Thursday, December 15, 2016

THE MORAL ARGUMENT FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD





The moral argument for the existence of God is one of the most useful arguments. It goes like this:

  1. Without God, moral absolutes can’t exist.
  2. Moral absolutes do exist.
 Conclusion: Therefore, God exists!

Premise #1: Without God, moral absolutes can’t exist.

Most agree that we are wired for moral truths. Piaget and Kohlberg demonstrated that children’s moral judgments develop as their brain develops. More recently, there’s been a rash of books confirming this, and even going further to establish that even the belief in God is determined by our nervous system.

However, many of these same people maintain that our moral wiring is merely a product of a mindless and purposeless process – evolution. Consequently, our moral sentiments are merely the product of nature and nurture, not a purposeful Law-giver. Therefore, they do not believe that our moral wiring represents objective morality (moral absolutes). Also, they point to the relative nature of morality and insist that it is merely a cultural artifact, humanly created, with some guidance from our genome.

Therefore, they gladly acknowledge that there can be no moral absolutes without a God laying them out.

Premise #2: Moral absolutes do exist.

This premise is the battleground. Although morality represents a law in a similar way that gravity represents a physical law, it is a bit more tricky to prove the existence of objective moral law. Why? Its effects cannot be precisely measured and calculated as can the effects of gravity. Instead, in order to prove the existence of moral absolutes, we have to examine ourselves and other human beings.

C.S. Lewis famously reasoned that making objective moral judgments is unavoidable:

·       Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promises to you, but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining, ‘It’s not fair.’

·       If we do not believe in decent behavior, why should we be so anxious to make excuses for not having behaved decently? The truth is we believe in decency so much—we feel the Rule of Law pressing on us so—that we cannot bear to face the fact that we are breaking it, and consequently we try to shift the responsibility. (Mere Christianity)

At this point, the Darwinist readily admits that, although programmed for morality, this programming is the product of blind, purposeless evolution:

·       Darwinist: I might react morally, but I know that this reaction is not a product of some higher truth hanging out there somewhere, but merely of the way that the forces of natural selection biologically equipped our race. As a result, I don’t see this as any proof of moral absolutes or that there’s a God who is somehow setting the rules of the game. It’s just a matter of our wiring!

However, it seems that Paul had anticipated the atheistic challenge and offered a rebuttal:

·       You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things (Romans 2:1).

Although the atheist claims that there is no absolute basis for judgment, he too judges as if he believes in absolute moral standards. According to Paul, the moral impulse is more than a programmed knee-jerk reaction. It’s also something that we make our own! Just watch the atheist for five minutes, and you will see that he agrees with Paul, at least with his behavior. The atheist passes judgments as quickly as the theist. When someone pushes him, he’ll want an apology. He doesn’t say:

·       Although I had this moral knee-jerk reaction, I can’t really hold you accountable for pushing me, since there are no absolute moral truths, and therefore, there no moral rules of right and wrong which you have violated. So I have no absolute basis to judge your behavior.

Instead, the atheist becomes indignant and remains indignant long after the knee-jerk reaction passes, proving that he endorses the charge that he has absolutely and objectively been wronged. It is this endorsement, and not merely a knee-jerk reaction, that makes him a hypocrite. On the one hand, he passes  absolute, objective judgment, while on the other hand, he claims that there is no higher standard than himself by which to judge! It is also this endorsement that makes him the object of wrath:

·       But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed (Romans 2:5).
We all believe in objective moral law. While we might deny it with our mouths, we affirm it with our behavior, which mocks our assertion that “Morality is just something we make up.”

We also observe that this internal moral law pays dividends. When we act in concert with its demands, we are benefitted and tend to feel at peace. Mental health professionals recognize that living in accordance with our moral convictions is an important factor for mental health. Accordingly, Karen Wright wrote,

·       Eudemonia refers to a state of well-being and full functioning that derives from a sense of living in accordance with one’s deeply held values. (“Psychology Today,” May 2008, 76)

This is so obvious. Even atheists perceive this and are intent upon living moral lives. However, they ascribe their moral programming to evolution. For example, Richard Dawkins writes:

·       Natural selection, in ancestral times when we lived in small stable bands like baboons, programmed into our brains altruistic urges, alongside sexual urges, hunger urges, xenophobic urges and so on. (“The God Delusion,” 221)

According to Dawkins, altruism has nothing to do with truth or an objective right and wrong, but chance processes. Why then follow the “altruistic urges?” Appealing to our genetic programming isn’t adequate. Should we be “xenophobic” (fearful of strangers) merely because we had been “programmed” with this reaction? Of course not! Why then be altruistic? For the atheist, the only possible answer is pragmatic. Altruistic behavior works; it benefits the doer. It makes you feel good and also those around you. It’s solely a matter of cost/benefit analysis.

Atheist, humanist, and author of Humanist Manifesto II, Paul Kurtz affirms that pragmatism is the “only” possible justification for morality:

·       How are these principles [of equality, freedom, etc.] to be justified? They are not derived from a divine or natural law nor do they have a special metaphysical [beyond the material world] status. They are rules offered to govern how we shall behave. They can be justified only by reference to their results. (“Understanding the Times,” 237)

However, this stance isn’t adequate. Sometimes it isn’t pragmatic to be moral. Hiding Jews from the Nazis wouldn’t pass the cost/benefit analysis. The price of a bullet in the head of the entire family is just too high! Therefore, the non-theist cannot live in accord with their rationale and the law of God written upon their conscience (Rom. 2:14-15). Either they hide Jews and violate their pragmatic rationale or they don’t hide Jews and violate their conscience. Heart and mind (pragmatism) are divided and in conflict. In either case, their mental well-being will suffer, because they are unable to live “in accordance with one’s deeply held values.”

More fundamentally, the one who denies God and therefore denies the moral absolutes of the conscience will fail to derive the benefits of “eudemonia.” There is little satisfaction in living in accordance with the dictates of the conscience if we understand it to be no more than a tyrannical electro-chemical reaction that demands us to make sacrifices that go against our desires and then punishes us with guilt feelings, which might have made some sense when we were baboons. In other words, just take a conscience-numbing drug!

While pragmatic, cost/benefit thinking can serve to justify living by our conscience, it can also serve evil. Serial killer, Ted Bundy, had confessed to over 30 gruesome murders. He explained his cost/benefit rationale before his execution:

·       “Then I learned that all moral judgments are ‘value judgments,’ that all value judgments are subjective [it just depends on how you think about them], and that none can be proved to be either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’…I discovered that to become truly free, truly unfettered, I had to become truly uninhibited. And I quickly discovered that the greatest obstacle to my freedom, the greatest block and limitation to it, consists in the insupportable “value judgment that I was bound to respect the rights of others. I asked myself, who were these ‘others?’ Other human beings with human rights? Why is it more wrong to kill a human animal than any other animal, a pig or a sheep or a steer? Is your life more to you than a hog’s life to a hog? Why should I be willing to sacrifice my pleasure more for the one than for the other? Surely, you would not, in this age of scientific enlightenment, declare that God or nature has marked some pleasures as ‘moral’ or ‘good’ and others as ‘immoral’ or ‘bad’? In any case, let me assure you, my dear young lady, that there is absolutely no comparison between the pleasure I might take in eating ham and the pleasure I anticipate in raping and murdering you. That is the honest conclusion to which my education has led me – after the most conscientious examination of my spontaneous and uninhibited self.” (“Christian Research Journal,” Vol 33, No 2, 2010, 32)

Skeptics will argue that even if believing in and living by moral absolutes brings benefits, the benefits do not prove the case for these absolutes. However, if the skeptic justifies his behavior on the basis of pragmatic cost/benefit analysis, why then is he closed to this rationale when used by theists? Sounds like a double standard.


