Is God the Basis for Morality? Part 1

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Before I argue that God is the best explanation for moral values, I want to first clear up four misconceptions that people have regarding morality.

  1. You do not have to believe in God to perform moral actions. An Atheist can give his wife flowers on Valentine’s Day, be a crying shoulder for a friend, or give charitable donations to those in need.
  2. You do not have to believe in God to know morality. Everyone is capable of recognizing moral values because they are embedded in our consciences by God. Romans 2:15 says that the laws of God are written on the hearts of mankind.
  3. You can believe in God and do bad things, and even do them in the name of religion. The Medieval Inquisition in 1252 led by Pope Innocent IV, who was not so innocent, tortured apostates by roping their hands behind their back and painfully dislocating their joints. These actions were morally reprehensible because of our understanding of human dignity. People can do bad things by distorting religious creeds just as easily as people can do bad things by distorting the methodology of science. For example, Nazi doctors infecting innocent humans with gangrene to experiment for future biological warfare. The argument goes both ways.
  4. The definition of morality – Most people would approve that morality deals with the intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are good or right and those that are bad and wrong.

Now that common ground has been established, here is my main argument for why God is the best explanation for the origin of moral values: It is more rational to believe that morals originated from an intrinsically valuable, intelligent Creator (commonly known as God) than for morals to have emerged evolutionarily through a valueless, non-intelligent, cause-effect physical process.

To defend this argument, I suggest three criteria that every valid ethical system of morality should require. First, any sufficient moral system should have an objective standard of what is right and wrong. Second, any sufficient moral system should explain the connection between free will and human responsibility. Third, any sufficient moral system should present justification for human value.

Let’s now focus on the first criteria. #1. Any sufficient moral system should have an objective standard of what is right and wrong. To say that morality is objective is to argue that the idea of right and wrong are universally fixed for all times and all cultures, regardless of human opinion. Saying “murdering an innocent person is wrong” is just as objectively true as 2+2=4 or the speed of light travels at 186,000 miles per second. So, even if someone believed that 2+2=something other than 4, or said “murdering an innocent person was okay” their opinion would still be wrong.

My grandmother-in-law lived during the diabolical reign of Josef Stalin. Between the years 1937 and 1938, commonly known as the great purge, Stalin authorized the execution of over 40,000 innocent people, 90% of which were confirmed to have been systematically shot to death. The historian Dmitri Volkogonov in his book, Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy, said that Stalin was reported saying: “Who is going to remember all this in ten or twenty years of time? No one.”

Stalin was wrong. Today, we still remember the evil atrocities that happened during the Soviet Union. Both the skeptic and I would agree that what he did was evil. Even if Stalin thought it was morally permissible, or the Communist Party in the Union justified genocide since they were just following orders from their leader, it was still wrong. International law today, which supersedes particular cultures, would condemn this act as a human rights violation, just like suppression of women’s rights, human trafficking, and racial discrimination.

If an Atheist was asked, why was this wrong?” I think they could make a case, even without referencing God. They might say mass genocide does not lead to the survival and flourishing of human beings; it leads to starvation, pain, and psychological trauma. Also, randomly killing people will not build trust and cooperation within a species group. A Naturalist might further add that evolution favors genes that cooperate, which will aid you in survival.

I would agree with some of these statements, but then I would ask the skeptic the following question: Is genocide evil because it prevents human well-being, or is it evil regardless of what you or your DNA thinks? If you say it is evil because genocide prevents human well-being, what if we conceive of a world in which Stalin won the war, brainwashed everyone into believing what he did was okay, and it became a social norm. Even if you’re genes in DNA “used to think” genocide was evil, wouldn’t it need to adapt to this new way of thinking to survive? If you don’t adapt, you are not socially cooperating with the majority’s opinion. If you don’t cooperate with the majority’s opinion, your being a rebellious genetic mutation. And if the majority finds out, you could be exterminated. This will not maximize your human well-being. Richard Dawkins even said on p.69 of his book, the Selfish gene: “The best strategy for an individual depends upon what the majority of the population are doing.” I hope Richard Dawkins doesn’t think that premise is true in a corrupt society.

If you say that “genocide” is wrong regardless of what you or your genes think, then it must be grounded in something other than your opinion or the process of Naturalistic evolution. The example above eliminates Naturalistic evolution as a valid source for objective morals since it can be shown to change depending on the situation. So then, the best option for objective moral values is that they are found in God’s unchanging character. Contrary to what Atheists might say, God’s commands are not random like evolution and are not independent of His character. God is the greatest good, full of love, and is the standard that informs us the objective rightness of justice and the wrongness of hatred, discrimination, and “genocide.”

