bookmark_borderDo our reasons depend on our desires?

NOTE: This post assumes an understanding of much of the terminology that I explain in my post, “On Reasons and What They Do?” In particular, this post uses the terms ‘reason,’ ‘objective,’ and ‘subjective’ in accordance with the explanations that appear in that article. Further, there are other important matters (such what it means for a reason to be pro tanto) that my discussion in this current posts assumes a familiarity with. 
I have been writing about reasons, what they are, and what they do. This is an important topic because, as I have argued, reasons play a central role in issues of morality and the meaning of life. The reason for talking about such issues in a philosophy of religion blog is that many religious apologists have argued that, if there is no god, there are no objective moral truths and that if there is no god, life is meaningless. Both of these assertions are false but understanding why they are false requires a good understanding of the nature of reasons and the connection reasons have to morality and meaning.
In a previous post, I argued that at least some reasons are objective. One consideration that is commonly relied on to argue that reasons must be subjective is that reasons are dependent on desires. David Hume famously said, “’Tis not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger”[1] Exactly what Hume intended to be saying here about the nature of reasons is a matter of some controversy. He has, however, been widely interpreted as claiming that reason is only a matter of selecting the best means of satisfying our ends. On such a view, reason can recommend no ends. We have our ends on the basis of our desires and passions, but these ends are not rationally evaluable. We have reasons only once we have chosen an end, and then the reasons that we have are to do the things that effectively satisfy that end. This view, regardless of whether it is Hume’s real view, is consistent with a position that I have previously called the Desire-Based Reasons Thesis (DBR):
DBR: For a person, P, to have a reason to engage in some behavior, Φ, P must have some desire (or desire-like state) d, such that Φ-ing tends to promote the satisfaction of d.
I strongly suspect that DBR is false and I want to provide some examples that serve to undermine it. First, though, I think we should acknowledge the intuitive appeal of DBR. DBR fits in very nicely with a certain conception of rationality that is often called “means-ends-rationality.” This conception can be well illustrated via the following example:
Pizza: Sue wants to have a pizza delivered to her house. Given that calling the local pizza place, Pizza Yurt, and ordering a pizza will efficiently promote the satisfaction of Sue’s desire, Sue has a reason to call Pizza Yurt to order a pizza. Further, she only has this reason given that she has this desire. A person who does not have the desire for pizza to be delivered to their home does not have a reason to call for pizza delivery.
This seems right, at least at first glance. Despite this appearance, I will later argue that the above account of why Sue has the reasons she does is completely wrong. Now, though, I want to acknowledge the way in which the account is intuitively appealing. It seems true that anyone who does not want a pizza does not have a reason to call for pizza delivery. Thus, the natural conclusion is that Sue’s reason for calling Pizza Yurt is that she wants to have a pizza delivered. Certainly, if we assume (i) that Sue wants a pizza, (ii) that calling Pizza Yurt is the most efficient (or only) means of satisfying this desire, and (iii) that Sue knows that calling Pizza Yurt is the most efficient (or only) means of satisfying her desire, it seems clear that if Sue fails to call Pizza Yurt, she is being irrational.
It is important to note that we now have before us two different claims: One is that Sue’s reason to call Pizza Yurt is dependent on her desire; the second is that, given this desire plus her belief that calling Pizza Yurt is the most efficient way of satisfying that desire, if Sue fails to call Pizza Yurt, she is being irrational. I think that the second claim is true, but the first is false.
It is important to distinguish claims about what reasons an agent has from claims about the agent’s rationality. These claims are different as can be revealed by a common example:
Snake/Rope: I am walking through the desert; I look down at my feet and see a snake-like object coiled in the path immediately next to where I am walking. I immediately form the judgment that there is a snake in my path. My pulse quickens, I immediately feel fear, and quickly leap away. In reality, the object is not a snake but a coiled length of rope.
Now, let’s ask whether I had any reason to fear and whether I had any reason to jump away. The natural response to such questions is that, given that it was not a snake, I had no reason to fear. Similarly, my daughter has no reason to fear the non-existence monsters under the bed even though she firmly believes in them. Further, I had no reason to jump away in fear since there was nothing to be afraid of. However, given that I believed that there was a snake on my path, my fear-response and avoidance behavior was completely rational. The Snake/Rope example shows that we can behave rationally even when we are not responding to reasons.
In this post, I will be making claims about reasons rather than rationality. In particular, I will argue that reasons are not dependent on desires. I will not be defending any view about rationality. However, the view that I find attractive is that, as Derek Parfit has put it, our reasons are provided by the facts, what is rational for us to do depends on our beliefs.
While DBR seems to make sense of Sue’s reasons in the Pizza example, I think that this appearance is deceiving and that a proper understanding of Sue’s reasons show that they are not at all dependent on her desires. To understand why, I need to explain why I doubt DBR. Let’s look at three cases that present possible counterexamples to DBR.
(1) Gin/Petrol
This example comes from Bernard Williams who is a defender of DBR [2]. Williams’ view is that the reasons that an agent has are dependent on the agent’s motivational set. Your motivational set includes your desires, intentions, positive attitudes, etc., (henceforth, I will use ‘desire’ to refer to all of these kinds of states) which have the tendency to motivate you to act. Importantly, this entails that the existence of a reason for an agent requires the presence of an appropriate desire.
Williams presents the following example as a reason to amend his view: Suppose Jim is sitting at a table on which is a bottle of clear liquid. Jim wants to have a gin and tonic and believes that the stuff in the glass on the table is gin. Suppose, though, that the stuff in the bottle is not gin but gasoline. Does Jim have a reason to mix the stuff in the bottle with tonic and consume the concoction? Williams points out that we are pulled in two different directions. On the one hand, it seems natural to say that since the stuff in the glass will make Jim sick, he does not have a reason to drink it and has a reason to not drink it. On the other hand, if Jim does drink the gasoline, there is a natural explanation for why he did so: Jim thought that the stuff in the bottle was gin.
Williams’ conclusion is that we shouldn’t think that the fact that we would have an explanation for why Jim would drink the stuff entails that Jim would have a reason to do so. In fact, according to Williams, even though he believes that the stuff is gin, Jim does not have a reason to drink it. This requires that Williams amend his view. He does so by claiming that an element, d, of an agent’s motivational set will not provide a reason to the agent if d is based on a false belief (see Williams, 293).
Williams is right, in my view, that Jim does not have a reason to drink the stuff in the bottle despite the fact that he has a desire to drink it.  However, I think that the example poses a bigger problem for his view than he realized. The problem is that it is difficult to square the claim that desires that are based on false beliefs do not generate reasons with the view that desires generate reasons.
Williams’ view seems to be that some desires generate reasons and some do not. But, having asserted that all reasons depend, for their existence, on desires, his view provides no basis for claiming that some desires do not generate reasons. Let’s call the capacity to generate reasons, which, on Williams’ view, at least some desires have, “reason-generating power” (or “rg-power” for short). On Williams’ view desires have rg-power unless those desires that are based on false beliefs. But what is it about this class of desires that makes them impotent to generate reasons? Why would a false belief interfere with a desire’s rg-power? Why does a desire lose its reason-generating capacity just because it is based on a false belief? Williams provides no answer.
This example does not refute DBR, but despite Williams response, I think it should cast some doubt on the thesis. Unless we have some basis for thinking that desires that are based on false beliefs cannot generate reasons, the Gin/Petrol example suggests that desires do not generate reasons.
(2) Agony
This example is inspired by Parfit’s Agony Argument.[3]
Suppose Sally want to experience excruciating pain. She realizes that stabbing herself in the eye with a metal fork will satisfy this desire. Does Sally therefore have a reason to stab herself in the eye with a fork? I don’t think she does. The fact that Sally will experience horrendous and needless suffering is a reason for her to not stab herself in the eye with a fork regardless of her desires.
Suppose that Ryan does not have a desire to experience excruciating pain but also does not want to avoid it. Does Ryan have a reason to avoid stabbing himself in the eye with a metal fork? On a view according to which an agent only has reasons to engage in actions that satisfy his desires, Ryan does not have such a reason. This is implausible. Ryan has a reason to avoid stabbing himself in the eye with a fork (and to avoid any activity that will cause horrible suffering) regardless of whether he has any desire to avoid pain/agony.
(3) Radio
This example is an adaptation of one originally provided by Warren Quinn in his paper, “Putting Rationality in its Place.” [4]
Suppose you have a friend, Tom, who engages in the following behavior: When Tom enters a room with a radio that is turned off, he immediately turns the radio on. He does not tune the radio to a specific station; he seems content merely to have the radio on, even if it is playing static. Tom does this consistently. When you ask him why he does this, he says that he wants radios to be turned on. He does not cite a desire to hear music or sound of any kind. He merely says that he wants that radios are turned on.
Does the presence of such a desire make Tom’s behavior reasonable?  I think it is natural to say that Tom’s answer to the question of why he is always turning on radios makes his behavior seems even more unreasonable since the desire itself is irrational. Quinn’s point, I take it, is that the mere presence of this desire cannot give Tom a reason for turning on radios. What would rationalize Tom’s behavior, according to Quinn, is Tom’s belief that by turning on radios, he is achieving something good. If Tom was turning on the radio to listen to good music or to hear the news, this would make his behavior reasonable. But the mere presence of a desire that radios be turned on does nothing to make this action reasonable.
 
