Sometimes the mask slips just a little on Sophisticated Theologians™—or, in the case of William Lane Craig, Slick Theologians. In this case it happened when Craig was forced to answer the question, one not often taken up by theologians, of how they know their god is the RIGHT God.
It came in the form of a letter posted by an anonymous reader from the UK on Craig’s website Reasonable Faith. The question formed half of a post called “If ISIS’s God were real, would I be obliged to follow him?” (The other half is Craig’s answer.) A distressed follower of Craig’s wrote in asking what would happen if a) the follower conformed to Craig’s “Divine Command Theory” (DCT), which says that what is moral is what God dictates, and b) the real god turned out to be not the God of Christianity, but the Muslim god Allah whose dictates are followed by ISIS. The distressed acolyte had two concerns:
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.
It goes on and on, but that’s the gist of it. The writer really did perceive a serious problem with the DCT.
Craig quickly stepped in, however, with two qualifications of the DCT. But first he says this, which is almost funny:
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.
Actually, if you read the letter, it’s not very emotional; it’s just concerned. And here’s the meat of Craig’s response.
1. You’ve got the wrong Divine Command Theory. Craig distinguishes between the “voluntarist” DCT, in which you have to do what God says because what is moral consists precisely and only of what God tells you to do, regardless of how you feel about it:
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.
But Craig says that very few DCT adherents actually buy into that form of DCT. No, they accept another form of Divine Command Theory, the non-voluntarist one. Here Craig pulls his bait-and-switch:
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.
What that means is that there is a set of moral goods that antedate God, though they’re said to inhere in his nature. So how do we know what God’s nature is? The only way is to see if he tells us to do what strikes us as moral. But how can you test that?
The only way I know is to see if God’s commands in Scripture comport with what we see as moral. And they very clearly don’t. We are all aware of the horrors that God commands in the Old Testament, including genocide, stoning of adulterers, killing of those who work on the Sabbath or curse their parents, and so on and so on. . . And that doesn’t include the genocides that God regularly orders up—genocides in which innocent women and children are slaughtered along with everyone else.
And yet Craig himself seemed in at least one case to hold to the voluntarist view of the DCT: when he justified God’s order to slaughter the Canaanites, including women and children. Craig thought that was perfectly moral because God ordered it and God’s ways aren’t our ways. As Craig said in his monstrous justification:
But God has no such prohibition [the prohibition not to take an innocent life]. He can give and take life as He chooses. We all recognize this when we accuse some authority who presumes to take life as “playing God.” Human authorities arrogate to themselves rights which belong only to God. God is under no obligation whatsoever to extend my life for another second. If He wanted to strike me dead right now, that’s His prerogative.
What that implies is that God has the right to take the lives of the Canaanites when He sees fit. How long they live and when they die is up to Him.
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.
If that’s not voluntaristic DCT, I don’t know what is. It basically says that God’s commands ARE the arbiter of right and wrong. So Craig is either a hypocrite or a weasel, one who basically accepts the Euthyphro theory but imputes right and wrong to “God’s nature,” conveniently comporting with people’s innate views of right and wrong. I could go on, but there’s another interesting question for Craig: “How do you know that ISIS’s Allah is the wrong God?” Craig’s answer is funny.
2. Allah isn’t the right God because he’s not all-loving! Yes, that’s right. While Yahweh is clearly all-loving (right!), the Qur’an shows that Allah is not. And, according to the Ontological Argument, God must logically be all-loving. Oh, and there must be just one of those gods. No polytheism! My emphasis in the following:
But then, Anonymous, you begin to muddy the waters by bringing in epistemic considerations, which are not relevant to the truth or coherence of divine command theory. 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.
And there you have it. Craig says that “Anonymous” is not even obliged to answer the question because there is no possibility that the right God is ISIS’s God, nor that the REAL God, i.e., Craig’s God, would order someone to engage in acts like beheading and stoning (right!).
Is only Craig’s god “all-loving”? And if He is so damn loving, why did he order the massacre of the Canaanites, man, woman, and child, as well as the massacres of many others? Why did he order she-bears to kill the group of kids who made fun of Elisha’s bald head? The questions go on forever. The fact is that Craig’s God, at least in the Old Testament (which Craig holds as correct), is a horrible bully and miscreant.
And things aren’t so cool in the New Testament, either. There’s that Hell thing, for instance. No all-loving being would fry someone forever for trivial “sins.” Further, why hasn’t Craig forsaken his wife and kids, as Jesus said he should?
This is Sophisticated Theology™ at its finest and funniest. It involves one positing not only a God, but a special kind of God, through logic alone, and in the face of empirical evidence. But there’s more! It also involves a tortuous logical twist so that that God (again, in the face of logic) just happens to have the exact kind of moral nature that corresponds to our own morality. The Right God could never order bears to kill kids for making fun of someone’s depilated pate. The thing is, though, He did!