THE ARGUMENT FOR GOD BEING THE BASIS FOR OBJECTIVE MORAL VALUES AND DUTIES: PART II
Last time we looked at the differences between moral epistemology and ontology. We also looked at some definitions that needed clarification before we could examine the existence of objective morals. Today we will examine the foundation for objective moral values and duties as well as the fallacy of the naturalistic explanation for objective moral values and duties.
If you haven’t read Part I click here
Foundation for Objective Morality
Looking at the arguments presented at the beginning, it becomes clear that if God is not the basis for objective morals and duties, we have to come up with another hypothesis. In Dr. Sam Harris’ book, The Moral Landscape, he tries to argue that objective morals and duties come from what is good for our species and doesn’t cause harm. If this were the case, for us to claim our values to be objectively true and binding would make us guilty of speciesism – a sort of bias in favor of your own species. Why aren’t our objective morals and duties based upon what is best for cats or dogs? It appears that there is a lack or absence of a foundation for moral objectivity on the naturalistic view.
But what of things which were once accepted as moral and are now no longer (e.g., slavery)? Doesn’t this moral change show that morals are subject to sociological manipulation? A corollary can be found in science. When science discovers something, it doesn’t change. We don’t speak of scientific change; we speak of scientific discovery or advancement. Similarly, we shouldn’t speak of moral change, but of moral discovery or moral progress. Just because we don’t do things now that were once morally acceptable, doesn’t mean they weren’t morally unacceptable all along. They were always objectively wrong, but we had to discover it.
If we reject objective morals based on how we discover them, we are committing genetic fallacy. Genetic fallacy is when one throws away a truth because of how it was discovered. If I decide that someone is standing outside my front door because I rolled some dice, and it turns out that someone is in fact standing outside my front door, I don’t reject the truth that someone is really out there because of how I came to know it – it is true independent of how I came to know it. Once again the argument has to do with moral epistemology. (Dr. William Lane Craig. April 17, 2010. DebateGod audio podcast. 1:00)
Let’s go back to point number one of the moral argument – if God exists, then we have a firm foundation for objective moral values and duties. This point has two sub-points that require examination:
1. Theism provides a sound foundation for objective moral values. Moral values have to do with what is good or evil. On the theistic view, objective moral values are grounded in God. As Saint Anselm said, “Deus est qua maius cogitari non potest,” or, “God is that, more than which cannot be conceived.” God is therefore the highest good. He is not merely perfectly good; he is the locus and paradigm of moral value. God’s own holy and loving nature provides the absolute standard against which all actions are measured. He is, by nature, loving, generous, faithful, kind, and so forth. Thus, if God exists, objective moral values exist wholly independent of human beings. In The Book of Mormon we read, “God’s mercy cannot rob His justice” (Alma 42:25). When we read this scripture, in the context of God’s essential nature, this scripture has new meaning. Can mercy not rob justice because they are both essential and necessary to God’s being? Or can mercy not rob justice because the two concepts exist outside of God and are independent of God as they are with human beings? I would argue the former; mercy and justice are necessary attributes of God and do not exist outside of Him. And it is through Christ’s atonement that these two essential natures of God can be maintained.
2. Theism provides a sound foundation for objective moral duties. On a theistic view, objective moral duties are constituted by God’s commands. God’s moral nature is expressed in relation to us in the form of divine commandments. These constitute our moral obligations or duties. Far from being arbitrary, God’s commandments must be consistent with His holy and loving nature. Our duties then are constituted by God’s commandments and these in turn reflect His essential character. The goal of theism is not to avoid hell. A Christian doesn’t believe in God to avoid hell. One believes that God, as the supreme good, is a being who is worthy and deserving of worship, love, and adoration. God is the definition of goodness and is to be desired for the sake of goodness. So the fulfillment of human existence is to be found in its relation to God. It is because of who God is and His moral worth that He is worthy of worship. It has nothing to do with avoiding hell or promoting your own well-being. Any being that is not worthy of worship is not God; therefore, God must be perfect and good. He is the paradigm of good. The atheist might ask why God is the definition of good. Goodness is essential to His nature. The question is nonsensical; it is like asking why all bachelors are unmarried. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the whole moral duty of man can be summed up in the two great commandments. First, you shall love the Lord your God with all your strength, soul, heart, and mind. Second, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. With this foundation we can affirm the objective rightness of love, generosity, equality, and self-sacrifice, and we can condemn selfishness, hatred, abuse, discrimination, and oppression as objectively wrong. In summary, theism has the sound foundation for objective morality. It grounds objective moral duties and values. It is evident that if God exists, we have a firm foundation for objective moral values and duties.
The Fallacy of the Naturalistic Explanation for Objective Morality
Now let’s refer back to the second point of the moral argument – if God does not exist, then we do not have a sound foundation for objective moral values and duties. Consider the idea of objective moral values. If God does not exist, then what basis remains for the existence of objective moral values? In particular, why would human beings have objective moral worth at all? On the atheistic view, humans are just accidental byproducts of nature which have evolved relatively recently on an infinitesimal speck of dust called the planet Earth and are doomed to perish individually and collectively in a relatively short time. On atheism, it is hard to see any reason to think that human well-being is objectively good any more than insect well-being or rat well-being or hyena well-being is objectively good. This is what the atheist, Dr. Sam Harris, calls the value problem. The purpose of Dr. Harris’ book, The Moral Landscape, is to explain the existence of objective moral values based on an atheistic view. He explicitly rejects the view that moral values are platonic objects, existing independent of the world. So, Dr. Harris’ only recourse is to try to ground moral values in the natural world. But how can you do that when nature is in and of itself just morally neutral?
From a naturalistic view, moral values are just the behavioral byproducts of biological evolution and social conditioning. Just as a troop of baboons exhibits cooperative and even self-sacrificial behavior because natural selection has determined that to be advantageous in the struggle for survival, so their primate cousins, Homo sapiens, have evolved a sort of “herd morality” for precisely the same reason. As a result of socio-biological pressures, there has evolved among Homo sapiens a “herd morality” which functions well in the perpetuation of our species. But with this naturalistic/atheistic view, there isn’t anything that makes this type of morality objectively binding and true. For us to think that human beings are special and our morality is objectively true is to succumb to the temptation of speciesism (unjustified bias in favor of one’s own species). The philosopher of science Michael Ruse reports:
“The position of the modern evolutionist is that humans have an awareness of morality because such an awareness is a biological work. Morality is a biological adaptation; no less than our hands, feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate that when somebody says ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’, they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Never the less, such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival, reproduction, and any deeper meaning is illusory.”
