If ISIS’s God Were Real, Would I Be Obliged to Follow Him?

Dear Dr Craig,

You may be aware that Frank Turek has a question he will sometimes ask atheists, "if Christianity were true, would you become a Christian"? Well, recently, an atheist flipped this question around and asked me "If the Islamic State were true (by which he means, if the specific type of Allah that IS believe in, existed) then likewise, would you become an IS member?"

Now, my gut reaction is to say no. I would not follow a God whom I find so horrendous as to condone rape, mass murder and forced conversion such as we're seeing happen right now in the Middle East.

Two problems arise, however:

Firstly, if I say this, the atheist can simply reply, "exactly! And now I'm sure you're aware how I feel too. Even if your Christian God existed, I would not follow him, because I find certain things about his morality horrendous and objectionable". This would seem a conversation stopper.

But, secondly, there seems an even greater problem:

From my understanding of Divine Command Theory (DCT), it seems the response I ought to give, is "yes, under such circumstances I should become an IS member". After all, if moral ontology is ultimately based in the character of God, then if the real God who existed after all was the IS God, and not the Christian God, then I would have no intellectual alternative other than to bite the bullet and treat his character as the paradigm of Moral Goodness. Rape etc really would be good, if their God existed, and if the principle of DCT applies.

This has got me very worried about DCT, because it seems an inadequate principle for grounding morality. It seems to commit the fallacy of trying to get an "ought" from an "is". i.e. it moves from "a particular God exists", to "therefore we ought to treat that God's character as the paradigm". This principle seems woefully inadequate, because it can be applied regardless of the actual content of God's character (or , to phrase it another way, it can be applied to any God that a person is convinced exists). In this specific case, it can be applied to both the Christian God and the IS God, and the only determining factor would be which one of those Gods actually exists (as Sam Harris put it in your debate with him, it boils down to "sorry, Buster, you've got the wrong God")!

Or, think of it this way. Consider the following 5 statements:

The content of God's necessary character is (A)

The content of God's necessary character is (B)

The content of God's necessary character is (C)

The content of God's necessary character is (D)

The content of God's necessary character is (E)

Obviously, these statements cannot all be true (especially since we're dealing with something which is the same in all possible worlds). At most, only one of them can be true.

However, the problem is, there seems no basis for why any of them should be true over the others.

Under DCT, we cannot invoke that horn of the Euthyphro dilemma which claims there to be moral truths independent of God's character. For example, if character (B) is such that God condones rape, mass killings and forced conversion, and character (D) is such that God is all-loving and forbids these things, we cannot appeal to an external moral standard to judge (D) to be greater than (B), and therefore declare (D) to be the existent one. This is because, apart from there being no such external standard anyway according to DCT, if (B) were true, then the mere existence of this particular God would establish him as the standard itself, against which all other characters, including the all-loving (D) character, would be deficient, or “not as great”.

If we, as Christians, try to argue that (D) must be true because that God's character is "greatest" then it seems we're either reasoning in a circle (i.e. God (D) exists because (D) is the greatest character, because God (D) exists), or we're conceding a horn of Euthyphro's dilemma - that God's necessary character is nonetheless determined by its matching up to a standard beyond God himself. Even if we want to appeal to the concept of God as a "Maximally Great Being" to try to settle the matter, God's own character establishes the paradigm of what moral "greatness" is (this is unlike other Great Making Properties, such as power, necessity, and knowledge, because in those cases God is being measured against how he relates to things other than himself: i.e. whether or not he can do 100% of possible actions, exist in 100% of possible words, and know 100% of true propositions etc).

So it all seems to boil down to "whichever God exists, that God's character is the paradigm of Goodness".

Notice that it is not adequate simply to say that because our God, the Christian God, is necessarily existent, therefore such a hypothetical situation shouldn't trouble us, given we're convinced of Christianity's truth. The challenge I'm levelling is at the principle of DCT itself. We can still run the thought experiment, and imagine (just as we ask atheists and Muslims to imagine) "what if it were shown to me that I was wrong? What if, epistemically, I'd been mistaken and had the wrong God, what would the implications be of the DCT principle"?

Indeed, this seems an instance where moral epistemology and ontology overlap significantly (usually I see apologists such as yourself going to a lot of trouble to clarify the differences between them and to keep them apart). We can test the ontological principle of DCT by asking "what if, epistemically, I were wrong about which God actually exists"?

It seems we also must ask the question, "what if, epistemically, I am mis-comprehending particular moral values and duties"? This would have to be the case if the IS God existed, because his moral ontology would trump our personal moral epistemology - i.e. we would have to revise our understanding of good and evil to allow for certain legitimate instances of rape, mass killing, and forced conversions.

Lest this seem like an outlandish situation to imagine, however, don't forget that we ask atheists and Muslims etc to do this all the time! Frequently, we challenge moral views held by unbelievers that they use to argue against God, and we suggest that maybe they're mistaken in their moral epistemology. Indeed, Christianity itself does this. It says that humans, despite being made in the image of God and with his law written on our hearts, are nonetheless damaged and flawed in our values and morals, and that we need to transform these over the sanctifying course of our lives to be more like Christ (i.e. when push comes to shove, God's moral ontology must have authority over our moral epistemology - we can't dig our heels in and insist that he's wrong, if he really exists and is the paradigm). Does our epistemic, moral apprehension have any role to play here that is not special pleading or circular?

So, with all these concerns on my shoulders, imagine my worry about what to say to this atheist! If I say "yes, if the IS God existed, he would be Goodness itself, and I'd have to follow him", you can imagine how he'd respond: "See! Look what warped slaves you theists are! You'd just blindly follow God because he's God"! Quoting Sam Harris again, from your debate, the atheist would probably assert "I, on the other hand, can get behind that God, and condemn him".

If DCT really is a sound theory, then I must be missing something or not understanding it.

And all that from such a simple question!

Many thanks,

Anon.

 

United Kingdom


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