Saturday, 30 June 2012

WLC3: When Morality Arguments Are Bad

In earlier articles, I looked at William Lane Craig’s debating style (in Debatable Theism) and the logic in his “logical” arguments (in The Logic of an Apologist). In the latter, I said that I would address the content of Craig’s arguments, please check that article if you are not already familiar with the logical forms.  This article addresses what I have numbered as Craig’s Third Argument – note that Craig is not arguing Divine Command Theory per se (although he has, perhaps accidentally, referred to it as his Divine Command Morality Theory).  First a quick recap:

Craig's Third Argument – Argument from Morality
(argued during Craig-Law – strangely enough not in Craig-Harris)
  1. If God did not exist, objective moral values and duties would not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.
The reason why it seems strange that Craig did not argue this point with Sam Harris is that Harris had just written a book called "The Moral Landscape", so clearly morality was a ripe field for discussion.  I'll address why it is not strange that Craig refused to consider morality a little later.

I discussed this particular argument at a little more length in The Logic of an Apologist, here's that discussion again:


This appears to be a simple syllogism, note the use of "not": 
  1. Major Premise – If God does not exist (not A) then objective moral values and duties do not exist (not B).
  2. Minor Premise – Objective moral values and duties do exist (B).
  3. Conclusion – Therefore, God exists (A).
OK, hopefully you noticed the use of "not". Perhaps you didn't notice that this is not a normal syllogism. Look at the A and B and you might notice that they not where they usually are. This is isn't really a problem, because this is what the nots do - in other words, we could rewrite this argument like this:
  1. Major Premise – If objective moral values and duties exist (A) then God exists (B).
  2. Minor Premise – Objective moral values and duties do exist (A).
  3. Conclusion – Therefore, God exists (B).
This is not a similar argument - it is precisely the same argument, worded differently. The question is, why word it so oddly in the first place? Unless of course one wanted to deceive. How would you deceive? Well, if someone thought that Craig was arguing this:
  1. Major Premise – If God exists (A) then objective moral values and duties exist (B).
  2. Minor Premise – Objective moral values and duties exist (B).
  3. Conclusion – Therefore, God exists (A).
This is akin to:
  1. Major Premise – If Trevor is a vampire (A) then Trevor will sleep during the day (B).
  2. Minor Premise – Trevor sleeps during the day (B).
  3. Conclusion – Therefore, Trevor is a vampire (A).
Thus those on the night shift get shafted, yet again. This is clearly a fallacy (irrespective of whether Trevor is a vampire) because the conclusion does not follow from the premises. Craig's framing of the argument this way has the reader feeling that it's wrong somehow, but unsure of how, where or why. The fact is, the argument is a null argument for God in that even if the opponent argues successfully for the non-existence of moral values and duties, that won't touch Craig's God since, in the strict framing of the argument, the existence of God isn't contingent on the existence of moral values and duties - only the reverse. The argument is framed purely to trick the opponent into conceding what looks like an acceptable premise (like the Major Premise in the fallacious version), then bludgeoning them into accepting at least a single objective moral value or duty to obtain a technical victory.


I also discussed it in The modified WLC moral proof, in quite some depth.  Fundamentally, the structure of this argument can be used to argue for the existence of God using anything you like.  I use something totally meaningless, namely Kim Kardashian:
1. If God does not exist, then Kim Kardashian does not exist.
2. Kim Kardashian does exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.
My view is that this is, in fact, a better argument because premise 2 is now less contentious – sadly very few people appear to be unaware of the existence of Kim Kardashian, and those who are can google her to ascertain whether she exists or not, whereas there are schools of thought which deny the existence of “objective moral values and duties”, either totally or in part.  Theists could hardly deny the truth of premise 1, right?  They would have to agree that if there were no God, then nothing would exist, including Kim Kardashian.  The only fly in the ointment is that fussy atheists will argue that that premise is false.  But that's the case with the original argument, so - unlike the case with modern culture - the argument is not made worse by the inclusion of Kardashian.


In a post to Stephen Law, I argued:

With respect to his Argument from Morality, there is an attempt to confuse and distract, with the double use of "not". His argument, in logical form, is:
  1. Premise - If not A, then not B.
  2. Assertion - B.
  3. Conclusion - Therefore A.
This form of argument is usually used with a general, proven statement in the Premise, then making a specific statement in the Assertion to make a specific Conclusion. For example:
  1. Premise - If there is not (at least) a single cloud in the sky, then it is not raining.
  2. Assertion - It is raining right now.
  3. Conclusion - Therefore, there is (at least) a single cloud in the sky right now.
Craig doesn't do this with his pseudo-logic. His argument is functionally equivalent to:
  1. Premise - If not squarks, then not doosits.
  2. Assertion - Doosits.
  3. Conclusion - Therefore, squarks.
or, alternatively, without the use of "not":
  1. Premise - If doosits, then squarks.
  2. Assertion - Doosits.
  3. Conclusion - Therefore, squarks.
So long as you have not supported your Premise adequately, this not functionally different to arguing:
  1. Squarks.
  2. Therefore, squarks.
Or in theist terms:
  1. God exists.
  2. Therefore, God exists.
Not a particularly satisfying argument, right?   (Well, unless you are a theist, I suppose.)


