THE ARGUMENT FOR GOD BEING THE BASIS FOR OBJECTIVE MORAL VALUES AND DUTIES: PART I
As I have listened to multiple exit stories from people who have left the LDS church, one of the things I have noticed is that when their LDS beliefs leave, usually their belief in Jesus and God do as well. I have wondered why this is.
The idea of “natural theology” is alien to most members of the LDS faith. Natural theology is theology that one can discover through nature, philosophy, reason, and science. This is in contrast to the more familiar “revealed theology” which is theology that one can only discover through revelation (e.g., “Jesus is the Son of God”). Perhaps it is the idea of Natural Theology to which Paul is speaking in his letter to the Romans chapter 1 verse 20: “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.”
Natural theology is something I recently discovered and find very compelling. It first came to my attention as I was listening to some very scholarly debates on the DebateGod.org podcasts. As I listened to these debates, I became increasingly interested in the arguments presented, specifically by Dr. William Lane Craig. This led me to additional readings about natural theology and more podcasts from Dr. Craig.
Mormons are well equipped in defending their faith against other Christians; however, we are not so well prepared in defending our faith against the rising tide of secularism. I see secularism slowly sneaking in and taking away some of our members. This, I hypothesize, is because so much of our theology is based on revealed theology. I would propose that if Mormon Christians became acquainted with the arguments presented in natural theology, it might curb the advancement of secularism within our faith. If people did still decide to leave the faith, maybe natural theology would allow them to at least hang on to a belief in God.
I will openly admit that in this case I have what Krister Stendahl called “holy envy” for Evangelical Christians. That is to say, I see in their faith something I admire and wish we as Mormon Christians could, in some way, reflect in our own religious tradition. They are way ahead of us in regards to engaging secularism. (Krister Stendahl (21 April 1921 – 15 April 2008) was a Swedish theologian and New Testament scholar, and Church of Sweden Bishop of Stockholm. He also served as Dean of Harvard Divinity School)
The following is a lesson I am in the middle of teaching to my youth Sunday school class here in Medford (it will take a few Sundays to complete). My hope is that they will be able to present their faith in God as being rational. Perhaps the arguments that I present to them will also help bolster their future faith as they will undoubtedly have to wrestle with their place inside or outside of their faith tradition.
All theists are under an injunction to present reasons for their belief in God. The Apostle Peter speaks to this in his First General Epistle chapter 3 verse 15: “….and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you….” The phrase that is translated in the King James Version as “give an answer” comes from the Greek word “apologia” which translated into English means “apology.” The word apology, in this sense, does not mean to admit remorse for having wronged someone. Rather it means offering a defense for one’s (usually religious) beliefs.
Because of the length of this essay, it will be presented as three posts. Let me be clear, this is not an apology for the existence of the anthropomorphic God as taught in LDS theology. It is not an apology for the existence of the Christian God. The argument is, that if objective morals exist, they must be grounded in God.
All of the materials presented here have come from podcast debates, classes, interviews with Dr. William Lane Craig, and my personal readings.
The Moral Argument for the Existence of God: Part I
What is the best foundation for objective moral values and duties? What grounds them? What makes certain actions objectively good or evil – right or wrong? Do objective moral values even exist?
First, we must clarify the argument. The moral argument, in its simplest form is, that if God exists, then we have a firm foundation for objective moral values and duties; if God does not exist, then we do not have a sound foundation for objective moral values and duties. It must be clear that the argument is not whether God does or doesn’t exist. Maybe the atheists are right, but if God does not exist, then they cannot argue that objective morals and values do exist. That is the argument.
The Christian must be careful not to confuse moral epistemology with moral ontology. Moral ontology looks at what the basis in reality is for objective morals and duties, and moral epistemology looks at how we come to know moral duties and values. The claim is not that we have to have a belief in God in order to discover what objective moral values and duties there are (epistemology). As a Christian, one can be open to any manner of coming to know moral values and duties. Good parenting and even society itself can bring one to learn what is objectively moral. The issue is the ontological question: What is the basis in reality for the existence of objective moral values and duties?
In order to address the question, a clear understanding of the term “objective moral values” is critical. What exactly does one mean by objective moral values? It is to say that there are morals that are binding and valid independent of opinion. An example of this is the following:
To say the holocaust was objectively evil is to say that it was evil even though the Nazis who carried it out thought it was good. And it would still have been evil even if the Nazis had won World War II and succeeded in brainwashing or exterminating everyone that disagreed with them so that everybody thought the holocaust was good.
