In 2011, the University of Notre Dame hosted a debate between Sam Harris and William Lane Craig on whether morality depends on God. I think it’s fair to say Craig won the debate inasmuch as he gave respectable arguments for his position and against Harris’s, and his opponent failed to engage seriously with those arguments. Harris seemed unable to stick to the topic of the debate, and was reduced to railing against the moral beliefs of religious people (as if that were relevant to the metaethical claims under debate).
Anyway, I thought it would be worth highlighting one of the arguments Craig leveled against the position Harris stakes out in his book The Moral Landscape. By way of background, the twofold aim of Harris’s book is to show (1) that morality doesn’t depend on God or anything else supernatural, and (2) that science can provide us with answers to moral questions, at least in principle. The central plank of Harris’s position is that moral goodness — i.e., whatever it is we should be aiming for when we seek to act morally — should be defined in terms of “the well-being of conscious creatures.” This claim serves as Harris’s response to G. E. Moore’s “open question argument” against moral naturalism. Moore famously argued that whenever someone tries to define goodness in terms of some natural phenomenon X (e.g., pleasure) it always remains an open question whether X really is good (or, alternatively, whether an act that brings about X really is a good act). If it makes sense to pose such a question, then X can’t be identical to goodness. There must be a logical gap between X and goodness.
If we define “good” as that which supports well-being, as I will argue we must, the regress initiated by Moore’s “open question argument” really does stop. While I agree with Moore that it is reasonable to ask whether maximizing pleasure in any given instance is “good,” it makes no sense at all to ask whether maximizing well-being is “good.” It seems clear that what we are really asking when we wonder whether a certain state of pleasure is “good,” is whether it is conducive to, or obstructive of, some deeper form of well-being.
Harris thus wants to identify moral goodness with either the well-being of conscious creatures or whatever “supports” such well-being. (Note that when Harris uses the term “good” in the quote above, he’s speaking about moral goodness. That’s the subject of his book, after all.)
It’s sometimes claimed that determinism is irrational because (so the argument goes) one can’t consistently believe that one’s beliefs are determined. Occasionally this is transposed into an objection to Calvinism, since Calvinism is arguably committed to theistic determinism.
Let’s take a look at a recent example from William Lane Craig’s weekly Q&A blog and consider whether the objection has any substance. (Craig’s article was reproduced on Biola University’s blog several months later, so it has had some exposure.)
A correspondent writes to Dr. Craig:
As a former agnostic, one of the most powerful apologetic arguments against naturalism, atheism (and so on) is the idea that nobody strives to be a *consistent* naturalist/atheist/etc. In other words, they fail to act in accordance with the nihilism to which many of these ideas logically lead. Being more than a little curious, I stumbled into the free will position within Calvinism. Doesn’t this lead to a similar problem? In other words, what exactly does a consistent Calvinist even look like?
What does a consistent Calvinist look like? Well, if you’re really curious, you can find out here. But moving on to Craig’s response:
I think that you’ve successfully identified a problem with determinism in general, Leif, of which Calvinism is but a specific instance, given the Calvinist’s view that God determines everything that happens.
Note first that Craig treats Calvinism as merely one species of the genus determinism, taking it that any problem with determinism in general must afflict Calvinism’s theistic determinism. I doubt things are that simple. It’s pretty difficult to generate an argument against determinism as such, which is why most anti-determinist arguments target particular types of determinism (e.g., physical determinism or nomological determinism).
[This is the fifth in an n-part series, where n>1 and very probably n=6.]
A long time ago, in a galaxy remarkably like this one, I began a series addressing the question, How well is Molinism supported by the Bible? It’s high time I started to wrap things up. So, to recap:
- In the first post, I argued that Augustinianism and Molinism can equally well accommodate comprehensive divine providence and God’s knowledge of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, both of which the Bible clearly affirms. I observed that if Molinists wants to argue that their position is more biblical than the Augustinian position, they need to identify some proposition p that meets two conditions: (i) p is affirmed by Molinism but denied by Augustinianism, and (ii) p is affirmed or clearly implied by some biblical teaching.
- In the second, third, and fourth posts, I considered three candidates for p: first, the proposition that moral freedom is incompatible with determinism; second, the proposition that God desires all to be saved; and third, the proposition that God is not the author of sin. In none of these three cases, I argued, does the candidate p meet conditions (i) and (ii).
