The Moral Argument

A Moral Argument

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

  2. Objective moral values and duties exist.

  3. Therefore God exists



  • Objective: “first, whether something is right or wrong does not depend on any human being’s attitudes toward it, and second, moral facts are independent of human will.” Louise Antony, “The Failure of Moral Arguments” in Debating Christian Theism edited by J. P. Moreland, Chad Meister and Khaldoun A. Sweis. USA: Oxford University Press, USA. 2013.

  • “Cognitivsm, in ethics, refers to the meta-ethical position that ethical sentences (or normative expressions) express propositions, and can therefore be true or false.”

  • “Moral realism, which states that ethical sentences may be true or false.”

  • “Moral subjectivism, which claims that ethical sentences are true or false in their expression of an attitude.”

  • “Error theory, which asserts that all ethical sentences are false.”

  • Morality: “Let atheism be the doctrine that it is not the case that there is a unique, necessary, eternal, immaterial, personal being who created the universe and who possesses all perfections—specifically omniscience, omnipotence, and benevolence. Let nihilism be the doctrine that no moral property is instantiated. Let morality refer to the denial of nihilism.” Antony, “The Failure of Moral Arguments”


Reasons to think Premise 1 is true

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.


Lewis’s Moral Arg

  • My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal; a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, my argument against God collapsed too – for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist – in other words, that the whole reality was senseless – I found I was forced to assume that one part or reality – namely my idea of justice – was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning; just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never have known that it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning. (Mere Christianity, pg 31)


Dawkins, River out of Eden

  • “In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is, and we dance to its music.” Richard Dawkins, River out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1995), 133.


Atheist Kai Nielson

  • “We have not been able to show that reason requires the moral point of view, or that really rational persons unhoodwinked by myth or ideology need not be individual egoists or classical amoralists. Reason doesn’t decide here. The picture I have painted for you is not a pleasant one. Reflection on it depresses me… Pure practical reason, even with a good knowledge of the facts, will not take you to morality.” Kai Nielson, “Why Should I Be Moral?” American Philosophical Quarterly 21 (1984), 90.


Atheist J. L. Mackie

  • “Moral properties constitute so odd a cluster of properties and relations that they are most unlikely to have arisen in the ordinary course of events without an all-powerful god to create them.” 1 J. L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism (Oxford: Clarendon, 1982), 115.


An Objection to premise 1: The Euthyphro Dilemma

  • A) Does God will something because it is good,

  • B) or is something good because God wills it?

  • If A) then the good is independent of God and, in fact then, moral values are not based in God.

  • If B) then good is arbitrary, since God could have commanded say deception.

  • C) God wills something because he is good.

  • (


Reasons to think Premise 2 is true

  1. Objective moral values exist.


Bertrand Russell: Morality is Subjective

  • “The theory which I have been advocating is a form of the doctrine which is called the "subjectivity" of values. This doctrine consists in maintaining that that, if two men differ about values, there is not a disagreement as to any kind of truth, but a difference of taste. If one man says "oysters are good" and another says "I think they are bad," we recognize that there is nothing to argue about. The theory in question holds that all differences as to values are of this sort, although we do not naturally think them so when we are dealing with matters that seem to us more exalted than oysters.” Bertrand Russell , “Science and Ethics”, in Religion and Science (Oxford University Press, 1961)

  • But most people do argue about whether it is wrong to murder innocent people, or on the treatment of women etc. as such it seems there is reason to think morality is objective. And for some things like “torturing children for fun” there seems to be no argument, all agree it is wrong.


An Objection to premise 2: We have evolved to think morality is objective.

  • Michael Ruse: Morality is a “corporate” illusion that has been “fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate.”34 Michael Ruse and E. O. Wilson, “The Evolution of Ethics,” in Religion and the Natural Sciences, ed. J. E. Huchingson (Orlando: Harcourt Brace, 1993), 310– 311.

  • That is, “we think it has an objective status.”35 Michael Ruse, “Evolutionary Ethics: A Phoenix Arisen,” in Issues in Evolutionary Ethics, ed. Paul Thompson (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1995), 236.

  • James Rachels: “Man is a moral (altruistic) being, not because he intuits the rightness of loving his neighbor, or because he responds to some noble ideal, but because his behavior is comprised of tendencies which natural selection has favoured.”36James Rachels, Created From Animals: The Moral Implications of Darwinism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 77.

  • “Any argument for moral scepticism will based upon premises which are less obvious than the existence of objective moral values themselves.” Louise Antony, in debate with William Lane Craig, Is God Necessary for Morality? University of Massachusetts, 2008.


A response

  • In the atheistic worldview, the universe is amoral. Values are said to be just expressions of personal taste, by-products of socio-biological evolution and conditioning. For instance some action, say, rape, may not be socially advantageous and so in the course of evolution has become taboo; but that does absolutely nothing to prove that rape is really wrong. That might sound harsh, but that is the consistent implications of such a belief.

  • For most people deep down they know that objective moral values do exist. There's no more reason to deny the objective reality of moral values than the objective reality of the physical world. We must realize that just as we perceive the physical world through our senses, we likewise perceive right and wrong. Hence a denial of one, entails the denial of the other. Imagine you are not colorblind and you were trying to convince a group of colorblind people that there was a difference in the colors say red and green. Their handicap does not change reality.”

  • This argument is not dependent on how we came to realize morality. Even if you believed moral values gradually evolved, then our gradual and fallible apprehension of the moral realm no more undermines the objective reality of morals than our gradual, fallible perception of the physical world undermines the objectivity of the physical. For instance if someone actually believed we lived in the matrix, they would consistently argue that there is no physical world and we are just brains in a vat.

A General Objection: But non-Christians are good people?

  • This is a misunderstanding of the moral argument. The claim is not that you have to believe in God in order to live a moral life, but that without God there is no objective moral standard. Such that if there was no God, then both theists and atheists live in an amoral universe and there is in fact as Friedrich Nietzsche said “There is no such thing as moral phenomena, but only a moral interpretation of phenomena” (Beyond Good and Evil). However, if there is a God then both theists and atheists live in a moral universe and both the theist and atheist are capable of being either moral or immoral.

Objection: But laws in the Bible change

  • If God is the standard, how can moral laws change such as in the Old Testament it not being okay to eat pig, but in the New Testament it is now acceptable?

  • Note the moral argument does not depend on first arguing that the Bible is inerrant (it maybe but that is a separate issue). So for the sake of the argument one could concede that the Scripture is wrong in one of these places and the moral argument still stands. But that is not even required, as the moral argument does not argue that morality is absolute (unchanging and without exception, hence it is universal), rather the moral argument argues that morality is objective so it could have been the case that it was objectively wrong to eat pork at one point in time and that it is now objectively fine.

  • On how to understand passages in the Bible like this, I suggest consulting a commentary and it could be the case that this particular law was not in itself a moral issue (the consumption of sus), though to obey God is a moral issue [like how a driving on a particular side of the road really makes no difference, but if the appropriate authority of a country sets a standard for that region it is to be followed in those times].


Objection: Science can tell us what is moral

  • For instance Sam Harris’ the Moral Landscape says it is that which promotes human flourishing.

  • John Lennox responds by arguing that you can’t get an ought from an is: “Science can tell you that if you add strychnine to someone’s drink, it will kill her, but science cannot tell you whether or not you ought to put cyanide into your grandmother’s tea in order to get your hands on her property.” John Lennox, Beyond Opinion: Living The Faith That We Defend (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008), 113.


A response by William Lane Craig

  • Dr. Harris “claims that the property of being good is identical with the property of creaturely flourishing. And he’s not offered any defense of this radical identity claim. In fact, I think we have a knock-down argument against it. Now bear with me here; this is a little technical. On the next-to-last page of his book, Dr. Harris makes the telling admission that if people like rapists, liars, and thieves could be just as happy as good people, then his “moral landscape” would no longer be a moral landscape.17 Rather, it would just be a continuum of well-being whose peaks are occupied by good and bad people, or evil people, alike.”

  • “Now what’s interesting about this is that earlier in the book, Dr. Harris explained that about three million Americans are psychopathic.18 That is to say, they don’t care about the mental states of others. They enjoy inflicting pain on other people. But that implies that there’s a possible world, which we can conceive, in which the continuum of human well-being is not a moral landscape. The peaks of well-being could be occupied by evil people. But that entails that in the actual world, the continuum of well-being and the moral landscape are not identical either. For identity is a necessary relation. There is no possible world in which some entity A is not identical to A. So if there’s any possible world in which A is not identical to B, then it follows that A is not in fact identical to B.”

Objection: What about platoism?

  • It seems unintelligible to just say things like justice, love, etc. just exist.

  • Why are you obliged to align yourself with the abstract object of kindness instead of selfishness?

  • “it is fantastically improbable that the blind evolutionary process should spit forth exactly those kinds of creatures that align with the existence of this realm of abstract values.”

Problems for naturalism

  • “Naturalism’s context doesn’t inspire confidence in (a) the emergence of objective moral values; (b) the actual existence of human dignity, duty, and rights (however strongly we are wired to believe in their existence); or (c) in the trustworthiness of our belief-forming structures since naturalistic evolution is interested in survival, not truth (more below).” Paul Copan, “Ethics Needs God” in Debating Christian Theism

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