What Key Arguments Are There for God’s Existence? (Part 3: Moral Argument)

Moral Argument for God's Existence

(This is the third post in my “65 Questions Every Christian Parent Needs to Learn to Answer” series. Sign up to receive posts via email to make sure you can answer each one!)

Today is the third and final post answering question #1 in the series: What key arguments are there for God’s existence? I wrote previously on the creation and design arguments. In this post I’ll explain the moral argument.

In its simplest form, the moral argument for God’s existence is the idea that 1) there is an objective morality – moral standards that exist outside of personal opinion – and that 2) the best explanation for the existence of that objective morality is the existence of a moral law giver (God).

This argument is particularly important to understand and be able to explain given our culture’s increasing claims that no one should force “their” morality on anyone else.

Let’s look briefly at the two parts of the argument.

 

1.    Objective morality exists.

We all have a moral intuition which immediately tells us that some things are wrong regardless of opinion – for example, stealing or torturing someone for fun. It seems we are “pre-wired” with that moral understanding.

That said, the existence of objective morality is one of the most challenged Christian ideas today. Christians are frequently accused of trying to impose “their” values on others. If there really is an objective morality, however, Christians aren’t representing their personal values, but rather universal values that apply to all people as given by God.

There are three main objections to the Christian claim that an objective morality exists. Let’s take a brief look at each one.

 

Objection 1: “Different cultures have different ideas of right and wrong, so there must not be an objective morality!”

If you study various cultures around the world and throughout history, you can see they sometimes have different ideas of right and wrong. If there really is an objective morality, wouldn’t that mean everyone everywhere has the same values?

Not at all. Just because cultures have different ideas of right and wrong doesn’t mean that no one is objectively correct! Think about 10 people guessing how many marbles are in a jar. If four people guess the wrong number, does that mean there was no correct answer? Of course not. The mere existence of different values between cultures says nothing about whether there is an objectively “right” answer.

 

Objection 2: “Morality is defined by a person’s society – people should just do whatever their society says.”

If this is true, then there can’t be an immoral society, and you can’t critique your own society. This is counterintuitive. Take it to the extreme: should we really not judge the Nazis?

 

Objection 3: “Morals are just a matter of personal opinion – it’s all relative!”

This idea is pervasive in society today, but there are many things wrong with it. Here are just a few:

  • If morality is just a matter of opinion, then to be consistent, you can never say anything or anyone is wrong! No one actually lives that way. If you steal a car from a person who believes that morals are all relative, you can bet they will still claim you did something wrong to them. The problem is, they have no basis from which to complain.
  • If someone believes there is truly no right or wrong, they would have to believe that there is no moral difference between Mother Teresa and Hitler. Again, almost no one would actually make that claim.
  • Most people who believe in moral relativism promote the obligation to be tolerant of all beliefs. But promoting any obligation – in this case tolerance – suggests that there are laws that apply to all people. Why consider tolerance the highest moral obligation?

In short, it may be personally convenient for people to claim that morality is a matter of personal opinion, but almost no one lives as though that is actually true. It’s easy to see the contradictions of such a belief.

For further reading on relativism, I highly recommend the book, “Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air” by Francis Beckwith and Gregory Koukl. It’s a relatively (ha ha) easy read on this very important topic.

 

2.    The best explanation for objective morality is the existence of a moral law giver.

If there is an objective set of moral laws that is binding on all humans, where would those laws come from? Laws imply a law giver. The existence of objective morality is better explained by the existence of God (a law giver) than by saying morality is “just there.”

 

Now we’ve covered the three biggest arguments for God’s existence: cosmological, design and moral (we’ll be moving on now to more of the 65 questions). Which do you personally find most compelling? For me, the design argument is most powerful. 

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Comments

  1. David Crain says:

    I agree, the Design Argument is the most the most compelling for me. But isn’t it interesting, after two days, you have no comments about the Morality Argument. In other words, you are getting no argument, comment or vote on the Morality Argument. CS Lewis begins Mere Christianity by saying first there is The Law. The Law is a code of morality that describes what everyone knows is wrong either intuitively or deep down inside. The Law is basically The Ten Commandments re-expressed in 20th Century thought. Perhaps the Morality Argument for God’s existence is fundamentally and tacitly the strongest.

  2. Loved reading about the moral argument. Well written and explained, my friend. :)

  3. Cindy Lacy says:

    I actually like the moral argument the best. I have heard several of these arguments from an athiest friend. I catch her stealing from my worldview all the time because she can’t logically argue her belief without “borrowing” from the Christian worldview.

  4. I wonder what your response to Nonstampcollector’s video about objective morality is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zt5gLf455Q8#t=0. Thanks

  5. In response to the Video Tommy posted, I would first quote philosopher J.P. Moreland who says that evil is, “Something that is not as it ought to be.” Anyone asserting evil, argues for something else, something good, something that should be . . . a design. For example: We say he’s got a bad knee, meaning it isn’t functioning according to design. To argue for good/right argues for design which argues for an intelligent designer. If there is no designer, no God, then there is no good or evil, everything just is . . .

