The contention: God is the best evidence for objective moral values and duties
The Moral Argument
If God exists, then objective moral values and duties exist.
Objective moral values and duties do exist.
Therefore God exists.
What does objective mean? Not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts; and binding. Inversely, to be subjective is to give an opinion based on what you know, dependent on perhaps some facts or independent of any facts. Perhaps a feeling, a hunch, or maybe something a little stronger than that like past experience.
We will again go to a helpful video through Dr. William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith website (reasonablefaith.org) to help us understand this argument a little better:
Before we get into the meat of the argument, let’s clear up some of the common misconceptions of this argument.
-it does not imply that the atheist or agnostic doesn’t believe in morality or can’t be a moral person
-it does not imply the existence of the Christian God.
-objective morality is different than absolute morality.
-it does not imply how a person comes to know morality (epistemology), rather this argument explores the foundation of morality (ontology).
The moral argument is, in my opinion, one of the strongest arguments for God’s existence. People can deny science and what it may prove or disprove, but morality is something mankind is burdened with every day of our lives. Whether a theist, atheist, or agnostic, we make moral choices, judgments, and perform moral duties every day, multiple times in a day. We cannot escape it.
This brings us to this strange notion of ought. Why ought we do anything? Here are some common scenarios.
Why ought we try to help the transient on the street corner?
Why ought we try to break up that fight?
Why ought we try to forgive that person who wronged us?
Why ought we try to be more willing to testify to our faith?
Why ought we try to be a better person? Etc…
Chapter 7 in the book of Romans shows an exquisite battle in which the apostle Paul shares his struggles with the flesh and moral choice.
An objective reference point for morality is a reference point beyond human opinion, think of it like a truth. Truth exists whether you recognize it, believe it, or not. Many theists regard this reference point to be grounded in God. God transcends space, time, matter, and energy and is not a physical person (the Bible says in John 4:24 “God is spirit”). If we truly believe there are things that are wrong or right, regardless of time or cultural divide, the implication is for the existence of a moral law of some type. And any law must have a lawgiver. But let’s leave the idea of an objective lawgiver for now and look at what a worldview would be like under a subjective lawgiver, namely humanity.
Now right off the bat you can see the difficulty here, namely, who decides the rules? Which society(ies) and why? So right away we have a problem with who even gets the privilege of setting the rules. And why should we trust them?
A common response by people who say morality is subjective is “just look at how different people view what is right and what is wrong” so it has to be subjective. Remember, how a person comes to know morality is epistemology, not moral ontology. People who aspire to shape their moral worldview do so in many kinds of ways. Moral ontology speaks of what the foundation of morality is grounded in, not how we come to know it. Can we truly say something is right or wrong under a worldview of subjective morality? Think about what that means? It’s just my opinion versus yours. Who’s to say? Think about the societies where the power class ruled the empire. Think of the deprivation of humanity.
Some folks might argue morality is clear when the result is human flourishing or the perpetuation of society. So please define what is best for human flourishing and how many different governments across our moral landscape really account for human flourishing? Would aborting fetuses be good for human flourishing? How about euthanasia of elderly or physically unproductive people, thereby freeing up resources for the healthier productive ones? Human flourishing as a whole, or human flourishing for that particular regime? And upon a Neo-darwinian worldview, who’s to say that human flourishing is best? Why not flourishing for cats or dogs? If humans are just accidental byproducts like cats and dogs, under this worldview why would human flourishing be prioritized?
Under a subjective moral worldview why do we punish criminals or people who hurt others? Is what they did really wrong or just socially unfashionable? The rapist, the terrorist, the pedophile; are they just acting out of fashion or is what they are perpetuating really wrong? So perhaps we should put these people away because of the harm they have inflicted on others? Let’s look closer. If I am walking down the sidewalk and a person trips me up by accident and I fall and hurt myself, I am upset that it happened, but not really upset by the person who tripped me up. Yet when I am walking down the street and a person tries to trip me up, but doesn’t, I am outraged and looking for a fight, yet the first person has physically hurt me and the second has not (thank you C.S. Lewis). So clearly, not every act from a person that physically harms us is wrong, so why is it wrong in the case of the rapist, terrorist, or pedophile?
