Tuesday, October 04, 2005

William Lane Craig's defense of the moral argument

This is Bill Craig's defense of the moral argument for God's existence.


Mike Darus said...

Victor, I prefer Craig's approach to the theistic foundation of ethics:

"On the theistic view, objective moral values are rooted in God. God's own holy and perfectly good nature supplies the absolute standard against which all actions and decisions are measured. God's moral nature is what Plato called the "Good." He is the locus and source of moral value. He is by nature loving, generous, just, faithful, kind, and so forth."

He does not take the position that good is good because God says so, but because it reflects God's moral nature. Craig's view is distinct from Beversluis's exposition:

"According to this view, when we talk about God's goodness, we must be prepared to give up our ordinary moral standards. The term good when applied to God does mean something radically different from what it means when applied to human beings. To suppose that God must conform to some standard other than his own sovereign will is to deny his ultimacy. His is not under any moral constraint to command certain actions and to forbid others."

If Craig is right (and I think he is) that theistic morality is based on God's nature, not an arbitrary will of God, Craig's answer does not give a tidy solvent to the rasor. Often tidy theology is capable from sending us away from truth instead of toward it. We will continue to argue all those times when God ordered actions that stretch our idea of goodness. Beversluis's arbitrary morality based on the wims of an all powerful being is not satisfying.

If we base morality on God's nature, there are things God will not do because they are contrary to his nature. But saying God cannot do certain things says a little to much. An all powerful being can be self-limiting and still be all powerful. It is only when the limitation comes from other source that we would conclude he is not all powerful. It would be an interesting discussion to consider whether some of those difficult Biblical passages might be examples of God's will making an exception to acting according to his nature. I suspect that we are lacking some information to judge God though.

The two views may be reconciled if we consider that perhaps God determined what his nature would be. This would make his nature and will one in the same. But this makes my head hurt.

Jason Pratt said...

To propose that God determined what His nature would be (if the words 'would be' can have any relevant meaning at all to the Eternal), would be to land on Ockamism again; the only difference being that God hold Himself to His same _arbitrary_ standard. (Which He could just as easily stop doing any time, and, on this view, continue on being God.)

Yes, God's own holy and perfectly good nature supplies the absolute standard against which all actions and decisions are measured. But to think of it in this fashion, is to consider God Himself to be simply a Law. _That_ isn't what, nor how, God is. As tempting as it may be, we mustn't set God's nature up as an idol, even if we set the idol in the heart of God Himself.

Nor must we suppose God Himself _obeys_ this idol, much less sets it up Himself in His heart.

Yet again, if the Self-Existent ever acted _not_ in accord with His 'nature', then He would cease to exist; and we would not be here now to discuss the topic. {g} To act out of accord with His nature would be to change His nature, and the immutable will not do this.

(Not that it would be impossible for Him to do it--respectfully _pace_ Swinburne and a bunch of other theologians--any more than it's possible, by _our_ doing it, that we can do something the Omnipotent cannot possibly do. But He doesn't do it, and never will; and our continued existence is testimony to this.)

Did (or does) WLC say _anything_ about what God's own holy and perfectly good nature _is_, in itself: i.e. in God's own self-existant Existence? (Craig is a Christian and ought to know; I know he teaches it in other contexts... sort of. {s})

Victor Reppert said...

Mike: Craig, if I understand him correctly, would be regarded as a Platonist according to Beversluis's analyis.

Mike Darus said...

Jason said
"Yet again, if the Self-Existent ever acted _not_ in accord with His 'nature', then He would cease to exist; and we would not be here now to discuss the topic."

I am not sure that is necessarily true. God may have the power and freedom to act contrary to His nature. Omnipotence could include the power to make exceptions. An unpredictable God would make life more interesting. It might not even challenge immutability if the power to make exceptions is built in at the beginning. This could free Craig's view from the Platonist category since God is still the definer of the good, not the governed by the good.

Victor Reppert said...

Also I should point out that Beversluis in presenting the Ockhamist position he is not presenting a position he himself endorses.

Jason Pratt said...

Mike D (and hereafter):

{{God may have the power and freedom to act contrary to His nature.}}

Actually, I agreed (respectfully against Swineburne etc., remember? {g}) that God not only may but _does_ have the power and freedom to act contrary to His nature.

Having the power and freedom to do this, though, is _not_ the same as actually doing it.

To act contrary to His fundamental nature, would be to act contrary to His own self-existence. If this happened, He wouldn't exist--God would be committing suicide at the most fundamental level possible, and so (insofar as we continue to depend on the Independent for our own derivative existence, which logically we must) we ourselves would also therefore not exist; nor would what we call the past, present and future of our system of derivative Nature.

