• Strange Notions Strange Notions Strange Notions

What Do You Think of the Moral Argument for God?

Moral Argument

NOTE: We recently kicked off a new series of posts, each introducing a popular argument for or against God, followed by open-ended discussion. The goal is not to offer a thorough defense or refutation of the argument in the original post, but to unpack it together, as a community, in the comment boxes. The first argument we discussed was Alvin Plantinga's modal ontological argument for God, then we looked at the kalam cosmological argument. Today, we'll look at the moral argument for God.
 


 

The moral argument is one of the oldest and most-discussed arguments for God. Here's a short video from William Lane Craig's Reasonable Faith ministry explaining it:
 

 
The video presents the argument like this:

Premise 1: If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
Premise 2: Objective moral values and duties do exist.
Conclusion: Therefore, God exists.

As with the kalam cosmological argument, the argument appears deceptively simple. The logic is clear and airtight—I'm not aware of any philosopher, theist or non-theist, who denies the logic.

Most of the discussion, therefore, centers on three elements: the meaning of "objective moral values and duties", the truth of premise one, and the truth of premise two. Most critics who reject this argument take issue with one of those three elements.

For example, Sam Harris, in his book The Moral Landscape, attempts to circumvent this argument by refuting premise one. He does so by defining morality as that which contributes to the well-being (or flourishing) of sentient creatures. If it produces more flourishing, it's good. If it mitigates flourishing, it's bad. Defined this way, Harris claims, morality does not require God since science can reveal what is good by identifying things that increase or detract from our well-being.

The problem, however, as William Lane Craig and others have noted, is that Harris equivocates the meaning of "good" (and thus the definition of morality.) On Harris' moral view, something is "good" if it contributes to overall human flourishing, if it yields a positive, pragmatic benefit. But this is different than saying something is morally good. Harris' view is more like saying you made a "good" chess move or you did a "good" job on that portrait. Those examples do not refer to objective moral goodness, just pragmatic goodness. But it's moral goodness that the original argument refers to and claims is inexplicable without God.

So what do you think? Is the moral argument a sound proof for God? If not, how does it fail?

 
 
(Image credit: Reasonable Faith)

Brandon Vogt

Written by

Brandon Vogt is a bestselling author, blogger, and speaker. He's also the founder of StrangeNotions.com. Brandon has been featured by several media outlets including NPR, CBS, FoxNews, SiriusXM, and EWTN. He converted to Catholicism in 2008, and since then has released several books, including The Church and New Media (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011), Saints and Social Justice (Our Sunday Visitor, 2014), and RETURN (Numinous Books, 2015). He works as the Content Director for Bishop Robert Barron's Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Brandon lives with his wife, Kathleen, and their five children in Central Florida. Follow him at BrandonVogt.com or connect through Twitter at @BrandonVogt.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • Pick one:

         (1) Society defines what/​who is good.
         (2) Something/​someone else defines what/​who is good.

    Jesus' execution was 'good', per (1). But the naturalist has nothing other than (1), despite attempts at moral platonism, etc. See the following from Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue (18,000 'citations'):

    For one way of framing my contention that morality is not what it once was is just to say that to a large degree people now think, talk, and act as if emotivism were true, no matter what their avowed theoretical standpoint might be. Emotivism has become embodied in our culture. (22)

    The function of this "as if" can be understood as saying: "If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it is a duck. Regardless of whether it claims to be a swan." And what of this emotivism?

    Emotivism on this account turns out to be an empirical thesis, or rather a preliminary sketch of an empirical thesis, presumably to be filled out later by psychological and sociological and historical observations, about those who continue to use moral and other evaluative expressions, as if they were governed by objective and impersonal criteria, when all grasp of any such criterion has been lost. (18)

        What is the key to the social content of emotivism? It is the fact that emotivism entails the obliteration of any genuine distinction between manipulative and non-manipulative social relations. Consider the contrast between, for example. Kantian ethics and emotivism on this point. For Kant—and a parallel point could be made about many earlier moral philosophers—the difference between a human relationship uninformed by morality and one so informed is precisely the difference between one in which each person treats the other primarily as a means to his or her ends and one in which each treats the other as an end. To treat someone else as an end is to offer them what I take to be good reasons for acting in one way rather than another, but to leave it to them to evaluate those reasons. It is to be unwilling to influence another except by reasons which that other he or she judges to be good. It is to appeal to impersonal criteria of the validity of which each rational agent must be his or her own judge. By contrast, to treat someone else as a means is to seek to make him or her an instrument of my purposes by adducing whatever influences or considerations will in fact be effective on this or that occasion. The generalizations of the sociology and psychology of persuasion are what I shall need to guide me, not the standards of a normative rationality. (23)

    I challenge the non-theist to establish a metaphysical distinction between:

         (I) manipulative social relations
        (II) non-manipulative social relations

    (N.B. My failure to be conscious of being manipulative does not mean I am not being manipulated.) If the non-theist cannot do this, then (1) might as well be true, and Jesus might as well have deserved execution.

    • But the naturalist has nothing other than (1), despite attempts at moral platonism, etc.

      Nonsense. I challenge you to define "goodness" in a way that avoids the following trilemma:

      1. God arbitrarily decides morality
      2. Morality exists independently of god
      3. Make a circular argument

      • ClayJames

        This is just the euthyphro dilemma which was actually dealt with in the video.

      • FYI, per unrepented-of shenanigans such as #1, #2, and #3, this is not a reply to @disqus_The_Thinker:disqus. Furthermore, @disqus_The_Thinker:disqus and I have actually extensively discussed the Euthyphro dilemma (example), and yet he has completely failed to mention that, or anything which came out of that, in this discussion. Therefore, I can only conclude that TT is an intellectually dishonest commenter, or at least an intellectually incompetent commenter.

        • You haven't gotten out of the trilemma, that's why I mention it. You just claim morality is grounded in a relationship, or in the character of Jesus. That's not something you've ever been able to defend and you're still stuck with the trilemma no matter how bad you want to wish you aren't.

          The fact that you didn't define goodness is a testament to that.

    • I'll take option 1, with the added caveat that society/culture and ultimately morality are heavily influenced by facts about our shared biology and sociobiology, which makes them subjective but not arbitrary.

      Is sedition/treason a capital offense? It seems that's still an unsettled moral question.

      • So basically, you cannot categorically argue that it was wrong to execute Jesus?

        Note that sedition against Hitler was punishable by death.

        • I cannot, categorically. Now I don't agree with capital punishment, but clearly many do. That's why we have moral arguments, that's why we do moral philosophy and ethics and attempt to persuade others of our position.

          • Sure, but your morality is subjective and relative.

        • David Nickol

          So basically, you cannot categorically argue that it was wrong to execute Jesus?

          In what sense, and for whom, was it wrong? Christianity would be in a pretty pickle if Jesus had not been crucified. Jesus begged the Father to give him an out, but bowed to the Father's will, which was that Jesus should be crucified. It is difficult to know what the charges against Jesus actually were, but he may have been guilty as charged. (Of course, ordinary law does not apply to God incarnate, but how were those responsible for the execution of Jesus supposed to know he was God incarnate?) It is not clear whether Jesus actually said, "Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do" (the saying is not in the earliest manuscripts), but people who do not know what they are doing are not subjectively guilty.

          By my own personal standards, I would say that to crucify someone is so cruel that it is "objectively" wrong now and was "objectively" wrong two millennia ago. But it can be argued that there has been a slow progression to understanding of "objective" morality, and those in the first century could not have known better.

          I have read something recently about stoning as a means of execution, and if it was accurate, stoning as carried out was even more viciously cruel than I had known. Yet it was God's preferred method of execution in the Old Testament.

          • Good point. Christianity is based on the execution of Jesus, and without that, almost all Christians would say that we are not redeemed. And Jesus' execution was supposedly all part of Yahweh's ingenious plan to sacrifice himself to himself to save us all from himself. To not execute Jesus would have been to thwart Yahweh's plan, and then no Christianity. I think Luke is shooting himself in the foot here.

          • David Nickol

            Luke might argue that while it was wrong to execute Jesus, no one involved was morally culpable, because they thought they were doing the right thing.

          • Oh, Luke will say a lot of things. Most of them will not make sense or will not justify his views clearly. You have to realize that with Luke you're dealing with a person whose best evidence for god is:

            "I think Christianity is closer to the truth than anything else out there. Powerful signs of this have come from thinking about why Milgram experiment § Results are so bad, Steven Pinker's claims that scientists went all tabula rasa around the beginning of the twentieth century, and Donald E. Polkinghorne's Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences, in which he exposes the epic failures of the mechanistic model of humans to help psychology and sociology (and perhaps even economics) past a certain point. (Google books preface)"

            As Andy Schueler says, "What Luke says here boils down to 'People, including Christians, didn´t expect the results of the Milgram experiment. But with hindsight, I can cherry pick Bible verses that imply that people want authorities over them and ignore all the verses that imply that humans are naturally rebellious, and then claim that Christianity totally predicted that result!'"

            Everything he produces as 'evidence' for Christianity pretty much comes down to something like: social consequences = Christianity is true.

            For example: "As to whether I "believe in the resurrection based solely on stories told by men": no. Whether or not the resurrection happened has implications for how one acts in reality. One can look at those who act in reality as if it happened, and those who act in reality as if it did not happen. If the resurrection did not happen, acting according to the non-coercive model of power set out in Mt 20:20–28 and Jn 13:1–20 is ridiculously stupid. Belief in or lack of belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ has empirically measurable results."

            And here is Luke's "falsification" standard for how Christianity can be falsified given these arguments: "I've told you what would falsify Christianity: Christians failing to show any special talents for doing what they say God really wants: taking care of the poor, the oppressed, the orphan, the widow, the foreigner."

            Is that not the most ridiculous thing ever? Expect to deal with someone who cannot make a good positive case for his god and religion, but who can find ridiculous ways to rationalize his belief after the fact.

          • FYI, from over 2000 comments back and forth between @disqus_The_Thinker:disqus and yours truly, I have discerned that this is his strongest motive in discussions like this:

            TT: I particularly love debating theists into a corner so that the absurdity of their beliefs becomes apparent.

            Virtually all of the evidence indicates that whenever the truth sufficiently conflicts with this goal, TT sacrifices truth in one way or another.

          • In what sense, and for whom, was it wrong?

            If you cannot answer that question, you do not have objective morality. Only if you'll grant enough that looks like objective morality, am I interested in trying my hand at an answer to your question.

            Christianity would be in a pretty pickle if Jesus had not been crucified.

            That's easy: design the world so that either sin doesn't happen, doesn't require or a savior, or necessarily results in crucifixion of the God-man. Surely God could design history to pass through certain fixed points, even if the rest is allowed to vary over a wide range? Or rather: if certain things happen, then certain fixed points will necessarily be passed through.

            Jesus begged the Father to give him an out, but bowed to the Father's will, which was that Jesus should be crucified.

            You are mixing instrumental with final ends. The final end was to extend grace and forgiveness to humankind. The instrumental means was Jesus' death. But Jesus had to voluntarily submit to this—love does not insist on its own way. To be like Jesus is to let others flog you with their sins (every action causes an equal and opposite reaction). To be like Jesus is to voluntarily let others force you to suffer for their sins. This is my solution to distinguishing between (I) manipulative social relations; and (II) non-manipulative social relations. Do you have a better solution, or alternative solution which allows a metaphysical distinction?

            Here's another way to look at it; see my paraphrases:

            Who has believed what he has heard from us?    And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?For he grew up before him like a young plant,    and like a root out of dry ground;he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,    and no beauty that we should desire him.He was despised and rejected by men;    a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;and as one from whom men hide their faces    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.Surely he has borne our griefs    and carried our sorrows;yet we esteemed him stricken,    smitten by God, and afflicted.But he was pierced for our transgressions;[We pierced him with our our transgressions]    he was crushed for our iniquities;    [we crushed him with our iniquities]upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,    and with his wounds we are healed.All we like sheep have gone astray;    we have turned—every one—to his own way;and the LORD has laid on him    the iniquity of us all.(Isaiah 53:1-6)

            It gets even more interesting if you look at the grammar of those particular verses, and the prophetic present tense. All we need at that point is a bit from Edward Feser's Scholastic Metaphysics:

            Suppose further that here in 2014 you take a stick and put it halfway through the time gate, while the other half comes out in 3014 and pushes a stone. The motion of the stone and the motion of the hand are not simultaneous – they are separated by 1000 years – but we still have a causal series ordered per se insofar as the former motion depends es- sentially on the latter motion. (155)

            That is, our sins can travel through time (because causation does not supervene on time), such that while we are committing them in AD 2015, Jesus is experiencing them in ≈ AD 30. Our sins are what did Jesus in. Plus the rest of the sins of humanity. All God did was ask Jesus to "balance the equation", to suffer the consequences of accumulated evil, and thus reconcile the world to God and redeem the evil.

            I have read something recently about stoning as a means of execution, and if it was accurate, stoning as carried out was even more viciously cruel than I had known. Yet it was God's preferred method of execution in the Old Testament.

            That is not at all clear. Of the execution methods the extremely stubborn Israelites would use, perhaps stoning was the best. That is a very different statement than what you used. Your statement presumes that (i) God could have accomplished all his other goals and communicated anything at all to the Israelites; (ii) the Israelites were perfectly plastic people, willing to do whatever God said; (iii) that ¬(ii) still means the best way would be to give perfect law instead of law the Israelites had a chance in hell of obeying.

  • David Nickol

    One appeal of the argument would seem to be that we (or many of us, at least) want objective moral values to exist, because we want to be saying something "objectively true" when we say things like "Rape is immoral" or "Murder is wrong." But just because we want something to be true doesn't mean it is true.

    Another appeal is that the easy route to claiming objective morality exists is to claim it comes from God.

    Of course, the issue can't be settled by a 5-minute video, but it gives no compelling reasons to accept either of the two premises.

    • "But just because we want something to be true doesn't mean it is true."

      Of course. Who would disagree? But what does this have to do with the argument? The moral argument certainly doesn't depend on this non sequitur.

      Many people (e.g., criminals) believe in objective moral values and duties even though they don't want them to be true!

      "Another appeal is that the easy route to claiming objective morality exists is to claim it comes from God."

      Hopefully, you would agree that the ease of an assertion doesn't disprove it. In fact, in most cases, it strengthens its plausibility! If an explanation is intuitive and "easy," we should assume it is true unless an alternative explanation is proved stronger.

      "Of course, the issue can't be settled by a 5-minute video, but it gives no compelling reasons to accept either of the two premises."

      The video, in fact, offers multiple reasons for accepting each premise. Instead of just dismissing them without engagement, why do you think they are not compelling?

      (I assume you mean "compelling" in the sense of "being persuasive", and not in the literal sense of forcing you to accept the premises. The premises don't have to be unavoidably true—they just need to be shown more likely than their negations. I think this is true for both premises.)

      Perhaps I can ask this straightforward question, too, since it's not clear to me what you believe: do objective moral values and duties exist?

      • David Nickol

        But what does this have to do with the argument? The moral argument certainly doesn't depend on this non sequitur.

        As I believe I have said elsewhere, I was not commenting on the truth or the validity of the argument. I was saying it had emotional appeal. And the fact that an argument has an emotional appeal doesn't make it true. Perhaps it goes without saying, but I don't think it is irrelevant to point such a thing out. Surely part of a rational approach to any argument is to ask ourselves whether we are drawn to the argument (or repulsed by it) because we would like to believe it (or disbelieve it) rather than because it is a sound argument.

        Hopefully, you would agree that the ease of an assertion doesn't disprove it. In fact, in most cases, it strengthens its plausibility! If an explanation is intuitive and "easy," we should assume it is true unless an alternative explanation is proved stronger.

        I would reject this almost totally, especially in the light—if one can call it that—of the arguments put forth by a number of the current candidates running for president!

        The video, in fact, offers multiple reasons for accepting each premise. Instead of just dismissing them without engagement, why do you think they are not compelling?

        I think it is a particularly weak argument to use an astronaut and say that without some objective reference point, we have no way to say if something is really up or down, and then argue that we need God as an objective reference point for morality. There is no "objective" reference point for up or down. Up, down, left right, and so on don't have objective reference points. The entire meaning of left, right, up, down, and so on is dependent on designating a reference point each time we use such words. Up and down may have perfectly intelligible meanings in particular situations, but there is no absolute, objective up or down.

