Sunday, February 19, 2012

Article: Can Moral Objectivism Do Without God? by Peter S. Williams

It is rare that I read an article and while reading feel tempted to stand up and cheer, "Yes!"

However, that is preciously the experience I had recently while reading Peter S. Williams outstanding article Can Moral Objectivism Do Without God?

Williams begins the article with what he refers to as the "most discussed" form of the moral argument for God's existence:

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

2. Objective moral values do exist.

3. Therefore, God exists.

The author then puts for 4 independent reasons why the first premise should be accept:

- The argument from moral prescription
- The argument from moral obligation
- The argument from moral ideas
- The argument from moral guilt

It is while writing about the second premise that Williams addresses an often confused point in regard to the moral argument.

Williams writes:

"Writing in his fascinating study of Ethics, Evil and Fiction (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999), atheist Colin McGinn affirms:

When I assert 'this is good' or 'that is evil', I do not mean that I experience desire or aversion, or that I have a feeling of liking or indignation. These subjective experiences may be present; but the judgment points not to a personal or subjective state of mind but to the presence of an objective value in the situation. What is implied in this objectivity? Clearly, in the first place, it implies independence of the judging subject. If my assertion 'this is good' is valid, then it is valid not for me only but for everyone. If I say 'this is good', and another person, referring to the same situation, says 'this is not good', one or other of us must be mistaken... The validity of a moral judgment does not depend upon the person by whom the judgment is made... In saying that moral values belong to the nature of reality... the statement implies an objectivity which is independent of the achievements of persons in informing their lives with these values, and is even independent of their recognizing their validity. Whether we are guided by them or not, whether we acknowledge them or not, they have validity... objective moral value is valid independently of my will, and yet is something which satisfies my purpose and completes my nature...

Since McGinn accepts the first premise of the moral argument, he suggests that it is possible "to detach moral objectivity from any religious worldview – so that we do not need to believe in God in order to find morality both important and binding." Here McGinn exhibits a common confusion, in that he conflates the argument for God as the ontological basis for objective moral values with the un-biblical epistemological claim that belief in God is a necessary condition of knowing the difference between right and wrong (cf. Romans 2:14-15). As J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig caution:

The question is not: Must we believe in God in order to live moral lives? There is no reason to think that atheists and theists alike may not live what we normally characterize as good and decent lives. Similarly, the question is not: Can we formulate a system of ethics without reference to God? If the non-theist grants that human beings do have objective value, then there is no reason to think that he cannot work out a system of ethics with which the theist would largely agree. Or again, the question is not: Can we recognize the existence of objective moral values without reference to God? The theist will typically maintain that a person need not believe in God in order to recognize, say, that we should love our children.

Rather, as Paul Copan explains, the moral argument urges that although"Belief in God isn’t a requirement for being moral... the existence of a personal God is crucial for a coherent understanding of objective morality." In other words, although the non-theist can do the right thing because they know what the objectively right thing to do is, their worldview can’t cogently provide an adequate ontological account of the objective moral values they know and obey."

I encourage our readers to checkout this article by Williams here.

If you are interested in checking out more of his work, visit his blog located here.

Courage and Godspeed,

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