These three examples, taken together, cast a great deal of doubt on the DBR thesis. I will not claim that they effectively refute the thesis, but merely that they strongly suggest that it is false. There are many other arguments against DBR. If you are interested, I highly recommend Jonathan Dancy’s book, Practical Reality, which mounts a sustained criticism of DBR.
Let me return, briefly, to the Pizza example. If we reject DBR, how are we to account for Sue’s reasons? More importantly, if we reject DBR, how are we to account for the fact that Sue does have a reason to call Pizza Yurt, but a person who has no desire for pizza (apparently) does not have such a reason?
Here is my answer: Sue does have a reason to call Pizza Yurt, but this reason is not generated by and does not depend on her desire to have a pizza delivered to her home. What gives Sue a reason to call Pizza Yurt, I believe, is the following collection of facts: Sue is hungry, eating pizza is a good way of satisfying that hunger, Sue likes the taste of pizza, and calling Pizza Yurt is an efficient way of getting a pizza delivered to her home. What about those who lack a reason to call for delivery? For such people, it (currently) will not be good to have a pizza. Either such people are not currently hunger or do not enjoy the taste of pizza or else having a pizza delivered would in some other way be bad.
What reasons we have depends only on what is good and what is bad. It does not depend on our desires.
 


[1] Hume, D. A Treatise of Human Nature (2.3.3.6)
[2] Williams B., “Internal and External Reasons” reprinted in Shafer-Landau and Cuneo (eds.) Foundations of Ethics (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007).
[3] In Parfit, D. On What Matters, Volume 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). See pp. 73-82 for Parfit’s Agony Argument.
[4] Quinn, W. “Putting Rationality in its Place” in his Morality and Action (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).
 

bookmark_borderRichard Dawkins and Moral Realism

Christian apologists who love to substitute quote-mining for actual argumentation are fond of quotations like the following, in order to conclude that atheism somehow undermines morality.

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, and other people are going to get lucky; and you won’t find any rhyme or reason to it, or any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. Nothing but blind pitiless indifference. … DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is, and we dance to its music.
River Out of Eden (New York: Basic Books, 1996), p. 133

For people whose search for truth involves more than selectively quoting ‘hostile’ authorities, however, this quotation raises more questions than answers. Let’s start with a basic question for apologists who like to use this quote. Why are you quoting Dawkins on this point? Is it because you think he is an expert on the implications of atheism for morality? Is it because you think Dawkins has given a good argument for the conclusion that in a godless universe there is “no evil and no good”? Is it both? Or is it something else?
(1) Does the Quotation Support a Correct Inductive Argument from Authority?
While some arguments from authority can be logically correct, this one is not. Let P be the statement “If naturalistic evolution is true, then there is no good and no evil,” and let S be metaethics. Using Wesley Salmon’s schema for inductive arguments from authority,[1] we can then formulate the argument from authority as follows.

(1) The vast majority of statements made by Richard Dawkins concerning subject S are true.
(2) P is a statement made by Richard Dawkins concerning subject S.
(3) [probably] P is true.

This argument does not satisfy Salmon’s conditions for an inductively correct argument from authority, in two ways. First, even if we treat Dawkins as an expert on metaethics, the argument would still be evidentially worthless. As Salmon observed, an appeal to one group of authorities has no evidential value when another group of authorities who are equally competent disagree.[2] And there are many qualified experts on metaethics who believe P is false.[3] Second, with all due respect to Dawkins, he is not a reliable authority on subject S. He is an evolutionary biologist with a D.Phil. in biology, not a philosopher who specializes in metaethics. Therefore, premise (1) is dubious. The upshot is that this argument from authority provides literally zero evidence for statement P.
Even if we cannot accept P on the basis of Dawkins’ authority, however, it is still possible that Dawkins has a good argument for believing it. I’ll consider that possibility in a moment. For now, I want to make one other point. Have you ever noticed that Christian apologists love to quote Dawkins as a hostile witness when it supports their desired conclusion but not when it doesn’t? If Dawkins’ opinion about morality (that it’s not objective) is supposed to be evidence for an apologist’s claims about the moral implications of atheism, then Dawkins’ opinion about God (He doesn’t exist) should also be evidence for atheism.  It seems rather one-sided to appeal to Dawkins’ authority when it helps theism (by lending support to a dubious moral argument for God’s existence), but to ignore Dawkins’ authority when it hurts theism (by lending support to a robust evidential argument from evil against God’s existence).
(2) Does the Quotation State an Inductively Correct Argument against Moral Realism?
Again, here is what Dawkins wrote:

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, and other people are going to get lucky; and you won’t find any rhyme or reason to it, or any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. Nothing but blind pitiless indifference. … DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is, and we dance to its music.

What properties does Dawkins have in mind when he claims that the universe has the properties “we should expect” if there is no objective meaning or morality? And why would those properties be expected?
Let’s parse this quotation one step at a time. He writes: “In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication…” This suggests he is talking about an explanatory hypothesis I’ll call “naturalism.”

naturalism (N) =df. causal reality is limited to physical reality, i.e., there is no such things as minds which can exist apart from arrangements of matter

Continuing on, he writes, “some people are going to get hurt, and other people are going to get lucky; and you won’t find any rhyme or reason to it, or any justice.  …  Nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” This suggests that he is talking about the evidence to be explained (E).

E1. Distribution of good and evil, pain and pleasure, success and failure, triumph and tragedy, etc. is morally random.

And so a key premise in his argument against theism seems to be this:

(1) Known facts about evil are much more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true, i.e., Pr(E1 | N) >> Pr(E1 | T).

In the quotation, Dawkins also writes the words, “no evil and no good.” This suggests another explanatory hypothesis:

O: ontologically objective moral values (i.e., moral goodness or “good”) and disvalues (i.e., badness or “evil”) exist.

And, again, the evidence to be explained would seem to be the same as before:

E1. Distribution of good and evil, pain and pleasure, success and failure, triumph and tragedy, etc. is morally random.

And so a key premise in his argument against O seems to be this:

(1’) Known facts about evil are much more probable on the assumption that O is false than on the assumption that O is true, i.e., Pr(E1 | ~O) >> Pr(E1 | O).

Dawkins’ argument against theism is much better than his argument against ontologically objective moral values. Dawkins’ terse statement of an evidential argument from evil is consistent with the very powerful defense of an evidential argument from evil by Purdue University philosopher Paul Draper. But what about Dawkins’ terse statement of an evidential argument against moral realism or objectivism? Not so much. It’s far from obvious why known facts about evil are much more probable on the assumption that O is false than on the assumption that O is true, i.e.,
Pr(E1 | ~O) >> Pr(E1 | O).
Dawkins writes, “DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is, and we dance to its music.” The problem is that DNA and O have nothing to do with each other.  There are two possibilities:
(1) DNA is indifferent to the moral value of pain and pleasure; and O is true.
(2) DNA is indifferent to the moral value of pain and pleasure; and O is false.
For example, it could be the case that moral anti-reductionism is true (and so moral properties are not reducible to non-moral properties) and the Good exists. Or it could be the case that naturalistic moral reductionism is true (and so moral properties are reducible to physical properties) and the Good is desirable; facts about universal human desires rooted in human biology help inform us about the Good.
In sum, Dawkins has overstated his conclusion. It’s far from obvious why DNA (or anything about the “universe we observe”) is just what we would expect on the assumption O is false.
Notes
[1] Wesley C. Salmon, Logic (third ed., Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1984), 100.
[2] Ibid.
[3] E.g., Adams; Hick; Moore; Morriston; Nielsen; Pojman; Post; Rottschaefer; Sagi and Statman; Shafer-Landau; Q. Smith; Swinburne; and Wielenberg.
More on Theistic Quote-Mining of Atheists on the Topic of Morality

More Posts by Lowder about Atheism and Morality

Posts by Other Secular Outpost Authors on Atheism and Morality

Wes Morriston’s Critiques of Attempts to Argue that Morality Needs God

Erik Wielenberg’s Critiques of Theistic Metaethics

Stephen Maitzen

John Danaher’s Critiques of Moral Arguments and Theistic Metaethics

Ex-Apologist’s Blog Posts

 

bookmark_borderGeisler’s Five Ways – Part 19: The Whole Enchilada

In part 11 of this series of posts I reviewed the overall structure of Norman Geisler’s case for the existence of God, the case that he presented, along with coauthor Ronald Brooks, in When Skeptics Ask (hereafter: WSA).  In this present post, I will once again review the overall structure of Geisler’s case, and will summarize a number of key problems with Geisler’s case.
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For a more detailed analysis and critique of Geisler’s case, or of a specific argument in his case, see previous posts in this series:

INDEX: Geisler’s Five Ways

https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2017/05/25/index-geislers-five-ways/
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PHASE 1: GEISLER’s FIVE WAYS
On pages 15 through 26, Geisler presents five arguments for five conclusions.  I call this Phase  1 of this case.  Here are the five conclusions of the five initial arguments:

  • Something other than the universe caused the universe to begin to exist.
  • Something is a first uncaused cause of the present existence of the universe.
  • There is a Great Designer of the universe.
  • There is a supreme moral Lawgiver.
  • If God exists, then God exists and God is a necessary being.

