Thursday, April 21, 2005

The moral argument for the existence of God

In the last couple of blogs, I've been developing an argument for the existence of God. Now I want to state the argument explicitly.

1. If there is no God, then there are no objective moral values.
2. There are objective moral values.
3. Therefore, there is a God.

A couple of years ago, I really tried to develope this argument in a pursuasive way, and I came up with several ways to demonstrate the truth of both premises. In the last two blogs, I gave one way to demonstrate each. In some future blogs, I'm going to throw out other arguments. Some of these are better than others. Some are probably flawed. My whole purpose is to come up with the most pursuasive arguments I can, and to be able to articulate them in the clearest way possible.


At 4/24/2005 12:27 PM , Blogger daleliop said...

How can you demonstrate that there exist objective moral values? Even if everyone on this planet agreed on exactly the same moral perceptions this wouldn't necessarily show that these are the _actual_ objective moral values or even that objective moral values exist. We may just have a temporary agreement among our subjective moral values. For example, suppose an asteroid hit the Earth and killed everyone on the planet except those who believed that lying was always wrong. Does it then follow that lying is now an objective moral vice? What if all the survivers had been believers of something else?

At 4/24/2005 4:12 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...


The reason I compared our moral perceptions to our sensory perceptions and memory perceptions, is because I think they're on the same epistemic level. They have several things in common. First, everybody has these perceptions. Second, it's impossible to prove that these perceptions correspond to anything in the real world. Third, it's possible that we're wrong about these things. Fourth, it seems prima facie absurd to think these perceptions are only in our heads.

There is some knowledge that seems to be built in. For example, we know that our senses correspond to an external world. We know that our memories correspond to a past that really happened. We know the uniformity of nature--that the future will resemble the past (this is the basis for all probability). And there are a few other examples I can't think of off the top of my head.

It seems like the only reason we know these things is because that's just the way a correctly working mind is built. Our brains just seemed to be wired that way. If that's all we have to go on, then that puts all these items of knowledge on the same epistimic level. That's why I made the argument I made. If you doubt one of these items of knowledge, it throws the rest in doubt, because they are all known by the same cognitive faculties.

I'm going to have to rethink the argument, though, in light of your most recent rebuttal. Our sensory perceptions do seem more consistent than our moral perceptions. Our moral perceptions seems a little more pliable than our sensory perceptions.

There are severals ways I might approach this. One, I've already mentioned--show that we don't really differ in our basic moral premises, and that apparent differences can be accounted for in several ways that don't include our having real moral differences.

Another way might be to say that the only way we can tell whether our sensory perceptions are consistent is by relying on our memory perceptions. But our memory perceptions belong in this same category that fits the four criteria I mentioned above. So you have to assume that your memories correspond to a real past before you can argue that your senses are consistent. But our memory perceptions are often shown to be less reliable than our sensory perceptions. Our sensory perceptions can't be more reliable than that which they are based on, so we have no more justification for trusting the consistency of our sensory perceptions than we have to trust in the consistency of our memory perceptions.

This argument needs to be thought through some more, but I figured it was something worth thinking about.

It seems to me that all of these perceptions vary in their degree of consistency and strength. Our sensory perceptions seem to be the strongest of all, and our memory perceptions seem to be the weakest and most pliable. Perhaps it's irrelevent how strong they are; it's only relevent that they fit the criteria I mentioned above. Anyway, I'll have to think about it.


At 4/24/2005 6:51 PM , Blogger daleliop said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 4/24/2005 7:09 PM , Blogger daleliop said...

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At 4/24/2005 7:14 PM , Blogger daleliop said...

(Sorry for the deletes! I couldn't clarify my post)


I've been thinking through the moral argument too, seeing if it is compelling enough to accept, so that is why I have been posting quite a bit on this issue.

I think your first rejoinder may work and your second rejoinder is interesting, but I think you'll have to develop it to make it more compelling.

On another note, here is something else:

The argument you gave to show that there exist objective moral values is that their existence is implied from our moral perceptions (which we all have and which are at the same epistemic level as our other cognitive perceptions, such as memory, that we trust).

What if someone said this:

"Let's say I agree with you that we have moral perceptions and that we can trust them, just like we can trust our senses, like taste. Now taste is a funny thing. A strong case can be made that taste evolved (or was created) so that humans would have an internal urge to eat, because an external reality dictated that if a human did not ingest food it would die.

Now, along similar lines, note that without a moral instinct, humans would be much less compelled to help others or restrain themselves from killing other members of the species. Without cooperation, human civilization would never have developed to the point it has today. So, for the sake of the human race, we may have evolved a moral sense, to ensure that humans would get along with each other. This moral sense, an internal urge, corresponds to the need for cooperation, just as taste corresponds to the need for food.

Without this moral sense, everyone would have had a much reduced chance of survival as they would be more inclined to kill off each other without cooperating.

Well, one might argue that one could get ahead if he ignored his moral sense while everyone else adhered to it; the consequences for this would be unlike ignoring sight which could get him killed. However, this objection does not work. If an individual ignored his moral sense and killed another human, for example, then it would only benefit him if _he didn't get caught_. If he did get caught, all the other individuals would retaliate together and kill him as punishment. Also, like ignoring sight, the chance of survival for a lone human is much lower than a group of humans. So, it is in the interest of the individual to agree with his moral sense.

Therefore, it is not necessarily true that our internal moral perceptions must correspond to an external moral law; rather, they may correspond to an external need for survival.

Taste was a sense developed to interpret food in a way that would compel humans to eat. Morality could be a sense developed to interpret human interactions in a way that would compel humans not to harm others.

In fact, this possibility may be even more probable, because as you showed, our sensory perceptions, memory perceptions, and moral perceptions are quite similar epistemically. But note that they are each also similar in that they are necessary for the survival of the individual.

So, at best, there _may_ be an external moral law, but we have to accept that there may be a (quite probable) separate reason for our moral perceptions."

At 4/24/2005 8:54 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...


Don't worry. I said on the first post of this blog that the reason I started it was to post ideas I've gotten and jotted down on paper that I hadn't necessarily thought through enough to publish. That's why I call this "primitive thoughts." Your arguments are helping me think these things through, which hopefully in the end will enable me to refine my arguments (or abandon them if necessary).

I think a couple of things can be said about your evolutionary argument. First, there is a difference between a cause and a justification. C.S. Lewis makes this point in his book on Miracles where is says there are two senses of the word because--the cause and effect sense, and the ground and consequent sense. What causes people to think things is not the same as what justifies people in believing them. So pointing to what causes people to believe in morality does not address whether or not they are justified in believing in morality.

Second, the argument really works against itself, and for my view. You see, if we assume evolution, then not only our moral perceptions, but also our sensory perceptions developed through a process of evolution. If evolution should cause us to doubt our moral perceptions, then it should also cause us to doubt our sensory perceptions, too. But if we assume that evolution tends to produce minds that apprehend things that are true rather than things that are false, then we should trust our moral intuitions.

As you explained, we developed a moral sense that would aid our survival. But by the same reasoning, our sensory perceptions developed to aid our survival. We developed the sense of pain so that we could avoid injury (e.g. by pulling our hand out of fire). If evolution works in such a way that it causes us to believe things that are true rather than things that are false, then we should trust our moral perceptions.

Third, there is a difference between seeing things on the one hand, and assuming that what I'm seeing corresponds to anything in the external world on the other hand. Likewise, there is a difference between valuing people and things on the one hand, and thinking those people and things actually have value on the other hand. So there is a difference between having a strong aversion to father stabbing on the one hand and thinking that father stabbing is actually wrong on the other hand. We seem to have this strong intuition that what we're percieving, whether sensory or moral, corresponds to something real, and we just have to ask ourselves whether or not we're justified in believing those intuitions.

Fourth, it is interesting to observe that our instincts are often completely contrary to our moral perceptions. Our moral perceptions, in fact, are what prevent us from giving into instinct. If both the conscience and the instincts developed by the same process of evolution, then it's hard to account for why they are opposed to each other, and why, in fact, they aren't the same thing. Why aren't we moral instinctively? This is something I only recently began to think about it, and I hope that after thinking about it some more I can make a good argument out of it.


At 4/24/2005 9:36 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...


I thought I'd give you some reading recommendations since you're looking into this argument (and for the sake of anybody else who may be interested). These are some sources that have influenced my thinking:

First Things by Hadley Arkes.
In the first half of the book, he argues for moral realism (the second premise in the moral argument for the existence of God). He bases his argument largely on the universally understood notion of moral justification. He also does a good job of dealing with apparent moral differences between cultures.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
In the first four chapers, he gives the moral argument for the existence of God. This book was my first exposure to this argument. Though not incredibly philosophically developed, it is very clear and easy to understand. It's a good place to start.

Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Midair by Frank Beckwith and Greg Koukl.
This is another introductory level book. It argues for moral realism (the second premise of the moral argument for the existence of God). Koukl also has a good chapter on techniques for dialoguing with moral relativists. The final chapter makes the moral argument for the existence of God by defending the first premise in the moral argument.

Moral Values and the Idea of God by William Sorley
This book is out of print, but you can sometimes find a used copy of it at Amazon or other places. It's worth it. This whole book addresses the moral argument for the existence of God. It's difficult reading, but it's worth it.

"The Revenge of Conscience" by J. Budziszewski
Budziszewski argues that everybody knows right from wrong, and he bases it on the ways in which people try and fail to convince themselves otherwise.

"The Absurdity of Life Without God by William Lane Craig
He argues that if there is no God, then life is meaningless--nothing matters, and there is no right or wrong. He also has a chapter by the same name and content in his book, Reasonable Faith.



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