Arguments for God’s Existence-The Moral Argument (Part 2)

Posted: December 27, 2011 in Philosophy, Positive Apologetics, Religion
Tags: , , , , , ,

By Dima Zhyvov

This post is a continuation of the moral argument. Please see Part 1 if you have not read it yet.

Formulating the moral argument

Let me clearly spell out the argument that I intend to defend, as well as some important concepts I will be employing. The argument goes something like this:

  1. Certain moral facts exist, and among them are objective moral values and duties.
  2. Such notions classically construed make little sense on naturalistic grounds, but they reside quite comfortably in a world sustained by a loving Creator.

In other words, I will argue that morality, classically construed, gives those who believe in objective ethics reason to believe in God.

Certain explanations of concepts are called for at this stage.

I am a moral realist, which means that I subscribe to the following commitments:

  1. There exist moral facts and by that I mean that there exists a special class of facts – the moral facts – which are true or false to the extent that they correspond to reality or the way the world really is. Obviously this assumes that the world is mind-independent, with its fundamental nature being such that it does not depend upon what we think about it or the concepts we deploy to describe it[1].
  2. These moral facts can be known by us. In fact, we do possess knowledge of at least some of them. Having knowledge of any class of facts, including the moral facts, in the sense that I am employing the terms, implies that one can be genuinely mistaken about them. I mean that it is possible for us to make mistakes about what is right and what is wrong. Such an account of moral judgments is clearly incompatible with those meta-ethical theories which view our moral statements as mere expressions of attitudes or emotion or attempts to assert facts, but which turn out to be false, because there are no facts to be had in the first place. One cannot be mistaken, in the sense I am using the term, in liking one colour over another, unless there exists a certain class of facts about the way the world really is, in which there are objective reasons to prefer one colour to another or one flavour of ice-cream to another.
  3.  Finally, moral facts are objective or independent of any beliefs or thoughts we might have about them. This means that what is right is not determined by what I or anybody else thinks. It is not even determined by what we all think is right, even if we could be made to agree. Philosopher William Lane Craig likes to use the following example to illustrate what is meant by objective moral values and duties.

“For example, to say that the Holocaust was objectively wrong is to say that it was wrong even though the Nazis who carried it out thought that it was right, and it would still have been wrong even if the Nazis had won World War II and succeeded in exterminating or brainwashing everybody who disagreed with them so that it was universally believed that the Holocaust was right”[2]

I like this example because it elucidates a fine but important distinction between objective values and duties in the sense of them being true or false regardless of whether they are viewed by people as such, and values and duties being universal in a sense of them being accepted by virtually all moral agents.

Let me also clarify an important distinction between the notions of moral values and moral duties. When I speak of moral values, I am talking about whether something is good or bad. When I speak of moral duties, I am interested in whether something is right or wrong. Again there is a subtle difference between the right and the good, as well as between the wrong and the bad, even though we often equate them. Right and wrong have to do with moral obligation, what I ought or ought not to do. But obviously I am not morally obligated to do something just because it would be good for me to do it. For example, it is a good thing to become a doctor, but that does not imply that it is therefore my duty to become a doctor. It is also good to become a scientist or an artist or a diplomat or a dancer, but I simply can’t become all of them. This leads me to the conclusion that equating what is right with what is good would be mistaken in such cases. Furthermore, recall a point I made about moral dilemmas in ethics, that there are difficult cases in ethics in which all the choices one is confronted with seem bad. In such a case it is not therefore wrong of me to choose one, since I must choose.  So to sum up, “there is a conceptual difference between something’s being good (or bad) and something’s being right (or wrong). The former has to do with something’s worth, while the latter concerns something’s obligatoriness.”[3] We would do well to keep these concepts distinct in our minds as we proceed in our discussion of the moral argument.

Click here to see part 3 of the article


[2] Reasonable Faith, Third edition, William Lane Craig, p. 173

[3] Reasonable Faith, Third edition, William Lane Craig, p. 173

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