Saturday, 20 September 2014

Only Real Gods Agree With William Lane Craig

If ISIS’s God Were Real, Would I Be Obliged to Follow Him?

Confused Christians can now sleep soundly in their beds because William Lane Craig has revised his special Divine Command Theory (DCT). DCT says that morality is doing exactly what God commands without regard to the effects it might have on other people because God knows best and can take life if and when he wishes. All you have to do is obey God's command and whatever you do will be moral.

William Lane Craig devised this theory to justify the genocidal murder of the Canaanites in the Bible and so elevated genocide to the level of a moral crusade, provided God told you to do it. He formulated this repugnant philosophy in his notorious apologia for the Canaanite genocide which rightly earned him the epithet, "The Apologist for Genocide" with:

I think that a good start at this problem is to enunciate our ethical theory that underlies our moral judgements. According to the version of divine command ethics which I’ve defended, our moral duties are constituted by the commands of a holy and loving God. Since God doesn’t issue commands to Himself, He has no moral duties to fulfill. He is certainly not subject to the same moral obligations and prohibitions that we are. For example, I have no right to take an innocent life. For me to do so would be murder. But God has no such prohibition. He can give and take life as He chooses...

So the problem isn't that God ended the Canaanites’ lives. The problem is that He commanded the Israeli soldiers to end them. Isn't that like commanding someone to commit murder? No, it’s not. 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.

On divine command theory, then, God has the right to command an act, which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been sin, but which is now morally obligatory in virtue of that command...

But why take the lives of innocent children?... if we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation. We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy. Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives.

So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites? Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgement. Not the children, for they inherit eternal life. So who is wronged? Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves. Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children? The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.

So morality is doing what God commands; nothing more and nothing less. Blind obedience is all it takes. And of course you can trust people like William Lane Craig to tell you what God is commanding you to do.

But now Lane Craig has been bowled a googly to use a cricketing metaphor. A devotee from the UK has put a problem to him that he didn't seem to think of when he formulated his convenient DCT. It's a long read but worth it as he systematically dismantles Craig's special theory of which he seemed so proud.

Dear Dr Craig,

You may be aware that Frank Turek has a question he will sometimes ask atheists, "if Christianity were true, would you become a Christian"? Well, recently, an atheist flipped this question around and asked me "If the Islamic State were true (by which he means, if the specific type of Allah that IS believe in, existed) then likewise, would you become an IS member?"

Now, my gut reaction is to say no. I would not follow a God whom I find so horrendous as to condone rape, mass murder and forced conversion such as we're seeing happen right now in the Middle East.

Two problems arise, however:

Firstly, if I say this, the atheist can simply reply, "exactly! And now I'm sure you're aware how I feel too. Even if your Christian God existed, I would not follow him, because I find certain things about his morality horrendous and objectionable". This would seem a conversation stopper.

But, secondly, there seems an even greater problem:

From my understanding of Divine Command Theory (DCT), it seems the response I ought to give, is "yes, under such circumstances I should become an IS member". After all, if moral ontology is ultimately based in the character of God, then if the real God who existed after all was the IS God, and not the Christian God, then I would have no intellectual alternative other than to bite the bullet and treat his character as the paradigm of Moral Goodness. Rape etc really would be good, if their God existed, and if the principle of DCT applies.

This has got me very worried about DCT, because it seems an inadequate principle for grounding morality. It seems to commit the fallacy of trying to get an "ought" from an "is". i.e. it moves from "a particular God exists", to "therefore we ought to treat that God's character as the paradigm". This principle seems woefully inadequate, because it can be applied regardless of the actual content of God's character (or , to phrase it another way, it can be applied to any God that a person is convinced exists). In this specific case, it can be applied to both the Christian God and the IS God, and the only determining factor would be which one of those Gods actually exists (as Sam Harris put it in your debate with him, it boils down to "sorry, Buster, you've got the wrong God")!

Or, think of it this way. Consider the following 5 statements:

The content of God's necessary character is (A)

The content of God's necessary character is (B)

The content of God's necessary character is (C)

The content of God's necessary character is (D)

The content of God's necessary character is (E)

Obviously, these statements cannot all be true (especially since we're dealing with something which is the same in all possible worlds). At most, only one of them can be true.

However, the problem is, there seems no basis for why any of them should be true over the others.

Under DCT, we cannot invoke that horn of the Euthyphro dilemma which claims there to be moral truths independent of God's character. For example, if character (B) is such that God condones rape, mass killings and forced conversion, and character (D) is such that God is all-loving and forbids these things, we cannot appeal to an external moral standard to judge (D) to be greater than (B), and therefore declare (D) to be the existent one. This is because, apart from there being no such external standard anyway according to DCT, if (B) were true, then the mere existence of this particular God would establish him as the standard itself, against which all other characters, including the all-loving (D) character, would be deficient, or “not as great”.

If we, as Christians, try to argue that (D) must be true because that God's character is "greatest" then it seems we're either reasoning in a circle (i.e. God (D) exists because (D) is the greatest character, because God (D) exists), or we're conceding a horn of Euthyphro's dilemma - that God's necessary character is nonetheless determined by its matching up to a standard beyond God himself. Even if we want to appeal to the concept of God as a "Maximally Great Being" to try to settle the matter, God's own character establishes the paradigm of what moral "greatness" is (this is unlike other Great Making Properties, such as power, necessity, and knowledge, because in those cases God is being measured against how he relates to things other than himself: i.e. whether or not he can do 100% of possible actions, exist in 100% of possible words, and know 100% of true propositions etc).

So it all seems to boil down to "whichever God exists, that God's character is the paradigm of Goodness".

Notice that it is not adequate simply to say that because our God, the Christian God, is necessarily existent, therefore such a hypothetical situation shouldn't trouble us, given we're convinced of Christianity's truth. The challenge I'm levelling is at the principle of DCT itself. We can still run the thought experiment, and imagine (just as we ask atheists and Muslims to imagine) "what if it were shown to me that I was wrong? What if, epistemically, I'd been mistaken and had the wrong God, what would the implications be of the DCT principle"?

Indeed, this seems an instance where moral epistemology and ontology overlap significantly (usually I see apologists such as yourself going to a lot of trouble to clarify the differences between them and to keep them apart). We can test the ontological principle of DCT by asking "what if, epistemically, I were wrong about which God actually exists"?

It seems we also must ask the question, "what if, epistemically, I am mis-comprehending particular moral values and duties"? This would have to be the case if the IS God existed, because his moral ontology would trump our personal moral epistemology - i.e. we would have to revise our understanding of good and evil to allow for certain legitimate instances of rape, mass killing, and forced conversions.

Lest this seem like an outlandish situation to imagine, however, don't forget that we ask atheists and Muslims etc to do this all the time! Frequently, we challenge moral views held by unbelievers that they use to argue against God, and we suggest that maybe they're mistaken in their moral epistemology. Indeed, Christianity itself does this. It says that humans, despite being made in the image of God and with his law written on our hearts, are nonetheless damaged and flawed in our values and morals, and that we need to transform these over the sanctifying course of our lives to be more like Christ (i.e. when push comes to shove, God's moral ontology must have authority over our moral epistemology - we can't dig our heels in and insist that he's wrong, if he really exists and is the paradigm). Does our epistemic, moral apprehension have any role to play here that is not special pleading or circular?

So, with all these concerns on my shoulders, imagine my worry about what to say to this atheist! If I say "yes, if the IS God existed, he would be Goodness itself, and I'd have to follow him", you can imagine how he'd respond: "See! Look what warped slaves you theists are! You'd just blindly follow God because he's God"! Quoting Sam Harris again, from your debate, the atheist would probably assert "I, on the other hand, can get behind that God, and condemn him".

If DCT really is a sound theory, then I must be missing something or not understanding it.

And all that from such a simple question!

Many thanks,


Well, yes. William Lane Craig went to great and tortuous intellectual lengths to arrive at his DCT but it all depended on an unquestioning acceptance that God exists and is the ultimate authority in all matter concerning morality, so you can see Anon's point here - basically, what if I have the wrong god and the right god is telling me to join the jihadists of ISIS and go on a murdering and raping spree?

So what does Lane Craig do in the face of this logic? He comes up with two versions of the DCT, one of which is wrong and the other of which is right. Firstly though, as with his response to people who objected to the moral repugnance of his justification of infanticide, he blames his critic for moral weakness and proceeds to condescend to him or her:

Anonymous, I can't help but observe that you seem to be emotionally caught up in this objection. I think the first thing that needs to be done, then, is to try to disentangle your emotions from the philosophical issues at stake here. Then you will be able to think more clear-headedly about the arguments.

There is, as can be seen, no emotional content in Anon's question, merely a logical and rational analysis of the dilemma Craig's DCT has created, but Craig isn't bothering with truth and honesty here. His pet theory and justification for genocide and infanticide is being called into question, so punches below the belt and tactics over substance are fully justified.

Craig then reveals the two forms of the DCT; one right and one wrong when formerly there was only one irrefutable one:

In answering such a question, we need to keep in mind that there are two types of divine command theory: voluntaristic and non-voluntaristic. On voluntaristic theories God’s commands are based upon His free will alone. He arbitrarily chooses what values are good or bad and what our obligations and prohibitions are. It seems to me that the voluntarist has no choice but to bite the bullet, as you say, and affirm that had God so chosen, then we would be obligated to engage in rape, mass murder, and forced conversion.

