Friday, July 22, 2005

Conversations with Angie: Reading recommendations on the moral argument for God


Although there are countless arguments for the existence of God, there are two that seem especially convincing to me. One is the cosmological argument, and the other is the moral argument. Since the moral argument is so similar to what we've been talking about already, I'll go through that one first. I think I can also respond to your last email in the process.

The moral argument for God's existence can be summarized like this:

1. If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
2. Objective moral values exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.

I was thinking that maybe what I should do--maybe what I should've done throughout our whole dialogue--is give recommendations for further reading in case you're interested in this stuff. A lot of the stuff out there says the same thing, but it says it in different ways. Some of these argument aren't easy to understand on a first hearing, but when you hear the same thing articulated in different ways by different people, it begins to click. Once I started understanding these arguments, lights began to go off, and everything began falling into place. I even began to notice the interconnectedness of all these arguments, and how when you put them all together, a picture begins to emerge--an entire coherent worldview. It's like a big tapestry. It's kind of like looking at those pictures where you have to stare at them for a while, and once you focus just right, a whole picture emerges. Do you know what I mean? So I was thinking if I gave you just a few recommendations, and you read them, maybe what wasn't clear in what I said would make more sense when you read it being presented some other way.

I was very surprised when I discovered the moral argument, because once I understood it, it became very pursuasive. But unfortunately, the moral argument is not easy to explain. The above syllogism is clear enough, but for any deductive argument to work, it isn't enough that the conclusion follows logically from the premises. You need something else--both premises have to be true. And the truth of the above premises is far from obvious to a lot of people. So you have to argue for them, and I have found that to be difficult. I've spent a lot of time on this argument, though, and most of that time has been spent trying to articulate, as clearly as possible, why I think both premises are true.

But I'm going to give a few references in case you're interested, and in case I'm not being clear. I'm not going to give you an exhaustive bibliography, but I want to mention a few resources that I think are especially articulate, even if they aren't necessarily very sophisticated:

C.S. Lewis gives this argument in the first four chapters of Mere Christianity. He defends both premises.

Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-air by Gregory Koukl and Francis Beckwith. The majority of the book defends the second premise--that objective moral values exist--and only in the very last chapter do they defend the first premise.

"The Absurdity of Life Without God," which is a lecture by William Lane Craig that you can listen to on-line. He also published a written version of the lecture in his book, Reasonable Faith. The majority of it defends the first premise, but he does spend some time defending the second.

If you want, I would be glad to send you a copy of Mere Christianity and Relativism. Just let me know. It's easy reading, and not very long.

I'll elaborate on the moral argument another time--maybe tonight. If not tonight, then Friday hopefully.

Take it easy.


Conversations with Angie:  The difference between subjective and objective statements


At 7/22/2005 9:14 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good Blog, I keep visiting it!


At 7/23/2005 3:29 AM , Blogger daleliop said...

Hey Sam,

Do you like riddles? I like this one, I hope you haven't heard something similar before (I've worded it the way I remember it). Think you can solve it?

It's raining heavily as you stroll down the street in your convertible (top-up), when you see three people huddled around a bus stop who look like they've been waiting there for a very, very long time.

As you get closer, thinking of offering a ride (being the good Samaritan you are), you notice that one of the people waiting is a man who recently had a heart attack and needs to get to a hospital right away.

Just as you are about to help him into the car, you recognize the second person at the stop as the doctor who previously saved your life and whom you are extremely grateful for, who today is very tired from his long day of work and just wants to go home (and who is temporarily treating the man before more help arrives).

Finally, you see the boy/girl of your dreams whom you've had a big crush on for the last year, who you've been dying to talk to, unfortunately stuck in the rain.

Of course, you'd love to help all of them. However, your convertible can only fit one passenger.

What do you do?

At 7/23/2005 1:37 PM , Blogger Steve said...

call an ambulance!

At 7/23/2005 11:41 PM , Blogger daleliop said...

Let's say there is no phone or anyone else nearby..

At 7/24/2005 4:46 AM , Blogger Steve said...

is there room in your trunk?

just kidding.

