The moral argument has no shortage of fans. Many Christian apologists flock to it during debate, asserting that a denial of God’s existence invariably leads one to the moral relativism which incited the holocaust, or the brutal killings carried out by Ted Bundy. Such arguments remind me of the argumentum ad Hitlerum, where one seeks to as closely as possible approximate their opponent to Hitler, thus vilifying them and possibly shaming others into seeing things their way.
For those unfamiliar with the moral argument, it is usually framed something like this:
1. Objective moral values and duties imply a moral lawgiver exists.
2. Objective moral values and duties exist.
3. Therefore, an objective moral lawgiver/God exists.
The atheist is then forced to concede that premise 2 is false in the absence of a God whose nature grounds said moral duties. Under said atheism, one is then forced to concede that the decision between killing an innocent person for fun is about as selective as preferring strawberry over vanilla ice cream, or whatever pedestrian choice one might have. Not even the most ardent atheist would want to say killing people for fun is acceptable, would they? Therefore, from the hidden premise of personal incredulity, an objective moral lawgiver exists. Or does it?
One might concede God is the best way to account for moral values and duties, but this does not mean God exists, only that the theist is positing God as a hypothetical to make sense of their moral experience. If we wish to use our moral compass to infer the existence of God, whose moral compass are we using?
Problems arise for us, as apologists, don’t they? There is nothing about the structure of the universe which says our moral intuitions align with some moral eternal idea. Now, I don’t entirely dismiss the use of the moral argument. It has its place, but in proving the existence of God it does not. It really is, by my estimation, an argument from personal incredulity, and it is a huge leap to say, “Therefore, God exists!” I would use such an argument to reason to the nature of God, using our moral understanding and extending it to God, by analogy, but not to the substance of God. Perhaps, this argument works best in conjunction with the ontological argument in building a conceptual analysis of God’s nature.
One argument, perhaps best developed by Alvin Plantinga, is the argument from objective logic in the universe. It amounts to more than using our personal sense of awe, but would take a similar form:
1. Objective logical laws imply an objective logical lawgiver.
2. Objective logical laws exist.
3. Therefore, a logical lawgiver exists.
One can now reason not only from our rational capacities to the nature of such a lawgiver, but our logical intuitions can be empirically tested against the everyday world we live in. Is logic just a descriptive way with which we happen to think, or is it a way in which the world actually behaves? Our everyday experience seems to affirm that something cannot both be the case, and not the case, at the same time and place—the law of non-contradiction.
One can think of many instances where ethical quandaries exist, where killing may be better than not killing, and whether it be better to steal a loaf of bread for your family, or whether it be best to starve to death. Using the moral argument, I have noticed, results in endless rabbit trail debates about situation ethics, but using logical principles in much the same way seems to leave less room for escape and forces us to stay on the track, rather than getting into the ensuing red herring debates which the moral argument leads to.
As an aside, I also find it ironic when many theists who use God’s absolute nature as a grounding for morality will be quick to defend the genocides committed in the Bible on a “because God so” basis. If we are to argue for God from a ubiquitous moral experience, shouldn’t what we claim to be revelation from God be consistent with an immutable moral nature?
Alvin Plantinga best describes the problem of naturalism undermining the acquisition of true beliefs in this video.