, but that you think “child rape should be universally condemned.” I agree. So if you deny that God exists, you must reject (1). But do you reject (1)? There’s nothing in your letter that suggests that you do.

So how am I to understand your worries? Perhaps as follows: you’re wondering what warrant there is for affirming (2). You seem to think that the justification I offer for (2) is biblical revelation, which you think is inadequate as a justification for (2). If this is not your concern, then I simply don’t understand your worry.

But it should be obvious that this worry is wholly unfounded. I never appealed to biblical revelation as a justification for affirming (2). On the contrary, Spencer, I affirm (2) for probably the same reasons you do! As I put it in my opening speech, “In moral experience we apprehend a realm of moral values and duties that impose themselves upon us. There’s no more reason to deny the objective reality of moral values than the objective reality of the physical world.” I like the way Louise Anthony put it in our debate of the foundations of morality: “Any argument for moral scepticism will based upon premises which are less obvious than the existence of objective moral values themselves.” Hence, moral scepticism can never be justified.

Moral Argument – A difference between ontology and epistemology

Spencer, you show that you have completely missed the thrust of my argument when you go on to ask, “how can you argue that this sense of pedophilia's objective immorality, as well as the sense of the immorality of other acts that the Bible does not discuss, comes from God?” It was no part of my argument that God is necessary to explain our moral sense of right and wrong, good and evil. Over and over again in the debate I carefully distinguished between moral ontology (questions about the reality of moral values) and moral epistemology (questions about how we come to know moral values), and I said that my argument is solely about the objective reality of moral values, not how we come to know them. I’ll appeal to all the same mechanisms that you appeal to in order to explain how you know that (2) is true. In point of fact, Spencer, I don’t think that we need to appeal to God at all to know that objective moral values and duties exist, so you’re just barking up the wrong tree insofar as I’m concerned.

As for the personal experience of God, you’re conflating the moral argument with my sixth point in the debate that we can know that God exists wholly apart from arguments through personally experiencing him. I do not believe, nor did I suggest, that a personal experience of God is the way one comes to know that (2) is true. Nor, for that matter, did I suggest, as you intimate, that the justification for (2) is universal consent.

So since I don’t appeal to the Bible as justification for (2), why is all this stuff about Old Testament ethics crowding into the discussion? You say that my argument regarding (the resurrection of) Jesus shows my belief in the Bible as the revealed Word of God. Again, Spencer, you’ve failed to understand that my argument regarding the historical credibility of Jesus of Nazareth treats the New Testament documents as we would any ordinary historical documents, not as revealed, much less inerrant. You’re wholly off track here. My argument neither presupposed nor sought to prove that the records of Jesus’ life were anything more than ordinary, fallible records of antiquity, which are reliable, at least, with respect to the three facts I mentioned.

At most, then, your argument from the inadequacies of Old Testament ethics would call into question the infallibility of the Old Testament, which is just irrelevant to the cogency of the case I presented for Christian theism.

Moral Argument – The Old Testament as a sufficient framework for morality

But do your examples even do that? The immorality of rape is immediately given in the seventh of the Ten Commandments “You shall not commit adultery.” Any sexual intercourse outside the bounds of marriage is proscribed by the Bible. So rape is always regarded as immoral in the Bible. That puts a quite different perspective on things. What your complaint really is is that the penalties for rape in the passages you cite seem unduly lenient. You think that the criminal laws against rape needed to be even stronger than they were in ancient Israel. Well, maybe you’re right. What does that prove? There’s no claim that Israel’s laws were perfect or adequately expressed God’s moral will. Jesus himself regarded the Mosaic law on divorce as inadequate and failing to capture God’s ideal will for marriage ( Matthew 5.31-2 ). Maybe the same was true for rape laws. Israel’s criminal statutes were not timeless truths for all societies but were intended for Israel at a certain specific time in its history. Moreover, these statutes are examples of case law: if such-and-such happens, then do so-and-so. These were idealizations which served as guides and might admit all sorts of exceptions and mitigating circumstances (like a child’s being afraid to cry for help).

In any case, Spencer, how much effort have you really made to understand these laws in the cultural context of the ancient Near East? None at all, I suspect; you probably got these passages from some free-thought publication or website and repeat them here with little attempt to understand them. By contrast, Paul Copan in his Is God a Moral Monster? (Baker: 2010) deals with these passages in their historical context, thereby shedding light on their meaning (pp. 118-119). Copan observes that there are three cases considered here:

1. Consensual sex between a man and a woman who is engaged to another man, which was a violation of marriage ( Deuteronomy 22.23 ). Both parties were to be executed.

2. Rape of a woman who is engaged to another man ( Deuteronomy 22.25 ). Only the rapist is executed; the woman is an innocent victim.

3. Seduction of a young woman who is not engaged to another man Deuteronomy 22.28 ; cf . Exodus 22.16-17 ). The seducer is obliged to marry the young woman and provide for her, if she will have him; otherwise her father may refuse him and demand payment of the usual bridal gift (rather like a dowry) anyway.

In short, rape was a capital crime in ancient Israel. As for Leviticus 20.13 , this verse prescribes the death penalty for consensual sexual intercourse between two men; that you interpret this passage to condemn a child who is assaulted by a pedophile only shows how tendentious your exegesis is.

If anything, then, the Bible is far stricter in its laws concerning sexual behavior than we are today. So even though appeal to the Bible is no part of my argument for (2), what the Bible teaches about the immorality of rape is right in line with my claim that objective moral values and duties exist.