Besides, moral law reflects elegance in design in the same way that the law of gravity reflects elegance. When we wrong our wife, we feel guilty. When we apologize, we feel relieved, knowing that we have done the right thing. When she forgives, we feel restored and encouraged.

This elegance reflects a design. Not only that, it is universal and also seems to have been unchanged, as evidenced by our earliest records.

Was Bundy tormented by his deeds? Did he eventually repent of them? We are informed that he did. Interestingly, even our legal system has a demonstrated high regard for deathbed confessions. Why? Because our legal elites have noted a common pattern – that we are so convinced of the truth of this moral law written on our conscience, that we need to make the record-right even as we face death. If instead, we merely regarded these moral promptings as biochemical reactions, well, why even bother with them in light of facing a more overwhelming fate – death?

Conclusion: Deep inside, we believe in an absolute moral law, despite the teachings of Darwin. And if there is an absolute moral law, then there must be an absolute moral law-Giver.


IS IT POSSIBLE TO HAVE OBJECTIVE MORAL LAW WITHOUT A MORAL LAW-GIVER?

Most atheists and agnostics believe in moral relativism: Morality is created or invented relative to our desires, upbringing, feelings, and the dictates of our society. And because it is created, rather than discovered (existing objectively apart from ourselves), it changes as we and our society change. This means that torturing babies might be “wrong” for one society but not for another.

However, a small number of atheists and agnostics are objective moral realists. They believe in an unchanging objective set of moral laws, which exist apart from ourselves and are therefore discovered rather than created. Consequently, they believe that torturing babies is wrong no matter what time or in what culture you might live.

As a Christian, I also believe that there are immutable and universal objective moral laws. Therefore, I applaud others who believe in moral laws and regard them as real and immutable as the law of gravity. However, I must point out the problems in believing in moral law without a moral law-Giver.

The atheist cannot adequately account for such laws in his exclusively materialistic worldview. While the atheist might insist that the moral laws are merely a part of the material universe, this seems unlikely:

MATERIALS ARE MOLECULES-IN-MOTION. Meanwhile, moral law, as are the physical laws, is immutable.

MATERIAL REALITY DIFFERS GREATLY FROM PLACE-TO-PLACE. The Goby Desert is greatly different from the bottom of the Indian Ocean or Mars. Moral absolutes could not be objective or absolute if they differed in Alaska and the Congo. So too, the law of gravity! What then would explain the fact that moral law is universal? Consequently, the moral laws must rest upon something that transcends this varied material universe.

MATERIAL REALITY CANNOT EXPLAIN OR ACCOUNT FOR OUR ELEGANT AND THEREFORE KNOWABLE LAWS OF PHYSICS AND MORALITY. Even the chemical table exhibits profound elegance and design. What can explain such elegance in the material world apart from an intelligent Designer? Besides, a changing material world cannot begin to explain the existence of unchanging laws.

There is also elegance in the operation of the moral laws. Following the moral laws bring harmony, order, and peace. We do wrong, and we feel guilty. We confess our sin (and perhaps make necessary reparations), and we feel better. Relationships are restored. Or instead, we attempt to justify ourselves and must harden our conscience accordingly, as we obsessively wage an inner war to prove ourselves right and, in the process, weaken relationships.

MORAL LAW ALSO MUST BE AUTHORITATIVE. It must carry the authority to tell us that we have done either wrongly and to require a price for wrongdoing. It communicates through the compelling feelings of guilt and shame. Consequently, we are coerced to make excuses and justify ourselves. However, there is nothing in the merely physical world that can communicate our guilt with any authority, even though God’s laws are written into our conscience:

  • For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:14-16; ESV)

However, if we believe that these implanted moral laws are no more than biochemical reactions, they carry no authority. Why not? If moral law is no more than a biochemical reaction, then there is no overriding reason to obey it. Why not just take a pill to quiet down our troubling conscience!  

This is because a biochemical reaction merely communicates what is, not what authoritatively ought to be (morality). My computer might flash a screen at me reading, “You have not treated me properly.” However, these words carry no authority. Although it might shut itself down if I didn’t follow the proper procedures, it cannot censure me morally. I can simply have it repaired without any damage to my conscience. Without an Authority underpinning our feelings of guilt, our strategy should likewise be a matter of having the conscience repaired.

Besides, what is impersonal (the physical world) cannot be morally offended as you and I might be. If the physical universe is the source of moral law, I cannot offend it by yelling at it. I can curse at my computer without breaking a moral law. However, if I scream at my wife or my subordinate, this is entirely a different matter.

Buddhists and Hindus also believe in a moral law – karma. However, without a law-Giver, how can karma be justly administered? Without Intelligence, how is karmic justice to be administered in light of the many moral nuances that must be considered?

Besides, we can defy physical laws like gravity, without consequence, by flying on a plane. However, we cannot take a pill to cleanse a guilty conscience, not for long, at least. Morality cannot be successfully side-stepped.

Moral problems must be addressed with moral answers. However, a material world can offer no explanation or remedy (just palliatives) for moral problems. We can take an antibiotic to cure giardia, but there does not exist an antibiotic for guilt.

In his essay “Fact and Value,” Leonard Peikoff argued that there are objective moral principles or laws embedded in the physical reality – the “is” -  of this cosmos:

  • As Ayn Rand states the point in “The Objectivist Ethics”: “Knowledge, for any conscious organism, is the means of survival; to a living consciousness, every ‘is‘ implies an ‘ought.’” (http://www.peikoff.com/essays_and_articles/fact-and-value/)

But how it is that “every ‘is‘ implies an ‘ought?’” A car can place no demand on us that it “ought” to be driven. Nor can an apple demand that it “ought” to be eaten. Instead, it seems that the “is” and the “ought” occupy separate, although adjacent, worlds.

Ordinarily, they do, but Peikoff unites them by secretly introducing his own “ought” to connect the non-moral “is” to the “ought”:

  • Every fact of reality which we discover has, directly or indirectly, an implication for man’s self-preservation and thus for his proper course of action. In relation to the goal of staying alive, the fact demands specific kinds of actions and prohibits others; i.e., it entails a definite set of evaluations. For instance, sunlight is a fact of metaphysical reality; but once its effects are discovered by man and integrated to his goals, a long series of evaluations follows: the sun is a good thing.

“The fact demands specific kinds of actions and prohibits others” only because Peikoff’s “ought” requires the facts to do so. The facts are to serve his “ought” – “man’s self-preservation.” Consequently, “the sun is a good thing.” Why? Because it serves our “ought” of “self-preservation!”

But from where did this “ought” of “self-preservation” come? Not from the facts! The facts of existence are silent about human priority or exceptionalism. They say nothing of a human value or importance that exceeds the value of termites, mosquitos, bacteria, or hogs. (The concept of value requires us to question – “Valuable to whom?” Certainly to humans, but this is just a subjective assessment.)  Instead, in order to salvage “The Objectivist Ethics,” Peikoff was forced to inject his own subjective value of “man’s self-preservation.” (If the hog could speak, he’d speak of “hogs’ preservation.) However, this makes his entire moral system subjective. All of the facts are subjectively coerced into serving his own value of “man’s self-preservation.”

Yet, I appreciate Peikoff’s attempt at trying to formulate an objective system of morality. However, moral law requires a moral law-Giver. There is only one objective basis for morality, the “ought” – the One immutable, omniscient, and universal God, who demands the very morality He has written on our conscience.

A world without God is a world where anything goes, and the worst deeds are met with silence. The humanist Max Hocutt had aptly written:

·       “To me [the non-existence of God] means that there is no absolute morality, that moralities are sets of social conventions devised by humans to satisfy their needs…If there were a morality written up in the sky somewhere but no God to enforce it, I see no good reason why anyone should pay it any heed.” (David Noebel, Understanding the Times)

Hocutt’s statement puts the kibosh on the idea that we can have moral absolutes without a moral law-Giver.

We must bear in mind the distinction between objective and subjective morality (moral relativism). Since subjective, man-made morality is merely a matter of what seems right, there is no way that the subjectivist can bring an objective charge against God.

Let me illustrate. The skeptic often claims that God is a monster because He condemns people to endless punishment. However, you can retort:


·       Well, what’s the problem if He does condemn eternally if it is just a matter of you personally not liking this idea? Although you claim to be a moral relativist, you are judging God as if He violated an absolute standard. However, according to your worldview, He merely violated your personal feelings. You can’t have it both ways. If you are a moral relativist, you cannot pronounce objective indictments.

4 comments:

  1. "Well, what’s the problem if He does condemn eternally if it is just a matter of you personally not liking this idea? Although you claim to be a moral relativist, you are judging God as if He violated an absolute standard. However, according to your worldview, He merely violated your personal feelings. You can’t have it both ways. If you are a moral relativist, you cannot pronounce objective indictments."

    That's funny! I enjoyed that rebuttal to atheists.

    Daniel, you engage a lot with unbelievers. That's terrific!

    Observation: Suppose all the following commonly cited obstacles are removed:

    1) Miscommunication. I.e., the Gospel is communicated clearly and unequivocally and unambiguously.

    Objections are refuted clearly. From premises to sound logic to valid reasoning.

    2) Cognitive Skills. The unbeliever is not lacking in cognitive ability to comprehend sound arguments and valid premises.

    3) The truth-claims and supporting arguments are spoken in love and with a loving tone. The "Style" is unimpeachable.

    So there's wonderful communication, wonderful and truthful arguments, and wonderful tone.

    Yet the unbeliever still rejects Christ.

    At that point, you can walk away with confidence that you have done all you can. You prayed, and still pray. And yet there is still unyielding unbelief, a rejection to surrender and trust Jesus as Lord and Savior.

    You've been a good watchman, Daniel.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Truth, but I see exceedingly little fruit, but that's up to our Lord. The battle is primarily one of changing the heart and only secondarily of providing the evidences. People stubbornly believe what they want.

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  2. First, i would agree, as an atheist, there's no absolute morals without a God. My reasons for saying rape is "wrong" is because it involves the type of highly personal unwanted invasion that I was raised to believe is wrong. I suppose if I had been raised worse, I might think rape is justified, like many men in prison so.

    2 - None of the moral commands in the bible are absolute. If you know your bible well, there are biblical exceptions to every single one of the 10 commandments.

    3 - The bible forbids us from consigning our sense of right and wrong back to God. For example, we all believe child molestation is wrong, but God will not only cause that to happen to disobedient kids, he will "delight" to do so...Deuteronomy 28:63, see context starting from v. 15.

    Do you think it is "absolutely wrong" for a man to pick up a child by the feet and slam their head into the ground, spilling their brains out? If so, you didn't get that sense of morality from the God who inspired Psalm 137:9, that's for sure.

    For all these reasons, I see no reason to think any morality is absolute. If kids can be warped by wrong parenting, this pretty much indicates that yes, they will in all likelihood believe whatever morality they are consistently raised with, so that whether you view rape as good or bad has nothing to do with absolute morality, and everything to do with your environmental conditioning.

    barryjoneswhat@yahoo.com

    ReplyDelete
  3. Barry, I don't want to be sidetracted into the teachings of the Bible. this OP is simply about our inability to get around objective morality and how this points to God.

    You stated that even the Bible contains exceptions. However, when I talk about moral absolutes, there are many other things at play - many moral principles and even relative circumstances that also must be considered.

    You find fault with God in His administration of justice because He delights in it. I too delight in it. And I'm sure that even you would delight in the prospect of the murderer of your mother being brought to justice. You can deny it all you want, but this doesn't change the fact that it is written on your heart.

    ReplyDelete