Moral Argument Revisited

14 06 2009

It has been a few months since I have written about the moral argument, so I thought I would revisit this issue again. I think that the moral argument is one of the cornerstone arguments for the existence of God. The key to the argument is not whether we can know how to live morally apart from God, we know that we can as we all have consciences. However, the key question is whether objective moral values exist at all.

So, what do we mean by objective moral values? These are values that would be true whether or not anyone ever believed them to be true. They are true independent of every single person on earth. They derive from outside of our existence, for if they were derived from man in any way, they would be subjective in nature (derived from the subjects).

This is a very important distinction to keep in mind when discussing the moral argument, their origin versus how we know them. This is where the conversation so often gets off track as the person with whom I am speaking wants to jump to the how we know question from the do they exist question. Skeptics want to discuss ideas like how could God command the slaughter of the Canaanites or some related accusatory question against God. In those cases I simply steer the conversation back to the question of origins by asking them on what objective basis they are accusing God of wrong doing.

The first thing a court must establish before allowing a case to move forward is whether the plaintiff has grounds to bring the charges (i.e., was a law broken, are they in the right jurisdiction, etc.). Unless the plaintiff has grounds to bring the charge the judge has to throw the case out of court or redirect them to the right jurisdiction. So, does the atheist have proper grounds to bring charges against God? I would argue that they do not since they don’t have an objective basis for morality.

Suppose I made up a rule that said that any car passing within 15 feet of my driveway without permission will be fined $100. Well, as I look out my window I have dozens of cars that pass my driveway on the street in front of my house ever day that come within 15 feet, so I would be rich. But wait a minute, first I must go to court and get the judge to find them guilty of the violation and impose the fine on them. What judge is going to uphold a law that I arbitrarily imposed on the passing motorists? The answer is that I would be tossed out for having no grounds to bring charges.

Now, suppose there is no objective basis for morality and morality is what we create and that is as real as it gets. And, suppose this person creates a rule that says that what God has done in the Old Testament is wrong, is it really wrong? Why would it be wrong if I don’t recognize the jurisdiction of the accuser? Why should I recognize that persons jurisdiction when I have my own? You see, it ends up that morality is ultimately meaningless as we are all a law unto ourselves. We can bring accusation all we want, but no one is obliged to recognize our jurisdiction.

I won’t get into the conversation of whether God was justified with a skeptic until he has established that he has grounds to bring the charge, he must show that morals are objective in nature apart from God’s existence, which is usually their position. I have gone around this discussion a few times now with skeptics and have yet to have one establish that morality is objective apart from God. Most either assert that they are without evidence, or simply say that they are subjective but still meaningful. Neither argument is acceptable or logical.

We are living in a time much like that depicted in the book of Judges in the Old Testament, twice it says (and if fact the book ends with these words) “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Everyone was a law unto themselves and lived according to their own code of ethics. If you have read the book lately, you remember that the time of the Judges was a time of turmoil and cycles of rebellion, followed by the people being trounced by a foreign army, followed by woe, sorrow and repentance, followed by God’s rescue of Israel, followed by more rebellion.

If God doesn’t exist, then we truly do live in a time when everyman will do what is right in his own eyes – and be justified in doing so. Some will try to explain morality through evolution saying that it is conducive to survival, yet that simply begs the question why should survival be an end to a people without a purpose? Evolutionary biologist and atheist, Richard Dawkins was recently asked whether it would have been alright with him if evolution turned out different such that rape was considered normal. Dawkins’ reply was telling as he said that he was glad that he lived in a society where rape was considered to be wrong. In essence, Dawkins was saying that rape was objectively wrong and he was glad it was, while still trying to hold onto evolution as its origin – the problem is he can’t have it both ways, either evolution produced morals and they are subjective, or morals came from an objective source – which must be God.

I pray that Christians, myself included, will live in the reality of objective moral values and not live like Israel in the time of the judges – let us do what is right in God’s eyes.