Q & A With Dr. Craig: Theistic Ethics and Mind-Dependence
by Reasonable Faith
Q: Dear Dr. Craig,
I’m an atheist living in Sweden (there are plenty of us here, as you know!) with an interest in philosophy and ethics, and while I probably disagree with you on a lot of things I very much enjoy your writing and debates. Everyone knows they’re in for an intense debate when you take the stand! (There might be a theistic argument here: if God does not exist it’s a *miracle* you win so many debates, and therefore evidence of God! I kid, I kid)
I have a question about morality that you’ll hopefully be able to answer and clarify your position on. My knowledge of meta-ethics is pretty modest, but I’m actually leaning albeit tentatively towards morality being objective (see, there’s at least one thing we agree on!). I’d argue that moral obligation can be objective without God (I won’t do that here though), but I’d go even further and say that IF morality is founded in God it is NOT objective. If “objective” means “mind-independent” which might be a rough definition of objective, but let’s accept it for now doesn’t that make morality founded in God “divinely subjective” rather than objective? Now, perhaps you’d want to object here and say this is a straw man your view is that morality is founded in God’s *nature*, perhaps. But if God’s nature IS “the good”, I don’t understand where the normativity comes in. You’ll recognize this as the is/ought problem: if God’s nature IS in one way and not in another, how does that commit us to the view that we OUGHT to reflect the nature of God in our actions? It certainly seems like we might have prudential reasons to do so (if it were true), but I don’t see how we’d have any *moral* reasons (at least not in any stronger sense than what we’d get from basic utilitarianism which I know you reject).
My second question is more directly about your moral argument: if our moral duty is to “reflect God’s nature” and God simply IS “the good” (or however you want to put it, I’m trying my best not to straw-man!) doesn’t that make your moral argument circular? It seems to me it only make sense because you never define what you actually mean by “moral values and duties” (well, I’ve never seen you define it anyways!), if we change “objective moral values” to “God’s nature” and “duties” to reflection of that very nature, we get:
P1. If God does not exist, God’s nature and actions that reflect his nature does not exist. (I agree!)
P2. God’s nature and actions that reflect his nature does exist. (I disagree, this is what we’re arguing about!)
Therefore, God exists.
That seems to make it circular, cause you’re just assuming that God’s nature exist in premise two. Maybe you can clarify this!
So, to summarize (I know you like summaries): What’s the argument that bridges the is/ought problem above, and isn’t your moral argument ultimately circular? (Perhaps you could make a clarified version of your moral argument where you define moral values and duties explicitly)
Stay skeptical, keep educating and keep learning!
Dr. Craig Answers: It’s a pleasure to receive a question from Sweden, Rasmus, as I’ve always so enjoyed our visits and interaction there.
Your first question concerns the objectivity of theistic ethics. I do take the word “objective” to mean mind-independent. Lawrence Krauss once put it well: objective reality is what is still there when you quit thinking about it!
Now comes the tricky part: if moral values are grounded in God, the objector says, then since God is a mind, they are not mind-independent. Granted, they are independent of human minds, but they are not independent of God’s mind. So theistic ethics is mind-dependent and therefore not objective.
The problem with this objection is…
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