While not as popular as other arguments, the moral argument is one that I do encounter relatively frequently, either informally with statements like “morality cannot be explained without God”, or more formally with the moral argument which goes:
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 does exist
It’s a fairly simple argument, but one which presents several problems, which I want to go over in this post.
Is Morality Objective?
This is really the million dollar question. As somebody who holds to consequentialism, I hold that our moral judgements can be objective, but our moral values are ultimately subjective. Let me try to explain using an analogy: Suppose that I want to put a screw into a block of wood. If that is my goal then there are objectively good ways to achieve that goal, and objective poor ways to achieve that goal. If you don’t believe me on this, try putting a screw into a block of wood with a hammer, or a paint brush, versus using a screwdriver of the correct type. The judgement over whether some action is good at putting screws into a block of wood is objective. The desire, or goal, to put screws into a block of wood is subjective.
If we’re talking about the values that give us the ability to form moral judgements, then I don’t see how we can be talking about something that is objective. It’s simply not possible. We desire to be healthy, and happy, but these desires represent our subjective preference. Please note that our values being subjective does not, in any way, imply that moral values are completely arbitrary! It’s not arbitrary that we want to survive, given that we’ve evolved, and that we have evolved as a social species, over millions of years, to work with others for survival, and that because of this we share many common moral values. If I want to continue to survive, I really do depend on others and others depend on me. I don’t want to put my survival into the hands of somebody who is not interested in either mine, or their own, survival. Please don’t post anything in the comments about how subjectivity means that morality is completely arbitrary, because this is simply a non-sequitur.
What Does Morality Mean To Me
When I’m talking about morality I’m almost always talking about how we, as humans, judge human actions for their consequences with respect to human well being, and suffering. Actions which cause unnecessary suffering are generally called “evil”, and actions which promote well being are called “good.” I believe this to be consistent with the how the vast majority of humans evaluate morality, even if they don’t consciously recognize this.
Morality Is Not Intrinsic To The Universe
When I talk to some Christians about “objective morality”, they seem to believe that there is something intrinsic about certain actions that makes them good or evil. I don’t see how this can be the case, and it makes no sense. It’s like they believe that genocide is wrong because there’s some ethereal force in the universe that makes it wrong. That even if there were no humans left in the universe, genocide would still be wrong. I can’t quite express how misguided I think this idea is.
I’m going to come out right here and state, unequivocally, that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with genocide. I do believe that genocide is wrong, but it is not intrinsically wrong, because such an idea is absurd. The only thing that makes morality happen is our subjective desire for survival, health, and happiness. That’s it. Morality is not some framework built into reality, or a force that makes things right or wrong.
The First Premise Is A Non-Sequitur
The first premise of the argument gets us off on the wrong foot right at the outset. Even if God does exist, how does that make moral values and duties objective? How does the existence of God have the power to make our subjective values become objective, and binding? I really don’t understand this kind of thinking, because even if God does exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist. It’s really that simple folks. The fact that we have morality says nothing about the existence of any gods, let alone the God of Christianity.
I’d also like to point out that this problem has been known about, for over 2400 years, in the form of thedilemma:
Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?
If the former is true, then God is unnecessary for morality and we can appeal to whatever standard God is using. If the latter then morality is simply arbitrary. Attempts to split the horns by appealing to something like “God’s natural”, then we simply end up with the same kind of dilemma.
The Second Premise Is An Assertion
A one that I think is false to begin with. As I’ve stated above, moral values are not objective. This premise is, as far as I can tell, an assertion with little to no basis in reality. Knowing what I do about Christian apologetics, this is hardly a surprise. They’re willing to assert just about anything they can in order to try and justify their belief in God, no matter how silly it is. After all, apologetics isn’t meant to convert those who are not Christian, but to keep those who are Christian inside the fold.
If you are a Christian moral realist, and you believe that moral values are actually objective, can you prove it, and not make any references to God (which would make the moral argument circular)? How do you go about this? If so, please, tell me what it means to say that moral values are objective, and how you know this to be true. Assuming you can do this, tell me how these “objective moral values” are only explainable by your God?