So, are objective moral values and duties just spin-offs of social/biological evolution? If we were to re-run the film of evolution backwards and then start it anew, would a different sort of creature emerge in the evolutionary process with a quite different set of values? In The Descent of Man, Darwin wrote, “If men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers. And mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters. And no one would think of interfering.” If we remove God, then any reason for regarding the “herd morality” evolved by Homo sapiens as objectively true is unjustifiable. Take God out of the picture and all you seem to be left with is an ape-like creature on a speck of dust, beset with delusions of moral grandeur.
Based on Sam Harris’ assessment of objective morality, human worth is no greater than that of a chimpanzee or a pig. This view is depressing. Dr. Harris’ atheistic position is flawed when he says, “There is at bottom no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference. We are machines for propagating DNA. It is every living object’s sole reason for being.” So how does one like Sam Harris propose to solve this human worth problem? He proposes to simply redefine what is meant by good and evil in non-moral terms. He says, “We should define good as that which supports the well-being of conscious creatures. So, questions about values are really questions about the well-being of conscious creatures.” We can imagine creatures being in the worst possible misery and it is obviously better for creatures to be flourishing. Yes, the well-being of conscious creatures is good. That, however, is not the question. The question is, “If atheism were true, what would make the flourishing of conscious creatures objectively good?”
While it may be good for conscious creatures to flourish, there is no reason on the atheistic perspective to think that flourishing would really be objectively good. After all, isn’t pain and misery subjective? The question should then follow, “Is the wrongness of an action a subjective fact?” On atheism, it is hard to see how it couldn’t be anything more than a subjective fact. In which case, the atheist cannot say that things such as the genital mutilation of little girls are objectively wrong; it becomes a subjective opinion. Therefore, it makes no sense to ask whether maximizing well-being is good. Why? Because Dr. Harris has redefined the word “good” to mean maximizing the well-being of conscious creatures. So to ask, “Why is maximizing creatures’ well-being good?” is, on Dr. Harris’ definition, the same as asking, “Why does maximizing creatures’ well-being maximize creatures well-being?” It is a tautology (using different words to mean the same thing). One is talking in circles.
So Dr. Harris has purportedly “solved the human worth problem” just by redefining its terms. This is nothing but word play. At the end of the day, moral values aren’t really being talked about at all; Dr. Harris is just talking about what is conducive to the flourishing of sentient life (the ability to feel, perceive or be conscious, or to have subjective experiences) on this planet. Seen in this light, his claim that science can tell us a great deal about what contributes to human flourishing is hardly controversial. Of course science can tell us many things, just like science can tell us what is conducive to the flourishing of corn or mosquitoes or bacteria. The so-called “moral landscape”, which features the highs and lows of human flourishing, isn’t really a moral landscape at all. Thus, there is a failure to solve the human worth problem. There is no justification or explanation for why, on atheism, moral values would objectively exist at all. The so-called “solution” is just a semantic trick of an arbitrary and idiosyncratic redefinition of good and evil in non-moral vocabulary. The atheist is equivocating on the definition of the word “good”.
Here are some examples of non-moral uses of the word “good”. There are good and bad moves in chess. The use here clearly is not a moral use of the terms good and bad. It just means that they are not apt to produce a winning strategy; what is done is not a moral issue. Saying BYU has a good team has nothing to do with the morality of the team, but has to do with their win/loss record. The atheist use of the word “good” is not an ethical contrast between a morally good life and an evil life; it is a contrast between a pleasurable life and a miserable life. There is no reason to identify pleasure and misery with good and evil, especially on atheism. So there is no reason, on atheism, to think that there exists objective moral good.
If a rapist, liar, or thief could be just as happy as a good person, then the atheist’s moral landscape would no longer be a moral landscape. Rather, it would just be a continuum of well-being whose peaks are occupied by good and evil people alike. What is interesting about this is that there are, according to Dr. Harris, about 3 million psychopathic Americans. That is to say, they don’t care about the well-being of others. They enjoy inflicting pain on others. This implies there is a possible world in which the continuum of human well-being is not a moral landscape. If the peaks of well-being could be occupied by evil people, then that would entail, in the actual world, that the continuum of well-being and the moral landscape could not be identical. This leads to the conclusion that the identity or definition of well-being and the moral landscape are different and you cannot, by the nature of their identities, say they are the same because identity is a necessary relation. Let’s explore this relation as a philosophical proposition:
There is no possible world in which entity “A” is not identical to “A”. So if there is any possible world in which “A” is not identical to “B”, it follows that “A” is not in fact identical to “B”. Since it is possible that human well-being (entity “A”) and moral goodness (entity “B”) are not identical, it follows necessarily that human well-being and goodness are not the same as the atheist has asserted. By granting it is possible that the continuum of well-being is not identical to the moral landscape, the atheist’s argument is logically incoherent. This goes to show that on atheism, there is no reason to identify the well-being of conscious creatures with moral goodness. Atheism cannot explain the reality, the objective reality, of moral values.
In the next post we will compare moral ontology and semantics as well as briefly look at whether evil actually exists.
Under your arguement for God existing you talked about justice and mercy. I do believe that they are a part of God’s personality and he can’t have one robbing the other or he ceases to be God. I also believe they exist on their own and hold God to those standards and are what keeps our universe in order. It’s what keeps the intellegences in line and has the laws of the Universe that stay in line. (I’d have scripture refrences but am killing time at work). It’s what keeps the commandments you talk about in point 2 work. He has to stay perfect or he ceases to be God. Thats what keeps the relationship between justice and mercy there and the point of the atonement. God knew that he had to have a sacrifice that would appease the law of justice that would be the ultimate act of mercy…..an infinate atonemnet made on our behalf.
Thanks for checking us out. We find that most people will write only one response and then don’t come back again. So I encourage you to come back and debate.
I agree and disagree with your assessment of God’s moral nature. I was hoping I wasn’t going to have to dive too much further into God’s moral nature because it is a big part of a future post I am going to do dealing with what is called, “The Eurythrphro Dilemma.” Eurythphro is an attorney that appears in one of Plato’s Dialogues.
