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

William Lane Craig

As I look over my notes, it seems to me that that first contention that I made has basically gone undisputed in the debate. Supernaturalism, if true, does provide a sound foundation for morality.

[Tape unintelligible] products of evolution. Professor Taylor announces, "Well, what does ‘objective’ mean? Does it mean that we just take them seriously?" And he affirms he takes them seriously. No, that’s not what "objective" means. "Objective" means that these are non–conventional. They’re not simply based upon human apprehension, but these are values that hold regardless of whether anybody believes in them or not. For example, if the Nazis had conquered the world in the Second World War and had eliminated everybody who disagreed with their anti–Semitism, I maintain that anti–Semitism would still be wrong. It would still be immoral whether anybody agreed to it or not. That’s an objective wrong. On Taylor’s view, however, there are no such things as moral obligations or objective right and wrong. For example, Professor Taylor imagines in his book a race of people living in a state of nature, where there are no customs or laws because, you see, he thinks values are rooted in just customs and laws. He says, suppose one person kills another one and takes his goods. He writes,

Such actions, though injurious to their victims, are no more...unjust or immoral than they would be if done by one animal to another. A hawk that seizes a fish from the sea kills it, but does not murder it; and another hawk that seizes the fish from the talons of the first takes it, but does not steal it, for none of these things is forbidden. And exactly the same considerations apply to the people we are imagining.{28}

In other words, as Dostoyevsky said, all things are permitted once you get rid of God. And therefore I simply see no basis on Taylor’s philosophy for the affirmation of objective right and wrong. You cannot say, for example, that infanticide is simply wrong. You can only say that it is wrong for us, but it was all right for the Greeks. But you cannot affirm, on his view, that it is simply wrong.

I also argued that on his view there is no moral accountability, and he did not respond to the point in the last speech.

Then I offered a critique of his virtue ethics:

(1) His virtues are amoral in character. And therefore you can have a virtuous torturer. There’s no obligation to become virtuous. He affirmed, "I affirm we should be kind." Well, that’s simply inconsistent with his philosophy. Listen to what he writes in his book. He says,

The idea of political or legal obligation is clear enough... Similarly, the idea of an obligation higher than this, referred to as moral obligation, is clear enough, provided reference to some lawgiver higher...than those of the state is understood. In other words, our moral obligations understood as those that are imposed by God.... But what if this higher–than–human lawgiver is no longer taken into account? Does the concept of moral obligation...still make sense? ...The concept of moral obligation [is] unintelligible apart from the idea of God. The words remain but their meaning is gone.{29}

And I think that’s exactly the case in the last speech. We heard the words, but the meaning is gone. There is no obligation to acquire these virtues, on his view.

By contrast, I say (2) Christian virtues are better because you’re obligated to acquire these virtues. It’s your duty to become virtuous, and also there are religious virtues.

And finally, I argued that (3) Taylor’s virtue ethics are morally repugnant. And here he simply said, "I fail to recognize myself in the description that you’ve given from the book." All I can say here is that sometimes we are inconsistent with what we really believe and affirm. I have no doubt that Professor Taylor is a good and decent man; but these are the things that he’s written, and these are the implications of the ethical view that he holds to. And I’m not the only one who thinks this. I already quoted in my opening speech a reviewer who was concerned about the sinister implications of his ethics. Let me quote from Professor Christlieb of Syracuse University. In his review of Taylor’s book, he says, "Taylor’s elitism, which calls us to deny the worth of most of humanity, is a singularly unattractive ethics, especially in light of the political experiences of our own century."{30} Professor Christlieb goes on to say Taylor’s ethics are "built on a series of claims about religion, ethics, and historical development that are either unsubstantiated, misleading, or false."{31} And I would have to simply concur. I think it’s evident that his ethics are wrong, that thinking that certain people are better than others, and that some are inferior to superior people, and that the mass of humanity is inferior to those who are philosophers is just morally repugnant and therefore tragically mistaken. The fundamental worth of human beings, to repeat, lies in the unconditional love of God for all persons and in the fact that Christ died for all persons. Therefore each person is regarded by God as having infinite worth in His sight, regardless of his skills or accomplishments or talents. I think that’s a far more intuitively plausible and acceptable ethic than Professor Taylor’s virtue ethics.

So, for all of these reasons, I simply have to reject his view. I don’t deny that he’s a good and moral man, but I offer him a better foundation for the common values that we both hold dear.


{28}Richard Taylor, Ethics, Faith, and Reason (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice–Hall, 1985), p. 14.

{29}Ibid., pp. 83–84.

{30}T. J. Christlieb, review of Ethics, Faith, and Reason, in Faith and Philosophy 5 (1988): 325.

{31}Ibid. His actual wording is "either false, misleading, or unsubstantiated."

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