• God is a consequentialist

    So here is an essay that I wrote earlier this year. I am posting it to see what you think, but also because I am writing a post on a connected idea based on a  paper by Stephen Maitzen on how morality presupposes atheism. Fascinating stuff. Anyway, comments below please.

    Morality is one of the cornerstones of any philosophy. This is because almost every action one can conceive of has a moral dimension. When we eat, is what we eat morally or ethically sourced? When we buy a product, maybe a car or similar, are we making a morally good decision to do so or could we make a better choice in our method of transport? Is a sum of money better spent on charity or donated directly to the end user? These and infinite other choices are faced every moment of every day by every person in the world to one degree or another. Thus any and every religion, which purport to have a prescriptive or descriptive interest in the actions of its adherents, is inherently entangled with notions of morality.

    This crossover is something I aim to investigate in this essay. In particular, I look at claims of morality from proponents of Christianity, most notably philosophers such as William Lane Craig, who make claims that God is the grounding entity of objective morality. During the course of this essay, I will look to show that God is, in fact, through the evidence shown in his actions (permissive or direct) of recent times and from the bible itself, a moral consequentialist. This idea will then be contrasted with the idea that Christians claim that God is the arbiter of objective morality, and without whom objective morality could not exist. This is used both an argument for God or for objective morality depending on which direction one looks at it. Finally, I will conclude that God is either not an adherent to objective morality, or he values moral actions on the consequences which they create over and above any intrinsic value which they may or may not imbue. In effect, this conclusion will seek to undermine such claims that either God exists, or that he is the arbiter of objective morality.

    However, let us first look at defining terms within the discipline of moral philosophy, from morality itself through to objective morality and consequentialism.

    Firstly, let us deal with the definition of morality itself. As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy claims, morality is one of two things[1]:

    1. descriptively to refer to some codes of conduct put forward by a society or,

    a. some other group, such as a religion, or

    b. accepted by an individual for her own behavior or

    2. normatively to refer to a code of conduct that, given specified conditions, would be put forward by all rational persons.

    Though there are two definitions here, I will be using the second definition, the one of normative morality for two reasons. Firstly, I will do so because by normative ethics (and though there are some nuanced differences that can be argued, I will use ethics and morality interchangeably here), one means a code of ethics which, as R.M. Hare claims, is “universalisable”. This is crucial because this implies that the code can and should be understood by all rational persons, unlike, say, moral relativism or moral nihilism (the beliefs that facts can differ from society to society or that moral facts, or morality as a whole, does not exist at all, respectively)[2].

    One could argue that I am using a form of circular reasoning, or question begging, since I am denying any form of moral non-realism or anti-realism here, in favour of an assertion that there are moral facts. In a sense I am doing this, and I will not particularly seek to defend this stance philosophically. I am assuming moral realism, the belief that an action can be right or wrong, and that these constitute moral facts, because I am seeking to tackle views of theists who themselves believe in moral facts. Thus I am looking to tackle theists on their own grounds. In a sense, it is almost irrelevant as to whether this position is tenable or not.

    Secondly, I will use a normative definition of morality, as opposed to a descriptive one, because such a code attempts to rationally prescribe how one should act, which a descriptive code (by its definition) cannot do. This, again, fits into the mode of arguing that theists themselves adopt – claiming that humans should act in a particular way, and this duty is grounded in God. In this way, actions can be moral or immoral, good or bad, and there is some kind of framework or mechanism with which one can value such actions. In simple terms, an action which is moral (as opposed to immoral) can be seen as good, and one which is immoral can be seen as bad. We should strive to do that which is good. As mentioned, there is much that can be said about this, but for the sake of this essay, I shall leave it at that.

    Next, let us look at objective morality, what is meant by the term, who argues for and adheres to it, and why.

    William Lane Craig is a prominent American philosopher, theologian and Christian apologist, presently working as research professor at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, California. He has written many papers, journals, books and essays but is just as well known on the debate circuit where he has a formidable reputation as a debater for the existence of God and has debated many prominent philosophers and academics of many different disciplines. Heralded by many Christians as being a thinker who epitomises a faith defended by reason and academia (such that one of his most famous books is called A Reasonable Faith), he often uses what he calls The Moral Argument to propose a proof for the existence of God. The argument is formulated as follows:

    1) If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.

    2) Objective moral values and duties do exist.

