January 26, 2009
Morality and Does God Exist
Connection between the Moral and Cosmological Arguments
Is the argument for morality too weak to be effective or can it be a powerful persuader in answering the question “Does God exist?” A Defenders class follower from Albania agrees with Dr. Craig’s formulation for the moral argument but asks whether similar reasoning would require one to believe in God because he holds to an objective external world. Dr. Craig responds that such an argument is in fact sound but probably not persuasive. Arguments are effective not merely because they are sound, but because their premisses are more plausible than their negations. Thus while the atheist may agree in an objective morality, he will require some additional reasons to understand the relationship between the existence of a real material word and the existence of God.
My name is Manol. I am from Albania. I have just graduated in Medicine and Surgery in the University of Bologna in Italy. I am a christian, and I have been using your arguments many times during evangelism. I am also preparing for teaching others in church about these arguments.
I am writing because I have a question on the moral argument, and because I have a curiosity question.
A) MORAL ARGUMENT QUESTION
The argument is:
1) If God does not exist then objective moral values do not exist.
2) Objective moral values do exist.
3) Therefore God exists.
I agree with all of that. The first premise seems very obvious to me. And I agree that in our moral experience we do discern a realm of objective moral truth.
But one day as I was thinking about it, considering what an atheist may answer to this argument, it came to my mind that he might answer that the argument is too “simplistic”, or too “obvious”.
Let me explain what I mean. Your argument in support of premise 2 is that in the same way the outer world is objective, in the same way moral values are objective. Our perception of objective moral values is on a par with our perception of the outer world with the five senses.
But if this parallelism between moral values and the outer world is true, then it means that the argument may be turned into something like this:
1) If God does not exist, then an objective outer world does not exist.
2) An objective outer world does exist.
3) Therefore God exists.
But as an argument it doesn’t seem very convincing. Is the parallel correct? If yes, then why not using this second argument in the debates or talks? If this second argument is used and it is proven not convincing, why should be the moral argument, which is a parallel argument, be convincing? Or, if you think this second argument is not convincing, why is it so?
B) CURIOSITY QUESTION
Sometimes you cannot be present during the “Defender’s” class, and you send a tape with the lesson registered. You often mention the “clandestine studios” or “a highly secret location”. What are these? They sound very much like those 007 movies, and any time I hear you speak of them, I get puzzled.
Thanks for all you are doing and God bless,
Morality and Does God Exist
Manol, I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to receive a question from so articulate and thoughtful a Christian in Albania, a traditionally Muslim and lately Marxist country! With your education and obvious language skills, you are well-prepared to be mightily used of God in your homeland.
I’m impressed that in contrast to so many native English speakers you have correctly grasped the moral argument which I defend. You are spot-on in thinking that the support for the second premiss lies in the fact that “in our moral experience we do discern a realm of objective moral truth.” You have correctly grasped the parallel between the deliverances of our five senses about the realm of physical objects and the deliverances of our moral sense about the realm of values and duties. Just as we cannot get outside our five senses to check their veridicality and so prove that we are not the proverbial “brain in a vat” being stimulated by a mad scientist to perceive an external world, so we cannot get outside our moral sense to check its veridicality. But in both cases we are perfectly rational, in the absence of any defeater of our beliefs, to believe that we do apprehend objective realities.
On this basis you construct a parallel argument, which, if dubious, ought to make us think that the moral argument is also dubious. Now the parallel argument you construct is actually a sort of cosmological argument for God’s existence. In fact, I think it is a sound argument! It is obviously valid, and both the premisses seem to me to be true. For the objective outer world obviously exists, and if God did not exist, then no world at all would exist, including an objective outer world! It’s not that if God did not exist, then the outer world would be merely a subjective illusion; rather it’s that there wouldn’t be anything at all!
So why not use this parallel argument in debates or talks? The answer to that question serves to highlight what makes for a good argument. Soundness is not sufficient to make an argument a good one. It’s easy to construct sound arguments for God’s existence. For example,
1. Either God exists or the moon is made of green cheese.
2. The moon is not made of green cheese.
3. Therefore, God exists.
This argument is logically valid, and both its premisses are true (a disjunction like (1) is true if one of its disjuncts is true, and in this case the first disjunct “God exists” is true). But I’m sure you wouldn’t recommend my using this argument in debates and talks! Why not? Simply because no one would believe the first premiss unless he already believed the conclusion to be true. The argument is thus circular or, as we say, begs the question.
So being sound is not sufficient to make an argument a good one. The argument must also not commit any informal logical fallacies like begging the question, and the premisses must be more plausible than their negations. The first premiss of your parallel argument threatens to beg the question and is not apt to appear more plausible than its negation to someone who is not already a theist. By contrast, as you know, the first premiss of the moral argument is one that many atheists themselves believe and argue for. Thus, although the premisses of your two arguments are parallel, the support for the premisses is quite different.
In order to run a good cosmological argument, we need to provide some reason to think that if God did not exist, then the world would not exist. I myself like the following version of Leibniz’s cosmological argument.
1. Anything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
3. The universe exists.
4. Therefore, the universe has an explanation of its existence. (from 1, 3)
5. Therefore, the explanation of the existence of the universe is God. (from 2, 4)
In this argument, premiss (1) is a modest version of the Principle of Sufficient Reason and (2) is logically equivalent to the atheist’s typical claim that if atheism is true, then there is no explanation of the universe’s existence. This argument is, I think, a good one (see question #25 in the Q & A Archive).
As for your curiosity question, I’m delighted that you’re part of our extended Defenders class! I’m amazed when I travel abroad to meet people who are, in effect, members of our class and listen regularly. You should understand that the classes are podcast on a delayed basis. In that way we can podcast a new class lesson every week despite the fact that with my frequent travels I’m often not there on a given Sunday to teach the class. Sometimes in the past I’ve video-taped a lesson to show in my absence, though more often today I rely on my colleague Joe Mulvihill to sub for me when I’m away. The sessions you refer to were taped during the time that al-Qaeda was releasing video-tapes of Ossama bin Laden from his secret hiding place. So my tongue-in-cheek references to our “clandestine studios” were making sport of that. So just have a good laugh and be assured that nothing sinister is going on!