Post Author: Bill Pratt
Many people know that it is wrong to rape, but know nothing about the goodness of the Christian God. How we come to know moral facts is often different from how we come to know theological facts. Based on this truth, many skeptics claim moral facts must be independent of God. This conclusion, however, is simply mistaken.
An illustration may help to explain. The following is adapted from philosopher John Milliken.
Imagine a language called Twing someone makes up and sets down in an official manuscript. Suppose, years later, a person named Tim learns Twing indirectly from some friends who speak it. Suppose further that one day he stumbles upon the official manuscript, reads it, and exclaims about the official manuscript, “This thing is written in perfect Twing!”
Tim is here making a substantive statement. Tim learned Twing from his friends, without ever knowing anything about the official manuscript. But then, when he came across the official manuscript, he recognized that the manuscript was “written in perfect Twing!” His discovery of the manuscript was completely independent of his discovery of Twing through his friends.
Even though Tim came to know Twing separately from how he came to discover the manuscript, it would be ridiculous to say that perfect Twing is independent of the official manuscript. For without the official manuscript, it would be impossible for perfect Twing to exist. The official manuscript is the source of Twing.
Christians claim we can discover moral facts without knowing about God, but when we do discover who God is, we can identify moral goodness with God. This is not some slight-of-hand move by Christian theologians. John Milliken explains how this works:
It is clear that, in order to make a substantive ascription of goodness to God, our conception of it need only be epistemically independent and not ontologically so. In other words, it is only necessary that we learn what is good from instances other than God. It would be a real and important discovery for us that what we antecedently understood as the good is exemplified in God, even if He is ultimately its source.
God is the Good, and so moral facts are not ontologically independent of God, even though we may come to know God independently of moral facts.