Is rejection of moral absolutes emotional rather than intellectual?

courtesy of GlosgowAmateur via flickr.com
courtesy of GlosgowAmateur via flickr.com

In the last several posts, I have tried to paint a picture showing that without God, morality is entirely subjective.  Thus, without God, differences in moral standards are no more that differences in personal preferences.

  • If societies get to define morality, then war is not right or wrong.  It’s merely a struggle for power.
  • If morals are defined by how a family raises their children, then there is nothing wrong when a family raises their kids to be cop killers.
  • If individuals each get to decide their own morality, then there is no instance in which any person is justified in condemning the attitudes or actions of another.

But our experience tells us that there are absolute moral laws that apply to everyone.  And if we were to poll people of all faiths, including atheism (faith that God does not exist), I think we would find that almost everyone agrees that the last six of the Ten Commandments are absolutely correct as moral laws.

Honor your father and mother.

Do not kill.

Do not commit adultery.

Do not steal.

Do not lie against your neighbor.

Do not covet your neighbors’ possessions.

People disagree on the origin of these laws, but they accept them as moral duties we should follow.  I haven’t spoken with anyone, Christian, non-Christian or atheist, who denies that these are moral absolutes and that everyone should live by them.  I am not arguing that atheists or non-Christians cannot live moral lives.  They certainly can, and most do.  What is at stake here is the origin of the moral laws by which we live.

After having establishing this common ground, I would like to propose an argument that I learned from Christian philosopher William Lane Craig.  While this moral argument isn’t unique to Craig, I like his wording.

1.  If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.

2.  Objective moral values and duties do exist.

3.  Therefore, God exists.

In order to deny statement number 3, either statement 1 or 2 must be shown to be false.  Through my reading and in conversations with people, very few actually deny statement 2.  So, in order to defeat this argument, those who accept statement 2 must show that objective moral values do exist without God.

How could such morals laws exist without God?  If God does not exist, then our world is made up entirely of matter.  If nothing exists other than matter, then there cannot be a moral law that dictates how people (who are just blobs of matter) ought to behave.  Granted, there are physical laws.  But these laws don’t dictate how matter should behave.  Rather, physical laws are descriptive of how matter behaves.

Through the last several posts I hope to have demonstrated that objective moral values cannot have their basis through personal reflection, family upbringing, cultural decisions or evolutionary processes.  Some people will continue to deny that moral absolutes point to the existence of God, but they do so because of emotional reasons rather than intellectual objections.


Is the moral argument sufficient to imply that God exists? 

If you disagree with premise 1 or 2 of the argument, please explain why.  I’d like to know the weaknesses in the argument. 

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4 thoughts on “Is rejection of moral absolutes emotional rather than intellectual?

  1. Are your six examples from the Ten Commandments REALLY moral absolutes? Should meth-addicted parents who beat their children REALLY be honored? Should you refuse to kill if you know your target is about to kill 10 other people?

    Even Abraham did not refuse to kill his own son because he was commanded by God. Perhaps the absolute is “Don’t kill unless God tells you or more people will die if you don’t kill than if you do.” Ah, but there are exceptions to that as well.

    No. You confuse general rules with absolutes. There are always exceptions. There are no absolutes. And therefore, I don’t see how premise 2 can be valid.

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    • So do you affirm that moral values are, then, purely relative or objective? Or what else?

      By the way, (I’d appreciate the author’s feedback on this) I think there is a significant difference between absolute and objective moral values. Absolute morality is one that applies all time, place, time, and circumstances. Objective morality is much broader: one that is independent of mind.

      So, to the author, isn’t there a problem with using William Lane Craig’s moral argument to support the case for absolute, if you are using the definitions I outlined for “absolute” and “objective?”

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      • My opinion is that moral values are not objective in the sense that there is nothing in or “outside” the universe that dictates, rewards or punishes, or otherwise mandates behavior.

        However, there are measures that can be used to compare various states of human flourishing. If one agrees that some states are better than others, then there is probably reason to label behaviors that lead to those states as “objectively right”.

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