Q&A: The Moral Argument, Moral Relativism, and Perfect Being Theology

Q&A: The Moral Argument, Moral Relativism, and Perfect Being Theology

 
 
 
 
 
A very common argument that I have heard for the existence of God is the moral argument. You argue as follows:
 
“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.”
 
For number 1 it depends on what you mean by objective. If you mean a moral standard that is beyond humanity and independent of us then you are correct. If however, you mean that there aren’t emotion-based principles that possess a certain quality or type of feeling referred to as moral present in all sane humans then no.
 
So when someone says Abortion for the sake of convenience is wrong they are indeed saying “I don’t like Abortion for the sake of convenience!!” to some extent. So emotivism has some truth in it. However, they are saying it violates certain forms of feeling that are turned into principles in the minds of all sane humans. Which is a distinction that must be made. It is not exactly the same to say “I don’t like Abortion” and “Abortion is a moral abomination.” (Which I would agree with in most cases) In the first case you are saying you find it disagreeable to your feelings generally, in the second you are saying it violates the feelings/principles that have the quality/type of feeling known as moral you and others have. (The moral feeling/principle that humans have the right to live.) So calling an action immoral means it violates one of more of these principles. Calling an action moral means it conforms to these principles.
 
This is going towards the second point. Since there are objectively speaking certain emotion based principles that are universally accepted (hence referred to as core morality) (among sane people) that possess the quality known as moral we can in a sense say that there is “objective” morality. (Or at least an adequate replacement). It is objectively true that humans have certain emotion based principles that possess a certain quality (a sort of sense/feeling of obligation and duty) referred to as moral. It is objectively true that a society’s behavior can either conform or not conform to these principles. And if they over time start to conform more to these emotion based principles than they had in the past, we have what is referred to as Moral Progress. There are moral duties explained. Now for moral obligations, an obligation is an ought. Oughts are conditional. To comply with moral principles you ought to do action X, Y and Z and you ought not to do actions A, B and C. Duties seem to me to be able to come from a conscience as much as a command.
 
C.S. Lewis extensively argued in Mere Christianity that when people argue over morals they presuppose that there is a moral standard above them that is known to both of them. That is one explanation of the facts however, that isn’t the only one. Another one is this: when people debate over morality they assume that they have a shared ethic that both of them accept. However, if someone does not share the exact same values as me, I often attempt to understand their values so I can launch an argument that they will accept. If I am debating someone on abortion who rejects the assumption that life is inherently valuable, I may try to give reasons why life is good and taking it away is bad, that isn’t based on that assumption. (It will rob them of all positive future experiences, it violates their consent, etc.) (Or alternatively, you could show them that they really do think life is valuable with thought experiments, as all mentally healthy humans naturally view human life as valuable.) In other words, assumed shared morals explain this phenomenon as well as assumed objective morality does.
 
For the second premise if as William Lane Craig Argues we have a sense of a realm of objective moral values that is on par with our sense experience of the world, why does morality reflect emotions so much? Is that really true? I would never say that my experience of objective values even remotely stacks up to sensory experience. “Moral Experience” seems to be rooted in emotions (Or emotion based principles as I like to put it to distinguish my view from simple emotivism) and can (to some degree) change based on emotions and mood, this is quite unlike sense experience.
 
And further exactly what “data” are our “moral senses” registering? Are they registering God’s nature/commands? An abstract realm? The way God meant for morality to work? How can the moral sense even remotely register God’s nature or the purpose he had for morality? We would need other methods to work with this. (Finding out his commands, nature, purposes, etc via sense data, reasoning or God revealing it in a vision.) I suppose he could plant intuitions on our heart, however, that is essentially emotion based principles, which we would also expect on evolution and emotion based principles aren’t data that indicates truth. An abstract realm is an odd one. I flatly deny that I seem to be experiencing any abstract realm of moral principles floating about somewhere. I ‘feel’ like some things are really wrong and others are really right by a higher standard, but I don’t ‘feel’ like I am experiencing a higher standard coming in from some abstract realm. The emotion-based principles idea seems more agreeable to experience.
 
(This is in case relativism or nihilism is shown to be true as an entailment of Atheism) An (unpleasant) implication both relativists and non-relativists frequently argue follows from moral relativism (and could argue follows from nihilism) is that moral relativism entails that we should “tolerate” the views and practices of other people and cultures no matter how abhorrent they seem to us since none of them conform to an objective standard any better. But this assumes the very thing moral relativism denies-that objective morality exists. What if my subjective morals require that I impose them on others? Is it objectively wrong to be intolerant and is it objectively wrong to impose your values on others?
 
If objective morality exists then it is absurd to maintain that all cultures are equal, and if it doesn’t then the cultures that impose their values on others aren’t any worse (objectively) then the ones that don’t impose their values on other. This is the dilemma of the people who use relativism as a justification for insane levels of tolerance. If they affirm the first part of their argument (morality is relative) the second part (all cultures SHOULD be tolerated no matter what) is refuted as most people’s subjective morals do not support that principle naturally, nor does core morality. If on the other hand, they deny the first part the second has no ground to stand on. Although the moral values of most people respect and even encourage non-harmful cultural differences about things like the foods people eat, which religion they believe, which days they celebrate, etc. This means that some level of tolerance will probably prevail and core morality tolerates other cultures in most cases.
 
Another implication that is said to follow from moral relativism is that if morality is relative or if moral nihilism is true, Atheists and other skeptics can’t use the problem of evil since there is no objective source of good and evil. This argument came from C.S. Lewis (again) and Christian Apologists love to use it however the problem is that it doesn’t work. Both Atheist and Christian worldviews agree that there are certain core values that are referred to by the word moral. The atheist typically believes they came from evolution by natural selection and the Christian believes they came from God. From the perspective of the Atheist, the Christian is projecting their morals onto a God, and claiming that this being created existence. They see an apparent contradiction between these attributes this being is said to have and the reality we observe around us.
 
 And further, the Bible explicitly claims that core morality is God-given: Romans 2:14-15: “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.” So the Christian worldview does at least apparently have the problem of evil. The Atheist one does not. Atheists can also have natural core morality and thus natural (moral) rights as well.
 
A second problem that I have heard you and other Christian Apologists mention against atheists is that we criticize the Bible on moral grounds while many of us reject objective morality. Is this an inconsistency? Well, the same reasoning can be brought to bear against your objection here as with the problem of evil. Since the Bible teaches that basic core morality (which also is objective morality on Christianity) is written on people’s hearts we can use that core morality to evaluate the Bible’s practices and criticize them. Those that don’t violate core morality, but violate current moral standards, however, cannot be used as a refutation of Christianity, Islam or any other religion. As these texts would contain the true morality completely rather than values that would objectively deviate to some degree from the way morality was intended to be. If the religion is proven false on other grounds, then these issues can be used as a reason to oppose the religion because it violates the subjective morals of you or your society.
 
A practical example: stoning a rape victim is shocking to core morality since he/she was forced to do it, therefore it is killing an innocent person. Deuteronomy 22:23-27 gives a rule that if a man sleeps with a woman outside the city he is to be stoned, however, she will not be punished because no one was there to hear her scream. However, if she was in a city she is also to be stoned because she did not scream for help. This ignores obvious problems like the fact that some people freeze up in terror in those situations, that he could have threatened to kill her if she didn’t comply, etc. So one can not only say this law strongly goes against the moral law the Bible claims God gave us, it also shows that whoever thought up this law was not a perfectly rational God. Thus Christianity and Judaism are false. Unless this is some sort of scribal error, which would require evidence. Either way, this passage cannot be the Word of God. This is a moral critique of the Bible that is perfectly compatible with Nihilism or relativism.
 
However, I think I should give an example of an argument that cannot be used as a refutation of Christianity. Many people criticize Christianity for prohibiting sex outside of marriage (hence referred to as fornication). It may be true that on non-christian views fornication is perfectly acceptable and compatible with core morality in many cases. But if Christians are right then the creator has prohibited us from doing so. And since he created us, he has the right to prohibit us from doing so. Core morality says that it would be ungrateful to disobey this command, and therefore wrong. So this cannot be used as a disproof of Christianity or as a reason to view it as “unreasonable.” An Atheist can however if they prove Christianity wrong, use this to argue that Christianity is a bad thing if they can maintain that the prohibition on fornication causes harm.
 
An interesting argument you make is that The Moral Argument not only gives you a perfectly good God, it gives you the Christian God. (Or at least a being with the same attributes as the Trinity.) You write in “Q&A: Can’t Natural Theology Be Used To Prove The Existence Of Any Old Deity?” that:
 
“The Moral Argument requires that a necessary, morally perfect, personal Being be the measuring stick of good and evil. He must be necessary because many moral truths appear to be necessarily true, and necessary truths can’t be grounded in a contingent being. He must be morally perfect because an evil being can’t be the standard of morality. Why? Because if that were the case, Hitler would be closer to meeting the standard of The Good than Mother Teresa. The moral perfection of this Being entails that He must be all loving and perfectly loving. He must be a Trinity in order to be a being of perfect love. Why? If This being is not a triune being, then he cannot be a being of perfect love because love requires 3 things; (1) a lover, (2) someone to love, and (3) a relationship going on between the lover and the loved one. If God is only one person rather than three, then before He created any other persons (angels, humans), He had no one to love. Since He had no one to love, He, therefore, could not be perfectly loving. And if he wasn’t perfectly loving, he was morally deficient since it seems to me at least that love is a moral virtue. Only a God who is multi-personal could be perfectly loving from eternity past. Christianity is the only religion in the world that has a multipersonal God. Therefore, only Christianity is consistent with this argument’s conclusion.”
 
I would like to challenge two things about this argument. I. That if the moral argument is correct then the God who grounds morality must himself be perfect. II. That a perfectly moral being must be a trinity. For I.  The Being could have moral principles inherent to it’s nature but also have evil (desires contrary to the moral principles) in its nature. The moral aspects of its nature could be the standard of morality. Clearly, God’s omniscience wouldn’t be a part of the standard of morality, yet this is a part of his nature which illustrates that it isn’t his entire nature that is the moral standard, just the moral parts.
 
II. You write that: “If This being is not a triune being, then he cannot be a being of perfect love because love requires 3 things; (1) a lover, (2) someone to love, and (3) a relationship going on between the lover and the loved one. If God is only one person rather than three, then before He created any other persons (angels, humans), He had no one to love. Since He had no one to love, He, therefore, could not be perfectly loving. And if he wasn’t perfectly loving, he was morally deficient since it seems to me at least that love is a moral virtue.” I sort of dispute 2 and definitely dispute 3.
 
Can parents love the children before giving birth to them or even before their conception? Can they act loving by preparing to be able to provide a good home for their future child? Can’t God be acting loving before creation by simply choosing to create the world so that people would exist in it? (And creating the creation?) On Molinism, this is even worse for your argument because God knows exactly what individuals will exist and everything about them. So I see no reason why God can’t just love the future beings he will create (or on Open Theism beings he might create) and still be a perfectly loving being.
 
And a second attempt, why can’t God as a maximally great being just have the disposition to be perfectly loving under the circumstances when there are beings to love? After all, if God can just have the disposition to be courageous why not a disposition to be loving? And further what if I used your argument to argue that God must be perfectly forgiving and that forgiveness requires: “(1) a forgiver. (2) someone to forgive and (3) an offense committed by the “someone to forgive” against the forgiver?” I could then argue that God before the creation had to be something like a trinity where one of the beings had transgressed against the other beings and therefore one of the persons of the Godhead is a sinner!! Would not any attempt to refute the forgiveness argument also refute the love argument?
 
I do hope that you can answer most of the criticisms I have here, as I would love a justification to believe in a Perfectly Good God. This would make life a lot better.
 
— Sam
 
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It’s always a pleasure to interact with you on these issues, Sam. You are a thoughtful individual and you clearly think through faith issues deeply. I also would love for you to believe in a Perfectly Good God, not simply so that your life will be a lot better, but so that your afterlife will be infinitely better! Therefore, I will do my best to answer your concerns about the soundness of The Moral Argument.
 
Emotions and Moral Intuitions 
 
If I understood you correctly, Sam, (and I always read your e-mails slowly to ensure I do to the best of my ability) your first point is that our moral intuition is really just our emotional dislike of certain behaviors. These emotional repulsions are universal, sure, but they are, nevertheless simply emotional repulsions.
 
I don’t think our moral intuitions can be reduced to simply our emotive reactions to actions we dislike. There are things that make me mad that I do not think morally wrong. One example that immediately comes to mind is people who chew their food loudly. You know the kind; their chewing sounds like an agitating washing machine or someone slogging through thick mud. I cannot stand people who chew loudly. Yet if someone chewed loudly behind me in a cafeteria, while he’d make me mad, I would never ever say that he was doing something morally wrong. I wouldn’t rebuke him and tell him to repent or anything like that. On the other hand, there are things I do think are morally wrong, but they don’t make me angry. I think prostitution is morally wrong. Nevertheless, if I’m driving down the street and see an obvious streetwalker on the corner, I’m not going to feel angry in the slightest. I don’t think the streetwalker ought to be a streetwalker, but I’m unemotional about the subject (except for maybe pity since I know women only do this kind of thing when they hit rock bottom). But, admittedly, many things I consider to be evil do make me angry.
 
So, there are three categories of behavior that undermine the proposal that moral intuition is reducible to dislike of certain behaviors.
 
1: There are things that make me mad that I don’t consider a moral wrong (e.g loud chewing).
2: There are things I consider to be morally wrong that don’t make me mad (e.g prostitution).
3: There are things that both make me mad and I consider to be moral wrongs.
 
So, the law of identity is not applicable to anger and moral intuition. I can come up with several more examples of things that fall into the first category as well as things that fall into the third.
 
