The Craig-Nielsen Debate:
God, Morality and Evil

Dr. Nielsen's Concluding Statement


Moral Values Without God

Dr. Craig says that my materialism, my determinism, my nominalism get in the way to giving any reasonable sense to objective values. I donít see that thatís at all true. Take the materialism first. That we are material beings, animals of a complicated sort, doesnít mean that weíre not animals of a very unique and distinct sort with very distinct capacities--incredible capacities that no other animals have. So the fact we have this material basis says nothing about whether we can form and construct and make sense of or justify our values, have the intelligence, the reflection, the sensitivity, the sentiments that engage--even if those are all material. Thatís a kind of genetic fallacy.

Now what about determinism? He completely ignores a well-developed theory, which could well be mistaken, which says that determinism and freedom are compatible. Thereís a perfectly straightforward sense in which you can be free and determined. That is to say, I could tell you, "If I wanted to, I could have talked about the problem of evil, but I chose to talk about making sense of morality without God." In other words, I am free to do this; I chose to do something because I wanted to do something. All "cans" are constitutionally "iffy," to use a bit of jargon. That account may have some difficulties in it, but itís a very developed account; itís very nuanced. And you can both believe in freedom in a straightforward sense and determinism.

Regarding the nominalism, Iíve never called myself a nominalist though I have nominalist predilections, but Iím certainly not a Platonist. And what I want to say is when he asserts these objective values as abstract entities, he just asserts them. He doesnít even explain to us how we can possibly know them or why we need God to know them or why we need God for their existence. Many people--G. E. Moore, for example--believe that these things could exist without God. Heís made no connection between them and God except the general connection that if God exists, he created everything. But the point is, if you speak counterfactually, even if God didnít exist, there are these objective values; they would still be something you should believe in--if there are such things as objective values. I want to say that such objective values are a piece of hoax. I think Mackie is perfectly right. We canít even make sense of them. Then we draw a conclusion that nihilism or relativism is true. What I have been concerned to show to you is that nihilism or relativism does not follow from that defense of the ontological rejection of objective values. And Iíve tried to give you a perfectly common-sense way in which values can be objective.

Craig says, "There could be a number of coherent systems that are mutually incompatible"--not on the account Iím talking about. Iím talking about wide-perfective equilibrium. If there were two coherent systems which were incompatible, not both of them could be in wide-perfective equilibrium. We would have to ask which of these coherent systems was most fully coherent. Or if they interacted in a certain manner, we would have a way of working from the two beliefs which had some overlapping conceptions (such as the case of the extraterrestrials and rape) to argue more extensively for one account to the other. In no case do we simply rest, with the kind of account Iím giving you, on a different incommensurable, separate, distinct coherent system. Thatís not the model at all. Thatís the kind of model from geometry where you have self-enclosed systems. The systems are not self-enclosed. The point is that we are constantly repairing a ship at sea by working with values, correcting them in the various ways I showed. All of that can make sense and does make sense in a perfectly godless world.

Craig asserts over and over again--without any kind of argument at all, as far as I can see--that without God there can be no objective values. He hasnít shown that. If it makes sense to speak of objective values, there could be objective values without God. He hasnít been able to show how this notion even makes sense. Itís an incredibly obscure notion. What is it for values to exist? What kind of existence do they have? Certainly not a concrete existence. If they simply exist like numbers, then you could ask, "Why value these objective values?" You could similarly ask. "If God has a certain nature, why should you care about that nature?" And, again, that would be a matter of your own individual reflective judgment.

[ Previous | Table of Contents ]