    3) Therefore, God exists.[3]

    As we can see, this argument proves that God exists if we first allow for the truth of premises 1 and 2, that objective moral values rely on the existence of God for their own ontology. Moral deontologists, who believe in objective moral oughts on their own merit, such as the Categorical Imperatives of Immanuel Kant, would beg to differ with this claim. The second premise claims that objective moral values do exist. Let us investigate what this claim entails.

    Now objective is a very slippery and difficult term since it can be applied in so many contexts. Objective, in this case, is defined by Craig himself (2008, p. 173):

    To say that something is objective is to say that it is independent of what people think or perceive…

    … To say that there are objective moral values is to say that something is good or evil independently of whether any human being believes it to be so. Similarly to say that we have objective moral duties is to say that certain actions are right or wrong for us independently of whether any human being believes them to be so.

    The problem that Craig seems to fall into in his writing is not really establishing the value system of this ‘objective morality’ other than by asserting that it comes from (finds its locus in) God. In other words, he claims that theism is the only pathway towards an objective morality without establishing a value code for said morality. There seems to be no explanation as to how one can value separate actions and compare them to each other and yet there is an implicit understanding that acts can be more or less good or bad than other acts. For example, is raping a small child more morally reprehensible than stealing a loaf of bread, or not giving a beggar some money, or kicking the beggar? All of these actions, for one who adheres to objective morality, must surely have different moral worth, different moral value? Craig provides no method of comparing, no formula with which to calculate moral worth or value of any given action.

    In A Reasonable Faith, Craig refers to the thinking of moral philosopher William Sorley to try to clarify matters (p.105):

    Where, then, does objective moral value reside? Sorley answers: in persons. The only beings that are bearers of intrinsic moral value are persons; non-personal things have merely instrumental value in relation to persons. Only persons have intrinsic value, because meaningful moral behavior requires purpose and will.

    However, Craig is not clear on whether actions count as things which can hold moral value. It seems, though it is perhaps not explicitly stated, that actions have intrinsic moral value; that is to say, they have moral value in and of themselves, without needing to make reference to anything else. Such actions, in a moral sense, might be seen by the theist as being non-derivative, acting as an axiom that cannot be reduced to anything else.

    Craig, in his other writing[4], admits that “human beings do possess intrinsic moral value” such that there is intrinsic moral value within humanity. This goodness is seen in relation to God himself. As Paul Copan states in his book with Craig (Copan (2007) p. 91):

    We would not know goodness without God’s endowing us with a moral constitution. We have rights, dignity, freedom, and responsibility because God has designed us this way. In this, we reflect God’s moral goodness as His image-bearers.

    Such intrinsic moral value in people and their actions (as opposed to their moral sense and understanding of moral actions) is echoed in the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (p. 431-446), where Mark D. Linville states:

    Moral agency is thus what we might call a dignity-conferring property.

    If such an argument is to succeed at all, one requirement is that morality itself must be of intrinsic rather than instrumental value.

    Now, as mentioned, this doesn’t really allow us to compare actions against other actions to decipher a comparative moral worth. Instead we have a claim that moral worth lies in the actor, the agent. This is predominantly because Craig denies the Platonic existence, the abstract existence, of ‘good’. He argues[5] that goodness must reside in God or the person doing the action (as opposed to the action itself). Either way, then, there is intrinsic moral value whether it be in the action itself or in the agent. This intrinsic moral value is nonrelational or non-derivative. This could be either in the form of the action holding an intrinsic, non-instrumental value[6], or in the form of the agent and their intention which is based on a reflective nature in relation to God himself.

    For the purposes of this essay, I am not all that interested in whether this, as a moral theory, holds in light of any criticism (other than any I may duly give), only that it is held by many Christian philosophers and apologists.

    Now let us turn to an alternate view of morality known as consequentialism. This theory, as one might guess, implies that moral worth is conferred by the consequences to an action, as opposed to the action itself. These normative properties are themselves universalisable; they are moral facts and mean that any such theory is a moral realist theory, despite how it may intuitively appear. There are different kinds of consequentialism, but we will look here at how moral rightness can be derived from the consequences of an action, or indeed the intentions behind said act. In this way, consequentialism theoretically has the characteristic of being able to compare moral actions. If the consequences are measureable, then one can determine whether the rape of a child is worse than stealing a loaf of bread.

