This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
I am a hedonist who lives to be happy and to enjoy his life. I have no desire whatsoever to live for anyone or to serve anybody. That would include God himself. My own personal moral standard would say that there is nothing wrong about this and there shouldn't be any punishment. Even my own kind family and other kind people in my life agree.
But according to God's moral standards, my way of life would be sinful and would result in me going to hell. I need to obey his commands and avoid the sins he has mentioned. Accepting Jesus is not enough; I must live a life in the holiness of God rather than my own selfish hedonistic passions. I cannot possibly love anybody like that. Please do not try to justify how God is all loving, all just, and morally perfect and righteous; it will never convince me that he is.
True love would be those like my family and those other kind people in my life. They would never punish me for my way of life in which I don't even harm anybody anyway. Again, do not try to justify how I am wrong; it is not going to work. Not only do I view my own moral standards as righteous and the moral standards of God to be unrighteous and insane, but also those famous skeptics such as Richard Dawkins, Sean Carrol, Matt Dillahunty, Sam Harris, etc.
How can you blame them? How can you act as though they know and are well aware of the holiness and moral righteousness of God, but choose to reject it anyway? It's not like that. They are not convinced at all that God is holy and morally righteous in the first place. They are fully convinced of the opposite. So how can you possibly blame them for the blasphemy they spout against God's moral character?
How can one possibly say that I and these skeptics are worthy of eternal punishment if we weren't convinced of God being holy and morally righteous in the first place? What you are convinced of is not a choice. Rather, it is whatever conclusion your personal honest mindset leads you to when you look at all evidence/arguments from many sides. So my honest mindset and their honest mindset has lead them to God being a moral atrocity. Just as how nothing can convince them otherwise, nothing can convince me otherwise and there is no reason to think that we are at fault and to blame us and condemn us.
Dr. William Lane Craig’s Response
Matt, I’m going to respect your wishes and not try to convince you that “God is all loving, all just, and morally perfect and righteous” or that you are “wrong” for pursuing your “own selfish hedonistic passions” with “no desire whatsoever to live for anyone or to serve anybody.” Your mind is obviously already made up and set and, since “nothing can convince [you] otherwise,” impervious to argument and evidence to the contrary.
I’ll just observe, Matt, out of concern for you, that your chosen self-centered lifestyle is a prescription for personal disaster. You will never be able to have a happy marriage or children with such a selfish attitude and will find yourself increasingly isolated from others and plunged into misery. Pursuit of one’s own hedonistic passions will, ironically, ultimately be the undoing of a happy and fulfilled life.
As for your family and the “kind” people around you, I wonder if they really understand the implications of your moral view. Do they really understand that on your view your choice to be nice to them or others is wholly subjective, that you could just as easily have chosen, should it have suited you, to be exploitative, cruel, and even murderous? Do they really believe that the hedonist who chooses to become, say, a pedophile does “nothing wrong” and so should not be punished? I disagree with you that in approving of your philosophy they are being kind; on the contrary, the loving thing for them to do would be to try to persuade you to abandon such an ultimately self-destructive philosophy of life. In being approving of your self-destructive path, they are actually unloving and so unkind toward you.
So let me take your question at face value: how can I blame people who “reject. . . the holiness and moral righteousness of God”? Well, it seems to me that there is an ontological answer and an epistemological answer to that question. Ontologically, I can blame them because God does exist and so there are objective standards of right and wrong that we should follow. Given God’s existence, people who choose to follow their “own selfish hedonistic passions” with “no desire whatsoever to live for anyone or to serve anybody” are doing something profoundly immoral and are therefore deserving of moral condemnation. They are, in fact, violating God’s two greatest commandments: (1) to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength and mind, and (2) to love your neighbor as yourself.
It seems to me that it is actually you, Matt, who find yourself in an impossible situation here. On a philosophy of hedonism, how can you blame me for my chosen lifestyle choices any more than I can blame you? On your philosophy, I’m at liberty to pursue whatever life brings me the greatest pleasure, and if that involves being a condemnatory, self-righteous prig, how can you say that I have done something wrong or deserving of blame? I’m therefore puzzled by the tone of moral indignation that pervades your letter. Aren’t you guilty, Matt, of smuggling in objective moral standards of assessment independent of what brings each person the greatest pleasure?
Epistemologically, I’d say that those who reject God’s holiness and moral righteousness are blameworthy for doing so because:
(i) God has revealed Himself to us in nature and in conscience with sufficient clarity that those who reject Him are culpable in so doing. The Bible says,
Ever since the creation of the world God’s invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So men are without excuse. . . . you have no excuse, O man, whoever you are, when you judge another; for in passing judgment upon him you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who do such things (Romans 1.20; 2.1-2).
Moreover, there are good arguments that render it quite probable that God exists, including the moral argument for God as the paradigm of moral goodness and the source of the moral law, which proves that God is “all loving, all just, and morally perfect and righteous.” Skeptics, including the “famous” ones that you mention, are aware of these arguments and have failed, in my studied opinion, in their attempts to refute them.
(ii) The witness of the Holy Spirit to the truth of Christian theism is sufficient for a knowledge of God even on the part of those who are not familiar with the arguments for God’s existence. Those who suppress the witness of the Holy Spirit are guilty of resisting God Himself and so are especially blameworthy.
Now your response to this is interesting. You say,
What you are convinced of is not a choice. Rather, it is whatever conclusion your personal honest mindset leads you to when you look at all evidence/arguments from many sides. So my honest mindset and their honest mindset has lead [sic] them to God being a moral atrocity.
I disagree that “what you are convinced of is not a choice.” Sometimes it is. Sinful people who are bent on pursuing their own selfish hedonistic passions have a vested interest in getting rid of God and so may ignore or suppress the evidence for His reality. Each one of us has a sceptical dial inside which we tend to turn way up when confronting views we don’t like and way down when it comes to our own views. I have been amazed at the absurd things people will believe in order to resist the arguments for God’s existence; for example, that the entire universe popped into being without a cause—a claim that is literally worse than magic and which they would never accept with regard to any other reality in their lives. All you have to do is look at the way these skeptics respond to the arguments and evidence for God to be convinced that they are not the objective and disinterested thinkers you imagine. Add to this the witness of the Holy Spirit, which they stoutly resist, and it is clear that what we believe can sometimes be a choice.
But there’s one more, very important point that needs to be made, Matt, if you’re still reading this. When you speak of “the moral standards of God,” what are you talking about? Where are you getting your description of God’s standards? Not from the moral argument, which proves that God is perfectly holy and righteous! Rather what skeptics are talking about are the descriptions of God in the Bible, especially the Old Testament. They reject that description of God. Now that puts an entirely different face on the problem!
As I acknowledged in my reply to QoW #16 on the divinely commanded slaughter of the Canaanites, there are passages in the Old Testament that certainly are morally troublesome. I can readily understand why skeptics might think that some such characterizations of God cannot be true. I don’t blame or condemn skeptics for having problems with the passages in question. But what these passages call into question is not the existence or goodness of God (which is established by the moral and ontological arguments), but rather the inspiration or inerrancy of the Old Testament. If these passages cannot be reconciled with a perfectly good and loving God, as I have tried to do, then this fact is obviously no disproof of God but rather a disproof of the reliability of the Old Testament descriptions of God. You can reject those passages without rejecting God or Christianity.
In conclusion, I hope, Matt, that you’re not really as closed-minded as you make yourself out to be. After all, you did take the time to write to me! I hope that you’ll take another long look at the evidence that a holy and righteous God does, indeed, exist.