William Lane Craig completed his tour in Quebec, Canada on 2/13/09. One of the Quebecois students named Martin wrote to Dr. Craig, challenging him on many aspects of his presentation. Quebec is widely regarded as the most secular and progressive of the Canadian provinces, so I was delighted to hear from this student, but I don’t think Dr. Craig spent enough time replying to him, so I will help.
First, if you need a refresher on Craig’s standard 20 minute opening speech, look here (opening speech from the Craig-Pigliucci debate, audio from the Craig-Stenger debate, video from the Craig-Dacey debate). Bill usually argues for God from the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe for permitting life of any kind, objective moral values, the resurrection of Jesus as a historically-testable miracle claim, and the immediate personal experience of God.
The student Martin starts off by complaining that atheism is an adequate foundation for rational moral behavior. He writes:
…you know as well as I do that any thinking person, atheist or no, understands why rape isn’t acceptable in modern society. Being an atheist isn’t being a hedonist, and I feel that it’s pathetic I need to remind you of this.
Notice that Martin links the moral rules to the time and place in which he lives. Rape isn’t really wrong for all times and places, it’s wrong for us in this society in this time.
First of all, on atheism morality is an illusion. In an accidental universe, the only morality that exists is when societies make them up. In that sense, morality is similar to the fashion of clothing – it is purely convention. It varies by time and place. It is completely arbitrary. Let me explain some of the problems with briefly here, but a longer treatment is here.
On atheism, there is no non-physical soul, and no free will. There are therefore no moral choices nor is there moral responsibility. On atheism moral behavior is ultimately futile, as humans are all going to die individually and collectively in the heat death of the universe: it does not matter if you are moral or not, on atheism. On atheism, there is no standard by which to judge individual moral progress, or the evil in other cultures, such as widow-burning or slavery.
When an atheist speaks about morality, is isn’t talking about the way humans everywhere ought to be, he is talking about social conventions. When an atheist acts morally, he is simply imitating the fashions of the people around him – either to please himself by feeling moral, or to please other people. If they can escape the social consequences, it would be irrational for them to do the right them if it gives them no pleasure.
By the way, it’s not just me who says this. Richard Taylor, an atheist who once debated against William Lane Craig, says this:
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 can…be 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. (Richard Taylor, Ethics, Faith, and Reason (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, 1985), p. 83-84)
Next, Martin argues that the anthropic principle is an adequate refutation of the fine-tuning of the physical constants of the universe for life. The anthropic principle is the idea that the presence of intelligent life causes the constants to be fine-tuned 14 billion years ago. He writes:
Impressing a room full of vaguely interested people with figures about the extremely rare conditions that allow life to exist is all well and good – handwaving away the entire anthropic principle with a single bad analogy is not.
Regarding Martin’s claim about fine-tuning being explained by the anthropic principle, let me say this. First, the fine-tuning is real. If you change the constants of physics in the big bang, the universe will not support life of any kind. Consider another Martin, Martin Rees, an atheist and the British Astronomer Royal. In his book “Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape The Universe”, he discusses 6 finely-tuned numbers.
Rees writes here:
These six numbers constitute a ‘recipe’ for a universe. Moreover, the outcome is sensitive to their values: if any one of them were to be ‘untuned’, there would be no stars and no life. Is this tuning just a brute fact, a coincidence? Or is it the providence of a benign Creator?
It is impossible for humans, who just appeared relatively recently, to have any causal impact on the selection of these physical constants 14 billion years ago. I discuss two known responses to the fine-tuning problem, (unobservable multiverse and non-existent observer), here.