5 Objections To The Moral Argument’s First Premise
The Moral Argument For God’s Existence is a common argument Christian Apologists often make when atheists ask them for a reason to believe that God exists. The moral argument tries to show that if atheism were true, if there is no God, then good and evil really don’t exist. What is considered good and what is considered evil are social constructs that are apt to change. That is to say, they are subjective, not objective. However, objective moral values and duties really do exist! Things really are right and wrong. Murder, for example, isn’t just something I don’t like. It is truly evil! But if objective morality cannot exist unless God exists, and yet we find that objective morality actually exists, it follows that God exists.
If you’ve never been exposed to this argument before, I advise you to first read an older blog post I wrote titled “The Moral Argument For God’s Existence”. In my blog post “The Moral Argument For God’s Existence” I do my best to defend both premises of the argument. In this blog post, however, I will be responding to objections to the first premise, namely that God is needed for morality to be objective.
I have to say, the first premise of the argument is the one that 99% of the atheists I’ve talked to deny. The vast majority of them affirm that good and evil really do exist, they just contend that God’s existence is not needed to make them objective. So, let’s look at some of the objections atheists heap upon this first premise.
1: “So, you’re saying I need to believe in God to be a good person!? How dare you!? That is so arrogant of you! I live a decent life! How dare you say that atheists are bad people!”
This objection is number 1 on my list because it is the most common misunderstanding of the moral argument. The moral argument is not that atheists cannot live morally decent lives unless the believe that God exists. Rather, the argument is that if God does not exist, there’s no grounds for calling one set of actions good, and a different set of actions evil. The argument is not that atheists are bad people, the argument is that if God doesn’t exist, who are to say that torturing a baby is evil, and nurturing a baby is good instead of the other way around? What reference point is there for labeling one set of actions good, and another set of actions evil?
Put simply, the argument is not that we must believe in God in order to live decent lives, the argument is that God must exist in order for our lives to be called decent, at least objectively decent. As an analogy, the argument is not that we must believe in gravity in order for our feet to stay firmly planted on the ground, the argument is that gravity must exist in order for our feet to stay firmly planted on the ground. Your belief in gravity is irrelevant.
Theologically speaking, even believing in God won’t necessarily make you a good person. The Bible says that even the demons believe that God exists (James 2:19)!
2: "But God carried out many atrocities in the Old Testament. He ordered the genocide of the Canaanites. How could he be the standard of morality if He's evil?"
First off, this objection is irrelevant to The Moral Argument For God’s Existence. The Moral Argument is an argument of natural theology. Natural Theology tries to argue for God’s existence without making any appeals to scripture whatsoever. So, if scripture is not used to argue FOR God’s existence on the part of the theist, why should you, the atheist, get to use scripture to argue AGAINST God’s existence? We could say that God never really told the Israelites to exterminate the Canaanites and some of the other so-called harsh things mentioned in The Old Testament, if we’re willing to throw out biblical inerrancy. If we did that, then no objection to God being the grounds of morality would remain, would it?
I say this because many atheist philosophers argue that objective morality doesn’t exist in the absence of God. They agree with the first premise of the argument, but disagree with the second. They think that “If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist” and they also reject these Old Testament narratives as historically true.
Consider this statement from atheist philosopher Michael Ruse:
"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.”
Or consider this statement from atheist philosopher Will Durant “There is no significant example in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion.”
As you can see, these stories in the Old Testament have no bearing on the truth of The Moral Argument’s first premise. Can you imagine trying to refute Michael Ruse or Will Durant by pointing to stories in The Bible?
However, I don’t think God was wrong in exterminating the Canaanites, and I’m not willing to throw out biblical inerrancy. I am a strict inerrantist. However, I do hold that whether or not God’s actions towards the Canaanites (or others) were justified can be left as an open question for later inquiry. By the way, I wrote a blog post about this called “Is God Evil For Ordering The Destructions Of Nations In The Old Testament?”Check it out.
3: “Is something good because God wills it, or does God will something because it is good?”
This is Euthyphro’s Delimma. Is something good merely because God wills it, or does God will something because it is good?
This puts the defender of The Moral Argument in a tight spot, for if something is good merely because God commands it, that seems to be a case of might makes right. God could have willed that rape, torture, and mass homicide to be good, and then we would be morally obligated to do those things! But that seems crazy! Some moral truths at least, seem to be logically necessary.
The other horn is unacceptable also. For if God wills something because it is good, then that seems to make the good independent of God, and in fact seems to hold God to a standard higher than Himself. The good is some standard apart from God, and God conforms His life to that standard, and commands us to do the same.
What are we do about this? I submit to you that Euthyphro’s Dilemma is a false dilemma. There is a third option. God does not will something because it is good, but neither does something become good because God commands it, rather something is good because God Himself is good. God’s very nature is the standard that defines what is good and what is evil, and His commandments to us reflect His moral nature.
4: “Why Does The God Of Christianity have to be the standard of morality rather than some other deity?”
Good question! Actually The Moral Argument doesn’t argue that the God of Christianity has to exist in order for morality to be objective. Rather, there has to exist a Being who is morally perfect, necessarily existent, and personal in order to be the standard of morality, so that morality can be objective. A morally perfect, necessarily existent, personal being. Who exactly that Being is can be left an open question.
Natural theology is a cumulative case. It doesn’t get you directly to Christianity, but as I point out in the blog post “Why Yahweh? Why Not Zeus? Why Not Thor? Why Not Zoidberg?” it can get you very close. The reason I said “It gets you close” is because the attributes of the being whom The Kalam Cosmological Argument, The Fine Tuning Argument, The Ontological Argument, and The Moral Argument demonstrates do not match the attributes of the vast majority of the world’s religion's deities. When you get down to it, only the three monotheistic faiths reveal a God with just those attributes or properties. So whichever religion is correct, it has to be one of those three if the natural theology arguments' premises are true.
Just ask yourself, which of the world’s religions believes in a being who is 1: Morally perfect, 2: necessarily existent, and 3: personal?
5: Atheistic Moral Platonism
The Greek philosopher Plato thought that good and evil existed as abstract objects, just ideas that simply exist. Both good and evil exist just like mathematical truths, mathematical objects, musical notes, and other abstract objects do. I find this idea really strange.
The unintelligibility of this view is the first problem. What does it mean to say that “kindness” just exists? It makes sense to say that a person is kind, but if the universe didn’t contain any people whatsoever, how could kindness continue to exist? How could kindness exist in a world with nothing but inanimate objects; rocks, planets, stars, trees, and so forth? Likewise, I can understand a man who says “So and so is merciful” but in a universe devoid of human beings, how could mercy still exist? Can a tree be merciful to a rock and vice versa? Is a drop of water going to be merciful to a small flame by not putting it out? Can a flower exercise the virtue of patience in waiting for rain amidst a drought? Morals seem to be the properties of persons, and in the absence of persons, it’s very hard to explain how morals could just exist.
Secondly, even if this view could somehow solve the grounding problem for moral values, it still would not give proper grounds for moral duties. Even if love, kindness, and patience just existed on their own, on the platonic form view, moral vices like hatred, cruelty, and impatience also just exist. But why should I align my life to the set of morals that contain love, kindness, and patience instead of the other set of morals that contain hatred, cruelty, and impatience? Why am I obliged to form my life to go with one set instead of the other? Even if morals did just be real on their own, this view doesn’t seem to answer the question of why one ought to adhere to one and avoid the other.
Thirdly, it defies the odds that the creatures who just so happened to climb out of the primordial soup just so happened to conform their lives to the right moral values rather than the erroneous ones. This is astonishing! Why didn’t the primordial soup produce different creatures, like the aforementioned hive-bee men, who valued morally abominable things? Why did we just so happen to evolve these moral values instead of another? The skeptic might say “Well, they serve to promote survival” but so did the values of Darwin’s hive-bee men. My question is why didn’t we evolve different moral values. Some things we find morally abominable can be practical in the struggle for survival. For example, adultery can help the human race if it produces more progeny, and thievery can aid survival if you’re dying of hunger and steal food from a market. Yet we believe adultery and theft are morally wrong. Yet homosapiens’ moral beliefs aligned with the platonic form of adultery-is-wrongness and thievery-is-wrongness.
It seems more credible to me that objective moral values and duties are grounded in a Supreme Being rather than just existing as abstract objects as they do on the platonic form view.
There are more objections to the moral argument’s first premise that I could have gone into. In fact, you may have one that I haven’t addressed here, but for the sake of brevity, I decided to make this a list of only 5. I think that The Moral Argument is a fantastic argument for God’s existence. If both of the premises are true (and I believe they are), then a morally perfect, necessarily existing, personal Being exists, a being that sounds a lot like God to me.