Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Moral Argument that Christians don't use, but atheists always rebut

Does William Lane Craig ever say that we need to be believers in God to lead moral lives?

Guess what. He does NOT.

This is from the opening speech to his 1996 debate with Doug Jesseph:

Friedrich Nietzsche, the great atheist of the last century who proclaimed the death of God, understood that the death of God meant the destruction of all meaning and value in life. I think that Friedrich Nietzsche was right. But we've got to be very careful here. The question here is not: Must we believe in God in order to live moral lives? I am not claiming that we must. Nor is the question: Can we recognize objective moral values without believing in God? I certainly think that we can. Rather the question is: If God does not exist, do objective moral values exist?

Yet, when I hear atheists talking about moral arguments, they always assume that the advocate of the moral argument is saying that we have to believe in God to lead moral lives, (and indignantly argue that we don't have to believe in God to lead moral lives) in spite of the fact that Christian advocates of moral arguments, at least the ones I am familiar with NEVER say that.



One Brow said...


If you are unaware of people who tell atheists thay they can only behave well if they are Chirstian, then you don't get into these discussions in many places. That Craig, specifically, declined to make the argument does no tmean it doesn't appear elsewhere.

Victor Reppert said...

Well, of course Bill Craig wouldn't need to warn people to be careful in presenting the argument if it hadn't been presented the other way by more naive Christians.

Nevertheless, I don't think any fully educated defender of the argument makes this claim.

Anonymous said...

I've never seen any theist make the argument, and I have discusses about this all the time. Unfortunately, I think that my fellow atheists just don't want to go deep into the actual argument.

Unknown said...

Victor, I've often wondered this as well. On reflection, I think that atheists are often deliberately constructing a straw-man mischaracterisation of the Christian's argument because they can't deal with the real one.

Andrew said...


The problem isn't just atheists. Christians tend to not understand Craig's moral argument either so the stuff that "trickles down" to non-philosopher Christians is the straw-man argument. My family has used it against me, and so have church members.

So, atheists are tasks with fighting two fronts: the intellectual front with the sophisticated arguments and also the common every day Christian down the street front.

mrbentleebro said...

At my church I hear Christians make the claim that it is impossible to be good without God. It stems from the doctrine of total depravity. However, I think these Christians overlook the idea of common grace. Of course non-believers can do good things, and by a secular standard they can live moral lives. I think atheists have gotten so used to hearing Christian lay men say that if we get rid of religion then we get rid of morality that they equate this reasoning with the arguments used by Craig and others.

Steven Carr said...

'Does William Lane Craig ever say that we need to be believers in God to lead moral lives?'

Here is what William Lane Craig does say :-

'...God loves Heinrich just as much as He loves you and so accords him sufficient grace for salvation and seeks to draw him to Himself.

Indeed, God may have known that through the guilt and shame of what Heinrich did under the Third Reich, he would eventually come to repent and find salvation and eternal life.

Paradoxically, being a Nazi may have been the best thing that happened to Heinrich, since it led to his salvation.

Of course, one may wonder about those poor people who suffered in the death camps because of Heinrich. But God has a plan for their lives, too,....'

Craig says being a Nazi was the salvation of some people.

And Craig's god had a plan for the lives of the people sent to the death camps.

I wonder how their lives panned out - pretty much as God planned for them , I suppose.

Mike Darus said...

There are too many separate issues intertwined in this discussion.
1) What does it mean to live a moral life? If it means never doing anything wrong, the comotose have an excellent record going. It it means living a life of righteousness, the victors are few.
2) What does it mean to be good? Most use the good vs. evil scale. Biblical goodness does not grade passing at 51%.
3) Is God's plan good? The highest good was Christ's death on the cross, but it was not so good for Him at the moment. If this idea plays out for us, the good for the sake of God's glory and his kingdom can and should involve sacrifice, etc. for individuals.

rank sophist said...

At my church I hear Christians make the claim that it is impossible to be good without God. It stems from the doctrine of total depravity.

As much as I respect Luther, this is a horrible flaw with Protestantism. Total depravity is one of the worst theological ideas ever conceived--it cuts us off from the natural theology of people like Aquinas, it hurts interfaith dialogue and rational discourse, and it generally causes insularity. It's somewhat understandable that an intellectually honest American atheist would assume that Craig's argument ran along these lines, since this brand of Protestantism controls so much of the conversation here. However, I doubt that the average Gnu has such an excuse.

Matt DeStefano said...

If you haven't heard Christians use the argument that atheists can't lead moral lives, you haven't been around much. Like Andres said, I've heard it used multiple times against myself.

Nevertheless, I don't think any fully educated defender of the argument makes this claim.

But you just said "Christians don't use". Of course, we can play the "No True Christian" game 'til the cows come home, but certainly some self-proclaimed Christians use the bastardized version of the Moral Argument. I would wager that most people can differentiate between the two, but you can't fault atheists for presenting arguments on each front.

JH Bennett said...

The problem _here_ is not that Christians confuse Craig's moral argument with another. The problem is that atheists who interact with Craig's moral argument make such philosophically basic errors, i.e. the one pointed out by Victor, that it really begs for explanation.

Now discuss.

Victor Reppert said...

I think I clarified that no philosophically informed Christian makes this argument.

Matt DeStefano said...

I think I clarified that no philosophically informed Christian makes this argument.

Well, no "philosophically informed" atheist mixes up the two arguments.

Ephram said...

And no true vegetarians eat meat.

I suppose, by saying that, I am guilty of the "No True Scotsman" fallacy.

Matt DeStefano said...


You shouldn't confuse the No True Scotsman fallacy with the failure to meet clearly defined criteria. Read the "Discussion" section of the Wikipedia article for clarity on the difference.

Secular Outpost said...

I thought I submitted a comment, but it either disappeared or didn't get posted in the first place. Weird. I've blogged about this here:

Thesauros said...

I think that many Christians falsely assume that atheists can't be good without God because it's we Christians who desperately needed our characters changed - by Jesus.

Like alcoholics who think, "If I'm barely able to handle life WITH alcohol, how in the world will I survive without it?" We Christians (again falsely) think, "If we were jerks in our pre Christian days, and if we can barely be considered "good" even with Jesus in our lives, how in the world can anybody be good without Him in their lives?"

Personally? I think God uses the relative "goodness" of those who will reject Him to keep them from stumbling upon their desperate need for Him.

For the rest of us, He graciously opens our spiritual eyes to the wretchedness of our soul's condition.

Victor Reppert said...

Of course, Jeff is right to note that not every atheist responds to this kind of naive moral argument.

There is also a "naive" atheist perception of theistic morality, in which it is supposed that if a person has religious reasons for morality, the religious person is motivated be external eternal rewards and punishments for such moral behavior. Again, this is not universal amongst atheists, surely.

Anonymous said...

A possible reason which partially explains why some Christians would declare that only Christians can behave well is because their view of morality is starkly different from an atheist's. For example, some Christians would consider doing extra-marital sex or supporting same-sex marriage to be enough to make the person "immoral". Add to it the fact that most non-Christians aren't like Gandhi, and that would be enough to tarnish the "moral" reputation of the atheist.

And of course paradoxically, if one takes gnu atheists such as Myers to be a typical atheist, it would be very understandable for someone to conclude that atheists are immoral, since Myers isn't well-known for good works, and most of his time is spent venting bile and hate against Christians.

Secular Outpost said...

Victor -- On a related note, the Boy Scouts of America justifies its policy of discrimination against nontheists on the basis that belief in God is required to be the best kind of citizen. I understand that the BSA is not a group of professional philosophers, but there are many BSA troops sponsored by Christian churches. So it would seem accurate to say that Christian non-philosophers (the people in those churches) either are ignorant about the BSA's policies (very unlikely), implicitly agree with the BSA (very likely), or think the good work of the BSA outweighs the prejudice.

See my blog post here.

While I have your attention, would you be willing to condemn the BSA's policy of excluding nontheists?

Unknown said...

The same is true of the transcendental argument. The claim is not that atheists are incapable of being rational. On the contrary, atheists can be very rational, but it's only in spite of, and not because of, their atheism.

Crude said...

While I have your attention, would you be willing to condemn the BSA's policy of excluding nontheists?

Will you be providing evidence that the "best kind of citizen" does not require being a theist, with said evidence not devolving into a claim that "the best kind of citizen" is utterly subjective (in which case, there's nothing wrong with the BSA's policy)?

Papalinton said...

The most oft quoted epithet to have been generated by christin theism is, "There can be no good without god".

Interestingly, this review emerged on an evangelical site no less:
"Last week, Dr. Craig ended on an exceptionally misanthropic note, declaring that if we take away God, humanity is nothing more than “an apelike creature on a speck of solar dust beset with delusions of moral grandeur.” Our intrinsic moral value—the value we have in and of ourselves, with or without 3rd parties like God—simply does not exist, in Dr. Craig’s view. (Wow.) Having settled that question, he moves on to moral duties.

Traditionally our moral duties were thought to spring from God’s commandments, such as the Ten Commandments. But if there is no God, what basis remains for objective moral duties? On the atheistic view, human beings are just animals, and animals have no moral obligations to one another.

Already he has “forgotten” what he himself wrote on the preceding page of his book:

Just as a troop of baboons exhibit cooperative and even self-sacrificial behavior because natural selection has determined it to be advantageous in the struggle for survival, so their primate cousins Homo sapiens exhibit similar behavior for the same reason. As a result of sociobiological pressures there has evolved among Homo sapiens a sort of “herd morality,” which functions well in the perpetuation of our species.

He originally conceded this point only because he thought it would be useful to him in dehumanizing mankind so that he could claim we have no “moral grandeur” without God. Now that he wants to talk about duty, however, he forgets all about this fact, even though it applies much more directly to moral behavior (i.e. “duties”) than it does to moral values. There’s a very clear sociobiological basis for the kinds of behavior we perceive as “duties,” and even though Dr. Craig himself alluded to it just one page ago, he now claims that no such thing exists.

Looks like we’re off to a good start, eh?"

The balance of the article is very enlightening on WLC's apologetical-balanced treatise.

In sophisticated national and international philosophical circles, WLC has as much impact as the resident bellhop at a Hotel Concierge Training convention. On most measures of contemporary philosophical discourse, there is no ripple of repeat professional citing either as a primary source or a secondary referential source of Craig's contributions to philosophy. There is a blip mainly from tertiary institutions that for the most part mandate a creedal declaration of inerrancy of scripture as a condition of employment.

Here is a gentlemanly and thoroughly professional philosopher reviewing WLC's claims for a god's existence:

rank sophist said...

That blogger is apparently unliterate, to quote Feser.

On the atheistic view, human beings are just animals, and animals have no moral obligations to one another.

Already he has “forgotten” what he himself wrote on the preceding page of his book:

Just as a troop of baboons exhibit cooperative and even self-sacrificial behavior because natural selection has determined it to be advantageous in the struggle for survival, so their primate cousins Homo sapiens exhibit similar behavior for the same reason. As a result of sociobiological pressures there has evolved among Homo sapiens a sort of “herd morality,” which functions well in the perpetuation of our species.

There is a difference between a "moral obligation" and a "herd morality", as is obvious to anyone who gives this an honest reading. There is no objective basis for "herd morality", and therefore no "moral obligation" to follow it. You can follow it, and it might perpetuate the species, but this doesn't get you from an is to an ought. Rather, it's completely arbitrary, and good and evil are illusory projections on nature by humans.

MaryLou said...

