The Moral Argument: Objective Goodness Requires God

Does God exist? And if so, is there any proof for his existence? To the first, I wholehearted affirm that God does exist. But the answer to the second question is not as clear. Oftentimes, it seems that when that question is asked, the one asking it is demanding irrefutable scientific evidence for the existence of God. So for them, the answer is no. No such evidence exists.

But that is not the only answer to the second question. For the one who has committed their life to the lordship of Jesus Christ the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit provides sufficient confirmation for the existence of God.

But what about the person who does not have a relationship with God. Yet is open and looking for a reason to believe. Are there any proofs that would be helpful to them? Proofs that would convince them that belief in God is reasonable?

The Moral Argument

There are a handful of arguments for the existence of God that can be useful to the person engaged in apologetics, giving a defense for their faith. One of the most popular is the Kalam Cosmological Argument that I have written about in the past. But another good argument is the Moral Argument.

There are a number of resources that will present some version of this argument. I will be using one that can be found in the book “On Guard” by William Lane Craig. For a more in depth discussion on this argument you can check out this book or a similar description on his web site, “Can We Be Good Without God“.

This argument goes as follows:

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

Clarifying the Question

The question being answered by this argument is not “Can a person do good without believing in God.” Clearly there are people who do not believe in the existence of God who do good things. Belief in God is not necessary for doing good.

The question being raised is that if there is no God, are there actual objective moral values and duties. This has nothing to do with what a person may or may not believe.

Objective Morality vs. Subjective Morality

Another important distinction to make is the difference between objective and subjective morality. You might say that subjective morality is in the eye of the beholder. It is whatever the individual or group determines constitutes morality.

Objective morality, on the other hand, is true regardless what anyone believes or practices. If slavery is objectively wrong, then it is wrong even if everyone in the world believes it is OK. Even if the whole world practices slavery.

Premise #1

The first premise of this argument states that “If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.” If there are objective moral values, what makes them objective? Is our morality something that our culture has derived over time. Or is there some other source of objective morality?

Culturally Derived Morality

Clearly there is some portion of our morality that is socially derived and codified in our laws and social conventions. But just as clearly this culturally derived morality varies from one culture to another. What is moral for one group may not be for another group.

And who is to say which one is right. Subjectively, they are both right. If subjective morality is all that we have, then I really have no basis for condemning the moral practices of another culture. Just because my culture happens to condemn slavery will give me no real grounds for speaking against the culture that practices slavery. For them it is morally acceptable. And their morality is just as valid as mine if there is no objective standard to compare them against.

So culturally derived morality cannot be considered to be objective morality.

Evolutionarily Derived Morality

Those who advocate an evolutionary origin for the diversity of life will point to morality as being built into us. The morals that give us a survival benefit get passed down through the generations. On the other hand, morality that does not help us to survive does not itself survive.

But what if we were to rewind the history of life to the beginning and hit replay. If our morality is based on evolution, then there is no guarantee that our internal moral codes would be the same. Evolutionary theory would almost guarantee that they would not be the same. So we are back to having subjective morals.

Another problem with morals derived through evolution is that as conditions change, what might at one time have been a survival benefit may no longer be. At one time it would have been advantageous to have culled from our ‘herd’ the weak and helpless. We would not have had to resources to care for those who were not productive members. It would have made sense to abandon the handicapped infant or the elderly. But today we generally care for them. Our moral sense of what is right would have changed.

And so evolution seems to fail the test of producing objective morality.

An Abstract Standard

Plato, an ancient Greek philosopher, taught that the ‘Good’ was something that existed on its own. It just was. And some have adopted this today. Good just is. Good exists independently of any other object, whether created or not.

But it is hard to understand just how abstract ideas like ‘Good’, or ‘Love’, or ‘Anger’ can just exist and exert an influence over us. What makes them any different that the number ‘7’ or the color ‘Blue’. These only have value when connected to something concrete. They are descriptive of something else, but do not have substance or existence in themselves.

And even if these abstract moral ideas were to exist, what would make ‘Love’ preferable to ‘Anger’? Why would they impose any moral obligation on us?

God

A fourth possibility is that objective morality is grounded in the nature of an unchanging and eternal creator. What constitutes moral goodness in the nature of this creator becomes the objective standard of morality for all of his creation.

This bases morality, not in subjective standards that change over time. Nor in the abstract ideas of Platonism. But in a concrete unchanging standard. God’s character, or nature, defines morality.

This is really the only basis that there is for holding to objective moral standards. When a person claims that something is wrong, no matter where or when, they are appealing to an objective standard. A standard that can only be found in God. They do not have to believe in God for this objective standard to be true. But without God, there would be no true objective moral standards.

Premise #2

The second premise of this argument is “Objective moral values and duties do exist.” I have debated with some who would deny this premise. But those same people will also claim that there are some things that are just wrong, regardless the culture or time in history. So while they may deny the premise, they do actually hold to it.

I know of no one who would say that sexual abuse of children is acceptable, apart from those who actually engage in it. But no culture or society anywhere that I am aware of has ever sanctioned the practice. And they actively condemn those broken people who do. It is objectively wrong. And because of that we can condemn those who abuse children in this way. Regardless of when or where they lived.

Granted, there are some aspects of morality that are subjective. The amount of clothing that is considered socially acceptable will vary from place to place and time to time. The age at which it is acceptable to marry will also vary across time and location. But these exceptions do not prove that there is no objective moral standards. Only that all morals are not objective.

Response to an Objection

After this was first published and shared on Facebook, I had a reader who objected to the argument based on the lack of universal moral standards. He expressed that what I might consider to be objective morals are likely to vary in other parts of the world. And I might not consider what they consider to be objective morals to really be objective.

But that really demonstrates a confusion as to what the argument is. If there is such a thing as objective morality, it is not dependant on what people, or groups of people, believe. And the argument is that there are objective morals. Not morals that all people agree on.

If we would accept that there is an objective morality, regardless what we consider to be objective, then it is only reasonable to posit a moral lawgiver who is himself the embodiment of moral goodness.

Conclusion

In a logical argument, if all of the premises are true, then the result of the argument is also logically true. In this case it can be demonstrated that both of the premises are true. So the result of the moral argument, “Therefore, God exists“, must also be true.

This argument does not prove the existence of the God of the Bible. It only demonstrates the necessity of an eternal lawgiver whose nature becomes the basis for objective morality. This describes the God of the Bible. But it also describes many other potential gods.

The intent of this argument is to seek to remove an objection to the idea that God exists. And I believe that it does that very well.

Revision History

  • October 11, 2019 – Original
  • November 8, 2019 – Added a response to an objection to the argument

The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.

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