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#3 How Can God Be the Ground of Morality?

May 07, 2007

My question concerns the discussion of God as a logically necessary being in the book where you debate Flew [Does God Exist? With Antony Flew. Responses by K. Yandell, P. Moser, D. Geivett, M. Martin, D. Yandell, W. Rowe, K. Parsons, and Wm. Wainwright. Ed. Stan Wallace. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003].

For clarification, you say that for God to be logically necessary, he must be all powerful, all knowing, and morally perfect in all possible worlds. You demonstrated these by the kalam, fine-tuning, and moral arguments respectively. Is this brief summary correct?

My question regards Yandell’s/Swinburne’s objection that God cannot explain the objectivity of morality. You argue that because God is logically necessary that thus (and among other reasons) he can explain morality. But it seems like a circular (I think) argument because you need the proof from the moral argument to prove that God is logically necessary so that you can counter Swinburne’s objection. But you have to counter the objection before arguing that God is logically necessary. What is your reply? Have I understood this correctly?


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Dr. craig’s response


Your question evinces some misunderstanding. So before I address your question directly, let me clarify what I said. First, God’s existing necessarily is not related to His being all-powerful, all-knowing, and morally perfect, at least in any direct way. For God to be logically necessary He simply needs to exist in every logically possible world; indeed, to say that God is logically necessary just is to say that He exists in every possible world. Now, of course, since the attributes you mention are essential to God, it follows that He will have such attributes in every possible world. But I’m not suggesting that God exists in all possible worlds because He has these attributes.

Second, I did not attempt to demonstrate that God has these attributes by means of the three arguments you mention. The kalam and fine-tuning arguments imply the existence of an enormously powerful and intelligent being, but not an omnipotent or omniscient being. The moral argument can be augmented to lead to the conclusion that God, as the ground of objective moral value, is morally perfect, but that is not the conclusion of the argument itself.

Now Yandell and Swinburne think that God cannot be the ground of moral value in part because they both think that God exists merely contingently rather than necessarily, whereas at least some moral values exist necessarily. So on their view there are possible worlds in which God does not exist and yet moral values exist. My point is that the classical theist faces no such problem, since he believes that God is a logically necessary being and so can ground moral values in every logically possible world. So the objection finds no purchase against the classical theist.

I think you can see now that there is no circularity involved. If God is a contingent being, He cannot ground moral values. Agreed! It is now up to Yandell or Swinburne to prove that God is a contingent being. Unless they do that, the conclusion does not follow that God cannot ground moral values.

Thus, it is really irrelevant why the classical theist believes that God is logically necessary. He might believe it on religious grounds or on the basis of the ontological argument or the argument from contingency. He might, as you suggest, believe it on moral grounds. For if objective moral values imply God’s existence, this is plausibly not merely a contingent fact. Moral values cannot exist without God; they entail His existence. So if moral values exist necessarily, it follows that God exists necessarily.

So the argument looks like this:

1. Necessarily, if moral values exist, then God exists.

2. Necessarily, moral values exist.

3. Therefore, necessarily, God exists.

Yandell and Swinburne deny (1) because they think that God is contingent. But you can’t just assume that God is contingent or else you’re begging the question. For that just is to assume that the conclusion (3) is false, that God does not exist necessarily. So if anyone is in danger of circular reasoning, it is the objector to the moral argument.

So the classical theist who believes even on moral grounds that God is logically necessary is not reasoning in a circle. To the objector who denies (1) because God exists contingently, he replies, “Prove it (without begging the question)!” The ball is now in the objector’s court.

- William Lane Craig