In this post, I turn the tables and argue there are three propositions, each of which meet the following two conditions: (i) the proposition is denied by Molinism but affirmed (or at least not denied) by Augustinianism, and (ii) the proposition is affirmed or clearly implied by some biblical teaching. That being the case, we should conclude that Augustinianism is better supported by the Bible than Molinism. Continue reading
Consider this post a sidebar to the ongoing series on Molinism. It draws on some recent comments by William Lane Craig, arguably the leading evangelical defender of Molinism, in response to a reader’s question (bold added):
First, I don’t claim that “universal salvation is impossible because of free will.” The point here is subtle and easily misunderstood. I think that there certainly are logically possible worlds in which everyone freely places his faith in Christ and so is saved. What I’ve said is that, for all we know, such worlds may not be feasible for God to actualize (or, if some are, they may have overriding deficiencies that make them less preferable). The point here is that God’s being omnipotent does not entail that He can actualize just any logically possible world. For the persons in those worlds, were God to try to actualize them, might freely choose to reject God. We can grasp this point by realizing that which world is actual isn’t up to God alone; free creatures are co-actualizers of the world along with God by means of their free choices, which God does not determine. So it may not be feasible for God to actualize a world of free, universal salvation (without overriding deficiencies).
Craig is exactly right that on the Molinist view, “which [possible] world is actual isn’t up to God alone.” God determines some contingent truths, while his creatures determine other contingent truths by their (libertarian) free choices. God only ‘weakly’ actualizes this world. He ‘strongly’ actualizes many aspects of the world, e.g., causally determining the circumstances in which free creatures will make their choices, but God doesn’t causally determine those choices. Rather, by way of his middle knowledge, God knows infallibly what free choices his creatures would make in those circumstances, and thus by ‘strongly’ actualizing those circumstances God ‘weakly’ actualizes the world in its entirety. Even so, as Craig puts it, we are “co-actualizers” of the world, because the actuality of this world depends both on God’s free choices and on ours.
This model of divine providence has proven attractive to many Christian thinkers, partly because of its prospects for theodicy. If the actualities of this world aren’t entirely “up to God” then perhaps God can’t be held morally responsible for the fact that some aspects of this world are less than ideal (e.g., not all creatures are saved).
However, I think the way Craig puts matters in the quotation above conceals some of the oddities of the Molinist’s position. Craig makes it sound as though which possible world is actualized is “up to” both God and us, based on the actual free choices that we all make. But this is misleading for two closely related reasons.
A few months back I wrote a post entitled “The Fallible God of Molinism” which was prompted by an exchange between William Lane Craig and Paul Helm. Some folk alerted me to the fact that Dr. Craig briefly responded to my argument in a recent podcast. This is what he said:
I think he’s made a misstep in his argument here. It certainly is true that in any particular freedom-permitting circumstances an agent is free to do other than as God knows he will do. But in that other world in which the agent does something different, God’s plans wouldn’t be the same. What this fellow doesn’t seem to remember is that in that world God would have different plans. God would know in that world that S would do something different in C and so in that world he would have plans for that to happen. So what he’s tried to do is keep God’s plans firm and fixed from world to world, but then vary the value of the counterfactuals, and you can’t do that. If you switch to a world in which S does not do A in C then you can’t say, “Well, in that world God’s plans are that S would do A in C.” No, no, in that world God would have different plans.
So when you switch the truth-value of the counterfactuals, you’ve got to switch the providential plans as well, because the providential plans are based upon the counterfactuals that are true in those worlds. So given that God’s plans are based upon what he knows the free agents would do, the plans will change from world to world along with the decisions of the agents. So there’s just not any problem. God’s plans never fail, and he’s not fallible.
Let me say first of all that I’m honored Dr. Craig considered it worthy of comment! But I do have a few things to say in response.
I recently listened to the exchange on Molinism and Calvinism between William Lane Craig and Paul Helm on Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable? radio program. It was more of a conversation than a debate, but it’s still worth a listen. In this post I want to expand on a point Helm raised but didn’t himself develop. I’ll first summarize the main tenets of Molinism before discussing what I regard as a serious objection to it. (Be patient — the first half of this post is just set-up.)
Molinism is a philosophical theory designed to reconcile a strong view of divine providence (according to which God foreordains all things) with a libertarian view of free will and a synergistic view of salvation (according to which God doesn’t cause anyone to repent and believe; instead sinners freely cooperate with God’s resistible grace in order to be saved). According to Molinism, God is able to providentially direct events by means of his middle knowledge, that is, his knowledge of what any libertarian-free creature would choose in any specific circumstances. For example, God knew prior to his decision to create this world whether I would freely choose a Boston Kreme if I were to go to Dunkin’ Donuts at noon on February 19, 2014, in such-and-such exact circumstances. God is therefore able to plan events down to the very last detail by prearranging the precise circumstances in which his creatures will find themselves and make their free choices. God doesn’t cause those choices, but he does guarantee them in some strong sense by orchestrating circumstances in light of his middle knowledge.
