Monday, March 28, 2011

Could God Value Anything?

The following is a question I submitted to professional theologian William Lane Craig through his website  The question pertains to Craig's persistent use of the Moral Argument for the existence of god despite the fact that this argument has been shown to fail on multiple levels.  Here I attempt to show one more flaw in the Moral Argument.  If Dr. Craig responds to my question, I will be sure to post his response below.

Dr. Craig,

One chief component of The Moral Argument for the existence of God is that there must be objective value assigned to human life in order for objective moral values to exist.  Such objective value can only come from God.

The value of something, from an economic perspective, is the price that an individual is willing to pay for something.  Essentially, that which someone is willing to give up for something else.  For instance, the value of a Kobe steak, to me, is $90—that is, I would be willing to give up ninety of my dollars in exchange for a Kobe steak, but not ninety-one of my dollars.  Or, the value of staying out too late with co-workers at a bar on a Wednesday night for a married man may be one hour of the silent treatment from his wife—that is, he would be willing to stay out too late if the cost of doing so was that his wife would not talk to him for an hour, but not if she refused to talk to him for a week.  (Granted, for some married men this would be a benefit, not a cost!)

God is the perfect creator of the universe.  Perfect, meaning that God cannot possibly improve and cannot lack anything. 

If value is what we are willing to go without in exchange for something else and God cannot go without anything, how, then, could God assign value to anything?

It seems to me that the ability to assign value requires the willingness to go without something.  God cannot be without anything.  Therefore, the ability to assign value could not be possessed by God, much like the ability to sin or the ability to be wrong could not be possessed by God.

Thank you,

Ben Doublett


  1. You have arbitrarily changed the definition of perfection to exclude the key word ‘essential’, or you have arbitrarily changed the definition of value to require something *essential to perfection* be foregone by the person valuing, or it isn’t valued. You have arbitrarily implied that a perfect Being may not possess anything that is not essential to His nature, that He is somehow restricted from adding possessions which may be exchanged for something of value. All these are arbitrary, and are illogical and irrational.

    For example, your premise is: a perfect god could not value human life b/c valuing would imply the willingness to forego something in exchange for that thing that is valued, which would remove something *essential* from a perfect being, making him less than perfect.

    God has an abundance of everything, in fact, everything that exists belongs to God. He can give it all up if He wants, and is nonetheless perfect b/c He needs none of the material universe.

    This is a nonsensical premise. Do you have a scientific basis for making such a statement?

  2. Diane, if assigning value requires the relinquishment of something and a perfect being cannot relinquish anything, how does it make sense to assert that a being exists which both cannot relinquish anything and is willing to relinquish something?

    It's a perfectly sensible premise. It is your objection that is unintelligible and reflective of your false presuppositions. You are trying to maintain a belief in an entity that possesses (at least) two self-contradictory traits. I can't really address your objection any further, because it is, as I said, unintelligible.

  3. it is *you*r premise that an infinite being is unable to possess anything that can be relinquished for something of value, as if He is a pauper. it is *your* premise that He cannot relinquish anything, but this is an imaginary god created in your own mind, and has nothing to do with the Creator of the Universe. i believe it was *you* who brought up the Creator first.

    exactly what part of what i said don't you understand? if you cannot defend your premise from a rational standpoint, then it is merely opinion, and certainly holds no scientific value. what scientific basis do you have for making such a statement?

  4. First of all, let's distinguish between the logical/philosophical and the scientific, because you have mistakenly used the term 'scientific' in reference to this argument twice now.

    I am not making a scientific case here, because to do so would require evidence and observation. Evidence and observation of god do not exist, so there is nothing that can be said about god scientifically. Theologians, philosophers and scientists generally agree on this point. I am making a logical case that appeals to the logical absolute of non self-contradiction. You need to learn to distinguish between the philosophical/logical and the scientific, as the distinction is an important one.

    And again, you have failed to address the issue. A perfect being that ceases to be perfect when it lacks something. A being capable of valuation must also be capable of lacking something.

    How can you be logically consistent in asserting that something exists which is capable of both lacking something and incapable of lacking something?

    As of now your comments consist of nothing more than filibustering and grandstanding. So you need to either concede the point, come up with something relevant to say or stop commenting.

  5. I am glad that you finally admit that you have a philosophical presupposition that God does not exist. And in the same way, I have a philosophical presupposition that He does. Empirical facts will be interpreted through these presuppositions, so we will each look at the same evidence and come to different conclusions. This is why discussions of empirical facts usually lead nowhere, since we are using a different decoder ring to understand what we see. But one thing you cannot logically do is to refute my presupposition by restating your presupposition.