Example 1: If someone throws a blue shell at me while we’re playing Mario Kart while I’m in first place, about to cross the finish line, and the blue shell causes my character to spin out of control and allow my buddy to pass by me, I might rage quit. Actually, in my own case, I probably wouldn’t. I’m a good sport, but I do know that there is such a thing as a “sore loser”. The Sore Loser gets mad when he is beaten. Yet the victor did nothing morally wrong, and the Sore Loser and everyone else knows it. The victor simply did the best he could in playing the game, employing every strategy he could within the confines of the rules, and he came out as the victor.
 
Example 2: Some people can testify that in the past, they’ve been in a hurry while on the road, and someone ahead of them was not going as fast as they would like. The person in front of them were going the speed limit, yet that wasn’t fast enough. They didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, it’s right to obey the speed limit.
 
Example 3: I used to have a dog named Max. I had a bell on my front door and trained Max to ring it with his paw whenever he needed to go outside to urinate or defecate. There were days when he would ring the bell very frequently, thus being very disruptive when I was trying to read a book, play a video game, or watch a TV show. And on these days, in most of these instances, he didn’t do anything. We just walked around the yard for 15 minutes. I would be very irritated with Max making me go outside for no reason. I had something better to do than walk around my front yard. I understand that “when you gotta go, you gotta go”, but if he doesn’t have to go, he shouldn’t ring the bell! Yet, I would never say that Max did anything morally wrong. He just did something I didn’t like.
 
Example 4: When my cat Jellybean sits on the keyboard when I’m trying to write a blog post, I get irritated. I repeatedly move her out of the way, yet she keeps coming back! It’s very annoying when she does this. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t charge my cat with violating the moral law.
 
Now, by contrast, when I learned about what happened during The Holocaust in Nazi Germany when I learned the details of what The Nazis did to innocent Jews, I was incensed and disgusted, and I thought to myself that the fires of Hell could never be too hot for these lowly pieces of scum. If someone stole my Nintendo Switch (God forbid!), I’d be really ticked off at whoever robbed me. If someone poured a bottle of water all over my keyboard to ruin it, I’d likewise be outraged. And yet, unlike in the four aforementioned examples, while I would be angry in all of these cases, I recognize consciously and subconsciously that there is a real moral difference between these categories of actions. There’s a real moral difference between beating me at a video game and stealing a video game from me. There’s a real moral difference between blocking me from my keyboard and destroying my keyboard. There’s a real moral difference between constantly interrupting my theological studies and slaughtering innocent people.
 
If you took the time, I’m sure you could come up with examples of things like the above in your own case. You could probably think of things that anger you that you don’t necessarily consider morally wrong, things you do consider morally wrong but don’t get you outraged, and things that you consider morally wrong and that do outrage you.
 
So, in conclusion, our moral intuitions are not reducible to our emotions. I don’t consider things wrong merely because they make me angry, but because I just know that they’re wrong, regardless of how they make me feel. So, when you say “For the second premise if as William Lane Craig Argues we have a sense of a realm of objective moral values that is on par with our sense experience of the world, why does morality reflect emotions so much? Is that really true?” I would say, yes it is true. Our sense of moral right and wrong is indeed on par with our sense of the physical world. And while emotions often accompany our reactions to good deeds and crimes, our evaluation of the moral status of them are independent of our emotions. Just as you can feel pain from someone slicing your arm open, but your physical response is not what you base your knowledge on whether there’s a swordsman in front of you. Even if it didn’t cause pain, even if it felt good, you’d still know that something exists in the external world that cut you.
 
We have a sense of right and wrong that is cognitively rooted within us, and these don’t depend on our emotions as I’ve just demonstrated.
 
You wrote “Moral Experience” seems to be rooted in emotions (Or emotion based principles as I like to put it to distinguish my view from simple emotivism) and can (to some degree) change based on emotions and mood, this is quite unlike sense experience.“- I disagree with you entirely. Not only do my distinctions above refute this concept, but I also think forgiveness refutes this concept. If I can “get over” something that someone did to me that I considered wrong, eventually I won’t feel bitter over it anymore. If they come to me in sincere apology with a true desire to reconcile, I’ll forgive them. It’ll take a while for the bitter feeling to go away, but as soon as I make the decision to forgive, the healing process has begun. And there have indeed been things that people have done to me that I don’t harbor resentment over anymore. Yet, when I remember them, I still consider them wrong! The fact that my emotions over the action have subsided haven’t changed my opinion on the moral status of the action.
 
Exactly What “Data” Are Our “Moral Senses” Registering? 
 
