Tag Archives: The Moral Argument

Does God Exist? The Moral Argument

On March 7, I’m going to be starting a Facebook Live series: “Is Christianity True?” The intent of series is to explore the truth of Christianity. The schedule for the series is as follows:

March 7 – Does God exist? The Moral Argument

March 14 – Does God exist? The Cosmological Argument

March 21 – Can God be known and is the Bible reliable?

March 28 – Did Jesus rise from the dead?

April 4 – How could a good God allow suffering?

April 11 – Has science disproved religion?

April 18 – Is religion harmful?

April 25 – Q & A

If you’re interested in following the series, “Like” the Facebook page Wyoming Park Bible Fellowship and be prepared to tune in on the dates above, from 7:15 – 7:45.

The most basic question one must answer, not only the Christian, but anyone, is this: Does God exist? There are strong reasons to believe that He does, and the two most compelling reasons, at least for me, are the first two topics of this series: The Moral Argument and The Cosmological Argument. The Moral Argument reasons that if an objective Moral Law exists, a moral Lawgiver must also exist. The Cosmological Argument reasons that there must be a source or origin outside the universe, an unmoved Mover or Creator. The Moral Argument reasons from moral intuitions and the Cosmological from philosophy and, to a large degree, from science.

The Moral Argument

I start with the Moral Argument. I take as my two primary sources C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, book 1, and William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, chapter 4. Each frame the argument a little differently, but Craig’s approach is more systematic, so I adopt his outline.

The Moral Argument can be framed as follows:

  • If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  • Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  • Therefore, God exists

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

What do we mean by “objective moral values and duties”? By objective we mean that something is right or wrong, good or evil, independently of what people think or perceive. For instance, if the Nazi’s had successfully killed or brainwashed everyone who disagreed with their worldview, would the Holocaust still be evil? A person who believes in objective moral values, believes that, even if no one recognized it as such, the Holocaust would still be evil.

The question remains, then, if God does not exist, could this still be true? Could we find the Holocaust objectively evil? There are two primary worldviews we must consider here, the Naturalist (or Materialist) worldview, and the Theistic worldview. By Naturalist, I mean, the belief that there is nothing outside of our material universe, that there is not God or Lawgiver.

Could a Naturalist find a basis for exists of objective morals and duties? It doesn’t appear so. And, in fact, many explicitly deny that we should. For instance, prominent atheist Richard Dawkins declares “There is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, not good, nothing but pointless indifference… We are machines for propagating DNA… It is every living object’s sole reason for being” (Craig quoting Dawkins). On the Naturalist account of the world “moral values are just by-products of socio-biological evolution” (Craig).

The most detailed account of this “socio-biological evolution” I have read is Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind. Haidt aims to provide (1) a sociological description of our “moral intuitions” and (2) an explanation of where they came from. He argues that they are the product of, first, biological evolutionary processes and then social processes. But he is careful to note that he isn’t referring to any objective reality when he speaks of morality. Instead, for Haidt, morality is what is good for the propagation of the tribe. Morality itself, as an objective reality, is an illusion.

On the Naturalistic view, there is no objective difference between a human and any other animal. Those who believe otherwise are guilty of speciesism. But we don’t hold animals to be moral agents. In nature, a hawk that captures a fish kills it, but does not murder it. And a second hawk that takes that same fish from the first hawk takes it but does not steal it. In the animal kingdom, rape and incest are frequent events, but we do not pass moral judgments on those species for whom it is common. Why should hold humans to a moral standard, especially if no objective moral standard exists?

The Naturalist must conclude, then, that our moral intuitions are rooted not in moral objectivity, but either in the accidental path of our biological evolution, or the even more accidental nature of our habits, customs, feelings, or fashions.

I don’t want you to misunderstand the argument. I’m not saying that you can’t be a descent person without believing in God. And I’m not saying that a person can’t recognize objective value in human beings apart from believing in God. Indeed, experience tells us that it is possible to recognize that humans are objectively morally different from animals and that objective morals and duties do exist, even without belief in God. This is what we see in Haidt’s The Righteous Mind. He cannot help by draw moral conclusions and declare moral duties, even though at the back of it all, he “knows” them to be mere illusions.

The Christian should expect this. Christians believe that God has given us each a sense of right and wrong, and that the only way to deny its reality is to consciously suppress that truth. Even if we succeed in adopting a sort of moral nihilism, though, we cannot help but make moral judgments as though there were really an external moral law to which we could appeal. Craig is careful to draw out this distinction in framing the argument: “I’m contending that theism is necessary that there might be moral goods and duties, not that we might discern the moral goods and duties that there are.” The question for the moral argument isn’t whether or not we’re able to see moral goods and duties – most everyone can – but whether or not they actually exist, or could exist apart from God.

Step 2: Objective moral values and duties do exist.  

C.S. Lewis begins Mere Christianity by reminding us of a scene we’ve witnessed many times: A quarrel.

“Sometimes it sounds funny and sometimes it sounds merely unpleasant; but however it sounds, I believe we can learn something very important from listening to the kind of things they say. They say things like this: ‘How’d you like it if anyone did the same to you?’ – ‘That’s my seat, I was here first’ – ‘Leave him alone, he isn’t doing you any harm’”

What we learn, says Lewis, is that when people argue in this way they aren’t merely saying that they don’t like what the other person’s actions. Instead, they are appealing to some standard of fairness or compassion or empathy, which the other person has violated. This “standard” Lewis calls the Moral Law. It is what we would refer to in this context as the “objective moral values and duties.”

Now, most people recognize that this Moral Law really exists, and not only subjectively in our minds, but objectively in reality. Child abuse, rape, and genocide are evil. They violate an immutable Moral standard. Larry Nassar’s abuse of hundreds of girls was objectively wrong. We don’t simply say that we didn’t like what he did, or that it was harmful to “propagation of the tribe.” We sense in our bones, that it was really evil.

Yet, some have argued against such an account of reality. For instance, is the argument that our moral intuitions developed from “natural” biological processes, a reason to doubt those moral intuitions. If Haidt’s theory of the origin of this “moral sense” were correct, should we doubt the reality of a moral law? No. If you believe that your eyesight developed through biological evolution, would you thus doubt the objectivity of the reality which you see? That would be preposterous. At best, this argument would show (if it shows anything) how we came to sense the Moral Law, not whether or not such a Moral Law actually exists.

Again, one could argue that there can be no such Moral Law because different people and different groups have such different conceptions of what is right and wrong. Yet, Lewis points out that these differences are not so divergent after all. There are differences, to be sure, but there are even more points of agreement. And, in the case where there are differences, we intuitively judge between those differences.

Lewis, writing during the age of World War II, asks whether or not we can judge between the British and the Nazi’s: “What was the sense in saying the enemy were in the wrong unless Right is a real thing which the Nazis at bottom know as well as we did and ought to have practiced? If they had no notion of what we meant by right, then, though we might still have had to fight them, we could no more have blamed them for that than for the colour of their hair.” In fact, we recognize the difference in the moral visions between the Nazi’s and the Allies, we judge them against a Standard, and we find the Nazi’s vision corrupted and twisted. How can we speak of moral progress, of say the abolition of slavery, if there is not some goal to which we are progressing?

Martin Luther King Jr. is credited as saying, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”[1] Did his words have meaning? If we think they did, we’re agreeing with his vision of a “moral universe” and some standard called “justice” to which it could conform.

Practically, moral relativism ultimately breaks down. One moment we’ll be saying there is no Good or Evil, and the next we’ll notice some evil done to us. “It’s not fair! It’s unjust! How could they?” Or, perhaps, we’ll from the perspective moral relativism, judge those who establish a moral system we find constricting. But what are we judging them against? If it’s all a preference, how could we weigh our freedom of greater value that their restrictions? The words and feelings remain, but they have lost their meaning.

Indeed, I doubt whether anyone can really live consistently in a state of moral nihilism. I am thankful, in fact, that this doesn’t appear possible. Our moral intuitions give us a sense of moral reality, just as our physical senses give us a picture of physical reality. To deny either is to risk epistemological suicide.

Step 3: Therefore, God exists

Since it can be established that moral objective duties and values exist and that no reason for their existence can be found in a world without God, it follows that God exists.

What sort of God exists? First, He must be the source of that objective goodness, that Moral Law or standard against which we are able to judge everything else. If such a standard exists, it must exist in God. Secondly, if there are to be moral duties, if those standards are to apply to us in a meaningful sense, then He must also give us moral commands. He is the source of moral goodness – which exists as part of His essence – and he is the source of moral duties – which issue as binding commands directly from His nature.

Based on this argument alone, we’re still a long ways off from Biblical Christianity, but that’s why there are eight sessions in the series.

What questions does this post bring up? What objections might be brought against the Moral Argument?

Book Recommendations 

Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics


[1] Martin Luther King did say this, but he was quoting Theodore Parker. Also, my view of history is not as optimistic here. Every time we take a step forward – as we did in the civil rights movement – we take a step backwards. Justice will be fulfilled on the earth, but it will come in a flash, not in a slow arc.


How does C.S. Lewis’s moral argument stand up against evolutionary explanations of moral development?

My online book club (The Bookcaneers) is reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis as our first book. In the first part of the book Lewis presents the Moral Argument as a clue to the existence of God. Briefly stated, his argument is that the universality of a moral sense of Right and Wrong points us to a Lawgiver.

One question presented in the Book Club discussion was this one: How would Lewis respond to modern the arguments from evolutionary biology that say that our moral senses are the result of an evolutionary process – and thus do not point to something “outside” the system, like a personal God? 

Here was my take on the question:

First, our questions are not unique to our time, nor were they foreign to Lewis. During Lewis’s time, the idea that morality was the result of an evolutionary process was pretty common. In fact, he addresses this when he describes the “herd instinct” in book 1, chapter 2. The idea was that evolutionary development which helped the “herd” would be passed on and these evolutionary developments are what are identified as “morality.”

For a time, though, this idea fell out of favor among evolutionary biologists because of what is called the “free rider” problem. “Free riders” in the herd (the selfish, amoral ones) would take advantage of the goodwill of the herd it it would be those free riders that passed on their genes, not the “kinder” individuals. For biologists who argued that evolution was strictly individualistic, “morality” doesn’t arise because of an evolutionary process, but as result of social structures within society. As far as I am aware (via The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt) a significant number of evolutionary biologists, including atheist Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene), still hold to this view.

However, with the advent of “moral psychology” the “herd” theory is making comeback, and Jonathan Haidt presents a more complex version of this view in The Righteous Mind. He refers to it as the “hive” mind and contrasts it with the “primate” mind. The “hive” mind causes us to be more kind and compassionate, to care about fairness and freedom, to believe in the “sanctity” of things, etc. This “hive” mind wars against the “primate” mind which just wants us to be selfish.

First, I’m unconvinced by Haidt’s conclusions. He presents plausible explanations, but he in no way proves them. And he acknowledges that his view is a minority position.

But how would Lewis respond? Lewis acknowledges the possibility of “herd instincts” which arise out of some natural process, but he argues that these instincts are not what he is referring to when he talks about the Moral Law. He observes that we sometimes have multiple competing moral instincts, but that we do not blindly follow those moral instincts. Instead, we judge between those instincts. The Moral Law is not any one of those instincts, but is the judge between those instincts saying, “follow this instinct here” or “that instinct there.” In the language of Haidt, the Moral Law is what judges between the “hive” mind and the “primate” mind, or between the different “intuitions” of the hive mind (freedom, compassion, authority, sanctity, etc.)

In fact, this is exactly what we see Haidt do. He makes moral judgments between the instincts, but he isn’t able to justify his choice. He believes the moral sense to be disconnected from any true Right and Wrong, but he makes plenty of moral judgments. I see the Moral Law at work in his book, even though he would deny it. A description of our moral instincts can provide a plausible explanation for what is, but the Moral Law allows us to judge what ought, and this inescapable sense of the ought is what Lewis refers to as the Moral Law and points us to God.

Two more notes on the topic:

1) If we see Moral Law as only social convention, or the product of instinct, then at a minimum we have no way to really say that Nazi Germany was evil, at least in some objective sense. At a minimum, we could only say that we don’t like it, or that it causes suffering. But again, we can’t say that suffering itself is evil (for the simple reason that evil doesn’t exist).

2) Eminent biologist/geneticist Francis Collins (led the human genome project) discusses this in his book “The Language of God”. He himself was an atheist who came to faith in large part because of Mere Christianity. He argues that while evolution could account for some moral traits like “reciprocal altruism” (I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine) he doesn’t believe it can ever account for true altruism – such as Jesus’s commands to love your enemy, or to help those who have no possible way of helping you in return, etc.

Book Recommendations

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

Mere Christianity

The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief