December 23, 2013
The Moral Argument for God
I am an agnostic atheist (I don't know for sure, but I don't believe in God [or gods]). I received your 'Christmas gift for atheists' as printed by FoxNews, which led me to learn more about you and your views. I'll admit that my first responses were emotional ('How dare he!') those emotions soon subsided into questions and thought. Only because I encountered your response to another atheist, I did want to address 2 thoughts you left in that case: You said, " hope that the materials here will prompt you to question your atheism. Wouldn't it be something if God really did exist?" Your points and thoughts do prompt me to question my atheism, but I also feel like atheism (or any faith tradition) would have little point, for me, if it were not constantly questioned. Also, it would be something if God really existed; I'm not really sure what that something would be, but I sincerely doubt that verification of the existence of God would compel me to follow the moral dictates of the bible or any particular religion - my subjective view of morality too often leads me to finding the dictates of God to be immoral. As such, it was your point on objective morality that became the focus of my thought.
In your Q&A #16 on the 'Slaughter of the Caananites', you lay out your objective morality argument quite concisely as the following list:
1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
2. Objective moral values do exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.
I have some issues with analysis. My first issue that I don't believe that objective moral values do exist. But even if I grant that they do exist, your logic here fails. Your first statement above only provides for what must be true of objective morality if God does not exist. It does not provide for what must be true of God if objective morality does exist. In short, you act as if #1 is an 'if and only if' statement when in fact it is a simple 'if/then' statement. #2 above does not satisfy the 'if' of your 'if/then' statement, meaning #3 is not an accurate logical conclusion.
As I mentioned above, I do not believe that objective moral values do exist. When reading your writings on this subject, you focus on the arguments many skeptics and atheists bring up, namely the perceived immoral acts ordered or otherwise condoned by God in the bible. You lay out the arguments for why these perceptions are wrong and how God is and always is the foundation of objective morality.
My issue comes from the idea that God exists outside subjectivity. According to Webster's, objectivity would be something 'based on facts rather than feelings or opinions'. In every incarnation of God that I've come across or heard about, He has been a being that distinctly does have feelings and those feelings guide the commandments He hands down. He is a jealous God. He is a vengeful God. He is a God that wants to be loved and acutely feels insults to His name. While I can understand a Christian identifying God as the true foundation or baseline of morality, I cannot fathom how a God so informed by emotion can be considered objective.
Even if I grant God to be the creator of existence, that neither grants him objectivity nor authority on morality. Is it possible for a creator to be truly objective about their own creation? Does creation equal moral authority? I would submit that it does not.
I would submit that morality is always subjective because morality is, in its very essence, a part of the human condition. There exist situations in which there is no objective right answer or thing to do, though there are many situations in which immorality seems like a good answer for 'the greater good'.
I’m glad you found the Fox News interview stimulating, Dwight! I’m so pleased that you responded as you did, overcoming your initial emotional reaction and deciding to explore the question rationally and dispassionately. Truly, if God does exist, that would “be something,” and life’s most important question would become, “How am I to be rightly related to this Person upon whom I depend moment by moment for my very existence?”
Now with respect to the moral argument, you accept premise (1), but you claim that the “logic here fails,” so that “#3 is not an accurate logical conclusion.” You’re mistaken about that, Dwight. The inference is logically impeccable. Here is a symbolization of the derivation of the conclusion:
1. ¬ p → ¬ q (Premiss)
2. q (Premiss)
3. ¬ ¬ q (Double negation, 2)
4. ∴ ¬ ¬ p (Modus tollens, 1, 3)
5. ∴ p (Double negation, 4)
In presenting this argument I suppress the premises involving double negation, since these are readily assumed. So the argument is a valid argument for God’s existence. The only question is the truth of the two premises.
You and I agree that if God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist. But you need to ask yourself why you think that objective moral values do not exist. You might say, because God does not exist! But how do you know that? Which do you think is better justified for you: the existence of objective moral values or the nonexistence of God? You’d have to have pretty impressive arguments for atheism in order to trump moral experience. But do you, honestly?
You argue that a God who possesses subjective feelings cannot be the foundation of objective moral values. But this is confused. I’ve argued that objective moral values are rooted in God's nature, not in His will, and that that nature expresses itself toward us in the form of divine commandments, which constitute our moral duties. God may have subjective feelings, but these are not the basis of moral value or obligation. Far from being incompatible with objective moral values and duties, subjective feelings like compassion, moral indignation, sympathy, and so on are actually part of being a perfectly good moral agent.
I suspect that the problem is that you don’t share some of the moral feelings ascribed to God and so reject His being the foundation of morality. But then you find yourself in a rather peculiar situation. For you’ve told us that you don’t think objective moral values and duties exist. So why the indignation about a jealous, vengeful, and self-absorbed God? On your view there’s nothing wrong with having such feelings! On your view the only objection to theistic morality must be a consistency objection, that theistic-based morality is somehow inconsistent. But the burden of my reply to the problem of the slaughter of the Canaanites, which you cite, is precisely to show that there is no inconsistency here. I can’t help but suspect that, in fact, you do believe in objective moral values after all.
Let me say in passing that since God is the highest Good, we have a moral obligation to love and worship Him, and He would be evil if He did not care whether people fulfill their moral obligations or not.
Perhaps the difficulty here is that you seem to think of God simply as a creator, and you are quite right in saying that being a creator does not equate to moral authority. But the theistic concept of God is much richer than the notion of a creator and designer of the universe. He is also what Plato called the Good, the paradigm and locus of moral value. As such, He is ideally suited to serve as the foundation of objective moral values and duties.