There is an argument for God’s existence on the basis of morality known as The Moral Argument. Before I continue, I’d like to point out that “The Moral Argument” is not an argument that atheists can’t be moral people. Nor, is it “can we discern right and wrong without appealing to God?” No. No. Rather it’s can we seriously call something “objectively” moral rather than subjectively moral. Objective means “it is what is regardless of what people think” while subjective means that it’s wholly dependent on a person’s opinion. For example, it’s objectively true that vanilla ice cream is a yellowish white color and that chocolate ice cream is brown. However, it’s subjective that vanilla ice cream tastes better than chocolate. That vanilla ice cream tastes better than chocolate is dependent on a person’s opinion. The whole question is whether without the existence of God, is morality like the taste of ice cream? Is what’s good or bad just what we decide what’s good or bad, or is what’s good or bad good or bad regardless of what we think.
So, the question is not “Must we believe in God in order to live moral lives?” It’s whether the existence of God is needed in order for good and bad to be objective rather than subjective. Real, instead of opinion-based. Here’s an analogy; The question is not whether we need to believe in the existence of gravity in order for our feet to stay firmly planted on the ground, instead the question is whether the existence of gravity is needed in order for our feet to stay firmly planted on the ground, regardless of whether we believe in it or not.
I happen to think that without the existence of God, morality is subjective. If God does not exist, then everything we praise as good and condemn as evil is just our opinion.
William Lane Craig offers this syllogism when arguing for the existence of God on the basis of morality.
1: If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
2: Objective moral values and duties do exist.
3: Therefore, God exists.
If both premises are true, then the conclusion inevitably follows from the laws of logic. In order to escape the conclusion, you must deny either premise 1, or premise 2, or both. Most Atheists I’ve talked to affirm premise 2 but deny premise 1. Now, I must say that we have 3 options set before us.
* Morality is objective and is grounded in God’s character.
* Morality is subjective and not grounded in God’s character.
* Morality is objective and is grounded in something other than God.
Atheists cannot affirm option 1, because if they did, they’d no longer be atheists. They also reject staunchly option number 2. So, in order to remain and atheist and affirm right and wrong as real, objective facts, one has to come up with a plausible explanation for 3, or else revert to 2 (moral relativism) or go to number 1 and become a theist. Let me give some warrant for the first premise of the argument “If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist” which will also show why option number 3 is not a valid option.
DEFENSE OF PREMISE 1Moral Values
First off, if theism is not true, then what reason remains for thinking that human beings are intrinsically valuable? On atheism, man is just a biological organism. There are other biological organisms on the planet. What makes humans more valuable than the life of say, a cockroach, or a tree? Most people don’t believe you’re committing murder when you stomp on a cockroach or cut down a tree, but they do think you’re committing murder if you end the life of another human being. Why is it that the life of a man is of more value than that of a roach or a tree? Why is it murder to cut down a man, but not murder to cut down a tree? Both are living organisms. They’re both considered life.
Maybe humans are more valuable than these things because they’re more advanced. A man, unlike a roach or a tree, can walk, talk, and do complex mathematical equations. A person can build a rocket and fly it to the moon, build houses, and can do many things lower animals cannot do, and this is certainly something trees cannot do. But if you were to say that this is what makes a man intrinsically valuable, another question immediately arises; why is complexity a criterion for objective worth? Why is a human more valuable than any other organism just because he’s higher up on the evolutionary tree? Why isn’t it the case that simpler organisms have the most worth like an amoeba? Why is the advanced-ness of man a criteria for his objective worth?
It doesn’t seem that there is any intrinsic worth of a human life on the atheistic worldview. On atheism, man is just a bag of chemicals on bones who, because of the electro-chemical processes in his brain, neurons firing, and molecules going about in motion, goes about his day thinking that his life is valuable. This, despite the fact that he was thrust into existence from a blind process which did not have him in mind, despite the fact that he’s a tiny speck on a somewhat less tiny speck of dust called Planet Earth in a massive universe that cares not whether he lives or dies.
On atheism, there is nothing but matter, energy, space and time. Why is one bag of chemicals on bones so sacred, but other bags of chemicals on bones not so much?
It is true though, that humans can have subjective value. After all, many people have other people who care about them. A man loves his wife, his kids, and his parents. Given that many people have other people who care about them, it may be said that they really do have value after all. But this isn’t objective value, it’s subjective. What that means is that your worth is dependent on how many people love you. This type of value that a detractor of my argument may refer to seems akin to sentimental value. A man may cherish a toy because it reminds him of the happy times he had back in his childhood. There may be thousands of toys exactly like it, but this one is special to him because it is this one that he grew up with. Replacing it is out of the question. However, the toy doesn’t have objective value (that is to say, value in and of itself). Its value is wholly dependent upon the man cherishing it. Human beings, on atheism, seem to have that kind of value. We have sentimental value to those around us, but there doesn’t seem to be any value to the man in and of himself.