        Perhaps I can ask this straightforward question, too, since it's not clear to me what you believe: do objective moral values and duties exist?

        I would like to think so. I tend toward thinking so, but I am not convinced that God must exist in order for it to be so. Also, I tend to think that if objective morality exists, it may exist in broad principles that do not necessarily apply to every individual in every imaginable situation. I find it interesting, for example, that after centuries upon centuries of debate, the morality of telling a deliberate untruth to save a life—"Ann Frank is not hiding in my attic!"—is still a matter on which Catholic moral theologians disagree. If there is an objective yes or no answer to that question, it does not do us any good if that answer can't be determined.

    • One appeal of the argument would seem to be that we (or many of us, at least) want objective moral values to exist, because we want to be saying something "objectively true" when we say things like "Rape is immoral" or "Murder is wrong." But just because we want something to be true doesn't mean it is true.

      Let me try a transformation, inspired by Wayne C. Booth's Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent:

      One appeal of the opposite argument would seem to be that we (or many of us, at least) want objective moral values to not exist, because we want to be saying avoid being judged by something "objectively true" when we others say things like "Rape is immoral" or "Murder is wrong." But just because we want something to be true doesn't mean it is true.

      Is this any less valid than your original words?

      • David Nickol

        Is this any less valid than your original words?

        No I don't think it is less valid. I was talking about the appeal of the argument. It seems to me there is no contradiction between one argument having an appeal to some people, and the opposite argument having an appeal to others.

        I remember long, long ago a friend remarked that what made Charles Manson so terrifying was that there were no grounds on which you could appeal to him. Part of the appeal of the moral argument for God is that it implies that if there is no God, there really are no grounds on which you can appeal to anyone, but since there is a God, you can appeal to someone's sense of justice, or fairness, or mercy. If, like Charles Manson, they actually have no sense of justice, fairness, or mercy, you at least have the consolation that you are right and they are wrong. But if there is no God (according to the argument from morality), then your appeal is not only without effect. It is without reason or merit.

        • It seems to me there is no contradiction between one argument having an appeal to some people, and the opposite argument having an appeal to others.

          Of course. But this undermines the power of the argument: "You only believe that because it appeals to you." After all, the other side can say the same thing, except[, obviously,] switched around like I did.

          • David Nickol

            But this undermines the power of the argument: "You only believe that because it appeals to you."

            You do realize, thought, that this is basically the sole argument that some theists make here: "Everybody knows that God exists, but some people choose to suppress or repress that knowledge because they want to be bad."

            And besides, I did not make the argument, "You only believe that because it appeals to you." I noted that the argument had great appeal to some people because they wanted to believe it. But I didn't accuse anyone here of believing anything just because they wanted to.

            I do believe that underlying the argument from morality (at least in the hands of some people) is an attempt to frighten people into accepting objective morality because rejecting it could allegedly result in anarchy and chaos. On the other hand, some theists seem almost to be urging atheists to abandon all moral restraints because they have no good reason for not raping, stealing, and killing.

          • You do realize, thought, that this is basically the sole argument that some theists make here: "Everybody knows that God exists, but some people choose to suppress or repress that knowledge because they want to be bad."

            I have some experience with what Randal Rauser calls the "rebellion thesis". I am also aware of the understanding of original sin which puts 100% of the onus on the will. However, while I generally am ignorant or iffy about what John Calvin said, I do like his emphasis on total depravity, whereby the intellect, the spirit, the soul, and the will are all corrupted (but not necessarily as corrupted as they could be). I don't know whether this modification to the rebellion thesis would make it no longer recognizable as a "rebellion thesis". I'm also partial to John Calvin's seed of religion bit, as either a better version of the rebellion thesis, or something better regardless.

            I noted that the argument had great appeal to some people because they wanted to believe it.

            I just don't see how this is relevant. The argument is eschewed by others because they don't want to believe it. What does this really tell us, which helps us further this debate and hopefully, seek what (who) is more true?

            I do believe that underlying the argument from morality (at least in the hands of some people) is an attempt to frighten people into accepting objective morality because rejecting it could allegedly result in anarchy and chaos.

            I can see this as an underlying theme, but I do not think it is the only theme. Emil Brunner has some great stuff on this in Man in Revolt; for example:

            Man is not fully aware of responsibility because he does not live in a truly responsible manner. He lives in that irresponsibility and in that misunderstanding of responsibility which the Bible calls 'sin' and 'life under the law.' The moral consciousness is still far from being a knowledge of the meaning of responsibility. On the contrary, there is no clearer proof of the fact that man does not fully know what responsibility is than the moral. The moral is the substitute for the loss of responsibility, in the meaning both of existence and of knowledge. The moral is the misunderstanding of responsibility which arises when the meaning of responsibility has been lost, and when one does not live in a truly responsible manner. True responsibility is the same as true humanity; the moral, however, which would preserve the human character of existence by setting up dykes to check the inrush of the flood of the sub-human, actually has something sub-human about it. The existence of the moral behind these dykes is the human life which has already lost its truly human character; human existence, that is, which has lost the knowledge of its origin and of its meaning. (51)

            This doesn't seem to qualify as "scaring". This version of 'morality' does not seem to have scaring power. And yet, I think it could be integrated into this reasoning, which seems to be a sufficient foundation for some sort of moral argument.

            On the other hand, some theists seem almost to be urging atheists to abandon all moral restraints because they have no good reason for not raping, stealing, and killing.

            Weird.

  • The moral argument for the existence of God fails to distinguish the remote cause of ethics and the proximate cause of ethics. In establishing what is morally good or evil, we do not contemplate the nature of God, for which we are not well equipped, because God is not within our experience. We contemplate the nature of man and the world in which he lives. Consequently, we appropriately establish what is morally good and evil without any proximate or overt recourse to the existence of God. Premise 1 of the moral argument is false.

    • The moral argument for the existence of God fails to distinguish the remote cause of ethics and the proximate cause of ethics.

      Irrelevant, if morality is based on essentially ordered series. (see Caleb Cohoe's There Must Be A First: Why Thomas Aquinas Rejects Infinite, Essentially Ordered, Causal Series)

      • I disagree with the argument cited. http://www.catholicstand.com/taking-aquinas-serieslessly/.
        Aquinas’ five ways of proving the existence of God reject all series, both infinite and finite, and all mediation in being. Analogies of finite series, as well as analogies of local motion are misleading and should therefore be avoided.
        https://theyhavenowine.wordpress.com/2013/04/16/st-thomas-one-proof-of-the-existence-of-god/

        • I'm not relying on the argument as a proof for God's existence. I am using it to claim that essentially ordered series are important, and importantly different from accidentally ordered series. There is no meaningful difference between a remote cause and a proximate cause in an essentially ordered series, is there?

          • I am sorry. I misunderstood your comment. In my use of remote and proximate, I was referring to pertinence to a specific rational conclusion. I did not mean to imply any series.

            In one line of reasoning we know morality predominately from considering the nature of man, without any advert consideration of God. The existence of God is along a different line of reasoning. Along this line, we know that God is the creator of man, and thereby the final cause of human morality.

            In my estimation the moral argument is this:
            1. There can be no concept of human justice unless there exists a being whose nature and existence are identical.
            3. From the nature of man, we infer that justice is due to others, i.e. there is a concept of human justice.
            4. Therefore , there exists a being whose nature and existence are identical. We call this being God.

          • In one line of reasoning we know morality predominately from considering the nature of man, without any advert consideration of God.

            This stuck out at me. Is this true? I offer three contravening pieces of evidence:

                There are several reasons why the contemporary social sciences make the idea of the person stand on its own, without social attributes or moral principles. Emptying the theoretical person of values and emotions is an atheoretical move. We shall see how it is a strategy to avoid threats to objectivity. But in effect it creates an unarticulated space whence theorizing is expelled and there are no words for saying what is going on. No wonder it is difficult for anthropologists to say what they know about other ideas on the nature of persons and other definitions of well-being and poverty. The path of their argument is closed. No one wants to hear about alternative theories of the person, because a theory of persons tends to be heavily prejudiced. It is insulting to be told that your idea about persons is flawed. It is like being told you have misunderstood human beings and morality, too. The context of this argument is always adversarial. (Missing Persons: A Critique of the Personhood in the Social Sciences, 10)

            Much contemporary moral philosophy, particularly but not only in the English-speaking world, has given such a narrow focus to morality that some of the crucial connections I want to draw here are incomprehensible in its terms. This moral philosophy has tended to focus on what it is right to do rather than on what it is good to be, on defining the content of obligation rather than the nature of the good life; and it has no conceptual place left for a notion of the good as the object of our love or allegiance or, as Iris Murdoch portrayed it in her work, as the privileged focus of attention or will.[1] This philosophy has accredited a cramped and truncated view of morality in a narrow sense as well as of the whole range of issues involved in the attempt to live the best possible life and this not only among professional philosophers, but with a wider public. (Sources of the Self, 3)

            IntroductionWhat are humans? One would think that of all the personal and scientific subjects we study the one we would be most interested and proficient in understanding would be ourselves, human beings. Should we not be quite transparent to ourselves? Yet it is not obvious that we humans actually do understand ourselves as beings very well. I am not the first to observe that, of the many mysteries in the universe, we humans are perhaps the most mysterious of all to ourselves.[1] Even the social sciences, for all their sophistication in certain ways, have not helped us much to understand clearly the nature of our own species, humanity as such. Or so I believe. The social sciences are good at describing and analyzing human activities, cultures, institutions, social relations, and social structures. But that is not the same thing as actually understanding human beings per se, what we are, our constitution and condition. I will argue in the pages that follow that the social sciences have been frequently unhelpful in our search for self-understanding as a particular kind of existent and acting being. This seems to me most certainly true of my own discipline, sociology. I also find few in sociology who are particularly interested in engaging such questions directly. Perhaps the mystery we are to ourselves makes us uneasy. Perhaps the question seems too unscientific. And yet the wise have challenged us for millennia in different ways with the charge, “Know Thyself.” This I seek to do. (What is a Person?, 1)

            I have more (e.g. Arguing About Human Nature), but I think that's good for now. Note that I do not necessarily disagree with you, but it seems that the above do compel you to articulate what you said a bit more than you have.

          • I plead guilty. In referring to the nature of man and morality, I had in mind the Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophical assessment and not that which may be gleaned by a scientific methodology, especially that lacking an overt philosophical basis.

          • Hmm. Are you amenable to the A–T philosophical system or skeptical of it? I can argue either way, but I would like to figure out what our common ground is.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    I think the video is correct in saying that to have objective morality one must have some sort reference point. However, it did not seem to give any reason for why God must be that reference point, other than he might be. (...Assuming he exists, which is inching the argument toward circularity.)

    I think its actually not that different than the flaw in Sam Harris's case. Harris has chosen human flourishing as his reference point. Craig has chosen God as his. Neither gives much of reason of why their reference point is the objectively correct one.

    • Can you think of a reference point other than:

           (1) society
           (2) a being G, where G ∉ society ∧ G ⊄ society

      ? If not, then is there any causally accessible candidate for (2) other than God? [Edit: You can add "beings" in (2), but I'm not sure that helps].

      • OverlappingMagisteria

        I'm not sure why your list contains only beings or collections of beings. But in any case, Harris' reference point of "human flourishing" should answer your question.

        I'm not saying that it is the correct reference point, but it does at least show that there are far more options than society or God.

        • The reason for 'being' is based on what I think are theoretical requirements on knowledge imposed by the unarticulated background. We can discuss that if you'd like.

          How do I causally interact with Harris' reference point? Do I have to talk to Harris or read his works (or derivative works)? Is he ostensibly referencing something which is 'in' all human beings? How does the causal interaction work?

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            I'm afraid that I am unfamiliar with what you mean by "causally accessible" or "causally interact" and how it pertains to the subject. I was going to answer that, no, you don't have to read Harris' books, you have to determine whether an action promotes human flourishing or not. But I might be misunderstanding your question.

            (I also don't really want to get boxed into defending Harris' views since I don't really agree with them. I was just using it as an example.)

          • I'm afraid that I am unfamiliar with what you mean by "causally accessible" or "causally interact" and how it pertains to the subject.

            Can you have any knowledge which is not the result of causal interaction (with your brain/​mind)?

            I was going to answer that, no, you don't have to read Harris' books, you have to determine whether an action promotes human flourishing or not.

            What causal operation happens, whereby I "determine whether an action promotes human flourishing or not"? I think what you're missing is that humans have, throughout spacetime, widely varied on what constitutes "human flourishing", and who is considered 'human'. For example, abortion does not contribute to the flourishing of the aborted.

            (I also don't really want to get boxed into defending Harris' views since I don't really agree with them. I was just using it as an example.)

            Perfectly acceptable.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            I think what you're missing is that humans have, throughout spacetime,
            widely varied on what constitutes "human flourishing", and who is
            considered 'human'.

            Yes I agree, and this is one of the reasons I don't think Harris solved the problem nearly as much as he thinks he has. But it seems that the same charge could be made against God, since people have and still do widely vary on what God's will is or what his goodness entails.

          • The difference is whether there is a causally accessible, unchanging standard—or not. That's the difference between 'objective' morality and 'subjective' morality.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            Well... there certainly is a claim that there is an unchanging standard. But gosh, we just keep changing our minds on what that unchanging standard is!

          • If that interpretation turns out to be the most compelling, then: "There is no causally accessible objective standard for morality." More colloquially: "There is no objective reality."

          • But gosh, we just keep changing our minds on what that unchanging standard is!

            Incidentally, if there is no growth of moral knowledge, we are being 100% irrational every time we say we are 'better' than those who came before us, if we intend 'better' to be based on objective knowledge instead of subjective preference.

  • I don't find it convincing.

    The Moral Argument is just another failed attempt to make god into a required being. How can we have objective morality, it is asked, if there is no god? Thus it is argued that if god does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist, but they do, so god exists. Enter the Euthyphro Dilemma: Is something good because god commands it, or does god command it because it's good? The first part makes morality arbitrary, and the latter makes god irrelevant to what's good. The standard response is that god is the good – god is the ontological foundation of goodness because he is intrinsically loving, compassionate and fair, etc. But then we can ask, is god good because he has these properties or are these properties good because god has them?

    In order to avoid compromising god's sovereignty and admitting that these properties are good independently of god, the theist who wants to hold to the moral argument must say that these traits are good because god has them. But how is love, compassion, fairness or any other positive attribute good only because god has them? They would be good irrespective of god's existence, as would be evident by their effects and intentions. The theist would bear the burden of proof to demonstrate that they wouldn't be good without god, which I haven't yet seen anyone successfully achieve. Thus I say objective moral values exist independently of god.

    Duties on the other hand are more tricky. I simply don't believe in objective duties in the sense that they're issued from some kind of cosmic police officer. Duties arise primarily from social obligations, or obligations to principle. Under secular ethical systems, we need to appeal to reason to understand our obligations to one another, not commandments. Besides, the other major hurdle that divine command theory suffers from is the epistemic problem, sometimes known as the pluralism problem. That is, even if people believe in god, no one is going to fully agree on what god or what version of god is the correct one, or what commands are authentic and how to properly interpret them. You're going to be faced ultimately with moral relativism in practice, as is evident from the wide range of beliefs and practices of all religions. Thus the moral argument fails in theory and in practice.

    The moral argument ultimately resolves into either a dilemma or a trilemma for the theist, and there is no way out of it. The only possible options when grounding morality in god are below:

    1. God arbitrarily decides morality

    2. Morality exists independently of god

    3. Make a circular argument

    So my challenge to theists here who agree with the moral argument is to define "goodness" in an intelligible manner. William Lane Craig has even said that it cannot be defined. If that's the case, he has no business saying "God = good." It's just an assertion.

    • For all those interested, @disqus_The_Thinker:disqus will be unable to give you a causally accessible standard of morality which is not crucially predicated upon one or more human beings. Therefore, his morality is subjective, regardless of how much vigorous hand-waving he does (and he's very good at it).