There's a difference between being good and doing good. Anybody, be they atheist, Buddhist, Christian or whatever is capable of doing a good deed -- giving money to charity, helping a neighbour, etc.

But we are ALL born with sin natures and are not good ontologically-speaking. That is why we all need Jesus -- to give us HIS righteousness.

A person can try to be good in his own power and fail. Christians have the blessing of the Holy Spirit within them to point out what sin is and then emwpoer them to overcome sin.

These are the things I try to explain to atheists who think I am accusing them of being a bad person when I say they need Jesus.

Angra Mainyu said...


While Craig might not claim that you need to be a theist to lead a moral life in the context of his moral argument (but he comes very close to that; see my next post), he does unequivocally imply that atheists (and a number of theists, by the way) are morally worse than at least nearly all if not all thieves, murderers, rapists, and so on. (I explained that in my reply to one of Jeffery's posts, at ).

Now, as has been pointed out already, many people (theists and atheists) do not understand his metaethical argument, and tend to conflate his claims and obvious implications against the character of atheists with his moral argument.

However, that lack of understanding is at least to a considerable extent Craig's own fault, since his argument is at the very least vague and obscure (of course, his spreading those false moral beliefs about atheists is entirely his fault, but leaving that aside).

Yet, Craig presents his metaethical argument as a means of persuading people in the general public that theism is true. It's not an argument that only a very small percentage of the population are supposed to be able to understand.

However, the fact is that the vast majority of people fail to understand his argument (even theists, by the way) is good evidence that the argument, which is not nearly clear enough for the general public.
In his reply to Craig, Wesley Morriston ( has to dissect Craig's words to try to figure out what he's actually saying (and even then, in some cases mostly guess, as is in the reply to the 'speciesist' charge).

With respect to the naive view of theistic morality that you mention, actually Craig himself contributes to the spread of that confusion, by adding to his metaethical argument (and, indeed, under the same title) his 'practical' arguments for theism.

In fact, Craig himself says the following, when arguing against morality under naturalism: ( )


"Historian Stewart C. Easton sums it up well when he writes, "There is no objective reason why man should be moral, unless morality 'pays off' in his social life or makes him 'feel good.' There is no objective reason why man should do anything save for the pleasure it affords him.""

"Even if there were objective moral values and duties under naturalism, they are irrelevant because there is no moral accountability."

"Given the finality of death, it really does not matter how you live."

These are just examples, and copyright rules prevent me from quoting the whole article in full, but I would recommend that you read the full article, and especially take a look at his claims about how atheism is what he calls 'de-moralizing', in the sense that it allegedly undermines moral motivation, which seems to suggest, indeed, that theists have a motivation for doing the right thing other than doing the right thing for its own sake (not saying that that is true, but that Craig's words seem to suggest exactly that.

Angra Mainyu said...

More on Craig's 'de-moralization' claim:

In the last paragraph of his post (, Craig says that we can't be good without God, right after his point about the 'practical reasons'.

It would be an understandable mistake to interpret that claim in the sense that atheists can't lead moral lives, especially if one is familiar with other claims he makes, in which he unequivocally condemns atheists (see above).

Plausibly, though, in that context (i.e., while raising his metaethical argument and adding the 'practical' arguments), he's "merely" saying or implying that atheists are less moral than theists, without reaching the degree of moral condemnation of atheists that he reaches elsewhere.

So, it seems that he's not saying in that article that atheists can't be morally good people. He's "only" saying that they're morally worse than theists, at least on average (though he does not qualify it by saying that that's the average, so who knows?), while elsewhere he definitely says or implies that atheists are not good people.

Victor Reppert said...

But that is a different claim from the claim that you cannot be moral if you are a nonbeliever.

Robert Adams even argues that atheism hurts moral motivation, but he would certainly not say that you can't be moral without a belief in God.

Of course, atheism could be a negative moral factor even if a high percentage of atheists followed a moral code. Of course some of our duties might be different on the assumption that there is a God, for example, no atheist is going to obey the moral obligation to worship God.

There are two major sources of moral motivation available to atheists, both pointed out by Hume. One of them is social utility. We are social persons, and moral behavior is helpful for social relations. The other is the natural human tendency to sympathize with others. So, in a lot of situations, and for a lot of people, these motivations will work to keep people morally motivated. But there are situations where these motivations wear thin, and at that point I am concerned about a society dominated by atheists, even if a radical demoralization might not be the immediate effect.

To defend this kind of a case, however, you would have to analyze religious moral motivation to show that it is something more than moral bribery, and we also have to frankly acknowledge situations in which religious belief generates moral temptations that a nonbeliever might not face. I am not sure Craig has done either of those things.

Victor Reppert said...

The BSA has the right to promote whatever values they want to, which doesn't mean that it is good for them to do so. It's not primarily a religious organization, though there are "God and Country" badges you can earn.

It does seem to be the sort of organization an atheist would want to join, as opposed to a born-again Christian who wanted to join the College Freethought Club so that he could "win souls for Jesus." It seems to me that an atheist could share most of the values of the BSA, and so it would be a good idea for the BSA to admit them. The Girl Scouts, for whom my daughter has worked, has no such restriction.

Angra Mainyu said...

Yes, as I said, it is different.

Sometimes, Craig clearly says or obviously implies that atheists are morally bad people.

Some other times, as in the context of his metaethical argument with the addition of the practical arguments (but still under the 'metaethical' title) he's (probably) saying “only” that atheists are less moral than theists, not necessarily morally bad, and also says we can't be good without God, right after making the claim about the practical arguments.

Given that context, the mistake is understandable: people who see how Craig morally condemns atheists, says or obviously implies that atheists are morally bad, etc., and who then read (for instance) a metaethical argument that Craig mixes with 'practical arguments' and in which he's ambiguous but plausibly 'just' means that atheists are (overall, perhaps?) morally worse than theists, and so on, might mistakenly think that in the latter case, Craig went as far with his condemnation of atheists as he goes in other contexts.

Again, it's an understandable mistake, especially given that most people are not in a position to understand Craig's argument in the first place.

As for Adams, that would be a different matter if he does not say that you can't be good without God, because Craig actually does say that you can't be good if you're an atheist (more precisely, he uses different words, but obviously implies it), just not in the particularly vague and obscure context of his metaethical argument.

Moreover, Craig's claims about accountability, etc., clearly indicate that atheists do not have any good reason to be morally good (e.g., his quotation of Easton, which according to Craig “sums it up well”).

That aside, Adams might be implying that atheists are morally worse than theists, etc., as well, but I would need more context to tell.

As for the two sources of moral motivation for atheists, I disagree with your view.

You seem to be looking for a non-moral motivation for atheists to be good people, do the right thing, etc., while leaving aside precisely moral motivations (which Craig seems to do as well, and so many other theists).

Moral motivation seems to be ubiquitous in humans (and similar motivations in other primates, but that's a matter for a longer debate), even if defeasible of course (with the possible exception of some psychopaths).

I'm an atheist. If I assess that, say, it would be immoral for me to do X, then I feel motivated not to do X, whatever X is. I'm not an exception on the matter. On the contrary, what would be exceptional would be for a human being to assess that it would be immoral for her to X, and feel no motivation whatsoever not to X.

to be continued...

Angra Mainyu said...

That's intuitive and requires no philosophizing. But if an atheist decides to philosophize and asks herself about what motivation she has, say, not to steal, then one of the motivations is precisely that stealing is immoral (in nearly all cases, ceteris paribus, etc.); the same for actions that are morally praiseworthy, or to stop immoral behavior, etc.

In other words, human psychology is such that we are motivated by our own moral assessments. In order to argue that atheism weakens moral motivation, you would have to show that atheists are less prone to act on their moral motivations (i.e., it's defeated more commonly) than theists, and that said weakening is the result of atheism alone, and not some other belief that those atheists acquired, and which is usually associated with atheism in the West (but not necessarily elsewhere).

Of course, even that wouldn't give you a conclusion about all atheists, but that aside, your post itself mentions atheists who indignantly argue that we do not have to believe in God to lead moral lives; those atheists are expressing moral outrage at what they perceive Craig is saying (and actually, he says or implies that quite often, even if there is a mistaken interpretation on their part in this particular case).

The same goes for atheists who argue against Christianity on moral grounds, even those who misunderstand Craig's metaethical argument and challenge the morality of the biblical god, or the atheists that you compared on another occasion with KKK supporters; well, actually, most of those atheists are acting (at least partly) because they believe they're doing something good, and that they're helping on a debate against those immorally spreading false moral beliefs, oppressing others more or less strongly, etc.; even the atheists that come here and strong disagreements with some of your arguments often are morally motivated.

Moral motivation is all around us, with no indication of weakening, and regardless of religious beliefs, and with the possible exception of some psychopaths; if Craig or anyone else claims otherwise, they would have to provide comprehensive studies, accounting for a large number of variables, etc., to try to overcome all the evidence we already have which suggests no weakening of the moral motivation whatsoever.

Of course, there is moral disagreement, but for that matter there is also such disagreement between theists of different religions, denominations, etc., and even within each of those. That's not the same as lack of motivation.

Regarding your concern about a society 'dominated by atheists', what is the basis for such concern?

Let's consider, for instance, Japan. What's the percentage of people who believe in God there? (a very low one).

Angra Mainyu said...

Of course, it's to be expected that fear of Hell keeps some people in check, so they do not do some immoral actions out of fear (others, on the other hand, might do them out of belief that they will be forgiven (there is a recent study on both issues, though more research is needed)).

However, even then, that does not suggest that belief in Hell strengthens moral motivation but rather that such belief in some cases provide non-moral reasons not to engage in some specific immoral behavior (i.e., one condemned by the religion in question), just as fear of prison motivates people not to engage in some immoral behavior (i.e., that which is condemned by the law). The downsides are things like the false moral beliefs that come with such belief, such as the belief that atheists deserve infinite torment (not held by all believers in Hell, but very common), or that the government ought to ban abortion, same-sex marriage, etc., or even use more drastic measures against gay people (again, not all theists have the same beliefs on the matter, but most have at least one such belief). Granted, those beliefs are not entailed by a belief in Hell, but usually go hand in hand with it, as part of the same religion; also, of course, belief in Hell as a punishment also comes with the false belief that at least some humans deserve infinite punishment for their actions, etc..

But I digress; in any case, the question is about moral motivation, not about non-moral motivations for refraining from some immoral actions.

Someone might argue that theists are still more morally motivated (in addition to the fear of Hell); but that would have to be argued for, and again given the numerous examples (ubiquitous, really) of strong moral motivation in atheists (as is the case of nearly all other humans), the evidence available to us is strongly against that.

Finally, I'm of course not suggesting that fear of Hell is all that theists care about, and that that's what keeps them in check usually. Just as most people do not refrain from raping, murdering and robbing banks out of fear of the police, most theists do not do so out of fear of Hell.
I'm just pointing out that rule enforcers, real or imaginary (e.g., police, courts, Allah), give a motivation for rule compliance, and in some cases that's what ends up working. It's not a moral motivation, though, and it's not what usually keeps people from behaving in immoral ways.

Papalinton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Papalinton said...

"There is a difference between a "moral obligation" and a "herd morality", as is obvious to anyone who gives this an honest reading. There is no objective basis for "herd morality", and therefore no "moral obligation" to follow it."

Citing research sources for these claims would be in order. That which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

Under the rubric of this statement, given the institutional and organizational nature of practical christian expression, the concept of 'christian moral obligation' [and 'objective christian morality' for that matter] possesses all the characteristics of 'herd morality'. When one is also mindful of the unfalsifiable religious context in which such claims are made, as with WLC's assertions, one must exercise caution and extreme due diligence.

Perhaps one ought whisper into Craig's ear a widely known secret: 'God is not all that exists. God is all that does not exist.' QED

Papalinton said...

You might wish to follow-up this discussion on WLC by the attached video [you know, to be fair and balanced]:

rank sophist said...


You're kidding, right? Or is this a bout of temporary, verificationism-induced insanity? Why would I need to use some kind of scientific paper--impossible on this subject, I might add--to back up a statement that was based on logic? In what way does that make sense?

In any case, if no objective foundation of morality exists, then you are indeed correct that Christians represent exhibit A for herd morality. Exhibits B through Z contain everyone else who claims to believe in morals, including the majority of atheists. And, thanks to David Hume's is-ought problem, that makes all morals completely arbitrary and meaningless. So, either there is some kind of objective, supernatural basis for morals, or there are no morals.

Angra Mainyu said...

On the issue of Craig's position on atheists (and apparently, many theists too, but that aside), just in case someone asks for sources of my points about Craig, I already provided a link to my explanation of the matter earlier, but I can make my case here as well:


Craig said: "That’s why I went on to offer the second, better solution: that the rejection of Christ as Lord and Savior, being a rejection of God Himself, is a sin of infinite gravity and proportion and therefore plausibly does merit infinite punishment. So seen, people are sent to hell, not so much for murder and theft and adultery, but for their rejection of God. "

Craig's position is that rejecting God plausibly merits infinite punishment, whereas theft, adultery or murder, or for that matter rape, or any other finite crime (same "reason") do not.

It is true that Craig might say that rapists, murderers and the like also deserve infinite punishment because, by engaging in said actions, they are also rejecting God or something like that, though in that case, one may also wonder how Craig distinguishes among the seriousness of different immoral actions, if he considers that all of them involve rejection of God and deserving of infinite punishment for that.

Still, assuming Craig has a reply to the issue of different seriousness, saying that murderers and the like also deserve infinite punishment for rejecting God would not cut it, since he would still be saying or implying that the 'action' (as if it were a choice, but that aside) of failing to believe (for instance) that Jesus is God after having access to the Gospel, or simply to fail to believe that God exists, merits infinite punishment, so the atheist at least would be no better than the adulterer, the thief, the rapist or the murderer, and even that such disbelief is actually worse than the other actions under consideration.

So, even if Craig said that (for instance), rapists also deserve infinite punishment not for the rape itself but for rejecting God, going by the beliefs Craig likes to spread across the world, an atheist wouldn't "merely" be like a rapist, but (at least) more like a rapist who is a repeated offender, does not even acknowledge that his actions of rape are immoral when told than they are, even claims that his actions are not immoral at all if prompted, does not apologize for his actions.

On top of all of that, if the atheist argues for atheism, on Craig's moral views she would be at least like a rapist who is a repeated offender, does not acknowledge his actions are immoral, claims they're not if prompted, etc. (as above) and in addition to all of the above also argues publicly that rape is not immoral, advocates that others engage in rape, and sometimes persuades others to become rapists as well.

Alternatively, we can pick the case of murderers instead of rapists, to match Craig's own words (though, of course, other cases are implied as well).

And I say an atheist would 'at least' be like that, since rape or murder and/or the promotion of such crimes would only merit infinite punishment (on Craig's belief system) because somehow indirectly they're a rejection of God (if Craig even believes that), but atheism would be a direct rejection of God.

So, even if Craig does not literally say that atheists can't lead moral lives, he unequivocally implies it, and promotes some beliefs that obviously imply that atheists can't lead moral lives.

Jim S. said...

I wrote a blogpost on this reaction to the moral argument a while ago. Here's meat of it:

Many atheists who hear the moral argument misunderstand it to mean that atheists cannot be moral people or upstanding citizens. If you need to believe in God in order to believe that rape is wrong, then you're essentially arguing that if you don't believe in God, then you must not believe that rape is really wrong. But of course, this isn't the argument. The point, rather, is that the moral judgment "rape is wrong" -- made by theist and atheist alike -- must have a metaphysical ground in order to be valid. Thus, according to the moral argument, the atheist is being inconsistent in affirming that rape is wrong while denying that God exists. But this does not mean that atheists don't know right from wrong.

Now part of the reason I find this reaction interesting is that I could present a parallel argument which almost certainly would not provoke the same reaction. Say, for example, I argued that in order for mathematics to be possible we have to posit a metaphysical foundation for numbers, a Platonic realm of forms, which is best understood as the mind of God (such arguments have been made). So in order to affirm that 2 + 2 = 4, we have to presuppose something like the Judeo-Christian God. How many people would misunderstand such an argument to mean that if you don't believe in God, you don't really believe that 2 + 2 = 4? I suspect very few, if any. Yet this argument is exactly parallel to the moral argument: in order to affirm X we have to presuppose a metaphysical foundation for it that is best understood as God.


rank sophist said...


I think you are confusing Craig's theology with his moral argument. They are two distinct entities. By trying to connect them and argue against the moral argument in that way, you are committing the ad hominem fallacy.

The moral argument is this, and only this:

1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist;
2. Objective moral values and duties do exist; therefore
3. God exists.

Now, whether or not you find this argument convincing (I think it's a bit flimsy), Craig's theology (which I also find lacking) is completely irrelevant to the issue at hand. The argument must be confronted on its own terms, separate from any background information. Again, to do otherwise is to be guilty of argumentum ad hominem.

Steven Carr said...

Of course atheists can be moral people.

It says so in the Bible 'There is no one righteous, not even one.'

Romans 3:10

Craig believes atheists can be just as righteous as believers.

Angra Mainyu said...

rank sophist,

I'm not confusing them, and I'm not suggesting that the metaethical argument is anything but what you described, plus of course the arguments (in the informal sense of 'arguing a case') that he gives in support of his premises.

Those aren't part of the formal argument, of course, but they make up all the meat of it (not much), since the formal is a simple, obviously valid argument which, on its own, wouldn't do much. Still, if you want to restrict the label "moral argument" to merely the formal argument and not Craig's arguments in support of the premises, that's a matter of notation.

In any case, Craig's claims and implications about atheists, his addition of so-called 'practical' arguments to the actual metaethical ones even in an essay that, according to its title, is about metaethics, etc., all contribute to the confusion (not to mention, of course, the obscurity of his arguments in support of the premises, anyway).

I already explained my position carefully in the previous replies above, though, so I will leave it at that.

Angra Mainyu said...

Jim S,

If you were to also repeat in different contexts that atheists really can't believe that 2+2=4, and even made at least similar suggestions in the context in which you make your Platonist argument, then I'd say that there is a good chance that that misunderstanding would be common, especially if many Christians also made the claim that atheists do not really believe that 2+2=4, even when trying to defend what you think your argument is.

Unknown said...

It's trivially true that if belief in God is a moral obligation, then disbelief is a violation of a moral obligation. (Try saying that five times fast!)

It's much like saying that if belief in God is rationally compelling, then disbelief is irrational.

Notice that the latter does not imply that theists are more rational than atheists. For, individual atheists may be more knowledgeable than individual theists with respect to a specific aspect of rational inquiry (e.g. calculus). It's just that with respect to belief in God theists are generally more rational than atheists.

Truth or falsity of the claim that God is needed to ground objective laws of logic, morality, etc., notwithstanding, Craig's personal view would only be that atheists fail to fulfill one particular moral obligation. He doesn't use this contention in support of his moral argument, though:

"[O]n a theistic worldview an adequate foundation exists for the affirmation of objective moral values, moral duties, and moral accountability. By contrast, naturalism fails in all three respects."


Notice how he carefully distinguishes between three different respects: value, duty and accountability. For example, he states (and this is a paraphrase) that "it's good (value) to be a doctor, but that doesn't make it a duty." Likewise, Craig distinguishes moral accountability from the aforementioned two respects.

Unknown said...

Moreover, the prevalence of misunderstanding does not take away from an argument's perspicuity. I can find myself reading up on something as complex as electrical engineering, or as simple as tying a balloon. But, if I don't read either subject matters carefully, there's a good chance that I will misunderstand one or both. That doesn't mean the engineer or the balloon-tier are being unclear.

Angra Mainyu said...

@Doug Benscoter,

While you do not name me, it seems that your hostile post is directed at me.
Obviously, if belief in God were a moral obligation, it would be immoral not to believe. That does not affect any of my points.

As for the issue that would be more moral with respect to belief in God, that is not the point; rather, the point is that Craig's claims clearly entail that atheists are not good people, for the reasons explained above.

Even if Craig's claim were that atheists would only be less moral than theists with respect to their atheism (though he makes a general case for 'demoralizing', but whatever, let's assume not), it remains the case that he's compared atheism with murder, theft and adultery, and indeed anything other than rejection of God, clearly saying that atheism was much worse.

For that matter, if Bob says that Jack deserves infinite punishment for being a child rapist who rapes a child every single day, and I say that Bob is clearly implying that Jack is not a good person, you might as well object and say that Bob is only implying that Jack is not a good person when it comes to raping a child every day. It's not a successful objection.

As for the arguments alleged perspicuity, you can just take a look at my profile and find my reply to it if you're interested, or not if you're not, but in any case, as I already explained, Craig intends for this argument to be understandable to the general public, which is not so.

But I have no intention of or time to repeating myself too many times, so I won't.

Unknown said...

Angra, I'm not sure why you refer to my post as hostile. I don't believe I was being impolite or rude.

Angra Mainyu said...


You pointed out a triviality, and then said something about saying it five times, but I guess you were talking about a difficulty in pronouncing it, so sorry I misunderstood your intent.

Unknown said...

I understand. I actually meant that my sentence could be used as a tongue-twister (e.g. "say 'good blood, bad blood' five times fast"). It wasn't a condescending remark.

Unknown said...

Anyway, as far as finite versus infinite punishments are concerned, you might have a listen to Craig's debate with Ray Bradley, if you haven't already. When Craig says that a rejection of Jesus is of infinite magnitude, he's talking about: a) a continual rejection, which is b) done with full knowledge that Jesus is Lord.

He further states in the debate that while hell is eternal, it is contingently eternal. This goes along with what was said above, namely, that those in hell only continue experiencing hell because they continue to reject God, who is goodness itself.

While we're on the subject, Craig also gives exegetical reasons to believe that the "fire and brimstone" passages describing hell are meant to be taken figuratively. Roughly, hell is the absence or void of God's love. To reject God's love, then, is to experience hell. One cannot accept God's love without believing that God exists. That's why Craig considers atheism so serious. It's not that God is pushing atheists into a fiery pit.

I don't think you've described Craig's view accurately when you state that he believes atheism to be worse than rape, etc. While you're right that he never explicitly says so (or maybe he does, I don't know), it isn't far-fetched to think that Craig would agree that such acts entail a rejection of God.

I also realize you don't accept a lot of the presuppositions I'm putting forth, so I ask for your indulgence while I at least try to give my two cents.

Take care.

Angra Mainyu said...

Okay, get it; sorry about the misunderstanding.

Angra Mainyu said...


I would make the following points:

1) In the link I provided, Craig rejects the idea of Hell's being continuously eternal in the sense you mention, even if he considers it 'for the sake of the argument' (see

2) Regarding full knowledge that Jesus is God, that does not seem in line with Craig's view that people who do not know about the Gospel can still go to Hell.
But even when it comes to people who heard about the Gospel, either he's not requiring full knowledge that Jesus is God, or he claims that atheists do know that Jesus is God (I guess that would mean that atheists both believe that he is God and that he is not). One way or another, it does not change his assessment about deserving infinite punishment.

3) I have already considered the possibility that Craig might say that rape, murder and such actions entail a rejection of God, and so on that account, rapists, etc., would deserve infinite punishment not because of their rapes, etc., but because they're rejecting God. I explained why that reply wouldn't cut it (see my previous posts for details).

I will address the issues on the nature of Hell in the next post.

Angra Mainyu said...

Regarding the nature of Hell and whether they're put there, my argument is as follows:

1) Whether it's by fire or by other means, it's still infinite punishment (Craig's theology, anyway), and it's still the case that people are sent to Hell by the biblical god, assuming existence and infinite Hell.

2) It is true that Craig says at least once (e.g., that in a sense, people put themselves in Hell, but that is just not compatible with his doctrine, or generally with the idea of Hell (though I only need the former point), except when understood in a figurative sense.

On that note, let's consider, for instance, the following scenario:

Alice believes Hell does not exist. 
Even if she was negligent and that's why she believes Hell does not exist – that is not the case, but leaving that aside – the fact remains that she believes Hell does not exist. 
So, when she fails to meet the conditions to avoid Hell, she never expected that the consequences of her not meeting such conditions would be to go to Hell. 
For instance, let's say Alice read the Gospel and was told by some Christians that if she failed to believe, or generally to trust Jesus as her lord and savior, she would go to Hell.
Some other Christians told her that there were some other conditions she had to meet in order to avoid Hell. And then, some Muslims told her there were some other conditions. 
Now, Alice – very reasonably, but leaving that aside – did not believe any of the claims. 
In fact, she came to the conclusion that the laws in question – namely, laws imposed by an immensely powerful creator that establish that failing to meet certain conditions would result in her going to Hell forever – did not exist.

Then, clearly she did not choose to be in Hell; that is the case regardless of whether Hell is a state of mind/being, a place of torment by fire, etc.; the point is that Alice did not choose to suffer for eternity.
If Alice indeed ends up in Hell, that's not her choice, but was put there (in that place if it's a place, or in that state if it's a state) by whoever created the rules that those who do not meet certain conditions will end up there and/or experiencing said suffering. So, if Alice suffers for eternity, that suffering is not her choice, but the free choice of the biblical god, who imposes that suffering on her.
Or let's consider another scenario:
Bob never heard of Christianity, Islam, or Hell. Moreover, the concept of eternal punishment is totally alien to him as well.
Once again, the conclusion is that he did not choose to be in Hell.
Whether the creator imposes eternal suffering as a punishment (as Craig's statements indicate) or for some other reason, the point here is that he does impose eternal suffering, and puts them to Hell (assuming he exists, Hell is eternal, etc.).
Granted, in a figurative sense, someone might say that people put themselves in Hell as criminals figuratively put themselves in prison. But the point remains that in a non-figurative sense, the biblical god sends people to hell for eternity (again, assuming existence, etc.).

3) Other Christian views may hold that Hell is not a punishment. But for whatever reason, the fact is that under the assumption of Christianity (infinite Hell included), people are put in Hell by the biblical god (some Christian views hold otherwise, but scenarios such as the above show that they're mistaken; they can't have it both ways on this).

Unknown said...

Although I didn't think this would turn into a debate about the doctrine of hell, I'll pursue this a little further. Notice, though, that one needn't presuppose the existence of hell in order to defend the moral argument for God's existence, which is what Vic's post was all about.

Just for the sake of clarity, I'm going to retain your first three points as "1," "2," and "3." Your second three I'll rename "4," "5," and "6." My responses:

1. Craig doesn't technically reject the contingently eternal hypothesis. He simply denies the possibility of repentance of hell. He calls the second hypothesis "preferable" and "better" because he thinks it offers a deeper explanation.

2. I agree that Craig believes that people who have no heard of the Gospel can still go to hell. He offers one possible explanation (which is also the Catholic Church's explanation), which is that those who have never heard of the Gospel and would have rejected it had they heard it would still go to hell. On the other, those who have never heard the Gospel, but would have believed had they heard would go to heaven.

3. I know you already considered the possibility of rape entailing a rejection of God, but that you don't accept this interpretation. Let me just add that we should avoid arguments from silence whenever possible. I'm sure if we asked him that Craig would say that rape does, in fact, entail a rejection of God. This is a view widely held by Christians. Catholics, for example, consider rape a mortal sin.

4. On the issue of whether people choose hell or God sends them there, we obviously disagree. People choose sin, and it's sin that condemns a person. I know it can be hard to believe, but people choose unhappiness all the time.

5. This is, in fact, Craig's view. At the most you can really only say that Craig is inconsistent. But, if I'm understanding you correctly, you're also saying that a figurative interpretation of hell is consistent with Craig's view? You seem to deny this later on.

Your example of Alice, unfortunately, is very complex. It raises the issue of invincible ignorance and whether Alice really knew the truth of the Gospel. It also raises the issue of whether she is justified in her unbelief on the basis of religious pluralism. The same issues are raised with Bob.

6. This doesn't appear to be a distinct point, but more of a summary of your previous points. You added that some may not view hell as a punishment. Well, that all depends on what kind of punishment we're talking about. I thought your prison analogy was quite fitting, seeing as C.S. Lewis once quipped that hell is a prison locked from the inside.

Angra Mainyu said...

Actually, the post was also about what defenders of such arguments say about atheists, and why many atheists misinterpret the metaethical argument.

As for your points:

1. He only grants the doctrine of contingent eternal Hell for the sake of the argument, holding that he does not believe it's true, and in fact he believes that rejection of God is a sin that plausibly merits eternal punishment, whereas murder, theft or adultery do not.
He even says that we shouldn't consider the rejection of God (which is what lands people in Hell) as a sum of individual sins.
He says that the doctrine he offers is 'better' because he thinks it's a correct explanation, not just a deeper one (it's incompatible with the other explanation).
If you interpret it differently, I guess at this point we may have to agree to disagree; the link is there for anyone to assess the matter.

2. The point there is that in order to go to Hell, Craig does not demand full knowledge that Jesus is God. He does not claim that such people knew that Jesus is God.

3. Actually, I consider the possibility that Craig might say that rape, murder, etc., entail a rejection of God, and said that even in that case the atheist ends up being worse than at least most murderers, rapists, etc., since she does not even acknowledge that her actions are immoral, claims they're not if prompted, engages in said actions much more frequently than rapists, murderers, etc., and so on.


a. It's not just hard to believe, it's not reasonable to believe that, if you're saying that I and other humans will actually choose infinite torment.
Someone sufficiently powerful might, say, alter my mind so that I make that 'choice', but that would no longer be a choice. Claiming otherwise simply is denying obvious features of human psychology.
Again, I would never choose eternal torment.
If, on the other hand, you're saying that people choose sin and that's what condemns a person in the same metaphorical sense in which someone might say that bank robbers or apostates (depending on the country) choose prison or execution by their actions, again that's a metaphorical sense, not an actual choice to go to prison or be executed.

And no, people do not choose unhappiness to the degree of going to prison all the time. Hell would be far, far worse, so no such choice would be made, except perhaps in the case of severe mental illness, or to save someone else for such fate, but in those cases, it would be clearly be at least under duress, and it's not the general case anyway.

b. In any case, Craig himself says that Hell is a punishment, and that rejection of God plausibly merits infinite punishment.

Angra Mainyu said...

5. I'm talking about a figurative sense of the expression 'puts himself in prison', or similar expressions.
If Craig is using that expression figuratively, that would not be contradictory. Otherwise, if he really is saying that people choose to be in Hell and are not put there by God, but then he says that God gives people what they deserve (which would be infinite punishment), that would seem to be an obvious contradiction.
Regardless, the introduction of the issue of who puts people in Hell is not pertinent to the point I was trying to make, which is that Craig holds that, plausibly, rejection of God merits infinite punishment, whereas murder, theft or adultery (or, for that matter, bank robbery or rape, since the "reason" is the same) does not merit so.

6. It's actually a point about views that, unlike Craig's, do not hold that Hell is a punishment; it's not the same as to hold that it's a self-inflicted punishment, so I was just commenting on such cases, since you introduced the issue.

By the way, Hell is not a prison locked from the inside. If it's a prison, it would be locked from the outside (the same goes if it's not a place but a forced state of mental suffering, or any variant).

Again, it's trivially true that nearly all of us would not choose eternal suffering. Someone might to save someone else from eternal suffering in some hypothetical scenarios I supposed, but that's not the case under consideration.
Also, someone who is severely mentally ill might 'choose' that, but that's again not generally the case.

And while a sufficiently powerful being would be able to alter a person's mind to force a 'choice' to stay in Hell, that would not be a free choice, either.

If you're seriously saying that all the damned have chosen or will choose to suffer eternal torment in Hell, then I guess all I can say is point out that that view is clearly false: we've not chosen that (nearly all of us, at least), and if Hell existed, it would be a locked by the biblical god (quite frankly, if such a monster existed, I would rather choose to be annihilated; but he wouldn't let me. Instead, he would inflict suffering on me forever).

Still, the issue is not pertinent to the matter of Craig's position with regard to the moral character of atheists and what we deserve.

Angra Mainyu said...

Just to preempt some potential arguments (e.g., saying that annihilation is not an option wouldn't work as an objection) I will clarify and expand on a couple of issues

a. We do not believe that Hell exists – not as a place, not as a state of mind, or anything.
We do not believe that there is a place/state of eternal suffering.
So, we have not chosen that. We've not chosen annihilation, either, though most of us believe that we will cease to exist.

b. If we did know that there is Hell, we would not choose Hell, either.
Personally, if I believed that there is, I would choose annihilation if possible, but if I wasn't allowed, I would choose whatever inflicts less suffering, Hell or Heaven.
Even then, the biblical God wouldn't let me go to Heaven, though even if he did, he would be imposing that on me too:
I mean, if Joseph is a dictator who gives Alice a choice between imprisonment for life in a dungeon or living in the dictator's palace for the rest of her life, and Alice is not allowed to leave or even kill herself, and moreover Alice is not allowed to change their destination after he's been put in the dungeon or the palace, then Alice is merely choosing between two prisons, but it remains the case that the dictator imposed imprisonment on her.

Still, as I pointed out in 1), it is not the case that I or generally atheists or other people have chosen infinite suffering, or that we would choose that if we believed that we can choose.

c. Saying that even if we do not know that there is Hell, we are choosing by behaving in such-in-such ways and so allegedly the biblical god would not be putting us in Hell would not work, either, since he would still be putting us in Hell for making such-in-such choice, which is not the same as our choosing to be in Hell, to some extent similar to the way in which, say, gay people who are dragged to their execution by the Taliban or similar folk did not choose to be executed, even if they choose to behave in a way that the Taliban would punish by execution.

Unknown said...

With respect to the moral argument being misinterpreted, this much is clear given the fact that in Craig's theology, there are no good people. "There is no one righteous, not even one" (Romans 3:10) and, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23)

But, this is Craig's theology, and has nothing to do with the moral argument. So yes, atheists fall under such a category. It's just that in human terms atheists (and theists, for that matter) can be good people.

1. You're correct that Craig says we shouldn't consider rejection of God as a sum total of individual sins. However, that's not the same as a denial of contingent eternality. As he says in the article:

"Let’s consider, then, your objections. First, can or does sinning continue on in the afterlife? Well, why not? Men are morally obligated to worship God, and to fail to do so is, as you put it, to fall short of the mark. The damned surely fail to fulfill their moral obligations toward God."

He adds an example from Revelation 16 and comments, "I find it striking that when in the book of Revelation the bowls of God’s wrath are poured out in judgment upon mankind, those judged are not repentant but curse God all the more."


2. You're technically correct about Craig's view here. However, it doesn't tell the whole story. When taking the bulk of Craig's work into consideration, we find him saying the things I describe.

3. The fact that someone doesn't acknowledge something as immoral isn't an excuse for doing it. There are some cases of invincible ignorance, but the rapist may very well suppress his knowledge that rape is bad. Besides, the one act of rape is finite, but the chronic refusal to repent of rape is not. Can atheism fall under the category of invincible ignorance? I'll touch on that a bit below. The point is that rape is a continual sin if left unrepentant of, even if the original act is finite.

4. People really do choose all kinds of behavior that makes them unhappy. Think of all the drug addicts in our world, who have sadly chosen the path of self-destruction. If a person make these choices in this lifetime, there's no reason they can't continue to do so in the next. One needn't even be mentally ill to choose these things. We've seen far too many examples of people who seemingly have everything going for them, and they end up engaging in self-destructive behavior. In these instances, it's their choice.

Now, as for atheists not believing that hell exists so they could not possibly choose it. Well, it is possible for them to choose sin while on earth. They do believe that there are certain moral obligations to fulfill during the course of their earthly lives. Moreover, they choose not to recognize the existence of God, of whose existence St. Paul comments, "For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse." (Romans 1:20) If people choose to reject God in this life, they can certainly continue to do so in the next.

Your last two subpoints (b and c) I think I can answer with the same point. This isn't like the Taliban executing a person for behavior they don't like. It would be more like if they allowed the person to continue doing what they're doing to their own detriment. God loves us so much that he allows us to make our own free decisions, whether they be to our benefit or to our loss.

Steven Carr said...

So people are good 'in human terms', but Craig's god will still burn them in Hell?

Atheists have this annoying habit of testing the Bible against reality.

If Craig's theology says there are no righteous people, and even Craig admits atheists are good people, then we don't have to look far to see that Craig's theology is not riddled with facts.

Angra Mainyu said...


I'm afraid that that is not an adequate reply. If atheists deserve to be punished for eternity for their rejection of God, and the rejection of God is worse than murder, theft, adultery, or for that matter bank robbery, rape, mass torture, etc., there is no way that atheists can be said to be good people.

If Craig sometimes contradicts his own position by saying that some people are good people and yet that they deserve to be punished for eternity, others needn't and shouldn't follow him, but regardless, he's still comparing rejection of God negatively to murder, theft, adultery, and so on.

But we've already gone through that, so I will just leave it at that; the exchange is on record above for readers to make their own assessments.

As to your other points:

1. The contingency of Hell in the sense you indicated does not merely require that people in Hell continue to behave immorally (for which they would deserve further punishment), but it also requires that no action that they have committed already deserves infinite punishment, regardless of any further crimes.

Now, Craig states the following: "Now my response to this objection is two-fold, having the form “Even if . . . , but in fact . . . .” That is to say, I first argue ex concessionis, conceding the assumption made by the objector that no sin which human beings commit deserves an infinite punishment and trying to show that even on that assumption, the objection does not go through. Then I argue that we don’t need to make the assumption presupposed by the objector and propose a quite different solution to the problem, which I, in fact, find preferable. So you mustn’t take the first part of my response out of context, as though I did not offer the second part of the response. "

Then, he goes on to offer the opposite conclusion (which he deems correct), namely that the rejection of God is a sin that merits infinite punishment. So, his proposed solution is, indeed, a denial of contingent eternity in Hell, even though not at all a denial that those in Hell continue to engage in immoral behavior.

2. That was a reply to one of the points you were making. As for the bulk of his work, I do not claim that there is a consistent interpretation of it; I'm just pointing out some of his claims and/or implications about atheists.

3. You misunderstand my point here.
My point is that a most rapists, murderers, etc., do recognize that rape, murder, etc., is immoral if captured and asked about it (they may well deny that they did it, but that's another matter and in many cases they recognize they did it after caught), and they do not engage in such actions nearly all the time.
Furthermore, they do not go around promoting rape or murder as morally acceptable behavior, convincing others that it is so, etc.
So, my point is that even if Craig were to say that rape, murder, etc., is a rejection of God, someone reading Craig's claims would reasonably conclude that the atheist is still worse (on Craig's views) than most (though perhaps not all) murderers, rapists, because of the atheist's far more frequent (continued even) offenses, her failure to acknowledge that she's committing any offenses, and her promotion of the worst evil of them all (i.e., the rejection of God) as not even immoral.

I do not agree about infinite punishment for rape, or that the chronic refusal is not finite. But whether it's in some obscure sense infinite, I would say we can tell by our own sense of right and wrong (if we don't let religion get in the way) that it's not morally acceptable to punish a rapist by, say, imprisonment for 1 trillion trillion years in a small, nasty dungeon. Hell would be much worse, and forever.
Of course, you disagree with that assessment, and readers will make their own assessments, but it's not the point I was trying to make.

Angra Mainyu said...

4. We ought to distinguish between choosing a course of action that ends in unhappiness or much worse, and willingly choosing unhappiness or much worse, like being imprisoned, tortured, etc.
Yes, drug addicts chose a course of action that will make them unhappy. But they did not set out to be unhappy, except perhaps in cases of mental illness. Gay people in societies where gay sex is punished by a painful death and who get caught, or bank robbers who get caught pretty much everywhere, also chose course of actions that would eventually lead them to prison, but they did not choose to be in prison, or executed, etc. Those inflicting the punishment made the choice.
I already explained that difference sufficiently, though, so I will have to refer you to my previous posts on the matter.

As for your point about the choices made by atheists, again, if Yahweh made the rule that those behaving in such-in-such ways end up in Hell (place, state of being or whatever), and atheists behave in such manner while believing that there is no Hell (and certainly they do not want infinite torment), then it's his choice (not of the atheists) to put them in Hell, just as, say, a gay man who chooses to have gay sex believing he won't be punished for that (for whatever reason) and then is dragged to his execution while asking to be spared did not choose execution, even if he chose to have gay sex.

But as before, I have already gone into sufficient detail explaining why atheists do not choose to be in Hell, do not choose infinite torment and/or suffering, etc., so I will just point to my previous posts on this.

That is not the same as the issue of whether atheists deserve infinite torment, punishment, suffering, etc.; that's an entirely different matter (of course I'd say we don't and it's immoral to spread the belief that we do, and most Christians disagree, but in any event that is not the issue I was talking about).

Papalinton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Papalinton said...

"If Craig's theology says there are no righteous people, and even Craig admits atheists are good people, then we don't have to look far to see that Craig's theology is not riddled with facts."

Equally, Craig's theology is filled with the direst of inconsequences known to human kind. I literally shake in my boots each time I imagine the great inconsequences that will befall me, now, into the future and when I'm dead. I shake in my boots every time I realise that I repudiate one the the great irrelevancies of our time, christian theism.
I marvel at the inanity of comments valiantly attempting to envision Craig's theist debate at the level of some ersatz reality. Perhaps the best spin one could ascribe to WLC's arguments is one of genuine insignificance.

Angra Mainyu said...


More evidence of Craig's position:


While he considers for the sake of the argument the possibility of contingent Hell, he also explains the position that, as the other link I provided shows, he believes to be correct:

Craig: "Why think that every sin does have only a finite punishment? We could agree that sins like theft, lying, adultery, and so forth, are only of finite consequence and so only deserve a finite punishment. But, in a sense, these sins are not what serves to separate someone from God. For Christ has died for those sins. The penalty for those sins has been paid. One has only to accept Christ as Savior to be completely free and clean of those sins. But the refusal to accept Christ and his sacrifice seems to be a sin of a different order altogether. For this sin decisively separates one from God and His salvation. To reject Christ is to reject God Himself. And this is a sin of infinite gravity and proportion and therefore deserves infinite punishment. We ought not, therefore, to think of hell primarily as punishment for the array of sins of finite consequence which we have committed, but as the just due for a sin of infinite consequence, namely the rejection of God Himself."

Craig is not suggesting that theft, adultery and so forth entail a rejection of Jesus, or merit the punishment of rejection of God, allegedly an immoral action of infinite consequence, so he both implies that atheists are not good people (far worse than a lying, adulterous thief, at least).

Given the context of both links (and similar), it would be more than a stretch to conclude that his position is compatible with contingent eternity in Hell; he would not say it's certain that it's not the case (i.e., he would allow that contingent eternity is compatible with Christianity), but that's not what he believes or the belief he promotes.

Unknown said...

Steven, you ask a loaded question. Yes, people can be good in human terms, but we exhibit a great deal of moral imperfection, which is why God's grace is necessary for salvation. And, neither I nor Craig say that God makes anyone burn.

Unknown said...

Angra, let's step back and consider Craig's claim about infinite sin in the broad context of Christian theology. Take the Apostle Paul, for example. He denied Christ and persecuted Christians for their belief. Does Craig really think that Paul is suffering in hell? Of course not, since Paul later converted.

The Gospels even portray those who reject God to be "guilty of an eternal sin" (Mark 3:29).

I think we have to give Craig more credit than you're giving him. As I explained, his concern with the contingency hypothesis is that one might take away from it a view that those in hell can repent. Now if you could show me where Craig actually says that atheism is worse than rape, for example, I think you might have a case. But, people convert from atheism all the time, and Craig knows this. He's not suggesting that God withholds salvation from converts. This means there's no way that Craig means to say that rejection of God is a one-and-done deal.

Speaking of finite sin, though, how would the unrepentant rapist be less wicked? If he refuses to repent, then there's no change in his moral compass, regardless of what behavior he happens to exhibit.

Now, I see that you reiterate the analogy of a homosexual being executed against his will. As I explained before, though, this is not analogous to the doctrine of hell, and especially Craig's interpretation of the doctrine. The correct analogy would be for someone to allow a homosexual (or whatever example, it doesn't have to be something so controversial) to continue engaging in his self-destructive behavior. Since any self-destructive behavior is bad and leads to unhappiness, it's easy to see how this corresponds with the concept of hell Craig describes.

Getting back to the moral argument, though, where in the context of the moral argument does Craig use atheism as an example of a moral failure? The references I've seen you make have been with respect to the doctrine of hell, etc. I've read all of your posts, so maybe I missed something.

Unknown said...

Also, notice how Craig states: "But, in a sense, these sins are not what serves to separate someone from God."

This could imply that there is another sense in which these sins do separate one from God. Taken in context, the murderer, et al, need only repent and trust God for forgiveness. Rejecting God, however, makes this impossible. Nonetheless, one can also cease rejecting God.

Angra Mainyu said...


I think you're giving Craig too much credit, and going too far with the demand for evidence. What Craig says is pretty clear. If some other things he says are in conflict with that, that would be another matter.

Regarding the unrepentant rapist, Craig's position seems to be that the behavior is a finite crime deserving finite punishment, unless it goes together with a rejection of God. But let's assume that Craig says or believes that the unrepentant rapist is indirectly rejecting God.

Then, yes, he would be guilty of an infinite sin when he engages in rape, and would not be repentant of that. But on the other hand, the atheist would be doing that much more often (continuously, even), and if the atheist also argues for atheism, she would be akin to a rapist who tries to persuade others to rape.

But if you want to leave rapists aside, let's go by Craig's own examples, and he's still saying that atheists are worse than, say, adulterous thieves and murderers. Even if you leave murderers aside (for no good reasons) the conclusion remains that atheists can't be good people.

As for the gay analogy, my analogy is the correct one, because again, he did not choose to be executed, and we did not choose to be put in a place of a state of torment that we cannot reverse. In other words, we would freely choose not to go to Hell, and if in Hell, we would freely choose to leave Hell, perhaps actual suicide, but if not available (Yahweh's imposition too), then whatever other option is available...but I've already explained my position in considerable detail, and we're clearly not going to agree, so I'll leave it at that.

Angra Mainyu said...

As for what Craig says in the context of the moral argument, I already introduced my position on that as well, in the following post:

Then, I gave more details in the post following that, and in my reply to Victor's reply, beginning with the following post:

Essentially, it seems that in that context (including the metaethical argument plus his other moral arguments for theism – practical arguments he makes together with the metaethical argument), he's not saying that atheists are bad people, but "only" that they're worse than theists, or at least Christians, whereas in other contexts he's saying or clearly implying that atheists are bad people.

So, they're misunderstanding Craig, but it's an understandable misunderstanding, and Craig himself does a lot to contribute to the confusion (of course, I hold he does a lot worse by spreading the belief that some people deserve infinite torment, among other things, but that's another matter).

As for the "in a sense" expression, I think you're stretching the interpretation too far.
Incidentally, for that matter, one could say that from Craig's claim that "in a sense, the biblical god does not send any person to Hell" indicates another sense in which he does, but I'd rather consider the context in which he says that to make my case, and in the case you mention, a sense in which those sins would separate us from God does not appear to be relevant to the matter at hand, which is the comparison of the relative seriousness of the sins.

Side note: As for your claim that one can cease rejecting God, I do not agree. While that is not the same for everyone, I can't come to believe that Yahweh exists (or that he's not an imaginary evil character, for that matter) any more than I can come to believe that there is no computer screen in front of me right now, and I'm hardly the only one (but Craig claims otherwise, at least in some cases, and I'm not using this objection as part of my argumentation).

Angra Mainyu said...

More on the issue of the claim that atheists can repent and stop being atheists, etc.

Even if atheists, like murderers, rapists etc., can according to Craig get forgiveness by accepting Jesus, going by that, the former atheist might not be so bad, but the atheist would be doing something at least as bad as the unrepentant rapist, murderer, etc.

So, as long as the person remains an atheist (i.e., no repentance), she would still be at least as bad as the person who continues to engage in acts of rape, without repentance, and worse than that if we count the frequency of the actions, and worse even if she promotes atheism.

But even if we assume Craig is implying that it would be just as bad and not worse, Craig would still be implying that an atheist (not a former atheist who is now a Christian, but an atheist) is no better a person than, say, a serial killer, or a professional assassin, or a rapist, etc.; surely he's still promoting the belief that atheists aren't good people.

Brent said...

Hi, Victor.

I think I have a good analogy to get us out of this mess of atheists not understanding how we are using the moral argument. I'll post a link to my blog post which was a cut/paste of a post to someone on Uncommon Descent.

And I'll paste the most relevant part of the analogy here.

Three Men Walking

One normal guy walks up. I ask him to jump. He does.

Another guy walks up. He is as normal as the first guy, with one exception. He is walking in the air. I ask him to jump. He tries, but cannot. He is not grounded.

A third guy walks up. He is as normal as the other two, with a different exception. He is walking on the ground, but says that he doesn’t believe in the ground. I ask him to jump. He does.

Now, when I and others say you (an atheist) have no grounding for a binding morality, you think we are claiming that you are the second “guy”. “But”, you say, “Look! I can jump just as well as you!”, and you can.

But I am not claiming you are the second guy at all. I’m claiming that you’re the third guy. You are grounded, and can jump as well as anyone. It’s not your grounding that’s the problem in the physical and practical sense, it’s your thinking about the ground that is wrong. Your thinking is irrational and incoherent on this point. You are denying the ground from which you can, still, jump.

You can jump from now until the cows come home, but until your thinking about the ground changes, you’ll never have correct understanding of an obvious fact.

You can, and do, have correct and binding morals, just as the third man can jump, but your thinking, also just like the third man, is simply incorrect.

Steven Carr said...

But it is theists who have no basis for morality.

Here are Craig's exact words, claiming that evil is not sin , if his god commands it.

Here is Craig saying murder is moral, and not even murder, if his god says kill people 'Rather, since our moral duties are determined by God’s commands, it is commanding someone to do something which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been murder. The act was morally obligatory for the Israeli soldiers in virtue of God’s command, even though, had they undertaken it on their on initiative, it would have been wrong.'

Unknown said...

Angra, considering the context in which Craig mentions "the refusal to accept Christ," who is he referring to? Is it not the rapists and murderers he mentions immediately prior to that? In fact, I don't see him talking about atheists at all. So, I think I'm giving Craig the exact credit he deserves. He's talking specifically about unrepentant rapists and murderers.

If the rapist continues to be unrepentant, how is the atheist's continuing to be unrepentant supposed to be worse? The atheist may try to persuade others of atheism, but the rapist refuses to acknowledge the victim of rape. But again, this has nothing to do with the moral argument for God's existence. It only has to do with the separate issue of hell.

Part of Craig's debate strategy is to use premises in support of theism that atheists would be most likely to accept. With that in mind, do you really think he would suggest, in the context of the moral argument for God's existence, that atheism is a moral failure?

I did read your previous posts on this, but here's one your quotes of Craig:

"Historian Stewart C. Easton sums it up well when he writes, "There is no objective reason why man should be moral, unless morality 'pays off' in his social life or makes him 'feel good.' There is no objective reason why man should do anything save for the pleasure it affords him.""

This is an argument based on moral ontology, not on moral epistemology. The atheist/naturalist can recognize moral obligations (moral epistemology) even if his or her moral ontology is flimsy. Again, there's nothing in Craig's statement that suggests atheists cannot recognize objective moral obligations or that they are less moral than theists. The atheist, so it's said, can be moral in spite of his atheism, and not because of it.

Back to the issue of hell, you mention that Craig's view would have to include an atheist who continues to be an atheist. But, doesn't that imply that Craig's view does, in fact, entail some form of contingent eternality?

You add, "As for the gay analogy, my analogy is the correct one, because again, he did not choose to be executed, and we did not choose to be put in a place of a state of torment that we cannot reverse."

This assumes a view of hell that's in conflict with what Craig has stated. It's not about God putting anyone in hell. You might say that Craig's interpretation of the Bible is mistaken, but I thought we were talking about Craig's views and not someone else's.

I do want to ask a couple personal questions. Feel free not to answer, but don't worry about me offering any refutations. You say you're unable to accept Yahweh's existence. Do you also think you're unable to accept the existence of any God? On a related note, you said earlier that you would prefer annihilation to heaven. Is this only a heaven with Yahweh, or is there a conceivable heaven you would like to spend eternity in?

Angra Mainyu said...


Considering the context in which he's talking about the 'refusal to accept Christ', it's clear that in that particular context, he's not talking about unrepentant murderers, rapists, etc.
A murderer or a rapist may recognize the immorality of his actions, repent, feel very guilty about it, etc., and still remain an atheist, or becomes a Muslim, or whatever, and no matter how repentant they are of their acts of rape, murder, etc., that will not cut it.
If any 'repentance' counts, that would be repentance of disobeying Yahweh and not accepting Jesus, whether the disobeying happened by being an atheist or by some other means of alleged disobedience

If the rapist repents of his rape, but not of not accepting Jesus as lord and savior, then to Hell with him (literally).

Now, I explained why the atheist would be worse than the unrepentant rapist in most (but not necessarily all) cases, even assuming that Craig holds that rape entails rejection of Jesus: the atheist would be worse in terms of number of offenses (the rapist is not raping every day), and in terms of not even recognizing that atheism is evil, thus promoting more or less strongly the worst immorality.

But as I mentioned, let's say that it's not worse, but "merely" equally bad. Then, he's implying at least that the atheist (not the former atheist who converted) is as bad as a rapist who does not repent. That's a pretty clear implication that atheists aren't good people.

As for the moral argument, I already explained the problems in my previous post. Your reply would seem to require a repetition of them, so I'm not sure what else to say, but let me try in another way.

1) On one hand, he clearly implies that on an atheist view (and/or a naturalistic one), there is no good reason to behave in a way other that what he considers 'self-interest'.
2) He claims that atheism leads to demoralization due to a lack of accountability, so there is a weakening in moral motivation of atheists compared to theists.
3) He actually uses state Soviet tortures as an example of atheists who understood the alleged consequences of atheism.

Again, I'm not saying that he's explicitly saying in that particular argument that atheists are not good people; he's saying that they're worse than theists (or overall worse, etc.), since they're allegedly less morally motivated, and he makes a number of points that would support also that conclusion.
Additionally, he adds an ambiguous claim in the last paragraph, when he says we can't be good without God right after mentioning the practical "arguments", which might be interpreted as saying that the demoralization is enough to make atheists not good.
In addition, he in other contexts says or clearly implies that atheists are not good.

Given all of that, the misunderstanding is understandable. Not to mention that the argument is too complex for the general public, and it's meant to be easily understandable.

On the issue of Hell, no, there would be no contingent eternity, since after the atheist dies an atheist, then according to Craig's beliefs she already deserves eternal punishment, and Yahweh will give her eternal punishment for that, regardless of further crimes in Hell. That's not consistent with the view that you ascribed to him, namely contingent eternity in the sense you described earlier.

As for the analogy, no, I'm saying that Craig's description of Hell makes my analogy the proper one. If Craig also claims that Yahweh does not put people in Hell, and that claim is literal and not figurative, then he's wrong about the consequences of his own description of Hell. My point is that Craig's description of Hell entails that Hell isn't chosen. It's a punishment inflicted by Yahweh on the damned.

As for the personal questions, I will address them in the next post.

Angra Mainyu said...


With regard to your questions, just to be clear, when I say I can't, I'm talking about psychological impossibility, for instance in the sense I cannot convince myself that there is no computer screen in front of me (though like an actor in character, one can on a superficial level pretend and get even some of the feelings the character would feel, one is not really buying into it).

That said, let's get to the questions:

Q1: "Do you also think you're unable to accept the existence of any God?"

I'm not entirely sure what you mean by 'any God'; you're capitalizing, but on the other hand, you seem to accept various (epistemic) possibilities.

But regardless, based on the evidence available to me, plus reason, then yes, I cannot choose to believe in any creator of the universe and succeed, so that probably covers whatever you mean by 'any God'; I would still like to ask what you mean by that, for the sake of clarity.

That is not to say that I accept the non-existence of any God. For instance, I do not know whether a deistic God exists, even though I cannot choose to believe one does.

Q2: "On a related note, you said earlier that you would prefer annihilation to heaven. Is this only a heaven with Yahweh, or is there a conceivable heaven you would like to spend eternity in?"

As before, there it's not clear to me what you mean by a 'heaven' (please, clarify), but for sure, I could conceive of ways in which I would like to live forever, and probably would continue to want to live in one of those conditions if I were in one of them.

Still, in case I get to pick, I would like to have the option to end my existence if I changed my mind.
While I can't think of any of the sort happening in the foreseeable future, I suppose trillions of trillions of years (for instance) are a long time, and I'd rather keep my options open.

Unknown said...

Angra, I think Craig certainly is talking about murderers and rapists. Nowhere in the article does he even mention atheism or the moral argument. The sinners he does mention are the rapists, etc., who refuse to accept Christ. You can infer that Craig includes atheists under the category of those who reject Christ, but you cannot rightly infer that Craig is saying atheism is worse or just as bad as rape, since nowhere in the text does he mention atheism.

Now, if a rapists remains an atheist, per your example, then you're arguing from silence. Craig simply doesn't address this.

You add, "the atheist would be worse in terms of number of offenses (the rapist is not raping every day), and in terms of not even recognizing that atheism is evil, thus promoting more or less strongly the worst immorality."

But as I said earlier, the unrepentant rapist continues to inflict pain on his victim(s). Admitting he did wrong allows victims to continue in their healing process. I personally know victims of rape who have said so. Moreover, your statement still assumes that Craig views atheism as worse or equal to rape, and I've explained this isn't the case in my previous post.

You add, "But as I mentioned, let's say that it's not worse, but "merely" equally bad. Then, he's implying at least that the atheist (not the former atheist who converted) is as bad as a rapist who does not repent. That's a pretty clear implication that atheists aren't good people."

Two points: 1) where does Craig mention atheists in the articles on hell you cite? 2) What relevance is this to the moral argument. Craig also believes homosexual acts are immoral, but he doesn't use homosexual behavior as examples of immorality in his defense of the moral argument. One shouldn't take quotes of his outside his defense of the moral argument and read into what he says about the moral argument and use it against him.

As I'll reiterate: in the articles on the doctrine of hell, Craig mentions neither the moral argument nor atheism.

Getting back to the moral argument:

You state, "1) On one hand, he clearly implies that on an atheist view (and/or a naturalistic one), there is no good reason to behave in a way other that what he considers 'self-interest'."

That may be, but he's talking about moral ontology at that point, whereas your concern appears to be moral epistemology. People quite often act in conflict with their own professed beliefs. I can list a few college sophomores who embrace moral relativism, but then turn around and condemn the Holocaust. Likewise, whatever the suggested nihilistic consequences of atheism, Craig recognizes that many atheists act in conflict with their implied (not necessarily explicit) nihilism.

You continue, "2) He claims that atheism leads to demoralization due to a lack of accountability, so there is a weakening in moral motivation of atheists compared to theists."

Craig does argue there is a lack of accountability, but again, atheists often act morally in spite of this.

Unknown said...

You add, "3) He actually uses state Soviet tortures as an example of atheists who understood the alleged consequences of atheism."

Yes, he does. This is an instance in which the Soviet torturers act consistently with their nihilism. But as I mentioned, many atheists do not and Craig explicitly points this out. Now, you can argue that atheism does not entail nihilism, but then we would be debating the moral argument itself and not whether the moral argument implies that atheists cannot be moral.

You continue, "Additionally, he adds an ambiguous claim in the last paragraph, when he says we can't be good without God right after mentioning the practical 'arguments', which might be interpreted as saying that the demoralization is enough to make atheists not good."

His statement that we cannot be good without God needs to be taken within the context of where he is explicit. Any inferences you want to draw ought to be subordinate to Craig's explicit statements. In fact, he anticipates your objection and makes it clear: "But wait. It would, indeed, be arrogant and ignorant to claim that people cannot be good without belief in God. But that was not the question. The question was: can we be good without God? When we ask that question, we are posing in a provocative way the meta-ethical question of the objectivity of moral values."

You (Angra) state, "Given all of that, the misunderstanding is understandable. Not to mention that the argument is too complex for the general public, and it's meant to be easily understandable."

Don't you think the quote I gave above is easily understandable?

Back to the issue of hell and if an atheist dies an atheist, well, Craig simply isn't talking about atheists in the context of his articles on hell. Will you at least agree he doesn't explicitly mention atheists?

Finally, Craig does argue that hell ought to be viewed as figurative. But even if it were literal, you've simply reiterated your own view that Craig's position has an undesirable consequence. I think we can leave that part of the argument aside now.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

With respect to the personal questions, I'll respond because you asked me to clarify. I understand you say that you psychologically cannot believe in God (Yahweh). I'm just asking about any God. If you're uncomfortable with the capitalization of "God," then use whatever substitute you'd like. Deity could work, for example, or just plan ol' "god," left without capitalization.

Anyway, let's think of a popular example. Let's say the uniformity of nature is not the result of chance. Could you not see yourself believing that it's the result of design? In this instance, you would be affirming the existence of a vague cosmic designer. I'm leaving it vague on purpose, e.g. not including timelessness, etc.

Again, I'm not interested in defending the teleological argument at this time. I just want to hear from you what you think you can minimally accept on a psychological level.

With respect to heaven, I'm again being vague on purpose. You mention that you can conceive of a way of living forever that you would like, so that pretty much answers the question.

Now, if you'd like to leave annihilation as an option in case you get bored in heaven or whatever, couldn't you also conceive of a heaven so great that nobody would ever want to leave?

Angra Mainyu said...


It will take me some time to address all of your posts. I'll deal with some issues for now, and address the rest later when I can.

I'm not uncomfortable with the capitalization of 'God', and I capitalize as well, as long as the word 'God' is used as a proper name. If it's not used as a proper name, then capitalization would be incorrect, so I would not capitalize, but in any case, I wasn't uncomfortable by it, but wanted to clarify what you meant by 'God'.

If we go by 'god' without capitalization, the question is the same. What do you mean by 'god'?
It's not like asking, say, "what do you mean by 'car'?", since we learn to use the word 'car' by observing others use it to name some vehicles, and the similarities between such vehicles result in extremely similar usages of the words, so miscommunication would be extremely rare.

On the other hand, words like 'god', or 'supernatural' (in colloquial, not philosophical senses) result in a considerably greater degree of differences in usage across speakers; sometimes, that's not a problem because there is no need for greater precision, but in this contexts, I would require greater precision to give you a more precise answer.

Still, I can give you an answer nonetheless (I did), but it will be less precise.

Regarding the 'uniformity of nature', I think that teleological arguments have serious conceptual challenges. I would not psychologically accept something unless I can understand what it means (and I think that many metaphysical arguments are not coherent at all, but leaving that aside).

First, what's 'nature', and how do you separate it from 'non-nature'?
Of course, we can stipulate all sorts of divisions in the world around us, like between humans and non-humans, or (let's say the distinction makes sense) between natural and supernatural beings (in some colloquial sense of the words, and accepting considerable vagueness), but said divisions do not seem relevant to whether we look at patterns, use induction, etc.

Second, what do you mean by 'uniformity' of nature?
That there are patterns in the world?
In that case, I would just say the uniformity of the world (UW).
If so, how would that be the result of a cause, and what would it mean for that to be the result of chance?

But for instance, if UW obtains at every state of the world, then it seems that it's not the result of anything. Since I see no good reason to think that there is a state of the world at which UW does not obtain, I see no good reason to think that UW is the result of anything, whether chance or something else.

But, perhaps, you meant something else by 'by chance', so I would like to ask for clarification in that case.

Angra Mainyu said...

With respect to heaven, there is a distinction between what I would choose under certain circumstances in which I'm in an epistemically weak position (i.e., I do not really know what to expect), and what I can conceive as a hypothetical scenario.

Of course, one could just stipulate that a place is so great that no one ever wants to leave, without having to have a description of it, but it's not clear that psychologically, that would work (since we're not describing it).

However, in any case, I find the ability to leave a place and/or state of existence to be a serious bonus, and not being able to leave it in any way (not even by annihilation) would itself be a negative feature.

In other words, I value having the freedom to leave, even if I would never exercise it.

So, while it may be that there is a place that I would never want to leave, it might be a place that I have the power to leave (just a power I would choose never to exercise).

If one of the conditions of a place is that I can never leave, that makes me dislike the place all other things equal, so I would be motivated never to get there in the first place. That does not mean I would not choose such a place; I would if no better alternative is available.

But I would need more details about such scenarios, places, etc., before I can tell.

For instance, am I choosing between some alternatives someone is giving? How can I trust them?, etc.

Angra Mainyu said...

Regarding, Craig, he clearly says that it's the rejection of God what merits infinite punishment. That surely covers atheism as a sin that merits infinite punishment, whereas rape, murder, theft, etc., would not merit infinite punishment for themselves.

If some of them also merit, according to Craig, infinite punishment because they entail a rejection of God (let's grant that for the sake of the argument), then the fact remains that atheists would be at the very least as bad, though apparently worse; I already explained this in detail, so I do not see the point in further repetition.

You said: "You can infer that Craig includes atheists under the category of those who reject Christ, but you cannot rightly infer that Craig is saying atheism is worse or just as bad as rape, since nowhere in the text does he mention atheism."

Actually, atheism is a rejection of God, and that's the thing that merits infinite punishment according to Craig, rather than rape, or any other crime, so the implication is pretty clear.

You said: "Now, if a rapists remains an atheist, per your example, then you're arguing from silence. Craig simply doesn't address this."
No, I'm addressing your argument; you said he was talking about unrepentant rapists, etc., and I pointed out that that was not the case, as a repentant rapist who is a Muslim, or an atheist, would still get infinite punishment.

You said: "But as I said earlier, the unrepentant rapist continues to inflict pain on his victim(s). Admitting he did wrong allows victims to continue in their healing process. I personally know victims of rape who have said so."

There is a difference between doing further immoral actions and continuous consequences of previous ones. Here, he would be failing to try to reduce the pain he already caused.
In any case, we can consider the case of a murderer instead of a rapist, or a rapist and murderer who murders all of the victims he rapes.

You said:
"Two points: 1) where does Craig mention atheists in the articles on hell you cite? 2) What relevance is this to the moral argument."

1) I said that Craig either says or clearly implies that atheists aren't good people. He needn't mention atheists to imply that.

2) As I've explained several times, I did not claim that it's relevant to whether the metaethical argument is true. Rather, my point is that Craig is largely responsible for the misunderstanding, for the reasons I've been explaining. I see no reason to add any further comments on the matter.

You said: "Craig also believes homosexual acts are immoral, but he doesn't use homosexual behavior as examples of immorality in his defense of the moral argument. One shouldn't take quotes of his outside his defense of the moral argument and read into what he says about the moral argument and use it against him. "

You're attacking someone else's claims, it seems, not mine.
Again, I'm explaining the misunderstanding.
He shouldn't make the 'moral argument' in the first place, or condemn people for 'rejection of God', or spread the belief that people deserve infinite punishment, etc., but leaving that aside, he shouldn't present that metaethical argument to people who don't have the knowledge to understand it, claim that it's an argument for the general public, etc., make add in the context of his moral arguments laims that atheism or naturalism leads to demoralization, use the example of the Stalinists, etc..

Angra Mainyu said...

"Don't you think the quote I gave above is easily understandable?"

Quite so. But then the rest of the argument follows, including the argument from demoralization.

I'm not saying that there is no epistemic mistake on the part of those who misunderstand his arguments, but rather, that presenting those arguments to the general public as easily understandable, and also in the context of other claims he makes, contribute largely to the confusion (though there would be confusion regardless, as long as he presents a metaethical argument to the general public and claims that it's understandable. He's actually confusing people with that).

Angra Mainyu said...


On the issue of the psychological possibility of belief in God, I think that two different matters have to be considered:

1) Whether believing or not believing in the existence of Yahweh or some other creator is a choice, something one can do, rather than something that happens to one.
2) Whether it's psychologically possible that one might come to believe in such entities.

As for 1), in my experience, belief is not chosen. I can, of course, choose whether to read arguments for and/or against the existence of some being (or for or against something else), generally choose whether to study different subjects, etc., but not directly choose to believe or not, and succeed.

