William Lane Craig argues that intrinsic values (real objective moral value) requires God. We can be nice to each other if God doesn’t exist, but it wouldn’t “really matter.” (You can find his argument in text format here or as a free streaming video here.) He basically argues that we have to either be reductionistic materialists or theists, but reductionistic materialists can’t believe in intrinsic values. We know intrinsic values exist, so we have to be theists (believe in God).
I have already argued that intrinsic values don’t require God precisely because materalists don’t have to be reductionists. It is possible that the human mind and intrinsic values are an emergent part of the universe. Craig does not say why such a view can be dismissed despite being widely accepted by philosophers. There are contemporary philosophers who believe in intrinsic values and don’t think they require God, and Craig’s argument would not phase these philosophers because they accept irreducible facts. Craig seems to completely disregard the worldview of such contemporary philosophers.
Craig’s argument is the following:
- Either we must be reductionistic materialists or theists.
- Reductionistic materialism can’t account for intrinsic values.
- Theism can account for intrinsic values.
- Intrinsic values exist.
- Therefore, God exists.
Reductionistic materialism is the view that the only real parts of the universe are the smallest material parts (particles and energy). Everything else is an illusion. Intrinsic values are not particles or energy, so intrinsic values (by definition) would be rejected by reductionistic materialists. (Of course, mental events would also have to be rejected by reductionistic materialists, and that seems to be sufficient reason to reject reductionistic materialism.)
How Plausible is Craig’s Argument?
I have two major objections against Craig’s argument. One, his argument is a false dilemma. Two, it could be a reductio ad absurdum.
Objection 1: His argument requires a false dilemma.
I agree that reductionistic materialists can’t account for intrinsic values, and I agree that intrinsic values exist. Therefore, I agree that we have to reject reductionistic materialism. However, I don’t agree that we “have to be theists.” Why? Craig presents us with a false dilemma. We don’t have only two choices (to be reductionistic materialists or theists). We could be atheistic platonists (people who believe intrinsic values constitute a separate reality), dualists (people who view the mind and body as two different sorts of reality), pluralists (people who think there are multiple sorts of reality), or materialistic emergence theorists (people who think that there is only one reality with multiple irreducible elements). Right now I find some sort of materialistic emergence to be plausible.
What is materialistic emergence? The view that material conditions give rise to new sorts of reality. The brain isn’t the mind. Instead, the mind exists as an irreducible part of reality that can’t be fully described in non-mental terms. However, the mind exists because of the brain. Additionally, the mind is part of material reality. It isn’t a separate substance or property. I think that intrinsic values exist from some sort of emergence as well.
Objection 2: He Provides a Reductio ad Aburdum.
William Lane Craig seems to think that he proved that God exists, but it seems more likely that he proved that one of his premises is false. I find his argument to be a a reductio ad absurdum. The conclusion, “God exists,” is not something anyone has to accept, so one of his premises is almost certainly false. Many people will then say, “Well, I guess intrinsic values don’t exist then,” and reject premise 4. However, I think premise 4 is true and I disagree with premise 1 instead. (I disagree that we either have to be reductionistic materialists or theists.)
One kind of bad argument: Premises of an argument should be more plausible than the conclusion. We need to start with things that are pretty certain to lead us to a conclusion that is no more plausible than the premises. There is something wrong with an argument if the conclusion is more certain than the premises. For example, “If I am in a dream world, then I can sit on this chair. I am in a dream world. Therefore, I can sit on this chair.” We know I can sit on this chair, but we don’t know I am in a dream world. We find it very implausible that I am currently in a dream world, so such premises don’t seem to give “evidence” of the fact that I can sit on this chair.
Another kind of bad argument: An even worse mistake for an argument is to provide a conclusion that we find to be more plausibly false than the premises are plausibly true. Plausible premises should lead to somewhat less plausible conclusions, but a bad argument can have seemingly acceptable premises that lead to an implausible conclusion. For example, “Killing is always wrong. If killing is always wrong, then we shouldn’t kill one person to save thousands of lives. Therefore, killing to save thousands of lives is wrong.” Some people would agree with both of the premises, but the conclusion is almost certainly false.
If an uncertain premise leads to an obviously false conclusion, then we have an example of a “reductio ad absurdum.” These are arguments should be meant to show that an uncertain belief is probably false because it leads to absurd consequences. The belief that killing is always wrong seems to lead to the absurd consequence that killing one person to save thousands of lives is also wrong.
Craig’s argument seems to be implausible for this reason. The premises might be accepted by some people, but it seems to lead to an absurd consequence. If we are to ever accept an argument for God, then the premises will have to be very close to certainty rather than merely “accepted by some people.”
Some Additional Constructive Criticism
Not only is Craig’s argument based on a fallacy, but I believe he uses some questionable methods of persuasion. His arguments might be made to “trick people to convert people to theism” rather than to rationally change people’s mind. (I think Craig is too intelligent and well-informed to use these fallacies on accident.) Consider the following:
To use suppressed evidence is to refuse to mention certain essential factors that could plausibly undermine an argument. We might not want to mention objections to our arguments when those objections might prove us wrong.
Craig neglects to show that the very people who might disagree with him (e.g. emergence theorists) do exist, and their worldview is considered to be very plausible by the experts. Such a worldview is apparently “not worth mentioning.” Even worse, many philosophers will reject reductionistic materialism and theism as plausible views. (I certainly think that reductionistic materialism is much less plausible than emergence materialism.) Craig assumes that we either have to be reductionist materialists or theists. Those might not even be plausible options. Instead, the more plausible options seem to include Platonism and emergence materialism, for example.
Moreover, Craig gives a list of “testimonials” from professional philosophers who seem to agree that materialism is incompatible with intrinsic value. For example, he quotes Michael Ruse, a philosopher of science from the University of Guelph, as saying the following:
The position of the modern evolutionist . . . is that humans have an awareness of morality . . . because such an awareness is of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth . . . . Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate that when somebody says ‘Love they neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves . . . . Nevertheless, . . . such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, . . . and any deeper meaning is illusory . . . .
Obviously he didn’t quote the opinion of professional emergence theorists. This gives the impression that the majority of professional philosophers agree with him. The fact that some philosophers disagree with him is not mentioned at all, and he does not consider any serious objections to his own argument.
Appeal to Ignorance
An appeal to ignorance is perfectly blended with suppressed evidence to give us the impression that theism is the only possible foundation for intrinsic values. An appeal to ignorance is the suggestion that “we don’t know how to explain something being true, so it must be false.” However, failing to explain something doesn’t mean it’s false. For example, we didn’t always know how to explain what causes lightning without referring to God, but that doesn’t mean God really does cause lightning.
Supposedly we are expected to agree that since atheists can’t explain where intrinsic values come from, they have to reject intrinsic values altogether:
First, if atheism is true, objective moral values do not exist. If God does not exist, then what is the foundation for moral values? More particularly, what is the basis for the value of human beings? If God does not exist, then it is difficult to see any reason to think that human beings are special or that their morality is objectively true. Moreover, why think that we have any moral obligations to do anything? Who or what imposes any moral duties upon us?
No serious attempt to actually answer the question is ever given. The question is taken to somehow vindicate his position despite the fact that some atheistic philosophers really do try to answer this question.
Moreover, philosophers don’t have to explain everything just like scientists don’t have to explain everything. Scientists didn’t need to explain the cause of lighting before being able to do so, and we shouldn’t feel the need to explain the cause of intrinsic values before being able to do so.
William Lane Craig might have a much better argument that morality requires God elsewhere. Perhaps this argument is just the one meant for the masses rather than for other philosophers. Either way, his use of fallacies seem to lack integrity and I see no reason to think intrinsic values could only exist with God, as I have argued for elsewhere.
William Lane Craig is a major philosophical figure for many conservative Christians, and many people agree with his arguments, so it is worth our time to figure out where his arguments go wrong.
A Youtube Debate: Does Morality Require God? with William Lane Craig and Dr. Shelly Kagan.