Moral argument

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Jesus and Mo lampoons one of the problems with the moral argument.

The simplest form of the moral argument is as follows:

  1. If God does not exist, morality does not exist.
  2. Morality exists.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

This is a deductively valid argument, which is to say if its premises are true its conclusion cannot be false. The key question is whether or not the premises are true.

The first premise is by far the most often-disputed premise in the argument. While many religious believers take the first premise for granted, the reasons for thinking it true are not clear, and there are some serious objections to it.

"[...] in an atheistic framework, you have no objective basis to call anything ultimately good or evil [1]"

The argument takes the same form as the standard transcendental argument ((1) If God did not exist, X would not exist. (2) X exists. (3) Therefore, God exists. [2]), and suffers from the same flaws.


Arguments for the first premise[edit]

" 'But what will become of men then?' I asked him, 'without God and immortal life? All things are permitted then, they can do what they like?' "

— Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov

"In the absence of God everything becomes relative. Right and wrong become relative to different cultures and societies. Without God who is to say that one culture’s values are better than another’s? Who’s to say who is right and who is wrong?"

William Lane Craig[3]

Moral law requires a Lawgiver[edit]

Though we sometimes use the same words to talk about moral principles and human legislation, closer inspection calls into doubt the claim that there is a strong analogy between them. Human laws can be changed if the government wills it and follows correct procedures, but moral principles are typically thought to be unchanging. Also, it is possible to have a bad human law, but it is impossible to have a bad moral principle. In response to this second argument, it could be claimed that amoral laws are analogous to acts of a lower body that violate acts of a higher body which the lower body is responsible. This seems intuitively wrong, however: the wrong in a national law relegating part of the population to sub-human status seems very different, and more serious, than the wrong in a local law that contradicts a state. This argument is built on an equivocation, and is fallacious on those grounds.

Another idea is examining the claim of morals being absolute, as looking back at different cultures in the present and past shows us that each society had its own "moral code", sometimes vastly differing from that of others, indicating that the "Moral Law" givers are humans themselves.

Absolute morality requires an absolute standard[edit]

Statements of this argument are often unclear, but it seems to rest on an equivocation of the term "absolute," in much the same way that the Lawgiver argument rests on an equivocation of the term "law." The two relevant senses here are "applicable in all cases" (a characteristic typically applied to moral principles) and "omnipotent, omniscient, etc." (a characteristic typically assigned to God). There is no reason to think that the first sense entails the second sense.

If God does not exist, humans are just animals[edit]

Main Article: Humans are not animals

One snappy response to this argument is "Humans are animals whether or not God exists," which has indeed been the consensus view among taxonomists since Aristotle. Though this point may seem trivial, beneath it is the deeper point that it is hard to see how God's existing or not existing changes the status of humans. If the theist insists on claiming that human beings are worthless on their innate attributes alone, it is hard to see how God could change this situation; see Appeal to emotion. It also rests on the assumption that animals do (or would) not have any sort of relationship with or ability to worship a god. While this may be the case, we do not and can not know this for certain. The truth is however that humans are animals, and just because this fact may not be liked by some does not make it any less true. In addition one could ask “so what? Why presuppose that being an animal is a bad thing?”

Famous atheists rejected morality[edit]

Though this line of argumentation is popular among religious apologists, it clearly commits the fallacy of appealing to authority, and that is not its only problem. Many non-theists who have rejected conventional views of morality have done so on grounds independent of their views on the existence of God. Also, it requires selectively quoting authorities, because many nontheists--indeed, many theists--have rejected the first premise of the moral argument. Finally, it is trivially easy to construct a similar argument against theism, for example: "John Calvin did not believe in free will, therefore 'If God exists, free will does not exist,' but free will does exist, therefore God does not exist." Even if Calvin had good arguments for his stance on free will being entailed by theism, non-Calvinistic theists will not be swayed by the mere citation of Calvin's authority, nor should they be.