Under a subjective worldview, why doesn’t our society allow women to abort babies up to the age of 1, instead of in utero? This way it would give women extra time to decide if they wanted to keep it based on the baby’s characteristics and potentially abnormal development. Who decides the arbitrariness of this rule, and why would it be any more right or wrong than it is now?
Under a subjective worldview, why doesn’t our society make lawful more cases of euthanasia of older people who are sickly, living off social security, and taking up hospital space and resources? This way the money could go back to the young, healthy families who need it to keep the younger generation flourishing. Under a subjective worldview, why would this be construed as wrong?
There’s a great story about a college student and a philosophy professor who asks his students to defend a worldview of subjective or objective morality. The professor ask his students to write an essay about whether or not they feel objective moral values and duties exist. One student decides he’s really going to rise to the top on this one so he accepts the challenge and proceeds to research and craft a brilliant story about how morality is purely evolution and a matter of opinion. Objective moral values and duties do not exist he says. So he gets the paper prepared, puts it into a nice blue binder and hands it in.
The next week the professor hands back the reports and the youngster is shocked he gets an F on his paper. F? He’s never received an F in his life. He then finds the professor after class and in a very pejorative manner demands an explanation for the grade he received. His professor, ever the gentleman, proceeds to tell him that his paper was well researched, well argued, and well thought out. But his professor doesn’t like the color blue (the color of the student’s binder), so he gave him an F. The youngster is about to explode when he finally realizes the moment the professor subtly grins. The student realized if objective moral values and duties don’t exist, the professor was completely within his grounds to grade the paper on any number of criteria he wanted. The kid had no right to be upset because the professor had no right to give him a good grade. Life isn’t fair youngster and why should it be? Where does this idea of fairness even come from?
In my own life, a large impetus of the development of this website and ministry was the death of my father. My father passed away suddenly from a brief battle with cancer. He was 67 and just barely a year into his retirement. Is that fair? Would fair have been 77? 97? Who’s to say what’s fair? He’s gone, as soon enough as all of us will be. We’ll talk about death in another section. But let’s stay on track here.
When a person asks why you believe homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, and other things are wrong, I’d like you to ask them why they think it is right. Put the question back on them, it will allow you to understand the foundation of the worldview they possess, and subsequently allow you to help inform them the dangers of subjective morality. Perhaps, in regards to homosexuality, they will say they are free to love who they love, God made them that way, it feels right, and they believe in tolerating all kinds of love. This provides an opportunity to engage them in their view of polygamous marriage, or incestual marriage, or age-appropriateness of marriage. If these relationships are all between consenting adults, why is this considered wrong? Is it? Why not marriage or arrangements with animals and humans? Where would we stop and why should we? This might allow me to lead further into discussions at some point of what I call the “morality menu”, which basically means people pick their course of morality based on their diet, similar to how you would choose an entree at a restaurant.
This also provides an opportunity for you to show them the divide between love and tolerance, and that real love is not tolerant. How when we seek comfort we don’t find truth, and that only when we seek truth will we find comfort. I’m sure many of us have strong anecdotal evidence of what kinds of adults kids become when their parents give them everything they ask for because their parents love them. Love without boundaries serves a parent or child with no benefits down the road. All you have built is enabling. Love needs to have boundaries.
Others might say all religions have some semblance of morality, even a sort of golden rule. True! Most all religions do prescribe some sort of morality, but as to what the exact prescription of that morality is very different, along with the prescriber. And remember this, at best the world religions are superficially true, and fundamentally different. If people want to argue with you that the world religions are fundamentally true and superficially different, try the following analogy. Let’s take three sports that many of us have some understanding of: American football, hockey, and baseball. Now superficially speaking, these sports are very similar in the respect that there are two teams involved in a competition, with players and coaches, uniforms, some sort of an object that the teams possess. And the goal is to score points, in fact more points than the other team so they are crowned victorious of that particular competition. A lot of similarities huh?
