The Craig-Nielsen Debate:
God, Morality and Evil

Dr. Nielsen's Second Rebuttal

Problem of Evil

Itís perfectly correct that the debate didnít focus on the problem of evil because I want to say there isnít a problem of evil if thereís no reason to believe in God, and we can make sense of our lives without believing in God. I also said that, as far as I can see, if someone really has other reasons for believing in God, he probably can make sense, from his perspective, of the problem of evil.

I didnít particularly find Craigís arguments very convincing. Iíll talk a little bit about them, but I donít want to waste a lot of time (at least from my perspective) about this. Iíll move from the very last things he said.

Take animal suffering. There are certain laws of nature that God somehow created or is responsible for, and because of those, there is animal suffering. If God is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-wise, all-good (and here with animals there is, presumably, no question about free will), he could have made laws of nature that didnít entail that suffering. And thereís an enormous amount of suffering. That we donít see Godís complete purpose doesnít mean, as MacIntyre once said, weíve seen enough to know thereís a lot of evil in the world which is not explained except by postulating God. Itís not the sort of thing that would lead us to believe in the God of Christianity just by looking at the world.


In one of his last points, he said in response to me that I didnít meet his point that if there is no immortality, we all end up the same way. What difference does it make how we end up? What makes a difference is about how we live here and now. And those things are important to us just now. Think about love. In light of the fact that youíre going to die, does this mean that the love between persons means nothing? Not at all.

Moral Values Without God

Let me turn to a really central misunderstanding, and Iím surprised, if heís ever read my book Why Should I Be Moral?, that he would make this mistake. Thereís a complete difference between giving a moral justification (a justification inside of morality) and a pragmatic justification for accepting the whole institution of morality. I wasnít at all defending hedonism, self-interest inside of morality; Iíve criticized that extensively. Iíve said, "Suppose somebody says, ĎWhy accept the moral point of view at all?í heís not asking for a moral reason. Heís asking for a non-moral reason." And Iím saying we can give him a non-moral reason. (We can tell him to go get lost, too.) But if somebody says, "Why should I pay any attention to science?" heís not asking for a scientific reason. Heís asking for a pragmatic reason to pay attention to science, and we can give him a reason for that. I say we can give a self-interested reason for "why be moral" outside of morality, but when weíre justifying moral beliefs, we donít appeal to self-interest--or not in any essential way. Thatís a complete confusion. The slightest readings of my books would never have allowed him to make that point.

My next point has to do with Craigís saying, "Take extraterrestrials again. Suppose they regard suffering as bad--not human suffering." Again, using my same method, I could say, "Whatís the difference between you and humans?" If they said, "Weíre more rational," so what? What does that have to do with suffering? Iíd say, "If suffering is bad for you, why isnít it bad for human beings as well?" We can argue with them and if both parties are sufficiently rational, there is no reason to think that one couldnít achieve agreement, but one might not. Again I say that morality is principally for humans, but if we ever came across this situation, we could still argue with them.

Similarly, suppose the extraterrestrial says, "I donít see anything particularly bad about degradation." Then we can concretely speak to him about what degradation really comes to, of what happens to a woman when sheís raped, and so forth. If these beings are willing to think about this, it would be very hard for them to continue, I think, to argue that degradation is not evil.

If, finally, they didnít, if we couldnít "find feet" with them, this doesnít mean values are subjective. It means that values, maybe, are inter-subjective to human beings and beings who have rationality, who know what it is to suffer and experience pain and the like.

He says that I donít meet his objection that moral purposes in life all are perfectly arbitrary without God. I donít see the slightest reason for that. Some of them are arbitrary if they are silly and thoughtless purposes. Some purposes, if they are integrated, carefully thought-out, related to everything else we know, reflective (where human beings work through long traditions, including working with Christian traditions, in which you put together everything you know and think carefully about these purposes), are perfectly objective. And they are the only kind you can give much sense to. Craig seems to think that to have objective values is for values to have some strange objective quality--some abstract object like numbers, maybe. Many have tried to make sense of this. (And here Mackie is very powerful.) No one has been able to make much sense of this--God or no God. G. E. Moore believed in objective values and was an atheist. Perhaps you can do that, but the point is this. Objective values in that sense are a completely incoherent notion. We donít know what weíre talking about. And moreover, if there were such values, we donít need them. We could make perfectly good sense of our lives and justify our moral beliefs without them.

He says, "But that still does not address the difference between the order of knowing and the order of being." Well, it addresses it in this sense. That question of the ontology of values is an incredibly opaque one. Anybody who has studied the problem rather carefully knows how difficult it is. Itís very, very unclear whether we even know what it would mean for values to be objective in that sense. And in doing that, we are bringing in a lot of baggage that achieves nothing. If we would stick with the kind of justification I talk about, we could have something that was humanly objective without any appeal to God or, for that matter, to the pseudo-abstract entity "the Good."

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