PROBLEM 1:  Geisler FAILS to provide a clear definition of the word “God”, thus making his whole argument unclear and confusing.
Note that the word “God” is being misused by Geisler in the statement of the fifth conclusion.  The purpose of his case is to prove that “God exists”, so a premise that begins, “If God exists, then…” is of no use in his case.
What he really means by the word “God” here is “the creator of the universe” or, more precisely: “the being that caused the universe to begin to exist and that causes the universe to continue to exist now.”  That this is what the word “God” means in his fifth argument can be seen in his comment about the significance of the fifth argument:
The argument from being may not prove that God exists, but it sure does tell us a lot about God once we know that He does exist (by the argument from Creation).  (WSA, p.27)
The “argument from creation” is actually two cosmological arguments: the Kalam cosmological argument, and the Thomistic cosmological argument (to a sustaining cause of the current existence of the universe).  Thus, the antecedent of the fifth argument “If God exists…” really means: “If there is a being that caused the universe to begin to exist and that is also causing the universe to continue to exist now…”
As with MANY of the arguments that I have examined in Geisler’s case, he is using the word “God” in an idiosyncratic sense, which he does not bother to clarify or to define.  So, we have to examine the context of each such claim in his case to figure out what the hell he means each time he misuses the word “God”.  This is part of why I say that this case is a steaming pile of dog shit; Geisler does not bother to clarify or define the meaning of the most important word in his argument, and he continually shifts the meaning of this word at will, with no warning that he is doing so.
PROBLEM 2:  Geisler has only ONE argument for the existence of God, but he mistakenly believes he has FIVE different and independent arguments for the existence of God.
ALL FIVE of Geisler’s arguments for the above five conclusions must be sound in order for his case for the existence of God to be successful.  If just one of those five arguments is unsound, then his case FAILS.  Furthermore, the soundness of all five of those arguments is NOT sufficient to prove that God exists; further arguments are needed.  None of the five basic arguments is sound, and none of the additional arguments that Geisler makes in order to get to the ultimate conclusion that “God exists” is sound, so his case for God is pure unadulterated crap from start to finish.
The basic reason why Geisler needs all five arguments to be sound, is that the concept of God is complex.  God, as understood in Christian theology, has several divine attributes, and so Geisler must show that there is one and only one being that has all of the main divine attributes.
There is no universally agreed upon list of the “main” divine attributes, but we can see what Geisler considers to be the main divine attributes in relation to his lists of God’s characteristics, and in relation to his five basic arguments.  Here is a key comment by Geisler listing several divine attributes:
…God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, infinite, uncreated, unchanging, eternal, and omnipresent. (WSA, p.28)
A key attribute that Geisler left out of this list is “unlimited” (see WSA, p.27 & 28).
In view of his five basic arguments, Geisler implies that God also has the following key attributes or characteristics:

  • God caused the universe to begin to exist.
  • God causes the universe to continue to exist now.
  • God designed the universe.
  • God produced the laws of morality.
  • God is a necessary being.

Geisler’s description of God includes more than a dozen different divine attributes.  The existence of such a being cannot be established on the basis of just one simple argument.  That is why Geisler needs ALL FIVE of his basic arguments to be sound, plus a number of other additional arguments, in order for his case for the existence of God to be successful.  If any one of his five arguments is unsound, then his case FAILS. If one of his additional arguments is unsound, then his case FAILS.  Geisler’s case depends on the soundness of MANY (about a dozen) different arguments.  If one of those MANY arguments is unsound, then Geisler’s case for God FAILS. As far as I can tell, none of his arguments are sound.
PROBLEM 3: Geisler makes a confused and mistaken distinction between proving the existence of God and proving the existence of a being with various divine attributes.
Geisler represents his case as consisting of two main phases: first he proves that “God exists”, and next he proves that God has various divine attributes:
The first question that must be addressed in pre-evangelism is, “Does God exist?”  The second question is very closely related to the first: “If God exists, what kind of God is He?”  (WSA, p.15)
This argument [his Thomistic cosmological argument] shows why there must be a present, conserving cause of the world, but it doesn’t tell us very much about what kind of God exists.  (WSA, p.19)
But what if we can combine all of these arguments into a cohesive whole that proves what kind of being God is as well as His existence? (WSA, p.26)
The argument from being may not prove that God exists, but it sure does tell us a lot about God once we know that He does exist (by the argument from Creation).  (WSA, p.27)
This is completely idiotic and ass-backwards.  In order to prove that “God exists”, one must prove that there exists a being who has various divine attributes (e.g. all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, eternal, etc.).
Proving that there is a thing or being that caused the universe to begin to exist is NOT sufficient to prove that “God exists”.  Proving that there is a thing or being that is causing the universe to continue to exist now is NOT sufficient to prove that “God exists”.  Proving that there is a being who designed the universe (or some aspect of the universe) is NOT sufficient to prove that “God exists”.  The concept of God in Christian theology is a complex concept that implies a unique being who possesses MANY different divine attributes.  Thus proving that “God exists” in the context of a discussion about the truth of the Christian religion requires that one prove the existence of a being who possesses MANY different divine attributes.
Geisler is free to reject the Christian religion if he wishes, and  he is free to reject the traditional Christian concept of God as well.  He is free to invent his own personal concept of God, and to argue for the existence of that particular idiosyncratic God.  But if he wants to dump Christian theology and create his own new religion, then he needs to be very clear that this is what he is doing, and he would also need to provide a clear alternative definition or analysis of what he means by the word “God”, so that nobody would confuse Geisler’s new idiosyncratic concept of God with the traditional Christian concept of God.
Geisler, however, presents himself as a defender of the traditional Christian faith, so he clearly has no interest in inventing a new concept of God.  In the context of presenting apologetic arguments in support of the Christian faith, when Geisler asserts that “God exists”, he implies that there exists a being who has MANY (or most) of the divine attributes that Christian theologians have traditionally ascribed to God.  Therefore, in order for Geisler to prove that “God exists”, he must prove that there exists exactly ONE being who possesses MANY (or most) of the divine attributes that Christian theologians have traditionally ascribed to God.  He cannot prove that “God exists” without proving the existence of a being who, for example, is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, eternal, the creator of the universe, etc.
PROBLEM 4: The conclusions of Geisler’s five basic arguments are UNCLEAR and AMBIGUOUS, leading to multiple fallacies of EQUIVOCATION by Geisler.
The first order of business is to clarify the conclusions of Geisler’s five basic arguments.  Here are the conclusions in Geisler’s own words:

1. Therefore, the universe was caused by something else, and this cause was God. (WSA, p.16)

2. Therefore, there must be a first uncaused cause of every finite, changing thing that exists. (WSA, p.19)

3. Therefore, there must be a Great Designer of the universe. (WSA, p. 20)

4. Therefore, there must be a supreme moral Lawgiver.  (WSA, p.22)

5. Therefore, if God exists, then He must exist and cannot not exist. (WSA, p.25)

These conclusions need to be cleaned up and clarified, so that we have a clear and accurate understanding of what they imply:

1a. The universe was caused to begin to exist (in the past) by at least one thing or being other than the universe (or some part or aspect of the universe) that existed prior to when the universe began to exist.

2a. There currently exists at least one uncaused cause for each finite, changing thing that currently exists.

3a. There existed (in the past) at least one Great Designer who designed some part or aspect of the universe. 

4a. There existed (in the past) at least one supreme Lawgiver who produced  at least some of the laws of morality.

5a. If there is (or ever was) a being that is (or was) the most perfect Being possible, then that being must always exist and cannot not exist.

Geisler provides dubious or unsound arguments for these five conclusions.  Furthermore, Geisler is very sloppy and unclear in his thinking, and so he infers significantly stronger conclusions that clearly do NOT follow logically from his five basic arguments:

1b. The entire universe was caused to begin to exist by EXACTLY ONE being (other than the universe and the beings that are part of the universe).

2b. The current existence of the entire universe is caused by EXACTLY ONE currently existing being (other than the universe and the beings that are part of the universe).

3b. There is EXACTLY ONE Great Designer who designed every part and aspect of the universe.

4b. There is EXACTLY ONE supreme lawgiver who produced all of the laws of morality.

5b. IF there is a being who caused the universe to begin to exist and who also causes the universe to continue to exist now, THEN that being must always exist and cannot not exist.

PROBLEM 5:  Because Geisler consistently FAILS to show that there is EXACTLY ONE being of such-and-such kind, he cannot prove that  “the cause of the beginning of the universe” is the same being as “the cause of the current existence of the universe” or as “the designer of the universe” or as “the moral lawgiver”.  
Geisler’s five arguments leave open the possibility that there were MANY beings involved in causing the beginning of the universe, and MANY beings involved in causing the continuing existence of the universe, and MANY beings who designed different parts and aspects of the universe, and MANY moral lawgivers who produced different moral laws.
Because the “divine attributes” are distributed differently among these different kinds of beings, Geisler cannot show that there is just ONE being who possesses ALL of the various divine attributes.  Furthermore, since the function of a particular kind of being could be spread out among MANY beings, we cannot infer that the required power or ability exists to a high or unlimited degree in any one such being.  If, for example, a team of one thousand beings worked together to design the human brain, then there might well have been no being who had enough knowledge or intelligence to design the human brain by itself.
PHASE 2: THE CREATOR’S PERSONAL ATTRIBUTES
On pages 26 and 27,  Geisler presents Phase 2 of his case.  He argues for three claims related to personal attributes of “God”:

  • God is very powerful.
  • God is very intelligent.
  • God is [morally] good.

Once again, Geisler misuses the word “God” here.  But he gives us a good clue as to what he means by “God” in his Phase 2 arguments:
The argument from design shows us that whatever caused the universe not only had great power, but also great intelligence.  (WSA, p.26, emphasis added)
Geisler had argued in the previous paragraph that based on his two cosmological arguments “God” had great power.  Then Geisler uses his argument from design to try to show that “God” had great intelligence.  The above quoted statement implies that the word “God” is being used in the narrow sense of “whatever caused the universe”.  Roughly speaking, the conclusions that Geisler argues for in Phase 2 are more clearly stated as follows:

  • Whatever caused the universe to begin to exist is very powerful.
  • Whatever caused the universe to begin to exist is very intelligent.
  • Whatever caused the universe to begin to exist is [morally] good.

