Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Morality, therefore God. Poor Objection: No, people disagree about morality.

Here’s a puzzle that frequently comes up in discussions about God and morality.

It has been argued by many believers that the existence of objective moral principles shows that there must be a God. That is,

1. There are objective moral duties and principles.

Then, with some work, it is argued that if there were no God, then no such thing would exist:

2. If there were no God, then there no objective moral duties and principles would exist.

3. Therefore, God exists.

A very common response from skeptics and non-believers when they are confronted with this argument is to point out that views about what is right and wrong vary widely across cultures, from person to person, and across different eras in history. So here’s a premise in their argument:

A. People’s opinions about what is right and wrong vary widely.

Now, by itself, this point doesn’t give us an objection to the moral theist argument. Notice that A. doesn’t deny the truth of either of premise 1 or premise 2. But clearly, the doubter thinks that the variations of moral opinions is pertinent to the question of objective moral duties and principles. What would the doubter need to argue in order to turn point A. into a substantial objection to the moral theism argument? They would need this premise, or something like it:

B. If there were objective moral duties and principles then people’s opinions about what is right and wrong would not vary widely.

And from A and B, it now follows validly that:

C. Therefore, there are no objective moral duties and principles.

And C is the denial of premise 1 in the moral theism argument that the doubter wants to assert.

But the glaring problem here in the doubter’s argument, call them moral relativist atheists, is that B. is pretty clearly false. B. seems to be a particular instance of a more general principle like this: If some proposition is true, then there will be unanimous agreement about it; there will be no varying opinions about it from person to person and culture to culture.

But that’s absurd. Even for the most substantiated, best justified beliefs we have, there is no unanimous, unvarying agreement about them. There are people out there who still insist that the Earth is flat, or that the moon landings never happened, or that 2 + 2 does not equal 4. People don’t seem to agree about anything. But that doesn’t (or shouldn’t) prompt us to throw up our hands and conclude that if there is disagreement about X, then there is no truth about it.

So the puzzle about the moral relativist atheist’s argument is that they seem to think that varying views about right and wrong somehow discounts the moral theist’s claim that real morality proves the existence of God. But it’s unclear how those varying opinions are even relevant to what the theist is asserting. The moral relativist atheists seems to have completely missed the point.


Anonymous said...

Ok i sorta agree with you matt. it is superfical to claim that the presence of morality implies a god. but what if morality is god? i read somewhere that one of the older langauges sued to use good interchangeable with god. your right that If:

If there is morality then there is a god
there is morality

thus there is a god

B: there is a god
A: there is morality

BUT what about B -> A

If god exist then there is morality

this A, B reltion makes more sense since all things derive from god. however I am sure many of you non-believers will not be happy with us believers having faith in B in the first place. but hey why not? you guys get to have axioms for math and stuff. isnt it always come down to faith or a strong intution?

but yes matt your argument is good. and might i add very respectful this time. thank you

Thesauros said...

“If there is morality then there is a god”

This might seem like a picky point to you but it’s hard to overemphasise the distinction between
“If there is morality”
“If there is an OBJECTIVE morality.”

Everyone has a moral code by which they attempt to live. I worked as a counsellor in the Federal Prison System for 10 years. Two facilities, both maximum security with maximumly violent offenders. Not once, not once in all that time did I find a man who thought that he was a bad person. But they could sure identify people who were worse than they were, people who had done wrong things - to them. Which leads me to my second point.

When dealing with those who believe there is a variation in people’s morals and values - I say bunk. That’s easy to say when observing what happens to someone else, but let it happen to you, the individual making that claim and there is virtually no variation.
Let someone steal from me - Conclusion: It’s wrong to steal

Let my wife have an affair - Conclusion: Adultery is wrong

Let someone discriminate against my child - You get the picture.

Anonymous said...

Hey matt,

i think deep down you are a truly religious man. Who could write all this stuff concerning god and not be deeply religious.

i pray that one day god will reveal himself. than all that sleek self brainwashing wont seem so sleek.

