Moral Argument: Details

Premises:

1. If God does not exist, objective morals do not exist

Although this argument does not reach the conclusion that God is the basis of objective morals, such a claim tends to be implicit in premise (1) and emerges in defense of that premise against objections.

When we speak of morals, we are referring to two things: moral values and moral duties. Moral values refer to what is good and bad, while moral duties refer to what is right and wrong. Let’s look at an example to show the difference. It may be said that it’s good to be doctor, but it wouldn’t make any sense to say that it’s right or wrong to be a doctor.

Now let’s look at what I mean by objective morals. By objective morals, I mean they are valid and binding regardless of whether people belief in them or not, or in other words, they are independent of what anybody feels or thinks. For example, to say that the Holocaust was objectively wrong is to say that it was wrong even though the Nazis thought that they were right, and it would still have been wrong even if the Nazis ended up winning WWII and was able to convince everybody that they were right and were successful in exterminating all who disagreed so that it was universally accepted that the Holocaust was good. Thus, the claim in premise (1) is that if there is no God, then moral values and duties are not objective in that sense.

Consider, then, moral values. If theism is false, why think that humans have objective morals? On the naturalistic view, morals are just products of socio-biological evolution. They are an example of biological adaptation to serve for our survival, no more analogous to our hands, our feet, and our teeth. Any claim that morals are more than that is simply illusory. But if this is true, then we are just animals and animals don’t have a sense of moral duty. For example, a lion that kills a zebra is just killing the zebra, but it doesn’t murder the zebra. Or when a lion is forcefully copulating with a lioness, it’s merely acting out of natural instincts but it’s not raping the female.

Thus, if atheism is true, it becomes impossible to condemn war, oppression, or crime as evil. On the same note, one cannot praise brotherhood, equality, or love as good. There is no right or wrong, all things are permitted. Let’s look at rape or incest as an example. The best explanation the atheist can offer is to say that it may not be biologically or sociologically advantageous, and so, in the course of human development, these actions have become taboo. But that does absolutely nothing to show that rape or incest is really wrong. Thus, on atheism you no longer have the grounds to say actions like rape is objectively wrong.

Now it’s important to get something clear. The argument is not saying that you must believe in God in order to live a moral life. I’m not saying that. Neither is the argument that God is necessary for our knowledge of moral values and duties. All the argument is saying is that God is necessary for the objective reality of moral values and duties.

2. Objective morals do exist

I think deep down inside, we all know this to be true. We all do apprehend a realm of objective morals just as in sensory experience we apprehend the objective, physical world. Just as it is impossible to get outside of our sensory perceptions to test its veridicality, it’s impossible to test the veridicality of our moral perception. But in the absence of some defeater, we relationally trust our perceptions.

3. Therefore God exists


Objections:

1. Since our moral beliefs have been instilled in us through socio-biological evolution, those beliefs are false and so objective morals do not exist.

This is an example of a genetic fallacy, which is an attempt to falsify a belief by explaining how that belief originated. A belief could be true, regardless of how it came to be held. The objection at best only shows that our subjective perception of moral values and duties have evolved.

2. Given that our moral beliefs have been determined by socio-biological evolution, we have no warrant for believing (2) to be true. Because our moral beliefs have been selected by evolution, not for their truth, but for their survival value, we cannot think these beliefs are true.

The objection is self-defeating because on naturalism, all our beliefs, not just our moral beliefs, have been selected for survival value, not truth, and therefore unwarranted. So even the belief in naturalism and the socio-biological account of moral belief is unwarranted! Thus, this objection is incapable of being rationally affirmed.

3. Morality is relative. Don’t the moral beliefs and practices vary from culture to culture?

It’s certainly true that the moral behavior of the world’s culture show enormous variation. Some tribes today still practice child sacrifice. But would this prove that this is right? Of course not. The presence of moral disagreement does not mean the absence of objective morality. Still, others may beg to argue, but does that prove that it’s wrong? The answer is simple. How would you respond if somebody sacrificed your kid and simply said “Oh, this is just the way my culture brought me up.” Would you be content with that? As a relativist, you should be perfectly fine. But as soon as you exclaim, “That’s not fair!” you are appealing to some unwavering standard to which you expected him to share, that what he did was in fact wrong. But if God does not exist, everything becomes relative, so who’s to say that child sacrifice is wrong? But there must be some standard of right and wrong, for how can you recognize a crooked line if you don’t know what a straight line is. This standard must come from God.

4. The Euthyphro Dilemma: Either something is good because God wills it or else God wills something because it is good.

If it is good just because God wills it then what is good becomes arbitrary. Consequently, God could have willed that hatred and jealousy be good, and then we should have been obligated to hate and envy one another. But that seems implausible; at least some moral good seems to be necessary. But if we say God wills something because it is good, then whether something is good or bad is independent of God. That is to say if God were not to exist, then objective moral values and duties would exist anyway.

But this dilemma is unnecessary to commit to as it deals with a misunderstanding of the nature of God. There’s a another way to look at it and that is to say because God is good, he wills something to happen. Since our moral duties are grounded in his divine commands they are not independent of God. Neither are God’s commands arbitrary, for they are necessary expressions of his just and loving nature. God is essentially compassionate, fair, kind, impartial etc. and his commandments are reflections of his own character.

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