So, Geisler is arguing that there exists a cause of the universe, and that this cause has various personal attributes that are part of the ordinary meaning of the word “God”.
PROBLEM 6:  Geisler simply ASSUMES without providing any reason or argument that the (alleged) being that caused the beginning of the universe is the same being as the (alleged) being that designed the universe, and that the (alleged) being that caused the beginning of the universe is the same being as the (alleged) being that produced moral laws.
A being that causes a universe to begin to exist is NOT necessarily the being that designed the universe; design and manufacturing are two separate functions in most companies that make products.  Making something is NOT the same as designing something.
The laws of nature could have been created by one being, while the laws of morality could have been created by a different being. There is no reason to believe that the cause of the existence of the universe is the same as the designer of the universe or the same as the moral lawgiver.
Because Geisler has NOT proven that these beings are all the same being, he cannot ascribe these various personal attributes (powerful, intelligent, and good) to just one being.  But in order to prove that God exists, he must show that there is ONE being who possesses all three of these personal attributes in an unlimited way, a being that is all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good.
 
PHASE 3: THE EXISTENCE OF A NECESSARY BEING
Yet again, Geisler abuses the word “God” in Phase 3 of his case for the existence of God.  The argument in Phase 3 is on page 27.  It makes use of the conclusion from “The Argument from Being” in Phase 1 (pages 24-26). Here is how Geisler states the conclusion of this part of his case:

  • God is a necessary being.

Clearly, he is NOT using the word “God” in its ordinary sense here.  As I argued above, what he actually means something like this:

  • If there is a being that caused the universe to begin to exist (in the past) and that also causes the universe to continue to exist (right now), then that being is a necessary being.

PROBLEM 7:  Geisler illogically shifts from the claim that a perfect being must be a necessary being to the assumption that a being that caused the universe to begin to exist must be a necessary being.  This is an INVALID inference.
There is no reason to believe that a cause of the beginning of the universe must be a “perfect being”.  Let’s grant for the sake of argument that a “perfect being” must be a necessary being.  The question then becomes, “Does a perfect being exist?”
Geisler believes he has proven that there is a being that caused the universe to begin to exist, but that tells us nothing about whether a perfect being exists.  The fact that the universe is finite and imperfect suggests the opposite conclusion, namely that the being that caused the beginning of the universe (if there were such a being) is something less than a perfect being.   In any case, Geisler has provided no reason to think that the cause of the beginning of the universe was a perfect being, so he has provided no reason to believe that there exists a perfect being, and thus Geisler has provided no reason to believe that there is a necessary being.
 
PHASE 4: THE IMPLICATIONS OF “A NECESSARY BEING”
On pages 27-28, Geisler presents Phase 4 of his case.  There are two different sets of alleged implications that Geisler argues follow from the existence of a necessary being.  First there are implications related to God’s “metaphysical” attributes (as contrasted with God’s personal attributes above):

  • A necessary being is unchanging.
  • A necessary being is infinite.
  • A necessary being is eternal.
  • A necessary being is omnipresent.

Second, there are alleged conditional implications of the concept of a necessary being:

  • If a necessary being is powerful, then it is all-powerful.
  • If a necessary being is intelligent, then it is all-knowing.
  • If a necessary being is [morally] good, then it is perfectly [morally] good.

PROBLEM 8: In his reasoning about the implications of the concept of a “necessary being”, Geisler confuses different senses of the verb “to be” leading to INVALID inferences about the implications of the concept of a “necessary being”.
We see this confusion in Geisler’s reasoning in support of the conclusion that a necessary being must be unchanging:
We said already that necessary existence means that He [God] cannot not exist–so He has no beginning and no end.  But it also means that He cannot ‘come to be’ in any other way.  He must be as He is necessarily.  He can’t become something new.  That removes all change from His being–He is unchanging.  (WSA, p.27)
The expression “come to be” is clearly AMBIGUOUS.  It can refer to something coming into existence, or it can refer to something undergoing a change in an attribute or characteristic.  The concept of a “necessary being” implies that the thing or being in question did not come into existence, will not cease to exist, and cannot cease to exist.  This concept does NOT imply that ALL of the characteristics or attributes of such a thing or being must remain unchanged.
An apple can change from being green to being red; this does NOT involve the apple coming into existence or ceasing to exist.  The apple continues to exist through the change in its color.  An apple can “come to be red” even though the apple previously existed and continues to exist.  Thus, the apple itself does NOT “come to be” when it changes color from green to red.
Geisler confuses and conflates two different meanings of the expression “come to be”.   The claim that an apple “came to be red” implies NOTHING about the apple coming to exist.  An apple can “come to be red” even if the apple has always existed, and will always exist.  The fact that some of the attributes of an apple can change, does NOT imply that the apple began to exist, nor that the apple will cease to exist.  Geisler draws an INVALID inference based on the AMBIGUITY of the expression “come to be”; he commits yet another fallacy of EQUIVOCATION in this crappy bit of reasoning.
The same sort of confusion occurs again in Geisler’s reasoning in support of the view that a necessary being must have unlimited attributes:
Because of His [God’s] necessity, He can only have whatever He has in a necessary way.  That means, as we have seen, without beginning, without change, and without limitation. (WSA, p.28)
If something is a “necessary being”, that just means that it has existence in a necessary way; it does NOT mean that it has all of its attributes or characteristics in a necessary way.  Geisler again confuses the existence of something being necessary with its possession of its attributes being necessary.  The necessity of attributes does NOT logically follow from the necessity of a thing’s existence.
Geisler contradicts himself a few pages later, by implying that God’s attribute of being “the creator of the universe” is NOT a necessary attribute or characteristic:
…He [God] must be all that He is.  All that is in God’s nature is necessary, but anything that He does extends beyond His nature and is done by His free will.  One cannot even say that it was necessary for Him to create.  (WSA, p.31)
But if it was NOT necessary that God create the universe, then the divine attribute of being “the creator of the universe” is merely a contingent attribute, not a necessary attribute, and therefore God does NOT possess this particular attribute (of being the creator of the universe) “in a necessary way”.   Geisler clearly contradicts his earlier assertion that God “can only have whatever He has in a necessary way.”
Geisler then uses the conclusions from Phase 2 (the cause of the universe is very powerful, very intelligent, and morally good) along with the conclusion of Phase 3 (the cause of the universe is a necessary being) in combination with the conclusions from Phase 4 (a necessary being is unchanging, infinite, eternal, omnipresent, and if a necessary being is powerful, intelligent, and good then it must be all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good) in order to infer this conclusion:

  • Whatever caused the universe to begin to exist is an unchanging, infinite, eternal, and omnipresent necessary being, that is all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly morally good.

 
PHASE 5: ONLY ONE INFINITE BEING
In a short paragraph on page 28, Geisler argues that there cannot be multiple beings of the sort that he thinks he has shown to exist:

  • There can be only one infinite Being.

Geisler’s argument for this conclusion is based on the following premise:

  • If being A is an unlimited being and being B is an unlimited being, then we cannot tell being A apart from being B.

PROBLEM 9: Geisler’s assumption that two unlimited beings would be indistinguishable from each other is FALSE and it also contradicts a basic Christian dogma.
Unlimited beings share many unlimited attributes, but one unlimited being can have an attribute that differs from another unlimited being, thus making it possible to distinguish the two beings as different and separate beings.
For example, since the attribute of being “the creator of the universe” is, according to Geisler (WSA, p.31), a logically contingent attribute of God, it is possible for there to exist both an unlimited being that is “the creator of the universe” and also an unlimited being that is NOT “the creator of the universe”.  Since these two beings would have at least one attribute that they don’t share, it would be possible to distinguish between these two unlimited beings.
Furthermore, according to traditional Christian doctrine, God consists of three different persons, but each of those persons is an unlimited person.  Although these three persons are unlimited, according to traditional Christian belief, it is possible to distinguish between these three persons: one is “the Father”, another “the Son”, and the third is “the Holy Spirit”.   It is logically inconsistent to allow that there can be three distinguishable unlimited persons, but at the same time to insist that there cannot possibly be two or more distinguishable unlimited beings.
In the case of the Trinity,  Christians believe that there are specific unique attributes possessed by each of the persons of the Trinity that make it possible to distinguish one from another.  But this implies that one unlimited person can possess an attribute that differs from another unlimited person.  If so, then this implies that one unlimited being can possess an attribute that differs from another unlimited being.  Clearly, the attribute of being “unlimited” does NOT dictate every attribute possessed by such a person or being.
 
PHASE 6: GOD EXISTS
Although Geisler never provides a definition of the word “God”, it is fairly clear that his concept of God is something like this:
X is God IF AND ONLY IF:

  • X caused the universe to begin to exist, and
  • X causes the universe to continue to exist, and
  • X is the great designer of the universe, and
  • X is the supreme moral lawgiver, and
  • X is a necessary being, and
  • X is the only unchanging, infinite, eternal, and omnipresent being, and
  • X is the only all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly morally good being.

So, the ultimate conclusion of Geisler’s case is this:

  • God exists.

Here, finally, the word “God” is being used in something like it’s ordinary sense.
PROBLEM 10:  Geisler has adopted a Thomistic concept of God, but this Thomistic concept of God is INCOHERENT, making it a necessary truth that “It is NOT the case that God exists.”
On the above Thomistic definition of “God”, God is both a person and an absolutely unchanging being.  But a person can make choices and decisions and perform actions and a person can communicate with other persons.  Something that is absolutely unchanging cannot make choices and decisions and perform actions, nor can such a thing communicate with other persons.  The idea of a person who is an absolutely unchanging being is INCOHERENT, it contains a logical self-contradiction.  Therefore, on this definition of “God” it is logically impossible for it to be the case that “God exists”.  The claim “God exists” would be a logically necessary falsehood, given Geisler’s concept of God.

bookmark_borderA Problem for the Problem of Evil?

whack-a-mole
William Lane Craig once gave a talk entitled, “Top 10 Worst Objections to the Kalam Cosmological Argument.” Along the same lines, maybe someday I should a talk entitled, “Top 10 Worst Objections to the Argument from Evil.” But, for now, I want to focus on just one of the top ten objections, the idea that the argument from evil (for atheism) can be flipped on its head into an argument from evil (for theism).
I’ve refuted this objection over and over again, which might lead some regular readers of this blog to complain that I am beating a dead horse. But, since this is a meme which won’t die, I think a better analogy than dead horses is the game of “whack-a-mole.” Continue reading “A Problem for the Problem of Evil?”

bookmark_borderWhat could God’s commands do for morality?

Consider the following version of divine command metaethics (DCM):

Our moral obligations are constituted by divine commands. In particular,
F is morally obligatory = God has commanded that we F
F is morally wrong = God has commanded that we not F
F is morally permissible = God has neither commanded that we F nor commanded that we not F.

On this theory, God’s commands constitute moral obligations and thus, in the absence of divine commands, there are no moral obligations.
Suppose that God exists in the actual world and has issued many commands. Among the commands that he has issued is the following:
Thou shalt not torture innocent children.
Now consider a possible world that consists of all of the same natural facts as the actual world and in which God exists but has not given any commands. Call this the no-divine-command-world or world-NDC.
Importantly, in world-NDC God has all of the same characteristics that he does in the actual world. This implies that, in world-NDC, God approves of all of the same actions that he approves of in the actual world and that God disapproves of all of the same actions that he disapproves of in the actual world.
Now suppose that an inhabitant of world-NDC, let’s call him Bill, is trying to decide whether it would be wrong for him to torture a child. Suppose he says the following:
“Well, torturing a child causes severe unnecessary suffering and God strongly disapproves of it, but God has not commanded that we not engage in the action, so it must not be wrong to engage in child torture.”
This piece of reasoning should strike us as very odd. In knowing that the act causes unnecessary suffering and that God disapproves of the act, doesn’t Bill know enough to conclude that it would be wrong for him to torture the child? What could the fact that God commands that we not torture add to the relevant list of facts Bill already knows? However, on the version of DCM that we are considering, Bill’s reasoning is impeccable.
But Bill’s reasoning is not impeccable. It is seriously flawed. If you are not convinced that it is flawed, consider the following bit of reasoning that Bill might produce instead:
“Well, torturing a child causes severe unnecessary suffering, God strongly disapproves of it, and if God had issued any commands, then he would have commanded that we not engage in it, but God has not commanded that we not engage in the action, so it must not be wrong to engage in child torture.”
We might respond to Bill’s reasoning as follows:
We know that, if God had commanded anything, he would have commanded that we not torture children. And that is enough to tell us that the action is wrong. What could the fact that God has not actually issued a command to not torture have to do with whether torture is wrong? If you are worried about whether God actually issued the command, then you are focused on the wrong thing. That God has or has not issued a command about torture is not a morally relevant fact about torture because it is not even an intrinsic feature of torture. That is, it is a fact about some particular agent, not about acts of torture. In this sense, then, the fact that God commands that we not torture would be like the fact that torture is sometimes depicted in fictional narratives. That fiction writers have depicted torture is not an intrinsic fact about torture, it is a relational fact. That fiction writers sometimes depict torture tells us much more about fiction writers than about torture. Such relational facts cannot be what make an action morally wrong. In the same way, that God commands that we not torture tells us more about God than about torture. Given what we know about torture, worrying about whether God has actually commanded that we not torture is misplaced. To focus on whether God actually commands something is to focus on the wrong thing; it is to focus on something that cannot make an action morally wrong. To the extent that God matters here, what matters is what his disapproval tells us about the act of torture. A perfectly loving being strongly disapproves of torture. If this is relevant, it is relevant only because it means that the action has features that give God reasons for disapproving of it. That is enough to tell us that the act has features that give us moral reasons to not engage in it. And that implies that, even in the absence of a divine command, the action has features that make it wrong.
Now consider another possible world—a world that consists of all of the same natural facts as the actual world and in which God does not exist. Call this world the no-God-world or world-NG. [I think that world-NG is the actual world, but we are here assuming, for the sake of ease of expression, that God exists in the actual world. Nothing depends on our making this assumption.]
Now suppose that an inhabitant of world-NG, call him Paul, is trying to decide whether it is morally wrong to torture a child. Suppose he says the following:
“Well, torturing a child causes severe unnecessary suffering, but since there is no God, God has not commanded that we not engage in the action, so it must not be wrong to engage in child torture.”
According to DCM, this reasoning is impeccable. But this is wrong. Just as with Bill’s reasoning, Paul’s reasoning is seriously flawed. Given what Paul knows about torture, namely that it causes severe needless suffering, he knows enough to know that it would be wrong to torture a child. If you are not convinced that it is flawed, consider the following bit of reasoning that Paul might produce instead:
“Well, torturing a child causes severe unnecessary suffering, and, if God existed, he would disapprove of it, and if God had issued any commands, then he would have commanded that we not engage in it, but since there is no God, God has not commanded that we not engage in the action, so it must not be wrong to engage child torture.”
We might respond to Paul as follows:
We know that, if God did exist, he would strongly disapprove of the act of torturing children and that if God had commanded anything, he would have commanded that we not torture children. And that is enough to tell us that the action is wrong. What could the fact that God has not actually issued a command have to do with whether the action is wrong? If you are worried about whether God actually issued the command or whether God actually disapproves of the act, then you are focused on the wrong thing. That God does or does not approve of and has or has not issued a command about torture are not morally relevant facts about torture because they are not even intrinsic features of torture. That is, they are facts about some particular agent, not about acts of torture. In this sense, then, the fact that God disapproves of torture or the fact that God commands that we not torture would be like the fact that torture is sometimes depicted in fictional narratives. That fiction writers have depicted torture is not an intrinsic fact about torture, it is a relational fact. That fiction writers sometimes depict torture tells us much more about fiction writers than about torture. Such relational facts cannot be what make an action morally wrong. In the same way, that God disapproves of torture and commands that we not torture tells us more about God than about torture. Given what we know about torture, worrying about whether God actually disapproves of torture or has actually commanded that we not do it is misplaced. To focus on whether God actually disapproves of something or commands something is to focus on the wrong thing; it is to focus on something that cannot make an action morally wrong. To the extent that God matters here, what matters is what his responses would reveal about the act of torture. What matters is that the object has features that would lead to God’s disapproving of the act and commanding that we not engage in the act. When we know that a perfect God would disapprove of torturing children and would command that we not torture children, we know enough to know that torture is wrong. And this is because what we know is that torture has features in virtue of which a perfect God would disapprove of it and command that we not do it. And these features are what make it wrong, not God’s commands.

bookmark_borderWhy the moral argument fails

Of all the arguments for the existence of God, there is one argument (or one style of argument) that I have never had any sympathy with and never understood why anyone has any sympathy with, and that is the moral argument. It seems to me and has pretty much always seemed to me (at least as long as I have reflected on the issue) that the claim that moral phenomena depend for their existence on God is pretty clearly false. I want to emphasize that this is not just an intuitive reaction, it is a considered judgement. The idea that God is somehow the foundation of moral reality strikes me as one of the strangest, not to mention most unfortunate, ideas that humans have ever come up with.
By “moral argument” I mean to include any argument that involves any claim that some aspect of moral phenomena depends on God, or any inductive argument to the effect that some aspect of moral phenomena makes it more likely that God exists. Of course, there are many types of moral argument, and, limited as I am, I cannot hope to have exhaustive knowledge of every version of every argument that falls under the umbrella of “the moral argument.” What I can say is that I have never come across anything that falls under that umbrella that has seemed remotely convincing. But lest this become merely an exercise in Jason expressing uninteresting biographical facts about himself, I will try to explain what is so unconvincing about the moral argument.
None of what I am saying here should be taken to imply that I don’t think that moral arguments can’t be interesting, sophisticated, or important. I have learned quite a bit about morality by considering moral arguments for the existence of God. And there is no doubt that very skilled and insightful philosophers have produced interesting versions of the moral argument. What I want to say has nothing to do with the intellectual sophistication or significance of moral arguments. Furthermore, I cannot hope to address what is wrong with every instance of a moral argument. But what I can do is point to a fundamental problem that, I believe, lies at the heart of any suggestion that moral phenomena are evidence that God exists.
Let me start by removing one potential misunderstanding. One might claim that every concrete individual thing that exists depends for its existence on God. Thus, if God does not exist, then the states of affairs, actions, experiences, etc. that are the bearers of moral properties would not exist and so there would be no moral properties. I doubt that such a claim can be substantiated, but, regardless, it misses the point. This kind of dependence is irrelevant to the moral argument. The moral argument identifies a type of property, moral properties, and claims that these would not exist if God did not exist and that therefore their existence indicates that God exists. If this argument depends on the claim that no concrete thing exists and no properties exist if God does not exist, then this is no longer a moral argument. The moral argument claims that there is something special about the moral realm that indicates the existence of God, not that everything indicates God’s existence. If the existence of every individual thing and every property is evidence or proof that God exists, then first, we don’t need a moral argument, and second, there is nothing special about moral phenomena, as opposed to other phenomena, that indicate that God must exist. Furthermore, the kind of dependence currently under discussion is not the right kind of dependence. It is one thing for the things that bear moral properties to depend for their existence on God, another thing for moral properties themselves to depend on God. It is the latter claim that underlies the moral argument.
One reason that the moral argument is a failure is the Euthyphro problem, which, in my considered judgement, decisively shows that God does not have the power to create moral properties. (If you are interested, you can read this paper, which explains, in part, why I think this.) But, in addition to this, there is something that I think of as a more basic and fairly obvious point, which I want to make here.
Here is the point: that particular actions, states of affairs, experiences, etc. have the moral properties that they do have does not depend on God because God’s existence is irrelevant to those features that plausibly give actions, experiences, and etc. their moral properties. It is easier to see this with an example of an act for which there is almost universal agreement about its moral status. So, consider the moral status of child torture. That the torture of small children is morally wrong depends on the fact that torturing a child causes severe undue suffering. It does not depend in any way on the existence of God and it is very unclear how God’s existence, or anything God could do, could make a difference to the moral status of child torture. Such facts as that children exist and that some people are capable of torturing children might depend on God. But that torturing children is wrong is not a fact that could depend on God. And by this I mean that so long as there are children, it is wrong to cause them unnecessary suffering. God could do nothing to change, and his existence could have no implications for, the moral status of child torture.
I realize that pointing out that something is obvious to me is hardly an argument. But two points: First, I doubt that I am the only one who has this reaction, the only one for whom it is obvious that God’s existence is irrelevant to morality. Second, because of this, it is incumbent on those who wield the moral argument to explain precisely how morality does depend upon God. It is not enough, for example, when employing the moral argument, to just claim, as William Lane Craig has done, that if God does not exist, there is not a sound foundation for morality. If you are going to defend the moral argument, you need to explain both how the lack of God would eliminate moral phenomena and how the presence of God guarantees their existence. Any defense of the moral argument should explain, for example, how it can be that something like child torture would, in the absence of God, be morally unproblematic.
I have read many professional papers that attempt to articulate and defend some version of the moral argument. But I have never encountered so much as an attempt to explain how God’s non-existence would imply that child torture is morally unproblematic. Nor have I encountered concerted efforts to explain why the moral status of any action, person, or state of affairs would be affected by God’s non-existence. All too frequently defenders of the argument say things like the following, from William Lane Craig:

