#6 Post of 2013 – Can We Know Moral Values Without Knowing God?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Clearly the answer must be “yes.”  In fact, the apostle Paul teaches this very truth in the book of Romans. There are some moral truths that can be known without a person ever acknowledging God’s existence. In fact, the world would be a complete disaster if everyone had to agree on the existence and attributes of God before anyone could know moral truths.

But it seems that atheists often think that Christians are making this claim. They think that Christians are saying a person cannot be moral or know right from wrong without believing in God. No Christian thinker of any stature has ever said this, though.

When Christians present moral arguments for God’s existence, or when they argue that moral values cannot exist unless God exists, they are making a very different point. David Baggett and Jerry Walls explain what is going on in their book Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality:

[I]t might seem inconsistent to argue that moral truth is dependent on God if we can know it without even thinking of God. This alleged inconsistency can be dispelled if we recognize, as numerous classical thinkers have pointed out, that the order of being is different from the order of knowing. That is, the order in which we come to know things might be different from the order in which things exist, or have come to exist.

The order of being has to do with metaphysics and the order of knowing has to do with epistemology. Christian arguments about God and morality are almost always about metaphysics (the order of being) and not about epistemology (the order of knowing). Baggett and Walls add:

Certain moral truths might be as evident to us as anything can be, but may still leave unanswered the question of where morality came from. Likewise, the foundations of morality might be at a greater distance from us in terms of immediate knowledge than morality itself. This is a fundamental distinction, but one that is often missed, resulting in needless confusion.

Baggett and Walls point out that many atheists just seem to completely miss this distinction:

Recent books defending atheism have perpetuated this confusion, unfortunately, but not surprisingly. For instance, Richard Dawkins seems to ignore this distinction when he asks, “if we have independent criteria for choosing among religious moralities, why not cut out the middle man and go straight for the moral choice without the religion?”

Nobody disagrees that we can gather a bunch of people from different worldviews together in a room and agree on a basic set of moral values.  This simply is not in dispute. What is in dispute is the question of where these moral values come from. Answering this question is what atheists need to work on.

  • It’s interesting how atheists respond to this. When they
    bring up morality and its origins, I tell them that, although they have the capacity of acting in a moral framework, to do so they unknowingly “borrow” or “smuggle in” said morality from my Worldview.

    Without fail, they misinterpret my statement to mean that only Christians can be moral. So I say: certainly not: there can be moral atheists as well as immoral Christians; but either way, there is no objective morality without God (the moral law giver).

    When they posit that man “evolved” into a moral being &
    created morality, I ask “Which man?” The best they can hope to get to on their own is pragmatism. Science can tell us that it’s better to be alive than dead. But as to who should be alive and who dead, it cannot hope to answer.

    Reason doesn’t decide here.

  • Andrew R

    If morality has to come from a God then it isn’t objective

  • Well put, Gene. Atheist morality is always prudential, or pragmatic, as you say. “If you want this, then you should do that.” Kant referred to this as a hypothetical imperative. If you want to be a doctor, you should go to medical school. If you want to lose weight, you should eat less.

    Morality, however, is not a hypothetical imperative, but a categorical imperative. It applies to all people regardless of their goals. We don’t merely say, “If you don’t want to get killed by your neighbor, you ought not sleep with his wife.” While this may be true, it does not capture the essence of the moral command.

    No, we say, “You ought never sleep with your neighbor’s wife. Period.” This command applies regardless of your goals. Even if you had a death wish, and wanted the husband to kill you, you should still not sleep with his wife because it is categorically wrong. As you say, atheists find it impossible to explain why morality is categorical and not hypothetical.

  • “Objective” as in outside of mankind, Andrew.

    Any moral construct
    of man is subjective. Therefore Hugh Hefner’s morality is different than
    Mother Theresa’s. Or take Barack Obama: he professes Christianity, but
    then support not only unlimited abortion…but infanticide (killing
    children who survive abortions) – hardly a position any genuine Christian would either morally justify or support & for him, subjective to his politics.

    So in order for objective morality to exist, it must come from outside our own, limited & biased purview.

  • And indeed Mother Theresa professed to being a Christian, yet withheld painkillers from the suffering while making sure she got the very best health care her considerable wealth could buy her. But if we dismissed every Christian attacked by another Christian for not being a ‘Real Christian’, then there’d be barely any Christians about!

    “”Objective” as in outside of mankind, Andrew.”

    Would aliens do? How are you determining that your view on God is correct when you admit yourself that your views are limited and biased, including presumably your views on God Himself?

  • Pingback: A Few Good Posts | Thomistic Bent()

  • bvan

    You can have universal truths without God or the Bible. Early man started in small family-based groups. Those who lived peacefully and did not murder or steal within the group survived better than those that did not. Over time, as groups grew, certain traits became the rules we were to live by for the good of the group, not because humans have deemed them so, but because they are the basis of civilization.

  • rericsawyer

    Brian, that makes the definition of “Truth” to be “that which functions better” I don’t think that holds.

    A difference would be two laws: one, the prohibition of murder, is an attempt to codify a “universal truth.” In general, we outlaw murder because we believe that murder is intrinsically wrong.

    The other sort of law might be a 70 mph speed limit. No one argues that there is any inherent rightness about 70 mph verses 80 or 60. A case can be made that it is functional to have SOME limit, in that traffic moves more smoothly as speed differences are minimized, but even the smooth movement of traffic is not put forward as a universal ought.

    Certain ways of living of course do produce survivability benefits within the groups which practice them. They may even be ways of ordering society which work well in all times and all places. but even resting them on the good of the group does not imply a moral universal.

    We still have a ethical struggle balancing the “good of the group” against “the good of the individual;” or civic good verses individual liberty. Neither is put forward as a foundational, all-times-and-all-places universal truth.

  • I don’t get why the Christian view is any more of an explanation. Just saying ‘That’s wrong, period”, isn’t an explanation, it’s an assertion. You can take it one step further and say you shouldn’t sleep with your neighbour’s wife because both you and she promised your spouses you wouldn’t, and also that you wouldn’t want your own spouses to cheat on you. You can say that this introduces further clauses that need justifying, but at least it takes you a littler further.

  • bvan

    Not all truths are universal. Some times we just need laws for day to day life that best fits the needs of one group of people without putting too heavy a burden on others.

    Regarding the speed limit analogy, I assume God would care little about whether the speed limit were set at 70 or 80mph. These types of laws are typically driven by insurance companies and involves a trade-off. Statistically, the faster you go the more fuel you waste and the more likely you will have an accident and if an accident does occur, the more likely damages will increase, which includes loss of life. But, it also takes into account the need for people to get from Point A to Point B in the most efficient time-saving manner, and loss of revenue if the driver determines a different route in favor of a higher speed limit.

  • rericsawyer

    bvan, I’m sorry for getting your name wrong! Smart-phone screen and late hour.

  • Christian moral law comes from God, and so we do what he says because he is the only legitimate, authoritative moral law-giver. When he says, “Don’t sleep with your neighbor’s wife,” that is a command that needs no further justification because of who God is.

    An analogy would be the laws establishing speed limits (to use Eric’s illustration). When the state government sets the speed limit to 65 mph on a certain road, we don’t say to ourselves, “Well, I will only obey the speed limit if it meets my personal goals or desires.” In fact, try that line of reasoning with the police officer. We follow the speed limit because a legitimate authority put the law into place. What the state government says about speed goes. Period.

    On atheism, there is no legitimate, authoritative law-giver for moral laws. You obey moral laws if they line up with your personal goals and desires. If not, you don’t.

    Since there is no legitimate authority giving you moral laws, they aren’t actually laws at all; they are more like guidelines or suggestions. They are not to be obeyed categorically, only prudentially. If it lines up with your personal goals and desires to sleep with your neighbor’s wife, there is just no good reason, on atheism, not to. This is the insight that atheists like Nietzsche, Mackie, and Sartre had.

  • “because he is the only legitimate, authoritative moral law-giver”

    You’ve not contradicted what I said. You’re just being asserting that this is the case. You’ve not shown why He is legitimate, or where His authority comes from.

    “When the state government…”

    I don’t get the analogy here – we vote in the government, they have a democratic mandate. And even then, they need to justify laws based on deeper principles. They don’t get to outlaw something just based on fiat. And if a citizen thinks the government is illegitimate, they still have to keep to their laws due to the simple expedient of avoiding punishment. This may be analogous to God, but it’s a ‘might makes right’ argument.

    “You obey moral laws if they line up with your personal goals and desires”

    Obeying God lines up with YOUR personal goals and desires, so I don’t see how the theist is different.

  • bvan

    No worries.

  • The Christian God is, by definition, the ultimate Good. Therefore his authority to legislate the moral law just follows from who He is. Surely the one Being who exists from which all good emanates is the legitimate and authoritative source for the human moral law.

    And I can assure you that obeying God often does not line up with my personal goals and desires. In fact, that is the case for every believer in God. We are sinful and we don’t always want to do what God says we should do.

  • bvan

    Religion borrows from morality. Do you honestly believe that for over a hundred thousand years, humans lived in chaos? Our earliest recorded history (which predates the Bible by centuries) condemns murder, theft, and adultery, among many other anti-social behaviors.

  • bvan

    Man did not just decide one day murder was bad with the option of arbitrarily deciding it may be ok tomorrow. Murder is wrong because it effects a civilization in a negative way – it’s an anti-social behavior. Civilizations thrive on law and order, not chaos.

  • bvan

    I am not a big fan of Obama and I think much could be done to prevent unwanted pregnancies to begin with, but I did do some research on this claim that Obama supports infanticide (which is a very serious accusation that I would think people wouldn’t take lightly).

    Obama voted against a bill that you reference back when he was a senator because he said it was redundant (the law already covered this – it’s murder to kill a viable baby, and because it was designed to do a run-around of Roe v Wade and so would not hold up long term, much like the recent personhood bills.

    You can be against Roe v Wade but it is still currently the law of the land. Obama has held the same line as most, in that he is against abortion except in cases of rape, incest, and the health of the mother. Obama has done with abortion as all presidents before him in the last forty years, regardless of the political side, which amounts to nothing.

  • “And I can assure you that obeying God often does not line up with my personal goals and desires.”

    Sure, but obeying God is your main goal and desire, no? That’s ultimately what you want, and it’s also ultimately what you desire. You might have COMPETING goals and desires but they are generally trumped by wanting to the right thing by your God. So you’ve got a mixture of desires, some of which are selfish and sinful some of which come under the bracket of ‘doing the right thing’, and you generally try to fulfil the latter rather than the former.

    You say atheists “obey moral laws if they line up with their personal goals and desires” but I don’t see how this is different from Christians, unless you want to argue that atheists are more likely to go for the venal and selfish, or that atheists don’t have any desires to do good things for others. And I know you do NOT want to argue that because you argue the opposite in this very blog!

  • rericsawyer

    It appears that most of the objections to the view of a theogenetic morality come from a difference in how God is understood.

    It seems that God is often pictured as another entity in the universe, as in Andrew’s “aliens” comment. It is then quite reasonable to ask from where does *this* being derive moral authority, and why should we call that objective?
    Even if this being created humanity, does that alone define him/it as morally absolute? Should Pinocchio regard Geppetto as the definition of moral perfection simply because he is the maker, or should he let his conscience be his guide?

    If God is an entity in the universe, then the argument against theogenesis of morality is in my opinion unanswerable. The moral opinions of such a being would either be derived from another source, or they would be simply what that being thought best, or what pleased him. On no account would they be objective moral truth, but strictly subjective –unless derived from something more fundamental, and external to that entity.

    But I think that is not the view of God we are trying to put forth –

    I somewhere recently related the most fundamental, basic, stripped down view of God to π.
    The ratio of the circumference to diameter of a circle is a fixed quantity, anywhere. It is a universal truth.
    It just is.

    As I understand God, the center minimalist formulation of God would be the source of those things that simply are. The truth of these things, the fundamentals of logic, mathematics, etc. arise from and are inseparably enmeshed in the reality of God, the fundamental reality of all things.

    Of course, Christians think there is a great deal more to God than this, adding person-hood, the Trinity, and so forth, and I
    agree. But this idea of transcendence would be one of the foundational understandings; and one which we may be ill equipped to fully comprehend.

  • “The ratio of the circumference to diameter of a circle is a fixed quantity, anywhere. It is a universal truth.Why? It just is.”

    Then it should be so with or without a God.

  • rericsawyer

    Andrew, that goes to my point: it would be so with or without the sort of god which is another entity in a universe external to that entity.

    One may call these sorts of absolutes something like “fundamental laws (or realities) of the universe” I’m good with that, but I do not think that describes something other than God.

    I lay a good many bricks of description on top of this foundation, and other folks may balk at any one of them. This definition of God certainly does not require that one see God as personal, or even conscious, let alone Trinitarian!

    But all these are added elements, and you and I (or both of us) may be wrong about any of them. But as soon as we have agreed that there is a set of objective absolutes in the universe, such as pi, then we have laid a brick on the same foundation.
    I suggest that what we call that foundation (“fundamental realities of the universe”, or “God”) is primarily a matter of spelling the nameplate right.

  • Well said, Eric. The blog post I published today actually answers the question as to how Christians see God as the Ultimate Good. It echos some of what you say here.

  • bvan

    If you want to describe God as the essential force that binds all things in the universe together, I am okay with that definition. I am not so keen on equating that God with the God of the Bible.

  • Andrew Ryan

    I see no reason to call it God except in the most metaphorical of ways, a la Einstein.

  • rericsawyer

    I’m fine with calling it “the fundamental reality” and am thus onboard with anyone who believes that there are somethings that simply are; mathematics, logic or ethics, the area of thought is irrelevant

    The difference is in how ELSE one would describe this fundamental reality.

    If someone should agree to the wod God as metaphor for this, that is already some significant steps along a long road of agreement, and begs for a discussion of metaphor.

    FWIW, God as fundamental reality is a great deal of what I understand by the biblical story of God’s self-description as I am that I am.”

  • Andrew R

    A reason I can’t see how calling it God is helpful is that – to me – the fundamental facts of reality and God are very much different things. The latter may or may not exist, the former couldn’t possibly NOT exist. Further, no God could change those fundamental facts. A circle with a different value of pi wouldn’t be a circle. The laws of non contradiction couldn’t be any other way. These facts would be th same with or without a God.

  • rericsawyer

    And that, Andrew, brings us back to where we began: I suggested that “most of the objections to the view of a theogenetic morality come from a difference in how God is understood.”

    It is my understand that you yourself reject the idea of God of any description. I’m fine with that, you get to make that call -whether you are right or wrong.

    But you seem again to misunderstand the nature of what Christians mean by “God.” I don’t know what the ancient Greeks actually thought about the gods, but at least the way the Greek Pantheon was presented to me was that they were seen as extremely powerful beings, immortal, but in other respects like humans. Even the Titans inhabited a reality external to themselves, with its own rules for how things work.
    Whether this idea reflects their thought or not, this conception of god or gods is the one that actually fits your complaints. All or the issues you raise against the idea of god seem to me very accurate, assuming that we mean by “god” something of this sort – an entity, superior in power to humans, perhaps superior in power to anything, but who is nevertheless another entity in a reality external to that entity here called “god.” I have nothing to say against you criticism of this god. I share it, and think you are quite right.
    But that is not the construct we mean by the letters G-o-d. I know it is a pain to have to work with more than one definition of a word. but that is where it is. All the difficulties I have seen so far hinge on that difference of definition.

  • john r

    I second the motion!

  • sean

    As an atheist, I agree that I can be moral without agreeing that a god exists. Atheists, by the way, think Christians make this argument because some do. I’m glad you don’t though.

    But to the case that you do seem to be okay with making; that the existence and accounting for morality necessitates a god is simply circular. A set of rules has been defined and attributed to a being who has also been given the power of omniscience, omnipotence and omnibenevolence. From what I’ve seen, you have a god that by definition could theoretically account for morality, and because no one else can do so to your satisfaction you assume it’s god, and therefore this is an argument for your god’s existence, though perhaps I misunderstand your argument. Either way, let’s say, just for fun, I accepted your conclusion that god is the source of morality.

    If god really is moral then surely he thinks badly of atrocities committed upon children, right? The pedophilic priests that have molested children are abominable in his eyes, I’d hope. Given that you also accept the bulk of the Bible, especially the new testament, Matthew 18:19 forces unto me the belief that if your religion is true, moral good among Christians is so scarce that not a two in over two thousand years have ever been able to come together and ask of God that these heinous crimes be stopped. Same goes for these school shootings that have been happening. I’m sure you’ve prayed in church about some atrocity somewhere, be it one of my examples or not. Assuming you Bill meant it sincerely, that would mean that not a single other person in your church sincerely cared about the righting of whatever wrong you prayed about, including your family and church leader.

    In fact, Japan, which is one of the most secular countries in the world, has a rape rate far lower than the rate here in Christian America. Thus, in conclusion, a logical addendum to this post would be that in addition to people not needing to know god to be moral, it would seem that people who don’t believe in god more closely follow his moral standards than god’s own Christian adherents!

  • Sean,
    You did not address the challenge presented in the blog post to your worldview: Where do moral values and duties come from on atheism?

    Give us a thorough and systematic metaphysical theory of ethics and morality, on your brand of atheism. I give Sam Harris credit for at least trying, but most atheists, like you, just prefer to ignore the question.

  • Andrew Ryan

    We can start from first principles – life is generally preferable to death, pain is best avoided, we prosper as a species when we work together, it makes sense to treat others as you wish to be treated. From there you have the building blocks for a moral system. If you say any of these positions should be challenged, you need to state what alternative you propose for them, and why you question them. If you are in fact in agreement with these basic principles, then we don’t have an argument – the fact that we agree is enough.

  • sean

    I agree with Andrew here.

    But I just want to say that my point above was that Christianity poses this as a problem with atheism as though it’s a problem not shared by Christianity.

    If God’s word is so grounding for your worldview, I don’t understand why there are three Abraham faiths, and why each of those has thousands of denominations and flavors for each.

    And to address what Andrew said, it’s sometimes the case that there are exceptions to those principles, and when there are, we make a moral evaluation, something Christianity cannot do. Physician assisted suicide is, in certain cases, completely moral. Death can be preferable to life. It’s the Christian view of denying this that is what’s immoral here. The Christian principle is that god is moral. And I see every time I speak with Christians a struggle there. Because The Bible outlines things that are patently immoral, so much so that no Christian believes the Bible cover to cover. The Westboro Baptist Church is probably the closest though. What I’d propose is to use Andrew’s system, and start form that which is actually moral, not the Abrahamic god.

  • You haven’t provided a metaphysical grounding for ethics; you’ve just listed some commonly agreed upon moral values. I am not denying that we all share some common moral values.

    My question is: where did they come from?

  • Andrew Ryan

    I read and commented on that blog series at the time.

    You’ve not rebutted my argument. In fact my post contained answers to some of your own points before you’d even made them!

    I didn’t simply list moral values. Some were simple facts. Others are axiomatic. I invited you to offer alternatives, or to dispute any of them and you refrained from doing so. If you want to argue that pain is better than no pain, or that death is better than life, then please go ahead.

  • What do you mean by “no pain is better than pain” and “life is better than death”?

    On atheism, I’m confused by what “better” means in the field of ethics and morality. Please explain.

  • Andrew Ryan

    I really don’t know how any of the words can be explained any simpler. I can’t imagine any situation where, say, a person couldn’t understand the option of having their loved ones killed by a marauding psychopath or not killed, and not being able to understand that one option was better than the other. Likewise, I can’t imagine anyone being unable to tell the difference between being tortured and not being tortured, and unable to say the latter was better.

  • Again, what do you mean by the word “better”? How you define that word makes all the difference in the world to your metaphysical grounding of the good.

    “Better” can mean all sorts of things, so just saying one thing is better than another is not very informative.

    Tell me what “better” means.

  • Andrew Ryan

    Again, I’m baffled by your confusion. If you were trying to persuade a criminal not to kill someone and every time you made a statement like ‘heaven is better than hell’, ‘God is better than Satan’, ‘moral is better than immoral’, he just shrugged and asked you to explain what you meant, I think you’d view him as obtuse.

    If you question such basic notions, then positing a God won’t help you. Are you genuinely claiming you can see no difference between getting tortured and not getting tortured? Between your family being murdered or not murdered? If not, I’m seeing an unbridgeable gap in our communication with each other.

    For what it’s worth, the basic ideas I’m explaining are pretty clear to everyone I’ve ever met. It may be that you’ve just had very different life experiences to most people such that it seems like these ideas are completely foreign to you. If so, again, there’s not much I can do to explain further.

  • The problem is that you borrow everything you know about morality from Christian metaphysics, but then claim you don’t need Christian metaphysics to explain morality.

    You’re like an airplane pilot who understands that buttons and handles in the cockpit move the plane, but when asked why these buttons and handles move the plane, you have no idea. Your response is just, “I don’t need to know. Everything I need to know is in the cockpit. What goes on outside the cockpit is none of my concern.”

    Obviously I know the difference between pain and no pain, between life and death, between torture and not torture. Virtually every person does. But again, that is not the question I am asking.

    When a Christian says that no murder is better than murder, we mean that based on the way human beings were designed, based on our common God-given nature, we are not purposed to kill innocent human beings. Murder does not fulfill our human nature. It does not fit with what it means to be human.

    Human nature is fixed and designed by God, and we know that by looking at human nature and by looking at the purposes for which God created man, murder violates that nature and that purpose.

    On atheism, there is no purpose to human life, except what each individual decides for themselves. On atheism, there is also no fixed human nature. Put another way, there is nothing that transcends all humans to which the atheist can appeal.

    So when an atheist says that one human behavior is better than another, I am left scratching my head. What do you mean by “better”? You can’t mean that one behavior serves God’s purposes for human beings while the other doesn’t. You can’t be referring to the fact that one behavior fulfills human nature and the other does not.

    What do you mean by saying one behavior is better than another?

  • Andrew Ryan

    You say you know the difference between those difference things, Bill. This is excellent news. It means there’s nothing standing between you and understanding basic moral ideas. You don’t need to ‘borrow’ anything from anyone’s religion, including Christianity. I truly believe you are almost there. But I’m going to start repeating myself if I try to explain all over again. It’s pretty much all there in my above posts.

  • Andrew,
    I take your sarcastic and condescending non-answer as an indication that you simply do not know how to offer any grounding for atheistic morality.

    I think I’ve wasted enough time with you on this topic.

  • The views of modern society regarding
    religion, and specifically Christianity, are in a state of great flux.
    Beliefs that were once sacrosanct are now being called into question. Is
    the day soon coming when the majority of people in society will view “the
    Holy Bible” as immoral and evil?

    Imagine if your grade schooler brings home a few books from the
    school library with these titles:

    1. Giving the Death
    Sentence to People who eat Forbidden Fruit

    2. Drowning
    Millions of Children for the Crimes of their Parents

    3. How to
    Murder First Born Children in their Beds

    4. The Genocidal
    Annihilation of Evil Foreign Peoples is Justifiable

    You would be horrified that your local school would allow such books in a
    library for children, wouldn’t you? But yet fundamentalist Christians
    would love to have the Holy Bible in the same library and would not bat an eye
    at the bloody, barbaric violence and twisted justifications for that violence
    and immoral behavior contained therein.

    “Oh but that was in another Era of time. It is a mystery why it was
    necessary for God to do these shocking acts, but we must simply accept by
    faith that God had good, moral reasons for his actions in the
    Old Testament.”

    Ok…so we will sweep all that barbaric behavior under the rug because Jesus has changed
    everything. All that bloody violence is no longer necessary because Jesus
    has ushered in the Era of Grace. We now are to love our neighbor as
    ourselves…not slaughter him in righteous anger.

    But there is one little problem: Slavery.

    I don’t see how putting shackles around the neck, ankles, and wrists of your
    neighbor and calling him your property is in any way, shape, or form “loving your neighbor as yourself”.
    And I also don’t see why a loving, just, Jesus would not have condemned this
    evil institution, which he did not, nor why the Apostle Paul would condone it,
    which he very much did.

    Any book that condones slavery is evil
    and should not be in any school library…nor on your child’s nightstand.

  • barry

    I don’t understand the apologists who think atheists are borrowing Christian capital by living by any type of civilized morality. I obey my state’s criminal laws for no other reason than my genetics which tell me survival will be enhanced if I conform to the ways required by the leaders of the pack (here, legislatures who pass laws), and the way I was raised (i.e., I should resolve my problems with others only in a legally authorized way). That answer sufficiently accounts for why I think murder is immoral, and I don’t see how any of it constitutes borrowing something from the Christian position. I suppose if my brain, genetics or upbringing had been different, I might view compliance with criminal law optional depending on what mood I’m in.

    I honestly do not see how you will ever argue from the fact that I think murder is immoral, to the premise that atheism cannot account for this and hence there must be a god somewhere.

  • barry

    I don’t see the problem with lack of objective morality. I don’t view rape as an immoral outrage because it “really” is, but because the way I was raised was that women deserve just as much respect as men. I supposed had I been raised differently, I might think rape is ok. The fact that you can warp a child’s mind by raising them wrong strongly argues that the morality they aspire to is directly associated with how they were raised. Nature doesn’t motivate kids to imitate their parents for nothing.

  • barry

    Psalm 137:9 counsels caution before one uses the bible to justify one’s moral outlook.

  • barry

    Well YOU might tell somebody to avoid sleeping with their neighbor’s wife, but I don’t. If the neighbor couple have an open marriage, who am I to make them unhappy?

  • barry

    “On atheism, there is no legitimate, authoritative law-giver for moral laws. You obey moral laws if they line up with your personal goals and desires. If not, you don’t.”
    ———–that’s exactly right. I probably wouldn’t find rape to be a moral outrage as a I do, had I been raised by neglectful parents. What’s the problem?

    I think you have a fundamental misunderstanding here. I’ve often counseled others in matters of morals, and I do NOT do it in categorical fashion. If one of my beer-drinking buddies says he is going over to somebody’s house to beat them up, I’ll counsel him that he should not do so because he will create consequences that will only make things worse than they already are. I NEVER just thunder from Mt. Sinai “thou shalt not…”, I always explain why a suggested moral would likely conform to the actors actual goals.

    I still don’t see how the lack of objective morality is a problem. Feeling very strong that certain human acts are to be prohibited, can easily be sufficiently explained as a combination of one’s genetics and environmental conditioning.

  • tearfang

    This form of the moral argument for God makes less sense the more I think about it. It does correctly observe that any def of morality worth of the name must be objective and imperative. Of course, any discussion of it must include Euthyphro dilemma. I’ve seen 2 Christian responses to this:
    (1) Say morality is whatever God says it is and say that morality can still be real morality even if this explanation makes it arbitrary.
    (2) Still claim morality is whatever God says it is, and claim that this does NOT make morality arbitrary in nature by defining God as incapable of creating an arbitrary morality.

    Why don’t I think these arguments work? Well as I see it (1) fails bc making morality arbitrary removes the imperative aspect of morality and calling God ‘good’ with this option is meaningless and (2) seems to just be a shell game. Defining God as good is still meaningless and circular if the definition of good is whatever, God defined as good/loving, does.

    There is a third possibility (3) morality is a necessary property of existence like math, for example, in every possible world, 2 + 2 = 4. Christians have no problem saying that God cannot make logically incoherent things like a square triangle bc it is grounded in necessity, so it doesn’t seem to impunge God, to say that morality is also grounded in necessity, that is simply saying that morality cannot be other than what it is, which really seems to be implied in saying that morality is not and cannot be arbitrary. Is there something wrong with this option? I don’t see atheists or theists using it or even talking about it. Maybe that isn’t surprising since both escapes Euthyphro dilemma, and defangs this form of the moral argument for God at the same time. So the question is, is it possible that objective imperative morality is grounded in necessity?