Hitler and Stalin were atheists[edit]

Main Article: 20th century atrocities

The basic fallacy of this argument is similar to the one in the first, though it could be considered an example of guilt by association rather than an appeal to authority. Furthermore, the historical accuracy of the argument can be questioned. Hitler's theistic proclamations are well documented,[4] and anti-religious quotes attributed to him are apparently inauthentic. He seems to have held to basic doctrines of Christianity, in spite of rather unorthodox changes, such as his belief that Jesus was an Aryan and Paul corrupted Christianity with proto-Bolshevism. Stalin was an atheist, but given that this is one of many beliefs he held, it is unclear why his actions should be attributed to his atheism. For example, though many would be surprised by this, Stalin opposed mainstream theories of evolution on the grounds that they were too capitalistic. Stalin's rejection of evolution could just as easily be named the source of his crimes as his rejection of God, and indeed his rejection of evolution arguably sheds more light on the ideological dogmatism at the heart of the Soviet regime.

God's rewards and punishments needed to make morality in one's own self interest[edit]

Usually, this argument is not stated so baldly. A more typical statement is "we admire people who sacrifice their lives for others, but if there is no God who rewards self-sacrifice, then such people are being stupid." When the underlying assumption is stated explicitly, most people recoil. Most people do not believe that the ultimate maxim by which we should act is "look out only for your own self interest." Though such a view is technically an ethical theory (known to philosophers as ethical egoism), it is not what most people mean when they talk about morality. It seems that if ethical egoism is true, then the second premise of the moral argument is false, at least in the normally understood sense.

Arguments against the first premise[edit]

Argument from ignorance[edit]

Main Article: Argument from ignorance

The moral argument is one from ignorance. Even if objective moral values and duties were proven to exist 100%, it doesn't follow that a god put them there. It may, for all we know have been aliens who put them there. Just because we don't know where morality came from, doesn't mean we should presuppose a god did it.

God is too malevolent to have been the author of morality[edit]

Even if objective morality exists, our innate moral sense is typically superior to God's recorded actions. If God is as usually described in holy books, he is a monster who orders atrocities, stands by and lets evil happen and is unworthy of worship. It is more likely that some other entity was responsible or objective morality is necessarily existent.

Circular definition/no definition of "moral"[edit]

A common understanding of "moral" is assumed - why? The word "moral" should be defined as soon as it's introduced - this definition can't include reference to a god without the argument becoming circular, and if it doesn't include reference to a god, then in what sense is a god necessary for the concept?

For example, why does the apologist consider rape to be wrong (assuming they do)? "It is contrary to God's nature" is begging the question; "because the victim suffers needlessly" would require subsequent proof that the victim wouldn't suffer in a godless universe. ("There wouldn't be a universe at all without a god" and the argument folds into First Cause et al.)

The Euthyphro dilemma[edit]

Main Article: Euthyphro dilemma

This is perhaps the most famous objection to the second premise. The Euthyphro dilemma is found in Plato's Euthyphro, in which Socrates asks the question, "Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?" In layman's terms this would be, "Is that which is good commanded by God because it's good, or is it good because God commands it?" Both options are problematic for those who would claim morality is dependent upon God.

If God is free to decide what is good, and it is good by virtue of his decree, then God has no higher standard to answer to. Therefore his will may be seen as genuinely arbitrary. Although God once decreed that murder and theft are morally wrong, he might have declared the opposite just as easily, so then murder and theft would be right. This makes morality arbitrary, not what most theists mean to say in articulating the second premise of the moral argument.

If right and wrong are inherent to the action, regardless of God's decree, then God has nothing to do with the process. God doesn't set moral standards; he follows them, and is therefore irrelevant to morality (except to the extent that he can tell us things which we could not figure out for ourselves.)

If goodness is not something that a god exhibits, but something of which the god is the source, the statement "god is good" becomes a meaningless tautology. Consider the property "tastes like an apple". Many things that aren't apples exhibit this quality, but what does it mean to say that an apple tastes like an apple? Nothing; it simply cannot be any other way. Similarly, defining god as the source of the property "goodness", then applying that property back to god, is equivalent to saying "god is consistent with his own nature", which tells us nothing.