on the atheistic view, there’s nothing special about human beings. They’re just accidental by-products of nature that have evolved relatively recently on an infinitesimal speck of dust called the planet Earth*

But for an attempt to prove that without God, moral properties do not exist, such claims are utterly useless. It is merely an assertion of the conclusion. Given that we are talking about human beings, the bearers of mental states such as pleasure and pain, beings that are capable of making decisions and who value making their own decisions, who conceive of themselves as beings that persist through time and make plans accordingly, the, as Derek Parfit puts it, “animals that can understand and respond to reasons”, there is every reason to think that, even if God does not exist, human beings are morally significant. If all the above features of human beings are not sufficient to make us morally significant, it is very unclear how God could change that. So why should we think that, in an atheistic universe, there is nothing special about humans? What would account for that? Craig does not tell us.
God could change some things. An all-powerful being could make it so that children do not suffer when they are subjected to torture. Indeed, an all-powerful being could completely eliminate suffering. But this would not change the fact that it would be wrong to cause a child to suffer needlessly. The fact that torturing a person causes intense suffering is already, all by itself, enough to make it prima facie wrong to torture a person. It is not at all clear what role there is for God to play with respect to the deontological status of inflicting torture on small children.
If we think otherwise, that is, if we think that only God could make child torture wrong, then we must make the case that God’s existence makes a difference. We must therefore answer the following questions: What could the existence of God have to do with the wrongness of torture? What does the existence of God add to the situation that would account for its wrongness? If the fact that torture causes severe physical and emotional suffering is not sufficient to make it wrong to torture innocent children, then what could God do to make it wrong?
Let’s take a look at one (admittedly not very sophisticated) example of an apologist employing a a moral argument (Why talk about it if it is not very sophisticated? Mainly because I find it very annoying that people can so confidently assert things for which there is no ground whatsoever. In addition, I think that in its failure to even attempt to address the points that must be addressed by any moral argument, it is indicative of a larger trend.)
In this article, Frank Turek says the following,

In an atheistic universe there is nothing objectively wrong with anything at any time.

Why does Mr. Turek believe this?
First, let’s consider what an odd claim this is. To say that some act is objectively wrong is to say that there are overriding reasons to not engage in that act and that these reasons are objective. To say that they are objective is to say that the existence of these reasons does not depend on the reactions, beliefs, or judgements of any subject (individual or collective). So, if we believe that some things are objectively wrong, we believe that there are reasons for action and that some of these reasons are overriding in the sense that they are stronger than other reasons with which they may compete. So, if we believe that nothing is objectively wrong, we believe that there are no objective reasons for action that are overriding in the sense describe above.
At first glance, there does not appear to be any reason to think that in a world without God there could not be such reasons. Consider, for example, the act of rape. If God does not exist, rape is still wrong. Consider the facts that rape is a violation of a person’s autonomy and causes severe emotional and physical suffering. Even if God does not exist, these facts about rape would still be true. On the assumption that these provide us with overriding reasons not to rape, even if God does not exist, rape is still wrong. And if we thought that these do not provide us with overriding reasons not to rape, what difference would God’s existence make?
If you think that in an atheistic universe nothing is objectively wrong, then you think that these facts about rape (that it violates autonomy and causes severe emotional and physical suffering) do not provide us with overriding reasons to not engage in rape. That is a very odd thing to believe. In addition, you must believe that God can do something that somehow makes it the case that rape is wrong (or maybe that his mere existence can make it the case that rape is wrong). This is also a very odd thing to think. On this view, an act of rape, considered in isolation from God (i.e., considered merely as an action in a context in which God and his capacities are not present) is not wrong. So, on this view, God has the capacity to take an action that is not wrong (considered in and of itself and in isolation from God) and make it wrong. How does God do it? What kind of power is that? Turek does not answer these questions and has nothing to say about how God is able to accomplish this amazing feat. Turek’s is a very strange view.
So, there are two reasons that the view that Turek expresses, namely that in a universe without God there is nothing objectively wrong, is so odd: (1) It implies that facts such as that an act causes severe undue and uncompensated suffering are not sufficient to make an act morally wrong, and (2) It implies that God has the special and unexplained ability to take an action that would otherwise have no moral properties, and make it have moral properties.
Given the strangeness of the view, someone who want to defend it should provide something by way of argument in its favor. So, what does Turek offer? Not much. Here, as far as I can tell, is the sum total of the considerations that Turek offers in favor of the thesis that without God there would be no morality:

If material nature is all that exists, which is what most atheist’s claim, then there is no such thing as an immaterial moral law.  Therefore, atheists must smuggle a moral standard into their materialistic system to get it to work, whether it’s “human flourishing,” the Golden Rule, doing what’s “best” for the most, etc. Such standards don’t exist in a materialistic universe where creatures just “dance” to the music of their DNA.

One thing that I will briefly mention and then set aside is that it is a mistake to claim that atheism is committed to the claim that material nature is all that exists. Turek seems to recognize this, hence his use of the word ‘most.’ I don’t know if most atheists think this (I don’t), but even if it is true that most atheists think it, this is irrelevant to the issue of whether moral phenomena depend on God.
Another quick point: It is not clear what an immaterial moral law is. For that matter, it is not clear what a moral law is or what it would have to do with the existence of moral properties. It is telling that Turek does not believe that it is necessary to clarify in any way what ‘immaterial moral law’ is supposed to mean.
The main problem with Turek’s attempt here is that he does not in any way address the two points I made above. He does not explain why the intrinsic natural features of an action such as rape (e.g., that it causes severe suffering) are not sufficient to make the action morally wrong. More generally, he does not explain why the features that an action has independently of God are insufficient to ground the action’s moral properties. And he does not explain how the existence of God can make an action, e.g., morally wrong when, in the absence of God, the action would have no moral properties whatsoever. I don’t think that any moral argument can do either of these things. Again, I have not seen every version of the moral argument that does so. If you know of an argument that is more successful, please let me know.
It is unfortunate that apologists such as Turek believe that they need hardly defend their bold claims about the dependence of morality on God. I hope that those who, like me, are very skeptical of the moral argument can do more to push back against the unjustified presumption that God is intimately connected to morality.


 
*This quote comes from a debate that Craig had with Paul Kurtz, published in Is Goodness Without God Good Enough? I offered more extensive criticism of Craig’s use of the moral argument here.

bookmark_borderGod’s nature does not make his commands non-arbitrary

Many modern defenders of the divine command theory frequently claim that God’s commands are not arbitrary because they flow from his essential nature. Their argument is bad. That a commander issues consistent commands based on his/her own character does not mean that those commands are not arbitrary. Whether a command is arbitrary depends on whether there are reasons for the command. That commands are based on the commander’s nature tells us nothing about whether there are reasons for the commands.
Consider an imaginary supernatural being who we’ll call Zupater. Zupater is an omnipotent and omniscient creator. He is like the God of theism except that whereas the God of theism is essentially loving, Zupater is essentially hateful. Zupater hates everyone and everything (except for himself). He creates mortal beings and issues commands that flow from his essential nature. One of his commands is as follows: “Thou shalt torture small infants.”
Are Zupater’s commands arbitrary? If we believe that the fact that God’s commands are grounded in his essential nature entails that his commands are non-arbitrary, then we must say something similar about Zupater’s commands. Zupater’s commands flow from his essential nature just as much as God’s commands flow from his. So, if God has reasons for his commands, then Zupater has reasons for his.
However, it is false that Zupater has reasons to command that we torture infants. Indeed, the opposite is the case; Zupater has overriding reasons to not command that we torture infants. The fact that torture causes severe undue and unnecessary suffering provides Zupater with overriding reasons to not command that we torture infants. So, what we should say about Zupater is that it does not matter that his commands flow necessarily from his nature; his commands are ungrounded in reasons and thus they are arbitrary.
But if the fact that Zupater’s commands flow from his nature is not sufficient to make his commands non-arbitrary, then the fact that God’s commands flow from God’s nature are not sufficient to make God’s commands non-arbitrary. Here is the argument in premise-conclusion form:

  1. If God’s essential loving nature provides that his commands are non-arbitrary, then Zupater’s essential hateful nature provides that his commands are non-arbitrary.
  2. Zupater’s essential hateful nature does not provide him with reasons for his commands.
  3. Zupater has no reasons for (at least some of) his commands (e.g., he has no reasons to command the torture of infants).
  4. Thus, despite the fact that his commands necessarily flow from his essential nature, Zupater’s commands are arbitrary.
  5. Thus, it is not the case that Zupater’s essential hating nature provides that his commands are non-arbitrary.
  6. Therefore, it is not the case that God’s essential loving nature provides that his commands are non-arbitrary.

This argument shows, quite conclusively, that whether a command is non-arbitrary is not a function of the nature of the one who issues the command. And this makes sense since, as I indicated above, whether a command is arbitrary depends only on whether there are reasons for the command. Whether there are reasons for a given command is independent of the character traits of the commander. I think that the reason that this frequently goes unnoticed is that we often fail to take notice of the distinction between reasons and motives, so I will say a few things about this distinction.
A reason (or ground) of a belief or decision is a factor that counts in favor of that belief or decision. As Derek Parfit has pointed out, this definition is not very helpful since, when we try to explain the notion of counting in favor of we cannot do so without talking about reasons. But this is not a problem. Reason is probably a primitive concept in the sense that it cannot be helpfully defined in terms of other concepts. As Parfit points out, “We must explain such concepts in a different way, by getting people to think thoughts that use these concepts. One example is the thought that we always have a reason to want to avoid being in agony.” (On What Matters, Volume 1, p.31). A motive, on the other hand, is something that explains a decision or belief. Reasons justify; motives explain.
Reasons justify decisions and beliefs in virtue of counting in favor of those decisions or beliefs; motives explain actions, decisions, and beliefs, in virtue of being psychological states of the agent who performs the action, makes the decision, or has the belief. It is possible for one’s motive to be a reason, but that does not entail that motives and reasons are the same. It is equally possible for one’s motive to fail to be a reason. That I have a motive does not entail that this motive is a reason because that I have some psychological state that explains my decision does not entail that there is anything that counts in favor of my decision. Zupater might command that we never brush our teeth or use mouthwash because he loves the smell of bad breath. But while this shows that Zupater has a motive for this command, it does not follow that he has a reason. The mere fact that he enjoys the smell of bad breath does not count in favor of his commanding that sentient and autonomous beings undermine their own health and well-being. Indeed, it seems that such a command would be unreasonable in the sense that there is no ground for it, nothing that counts in its favor (and much that counts against it).
That God is essentially loving gives us information concerning the kind of motives he will act on. But that he has loving motives does not entail that he has reasons any more than the fact that Zupater has motives entails that he has reasons. If we do not acknowledge the distinction between reasons and motives, then the responses of DCT’s defenders to the arbitrariness problem will appear compelling. Once our attention is drawn to it, however, we can see the weakness of their position.

bookmark_borderINDEX: Geisler’s Five Ways

Here is my multi-part critical examination of Dr. Norman Geisler’s case for the existence of God in his book When Skeptics Ask (coauthored with Ronald Brooks):
Geisler’s First Argument
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2016/10/16/geislers-first-argument/
Geisler’s Five Ways
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2016/10/16/geislers-five-ways/
Geisler’s Five Ways – Part 2: How Many Arguments for God?
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2016/10/18/geislers-five-ways-part-2-how-many-arguments-for-god-2/
Geisler’s Five Ways – Part 3: Just ONE Argument
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2016/10/23/geislers-five-ways-part-3-just-one-argument/
Geisler’s Five Ways – Part 4: Phase Two of Geisler’s Case for God
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2016/10/28/geislers-five-ways-part-4-phase-two-of-geislers-case-for-god/
Geisler’s Five Ways – Part 5: The Gap Between Phase 1 and Phase 2
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2016/11/03/geislers-five-ways-part-5-the-gap-between-phase-1-and-phase-2/
Geisler’s Five Ways – Part 6: Arguments for the Intelligence of the Creator
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2016/11/05/geislers-five-ways-part-6-arguments-for-the-intelligence-of-the-creator/
Geisler’s Five Ways – Part 7: Argument #2 of Phase 2
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2016/11/13/geislers-five-ways-part-7-argument-2-of-phase-2/
Geisler’s Five Ways – Part 8: The Design of the Human Brain
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2016/11/19/geislers-five-ways-part-8-the-design-of-the-human-brain/
Geisler’s Five Ways – Part 9: The Supreme Moral Lawgiver
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2016/11/24/geislers-five-ways-part-9-the-supreme-moral-lawgiver/
Geisler’s Five Ways – Part 10: The Goodness of the Creator
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2016/12/10/geislers-five-ways-goodness-creator/
Geisler’s Five Ways – Part 11: The Structure of Geisler’s Case
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2016/12/16/geislers-five-ways-part-11-structure-geislers-case/
Geisler’s Five Ways – Part 12: Is the Creator a Necessary Being?
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2017/01/01/geislers-five-ways-part-12-creator-necessary/
Geisler’s Five Ways – Part 13: Existence and Attributes of a Necessary Being
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2017/01/04/geislers-five-ways-part-13-existence-attributes-necessary/
Geisler’s Five Ways – Part 14: More On Phase 4
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2017/05/03/geislers-five-ways-part-14-finishing-off-phase-4/
Geisler’s Five Ways – Part 15: Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Perfectly Good?
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2017/05/17/geislers-five-ways-part-15-omnipotent-omniscient-perfectly-good/
Geisler’s Five Ways – Part 16: Just One Unlimited Being?
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2017/05/20/geislers-five-ways-part-16-just-one-unlimited-being/
Geisler’s Five Ways – Part 17: God Exists?
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2017/05/24/geislers-five-ways-part-17-god-exists/
Geisler’s Five Ways – Part 18: The God of the Bible Exists?
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2017/05/27/geislers-five-ways-part-18-god-bible-exists/
Geisler’s Five Ways – Part 19: The Whole Enchilada
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2017/09/07/geislers-five-ways-part-19-whole-enchilada/

bookmark_borderGeisler’s Five Ways – Part 17: God Exists?

Because Dr. Norman Geisler is unclear and confused in his use of the word “God”, he fails to properly conclude his case for the existence of God in his book When Skeptics Ask (hereafter: WSA).
But this failure is easily fixed.  I will reconstruct the final inference of his case for God in this post.  First, here is a comment that indicates part of what Geisler thinks he has proven:
We have said that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, infinite, uncreated, unchanging, eternal, and omnipresent. (WSA, p.28)
Geisler also thinks that his initial arguments, from Phase 1 of his case, have shown that the following claims are true:

  • There was exactly one being that was the cause of the beginning of the universe (billions of years ago).
  • There is exactly one being that is currently causing the continuing existence of the universe (right now).
  • There was exactly one being that was the designer of the universe (billions of years ago).
  • There is a supreme moral lawgiver.

Geisler also believes that these four beings are one and the same being, although he does not provide any reason or argument for this crucial assumption:

  • There is exactly one being that was the cause of the beginning of the universe (billions of years ago) and this being is currently causing the continuing existence of the universe (right now), and this being was the designer of the universe (billions of years ago), and this being is a supreme moral lawgiver.

We can infer a concept of God from these various claims, and construct a concluding argument that summarizes Geisler’s case for the existence of God in just two premises:
GEISLER’S OVERALL ARGUMENT

1. There is exactly one being that was the cause of the beginning of the universe (billions of years ago), and this being is currently causing the continuing existence of the universe (right now), and this being was the designer of the universe (billions of years ago), and this being is a supreme moral lawgiver, and this being is the only all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good being, and this being is also infinite, uncreated, unchanging, eternal, and omnipresent.

2. IF there is exactly one being that was the cause of the beginning of the universe (billions of years ago), and this being is currently causing the continuing existence of the universe (right now), and this being was the designer of the universe (billions of years ago), and this being is a supreme moral lawgiver, and this being is the only all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good being, and this being is also infinite, uncreated, unchanging, eternal, and omnipresent, THEN God exists.