Well I guess you should get the number of the girl, and then use the fact that you took the sick guy to the hospital to win favor with her.

The heart surgen will be impressed by this and call you up for a round of golf.

At 7/24/2005 4:51 AM , Blogger Steve said...


How does one go about determining if moral values or objective moral values exist?

At one point in history, torture was considered acceptable by even the Catholic Church (Spanish Inquisition), and some in Salem, Mass. during the witch trials. We say today that "objectively" that was wrong, but historically they didn't think so.

How do we know that what we THINK is objectively moral or amoral today will not simply be regarded as contextual morality in the future?

And if thats true, then the statement If A then B does not mean B then A (it only implies the contrapositive).

At 7/24/2005 11:52 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...


I love riddles. I'm just no good at them. My friend, Jeremy, has this game where you're supposed to solve riddles, and he always kicks my butt in it. He's good at that stuff.


I'm going to cover some of that in my upcoming blogs. I think we know morality the same way we know the uniformity of nature, the external world, the reality of the past, etc. We know it by intuition. I think we all know intuitively that there's a line between right and wrong even if we may be mistaken sometimes in where to draw that line. But I deal more specifically with differences in cultural values in upcoming blogs. Stay tuned!


At 7/24/2005 11:54 AM , Blogger daleliop said...

Hey Steve,

Sam posted a couple of blogs in April (along with some long discussions in the comments sections) about this very topic that you might find interesting. He might repeat some of the same points in his next few blogs, but if here are the links if you like:

Moral Argument for God

Are Moral Realists Delusional?

Does anything really matter?

At 7/24/2005 11:56 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Steve, I don't know why I called you Mike. I meant Steve.

At 7/24/2005 3:33 PM , Blogger daleliop said...

haha, Sam - at the beginning when Steve began to comment, I mistook him as Mike for a while. lol

At 7/24/2005 3:57 PM , Blogger daleliop said...

Man, Angie must be thrilled. You've spent 2 whole months talking about her.

At 7/24/2005 5:18 PM , Blogger Steve said...

thank you Dale, I visited two of the links, they are very well put.

I must concede that there is no argument that can be made in favor of rape, or genocide, for example, that I would ever accept as true.

But could our intuition, that these things are wrong, simply be derived from reason? I mean, maybe things "feel" wrong because we're afraid if its widespread and acceptable, it could happen to us, or people close to us? Is it not then simply rational to say killing and rape is wrong? Because we dont want it to happen to us?

That kind of instinct sounds more animalistic, and evolutionary, than anything else.

At 7/25/2005 3:40 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...


I hope she is. I'm thrilled that she was willing to talk to me for so long about all these things, and that she didn't mind me posting the conversation on my blog.


Have you noticed the way parents sometimes teach morality to their children? If the kid does something mean, the parent will say something like, "How would you like it if somebody did that to you?" From that, the kid realizes that he did something wrong.

If our moral intuitions come from reason alone, then it's bad reasoning. It doesn't follow from reason alone that just because I don't want somebody to do something to me that I therefore shouldn't do it to somebody else. Even though the reasoning is faulty, this method of moral teaching is so effective that it's universally taught everywhere. For some reason it works.

But why does it work? It seems to me that it only works because there's a pre-existing moral intuition that we should do to others as we would have them do to us. With that premise in mind, this is how the argument would look:

1. You should treat others the way you would want to be treated.
2. I would not want somebody to rape me or steal from me.
3. Therefore, I shouldn't rape or steal from somebody else.

This argument only works with the first premise, but the first premise is a moral premise.

The reason I say all of this is because I think you're right to an extent. Our fear of what others might do to us does inform our moral conclusions about what we ought to do to others. But it isn't that one thing alone that informs our moral conclusions. It is also a pre-existing moral assumption.

At 7/26/2005 3:10 PM , Blogger daleliop said...

Here's my solution for the riddle:

1. Give the keys to the doctor, and put the guy who had the heart attack in the passenger seat.

2. The doctor drives to the hopsital, drops off the guy, and then drives himself home.

3. You walk home with the crush.


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