Yet clearly, we're here. Therefore, even though God _could_ choose to act in contravention to His nature, we may be completely assured that He never has, never does, and never will (again from our perspective as creatures with a natural history. From God's perspective it would simply be 'never does'.)

My own existence as who I am, gives me solid grounds, not only to believe the existence and fundamental characteristics of God, but also to trust (despite occasional evidence which might seem to the contrary) that God does _not_ act against His own nature (unlike me--the sinner, who _does_ occasionally act in dis-accord against the nature of fundamental reality.) Which in turn means, that I ought to go on to trust God _personally_. Which I do. {s!} (But keep in mind this is more than only a logical conclusion. Drawing such a conclusion is one thing; _acting_ toward God in faithfulness is something more.)

{{An unpredictable God would make life more interesting.}}

My life is _quite_ interesting anyway... {sigh} {g!}

There is nothing to be gained, and everything to lose, from proposing God to be, in essence, fundamentally untrustworthy. To whatever extent He is fundamentally trustworthy, then to _that_ existent He will in fact be fundamentally "predictable".

Now, in _secondary_ matters, God may not be in practice "predictable"--I am not omniscient, and I cannot say all the things He is (and is not) doing, much less all the things He has done and will do, in our history (much _much_ less again what He does, if anything, in histories other than that of our own system of Nature). I am constantly (not always pleasantly) surprised by specific choices He makes, to do and (in relation to His doing) not to do.

_But_: in all cases, including ones where I myself suffer horribly as a result (as has happened and continues to happen, and as I suspect will continue to happen until I finish dying--possibly afterward, too); I still believe He is fundamentally trustworthy. Even if He slays me, even if this is into the eons of the eons, _I still will trust Him_: not in sheer assertion, but in cognition and recognition of Who He is:

and Who He is, is _love_.

{{It might not even challenge immutability if the power to make exceptions is built in at the beginning.}}

I agree, it doesn't--but only if God continually chooses to continue in immutation (so to speak). {s} If He _does_ do differently than what He fundamentally _is_, then He is not immutable.

He cannot _be_ love, and not always be love. He cannot _be_ righteousness (justice, 'fair-togetherness' as the Greek literally puts it), and not always be righteousness (much less not always be loving and righteous.)

He may do wrath, and certainly _does_ do wrath; but the wrath will be done with an ultimate intent of fulfilling love and fair-togetherness (i.e. 'righteousness') toward the object of His wrath (such as toward myself, the sinner: the murderer of God, abuser of His grace, and enemy of the Creation He loves for which He gives His own life, all that He has to give.)

He may also _cease_ doing wrath, because wrath is _not_ what He is in Self-existence: the Son is not wroth against the Father, nor the Father against the Son, whether as the Eternal Ground of all reality, or in some system of derivative Nature. There would _be no God_ (Self-begetting/Self-begotten) if that was true.

I allow, admit, and even insist: the Father _could_ war against the Son, and the Son _could_ war against the Father; either one of the Persons of the substance _could_ do this. But they don't--never have, never will. God would cease to exist, and we wouldn't be here to even bring up the topic.

(I recognize and include the 3rd Person of the divine substance, of course, in this economy; but the Spirit proceeds--from the Son and the Father, I believe, respectfully disagreeing with the typical position of the Eastern Orthodox on this point--which is distinctly different from self-begetting/begottoning, to coin a word. {s} The procession of the Spirit has nothing _in itself_ to do with the self-existence of God, which is what I'm discussing right now; which is why I haven't been speaking of the 3rd Person.)

{{This could free Craig's view from the Platonist category since God is still the definer of the good}}

Dropping him, I think I have said, over into the Ockhamist category instead. {g}

I accept neither horn of the Euthyphro as the solution to the Euthyphro: God is neither _governed by_ the good, nor (merely) defines the good, but _is_ in His own Self-Existence an eternally valid (immutably so! {g}) interpersonal relationship. This interpersonal fair-togetherness is the standard of our own relationships; and not arbitrarily, but fundamentally grounding our own derivative existences at all.


Steven Carr said...

Ezekiel 20 shows that , even if God gives absolute moral commands, theists cannot say that the commands God has given us are just and good. God does not always give just and good commands.

Ezekiel 20:25 I also gave them over to statutes that were not good and laws they could not live by; 26 I let them become defiled through their gifts—the sacrifice of every firstborn —that I might fill them with horror so they would know that I am the LORD.'