May the lord bless you

Anonymous said...

Religion deeply impacts all of our lives whether we are believers or not. If religious people just sat in the corner and entertained themselves with their antiquated fairytales it wouldn't be an issue. However that is not the case, I live in a country that according to the treaty of Tripoli “…is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion” but it is illegal for me, as an atheist, to hold public office or testify in Arkansas, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Texas. I live in a country where a president (George Bush Sr.) said he doesn’t consider atheists citizens. I live in a country where policy decisions that effect the rights and lives of my friends and family (Steam Cell research, abortion, euthinasia) are decided based on a bronze age mores. I live in a world where people are being brutally murdered daily for a fictional god. Atheists care about religion because theists have forced us to. You wanna know why atheists care about religion, look at yourselves.

Anonymous said...

hey thanks phil student for lumping me in with the rest of the religious people. actually i defy the sterotype. I am very liberal, think that god's name on money is offensive and bleieve that the rigth wing xian nuts are a danger to our democracy. that being said i also believe that there is a diference between caring aobut the issue of god and beign passionately consumed by the qeustion of god. i bleive the latter is the case for some atheist like matt.

I wonder matt if that feeling you get climbing those magnificent sculped rocks can be eqaul to a line or two of disciptions?

I must disagree phil student that atheists need to care becasue they are forced to. Ought not apathy be the true attitude of an atheists? our society is too secular for you to claim that religion is in your face.

P.S. the consitution says that their is no religious test to hold office

Anonymous said...

I totally agree Professor Mccormick! Morality does not prove there is a god. This is because if we have A then B and then C, and then Z and A implies X, then Y = Z, thus it cannot be P nor cannot be Q. And lets not forget M and E which together sound like LMNOP. They too show obviously that god cannot be derived from morality.

Anonymous said...

hey thanks phil student for lumping me in with the rest of the religious people.

You exemplify the universal of a religious person to the extent that you share their core irrational beliefs. Even if you are not a hardcore-bible-thumping-fundamentalist you provide an umbrella for the more extreme elements of Christianity to hide under—by holding the same beliefs you are protecting the more radical elements. I see no reason to separate the perpetrators of the evil from the ones that make the vehicle of implementation societally acceptable.

Perhaps I should have quoted you in my earlier response:
Who could write all this stuff concerning god and not be deeply religious.

I was responding to the claim (hopefully made sarcastically) that only someone who is deeply religious could care so much about (the nature of) god

I also believe that there is a difference between caring about the issue of god and being passionately consumed by the question of god.

I am not sure if you are interpreting those two levels of caring as separate epistemic entities or different gradations on the same scale. Could you please expand on that?

I wonder matt if that feeling you get climbing those magnificent sculped rocks can be eqaul to a line or two of disciptions?

I am not sure what you mean here. I question the fact that you are taking jabs at Matt in a response to me.

Ought not apathy be the true attitude of an atheists?

No, I don’t have some underlying faith in cosmic justice to fall back on, the fact that an atheist child cannot become a member of the boy scouts of America is happening now. Atheists should be apathetic to the extent that women should have been apathetic about their disenfranchisement.

our society is too secular for you to claim that religion is in your face.

What? The two main political candidates need to reiterate the fact that they are god fearing, faithful Christians over and over again to garner public support. Atheists are the most hated minority group in America. An open atheist could never be elected into office.

P.S. the consitution says that their is no religious test to hold office

Arkansa’s Constitution
Article XIX
“No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any Court.”

Maryland’s Constitution
Article 36
"…. nor shall any person, otherwise competent, be deemed incompetent as a witness, or juror, on account of his religious belief; provided, he believes in the existence of God, and that under His dispensation such person will be held morally accountable for his acts, and be rewarded or punished therefore either in this world or in the world to come."

Article 37
“That no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God; nor shall the Legislature prescribe any other oath of office than the oath prescribed by this Constitution.”