You wrote \“And further exactly what “data” are our “moral senses” registering? Are they registering God’s nature/commands? An abstract realm? The way God meant for morality to work? How can the moral sense even remotely register God’s nature or the purpose he had for morality? We would need other methods to work with this. (Finding out his commands, nature, purposes, etc via sense data, reasoning or God revealing it in a vision.) I suppose he could plant intuitions on our heart, however, that is essentially emotion based principles, which we would also expect on evolution and emotion based principles aren’t data that indicates truth.”\ —
 
What our moral sense is registering is simply that certain actions and behaviors are right and others are wrong. You’re correct in saying that the moral sense doesn’t “even remotely register God’s nature of the purpose he had for morality” and that “we would need other methods to work with this”. That method is philosophy! That’s what The Moral Argument is all about. Just as science only shows us that the universe had a beginning at The Big Bang and nothing more, so our moral intuition tells us that morality is objective and nothing more. To get from Big Bang to Big Banger (A transcendent Creator), you need to use the tool of philosophy/logic to formulate a sound argument for a transcendent cause. Likewise, having reflected on the moral law and realizing that objective moral values and duties must be ontologically grounded in something, we can then ask “What type of grounding is needed?” and we can philosophically reason to what we think is the most plausible ontological grounds for objective moral values and duties. I think God’s character and commands are the best grounds for these, and I am willing to contend that no other proposal given in an atheistic framework is tenable (and indeed I do this in my book The Case For The One True God as well as other blog posts on this website).
 
So, our moral intuitions only get us to the conclusion “Some things are really right and others are really wrong” just as cosmology only get us to “the universe began to exist 14 billion years ago.”. Philosophical reasoning must be employed to take these facts of nature and make them into a case for a Creator and Moral Law Giver.
 
Moral Relativism and The Problem Of Evil 
 
I largely agree with most of what you said regarding relativism’s dilemma. They indeed cannot say we should be tolerant of others and should not impose our values on others. After all, morality is subjective. It’s like the taste of ice cream on their view. Who are you to impose your moral values on me? But, like you said, what if my subjective moral values are that I should impose them on other people? By saying I shouldn’t impose my values on others, you’re pushing your values on me! Thus, on cannot affirm relativism and also make moral fiats such as “You ought not to judge others”, “You ought to tolerate others cultures and beliefs”, “You ought not to impose your morals on others?” Where do oughts come from if morality is subjective? You’re totally right in pointing this out.
 
You go on to say “Another implication that is said to follow from moral relativism is that if morality is relative or if moral nihilism is true, Atheists and other skeptics can’t use the problem of evil since there is no objective source of good and evil. This argument came from C.S. Lewis (again) and Christian Apologists love to use it however the problem is that it doesn’t work. Both Atheist and Christian worldviews agree that there are certain core values that are referred to by the word moral. The atheist typically believes they came from evolution by natural selection and the Christian believes they came from God. From the perspective of the Atheist, the Christian is projecting their morals onto a God, and claiming that this being created existence.”
 
I would argue (and I have argued in my blog posts and books) that the atheist is wrong in saying morality comes from evolution. Subjective morality could come from evolution, sure, but not objective morality. Consider that if if evolution had gone differently, we might have different morals. In fact, Charles Darwin himself said this in his writings. He wrote “If men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters, and no one would think of interfering.” 1
 
What reason is there to think that our morality is objectively true other than this other evolutionary lineage? As William Lane Craig writes “To think of human beings as special [on atheism] is to be guilty of specie-ism, an unjustified bias toward one’s own species. Thus, if there is no God, then any basis for regarding the herd morality evolved by homosapiens as objectively true seems to have been removed. So if theism is false, it’s hard to see what basis remains for the affirmation of objective moral values and in particular the special value of human beings.2
 
On the atheistic view, human beings are just animals and animals aren’t morally obligated towards one another.
 
Now, one objection I frequently receive is that if evolution is true, and if an evolutionary account could explain why we morally intuit the way we do, doesn’t that undermine the reliability of our moral intuitions? I don’t think so. First, such a response commits the genetic fallacy. How we learned morality is irrelevant to whether morality is objective. Even if we evolved the intuition that killing innocent people is wrong, it wouldn’t entail that “killing innocent people is wrong” is not objectively true. Of course, one might say “Well, maybe it wouldn’t undermine the truth of our moral beliefs, but it would undermine the epistemological justification for them. After all, as you said, rewind the clock and creatures with different moral values would have evolved.” The problem with this response is that it only works if God is taken out of the picture. If God guided evolution to produce our faculties in such a way (e.g through a middle knowledge view of divine providence), then God could guide the evolutionary history of the world in such a way that His creatures evolved moral intuitions that intuitively recognize the moral values and duties that correspond with His character.
 
So, even if what we consider right and wrong are the products of biological evolution, they would still be reliable and tell us objective moral truths. Only if atheistic evolution were true would I argue evolution would undermine the reliability of our moral intuitions. Those who use the sociobiological account to undermine premise 1 thus beg the question in favor of atheism.
 
As for saying that skeptics cannot use the problem of evil because their worldview doesn’t permit objective morality to exist, I think there is some truth to this. Though, if you read my chapter on the problem of evil in The Case For The One True God, you’ll see that I use this tactic a bit differently than, say, presuppositionalist apologists do (and even some evidentialists). Rather than saying that atheists should just be quiet about the problem of evil because their framework entails either moral relativism or moral nihilism, or saying “You wouldn’t even know there was evil unless you knew God exists!” I will argue the following:
 
1: If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
2: Evil exists.
3: Therefore, objective moral values and duties exist.
4: Therefore, God exists.
 
Ironically, rather than disproving the existence of God, the existence of real evil demonstrates exactly the opposite. The only way for the atheist to get out of this argument is to do one of two things. One thing he could do is deny that objective morality exists. But if he takes this route, then he’s denying that real evil exists, and if real evil does not exist, then there is no real problem of evil. What the atheist calls evil are just things he doesn’t like. So we can ask “Why demand that God kowtow to your personal tastes?” On the other hand, if he insists that evil does exist and it is not grounded in his or anybody else’s opinion, then he’s got to provide some alternative ontological grounding for morality than the existence of God, and I have never seen an atheist successfully do this.
 
Sam, you and I have done plenty of debating on The Problem Of Evil, so you probably know that I don’t consider this the only thing necessary to refute The Problem Of Evil. We apologists still must explain why God, being all powerful and all loving, would allow His moral law to be so widely violated. And here is where I’d appeal to The Free Will Defense, The Greater Good Theodicy, etc. as we’ve discussed in previous conversations.
 
The Moral Argument’s Relation To “Evil Bible” Verses
 
The issue that I and other Christian Apologists have with atheists criticizing The Bible on moral grounds is that their worldview doesn’t have an adequate grounding for morality. The existence of a necessarily existent, morally perfect, sovereign Being (God) is the best explanation for how objective morality is ontologically grounded. So, if God grounds morality, then to accuse God of immorality is incoherent. You are essentially saying that the being whose character is the standard of morality somehow violates the standard of morality. Yet the standard of morality is Himself! How can the standard violate the standard? This makes no sense?
 
Additionally, I usually make the point that since I don’t appeal to The Bible to defend The Moral Argument, the atheist ought not to be allowed to point to “evil bible verses” to refute it. Natural Theology argues for the existence of God without making any appeals to scripture. It relies solely on philosophy, logic, and occasionally science (in the cases of the Kalam and teleological arguments). Therefore, it isn’t fair that I must make my case without touching scripture, the skeptic can use scripture all he wants against me. If I’m not allowed to use scripture, then neither is the detractor. I’m not allowed to use it, and rightly so.
 
Now, this isn’t to say that God doesn’t sometimes do things that appear harsh or unfair in The Bible’s historical records, and any good apologist would do his best to show how what seems to be immoral is not really once you understand things like the immediate context, the cultural context, or inferences we can draw from other scriptures, what The Bible says about the justice of God etc. For interested readers, Paul Copan has an excellent book on this called “Is God A Moral Monster?: Making Sense Of The Old Testament God”. I highly recommend it.
 
In the case of Deuteronomy 22:23-27, the text isn’t calling for a rape victim to be stoned at all. Let’s look at what the text says:
 
“If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.” – Deuteronomy 22:23-24
 
I read a very helpful commentary on this somewhere. I can’t remember whether I read about this passage in Is God A Moral Monster? by Paul Copan or The Big Book Of Bible Difficulties by Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. I may have read about it in both. But wherever I read it, I remember the commentator saying that the difference between a woman crying out and not crying out indicated whether she was actually raped or committed adultery and was trying to claim it was rape to get out of trouble. In other words, if she didn’t cry out, she must have consented (after all, a woman who freely chooses for a man to have intercourse with her doesn’t cry out for help). If she consented, then it was adultery, not rape. If it was adultery, then she was to be stoned since that was the penalty for adultery (see Leviticus 20:10).
 
Now, this would only apply to someone that was raped in an area with a high probability she would be heard if she yelled. This is where the “outside of town” part comes into play. You see, if a woman was in a secluded place, a place with not many people around, it would be impossible to prove whether she cried out for help or not. She could have cried out with the result of no one hearing her, or she could have stayed silent. The Jewish court would not be able to know which occurred. This is why “if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die.” (Deuteronomy 22:25).
 
But you object “This ignores obvious problems like the fact that some people freeze up in terror in those situations, that he could have threatened to kill her if she didn’t comply, etc.”
 
But we can think of special circumstances in any kind of situation and criticize a law based on that. Do we criticize the law that if you’re in possession of illegal drugs, you go to prison on the basis that some people might sneak them into your suitcase to get the cops off their trail? This does happen. Rarely, but it does occur. That’s why, when I went to the ETS conference back in Colorado, I kept a close eye on my luggage the whole time I was in Atlanta’s and Colorado’s airports. Would you accuse the lawmakers of not being fair or rational?
 
Yes, there would be some circumstances in which the woman was unable to cry out, but these would be the exceptions to the rule. Now, if you think God could have come up with some criteria for judging these special circumstances, what would they be? How would the Jewish court be able to determine whether a woman stayed silent because of consent or stayed silent because she was threatened or “froze up in fear”? The woman could say the latter was her reason for being silent, but how could one know she was telling the truth?
 
I don’t see this as a reason to affirm that “whoever thought up this law was not a perfectly rational God.” We can nitpick and find difficult exceptions and special circumstances for all laws, divinely given or not, both ancient and modern. No laws are perfect because, unfortunately, the human condition is fallen. People lie, people cheat, people find loopholes. I recently came across a post in which Ravi Zacharias was quoted as saying “The reason our lawbooks have thousands and thousands of regulations is that we can’t obey ten simple laws carved in stone” (paraphrase). Indeed, this is true not just for the American lawbooks but the Torah as well. A great deal of what you find in Leviticus and Deuteronomy has to do with how the authorities should handle specific cases in which The Ten Commandments (ten simple commands on two tablets) were broken. It would be impossible for anyone to record every conceivable circumstance and how to deal with it, even if God revealed it. Moses would be like “God, stop! I’ve run out of papyrus!”
 
Moreover, when you ended your paragraph with “This is a moral critique of the Bible that is perfectly compatible with Nihilism or relativism.” I thought, “wait a minute, NO moral critique of ANYTHING can be compatible with nihilism or relativism” The reason being that if morality doesn’t exist or is dependent on human opinion than you have no objective grounds to criticize anything morally. Again, why should God kowtow to your opinion? You might as well chastise Jesus if he eats a type of ice cream you don’t like.
 
The Divine Identity Argument 
You write “The Being could have moral principles inherent to it’s nature but also have evil (desires contrary to the moral principles) in its nature. The moral aspects of its nature could be the standard of morality.” — Then in that case, whenever I did something evil, I would be in line with the standard of morality. If God were mean spirited, then I would be in line with his will when I am mean spirited. Thus, to attain a sort of good-evil hybrid nature would be the hight of living according to the moral law. This is absurd.  To borrow an analogy of C.S Lewis’ this would be like saying you know a crooked line by comparing it with a somewhat straight, somewhat crooked line.
 
“Clearly, God’s omniscience wouldn’t be a part of the standard of morality, yet this is a part of his nature which illustrates that it isn’t his entire nature that is the moral standard.” — This is a misunderstanding by what I mean when I say “God’s nature”. By God’s nature, I obviously don’t mean aspects of His being like omniscience, omnipotence, etc. I mean His moral nature. His character.
 
“Can parents love the children before giving birth to them or even before their conception? Can they act loving by preparing to be able to provide a good home for their future child? Can’t God be acting loving before creation by simply choosing to create the world so that people would exist in it? (And creating the creation?) On Molinism, this is even worse for your argument because God knows exactly what individuals will exist and everything about them. So I see no reason why God can’t just love the future beings he will create (or on Open Theism beings he might create) and still be a perfectly loving being.” — 
 
This is related to what I’ve written in my blog post “God’s Freedom To Love Revisited”. At the end of that blog post, my conclusion was “So perhaps it can be said that God can love those who do not presently exist, but He cannot love those who will never exist. God loved me in the first century when He died on the cross because He had decided to actualize a possible world in which I would exist and fall into sin.” (emphasis in original). Now, this, of course, would at first glance seem to make me inconsistent. It would seem on the one hand that I am saying God cannot be loving before the creation of any humans, yet God loved us before we ever came into being. Yet, a subtle nuance needs to be made clear.
 
While God can certainly make the choice to love someone before they exist, He can only do so by deciding that their existence will be actual. If God chooses to actualize one of the feasible worlds in which they never come to be, God has made the decision not to love them. Jesus didn’t die on the cross for their sins, because this sinner’s very existence is a counterfactual.
 
Even still, God can choose to love someone before they exist, yet, until they exist, God cannot express that love for them. There’s no one to express the love to. I have said that I have already chosen to love my wife in another blog post even though I don’t know her yet. However, although I have decided to love her, until I actually meet her, I cannot express my love for her. I can only resolve that I will eventually express it when we meet. In a state in which God and God alone exists, He would have no one to express love to unless He consisted of multiple persons. Therefore, on a unitarian view of God, while he could have the disposition to be loving, and could even volitionally choose to love creatures that He planned on creating, the expression of this love would have to wait for their creation.
 
Now, it seems to me that you are a greater being if you are expressing love than if you merely have the disposition to love. A being greater than which no being can be conceived would be a being constantly expressing love.
 