So now let’s look closer, let’s look at the equipment, the field they play on, the number of players who can play at any one time, and most important, the RULES! Here is where we see the divide, in fact it is such a great divide as deemed comical when you think of how Joe Montana was the greatest pitcher in major league history. But of course that is false, for Joe Montana played football, not baseball, and no people who are “sportigious” would ever confuse the fact that Joe Montana was a football player. Despite the many similarities, they are in reality fundamentally different. So we have to come to the reality that because they make metaphysical truth claims, all religions cannot be true, for that would be a logical contradiction. Perhaps they are all false, but they cannot all be true. Like any truth we want to discern in life we need to weigh the evidence on what seems most reasonable.
Some people will say that moral progress has taken place and I believe it! But why measure moral progress if we’re not really sure what we are progressing too? What is the standard? And despite moral progress, slavery, in any cultural time period has always been wrong (we will deal with slavery in the Bible at a later section) no matter how “right” people at the time thought it to be. How can we prove that? Well I suppose a myriad of ways, but do you think the Egyptians ever considered handing over the kingdom to the Israelites to become slaves for them for 400 hundred years?
And how many people that you know would consider themselves a perfect person? I would be willing to assume many of them recognize how they fall short in their character. Just the remark of not measuring up means you have fallen short of some standard, but under a subjective worldview, what would be that standard of perfection? Even more, why strive for it?
The founding fathers of this country had it right when they talked about “these truths being self-evident”. They are. But even though they are self-evident does not imply we follow them, or acknowledge their self-evident nature as true. Jumping out of an airplane with a parachute is self-evidently dangerous, yet many people do it, even for purely recreational purposes. The Bible speaks of this truth being written on our hearts (Romans 2:15). The fact that we disagree about them only means that despite that disagreement, we truly believe in the rightness and wrongness of a point of view. And why under a naturalistic worldview would we even conceive of something being right, wrong, or even the idea of rights period? Does somebody really think morality comes from evolution? Let’s listen to a famous quote from one of the most outspoken atheists of our day, Richard Dawkins.
Dawkins says this: “The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference” (1).
If you can digest that as truth can you really be a moral person? The irony here is that Dawkins himself is a staunch moralist, advocating for homosexual rights and against animal cruelty among other things. So even if you believe in the above proposal, one cannot live it consistently. Where does this idea of justice which he mentions even come from? Do you think Dawkins would make a claim of injustice if we threw him in prison for his remark? Or would he just sit in his cell and say “bad luck I suppose.” Let’s try to come back to the objective standard.
If God exists it provides humanity a place to ground the existence of objective moral values and duties, for God, by His nature, must be good (see evil and suffering section). In the synoptic Gospels (Luke 17, Mt 19, and Mark 10) Jesus tells the story of how a certain ruler can inherit eternal life. C.S. Lewis said he couldn’t recognize a line was crooked without first knowing what a straight line was (2).
In fact the whole Bible, what I refer to as the greatest love story ever told and written down, culminates in the second person of the trinity, God’s own Son Jesus, coming down from Heaven to die on a cross because of our immoral behavior, our sin.
How instructive it is, whether you believe in the historicity of Genesis 1 or not, that God set two distinct trees in the midst of the garden, one, the tree of life, and two, a tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We could call this second tree, as we find out a few verses later, the tree of death. So in regard to objective moral values and duties, the value was good at the time, there was no bad, and the duty for man, the right duty, was to not eat of the fruit of this tree, for as of yet there was no wrong. And then a decision was made that showed humanity the consequences of our moral choices. And isn’t it interesting that both of their eyes were opened (Gen 3:7). What do you suppose their eyes were opened to? I suggest it was the recognition of what we “ought” to do at odds with the reality of that which we in fact typically do. And only then did they recognize their nakedness and attempt to cover themselves. Interesting. What’s even more interesting is that a little while later God decides to cover them, knowing their efforts would always be insufficient.
So in closing, given the risk of an impending reality under a subjective worldview; thank God He has saved us.
(1) Richard Dawkins River out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (Basic Books, 1995)
(2) C.S. Lewis Mere Christianity (Geoffrey Bles, Macmillan Publishers, 1952)
(KJV) Bible: King James Version
Suggested readings (Theistic and Atheistic):
-Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God by Paul Copan
-Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview by J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig
–Stealing from God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case by Frank Turek
–The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris