Craig and the “Lesser of Two Evils” Argument for Voting Trump

Christian philosopher William Lane Craig has recently triggered the few remaining never-Trumpers by recommending—albeit by implication— that Christians ought to vote for Donald Trump. You can listen to the audio here (beginning at 5:50).

Craig blasts the view (held by many Christians) that we should refuse to vote for the lesser of two evils as being a “very immature and even childish view of moral decision making.” It is a “common moral experience,” Craig maintains, to be “confronted with moral choices in which neither choice is a good choice.” He continues: “And in that case, the ethical thing to do is to choose the lesser of two evils.”

The self-righteous Christians criticizing Craig as a compromiser would do well to remember that the moral position espoused by Craig here is ably represented in the Protestant tradition by theologians like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Reinhold Niebuhr. They held—contrary to certain Catholic thinkers—that there are genuine moral dilemmas: situations where we ought to chose among options all of which are morally problematic. The idea that there aren’t such situations is an unrealistic and naïve understanding of morality. Life sometimes gets morally messy, and when it does, being a responsible moral actor requires getting our hands dirty. When asked by Nazis whether you’re harboring Jews, for example, you ought to lie, even if it is always morally wrong to lie. Would Christian never-Trumpers lie to the Nazis at the door, or would they turn their Jewish friends over to be carted off to the gas chambers? And if you think this analogy is unfair, consider how Clinton would not just perpetuate but exacerbate the silent Holocaust.

Federal Philosopher

Federal Philosopher is a philosophy graduate student in New Jersey. She was awakened from her political slumbers after reading biographies of Margaret Thatcher. She loves philosophy, but thinks the profession has been hijacked by a bunch of leftist bullies who are little more than partisan journalists that happen to know philosophical jargon. She carries a recurve bow and quiver full of arrows at all times, so as not to trigger leftists by saying she packs a .380 in her purse.

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  1. If The Single Individual is reading, this was exactly my point earlier. Except, I wouldn’t even characterize Trump as the lesser of two evils. That implies a difference of degree between him and Clinton, not of kind. Given what Craig said in his podcast, it is very clear that Trump is a difference in kind from Hilary, even if he is far less than ideal as a presidential candidate. The justices Hilary appoints will most certainly drag your country into further moral ruin. As I think Craig mentioned, the legalization of gay marriage was approved by fiat in the states, not by democratic methods. Think what will happen when Christianity essentially becomes criminalized under the totalitarian left.

  2. Tom,

    I very much mean to reply to you and the post above. But before I do, I’m going to wait until my own post on Clinton is published. That post, I hope, will put this election in what I take to be its true context and why WE should not succumb to the “lesser of two evils argument.”

    Just to foreshadow: sin is exactly what’s brought us here, so why would I vote for an ungodly sinner? If I do, I know what I’m getting and it’s not going to be good. From a godly standpoint, there isn’t any meaningful difference between Hillary or Trump, because they represent the same enemy. Both in the end are antichrists (1 John 2:22).

    More soon, I hope…

  3. Federal Philosopher,

    Given my reading of Craig, I do not think he would agree that it’s always morally wrong to lie, but that you ought to lie to the Nazis. Chances are he would either say that in such a case, it’s not morally wrong to lie, or else that it’s not the case that you ought to lie to the Nazis.
    Generally, I don’t think he’d ever agree that one ought to do something that is morally wrong to do. However, if you have some quotes, etc., that contradict my assessment – e.g., quotes in which Craig says that you ought to do something that (he believes) is morally wrong -, I would appreciate the reference.

    • Angra, I don’t have any quotes from Craig to that effect. Craig seemed to be endorsing the view that there are genuine moral dilemmas, where by “moral dilemma” it is meant not just that all of one’s options suck, but that all of one’s options will incur some degree of moral blameworthiness. Choosing evil, I assume, is always blameworthy. Bonhoeffer and Niebuhr stress in their writings that a morally mature person will recognize that sometimes the best choice is one that incurs some degree of guilt (though a degree less than other options). The lying example, closely associated with Bonhoeffer and Niebuhr, nicely illustrates that.

      I am skeptical that the current election options represent a genuine moral dilemma in that sense, but it is worth thinking about.

    • Federal Philosopher,

      Craig believes that our moral obligations are actually God’s commands (Craig’s DCT). In order to incur blameworthiness, on this account one needs to disobey one of God’s commands. But it’s very improbable that Craig believes that God commands a person to lie to the Nazis, and also God commands a person not to lie to the Nazis. Granted, Craig might not realize the implications of his own DCT on the matter, but I’m not inclined to think this is what’s happening.
      In the video, Craig says we’re confronted with choices in which no choice is a good one, and he goes on to say that the “ethical thing to do is to choose the lesser of two evils”. That doesn’t sound to me like a suggestion that choosing the lesser of two evils is wrong/a blameworthy action.

  4. My understanding is that Christianity is very clear that it is never permissible to do evil so good may come. Choosing the lesser of two evils would be doing exactly that. Granted, the distinction between Catholic thinkers and Protestant thinkers was mentioned, so maybe this is simply my Catholic understanding. It is always wrong to choose an action that is intrinsically evil (e.g murder), but voting is not intrinsically evil. The vote is not between the “lesser of two evils”, but between better and worse. When it is understood this way, can a Catholic except Craig’s argument?

  5. I’ve long noticed that the divide between those on the right who dislike Trump but will vote for him and those who will not is generally correlated with consequentialist vs. principle-based ethical frameworks. Those who adhere to the former are generally more persuaded by the “lesser of two evils” argument (how they can be so sure that Trump is the ‘lesser’ I’m not entirely understanding) with adherents of the latter finding this argument to be ineffective.

    It has come to my mind recently an argument for why even a consequentialist shouldn’t be wholly convinced by this line of reasoning. Take the situation described by FP in the Nazi case. A consequentialist almost certainly would say that one ought to lie to the Nazis to save the Jews. But this analogy is extremely weak except under the guise of “rule utilitarianism.” For instance, if we take an act utilitarian approach, one ought to perform an action which results in the best consequences. However, notice that the Nazi case is set up so as to make a person believe that the act of lying can reasonably be expected to bring about the salvation of the Jews in question. Take for another example, the famed “trolley problems.” In Foot’s original problem, flipping the track switch results in the salvation of 5 persons at the expense of 1. Again, in this case, there is reasonable expectation that the action will have these results. It is not the case in voting. Take my case, for instance. I believe that Mrs. Clinton is likely to become president. However, I am virtually certain that the state in which I currently reside will cast a majority of its votes for Mr. Trump. (Currently, 538 suggests that there is well over 95% chance of this happening) As an individual vote is efficacious only for the state within which one resides, we can think of the plausible outcomes thusly: Outcome 1: I vote Trump and he wins my state. Outcome 2: I do not vote Trump and he wins my state. I have intentionally excluded the option of voting for Clinton, as it was never on the table as a live option for me. In either of the two plausible outcomes, Trump wins my state. (538’s prediction is obviously not contingent upon me personally voting for Trump, as I’ve never voted in this state before, since I haven’t lived here long.)

    Notice the difference between this case and the Nazi case or the trolley problem case? In those two cases, the overall outcome of the scenario is reasonably expected to change depending on the action one performs or does not perform. In the voting case, that need not necessarily hold and in fact does not hold in my situation. So let’s go back to the outcomes laid out previously. In (1), Trump wins my state plus I give him my public support via a vote. In (2), Trump wins my state but I do not give him my public support via a vote. Given that I believe Trump to be the most morally corrupt major party nominee in our country’s history, (with the possible exception of the current President) I would say that outcome number 2 is by far a better result than outcome number 1. While I do not consider myself a consequentialist, this particular calculus convinces me that I ought to withhold a vote from Trump even on utilitarian grounds.

    The “choose the lesser of two evils” principle could theoretically be strengthened if it were to include the caveat, “if in so choosing you can reasonably expect the outcome to change.” Even in the revised case, it is not obvious that this is the correct ethical outlook, but it is at least stronger than the initial principle.

  6. We have been there. Does America think, that it can be allowed to go back in history. I cherish Craig as my apologetics teacher. And I concur that at times one has to choose the lesser of two evils. But does he really think that Trump(!) will stop the moral decline anywhere?
    I offer a different perspective:
    In Germany we once believed a man who once said: “I can fix everything for you. Minorities have to be extradited. Germany to the Germans. The world exists to serve the (Arians=) Germans. For our status quo all the others are to blame.” Blame and outright lies were a nice instrument for him to bring people into his fold. Christians too thought he was the lesser evil. They wanted to believe, what he was promising to them. For them he posed als a pious man. (He did not keep his promises. Except the one, that he would take care of the infrastructure. He build the Autobahn, but he was not pious at all) He also was thinking that Women were somewhat lesser people. He put homosexuals into concentration camps (note: I am not endorsing outlived homosexuality. But I do think that every human being has to be respected, because God does not love only HIs children. HE loves the world: John 3, 16). For the middle Class and workers he posed as one of them. The man pursued his own interests and discarded those of others. He set out on a dangerous way, which eventually led to war. Germans, – German Christians believed him and payed for this dearly. Faschism is Faschism. It can befall every country. Germans know this. We have been there.

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