Saturday, July 16, 2011

Four Arguments in Craig's "The Absurdity of Life Without God"

Here are what I take to be the four main arguments in Craig's "The Absurdity of Life Without God". I've given each a label for ease of reference. Textual support for each argument can be found in the footnotes.

The Argument Against Atheistic Meaning and Significance[1]
1. If atheism is true, then there is no God and there is no immortality.
2. If there is no God and there is no immortality, then life lacks adequate meaning and significance.
3. Therefore, if atheism is true, then life lacks adequate meaning and significance.

The Argument Against Atheistic Moral Motivation[2]
1. If there is no God, then one’s ultimate destiny is unrelated to one’s behavior.
2. If one’s ultimate destiny is unrelated to one’s behavior, then one has no good reason to be moral.
3. Therefore, if there is no God, then one has no good reason to be moral.

The Argument Against Atheistic Morality[3]
1. If there is no God, then moral values are just expressions of personal taste or the product of evolution and conditioning.
2. If moral values are just expressions of personal taste or the product of evolution and conditioning, then objective moral values do not exist.
3. Therefore, if there is no God, then objective moral values do not exist.

The Argument Against Atheistic Purpose[4]
1. If there is no God, then our lives (and the universe) will end and we’re an accident of nature.
2. If our lives (and the universe) will end and we’re an accident of nature, then life has no ultimate purpose.
3. Therefore, if there is no God, then life has no ultimate purpose.

[1] Textual basis:
(a) “If each individual person passes out of existence when he dies, then what ultimate meaning can be given to his life? Does it really matter whether he ever existed at all? It might be said that his life was important because it influenced others or affected the course of history. But this only shows a relative significance to his life, not an ultimate significance. His life may be important relative to certain other events, but what is the ultimate significance of any of those events? If all the events are meaningless, then what can be the ultimate meaning of influencing any of them? Ultimately it makes no difference.” (p. 5)

(b) “But it is important to see that it is not just immortality that man needs if life is to be meaningful. Mere duration of existence does not make that existence meaningful. If man and the universe could exist forever, but if there were no God, their existence would still have no ultimate significance.” (p.6)

(c) Now if God does not exist, our lives...could go on and on and still be utterly without meaning. We could still ask of life, “So what?” So it is not just immortality man needs if life is to be ultimately significant; he needs God and immortality. And if God does not exist, then he has neither.” (p. 6)

[2] Textual basis: “If life ends at the grave, then it makes no difference whether one has lived as a Stalin or as a saint. Since one’s destiny is ultimately unrelated to one’s behavior, you may as well just live as you please. As Dostoyevsky put it: “If there is no immortality then all things are permitted.” On this basis, a writer like Ayn Rand is absolutely correct to praise the virtues of selfishness. Live totally for self; no one holds you accountable! Indeed, it would be foolish to do anything else, for life is too short to jeopardize it by acting out of anything but pure self-interest. Sacrifice for another person would be stupid.” (p. 6)

[3] Textual basis: “But the problem becomes even worse. For, regardless of immortality, if there is no God, then there can be no objective standards of right and wrong. All we are confronted with is, in Jean-Paul Sartre’s words, the bare, valueless fact of existence. Moral values are either just expressions of personal taste or the by-products of socio-biological evolution and conditioning.” (p. 6)

[4] Textual basis:

(a) “If death stands with open arms at the end of life’s trail, then what is the goal of life? To what end has life been lived? Is it all for nothing? Is there no reason for life? And what of the universe? Is it utterly pointless? If its destiny is a cold grave in the recesses of outer space, the answer must be yes — it is pointless. There is no goal, no purpose, for the universe. The litter of a dead universe will just go on expanding and expanding — forever.” (p. 7)

(b) "...even if it did not end in death, without God life would still be without purpose. For man and the universe would then be simple accidents of chance, thrust into existence for no reason. Without God the universe is the result of a cosmic accident, a chance explosion. There is no reason for which it exists. As for man, he is a freak of nature — a blind product of matter plus time plus chance. Man is just a lump of slime that evolved into rationality. There is no more purpose in life for the human race
Than for a species of insect; for both are the result of the blind interaction of chance and necessity” (p. 7)

(c) “So if God does not exist, that means that man and the universe exist to no purpose — since the end of everything is death — and that they came to be for no purpose, since they are only blind products of chance. In short, life is utterly without reason.” (p. 7)


Matt McCormick said...

Nice work, Ex. Concise and clear. And when they are put this way, we can see that the second premise in each one is false. I won't argue for that here. What I find interesting with WLC's arguments is to ponder just how it is that the existence of God bestows purpose, morality, and significance on life. I think in the end, he's faced with the same sort of gap with God that he accuses atheist positions of facing. God can't really bar of ultimate meaning or objective values either when he sets the bar as high as he has.


Robert said...

Have you seen this?

exapologist said...

Hi Robert,

I have indeed. An excellent discussion of some of Craig's arguments here -- especially the Argument Against Atheistic Morality. Thanks for calling attention to it.

exapologist said...

Hi Matt,

Thanks. I agree with you that each of the four arguments has a premise that's either false or unjustified (well, I'm not sure about the Argument Against Atheistic Purpose. I suppose it depends on how we gloss 'ultimate purpose'. Naturalists can appeal to natural functions of things and their parts that were selected my evolutionary pressures, and my hunch is that one could flesh out an interesting quasi-Aristotelian account of purpose from such biological facts).

I'd also like to call attention to some noteworthy replies to Craig's arguments here. See, especially, Erik Wielenberg's book, Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe, his paper, "In Defense of Non-Natural, Non-Theistic Moral Realism", and Stephen Maitzen's "On God and Our Ultimate Purpose".

Matt McCormick said...

Thanks Ex. Those articles are good. I didn't buy the book. Too many books, too little time.

Craig's appeals to some ultimate purpose always struck me as obviously circular, and I've been surprised by how many people think there's a good argument there.

Two side notes: A lot of these types of arguments seem to slip into this mistake--If there's no God, then there is no purpose. And we really don't like the result that there's no purpose, therefore, there must be a God. Even if Craig is right, what he shows on some of his arguments is that atheism is bleak, not that it is mistaken. Disliking the result of some argument isn't grounds for rejecting its truth. But maybe I'm just too simple minded in thinking that this kind of fallacy seems to be at the root of a lot of these discussions.

Second, have the Ultimate Purpose from God folks just not read or thought about the Euthyphro problem? Seems to me that Socrates just wrecked this notion that moral value comes from God 2500 years ago.

Thanks again for the great blog and all the useful references.


exapologist said...

Hi Matt,
I agree that there's something fishy about arguments about the need for purpose imposed by God. I remember that my first reaction to the argument was one of sarcasm and incredulity ("Poor old God. No one there to impose a purpose on his life from the outside; his life must be pointless"). I tend to agree with Aristotle that the nature of a being -- whether an animal, a human, or a god -- sets constraints on the sorts of goals and activities that it can find worthwhile, and which allow it to flourish. But if so, then so long as a human being selects goals and activities within their species-indexed constraints, their life can have intrinsically worthwhile purposes. Wielenberg also accepts this sort of view, and defends it a bit, in Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe.

Matt McCormick said...

Thanks for posting these, Ex. I'm giving the Craig/Maitzen pair of articles to me Phil. Religion students for discussion, and I'm using your reconstructions (with full credit) in class.

Matt McCormick

exapologist said...

That's great, Matt. Please let me know how it goes. I've used those two articles as well in my phil. of religion classes, and I think it went pretty well.

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