In a debate with Stephen Law, William Lane Craig argues that the presence of evil in the world actually proves the existence of God (listen to Craig’s first rebuttal, especially at the 47 minute mark).
The argument apparently runs as follows:
1. Evil exists
2. Therefore, objective morals exist.
3. Therefore, a creator must exist to provide these objective morals.
Law responds by attacking premise 1, yet the argument is flawed in other places too.
To say that evil exists is really, as Law suggests, to say that great suffering exists. And this claim requires no assumptions about the existence of objective morality. It is simply enough to note that suffering is unpleasant, and that there is lots of it. It is an observation of human biology and its interaction with the world, plain and simple.
I agree with the conclusion of step 2, namely that objective morality exists, but not for the reason specified. And this is one place where Craig relies on vague definitions to carry his argument. He does not (in this debate, at least), actually tell us what he means by “objective morality”. What he seems to mean by it is “absolute morality”, namely some quasi-law of nature set in place by God that dictates what the proper behavior of human beings is. There is, however, no evidence that this kind of morality exists.
If, on the other hand, we use the definition of “objective” that is more commonly used in the philosophical literature, then a different picture emerges. This definition states that an objective claim (or prescription, in the case of morality) is one that does not rely on the opinions or circumstances of the person making it. And there are plenty of moral prescriptions that are objective in this sense. For instance “do not commit murder” is a very simple moral prescription that has the same meaning no matter who uses it.
What we actually find, then, is that many possible objective moralities exist. The big question is which of these is better than all the others. However, to answer this question, we must have some metric by which to compare different moral systems. As I’ve argued in my essay on morality, there seems little point in basing such a metric on anything other than the most fundamental, universal desires that humans have, such as the desire to be happy and free of suffering. Morality is, I maintain, a tool devised by humans, for humans. If it does not serve our most fundamental needs, then it is not doing its job.
So, while there seems no absolutely correct answer to the question “what is the best morality?”, we certainly can say that objective moralities exist. And we’ve done this without any appeal to the supernatural.
The final proposition of Craig’s argument is that God is needed to provide objective morality. Again, there is no reason to think this is true. Many objective moralities have been devised by philosophers, none of whom claim to be gods! Even if we take the alternative definition of “objective” to mean “absolute”, there is no reason to invoke God, just as there is no reason to invoke God to explain the existence of the law of gravity.
Craig seems to prefer debating scientists rather than fellow philosophers, and I don’t blame him. The vast majority of philosophers consider Craig’s arguments to be entirely unconvincing. What passes as sophisticated argumentation among theologians is sophistry among philosophers.
All the more pity, then, that Stephen Law – a philosopher – fared so badly in his debate with Craig. Instead of familiarizing himself with Craig’s arguments, which Craig uses in almost every debate, Law discussed instead the problem of evil, which is not directly relevant to the topic of the debate (the existence of God).
Finally, a quick word in the implications of Craig’s argument: that the presence of evil in the world is actually evidence of God’s existence. This is surely a case of shooting oneself in the foot, if ever there was one. What sort of “benevolent” God would insist on the existence of evil, or do nothing to expel it? This, of course, is an issue of theodicy, and I won’t discuss it further in this post. My point is simply to show that even after Craig uses his terribly bad argument for God, the God he is left with is morally confusing, to say the least.