So, the logic used by Craig here can used to argue that Saint Kim is proof of God (surely proving that God exists is worth a sainthood) and seems to support the contention that night-shift workers are vampires.  This indicates that morality isn't a particularly strong argument (since it can be replaced by Kardashian and the argument works equally well) and that the argument itself is questionable (or there are more vampires than we might otherwise think).  Its this latter aspect that I want to address now.

Why does Craig use the argument with two instances of "not", rather than just arguing a standard positive argument?  The reason, I suspect, is that Craig intentionally uses the ambiguity it creates.  An atheist would agree with the premise:
If (an all powerful, all knowing, all good) God exists, then a basis for objective morality exists.
This is because it's a conditional statement, similar to:
If rocks were edible, then starvation in Africa could be solved.
The conclusion follows naturally so long as the assertion is true - and there are a lot of rocks in Africa. We could try negating these arguments, with the simple insertion of two instances of "not":
If (an all powerful, all knowing, all good) God does not exist, then a basis for objective morality does not exist.
This is similar to:
If rocks were not edible, then starvation in Africa could not be solved.

Craig seems to hope that his opponents won't notice that the two "nots" don't make a simple restatement of the premise that atheists do agree with.  (This is yet another example of conflation: there are two different arguments which Craig tries to sell at the same time, worded differently.)  Sadly, he seems to have got away with it quite often.

So, what does Craig do when he thinks he won't get away with it, for example when he is debating someone who has just published a book which lays out a basis for objective morality which is not dependent on a God?

He refuses to present this argument.

I mentioned in Debatable Theism that Craig has had extraordinary luck in that he tends to present his argument first (including when he debated "Is God a Delusion?" with Lewis Wolpert - the affirmative normally goes first, which would be the "Yes" argument).  I am not the first to notice this (see the question "Why does WLC always start first?" in which mention is made about the conditions that Craig demanded be satisfied, including going first).

Going first allows the debater to frame the argument and Craig tends to only present and only focus on the arguments that he knows that his opponent isn't interested in.  He did it with Stephen Law, returning again and again to the argument that Law was uninterested in since it had no bearing on Law's Evil God hypothesis.

We can deduce from this, therefore, that as far as William Lane Craig is concerned, the theist arguments are winners only so long as the theists get to present their argument first, assuming that their opponents let the theists get away with trying to limit the discussion to areas in which they have little expertise.

Craig seems to have forgotten one of the fundamental moral laws, but since it's not laid out in either version of the Ten Commandments, there might a reason why he is unaware of it.  "Thou shalt not cheat."  Craig claims that his morality is based on a God that is just and fair, then he (Craig) cheats?

What sort of objective morality is that?


  1. You have clearly explained how William Lane Craig carefully words his morality argument in a way that contends there are objective moral values and duties, and these exist because of God.

    You are right that Sam Harris would be able to articulately, and hopefully successfully, debate William Lane Craig on the latter point, that is that objective moral values and duties exist, not because of a God, but as a result of people’s need to “maximise human flourishing”, in order to support their well being and consequently their survival.

    He would explain the concept of well being as being comparable to the concept of human health, while it cannot be explicitly defined by a list of attributes; it clearly has a set of states, which contribute to a person’s happiness. He typically asks people to imagine the worst kind of human suffering, and once imagined, people would need to label this suffering as “bad”. Once such a label is used, to achieve what can be labeled as “good”, people will of course aim to avoid such suffering in the natural world.

    When morality is viewed as a set of facts related to what encourages human well being, morality is no longer open to opinion, nor should those who have shown no moral expertise (serial killers for example) be consulted as to what helps humans to flourish. Also the repetitive morally relative statements like, “well it’s part of their religion, so who are we to say they shouldn’t sacrifice the goats” will disappear from human speech.

    Morality belongs to the domain of Science, just as human health does. Once morality is seen through such a lens, the discourse of morality can no longer contain words such as, “relative” and the search for right answers to questions of human flourishing can begin.

    In my opinion, William Lane Craig and Sam Harris are both right, in that objective moral values and duties do exist, Craig is simply wrong in believing they exist because of a God.

  2. I know I am responding to a very old comment, but in case anyone else finds this I would like to provide my feedback.

    I see a flaw in this reasoning that I would like to point out. The negation of a premise is NOT always true. This logical fallacy is coined "Denying the antecedent."

    Let me give an example. So I give statement (1) which is true (assuming no outside forces touch the spider). However, think about statement (2) which is the negation of it. This is NOT true. The spider may not want to move.
    (1) If the spider moves, then the spider is alive.
    (2) If the spider does NOT move, then the spider is NOT alive.

    The logically correct thing you are reaching for is the contrapositive. This is where you negate the statements and then flip the if-then statement. Here is the link that explains it:

    Look at the example below. Statement (2) is ALWAYS correct which is the point of contraposition.
    (1) If the spider moves, then the spider is alive.
    (2) If the spider is NOT alive, then the spider will NOT move.

    1. I think this was addressed in WLC Being a Duffer. You did spark a realisation on my part that any argument for god (at least those of this form) is begging the question. See A Good Reason for WLC's Modus Tollens, which I'll post later today.


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