The Moral Argument

The Moral Argument

Among the various arguments in favor of the existence of God, the moral argument is perhaps the most philosophical since morals are ideas (or ideals) rather than grounded in the physical world.  According to Douglas Groothuis, in order to present a moral argument for the existence of God, we must do two things:  (1) establish the existence of objective moral reality and (2) show that a personal and moral God is the best explanation for the existence and knowledge of objective moral reality. *1  Although there is much more to this argument than it may seem, I will try to hit the high points here.

I like William Lane Craig’s formal argument the best because he makes certain distinctions that some others do not:

  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. *2

Here Craig makes the distinction between values and duties.  Values he says are the worth we give a person or idea, while duties are our obligation to act in a certain way.  Simple enough, worth and obligations — what we believe and how we act.

In order for a value or duty to be objective it must hold true for all people at all times, independent of culture, belief system, time in history, etc.  This is not to say that cultures may at times adopt values that are contrary to objective moral values, but that certain values are either right or wrong regardless of how a culture may view them.  There are certain things that are universally wrong like murder, torture, rape and child abuse.  There are also things that are universally good like love, kindness, sharing and helping.  Every time a child (or adult) cries “That’s not fair!” there is a proclamation of objective moral values.

We all instinctively know there is a moral plumb line.  To believe otherwise is unlivable.  C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity puts it this way:  “It seems, then, we are forced to believe in a real Right and Wrong.  People may be sometimes mistaken about them, just as people sometimes get their sums wrong, but they are not a matter of mere taste and opinion any more than the multiplication table.”  In fact, his belief in moral objectives led him to his belief in God:  “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?” 

Where, then, do these objective moral values and duties originate?  Who decides what is morally right or wrong?

The naturalist would say that moral values and duties evolved over time through necessity and social conditioning.  Similarly, the humanist would say that moral values and duties are formed by social and historical arrangements.  The individual relativist would say that each of us should decide our own values and duties, while the cultural relativist would say that morals are based on those developed in a particular culture.  The common thread with these worldviews is the belief that moral values and duties are decided upon by the human experience — by the self, whether naturally, individually or corporately. 

I want to focus on just one aspect of why these theories are unlivable and thus fail the truth test.  What happens when the morals of Person A conflict with the morals of Person B?  For example, Person A believes that rape is wrong.  Person B believes that rape is acceptable.  Then Person B, within B’s own code of ethics, rapes Person A.  If there are no objective values and duties, how are we to determine the right or wrong of this situation?  Whose values should take precedence?  Should there be punishment?   

There is a common cliche that says “Your rights end where mine begin.”  This insinuates that each individual lives in some sort of bubble and that we never intersect with the people around us.  We have families and friends and co-workers whose decisions affect us every day, whether for the good or for the bad.  The only livable solution is to have common, objective morals and duties that apply to all people at all times that are not arbitrarily decided by each individual, culture or time period.

Then, the question becomes, “Who has the ability to be fully impartial and determine morals based on true justice and total fairness?”  I’m glad you asked!  The answer is the Creator of the Universe, the One who set time into motion, the First Cause Causer, the Ever Existent One.  That’s right God!  To put it in biblical terms, the Potter has the prerogative to form the clay in any way he wishes for any purpose that he wishes.  To put it in my limited human terms, the game designer decides the rules of play.  Groothuis states it best:

“Objective moral values have their source in the eternal character, nature and substance of a loving, just and self-sufficient God. Just as God does not create himself, so he does not create moral values, which are eternally constituent of his being.  For that reason, when God creates humans in his own image and likeness, they need to know objective moral value and they must treat each other accordingly.”  *1

The best explanation for the existence of objective moral values and duties is God.  

“But wait a minute!” you say, “I know people who don’t believe in God or don’t believe in the Christian God and they are some of the nicest, most moral people I know.”  While that may very well be true, the reality of the existence of God is not dependent upon belief.  Even if no one believed in God, He would still exist.  Likewise, people who do not believe in God have the capacity to be moral people because they are still created in his image whether they believe that or not.  Belief is not a requirement for the existence of God, nor the existence of objective moral values and duties.  

One final thought.  In the marketplace of ideas, it is common for people to make conflicting claims of objective and subjective moral values and duties.  For example, it is rightly claimed that slavery is objectively wrong; slavery is bad regardless of culture (for all people) or historical time period (for all times).  Just one example is the popular outrage over slavery that occurred in the past, while there is modern slavery occurring every day in this very country in the form of human trafficking which affects the youngest and most vulnerable among us.  We are told to lament over and repent of the sins of the past, while giving a blind eye those happening under our very noses.  We will kneel to punish the ghost of a man who wrote our national anthem while the United States is ranked as one of the worst countries in the world for human trafficking. It is estimated that 199,000 incidents occur within the United States every year. *3  Let me be clear, you DO NOT have the value that slavery is objectively wrong if you stand idly by and pretend that you are hurt by something that happened over 150 years ago while thousands are currently suffering from slavery in the very cities you are supposed to represent.  Shame on you.

*1 Christian Apologetics, A Comprehensive Case for Bible Truth, Douglas R. Groothuis, ISBN 978-0-8308-3935-3.

*2 On Guard, Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision, William Lane Craig, ISBN 978-1-4347-6488-1


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