Followers of Lane Craig might have some difficulty here because any reading of his spirited defence of the Canaanite genocide and infanticide will find it impossible not to conclude that Lane Craig is an inveterate 'voluntarist' and believes that whatever God commands is moral, and yet here he is telling Anon that, at least so far as the ISIS god is concerned, none of this applies.

Well, it seems to me that the objection is best framed by saying that we have modal intuitions that certain moral values and duties are broadly logically necessary and so could not be merely contingently valid, as voluntarism seems to imply. There are countermoves which the voluntarist might make here, but let us not pursue this rabbit trail, since I don't know of a single divine command theorist today who is a voluntarist.

So Lane Craig doesn't know of a single DC Theorist who agrees with him!

Instead, the DCT now includes a test of morality - is the god telling us to do something which conforms to some external standard of morality?

Most divine command theorists are non-voluntarists who hold that moral values are not grounded in God’s will but in His nature. Moral duties are grounded in His will or commands; but moral values are prior to His will, since God’s own nature is not something invented by God. Since His will is not independent of His nature but must express His nature, it is logically impossible for Him to issue certain sorts of commands. In order to do so, He would have to have a different nature, which is logically impossible.

In other words DC Theorists don't look to God for moral guidance but rather use an external standard of morality to decide if the god doing the commanding is the real one or not - at least when it comes to judging any god but William Lane Craig's. When it come to William Lane Craig's god, it agrees with William Lane Craig and so is obviously the right god and any genocides, rapes, infanticides and run of the mill murders commanded by it are obviously moral. Note that Craig's god now has a constraint to make this argument work. Craig's god is no longer omnipotent but is itself constrained by whatever it was that created its 'nature' and so set limits on what it can command. Craig's god could now not logically have done what it did when Craig was a 'voluntarist' for the sake of justifying genocide, and divinely commanded the Canaanite massacre because that would be against its 'nature'. Unless Craig agrees with it, that is.

Craig summarises this with:

You ask, “What if, epistemically, I'd been mistaken and had the wrong God, what would the implications be of the DCT principle?” It is logically impossible that there be any other God. So if you were mistaken and believed in the wrong God, you would be a Muslim or a Hindu or a polytheist or what have you; but there wouldn't be another God. Remember: on perfect being theology, God is a maximally great being, a being which is worthy of worship. Lesser beings are not “Gods” at all. In fact, in my debates with Muslim theologians, this is one of the arguments I use against the Islamic conception of God: that Allah cannot be the greatest conceivable being because he is not all-loving and therefore cannot be God.

Naturally, having defined his god as all loving, despite arbitrarily commanding genocide and rape, as opposed to these 'lesser gods' who order er... genocide and rape, William Lane Craig's god is the only all-loving god and therefore the only god, but most importantly, because, for the sake of this argument, William Lane Craig is no longer a 'voluntarist' and therefore no longer believes that God's will alone defined morality but rather William Lane Craig's morality defines God's nature, his god is the only real one because it's the only one that agrees with him.

And people who don't agree with him are simply showing their moral weakness and allowing their emotions to cloud their thinking.

Isn't Christian apologetics handy when you get the hang of it and if you aren't too bothered about truth or the effects of your arguments on other people and their victims just so long as the money keeps coming in?

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  1. William Lane Craig is no longer a 'voluntarist' and therefore no longer believes that God's will alone defined morality but rather William Lane Craig's morality defines God's nature, his god is the only real one because it's the only one that agrees with him.

    And, of course, there's no objective reason why anyone else couldn't use the same argument for whatever god agrees with their moral gut feelings and obsessions, including ISIS or worse.

    "By fighting the Jews, I am fighting for the work of the Lord." -- Adolf Hitler

    Notice that by Craig's logic about the Canaanites, it's difficult to condemn the Holocaust. God would have let all the Jewish children into Heaven, so they were "not wronged". The adults had rejected Jesus despite being surrounded by a Christian culture from which they should have learned the "truth". Hitler didn't claim to have an explicit command from God, but he probably did think he was doing God's will in a general sense.

    1. Absolutely, and so anyone who wants to quote WLC as an authority can justify any action as believing he/she was acting on a command from his/her god. An example of how Christian apologists can provide the extreme right with an underpinning theology to salve their conscience and justify their war crimes. Cf. Radovan Karadžić, Ratko Mladic, Mico Stanisic and Stojan Zupljanin who all used religion to justify the Srebrenica atrocities.

  2. And lets not forget that the SS Nazi's had the words "Gott Mitt Uns" (God is with us) inscribed on their shiny belt buckles. Wonder how those Jews about to be incinerated felt about that.

  3. I'm so glad you did a piece on William Lane Craig and his schizophrenic logic.
    I can't stand his smug arrogance.


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