An effective summary of the argument was given by Bertrand Russell:

"The point I am concerned with is that, if you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, then you are then in this situation: is that difference due to God's fiat or is it not? If it is due to God's fiat, then for God himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God is good."

Why I Am Not a Christian

One perceived way to get out of the dilemma is to say that, although God has the freedom to command immoral acts such as rape, he would never do such a thing because it goes against his character or nature.

In response, Michael Martin has argued that this doesn't solve anything because the dilemma can be reformulated in terms of God's character: "Is God's character the way it is because it is good or is God's character good simply because it is God's character?"[11] The structure of this modified dilemma is exactly the same as before, and it appears to be if anything harder to escape.

Another counter to ED is to take "good" outside the scope of command/endorsement and tie it to god's nature, as in "it is in god's nature that murder is wrong". However, the nature of X is intrinsic, applying only to X. "It is diamond's nature to be hard" is only meaningful when diamond's scratching other materials is being considered, and it is meaningless otherwise; diamond's hard nature has nothing to do with sapphire scratching quartz, for example. A theistic god is separate from the universe, so if Dave murders John, how can god's nature have any bearing on the situation?

Moral truths as necessary truths[edit]

Richard Swinburne, a theistic philosopher, has argued that moral truths cannot depend on God because moral truths are necessary truths, existing in all possible worlds, including ones where God does not exist. This objection of Swinburne's was cited by Jeffery Jay Lowder in Lowder's debate with Phil Fernandes. [5] Keith Yandell, another theistic philosopher, raised a similar objection in his comments on the Craig-Flew debate. [6]

Which God?[edit]

Main Article: Which God?

This argument does not specify a particular God which is the source of a true objective moral standard. Even if one accepted the argument, one would be forced to decide which religion to follow by some other means. If one can determine which God is the "true" God without using this argument, how is the argument necessary in the first place?

Alternatively, if one cannot rationally find the correct religion, the argument undermines its own respect towards objective morality, by suggesting that morality comes from a source we cannot recognize. While this does not mean that the argument is false, it does imply that human beings can never legitimately understand whether they are acting rightly or wrongly.

Incidentally we can also ask, Which morality? Christian morality changes with history and varies according to which Christian individual or which Christian sect is interpreting Christianity.

Naturalistic pantheism[edit]

Many atheists like to state that they are technically naturalistic pantheists, meaning that they believe that God is the universe, but in a way that rejects supernatural or paranormal elements.

Based on this, one can assert that there is, in fact, a Godly morality, but that the definition of God is the natural universe, and, therefore, morality is both objective and superior to human morality.

Secular morality[edit]

Main Article: Secular morality

Finally, it can in general be claimed that there is a specific, well-founded theory of morality that leaves God out of the picture. This is a complex topic and is dealt with in full by the above-linked article. One thing is worth noting here: some theists appear to think that it constitutes a valid link in the moral argument to simply demand a secular theory of morality without giving any reason to think that theistic theories are more likely to be successful. This is clearly fallacious, and debaters should not fall into this trap. Meta-ethics, like most areas of philosophy, has unresolved debates, but pointing to an unresolved philosophical debate is no argument for the existence of God. To show that the moral argument is unsuccessful, one need only show that we should not accept the second premise. Full development of secular theory of morality may be helpful here, but it is not necessary.

Arguments for the second premise[edit]

Morality is the same across cultures[edit]

Apologists argue that come moral principles are universally accepted across all cultures. This is sometimes combined with the argument from altruism. C.S. Lewis provides a list of supporting examples as an appendix of The Abolition of Man.[7]

"Nearly universally across human cultures, there exist the same basic standards of morality. In addition, there exist in all cultures truly altruistic acts which lead to no genetic benefit. [8]"

"I know the some people say the idea of a Law of Nature or decent behaviour known to all men is unsound, because different civilisations and different ages have had quite different moralities. But this is not true. There have been differences between their moralities, but these have never amounted to anything like a total difference. If anyone will take the trouble to compare the moral teaching of, say, the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks and Romans, what will really strike him will be how very like they are to each other and to our own."

