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#724 Confusion about the Moral Argument

March 20, 2021

Hi Dr. Craig! I hope you're doing well. I wanted to clear a confusion regarding the moral argument raised by some atheists. As you've mentioned at several occasions about the premise "objective moral values and duties do exist", that deep down we all know that objectively good and objectively evil actions do exist and you prove their existence by appealing to moral experiences. You've also argued that moral skepticism is as radical as the skepticism about the physical world around us. But there is a confusion regarding this line of argumentation. If we don't need a transcendent anchor to affirm the reality of physical world, why do we need it for the moral truths? If we don't need a law giver to affirm the basic laws of logic and reasoning, why do we require it for affirming morality? Why moral ontology cannot be derived from moral experiences of good and evil instead of God?


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Dr. craig’s response


It’s so great to receive a question from faraway Pakistan! Thank you for writing, Shahmir!

It seems to me that your question actually runs two distinct questions together that need to be addressed separately. The first question ends at the phrase “. . . skepticism about the physical world around us.” Then the second question begins with the phrase “But there is a confusion. . . .”

With respect to the first question, “Do objective moral values and duties exist?” it seems that you and I agree that they do, since you do not dispute the two reasons I give.

So the confusion you go on to talk about has nothing to do with “this line of argumentation.” Rather a new question is raised: “What is the explanation for the reality of objective moral values and duties?” Your position seems to be that no explanation is needed. They just exist. Well, I take that to be Platonism. Since moral values and duties are not physical objects, they must be abstract objects. In my published work I present three arguments as to why Platonism is not as plausible an explanation as theism, so you need to interact with those.[1]

Notice, however, that your question, “Why moral ontology cannot be derived from moral experiences of good and evil instead of God?” confuses moral ontology with moral epistemology. Moral knowledge can, indeed, be derived from moral experience, but moral experience presupposes that there is an objective something to be experienced (lest you lapse back into subjectivism!).  Your question is actually inconsistent with moral objectivism.

Everyone recognizes that moral truths are puzzling (Why is it wrong to kill innocent people?), and so a theory that has some explanatory depth is preferable to a theory that just asserts these truths without explanation or grounding. Notice that your analogy with physical objects is not really apt. We posit a realm of physical objects on the basis of our sensory experience. But we don’t just stop there!  Physical scientists want to know the explanation for why the things we perceive exist, and this has led to the huge enterprise of evolutionary science, which traces everything step by step back to the moment of the big bang. And philosophers want to know why the realm of contingent physical objects exists and so have been motivated to inquire after a metaphysically necessary being which is the Sufficient Reason of all contingent objects. So inquiry into the physical realm continues, just as it does into the moral realm.

[1] Reasonable Faith, 3rd ed. (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2008), pp. 178-79.

- William Lane Craig