    The most common version of consequentialism is utilitarianism, in one form or another. Classic utilitarianism, which was championed by the likes of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill in the 18th and 19th centuries, claims that an act is good if the total amount of good minus the total amount of bad resulting from the act creates a net good. The intrinsic value that is necessitated from any comparable moral system is pleasure (with the antithesis being pain). The utility needs to be intrinsic because the nature of an intrinsic characteristic is that it is non-derivative. This means you cannot see it in terms of anything else. For example, one might buy Fair Trade tea instead of normal tea. This is because the Fair Trade tea commands a higher price which is fed back to the original farmers and workers, paying for schools and education for their children which in turn gives pleasure to the families. The money and services provided for the workers are further derived into pleasure. Pleasure, often seen as happiness, is seen as intrinsic because you can no further derive it. When someone talks of reasons for doing something, one can always continue asking the why question (such as “why is that good?”), as one might do in the above example. We don’t stop asking “why” at the point where it is stated that the tea commands a higher price (that would not make the act ‘good’). However, when one is greeted by the answer “because it makes him happy” and then follows this with a “why”, the answer becomes tautologous such that “it makes him happy because it makes him happy”. This tautology is not fallacious since the feeling of pleasure or happiness is pleasurable. This pleasure is an axiom that cannot be further reduced. Rational and sane people would rather feel happy than sad because happy is a positive feeling – it feels good to be happy. This is the basis of utility and utilitarianism, at least as far as original utilitarian Jeremy Bentham was concerned.[7]

    The idea of consequentialism can clearly be seen in the famous Trolley Problem[8]. Utilitarians would invariably flip the switch[9] so that the trolley would go along the track that would kill only the single person as opposed to the five people, since less pain would result. The theist believing in objective morality of the sort previously mentioned would not do so since this would be using a human as a means to an end. The human is imbued with moral dignity and cannot be morally instrumental. Craig says that no human being has the authority to take an innocent human life. Such an action is tantamount to “playing God”[10]. This is a clear distinction between the two moral systems.

    This rather simplified look at the two separate (albeit objective) moral codes will suffice for the purposes needed here. The next aspect of morality to visit is the action of God himself. Throughout the bible there are countless examples of deaths, injuries and actions that can be seen in a moral light, from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah to the sacrifice of Jesus himself. I am going to take one event from the bible and one event from more recent times and investigate them further.

    Firstly, let us look at the global flood involving Noah. I will assume a literal understanding of the Genesis passage which narrates the event, though I am cognisant of symbolic and other interpretations of the passage. In this passage (Genesis 6-9), God is revolted by all the sin committed by humanity and sends down a flood to kill all of humanity bar eight and all animals bar two of each kind (Genesis 6:7):

    So YHWH said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the ground, man and beast and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

    The classical interpretation of the characteristics of God is that he is at the same time omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent. His all-loving characteristic is one with which we find most interest in this context. Let us look at the act of destroying all the world’s population bar eight and all the world’s animals bar two of each kind. Is this an act that could be said, in and of itself, to be benevolent? Surely not. Surely such destruction of people apparently endowed with moral dignity and of animals with no moral value per se must not have intrinsic moral goodness. So how can such an act be seen as being morally good, if not in the intrinsic value of the act? The context is everything here. There are two ways of looking at this. The first is retribution. Humans could have been so sinful as to deserve almost entire eradication. Aside from this being an incredibly unlikely scenario (let us assume that this might be the case), this retributive punishment is incoherent with the death of a myriad of morally unaccountable, yet sentient, animals. Furthermore, retribution actually offers little in the way of constructive usefulness past a sort of deterrence which could be achieved in other ways without so much death, I wager. It could be argued that retribution has some moral value itself, but only insofar as it pertains to gaining pleasure for the agent. It would be easier to argue that catching the thief and putting him through successful rehabilitation would be a morally greater course of action than a retributive one.

    The second way of looking at this is that God was trying to achieve a greater good in this seeming ‘evil’. Perhaps God needed to do this potentially harsh act in order to achieve a particular (all-loving) end. If this is the case, then God (whose acts can only be seen as morally perfect) is using this event and the lives of all those who perished to achieve an end. This is clearly a form of consequentialism. The moral value of the event was not in the event itself, but derived from the consequences, even though we might not know what these were. As is often cited as an answer for difficult moral dilemmas involving God, who knows the mind of God? God moves in mysterious ways!