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

In fact, morality varies significantly across cultures and history, which points to the non-existence of objective morality. There is no point of morality that is universally accepted throughout all cultures and all history. Also, similarity in morality can probably be explained by psychology and evolutionary theory. Religious law and practices vary drastically across religions, which is not what we would expect if objective morality existed.

"How can anyone claim with a straight face that all societies throughout history have had essentially the same moral code? Has Lewis never heard of Mormon and Arab polygamy, ancient Greek pedophilia and infanticide, Chinese foot-binding, Japanese ritual suicide, Aztec human sacrifice, African female genital mutilation, Islamic ritual murder (“honor killings”), terrorism and suicide bombings, medieval European totalitarian monarchy and inquisitions, Nazi eugenics and racism, even Christian-inspired slavery and colonialism, oppression of women, and anti-Semitism? [9]"

Definition of murder[edit]

Apologists often cite murder as a universal moral principle:

"Even serial killers know murder is wrong[10]"

Ethically speaking, murder is defined as the wrongful pre-mediated killing of a person. The question "is murder wrong?" is always "yes" because it is true by definition i.e. it is a tautology. To argue that some ethical principles are shared by all people, the apologist would have to argue that "killing in situation X is wrong" instead.

Is-ought problem[edit]

This argument also violates the is-ought problem by attempting to infer prescriptive moral standards from descriptions of behaviours. By reversing an apologist argument:

"Another aspect of the is–ought fallacy manifests itself when people suggest that there is [or there is not] Moral Law because people [do or] don’t obey it. Of course everyone [obeys or] disobeys the Moral Law to some degree—from telling white lies to murder. But that doesn’t mean there is [or is not an] unchanging Moral Law; it simply means that we all [obey or] violate it. [10]"


What differences in human behaviour would indicate a disagreement about morality? Apologists interpret very different behaviours as morally equivalent. This argument seems to be unfalsifiable and therefore meaningless.

People act as if common absolute morals exist[edit]

"The majority of people who explicitly deny the existence of objective morality still act as if objective morality exists. [...] the vast majority of self-professed moral relativists live moral lives [8]"
"Suddenly the lightbulb went on in the student’s head. He realized he really did believe in moral absolutes. He at least believed in justice.[10]"

People are guided by human psychology. As far as can be determined, friendship, family, altruism, etc. are explainable by natural processes. Regarding a person within a particular culture, the observation that it is likely they would conform to their culturally specific moral standards is hardly surprising; they are shaped by their surrounding culture.

Belief in something does not reliably demonstrate it exist really exists. Actual evidence demonstrates things exist (and the psychological quirks of humans have better explanations).

People appeal to absolute moral standards[edit]

When moral relativists are wronged, apologists claim they resort to appealing to a moral standard:

"Of course, if I had been so rude and discourteous, she would have rightly complained that I had violated her right to her opinion and her right to express it. To which I could have replied, "You have no such right—you just told me such rights don’t exist!"[10]"

This is compatible with moral relativism and moral non-cognitivism: appealing to rights is largely a rhetorical tactic to try to persuade someone to adopt a shared subjective moral standard. Just because it is shared, does not make it absolute.

Also, a person could simply say "I would rather you didn't insult me", which is true. It hopefully would influence people by appealing to common human empathy (and not rely on some absolute golden rule). Empathy is part of human psychology and does not automatically imply absolute morality either.

A person can also appeal to their legal rights, such as their right of free expression, without necessarily suggesting they have absolute moral rights.

US Declaration of Independence[edit]

"We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
"So the Founders appealed to the “Creator” because they believed his Moral Law was the ultimate standard of right and wrong that would justify their cause.[10]"

This is an argument from authority. Also, if we assume the US Declaration of Independence is true, we already know that God exists which makes the moral argument redundant, as well as begging the question.

While the authors of the declaration might have been theists (and deists), their words are many intend as a rhetorical means of persuasion rather than a claim of divine knowledge. How would the founders know better than anyone else on this issue?

People have an innate sense of morality[edit]

"There exists a nearly universal human intuition that certain things are objectively right or wrong. [8]"
"You don’t use reason to discover it, you just know it.[...] When we say the Moral Law exists, we mean that all people are impressed with a fundamental sense of right and wrong.[10]"

People probably do have an innate sense of morality but that does not make it absolute. It is largely biological, based on upbringing, our peer group, etc. People in organized crime may raise their children with that sub-culture's moral code and that becomes innate to them. However, that is not really evidence of it being objectively true.

Also, people disagree as to what their innate moral sense tells them to do, which implies moral relativism.

The undeniability of absolute morality[edit]

Apologists argue that it is impossible to practically argue against absolute moral values.

"While the claim “There are no absolute values” is not self-defeating, the existence of absolute values is practically undeniable. For the person who denies all values, values his right to deny them. Further, he wants everyone to value him as a person, even while he denies that there are values for all persons.[10]"

A moral relativist or non-cognitivist may want to value things, or for people to value him, but this is consistent with the lack of absolute morality. He does not need absolute morality to take that position! The apologist is making a non sequitur.

The majority of philosophers accept objective morality[edit]

Friedrich Nietzsche, who rejected the existence of objective morality, pointed out the majority of philosophers accepting objective morality says more about the types of people who become philosophers than it does of morality.

"The consensus of the sages — I recognized this ever more clearly — proves least of all that they were right in what they agreed on: it shows rather that they themselves, these wisest men, shared some physiological attribute, and because of this adopted the same negative attitude to life — had to adopt it. [11]"

It is also an argument from authority.

Analogy to a straight line[edit]

"[As an atheist] my argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? [12]"

The apologist was comparing their subjective notion of wrong to their subjective notion of right. They way we label lines "straight" and "crooked" is also in principle reversible and subjective. The fact that we all share the same labelling of a straight line does not make our convention absolutely true. It is also a bad analogy because morality is nothing like a drawn line, or even a mentally imagined one.

"By the way, to recognize injustice all you need is a moral standard, not an absolute, ultimately objective moral standard.[13]"

We must have grounds to strongly condemn Nazism/wrong doers[edit]

Objective morality is necessary because the alternative is supposedly that "good and evil do not exist."

"Thus, if naturalism is true, it becomes impossible to condemn war, oppression, or crime as evil. Nor can one praise brotherhood, equality, or love as good. It does not matter what values you choose—for there is no right and wrong; good and evil do not exist. That means that an atrocity like the Holocaust was really morally indifferent. You may think that it was wrong, but your opinion has no more validity than that of the Nazi war criminal who thought it was good. [14]"
"If there were no such international morality that transcended the laws of the secular German government, then the Allies would have had no grounds to condemn the Nazis[10]"

This is a false dichotomy between objective morality and moral nihilism (i.e. complete indifference to morality in society). We can perfectly well hold opinions of other people's actions and not necessarily rely on objective morality. Saying we need objective morality so we are better than Nazis is an appeal to consequences; just because a statement being true would have attractive outcomes does not make it true. There are many intellectual formulations of morality apart from theism, even if we assume an intellectual basis is even necessary. Also, the Bible (which many try to preach as the one true objective moral code) condones more than once acts many reasonable people would deem immoral (misogyny, slavery, homophobia, rape...). Ignoring those parts to advocate Christian morality is a very dishonest trick.

Arguments against the second premise[edit]

Argument from ignorance[edit]

Main Article: Argument from ignorance

The arguments for the existence of objective morality are generally arguments from ignorance. Apologists have not yet ruled out the possibility of other explanations.

People disagree over morality[edit]

As stated above, people disagree over morality which means it is difficult to argue there is common consent.

People get the basics right[edit]

"While people may get morality wrong in complicated situations, they don’t get it wrong on the basics[10]"

No, people disagree about the basics too. Is cannibalism wrong? Is human sacrifice wrong? Is genocide wrong? In each case, people disagree. The apologists use a hasty generalization.

Agreement on the ends to be achieved[edit]

Apologists sometimes argue that while people may disagree over the means, everyone agrees on the goals to be achieved, for instance "helping the poor" or "peace":

"regarding the poor, liberals believe the best way to help is through government assistance. But since conservatives think such assistance creates dependency, they would rather stimulate economic opportunity so the poor can help themselves. Notice that the end is the same (assist the poor), but the means are different. Likewise, both militarists and pacifists desire peace (the end); they simply disagree as to whether a strong military is the best means to attain this peace. [10]"

It is hard to say that "war" or "negotiation" are morally equivalent! The choice between the political stances is also largely driven be moral choice, so being a liberal or conservative generally involves having different moral values. In other words, what constitute political "facts" is therefore a moral choice.

Moral standards change over time[edit]

If moral standards were objective and where known by humans, they could be constant throughout history. However, history shows that morality based on religion is constantly being revised. Therefore, morality is not objective or generally unknowable.

"[This is] belied by the history of religion, which shows that the God from which people draw their morality (for example, the God of the Bible and the Koran) did not establish what we now recognize to be morality at all. The God of the Old Testament commanded people to keep slaves, slay their enemies, execute blasphemers and homosexuals, and commit many other heinous acts. [15]"

"all history is the experimental refutation of the theory of the so-called moral order of things"

Friedrich Nietzsche [11]

Changing understanding of facts[edit]

C. S. Lewis argued that morality is constant but since our understanding of the world changes, we respond differently in the new situation.

"if we really thought that there were people going about who had sold themselves to the devil and received supernatural powers from him in return and were using these powers to kill their neighbours or drive them mad or bring bad weather, surely we would all agree that if anyone deserved the death penalty, then these filthy quislings did.[16]"

While this has a (small) element of truth to it, changes in behaviors over time are not entirely reducible to differences in understanding of facts, particularly when the facts are non-empirical. For instance, we may now treat certain diseases while before the would shun those infected. However, many of these religious "facts", such as the existence of witches, the reality of reincarnation etc. are really part of morality itself.

Naturalistic explanation[edit]

While there are limited cross-cultural similarities in moral behaviours, they are better explained by psychology and evolution.

"[...] Suppose that human propensities to cooperate or defect are heritable: some people are innately more cooperative, others less so. [...] Following that reasoning, in the course of evolutionary history genes predisposing people toward cooperative behavior would have come to predominate in the human population as a whole. [...] Such [an evolutionary] process repeated through thousands of generations inevitably gave rise to moral sentiments.[17]"

Does not preclude metaphysical explanations[edit]

"Even if we come to know some of our “moral sentiments” because of genetic and/or environmental factors, that doesn’t mean there is no objective Moral Law outside ourselves.[10]"

We don't "know" moral "facts" as if they correspond to an external absolute standard. Morality is an emergent function of our brain. We don't "discover" it rationally or "invent it" ourselves.

Also, if we can explain human moral behaviour using a natural basis, it is of course possible there is a metaphysical component, but we would need some evidence for that, otherwise we can apply Occam's razor.

Materialism cannot make prescriptive statements[edit]

Based on the is-ought problem, materialism cannot make absolute prescriptive statements.

"Darwinists cannot explain why anyone should obey any biologically derived “moral sentiment.” Why shouldn’t people murder, rape, and steal to get what they want if there is nothing beyond this world? Why should the powerful “cooperate” with the weaker when the powerful can survive longer by exploiting the weaker?[10]"

Most peoples' psychology is such that they perform mostly good actions, particularly to close family. They don't require a philosophical rationalization to do it. This can lead to the view that science can answer moral questions, nihilism (which is unlikely/rare) or existentialism.

This argument also tries to shift the burden of proof onto skeptics, which is a fallacy.

Anthropic argumentation[edit]

Any civilizations that are based on radically different morality tend to die out. The remaining civilizations tend to have similar moral principles because it makes them stable. This is rather like the anthropic argument in that we usually could not be in a civilization that had vastly different laws because it would be short lived. To consider only the stable existing civilizations as typical civilizations commits the spotlight fallacy.

