When some read William Lane Craig’s (WLC) quotation or a similar statement regarding the inability of people’s goodness without God, they assume it means that those who do not believe in God’s existence are incapable of goodness. But, for argument’s sake, let’s accept that goodness here is defined as love and pleasure without the distribution of pain and suffering. With that basic definition, we can think of people we’ve known who are theists and atheists, and some seem to have greater moral values than others. For example, some have encountered atheists who were moral, ethical, and loving members of society. On the other hand, those same individuals may have encountered some whose company was not as pleasurable. The same can be said about theists as well. Based on that rationality, it is safe to assume that WLC’s assertion should not become misinterpreted as claiming atheists are not moral people because they lack faith in God’s existence.
When WLC states that “we cannot truly be good without God,” he is not asserting that those who do not believe in God cannot perform goodness or are judged as a person absent of goodness. Instead, WLC is arguing a case for objective moral values, duties, and accounting for their objective existence in our reality. WLC distinguishes between subjective morality and objective morality. If morality is objective, its values such as good and evil are right and wrong regardless of whether anyone agrees with values being right or wrong. If morality is subjective, then as WLC states, morality is merely a “human convention,” making moral values subjective and unaccountable to anything concrete. I’ll add further that moral and ethical values become a relative construct used arbitrarily and defeating the purpose of justice without moral objectivity.
WLC’s position is understood in the following deductive argument:
P1. If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist.
P2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
Conclusion. Therefore, it follows logically that God does exist.
Suppose someone denies premise one but argues for premise two that objective moral values exist, but God’s existence is not necessary to believe in moral objectivity. Then, according to the deductive argument, to deny the existence of God is to deny the existence of moral objectivity. The deductive argument is a logical formula of persuading the thinker to accept that, at the very least, it makes sense to acknowledge moral objectivity is valid if God exists. God’s existence creates an absolute standard for the existence of moral objectivity; otherwise, without the existence of God, morality becomes a “human convention” that inevitably leads to moral relativism or plurality.
Craig, Lane, William. The Indispensability of Theological Meta-Ethical Foundations for Morality. Reasonable Faith. Foundations 5 9-12. 1997. https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/scholarly-writings/the-existence-of-god/the-indispensability-of-theological-meta-ethical-foundations-for-morality.