Author: Wayword Skeptic

The Moral Argument for God


For those of you do not know me, one thing I like to rant on is morality. Whether it is talking to a Christian or an atheist, . I cannot recall how many times I have facepalmed when discussing morality. Here I will lay out my objections to the Moral Argument for God. As for the format of the argument, I will be using the formula William Lane Craig uses in his debate with Walter Sinnott-Armstong. I will be addressing general issues around morality, so I will not be citing Craig that much beyond his formula. There some things I would like to address from aside Craig’s usage of the moral argument.

Now if God does not exist, then moral values are not objective in this way.
Many theists and atheists alike concur on this point. For example,
Bertrand Russell observed,

Michael Ruse, a philosopher of science at the University of Guelph, agrees. He explains,

Friedrich Nietzsche, the great nineteenth century atheist who proclaimed the death of God, understood that the death of God meant the destruction of all meaning and value in life. I think that Friedrich Nietzsche was right.

I can imagine it would feel rapturous if one’s opposition agreed with one’s self on a point, however, it must be noted that these are claims and the opposition would have a burden of proof to demonstrate such claims. Claims are non-partisan, so an atheist stating moral realism could only be accounted for by theism has the same burden as the theist making the same claim.

The second problem I have with Craig is when he says the following:

But the problem is that objective values do exist, and deep down we all know it. (emphasis added)


We know objective moral values exist because we clearly apprehend some of them.(emphasis added)

I find this a very disingenuous and poisoning the well against the objector as it leads to the the objector already believes something to be true and thus one is left to speculate the true motives of the objection. Not only as the opposition, but as person who upholds civil discourse, I find such language abhorrent. There is fundamentally no reason for such language in civil, rational dialogue. It is language much more suited to a politician than a philosopher.

Without further ado, here is the moral argument as formulated by William Lane Craig:

1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
2. Objective moral values do exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.

As with all arguments, language is key. The first definition we need is that of “God” within the Christian tradition. Ontologically speaking, Christians deny that God is made up of any physical substance. This leaves with God, ontologically speaking, to be made up of a mental substance which would make God a mind, or a third, non-physical and non-mental, substance. As far as this argument goes, I am not too concerned with God’s ontological nature but I am going to give a description of God that is pertinent to this discussion that comes from the Athanasian Creed.

And the Catholic Faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity. Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost is all One, the Glory Equal, the Majesty Co-Eternal.

While also being just a great quote in general, this quote established “God” as a “Person” in the Christian Tradition which means that whenever a Trinitarian speaks about a “person”, all parts of the Trinity are referenced.

The next term I wish to look at is “objective”. Much like I explained a conceptual scheme around “atheism”, I wish to build similar scheme around “objective” before just mindlessly quoting a dictionary. Think about a bar of Au (gold). Person 1 makes two statements about the bar: A) The bar will conduct electricity and B) the bar of gold is beautiful. After making both statements, Person 1 has a brain aneurysm rupture and dies before Person 1 hits the ground. Is statement A still true? If yes, then electrical conductivity of gold is objective. Is statement B still true? If no, then gold being beautiful is subjective.

As an adjective, defines “objective” as the following:

1(Of a person or their judgement) not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts:
‘historians try to be objective and impartial’ (emphasis original)
Contrasted with subjective.

1.1 Not dependent on the mind for existence; actual:                                                                   ‘ a matter of objective fact’ (emphasis original)

You will find a similar theme on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) page on generic realism, the SEP page on moral realism, the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP) page on objectivity, the IEP page on Moral Realism, and the Blackwell Dictionary of Western Philosophy’s pages on moral realism, objectivity, and objectivism  I would be up front that, unfortunately, these pages tend to anthropocentric but given that a) God is a “person” in orthodox Christianity via the Athanasian Creed and b) God is either a mind or has a mind,  I do not see that big of a problem.

As far the notion of “values” go, it seems to be that an “intrinsic value” would be identical to the notion of a property and, by definition, an “intrinsic value”  would be contained in the object itself contrasted by an “extrinsic value” that would be given by a valuer and thus, much like the beauty of a gold bar, be subjective.

So, for the Moral Argument for God, I will it evaluate as:

1. If God does not exist, objective moral properties do not exist.
2. Objective moral properties do exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.

I would deny 1 and 2.

Hearkening back to Craig’s debate, Craig does not even provide support to defend Premise 2. His “defence” can be summarise when he says:

If someone really fails to see the objective moral truth about such matters, then he is simply morally handicapped, like a color-blind person who cannot tell the difference between red and green, and there’s no reason to think that his impairment should make us call into question what we see clearly

The good thing for Craig is that it is impossible to argue against someone who does not put forth argument. As I said, I consider myself a moral anti-realist. I do so on the basis of 1) G.E. Moore’s Open Question Argument success at defeating moral naturalism, 2) scepticism regarding our ability to know about non-natural moral properties,  and 3) the success of things like preferences, tastes, emotional, etc in explaining why people might consider things “(im)moral”.

Premise 1 regards how exactly moral properties would exist. This inevitably brings up the issue about metaphysical positions and their compatibility with the (non-)existence of God. It would not surprise me if many people who consider themselves “atheist” would also consider themselves philosophical naturalism, however, this does not mean that atheism and philosophical naturalism are interchangeable salve veritate or even that on implies the other. At best, you could say that philosophical naturalism would imply atheism, but atheism in no way implies philosophical naturalism. Atheism only concerns the ontological status of a specific class of entity. This leaves atheists open to moral non-naturalism or even a platonic form of morality.

Here, I would ask the Christian to “just consider this question“:

Is that which is holy loved by [God] because it is holy, or is it holy because it is loved by [God]?

For those of you who do not know, that is the dilemma Socrates posed to Euthyphro.  Now, many Christians would say this is a false dilemma and point to God’s Nature. The question can be modified to something like:

Is God’s Nature good because it is God’s Nature or God’s Nature good because it has good-making properties?

Fortunately, Craig gives us an insight when he says:

God is, in the medieval theologians’ terminology, the highest good, the summum bonum. He is the highest good. He is the paradigm of goodness. That is to say, God’s nature defines what goodness is. It is not as though God lives up to some external standard and does a good job at being good. He is goodness itself. (emphasis added)

To Craig, “God” and “good” are equivalent. So to say “God is good”, is to say “God is God”, which to say “A is A”. So it seems Craig  does not even believe moral properties exist. At best, “good” would be whatever lines up with God much in the same way a metre would be whatever conforms to the length of a specific bar in France.

Another route for Premise 1 is to remind the Christian objective properties are, by definition, mind independent and thus could exist sans God. If the Christian wishes to say that nothing has ontological independence from God and or the mind of God (depending on God’s ontology), I would remind them that would be solipsism – just with God being the solipsist as opposed to a human.