In discussing the moral arguments for God’s existence, J.L. Mackie takes what I find to be a reasonable approach. Still, I’ve had many criticisms of him–not the least of which is the fact that (like many atheists) he doesn’t seem to understand what theistic morality is.
That is, he repeats the long-discredited view that a theistic moral system is based on a reward-punishment system, then makes the obvious objections to that view.
But, while I’m sure that such people must exist somewhere, I can’t seem to find any real-live theist who has this as a moral system. Atheists who claim that this is what we believe, however, abound. This has always struck me as odd, and, whatever the reason for it, it remains a straw-man fallacy.
At least, I try not to draw the conclusion that people are remaining willfully ignorant of this point in order to make for better anti-theist memes. I hope this isn’t the case.
Either way, it bears repeating that theists view God as the paradigm of goodness–not unlike Plato’s form of the good. It is also the reason why the Euthyphro dilemma (which Mackie also sites against the moral arguments for God) is off-base (more on that later).
I suspect that this is an honest mistake on Mackie’s part. Still, it is a mistake, and I’d expect a better understanding than this from anyone offering a refutation of theism.
At least, it will take a stronger understanding to have any hope of a successful refutation. Since Mackie understands theistic morality this incorrectly, he is completely unable to construct a case against it. All the theist need do is say “that misses the point” to counter everything he’s said.