The Moral Argument For The Existence of God

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There are many arguments for the existence of God, but the most effective within Christian apologetics would have to be the Moral Argument for the existence of God. I find this argument to be very effective, because most people can identify with this argument more than any other, as it doesn’t have a scientific basis as other popular arguments do, such as the Kalam Cosmological or the argument from Fine Tuning. People make decisions based on morality every day, so for them the Moral Argument hits much closer to home.

My approach to the Moral Argument can by broken down into two premises and then a conclusion, which has been popularised by Christian philosopher William Lane Craig. The argument flows as follows:

  • Premise 1: If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  • Premise 2: Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  • Conclusion: God exists.[1]

By “objective moral values” I’m talking about moral values that are valid and binding, independent of human opinion. For example, to say that the holocaust was objectively evil, is to say that it was evil, even though the Nazi’s thought it was good. Even if the Nazi’s had won World War Two and succeeded in brainwashing or exterminating everyone who disagreed with them, the holocaust would still be considered as objectively evil.[2]

I believe it’s also important to explain the difference between what is meant by “values” and “duties”. Values have to do with whether something is good or bad (something’s worth), whereas duties have to do with whether something is right or wrong (moral obligation).

Before I would discuss with the non-believer the two key premises for the Moral Argument, I would first lay my case why God is considered the ultimate transcendent anchor point for all moral values.

 

God: The Ultimate Source of Moral Goodness

Plato argued that things have goodness insofar as they stand in some relation to the “Good”, which subsists in itself. With the advent of Christian theism, the Good became identified with God himself.[3]

Thomas Aquinas in his famous “Five Ways” argument for the existence of God, states in the fourth way (The Argument from Gradation) that there must be something which is in itself true, good, and noble, and that this brings into being our ideas of truth, goodness and nobility. The origin of these ideas, Aquinas suggests, is God, who is their original cause.[4] Aquinas says:

Now when many things possess some property in common, the one most fully possessing it causes it in the others: fire, as Aristotle says, the hottest of all things, causes all other things to be hot. Something therefore causes in all other things their being, their goodness, and whatever other perfection they have. And this is what we call God.[5]

It’s a powerful revelation when we understand that the source of all “good” is a person. It was only 3 weeks ago from writing this essay that prominent atheist blogger Leah Libresco stunned her compatriots by converting to Christianity as a result of being convinced by the Moral Argument for the existence of God. Leah says in her official last post for the Patheos Atheist Portal, “I believed that the Moral Law wasn’t just a platonic truth, abstract and distant. It turns out I actually believed it was some kind of Person, as well as Truth. And there was one religion that seemed like the most promising way to reach back to that living Truth.”[6]

It seems that Leah stumbled across the same revelation that C.S. Lewis spoke of: “It is after you have realized that there is a real Moral Law, and a Power behind the law, and that you have broken that law, and put yourself wrong with that Power—it is after all this, and not a moment sooner, that Christianity begins to talk.”[7]

And so I would help the non-believer understand that God is the locus, the ultimate source, who is not only perfectly good, but whose nature is the standard of goodness and whose commands constitute our moral duties.[8] I would then engage the non-believer with the first premise.

 

Premise 1: If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.

The first premise presents us a hypothetical scenario of a world without God, and makes the assertion that if God does not and has not existed, then there are no such thing as objective moral values. I would deliberately paint a very negative and depressing picture of life without God. A world where good and evil are purely relative, where peoples wrongs can be interpreted as good, where justice is denied to the oppressed and genocide redefined as ‘population control’. I would explain that man’s interpretation of morality is just a product of socio-biological evolution and nothing more than a ‘herd morality’ that is associated with animals.[9] Indeed, the universally understood act of murder could easily be interpreted as killing in the same way that a lion would kill a zebra. A lion doesn’t murder a zebra, as murder has a moral connotation that is only understood with human beings. The same goes with rape. Take God out of the picture and rape can be reduced to the action of an animal forcibly copulating with a female to spread his progeny—which happens in the animal kingdom all the time. There is no moral dimension to these actions. They are neither prohibited nor obligatory.[10]