If an argument (including evidence of different kinds, etc.) were to convince me of the existence of some beings (say, alien microorganisms in Europa, or whatever), I would not be choosing to believe in their existence; rather, coming to believe in their existence would be something that happened to me, not something I chose to bring about (again, there is indirect choosing in choosing what to read, etc.).

As for 2), I've read enough about Yahweh, Christianity, Islam, etc., and philosophy of religion to realize that coming to believe in any such beings is not something that will ever happen to me. I'm counting all of the usual arguments, and a good number of others (including ontological, cosmological, arguments to design, metaethical, practical 'arguments', teleological, arguments from miracles, resurrection, and so on). I'm afraid I do not have time to engage in a debate on such arguments (if I did, I'd probably use it to write a counterargument and post it on my blog), but I'm merely reporting my beliefs and experiences about this matter, not claiming I've established any results in that regard in this thread.

However, even if I hadn't yet taken a look at any of those arguments, (per 1)) I would be able to tell that I would not be able to choose to believe in the entities that such arguments posit (regardless of whether belief in such entities might happen to me).

Incidentally, I was actually raised a Catholic, so I used to believe in the existence of Yahweh. I never chose to no longer believe. Rather, no longer believing happened to me. This is not an unusual experience for atheists. In fact, I've yet to encounter someone who reports otherwise.

If you look up 'deconversion stories' on Google, or read the stories on an atheist website (say, FRDB or Pharyngula), you'll find that that is the usual experience – with all sorts of individual variations, of course, but they're not choices not to believe that Yahweh exists.

Unknown said...

Angra, while I read your latest posts and appreciate your detail, I'm afraid that any detailed response on my part would simply take us on a huge tangent. What, for example, do I mean by the "uniformity of nature"? Well, I don't think either of us wants to get into a debate about the teleological argument on a thread about the moral argument. It's also my personal policy to not debate non-cognitivism. So, if you think the teleological argument, or any argument, is literally meaningless, that wouldn't be a topic of interest I would pursue.

As for the doctrine of hell, the moral argument, etc., we've made our points and people have probably already made up their minds. I'm happy to give you the last word on the matter.

Angra Mainyu said...


I'm not saying that the argument is literally meaningless; rather, I'm just doing what I usually do when assessing philosophical arguments.

In brief, normally:
If there is a term that is not a common, colloquial term, and I do not know what my interlocutor means by the term, then I ask for a definition, or a link to a definition.
If there is no interlocutor, I look for the definition on my own.
If I can't find a definition, or the ones I find are in terms of other terms that I do not understand, then I will not accept the argument. I would have to understand the terms in order to do that.

Of course, if I keep asking for a definition, and nothing that I understand is presented, then I'm going to begin to suspect that the argument is incoherent. It's not necessarily that it's meaningless, but perhaps it relies on an equivocation that would become apparent once a definition is given (not that the others are doing that deliberately; usually, they're not); in fact, I think that that's a lot more common than really meaningless claims.

But regardless of whether that is the case, if I do not understand the terms, I will not accept the philosophical argument in question (and I can't; it's not a matter of choice for me).

As for the natural/non-natural distinction, my position (not to debate, but just to report my beliefs on the matter) in the usual sense of the words, a distinction seems to be between natural and supernatural (not 'non-natural'), but that is not a relevant category when it comes to things like whether there are patterns (if that's what you mean by 'uniformity'), or to any philosophical issues of interest to philosophy of religion as far as I can tell; it's more like a literary genre (e.g., "Buffy" but not "Star Trek"), and entities in those fictional works, or in religions that posit similar beings.

On the other hand, if we're talking about a technical definition of 'natural' and/or 'non-natural' (probably), I would request a definition (as with other technical terms).

In any case, I'm not trying to debate the arguments in particular here, but was trying to address the personal questions and the ones that followed from that.

As for the doctrine of Hell, the moral argument, etc., thanks; I too think we've both made our points clearly enough, and have no further comment to add.

Unknown said...

I just mean the normal understanding of "uniformity of nature," e.g. the laws of nature and their patterns of regularity. Gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak atomic forces would be examples. A definition of "supernatural" doesn't even need to enter into the discussion.

Angra Mainyu said...


I do not know that that is 'the' normal understanding, since I've seen different usages, but still, that's also not clear. For instance, 'laws of nature', suggests also a division between nature and non-nature, and that would require definition.

Still, I can try to address your question and see where that leads us.

Your example is the following: “Let's say the uniformity of nature is not the result of chance. Could you not see yourself believing that it's the result of design?”

What would it take for the uniformity of nature (UN for short) to be the result of chance?

Please let me know whether I misunderstand your what you mean, but it seems to me that in order for UN to be the result of chance, there would have to be a state of the world S1 at which there is no uniformity of nature (UN for short), followed by a state of the world S2 at which there is UN, and that the change happened without a cause.

But what kind of sequence would that be?

It seems that S1 can't be causally prior to S2, since the change happened by chance.
Perhaps, I guess someone might say that it's causally prior in other respects, but it's not clear to me how that would work.
But can there be time without UN?
Perhaps, you would allow for some kind of time without nature, but that takes us back again to the issue of the distinction between natural and non-natural.

So, my point is that there are lots of issues that require detailed analysis.

Still, to make it short, I do not have any good reason to think that there is a state of the world at which UN does not hold, and so I do not think UN resulted from anything, either chance or a cause, just as I do not think that, say, the fact that beings exist resulted from anything, chance or not.

Incidentally, when I say 'beings', I'm not talking about numbers, propositions, etc.; I think it's a mistake to conflate them with things like planets, etc., and talk about existence of them in the same context.

But still, we do not need to settle any of that. Let's say that I do not believe that the fact that there are concrete particulars is the result of chance, or that it was brought about by a being. Actually, we can rule out the latter, because then that being would be a concrete particular in the first place. But I think that we can rule out the former as well, because then we would need a state of the world without concrete particulars S1, followed by one S2 with concrete particulars. But that sequence, it seems, cannot be either causal or temporal, so what kind of sequence is that?

In any event, at the very least, I do not see any good reason to believe that the existence of concrete particulars is the result of either design or chance, and similarly, I do not see any good reason to believe that UN is the result of either design or chance (yes, you can bring up contingency here, and I can explain my take on that too, if you like; but I too would rather not get into a long(er) debate.

Could I see myself believing that UN is the result of design?
Not if we rule out something seriously affecting my brain (and I do not mean arguments, but something abnormal). I've already read enough on theistic arguments to know that I won't be convinced. But even before I read any, I knew that regardless of whether I could be convinced, I would not have the choice to believe that it was (or wasn't) the result of design; i.e., I would not have the choice to be convinced or not.
Rather, belief or non-belief would in any event happen to me. It's not within my power to choose what the results of my assessment of an argument will be, though it is within my power to choose whether to assess said argument.

I hope that addresses some of your questions sufficiently; it's what I can do for now; I could give youp more precise replies if I had more precise definitions as well.

Unknown said...

I realize you'd like me to be precise, but as I said, I'm leaving the argument vague on purpose. I'm not doing that to add to any confusion, but rather to illustrate the diversity of views that are consistent with design.

For example, your analysis of S1 and S2, I think, is unnecessary. The question was not, "why did the universe begin to exhibit order?" It's simply this: why does the universe exhibit order? Even if there is no origin for the uniformity of nature, there may still be an explanation for why it continues to be uniform. It was Aristotle (among many others), after all, who held to the eternity of the universe, but also to its design.

Truth or falsity of the teleological argument aside, you've already answered my question about what you think you can believe.

Take care, brother.

Angra Mainyu said...


Okay, now I just want to briefly address my take on your point about the continuation of UN (please feel free to reply or leave it at that, of course, but I just want to clarify that I considered such alternatives too).

On a substances and powers and liabilities account of laws of nature (for instance), the powers and liabilities may be such that the universe (i.e., all the things) can only bring about some future ordered states, not any disorderly state. That is a potential explanation of the continuation (similar ones can be considered on other accounts), on which once you have some substances that exhibit uniformity, then by the very properties of such substances, you can only get uniformity in the future.

That aside, if you introduce an entity that is supposed to hold the rules in place, then you still have the natural/non-natural issue: you're isolating a portion of reality (without defining how you do so, so it's all at best obscure) that you call 'natural', and then say that some other thing which also exhibits regularity keeps the regularities in nature in place.

However, that would lead to the question of the regularities exhibited by the entity that holds the regularities in place, so we would have the problem of the uniformity of non-nature.
Generally, the question eventually becomes not about the uniformity in an arbitrarily selected portion of reality (if it were even defined) but the uniformity of reality (UR, for short).

At this point, someone might go for metaphysical necessity, but I do not think that that explains anything, but assuming it might, we might as well say that UN is necessary (which I do not believe is the case, but then, I do not think any beings or rules are), or at least continues necessarily given the initial segment of the world so far, and the substances within it.

But teleological arguments aside, let's assume I'm wrong about all of that, and/or about other arguments. In that case, that's my error, not my choice (i.e., if I got a mistaken conclusion about those arguments, then that's too bad but it's just what I got after considering them carefully, not a choice I made).

Take care,

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I have one more question of clarification. After that, I'll be finished in this thread, lest I derail it any further.

You say that the uniformity of nature is not "metaphysically" necessary. I assume you mean some form of broad logical necessity? On the other hand, you say that the laws of nature must continue to be instantiated. Is it your position that the uniformity of nature (whatever that happens to mean) is temporally necessary, but not logically necessary?

Angra Mainyu said...


Yes, metaphysical necessity is some kind of broad logical necessity.

Many theist philosophers, like Swinburne, Craig, Moreland, Plantinga, etc. (and many other philosophers, theists or otherwise) use the category 'metaphysically necessary', so I was considering a potential objection like that.

So, 'metaphysically necessary' I mean whatever they mean by it, and it seems it's a kind of broad logical necessity.
While a definition in terms of other terms is usually not provided, common examples (so that one can grasp the meaning) are things like 'water is H2O", "If B is P and Q, then B is P" (for some B, P, Q), "2 + 2 = 4", etc.

Personally, I would do without it. But since many philosophers use it, I do too when assessing their arguments.

As for the laws of nature, I say that it may (i.e., epistemic possibility) be the case that they must continue to be instantiated. I do not take a stance on such issues.

As for the uniformity of nature, also I'm saying that for all I know, it may be temporally necessary, or more generally (if time is not needed, for some reason; time is a mysterious beast), causally necessary given some conditions at the actual world (or some actual conditions, if you prefer not to use worlds).

On the other hand, I believe it's not strictly logically necessary, and not even metaphysically necessary (but if it is, that's not a problem, either).

By the way, "water is H2O" could be said to be necessary 'given some conditions at the actual world', but that's not the same. In the case of water, the matter is one of semantics and fixed referents: because of the meaning of the word 'water', whatever water is at the actual world, it's at every world, whereas in the case of uniformity of nature, I'm talking about causal necessity (i.e., given what actually exists and its causal powers, liabilities, etc., then it follows that only some things might arise from that, and all of them exhibit similar order). That would mean that it's only metaphysically necessary that in any world with the same past (or the same prior causal conditions) as our own, UN persists, but not that UN is metaphysically necessary (not without such restriction).

Again, I'm not saying that that is the case, but that it may be so for all I know. I hold no belief one way or another.

Unknown said...

You might be interested in my defense of the modal third way, then. It's consistent with matter and energy having temporal necessity, but leaves the God aspect as a bit of an open question:

Angra Mainyu said...

Okay, thanks for the link. I'll take a look, but my time is somewhat limited at the moment.