16 Reasons Why I Believe In God: (10) Our Moral Intuitions
1. An Objective Standard of Good. Many of us think that because people and societies disagree on moral issues that there just can't be an objective right and wrong. For example, some people think abortion is evil; others think it's a fundamental right. But, there are three major problems with thinking that moral disagreements prove moral relativism is true.
First, individuals and societies don't disagree on basic moral truths as much as they disagree on the details of how those truths ought to be applied. Consider again the issue of abortion. Pro-lifers believe abortion is evil because they think it takes the life of an innocent human person (the unborn baby), and is therefore a kind of murder. Pro-choicers agree it is evil to take the life of an innocent human person, but they claim an unborn baby is not a person yet. So, both groups agree on the basic moral intuition that murder is wrong, but they disagree about whether or not a human fetus is a person. The same could be said for many other moral disputes - the root of the disagreement is almost never about our basic moral intuitions; on those we pretty much agree. Rather, our disagreements are usually over the philosophical implications or practical applications of our agreed upon moral values.
Second, the claim that morality must be subjective because no one agrees is sloppy thinking. Even if it were the case that everyone disagreed, it does not follow that no one is right, or that everyone is right, or that there is no right answer. That's faulty reasoning.
Third, moral disputes are actually evidence that we DO agree objective moral values exist. Notice when a person is accused of being unjust, you never hear him say, "I didn't do anything wrong, because there is no such thing as wrong." Rather, when a person is accused of injustice he almost always defends himself by explaining why he didn't really act unjustly, or why his circumstances are a special exception to the standard of justice. In other words, virtually no one denies the existence of the moral standard they are being judged by, nor do they deny their knowledge of it. Instead, they tacitly admit both its existence and their knowledge by trying to justify themselves.
Lastly, it should be reiterated that our moral intuitions tell us this standard of goodness is not merely a statistical norm, or a legal rule; rather, it is a transcendent, cosmic truth about ultimate reality. If it weren't, it couldn't be "objective" in the sense that we mean when we say things like, "What the Nazis did was evil." If you doubt this, revisit my last post in this series, and grapple with the arguments there.
2. A Sense of Obligation. Our moral intuitions don't just point to an abstract intellectual rule, like a law of mathematics, but a personal one that communicates how we should live. People don't feel a sense of guilt, or the need to justify themselves, when they get a math problem wrong; but they do when they live immorally. This is evidence that moral values (if they exist objectively in the way we intuit) must be a different kind of thing than impersonal laws of math or logic. They have a personal side to them. Perhaps because God is a personal being.
I have discussed other reasons to believe God is a personal being here and here. Our moral intuitions give us an additional reason to think this. If God were merely an impersonal energy force, or set of abstract laws, then it would be difficult to explain why moral values carry personal obligation with them. If, however, God is a personal entity, then it makes more sense.
3. Our Fallenness. Humans have a keen awareness of our own moral failures. I wrote an article recently about how even a photo of Earth can elicit an awareness of our fallenness. We're not just aware that an objective standard of moral goodness exists, we also know that we don't measure up to it. We fall short. This knowledge shows us that we have a special kind of dignity that only haunts creatures who have a purpose, but have lost their way. And, as I argued previously, we have an objective purpose, only if God exists.
Our inner knowledge of moral brokenness is the basis of many of the world's religions - each one attempts to give an answer for how we can be "fixed." I find Christianity's answer the most compelling. I don't have the time or space in this article to explain why (that will come later), but I have explained briefly in an article here. I urge you to read it and consider the comparison.
Since this post is a continuation and expansion of the last one, it may not need a syllogistic summary, but here's one for those who like that sort of thing:
- If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist.
- However, objective moral values and duties exist.
- Therefore, God exists.
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1. What about the Euthyphro dilemma? Is an action morally right because God says it is, or does he say it is because it is right? That's the question Socrates posed to Euthryphro in Plato's famous dialogue. This is commonly presented as a problem for theists because, if we pick the first option, it makes the standard for moral goodness arbitrary. Goodness is based solely on God's declarations. If God had declared murder right, then it would be right. If we pick the second option, however, it makes God unnecessary, because the standard of goodness is then something outside of God - he merely acknowledges it. For the Christian, this is a faulty dilemma. There is a third option that is not offered: God's very nature is the standard of goodness. Christians believe that God is literally love - that is, God's nature is the standard by which love is measured. So, the objective standard of goodness is not based solely in God's declarations, nor is it outside of God. Rather, it is based in God's internal nature. And, since God by definition can't contradict his own nature, we can trust that his declarations will always be good (because his nature is), even though they themselves are not the source of goodness.
2. Science can determine moral values, not religion. This objection makes a category mistake - it confuses the source (or ontological foundation) of moral values with a method of learning about them. Imagine someone saying, "Moral values come from math." You'd probably think they were confused. Math may be helpful in determining how not to cheat your neighbor out of money. But there is no math equation that can tell us "It is wrong to cheat your neighbor." Even if there were, there would be no obligation to obey it - math rules don't carry moral obligation. The person who says science can determine moral values is similarly confused. I know this is a popular notion these days, especially given Sam Harris' book The Moral Landscape, but it's wrong, and so is he. Science is a method that can aid us in finding better ways to help humans flourish. But science cannot tell us why we ought to help humans flourish, or why it is wrong to murder. At best, science can tell us what is - like a statistic - it cannot tell us what ought to be.
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*To better understand the goals and limits of this blog series, please read the Introduction, if you haven't already. Thanks!