Let me give some definitions to clarify my view of God’s nature. When we talk about beings/things there are two kinds: necessary and contingent. Something that is contingent does not have to exist. It could just as easily not exist as it could exist. A simple example is a table. The only reason a table exists is because someone created it. The table’s existence is contingent upon its creator.
Something that is necessary must exist. Its existence is not dependent upon another. God is a necessary being. God could not, not exist.
As Saint Anslem said, “God is that, more than which cannot be conceived.” Meaning, there is nothing greater than God. Because He is the greatest, He is worthy of our worship. As such there are certain attributes that are necessary to God. He must have those attributes. Those attributes do not exist in some Platonic realm outside of God. If He did not have those attributes, He would not be God. God must be merciful, just, loving, kind, etc
I agree with your view of God’s mercy and justice. I argue that they are necessary and competing attributes of God. God’s justice demands a punishment for transgression, yet He wants to show mercy toward the sinner. Mercy cannot rob justice. “If so, God would cease to be God.” (Alma 42:25) It is only through Christ’s expiation that those two necessary, competing attributes can exist within God. It is through Christ’s Atonement that justice is served and God can show us mercy. Thus the Atonement becomes necessary.
Your position that their are certain attributes that exist platonically outside of God and that He submits Himself to them is a position that, I would argue, most Mormons have. I do not hold this belief and I do not believe it to be a necessary part of our Mormon Christian theology. The problem is, if the attributes of goodness, mercy, etc exist outside of God and He submits to them, then they are greater than God. With this platonic view, it would then follow that we should worship those attributes and not God, for God would not be the greatest thing conceived (think Saint Anslem’s quote); goodness would be worthy of our worship, or kindness would be worthy of our worship, etc.
In essence, if one holds to the belief that the above attributes of God exist outside of Him, one is saying that morally good acts are willed by God because they are morally good. By doing so you fall upon one of the pointed horns of the “Eurthphro Dilemma”. Again, I don’t want to go too much into that dilemma because it is a post I am going to do in about two months.
My brother, Paul, had a friend leave the LDS church. When Paul asked his friend what he believed, he said, “Goodness.” Interesting answer I thought.
I think you make an interesting point in comparing moral progress with scientific progress, i.e. slavery. I’d be interested in your response to this point:
I believe wholeheartedly in progress, whether in science, morality, religion etc. I think it’s good when religions update their philosophies with progressive understanding. But here is the difference between religious morality and morality derived from strictly human progress. humans and their methods (i.e. science) admit to being fallible. We revamp our theories as evidence takes us in new directions and as our understanding grows. We simply KNOW we aren’t going to get it right the first time, and so we do our best to overcome our mistakes.
But when you discuss an Objective morality in the same breath as God, there isn’t as much wiggle room for error… Here’s why. But first, can we assume the following premises?:
1) Morality is objective
2) God is omniscient (and thus UNDERSTANDS the objective morality)
3) God reveals morality through apostles/prophets/leaders etc.
If god knows all things and reveals such truth through religious leaders, then why does the story constantly change? If we can objectively say that rape or human enslavement are wrong, then surely god as aware of this moral universal. And if omniscient, then why weren’t these issues at the top of God’ thou-shalt-not’s list? Either:
1) Morality is not objective (i.e. then it is simply relative to whatever god says)
2) God is not omniscient (which might explain why these weren’t more seriously addressed), or
3) God was NOT revealing these truths to the religious leaders.
Instead we have such prescriptions (via revelation) as to how to treat slaves (new testament) or how to marry women to their rapists, etc.
Instead, confirmation biases are used to reverse-justify the prescription… “better the woman be married to raise her rape-child” or “people were dependent on slavery, so just do your best to treat them them well.” But if we don’t initially agree to what constitutes morality, there is no end to the justification we can use to rationalize prior commandments from God. As long as you already hold God and the revelation through prophets as infallible, there can be no bar by which to hold these standards accountable.
As an atheist, my conception of morality is complicated, but follows generally the principle of: Do what makes you happy, so long as it does NOT infringe on the happiness of others. (This is where your argument against “happiness is morality” breaks down, because it neglects to address the “as long as it doesn’t hurt other people” qualification.)
You addressed the platonic notion of morality external to god in your response to an earlier comment. When I was Mormon, the “relative to god” position was appealing. It explained discrepancies such as Abraham & Isaac or Nephi & Laban. And even more minor issues such as alcohol consumption across dispensations… But “morality as a principle of obedience” has problems as well. If God is arbitrarily giving commandments that aren’t based on some pragmatic end, then by what basis can the individual weigh the character of religions?
I suppose your response is that it must be taken either on faith or personal revelation as to which religion to follow. But then again every person in every religion feels subjectively that their’s is the right way. So again, it’s nothing but confirmation bias.
Besides, why would a benevolent god give arbitrary commandments to his children? To test obedience? Abraham 3:23 (or around there) would say yes. Ironic, because an omniscient god would know an individual’s choices prior to the experience. Perhaps its for the individual’s growth. But how can an individual make sense of his world when he’s first told to ponder an issue in his mind before confirming a truth with God? It seems, then, that even God is bound by logic.
If he isn’t bound by logic, then none of the rules of apply anyway. Incompatible ideas could coexist without conflict. It would be akin to God saying both “there is a savior of the world” and “there is no savior of the world” without being a conflict.
And so if the rules of logic don’t apply, then anything can go: A law, “irrevocably decreed,” can be revoked. God would not be pound to punish sinners or exalt saints.
For these reasons, morality must be gauged by an external frame of reference. Because even assuming your position is correct, there would be no reasonable test for the members of the human race to know it. With 80,000 religions competing for patrons, all of whose patrons just KNOW they are right while everyone else is wrong, the most rational course of action is to, well, take a rational approach to choosing our actions.
Do you see the paradox? God supposedly can. And if so, he must then realize the impossibility of reliably using religion’s own prescriptions (self-confirming) as a way of ascertaining truth. And if he’s going to hold us accountable for our choices, it would only make sense that he would provide some objective method of finding Truth. And it’s called rationality.
Thanks for swinging by and being brave enough to enter into a den of lambs. I appreciate the thought you have given to your counter-arguments and the respect you gave in their presentation; I believe you will find my response to you equally civil . Your arguments are compelling but are a red herring.
The etymology for the idiom of a “red herring” argument comes from a fish (probably not a herring) that was especially pungent smelling because it was either smoked or soaked in brine and was used to get a scent hound off the trail it was supposed to be following. In your response, you have committed the red herring fallacy. The majority of the arguments you have presented are irrelevant to the conversation and will divert us from the original issue.
The argument presented in the post deals with the ontology, not the epistemology of moral values and duties. The difference? Moral ontology looks at what the basis in reality is for objective morals and duties. 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, rationality (in your case), 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? The arguments in the majority of your response are simply irrelevant to this conversation so, probably to your chagrin, I simply will not address them.
As a side bar, I believe the theist philosophy is superior and more open minded than the atheist philosophy and world view in regards to moral epistemology. For the atheist is open to only naturalistic explanations of moral epistemology, while the theist is open to all manners of moral epistemology – natural and supernatural.
Regarding the atheistic view of morality being based upon, “do what makes you happy, so long as it does NOT infringe on the happiness of others” is not objective. You might be able to argue that the view is moral, but you cannot argue that it is objectively moral. The second part of your argument in that paragraph (as long as it doesn’t hurt other people) was addressed partially in my quote from Darwin. We as humans do things all the time that do not bring us happiness, or in fact hurt us, for a larger objectively good moral reason that helps others. And vise-versa, we often do things that are objectively morally grotesque that bring us happiness and hurt others. The Allied soldiers raiding the beaches of Normandy, did not add to the flourishing and well being of the young men that died there, but one could argue that invading Normandy was objectively good as it led to the downfall of Nazi Germany and the end of WWII If I cheat on my wife, and she does not find out, how am I hurting her? I am not. Still, I would argue that it is objectively wrong to cheat on my wife. The third and last part of this post will deal with this part of your argument again, so come back please.
Regarding your argument for God being arbitrary, I might agree with your conclusion – if moral values existed outside of God. You have presented the second horn of the “The Eurythrphro Dilemma.” I will deal with the dilemma in its entirety in a future post after Easter.
I do have a question for you. How did you hear about our blog – specifically this post?
Thanks for the lively banter. Please come by and visit again. – Mike
I heard about your blog through a friend of a friend on the internet. Sorry to be vague, but that’s all I can share.
I appreciate the thoughtful response as well. I have to admit, you’re a breath of fresh air compared to virtually every other person online with whom I’ve discussed these types of issues.
And yes, I am disappointed that you won’t address my epidemiological concern. (Perhaps at another time and place?) I’m at least glad that you know what a logical fallacy is.
For someone as logical as yourself, I’m sure you’ve delved deep enough into these types of conversations to know that eventually the bases for ALL arguments can be reduced to fundamental assumptions, laced with value. Is morality happiness? Is it utilitarianism? Is it the absence of pain? Is it the preservation of life above all else? Whose lives, there’s or ours? Whose well being?
Is the performance of Fellatio by a small boy on an adult male objectively immoral? It would seem so, until you visit certain New Guinean tribes which believe that it is an important step to becoming a man. It’s perfectly fine there; As hard as it is to admit, it is only our projection of subjective values (instilled in us by culture, in this case) which make this practice seem morally reprehensible.
Moral dilemmas are only dilemmas to begin with because they require the sacrifice of one value for another. Take the concentration camp dilemma, for example:
You are an inmate in a concentration camp. A sadistic guard is about to hang your son who tried to escape and wants you to pull the chair from underneath him. He says that if you don’t he will not only kill your son but some other innocent inmate as well. You don’t have any doubt that he means what he says. What should you do?
The utilitarian says “do it” in the spirit of saving as many lives as possible. The hedonist says “don’t do it,” in order to avoid one’s own personal discomfort. The guard says “do it,” out of the moral principle of obedience. The opportunist/gambler says to attack the guard in hopes of preventing all negative outcomes. But the guard’s wife and children are dependent on his paycheck, so killing him only kills them. Someone else might say “kill yourself” to avoid having to make immoral decisions! You see how the possibilities go on and on.
Yes, theistic morality is derived both from the supernatural and the natural, but just as the examples in the above paragraph, adding a new dimension to the equation doesn’t make morality more open-minded; it restricts moral possibilities (by adding additional requirements and considerations). Adding a supernatural concept of morality just adds one more person who can potentially be pissed off.
For the reason that literally every single moral argument can be met with a counterargument for someone else’s position (infused by their subjective values), I don’t believe in an “objective morality.” It’s too platonic, and as with all pure forms–by definition–it can only be pure (i.e. truly objective) if there are no exceptions to the rule. And since the values associated with morality are and always will be subjective, morality as an external, self-sustaining principle doesn’t exist.
At my most generous, if it is true that natural laws (e.g. gravity, electromagnetic forces) cannot be broken, I would abstractly call these the “moral laws” of the universe.
Again, thanks for the response. A reasonable and challenging discussion, I think, is a great way to sift through and flesh out one’s own ideas– even if differing opinions are retained.
Most of the people that visit our blog are active LDS members and find us through Facebook. Usually my brother and I seem to agititate our faithful brothers and sisters a bit. That is why I asked how the heck you found our blog. I am glad you did. Since I am taking jabs from both the members at church with whom I share the pews, as well as non-believers, I figure I must be doing somethnig right.
You would probably like an earlier post my brother did. The two of us really sent some members over the edge; they probably think my brother and I are apostate Mormons. His post got 38 responses; the post you and I are debating has only gotten about 9. Here’s the link:
I am glad you came back as it has provided me a better idea of your views. To your first point about epistemology, my brother is currently working on a post that goes into that. So come back and check us out again. Since you did return, I feel the obligation to go through your counter arguments point by point. Let’s see what happens.
Regarding my assumptions of objective morality, you are right, they are based upon my assumption on the existence of God, but that is not the argument I am making in my post. The argument is:
1)If objective morals and values exist, they are based upon God.
2)Objective morals and values do exist
Your contention is with the second premise.
Regarding your fellatio argument among some New Guinean tribes, my argument would be that it is objectively morally wrong. The tribes that do this, just have not come to learn that it is wrong. It goes back to my argument about epistemology. If it is only subjectively wrong, then it would follow that slavery is subjectively wrong, female circumsion is only subjectively wrong, raping children is only subjectively wrong, etc. It’s the whole moral progress argument again. I dealt with this part of the argument in my first post. I am not sure if you had a chance to read it or not. If not, here is the link:
Referring back to Part 1 of this post – Why when we hear people quarreling, do 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.
“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.”
Your view of morals being subjective seem to be based upon a post-modern world view. Even though people might hold to that belief, no one’s actions ( as reflected in the above paragraphs) reflect that view. Since post-modernism claims there are no absolute truths, the following statement is self-refuting: “It is absolutely true that there are no absolute truths.” It just makes no sense. It follows that the subjective moral view makes no sens either.
Your thought experiment as expressed through the hypothetical sadistic guard is compelling. But it is only compelling if one holds to objective morals. If the morals were not objective, there would be no competing morals in the situation you have provided. Furthermore, if this were just an exeption to the rule, would that exeption necessarily exclude there actually being objective moral values?
Theism actually does not complicate the situation further. It actually rids us of the hedonist’s view as will as the guard’s view of doing something just out of obedience. We have thus rid ourselves of two of the competing views.
“Pissing off one more person,” would only be an issue if you were a polytheist. The Greeks and Romans did sacrifice to appease their gods and to keep from “pissing them off.” I obey God’s commands because He is the locus of good, fairness, love, etc., not out of concern of irritating Him and being sent to hell.
We do have some future posts you might like to check out. Next week we will post Part 3 of the moral argument. In two weeks I am going to do a survey of the different resurrection hypothesis. In about a month I will do a post on Christian particularism and the fallacy of religious pluralism. Sometime I will do a post on why an actual infinite cannot exist. After that, I have no frickin’ idea what I am going to write about. Come by again. I like you pushing back against me.
First – I’m really enjoying this blog.
Second – I gotta say: I think of things to comment on as I read and by the time I’m done reading the comments too I can’t remember what they were. Apparently I need to make notes.
Third – This is off topic mostly but I have a question.
First, you shall love the Lord your God with all your strength, soul, heart, and mind. Second, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. With this foundation we can affirm the objective rightness of love, generosity, equality, and self-sacrifice, and we can condemn selfishness, hatred, abuse, discrimination, and oppression as objectively wrong.”
If this is all we truly need to govern our behavior and actions as we navigate through life (and a lot of my internal self agrees with this), what is the point in church congregations and active attendance?
Great question Camille and thanks for reading and commenting on our blog. Eugene England wrote a wonderful essay that kind of addresses your question and here are snippets of that:
“Martin Luther, with prophetic perception, wrote, “Marriage is the school of love”—that is, marriage is not the home or the result of love so much as the school. I believe that any good church is a school of love…
…there are constant opportunities for all to serve, especially to learn to serve people we would not normally choose to serve—or possibly even associate with—and thus opportunities to learn to love unconditionally. There is constant encouragement, even pressure, to be “active”: to have a calling” and thus to have to grapple with relationships and management, with other peoples ideas and wishes, their feelings and failures; to attend classes and meetings and to have to listen to other people’s sometimes misinformed or prejudiced notions and to have to make some constructive response; to have leaders and occasionally to be hurt by their weakness and blindness, even unrighteous dominion; and then to be made a leader and find that you, too, with all the best intentions, can be weak and blind and unrighteous. Church involvement teaches us compassion and patience as well as courage and discipline. It makes us responsible for the personal and marital, physical, and spiritual welfare of people we may not already love (or may even heartily dislike), and thus we learn to love them. It stretches and challenges us, though disappointed and exasperated, in ways we would not otherwise choose to be— and thus gives us a chance to be made better than we might choose to be, but ultimately need and want to be.”
You can read the complete article here
Thank you, Paul. That was exactly what I was looking for!
I knew we could eventually suck you over into one of these posts Camille. This is fun isn’t it?
Michael, I appreciate this post…it’s going to take some time to truly sink in everything that you included…my small little brain takes some time to truly digest this material. As I look at this post the thought came to my mind…If I am wrong and there is no God what harm have I done for myself? None. I have lived my life in such a way that has brought much hope and happiness. On the other hand, if i live my life trying to always prove that there is no God and then die and find out that there is a God I have only short changed myself and my loved ones.
I would much rather base my thoughts, beliefs, way I raise my family, etc on a set of moral values that comes from a higher power, God, and be wrong then to live the opposite way. Just a thought…hopefully my ramblings make sense
I like to pose the question to myself: “Would I do the same things or activities I do now if I knew there was no after life?” For me it goes to the motive of why I do things, which is a whole different discussion.
You are describing what is called Pascal’s wager.
Your view works as long as your religion requires you to be kind and loving. The Aztecs on the other hand…..
I wonder whether an all-knowing God would look favorably on Pascal’s Wager. If God knows that a Christian is only behaving morally out of a desire to go to heaven, wouldn’t an atheist who does good for the sake of goodness itself be even more likely to be accepted into heaven than that Christian?
I agree. There seems to be some philosophical and theological problems with the morality of Pascal’s wager. I haven’t given it more thought beyond that.
This is a post a got from a friend R.L. (not Ralph Lauren):
Why can’t the value of individual human life by the foundation of morality (and a religion)?
Every person on earth is an indivdiual–and lives with an awareness of their individuality.
Every person on earth is alive–and their objective is to stay alive and achieve happiness as they envision it.
Isn’t this more or less the MORAL foundation of the Enlightenment–the 18th century philosophic movement that gave birth to the United States and (in my opinion) Mormonism itself. (I see Mormonism as Joseph Smith’s attempt to bring religion into harmony with Enlightenment–even Deistic–thinking.)
If the value of human life itself is the foundation of morality, then an atheist and a believer could share a common philosophic foundation for developing values and ethics.
There is nothing, to my mind, more OBJECTIVE and UNIVERSAL than “being alive” itself.
The argument for morality based upon the value of human life is begging the question. Why does human life have value? Why is human life more important than the life of an ant, a cow, a dog? Based upon this view, you are not appealing to anything objective. For us to think that human beings are special and our morality is objectively true is to succumb to the temptation of speciesism (unjustified bias in favor of one’s own species). The philosopher of science Michael Ruse reports:
“…. I appreciate that when somebody says ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’, they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Never the less, such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival, reproduction, and any deeper meaning is illusory.”
In your reply, you said, “Every person on earth is alive–and their objective is to stay alive and achieve happiness as they envision it.” By saying,”as they envision it,” you are stating a subjective view and self-refutes your postion for objective moral values.
How can you argue for God as an objective moral source when he is clearly subjective in the application of morality dependent upon the circumstances that he chooses to apply them? Just because he is God and he can be subjective but still consider himself objective?
This is assuming you are using the Bible and other LDS scriptures to base your arguments of God on. If you don’t see those scriptures as literal, then what are you determining this objective moral basis from? When God actually contradicts his own moral code, ignores objective moral issues for millenia, and often commands his followers to contradict the moral codes that he has given them, then he loses the ability to be the source of morality in the universe, and he becomes a schizophrenic celestial dictator.
I fail to see that God is any more satisfying as an objective source for morality in the universe than, say, a “morality particle”, that is unseen and as yet unknown to science. The morality particle hasn’t, so far, done anything arguably immoral, as God seems to have.
I received your comment. I am on call today and am getting my butt kicked. I probably won’t have time to address your points you bring up until tomorrow I didn’t want you to think I was dismissing you. I just don’t have time to sit down right now and right a thoughtful response. – Mike
If you already haven’t, I would like it if you read Part 1 of my post. The reason being is that at the beginning of my argument, it is clearly stated that I would not be arguing for the Mormon, Christian, or any specific religion’s God. Here is the link:
Your question of the truth claims of a religious dogma’s scripture is not the issue here. You have done what Rooshi did in an earlier post. The fallacy of a red herring argument has been presented so I will not be addressing that part of your counter-argument – except for one thing.
Suppose what a religion constitutes as scripture is wrong sometimes, or all the time? Does that mean one’s conclusions about the existence of and the nature of God will also be wrong? Not necessarily. To do so would be to commit what is called the genetic fallacy. I mentioned this fallacy in the post. Let me restate it and give the same example as what is found in the post. Just because the source for your information is bad, does not necessarily mean that your conclusion based upon the source is not valid. An example: Suppose I determine that someone is at my front door by rolling dice. The answer I get from the dice tells me someone is at the door. I open the front door and indeed someone is there. Just because the way I came to that conclusion was invalid, does it mean that in actuality, no one is at the front door? Of course not. That would be absurd.
In keeping in line with the arguments that are actually part of the post, what is your hypothesis regarding objective moral values and duties? Do they exist at all? If so, from where do they come?
Your last comment regarding a “morality particle” reminds me of the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” argument that Bobby Henderson first brought up in 2005. Your argument might be valid, if the only argument for the existence of God was based upon objective moral values and duties. There are other arguments that I will go into in future posts. Because I will write in the future about them, I am going to leave your “morality particle” aside for right now and ask that you continue coming back and checking us out.
One last thing Troy. I would love it if you responded again. I might not get back to you though until next week, when part 3 of my argument is posted. Probably like you, I have a family and a busy career. My wife is showing some signs of slight irritation of how much time I am spending on the blog right now. So, I should probably lay off the blog for a few days.
If you come back next week and post a comment, I will engage you.
I read Part I of your blog. I think you are missing a few things and throwing a few fallacies of your own around, or at least leaving out large parts of the secular argument.
“Looking at the arguments presented at the beginning, it becomes clear that if God is not the basis for objective morals and duties, we have to come up with another hypothesis. In Dr. Sam Harris’ book, The Moral Landscape, he tries to argue that objective morals and duties come from what is good for our species and doesn’t cause harm. If this were the case, for us to claim our values to be objectively true and binding would make us guilty of speciesism – a sort of bias in favor of your own species. Why aren’t our objective morals and duties based upon what is best for cats or dogs? It appears that there is a lack or absence of a foundation for moral objectivity on the naturalistic view.”
I don’t think Dr. Harris would argue that there is an objective morality, that is in some way Platonic. An objective morality as determined by mankind is going to change over time as humanity changes its understanding of what is or should be moral. 200 years from now, we will likely very well look back on our day and abhor the fact that we eat meat today. Thus, we will determine morality based on “what is best for cats or dogs”. Heck, we already do if you consider laws for the humane treatment of animals that our society respects today.
You continue: “But what of things which were once accepted as moral and are now no longer (e.g., slavery)? Doesn’t this moral change show that morals are subject to sociological manipulation? [YES] A corollary can be found in science. When science discovers something, it doesn’t change. We don’t speak of scientific change; we speak of scientific discovery or advancement. Similarly, we shouldn’t speak of moral change, but of moral discovery or moral progress. [This is what Mormons call “Continuing Revelation”, and which should be called “Continuing Reformation”, which never seems to come to leaders unless there is significant social change occuring in secular society around an issue.] Just because we don’t do things now that were once morally acceptable, doesn’t mean they weren’t morally unacceptable all along. They were always objectively wrong, but we had to discover it.”
The problem for apostates like me is that if God is the source of this objective morality, he doesn’t care to bring it up with his prophets. In the church’s very short history, it has been led by men who are consistently on the wrong side of the moral progress of western society, moral progress that I would argue comes from the “increasing secularization of society” and can be argued to be objective morals. They have not been right once about the major issues yet. Slavery–wrong side or neutral (Brigham Young owned slaves). Marriage between a man and one woman–(wrong side of the issue until 1907). Civil rights movement–(wrong again, the church either stood silent or its prophets and apostles fought against Civil Rights until 1978). Equal rights for women–(wrongo, the church fought and effectively set back ERA for women by 25 years, almost singlehandedly). Please tell me where God spoke to his prophets and together they were on the right side of history? Porn? Alcohol prohibition? No more than one earring in each ear? Is it any wonder why LDS people are so confused and conflicted about national and international issues?
I will be interested in seeing how you prove the existence of God in your future posts, but I still don’t see any basis for taking your arguments seriously when you throw LDS and Christian framings of God under the bus. Effectively, so far, you are making the case for a Morality Particle, and calling it God.
I expect that next you will probably argue for a Universal Creation Sequence, which you will call God, then a something else, which you will call God. Tying together attributes of the natural universe while simultaneously chucking out all the textual, historical, and philosophical underpinnings found in traditional Christian and LDS belief isn’t going to keep people from leaving Mormonism, especially when they understand that God contradicts his most holy principle, free agency, and other moral principles in every book of scripture they call holy, and in the lives of the historical figures of our movement. Your arguments are sounding a lot like the stuff I heard at the UU church when attending there.
And honestly, I hope you have great success in teaching this philosophy in the chapels and classrooms of the LDS church. There is such a great need to get members thinking less black and white and more universally about faith, taking their scriptural teachings less literally, and opening their minds to explore outside the boundaries of the safe confines of the correlated materials. It lets members look outside the walls that confine and trap them in supernatural belief, and see that there aren’t a bunch of devil-led boogie men in other faiths and amongst the faithless. I commend you for reading the arguments of the new as well as the old atheists and secularists. I wish every active member were like you.
You hooked me. I got to write back.
First, Sam Harris does argue that objective morals exist in his book, “The Moral Landscape.”
Regarding how prophets come to know what is right and wrong, once again deals with epistemology. I am not making an epistemological argument of morality. It is an ontological argument.
I am not throwing Christianity, Mormonism, Islam, or any other number of religions under the bus. My argument simply does not deal with God as revealed through religions. It deals with Natural Theology. I set out my premise very clear at the beginning of the argument.
I think you will like (of course argue against) my other posts. They are more complicated than you assume.
Again, regarding scripture, that is Revealed Theology. I am discussing Natural Theology, so I see no need to discuss how God has revealed Himself through revelation. These objections are just red herrings. I am not going to be taken away from the arguments I am making.
Regarding people leaving the LDS church, the reason for the post is not to keep people in the LDS faith. As was stated at the beginning of the first post. I am trying to provide reasons, at the very least, for people to not throw away God as they exit Mormonism. The posts are not an apology exclusively for Mormonism.
I agree with your statement regarding black and white thinking. I disagree that a supernatural belief “traps” people. I would argue to the contrary. Those that use ratiional and faith are more open minded than those who see things only through naturalism.
“On a theistic view, objective moral duties are constituted by God’s commands. God’s moral nature is expressed in relation to us in the form of divine commandments. These constitute our moral obligations or duties.”
If God is good by definition, God’s commands must be good. Why, then, do we see commands from God in the Bible which most people would consider immoral, such as indiscriminate slaughter of helpless men, women, and children? Do such actions become “good” by definition? How do you explain the moral revulsion human beings feel towards such actions which have been commanded by God?
The fallacy of a red herring argument has been commited. I am not arguing for the existence of the God of the Bible, Qu’ran, Book of Mormon, the Bhagavad Gita, the Lotus Sutra or any other religious text. Thus I will not offer a response.
You did make the statement here, “God’s moral nature is expressed in relation to us in the form of divine commandments.” How are these divine commandments expressed? Usually religious people argue that divine commands are expressed through prophets/spiritual leaders, holy writings, or personal inspiration/Holy Spirit. Each of these has flaws, but I’ll leave that for your next installment when you get into more specifics.
The point I was trying to make is that if God gives immoral commands, then morality must be something distinct from God. You have defined God as being the ultimate good. There is no God by that definition who has expressed divine commands to human beings, since human beings are capable of making moral judgements of divine commands and finding them lacking. I agree with your argument up until the point where you claim that the God of objective morality communicates with humans.
I agree with your basic assertion that there is an objective morality. However, I think that God, in the traditional definition of deity, would be subject to objective morality. If you define God as being the source of objective morality, you are excluding the God of religion from your definition, as every statement attributed to God which is not perfectly moral will, by definition, not be a command given by God. So my question is, if you are asserting that God communicates with human beings, in what situation has this ever happened? If you will be addressing this in your next installment, please ignore my comment for now and I will bring it up again later, as I understand you are getting swamped here.
Will you do me a favor? I am not sure if you can do this or not, but it would help me. One of the problems I am having is that people post comments from previous posts so I am hopping around different posts, trying to find their comments.
If you are able to copy your comment you just did, and paste it on as a comment for next week, I can address the things you have brought up. It will just make it easier for me. It would be even better, if you were able to do that and delete the comment you just posted.
Please don’t reply here. I always feel obligated to write something so all you guys don’t think I am avoiding the conversation.
“Rather, it would just be a continuum of well-being whose peaks are occupied by good and evil people alike.”
Sounds like a fairly accurate depiction of reality to me. As an atheist, I don’t really believe in objective and find all of my values to be subjective and pragmatic. This isn’t because it is ideal – life would be easier with a rule book and an almighty referee commonly named God. But I don’t see any evidence that this referee exists, outside of the physical laws defined by nature.
The issue isn’t so much “What is atheist’s objective moral system?” It is “Is there a objective moral system?”
As my current understanding goes, the answer is no.
To believe otherwise is to put one’s self in the role of Candide, who is constantly painfully reminded of the shortcomings of his philosophies in relation to natural law..
I should rephrase… “as an agnostic atheist…” as I have no pretense towards gnosticism.
The second century Christian heresy of Gnosticism has nothing to do with being “agnostic” except that they share the same root word.
It is important that everyone is on the same page when we are discussing labels. Personally I am leery when a traditional definition is changed to benefit a certain belief system. So let me provide the traditional definitions of agnosticism:
“Agnostic” traditionally meansa person who holds that the existence of the ultimate cause, as God, and the essential nature of things are unknown and unknowable, or that human knowledge is limited to experience. It at time can also mean a person who denies or doubts the possibility of ultimate knowledge in some area of study.
The term was first coined by the English biologist T.H. Huxley in the late 1860s as a member of the now defunct Metaphysical Society, in response to what he perceived as an abundance there of strongly held beliefs. The original usage of the term was confined to philosophy and religion, and referred to Huxley’s assertion that anything beyond the material world, including the existence and nature of God, was unknowable.
Today the word can be seen applied to questions of politics, culture, and science, as when someone claims to be a “political agnostic.”
In a more recent trend, one can be agnostic simply by not taking a stand on something. In 2010, President Obama called himself “agnostic” on tax cuts until he had seen all available options. At a forum on sustainable energy in 2008, GE CEO Jeff Immelt said he was “fuel agnostic fundamentally.” In technology, software or hardware can be said to be agnostic as well. Computer code that can run on any operating system is called “platform agnostic,” and such services as phone and electric may be considered “agnostic” if not dedicated to a particular carrier, device, or user interface. (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/agnostic?s=t)
Atheism is the belief that there is no God.
Regarding subjective morality, when is it ever O.K. to rape a child?
If you leave another response, please wait until next week and post a response on the new post. If you leave one here, I will not respond to you.
Perhaps I am misusing the terminology – my apologies, as I am not trained in philosophy.
I do not believe in absolute morality. I do believe in relative morality. Does this fit within the subjective vs objective definitions?
First point, you asked me: “In keeping in line with the arguments that are actually part of the post, what is your hypothesis regarding objective moral values and duties? Do they exist at all? If so, from where do they come?”
I don’t believe there is any Platonic ideal of objective morality that resides in the universe embodied in God or the collective minds of science, or in a morality particle. I think Dr. Harris wrongly argues for an obtainable objective morality mainly in order to combat the negative image that atheists have in public life. We are seen as immoral, nihillistic, moral relativists who are one step away from raping chickens and sticking heroine needles in our arms. Frankly, unbelief is incomprehensible to most believers, and presuppositionalist deists regularly accuse me of just lying about my disbelief, as if I really know that God exists, but I am just choosing to lie about it, or at least delude myself into denial. My theory? I think we can search for an objective moral framework as atheists and believers together, and I would almost theorize that the general upward trend of moral improvement in modern and postmodern society has come about not only because of secular enlightenment, but also in tension with conservative religious moral framings.
Second, you state in point 2 above, as Anonymous quotes:
“Theism provides a sound foundation for objective moral duties. On a theistic view, objective moral duties are constituted by God’s commands. God’s moral nature is expressed in relation to us in the form of divine commandments. These constitute our moral obligations or duties.”
You are already providing an argument for Revealed Theology, unless you are saying that “God’s commands” and “divine commandments” don’t come through Revealed Theology, which you say you aren’t arguing here. So let’s look at some of “God’s Commands” as revealed to 19 year old Nancy Rigdon through his prophet Joseph Smith:
“That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another” and “God said, “Thou shalt not kill;” at another time He said “Thou shalt utterly destroy.” This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted—by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire. If we seek first the kingdom of God, all good things will be added. So with Solomon: first he asked wisdom, and God gave it him, and with it every desire of his heart, even things which might be considered abominable to all who understand the order of heaven only in part, but which in reality were right because God gave and sanctioned by special revelation.”
This lovely statement of mind-twisting reasoning was given to a young girl by the prophet to convince her to accept him as a husband. This isn’t an objective morality, this is the epitome of subjective morality. You might argue that God wasn’t in this event, and I would agree with you wholeheartedly, but eventually you have to bring God back around to an epistemology of some sort, and if it is Mormonism, you have to start slicing and dicing the faith to cherry pick only the best parts.
I’m sorry but I am really not going to let this point go. This contradictory subjective morality resides in the God of Mormonism, and the God of Judeo-Christian beliefs. You can claim to only want to examine the ontological argument, but you have no premise with which to argue if you cannot provide a moral epistemology (how we know that morality comes from or is embodied by God, even if it is through an examination of natural theology).
I look forward to learning how we come to know Gods commands and his divine commandments are revealed to us through Natural Theology.
I anxiously await your next posting.
I suspect you will respond again. Will you do the favor of waiting to respond until next week and do so on the post that goes up on Monday? It is very difficult for me to keep track of all the responses when they are spread out among different posts. I end up spending a lot of time looking for different people’s responses.
In regards to your view of subjective morality, I think I’ve said enough on it; so I am just not going to address that right now again.
Regarding what was said about God expressing objective moral duties through divine command, does need some clarification. First, there seems to be an assumption made as to how one comes to know God’s divine command. That assumption seems to be that His divine command comes only through revelation (Revealed Theology) I don’t think that we need to appeal to God at all to know that objective moral values and duties exist. Atheists, like Sam Harris, believe in objective moral values and duties – so you’re just barking up the wrong tree insofar as I’m concerned.
Thomas Equinas felt Natural revelation is the truth available to all people through their human nature; certain truths all men can attain from correct human reasoning. For example, he felt this applied to rational ways to know the existence of God:
“There is a twofold mode of truth in what we profess about God. Some truths about God exceed all the ability of human reason. Such is the truth that God is triune. But there are some truths which the natural reason also is able to reach. Such are the truth that God exists, that he is one, and the like. In fact, such truths about God have been proved demonstratively by the philosophers, guided by the light of natural reason.” (SCG I, ch.3, n.2)
Paul Copan has stated that, “good” and “bad” are relevant to God, and our sense of what is good or bad corresponds to God’s sense of good and bad. For instance, Copan writes “We would not know goodness without God’s endowing us with a moral constitution. We have rights, dignity, freedom, and responsibility because God has designed us this way. In this, we reflect God’s moral goodness as His image-bearers.” (Copan, Paul, and William Lane Craig. Passionate Conviction: Contemporary Discourses on Christian Apologetics. Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Publishing Group, 2007. 91.)
A misstep can be made in thinking that on my view, moral duties spring simply from God’s existence, which is not the view. Suppose that God never created a concrete world at all or a world in which the highest life form was rabbits, so that there were no created moral agents. In that case, God would not issue any commands, and so there would be no moral obligations or prohibitions of any sort.
Regarding what Joseph Smith said to Nancy Rigdon, I am hesitant to comment too much on it because I don’t want this to become an apology surrounding Joseph Smith and Mormonism. I have less a problem with what he said, and more a problem with why he said it. I raise eyebrows in my family when I point out Joseph saying such things to seemingly manipulate people. Furthermore, I have a problem with our correlated texts using only part of the quote and taking it out of context. I have nothing else to say about it.
With this post, I was expecting to debate Mormons regarding the traditional view of God being subject to the moral good because it is outside of Him and above Him. I was a little unprepared to debate atheists, but I have thoroughly enjoyed it. One last point, I think that traditional Mormon view of goodness residing outside and above God is wrong and I don’t hold to it.
Mike, on your last comment I just wanted to make sure I got the point that you are making when you said ” I think the traditional Mormon view of goodness….” if I understand you correctly you are stating that all goodness comes from god and some Mormons hold the belief that there is good that doesn’t come from god. Could you give me an example…guess I may not have paid attention in Sunday school…just can’t think of an example where I have seen that…
I will be answering your question in a response to my Part III post. Sorry to give no response here. It is just easier if I can get everyone leaving responses on the most resent post.
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