Comparing Different World Views
When looking at how one obtains knowledge (epistemology), the naturalist/atheist will sometimes rely on the following different world views and philosophies:
1. Modernism: You can only believe what you can detect with your senses. Scholars abandoned this mode of obtaining knowledge years ago.
2. Verificationism: A statement or question is only legitimate or meaningful if there is some way to determine whether the statement is true or false, or what the answer to the question is. Notoriously, verificationism was used to label religious, metaphysical, aesthetic, and ethical sentences as meaningless. Verificationism need not be a position about meaning; it could simply be the position that unverifiable sentences are defective in some way that is similar to how false sentences and meaningless sentences are defective. We can compare verificationism with empiricism.
3. Empiricism: Our ideas are either simple sense-perceptions or compilations and mixtures of these basic sense-perceptions. Within this empiricist view, there does not seem to be any way for an idea to get into our heads without being connected to our perceptions. Philosophical empiricists hold no knowledge to be properly inferred or deduced unless it is derived from one’s sense-based experience. Empiricism, in the philosophy of science, emphasizes evidence, especially as discovered in experiment. A central concept in science and the scientific method is that it must be empirically based on the evidence of the senses. Thus, a statement is only true if it can be verified through the senses. Regardless of the nuance of verificationism and empiricism, both are self-refuting and were only popular during the early 20th century. Why are they both self-refuting? Let’s see if the following statement can be verified through our five senses: “Verificationism/empiricism is true.” No, it cannot. It is therefore self-refuting. It seems almost intuitive that there are significant ways in which our concepts and knowledge are gained independently of sense experience.
4. Post-modernism: Everything is subjective and open to interpretation. We live in a post-modern society, but almost no one is a post-modernist. Post-modernism is also self-refuting. Think of the following statement: “It is absolutely true that there are no absolute truths.” Once again, this is self-refuting.
C.S. Lewis points out the weakness of the post-modern world view in the opening chapter of Mere Christianity:
“Every one has heard people quarreling. Sometimes it sounds funny and sometimes it sounds merely unpleasant; but however it sounds, I believe we can learn something very important from listening to the kind of things they say. They say things like this: “How’d you like it if anyone did the same to you?”—”That’s my seat, I was there first”—”Leave him alone, he isn’t doing you any harm”— “Why should you shove in first?”—”Give me a bit of your orange, I gave you a bit of mine”—”Come on, you promised.” People say things like that every day, educated people as well as uneducated, and children as well as grown-ups.
“Now what interests me about all these remarks is that the man who makes them is not merely saying that the other man’s behavior does not happen to please him. He is appealing to some kind of standard of behavior which he expects the other man to know about. And the other man very seldom replies: ”To hell with your standard.” Nearly always he tries to make out that what he has been doing does not really go against the standard, or that if it does, there is some special excuse. He pretends there is some special reason in this particular case why the person who took the seat first should not keep it, or that things were quite different when he was given the bit of orange, or that something has turned up which lets him off keeping his promise.
“It looks, in fact, very much as if both parties had in mind some kind of Law or Rule of fair play or decent behavior or morality or whatever you like to call it, about which they really agreed. And they have. If they had not, they might, of course, fight like animals, but they could not quarrel in the human sense of the word. Quarreling means trying to show that the other man is in the wrong. And there would be no sense in trying to do that unless you and he had some sort of agreement as to what Right and Wrong are; just as there would be no sense in saying that a footballer had committed a foul unless there was some agreement about the rules of football.
“Now this Law or Rule about Right and Wrong used to be called the Law of Nature. Nowadays, when we talk of the “laws of nature” we usually mean things like gravitation, or heredity, or the laws of chemistry. But when the older thinkers called the Law of Right and Wrong “the Law of Nature,” they really meant the Law of Human Nature. The idea was that, just as all bodies are governed by the law of gravitation and organisms by biological laws, so the creature called man also had his law—with this great difference, that a body could not choose whether it obeyed the law of gravitation or not, but a man could choose either to obey the Law of Human Nature or to disobey it.”
My next post will deal more explicitly with the foundation upon which objective moral values and duties are based. It will also deal with the fallacy of the naturalistic explanation for objective morals