Twenty Arguments for God – Fourteen – The Moral Argument

This post is one of a serious that picks apart the arguments for god that can be found at the link below. This post addresses number 14:

If you don’t want to click over there to read it, the full argument goes like this:

14. The Moral Argument

Real moral obligation is a fact. We are really, truly, objectively obligated to do good and avoid evil.
Either the atheistic view of reality is correct or the “religious” one.
But the atheistic one is incompatible with there being moral obligation.
Therefore the “religious” view of reality is correct.
We need to be clear about what the first premise is claiming. It does not mean merely that we can find people around who claim to have certain duties. Nor does it mean that there have been many people who thought they were obliged to do certain things (like clothing the naked) and to avoid doing others (like committing adultery). The first premise is claiming something more: namely, that we human beings really are obligated; that our duties arise from the way things really are, and not simply from our desires or subjective dispositions. It is claiming, in other words, that moral values or obligations themselves—and not merely the belief in moral values—are objective facts.
Now given the fact of moral obligation, a question naturally arises. Does the picture of the world presented by atheism accord with this fact? The answer is no. Atheists never tire of telling us that we are the chance products of the motion of matter—a motion which is purposeless and blind to every human striving. We should take them at their word and ask: Given this picture, in what exactly is the moral good rooted? Moral obligation can hardly be rooted in a material motion blind to purpose.
Suppose we say it is rooted in nothing deeper than human willing and desire. In that case, we have no moral standard against which human desires can be judged. For every desire will spring from the same ultimate source—purposeless, pitiless matter. And what becomes of obligation? According to this view, if I say there is an obligation to feed the hungry, I would be stating a fact about my wants and desires and nothing else. I would be saying that I want the hungry to be fed, and that I choose to act on that desire. But this amounts to an admission that neither I nor anyone else is really obliged to feed the hungry—that, in fact, no one has any real obligations at all. Therefore the atheistic view of reality is not compatible with there being genuine moral obligation.
What view is compatible? One that sees real moral obligation as grounded in its Creator, that sees moral obligation as rooted in the fact that we have been created with a purpose and for an end. We may call this view, with deliberate generality, “the religious view.” But however general the view, reflection on the fact of moral obligation does seem to confirm it.
Question 1: The argument has not shown that ethical subjectivism is false. What if there are no objective values?
Reply: True enough. The argument assumes that there are objective values; it aims to show that believing in them is incompatible with one picture of the world, and quite compatible with another. Those two pictures are the atheistic-materialistic one, and the (broadly speaking) religious one. Granted, if ethical subjectivism is true, then the argument does not work. However, almost no one is a consistent subjectivist. (Many think they are, and say they are—until they suffer violence or injustice. In that case they invariably stand with the rest of us in recognizing that certain things ought never to be done.) And for the many who are not—and never will be—subjectivists, the argument can be most helpful. It can show them that to believe as they do in objective values is inconsistent with what they may also believe about the origin and destiny of the universe. If they move to correct the inconsistency, it will be a move toward the religious view and away from the atheistic one.
Question 2: This proof does not conclude to God but to some vague “religious” view. Isn’t this “religious” view compatible with very much more than traditional theism?
Reply: Yes indeed. It is compatible, for example, with Platonic idealism, and many other beliefs that orthodox Christians find terribly deficient. But this general religious view is incompatible with materialism, and with any view that banishes value from the ultimate objective nature of things. That is the important point. It seems most reasonable that moral conscience is the voice of God within the soul, because moral value exists only on the level of persons, minds and wills. And it is hard, if not impossible, to conceive of objective moral principles somehow floating around on their own, apart from any persons.
But we grant that there are many steps to travel from objective moral values to the Creator of the universe or the triune God of love. There is a vast intellectual distance between them. But these things are compatible in a way that materialism and belief in objective values are not. To reach a personal Creator you need other arguments (cf. arguments 1-6), and to reach the God of love you need revelation. By itself, the argument leaves many options open, and eliminates only some. But we are surely well rid of those it does eliminate.

The first line of the quoted piece reads

Real moral obligation is a fact. We are really, truly, objectively obligated to do good and avoid evil.

Isn’t it immoral to lie?

In the first four lines, this argument opens with an unsupported assertion, makes a false dichotomy, makes another unsupported assertion and then posits an unsafe conclusion. It’s a terrible way to start an argument!

The claim that it is an objective fact that we are obligated to be moral is a religious claim that can only be true if there is a god that has created us subservient to this ‘fact’. That god hasn’t been demonstrated and so the claim is suspect. To try and then use this claim as proof that that god exists is circular reasoning.

Humans behave according to their biases and their desires; this is an entirely subjective behaviour pattern. That the religious doubt it is because of their bias towards a controlling god and their desire for everyone else to fall in line. That is an entirely subjectively moral behaviour based on their peculiar biases and desires. Need further proof against objectivity? Go to any church and checklist the behaviours of the membership, do they all act in the same way in the same situations? No they don’t. Then there can’t be an objective standards ruling their behaviour, therefore their behaviour is subjectively driven.

In the reply to question 1 we see a rare bit of honesty, the argument does indeed assume objectivism and the argument does indeed fail if is false.

Therein lies the fatal flaw in this argument, from beginning to end the objective morality is assumed and used to argue for ‘religion’, yet at no point is there any reference to anything supporting objectivity. There is a half-hearted attempt at dissing subjectivity which ironically supports it.

almost no one is a consistent subjectivist.

That is the whole point of subjectivity! Consistency is neither implied nor expected, we act and behave according to our motivation at the time. By definition that means there will be inconsistency. That inconsistency is the evidential support for subjectivity. In claiming that morals are objective, the author has actually demonstrated exactly why morals are subjective. Subjective morality does not support the god hypothesis and this one on it’s own should be enough to declare the Christian god does not live, long live humanity!