There are four basic categories of philosophical arguments for God’s existence. The one I find most compelling is the cosmological argument, which I have written about here and here. Gene Edward Veith (Cranach, another blog I read almost daily) points to a statement of the moral argument for God’s existence by William Lane Craig:
The moral argument. A number of ethicists, such as Robert Adams, William Alston, Mark Linville, Paul Copan, John Hare, Stephen Evans, and others have defended “divine command” theories of ethics, which support various moral arguments for God’s existence. One such argument:
1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.
By objective values and duties, one means values and duties that are valid and binding independent of human opinion. A good many atheists and theists alike concur with premise (1). For given a naturalistic worldview, human beings are just animals, and activity that we count as murder, torture, and rape is natural and morally neutral in the animal kingdom. Moreover, if there is no one to command or prohibit certain actions, how can we have moral obligations or prohibitions?
Premise (2) might seem more disputable, but it will probably come as a surprise to most laypeople to learn that (2) is widely accepted among philosophers. For any argument against objective morals will tend to be based on premises that are less evident than the reality of moral values themselves, as apprehended in our moral experience. Most philosophers therefore do recognize objective moral distinctions.
Nontheists will typically counter the moral argument with a dilemma: Is something good because God wills it, or does God will something because it is good? The first alternative makes good and evil arbitrary, whereas the second makes the good independent of God. Fortunately, the dilemma is a false one. Theists have traditionally taken a third alternative: God wills something because he is good. That is to say, what Plato called “the Good” is the moral nature of God himself. God is by nature loving, kind, impartial, and so on. He is the paradigm of goodness. Therefore, the good is not independent of God.
Moreover, God’s commandments are a necessary expression of his nature. His commands to us are therefore not arbitrary but are necessary reflections of his character. This gives us an adequate foundation for the affirmation of objective moral values and duties.
Grace and Peace
6 thoughts on “The moral argument for God’s existence”
I’d say that if there is any objective truth at all then there must be a God, although unlike the moral argument this doesn’t imply anything about the nature of God.
The moral argument is still valid, though many say it is not. Thanks for this article.
“Theists have traditionally taken a third alternative: God wills something because he is good. That is to say, what Plato called “the Good” is the moral nature of God himself. God is by nature loving, kind, impartial, and so on. He is the paradigm of goodness. Therefore, the good is not independent of God. Moreover, God’s commandments are a necessary expression of his nature.”
I have a problem with what you propose as a third alternative because i don’t think it removes you from the dilemma of the second option, which is to say that even with that alternative, objective moral values would STILL be arbitrary in the Christian world view.
This is why:
The God you believe in exists for no reason and with no cause. In other words, his existence was (is) not necessitated by anything (no reason). He is uncaused. The attributes you claim he has aren’t caused either. He just ‘happens’ to be that way, in the Christian worldview. It is His ‘nature’, you say.
In other words, he is a loving God – for no reason, with no cause. He is a good God – for no reason, with no cause. He is a moral God – for no reason, with no cause. He just IS the way he IS – for no reason, and no cause.
To suggest he had a reason for adopting any of these specific attributes implies the existence of another entity capable of causing this God – or capable of giving him a reason – to adopt those specific attributes, instead of other attributes he could have chosen to adopt. Did God have the option of being an evil God, but chose to be good, in the Christian world view? Did God have the option of being a non-loving God, but chose to be loving, in the Christian worldview? If he did, then this would not be the God YOU believe in, because you believe in a God that has existed eternally with nothing before him that could possibly cause him, or influence him, to adopt one attribute and not the other. You believe this God is just the way he is, for no reason, with no cause – and you believe this to be his ‘nature’.
Therefore, if there is no other entity, or reason, that can account for God’s nature and attributes being what they are, and not being what they are not, then these attributes of God, and his ‘nature’, are completely, and inarguably ARBITRARY (or random).
Thus, to argue that objective moral values are a reflection of God’s ‘nature’ would be to argue that in the Christian worldview, objective moral values are ARBITRARY – just like the ‘nature’ of God they are supposed to be a reflection of.
How would you counter that line of reasoning?
Steve, you make a good point. I think humanity makes its own rules, without an external universal standard which decides whether those rules are right or wrong. Morality is an emergent property, bubbling up from below, from the interactions of people with each other and with their environment. It is not a standard bestowed from on high and codified on parchment or some long-lost stone tablets.
I want to believe that geochristian didn’t respond because he didn’t happen to wander back through after his original post. I don’t know if you’ll wander through to see my comments, or if I’ll wander back if someone adds another.
Of course, it’s possible that he saw your post, and your question stumped him.
You are correct — Steven’s comment got lost in the shuffle. I get an email when someone comments, but didn’t act on it right away. Was I stumped? No, but the moral argument for God’s existence is outside of my area of expertise (though I’m working on it).
My answer to Steven is that perhaps in a sense he is right: God is the way he is because that is the way he is. That may sound arbitrary, and someone has probably come up with a good answer to that. I don’t have the complete answer. From our perspective, however, that still means that ethics and morals are absolute rather than relative. God is good because that is the way he is. As creatures in his universe, therefore, we are expected to be good as well.
(P.S. I emailed Steven in case he wants to respond)
For created things, a nature is something we inherit – we receive it from our makeup, from how we are made. (the details of “how we are made” vary according to Christians and Atheists, but either way our nature is something we receive from how we are made.) God, on the other hand, doesn’t receive a nature from how He was made, since He is unmade and eternally existing.
About a person, we can have a conversation about if his decisions are merely products of the nature he receives, or if his decisions make his nature.
For God, his nature and his decisions are one and the same. He doesn’t receive a nature and make decisions (should I be “good” or “bad”) according to it. His decision is his nature. Saying “God has decided that XYZ is good,” is the same as saying “God’s nature is that XYZ is good.”
Values are ‘arbitrary’ in that if God decided to be different (remember, same as His nature being different), the values of “good” and “bad” would be different. However, they are not arbitrary in that they are based on something more permanent and unchanging than even the existence of the universe – an unchanging aspect of God.
It’s a fun discussion to wonder if it is possible for God to be different. That gets a bit far afield, though.
God didn’t receive a nature which formed his standards of good and bad, the definition of good and bad are made of who God is, and are unchanging. I can’t figure out anything that is less arbitrary.
Hmm, I just read back over this, and I think I just said (with a lot more words) what Geo said – “God is the way he is because that is the way he is,” and “God is good because that is the way he is. As creatures in his universe, therefore, we are expected to be good as well.”