    Let us look, then, at a more recent event. The tsunami of 2004 has some poignant parallels with the global flood event. The world was shaken by the sheer force and fallout of such a massive natural phenomenon. Some 280,000 people died, as well as entire ecosystems and potentially billions of organisms perishing. God, with his classic characteristics, would have known this was going to happen and would have had the power to stop it. Being all-loving, all we can possibly conclude from his permissive will is that the tsunami must have served some greater good in order for it to be permitted by an omnibenevolent Creator deity.

    It is difficult to second guess such reasons for allowing destruction of this magnitude. It could be a combination of reasons, seen by theologians as theodicies, or theories which seek to answer the Problem of Evil[11], such that it might seek to be character-building or soul-building (the Irenaean Theodicy) for the survivors (or even those who perished). The generally accepted maxim by Christian philosophers is that we cannot know the mind of God and he has his reasons (that perhaps we do not have the capabilities to understand) but that there must be a reason or a greater good to come from such suffering. In a debate with Jeffrey Jay Lowder, Phil Fernandes (a philosopher of religion and theologian) stated[12]:

    “A theist … would have to argue that this is the greatest possible way to achieve the greatest possible world… God often uses evil and human suffering to draw people to himself. Now God’s ways and thoughts are far above our understanding and even the Scriptures state that. At best atheistic arguments show that limited minds can’t fully understand why God allows so much evil…”

    This sort of rationalisation is commonplace, and William Craig has also reached similar conclusions when talking of the Problem of Evil in debates and also in his writing[13]:

    Again, such an assumption is not necessarily true [that an omnibenevolent God would prefer a world without evil]. The fact is that in many cases we allow pain and suffering to occur in a person’s life in order to bring about some greater good or because we have some sufficient reason for allowing it. Every parent knows this fact. There comes a point at which a parent can no longer protect his child from every mishap; and there are other times when discipline must be inflicted on the child in order to teach him to become a mature, responsible, adult. Similarly, God may permit suffering in our lives in order to build us or to test us, or to build and test others, or to achieve some other overriding end. Thus, even though God is omnibenevolent, He might well have morally sufficient reasons for permitting pain and suffering in the world.

    This is a clear exposition of the notion that the moral value of God’s decisions is being evaluated by an analysis of the consequences.

    Therefore, we have a situation whereby theists claim an objective, intrinsically-based moral system, and yet we have clear evidence and acceptance by those same theists that God employs a consequentialist moral system himself with at least a great deal of actions. One must remember that by accepting that there are successful theodicies, such as the free will theodicy, then one accepts that the consequences justify the action. In other words, theodicies (by their definition) are consequentialist. Where does this leave us? Well, there are two options.

    Firstly, this moral consequentialism could be mutually exclusive with regards to any other moral code. Thus there might, given the evidence for divine consequentialism, be no objective morality such as is suggested by the likes of William Lane Craig. This would entail that theists ‘had their ideas of morality all wrong’. This would require some serious rethinking from said philosophers since they often criticise atheism from a moral standpoint, denigrating philosophies such as consequentialism and utilitarianism as being inferior to a morality grounded in God. For example, David S. Oderberg states (2007, p. 5):

    I have given a number of fairly abstract reasons why consequentialism is on the face of it unintuitive and unmotivated. But I also think it is straight out false, and not only false but an evil and dangerous theory – a view I am not alone in holding.

    Alternatively, such moralities are not mutually exclusive but can be used in conjunction with each other. Thus an act might be intrinsically morally good as well as being consequentially good. However, a major problem presents itself here. What happens when one morality delivers a ‘good’ verdict whilst the other a ‘bad’ verdict? This consequentialism evidenced in God’s ‘reasoning’ is clearly more meaningful, more valuable, than any intrinsic moral value. Let us look at the events of both floods – one directed by God and one permitted by God (such an ‘act’ is often seen as a moral omission) and even designed into the system. God has allowed or directed these similar events causing widespread pain, suffering and death, involving both humans and animals, and seemingly rationalises these acts by valuing the consequences (greater good) of the acts over the suffering of the acts themselves. In other words, the moral value of the consequences of these acts outweighs any potential intrinsic value which may be claimed of the acts. This implies that intrinsic moral value, if it does exist, is effectively meaningless or valueless since it is consistently, through the bible and history, trumped by value of the consequences.

    In fact, by God allowing every single bit of suffering, every single death, that has ever happened to any human being or animal since the Big Bang (or Genesis Creation) we can see that on every single occasion God has been consequentialist. The consequences of every single piece of suffering must (if God is all loving, powerful enough to have it otherwise and knowledgeable enough to know how to have it otherwise) outweigh the intrinsic ‘badness’ of the suffering. Thus, even if intrinsic moral values exist as well as consequentialism, it seems that consequentialism trumps intrinsic moral value every time suffering is allowed to happen.

    There are many guises to such moral consequentialism because every ‘choice’ God made in designing the world had a moral dimension. As I wrote in The Little Book of Unholy Questions (p. 124-7) as a direct question to God:

    297. Couldn’t we all have been photosynthetic organisms, using sunlight and inanimate molecules to make our energy thereby avoiding the need to kill other animals for survival?

    … There is no reason why, from an all-loving point of view, animals should exist by necessarily killing other animals and plants.

    Of course, for the purposes of this essay, we don’t need to know what the greater goods are, just that they exist such that we know that God acts, as a morally prefect being, and the acts are morally valued by their consequences, their greater goods. Having pitted these two moralities against each other and seen that consequentialism appears to come out as the winner, let us look at some possible objections.


    Some claim that God has the right, through his maximal authority, to intervene consequentially (using humans as a means to an end in a way that humans ought not do), thereby sort of sidestepping this form of morality. In David McNaughton’s paper Is God (almost) a consequentialist? Swinburne’s moral theory, McNaughton looks at noted Christian philosopher Richard Swinburne’s approach to god’s moral dimensions. McNaughton points out, against consequentialism (and switching the trolley track) that we humans do not have the right to interfere in another’s life, either for their own good or the good of another. This is based on the notion that we do not have the ‘authority’ to do so. However, as he states, carers do have this right, whether in the guise of parents, a care home or even the state. But does this right get God out of a moral corner?

    If it is wrong for us to harm others for good ends, how could God make it permissible and even obligatory by his commands? The answer is that for Swinburne the only reason why we may not do these things for good ends is that we lack the authority. Since God has that authority, he can authorise us. So the underlying structure of Swinburne’s moral theory is much less deontological than might at first appear. This is made clear in his proposed amendment to Kant’s famous second formulation of the Categorical Imperative: ‘It is … permissible to use someone for the good of others if on balance you are their benefactor, and if they were in no position to make the choice for themselves’ (1998, 233).[14]

    Whilst McNaughton seems to conclude that God is almost a consequentialist based on a distinction of rights, to me this is a red herring. Whether one has the right to use a consequentilist morality or not is neither here nor there when the evidence clearly points to the fact that such a code is being employed. Both Swinburne and (to a lesser extent) McNaughton are trying to derive deontological[15] duties from the rights of humans and apply these to humanity and God. However, it seems they fall into a trap of slippery slope fallacy of being unable to define when an act remains a deontological act, and when it slips into consequentialism (McNaughton 2003 p. 9):

    Sometimes harming someone is morally acceptable. For example, to save them from worse harm, or when inflicting a justified punishment, or when the person harmed is a willing volunteer seeking to achieve some considerable good. But it is generally accepted that it is wrong seriously to harm innocent people, without their consent, even when it is done for the general good.

    There seems to be no discernible way or separating consequentialism from a greater deontological duty past an appeal to intuition. Thus claims of divine consequentialism hold in light of a failure to properly establish that God really does have the moral authority to cause a great deal of harm for a supposed moral duty, and how this is not, in fact, consequentialism.

    Perhaps a more robust defence comes from William Lane Craig himself. The intrinsic moral value of people is a reflection of God’s nature and moral actions are appropriated through divine commands. Divine Command Theories are moral theories which derive moral obligation as such[16]:

    According to the version of divine command ethics which I’ve defended, our moral duties are constituted by the commands of a holy and loving God.

    … 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.

    Now there certainly seems to be a circularity to this approach – morality is defined by the command, and yet we have no independent benchmark against which to judge the goodness of such commands. In this way, we cannot decipher whether something is good or not, or whether a command is right because of its goodness or merely because it was commanded by an entity deemed good. This is explained further in the following paragraphs and with P. Wesley Edwards’ quote. Space does not permit a critique of Divine Command Theories (DCTs) and their circularity, but for reference, see Wesley Edwards (2004).

    Craig’s approach is to establish our morality in a reflection of God’s commands (such as “Love thy neighbour”), but to deny God the same moral obligation[17]:

    Since God doesn’t issue commands to Himself, He has no moral duties to fulfil. He is certainly not subject to the same moral obligations and prohibitions that we are. For example, I have no right to take an innocent life. For me to do so would be murder. But God has no such prohibition. 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.

    However, I would contest this sort of approach for several reasons. Initially, it is problematic in a pragmatic sense, as Wesley Edwards states[18]:

    As we’ve seen, when confronted with what would normally be considered crimes against humanity, the theist will respond in various ways, none of them satisfactory: “We are His creations, and He can do as He pleases,” or “God is good regardless of His actions, just in ways that are beyond us.” Stripped of our own ability to know an evil deed when we see it, we now have to first ask: “Who did it?” One is reduced to saying, “I don’t know if it was evil until you first tell me whether or not God did it. I’ll even do the deed myself, no matter how bloody or genocidal, if you first convince me that God ordered it.” Uncritical obedience to orders ultimately becomes the only criterion of moral behavior, even when the rule is infanticide, such as illustrated in Gen 22:2 where Abraham is told to slaughter his own son. Indeed, Abraham’s willingness to blindly follow orders – even with the tortured, frightened screams of his own child in his ears – is held up as the supreme example of moral “goodness” we should all follow.

    If it is true, as some theists claim, that “God communicates to us our sense of judgment for determining right and wrong,” then shouldn’t we naturally sense moral beauty in these O.T. [Old Testament] atrocities, since they were sanctioned by God? Fortunately, few do. But even if our moral instinct is one of revulsion, we are told to remember that good is defined by God. Anything He does is good by definition, no matter what: healing sick children or having them ripped apart by wild animals. Curiously, many Christians have often complained at this point that “things were different in the Old Testament.” In other words, their “absolute” morals were different in the past. Such a view ironically turns their absolutism into a rather extreme form of moral relativism.

    Please excuse the long quote, but I think Wesley Edwards points out the flaws to Craig’s approach with clarity and force. As well as DCTs being circular in nature, they suffer the issues of not being particularly good pragmatic guides of how to act morally since we are unable to fathom exactly what would be morally commanded by God and how to comparatively rate different actions morally. There is an epistemological issue with how we would know how and if God had communicated a command to us and so on.

    Furthermore, Craig tries to drive a wedge between moral obligation and a moral ‘good’ such that God is exempted from obligations or moral duties / oughts. However, this does not exempt his actions from being morally valued. Craig would say that the value is necessarily good, since it comes from God’s nature but this is begging the question. Moreover, the moral value (which may well be good, and necessarily so) seems to still be derived, in so many cases (as I have exemplified) from the consequences of the actions. From every design facet to every death in the bible, to every unit of pain and suffering experienced in the world, God must be valuing his own actions and omissions on the basis of their consequences. I can see no way around this conundrum.

    To conclude, despite various potential objections, it seems apparent that the moral value derived from the actions of God have their basis in the consequences of those actions, and not in their intrinsic morality (if this exists at all). Either the objective morality claimed by theists does not exist, or it is consistently trumped by the consequences of the actions. Whether the consequences are defined with a classical utility – or something else, such as justice or love – is neither here nor there, as this can be discussed elsewhere. What is apparent is that if this is the case, then theists might do well to adjust their own moral philosophy, or to explain why the moral code of God is different from our own, if God is supposed to be the moral benchmark against which we all act, and whose moral nature is reflected in our own personal moral dignity.


    [1] Definition of Morality, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/morality-definition/ (retrieved 28/12/2011)

    [2] This is oversimplifying matters, necessarily, as I could also introduce ideas of moral and / or reasons internalism and externalism here. For further reading, I would advisw seeing Williams (1981) p. 101-13.

    [3] Craig (2008) p. 172

    [4] “Subject: Abortion and Presidential Politics”, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=6351 (retrieved 30/12/2011)

    [5] For example, Moral Values and Abstract Objects http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=9138 (retrieved 28/01/2012) where he says, “It follows, then, that the Good cannot be an abstract object, since there are no uncreated abstract objects. So on my view neither numbers nor moral values are abstract objects. Rather I take the Good to be a concrete object, namely, God Himself. God Himself is the paradigm of Goodness.”

    [6] An example of instrumental value would be money which is not valuable in and of itself, but construed by the person(s) doing the valuing such as society or the individual.