    Just for the sake of argument, however, let’s assume your definition of God is correct, that He is infinitely perfect, lacking nothing. Then let me try to make my point in a way that you can understand it.

    As every mathematician knows, if you add something finite to something infinite, it is still infinite. So let’s add to God, a few gazillion stars, any of their planets, and all the resources on them, as well as any resources located between them. We will even throw in Pluto, since it is no longer a planet, but merely a Kuiper Belt Object, and not worth much. We have now added something finite to the infinite, and He is still infinite, still perfect. There is nothing we have added that He needs or that will alter His perfection if removed, since it is finite, and He is infinite.

    In the same way, as any mathematician knows, you can subtract anything finite from the infinite, and it is still infinite. So let’s subtract a zillion stars and their resources from Him, which he trades to something else, in exchange for one person. The person is obviously worth a zillion stars from God’s perspective, and we have added this person to God’s presence. The zillion stars were finite, so he was still infinite and perfect when He traded them way, and He has added a finite person to His infinity, and He is still infinite, still perfect.

    In His infinite perfection, He is able to add to Himself or subtract anything of finite value, without changing His infinite value and perfection. This is how infinity works, and it is not even a large enough word to describe His perfection. Since He is able to create as many universes as He needs from nothing, He is able to provide any value required by a seller, without altering his own perfection or infinity.

  6. I'm not an expert on this, but as any mathematician knows, there are different sizes of infinities, some bigger than others.

  7. I think we're actually getting somewhere, Diane! It seems like you have grasped what I was saying about god not being able to lose anything with your metaphor to the mathematical concept of infinity. The conclusion you drew from that was ...wrong, of course, but that is because you didn't focus on the second important point--value. But kudos so far!

    According to the Theory of Value, value "can be assigned only in terms of resources which are scarce" or, in other words, resources which are finite (Landsberg, 1993).

    Money is one such resource--there is a finite supply of money (despite the best efforts of the Fed). Even a multi-billionaire like Warren Buffet has a finite amount of money. Therefore, when either I or Warren Buffet assign a monetary value to a good or service, that actually means something.

    However, if I have an INFINITE amount of money, and can subtract a finite amount without affecting how much money I actually have, monetary value is meaningless. There would be no difference between something that has $1 of value and something that has $100 trillion of value.

    Similarly, I have a finite amount of time in my life. Therefore, when I use my time to perform a task, I am assigning a value to that task in terms of how much time I am willing to spend on it. If, however, I am immortal, it would be impossible for me to assign value in terms of time. I have an infinite amount of time, therefore to give up a finite amount of my time means nothing.

    Now, BY YOUR OWN ADMISSION, god "is able to add to Himself or subtract anything of finite value, without changing His infinite value and perfection." Here we see that god is similar to the version of me with infinite money or with immortality. Subtracting a finite amount of something of which someone has an infinite amount means nothing, and therefore cannot be called valuation because valuation requires the subtraction of a finite resource.

    Essentially, because god has infinite everything, he has nothing that can be used to connote value. Just like the ability to sin or the ability to be wrong, a perfect god could not have the ability to assign value.

  8. Well, perhaps we are getting somewhere Ben, but your ability to use deductive reasoning needs a bit of sharpening. To your point, let’s focus on the word ‘value’.

    In your initial statement, you have arbitrarily limited the meaning of the word value to its crass and most base meaning, money, and then you have arbitrarily limited God from valuing anything b/c He has too much money, so isn’t allowed to play the game.

    Then you subtly change the meaning of ‘value’ to make it comprehensive in nature, and conclude [falsely] that God is incapable of valuing anything, using all definitions of the word ‘value’. If I recall correctly, this is called a fallacy of equivocation. The word ‘value’ has two different meanings here, and one cannot be used as a substitute for the other. The second meaning is ‘worth in importance to the possessor’.

    This is purely a logical fallacy, and I give you the benefit of the doubt that you did not realize the duplicity. But you do need to strengthen your reasoning capabilities.

    Perhaps an easier way to understand this point is to look at the Visa commercials. You see mom running around getting cake, and balloons, and gifts, and each one has a value, $10, $20, $35 . . . then you see the child’s face as she walks into the surprise party – priceless!

    God does indeed value people. He considers them priceless. After all, He was willing for His Son to suffer the punishment we all deserve so that we would not have to suffer it. The King of the universe took on humanity for the sole purpose of bearing our punishment, so that we would have a way to reconcile to our heavenly Father.


  9. Diane, it seems like whenever you and I converse, you display vast ignorance in some discipline or another. This time, that discipline is economics.

    Whenever conversations about value are had, we should go to the science that deals with t...he concept of value, which is economics. And as every economist would tell you, there is no such thing as pricelessness. I recently read a book where an economist wrote that the notion of pricelessness to an economist is akin to the notion of a perpetual energy machine to a physicist. It cannot possibly exist. Everything has a price--as in, every person would be willing to trade X in exchange for Y. X could be anything, and Y represents the value of X. If it seems to you that nothing could replace X, it is just because you have not used enough imagination. Y could only exist hypothetically, but that is irrelevant.

    Regarding the supposed fallacy you mistakenly believe you have detected in my argument, I never changed the definition of value. The argument I have constructed is based upon the definition of value as used in the Economic Theory of Value. This is the definition I have consistently referred to. As Marco suggested to you, a way of limiting dishonesty in written conversations is to quote back the specific sentences you are referring to. Before he mentioned this, your error could have been excused, but since you failed to do so again, I can only conclude you are being intentionally dishonest.

    Now, you can certainly change the definition of the word to mean whatever you want, including the meaningless definition you provided--this is done frequently by Christians with other terms, like 'faith'--but then you would have committed the fallacy you are accusing me of.

    Now, let's look at how your argument has changed in the space of just two comments. In your previous comment, you said:

    "let’s subtract a zillion stars and their resources from Him, which he trades to something else, in exchange for one person. The person is obviously worth a zillion stars from God’s perspective, and we have added this person to God’s presence. The zillion stars were finite, so he was still infinite and perfect when He traded them way, and He has added a finite person to His infinity, and He is still infinite, still perfect."

    Basically, you implied that the value of a human to god is finite and therefore consistent with the infinitude of god.

    Then in your latest comment you said, "God does indeed value people. He considers them priceless" which implies that the value of a human to god is infinite, in response to the objections I raised regarding the absence of value in the presence of infinite resources.

    Get your story straight.

    Most importantly, though, you have not explained in any substantive way how something with infinite resources can be capable of performing an act like valuation, which requires a scarcity of resources. Again, consider a person with an infinite lifetime. This person could assign any given amount of time to a task without assigning any value to that task, because to this immortal, time is not a scarce resource. You find yourself in the same situation with god, except not just pertaining to time--pertaining to anything at all.

  10. Dear Ben,
    In my first point, I said “Just for the sake of argument, however, let’s assume your definition of God is correct”; so this was following your logic, and I correctly limited my comments to your limited characterization of the word ‘value’, to display the absurdity of your argument. Then in the second comment, I clearly explained that ‘value’ has a broader meaning, and expanded on that. There is no dissemination here, I was explicit in my comments, and in the definition of the word I was using. You have not been quite so explicit. You have drawn one of my statements from the first comment, and another from a different comment given in a different context, and drawn a false conclusion as to what I said, attempting to throw confusion on the entire discussion.

    You also accuse me of vast ignorance in the area of economics, which is rather an expansive and unfounded statement. Somewhere along the way, I picked up an MBA, so I have a little understanding of economics.

    So I understand your explanation of value, and I understand the limited definition that your book places on the word, which requires a single definition of ‘value’, a subset of all the definitions.

    Let us go back to your original statement, which was: “The value of something is what one is willing to forgo in exchange for that thing. Therefore, contrary to what Christians claim, a perfect god could not value human life, or indeed anything, because that god could not forgo anything (if a perfect thing lacks something it is no longer perfect.)”

    This statement is an excellent example of a logical fallacy. You start with one premise, “The value of something . . . .” using a limited definition of ‘value’. From that statement you draw the conclusion that “a perfect god could not value human life”. You have now moved from the limited realm of economics, [and a limited definition of the word, ‘value’], from which you arbitrarily exclude God because He is too wealthy, and make a statement about His character, [that He is unable to value human life], and you *say* you have used the limited context of the word.

    Most people would interpret the statement “a perfect god could not value human life” to be disparaging to God’s character. So you say you have limited the word ‘value’ to an economics context, but apply it to God’s character, where it has no meaning.

    You have also made the claim, “contrary to what Christians claim, a perfect god could not value human life”. But when Christians make the statement “God values human life”, it is always in the broader sense of the word, and never in the limited economic sense of the word. So you *say* you always used ‘value’ in its limited context, but clearly you did not when you linked Christians to the statement. This is indeed the Fallacy of Equivocation, since either you were dissembling when you quoted Christians, or you were dissembling when you said value was always defined in the limited sense within your statement.

    You are playing word games, Ben, and they are illogical and irrational, or else they are duplicitous. I will let you decide.