Does the Moral Argument Succeed?

“For whenever the Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature the things of the law, these, although they* do not have the law, are a law to themselves, 15 who show the work of the law written on their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts one after another accusing or even defending them 16 on the day when God judges the secret things of people, according to my gospel, through Christ Jesus.” [1]

You are probably familiar with the moral argument for the existence of God, but just in case you are not, it goes like this:

  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.

If you follow my blog, you know that I am unsure of this argument. The question for me is premise one.

Let me be clear from the beginning: I am not saying that this argument fails. I am saying that I have questions that I don’t see anyone else asking. Maybe they are, but I haven’t found them.

As a Christian who believes God’s word to be the final authority, I find in the above verses the idea that Gentiles (in this passage, a reference to non-believers) can know what is right or wrong apart from God’s commands.

Now, this is usually skirted by saying, “Yes, that is because human beings are created in the image of God.”

Very well, my question is this: How can you know something without having access to it?

These Gentiles did not have God’s law, that is God’s special revelation. And divine command theorists seem to be saying that moral values are grounded in God’s commands which necessarily follow upon God’s good nature.

Well and dandy, but how could someone then know these moral values a part from any divine command? It seems to me that if it is possible to know moral values apart from any divine command, then moral values must not be grounded in divine commands.

I’m quite sure divine command theorists have a response and I look forward to them. I’m merely asking questions, not trying to attack.

Secondly, I would point out that the above verses actually use the word “by nature” to describe how these Gentiles know right from wrong apart from divine commands.

This sounds oddly familiar. Aristotle, and Thomas Aquinas after him, grounded moral values in the objectivity of human nature. Of course, God is responsible for human nature, and that is how Aquinas argued for God’s existence, but that is a cosmological argument, not a moral one.

Moral actions are human actions. Every action could be judged morally. An action is morally good if it perfects human nature. It is morally bad, or evil, if it depletes human nature.

This is known by all because it is grounded in all — that is human nature. If this contention is right, it seems that premise one is false.

Even if God did not exist, as long as human nature still did, then morality would still be objective.

The problem with objective morality on atheism isn’t really the lack of God. The problem is evolution and determinism, which proponents of the moral argument always bring up. But this is separate from a mere lack of God.

Determinism is a defeater of any objective moral duty. There’s no way a person can be morally culpable without libertarian freewill. If I push you into someone and they fall and break their arm, are you responsible? Of course not, I made you do it.

Evolution would seem to defeat objective morality as well. For then, our human nature and beliefs would be the result of a blind process that is aiming, not at truth, but at survival. In this way, even if morality was objective, we could never justify our belief in it.

In summary, I do not believe the moral argument necessarily fails. However, I do not understand morality the same way proponents of the argument do and therefore shy away from it.

Perhaps a better way of arguing would be to argue from free will, or to argue to human nature and then show how God is the explanation of human nature using a cosmological argument.

Again, these are just some thoughts. I hold them all tentatively. Please feel free to respond and correct me.

[1] Harris, W. H., III, Ritzema, E., Brannan, R., Mangum, D., Dunham, J., Reimer, J. A., & Wierenga, M. (Eds.). (2012). The Lexham English Bible (Ro 2:14–16). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

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Published by Haden Clark

Husband / Dog Dad / B.A. Business Administration / M.A. Theological Studies / M.B.A. Finance

4 thoughts on “Does the Moral Argument Succeed?

  1. For me, all of these proofs work less as proofs and better as definitions. If you were talking to a street-wise Roman or Dane before christianization, they would hear any of our best proofs of God and say, “That’s not what a god is.” All of their gods were born, so an uncaused-first-cause is just chaos.

    When I look at the Moral Argument, I like to relate it to numbers. We know numbers are real eternal objects. We also know that they exist in some way related to each other eternally. We can this state of relation The Number Line. We draw pictures of The Number Line in Jr High, but it’s just an expression of something that can’t really be drawn. The Number Line we draw in Jr High isn’t even a good representation, because (despite the name) some numbers aren’t on the line such as complex numbers.

    We can similarly know that moral facts are real. Even animals have discovered some of them. We humans have a more sophisticated understanding of moral facts and duties, of course. And just as the value of complex numbers and quaternions and concepts like infinity were and are debated by mathematicians, it’s possible to have different imperfect concepts of morality. Regardless, moral facts do exist and are as true for animals as they are for people.

    But a part of morality is judgment. You can’t just “do what’s right.” The best thing in the world is to be the only lazy glutton in a world of generous hard workers. To do what’s really right, you have to do what’s right at the right time and in the right way. Morality requires, therefore, both a rulebook, and a judge. And the rulebook is more like the rulebook for gravity: it varies based on the conditions. It’s always real, but it’s always subject to judgement.

    So whatever the equivalent to The Number Line is in morality, it’s powerful, it’s capable of judgment, and it’s powerful enough to impose its will everywhere. I call it God. (Or maybe it’s made by God…)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. #1 As a Christian who believes God’s word to be the final authority, I find in the above verses the idea that Gentiles (in this passage, a reference to non-believers) can know what is right or wrong apart from God’s commands.
    IT IS THE PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP THAT WE GENTILES HAVE WITH THE LORD THAT COMPELS US TO LOVE HAVING THE MORAL COMPASS GIVEN TO US AS A GIFT.
    #2 Very well, my question is this: How can you know something without having access to it?
    FIRST LET ME SAY THAT HE IS NOT AN “IT”. WE NOW HAVE ACCESS TO THE FATHER AND ALL THE RICHES OF HIS GLORY, BECAUSE OF THE FINISHED WORK OF JESUS ON THE CROSS WITH HIS SACRIFICE AND DEATH. BETTER STILL BECAUSE HE NOW LIVES WITHIN US THE FATHER AND THE KINGDOM MAKE THEIR ABODE WITHIN US BECOMING A NEW HEAVEN ON EARTH NOW. WHO IS THE CHURCH? WE ARE THE CHURCH.
    WE LIVE BECAUSE HE LIVES AND ALL IS HERE FOR THE ASKING.
    AMEN

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Haden,
    This is just a thought but In Genesis, when Adam and Eve fell, they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil and God did say that they had come to the knowledge of good and evil so this is passed down to the rest of humanity:
    Genesis 3:22 NASB
    (22) Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”–

    Liked by 1 person

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