We all have a feeling that things aren’t right in this world. Artist struggle to create a perfect image, philosophers opine on the nature of right and wrong, and politicians pursue utopias within society. All these show a deep-seated understanding that this world should be better. The question is what is the standard we use to determine “better”. It requires objective standards of truth and morality.
Objective Truth Points to Something Higher
We have shown that objective truth exists, but what, or who, is the standard of that truth? Every law has a lawgiver. Who is the lawgiver for these universal standards of truth and morality? The brings us to the Moral Argument for God.
The problem for atheists is that in order to say that things aren’t as they should be or should be better, they have to assume an objective standard of how things should be. These standards can’t be based within the individual or society, as we have shown in previous posts (here and here). It must be based on something external to the individual or society.
It’s important to note that we aren’t saying atheists can’t be good and moral people; they just have nothing in which to ground their morality. The important distinction to make here is not that you have to believe in God to know right from wrong. The question is WHY something is right or wrong. For the atheist who believes we are all just products of chance and there is nothing outside the material, there is no grounding principle for objective right and wrong.
This objective standard also couldn’t have evolved through the human experience. We intuitively know certain actions are wrong regardless of how we came to understand they are wrong. We all understand that it is wrong to torture babies for fun. That is why pro-abortion advocates go to such lengths to justify their beliefs; more on that in later posts.
If it is argued that morals evolved, we must admit that what we consider morally wrong could eventually evolve to be morally right. We would also have to admit that through the unguided process of evolution, things we find morally repugnant could have just as easily evolved to be considered moral.
Accordingly, if these objective standards truly exist then they must originate with an infinitely knowledgeable, unchanging lawgiver. This leads us to the Moral Argument for God’s existence.
William Lane Craig puts it this way: “1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist. 2. Objective moral values do exist. 3. Therefore, God exists.”
Let’s examine the first two claims.
- If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist. Without a moral lawgiver outside the individual or society, any moral judgement we might make is simply our opinion. There must be an external, all knowing, eternal lawgiver. Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote in “The Brothers Karamazov”, “without God, everything is permitted.” Dostoyevsky, responding to Nietzsche, understood that God is where we get our moral grounding. Even Nietzsche, though an atheist, understood that without God most people would see life as meaningless; leading to nihilism. He even warned of the danger it would create in the coming 20th Century, the bloodiest in history. Man can justify any evil if there is no standard to be held to.
- Objective morals exist. We have already shown that regardless of whether we admit it or not we all know there are objective moral truths. Relativists will quickly plead to an objective moral standard if you steal their wallet. We all know that what the Nazi’s did to the Jews in World War II was objectively wrong. We also understand degrees of good and evil; Mother Theresa was better than Hitler. This is based on how well each lived up to some objective moral standard.
Because the first two premises are true, the conclusion follows logically. To give polytheists or pantheists the benefit of the doubt, at least for a moment, in reality Craig’s argument only proves a transcendent lawgiver or lawgivers.
Why Does This Point to a Monotheistic God?
Atheism doesn’t accept a higher, transcendent being so the Moral Argument rules it out as a valid worldview, but what about the others?
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes pantheism as “the view that God is identical with the cosmos, the view that there exists nothing which is outside of God, or else negatively as the rejection of any view that considers God as distinct from the universe.” We’ll discuss why this view can’t be valid when we discuss the Cosmological Argument. For now, suffice to say that if everything is God and God is everything, then God couldn’t have existed before the Big Bang, and if God didn’t exist there was no way for everything to be created.
That brings us to polytheism. If polytheism is true, we find ourselves back at subjective truth. How so? How do you decide which deity determines what is moral? Is it Zeus or Hera? Each deity could decide their idea of truth and morality is better (as often happened in Greek mythology). Do they sit on Olympus and take a vote? That would be society determining what is moral which doesn’t necessarily apply to all societies, hence subjective morality.
That leaves us monotheism. At this point in our discussion, we can’t say which version of monotheism is accurate, just that the Moral Argument points to a single God. We will take up that discussion later.
The question could be asked how does God decide what is right and wrong. Socrates actually addressed this question in the Euthyphro Dilemma, albeit through a polytheist lens. The question Socrates posed to Euthyphro in Plato’s Dialogues was, paraphrasing: is something right because God said it was good or did God say it was right because it is good? Socrates’ question assumes that the basis for moral truths lie either in what God decides (morality is subject to God’s whims and is subjective) or God sees what is moral and says that is right (morality lies outside God). What Socrates and Euthyphro missed was that this is actually a trilemma, the third option being that something is good and moral because it is grounded in God’s very essence.
There is much more than can be said on this topic. We encourage you to let this be the launching pad for your own research on the Moral Argument. Our next few posts will address additional arguments for God’s existence. These will look at the question from the perspective of science. They are the Cosmological Argument and the Teleological Argument.