A Very Bad Argument for God

Some arguments for theism seem to either rest on a metaphysical confusion, like the Ontological Argument. Others might furnish evidence for God, such as the Cosmological Argument and the Argument From Design. But these arguments rarely convince non-theists, whose rival explanations of the cosmos remain plausible and seem more scientifically justified.

In the hierarchy of arguments for God, none is less convincing than that which attempts to derive God’s existence from the existence of objective morals. I use William Lane Craig’s formulation, his Argument From Morals:

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values do exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

At this juncture, I have no quarrel with premise 2 (Indeed it will factor into an argument for God that I do find compelling.).  Most will agree that it is wrong to torture an innocent child just for fun and it is right to help those who have suffered abuse.  There is a fact of the matter about which actions are right and wrong in a given circumstance and these facts are objective: they do not depend upon personal preferences or cultural standards of conduct.

What I find incredible is premise 1.  Why should objective morals require a divine Lawgiver? They may well be like mathematical theorems that are also objectively true, and few would submit that 2+2=4 requires any divine fiat.

More importantly, premise 2 ignores the Euthyphro dilemma: Are objective morals the case because God commands them or are they the case independently of God’s will?  If they are dependent upon God’s will, they are essentially arbitrary.  God can have no reasons for why torture is wrong because if He does, the objectivity of, e.g., “torture is wrong (in such and such circumstances)” is no longer dependent upon His will. If He selects which moral facts are the case in accordance with reasons, He could not have willed the moral facts to be otherwise.

There are theologians of just about every monotheistic persuasion who are aware of this problem and are willing to accept that morality is arbitrary, that God is in no way praiseworthy for anything He does (How could he be, if everything He does is good by definition?). We call them Divine Command Theorists. The Euthyphro dilemma does not prove DCT false. It only demonstrates that DCTists have a sturdier, more baroque intellectual constitution than most.

(Of course, DCTists have their reasons. They cannot tolerate that God’s perfect goodness requires His submission to principles that He has no control over. They choose to emphasize God’s power and sovereignty over his wisdom and goodness.)

But not every theologian is a DCTist, and premise 1 is no mere statement of DCT. Premise 1 asserts that DCT is the only possible theory of objective morals; there can be no objective morals save those that derive from God. This will strike any non-theist as wildly implausible (save potentially those that deny objective morals altogether), so how can it be that the Argument From Morals is meant to convince the non-theist? Premise 1 is controversial even among theologians, so why would a non-believer accept it? It’s like trying to prove Freud has some good ideas about defense mechanisms by assuming that his psychoanalytic theory is correct in almost all respects.