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The Existence of God (Moral Argument)

June 17, 2007     Time: 00:11:14
The Existence of God (Moral Argument)


Conversation with William Lane Craig

KEVIN HARRIS: Can faith and reason work together, or are they somehow mutually exclusive? What role do facts and evidence play when it comes to the Christian faith? This is Reasonable Faith – Conversations with Dr. William Lane Craig. I’m Kevin Harris. On behalf of Dr. Craig, I want to welcome you to this discussion as Dr. Craig examines apologetics, reason, faith, and philosophy. Today we are examining some of the evidence for the existence of God.

Dr. Craig, as we discuss evidence for the existence of God, this evidence is so helpful in helping people who might have intellectual problems or roadblocks to faith in Christ. When we discuss the evidence for God’s existence, one that you use quite often is known as the moral argument. Morals are just that which deals with right and wrong?

DR. CRAIG: Right. That would be a good way to understand it. Right and wrong would have to do with our moral duties – what we should and should not do. Good and evil has to do with moral values.

KEVIN HARRIS: Ethics would be the study of morals.

DR. CRAIG: Right, and of moral situations. The question that I'm interested in is this sort of meta-ethical question. It's a question about ethics, namely, are there objective moral values and duties that are independent of human opinion, or are moral values and duties merely conventional or subjective?

KEVIN HARRIS: I wouldn't probably be overstating the case by holding that most people think today that morals are subjective, that morals are not objective. Morals are whatever you decide they are.

DR. CRAIG: I think that most people might give lip service to that point of view, but they don't live that way. If you press them, very, very quickly 98 or more percent of people will recognize that they do believe in moral absolutes of some sort.

KEVIN HARRIS: How does this point to God? What is the moral argument?

DR. CRAIG: I think the moral argument would go like this.

1. If God does not exist then objective moral values and duties do not exist.

2. But objective moral values and duties do exist.

From those two premises it would follow:

3. Therefore, God exists.

Now, that's a logically airtight argument. If you grant the two premises then the conclusion follows necessarily. So the person who wants to hold to atheism will have to refute at least one of those two premises. But which one will it be? The first one says if God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist. That's one that, as you say, most people have been taught in our schools to be true. If there is no God then everything is relative. But then, on the other hand, the second premise – objective values do exist – people have a deep sense of the goodness of, say, love and the goodness of tolerance and fair play, and of the evilness of, say, torturing a child for fun. Neither of these premises can be plausibly denied. So the atheist finds himself in a very difficult dilemma when confronted with this argument. In talking with non-believers, it's been almost amusing to see them vacillate back and forth between these two premises – denying one and then, when they're convinced that that one's true, denying the other, and then when they're convinced that's true, going back and denying the first again. And they just go back and forth because they want to escape the conclusion but they find themselves incapable of doing so because both premises seem to be true.

KEVIN HARRIS: Does this mean that a person needs to believe in God in order to be moral?

DR. CRAIG: Not at all. That's not what the argument is saying, and that is a common confusion. People will often indignantly react to this argument by saying you don't have to believe in God to live a good life. I'm a good person, and I don't believe in God! or I know good people who don't believe in God. That's not relevant to the argument at all because the argument is not that objective moral values and duties cannot exist without belief in God, but rather that they cannot exist without God. You need God himself as a foundation for objective moral values and duties, and beliefs in God are just irrelevant to the argument. So the argument says nothing about the ability of the non-believer to live a good and moral life.

KEVIN HARRIS: Let's look at that first premise then – if God does not exist then objective moral values do not exist.

DR. CRAIG: I think it's important to understand what we mean by the word “objective” here. By “objective” what I mean is valid and binding independently of whether any human person believes in them or not.

KEVIN HARRIS: True whether you believe it or not.