    Moreland’s Website: http://www.jpmoreland.com/
    Q&A: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wd6EYWkOgPY#aid=P795-Y1Rl_A

    In the video Tommy posted, “Nonstampcollector” asserted that non theists need no defined foundation for morality as long as he demonstrated the Biblical God’s morality was flawed. However to argue the God of the Bible is wrong—is again to argue for what ought to be, a design, and an intelligent designer. Hence Nonstampcollector uses an argument that requires a theistic worldview to refute theism!

    See Paul Copan’s UTube video “Is God a Moral Monster,” for an excellent response to this issue.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1C3q3Zr_R8E

  6. Hello,

    I found your blog and wanted to comment. I put a fair amount of effort into this, so please give me the benefit of the doubt and see what I have to say. I don’t think the moral argument stands up to any sort of scrutiny. Additionally, I think this piece is rife with dramatic hyperbole, if you’ll pardon my say so. For example:

    >our culture’s increasing claims that no one should force “their” morality on anyone else

    That is not the claim. The claim is that no one should force certain aspects of their morality on anyone else. There is a drastic difference. I would very much force my moral feelings about stealing on someone robbing me whose own morality allowed for it.

    Anyways, the first point you make regarding morality ignores the history of our culture’s development. From a historical point of view, it makes no sense whatsoever. We can see the changing nature of this so-called “objective” morality even by reading the Bible and comparing its morality to our own today on topics such as slavery.

    We are a species that evolved over forty millennia. We are a cooperative species like wolves and unlike sharks, for example. We are the most highly encephalized animal on Earth, and this extra brain tissue gives us the ability to think about complex relationships and tasks such as tool building and agriculture. As human societies evolved, the ones whose members cooperated the best flourished the most. Those that inbred (and there were many, you can still study their remnants) largely died out; today we call it the incest taboo. Those that allowed thievery and retaliatory violence created less secure lives for citizens, resulting in fewer offspring. Societal order means more energy is available to spend on things like learning and brewing and building things rather than constantly defending yourself from anyone who might try to take advantage. Think of the “objective moral truths” of the Middle Ages in Europe. Enslaving your fellow Christians, for example. Burning people alive on the say so of the church. There is no objective morality. There is only our current subjective morality, which each generation in turn names “objective.”

    You are absolutely correct, there is an innate human sense of right and wrong, a “moral compass.” It is an evolved part of our societal consciousness. You can trace its evolution from the primitive tribes of ancient Africa to Hammurabi to the Magna Carta to the U.S. Tax Code. It is NOT uniform or objective, to wit: several of my acquaintances are known to drive while under the influence. I see this as a great moral evil and would never do so. They disagree and feel no guilt. Do you see what I’m saying? It’s not uniform, it’s personal. The major concepts (don’t kill, don’t rape, don’t take other people’s turnips) are pretty standard, although plenty of people lack those too. It’s evolution in action.

    The objections you list are not compelling. The first I’ve more or less addressed above. The second…who in the *world* says that? That’s perverse, no one I’ve ever met in my life says “We should just follow society’s rules and do exactly what we’re supposed to no matter what it is.” That’s *crazy.* Yes, many people just kind of go along, generally speaking. No one says “never object to anything your society is up to.” The news is practically wall-to-wall coverage of people objecting to what our society is up to.

    Number three is more interesting. Subpoint one: you’re mistaking objective and subjective morality when we use the word “wrong.” I still have *subjective* morals, even though I reject objectivity. I know it’s wrong to kill, to the point where I literally don’t even kill bugs in the house and buy live-catch mousetraps to save the mice. I take my moral code VERY seriously indeed. It is entirely subjective, however. I can’t say anything’s objectively right or wrong, of course, because I don’t believe that that’s a thing that exists. I still think things are (subjectively) right and wrong and live my life by my principles.

    Subpoint two: What? That is just….wild. I have plenty of criticism for Mother Theresa, but they’re not in any possible way comparable. Also, Godwin’s Law. Again…I still have *subjective* morality, I’m not a sociopath. Check it out, think of it this way. Pretend you for some unknown reason just lost your faith altogether. Would you want to go out and murder a person? Would you want to sexually assault someone? Start shooting meth? Of course you wouldn’t, you’re a good person. Whether or not you think your moral code is coming from God, it’s still your moral code. Surely you don’t think believing in God is the only thing keeping you from a murderous rampage? If you don’t think that, why is it any different for me, a complete nonbeliever?

    Subpoint three: Again, it’s not objective, we’ve just determined by a long and agonizing process of trial and error that not enslaving people on the basis of their race, for example, makes life better for everyone. Tolerance helps society the way I talked about earlier; people are more productive when not defending themselves.

    I absolutely behave as though morality were a matter of personal opinion. In my opinion, people ought not to rob each other or drive drunk. I therefore omit those behaviors from my life.

