The Moral Argument for God

The Argument from Morality has been framed in a variety of ways. The most prevalent today is as formulated by William Lane Craig, or some similar variant.

Craig states the moral argument as follows:

1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.

2. Objective moral values do exist.

3. Therefore, God exists.


I’ll start with Premise 2, because I believe it has the greatest problems.

Craig expects us to accept his premise that objective moral values exist. But the fact is that human views on morality have varied widely throughout history, and have (with culture as a whole) evolved over time. This includes even proscriptions that we tend to think of as universal, such as against murder. But among primitive tribes, it’s not unusual to prohibit murder of those within ones own tribe, while allowing or encouraging the murder of those from other tribes. In “The Selfish Gene”, Richard Dawkins discussed an evolutionary basis for these mores.

Even today, “civilized” people justify war and/or genocide against other groups with different race, ethnicity, religion, etc. These sentiments are little different from primitive tribalism, and are therefore commonly described in those terms. Clearly, there are many who believe murder to be moral under certain conditions. In one fairly extreme example, in a NY Times online survey, 42% of respondents said that they would go back in time to kill baby Hitler if they could.

In The Myth of Absolute Morality, I discussed the facts that:
A) Christians can’t even agree among themselves on numerous significant matters of morality.

B) The Bible clearly condones several behaviors, such as rape, slavery, genocide, etc, that most modern civilized people believe are abhorrent. This is just one bit of evidence for the evolution of moral standards. And any reasonably objective person would agree that this fact should disqualify the Bible as an objective moral standard.

C) The vast majority of Christians don’t actually use the Bible as an absolute source for moral guidance. Most reject the view that rape, slavery, and genocide are moral behaviors. And most likewise have no issue with remarriage by divorcees, in spite of Jesus’ condemnation of it. So nearly all Christians use the Bible as a Chinese menu for moral decisions, selecting the parts they like, and ignoring the rest.

So the Christian apologists’ claims that absolute morality exists, are belied by their own rejection of various Biblical teachings.

Of course, the fact that moral views are not universal doesn’t necessarily mean that there can’t be an objective right and wrong. One could argue that objective right and wrong exist, even if people can’t agree on it. The obvious problem with such an argument is the absence of any proof or logical basis for the assertion. The theists will make that claim, based upon their belief that their god defines absolute morality. That opinion is useless to this discussion, since it results in a naked application of circular reasoning (“We know we have absolute morality because God declares it to be so” and “we know God exists because we have absolute morality.”).

So for the purposes of the Argument from Morality, we would require the premise to be proven through non-theistic means. Craig and other apologists attempt to use item B above (the fact that atheists make moral judgements against the Bible) as supposed proof that even most atheists believe that SOME moral absolutes exist. There are two problems with Craig’s response:

Firstly, all of us, whether theists or atheists have both the capability and duty to make moral judgements. We’re not required to declare our judgements to be right or wrong in any absolute sense. At most, we should hopefully be able to explain our judgements.

Secondly, even if the person who criticizes Biblical morality believes that the Bible is OBJECTIVELY flawed, the obvious conclusion is that he is rejecting Premise 1 (the claim that if God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.). As one example, the secular humanist believes that moral behaviors are ones which seek to avoid or minimize harm to others, and/or to help others (no god required). Dan Barker wrote about this extensively in “Mere Morality”, written as a response to C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity”.

While I won’t declare this moral framework to necessarily be the definition of “absolute morality”, there are no doubt some who would. It certainly COULD be justified by arguing that humanism is the only rational basis for HUMANS to make moral decisions. I don’t make that claim, but I am personally convinced that it’s far superior to the musings of primitive men.

In conclusion, neither of Craig’s premises are supported. Both premises are statements of opinion, rather than fact, and hence his Argument from Morality fails.

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