I can’t see how a human life can have any objective worth on the atheistic view. It seems that the first premise of the Moral Argument is correct. If God does not exist, there are no objective moral values. Man is just a bag of chemicals on bones. He is nothing but a speck of dust in a hostile and mindless universe and is doomed to perish in a relatively short time. Without God, wherein lies the objective worth of a man’s life? What makes a human life sacred? I don’t see any reason to think that there is objective worth on the atheistic worldview.
Since I do believe that human life is intrinsically valuable, I reject atheism and embrace an alternative. If you believe that human life is intrinsically valuable, you should do the same or else forever live in inconsistency. The late Christopher Hitchens wrote a book called God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Ironically, I believe that it is atheism that poisons everything. For atheism’s logical implications render human life valueless.
Since atheism cheapens human life, why is it morally wrong to murder someone on that worldview? Why is it wrong to mistreat a person on atheism? If humans have no moral value, then it seems that we have no moral obligations towards one another either (i.e no moral duties). To reject moral values is to reject moral duties. The denial of the former entails a denial of the latter. If human life is worthless, it seems like it wouldn’t be much of a crime to end it. Why is it an atrocity to kill 6 million Jews but not an atrocity to exterminate an entire hill of ants? What reason is there to think that there is a real moral difference between these two situations? Not only do we not have any moral obligations on the naturalistic worldview but it seems like there are no moral prohibitions either. If human life has no objective value, then discarding it isn’t a moral abomination. How ghastly it is to say such a thing, but, this is the logical implication of the atheistic worldview!
If atheism were true, we would have to affirm, like Richard Dawkins that “There is at bottom, no design, no good, no evil. Nothing but pointless indifference.”
Furthermore, if atheism were true, then Darwinian evolution is true (since the only alternative to macro evolution is special creation, atheism requires that evolution be true). So if atheism is true, and Darwinism is true, then I think it could be argued that a collective morality evolved among the human species, because the moral values we hold and the actions to which we feel obligated to either commit or refrain from committing serve to further the advancement and continuation of the species. In other words; we fare better if we don’t go around killing, maiming, raping, and stealing from one another. Humanity fares better if we provide for one another, are kind to one another, and help one another. Under Atheism, our morals have survival value and that’s why they developed in us.
The atheist philosopher of science, Michael Ruse, agrees. He writes:
“The position of the modern evolutionist is that humans have an awareness of morality because such an awareness is of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation, no less than our hands and feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate that when someone says, 'love thy neighbor as thyself,' they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, and any deeper meaning is illusory.”
As the result of evolutionary processes human beings have evolved a herd morality which functions well in the perpetuation of the human species for the struggle for survival. But on the atheistic view there doesn’t seem to be anything about homosapiens which makes this morality objectively true. If evolutionary history were rewound and done all over, very different creatures which very different values might well have evolved. In fact, Charles Darwin himself said this in his writings. He wrote “If men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters, and no one would think of interfering." [Charles Darwin. The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex. Second Edition. New York. 1882, p. 99.]
What reason is there to think that our morality is objectively true other than this other evolutionary lineage? As philosopher William Lane Craig writes "To think of human beings as special is to be guilty of specie-ism, an unjustified bias toward one’s own species. Thus, if there is no God, then any basis for regarding the herd morality evolved by homosapiens as objectively true seems to have been removed. So if theism is false, it’s hard to see what basis remains for the affirmation of objective moral values and in particular the special value of human beings."
Moreover, on the atheistic view, human beings are just animals and animals aren't morally obligated towards one enother. The ethicist Richard Taylor powerfully illustrates this point. He invites us to imagine human beings living in a state of nature without any customs or laws. Suppose one kills another one and takes his goods. Taylor reflects:
“Such actions, although injurious to their victims, are no more unjust or immoral if they would be done by one animal to another. A hawk that seizes a fish from the sea and kills it, but does not murder it; and another hawk that seizes the fish from the talons of the first hawk TAKES it but does not STEAL it – for none of these things are forbidden. And exactly the same considerations apply to the people we are imagining.”
WHAT ABOUT PREMISE 2?
What about premise 2? That “Objective moral values and duties do exist”? Well, as I’ve already said earlier in this post, the majority of atheists I’ve talked to affirm premise 2 (“objective moral values and duties do exist). Most atheist believes actions like murder, rape, adultery, theft, are real, actual moral abominations. I agree with them! Those things are indeed moral abominations. Richard Dawkins thinks it’s morally wrong to teach your kids that Christianity is true. So, I don’t usually have to defend the idea that morals are real and objectively binding. William Lane Craig states that the evidence for the existence of objective morality is on par with the evidence for the existence of the external physical world. We recognize that both are real. We can sense both of them. He writes “I take it that in moral experience we do apprehend a realm of objective moral values and duties just as in sensory experience we apprehend a realm of objectively existing physical objects. Just as it is impossible for us to get outside our sensory input to test it’s veridicality, so there is no way to test independently, the veridicality of our moral perceptions.” He goes on to say “There is no more reason to deny the reality of objective moral values than the objective reality of the physical world. In the absence of some defeater, we rationally trust our perceptions whether sensory or moral.”
But what about those who DO say that morality isn’t real? These people are called “Moral Relativists”. What about them? I find that people who give lip service to moral relativism rarely live out their view consistently.
So, both premises are true. Thus, the conclusion follows. "Therefore, God exists".
Aren’t you just commiting the God-Of-The-Gaps Fallacy? You don’t understand what causes morality to be objective, so you punt to God!
This is not a God-Of-The-Gaps argument. There’s good reason to think that a personal Being is the standard and explanation for objective morality. Why is God the best explanation for objective morality?
Well, If we say Hitler was immensely evil & Mother Teresa was immensely good, does that not presuppose an absolute moral standard that you're comparing them to? Are we not saying that Mother Teresa was much closer to matching that absolute, unchanging standard than Hitler? Is what's moral, what's legal? That doesn't seem absolute. Just because something is legal or illegal doesn't mean it's moral. The killing of unborn children is legal, but pro-life atheists say that it's immoral. So the government can't be the source of deciding right and wrong. Moreover, in Germany, it was not only legal, but mandated by Hitler that the Nazis kill Jews. If what is moral or immoral is what is legal or illegal, then we could say it's immoral to kill Jews in America, but that it was OK at the time for people to do it in Germany during the Holocaust. But then, this is no longer objective moral values. It’s SUBjective. If morality is to be Objective, there has to be some absolute, unchanging standard that we are to compare ourselves to. The question is; what is that standard? The theist of course, would say that God’s character is the unchanging absolute standard. But what does the atheist say? How does the atheist condemn the Holocaust and 9-11 as being acts of evil rather than just things he doesn’t like (that is, it goes against his preference)? Is it always evil at all times and in all places to kill innocent people or does the moral status of such an action change depending on when and where you are in history? If it’s absolute and objective (i.e is what it is regardless of peoples’ opinions on the matter) where does this grounding come from?
Some atheists say “Whatever contributes to human flourishing is good and what goes against it is evil” but then we’re back to the problem of objective verses subjective moral values? Why should we say that human flourishing is objectively good rather than it’s opposite? Is it your opinion that human flourishing is good or are you comparing that to a standard? And what is the standard? If it’s not God, one has to come up with something else and if they can’t, then moral relativism is the only logical conclusion (at least if one wants to maintain their atheism). If morality is objective, it has its grounding in something.
C.S Lewis put it well "The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard," Lewis wrote, "saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other; the standard that measures two things is something different from either. You are in fact comparing them both with some Real Morality, admitting there is such a thing as a real Right, independent of what people think, and that some people's ideas get nearer to that real Right than others."
Lewis went on to say, "If your moral ideas can be truer, and those of the Nazis less true, there must be something — some Real Morality — for them to be true about."
Therefore, I think God is the best explanation for why morality is objective.
I suppose one way I could argue that God is the best explanation for objective morality is because we can tell what is right or wrong because there’s a prescription of how something OUGHT to behave. For example: how can we tell a good radio from a bad radio? We can tell the difference because there is a way a radio OUGHT to function. It ought to play music that’s being broadcasted from different radio stations and it should play music from a certain station if the dial is tuned into said station. The radio that gets nothing but static is a bad radio. It’s defective. It doesn’t work the way it’s *supposed to*. It’s not behaving the way it’s *designed* to work. It’s not working the way that it’s creator intended it to.
Now, let’s switch the analogy from radios to leaves from an autumn tree that just so happened to land on my front porch because the wind randomly blew them onto my porch. Because there was no design involved, there’s really no PREscription of how the leaves SHOULD have landed. I can’t point to one leaf and say “You see that leaf? That’s a bad leaf! That’s a really bad leaf!” I can’t say that because there’s no purpose to the formation of the leaves on my porch. There’s no design involved and everyone knows there’s no design involved. But with the radios, everyone knows there’s a way radios OUGHT to perform and we can look at one functioning radio and call it “good” while looking at another radio and call it “bad”. Now, on atheism, we are like those leaves. There’s no purpose, there’s no design, we’re just here by chance + nature. So, if atheism is true, it’s really odd to say that there’s a way we OUGHT to behave since we were not MADE by anyone who intended us to behave as such. If theism is true, we’re like the radios. We were made for a purpose and were inscribed with a sense of ‘oughtness” of how we are to behave and when people don’t function that way in society, we say they’re “bad”. But if atheism is true, we’re kind of like the leaves on the porch. We just blew up there through blind, undirected processes. There’s really no way that the leaves were “supposed” to land.
So if there IS an oughtness (and I feel that oughtness every day and I know you do too) there must be a personal being who prescribed this since of oughtness within ourselves (as Romans 2:14-15 says). Because only a personal being can give purpose to a system. Blind forces don’t care how you behave, only a person would. You can't be morally obligated to a law of nature. As you can see this is not a God Of The Gaps argument. I gave a positive argument in favor of God being a good explanation for moral obligations, not saying “Well, we don’t know where it comes from, so it must be God.”