Thursday, 13 June 2013

The Good and the Great: Why goodness cannot be grounded in divine nature

I had thought up the following argument prior to reading through William Lane Craig's chapter in his book Reasonable Faith on the moral argument, and was delighted to see him unwittingly falling into it.
If the non-theist should demand, “Why pick God’s nature as definitive of the Good?” the answer is that God, by definition, is the greatest conceivable being, and a being which is the paradigm of goodness is greater than one which merely exemplifies goodness. Unless we are nihilists, we have to recognize some ultimate standard of value, and God is the least arbitrary stopping point.
- William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith (pg. 182)
This is more or less how I thought Craig or any other theist would respond to the posed question: by appealing to greatest being theology. Without it, I can't see any reason to say that God's is, as Craig puts it, the paradigm of goodness, or why God's nature must instantiate any good thing at all. The problem with this is that there must be some objective standard of greatness external to God, otherwise the definition of God would be ill-formed and we'd fall into theological noncognitivism. But if there is some objective standard of greatness and God's nature is merely made up of every property that is greater to have than not, and goodness is merely a likeness to God's nature, then we can and properly should cut out the middleman and recognize that goodness really just a likeness to greatness—which remains objectively external to God. And so in the same paragraph Craig sets up his own demise and somehow doesn't see it; God is certainly not the least arbitrary stopping point, in fact God might just be the most arbitrary stopping point once we've accepted the existence of objective great-making properties.

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