The Moral Argument
If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
Objective moral values and duties do exist.
Therefore, God exists.
Firstly, we need to recognise, this is a deductive argument, if the premises are true, the conclusion follows necessarily. So, the objector needs to show one of the premises are false to avoid the conclusion. Secondly, the 1st premise is exactly what the atheist says is the case, so isn’t question begging or circular reasoning. Thirdly and possibly more importantly, by objective, I mean independent of us comprehending the truth or not, it would still be true, for example, if we never discovered flight, the laws of aerodynamics would still be true, regardless of us comprehending the law or not.
If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist:
As stated before, this is the exact same claim atheists make. The typical atheist who is being logically consistent, will hold to a materialistic/naturalistic account of reality, that is, only nature is all there is, driven by pure undirected chance. So, let’s unpack some of this argument.
We all have a set of values we hold, that we guide our lives by, however inconsistently we keep to them. But are these values we hold dear and live our lives by, mere social conventions like reading a book, starting from left to right or a personal taste like the preference for what drink you prefer? Or are these convictions, independent of ourselves? And if so, what is there grounding? Are there really things we ought and ought not to do? Or is this apparent sense of obligation a social physiological add-on given by random chance and evolution?
William Lane Craig puts it like this “Many philosophers have argued that if God does not exist, then morality is ultimately subjective and non-binding. We might act in precisely the same ways that we do in fact act, but in the absence of God such actions would no longer count as good or evil, right or wrong, since in the absence of God, objective moral values and duties do not exist.”(1) He continues by saying “When we speak of moral values, we’re talking about whether something is good or bad; when we talk about moral duties we are concerned with whether something is right or wrong. Although we are apt to equate what is right with what is good and what is wrong with what is bad, a little reflection reveals this to be mistaken. Right and wrong have to do with moral obligation, what I ought or ought not to do. But obviously, I am not morally obligated to do something just because it would be good for me to do it.” He makes the examples of it being good to become a chemist or a firefighter, but there is no moral obligation to take any profession, regardless of it being worthwhile or ‘good’. Or we can think of good or bad moves in chess or in sports e.g. that was a good move, or that move was really bad, or that is a good way to lose the match. But it is absurd to think a move in chess has any moral dimension, it may be an objectively good or bad move in the case of winning the game, but there is no moral command one ought to move the rook to so and so position, it is up to the individual player what one does. And like the player, playing chess or the person choosing a career one must choose. We all then make choices, and additionally we come to situations where it is nothing but bad choices to make, but since one must choose, it isn’t wrong to choose. So, we have good reasons why there is a difference between good or (bad) and something being right and (wrong). “The former has to do with something’s worth, while the latter concerns something’s obligatoriness. In premise (1) we’re concerned with the question whether without God there would be an objective distinction between good and evil and between right and wrong.”(1)
Therefore, to say that there are objective moral values is to say that something is good or evil independently of whether any human being believes it to be so. Similarly, to say that we have objective moral duties is to say that certain actions are right or wrong for us independently of whether any human being believes them to be so. For example, to say that the Holocaust was objectively wrong is to say that it was wrong even though the Nazis who carried it out thought that it was right, and it would still have been wrong even if the Nazis had won World War II and succeeded in exterminating or brainwashing everybody who disagreed with them so that it was universally believed that the Holocaust was right. The claim of premise (1) is that if there is no God, then moral values and duties are not objective in this sense.
Consider, then, what moral landscape it would be given atheism. Why think there is any objective morals? They are simply an accident of chance evolutionary adaptation. Surely, if humans are simply another animal on the evolutionary tree of life, the actions of the chimpanzee, lion, ant or any animal should be just as moral as anything we do. If we think we are somehow special and only we matter, this just becomes a form of speciesism, where we favour our species over another, but we aren’t special! We have no special right. As Richard Dawkins says “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference... DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.” (2) As stark and bleak as thas sounds, this is exactly the amount of value one should take from such an atheistic view.
Moreover, it seems if evolution is true, we have good reasons for thinking such actions as rape, murder and stealing are to our advantage, as this happens all the time in nature. It is in my biological interest to propagate my DNA as much as possible, if it is within my power to kill and steal that food, or take that tool from another, if it is to my advantage.
So, it seems there is no grounds for asserting morals or cooperation was an advantageous adaptation. It seems more plausible to me, that being selfish and fulfilling ones base instincts is far more advantageous especially in the short term than cooperation, as this is all evolution wants, to propagate DNA, if I can propagate my DNA by whatever means to as many females, it is to my advantage, consequences be damned. Furthermore, the females would want to be impregnated by any means.
The supposed evolutionary advantage of cooperation to me seems to be contrived and smuggled in as a convenient addition without warrant and very much presupposed after the facts, like the taxicab fallacy, where you just arrive at the desired conclusion. For example, take hypothetical Tribe A & B. Tribe A have been in their location a while, close to a water source and lots of food. Tribe B had to move due to food and water running out in their location, so come by Tribe A, Tribe B notice Tribe A has lots of females and lots of food and water. It is in their best interests to take by force and kill the males and impregnate the females to further increase the tribe. So, tribe B, takes over tribe A. At this point, I assume Mr. Atheist is screaming “no, no! Surely it is in both interest to cooperate with each other?” But why think that? Tribe A has no reason to trust tribe B, they are not likely to speak the same language, moreover, tribe A won’t want to share food or water with another large tribe as it might run out! Additionally, there is no guarantee tribe A’s females will want Tribe B’s men, and tribe A's men won’t want their women deserting to another tribe and vice versa.
Additionally, the idea of cooperation and the morals we hold so dear are an evolutionary advantageous adaptation, presupposes that this is the best possible solution. The atheist smuggled in Judeo-Christian ethics as their own and hopes no one notices! like a little boy cramming chocolate in his mouth, while he thinks his mum doesn’t notice, while his hands and face are grubby with melted chocolate, trying to look innocent. No! We did notice and your face is covered! It is a given, that anyone who is born in the western world, is brought up in a Judeo-Christian worldview, and you, as a westernised person have been privileged in having such a ethical framework of mutual respect and human rights, that we haven’t known any different for generations (3)(4).For example, Jordan Peterson writes “...the impossible problems it had solved disappeared from view. That’s what happens to problems that are solved. And after the solution was implemented, even the fact that such problems had ever existed disappeared from view. Then and only then could the problems that remained, less amenable to quick solution by Christian doctrine, come to occupy a central place in the consciousness of the West—come to motivate, for example, the development of science, aimed at resolving the corporeal, material suffering that was still all-too-painfully extant within successfully Christianized” (5).
But on what grounds, do you, as an atheist, have the right to claim any moral system is best? In nature, rape, murder, genocide happens all the time, if this is the case, we as humans shouldn’t expect to be any different!
The term ‘best’ assumes that there is some objective standard, where it is possible to know a system is better or worse. If it is the case morals are subjective, who says what is best? Is it the old adage, might is right? Or is it rather an objective standard of measuring? If it is ‘might is right’, then it seems as I mentioned before, if Hitler had won WW2, the slaughter of millions of Jewish people in concentration camps would have been good! The experiments on humans and eugenics by Nazi scientists was good. What Stalin and Moa did when they combined killed over 60 million of their own people was good. At best it seems all you can do if any culture that differs from us on an atheistic moral framework is say you disagree that is okay, but that doesn’t make it really wrong. It is just socially unacceptable, like breaking wind at the dinner table, or pushing in, in a queue! They aren’t morally wrong to do them, you won’t get a night in jail or a court fine by breaking wind, they are just impolite.
Objective morals and duties do exist:
But objective morals and duties do exist! It seems obvious that this is true, we all intuitively know it is wrong to steal, rape and murder. It is clear that it isn’t just subjectively wrong to rape and murder someone, otherwise, it is conceivable to think of a situation where it is morally acceptable to do these abominable acts! To be clear by murder I mean killing someone with malice and forethought, that is, it was intended and planned. so, the intruder that comes into your home, whom you accidentally killed in an attempt to stop him from hurting you or your family, doesn’t count as murder, or any such act where the intention wasn’t to kill, but to stop them from harming yourself or another, typically a member of your household.
As Michael Ruse put it “The man who says that it is morally acceptable to rape little children is just as mistaken as the man who says, 2+2=5.”(6) He is completely correct, it seems there are at least somethings that are evil regardless of space, time and culture, it cannot be the case that if it were 10,000 years in the past, somewhere on earth, where it is moral to rape a child. If it is the case, if it is only subjective, again there must be some conceivable scenario where it is good! But is that really the intellectual price tag you are willing to get out of the conclusion? Surely, you will admit it is true that rape and murder at the very least are truly wrong?
It seems then, we have at least good grounds to think it is in fact the case that some things at least, are objectively wrong, or you have to conclude it is subjective and explain why and how some acts like rape is actually acceptable in some cases? But I do not believe any atheist is willing to admit that, so it is plausible that premise 2 is correct.
But on what grounds, or authority can we make such a claim? If it is the case that morals are objective, then something is the grounding for such truths. As we can see it cannot be nature that is the grounding for moral values and duties, but what about a maximally great, Omniscient and morally perfect being, whose very nature is the very ground of moral values and duties?
Therefore, God exists:
If you agree that there are objective moral values and duties, then it logically follows that God exists. It seems we have good warrant to conclude morals are objective as I have shown at least some acts are really wrong and to claim it is subjective is to admit that the opposite is acceptable in some circumstances too.
The Euthyphro Dilemma:
It goes something like this – 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. 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 goods seem to be necessary. But if we say instead that God wills something because it is good, then whether something is good or bad is independent of God. We are thus placed with two objectionable options, hence the dilemma! It however, is a false dilemma, we can give a plausible third option to break the dilemma and so show the Euthyphro Dilemma to be fallacious. The third option is that God’s nature just is the good, as William Lane Craig states in regards to this “Since our moral duties are grounded in the divine commands, they are not independent of God. Neither are God’s commands arbitrary, for they are the necessary expressions of his just and loving nature. God is essentially compassionate, fair, kind, impartial, and so forth, and his commandments are reflections of his own character. God’s character is definitive of moral goodness; it serves as the paradigm of moral goodness. Thus, the morally good/bad is determined by reference to God’s nature; the morally right/wrong is determined by reference to his will. The divine will or commands come into play as a source of moral obligation, not moral value.” (7)
Legal equal to moral:
Some people I have debated, have tried to use a legal framework to define what is moral. For example, the case of murder, they will say murder is an unlawful killing and try through thought experiments to see if this objective morality answers every question. But, this is a kind of strawman, I never said absolute morals, like we have the answer of every moral quandary. What I am claiming is objective morals are where moral truths and duties are true regardless if we appreciate them or not. Moreover, not everything that is legal, is moral and vice versa. For example, it may be legal for politicians in the U.K to claim expenses, however, it isn’t necessarily moral to claim for moats to be cleared, 5 star hotels and paying family members an above average wage on T.A.X payers money. It is not legal to drive faster than the speed limit, but it could be morally justifiable to in a medical emergency (this doesn’t constitute legal advice). So, though it is sometimes the case a legal law is moral, but it is not a universal truth, that all moral duties and values are enshrined in law.
Sam Harris’s moral landscape / well-being :
Some people will want to appeal to the moral framework Sam Harris put forward in his book ‘the moral landscape’, which he famously debated William Lane Craig, I will give a quote from William Lane Craig give a knock down argument to Harris’s position. “But Dr. Harris has to defend an even more radical claim than that: , he claims that the property of being good is identical with the property of creaturely flourishing. And he’s not offered any defense of this radical identity claim. In fact, I think we have a knock-down argument against it. Now bear with me here; this is a little technical. On the next-to-last page of his book, Dr. Harris makes the telling admission that if people like rapists, liars, and thieves could be just as happy as good people, then his “moral landscape” would no longer be a moral landscape. Rather, it would just be a continuum of well-being whose peaks are occupied by good and bad people, or evil people, alike.
Now what’s interesting about this is that earlier in the book, Dr. Harris explained that about three million Americans are psychopathic. That is to say, they don’t care about the mental states of others. They enjoy inflicting pain on other people. But that implies that there’s a possible world, which we can conceive, in which the continuum of human well-being is not a moral landscape. The peaks of well-being could be occupied by evil people. But that entails that in the actual world, the continuum of well-being and the moral landscape are not identical either. For identity is a necessary relation. There is no possible world in which some entity A is not identical to A. So if there’s any possible world in which A is not identical to B, then it follows that A is not in fact identical to B.
Now since it’s possible that human well-being and moral goodness are not identical, it follows necessarily that human well-being and goodness are not the same, as Dr. Harris has asserted in his book.”(8)(9) The argument thus, doesn’t follow and shouldn’t be accepted to be coherent.
The minimising of suffering:
Karl Popper and more recently CosmicSkeptic AKA Alex O’Connor has proposed a minimising of suffering or ‘Negative utilitarianism’ as an alternative to subjective morals. This sounds intuitively right, how can one not agree? Minimising suffering, seems reasonable, but if you think about what does this mean? Is any suffering bad? Is stubbing your toe on the dinning room table somehow suddenly take on a moral framework and is wrong? When a lion kills a zebra, are we to conclude the lion is evil? To be clear, what they propose is not that simplistic, but you can see that the terminology gets very slippery. One could conclude that anything that causes suffering is then wrong, so the parent telling the child who runs away and feels momentary suffering, is in fact terribly wronged and the parents are evil! But this is clearly wrong. But as stated before it isn’t that simplistic, people who hold to this view recognise some suffering is unavoidable and some maybe necessary, they say however, that humans should choose actions that minimises suffering. But who then decides what suffering is justifiable and what isn’t?
One typical rebuttal to the negative utilitarianism (UT) is formulated by R.N.Smart which goes like this “Suppose that a ruler controls a weapon capable of instantly and painlessly destroying the human race. Now it is empirically certain that there would be some suffering before all those alive on any proposed destruction day were to die in the natural course of events. Consequently the use of the weapon is bound to diminish suffering, and would be the ruler’s duty on NU grounds.”(10) he goes on to say “Again, consider NU in relation to murder and abortion. Painless killing would be a benefit to the victim. True, (i) his dear ones might suffer, through (a) the sorrow occasioned by his death and (b) the possible deprivation accruing on the removal of a breadwinner; and (ii) without a rule against murder society might become chaotic and therefore miserable. As for (a), mourning as an expression of sympathy for the victim would be irrational; better to be glad that he will fear no more the heat of the sun nor the furious winter’s raging, etc. (Religious people sometimes come near to this, but not for NU reasons: the dead one is enjoying the bliss of heaven.) And as to (b) and (ii), controlled murder would be quite all right, eg child-exposure (or rather, painless child-murder, like the humane disposal of unwanted kittens), provided this did not upset population balance, etc.: one could have a State-administered system of licences, for instance. Again, abortion, supposing that medical research could discover a harmless method, would be right on NU grounds. Furthermore, racial suicide, child-murder and abortion, while undoubtedly beneficial to the victims if painlessly carried out, might be justifiable even if the methods were somewhat painful: the amount of toothache and illness in store for a man will usually far outweigh the brief misery of the stiletto in his back. In general, then, NU will be unconvincing wherever we are concerned with the cutting-off of life.”
UT proponents obviously have answers to the apocalyptic problem, which ultimately appeals to their lives are not better off dead e.g., David Pearce and John W. N. Watkins. However, it seems that this just is an arbitrary line put in after the facts, take for example the pinprick argument, (11) which goes something like this, we ask the proponent of UT, would it be better if life never existed if the only painful experience was a pinprick? Another version of this goes something like this; if we imagine a God-like figure working on a UT moral framework, gazing at the sentient creature’s conscience experiences and notices they are finely balanced for pleasure/suffering so that if even 1 pinprick would require eliminating all life, as it tips the suffering too far.
Proponents of UT could respond that a pinprick isn’t the same level of suffering as the suffering endured in the loss of a loved one, or the pain in say cancer treatment or torture. A pinprick or the equivalent isn’t suffering nor does it carry the weight of emotional distress.
But again, such a response seems ad hoc. Who is deciding the cut-off point of what constitutes suffering and what is too much? Surely, they appreciate each person is different, pain thresholds differ from one person to the next. Similarly, an incident that may send one person into severe depression for the rest of their life, yet a comparable incident might only cause a few sleepless nights for another person. It seems completely arbitrary on any matrix of scale to determine who is really suffering. Moreover, it seems like a person who holds UT is justified to take their life if they feel sufficiently in pain, so any attempt of the proponent of UT to justify their belief in UT is wholly subjective. Additionally, how are morals = to minimising of suffering or vice versa? Granted, suffering in general is painful, but it isn’t immoral when you bash your funny bone, or a loved one passing away, taking exams, your appendix bursting. All these types are kinds of suffering to one extent or another, but do not constitute moral values or duties. It is true however, some moral acts or the privation of them can cause suffering e.g. murder or rape. I would argue however, these are wrong not because they cause suffering, they are wrong because they violate the intrinsic worth and dignity of that person and the moral authority that gave it to them! So it would seem it isn’t wrong because they are suffering, it is wrong because they have had an intrinsic part of themselves violated that is worthy of respect and treated with dignity.
It also seems that the knock down argument William Lane Craig had for Sam Harris’s moral landscape is applicable here too, since the Minimising of suffering isn’t equivalent to moral goodness, it follows then it isn’t incoherent.
Another point which Alex O’Connor supports on this UT view is veganism, that is, the suffering of animals should be minimised too. I have a lot of sympathy with the view and I would agree in part that animals in our care shouldn’t suffer needlessly, that is; If a given animal in our care is sick, treatment should be given to cure the illness. If a given animal in our care is in pain, a viable solution should be sought.
A given animal in our care should be given food, water, shelter and enough space to live comfortably e.g. in the case in farming, it should be free range or organic and preferably low intensity farming. A given animal in our care should not be in fear of attack from its owner, that is beaten or injured in some way with intention. If a given animal in our care is destined to be killed for food, the quickest way possible and away from the other animals should sought.
I think there are issues with Alex’s point of view, it has all the same issues with UT! Again minimising of suffering is a slippery term, is any suffering an animal feels somehow evil or bad? What constitutes suffering? Who decides? When is too much, too much and the life should be ended? Furthermore, why assume suffering is a moral term? It seems to me then, that suffering isn’t an equivalent to moral duties or values. Animals have no moral duties or values to us, or each other, when a lion eats a zebra, the lion hasn’t done anything wrong. When a male shark forcibly copulation with a female, it does nothing wrong, if a nest of ants attacks another ants nest and kills them all, hasn't done anything wrong.
I believe we, as moral agents have a responsibility to those in our care, who are unable to look after their own well-being, should be cared for, because it is in our power to do so and is the right thing to do, in and of itself. However, as they have no moral obligations to us, we too have no obligation to them, other than that which should be imposed to reduce needless suffering.
Evil God Hypothesis:
Some objectors love to bring Bible quotes from the Old Testament as this, (in their minds) undercuts the argument for objective morality. This again will have to be a separate page but will answer a few common objections, in part at least here.
Isn’t the Bible and God evil for sanctioning slavery?
