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.