DR. CRAIG: That's right. So, for example, to say that the Holocaust was objectively wrong means that the Holocaust was wrong even though the Nazis who carried it out thought that it was right, and it would still have been wrong even if the Nazis had won World War II and succeeded in brainwashing or exterminating everybody who disagreed with them so that it was universally agreed that the Holocaust was good. To say that objective moral values exist is to say that these values and duties hold and are valid (or true) independently of whether anybody believes in them or not. A good many theists and atheists alike agree that if there is no God then moral values are not objective in that sense.

K: Because if God did not exist then the people who believe that objective morals don't exist would be right in that they say we just get it from society or it's whatever we come up with as an individual.

C: I think that's right. If there is no God then it's very difficult to see how objective moral values and duties could exist because on atheism we're just animals, we’re relatively evolved primates, and animals don't have moral duties. They are not moral agents. For example, when a lion kills a zebra, it kills it, but it doesn't murder it. Or when a hawk takes a fish from the talons of another hawk, it takes the fish, but it doesn't steal it because there's no moral component in any of these actions. And on atheism that's all we are – we're just primates, just animals. Therefore, it's difficult to see why our actions or decisions would have any moral dimension at all. Morals on atheism become, as you say, just spin-offs of socio-biological evolution and everything becomes socio-culturally relative.

KEVIN HARRIS: Now, the second premise is: moral objectives do exist.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, according to the second premise we do have objective moral values and duties. I think the best way to show this is simply by reflecting on our moral experience. I like to ask non-believers, “Do you really believe that it's morally indifferent – that there's no moral difference – between taking up a little child in your arms and loving him and caring for him, or a sexual predator slashing that child's face with a knife and raping that child?” And, as I say, virtually everybody understands that there's a moral difference between those actions.

KEVIN HARRIS: Sometimes we just kind of know deep down. We tend to be in touch with it.

DR. CRAIG: Absolutely. I think our belief in objective moral values is what philosophers call a properly basic belief. It's one that we apprehend in moral experience. All you have to do is just probe a little bit with your non-believing friend to see that they do believe, in fact, in absolute moral values and duties. They'll be committed to the values of tolerance, for example, or love or generosity or some other value. And they'll regard certain things as evil, for example, religious intolerance or the medieval Crusades or perhaps even the religious right will be denounced as immoral by certain people. It's remarkable the moral judgments that people make all the time. So I often like to use examples of atrocities perpetrated in the name of God. People see that that's wrong, and they condemn those things, and in so doing they recognize the existence of objective moral values and duties.

KEVIN HARRIS: It's very hard to get around that morals and values tend to be objective – beyond us.

DR. CRAIG: I think that's right. It's really unlivable because every day you live you decide how you are going to interact with other persons. Are you going to treat other persons as intrinsically valuable, as ends in themselves? Or are you going to treat them as things that have just extrinsic worth, like tools to be used. I think we – all of us – recognize that other persons, including ourselves, have intrinsic value, and we want others to treat us in the same way. So there is, I think, in moral experience a kind of undeniable apprehension of objective moral values and duties.

KEVIN HARRIS: Being that that's the case, do some atheist philosophers believe that morals are objective yet they don't attribute that to God?

DR. CRAIG: This is correct. I think that there's a wide misconception among laypeople that university professors are relativistic and don't hold to moral absolutes. In fact, that's not true at all. If you look at actual surveys taken on university campuses, it will show that professors are more absolutistic when it comes to moral values than the students are. The students are relativistic; the professors believe in moral absolutes. And of the professors, the ones who believe most strongly in moral absolutes are the philosophers. They have thought about these ethical questions and realize that there are moral absolutes, moral duties and values that are objective.

KEVIN HARRIS: In conclusion then, because objective moral values exist, it just makes sense that God exists.

DR. CRAIG: I think that's right. In the absence of God, we are reduced to being mere animals, and animals are not moral agents or subjects. But given that we do apprehend objective moral values and duties, it follows logically and inescapably that God exists.[1]


[1]          Total Running Time: 11:14 (Copyright © 2007 William Lane Craig)