      • That doesn't actually actually make any difference as to whether morality can be objective to us. My weight on earth, the moon, and mars may change on each world, but whatever those weights are, are objective to the world. Luke Breuer can't define goodness in a way that makes god necessary, nor can he make a positive argument that morality is dependent on god without facing a trilemma:

        1. God arbitrarily decides morality
        2. Morality exists independently of god
        3. Make a circular argument

    • Intriguing.

      I don't recall how Plato got around his own points on this. Plato rejected [the immoral stories of] the polytheistic gods, yes. EDIT

      But he still claimed that the eternal Good existed.

      • Plato or Socrates? Neither of them rejected the polytheistic gods, although Socrates was accused of atheism during his trial, he denied it.

        • Well, maybe, my memory is faulty.

          If Plato, didn't reject the gods such as Jupiter, then what was his answer to Euthyphro?

          I'll need to go out to the garage and get my books such as The Republic.

          Either way, what was Plato's answer since he did think that ultimate reality was the Good?

          ADD: Maybe the reason that I miss-remembered is that Plato didn't think the Greek stories of the Gods were true.

          For instance, Nickolas Pappas of the City College of New York wrote this:
          "More famously, Socrates speaks out in Plato's dialogues against those myths he refuses to believe. Relevant passages include Plato's _Euthyphro_ and the aforementioned Book 2 of the _Republic_. Any stories about the gods' quarreling with one another, or lying to human beings, or changing shape, or being overwhelmed by lust, or sleeping with one another's spouses, strike the Socrates we find in Plato's dialogues as unseemly, and impossible of containing truth. (If the truth in them is something allegorical, they still need to be suppressed, because the typical young listener cannot tell the difference between a symbolic meaning and the superficial narrative.)

          In rejecting such myths both Socrates and Plato seem to be following the lead of the earlier philosopher Xenophanes. Xenophanes had no patience with the anthropomorphism in Greek religion. It was bad enough, from his point of view, that human beings pictured their gods in human form, with arms and legs, desires and emotions; far worse was the shabby morality those gods seemed to follow. Zeus repeatedly raped young mortal women, who then found themselves hounded and tormented by his jealous wife Hera. How could the king of the gods participate in such horrid injustice?

          Plato apparently agrees with the critique. He has Socrates confess he cannot believe in such stories. They couldn't possibly be true, if the gods are to be (as we claim to believe them to be) perfectly powerful and honest and good. Some storyteller must have lied about the gods. The falsehood is not at all the falsehood that modern unbelievers experience. An atheist today is likely to say that religion is just far-fetched, or without evidence; atheism begins with epistemology. The Socratic and Platonic disbelief presupposes genuine belief that the gods exist, and only a refusal to agree that they could behave in such ungodlly manner."

          - See more at: http://www.askphilosophers.org/question/4976#sthash.IHCtpydV.dpuf

          • Plato doesn't really give an answer to the Euthyphro, he really just frames the issue and leaves it to the reader to decide. In the Euthyphro, after Socrates brings up the dilemma to Euthyphro, not long after Euthyphro has to carry on with his business and the dialogue ends. In the dialogue, Socrates sees Euthyphro outside of court where Euthyphro is there because he's got an issue with his father, and Socrates is there because he's going to trial for corrupting the youth of Athens, if my memory serves me right (it's been a bit since I read it). But it's not in the Republic.

            My take on the story is that Plato is trying to argue, through Socrates, that it is illogical to claim that morality has anything to do with the gods, but rather, it exists independently of god(s). He's trying to challenge the assumption, the paradigm, in the way people thought back then that morality is grounded in gods, and I think this is still relevant today since a very large portion of the world continues to believe this. But there is no logical justification for it, and I think Plato saw that 2400 years ago.

          • Thanks for the clarification.

            In the end it would appear however that Plato did think there was the Good, beyond all lesser gods.

            So part of this discussion becomes a case of semantics since M-W Dictionary's first statement for "God" is "capitalized : the supreme or ultimate reality."

            In the case of Plato, it would seem that "the Good" was the "ultimate reality."

          • Well, Plato was after all, a Platonist, and he believed that forms and numbers had ontological existence apart from minds and the physical world. So to Plato, the Good, was a thing; it existed independently of the universe. The meta ethical view that uses this is called moral realism. I used to be sympathetic to that view, but I'm not anymore.

          • Well, I'm a convinced moral realist and also think that math will still exist after humans go extinct, and reason, too, etc.

            So we live in different universes:-)

            But thanks for the dialog.

          • No prob.

          • If you don't mind sharing, I would like to hear why you came to the conclusion that moral realism is fallacious.

          • Basically, I reject all forms for realism, except perhaps scientific realism, long story short. There are no good arguments for moral realism, as realists in this sense cannot even say how we interact with these forms.

          • Thanks.

  • ClayJames

    I have always found discussions regarding this argument fascinating, not because of the argument itself but because the atheist simply has to claim that morality is subjective and the argument is rendered useless. However, instead of making this very easy move and accepting the consequences it leads to, many atheists try to either establish objective morality some other way (Harris) or try to ground morality in something so that it is not entirely subjective.

    • Doug Shaver

      the atheist simply has to claim that morality is subjective

      This atheist does not have to claim it and does not claim it.

      • ClayJames

        How do you ground objective morality?

        • Doug Shaver

          How do you ground objective morality?

          I don't, because I don't believe in objective morality.

      • "This atheist does not have to claim it and does not claim it."

        Maybe you've answers this elsewhere in the thread, but since you don't believe morality is subjective, and assuming you disagree the argument, where does it fall flat?

        • Doug Shaver

          since you don't believe morality is subjective

          What I don't believe is that morality is entirely subjective. There is a subjective component to it, but it also involves objective facts.

          and assuming you disagree the argument, where does it fall flat?

          I have responded elsewhere in this thread.

          • What I don't believe is that morality is entirely subjective. There is a subjective component to it, but it also involves objective facts.

            How do objective facts make morality anything other than "entirely subjective"?

          • Doug Shaver

            How do objective facts make morality anything other than "entirely subjective"?

            By determining whether our moral judgments are justified.

          • Please give an example or three. As it stands, I don't see how what you say could possibly be true. Hopefully, an example or three will help.

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't see how what you say could possibly be true.

            No kidding? You mean to tell me that in your moral universe, no objective fact ever has any relevance to any moral question?

            Please give an example or three.

            I will, but first please indulge a little bit.

          • No kidding? You mean to tell me that in your moral universe, no objective fact ever has any relevance to any moral question?

            I thought we were talking about your moral universe, not mine?

          • Doug Shaver

            It is an objective fact that actions have consequences. In my moral universe, an action is good or bad depending on the nature of its consequences. That is how objective facts determine whether our moral judgments are justified. Do you still need an example of how that could work?

          • It is an objective fact that actions have consequences.

            Actually, it isn't. Why say such a crazy thing? Because, people are split on whether causation is metaphysical, or a mere appearance. The general categories are:

                 (A) regularity theory
                 (B) necessitarian causation

            Under (A), actions do not have consequences. Under (A), effects 'regularly' follow their causes, but this is only because we chose to group together things by correlation. And as we know, correlation ⇏ causation (obligatory comic).

            Why the pedantry? Well, because just how you think of causation seems like it's actually really, really, really important deal. It's not always important in the short-term. But in the long-term, it's hugely important. Modern science wouldn't even have gotten off the ground without a certain kind of metaphysics of causation! Furthermore, Hume's argument against causation being delivered through the senses is still very well-respected by many, IIRC including scientists to this day.

            Furthermore, I am only morally responsible, if (but not iff) I caused the consequence. If my actions were merely correlated with the consequence, then I am not responsible. Enter the arts of framing and plausible deniability.

            In my moral universe, an action is good or bad depending on the nature of its consequences.

            What is the causal process by which one determines whether an action is 'good' or 'bad'? If you cannot indicate a causal process, then how can you know anything 'objective' about morality? That "actions have consequences" is not a sufficient condition for 'objective' moral knowledge. It is a logical step toward 'objective' moral knowledge, but sometimes a logical step still takes you from 0% → 0%.

          • Doug Shaver

            It is an objective fact that actions have consequences.

            Actually, it isn't.

            If you believe that, then further discussion between you and me about morality will be pointless.

          • If you believe that, then further discussion between you and me about morality will be pointless.

            I subscribe to necessitarian causation, so I do believe it. The thing is, I'm not an empiricist. I just don't believe your claim of "objective fact". You are aware of Hume's argument against information on causation being received through the senses, right? If not, I suggest reading it. If so, and you reject it, I'd love to see your reasoning for rejecting it. I've yet to find a good rejection of it!

          • Doug Shaver

            I'm not an empiricist.

            But Hume was, and now you're throwing him in my face as if he were an infallible authority on causation.

          • But Hume was [an empiricist],

            He was probably an inconsistent empiricist:

            IEP: Laws of Nature § Regularity: Recent scholarship (for example, that of J. Wright and of Beauchamp and Rosenberg) makes a convincing case that the received view as to what David Hume offered as an explication of the concept of law of nature was quite mistaken, indeed the very opposite of what Hume was arguing. What, historically, until late in the Twentieth Century, was called the "Humean" account of Laws of Nature was a misnomer. Hume himself was no "Humean" as regards laws of nature. Hume, it turns out, was a Necessitarian – i.e. believed that laws of nature are in some sense "necessary" (although of course not logically necessary). His legendary skepticism was epistemological. He was concerned, indeed even baffled, how our knowledge of physical necessity could arise. What, in experience, accounted for the origin of the idea? What, in experience, provided evidence of the existence of the property? He could find nothing that played such a role.

            Nevertheless, Hume believed his argument that causation could not be derived from sense-experience.

            and now you're throwing him in my face as if he were an infallible authority on causation.

            No, I'm not.

          • Doug Shaver

            and now you're throwing him [Hume] in my face as if he were an infallible authority on causation.

            No, I'm not.

            Then it's OK if I disagree with him?

          • It depends on what you disagree about and how. I think some of his arguments were valid. You cannot just assert, for example, that an argument is invalid. Neither can you just presuppose it.

          • Doug Shaver

            You referred to "Hume's argument against information on causation being received through the senses." Is that what you want me to address?

          • Yes.

          • ClayJames

            Objective facts do not make morality any less subjective because facts tell us what is and morality tells us how it ought to be.

            The moral beliefs that one should kill a fetus in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd trimester or a newborn shortly after they are born are based on objective facts regarding the effects of having a baby on the health, economic and social well being of a parent. However, these objective facts do not make any of these possible moral beliefs any less subjective given naturalism.

          • Doug Shaver

            Objective facts do not make morality any less subjective because facts tell us what is and morality tells us how it ought to be.

            Is that an objective fact?

          • ClayJames

            As much as definitions of words are objective facts then it is. I don´t know what you are getting at since I am not trying to derive objective morality from the definition of what these words mean.

  • Doug Shaver

    So what do you think? Is the moral argument a sound proof for God? If not, how does it fail?

    It fails, in my judgment, because I don't accept either premise.

    I don't see any argument here for Premise 1. It is merely asserted. If anything can exist without God, then if objective morality exists, it can exist without God. Theists, of course, don't accept the possibility that anything can exist without God, but they don't get to win this argument just by begging this question. The necessity of a creator, whether of the material universe or of immaterial objective values and duties, needs its own argument.

    Thus, I think the argument fails even if objective morality exists. But I don't believe it exists. Moral judgments are just that -- judgments. They are not statements reporting our perceptions of objective facts. Contrary to the video, though, it does not follow that all judgments are equally valid. Some moral judgments are justified and some are not justified. The video insinuates that we are left with pure moral relativism if there is no objective morality. I think that insinuation is justified.

    Harris' view is more like saying you made a "good" chess move or you did a "good" job on that portrait. Those examples do not refer to objective moral goodness, just pragmatic goodness. But it's moral goodness that the original argument refers to and claims is inexplicable without God.

    Well, then, the arguer needs to clarify his intended meaning of "moral goodness." If he has a particular definition in mind that differs from mine, then we might not be talking about the same thing when we're talking about moral goodness. I don't have a problem with the notion that the best moral code is also the most pragmatically beneficial moral code.

  • Paul Brandon Rimmer

    I cannot watch the video where I am. I believe that the Euthyphro dilemma raises problems for this argument that should be discussed, even if there is a good solution to this dilemma.

    The dilemma gets its name from Plato's Euthyphro dialogue. Boiled down, it involves the question of whether an act is good because God does it, or if God does it because it is good. If it is good because God does it, then good and evil are entirely subjective. Murdering people for fun is good if God murders people for fun. If, however, God carries out an act because it is good, what makes the act good?

    Some people say that the goodness isn't in God's will but rather is in God's nature. This is often Craig's response. But this seems to me to merely push the issue one step back. What about God's nature makes it good? Is it simply good because it's God's nature? If it turns out, via revelation, that we discover it's in God's nature to torture animals for fun, does that discovery have moral weight? Does it make torturing animals for fun a good thing?

    I don't think the moral argument is very persuasive in this form without resolving the dilemma. I actually prefer Aquinas's approach to this issue. Goodness wouldn't exist without God because nothing exists without God. Additionally, human goodness is rooted in human activity and human purpose, in the foundational premise that all people act with an end in mind, and that this end, and the achievement of this end, is what sets human morality. Human morality is, for this reason, objective but not absolute. What is good for me is not what is good for a bacteria, which is not what is good for an angel. Since God is his own essence, God is goodness itself, and talking about good activity for God cannot be literally true, because God doesn't act with an end in mind, in the same sense we do, because it would mean that God acts in order to satisfy some need, God seeks to progress to a better state.

    I think Aquinas's objective but relative moral philosophy, natural law, is very elegant, I think it does resolve the Euthyphro dilemma, but I think it does so in a way that would invalidate any moral argument for God's existence. Or rather, it would show that the moral argument for God's existence is really just a trivial consequence of the cosmological argument.

    • The Euthyphro dilemma presupposes that morality is about matching up to some standard instead of being in right relationship with other beings. Christians hold that what is most important is right relationship, not matching up to some formal standard.

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        Then, if it's not about moral standards, how do you get the moral argument off the ground?

        Premise 1: If God does not exist, you can't be in relationship with God
        Premise 2: But you can be in relationship with God
        Conclusion: Therefore, God exists.

        It's not as persuasive an argument this way.

        The argument has as a premise that God is necessary for moral standards, and that there are moral standards. If morality is instead just right relationship with God, then trivially God is necessary for morality, but then the question is why bother being moral in the first place?

        EDIT: I grossly misread your comment, sorry about that, to I'll add this to mine to ask the most relevant question. If morality is about right relationships with people, what standard determines these right relationships? Does God set this standard, or is God following an existing standard?

        • Then, if it's not about moral standards, how do you get the moral argument off the ground?

          By being desirous to not be a dick to other people.

          It's not as persuasive an argument this way.

          The argument would need to be structured differently, and if it is claimed that one can have moral knowledge, then Fitch's Paradox of Knowability (axiom version) would probably need to be brought into play, unless the atheist eschewed "the ability to know and know that knowing-means-truth".

          The argument has as a premise that God is necessary for moral standards, and that there are moral standards.

          The confusion is over whether the standard is a person (viz., Jesus) or a thing.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Why on Earth are you bringing up this Fitch's paradox of knowability? How am I supposed to know whether all true statements are knowable? How could that idea, as interesting as it is, even relate to this topic, since I'm not claiming to know everything, or that every true statement can be known?

            I don't get it.

          • Without a source of moral knowledge outside of "us", for any "us", there can be no gain in moral knowledge. Knowledge must have a cause. Moral knowledge, sans God, either has no cause, or a cause which has been exhausted, except perhaps for Socrates-type innate knowledge. But we are finite beings. And deriving morality from subjectivity did not work so well in the 20th century. This century isn't looking so hot, either. Interested persons could check out Romano Guardini's The End of the Modern World, cited 8 times in Laudato si', IIRC.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Moral knowledge might be "caused" by us learning more about morality, and morality itself may be much bigger than we can understand and also not God.

            Math has a whole bunch of facts that we may never know, and some that we might not ever be able to know. Math is not God, in my opinion.

          • Where is the other causal endpoint for moral knowledge? One is us; what's the other? For empirical knowledge, the other endpoint is impersonal reality.

          • David Nickol

            If anyone has mentioned the idea of "natural law," I have overlooked it. The video claims we know what is moral based on divine commands. But prohibitions against murder, theft, adultery, false testimony, and many other actions covered by divine commandments were known in cultures which had no access either to Hebrew Scripture or the New Testament.

            The Catechism of the Catholic Church says the following:

            1956 The natural law, present in the heart of each man and established by reason, is universal in its precepts and its authority extends to all men. It expresses the dignity of the person and determines the basis for his fundamental rights and duties: For there is a true law: right reason. It is in conformity with nature, is diffused among all men, and is immutable and eternal; its orders summon to duty; its prohibitions turn away from offense . . . . To replace it with a contrary law is a sacrilege; failure to apply even one of its provisions is forbidden; no one can abrogate it entirely.

            The video, perhaps unintentionally, seems to me to imply that we know morality by knowing God's commands. That is not Catholic teaching. As to your question about the "causal endpoint for moral knowledge," it seems to me that moral knowledge (according to the Catholic Church) can be known by reason, without revelation, and (I would venture to say) even without belief in God.

          • If anyone has mentioned the idea of "natural law," I have overlooked it. The video claims we know what is moral based on divine commands.

            On Christian reasoning, laws come to be via divine commands. "God said X, and it was so."

            But prohibitions against murder, theft, adultery, false testimony, and many other actions covered by divine commandments were known in cultures which had no access either to Hebrew Scripture or the New Testament.

            Yep; St. Paul covers this in Romans 1–3.

            As to your question about the "causal endpoint for moral knowledge," it seems to me that moral knowledge (according to the Catholic Church) can be known by reason, without revelation, and (I would venture to say) even without belief in God.

            There seems to be some muddled thinking on this. Some say that one can know but not have enough psychological motivation to obey (e.g. "lack of willpower"); others say that even the knowing suffers the effects of sin. But we still seem to have to deal with the point I brought up with about Fitch's paradox. That hasn't yet been resolved.

          • David Nickol

            On Christian reasoning, laws come to be via divine commands. "God said X, and it was so."

            If by divine commands you mean "revelation"—commandments from the Bible—I don't believe this is the Catholic understanding, and if it is, it shouldn't be! This would mean that in cultures that developed with no knowledge of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, there could be no moral knowledge. As I said elsewhere, I don't think truths that can be known only by revelation can be called "objective truths."

            But we still seem to have to deal with the point I brought up with about Fitch's paradox. That hasn't yet been resolved.

            I don't see why we have to deal with it. There are an untold number of philosophical questions that have not been resolved and will almost certainly never be resolved. This is the very nature of philosophy. But that doesn't mean we can't say anything sensible until all outstanding issues are resolved.

          • If by divine commands you mean "revelation"—commandments from the Bible—I don't believe this is the Catholic understanding, and if it is, it shouldn't be!

            Language does not merely describe, it also acts on reality. See: performativity.

            This would mean that in cultures that developed with no knowledge of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, there could be no moral knowledge.

            Read Romans 1–3.

            As I said elsewhere, I don't think truths that can be known only by revelation can be called "objective truths."

            That may be true. But then we know zero objective truths, per pp410–411 of Bernard d'Espagnat's On Physics and Philosophy. I can elaborate on this point.

            I don't see why we have to deal with it.

            We have to deal with the possibility that "all knowable truths are currently, already, known". If true, that's a big deal! It is an argument that knowledge cannot arise ex nihilo. It cannot even be derived. It exists and can be transmitted, and nothing more/​less. Well, if the paradox's premises are sound and its logic valid. As far as I can see, we do in fact have soundness and validity, although chapter 1 of Kierkegaard's Philosophical Fragments could be used to question this.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            What's the other causal endpoint for math? One's us, the other's the numbers. Maybe one's us, the other's the morals. Or whatever we get the morals from (if Spinoza's right, it's from our biology/psychology/sociology.) Is morality some sort of fundamental feature of the universe, like electric fields and (I think) minds? Or is it a derived quantity? Either way, God doesn't seem necessary (although God wouldn't be ruled out!)

          • What's the other causal endpoint for math? One's us, the other's the numbers.

            Excellent question! Reminds me of this, from mathematical biologist Robert Rosen:

                There are many ways to look to Gödel's Theorem. Indeed, the Theorem itself has provoked an enormous literature, as might be expected. For our purposes, we may regard it as follows: one cannot forget that Number Theory is about numbers. The fact that Number Theory is about numbers is essential, because there are percepts or qualities (theorems) pertaining to numbers that cannot be expressed in terms of a given, preassigned set of purely syntactic entailments. Stated contrapositively: no finite set of numerical qualities, taken as syntactical basis for Number Theory, exhausts the set of all numerical qualities. There is always a purely semantic residue, that cannot be accommodated by that syntactical scheme. (Life Itself, 7–8)

            Given that mathematics is semantical and not merely syntactical, you are 100% correct. Well, maybe. Not all mathematicians need to be semantical. But those who discover new things do seem like they are sometimes in causal contact with something not-their-own-brains. Enter discussion of the philosophy of mathematics. :-D

            Maybe one's us, the other's the morals.

            Have you looked at the problems with moral platonism?

            Or whatever we get the morals from (if Spinoza's right, it's from our biology/​psychology/​sociology.)

            I would be interested in understanding the mechanics, here. Furthermore, Fitch's paradox would seem to apply, here. There seem to be some potentially very deep problems with that. Also, given the amount of political insanity in the world, might I suggest that the idea that we get morals from said entities has been problematized? To put it another way: to assert X is to allow the possibility of ¬X, and to scientifically assert X is to lay out conditions for it to become evidence that ¬X is more likely to be true. How is this done when it comes to X = "it's from our biology/​psychology/​sociology"?

            Is morality some sort of fundamental feature of the universe, like electric fields and (I think) minds? Or is it a derived quantity?

            I see absolutely no rational reason to believe that this is remotely likely. I don't see how this is better than 'God'. Indeed, I think 'God' is better, because God is intelligent, while the universe is not. (If you disagree, I do request reasons and evidence for your disagreement. I am barely aware of panpsychism, for example—but only barely.)

            Either way, God doesn't seem necessary (although God wouldn't be ruled out!)

            Is anything or anyone 'necessary', with your use of that term?

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Have you looked at the problems with moral platonism?

            Not deeply, and unfortunately I don't have time at the present to do so.

            I'm unwilling to discuss Fitch's paradox with you further, because I don't really understand it, and unfortunately don't have the time properly research the term at present. I don't know enough to respond to these sorts of invocations, so I'll ignore them for now, set them aside until I have the time to properly research them.

            I see absolutely no rational reason to believe that this is remotely likely.

            I seem experience electric fields. My computer isn't falling through the table. I also seem to experience morality. It may be as real as electric fields, accessible via my experience, although a different sort of experience than that of electric fields.

            Like electric fields, maybe morality will be quantifiable, or maybe it will correlate with other things in the universe.

            Is anything or anyone 'necessary', with your use of that term?

            I believe that everything and everyone that exists is necessary, in the sense that explaining the universe would be impossible without them existing exactly the way that they are.

            But with respect to morality, this is a very interesting question. I don't know. Kant seems to think that at least two people are necessary for there to be morality. I'm not sure. What do you think? Do you think morality requires more than one person? If so, why? If not, how does morality work with one person only? Or with zero people?

          • PBR: Moral knowledge might be "caused" by us learning more about morality, and morality itself may be much bigger than we can understand and also not God.

            LB: Where is the other causal endpoint for moral knowledge? One is us; what's the other? For empirical knowledge, the other endpoint is impersonal reality.

            PBR: What's the other causal endpoint for math? One's us, the other's the numbers. Maybe one's us, the other's the morals.

            LB: Have you looked at the problems with moral platonism?

            PBR: Not deeply, and unfortunately I don't have time at the present to do so.

            Until you have some actual theory of moral realism, supported by evidence, your "Maybe one [causal endpoint i]s us, the other's the morals." seems exactly as ill-supported as the existence of God is, per your average internet atheist. Agree, or disagree?

            I'm unwilling to discuss Fitch's paradox with you further, because I don't really understand it, and unfortunately don't have the time properly research the term at present.

            That's fine; I could stand to learn to explain it better. The general idea, though, seems to be that 'knowledge' cannot arise ex nihilo.

            I believe that everything and everyone that exists is necessary, in the sense that explaining the universe would be impossible without them existing exactly the way that they are.

            Wait, so if some particle on Jupiter had a different momentum than it does now, explaining the universe would be impossible?

            But with respect to morality, this is a very interesting question. I don't know. Kant seems to think that at least two people are necessary for there to be morality. I'm not sure. What do you think? Do you think morality requires more than one person? If so, why? If not, how does morality work with one person only? Or with zero people?

            I think morality has to do with "right relationship". I think that the mathematics of morality can exist with ≤ 1 person, but an implementation requires ≥ 2 persons, and actually, perhaps ≥ 3 persons. When you just have 2 persons, it gets a bit weird I think. That's mostly an intuition, though.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Until you have some actual theory of moral realism, supported by evidence, your"Maybe one [causal endpoint i]s us, the other's the morals." seems exactly as ill-supported as the existence of God is

            Do you really think that the existence of God is as ill supported as "maybe one causal endpoint is us, the other's the morals"? Because if you do, I'd be surprised, but also we'd agree on this topic. God's one speculative hypothesis among many for why there are morals, if fundamentally there are morals.

            That's fine; I could stand to learn to explain it better. The general idea, though, seems to be that 'knowledge' cannot arise ex nihilo.

            I'd agree with that. I can't even imagine a counter-example, actually. Knowledge is learned, although I can learn about myself, but I ain't nothin'.

            Wait, so if some particle on Jupiter had a different momentum than it does now, explaining the universe would be impossible?

            It's radical as that, and in imprecise speech, that's exactly right. More precisely, if particles actually have a set momentum, then it is necessary that they have that momentum and not a different momentum. If not, some part of the universe (maybe a very big part, going forward in time from that particle), goes unexplained.

            I forgot the best part!

            I think morality has to do with "right relationship". I think that the mathematics of morality can exist with ≤ 1 person, but an implementation requires ≥ 2 persons, and actually, perhaps ≥ 3 persons. When you just have 2 persons, it gets a bit weird I think. That's mostly an intuition, though.

            Can you help me out with what you mean by mathematics of morality? Is this some sort of hypothetical morality with zero people? In a world with no people, would morality reduce to statements "if people existed, they should treat each other in such a way"?

            The part about two people is a very interesting answer. Do you have any further insight into what gets weird when there are only two? Besides that there may have been a few more women who would have gone out with me in high school.

          • Michael Murray

            Math is not God, in my opinion.

            What about mathematicians :-)

          • Alexandra

            I've heard of a certain legend of an Australian tribe that worships "Man of the white cup"- something to do with sleep deprived students needing caffeine and wanting good grades. Can't verify of course. ;)

            So, to keep it on topic- mathematics, science, and I would argue the human condition all point to ordered truths beyond our subjective experience. So the question is, how universal? How consistent? I think remarkably so.

          • Michael Murray

            There is certainly regularity in the world we see around us. I expect that it necessary for us to be here at all seeing it. I don't know if I would call them "truths" or "remarkable". Remarkable as compared to what ?

          • Alexandra

            I'm simply saying there is such a thing as objective truth. (Is this controversial?) It's what we "pursue" in science and math and other endeavors that involve knowledge. The moral life - our foundational values- are a subset of this objective truth. (Remarkable in universality and consistency- but it is my opinion.)

          • Michael Murray

            I don't think morality is a subset of objective truth. For me objective truth would be things that would continue to be true if all human life was obliterated. Morality, for me, is not one of those things. I think the consistency and universality of our moral values, such as it is, has an easy explanation in our evolutionary past. But I would say that !

          • Alexandra

            For me objective truth would be things that would continue to be true if all human life was obliterated.

            Would you then say there is also no objective truth found in human biology and linguistics?
            Would you also say there is no objective truths in physics since there would be nothing if our universe was obliterated (or does your rule only apply to humans)? So what are examples of objective truths for you?

          • By being desirous to not be a dick to other people.

            Then Yahweh can't possibly be god:

            Ephesians 6:5

            "Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear."

            1 Peter 2:18

            "Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh."

            Titus 2:9

            "Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them,"

            Leviticus 25:44-46:

            “‘Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.

            Deuteronomy 20:10-14:

            "As you approach a town to attack it, first offer its people terms for peace. If they accept your terms and open the gates to you, then all the people inside will serve you in forced labor. But if they refuse to make peace and prepare to fight, you must attack the town. When the LORD your God hands it over to you, kill every man in the town. But you may keep for yourselves all the women, children, livestock, and other plunder. You may enjoy the spoils of your enemies that the LORD your God has given you."

            Leviticus 18: 22

            "You are not to go to bed with a man as with a woman; it is an abomination."

            Not only that, "don't be a dick" is too vague. It needs a moral standard to be based on. ISIS don't think they're being dicks by sexually enslaving Christians, or throwing gays off roof tops.

            The confusion is over whether the standard is a person (viz., Jesus) or a thing.

            You've never been able to justify that claim. Go ahead and make an argument for it. For what is it about Jesus that makes him the standard? Why not the prophet Mohammad? If you point to things Jesus does that Mohammad didn't do, you're already pointing to a standard outside of Jesus.

      • The ED is a response to the claim that morality comes from god's nature or god's commands which grounds the formal standard, so it is not presupposing anything. The theist is presupposing that. And you've never been able to describe this "right relationship" without appealing to a standard that exists outside of it.

    • ClayJames

      But this seems to me to merely push the issue one step back. What about God's nature makes it good?

      God is good. Your question presuposes that there is a standard of good outside of God.

      If it turns out, via revelation, that we discover it's in God's nature
      to torture animals for fun, does that discovery have moral weight? Does
      it make torturing animals for fun a good thing?

      Yes. If, from god´s nature, we are instructed to torture animals for fun, then that would be the good.

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        Yes. If, from god´s nature, we are instructed to torture animals for fun, then that would be the good.

        And I'd then choose to be bad. Why bother being good, in such an event?

        I suppose, though, this is one way to go with Euthyphro's dilemma. Bite the bullet and say that all morals are arbitrary; they will be whatever is natural for God. It makes me wonder why anyone would bother being moral.

        • ClayJames

          No, I am saying that they are not arbitrary and I would agree with the refutation given in the video that the good is god´s nature.

        • I would say morals are subjective, which is not the same as arbitrary. Mine are subjective but chosen based on intuition or socialization and are grounded in valuing human life and society. These values are also not arbitrary they are reasonable given the situation in which humans find themselves.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            That's a key distinction that I don't make. I would think, though, that this distinction doesn't matter much if a single individual (like a deity) sets moral good and evil. In that case, it would seem to be subjective and fairly arbitrary (unless of course this deity's nature is set by some outside standard).

  • David Nickol

    Suppose, purely for the sake of argument, that you are a theist, but you stumble upon a conclusive proof of the nonexistence of God and "objective" morality. Would you then discard every moral principle you ever learned and urge others to do the same? would you try to get over any lingering squeamishness about torturing and killing children?

    • "Suppose, purely for the sake of argument, that you are a theist, but you stumble upon a conclusive proof of the nonexistence of God and "objective" morality. Would you then discard every moral principle you ever learned and urge others to do the same? would you try to get over any lingering squeamishness about torturing and killing children?"

      I don't think anyone could honestly answer this question because it's nearly impossible to suppose what someone would do in a hypothetical future situation, especially one so dramatic as this scenario.

      But to me, it seems your falling into the same confusion rebutted at the beginning of the video: assuming that atheists are incapable of performing altruistic actions. I suppose that if I didn't believe in God, I wouldn't live in a totally different way. I would still love my children, give generously to the poor, work hard, and treat people respectfully. However, I would do those things because of their benefit to me and society--because they have pragmatic value, not because I have a moral duty to complete them. I would do them because of the effects they engender (i.e., the consequences), not because they are morally praiseworthy or because I'm morally obligated to do them.

      • David Nickol

        However, I would do those things because of their benefit to me and society--because they have pragmatic value, not because I have a moral duty to complete them.

        It seems to me that you are acknowledging there are good, objective reasons to act morally, only if there were no God, you just would call it something other than morality. You are saying that there can be no morality without God, because morality, to your way of thinking, must be grounded in God. But you seem to believe that even without this grounding, what you would then decline to call morality is still worth following for nonreligious reasons. So there is something. You just don't want to call it morality. But maybe that really is morality, and all the morality that is needed.

        • Ged Eduard Narvaez

          He's not acknowledging what you're saying. He's saying that even a person in his mind dont believe in God, he can still act morally. If there is no God, then there is nothing including morality.

    • ClayJames

      If God did not exist and objective morality did not exist, I would do what is best for my own self interests, period. Because I live in a society, that would usually entail doing what is best for society because doing so would achieve the best result for me. If giving to the poor was in my self interest I would do it, if not then I would not, whether it is in their self interest would be irrelevant to me. But this is clearly not the case all the time and in every situation and if causing harm and suffering was in my self interest, I see no reason why I should not do this. Most importantly, I would also not talk to people about my egotistical moral framework, because even though it is as subjective and valid as any other framework given naturalism, I would want others around me to keep treating this evolutionary byproduct that we call morality as more than something that is completely subjective, because, once again, this would be in my self interest.

  • VicqRuiz

    If God is the source, or the ground, or whatever, of objective morality, then our lives are "objectively moral" to the extent that we emulate the documented behaviors of God.

  • David Nickol

    Setting aside God's creation, what does it mean to say that God is "good" or "goodness itself"? While it is not strictly correct to speak of God in temporal terms, it is difficult to put this question in any other way: Before the creation of the universe, what was it about God that could be identified as "good." How does an omnipotent, omniscient being for whom there is no before and after be good? How can an entity just be good by just being?

    What does it mean to be all-just and all-merciful apart from "interaction" with creation? God existing alone, even as a trinity, had no cause or occasion to be just or merciful. Justice does not seem to me to be a characteristic that has any meaning apart from acting justly. Mercy has no meaning apart from acting mercifully. Can God the Father show justice or mercy to God the Son or the Holy Spirit?

    So how do we set up God as a standard?

    • David, have you followed the discussion on morality between the doubtcasters and William Lane Craig? It discusses these ideas in the sense of a possible world in which no God exists and asks whether principles of justice, love and so on would have any moral meaning.

      If I recall, Craig takes the position that they would not. There is nothing inherently "good" about justice absent god, and admitting that this moral standard is so vague as to be contentless.

      Just wondering if you had thoughts. I'd like to speak of it here, but I don't think I have really grasped it.

    • Andrew Y.

      First of all, I think the argument from morality is a bad one. But I’m going to respond to your questions here because they are rather general and don’t seem to have anything to do with my own reasons for rejecting the argument.

      There might be nothing new here for someone who has haunted these forums as long as you have, David, but hopefully these answers will at least be useful to others.

      what does it mean to say that God is “good” or “goodness itself”?

      If goodness is a potential that can be actuated, and God actuates every potential, then God must not lack goodness in any way. He is “goodness itself” just as He is and causes the realization of every other potential. Basic Thomism :)

      Before the creation of the universe, what was it about God that could be identified as “good.”

      How does an omnipotent, omniscient being for whom there is no before and after be good? How can an entity just be good by just being?

      The only entity that can be good by just being is Being itself. Created beings are only good to the extent which they exemplify the perfection of their essence. God, the only being who necessarily is His essence, is therefore eternally and perfectly good.

      What does it mean to be all-just and all-merciful apart from “interaction” with creation?

      His nature is all-just and all-merciful. It should not matter whether or not there is a creation upon which to execute justice and mercy, just as solving the equation y = 2x for some value of x gives you the same result whether or not anyone has ever solved it before.

      Justice does not seem to me to be a characteristic that has any meaning apart from acting justly.

      Perhaps. But as God’s essence is pure act, it follows that He has this characteristic regardless of whether he actuates justice or not.

  • George

    How do you escape consequentalism?

    If you do/don't do X, you'll be seperated from God.

    [seperation from God] = [unpleasant consequence]

    [unpleasant] = [undesirable]

  • I do not accept either premise as true.

    I do not see any justification in the article or video for why if god does not exist, objective morality does not exist.

    I do not agree that objective morality exists. We need to establish what we mean by "objective" here. Given that the video makes reference to math, I will assume that the definition is absolute objectivity like mathematical truths. This is different that we might mean with respect to things like "apples are material things". The latter would be considered objective in most senses, but of course we can be mistaken about this, for example if idealism is true and the material world is an illusion, and so on.

    I do not think we have sufficient evidence to accept that absolute objective morality exists. We have evidence that many, if not most humans have what they might call moral intuitions. We certainly feel that certain things are right or wrong, acceptable or not.

    Consider the example in the animation of the man being robbed. He feels an injustice and feels it is binding on the assailant. He has certainly taken the position that the other person should not have robbed him, but that does not entail that there is a perfect moral standard that exists. It does entail that he has such an intuition. But the existence of intuition indicates to me the opposite of an indication of something objective, much less absolutely objective.

    Of indeed an absolute moral standard exists, how would we know? To confirm it is an absolutely objective moral standard, we would need to be able to understand why it is an absolutely objective standard. We can do this with math by recourse to the axioms of mathematics and logic. I see no way to do this with morality.

    We do find some interesting things with morality when we try to identify universal (if not objective) moral principles or statements. We find that human moral principles are incredibly varied. Even in this very video we see statements that on face value seem universal such as child abuse is wrong, for everyone, always. And yet do we say that an Israelite who in the year 100 be stoned his disobedient child to death, in conformity with the biblical commandment was wrong? Is binding your child and telling him you are going to sacrifice not child abuse?

    Furthermore, we find that absent some engagement of human well-being, saying something is a moral issue is pretty meaningless. This is why we do not consider animals killing each other to be immoral. We also do not consider humans killing animals immoral. Well some do. But would we not also consider a group of chimps that systemically hunts down and brutally beats to death another group of chimps to be immoral?

    So no, I am not convinced that absolute morality exists.

    This is a very poor philosophical argument for the existence if God.

    • Paul F

      The metaphysics of empiricism does not allow for objective moral truth, though I would think that idealism does. Empiricists rule out premise 2 a priori. To me, then, the point of the argument is to show to the empiricist or atheist how bleak that metaphysics is. A Christian tries to imagine a world without morality and thinks, "How horrible." An empiricist just thinks, "yeah? So what?"

      The metaphysical problem is that lurking in the Empiricists thoughts is still a notion of objective morality through which he views the world. You say you do not accept this notion as evidence of truth, but it renders the Empiricist's metaphysics incoherent, and thus renders the universe unintelligible. The real test for which metaphysics to accept should be whether or not it fits the universe; and yet empiricism is hoisted by its own petard.

      • You could call me an empiricist, though we might need to define that term. But I do not rule out premise one a priori.

        I would agree that a world without morality would be bleak. No one is saying there is no morality, rather, that the claim of an absolute and perfect objective standard is unjustified. We do have morality, it is subjective morality, (if we are contrasting it to "objective" meaning absolute and perfectly objective).

        I think it is out of bounds to simply contradict me when I state my own view that I do not subscribe to this notion of absolute moral standards. Again, to is not to say that I do not believe others should behave in some ways. I just acknowledge that this beleif is based on an intuition, rather than some objective moral standard. It is a belief that others should behave in a way that promotes well-being, freedom and avoids suffering, or that if you do not share this belief that you should, because it is in your interests to.

        While this moral methodology is subjective, it is not arbitrary, and it is justifiable and I would say convincing. Neither is it at all bleak. Even if it were bleak, that has no effect on how true it is or reasonable it is to adopt.

        • ClayJames

          It is a belief that others should behave in a way that promotes
          well-being, freedom and avoids suffering, or that if you do not share
          this belief that you should, because it is in your interests to.

          Let me play devils advocate here.

          What if there is an instance where it is in my self interest to act in a certain way that would hurt the well being of others, hurt their freedom or promote their suffering?

          • What I mean by self-interest above, is that it is in someone's self-interest to value and promote human-well being, freedom and the avoidance of suffering.

            Where we get moral dilemas is where things like personal freedom (e.g. to have your telephone calls be private) vs social goods (e.g. to be able to monitor phone calls to prevent crime and harm).

            This is where morality gets difficult.

          • ClayJames

            But even if you are going to hold the subjective moral belief that you should do what is in your self interest, it doesnt always follow that this is achieved by promoting well being, freedom and diminshing suffering. There is a definetly a strong correlation of this in western societies but a much smaller corrrelation in oppresive countries.

            If you act according to your self interests, and it is in your overall self interest to imprison a political enemy or bring harm and suffering to a person, why should you not go ahead and do this?

            The answer I keep receiving from atheists to this question is that it is never really in your self interest to bring harm to someone else, but this is clearly not the case all the time and in all situations and surely you can entertain the realistic assumption that it is not the case in my question.

          • I am happy to discuss my moral framework, but that is not what the topic is.

            My moral standard is not "do what is your self interest". It is do what favors human well being etc. the self interest is the argument to get people to adopt this framework. But really no such convincing is required as virtually all people accept these principles as moral principles.

            Of course there will be tons of balancing and disputes as to the right course of action. But this is the case with any moral framework.

          • ClayJames

            Would I hold an invalid moral system if I truly based it on doing what favors my own well being instead of that of humanity and act in a way that was consistent with my previous post?

          • What do you mean by invalid? I do not see how this term relates to moral systems.

            I would not agree with such a morality and neither I suspect do you.

          • ClayJames

            I simply mean that it is as justifiable and has the same truth value as your own moral system focused on human well being.

            And given naturalism, I would not only have no problem with with such morality, but speaking honestly, it would be the moral system I would embrace.

          • So, yes I would consider such a system as "invalid". But I would phrase it as I disagree with any such a system.

          • "Where we get moral dilemas is where things like personal freedom (e.g. to have your telephone calls be private) vs social goods (e.g. to be able to monitor phone calls to prevent crime and harm). This is where morality gets difficult."

            Where you say "difficult", critics would say "unworkable". Your moral system is predicated on both self-interest and well-being, but has no principled way to adjudicate a conflict between the two.

            This isn't just a "difficulty" for your moral system; it's a defeater.

            (That's not to mention the glaring flaw in this or any form of consequentialist morality: how can you possible determine what will, in the future, lead to the most human well-being? How do you know what is, ultimately, in your best self-interest? That lack of future knowledge means that, from a purely practical perspective, consequentialism is unworkable.)

          • George

            how do you escape consequentalism?

            would you prefer or not prefer going to Hell? is your feeling about Hell going to motivate you in any way?

            what consequence for the human race do you want to contribute to?

            do you seek to avoid the consequences of defying the judgments you believe have been made by the God you believe in?

            are there consequences you desire, for following God's commands?

        • Paul F

          I don't think this morality is bleak; but I do think it is a tacit acknowledgement of the common good. And what you call subjective I would call comparative: such as, some behavior is more moral than other behavior. But I don't think there can exist a comparative unless there exists a superlative. There cannot be a higher degree of good unless it is approaching some ultimate good; and there cannot be a higher degree of depravity unless it is approaching ultimate godlessness.

          This metaphysics is incompatible with empiricism. A blending of the two is a kind of schizophrenic rationale.

          • I do acknowledge a common good. i don't think I would say comparative, I assess actions with reference to moral principles. I beleive these principles are superlative, I just acknowledge I cannot justify them like I can mathematic truths. They are superlative, if you like, but not justifiable on an absolute objective basis.

            But theists are in no better position. I could claim that the principles I adopt are absolutely objective though I cannot justify this. I find theists claim their moral principles are absolutely objective but cannot justify this either.

          • Paul F

            I think we are very nearly in agreement on metaphysics. The distinction you are making between objective truth and being able to justify it is a distinction that most theists would agree with, even if they do not communicate that well.

            The existence of the common good, or goodness in general, gives morality its objective. A theist should admit that this is a truth in its own right, not based on his beliefs. But believing this does not give a person any special insight or justification. Still, since it is a truth, it is something that thought and reflection can increase one's understanding of. But it sounds like you have observed a lack of humility in people who have spent time reflecting on morality; and nothing is a bigger turn off than pride.

            There is a Christian principle called primacy of conscience. It means that we are each responsible for coming to understand morality on our time and God's time, not on other peoples time. We must believe and act based on how we formed our consciences. When someone else tries to intervene in this process and form our conscience for us we rightly reject them.

          • Indeed there is a distinction between objective truth and what can be justified. The moral argument requires you to accept as true that absolute objective morality exists. This may or may not be the case, whether such a moral standard is theistic or natural.

            It is up to the proponent of the moral argument to present convincing proof for this which means being able to justify this premise. There is a very good reason why such a premise cannot be justified. This doesn't mean it isn't true, but it does mean the moral argument for the existence of god fails.

            When I say I accept there is a common good I do not mean I accept there is an absolute objective moral standard.

          • Paul F

            Consider the question: who is a better person: Mother Theresa or Hitler? The answer is obvious and objective. Then, who is a better person: Barak Obama or Joe Biden? Not so obvious and answers would probably be 50/50.

            The reason for the latter case is not subjective morality, but rather equivocation of the word 'good'. There are some ways in which one is better and some ways the other. The word 'good' can apply equivocally to all of these different attributes.

            On top of equivocation, people have different notions of various characteristics and different ones they find good and bad. All of this goes into answering the question of who is better.

            The same occurs with any moral question. The many different answers come from differently formed consciences and differently informed respondents with different definitions for words. None of this means that morals are subjective, it just means that individuals are differently aware of them.

            So the question of whether or not morals are objective is completely different from the defining of those morals. But if they are not objective, then there is no way to meaningfully discuss them and no reason to. If they are subjective, then every moral will have a counter-moral somewhere that will cancel it out. If morals are subjective they are basically nonexistent in the world.

          • Consider the question: who is a better person: Mother Theresa or Hitler?
            The answer is obvious and objective

            This depends on what do you mean by "objective" and "better". If you mean absolute and perfectly objective, I cannot make that assessment, I would need perfect knowledge and likely morality would need to be the kind of thing, like mathematics or logic, that is amenable to that kind of perfect scrutiny. I do not think it is.

            If by "better" you mean what is aligned with the perfect moral standard that is the nature of god. I cannot help you. I am not in a position to have knowledge of whether such a standard exists, or if it does, what it is and how it applies. I might say that Hitler is much more out of line with that standard than Mother Theresa, because I am pretty sure he is responsible for the death, injury and suffering of millions, whereas Mother Theresa is only a person who failed to live up to her promise of helping the poor and dying, because she seems to have valued human suffering as bringing humans closer to god. My knowledge and understanding of each is incomplete as well, I am sure you will think I am woefully misled about Mother Theresa.

            But, even if I am right how am I to know which is more out of line with a god's nature? I can use my intuition with respect to the suffering caused by each. But relying on intuition is not objective, I know my intuition is often wrong. Can I look to god's commands in scripture? Well I find a God who himself has committed large scale genocide, ordered child executions, child sacrifice. He has also said never kill, and love your enemy. So I do not find any consistent moral approach with respect to moral questions when it comes to human killing. My moral intuition seems to be often wrong when I learn of god's conduct. My intuition also screams injustice that millions of people die in seemingly gratuitous natural disasters and genetic diseases if there is a perfectly loving being who does not want these things to happen and does not stop them. I am told this is because there necessarily are perfectly moral reasons for this. So what am I to do with my intuition that screams Hitler's genocide was incredibly immoral? How can I know there are not perfectly moral reasons that required this to occur, contrary to my view that it is pretty much the worst thing that has ever happened? I am sure the Amalakites thought the same thing about the genocide committed upon them, but they were clearly mistaken, they didn't know their extermination was ordered by a perfectly loving god for perfectly loving reasons. I also do not know if Mother Theresa committed an unforgivable sin of denying the Holy Spirit on her death bed (her doubts are well-documented), whereas Hitler may have accepted Christ on his (he made very religious statements in his early career though I by no means would say he was a theist or Catholic). But I am in just no position to gauge this. I see that many Christians accept a theological tenet that denying the Holy Spirit is unforgivable and will be met with eternal conscious torture, whereas if Hitler repented on his death bed he gets eternal bliss and god's grace. Again this seems to do extreme violence to my sense of morality.

            So can I say, on theistic morality, that objectively Mother Theresa is "better" than Hitler? No.

            However, if you ask me whether with respect to each's contribution to human suffering, well-being, freedom, I would place Hilter as worse than Mother Theresa. I would say I can be "objective" in the sense that say a doctor can be objective with respect to reading an MRI, vs listening to a patient's personal reporting of back pain. This is not perfect objectivity, but it is how the word is sometimes used. (Keep in mind that is the theist here who requires this absolute and perfect standard of objectivity, in the context of this argument, when he claims that any other standard of morality is arbitrary.

            You are absolutely right that there is significant equivocation on these terms in these kinds of discussions. Which is why it is vital to define what you mean by "objectivity", "morality", "good".

          • Paul F

            By "objective" I mean that morality is not a part of me or anything that I dreamed up. It is something other. I am the subject and it is the object; things that are subjective to me are parts of me or my imagination.

            By "morality" I mean the list of shoulds and should nots with respect to my actions.

            By "good" I mean the object of morality. My actions should promote good and should avoid evil.

            What is subjective in this dynamic is my conscience. My conscience is the part of me that is formed to know what actions I should engage in and which I should not.

            Also subjective to me is my will, which can either listen to my conscience or not. When my will follows my conscience both are strengthened, and vice versa.

          • By that definition, just about any moral system would qualify as "objective". The use of objective they mean here is "perfect and absolutely true, irrespective of anything else"

            The difficulty is with confirming anything meets such a high standard. No human could because our abilities are all subjective. It is like trying to make the perfect inch on a ruler, you need the perfect ruler to confirm you have measured the perfect inch. But if you had the perfect ruler to confirm this, you wouldn't need to make it.

            Similarly with anything "perfect" in the divine sense. We simply lack any faculties that we know are perfectly calibrated. With things like morality, we really have no objective measure of what is "good". We may have a gut feeling, we have advice of history and culture and society but all these are imperfect, and all must be filtered or considered through our subjective minds.

          • Paul F

            If morality is objective in the sense that I defined it, then it is perfect and absolutely true as well. The fact that morality is objective says nothing about what I understand about it or can measure about it. It just says that it is not up to me. If it is wrong for me to steal from my neighbor, it is not because I think it's wrong or because the law says it's wrong; it is just wrong. Period. More ambiguous moral situations do not make morality less objective; they just make it more difficult (maybe impossible?) to discern.

            But I agree with you on the tools we have that inform our moral decision-making and the forming of our consciences. There is certainly nothing perfect about the process, but that is human nature. Like you said, we can't even define the perfect inch, yet we use rulers all the time. We similarly cannot know morality perfectly, yet we use our consciences all the time.

          • "The fact that morality is objective says nothing about what I understand
            about it or can measure about it. It just says that it is not up to
            me. If it is wrong for me to steal from my neighbor, it is not because I
            think it's wrong or because the law says it's wrong; it is just wrong.
            Period."

            But here is the problem, nothing you have said about stealing suggests this moral principle is not coming from you, or from the law, from society. You may assert that it is wrong despite what those things, I say, its just your personal opinion that it is wrong. How do we tell the difference?

            Are people saying it is just wrong because it just is? Or are they saying that because of their own personal opinion, desires, influence of the law and society? If it is not based on these internal subjective influence, what is it based on?

            That is the problem with the argument. It asserts morality is objective, but it has not demonstrated it.

          • Paul F

            That is the problem I always have with proofs for God's existence. I believe morality is objective because I believe in God. Take away either and I don't believe the other. Or take away one and I have no evidence for the other. I guess I have a problem with premise 2; not because I think it's wrong, but because I think the argument is circular.

            You could really make a long list of things that are real IF God exists: love, honor, truth, joy, justice, peace, friendship, saints, angels, etc. The same argument could be made with each: If joy exists, God must exist. Joy exists. God exists.

            But, what if God does not exist? And morality is not objective? Believing that would lead me very quickly to hedonism. That is just not something I want. So I believe in God because, deep down, I really really want to believe in God. And that belief has been very good for me and those around me. And more, I am coming to know God and I speak to Him and listen to Him. Like objective morality, I can't give you the kind of proof you would want for that. But it is still something that I know.

          • Obviously I don't agree that things like joy and peace stop existing if there is no God. Instead these things take on a meaning that makes more sense. Joy is an emotion we feel when are desires are satisfied, fear when we feel threatened, and so on. We pursue a world where the most of us can experience joy the most and things like fear anger and shame the least. We don't know why we have these faculties and desires. It isn't hard to see how they can evolve, we see elements of them in animals.

            But few people who leave faith descend into hedonism. I suppose many could and it never hear of them, but I hear of scores who find the loss of faith greatly improves their life. If you do not want to be hedonistic, you won't. By hedonism I expect you mean pursuing joy only for yourself, irrespective of the consequences? I expect you feel you don't want this because you would be drinking, doing drugs and sleeping with people and that you don't want that for some reason? I think what you really mean is that those short term highs are not appealing to you. Rather fellowship with others, building a family, a home a career, helping others, even undergoing some hardship to help others, mis what you want. Well, with a little thought, this is pretty much where all atheists are too.

            On the bad side you lose the comfort of believing in an afterlife, though we can always hope! But you also lose the belief in a negative afterlife. You also do not need to divide the world into sin and good. Feeling attracted to others who you are not married to stops being adulterous. You can accept that it is natural, that pleasures of the flesh can be virtually harmless and there is nothing wrong with indulging these in safe consensual ways. For me this has meant some fun casual sex earlier in life, experimenting with drugs and alcohol, but now, being married, monogamous and moderate use of substances. For many it means no longer denying who they are if they are gay. This is huge. It leads to a real world grow. Up approach to sex, allowing us to teach our kids honestly about our reproductive biology and contraception, which really is helpful in lowering unwanted pregnancy and std's.

            But if you are actually meeting and knowing a God that is great. I have been asking to meet him for years , if he exists he seems content to leave the world appearing as if he did not exist.

          • Paul F

            " We pursue a world where the most of us can experience joy the most and things like fear anger and shame the least"

            Really? I wish people would do that but I don't see very much of it.

            I think you have a blended metaphysics, making the claim of atheism but still retaining much of a theistic world view, having your cake and eating it too.

            Christianity as a whole makes sense. It fits the world and it fits heaven. I don't know if atheism as a whole could make sense to me. I think it could but I just don't think it fits the world. There is so much understanding of human nature in doctrines of sin and mercy. If I woke up one day and decided adultery was not a sin then all I know about the world would collapse.

            Kenosis: what Christians believe about God's nature (he is perfect and complete and holy) does not allow for the formation of the universe; there was no reason for it and no place for it. Yet, here we are.

            That means God is personal and out of His great love He made room in Himself for the universe to form. He made us His own children, which means He wants us to do like He does: make room for Him.

          • "Really? I wish people would do that but I don't see very much of it."

            Ok, I see it all the time. Every time someone does something kind, which I would say is most people most of the time.

            I have no theism in my worldview. What is theistic in my worldview?

            I disagree that Christianity makes sense. I see no sense in its central story of al all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful deity, whose solution to human misconduct was to have himself tortured to death and then resurect himself. Which was followed by thousands of years of more misconduct and most humans ignoring his message and act, and most people not being saved. I do not buy for a second that any such process would be required or even what the problem was that he was supposedly mending.

            "If I woke up one day and decided adultery was not a sin then all I know about the world would collapse."

            I don't see why you would think this. Something not being a sin does not mean it is okay. Adultery is wrong if you believe that it is bad because of its effects on yourself and on others. Cheating on your spouse is hurtful, that is the reason not to do it. By contrast, just being attracted to someone is not hurtful it is not adultery and not a problem. There is nothing wrong with being attracted to the same sex and acting on that. And so on.

            I don't know what Kenosis is, but I agree if the Christian version of god is true, there would be no reason for him to create at all, all it has done is opened up the possibility of evil entering the world. That means something else must explain the origin of material reality.

          • Paul F

            Nietzsche gave the best explanation of Atheistic metaphysics and epistemology. As an atheist, you don't really know what's real. You don't know if the phenomena are real or if your noumena are real. All you really have is your will to power.

            If you choose not to cheat on your wife, it is because of the power you gain in doing so. When you mouth the words "I don't cheat because it would hurt her", you only say them because of the power they bring you, not because you are describing anything real. The words themselves admit of otherness and harm to other. They admit of evil, and therefore goodness. So the words are at best said in ignorance and at worst just a lie, but these concepts don't really apply because truth is relative.

            Atheism throws out everything. There is really nothing to talk about except the will to power. All other concepts are created in service of the will to power.

          • " As an atheist, you don't really know what's real. You don't know if
            the phenomena are real or if your noumena are real. All you really have
            is your will to power."

            I agree, but this is the human situation, it makes no difference if you believe in a god.

            "When you mouth the words "I don't cheat because it would hurt her", you
            only say them because of the power they bring you, not because you are
            describing anything real."

            How do you know this?

            I would say I do not lie cheat and hurt my wife because of my beliefs. I can back up these beliefs with evidence. I cannot confirm the truth of these beliefs with certainty, but I can confirm them to a high level of confidence.

            "Atheism throws out everything. There is really nothing to talk about
            except the will to power. All other concepts are created in service of
            the will to power."

            No it does not. Atheism is a single position on a single question: do you believe any gods exist?

          • Paul F

            What is substance? An atom is mostly empty space. That means the tree I am looking at is mostly empty space. My mind plays a neat trick with that empty space and I perceive what I call a tree, but that is just in my mind. What I'm really looking at is 99% space. Or maybe I'm just in the matrix.

            Atheism doesn't allow for any substance of anything. Everything perceived is in the mind and reality is not known. If you claim atheism and then proceed as if things have substance, then you are proceeding as if there is a god, as if there is truth outside of you. If God doesn't give the world substance, then the only place it can get substance is from me, and I am the God of my own universe.

          • I don't understand what you mean by "substance" or really what your point is.

            What do you mean by "giving the world substance"?

          • Paul F

            It takes more than a web page to get the concept of substance (at least it did for me, and I'm still pretty fuzzy) but try here:

            http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/substance/#AriAccSub

          • That I understand is the 'crux' of Descartes' Cogito, the reason for producing the circular argument from his clear and distinct idea to a 'universal' or 'God'. Without such a projection, his philosophy can legitimately be thought of as mere 'solipsism'. But of course, you understand that the dilemna today is with respect to the Godel theorems, lack of the 'certainty' sought for by Descartes, and considerations of self-referential contradictions within these attempt to reach for such 'absolutes'......

          • I have been tracing the best I can various interpretations of what Nietzsche meant by 'Will to Power'. and indeed with all of his poetry, contradictory perspectives, and irony it is quite difficult to 'get' what his position actually is. And that makes him possibly a welcome challenge, particularly as I find so much of what he says does actually follow the 'acceptance of suffering' that is found in the NT. Thus, I have been attempting to interpret recent PM as the interpretation of 'Power' of the Will, within the context of 'power over one's self', as would be compatible with the Third Critique of Kant, as well as (may I suggest) even that of following? the 'promptings of the Holy Spirit', if/when we can indeed get that much in 'tune' with our internal 'natures'...... (I continue to but look for possible reconciliations between Catholic ontological interpretations, and the epistemological basis of modern philosophy).....

          • Please explain. Quote: This metaphysics is incompatible with empiricism. A blending of the two is a kind of schizophrenic rationale.
            Do you mean to say that if you take the 'principles' of say 'absolute goodness', and attempt to abide by them 'in practice' that this is either a) impossible or b) produces a schizophrenic or contradictory dilemna within the individual. If this is so, could it be in any way definitive at least to some degree to what is called 'sin'???? Please explain if you find this comment lacks understanding of your perspective here. thanks.

          • Paul F

            Hi Loreen. My point was that belief in the common good or in the concept of goodness is incompatible with atheistic or empiricistic metaphysics. By schizophrenic I mean holding the contrary positions of believing in goodness and not believing in God. Nietzsche was, I believe, an intellectually honest atheist: his metaphysics was in line with atheism. Most atheists I have read try to have it both ways: 1. Disbelieve in God. 2. Believe in a metaphysics that implies God's existence.

          • Thanks Paul. I do admire Nietzsche as being most 'truthful', particularly with respect to his stance regarding the importance of the need for individuals to work these 'metaphysical' issues out for themselves. Also his insistence that we, as human, are indeed human, all too human, and the dilemna around the possible and even 'real' postulation that we are 'something more'.....There is perhaps a difference between 'seeing the face of God', and 'imagining' even without self-knowledge, that we are or even can be God. I do realize that this is a problematic addressed within Church 'tradition' both as a metaphysical position and as a delusion that perhaps can be contrasted with the delusion you suggest as Schizophrenia. Nietzsche may indeed be seen as contradictory, etc. etc. even as an anti-Christ, but he did not originate this problematic, - he merely honestly 'stated it'....in MHO! Thus my continual problematic between Kant's Transcendental Idealism, and the Realism of a metaphysics which assumes within it's proofs that it is indeed more than epistemology. Your last sentence is after all an epistemological statement. I shall merely ask- must I believe in 'your god'????? and that puts us back to the dilemna of one of your previous statements. On whose 'authority' do I rest my 'conscience'????? On what principle? Or on what 'situational ethic'?????

          • Paul F

            It is a different question to ask "who is God?" than to ask "does God exist?" I think a good book to help in that transition is Mortimer Adlers's 'How to Think About God'. As you begin to discover things that are true about God you will also discover that others have discovered the same things and it will guide you to the authority you seek. But remember, God is the still, quiet voice.

          • That's not just one's 'conscience'?, (that still voice) which raises another question - what then is 'conscience'? I have been 'observing' different people's remarks concerning these issues, and have found some very interesting, if not contradictory conclusions. I have also found a contact with the religion of 'Israel', and have noted various relationships established between biblical figures such as Cain, Abel and Seth, which seem to have been affixed, or projected on various 'tribes' - later even nations, as following particular precedents of what is understood to be 'good' or 'evil' in their actions, etc. I have merely related this to a perhaps 'organizing' principle within development not only of 'religious' ideas per se, but the 'pragmatic' in contrast to the 'moral'. I really doubt at this point that it will be possible for me to come to any conclusions regarding these questions, for some time, if ever. I simply can't really understand the intricacies of why people think the way they do. Or perhaps the better question is how? Kant's big three: the Ideas - were - freedom, immortality, and God. I have developed a rather detailed investigation on these concepts, and their relationship. But as with such terms as 'absolute', and the 'universals', it is difficult to find a common 'consensus'...Thanks Paul. I really appreciate some feedback. I simply believe that this is an attempt to give name to the otherwise inexplicable 'fact' that there is indeed 'something'!!!! And that 'something' is explained (a little self-reference here perhaps) by the realization that this necessitates the recognition of 'an'? Intelligence. Beyond that I'm with Judaism. On this 'assumption', - I think it a mark of some kind of 'humility' to keep the keep the vowels (which are also numerals in their early system?) out of God's name. How do people 'think'???? What are the reasoning's behind the reasoning.....??? Or perhaps my thinking is that within all of these possible ways of looking at motifs, etc. - the meanings given to such terms as justice, etc. ideal, real, and nominal truths, etc. etc. etc. is it not possible that people hear' many voices', - that there remain today 'many G/gods'.....????

          • Paul F

            Sounds like you are on a good journey; and "with Judaism" is a good place to be. I have found in my search that I rarely find the conclusions that I seek. My convictions come to me as epiphanies often long after I have abandoned the search and moved on to another one. Perhaps it will be similar for you. The important thing is to continue searching, to be open to truth, and to hold dearly the truth you discover.

          • Wonderful. That too has been my experience in life as well. Long after even reading a particular philosopher, or having a relationship with a particular person,or reading, say some literature, like a play by Shakespeare, unexpectedly something can click in my mind, which totally changes my whole perspective. I believe it can even be called a 'revelation': !!

          • Paul F

            I didn't answer your question on conscience. I have come to understand conscience as the first way God communicates with us. Our conscience is the voice in our head that tells us right or wrong, good or bad. I think this binary language is the first step in how God trains us to be citizens of heaven. It is very telling that He has to be so simplistic with us; but it is this 'language' we must master before we can move on to deeper conversations with God.

          • Rob Abney

            That is one of my favorite books, I've read it several times. But I always wondered why Adler had difficulty with what he called "a leap of faith" from the existence of God to Christianity, although he did eventually become an Episcopalian then a Catholic.

          • Paul F

            I think most Christians learned Christianity before they had a philosophical foundation for God's existence. It would be neat to first develop the philosophical foundation and THEN learn the story of salvation history that is Christianity. In this way, one would be asking oneself, "Would this God I believe in approach mankind in this way." I started with the Christian foundation, but I asked myself this same question after reading Adler's book. I find no contradiction between God's nature as described by Adler and God's way of relating to humans in the Christian narrative.

          • Rob Abney

            That's a good point, it's probably easier to accept God's existence when you already know some about Jesus. But understanding the philosophical foundation first is the story of our history, men first sought to understand God and to understand the immateriality of the soul to some degree and to begin to understand the natural law that leads to human flourishing. The rest we could not know without it being revealed by God then Jesus.
            Adler concluded that we cannot know of God with certainty but we can know near the level of beyond a reasonable doubt. Unfortunately many people insist on accepting the truth only if it can be known with certainty, I wonder if he had such a standard for knowing Jesus?
            I also find it odd that more people don't refer to him since he was such a prolific writer, I'm glad you did. The first book of his I read was "Aristotle for Everybody".

  • I think it's time, if I only had it, to attempt another reading of Kant's critique. This looking for correlates is just not going to do it. I just think it important that somebody, (with more ability than I have) did some work on understanding how Hume's philosophy, especially regarding cause and effect relationships based on 'associative thinking' yet underscore, I suspect, a lot of the logic today. I just 'think' that a lot of the arguments here are based on the substance-accident - or a choice of one of the Derrida polarities. I think Heidegger is onto something when he says we have to learn how to think. And I also think that Kant is 'correct' when he says that only math not logic,is 'intuitively' based. and thus such thinking is based on a closer association to empirical reality than is the case in discursive reasoning, or this 'logic'.....Despite what the Analytic philosophers say, when they relate math to logic. I just feel this 'can't be'.....Also, I am convinced in that I am correct is 'intuiting' that Kant transposed Aristotelean principles into the basis for what is today known as propositional logic, whether people - the scientists, actually perceived that that was what he did within the triad aspect of his third 'category'.
    I can't put all of this together. I am just suspicious, that the thinking of the so-called atheists and the so called theists are based on the same suppositions, - in that they are categorical, rather than hypothetical, i.e.scientific - or communal - the alternatives (reciprocal) within 'disjunctive' thinking, the reciprocity between passive and active, etc. etc. etc. I'm not capable. I just merely think' that if these distinctions were understood, some kind of 'progress' could be made with respect to the the distinction between agent and law. Or God's Will and the Laws of religion - etc. etc. etc. Between the pragmatics of ethical systems and social 'action?' and thought, and the 'realities' the individual faces within the paradoxes of his life when confronted with 'moral decisions' The role of 'legalities' and 'laws'....etc. etc. Until we indeed learn how we think, I just have the 'belief' that all of us will continue to argue in 'circles'......Enough said.
    As Nietzsche said, I am not God.....Perhaps, this is the first step to be taken for anyone, including scientists who is really 'serious' about one's 'a-theism'...And with that is that the primary task of all of us is not to discover what is - See Bertrand Russel on Is as a grammatical copula, etc. etc. etc. but to understand our - selves...And how these distinctions apply within our own lives and even within the context of our own 'agency'. There are just too many gods around, too many flailing horses, too many that seek control not over one's self- but over 'others'.....but even this has its drawback's - does one live by the examples or others, (were your parents saints or sinners?) mimetics, or by the rules of the game -----whether these rules are set by God, or the 'agents' -gods' of the State, etc. etc. ? No God is not dead. Hegel just thought he had him all figured out, as have various leaders since that time....

    • Just more musing: As I do find it difficult to express even my opinion on these subjects even with a Catholic forum....Yeah! But I'm not afraid. I think it would be a compliment for these ideas- and even me, ontologically, to be considered -insane. But I think I intuit how/why Plato did not like the writers of story/narrative. No it had to be the absolutes, didn't it. But maybe there is some truth in the story of the eating of the fruit of knowledge. But then - the EN guys, etc. don't like metaphor, from what I can understand. It's so difficult to figure out, I agree; but analogy/metaphor is the basis of our language, as has been 'demonstrated?' (correct word here????). All is analogy, although it is assumed that there is the God of univocity??? Is that an accepted linguistic -relation/association/correlative? And yet this language is the basis for attempted proofs of God? So yes, maybe I do understand and even agree where some of the post-moderns are -going- their against 'universals and the logos' understood perhaps of how 'reason?' is within discursive logic -divorced - from intuition - . Logic, or is it the logos!!! That can be a scary thought. But we also have the Latin- Nous. So you reasonable guys, not to 'worry'! But are there not 'areas of living' in which we do not consciously and with intent rely on our 'reasoning powers'? And 'judgment' is after all - in these lived experiences? prior!!! Yet it is possible to be Catholic. Even Jesus promised that the Holy Ghost would be with 'us'!! Your interpretation of course, is warranted here!

      I don't understand, but 'believe' something is happening here in these recent philosophies, which however, perhaps unavoidably remain to certain degrees - abstract, as perhaps in the switch from pragmatics, the assumed? knowledge of general thought, with the emphasis on self-mutual 'interest' decided - politically in abstraction? We can consider how such pragmatics may be distinguished from a personal- i.e. individual 'morality'? And my 'intuitions' are that it is time that we stopped 'pretending' that we were gods, in either case. Yes, that last sentence would take much description and explanation to even begin to explore the .....what? associations - correlatives - that 'rule' these our narratives, that express our 'agency'...?????? within the context of both the individual and the 'universal'????? But then, is it not possible that such a 'universal' is but an 'abstraction', even within a political context?

      There is however a possible distinction between 'extension' and 'intention'.. Those ethics referred to as utilitarianism and consequentialism, could possibly be compared to other such -external- associations, which I would within the limits here, merely contrast with the basis of morality as intention. Intentional is rejected on the basis that It is held that consequentialism is the determining 'rule'/ in all cases, yet ironically, in all cases.including consequentialism, we do not 'know' the consequences until we 'reach' them, and thus our judgment would demand an 'after the fact' pronouncement. I repeat!!! in any case.. There is however, direct consequence, which would refer to the immediate consequences of any intentional thought. But intent can 'go deeper than that'. The inward movement of thought described by such terms as contemplation or meditation. That 'inward gaze of solitude', Wordsworth put it. Indeed, there possibly have been many levels of thought and what? degrees (math?) of thought that could be described as the intention that is the defining characteristic, I suggest, of morality, in contrast to ethics.. Thus, in contrast, ethics could be considered a-moral rather than immoral, on the possibility that, as with freedom of will of conscience, there is a development of capacity required with respect to morality. and the development of 'intentional' thought, generally. .

      if only I could 'do'? or 'understand' how? what I still believe, against the analytic philosophers, that we 'intuit'? the 'truths of mathematics'. Yes, I'm attempting to be Brilliant, (they are my math teachers!) and understand how the reasoning works.. If only somehow 'logic' within language could be in a similar relation to how? 'intuitions' 'may be' applied within the discipline of math!!!!. (Kant's synthetic a priori is the issue here). Certainly, he can be held, that 'above' the basis in intuition, there are various possibilities of reasoning and indeed the applications of different logics. Bit what is the difference between the relation of particulars within math, and how, or whether they are related to 'what- particulars' only? within math, as compared within the abstractions of discursive 'logic'. Abstractions? No. I don't believe that mathematics involves 'abstractions' in the way they are found within language. Would there be a difference between 'some theories' and 'abstractions'; some 'generalities' and 'abstractions'? Are 'abstractions' some kind of empty 'placeholders?' or something. How are the correlates understood? developed? etc. etc. What is the 'intuitive' and 'individualized' basis of these 'correlatives'?

      Please educate me if you agree, as I expect, that am 'wrong' even in these attempts to 'describe' the 'problem?' ....and that this comment merely demonstrates my lack of scientific ability and/or that I should be ex-communicated? Of course are we at this point either dealing with the excluded middle, and or, both - and, and and..... within the category of community, and/or the relation of the passive to active, what? agency????? or 'rule'. or what? Or are these questions representative of a hypothetical? or some choice of an identify within a polarity of alternatives, between what? substance and accident, even? As Heidegger stated: We need to learn 'how' we think.....

      Edit: Two contrasting examples of the relation of rule to agency? As presented within a religious metaphorical context as well as the sic et non Yes-No of Abelard) on the Euthyphro 'problem'.

      On the 'morality question'. the follow introduce two possible considerations- a finality and or purpose,and/or the consequence of judgment(s).

      I do not consider the following example an abstraction, in the sense of a 'logical' abstraction, although I cannot say 'why? and although I 'perfectly' understand the justification for any scientific? objection. It will be noted that this is an attempt to relate the question as a 'personal' one, one of 'agency, and thus prior I would suggest to pragmatic or legalistic 'rule' .Rather it relates to associations such as: Faith in the future, hope from the past, and love within a community?? according to the various 'interpretations' I have found within the 'triune' schemata of Kant and Christianity. I repeat: I am merely exploring 'associations' with respect to what is 'meant' by an objective morality? The end or goal of philosophy???? Or the 'object' of philosophy? The object of politics? The object of 'religion'? The Objective with respect to the 'Personal or Subjective'? And finally, tas in this example, he Object- to Objective as goal and even 'final end'....

      Consider first, a Sunday Sermon by Mons. Pope. I didn't read this post in it's entirety. But what about the 'universalization' suggested within such a context? A possible 'reality'? Are they talking about an 'abstract universal' or what? An ontological possibility? Does this highlight difference between abstract conceptions, and ontological 'images', perhaps? Between the Platonic conceptions of what? universals as form? and a possible distinction - although this is still conceptual between the terms universal and catholic? I merely noted the sentence, and the joy expressed in the singing of the hymn.: “What for I fail sinner pleading, who for me be interceding, when the just are mercy needing?” When even the just are mercy needing? To give, or to take? Who does the judging? Where is the 'mercy'? Does this demand, obligate me to recognize my 'failings', or not? Can we consider the possibilities within a political and/or social or religious context? Where 'stands' the 'individual'? Where is his 'freedom' as per Kant and the relations between 'freedom' 'necessity' -and the -subjective? Is this 'scripture' thus based on correlates, associations rather than 'logic'???? If you can't find the logic, Do enjoy the 'poetry', however/whatever you might 'imagine?' the context of the 'final judgment' to be..Whatever you might imagine the 'call of the trumpet' to be. Sheer foolishness, yes? But it's your freedom? Your 'choice' possibly between interpretations based on obligation? or 'freedom' and 'judgment' and/or 'love?' http://blog.adw.org/2015/12/where-will-you-be-when-the-first-trumpet-sounds-a-good-question-from-an-advent-hymn/
      Edit. Edit. And the second example: hopefully considered In relation to 'interpretation' and 'meaning' rather than the 'abstractions' of 'logic'. This just 'in' I'll let Just Thomism have the 'last word' here. On the relation of agency to rule, obligation, etc. etc.or even the possibility of a universal trumpet-call - what does this image mean: judgment, obligation, etc. etc. There are several links to further discussions, if you interested. https://thomism.wordpress.com/2015/12/03/sic-et-non-on-the-euthyphro-problem/ Also 'again' https://thomism.wordpress.com/2015/11/30/hume-as-not-deranged/

    • As for Kant's relation to the Moral argument, it is interesting, even ironic, that although he 'demonstrated' that all previous ontological arguments, etc. could been shown to allow proof of both/or opposite propositions and classified them as antinomies, yet, he actually, I believe set the basis for the original Moral argument. Later in life, (and he had some drastic changes in point of view in his later years) he withdrew his proof, instead suggesting that the Categorical Imperative would be sufficient, even though it is based on primarily the -regulative- principles? of necessity and universality. He did say however, that one could not be moral unless one was free, from all forms of coercion, and that the individual's freedom rested upon his conscience. This perhaps dovetails with the development of an 'agent' thesis, with respect to this argument!!! i.e. what constitutes an agent, within the intuitive understanding and 'judgment' of particulars which I at least believe remains the basis of moral 'judgment' per se.. After all we do continue to refer to them as judgments, within day to day lived experience, do we not? That such judgments would relate to God would form a discussion of the whole Third Power of Judgment, Kant's third critique, and would thus bring in the teleological arguments, as well as other ontological arguments that could be derived from, for example, beauty, or order, and particularly the 'sublime'. (Truly it is a fascinating book to read.....!!!)

  • Lazarus

    I'm going to vote with well-known Christian apologist Richard Swinburne on this and say that the moral argument is not very convincing. There are simply too many weaknesses in the argument, most of them already raised in this thread.

    • Good point. Even if I was a theist or a Christian, I wouldn't accept it as a good argument.

    • Rob Abney

      So (if there is a God) God has reasons to command us
      to do various acts, and his command to do them would
      impose on us an obligation to do them. But we need a revelation
      well-authenticated by a divine signature in order to
      know what God has commanded. Such a signature would be provided by a miracle (involving a violation of natural
      laws which God alone can bring about) accompanying the
      teaching of some prophet who purports to tell what God
      has commanded, such as the resurrection of that prophet
      from the dead fulfilling and forwarding the prophet’s teaching.
      So, if there is a God, we cannot be objectively good
      without obeying his commands. But – given my suggestion
      at the beginning of the paper, we can still be subjectively
      good, without a stain on our characters that is, without
      obeying God’s commands – so long as we do not believe
      that there is a God, or that he has issued certain commands
      to us. And if there is no God, clearly we can still be
      both objectively and subjectively good.
      Richard Swinburne.

      I'm not sure that he is saying it is a weak argument.

      • Lazarus

        In "The Existence of God" (p215) Swinburne says :

        “I cannot see any force in an argument to the existence of God from the existence of morality.”

        • Rob Abney

          Confusing.
          What do you object to concerning objective morality? That it doesn't prove God or that it isn't objective?

          • Lazarus

            That quote, slightly expanded, says :

            "As it stands, the argument is not a good argument (for the reason that the premisses are not accepted by disputing parties). I am too pessimistic about the prospects to devote more time to attempting to supplement the argument by producing good arguments to support its premisses. One reason for this is that I cannot see how anyone who holds one of the first and third premisses but not the other is going to be persuaded suaded by a process of rational argument to hold the other, unless he is first persuaded by some other argument that there is a God. For this reason I cannot see any force in an argument to the existence of God from the existence of morality."

            It is vague, not objective, generally just a poor argument.
            From that I would have to say that it is not a good argument, and that it follows that it does not prove God. To answer your question more clearly, it is not objective, it is not proving God.

          • "As it stands, the argument is not a good argument (for the reason that the premisses are not accepted by disputing parties)."

            Ah, the old idea that "if there's not a consensus, it isn't true." We've exposed that fallacy several times at Strange Notions. Here's a whole post on it: "Is a Proof Bad If It Fails to Convince Everyone?"

          • Lazarus

            Yes, I read that article, and generally agree with it.
            The author is a respected Christian apologist, however, and I agree with his reasoning. Just like we should not reject issues because we don't have consensus, we must also be careful in simply accepting propositions because a few accept it.

    • "I'm going to vote with well-known Christian apologist Richard Swinburne on this and say that the moral argument is not very convincing. There are simply too many weaknesses in the argument, most of them already raised in this thread."

      Do you have a specific weakness in mind? I've seen many attempted critiques put forward in this comment box, but none that successfully stood.

      What do you think is the moral argument's most glaring weakness?

      • Lazarus

        Put specifically like that, and if I had to pick just one argument to present in a debate, I would argue that the very concept of objective morality has not convincingly been shown to exist in (our) reality.

        There are several other arguments, but I think that I would pick that one.

  • David Nickol

    God has expressed his moral nature to us as commands .

    The above quote is from the video, and it seems problematic to me. One of the "commands" given as an example is, "Love your neighbor as yourself." But according to the Jewish count, there are 613 commands in the Hebrew Scripture. Christians don't feel obligated to keep many of them. How are we to know which of the 613 command express God's moral nature and which do not?

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      I agree. As N.T. Wright puts it:

      How can any ancient text function as authoritative? If you were a Jew, wanting to obey the Torah (or, perhaps, obey the Talmud) you would find that there were all sorts of difficult questions about how a text, written so many years ago, can function as authoritative today. Actually, it is easier with the Talmud than with the Bible because the Talmud is designed very specifically to be a rule book for human beings engaged in life in a particular sort of community. But much of what we call the Bible—the Old and New Testaments—is not a rule book; it is narrative. That raises a further question: (3) How can an ancient narrative text be authoritative? How, for instance, can the book of Judges, or the book of Acts, be authoritative? It is one thing to go to your commanding officer first thing in the morning and have a string of commands barked at you. But what would you do if, instead, he began ‘Once upon a time . . .’?

      (For his answer to this question, see: http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Bible_Authoritative.htm )

    • Rob Abney

      It will require an authoritative teaching organization. According to historian Brad Gregory in The Unintended Reformation, we had one for a long time then we ceded the final say to secular governments.

      • David Nickol

        It will require an authoritative teaching organization.

        But wait a minute. If "objective moral values and duties do exist," then why do we need "an authoritative teaching organization"? What does "objective" mean if a teaching authority is required to discover and teach what is objective? Objective moral values ought to be discover by all without any authority.

        I have a copy of the Gregory book, but I don't know when I will find the time to read it.

        • Rob Abney

          Because, despite these objective moral values being easily recognized by nearly everyone, they are also hard to adhere to.
          I think you will like the book, it is quite dense though.

        • I just found an excellent summation on Just Thomism with respect to the relation of agency to 'law'. Will be back and post it here too. Edit: It's OK. If you're interested you'll find it. And in any case, I'm still working out my understanding, and will continue to do so. You don't need 'my' what? 'authority' ????? :)

        • "If "objective moral values and duties do exist," then why do we need "an authoritative teaching organization"?"

          To clarify and communicate those objective moral values and duties. Just because objective moral values and duties exist, that's no guarantee that everyone clearly ascertains those truths without help, either internal (e.g., the natural law written on our hearts, the Holy Spirit, etc.) or external (e.g., divine revelation, a living magisterium, etc.)

          • David Nickol

            This raises a very basic question. What is meant by "objective," "objective moral values," and "objective truth"?

            Just because objective moral values and duties exist, that's no guarantee that everyone clearly ascertains those truths without help . . . .

            But if no one could ascertain "objective moral values" without revelation, I don't see how they could actually be objectively true. I think even the most devoutly believed "revealed" truths cannot be said to be "objectively true," because they depend on faith. The Catechism uses the term "the certainty of faith," but I don't think something known by "the certainty of faith" can be called objectively true.

            I certainly would not claim that to be objectively true, something must be accessible to everyone. But it must be accessible in principle, and in order for it to be a truth, some people must know it, and know it to be true.

          • Revelation is clearly a non-starter as an answer, because every religion claims the right revelation and they all disagree. This is known as the pluralism rejection to divine command theory. No one can show their religion or revelation is any more valid than anyone else's, and so it ultimately gets you moral relativism in practice.

        • ClayJames

          Objective moral values ought to be discover by all without any authority.

          Objective truths do not imply universal knowledge or acceptance. It is an objective truth that the earth orbits the sun, but this is not instantly apparent to everyone.

          Let me practice some prolepsis here to save some time. While people do ¨sense¨ a realm of objective moral values and duties, the actualy specific instructions of how these truths translate into our daily lives is not instantly apparent in our minds. It is through the study of the divine (scripture, tradition, revelation, etc.) that we can attempt to more closely understand objective morality and how it translates to our every day lives.

  • David Nickol

    Are the following things contrary to objective moral values?

    • Gambling
    • Drinking alcohol
    • Watching a pornographic video on the Internet
    • Smoking marijuana
    • Shopping at a store that does not compensate its workers fairly
    • Fearing the shock would kill him, temporarily telling Grandpa that Grandma has survived the accident they were both in, when in fact she has not.

    • Rob Abney

      They are contrary to objective moral values if they don't lead toward God/goodness. If the behaviors are engaged in consistently and become vices then they lead away from God.

      • David Nickol

        That is an awfully general answer to a question about six quite different behaviors! It strikes me that we have had a lot of talk about objective morality in the abstract, but there has been almost no discussion of the application of the "objective" rules, and little discussion of the fact that there is no consensus on what would appear to be some very basic questions.

        • "It strikes me that we have had a lot of talk about objective morality in the abstract, but there has been almost no discussion of the application of the "objective" rules..."

          This is the old problem of belittling an argument (or a website, or a blog post series) for not doing what the commenter hopes it will do (or think it should do) rather than what it intends to do.

          As has been noted several times in this post and comment box alone, the discussion here is on moral ontology--on whether objective moral values and duties exist--and not how we come to know those values and duties (moral epistemology) or how we apply the (ethics).

          I agree those two latter topics are important and we have done articles on each of them. But their beyond the scope of this post and the argument under consideration.

          • David Nickol

            This is the old problem of belittling an argument (or a website, or a blog post series) for not doing what the commenter hopes it will do (or think it should do) rather than what it intends to do.

            Perhaps I am being overly sensitive, but I take this as an unwarranted personal criticism. I have already criticized the OP itself, but in making the comments you object to, it was not my intention to belittle anything.

            As has been noted several times in this post and comment box alone, the discussion here is on moral ontology--on
            whether objective moral values and duties exist--and not how we come to
            know those values and duties (moral epistemology) or how we apply the
            (ethics).

            It would seem to me, then, that discussion of the OP should be limited to whether the syllogism in the OP is valid, and the premises should go uncontested. Also, as I have pointed out a number of times, the video assumes that we know objective morality from God's commands. (I do not think this is consistent with the Catholic view.) The argument is entirely circular, it seems to me, if it boils down to the assertion that objective morality can only come from God, we know there is objective morality because God gives it to us in the form of commands, therefore God exists.

            If we do not get into some discussion of how we can know if objective morality exists, then the second premise is purely an assertion and a statement of faith. The argument for the existence of God is then convincing only to those who already believe in God. It must certainly be established that objective morality exists (if it does) on some other basis than saying we know it because God gives it to us in the form of commands.

        • Rob Abney

          "Fearing the shock would kill him, temporarily telling Grandpa that Grandma has survived the accident they were both in, when in fact she has not."

          An objective morality exists, you don't want to kill Grandpa. Another objective morality also exists, truth, but you violated it, yet it still exists.

  • David Nickol

    If there is no God, do the rules of chess objectively exist? If there is a God, do the rules of chess objectively exist?

    • Rob Abney

      The rules of chess are arbitrary in either scenario.

  • George

    This has been an exciting discussion Brandon. I noticed that this latest post came a week after the last one. If new content seems hard to come by right now, I'd like to suggest two atheist sources of videos you could critique. Matt Dillahunty is an atheist debater currently making an Atheist Debates series where he gives his critiques of common theist arguments. He criticizes the argument from design, critiquing one of Aquinas's ways. So if you think he's gotten Aquinas wrong and is dealing with a strawman, you could point that out.

    Another skeptic is Anthony Magnabosco, who has a youtube channel as well as Matt. He's pushing Street Epistemology as a better method of engaging believers, through a Socratic dialogue of asking questions about their beliefs. He's no longer a fan of being aggressive and making arguments and getting caught up in debunking theist misconceptions about atheism or evolution. I'd be very interested to see how Trent Horn (who I interpret as also trying to be Socratic) or Robert Barron interact with Street Epistemology.

    What's interesting about Street Epistemology is the aggressive pushback I've seen by some theists. Anthony points this out on his own channel, how some apologists are holding meetings with their own groups and warning fellow believers to stay away and not engage with street epistemology. Anthony has been characterized as some kind of trickster, or even comparable to a bully ambushing strangers on the street. If you think they have a point Brandon, you could find some of Anthony's videos worth discussing, and post them here with your own impressions of his style. If you think there's anything underhanded, dishonest, and unfair about Street Epistemology, posting such a critique here would fit in with the rest of the posts.

  • Andrew Y.

    Why does the existence of objective morality necessitate the existence of God any more than the existence of other immaterial objects like truth, numbers, etc?

    If you admit that we can discover objective morality by reason or empiricism alone, then the existence of God is a completely separate question. But if you say that we can only learn of objective morality by revelation, then you need to accept that God exists to begin with before you can accept objective morality.

    Further, the related argument that a sense of morality must have been supernaturally ingrained in each of us as human beings is also difficult to defend. Consider that a bee is a good bee in the measure by which he collects pollen, makes honey, and does other things that bees do innately for the good of themselves, the queen, and the hive. As rational creatures, reason is innate to us. So we can be said to be good creatures in the measure by which we use reason for the good of ourselves, our fellow human beings, and our society. It seems then that arguing that God “baked morality into us” is obvious if you believe that God exists, and unnecessary if you believe otherwise.

    • Rob Abney

      "If you admit that we can discover objective morality by reason or empiricism alone, then the existence of God is a completely separate question."

      If reason leads us to know that there must be an external measure of morality then what would we then attribute that external source to be? It would have to be something like the God of classical theism.

      "we can be said to be good creatures in the measure by which we use reason for the good of ourselves, our fellow human beings, and our society"

      You are describing final causation for humans (and bees), if final causation is not baked into us and into bees then where does it come from?

      • Andrew Y.

        If reason leads us to know that there must be an external measure of morality then what would we then attribute that external source to be?

        A theist would of course argue that the source must be God. But a reasonable atheist might argue that if some measure does exist externally, it could exist necessarily. A nominalist might argue that though we may be able to arrive at the same answers by reason alone, the answer itself is still nothing more than a reasoned out idea. Either response leaves us exactly where we started on the issue of God’s existence.

        What is the source of any immaterial object? My point is that the existence of objective morality doesn’t seem to prove the existence of God any more than any other immaterial object does. In fact less so, because it is easier to reject objective morality than, say, objective truth.

        if final causation is not baked into us and into bees then where does it come from?

        Here I was commenting on the supposed universal sense of morality, not the existence of objective morality. Arguing that our seemingly innate sense of morality could not have emerged the way our other senses have has a distinct God-of-the-gaps feel to it. Of course the Church teaches directed (as opposed to random or chaotic) evolution and from this we can deduce that the ultimate source of our sense of morality is God. But I've yet to hear a compelling argument that our sense of morality is more indicative of God than any of our other senses.

        • Rob Abney

          Thanks for the response.
          Can you explain how someone could conceive of an external measure that is not God existing necessarily?
          As for a nominalist, he presupposes that nothing can exist universally so the discussion with him would have to begin a step or two prior to this argument.

          • Andrew Y.

            Morality is the measure by which an act is directed towards a good end. Even without a precise definition of what “good” entails, we can at least claim that morality is an act directed towards a particular goal.

            Now, if your goal is to win a game of chess, opening with the bishop’s pawn is not an act directed towards that goal. Opening with the king’s pawn is. These statements are not arbitrary, rather they proceed necessarily because of the rules of the game.

            Notice that the existence of these moves, and whether or not they bring one closer to or farther away from victory, does not say anything about how the game of chess came to be. Furthermore, the designer of chess need not have arbitrarily decided which moves would be good and bad, rather their strength or weakness proceeds necessarily from the rules and the position of each piece on the board.

            Even a person who does not know the rules of chess can still rationally suppose that each move either brings you closer to victory or defeat. Likewise, though we do not have a precise definition of “good”, we can nevertheless claim that morally good and bad acts do in fact exist, regardless of our position on how reality came to be.

          • Rob Abney

            The chess game analogy is a good one but in the analogy objective morality should be represented by the goal to win the game. The various moves are measured by that ultimate goal. Where did that goal originate? It originated with the inventor of the game. Where did objective morality originate? With the author of life.
            In chess, moves are good or bad based upon their contribution to winning or losing the game. Opening with the bishop's pawn can be a good move with the right strategy and opponent. In life acts are good or bad based upon their contribution toward attaining the ultimate goodness. But in either case an external is present.

          • Andrew Y.

            Thanks for following up, Rob. I think we are in agreement that objective morality is difficult to explain without admitting a designer. But is that not just the argument from design? Let's look at the morality argument a little more.

            I'm going to propose another analogy to show how objective morality can be seen as necessary without a designer involved. Next I'll reframe my original objection to show why I still think this argument fails.

            Imagine this: there are two paths a man can take to his friend's house, a long path and a short path. He has never been to his friend's house before, but he knows generally where it is. If his goal is to arrive as quickly as possible, he ought to take the shorter path. This is objectively true at the moment the man makes the decision, and even if some unexpected delay should arise on the short path, the act of choosing the short path will be the better choice.

            He may not know which road is shorter. But he can reasonably claim that one of the two paths is necessarily shorter, and therefore better, by virtue of there being two of them. Objectively, there is a good path and a bad path, though nothing about the situation need have been intentional or preconceived; he simply finds himself in this predicament because of where he is, where his friend's house happens to be, the configuration of the trails, and his desire to meet his friend as quickly as possible.

            In summary, we have a necessarily objectively good action, a necessarily objectively bad action, and no designer anywhere in sight.

            So even without a clear definition of "good", it seems nevertheless possible to claim that an action can be directed towards the good.

            Now if objective morality can be shown to exist necessarily, then it does not require a cause, which means that belief in God is not a prerequisite, and its existence does not prove the existence of God any more convincingly than other immaterial objects that exist necessarily, like numbers, propositions, etc.

            Here's the problem: to prove the morality argument, one needs to prove both that objective morality exists AND that it could not have emerged any other way than by the command of the God of classical theism.

            There are two ways to prove the first part. One is to claim that a universal sense of morality exists in all men, as C. S. Lewis and others have attempted. But as I said, I think this position is weak because it relies on our limited understanding of human behavior. The other way is to prove philosophically that objective morality could exist necessarily (as I have tried to show above). But this is self-defeating because it refutes the second part!

            I see this argument in the same category as other arguments based on human behavior: they strengthen the faith of those who already believe, but do little to prove His existence to those who do not.

          • Rob Abney

            "I see this argument in the same category as other arguments based on human behavior: they strengthen the faith of those who already believe, but do little to prove His existence to those who do not."

            That does seem to be true, but it seems to be true for all of these discussions!

  • Randy Carson

    Wouldn't it be easier to state this positively? Like this:

    If God exists, then objective moral values exist.
    Objective moral values exist.
    Therefore, God exists.

    Why is this stated in the contrapositive form of:

    If not Q, then not P?

    • Michael Murray

      Because

      If P then Q
      Q
      therefore P

      is not valid

      • Randy Carson

        Sorry...yes, I wrote that wrong. It should have been:

        P
        therefore Q

        So, why is the moral argument in the article not stated THAT way?

        • Michael Murray

          Others have apparently been happy to phrase it that way

          (1) If morality is objective and absolute, God must exist.
          (2) Morality is objective and absolute.
          (3) Therefore, God must exist.

          W.R. Sorley

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_morality

  • I don't know that the existence of objective morals obviously leads the existence of God. People who take seriously their existence often end up being theists. Alasdair MacIntyre is a good example. Yet they often take a while to get there. Why is that? The inference is not as direct as the video suggests.

    If you believe virtues exists does that means God must exists? No. Yet many of the same objections atheists give to believing in God also hold for believing in virtues. The lack of certain types of evidence, for example. So you become a pretty poor example of an atheist because most atheists don't think your thinking is very credible.

    Then you have other questions. Why should we pursue virtue? Where did they come from? Pondering these questions makes atheism even harder to maintain.

  • David Hennessey

    "God's nature" is defined by people, God never said, "Love your neighbor" what a lie! Someone with a mouth said it, someone with a hand wrote it, someone with an eye, reads it and a human brain decides whether it agrees.

    A Jew says, "Hey, God gave that land to us, it's only fair!"
    A Palestinian says, "Hey, that's not fair!"

    What's the universal moral value that makes two brains react in the opposite way to the same circumstance? Culture.

    We learn morality but animals also display morality in a more primitive fashion, perhaps, but scientifically measureable, generosity and self-sacrifice are hard-wired by the failure of species which didn't protect their weak members and give them food, all evidence points to an evolutionary basis.

    The God of the Bible ordered Jews to smash the heads of the babies on the stone walls and rejoice as they did it, revealed morality? No, that morality is also clearly evolutionary as we see lions killing the cubs of rival males, God hadn't evolved much in those days.