I’m teaching what basically amounts to a crash course in apologetics for one of our Sunday school classes (we call these classes “PrimeTime”, which sounds much cooler).
We’re discussing atheistic materialism right now, and we have started dealing with some of the traditional proofs of God’s existence and how atheists attack them. This week, we focused on the moral argument for God’s existence. Here are the notes I drew up for the class.
Thoughts on the Moral Argument for the Existence of God
The moral argument for the existence of God traditionally consists of the following premises:
- There is a universal moral law.
- A universal moral law presupposes a moral law-giver.
- Therefore, God exists.
Atheists will typically attack this logic in the following manner:
1. They will deny premise 1, stating that morality is merely a function of human convention.
2. They will deny premise 2, asserting that:
a. The premise itself depends on a logical leap that is unfounded, or
b. Universal moral law does not require a moral law giver in order to exist.
Christian theism’s understanding of morality has the explanatory power to stand up to such arguments. Christianity’s general assertion on the question of morality is that the very notions of good and evil are utterly meaningless apart from the existence of God. Morality itself does not exist as an object that is separate from or independent of God. Rather, morality merely expresses and defines for humanity what kind of character and behavior are consistent with God’s own character and behavior. The Bible states repeatedly that “good” is entirely theonomous in that it is inextricably linked to the God’s person and the essential quality of His volition:
And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. (Luke 18:19)
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:12)
Atheists attempt to create a conundrum for Christians by asking the question, “Is something good because God commands it, or does God command it because it’s already good?” If the former is true, then God can act in an arbitrary or evil fashion and yet call it good simply because He commanded it. If the latter is true, then moral good can exist on its own, rendering God’s existence, feelings, or opinions about morality irrelevant and unnecessary.
The problem with this line of argumentation is that it misunderstands Christian ethics completely. Morality is universal because it is grounded in the unchanging, eternal character of God Himself. He is the fundamental, existential standard of moral good. What we call objective morals (e.g., do not murder, do not steal, do not falsely accuse, etc.) are actually part of God’s self-revelation to Man. In essence, God is saying, “Morality shows what I’m like in heart and deed. Living a moral life means living in a manner that’s consistent with who I Am and what I do.” As Jesus puts it, “You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:8).
So, for the Christian, objective morality is a matter not of living according to a self-contained ethical code, but of being like our Father in Heaven. Under this definition, the atheist’s objection breaks down. It also dispenses with the notion that following God’s ways is entirely prudential (i.e., done out of self-interest to procure blessing and avoid eternal damnation). If God is truly good and we purport in any measure to value that which is good, then genuine altruism (not prudentialism) should motivate us to strive to be like Him.
The non-existence of God also poses serious difficulties for atheists who wish to maintain that moral standards can be reasonably held within an atheistic framework. If morality is dependent on God’s nature in terms of both existence and content, there is no compelling reason to live morally without Him. Atheists may say that societal moral conventions constrain us to live by a moral code that is both generally agreed upon by our culture and pragmatically necessary for its continued survival, but this does not prove that following such a code is innately compulsory. In other words, there simply is no authoritative means of declaring that it is wrong to reject societal moral conventions for one’s individual gain (like bank robbers or corrupt politicians do). Moreover, one cannot rationally distinguish the value or goodness of differing moral conventions. For example, one society may be conventionally philanthropic, the other conventionally cannibalistic. Which is morally superior? It’s just human convention against human convention; preferring one over the other is the rational equivalent of saying royal blue is morally superior to orange.
Taken to its logical end, atheism inevitably descends into complete moral nihilism.
aka The MonT-SteR