Is God the Basis for Morality? Part 2

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As you recall from part 1, I argued that 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 suggested 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. In this paper, I will argue the second point.

#2. Any sufficient moral system should explain the connection between free will and human responsibility.

The Oxford dictionary defines free will as “the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one’s own discretion.” When we say a person has free will, we are assuming the person is responsible for his or her action. Why? Because humans are capable of freely choosing to do either good or evil.

This makes sense if God exists. Because God is a non-physical being, God is not controlled by anything external or internal. Since we as human beings are created in God’s image, we all possess a non-physical mind that is not determined by the physical and chemical processes in our brain state. So then, if I speak rudely to my wife, I am obligated to confess my wrongness, seek forgiveness, and take responsibility for my wrong behavior. I can’t say that my prefrontal cortex was acting up that day as an excuse not to apologize.

Atheist Sam Harris states in his book Free Will, that “A person’s conscious thoughts, intentions, and efforts at every moment are preceded by causes of which he is unaware. What is more, they are preceded by deep causes—genes, childhood experience—for which no one, however evil, can be held morally responsible.” Even Michael Shermer said in his book The Science of Good and Evil: If you abandon free will in favor of Naturalism, moral responsibility flies out the courtroom window.

So then, next time you say something rude to your friend, cheat on your exam, or get pulled over speeding by a cop, just tell them: “I am simply an organic machine at the mercy of the chemical and physical reactions occurring in my body. See if they let you off the hook…

3 comments

  1. Can i challenge you with a good will? It’s a massive claim to say that morality is objective, that it is intrinsically entwined within the fabric of the universe. There’s all sorts I could say about why I believe that is impossible. But, let me grant you that it is the case that there are objective rights and wrongs for the sake of debate.
    What do you think of the claim, that if morality is objective then it must necessarily be independent of God? Objective morality would always exist regardless of the existence of God. Russ Shafer-Landau has a good argument to illustrate the point. If one is to claim that morality is simply an extension of God’s will (i.e. to claim something is good is nothing more than saying God approves of it), then these moral laws must arbitrary. God could wake up one day, yawn, stretch, and decide that genocide is good. Luckily, he decided that it’s bad. Therefore the arbitrariness of his decisions must seep through into the laws, so we cannot say they are objective as such.
    If however, God is commanding these laws based on some pre-determined concept of right and wrong, then these pre-determined concepts would still exist whether or not God existed. He is just as subject to the rightness and wrongness of specific actions and commands as we are.
    So, surely we have 2 options. If we are to claim that God is the origin of morality we must say that morality is therefore subjective and arbitrary. However, if we don’t like that idea and claim that morals are part of objective reality, then we have to conclude that God is not responsible for this. Can you find any weaknesses in this argument? Thanks, OT.

    1. Olly, thanks for your good will question. I appreciate your honesty and willingness to have a friendly discussion on this matter. You brought up several good points. I will do my best to answer them.

      You have brought up the Euthyphro dilemma, which makes the claim: Is something good because God says so or does God say so because it is inherently good? If it’s good because God says so then God could command anything He desired, as you mentioned, decide that genocide was good. This would make his objective stance towards morality arbitrary. However, if you say that it is good independently of God, then objective moral values are necessarily true. if objective moral values are necessarily true, then objectivity can exist without postulating the existence of God.

      I believe there is a third option, and it has been suggested by Paul Copan, PhD from Marquette University and Analytic Philosopher. He suggests that, on the one hand, objective morality is not independent of God but rather is part of God’s unchanging character. Therefore, moral values depend upon God for its existence. Also, God’s will operates according to a moral standard, and that standard is never arbitrary because God’s very nature is fixed. God is necessarily good, never could will evil, as this is a logical impossibility.

      We know in abstract thought that there are certain truths in the universe that are necessarily true and can’t be changed. For instance, a circle square is logically impossible, or the law of non-contradiction: I can’t be both in my car and not in my car at the same time and in the same place simultaneously. Same with God: Because God is inherently good, He can’t both be good and will evil at the same time and in the same sense. It’s logically impossible for God to contradict His nature. So then, if God is always good, always right, always true, then his commands are never arbitrary.

      I don’t see this problem being an issue for the Theist. However, I do think objective morality is a problem for the naturalist. Is this why you have resorted to a subjectivist position? Do you follow Mackie? Are you an anti-realist? If so, which type? Revisionist, Nihilist, Quasi-Realist? I know there are a wide variety of moral realists and anti-realists, but I think that the best explanation is a Creator God.

      If morals are subjective and change based on culture or time, then there is no law above the law that can declare racial segregation, suppression of women’s rights, and other acts of immorality from the past or cultures that still allow it today is “morally wrong.” If you try to make the case that there are objective moral values without God, then my question would be: Who morally obligates you? Your genes? Society? Isn’t this itself arbitrary and subject to change depending on the opinion of the culture?

      Hope to hear what you have to say about all of this. There is more I can say but would like to see any questions, thoughts, or problems with my argument. Thanks again for listening and have a good day!

      1. Thanks for your interesting reply. I do indeed have some thoughts and issues I’d like to raise! Just fyi, Mackie’s subjective viewpoint is indeed the one I subscribe to – the idea that to talk of objective morality is actively false, rather than just meaningless.

        The first thing I’d say is that your 3rd option brings up a lot of questions. First I’d ask how one comes to know God’s nature. By what faculty can we understand that God’s nature is unchanging? What makes you think that? This is an argument that can be used for any assertions about the nature of God. For instance, in regards to the problem of evil, the theist might say, God doesn’t cause these bad things because he is all-good. Well, okay it’s all very well to say that but there is no logical or reasonable way to come to that conclusion. It’s just a convenient way of answering the challenge. I don’t know if you’ve heard the parable of the gardener? It’s used to show how skeptics “die a death of a thousand qualifications”. So, 2 people come across a beautiful garden in the middle of untamed forest. 1 man claims there must be a gardener, the other claims there is nobody around so there cannot be. The first man is convinced so they wait a week for the gardener to appear. He does not. So the first man claims it must be an invisible gardener. As a result, they put ash around the perimeter of the garden to catch his footprints. A week later, no footprints. So, this leads the first man to say he must be an invisible flying gardener and so forth. Similarly, there is no reasonable or logical argument that would lead one to the conclusion that God’s nature is inherently good and unchanging, it’s simply a method of getting around certain challenges. My question to you is, what evidence and proof to do you have to suggest this is the case?

        Secondly, I assume that when you say morality is tied to God’s unchanging nature, that you mean God can only ever command good things – that his nature is inherently good? You do say that he can only command good and is always right. Well, how do you know this without comparing God’s will to some independent, objective moral standard? There cannot be a rightness or wrongness about his nature without a separate standard of right and wrong. If his nature were to command suffering, then we would still be saying that suffering is good because we don’t know any different. However, you make the claim that God does use a moral standard, and this proves my initial point. If God is operating to a moral standard, then some moral code must exist outside his will in order to assert that he wills goodness, must it not? If there is no independent moral standard, then God’s will cannot be anything other than arbitrary, regardless of his unchanging nature (this lack of choice diminishes the good He commands, but we can go into that another time).

        In regards to your comment about objectivity being a problem for the atheist – as i said I agree with Mackie, and feel that one cannot posit the existence of objective morality at all, but if one did, then it would have to be necessarily true regardless of God’s existence. However, I don’t see the need to have objective standards at all. The statement that one cannot be an atheist otherwise there is no objective morality puzzles me. Why the need for an objective morality, what’s the attraction? I don’t see this as an argument against atheism at all, in fact I’d rather there be no objective standard. I’d rather have a reasoned, logical, thought out morality, rather than one we could never question. There seems to be an assumption on the part of atheists that without an objective ethical system we would descend into moral anarchy. Not the case at all, indeed, religion has been used to justify “women’s right’s and racial segregation” in the past, and much of the moral progress we have made in the last 50 years is as a result of secularism, and despite religion.

        Sorry it was a bit long, but had a lot to tackle there, would be interested to hear what you think of it. Thanks, OT.

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