Atheism and the goodness of God 3

In chapter 1 of God is Good, God is Great William Lane Craig discusses ‘Richard Dawkins on Arguments for God’. One is a moral argument for God’s existence:

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

This is a surprisingly powerful little argument

Take point 1. Very few people can really live without belief in objective moral values. Atheists like Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins certainly can’t. All are very stubborn moralists. So while Dawkins says that ‘there is at bottom no design no purpose no evil no good nothing but pointless indifference … we are machines for propagating DNA … it is every living object’s sole reason for being’, he still takes many moral stances. For example:

– He was mortified that Jeff Skilling of Enron took The Selfish Gene as inspiration for Social Darwinianism, justifying rampant greed and selfish behaviour

– He calls compassion and generosity ‘noble emotions’

– He judges the doctrine of Original Sin ‘morally obnoxious’

– He is morally offended by the religious indoctrination of children

– He even writes his own 10 commandments for guiding moral behaviour in The God Delusion

Such statements need objective ‘real’ moral values to underpin them and this of course stands in direct conflict with atheism for under naturalism animals are not moral agents. In other words, Craig argues, Dawkins has affirmed the first two premises of the moral argument and is, on pain or irrationality, unwillingly faced with the third.

Craig’s point: trying to construct morality without God is actually not possible.

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4 thoughts on “Atheism and the goodness of God 3

  1. I’m sorry, but the argument doesn’t hold up logically.

    First, let’s take number one…There is absolutely no reason to assume that objective moral values can’t exist without God. Even a tried and true biblical refrain such as “The Golden Rule” can easily serve evolution just as effectively as it serves God’s will. One should refrain from doing harm to others because it sends the message to others in our society that doing harm is acceptable. Since any reward we may gain from doing harm to another person is far outweighed by the harm that could be done to us by the multitude of other people in our sphere of existence, then evolution would dictate that “Do unto others” is a good, common-sense, objective moral–no God needed. The same rationale can go for many of the “objective morals” (i.e. commandments, sins, etc.) which people of faith attribute to God’s command.

    Now, let’s take number two…Who’s to say that objective morals actually exist? Sure, there are some moral beliefs which tend to survive time and cross cultures, but that is hardly evidence that they are “objective”. Take murder for example. Most people would agree that murder is wrong. Surely that qualifies as an “objective moral standard”? Well, not really. You see, when individual people and cultures get to choose the definition for the word “murder” then the moral standard loses all objectivity–it becomes SUBJECTIVE–the opposite of objective. What is murder? Everyone defines it differently. Even Christians can’t agree on whether abortion is murder or not. Pacifists believe killing another human being in the heat of war is murder, yet God commanded the Israelites to do that kind of thing all the time and there’s a legion of Christians supporting U.S. involvement in Iraq–so obviously there’s disagreement about what kind of killing constitutes a “murder”. So, there goes number two.

    Without number one and number two, number three is kind of a lonely number, don’t you think?

  2. Welcome John and thanks for your gracious ‘push back’
    Seems to me your points 1 and 2 are actually making the same argument – that there is no such thing as objective morality and any morality is ultimately relative or just an evolutionary adaptation.

    Returning to the post, I’d like to turn the objection around. Is not the problem of evil a problem for atheism not just Christians? Dawkins et al are actually very moralistic. Yet if there is no such thing as objective morality, then are not murder, genocide, rape, torture etc just activities they may dislike but are not ‘morally wrong’. Indeed, if there is an evolutionary advantage to killing your enemies, does it not perfect sense to do so? Indeed some other atheists are more consistent here and candidly admit that morality is an illusion of a genetic impulse to foster co-operation. It is not grounded in anything.

  3. I guess we’re getting hung up on what the term “objective” actually means. If your idea of an “objective” moral can only consist of a moral that comes from a “higher authority”, then I will concede that there are no objective morals. I would contend, however, that since we are all governed by the laws of evolution, then a moral law that serves evolution is, to me, an objective moral law. I don’t think it’s fair to call such a moral law “just” an evolutionary adaptation.

    You’re right, though, when you say that if murder, rape, torture, etc. served an evolutionary purpose, that it would make perfect sense to do so. That is not the case, however. It is possible to be moral without believing in God because it is in our best interests to do so. I can steal my neighbor’s television and I would gain a television. By doing that, however, I would be breaking the agreement that society has to not steal each other’s stuff. Then the rest of the world comes knocking down my door to steal, not only the television, but everything else I own. The individual is always outnumbered by those that could do him harm, so it is in everyone’s best interests to treat each other with respect and kindness. Evolution creates morality as a means for survival and advancement as a specie. There is no need for an authoritative God to pronounce such moral behavior as a mandate.

  4. John, on the one hand you concede that objective morality cannot exist since there is no higher authority, yet argue that a moral law that serves evolution is objective. This does not add up. The very definition of naturalism leaves no room for objective morality to ‘pop into existence’ from nowhere.
    You basically acknowledge this in your second paragraph. Morality is an evolutionary construct. Moral behaviour in this scenario is really is pragmatic self-interest. If everyone steals, society breaks down.
    To say that something is ‘good’ or ‘evil’ requires some compelling basis for believing and justifying it is so. I don’t see any such reasons in evolutionary naturalism. I do see them in Christianity. For example, the basis for treating others well is that they all humans are of equal dignity and worth since all are made in the image of God.

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