The issue here is that, the person who is normally objecting to this is imposing a modern western standard onto an ancient Hebrew culture. Moreover, when the Bible uses the word slave, it brings up images of the type of slavery of that in the plantation fields, where the slaves were treated in the most appalling way, this however, isn’t analogous to the Hebrews. For example, Paul Copan in ‘Is God a Moral Monster' writes “In the ancient world (and beyond),chattel (or property) had three characteristics: 1. A slave was property. 2. The slave owner’s rights over the slave’s person and were total and absolute. 3.The slave was stripped of his identity-racial, familial, marital. From what we’ve seen, this doesn’t describe the Hebrew servant at all, nor does it...fit the non-Israelite “slave" in Israel.” (12) Paul Copan’s book in question goes into great detail, showing first that the Old Testament laws were not meant for all time, and were for a specific time frame e.g., Paul Copan writes “Yet contrary to the common Neo-atheists' caricatures, these laws weren’t the permanent, divine ideal for all persons everywhere. God informed his people that a new, enduring covenant would be necessary (Jer.31; Ezek. 36). By the Old Testament’s own admission, the Mosaic law was inferior and future looking.” (13) moreover, it shows how both Jewish and gentiles alike had rights and protection under law which was favourable compared to other nations. For example, they had rights to run away to another home if they were abused without fear of being sent back, they had days off, had rights under law and legal redress. (14)(15)
Abraham and Isaac:
Isn’t the Bible and God evil for demanding Abraham kill Isaac?
The issue is the objector seems to be thinking God is like a mafia boss, “ISAAC! I WANT HIM DEAD" kind of situation, but this isn’t analogous in the slightest. Remember Abraham, was promised on oath, that through Isaac, he would be a great nation. So, Abraham believed by faith that God would keep His promise, as he (Abraham) had good reason to! As the other promises came true. Abraham believed God could raise Isaac back to life. As Paul Copan writes in regards to Genesis 22 (references removed) “First, we’re immediately tipped off to the fact that God is testing Abraham (v.1). God doesn’t intend for Isaac to be sacrificed...second, even the hard command to Abraham is cushioned by God’s tenderness. God’s directive is unusual: “Please take your son" – or as another scholar translates it, “Take, I beg of you, your only son." God is remarkably gentle as he gives a difficult order. This type of divine command (as a plea) is rear. Old testament commentator Gordon Wenham sees here a “hint that the LORD appreciates the costliness of what he is asking.” ...one commentator states that God is not demanding here; thus, if Abraham couldn’t see God’s broader purposes and so couldn’t bring himself to do this, he wouldn’t “incur any guilt" in declining God’s pleas.”(16) He continues to write “God himself told Abraham that it wasn’t Hagar who would bear the child of Promise...(Gen. 17:18). God replied, “No, but Sarah your wife will bear your son...and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him"... So we can’t separate God’s promise in Genesis 12 and 17 from God’s gentle command in Genesis 22 .” So, it seems God isn’t some Mafia boss demanding people dead, but in fact a promise keeping God, who made an oath to Abraham, which he believed in faith, which then was a foreshadowing of the sacrifice God would make thousands of years later with Jesus, as Paul the apostle writes in this regards “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered ahimsa over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" Rom.8:33.
Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. 3rd ed. Crossway Books. William Lane Craig. 2008. P172-173
River Out of Eden, Science Masters, Richard Dawkins. 1995. P133
Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World. Little, Brown. Tom Holland 2019
12 Rules to Life: An Antidote for Chaos. Penguin Books. Jordan Peterson. 2018. P182
Michael Ruse, Darwinism Defended (London: Addison-Wesley, 1982), 275.
Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. 3rd ed. Crossway Books. William Lane Craig. 2008. P183
Is God A Moral Monster – Making Sense of The Old Testament. Baker Book. Paul Copan. 2011. P126-127
Is God A Moral Monster – Making Sense of The Old Testament. Baker Book. Paul Copan. 2011. P59
Is God A Moral Monster – Making Sense of The Old Testament. Baker Book. Paul Copan. 2011. P127_157
Is God A Moral Monster – Making Sense of The Old Testament. Baker Book. Paul Copan. 2011. P47-48