Craig–Taylor Debate:
Is the Basis for Morality Natural or Supernatural?

First Rebuttal
William Lane Craig

Let’s review those two contentions that I set forth:

(I) Supernaturalism provides a sound foundation for morality.

(1) I argued (and quoted Professor Taylor to the effect) that if God exists, then objective right and wrong exist. Professor Taylor responds—well, he doesn’t really disagree with the point; but he just complains that God’s holy nature just doesn’t tell me too much. Tonight, however, this is not a debate about applied ethics. It’s a debate about meta–ethics, about the foundations for morality. In specific situations, obviously you’re going to have to make application of general moral truths to specific instances. And just think of what kind of a world it would be if we had a world in which everyone followed, say, the injunctions of the Sermon on the Mount! It’s hard to imagine what a beautiful place this world would be if everyone followed the ethical teachings, for example, of Jesus. Those don’t cover every specific situation, but they give us enough general principles that we can apply them in specific situations. Professor Taylor complains, "But look at all the religious hypocrites!" In fact, he spent a lot of time talking about that. But notice that on Professor Taylor’s view, there’s nothing wrong with religious hypocrisy because there is no objective right and wrong. You see, the very condemnation of religious hypocrisy and the things that the church has done presupposes an objective standard of right and wrong by which to condemn those things. And that is why I think we need to have an objective foundation for morality: because we intuitively recognize that things like the Crusades and the Inquisition and priests’ abusing children are morally wrong—something that Professor Taylor cannot say on his view.

Now, what is the sense, then, in which we need to answer the question, "Can we be good without God?" When I first saw this question, I thought, "Oh, that’s the wrong question. Of course, we can be good without God." But then, as I reflected on it, I thought, "Wait, there’s a more subtle meaning of that question." You see, on Taylor’s view, you can’t really be good without God, because there is no objective moral good. There is no objective right and wrong. So the question is actually much deeper than it appears at first. On his view, you can have a skill, you can be talented, or rational, but you can’t really be good in the moral sense, because there is no objective right and wrong on his view. And that’s what I’m defending tonight, that in order to be morally good, in order for us to have objective right and wrong, real values, which we all like to affirm, we need to have a supernatural foundation.

(2) I argued that moral accountability also exists under the supernaturalist view, and Professor Taylor didn’t deny the point.

(II) What about my critique, then, of naturalism? I said that naturalism doesn’t provide a sound foundation for morality, and here I made two points:

(1) On the naturalist view, objective right and wrong do not exist. Again, Professor Taylor doesn’t deny this point; he just says, "Well, to say that they’re conventional doesn’t mean they’re contemptible." Well, granted; but it does mean they’re arbitrary, they’re non–objective. There’s no more difference between moral right and wrong than driving on the right–hand side of the road versus the left–hand side of the road. It’s simply a societal convention. And the modern evolutionist thinks these conventions are just based in socio–biological evolution. According to Michael Ruse, a professor of the philosophy of science,

The position of the modern that humans have an awareness of morality...because such an awareness is of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation, no less than are hands and feet and teeth.... Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, [ethics] is illusory. I appreciate that when somebody says, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves…. Nevertheless…such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction and…any deeper meaning is illusory….{26}

This is essentially the same view as Professor Taylor’s. Moral values are simply rooted in socio–biological evolution, that have passed down as certain taboos and certain commands, but they have no objective validity in terms of their moral rightness or wrongness. Professor Taylor says, "But I have a high regard for people who are truly moral and decent." I don’t deny that. Of course he does! But the point is that in his ethics, in his philosophy, he has no basis for that affirmation. What I bring is not a new set of values—I think we pretty much hold those in common—but I’m offering a secure foundation for those values that we all want to hold dear.

You see, on Professor Taylor’s view, there really isn’t any objective morality. I think every one of us here tonight would agree that it’s wrong to kill babies and that the holocaust was morally wrong. But in his book Professor Taylor says, "The infanticide practiced by the Greeks of antiquity did not violate their customs. If we say it was nevertheless wrong, we are only saying that it is forbidden by our ethical and legal rules. And the abominations practiced by the Nazis…are forbidden by our rules, and not, obviously, by theirs."{27} I submit that that is simply a patently false view of moral values and that naturalism, therefore, can’t provide any objective basis for right and wrong.

(2) I also said it does not provide an objective basis for moral accountability, that death robs our moral choices of significance, and that acts of self–sacrifice are particularly inept. Professor Taylor responds: "But it makes a difference what kind of person you are—whether or not there’s moral accountability." But the point is: it doesn’t make any difference what kind of person you are on the naturalistic view. Our end is all the same, and you ultimately do not contribute to the good of the universe or the ultimate betterment of moral value because there simply is no moral value. All is ultimately extinguished in death and in the heat death of the universe. It simply makes no difference what kind of person you become. And so, as I said, what do you say to someone who concludes he should just live for self–interest? Why should acts of self–sacrifice and compassion be undertaken on a naturalistic worldview? Why adopt the moral point of view? I can’t see any basis for this in naturalism, where there is no moral accountability.

And finally, you remember, I offered a critique of Professor Taylor’s virtue ethics.

(1) His virtues are amoral. They’re just like a skill, and therefore it makes sense to talk about virtuous torturers, for example, and there’s no obligation to become virtuous. Professor Taylor likes what he calls virtuous people, but on his view we’re not morally obliged to become virtuous because there aren’t any moral obligations.

(2) Christian virtue ethics are better than Professor Taylor’s. We can adopt virtue ethics if we want to, but in Christianity we affirm that there are moral virtues, things that we should do—we should be generous, we should be loving, we should be kind—things that Professor Taylor can’t affirm. And then also don’t forget the notion of religious virtues. Professor Taylor has, I think, a truncated view of human beings. He leaves out that religious dimension of life. I’m gratified to hear that he’s a theist, but I think that this needs to be applied now to the area of ethics as well and that he recognize that there are certain religious virtues.

And finally, (3) I argued that his virtue ethics are morally repugnant. All I invite you to do here is read his book. I assure you that the quotations that I’ve given you are not at all misrepresentative of what he says there. On Taylor’s view, the proud, the selfish, the superior are better than people that he describes as inferior and weak and so forth. He lacks that equality of all people before God, and he’s left with a view in which there is a superiority among some and inferiority among the masses, a view which I said, especially in light of the political consequences in this century, has led to enormous social ills and evils, and therefore, I think, needs to be repudiated.

So for these reasons, then, I think that naturalism simply can’t provide a sound foundation for morality. And I think it’s been agreed on both sides that supernaturalism does provide a sound meta–ethical basis for morality. Therefore I think that it’s incumbent upon us to choose supernaturalism as a basis for ordering our lives.


{26}Michael Ruse, "Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics," in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262, 268–69.

{27}Richard Taylor, Ethics, Faith, and Reason (Englewood Cliffs, N. J. : Prentice–Hall, 1985), p. 10.

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