God can give statutes allowing child sacrifice, and theists have to say that these laws are good laws, because they do not know that God can give bad statutes so that people can be filled with horror.

Jason Pratt said...

Assuming we're going to allow scripture as an authoritative witness (which I don't have to do)...

Ez 20:25 does _not_ say that God gave _over to them_ such laws. It says He gave _them over to_ such laws.

As usual, it helps to actually read the _story_, not just grab a verse for prooftexting (pro or con)--though in this case the verse itself doesn't actually say what you're claiming it says.

Had you quoted from another translation, such as the NASB, you might have had warrant from the single verse--though still taken hugely out of its context--since _that_ translation _does_ read: "And I also gave them statutes that were not good and ordinances by which they could not live." If the subsequent verse 26 is appended to _that_ without further context, then it might indeed look as though God is saying (through the prophet) that He gave the nation not just such orders in general, but specific ones such as passing babies through the fire (i.e. the rites of the worship of Moloch).

The JPS Tanakh, notably, omits the phrase "in that they caused all that which opens the womb (i.e. all their firstborn) to pass through the fire", probably as being an explanatory gloss, not part of the original text. (Most Christian Bibles borrow from the Septuagint as well as the Masoretic for OT translation. The JPS editors would tend to lean toward the Masoretic, though not being ignorant of other traditions and translations.)

In _any_ case, though, a cogent reading of the larger story (starting for purposes of this verse back at 20:1), would show the proper context. God is hacked off at these people because they are doing this _and not the laws that are good_; having _not_ cast away from them such detestable things, the way He required them to, and which they promised to do as part of their covenant with Him. They've been rejecting His ordinances and statues, and doing _this_ sort of thing _instead_. Which, as He reminds them, He had forewarned them that the nation would do.

Verse 25 then can have one or more meanings within this larger context.

a.) God (as in the version of the verse Steven quoted) decides to give them over to these ordinances they insist on doing; in essence saying: "Fine! You insist on doing these things? So be it! I've been holding back the results which you'll be bringing down on yourself (as in v.22), but no longer. Go do what you insist on doing--and I will do what _I_ will do, to bring you back to Me. (as in v.39)"

b.) Beyond this (which must be the overt meaning, taking the whole chapter in context), there may also be a deeper meaning, often commonly hinted in the Prophetic books, and foreshadowing the theology of Paul. God may be telling them straight out here--in view of their tendency to (in essence) worship laws and ordinances, instead of the living God--that knowing this He gave them (in _the_ Law) ordinances by which they could _not_ in fact live (and so were, in _that_ limited sense, 'not good'--certainly not by their truncated standard of good, by which they meant 'keeping law-set x gives us merit to receive blessing-set y'. To try to help them past this low notion of law, He gave them laws they could not successfully keep, no matter how strenuously they might imagine to be keeping them perfectly.)

There are situations later in other prophets (Amos comes to mind) where God sends them messages to the effect that He hates and despises and rejects their worship of Him, _not_ because they're doing things detestable in themselves (they aren't being overtly pagan in their Temple ceremonies), but because they're only being 'religious', even in their orthodoxy. The Law, which was only a shadow of Good, was given partly in order to teach them that they're supposed to worship God in spirit and in truth, _instead of_ in simply keeping these or those statutes and ordinances.

As a result of this tendency of theirs to treat religion as being (for all practical purposes) a magic, aimed at getting God to do something, they're now doing what this always tends to lead toward (and often did in their history): they're going toward what looks (on _that_ ground) like _more powerful_ ordinances--sacrificing their own firstborn children through fire (itself a perverted alteration of the ordinances God had given them). God warned them they were going to treat His Law in _this_ (bad) spirit, and that this sort of thing would be the subsequent result.

Which is a strong message we Christians absolutely cannot afford to blink aside--and not as applying to those Jews over there (as if we _weren't_ being grafted into _their_ promises!), but as applying in principle to _us_. There are many Christians even now who identify justice and righteousness with mere exertions of power, instead of truly moral fair-togetherness. God cannot be any happier with us than He was with the people of Israel, when _we_ do this; and if we insist on continuing to do it, we may expect to be given over to our insistences--resulting in our external actions beginning to reflect our inner mindset, as a testimony _against us_.

Whether that ever happens or not, however, God still will punish _us_ severely for refusing to do true justice and righteousness--by letting the consequences of our intransigence play out, until we ourselves are suffering as the people we're mistreating--so that we will have the best opportunity to learn better and repent and return to God.

(As I said, though, I hardly need to appeal to the examples of scripture to make that case. {s})