The Moral Argument Reconsidered

Let me be clear, I am a theist. I believe in the existence of universal morality. I believe that morality is based upon the character & nature of God and that the scriptures contain an expression of it. One of my reasons for theism has always been my belief in Moral Law, and as such, I have traditionally used the Moral Argument as proof of God’s existence. While I still believe strongly in the existence of universal Moral Law, I have reconsidered whether or not we can successfully argue for it’s existence.

MAG You Are It

The classical Moral Argument for God’s existence (MAG) goes like this:

1, If a universal Moral Law exists, then a universal Moral Law Giver must exist.

2. Universal Moral Law exists.

3. Therefore, a universal Moral Law Giver exists.

I fully believe and agree with premise 2. However, I think that MAG fails–that is, it does not successfully prove it’s conclusion. I consider an argument to be successful when it’s conclusion is more probable than all other logically possible conclusions. In this case, MAG would be successful if the existence of a universal Moral Law/Giver is more probable than the conclusion that there is no universal Moral Law/Giver.

In order to prove a premise, evidence/reasons must be presented. Usually, when one argues for the existence of Moral Law, an appeal to conscience is made. The question that we must ask is, “Why do humans feel moral obligations?” What causes us to have a sense of ethical responsibility? Why do we feel guilty when we do not live according to those responsibilities? Does the existence of universal conscience successfully prove the existence of universal Moral Law?

I Challenge You

I have observed that when one tries to convince another of the existence of universal morality, they almost always appeal to behaviors that have a negative effect upon another person. The commonly cited examples are actions like murder, rape, pedophilia or tragic events such as the Holocaust and 9/11. I began to ponder why it is necessary to appeal to these particular behaviors in order to convince someone of universal morality. Could we be just as successful using examples of personal morality?

At this point, you may ask, what difference does that make? I think it could be just as likely that we feel a moral obligation to our fellow man as a result of our own personal disdain towards suffering. Just as conscience is universal, it is common to all humans to disdain suffering. I believe that it could be argued that we feel guilty about causing suffering in other individuals because we know that we do not want to suffer and would not other persons to cause us suffering. The natural reaction to this is a feeling of guilt associated with inflicting the same suffering upon others that we ourselves would not want to endure. Also, one could argue that the degree to which an action would cause an individual to suffer is comparable to the degree to which we feel that an action is immoral. The more suffering that an action would cause, the more immoral we consider it to be. There is also the issue of innocent/defenseless victims which is why we naturally feel that crimes against women, children, and animals are particularly evil.

I think that in order for premise 2 of MAG to be successful, we should be able to convince someone of personal moral responsibility. Try using examples like running a red light when no one else is around or looking upon another person with lust. I consider these to be unethical behaviors, but that is because I am a Christian. My point is that actions that cause suffering can be considered immoral simply because we do not like to suffer, and that is just as likely an explanation for our feeling of oughtness. If this is case, then Moral Law has not been successfully proven.

He Who Has an Ear to Hear, Let Him Hear

However, I do consider premise 1 of MAG to be successful. Therefore, I would condense MAG to a single premise & conclusion and present it as such:

1. If you believe in the existence of universal morality, then you should believe in God.

The greatest flaw in atheism is it’s failure to provide a sufficient basis for a normative system of ethics. The advantage to moral arguments is that they appeal to our conscience. Those whom their conscience convinces that there is universal morality have to account for that. The inability to sufficiently explain how there can be universal Moral Law without a universal Moral Law Giver creates a strong argument for God’s existence. So while I do not believe arguments for Moral Law are successful, many people do believe in it. I think that this argument can be successful for those who do. If one decides to attribute our feeling of oughtness to our disdain towards suffering, or anything else, they have to reckon with the conclusion that actions such as murder, rape, pedophilia are not immoral in the objective sense. That is very difficult to do.

Brandon Hester


  • The Moral Law Giver argument leaves us with a huge gap to cross. What “god” shall I follow? The one I happened to be raised in? The one that best fits my moral leanings?

    Furthermore, does a separate morality exist for God? Because all the things that we consider moral and universal didn’t apply to the Israelites (God’s people) when they we’re doing God’s will slaughtering their enemy, their enemy’s families, and their enemy’s livestock (killing livestock – overkill perhaps?). If arguing from a Christian perspective, you can’t say they weren’t following God’s laws, because, as the scripture says, they were commanded to do it. There’s a double standard. The commandment says we should not murder. However, if God says kill them because they’re immoral, it ain’t murder and we ain’t murders.