    [7] As Jeremy Bentham (1789) p.1 said, “Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do. On the one hand the standard of right and wrong, on the other the chain of causes and effects, are fastened to their throne. They govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think …”

    [8]The original problem runs like this: Suppose that a judge or magistrate is faced with rioters demanding that a culprit be found for a certain crime and threatening otherwise to take their own bloody revenge on a particular section of the community. The real culprit being unknown, the judge sees himself as able to prevent the bloodshed only by framing some innocent person and having him executed. Beside this example is placed another in which a pilot whose aeroplane is about to crash is deciding whether to steer from a more to a less inhabited area. To make the parallel as close as possible it may rather be supposed that he is the driver of a runaway tram which he can only steer from one narrow track on to another; five men are working on one track and one man on the other; anyone on the track he enters is bound to be killed. In the case of the riots the mob have five hostages, so that in both the exchange is supposed to be one man’s life for the lives of five. – Philippa Foot, The Problem of Abortion and the Doctrine of the Double Effect in Virtues and Vices (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1978)(originally appeared in the Oxford Review, Number 5, 1967.)

    [9] It is interesting to note that, according to the philpapers results[9], a large majority of 68.2% of philosophers would flip the switch as a utilitarian would.

    [10] Slaughter of the Canaanites, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5767 (retrieved 21/12/2011)

    [11] There are many formulations of this and I have selected this one:

    1. God exists.

    2. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good.

    3. A perfectly good being would want to prevent all evils.

    4. An omniscient being knows every way in which evils can come into existence.

    5. An omnipotent being, who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, has the power to prevent that evil from coming into existence.

    6. A being who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, who is able to prevent that evil from coming into existence, and who wants to do so, would prevent the existence of that evil.

    7. If there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good being, then no evil exists.

    8. Evil exists (logical contradiction).

    (The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “The Evidential Problem of Evil”, Nick Trakakis)

    [12] On September 26, 1999 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Jeffery Jay Lowder, then President of Internet Infidels, Inc., and Phil Fernandes, President of the Institute of Biblical Defense, debated Naturalism vs Theism.

    [13] The Problem of Evil, William Lane Craig, http://www.bethinking.org/advanced/the-problem-of-evil.htm (retrieved 01/01/2012)

    [14] McNaughton (2003), p. 27

    [15] The belief that moral obligations or rules drive reasoning for moral actions.

    [16] Slaughter of the Canaanites, William Lane Craig, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5767 (retrieved 01/01/2012)

    [17] Slaughter of the Canaanites, William Lane Craig, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5767 (retrieved 01/01/2012)

    [18]Does Morality Depend on God?, P. Wesley Edwards, http://www.freethoughtdebater.com/FDoesMoralityDepend.htm (retrieved 01/01/2012)


    Bentham, Jeremy (1789), The Principles of Morals and Legislation

    Copan, Paul and Craig, William Lane (2007), Passionate Conviction: Contemporary Discourses on Christian Apologetics, B&H Publishing Group: Tennessee, Nashville,

    Craig, William Lane and Moreland, J.P. (2003), Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, IVP Academic: Illinois

    Craig, William Lane (2008; 3rd Ed), A Reasonable Faith, Crossway Books: Wheaton, IL

    Craig, William Lane and Moreland, J.P. (2009), The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, Wiley-Blackwell: New Jersey

    Grayling, A.C. (2003), What is Good?, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson

    Hare, R.M. (1963), Freedom and Reason, Oxford: OUP

    McNaughton, David (2003), “Is God (almost) a consequentialist? Swinburne’s moral theory”, http://fsu.academia.edu/McNaughtonDavid/Papers/237505/Is_God_Almost_a_Consequentialist_Swinburnes_Moral_Theory

    Oderberg, David S. (2007), “Why I am not a Consequentialist”, a talk delivered at the University of Lisbon

    Pearce, Jonathan M.S. (2011), The Little Book of Unholy Questions, Fareham: Ginger Prince Publications

    Swinburne, Richard, (1998), Providence and the Problem of Evil, Oxford: Clarendon Press

    Wesley Edwards, P. (2004), “Does Morality Depend on God?”, http://www.freethoughtdebater.com/FDoesMoralityDepend.htm

    Williams, Bernard (1981) “Internal and External Reasons”, in Williams’s Moral Luck, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

    General websites:

    Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – http://plato.stanford.edu/

    Leadership University / Dr. William Lane Craig – http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/

    Reasonable Faith / William Lane Craig- http://www.reasonablefaith.org

    Category: MoralityPhilosophy of Religion


    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce