I want to consider, in this paper, whether our direct awareness of ethics points to God. We are all aware of our personal moral experience, as we intuitively react to our changing surroundings, to determine whether some action is good or bad, right or wrong. I grew up in the aftermath of apartheid, I was well aware of my perceptions of right and wrong. I also knew that all people had these experiences, once confronted with inequality or injustice, regardless of race, gender, orientation or persuasion, all people would intuitively know such injustice is wrong. I am convinced that God is the best explanation for the direct awareness of our objective moral experience; therefore, I want to build a case for God’s existence from morality.
Before I discuss the argument I want to clarify the terms, “intuitive” and “objective” which I will be using extensively. On the one hand, in the Declaration of Independence1, Jefferson acknowledges that some truths are “self-evident.” I would agree that all people (regardless whether you believe in God or not) can directly experience moral truths in the same way we all experience the external world. This is what is meant by “intuition.” On the other hand, we can, quite reasonably, determine that there are valid and binding universal truths that we experience in the natural world, like gravity for instance. My belief in gravity doesn’t make it so, gravity is universally binding to anything that has mass. That is what I mean by “objective;” that something is beyond the opinions of the person.
Now with some understanding of the terms, lets go ahead and discus the argument for God’s existence from ethics. The argument, as popularized by Dr. William Lane Craig in his writings and debates, goes as follows:
1). If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist.
2). Objective moral values and duties do exist.
3). Therefore, God exists.
This argument is logically airtight. That is to say, the argument is valid so if the premises are both true then the conclusion follows necessarily. The only way to refute the argument is to provide a defeater for one of the two premises (Dr. William Lain Craig, Reasonable Faith, Third Edition, 172)
The Absurdity of Ethics Without a Personal Being
I would say that if God does not exist, then, objective moral duties and values do not exist. That is to say that a personal Creator is a necessary basis for morality because we don’t hold inanimate objects morally accountable, we hold persons morally accountable. Our moral obligations are between persons, not objects. You are not committing an immoral act by shutting down your computer or taking food from your fridge or selling an old car – we know this intuitively; however, killing a person for fun or taking food from an orphan or selling a girl into sex trafficking, is by all accounts, immoral. The only way we can make sense of universal moral laws is if the Author of life is a personal being.
How Do Duties Differ From Values?
A Creator is also able to account for both moral duties and moral values. Let’s consider the differences: moral duties are acts that we are obligated or forbidden to do, and moral values are acts that we are permitted to do. We should do all things that are right, and do nothing that is wrong like don’t murder and don’t steel, but we are not obligated to do all things that are good like becoming a violinist or a professional athlete.
The Hidden Assumption
Thomas Jefferson went on to say, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” God provides a firm locus for “unalienable” human value and human rights. Being uniquely made and endowed by a Creator would set mankind apart from animals and explain why mankind has a sense of value that transcends natural explanations. This also provides an explanation for why injustice devalues an individual, and why people ought to be treated with respect and dignity. The “ought” cannot be explained by how the world “is,” why should we think the world ought to be a certain way? This does give a robust foundation for the moral reality we already experience through our direct awareness. I’m convinced that human value is so powerful, that with this single assumption most of the objective moral values and duties, we are directly aware of, can be constructed and sustained; the question is not if humans are valuable, rather, what is the basis for believing this assumption in the first place?
1). Without God, Morality is Indifferent
Without God we cannot assume human value, dignity or worth because such a claim would equate, merely, to speciesism – humans favouring themselves over other animals, much like we understand sexism or racism. If the universe is the product of unguided accidental processes, over vast periods of time, then there really is no value or goodness to life. Consider Richard Dawkins’ quote.
“The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”― Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life, Basic Books (1995), P. 133
And so, Dawkins affirms that if God does not exist objective moral values and duties do not exist. In his attempt to eliminate God, Dawkins has been forced to reject objective moral good or evil, to remain consistent, and adopt the idea that morality is simply indifferent.
2). Objective moral values and duties do exist
It might surprise you to find out that while Richard Dawkins affirms the first premise, he also affirms the second premise, by creating his own moral code Dawkins masterminded his own alternatives to the Ten Commandments in his book the God Delusion as proof that he thinks people should behave in a certain universal way (Richard Dawkins (2006), The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. p. 406.). Our direct awareness of what is right and wrong points to the other premise in the argument for God, that objective moral values and duties do exist. That is to say that there are things that are universally wrong for all peoples in all places, regardless of weather we acknowledge they come from God or not. A good example of this took place in Germany when the Nazi’s were charged with crimes against humanity. Hitler and his party had been very careful to pass laws to ensure that their heinous actions were sanctioned by German legislation. Therefore, in order to declare that the Nazi’s actions were criminal, the judges had to appeal to a moral authority that was higher than a person or a society. This was accomplished by using the Rule According to Higher Law, a law above man’s laws. This law clearly refers to a universal moral standard, outside of ourselves, which we all know exists (Andy Steiger, Thinking?, 112). Notably, C.S Lewis made reference to the objectivity of morality in his paper – Right and Wrong As a Clue To The Meaning Of the Universe.
[T]he standard that measures two things is something different from either. You are, in fact, comparing them both with some Real Morality, admitting that there is such a thing as a real Right, independent of what people think, and that some people’s ideas get nearer to that real Right than others. -C.S. Lewis, Right And Wrong As a Clue To The Meaning Of The Universe, 6
Now we might be able to think of examples were people have thought that harming little children for fun is acceptable by showing they are oblivious to an objective moral standard, but that does not debunk moral objectivity, it merely exposes them as sociopaths or psychopaths. Notice, we use this objective moral standard to identify those in society that are depraved or unfit in their moral actions. If a person wants to deny the reality of objective moral truths it literally forces them into the corner as a psychopath, and since I don’t consider my audience to be psychopaths, I would encourage you to think clearly about whether denying a universal moral standard is worthy of the consequences (Michael Horner, Misunderstandings and Objections to the Moral Argument for God, To Everyone an Answer: 10th Annual EPS Apologetics Conference).
Let me ask the reader, are these two photos indifferent? Dawkins says there is no difference, is that what your direct awareness is telling you right now? No difference between altruism and abuse?
3). Therefore God exists
God is the best explanation for the direct awareness of universal moral duties and values. If anything is an injustice, then you affirm that God does exist, as the paradigm of a universal standard, above man’s laws. This was evident in the global outcry for justice, concerning Apartheid and the Holocaust. We can trust our moral intuition as valid, unless there is some defeater, for thinking otherwise. In the absence of a defeater for our direct moral awareness, our prima fascia is justified (Michael Horner, Misunderstandings and Objections to the Moral Argument for God, To Everyone an Answer: 10th Annual EPS Apologetics Conference).
Lets consider a popular objection to the moral argument for God’s existence called the Euthyphro dilemma. Notice that in defending the two premises we have not committed ourselves to a particular account of the relationship between God and moral values and duties. The objection, first recorded in Plato’s dialogue Euthyphro, goes as follows: either something is good because God wills it or else God wills something because it is good (Dr. William Lain Craig, Reasonable Faith, Third Edition, 181). If something is good because God wills it, then goodness is arbitrary. God could will that abuse is good, and then we should be obligated to express our narcissism by violence; this aims to show that God’s arbitrary laws are an unstable mooring point for moral objectivity. But if we say instead that God wills something because it is good, then goodness is independent of God and his existence seems unnecessary as a basis for objective moral values and duties to exist.
As we consider the two horns of the dilemma, it would only qualify as a logical dilemma if there were only two possible answers. If another possible answer exist then the dilemma becomes a false dilemma by definition. One possible answer is that God is good because his nature is the paradigm of goodness. If God’s nature is the paradigm of goodness then he can will something because he is good. God by definition is the Greatest Conceivable Being, so if anything better than him exists, then that would be considered God. That means that God will only command what is required, forbidden or permitted based on his loving, pure and Holy nature. God’s commandments are reflections of his character, which is not arbitrary or independent of himself, thus splitting the horns of the dilemma into a false dilemma. Another point to ponder is how can Euthyphro account for: The Absurdity of Ethics Without a Personal Being and The Hidden Assumption, which I previously mentioned?
We have seen that for any moral argument to be compelling, it must account for human rights and values. Also, without God, morality is indifferent and humans are no more valuable than the rocks and bugs that share our chemistry, and no act of altruism or abuse can be good or evil. However, when we experience injustice we recognize it by our reactions to it, regardless of our beliefs about morality. Our reactions to injustice expose our true beliefs. We know that torturing Jews for fun is universally abhorrent. So if we affirm both premises, the conclusion is unavoidable, God exists. We also saw how God’s goodness is a reflection of his moral character proving Euthyphro’s dilemma to be false. You can be moral without belief in God, but your direct awareness of morality has its basis in the nature of God. The way life “ought” to be is an appeal to the paradigm or perfection of our moral awareness, this appeal is only coherent if God actually exists.
1 “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” -Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776
William Lain Craig, Reasonable Faith, Christian Truth and Apologetics, Third Edition, Crossway (2008), p. 172-183
Andy Steiger, Thinking?, Answering Life’s Five Biggest Questions, Apologetics Canada (2015)
Micael Horner, Misunderstandings and Objections to the Moral Argument for God, To Everyone an Answer: 10th Annual EPS Apologetics Conference
C.S. Lewis, Right And Wrong As a Clue To The Meaning Of The Universe, p. 6
Norman L. Geisler, The Big Book Of Christian Apologetics, Baker Books (2012), p. 362-365
William Lain Craig, On Guard, Defending Your Faith With Reason and Precision, David Cook (2010), p. 127-146
Ravi Zacharias, Beyond Opinion, Living The Faith We Defend, Thomas Nelson (2007), p. 178-208
Norman L. Geisler, Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist, Crossway (2004), p. 168-193
Ravi Zacharias, Vince Vitale, Why Suffering?, Finding Meaning and Comfort When Life Doesn’t Make Sense, Faith Words (2014), p. 140-162
Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin (2006). p. 406
Paul Copan, The Moral Argument for God’s Existence, 4Truth.net.