Please leave any comments or questions below. In my next post, I will demonstrate that any sufficient moral system should explain the connection between free will and human responsibility.

5 comments

  1. It’s interesting that you chose murder and genocide as examples. Are you familiar with the story of Joshua? That leaves us with murder and genocide are objectively wrong unless your god says to do them and that makes morality subjective, not objective. Subject to the whims of a god (no matter whether such a god exists) the objective morality that Christians and Jews preach is not objective. Both Hitler and Joshua claim to have been doing their god’s work and it’s easy to believe. How many other times has YHWH used humans to punish the Jews?

    The better question is this: why would an omnipotent god need humans to do his killing for him? Why does such a god need humans killed at all? Why is it that YHWH’s first resort seems all too often to be violence and death? What is moral about a god who not only killed most of life on this planet (according to his book) but requires humans to kill other humans at his whim? What is moral about a god who requires blood sacrifice?

    1. Thank you for your reply. I appreciate the honesty and the rebuttal to my argument concerning objective morality. Let me first talk about the specific examples you brought up about the Canaanites in 1 Samuel 15 and Adolf Hitler.

      First, the idea that the Israelites all of a sudden descended down upon the people of Canaan and ‘utterly’ destroyed them is a false idea. It took 400 years to get the people out of the land; this didn’t happen in one night. It’s also important to realize the context. The Canaanites were sacrificing their innocent sons and daughters to the god of Moloch on a daily basis, which was repudiated by God because all humans are intrinsically valuable.

      Second, Joshua used the language warfare from his day. He would say he utterly destroyed “all” the land “all the kings” and all the people, but then chapters later the Bible would mention how the Israelites did not completely wipe out the Amalekites or Canaanites. There is history to back this up. Egypt’s Tuthmosis III boasted that the numerous army of Mitanni was overthrown within the hour, annihilated totally. However, Mitanni lived on to fight for the next two centuries.

      Third, the battles happened in military areas. Jerichos and AI are just a few examples where Joshua says destroy every living thing. These cities were used for government buildings and operations, while the rest of people (women and children) lived in the surrounding countryside.

      Fourth, Joshua 11:19 shows that peace treaties could be made, even though Gibeon and Jericho rejected the offer of peace. This was an attitude of grace and not just wanting to destroy.

      People have said that Adolf Hitler was religious because his mother was a devout Catholic. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s closest associate, wrote in his diary that Hitler hated Christianity because it had crippled all that is noble in humanity.

      You rightfully mentioned that Hitler’s autobiography, Mein Kampf, talks much about God, or divine providence. He thought God was on his side. However, Laurence Rees, a British Historian, said: “Had Hitler distanced himself or his movement too much from Christianity, it is all but impossible to see how he could ever have been successful in a free election. Therefore, Hitler used religion for his own political end just like we see in politics today, but Hitler definitely had a materialistic outlook based on 19th century Rationalism.

      I believe that one of Hitler’s greatest heroes of the philosophical realm was the famous Atheist Friedrich Nietzsche. Hitler was deeply inspired by his idea of the “Ubermensch” or “superman.” The book Thus Spoke Zarathustra, was written in 1883, just 6 years before Hitler was born. Is it ironic here that this book was written about how humanity would finally breed a superior race, and escape from their primitive concept of a God?

      There are many other things I could say, but I do want you to know that context is important. But, from a purely naturalistic perspective, how is there objective moral values? Doesn’t it depend on the culture? Who is the law above the law? Why is there any moral obligation? Maybe for survival and human flourishing, but what if you get into a situation where you must steal, cheat, or lie in order to survive? Are those acts then morally justifiable? The burden of proof is also on the Naturalist. I would like to hear more from your position. Thanks again for the comment. Have a great day!

      1. When I hear justification for Joshua et al what I really hear is that murder and genocide are wrong ‘unless they really deserve it’ … not much of a justification for objective morality.

        In my understanding morality begins and ends with the law of reciprocity. The tendrils of morality threaded through our lives are woven there by the decisions we make in each moment. When you ask if it is moral to steal a loaf of bread to survive I ask if it is moral to deprive the starving of food. Context, as you say, is important. In which perspective is the greater immoral act? Morality is not rigid and objective, rather it is fluid and subjective in each and every situation. That the same act is judged moral by many and in many situations does not mean that it is always a morally good act. Same goes for morally bad acts.