Richard Dawkins made the following comment in regard to the purpose of human beings: “There is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference. We are machines for propagating DNA. It is every living object’s sole reason for being.”[11] Considering that man is the result of uncaused accidental evolution on an infinitesimal speck of dust lost somewhere in a hostile and meaningless universe, man therefore is in no way shape or form obligated to follow any moral code. As William Lane Craig says to great effect:

The rapist who goes against the ‘herd morality’ is doing nothing more serious than acting unfashionably, like the man who belches loudly at the dinner table. If there is no moral lawgiver, then there is no objective moral law that we must obey.[12]

It is important for me to point out to the un-believer in this conversation that this is not about that we must believe in God in order to live upright lives, nor is it that one can believe in objective moral values without believing in God, but rather it is about the necessity of the existence of God for objective morality.[13]

Once the un-believer is aware of the dire scenario that I’ve described with the first premise, it’s time to move on to the facts of the reality of objective moral values and duties with the second premise.

 

Premise 2: Objective moral values and duties do exist.

The capacity by which we evaluate moral values and duties is by “moral experience” by referring in hindsight to situations in the past or where we place ourselves in hypothetical situations using our imagination.

Surprisingly, the second premise is widely accepted, even by the leading “New Atheists”. For instance, the late Christopher Hitchens said, “you don’t need God to tell you that murder is wrong; this information is available to all humans.”[14] Sam Harris, in his book The End of Faith says, “We do not need God or a Bible to tell us what’s right and what’s wrong. We can know objective moral truths without ‘the existence of a lawgiving God,’ and we can judge Hitler to be morally reprehensible ‘without reference to scripture.’”[15] Richard Dawkins in 2011 refused to debate Christian apologist William Lane Craig, because he said that he “is an apologist for genocide” by citing that Craig adheres and endorses God’s sanctioning of the destruction of the Canaanites in the Old Testament.[16] Yet, it is with great irony and hypocrisy that Dawkins previous debate opponents share the exact same belief and conviction in the Old Testament shared by Craig. Not only that, but in his written article, Dawkins ironically appeals to objective moral values in establishing that genocide is objectively wrong.

At the Nuremburg Trials in 1945-46, the Nazi war criminals were tried in accordance with the London Charter of the International Military Tribunal. Interestingly, the tribunal was based on civil law format,[17] in which its legal ideas and systems were ultimately derived from law codes heavily influenced by the Judeo-Christian framework of moral values such as the Justinian code, Germanic code, canon-law, as well as doctrinal strains such as natural law.[18] These laws in which provide the foundation for the London Charter of the International Military Tribunal and demonstrates the universal objectivity of moral values and duties as reflected from the following excerpts taken from The Law of the Nuremburg Trial:

“All those sentenced to hang were found guilty of crimes against humanity…”[19] and “…to initiate a war of aggression is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”[20] and “The Tribunal had no doubt that the acts in pursuance of policies of “genocide” and clearing land by extermination of its population . . . constituted ‘war crimes’.”[21]

Interestingly, the defendants were represented by “able German lawyers”[22] who contested the validity of the Charter if it were construed in a way to transgress fundamental principles of justice.[23] They also argued that the defendants were simply following superior orders. Yet, the Tribunal stated that they could not shelter themselves behind the plea of superior orders if “moral choice was in fact possible.”[24]

I would then point the un-believer to an example from popular culture. Movie producers would be set for certain financial failure at the box office if the screenplay for their movies didn’t feature the “good guys” winning in the end and triumphing over the “bad guys”. Why? Because as human beings created in the image of God we have a natural intrinsic moral understanding that evil must be overcome by good. Our moral views are, at the least, embedded in our emotions. We find it repulsive to suppose a different moral order of things, and, finding it repulsive, cannot go through with supposing it.[25]

I would then question the un-believer to ask questions based on his own intuitive moral experience whether he thought the torture of a small child wasn’t morally repugnant. I would also ask him the same question in regard to the atrocities of genocide in Cambodia, Rwanda and Sudan. If he answers that he agrees that my examples are objectively morally wrong, I would ask him—why? Hopefully, he will arrive at a place where he understands that moral values exist universally and independently of his own opinions.

I would then point the un-believer to the Bible and show him that Paul explains the objective moral values that we all share in the second chapter of Romans:

“(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)” (Rom 2:14-15)

Paul explains that moral laws are written upon our hearts and that our consciences bear witness to them. Once again, this is to do with the fact that we are created in the image of God. We are distinct from the animals in the fact that human beings are moral agents with moral comprehension and responsibility.

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, I have established with the non-believer the case that objective moral values and duties are grounded in God himself and that there is no other conceivable higher standard of goodness than he himself.

I have pointed out with the first premise that if God does not exist, then all moral values are relative and therefore illusory. Moral values are simply the product of socio-biological evolution and can therefore be described as nothing more than a ‘herd morality’. Offenders are not morally accountable, but rather better described as acting against the interests of the herd, or to put it another way—acting ‘unfashionably’.

Finally, I discuss with him that these moral truths have to be objective, independent of our choices, and going deeper than what we happen to desire.[26] Hopefully, this argument would then help the un-believer to see the truth presented to him, that truth is embodied in the person of Jesus Christ, and then for him to make an informed decision to follow Christ as a result. The objective in the whole conversation with the un-believer is never to “win the argument”, but rather to help the un-believer to believe so that he may be won over to Christ. As apologist Norman Geisler says, “The object of apologetics is not to prove we are right, but to remove the roadblocks to faith in others.”

 


[1] William L. Craig, On Guard (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2010), 129.

[2] William L. Craig, ‘The Indispensability of Theological Meta-ethical Foundations for Morality’, in Foundations, Vol. 5 (1997), p. 9-12, [cited 5 July 2012]. Online: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-indispensability-of-theological-meta-ethical-foundations-for-morality

[3] William L. Craig, Reasonable Faith (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994), 88.

[4] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology (West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 184.

[5] Timothy McDermott (ed.), St Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologiæ – A Concise Translation (Westminster: Christian Classics, 1989), 13.

[6] Leah Libresco, “This is my last post for the Patheos Atheist Portal”, n.p. [cited 5 July 2012]. Online: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked/2012/06/this-is-my-last-post-for-the-patheos-atheist-portal.html

[7] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Hammersmith: Collins, 1952), 31.

[8] William L. Craig, On Guard, 144.

[9] Craig, ‘The Indispensability of Theological Meta-ethical Foundations for Morality’, Foundations, 5 (1997), [cited 5 July 2012]. Online: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-indispensability-of-theological-meta-ethical-foundations-for-morality

[10] William L. Craig, On Guard, 132.

[11] Richard Dawkins, River out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (New York: Basic, 1996), 133.

[12] William L. Craig, On Guard, 133.

[13] Ibid, 134.

[14] Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York: Hachette Book Group, 2007), 99, 101–2.

[15] Sam Harris, The End of Faith (New York: W. W. Norton, 2004, 18.

[16] Richard Dawkins, “Why I refuse to debate with William Lane Craig”, n.p. [cited 6 July 2012]. Online: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/oct/20/richard-dawkins-william-lane-craig

[17] Wikipedia, “London Charter of the International Military Tribunal”, n.p. [cited 6 July 2012]. Online: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Charter_of_the_International_Military_Tribunal

[18] Wikipedia, “Civil law (legal system)”, n.p. [cited 6 July 2012]. Online: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_law_(legal_system)

[19] Quincy Wright, ‘The Law of the Nuremberg Trial’, in The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Jan., 1947), pp. 38-72, p. 41. Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2193853

[20] Ibid., 43.

[21] Ibid., 60.

[22] Ibid., 41.

[23] Ibid., 45.

[24] Ibid., 55.

[25] Robert Gay, ‘Moral Arguments for the Existence of God’, in Modern Theology, Vol. 3, No. 2 (1987), p. 117-136, p. 120.

[26] Ibid.

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