Evidence for the Existence of God – Moral Argument

15 02 2009

As some of you know, I was introduced to the site ex-Christians.net some time ago when engaging an atheist on William Lane Craig ‘s discussion board on the existence of God. I hadn’t gone to the ex-Ch site for some time and recently began to track the discussions via RSS feed. A couple of weeks ago a troubled young man posted that he couldn’t understand why it was so hard for him to deny the existence of Christ. This intrigued me, so I posted a quick note telling him that it was not unusual that he had this difficulty as even non-Christian historical writers documented the existence of Christ. Well, this started a flurry of responses from the atheists on that site and off we went. Now, this site has rules, for which I wasn’t aware, that restrict Christians from posting in certain safe areas of the site, and apparently I was posting in one of those areas, so they moved the discussion to the Lions Den and I quickly found out why the called it this.

The discussion has touched on many different issues, including whether these historical, extra-Biblical writings were legitimate and actually give the evidence for which Christians claim; whether God is evil; whether the origin and design of the universe point toward God; and other fun subjects. Today, I thought I would focus on one of the evidences for the existence of God; this is one of the stronger arguments for God’s existence in my book. So, here is the moral argument for God’s existence:

1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
2. Objective moral values do exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.

Now, what counter-arguments would an atheist have for this argument? Well, they might first argue that objective moral values can exist without God. This would require them to provide an objective basis for morality in the absence of God. On what could they base these values? Well, one person that I debated said that objective moral values just exist as Platonic forms. He argued that this is how people like John Locke grounded moral values and that he influenced Thomas Jefferson when he wrote of unalienable (or inalienable, if you prefer) rights in the Declaration of Independence. This person said that Jefferson was an atheist, so he didn’t mean God as we know him, when he said we were endowed by our Creator with these rights. It was a strained argument to be sure, but even if he were correct and these moral values do exist, they would not have an oughtness to them. In other words, there is no reason that I ought to obey them if all they are are brute facts. What are the consequences if I choose to ignore them? These people would come back and say, “I don’t need a God to threaten to punish me to obey to be moral.” The problem is they can’t obey the rules when there is a God who can punish them, so why would I believe that they would obey them in God’s absence? The bottom line is that there is no reason that I should obey morals that are disconnected from a lawgiver.

Others would say that we do have objective moral values and these are derived through evolution. They would say that evolution has “selected” for moral behavior that benefits the group or society, therefore, we should obey them. The question is, how do we know these morals? Clearly, they weren’t spoken to us, they must come through instinct. The problem with this view is that we have competing instincts, how do we know which to obey? How do we really know which behaviors will lead to the ultimate survivability of the species? We cannot see into the future and know which decisions we make are going to promote the highest possibility of the survival of the species.

Still, others would say that we can just look around us and see which behaviors are good and which are bad. In essence, we work from particular behaviors to a universal moral code. Here is the problem with that view. When we see behaviors on what basis do we know which are good and which are bad? We still need a basis on which to judge them that is independent of us. If I asked you, which is better foowqof or xupsil, what would you say? On what basis would you judge? Well, you might go to a dictionary and try to determine what these words mean. Not finding them in an English dictionary, you would search foreign dictionaries, again you would fail. So, what would you do? Your first response to words for which you were unfamiliar was to compare them to an objective standard (dictionaries), yet when objective standards fail, you are left to your subjective opinion or preference. You might prefer one word to another (maybe you like the sound of one or prefer shorter words to longer ones), but you would not be making an objective decision at that point since you have no objective basis on which to make a determination. The same is true of observing moral behavior, unless we have an objective standard by which to judge behavior, it becomes a matter of preference.

God is the only reasonable objective basis that can fit this need. The source must be transcendent, above us. The source must be personal in order to communicate these values. The source must have authority by which to enforce these standards. The source must be inherently good. The source must be immutable or unchangable. All of these characteristics are descriptive of God.

The next question revolves around whether objective moral values actually exist. If they don’t exist, then the atheist would have a basis on which to say that God doesn’t exist. So, let’s look at whether this claim number 2 is true. To do so, we look at certain moral behaviors and ask whether they could ever be justified. Could murder (the wanton taking of innocent life) ever be justified? What about rape? Child abuse? Racism? The list could go on, but the truth is that only one example is needed to prove that objective moral values do exist, and I have not met anyone yet would could justify any one of these. I have heard the scenario that says, suppose someone were holding your family hostage and threatening to kill them unless you murder (or do some other behavior usually considered immoral) another person, wouldn’t that make that behavior ultimately good as it saved your family? The answer is no, the behavior is still evil, even though it may prevent a greater evil from occurring. So, point two of the argument is sustained.

That leads to the logical conclusion that God does exist.

Now, when you engage in this conversation with an unbeliever, they will have a tendency to shift the argument. They might say things like, “are you saying that I cannot be a moral person unless I believe in God?” The answer is you can, but on what objective standard do you base your morals? One can live a moral life as God has given us a conscience so that we know right and wrong, but that is a question of how we know morals, not whether they actually exist. They might also say that cultures that have never heard of God know that murder and rape are wrong, but again, that goes back to how we know versus whether they exist. I generally have to repeatedly steer people back to the main argument from these sidetracks in a conversation. The question of how we know what moral are is a separate question from whether objective moral values actually exist, and we must establish the existence of objective moral values before we discuss how we know what they are.

One poster wanted to drag me into the discussion of God’s commandment to Israel to wipe out the Amalekites, and this is a common complaint among atheists. I asked the poster to first establish his objective basis for morality before we could discuss this subject, since he needed an objective basis on which to indict God. He was borrowing from a Christian worldview (objective moral values) to indict God. I didn’t allow him to do that, I made him answer for his basis of objective moral values apart from God before he could indict God. If someone is going to claim objective moral values, they cannot, at the same time, argue that God doesn’t exist. They would be using an argument for God’s existence to try to prove that he doesn’t exist, which is illogical.

I am sure that I have stirred up more questions than I have answered with this post, so if you have questions, feel free to send them my way and I will try to clear them up.

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