Previously on Analogical Thoughts:
- In an article co-authored with Greg Welty I argued that if there are laws of logic then there must be a God. A key part of the argument is to explain why propositions should be understood as divine thoughts.
- In a comment on a subsequent post Jeff asked how I would respond to the claim that God doesn’t think propositionally.
- In a comment on my answer Jeff cited (without necessarily endorsing) some remarks to the contrary by Nate Shannon and William Lane Craig. Another commenter, Ray, also mentioned some relevant footnotes in Scott Oliphint’s God With Us.
In this week’s exciting episode, I examine the arguments of Shannon, Oliphint, and Craig. Do they show that God doesn’t think propositionally or that propositions couldn’t be divine thoughts? Does the doctrine of divine simplicity rule out Theistic Conceptual Realism? Should anyone care either way? We’ll be right back with some answers after the following short section break!
The Gospel Coalition is running a series on methods in apologetics. The latest installment is “Questioning Presuppositionalism” by Dr. Paul Copan, who raises four criticisms of presuppositionalism, one of which is the old canard that presuppositionalists engage in fallacious circular reasoning. (I think all four are misguided in one way or another, but the other three will have to wait for now.) He writes:
First, it engages in question-begging — assuming what one wants to prove. It begins with the assumption that God exists, and then concludes that God exists. Such reasoning would get you an “F” in any logic class worthy of the name!
Dr. Copan is a gentleman and a scholar, so I’m sure he doesn’t realize quite how insulting this sounds to presuppositionalists! (For comparison, imagine someone claiming that evidentialists commit the fallacy of affirming the consequent because they use inductive inferences.) This criticism has been answered many times, so it’s disappointing to find it cropping up yet again (although perhaps presuppositionalists should take comfort from the fact that Dr. Copan doesn’t offer any new criticisms!). Even so, I’ll try to explain one more time why this complaint so badly misses the mark.
The Guardian has provided Richard Dawkins with a platform to explain why he won’t share a platform with Christian apologist William Lane Craig. Dawkins plays what he thinks is a trump card: the real reason he won’t publicly debate Craig is because — drumroll, please — Craig has defended the “genocides ordered by the God of the Old Testament.” It ought to be apparent to anyone who has compared Dawkins’ past debate performances with Craig’s (never mind their respective writings on the rationality of theism) that this explanation is, at best, a feeble rationalization. But that’s not the point I want to make in this post.
Dawkins’ piece reflects his trademark rhetorical devices — condescension, mockery, faux outrage, and a dash or two of genuine wit — but what stuck me most was the complete absence of any moral categories in his criticism of Craig and his views. Dawkins regards Craig’s views as ‘horrific’, ‘revolting’, ‘shocking’, and ‘deplorable’. But none of these descriptors function as objective moral evaluations of Craig or Craig’s God. In reality, they reflect little more than Dawkins’ feelings about Craig and Craig’s God (and the feelings of those who share Dawkins’ jaundiced outlook on the world).
I suppose this shouldn’t be surprising, given Dawkins’ published views on the nature of morality. For example, in The God Delusion he rejected and ridiculed the notion that there are moral absolutes. But if there are no moral absolutes, then there are no moral principles that absolutely rule out genocide. According to Dawkins’ moral outlook, then, genocide could be morally justified in some circumstances — just as late-term abortion is morally justified in some circumstances (as Dawkins apparently believes). Isn’t it therefore an open question whether the Old Testament ‘genocides’ were morally justified given the circumstances? Given Dawkins’ own premises, isn’t that question at least worthy of… debate? (I should state for the record that I don’t believe the destruction of the Canaanites was an instance of genocide; I’m just granting Dawkins’ characterization for the sake of argument.)
In the end, all Dawkins has really told us is that he won’t debate Craig because he finds Craig’s views personally offensive. It’s not that Craig’s views are unethical; it’s not that they’re immoral; it’s certainly not that they’re wicked or evil. It’s just that Dawkins finds them extremely distasteful. Dawkins is disgusted — and that’s all there is to it. Even if that were the real reason for his refusal to debate Craig, it would hardly be a compelling one. The only virtue of Dawkins’ dubious explanation, if it can be called a virtue, is its consistency with his moral nihilism.
Update: Here are some entertaining commentaries on Dawkins’ piece: