What is the Meaning of it All?
"[I]f the existence of God is denied, then one is landed in complete moral relativism, so that no act, regardless of how dreadful or heinous, can be condemned by the atheist.... Hence, atheism is destructive of life and ends logically in suicide." --William Lane Craig (Reasonable Faith, p.55)
This absurd quote comes from chapter two of William Lane Craig's masterpiece of sensationalist sophistry and obfuscation that is Reasonable Faith. The book is a headache to read, namely because every other page is laced with a quote like the above. Now, Craig pretends to be representing Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel The Brothers Karamazov (1879–1880), but really, it seems more like he's just using Dostoyevsky as an angle to try and slip in some of his inane sophistry--which is so absurd that it is lamentable, if not, laughable that a supposedly rational mind even thought of it at all.
I often have doubts whether WLC is all that rational, however. But this is beside the point.
The point I want to address here is that WLC is saying that without the existence of God there could be no objective morality, no purpose beyond destructive, dreadful, and heinous acts. That, ultimately, existence, and so too life, would be meaningless and it would make more logical sense to end the godless suffering and misery than to keep going.
This horribly sensationalist, fatalistic, and not at all accurate portrayal of the atheist position blatantly ignores several things which I want to address.
Part One: Frosting
Theologians like Craig are a lot like magicians. They know all the good tricks. But their fancy-talk and razzle dazzle disply of sophistry only ever seems to dupe the dim witted. To the well trained eye of the philosopher, their tricks are merely amusing. But in the end, they're only tricks.
One of the weaknesses of the above epigraph, and the fatalistic sentiment of the theologians, is that WLC, and those who take his view, often ignore the Problem of Good. Many of you are probably more familiar with the corollary, the Problem of Evil. How in the world, with all it's suffering, could this apparently godless suffering and misery be allowed if, in fact, God exists and he is, as believers say, a Good God?
It is my strong opinion that in two-thousand years of theology--the Problem of Evil has never been adequately addressed by any thinker or theist. No one has ever offered an rational and logical answer as to how, or why, a Good God would allow suffering--especially when said deity is also presumed to be All Powerful and could have prevented, or at the least altered, the terms and conditions of the events which caused the suffering and misery. Nobody, to my knowledge, has offered any pragmatic solution which can explain by practical common sense why a Good God, who by his nature would feel unavoidably compelled to protect his beloved creation, would turn his back?
Often times you get obfuscation or appeals to additional metaphysical terms and conditions, such as God's desire to allow Free Will, or the fact that God is all knowing and there is a Greater Good being striven for, one we, with our finite minds, cannot possibly comprehend. These are sophist dodges, as they don't actually solve the problem, but rather, only provide fleeting excuses which are entirely unfounded. Many of these concepts, such as Free Will and the Greater Good, are themselves entirely complex metaphysical theories, and we should keep in mind that there are no clear answers to these questions, let alone how they would lend support to any proposed demonstration of how a Good God could allow such evil and suffering in the world. So, without a straightforward, practical, explanation that everyone could understand--it doesn't appear the Problem of Evil has ever been adequately addressed, which is why it probably remains one of the strongest philosophical arguments against the existence of a theistic God.
Meanwhile, if the Problem of Evil is the realization of the absence of good, then the Problem of Good is the realization that there is a limit to the amount of evil we experience. The Problem of Good was first formulated by the University of London philosopher Stephen Law, and goes something like this:
“(1) There is just as much evidence from the goodness/evil of the world that the creator god is evil, as there is that the creator god is good. (2) We are justified in believing that evidence of goodness in the world demonstrates that there is not an evil creator god. (3) Therefore, we are equally justified in believing that the evidence of evil in the world demonstrates that there is not a good creator god.” (The Problem of Good, as proposed by Stephen Law)
In Stephen Law's “Think” article he states, “...belief in an evil god clearly remains downright silly. But then why isn't belief in a good God also silly? Aren't we justified in rejecting belief in a good God for the same very good reason that we are justified in rejecting belief in an evil God? If the problem of good is fatal to belief in an evil God (which it clearly is), why isn't the problem of evil similarly fatal to belief in a good God? That's the question the theist needs to answer.”
Now, by the theistic view the Problem of Good shows that the existence of an evil god is just as absurd as a good god. Neither are supported by the evidence of good or evil in the world. But this is merely looking at the problem from the theistic point of view. If we apply this law to the Naturalistic view something interesting occurs.
In other words, in the scenario WLC established for the atheistic/naturalistic view, he paints a rather bleak and fatalistic reality without goodness or purpose. If Craig is correct, then we would only expect to find evil and suffering and no trace of good in the world. Yet, if the Naturalistic view is true, and the world we live in is atheistic, well then, whence cometh the good? Accordingly, we would need to account for the amount of goodness we do, in fact, find. As it is, we do happen to find good acts where suffering is limited and flourishing can occur. Needless to say, good acts abound. Now, WLC uses this as a type of shell-game to trick you into admitting that, wow, yeah... good things do exist, so, therefore goodness is real. And since it has to come from somewhere, if you couldn't guess, it must come from God!
I don't think I need to be the first to point out that this is just WLC ignoring the validity of the atheistic position based on a Naturalistic worldview in favor of his already decided theological position based entirely on the Argument from Morality (which I'll get to momentarily). WLC hasn't done anything in the way of considering the objection fairly. He ignores the consideration that he might be wrong and that Naturalism is, in point of fact, the default reality which we live. All Craig has done here is set up the atheistic/naturalistic view, then at the last minute, pulled a bait and switch, reverted back to his own default theistic view. He never takes the atheistic/naturalistic view to its logical conclusion.
The Problem of Good then, in both forms, is a horribly devastating blow the the theistic proposition that good cannot exist in an atheistic universe. It's devastating for two reasons.
1) It negates the theistic position of a Good God by positing an Evil God and thereby showing both considerations are equally absurd. Without any way to distinguish which version is possibly true, or even the most likely, it seems that Naturalism becomes the default view.
2) Applied to the atheistic/naturalistic view the theologian still must account for the existence of good in the universe minus the existence of God. Additionally, the existence of good in an atheistic worldview disavows the fatalistic tendency theologians are want to take in the absence of a good God.
This forces to theist into a Catch-22. They must deal with one or the other. That is the burden they place upon themselves when they say things like:
"[I]f the existence of God is denied, then one is landed in complete moral relativism, so that no act, regardless of how dreadful or heinous, can be condemned by the atheist.... Hence, atheism is destructive of life and ends logically in suicide."
Addressing the Problem of Evil and the Problem of Good, and giving them a well balanced approach, considering the pros and cons of each, and then raising fair objections to both is what any well-versed philosopher would be obliged to do, but when it comes to religious apologists like William Lane Craig, we find sophistry and obfuscation in place of rational consideration. Instead of tackling either the Problem of Evil or the Problem of Good, there is never any genuine investigation into either, let alone the consequences of both.
But this much is clear: if you are going to make the totally absurd claim that an atheistic universe is only logically capable of providing dread, destructiveness, and misery ending in eventual suicide as the best possible logical escape, then, on this view, you very DAMN WELL have to explain the GOOD we find. You cannot pull a bait and switch fallacy and suddenly change over to your prefered "God" explanation. That's not how it works. If WLC actually took the time to consider the Problem of Good as applied to the atheistic view, I think he would realize that his above statement is, really, truly, that horribly absurd.
Part 2: The Cake
But all this is just the icing on the cake. Believe it or not, we haven't even gotten to the meat of the argument yet. After all, Craig could simply ignore the Problem of Good and avoid having to address good and evil at all by supplanting it with the Argument from Morality. The argument from morality basically states that Goodness exists because God exists, and interestingly enough, goodness could exist even if an all evil God existed, thus muting the Problem of Goodness in its theistic form (and this would likely resort in the theologian ignoring the problem of goodness applied to the atheist worldview since it would already be invalid from their point of view). But what about things like objective morality, purpose, and ultimate meaning? Is the argument from goodness enough to establish that God is good let alone the source for these things, as Craig would have us believe?
Assuming, for the sake of argument, Craig's assumption is correct--and God is the author of all that is moral and good, then we are left with one well known metaphysical objection which, to my knowledge, goes largely ignored by theists. Either they are satisfied with the mundane theological attempts to answer for it or they are ignorant of it, because it is taken for granted whenever they simply make the assumption God exists and so this, somehow, satisfies the answer as to how there can be moral goodness in the world.
Basically, the objection is this:
If God is the source of moral goodness, purpose, and provides ultimate meaning, since God himself has no need of moral goodness, purpose, and cannot be his own ultimate meaning, then how can God presumably be the source of moral goodness, purpose, and provide ultimate meaning? (Those who are well verse in their Plato will recognize this is an revision of the Euthyphro dilemma)
It stems to reason that if God exists, he exists with certain properties, the appeal to God's properties is what allows theologians to claim God has X amount of characteristics. Never mind that the only way to confirm and verify these properties is to actually test God, something no theologian has ever been able to formally demonstrate. But assuming God has at least the above properties of being morally good, then we have the problem of asking: how does God define what goodness is?
If, for example, moral goodness is a property/attribute (which I am using interchangeably) of God, and this moral goodness is where we can derive our moral goodness from, as well as meaning, since in this goodness we would find purpose enough for being--since we would have the perpetual goal of striving to be good like God (a very Christian notion)--then, as I mentioned above, we would need to explain how God could himself be a source for goodness if he cannot derive his goodness from some fixed external force (objectively) but only derive them from himself (subjectively).
It's a problem for this reason. If God is moral goodness, then God has no objective source for being morally good. In other words, God provides the definition for what is morally good because he becomes his own definition for what goodness means. If God has no way to way to derive goodness from an objective moral source apart from himself, then he is landed in complete moral relativism.
This means, anything God says is morally good becomes the moral standard of goodness, and then Plato was right, so that no act, regardless of how dreadful or heinous, can be condemned by God (since by definition God is good (e.g., if God command us to rape babies and then fillet and eat them then baby rape/cannibalism would be morally good). Hence, God would be destructive of life and logically ends in suicide--God would, by his very attributes, relegate himself to self termination.
What this means is quite clear. All moral goodness, purpose, and ultimate meaning cannot be derived from God if God is his own moral standard, because anything so subjective is relegated to relativistic limbo and the objection of Plato, who understood the weight of this problem first, ends in God's logical termination--i.e., God becomes irrelevant and meaningless as a source for moral goodness, purpose, and whatever ultimate meaning we might be searching for. Therefore, God is either not as the theologians describe him, and cannot be the source for moral goodness, purpose, or ultimate meaning, or else God does not exist.
If the prior is true, then all belief in God as we know it becomes erroneous, as everything faith is founded upon is a lie, regardless of whether God exists or not. If it is the latter, then the atheistic worldview is true--and we must account for the good in the world minus the existence of God.
How we go about that exactly is a discussion for another time. And I think it is a discussion worth having. More importantly, it is a necessary step toward understanding life's real purpose and moving one step closer to finding out whether there is an ultimate meaning behind it all. But whatever we discover, whether the universe is full of meaning or void of it, we know this much: God is not an answer that supplies us with any relevant information and cannot be relied upon to help us in answering the bigger questions as to our purpose and meaning of life.