The rest can be found here:

Anonymous said...

I believe you're insane phil student. so you're a rabid atheists good for you. You must be proud that you are an angry atheists. i know that there are many other atheist that are not angry and I could call reasonable about how they came aobut their beliefs. you on the othe other hand want to suscribe to partisanship and sterotypes. i hope thats not what they are teaching you in school.

As for the law regarding atheist holding office you are wrong.

From your own link:

Why these religious restrictions are no longer valid:

These phrases are historical relics, left over from earlier times. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution supersedes any applicable statutory laws and sections of state constitutions. It thus nullifies the effect of the above clauses. This was confirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court, as described below

Try reading a little more carefully philstudent. its no wonder why you have a disorted view of our country being overly religious.

Tom said...

Hi MM. Many atheists bring Euthyphro's dilemma against the moral argument. But do you think this is an effective objection against the moral argument? Or is it some further objection independent of the moral argument?

I can see how the dilemma poses a problem for divine command theory, but I don't see how it challenges any of the premises of the moral argument.

Euthyphro's dilemma doesn't challenge premise 1. It also doesn't challenge premise 2. An attack on premise 2 would involve some sort of counterexample; a possible scenario where there is no god and yet there still is objective morality. But Euthyphro's dilemma doesn't seem to provide this counterexample.

Aspentroll said...

It doesn't really matter what you believe as long as you keep religion of any kind out of government and schools.
Churches have their Sunday schools where they can push their BS down the throats
of children. Religious homes push their religion on their kids after they get back from Sunday school. That should be enough delusional crap for children without having it in the schools as well.

Religious zealots now control the government of the US and would like to have even more say in the lives of the population. If
you want to live like the Muslims have to live, then
bring in your religious law.

The US is already the laughing stock of the western world when it comes to religious views. But I think there is some light at the end of the tunnel.

Anonymous said...

RE: aspen troll

Just curious about something. You refer to religious beliefs as delusional. Does that also mean that they are false or shall we say unreal? i am asking what metaphysical assumptions are just being made here when people cite delusion as a reason a person believes X is true ( real?)

Anonymous said...

What's the payout for being an atheist and putting in all this time in educating people that you have found the right answer. Do you get Atheist points for enlightening people about your Philosophy. I don't get it. Just what if all these "crazy" Chrisitans happen to be right, and your left to face a Holy God. Was your meaningless life of say 60 or 70 years of defending you theory worth it??? Why wouldn't you at least play the odds "just in case" At least accepting Jesus Christ in your life has a payout (both eternal life and a relationship with the Creator of the Universe). I mean you guys want to believe in something so badly, you cant face your problems; you would never believe that a God would do such "bad things" and you landed on this. Atheism??? For how smart you guys all say you are, it doesn't make much sense to me whatsoever. If you decide to believe in God and your "wrong" or you believe in No god, you'll die and thats it... Either way its the same. But if you put your Faith in Jesus Christ, you'll soon see that the payout is worth it. And go ahead keep God out of schools, pretend He doesn't exist. You guys are complete fools. I don't care if I step on your toes, aspentroll it seems like your just mad at the world. Im sure that your views on atheism really help you get through the day, they help you during times of crisis, or when your sick. Thats awesome!!! It seems like what your doing is working!!! Stop kidding yourself, just face it! And I know that the fact that I am praying for you will only build your case stronger against why you hate God or Christians, but come one. You are obviously searching for answers or you wouldnt be on this website in the first place hahaha. God will tug on your heart this week and youll get shaken up. He will receive the glory. I mean you either can bow now, or bow later...
You all need to be educated, and if you want to hear you morality questions answered read or re-read "Mere Christianity by CS LEWIS"

Anonymous said...

If I go kill someone regardless of the Law at hand, is this bad?
Well killing someone is wrong?

Anonymous said...

I wanted to knwo if their was any ahteists moral doctrine out there? If not then maybe someone can explain how an atheist follows moral rules for the rules sake?