So when Jesus was hanging on the cross, He, in one sense “loved you”. After all, you were the reason He chose to go the cross in the first place. He knew of the sins you would commit and he took your punishment for those sins long before you even existed to commit them. In another sense though, the full expression of Christ’s love for you didn’t come into a manifestation until you were born. Then, and only then, would Sam exist for God to pursue a loving relationship, and for His shed blood to actually wash away those sins.
 

Now, what about your parody argument involving forgiveness? Would not any attempt to refute the forgiveness argument also refute the love argument? This final point of yours is pertinent to both The Moral Argument and The Ontological Argument, since I make the same point that the God both of these arguments prove to exist must be a Trinity.

I think it’s obvious that for a being to be maximally great, He must be morally perfect; good to the greatest extent possible. To be morally perfect, one must be perfectly loving. To be perfectly loving, one must be expressing that love. Without the ability to express that love, while the MGB could have a loving disposition, he would not be loving until other persons came into being. I think perfect goodness is a necessary condition for maximal greatness, and perfect goodness involves the expression of perfect love. Hence, for the MGB to be loving in possible worlds in which only the MGB ever exists, he must consist of more than one person.

Love is at minimum, patient, kind, selfless, not boastful, not proud. To express kindness and patience and so on requires other persons. Now, do these other persons also need to be sinful in order for there to be forgiveness going on within the Godhead? Well, it would depend on whether or not you think the active expression of forgiveness is a necessary condition to an active expression of love which is also a necessary condition of moral perfection. I don’t think it is. It would only be required of a loving being to forgive if the persons to whom He is in relation were in need of it. But if they are not in need of it, then a perfectly loving and perfectly good being can maintain his perfect love and goodness by merely having the disposition to forgive. In other words, forgiveness as a part of a loving nature is dependent on the existence of evil. But love, in general, is dependent only on the existence of other persons, regardless of whether they’ve done something wrong or not.

Now, if you think that the constant expression of forgiveness is necessary for a being to be perfectly loving and ergo perfectly good, then you’ll need to provide some argument for that. Love (the active expression of it, not merely the disposition) requires other persons to exist, and so does forgiveness. However, while I think the former is an entailment of moral perfection, I am not convinced that the latter is. So, I don’t think the reductio ad absurdum works.

Now, even if the reductio ad absurdum did work, it wouldn’t undermine either The Moral or Ontological Arguments, it would just mean, at worst, that we couldn’t extrapolate the property of moral perfection to conclude that The Moral Law Giver/The Maximally Great Being is a Trinity. Insofar as The Divine Identity argument is concerned, it would still be a powerful argument even if didn’t get you uniquely to the Christian conception of God. In fact, my realization of the love-requires-God-To-Be-A-Trinity Argument came very late in the development of Inference To The One True God (now re-released under the title The Case For The One True God). Originally, I was simply going to argue that The Moral and Ontological Argument narrows the field down to two possible religions; Judaism and Christianity. This is because getting omnipotence, omnipresence, omnibenevolence, and necessary existence (The Ontological Argument) and getting necessary existence and moral perfection (The Moral Argument) narrows the possible deities down to either the Unitarian Yahweh of modern Judaism or the Trinitarian Yahweh of Christianity. My initial plan was then to eliminate Judaism by means of studying the historical evidence for Jesus’ divine self-understanding, death, and resurrection.

Worst case scenario is that if you’re right, I’ve only slightly overstated my case, and I’d have to revise my book. However, I don’t think your reductio ad absurdum argument succeeds. It seems intuitively clear to me that a being expressing love is greater than a being who merely has the disposition to be loving. But it is not at all clear that a being who is constantly expressing forgiveness is greater than one who only has a forgiving disposition.

Conclusion


I hope that I’ve answered these concerns regarding The Moral Argument to your satisfaction, Sam.

 
 
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NOTES 
 
1: Charles Darwin. The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex. Second Edition. New York. 1882, p. 99.
 

2: William Lane Craig, “On Guard: Defending Your Faith With Reason and Precision”, Chapter 5, David C Cook.

If you have any questions about Christian theology or apologetics, send Mr. Minton an E-mail at CerebralFaith@Gmail.com. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Christian or Non-Christian, whether your question is about doubts you’re having or about something you read in The Bible that confused you. Send your question in, whatever it may be, and Mr. Minton will respond in a blog post just like this one. 

 
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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Jaydan

    wonderful response. i find that sometimes when it seems your argument commits a logical fallacy or isnt sufficient, you are always able to clarify your meaning and prove me wrong. it is very apparent that you have thought extensively about your faith and the reasoning behind it. how you never appear to be at a loss of words is a complete mystery to me. the very fact that you know so much and have such a profound understanding of christianity and the bible seems like a miracle. youre very brave and bold and you set a good example for christians everywhere

    1. Evan Minton

      What fallacies do you think I’ve committed?

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