Archive | August, 2011

Parsing Craig on God and Morality

22 Aug

Parsing the Craig Argument on God and Morality

Having mentioned William Lane Craig in my last post, let me now parse out what I think are two of the major stumbling blocks with his ideas & with these appeals to “morality” in a “supernatural” sense

(1)  It seems Craig is saying –

As God is an “infinitely good” being, and because he is “infinitely good”,

He issues good commandments,

Therefore, he’s the unique source of all objective morality.

Let me quibble a bit …

God would be “good”, in his nature … (that’s fine.)  And because he’s God, he’d be “infinitely good”, (that’s fine too)!

But, keep in mind, if “he’s” a “HE”, and his nature’s is His NATURE, being the utmost ESSENTIAL NATURE that’s supposed to be identical with HIS “Being” as “ABSOLUTE BEING”,

Then, Divine Commandment’s redundant, and morality should proceed DIRECTLY from His NATURE as a first principle, and as the source of all objective morality.

… From there we proceed to Natural Law … the sense that across all times, spaces, and cultural contexts there are certain incontrovertible principles that we identify with as being the heart of all moral systems in a grounded, objective sense …

Natural Law is the principle which says that morality is both universal and grounded or rooted in common human behavior and experience.  Morality or ethics isn’t just some social convention we as human beings and human communities agreed on following to our mutual benefit and the benefit of our societies.  It’s the core from which we build our separate moralities.

In traditional Western philosophy and theologies, Natural Law comes about as a consequence of human rationality making contact with the fundamental order of the world in both created and uncreated reality.  God, as it were, built in humankind the innate sense of being able to glean out the order of the universe including its moral principles.  … So when someone in the western hemisphere arrives as the same ethical and ontological conclusions of life/nature/experience as someone on the other side of the globe based on the same axioms albeit through different cultural views, or someone in the deep past comes to it in tandem with someone from modern times, then that would be a function of the Natural Law.  Common moral and value-based conclusions, in this philosophy, bespeaks a common ethical foundation for mankind (i.e., the Natural Law).  To have moral universals that are shared by everyone also requires there be a Natural Law.

And, yet, this needn’t require a divine Lawgiver to enact it.  The “Law” isn’t so much a code of conduct thought-up and given from on-high as it is a state of being and a state of behavior to be discerned by a rational mind.  It is a fundamental state of existence that can be arrived at by reflecting on the condition of the world and surmising how it best ought to be in order that the best possible outcomes in life may be achieved by-and-for everyone. But, for this to be the case, there doesn’t need to be a “Law-Giver”, just an unwritten “Law” from which our own human commandments and sanctions derive.

Therefore, Divine Commandment’s superfluous, since Morality would EMERGE from God’s very NATURE in-and-of-itself.

God is not so much a Divine “Commander” as is the Divine LAW itself (or Himself).  … The fundamental Order in existence from which all other magnitudes of order spring, both ontological and normative.  Natural Law, as an operation, therefore derives from this basic order in the Divine, Eternal Law.  Divine Command or arbitration has nothing to do with it; we’re talking about a state of being in moral affairs, not a concocted system springing from the mind of God.  By extension, then, ethics is a question of more amenable states of being and behavior in a natural context, not of arbitrary codes artificially place on people from above either from a divinity or from a social establishment. … Divine  Commandment’s superfluous in such a setting; morality proceeds from the nature of law itself, derived in turn from the state of nature itself and the fundamental nature of reality in our universe … (A state I might add that doesn’t even need a God to maintain it) …

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(2)  Having said that, I’ll move on to my next point about “supernatural morality.”

I derive this idea from the question/title of the Craig-Harris Debate entitled:  “Is the Foundation for Morality Natural or Supernatural?”  To truly gauge that question, you have to get clear on what it is for something to be SUPER-NATURAL and what it mean to have a SUPERNATURAL MORALITY.

“Supernatural” in this instance could mean-

Outside the bounds of the physical order of the cosmos and its
material nature

Pertaining to spiritual realities, or,

Referring to the distinct character of God-in-Himself

For simplicity’s sake in this sketch, let me go with the third
meaning of “supernatural.”

If morality’s “supernatural” or its “foundation” is “supernatural”, then it can only mean by this argument that it is rooted in the Inner Being of God, as is the order of Supernatural Grace.

But, then, no one but religious believers would be able to
participate in this order, since only could God reveal it by virtue of DIVINE REVELATION.  Only by virtue of Supernatural Revelation can one come to know of the Interior Life of God.

We know that’s not the case with Morality.  Believers and non-believers alike can come to an equal knowledge of the moral order regardless of race, creed, culture, or mental state.

Therefore, to say morality is “supernatural” is a confusion.

But to say that its “foundation” or “basis” is “supernatural” is also mistaken.

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Apologies if this sounded like too much Scholastic religious-theological hairsplitting, but I wanted to make clear why I think the Craig theses are wrong. Believer or not a believer, if you follow these arguments from their theological and philosophical roots in Catholic-Christian tradition, you find what I see to be a major shortcoming in their structure as ideas.

Their etherealism concerns me as a rationalist for their very contradiction of well established  fundamental theological-philosophical axioms about Catholic-Orthodox Christian beliefs.  These tenets aren’t johnny-come-lately ideas.  They’re supposed to be basic to Christianity.

So I have to wonder if they’re being conveniently avoided for religious etherealism.  I also wonder if these ideas aren’t also being swept under the rug by current believers and prominent theologians in favor of a more spiritualized, soulful Christianity. … Am I missing something here? Or are my misgivings correct about spiritual etherealism?  …

I invite you to examine this material for yourselves and come to your own conclusions.  Feel free to comment on the points I’ve raised here.

Thank you.

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“Because God Said So” – Answering the Arguments of William Lane Craig

20 Aug

Because God Said So …”: Answering the Moral Arguments of William Lane Craig through Natural Law Theory

  1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9n0lqWPaIuM
  2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqaHXKLRKzg&feature=player_embedded

I recently watched a number of uploaded debates on Youtube in which the Christian apologist William Lane Craig sparred with prominent secular thinkers on the nature of morality, the existence of God, and the Biblical Account of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Overall they weren’t really “bad” as debates go, but they could have been better.  Craig is a master-debater, and while his opponents did know their material, they were often at odds on how to best counter his arguments.

It’s very hard to effectively meet the ideas of a Christian apologist when said-apologist is also a master rhetorician who also knows how to best advance the position of his own philosophical arguments.  Regardless of that, I think Christopher Hitchens, Austin Dacey, Sam Harris, Louise Antony, and Bart Ehrman (among others) did a fine job in rising to the challenge of debating him.  Hats off to them for doing it!

Below are my responses to two of those programs:

(1) the debate with Louise Antony & (2) William Lane Craig versus Sam Harris.

The first is in reference to how Antony handled WLC’s take on Divine Command Theory viz-a-viz “goodness in itself” and of which I commented on the remarks page of the video; the second written as an open-letter to William Lane Craig (and submitted to his Reasonable Faith website) where I ask him to comment on the traditional theological definition of “evil as privation” and situate it in reference to Harris’ concepts.

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Louise Antony did a stupendous job in meeting Craig on these issues of Divine Commandment morality versus pursuing the good in itself and for itself.  I enjoyed the way she drew out the logical consequences of Craig’s theories, even though she’s not a theist and no longer subscribes to the theology in question.  That she can reach back into her background as a former Catholic, and understand the philosophical implications of where divine command theory takes you versus the theory of ‘moral independence’, is outstanding and it’s what gave her an intellectual advantage in this debate.

Still, I’ve a couple of points on that.

I like her arguments, but I think her case could have been strengthened by arguing -> (1) Inherent “goodness” (goodness-in-itself) would have to be functional of God’s Existence or Being, (2) That a recognition of goodness-in-itself would not have to be predicated on Divine Command, merely on the basis of God’s Nature, and therefore, through that Nature, it projects onto the created natural order, and that (3) By virtue of that said reality, creatures can know that moral law objectively by innate natural sense irrespective of divine revelation or command & across all cultural contexts.

In other words, Natural Law theory is itself the perfect answer to Craig’s arguments in these debates.  It demonstrates that the pursuit of goodness-in-itself is both possible & achievable by human efforts, whether or not God made it known by actual commandments.

That’s she was advancing her points from an atheistic position makes no difference to this argument.  …

Merely the focus is moved from a Divine Being issuing rules (or giving rise to them by his very nature as pure Goodness-In-Itself or In-Himself) to the state of the natural order itself.  Because ‘law’ and ‘order’ exists in the universe, and human beings can discern and see the benefit of such principles in terms of how the world best operates and how human interactions can best reflect those principles in their societies, hence we have the moral responsibility to frame our ethics and our social codes on that objective foundation.

Pursuing the ‘good in itself’ and doing something good ‘because it is good’ makes better sense than doing it just because God-Said-So.  Cheers to Professor Antony for making this argument.

We do the good “for goodness sake”, not because the authority in question is “said to be good” or even “infinitely good.”

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Dear Dr. Craig,

I watched your debate with Sam Harris with a great deal of interest.  Good exchange, and for the most part excellent for how you interacted with each others’ ideas.  I do have a lingering question, however; one that I hope you’ll address here in light of that debate.

If “evil” is defined as a “lack of a due good” then wouldn’t the “worst possible misery for everyone” be the quintessential privation of goodness in the practical, moral order of human society? … Put another way, in drawing on Natural Law theory and Thomistic-Augustian thought, wouldn’t Harris’ views on “well-being” and “misery” from THE MORAL LANDSCAPE be compatible with the traditional philosophy of “goodness” as the “fulfillment of due nature” in the moral order of human social existence, where the “good” in this instance means the “maximization of [personal and interpersonal] well-being”?

Just wondering, since the two models seem to fit-in well with one another, as well as being both functionalist and naturalistic in their orientation as ideas.

So, what I’m asking here is really twofold.  (1) Is there, then, any merit to Sam Harris’ position based on such reasoning [and in those terms as I outlined them above in the preceding paragraph of my letter here] & (2) What does this, therefore, say about the value of the above definitions of what the “good” is and what “evil” is? …

In other words, is there any merit to these ideas or are they in fact problematic?

I realize you’re not a [Catholic] theologian as such, nor perhaps a Thomist or Natural Law theorist for that matter, but if you could answer this question for me, on the basis of being a philosopher and a theistic moral philosopher in particular, I’d appreciate it. …

The heart of my point -> given your status as a proponent of Divine Command Theory and your critical appraisal of naturalistic approaches to moral thought, is there a naturalistic flaw to viewing “evil” as “privation”?

I look forward to your response.  Thank you.