    I think Steven Novella captures what I mean:

    “Finally there is a philosophical dilemma inherent in basing absolute morality on religious faith. If God’s morality is perfect and absolute, is it so because it comes from God, or is it inherently perfect and God, who is omniscient, is simply able to discern it as so? The latter seems like an untenable position – morality is whatever God says it is, without any appeal to logic or any objective criteria of what a good moral rule would be.”

    Massimo Pigliucci wrote an interesting article suggesting an approach called “moral reasonism” (a working title of the concept).


  • I will read that article now and will probably have a follow up response. I am eager to see if the unbelieving community can provide an explanation for morality that satisfies me. Ive yet to encounter it.

    I know that I opened my entry with a paragraph stating that I believe that the scriptures express the Moral Law. This a blog site that is comprised of primarily Christian contributers (albeit from vastly different theological perspectives). I opened with that preface to clarify that when I state, “The Moral Argument fails,” I do not mean that I no longer believe in Moral Law. Otherwise, I would probably catch some heat from my cohorts. lol.

    However, I was being honest in everything that I stated, I just didnt want to be misunderstood. You raise some very difficult dilemnas for the Christian theist. I am unsatisfied with how Christians have dealt with these texts, both on the conservative and liberal end of the spectrum. There is an entry on here entitled, “Got $15? If so, you can rape an unbetrothed virgin.” Throughout the discussion with the contributer I pretty much explain my current way of resolving, or unresolving, those texts.

    Weve discussed that there is a difference between a Theist and a Christian, just as there is a vast variety of Christian expressions. MAG is an example of natural theology–that is an attempt to structure a belief in God based on empirical observations of the natural world (pretty much what I made a case for in our previous discussion). At best, all that natural theology can give us is an extremely vague theistic picture. Even if one were to accept MAG, this does not even begin to get into any particulars about what is moral/immoral.

    I can sympathize with you on why you reject Christianity based on above mentioned passages, but realize that is not an argument against theism, nor is it an argument that proves that objective, universal moral law does not exist. I want to read the artical that you posted before I get further into refuting an atheistic attempt to establish a normative system of ethics, but I will say that if you consider the above mentioned examples as evil in the objective sense, you assume Moral Law. You then have the very difficult task of explaining how there is Moral Law without God. In other words, an empirical argument from evil against God’s existence, ends up affirming Moral Law, which in my opinion, affirms God’s existence.

    So while I did approach this entry from a Christian perspective, I did not present an argument that seeks to establish belief in the Christian God. I realize that most MAG’s are presented by Christians, but the argument itself is not unique to Christianity.


  • This is my second reply to you Michael. The first was my response to your response, while this one is a response to the blog on “Moral reasoning.” Ok, so I just read the article and have the following thoughts:

    1. I am disappointed lately on how Plato has been so irresponsibility presented as evidence in the discussion on metaethics. This is the second time this week that I have heard Euthyphro’s dilemma cited as an argument against God being the basis of morality. In this dialogue, Plato (or Socrates) establishes that morality does not exist bc the “Gods” have commanded it. Agreed. Murder is not wrong bc God says that it is wrong. However, anyone who knows Plato, is aware that Plato’s metaethic is the “Good.” This was Plato’s transcendental universal. Plato argued that our morality in this world (forms), was a reflection of perfect morality that is found in the Good. So in this dialogue, Plato was not at all trying to prove that morality is independent of transcendence. I take the same approach. I agree that murder is not immoral bc God said that it is immoral. God said that murder is immoral bc it is immoral. But this does not seperate morality from God himself. It seperates it from God’s command. I consider morality to be based upon the character & nature of God. Just as God has always been good, so morality has always been good. So God is still a contingent basis for morality, but not temporally speaking.

    2. This presentation basically sounds like “situational absolutism.” That is that there is always a moral action (absolutism), but what is moral depends on the situation or as he seems to frame it, the culture. I hate to be redundant, but how does this approach justify calling the Holocaust immoral in the objective sense? The majority of Germany agreed with killing Jews. So who are we to say that it is immoral? That would only be the perspective from our cultural norms. The bottom line is, if we attribute morality to a subjective basis, we cannot really speak of it in the objective sense that all persons are subject to it in the same way. No matter what the behavior is.

    Sorry to be so abrupt, but I am running behind. Id love to resume this convo.


  • I just read the first article that you suggested. I shouldve waited until I had read both before commenting. I wash in a rush earlier today and didnt really get all my thoughts out. I really just want to expound further on the first point that I made after reading the other article. My initial response was to your response.

    1. In Euthrypho’s dialogue, Plato raises the ?, “Is something moral bc the “gods” say that it is, or do they say that it is bc it is moral.” His conclusion is that the “gods” say so bc it is. I completely agree, but this does not refute premise1 of the moral argument. There are two reasons why:.
    First, Plato’s concept of the “gods” was that they were still apart of the material universe. Plato did not consider the gods to be transcendent (he prolly didnt even believe in the gods). The reason that this is an important distinction is bc if you look at the whole of Platonic philosophy, it teaches that there certainly is a transcendental universal which is what Plato called the, “Good.” This transcendental is essential to understanding Platonic epistemology and ethics. Plato argued that this world contains a reflection of morality–forms. In other words, we see the appearance of morality in this world. Since we are only working with appearances, our understanding of morality is often skewed. Perfect morality, however, is contained in the ideals. It is unclear to me whether or not Plato considered ideals to be transcendent. Nevertheless, the ideals derive from “the Good” which was Plato’s transcendental universal. Even though Plato did not think that morality was based upon any materialistic entity (the god’s), it was certainly based upon a transcendental one. Plato’s “good” is vastly different from any modern theistic concept of God, but Plato argued there was a universal transcendent basis for morality. He would reject any ethical system that bases it on the individual. This is why quothing Euthyphro’s dialogue as evidence that God is not the basis for morality is a misrepresentation of Platonic thought.
    Second, what about the question itself though? Does this question, when applied to a theistic concept of God, demonstrate that He is not the basis for morality? I agree that God’s command is not the basis for morality. So I would agree with the statement, “A is not moral/immoral bc God says that it is, rather God says that A is moral/immoral bc it is.” This statement only demonstrates that morality does not find its origin is God’s commands. It does not demonstrate that morality does not find its origin in God Himself, and it does not demonstrate that morality exist independent of God. I believe that morality is based upon the character & nature of God. What God is, is moral; what God is not, is immoral. Because God has always existed, morality also always existed. Therefore, A has always been moral/immoral. So while morality does not have a temporal contingent relationship to God, it is still contingent; Not to His commands but to Himself. Like Plato, one could argue that all expressions of morality in this world are just mere skewed reflections of perfect morality that is found in God. Therefore, religous expressions of morality are flawed at best. Im not going to go there, but it is very important to establish that demonstrating that morality is not based upon religous expressions does not demonstrate that morality is not based upon God.

    In conlusion, Plato sounds much like todays Theist. He says:
    1. Morality has a transcendental basis.
    2. Morality does not have a materialistic basis.
    3. This world contains only expressions of morality.
    4. All expressions of morality are flawed (not all theists would agree with this statement).
    You may state that if all expressions of morality are flawed, what good is it to say that morality is based upon the character & nature of God? It is not pragmatic to argue that there is a transcendental basis for morality that we do not have immediate access to in order to understand it? I agree with those questions, but my argument is not contending for particular expressions of morality. Rather, I am using the existence of universal morality as evidence for the existence of God. In other words, if one agrees that universal morality exist, he should agree that God exist. Nothing further.


  • You said, ” Does this question, when applied to a theistic concept of God, demonstrate that He is not the basis for morality? I agree that God’s command is not the basis for morality. So I would agree with the statement, “A is not moral/immoral bc God says that it is, rather God says that A is moral/immoral bc it is.” This statement only demonstrates that morality does not find its origin is God’s commands. It does not demonstrate that morality does not find its origin in God Himself, and it does not demonstrate that morality exist independent of God. I believe that morality is based upon the character & nature of God.”

    To me that is a distinction without a difference. Why does that distinction matter? The only reason I can think of is that we’re faced with so many conflicting commands from the many gods of numerous religions that we really can’t say that God’s nature and commandments are one. Why can’t I skip God and just say that morality is an outcome of our nature as empathetic, self-aware beings? And unlike the majority of species on this planet we recognized and cares about moral issues. The fundamental rule (Law as you refer to it) is that we care about moral issues.

    Regarding the use of Plato’s Euthrypho prbblem, I understood as shorthand for the general statement “Is something moral bc the “gods” say that it is, or do they say that it is bc it is moral.”


  • “Regarding the use of Plato’s Euthrypho prbblem, I understood as shorthand for the general statement “Is something moral bc the “gods” say that it is, or do they say that it is bc it is moral.””

    Im not really sure what you mean by that statement. The reason that the distinction between God’s nature & commands matters is bc I am not trying to create an ethical system. I am trying to provide evidence that God exist. If I say that morality is based upon God’s command, then that evidence has clearly been dismissed. If I say that it is based upon God’s nature, then the evidence remains and must be accounted for. There are two ways that I believe this evidence can be dismissed. The first is for a normative system of ethics to be provided that accounts for morality in an objective, universal sense. I have yet to encounter that system. Or, it could be dismissed exactly like the way that I proposed in my entry–by concluding that morality does not exist in an objective, universal sense. I think that it is a viable option for the unbeliever, but this position removes ethical obligations. We can create systems that keep things in order for the good of society (utilitarianism, social contract), but we cant actually consider things to be right or wrong. If that satisfies a persons sense of oughtness, so be it. But there are many ppl who are not satisfied with these explanations.

    You may say that if I am not attempting to create a system of ethics, why am I challenging the unbeliever to do so? Its kind of like the teleological argument. If I say that this world gives the appearance of intentional design, the person who contends that there is no intelligent designer has to provide me with an alternative explanation that accounts for the apparent design. Likewise, there appears to be universal Moral Law in this world which indicates a transcendental immaterial basis for morality. In other words, morality appears to be evidence of God’s existence. If someone wants to contend that this is not the case, the burden of proof is on them to provide an alternate explanation for apparent morality. Once again, all explanations that I am familiar with base morality on the individual which means that there is no universal morality. That is a viable option, but it is very difficult to accept bc it means that actions that I strongly consider to be good or evil actually are not in an objective sense.

    However, I do consider ethical systems to be extremely important. I am not at all opposed to the endeavors of neuroscience to attempt to explain conscience. I agree with the article you posted that argues for a cooperative effort between phil & science to provide a sufficient system. All that I am saying is that if this system does not explain morality in an objective sense that enables to call the Holocaust evil, even if no one believed that it was evil, I will still have a reason to believe in God bc I will still believe that there must be something more to morality than what our system tells us.


  • The Atheist philosopher J. L. Mackie agrees that if we can prove that there is an ultimate moral truth that governs creation that it must have supernatural beginnings (god). However, he and his colleagues do not accept that ultimate morals do exist. According to Mackie, morals are just another product of evolution. Society does not tolerate murder simply because it is bad for the community. Sometime between monkey and man, it was seen that killing whoever got in your way made you vulnerable to others and therefore it was better to stick together with those who provided mutual benefits. But one must ask, if there are no morals, and you must choose between the starvation of you or your child, who would choose themselves? Why? Why do we save the child if there are no morals? Survival of the fittest says, “Better luck next year, kid.” This argument does not “prove” our God, but it points to Him, and in conjunction with Scripture, reveals Him.

    “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” – Luke 11:11-13

    Even those that Jesus called evil had within them enough morality to feed their children. Adam and Eve, in Genesis chapter 3 ran and hid immediately after breaking God’s law. This story demonstrates that from the beginning, humanity knew that there was a right and a wrong. The “natural order” does not explain this. Something had to put it there. And that being that gave us morality, must value those morals as well. Therefore morality proves that there is a god, and that this God has morals which He desires His creation to follow. Evil exists because He also gives us the ability to disobey and not live by those morals. Those morals are progressively revealed. Jesus says, “The law says ‘do not murder,’ but I say the one who hates his brother has already committed murder in his heart.” This is a “higher moral code” than the OT Jews lived under. But just because we only have a piece of the code, does not mean that this code fully represents God’s ultimate morality, or moral desires for his Creation. Jesus Christ is the fullest revelation of God and his morals/standards/desires. When we have trouble reconciling morality in the OT, we must believe that Jesus is the complete revelation, and the OT commands and laws are on one end of the revelatory progression. This progression started with perfection, suffered a fall, and worked back towards perfection.

    Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.- Matthew 19:8


  • Thank you for your response. You are basically preaching to the choir, and I–a Christian–completely agree with everything that you stated. The thing is, an unbeliever would not. I have found that quoting scripture as evidence to a person who does not accept scripture as authoritative is the equivalent to me quoting the Quran to you as my authoritative source. Would that be an effective approach?

    I may appeal to scripture when addressing an unbeliever at times. This is if I am trying to make observations from scripture (i.e. Luke cites historical figures, therefore he was trying to present an historical account), appeal to internal consistency (i.e. OT sacrificial system foreshadows Christ crucifixion), or internal evidence (i.e. Jesus predicts the fall of Jerusalem). Realize that none of these assume the authority of scripture. That is, scripture says A, therefore A is true.

    So while I look to the scriptures to understand more about Moral Law, I would not build a case for Moral Law using the authority of scripture unless my audience accepts the authority of scripture. I try to find a common ground with the other person and work from there. This is a very common approach that there are plenty of examples of in the Bible. Just recently I was reflecting on Jesus response to the Sadduccees when he was asked a trick question on the resurrection. The Sadduccees only accepted the first five books of the Torah, so Jesus quotes from the Exodus passage, “I AM that I AM” to make his case for the Resurrection. Some other good examples are when Paul begins with the statue of the unknown God to make his case before the Stoics & Eoicureans, and when Apollos uses Messianic Prophecy to persuade the Jews. What I will not do is use evidence that my audience does not consider evidence. Christians must stop assuming that everyone believes the Bible and will be convinced by it.

    However, there is an approach to apologetics known as “Presuppositionalism.” The version of the moral argument that I presented in my last paragraph is a presuppositional version of the Moral Argument. Presuppositionalist’ contend that unless one begins with the presupposition of the existence of the Triune God who has revealed Himself in scripture, they cannot make sense of the real world. That is, their understanding of the real world does not correspond to alternate fundamental presuppostions. I consder this to be a little too agressive, but I would say that a Theistic presupposition corresponds best with our experiences and understanding of the world. So while the presupposition is not assumed, it is evaluated and approved as the most sensical. I am not a presuppositionalist, but I do prefer their version of the moral argument.


  • I completely agree with you that beating someone with the Bible does not prove that the God revealed in that Bible exists. Before someone chooses to move in faith toward God, then all of our theological arguments, whether “natural” or biblical, are wasted words.

    The only strength that a MAG can offer is the ability to relate to someone on that common ground you speak of, and to point towards the existence of “some type of moral deity.” MAG only confirms theism.

    The only way to confirm Yahweh is through a changed heart that holds to the Word of God and displays it for all to see. If an Atheist says he will not accept a moral argument from a Christian because of the (apparently) twisted morals in the Bible, I must be able to answer them with reason *and* the Bible. But, this is a progression just like a complete moral code is a progression. It takes a relationship to move someone toward Christ. An argument on the street will rarely make a difference. But a relationship which allows honest doubts to be questioned and answered can produce much fruit. We start with logical explanations for the existence of ultimate morality, and then move to the source of those morals.


  • Totally agree. I think there are intellectual barriers to faith and apologetics can be useful in removing some of those barriers so that a person will even consider the gospel message. It is in the honest consideration of the gospel that a heart is moved upon, but until they are willing to consider the Gospel for just a moment, we might as well be speaking gibberish. Also, you are right, relationships are the most effective forum for these types of discussion.People do not care how much until they know how much you care.


  • Alright, let me offer some of my thoughts on this post. Brandon, the argument that you give against the efficacy of the moral argument can be framed like this:

    1. In order to properly articulate the moral argument for the existence of God, we must demonstrate that a universal moral law exists–that is, we must demonstrate that objective moral obligation exists
    2. There are two main types of moral obligation: (1) Moral obligation that only involves one’s self (personal morality) and (2) moral obligation that involves other people (social morality)
    3. Objective social morality can be explained away by virtue of our disdain towards suffering
    4. Objective personal morality cannot be proven or demonstrated universally
    5. Therefore, we cannot demonstrate that a universal moral law exists, which means that we cannot properly articulate the moral argument for the existence of God

    Obviously, I agree with the first point. I am a little bit leery of the second point since I’m not so sure that we can really make a strict bifurcation between personal and social morality. Within a relational universe, I honestly cannot really think of many examples of personal morality that don’t have direct bearing on others. Thus, I think personal and social morality basically go together. I could say a lot more about this, but I will stop here.