    Premise Number Two:

    Hopefully you now understand why I don’t see point two to be a demonstration of anything. As I think I’ve made a reasonable case for, subjective morality is all there is. No celestial law giver to tell us not to eat cows (whoops, wrong deity…) eat pigs (dang, wrong again,) not believe in other gods (there we have it!) No objective justice, just us.

    _____________________

    I liked your other post about preparing Christian children for the secular world by teaching them apologetics and critical thinking. Critical thinking is very important, I agree. I’m one of those who left Christianity in his teens and never looked back; now learning apologetics and why they fail has become a passtime. Remember, your kids are going to end up talking to someone like me some day, you’re gonna need to work on your arguments. We are talkative and numerous. : ) If you’re interested, I’ll point out where the first two arguments in the series fail, but I don’t want to impose on your comment section’s hospitality. Thanks for the read.

    • Hi Will,

      Thanks for your detailed comment. I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts. While I don’t have time to engage in a ping pong match through blog comments, I wanted to at least reply to your important points here.

      First, I appreciate your intellectual honesty in admitting that without God, there is no objective morality; that any sense of morality is only personal opinion and stems from what evolved. At least we’re beginning from a point of agreement!

      From there we diverge. Let me address your major points.

      You said a lot about evolution and how morality has changed over time and between cultures. This brings up a few points. First, you are confusing moral principles and their particular expressions. Two cultures can have the same underlying value (e.g., don’t eat your grandma) while disagreeing about what constitutes eating grandma (e.g., Hindus believe a cow could be grandma). Just because one culture believes it is OK to eat a cow and another doesn’t says nothing about the existence of objective morality. You have to go beyond a cursory level of comparison. Second, the Bible does not support slavery. So much has been written about this that I’m not going to address those points here because it would take us far off course. If you’re interested, I would highly recommend the book “Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis.” Third, the fact that people have done bad things in history (burning others alive at the stake) doesn’t mean morality has changed. The existence of objective morality doesn’t depend on whether or not people have met the standard; it only means there IS a standard. Humans have free will and, therefore, will not always choose right. Fourth, even if one takes evolution to be a fact (for the sake of argument), a description of how people developed their knowledge of morality says nothing of whether or not there was an objective morality to discover. Evolution alone simply doesn’t prove morality is subjective.

      Moving on…

      Given that we agree there is no objective morality without God, I don’t think you’re living out the implications of your own worldview consistently. You say, “I would very much force my moral feelings about stealing on someone robbing me whose own morality allowed for it.” I have to ask why? Is there something about your morality that should trump the morality of that other person, thereby justifying your force? If so, that would mean stealing has an objectively negative value to you. Of course, that would wipe out your whole argument by suggesting there really are objective values. Assuming you are not being that inconsistent, you are suggesting that you would force your personal opinion about some things on someone else. How is that different than Christians “forcing” their personal opinion about other things on other people (which so many claim we are doing)? If everything is relative, laws mean that one group is always forcing their opinion on another group. There is no reason to single out the opinions of one group as inappropriate. Of course, that’s what’s consistent with your worldview – not what I believe as a Christian whose worldview is based on the presupposition of objective standards.

      Please read your paragraph after “I still have subjective morality” and evaluate the inconsistency with your own worldview. It’s really quite striking. Why are you proud to “still” have your subjective morality, as if that’s a badge of honor? If it’s all just your opinion, why should I or anyone else care that you have it? How is that a proof point for anything? EVERYONE has subjective morality in your worldview! The fact that you have opinions about right and wrong is neither here nor there.

      The rest of that paragraph shows a misunderstanding of what objective morality means. Again, it doesn’t mean that everyone meets that standard all the time – it simply means there IS a standard. It also doesn’t mean that only Theists would be aware of the standard, if there is one. Christians believe that God has given the moral compass to all humans, regardless of whether or not they believe in him. So if I became an atheist, would I then go murder someone? No, because I would still believe that is wrong, as do most people. I would no longer have any justification for believing it is wrong, but because I would still have that objective standard “written on my heart” (as Christians believe), I wouldn’t become a murderer.

      I haven’t said all that could be said here (obviously, since numerous books exist on this), but I’ve hit the points I think that are important. If you enjoy knocking down Christian apologetics, as you said, I highly recommend Paul Copan’s book, “True for You, But Not for Me.” It addresses pretty much everything you said and far more. If you read it, I’d love to know where you believe he goes wrong. :)

  7. I would like to expand on the point that the existence of a universal moral law requires a moral law giver.

    Moral values come to us in the form of commands and commands cannot come from impersonal things. Moral values specify what you ought to do or what you ought not to do. Inanimate objects or impersonal things cannot claim that you ought to do something.

    Moreover, moral values can only come from a personal being who has authority. If someone or something does not have authority over you, then he, she, or it cannot specify what you ought to do.

    Since there are moral values that apply to all persons in all places at all times, the moral law giver must have authority over all persons in all places at all times. These universal, objective moral values cannot come from mere human beings because mere human beings do not have authority over all persons in all places at all times.

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