I still cant think of an atheist ethicists...they all were believers. How do you atheists feel about having your morals come from god fearing men?

Anonymous said...

Jesus christ was the greatest moral philosopher...

Matthew 5:43-47

Teaching about Love for Enemies
43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’[a] and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies![b] Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends,[c] how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that.

Notice that Jesus is calling for a higher level of moral conduct then most people are comfortable with. Only the pure of heart are worthy of such moral conduct.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if an atheist will ever die for his/her beliefs? Would an atheist be feed to the lions or persecuted by Nazi's for their beliefs? i think the atheist has really missed the big picture about the necessary coonection between god and morality. Sure an atheist can act moral but are they doing so really for the right reasons? Can an atheist can about another person that hates them? i know as a christian i can.

Anonymous said...

Has any of you atheist ever found yourself down and out and needed assistence? Like having your back against the wall and perceptually all is lost? Who did you turn to?

EX) being homeless, losing your wife/childern, being a POW, being underfire in a war

I am willing to bet many of you have not...

Anonymous said...

"If I go kill someone regardless of the Law at hand, is this bad?
Well killing someone is wrong?

Because no social creatures could have formed a coherent society if they went around pointlessly and horribly ending random peoples lives. I think that's painfully obvious, though it seems the most blatant facts (and most basic English) seem to elude you.

Anonymous said...

"Has any of you atheist ever found yourself down and out and needed assistence? Like having your back against the wall and perceptually all is lost? Who did you turn to?

EX) being homeless, losing your wife/childern, being a POW, being underfire in a war

I am willing to bet many of you have not..."

Can't say that I have -- though it's ironic that those are the things that should make you believe even less in a God.

It's no surprise, however, that people who go through emotionally and psychologically traumatic events end up grabbing a security blanket and being absorbed into it for a sense of meaning after dealing with horrid circumstances.

The only difference with falling into a cult and falling into a religion, however, is that cults typically aren't as widespread and blunt trying converting people.

Regardless, I shouldn't entertain you, you're either a troll or an obviously mentally unstable person, your statements are so logically incoherent and utterly asinine that even an attempt to speak to you like a functioning human being would be an effort in futility.

Anonymous said...

RE: Cris sac

Oh I see now you're a lay psychologists and I am a quack. nioce argument. Did you learn that posting on craigslist?

Anonymous said...


In reply to your last bogus, and off point, question, I will say that yes, I have had conditions in my life which can be classified in your list. I am not going to get into the details of my childhood and teen years, but when "all was lost" I did not turn to God. Though I do not call myself an atheist, some might. Though some might say my spirituality was seeded by my childhood (but then so is everything in my future!), I would not associate the two.

The events during this time helped shape the kind of person I have become, but they are disjoint from the philosophical and conceptual understandings I have developed that shape my religious, spiritual or personal life.

So who did I turn to? I turned to myself! It would have been nice had I had other people, friends, parents, but no. There was nothing, not one, no one. If your question was to suppose "there's no atheists in foxholes" then you've failed (and that's also false, as I have friends and family of that sort and have been in combat). How do you respond to that? Say that any of those people and myself are simply misguided and wrong in some respect? We're really praying to God we just didn't realize it? The sample size is too small to consider? Sounds like a bunch of crap in either case because having terrible things happen to one does not breed God, and he does not prove to be a solution, either!

Alexander said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alexander said...

Good Lord. Yet another relatively benign thread saturated in vitriol. And, humorously enough, ultimately a point for theism. What in the Second Ring of Hell (you know, the good one with all the prostitutes) ever happened to friendly discussion? I'm going to take this opportunity to make a bold departure from the flow of the thread and actually address the issue. Zounds!

You are absolutley correct. The fact that there isn't a unanimous consensus about morality in no way counterpoints the claim for Objective Morality. In fact, if anything, morality seems to conform to several norms, such as no killing fellow citizens (slaves, foreigners, and the unclean being not counted among the citizenry) without proper justification, no stealing from citizens, no excessive raping of citizens. Given the evidence we seem to be forced to conclude that, by and large, Morality follows the same general guidelines. However, inquiring minds must know, how does this claim support the countenancing of Objective Morality?

What we've discovered here is a correlation. A norm. A truth about the world is that most people have the same moral code. Does that then mean that there is an Objective Morality? Well then let's explore a few more correlations. Per Capita, more black people commit violent crime, are infected with the HIV virus, and know the theme song to the Jeffersons than white people. Does it follow then that a black person is more violent, more disease ridden, and more finely attenuated to High Entertainment than a white person? A study was once conducted in Somewhere USA to determine the associations of heart disease. In it, they found that the strongest correlation to the risk of heart disease in that town was the number of bathtubs the person has. Knowing this, should we then rip asunder our collective bathrooms and burn our tubs in the streets screaming to the heavens "Never again you Porcelain Devils! Never Again!" so we might avoid the perils of heart disease? Of course not. Why?

Because Correlation is Not Causation.

Black People are not any more Barbarous, Pestilent, or Entertainment Savvy then the rest of us. Bathtubs do not cause heart disease. Social norms do not imply Big-R Real, Big-O Objective, Big-M Morality.

If moral norms offer no evidence in favor of or against an Objective, non-contingent, necessary, Big-R Real Morality, what then does stand in favor of it? Surely we cannot point to God for guidance, as it is precisely his existence that we are setting out to prove. God ergo God is the type of circular reasoning we need to avoid. Could OMR have arisen Naturalistically, through Evolution? First, we must tread carefully and avoid any teleological speak here, as this would assume the hand of God guiding our rise, and would again prove circular. While certainly the way in which social organisms survive and thrive far more efficiently if they aren't lopping each other's heads off all willy-nilly would seem to indicate that the existence diametrically opposed, Anti-Moral organisms is highly improbable, potentially naturally impossible, it doesn't seem that they are Logically Impossible. If morality is going to be objective it's gotta have that "Woven into the fabric of the Universe," Necessary Truth attatched to it, and no modality can violate it. However, nothing about these Anti-Moral beings seems logically contradictory in the same way that a Married Bachelor or a Square Circle is logically contradictory. It doesn't seem like we can say that one of the Necessary conditions for life is a certain type of moral code, and thus derive from that an Objective Morality.

What then? Where else can we look for evidence in support of such an OMR? It seems we are incapable of standing with confidence and asserting or denying the existence of an Objective Moral Reality.

We simply do not know.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and to add a comment about the issue of morality that this post was actually about,

Matt is correct about the relativist position missing the point. I would also add it completely goes in the wrong direction, considering I lead toward moral objectivism. What the theist argument (2) seems to propose is an unimplied premise linking objective morals to God. Let me call it (2'). Then the argument is

(2') If objective morals exist, then they are substantiated by God.
(2) If objective morals exist, then God exists
(1) Objective morals exist
(3) Therefore, God exists.

In this case, however, we can see that (2) is not so critical as (2') is, since you can really derive (2) from (2'), since we can throw in that if x exists and is substantiated by y, then y must also exist. In other words, we have x exists. If y is necessary for x and x exists, then y exists. Therefore, I think it prudent to make notice of the relation between God's implied necessity for objective morality as being the focal of the issue instead of the extended premise (2) which utilizes that fact.

The skeptic against the theist's argument rests solely on whether or not we can have morality without God. If we can find sufficient cause of morality without including God, then throwing God into the equation is merely a remainder. On the other hand, the theist needs to counter any claim to such morality (say, some naturalistic or biological account), as well as support or justify the claim that God is necessary.

This still leaves open the fact that we may have morality without God, but that doesn't imply God still isn't involved in our particular instance. On the other hand, the theist is stuck with showing that God plays a part. How would either party go about these tasks? Are they possible to support?