    I disagree with point number three for several reasons. First, I don’t think that social moral obligation can simply be reduced to a disdain towards suffering. Rape, murder, pedophilia, child pornography, adultery, theft, lying, physical abuse, mental abuse, sexual abuse, etc… are not viewed as immoral merely because they cause suffering. I think this would be an overly simplistic explanation of why people see these things as immoral. It would take all day for me to list all the various reasons why we consider these things evil. At any rate, I definitely don’t think that it all boils down to suffering.

    It seems to me that, if point number three were true, we would expect suffering to be the common denominator of all immorality. We would have a meta-ethic of suffering, an overarching ethic that says that all immorality causes suffering and all suffering is immoral. In other words, if something doesn’t cause suffering, then it is not immoral and if something does cause suffering, then it is immoral. However, I think a lot of people realize that suffering, in and of itself, is not immoral. In fact, some suffering is considered moral, particularly suffering that produces a positive result.

    Secondly, just because human beings, on a personal level, don’t like to suffer, it does not follow that human beings should feel guilty when they cause others to suffer. I think we are making a big jump here. In a purely naturalistic system, I am not sure that we should expect to be empathetic or compassionate. On the contrary, in a naturalistic evolutionary picture, I would actually expect all of us to be very selfish since all of our actions would seemingly be oriented towards personal survival. The “golden rule,” the idea that we should treat others the way that we ourselves desire to be treated, does not necessarily follow from our own disdain towards suffering. Our disdain towards suffering could just as likely cause us to avoid personal suffering at all costs, even at the cost of causing others to suffer. The golden rule seems to be something transcendent, not natural. On the other hand, selfishness is natural; the idea of “looking out for number one” is very natural. Self-absorbed hedonism is natural, the golden rule is not.

    Now, we could practice the golden rule for purely selfish reasons. Kant’s categorical imperative could be interpreted in a selfish manner: Only do what you would want others to do to you (my paraphrase). If we treated others well only because we ourselves want to be treated well, then we would all practice the golden rule not because an objective moral rule exists, but because we are selfish and don’t wan others to treat us badly. We might also believe that the best way to personal success, pleasure and fulfillment in life is by treating others well. We might believe this because we have found that treating others well ultimately benefits us personally, socially, financially, etc….

    Here is the thing though: As long as our whole ethical system is based upon selfishness, which is what we would expect in a naturalistic worldview, we have no reason to expect that we should genuinely care about the needs or feelings of others. We certainly would have no reason to believe that we should feel obliged to treat others the way we want to be treated. Again, just because I don’t like to suffer, it doesn’t mean that I will feel guilty when I cause suffering to others; just because I disdain suffering, it doesn’t mean that I disdain suffering in others; just because I hate to suffer, it doesn’t follow that I will posses a moral obligation to not cause others to suffer.

    This reasoning–that “we FEEL GUILTY about causing suffering in other individuals because we know that we do not want to suffer and would not want other persons to cause us suffering”–seems to be predicated upon empathy, compassion, the general act of looking outside of ourselves. In order to feel guilty about causing suffering in others, I must be empathetic and compassionate. The problem is that a necessary connection does not exist between disdaining personal suffering and being empathetic, or even sympathetic, towards the suffering of others. However, the counter argument that you have given to the traditional moral argument seems to necessarily equate the two. It seems to assume that personal suffering produces empathy. Similarly, it also seems to assume that most people are empathetic in general.

    My question is where does this empathy, this compassion, this general looking outside of ourselves come from? Does philosophical naturalism make sense of these attributes? How does altruism fit within a naturalistic worldview? Doesn’t theism make far more sense of genuine human empathy? More than that, doesn’t theism make far more sense of the seemingly universal possession of empathy within human nature? So we have an argument that, in some way, seems to be based on human empathy. Yet, human empathy is far more coherent in a theistic picture of reality.

    All in all, I don’t think that objective social morality can be explained away by virtue of our personal disdain towards suffering. In other words, I don’t think that this counter-argument is efficacious in showing that the moral argument is weak or unconvincing. As you mentioned, the counter-argument needs to give an explanation that is either just as likely or more likely than the explanations given in support of the traditional moral argument. I don’t think it does.

    Outside of all of the reasons that I have given thus far, the main reason why I believe that the moral argument is strong is because real moral obligation, or moral “oughtness,” assumes objectivity. You can’t actually be obligated to choose the good in a subjective framework. At this point, we are equivocating; we are using the same terms (“obligation” & “oughtness”) in different ways. In an atheistic paradigm, my moral obligation is either a personal construct or a social construct or an evolutionary construct or some fusion of all of the above. The common denominator within each of these options is subjectivity. If moral “obligation,” or “oughtness,” is merely a human or social or evolutionary creation, then we could easily deconstruct it; we could easily rid ourselves of it. Surely we could tear the moral construct down and build something new, something easier, something more agreeable to our hedonistic inclinations, something more convenient.

    The problem is that it seems as if we can’t actually do this. No matter how hard we try or no matter how badly we may want to, it seems as if we cannot rid ourselves of this obligation, this oughtness. It seems as if these “rules,” these “laws,” are indestructible and immutable. Could you imagine changing the good into bad and the bad into good? Could you imagine recreating your own moral system? Could you imagine manufacturing your own sense of moral obligation? Sometimes it would be very convenient if I could do this, but I can’t do it. The very fact that I can’t deconstruct my moral obligation seems to be an indicator that my moral obligation is not subjective. In terms of my sense of morality, it is as if something was acting on me from without; it is as if this moral obligation that I feel within myself is binding. This is precisely how I would expect to feel if a transcendent, authoritative moral being existed. Conversely, it is not how I would expect to feel if atheism was true.

    Moving along, I also disagree with your fourth point. I think you can actually demonstrate (with a degree of probability, not certainty) that moral obligation on the personal level is objective; I think the vast majority of people in our society understand that extreme forms of lust and pornography are immoral. Alcoholism is also a good example. I think most people understand that there is something inherently wrong with addiction in general. Even though we do it a lot in our country, most thoughtful people realize that objectifying others or making others the object of our lust or treating a person exclusively as a sex object is “wrong,” even though some may not be able to articulate why this is. Many people use terms like “perverted” or “gross” to describe pornography and the like. We use these terms for a reason: We believe that it is “wrong” in some way. In Augustinian terms, it seems to be a distortion of the good. Once agin, a lot more can be said about this, but I will stop here.

    Finally, if I disagree with points three and four, then it follows that I also disagree with your fifth point and thus the overarching argument as a whole.

    The last point that I want to make is this: Even if I accepted the above counter-argument that you presented, I still don’t think it would matter much. In other words–and it seems that we would both agree on this–I don’t think that it would do much damage to the efficacy of the moral argument. As you said, “If you believe in the existence of universal morality, then you should believe in God.” This is where we both completely agree, and this is all that really matters in the long run. The reason why I think your statement (“If you believe in the existence of universal morality, then you should believe in God”) is more than sufficient in procuring a strong moral argument is because I sincerely believe that most people are moral realists–that is, they believe that morality has an objective existence outside of their subjective thoughts or feelings. I think most people believe this even though most people may not realize that they believe it or may not understand the “hows” and the “whys” behind their belief.

    So I will end with this line of reasoning:

    1. Either morality is objective or subjective
    2. If it is objective, then the burden of proof is on the atheist to explain how objective morality exists outside of a theistic framework
    3. If it is subjective, then we cannot make any objective moral claims
    4. However, the vast majority of people who live on this planet are moral realists, believing that objective morality exists, and thus make objective moral claims
    5. The belief that objective morality exists is a very basic, natural human inclination, which explains why so many people both make and want to make objective moral claims
    6. The few people who don’t believe in objective morality are walking and talking contradictions since they cannot help but talk and act as if objective morality exists
    7. Thus, the moral argument is a strong argument because (1) the vast majority of people believe that objective morality exists and (2) all people make objective moral claims, whether they realize it or not or whether they believe in God or not

    *Sorry for the length*


  • First, beautiful blog, is not simple to be considered by wordpress staff a blog to be shown to other users, specially if you talk about religion, I’m amazed at what you did with Sight.

    Second, the idea that we not enjoy suffering I don’t think is universal, some people goes as far as mixing suffering with pleasure, for example the Armin Meiwes case in germany. We have a majority of people who don’t enjoy suffering, but some like to, as the struggle for life cause them to suffer, they simply get accustomed and ignore the pain as they go along in life, it’s even a sacrificial part of manly-hood. Even as a Christian, God shows us a positive way to see suffering in life.

    Also, consent doesn’t make something moral, or immoral, mostly because we don’t invite anyone immoral to prison. :P

    Lovely blog! Nice critique! But I think reading some William Lane Craig helps.


  • That is a very good tip particularly to those new to the blogosphere.

    Simple but very precise information… Thank you for sharing this one.
    A must read post!


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