        You find Joshua’s actions moral yet Hitler’s actions immoral. The two were quite comparable in many respects. Since YHWH quit adding to his book in the 4th century AD we’ll never know exactly what he thought of Hitler. No matter what has been written you cannot know that Hitler was not doing his god’s work, so must take it at face value as we do with what is written in the OT. (more or less).

        Interestingly you stand as morality judge of Hitler (not by yourself I might add) which is a difficult position for the believer. No matter how you try to justify hating Hitler it is still possible that he has been admitted to your heaven and you cannot know in this life one way or the other. That must be terribly difficult to come to terms with. It makes mockery of justice and divine benevolence. He might well have been doing his god’s work … you can’t know.

        Your god hardened pharoh’s heart. Only YHWH knows what he did to Hitler. In the end, an honest Christian can stand in judgement of no one else and cannot honestly say what is moral and what is not except to say they believe what is written in their book as moral in their understanding of the world. For the honest Christian to assert that this book holds morality for all people is to stand in judgement of those Joshua killed for a god who could have done it himself if he really wanted the Isrealites to have the land. Your god is a bigot, choosing one people, one small race of people. He ordered the destruction of innocents. Now, if you think that is morally good, and you can, it is on your head but you can’t tell me this book of yours demonstrates objective morality while calling Hitler’s actions immoral.

        On a side note, If it were that my chosen subjective morality mirrored what is written in your book, you could not tell the difference between my subjective morality and the book’s so called objective morality. The point being that you can’t tell objective morality from subjective morality if you believe a version of subjective morality is actually objective. There is no such thing as objective morality. It is a real trick to even concieve of objective morality.

      2. By the by, I don’t think that you and I have the same understanding of Nietzsche’s work. Such ubermench would be superior for throwing off the chains of superstition/religion. Abandoning the primitive concept of god would not be an act of the super race, but the creation of the super race. Super meaning above mankind as is known, not ultra superior or perfect. For all of human history we humans have been mired in war and covered in blood. Nietzsche saw a humanity above that and he saw gods as necessarily part of the blood covered and violent past and present (in his time). He was, in his way, humanist. He saw it as a possibility for all humans, not just a few or a select group. I’m not saying that he was all good, but he certainly wasn’t all bad. He would be sad to know that even now we still deal in death, fear, and pain. These three remain the main motivations for almost all that we do. Occassionally we defy the world, try to throw off the chains, and do things in defiance of the three. Still, at the end of the month you count your pennies not because you want to know how much to send to the starving but to figure out if you can afford a new TV or car or whatever. The day of the ubermensch is not yet here.

  2. Once again, good points. I would have to disagree with your assumptions of Joshua’s military conquests since in the context, it is not “murder” but “just-war.” If someone like Saddam Hussein was killing his own people, we would have a moral obligation to protect that society against evil. No one likes to go to war, but I would argue it’s the lesser of two evils. That is what is going on in the context of Joshua. If you have further questions, I encourage you to read a book by Paul Copan entitled Is God a Moral Monster?

    I agree with your notion of situational ethics. The rich person who is unlawfully stealing a loaf of bread is committing the same crime as a poor person who is unlawfully stealing a loaf of bread. Both acts are wrong, but the poor person has more justification for doing so. He may need to feed his family and break the law in order to survive.

    Here is another example. Let’s say two people were guilty of murder. During the trial, person A was found to have a large tumor in his prefrontal cortex, which led to his anger. He was also found by Psychiatrists incompetent to stand trial because of his delusions and schizophrenic outbreaks. Person B, however, was perfectly rational. He did not have any psychological issues and was a cold blooded murderer. He knew what he did was absolutely wrong.

    Both are guilty and the “objectivity” of murder being wrong doesn’t change. Both person A and person B are charged with murder for committing the crime, but as I think we would agree, person A should be treated much differently than person B. Person A’s sentence would be less severe since he was incompetent to stand trial and has both a physical and mental illness that led to his wrongdoing.

    In conclusion, I would agree that the judgment of morals change “situational ethics”, but I would still argue that objectivity never changes. The statement murdering an innocent person is wrong transcends culture, time, and even situational ethics. The question I have for you is: From a purely naturalistic perspective, how can you ground “objectivity?” Even the famous Atheist Michael Ruse once said, “Objective morality is a corporate illusion that has been deceiving us by our genes to get us to cooperate.”

    Hope to hear your response. Thanks again!

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