THEREFORE:

3. God exists.

This summary argument is not as obviously bad as most of the subsidiary arguments that make up Geisler’s case for God in WSA.
Obviously, premise (1) would BEG THE QUESTION, if it were simply asserted and assumed to be true.  But Geisler’s case, which I have been carefully analyzing and evaluating in the previous sixteen posts, provides his reasons in support of (1), so he is not guilty of that fallacy.
Because his case has been filled with false premises, questionable premises, and invalid inferences, he has failed to provide any solid arguments in support of any of the elements that make up premise (1).  So, this final argument clearly rests on a highly dubious premise, namely premise (1).
In my view, however, this final argument is not just based on a dubious premise; rather, premise (1) is FALSE.  In my view, this premise is necessarily false.  This is because Geisler’s concept of “God” is incoherent; it contains some logical contradictions.
Geisler’s concept of God includes the attribute of being “infinite” and the attribute of being “unchanging”, and the attribute of being “eternal”.  The attribute of being “infinite” is unclear, thus making it impossible to determine whether or not any being meets this requirement.  The attributes of being “unchanging” and “eternal” make Geisler’s concept of God incoherent, thus premise (1) is false as a matter of logical necessity.
It is logically incoherent for a person to be “unchanging”, especially for a person who has great power and who sometimes exercises some of that power to accomplish some task (such as causing the universe to begin to exist).  A person cannot perform an action and exercise power to accomplish some task without undergoing some change.  But Geisler’s “God” is conceived of as a person who performs actions and exercises power to accomplish tasks while remaining unchanged.  This is an incoherent concept of God.  No such God exists, because it is logically impossible for such a being to exist.
It is logically incoherent for a person to be “eternal” in Geisler’s sense of the word “eternal”, especially for a person who has great power and who sometimes exercises some of that power to accomplish some task (such as causing the universe to begin to exist).  By “eternal” Geisler means a being that is outside of time (see WSA, p. 27), a being for whom there is no such thing as “before” or “after”.  A person cannot perform an actiona and exercise power to accomplish some task without the passage of time, without there being a “before” or “after” for that person.  But Geisler’s “God” is conceived of as a person who performs actions and exercises power to accomplish tasks while remaining outside of time.  This is an incoherent concept of God.  No such God exists, because it is logically impossible for such a being to exist.
One can coherently conceive of God as being “eternal” if we understand this in the ordinary sense of the word: having always existed, and continuing to always exist in the future.
Geisler also includes some unnecessary attributes that are redundant: “uncreated” (not needed if we conceive of God as having always existed and as continuing to always exist forever into the future).  The attribute “omnipresent” is also redundant, because any being who is both omnipotent and omniscient must also be omnipresent (i.e. such a being is aware of every object and event in every location and is able to influence or affect every object or event in every location).
We can simplify Geisler’s overall summary argument, and remove the most obvious logical self-contradictions by reducing the attributes and roles that make up the concept or definition of “God”:
GEISLER’S OVERALL ARGUMENT – Rev.A

1A. There is exactly one being that was the cause of the beginning of the universe (billions of years ago), and this being was the designer of the universe (billions of years ago), and this being is the only all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good being, and this being has always existed, and will always continue to exist.

2A. IF there is exactly one being that was the cause of the beginning of the universe (billions of years ago), and this being was the designer of the universe (billions of years ago), and this being is the only all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good being, and this being has always existed, and will always continue to exist, THEN God exists.

THEREFORE:

3. God exists.

This is a much improved version of Geisler’s overall argument.  His actual overall argument was weighed down (and sunk) by  overkill.  Premise (2A) appears to be true to me.  The logic is fine (a standard modus ponens inference). So, the evaluation of this argument rests on our evaluation of the first premise.
Even though we have significantly pared down the elements of premise (1), this claim remains extremely dubious, because there is not one single element of this claim for which Geisler has actually provided a solid argument.  Every one of the seven elements of premise (1) is dubious and unproven.  Thus, we ought to reject this argument, and therefore reject Geisler’s unbelievably crappy case for God.

bookmark_borderGeisler’s Five Ways – Part 15: Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Perfectly Good?

Dr. Norman Geisler uses cosmological arguments to show that God is very powerful, and a teleological argument to show that God is very intelligent, and a moral argument to show that God is good (When Skeptics Ask [hereafter: WSA], p.26-27).  But in Phase 4 of his case, he has not yet attempted to show that God exists.  At best he has attempted to show that there is exactly one being that caused the universe to begin to exist, and that this being is very powerful, very intelligent, and is morally good.  Geisler has failed miserably at this attempt, but that is what he was actually trying to establish, so far.
A final step in Phase 4 is his attempt to show that the being that caused the universe is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly morally good:
Because of his necessity, He can only have whatever He has in a necessary way.  That means, as we have seen, without beginning,  without change, and without limitation.  So while the argument from Creation tells us that He has power, the argument from being shows us that it is perfect, unlimited power.  The argument from design tells us that He is intelligent, but His necessity informs us that His knowledge is uncreated, unchanging, and infinite.  The moral order suggests that He is good, but the perfection of His being means that He must be all good in a perfect and unlimited way.  (WSA, p.28)
In the previous post I criticized Argument 3 of Phase 4, which included an inference to the conclusion that the being that caused the universe to begin to exist had no limitations.  That argument failed (in part) because it was based on a fallacy of equivocation on the phrase “to not be” (among other problems).  In this post I will consider a second argument that Geisler makes for a similar conclusion:
Argument 4 of Phase 4

90. The being that caused the universe to begin to exist is a necessary being.

91. If a being B is a necessary being, then all of the attributes being B has are had by B in a necessary way.

92. If all of the attributes being B has are had by B in a necessary way, then all of the attributes being B has are had by B without any limitation.

THEREFORE:

93. All of the attributes that the being that caused the universe to begin to exist has, are attributes that the being that caused the universe to begin to exist has without any limitation.

94.  The being that caused the universe to begin to exist has the attributes of power, knowledge, and moral goodness.

THEREFORE:

95. The being that caused the universe to begin to exist has unlimited power, unlimited knowledge, and unlimited moral goodness.

96.  If a being B has unlimited power, unlimited knowledge, and unlimited moral goodness, then being B is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly morally good.

THEREFORE:

97. The being that caused the universe to begin to exist is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly morally good.

One standard objection to traditional arguments for the existence of God is that, at best, they only show the existence of a being with finite power, finite knowledge, and limited moral goodness.  The above argument is Geisler’s attempt to get around that standard objection.  His attempt, like every other argument in this case, fails.
First of all, premise (90) is doubly dubious, because (a) Geisler failed to show that there was exactly one being that caused the universe to begin to exist, and (b) Geisler also failed to show that the being that caused the universe to exist (if there were such a being) was a necessary being.  The “Argument from Being” that Geisler presents is based on an analysis of the concept of “God”, but Geisler has not shown anything about God or the existence of God yet; he has only attempted to show the existence of a being that caused the universe to begin to exist, and he failed even at that lesser task.  Because Geisler is still working his way towards showing that God exists, he cannot make use of his “Argument from Being” to support the claim that the being who caused the universe to begin to exist is a necessary being.  Therefore, premise (90) is doubly dubious, and provides a very shaky foundation for Argument 4 of Phase 4.
Premise (91) is also very dubious, for more than one reason.  First of all, this premise is NOT self-evidently true, so Geisler needs to provide reasons or evidence in support of (91), but he provides no such support for this premise.  Second, the notion of having an attribute “in a necessary way” is vague and unclear, so Geisler needs to provide a definition or clarification of what this phrase means, but he provides no definition or clarification of this phrase.  One cannot evaluate the truth of (91) unless and until the phrase “in a necessary way” is defined or clarified.
Third, if we interpret the notion of having an attribute “in a necessary way” as meaning that it is a necessary truth that the being in question has that attribute, then this leads to an apparent contradicition with Christian theology.   God, according to Christian theology, did NOT have to create the universe; God freely chose to create the universe, and was not compelled or necessitated to do so.  But one of God’s attributes is being the creator of the universe.  If God is a necessary being, as Geisler asserts, and thus each of God’s attributes corresponds to a necessary truth, then it is a necessary truth that “God created the universe” (or “If God exists, then God created the universe”).  But if this is a necessary truth, then it is logically impossible for God to NOT have created the universe, and thus God did NOT freely choose to create the universe, but was compelled to do so out of logical necessity.  Therefore, premise (91) contradicts a basic claim of Christian theology.
There are good reasons to believe that premise (92) is false, if we assume that (91) is true.  First, the number three is a necessary being, since it cannot not exist.  But the quantity represented by the number three is clearly limited; that is what makes it the number three, as opposed to the number four, or the number five thousand.  The number three is less than the number four, and it is this very limitation that constitutes the nature of the number three.  Thus, a necessary being can have a limitation.
Second, God is the creator of the universe and a necessary being, according to Geisler and according to Christian theology, but the universe is finite both in duration and in size.  If God’s power and knowledge are unlimited, then God could have created an infinite universe, but God, if God exists, created a finite universe.  So, even if God had the potential to create an infinite universe, it appears that he did not actualize that potential.  God’s attribute of being a “creator of stars, planets, and galaxies” is a limited attribute, not an infinite and unlimited attribute.   But in that case, premise (92) would be false, assuming premise (91) was true, because at least one attribute of a necessary being is limited and finite.
The conclusion (93) follows validly from the premises (90), (91), and (92), assuming that there are no equivocations, such as with the unclear phrase “in a necessary way”.  However, each of the three premises is dubious, so this argument for (93) fails.
Premise (94) is a question begging assumption, because Geisler has only attempted to show that the cause of the universe is powerful, the designer of the universe has knowledge, and the lawmaker of moral laws is morally good.  He has made no attempt to show that these three beings (if they exist) are one and the same being.   Geisler also failed to show that there was just one cause of the universe, just one designer of the universe, and just one moral lawmaker.  So, this premise is doubly dubious.  Geisler failed to show that there was just one of each of these types of beings, and Geisler failed to show that these three beings (or types of being) are all one and the same being.  Therefore, Geisler hasn’t even come close to showing that the cause of the universe is powerful AND knowledgable AND morally good.
Since both premise (93) and (94) are dubious, the argument for (95) fails.
Premise (96) appears to be true, but since Geisler failed to provide a solid argument for premise (95), his argument for (97) also fails, just like every other argument in his unbelievably crappy case for God.