Moral Argument

October 26, 2009

Again, these are study notes.  There’s no real original content.

The Argument:
1.  If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist.
2.  Objective moral values and duties do exist.
3.  Therefore, God exists.

Preliminary Definition:
For the purposes of the argument, we define “God” as at least the following: an immaterial, transcendent “law-giver”, whose very nature defines the “good”, and whose commands obligate us to abide by the “good”.

The Premises:
1.  If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist.

  • What are “objective moral values”?  They are actions that are right or wrong regardless of whether anyone believes that to be the case.  For example, suppose the Nazis had won WWII, and defeated and killed all who thought the Holocaust was wrong.  That would not alter the fact that the Holocaust was, and would continue to be, objectively wrong.
  • What are “objective moral duties”?  They are obligations each person has to abide by objective moral values.  They are not equivalent to values.  For instance, although it may be very good to feed and clothe the poor in sub-Saharan Africea, that doesn’t mean we have to do it (it would not be our duty to do such a thing).  However, it does seem that we are obligated not to torture little children.  Likewise, we are obligated to be tolerant, generous, etc. to our neighbors.
  • If atheism is true, then moral values, as immaterial properties of the universe, could not come into existence.  For example, how would “fairness” suddenly come into existence in a purely material universe?  The concept of morals existing wholly separated from persons seems unintelligble.
  • If naturalism is true (and it typically follows from atheism), then there is no reason to think that souls with free will exist.  Accordingly, moral duties would not exist because all actions would be determined.  We could not help but do what we in fact do.
  • But suppose that atheism is true and moral values do exist.  Why think there is anything objective about them?  If atheism is true, it is more reasonable to conclude that what we call morals are mere social constructions, or agreed-upon principles that promote the survival of the community.  But there’s nothing inherently right or wrong with any act.
    • “Morality arises when a group of people reach an implicit agreement or come to a tacit understanding with one another.” (Harman, 1975)
    • “Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, and has no being beyond this.” (Ruse, 1989)
    • “…the sense of ‘ought’ is the effect of somebody’s imagined disapproval…” (Russell, 1948)
  • The atheist may respond that morality is grounded in the value of human beings.  However this view seems to be without justification.  For it atheism is true, there is nothing in particular that gives human beigns (or anything else, for that matter) any objective value.  In modern times this view has come to be known as “speciesism”.

2.  Objective moral values and duties do exist.  We perceive the moral realm in the same way we perceive the physical realm.

  • Through simple reflection on various hypothetical situations, we apprehend the moral component of certain acts.  For instance, torturing babies is wrong, racism is wrong, tolerance is right, loving our children is right.
  • Skepticism with regard to existence of right and wrong is analogous to skepticism with regard to the existence of the external world.  Since we have no reason to distrust our intuitions about the physical world, we have no reason to distrust our perceptions of the moral realm.  For instance, although it is interesting to speculate about a “Matrix existence” (yes, the popular movie), we have no grounds to prefer that understanding of the universe versus the “everyday” view that the world is real!
  • The atheist might object that morals are not objective because different cultures exhibit different conceptions of right and wrong, or that we learn our morality from our parents or some other social mechanism.  We can respond in a couple of ways.
    • Several values do in fact transcend cultures (love and self-sacrifice for instance).  Not all cultures exhibit mutually exclusive understandings of morality.
    • More fundamentally, this objection commits the genetic fallacy.  That is, it concludes a belief is wrong based on the method by which the belief was developed.  Much in the same way that human beings can grow in their learning of the physical world, we also can grow in our understanding of right and wrong.  But although we may progress in our discovery of right and wrong, this in no way negates the fact that certain things are objectively right and wrong.

The Conclusion:
3.  God exists.

  Craig, various presentations of the argument
  Harman, 1975, Moral Relativism Defended
  Ruse, 1989, The Darwinian Paradigm
  Russell, 1948, BBC Radio debate with Copleston


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