Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Conversations with Angie: If there is no God, then there are no objective moral values


As I said, cultures can come up with values they more or less agree on. And in the absense of God, I would agree that these values are not transcendent. That is, they don't apply across the board. They only apply within a given culture.

But I want to explain further why I think that in the absense of God, there can be no such thing as objective moral values--moral values that would be true regardless of what any culture thought.

To say that something is right is to say that you ought to do it, and to say it's wrong is to say that you ought not do it. So moral rules are imperatives. They take the form of commands. Commands, though, can only be made by sentient beings. Have you ever noticed that sometimes when a person doesn't like the imperative being forced on them, they'll say, "Says who?" I think this questino betrays something we all intuitively recognize. If nobody says, then we have no obligation. If nobody is making the rules, then there are no rules. We're not obligated to obey a blind and indifferent universe. We can only be obligated to obey a person. So if there are objective moral rules--rules that we would be obligated to obey whether we wanted to or not--then there would have to be some sentient being who transcendes humanity--that stands outside of humanity--and imposes these moral rules on humans. Whatever imposes these rules on us would have to have moral authority over us. If there is no authority, then there are no rules. Cultures may come up with rules, but they can change them any time they want. They can get rid of them altogether. Whatever rules they came up with would only be conventions that applied within those cultures.

When I say "moral values," I mean more than just imperatives. I'm also referring to values such as good and evil. I think the example I gave in that post I made to Weirdbrake was a person starving to death on the one hand and another person enjoying a nice steak dinner on the other hand. Nothing matters unless there's somebody it matters to. If there were no minds or sentient beings in the universe, then nothing would matter at all. If there is no God, then all we are is, as William Lane Craig says in that lecture I linked to in one of my emails, "the accidental byproduct of nature." Now maybe you care whether people starve or enjoy steak dinners, but maybe somebody else doesn't care. In the absense of God, there would be no objective truth to whether eating is a good thing or starving is an evil thing. It would only matter to humans, and some may care while others don't care. But before you can start saying that anything in human history matters, you have to ask yourself whether it even matters that humans exist at all. If there is no God, then we're all doomed to eventually become extinct. Humanity will cease to exist. It won't matter that they ever existed at all since there will be nobody in existence for it to matter to. Ultimately, then, nothing within human history matters, because it doesn't even matter that we exist. Everything is meaningless in the objective sense. Only if there is a transcendent being who stands outside of humanity can there be such a thing as good or evil. But it isn't enough merely that some being exists outside of humanity. This being must also be necessary. Without necessity, this being is just another sentient being. But if the being is necessary, and transcendent, than the being can serve as the standard for good and evil in the entire universe. If everything derives from and depends on this being, then everything is endowed with its meaning from the necessary and transcendent being.

One more way to say that God is necessary for objective moral values is just to observe that values are only held by sentient beings. Rocks don't have values. Only persons have values. But if there is no God, then you and I may have different values, and neither of us is right, because there is no standard outside or beyond us by which to measure our values. Only if there is some standard outside of us does it make sense to say that your values are correct and mine are incorrect. And if there is a standard outside of us, then those standards must derive from a sentient being who also stands outside of us.

Tell me what you think so far.


Conversations with Angie:  Cultures differ in their moral values


At 5/02/2009 7:48 AM , Blogger Michael said...

I have to respectfully disagree. I am a Buddhist and do not hold to the idea of a creator God, yet I live my life in a moral fashion due in part to the values my family passed on to me and also due to the Buddhist creed of "Do no harm". I would also like to put forth this, If the only reason your being moral / good is because your God told you too and put in place consequences to make sure you follow through then are you really a good person or just afraid of the possible punishment ?

At 5/02/2009 9:40 AM , Blogger Sam said...

Michael, you seem to have a very common misunderstanding of what I'm arguing here. I'm not arguing that you have to believe in God before you can believe in objective moral values. I'm arguing that God must exist before there can be objective moral values.


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