"The very few commonalities that can be found, such as prohibitions on murder and theft, do not need divine revelation to explain them; these laws are universal in human history precisely because any society that did not have them would soon collapse into chaos and would never enter history in the first place.[9]"

General counter arguments[edit]

One can argue that if God does not exist, an objectively provable existence of objective morality does not exist, and an objective need for objective morality to exist does not exist. Hence, the atheistic situation is no longer problematic.

The argument boils down to "objective morals exist, therefore God exists". Thus, the proposed definition of "moral" must simultaneously OMIT God (so the argument isn't circular, God being the conclusion) and REQUIRE God (in order to reach the conclusion at all). This is logically impossible.

Another way to look at it is, regardless of whether or not the premises have/require God or omit God, the argument is doomed to fail. If the premises haveGod in the sense of a being then the argument is circular, if the premises have God as a concept or omit god then the argument is invalid:

If the premises have God (the being) then the argument becomes circular because God the being, what the argument is trying to prove, is assumed as a premise.

If the premises have only the concept of God and not the being God, then the argument becomes an invalid argument of false equivocation. The premises have God in the sense of a mere concept, and the conclusion has God in the sense of an actual being. The two are not equivocal. For example the mere concept of a dragon is not equal to a real dragon. So no matter what the premises prove about the concept of God, it would not necessarily follow from those premises that there is an actual God. In other words, it is possible for the premises to prove something about the concept of God and thus be true but it can still be false that God as an actual being exists.

If the premises have nothing to do with God, then the argument has no validity because God is not a valid inference from the premises.

Heaven precludes genuine charity[edit]

Main Article: Heaven precludes genuine charity

If there is an omnipotent and perfectly just God and an everlasting reward, there is no reason to act morally except to secure one's own well-being in the afterlife, i.e. loving your brother can only be a rational means to one's own ends not the well-being of one's brother.

Other formulations of the moral argument[edit]

Normativity of morality[edit]

This formulation of the moral argument relies on the assumption of normativity, that is to say, that the awareness of morality is a more or less universal experience among humans. Most people recognize that, for example, murder is wrong. From there, a theist claims that this universal awareness must come from some ultimate source, which is God. [18]

To put it concisely:

  1. It appears to human beings that moral normativity exists.
  2. The best explanation of moral normativity is that it is grounded in God.
  3. Therefore God exists.

This version of the moral argument may sometimes be used by theists as red herring when responding to arguments about the moral nature of God. For instance, a person who points out the inherent cruelty of exterminating 99% of the earth's population, as in the story of Noah's ark, or takes issue with the apparent Biblical support of slavery and rape, may quickly expect to be countered with this claim:

"You recognize mass murder/slavery/rape as a bad thing, so you must have some standard to judge that against. If there was no God, then you'd have no rational reason to say that those things aren't good."

Counter-apologetic responses to normativity[edit]

  1. Although the awareness of SOME sort of right and wrong is apparently universal, many specific details differ across cultures and time periods. In the case of slavery, for example, the practice was once universally accepted in the southern United States, and many anti-abolitionists even quoted the Bible to justify the practice. This indicates that morality has a strong cultural component to it, and is tied up in evolving notions of secular morality.

In fact, this serves as an argument against the existence of God.

Moral-Knowledge Argument

A recently proposed atheological argument is the Moral-Knowledge Argument, which can be expressed as follows: if the theists' version of God exists, then he is a being who is omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent. Since this god is benevolent and his ethics are supposedly morally good for humanity, he would want all human beings to know his ethics perfectly. And since this god is omnipotent, it would be within his capacity to make sure that all human beings know his ethics perfectly. However, all human beings do not know his ethics perfectly, which is shown by their disagreeing about many moral values. Therefore, this version of God does not exist.

  1. Other human perceptions also have the appearance of being normative. For instance, most people agree that chocolate is "delicious," while dirt is "not delicious." By the same reasoning as the argument from normative morality, it could be said that there must be some ultimate standard for deliciousness, and that standard must be God, the ultimate tasty treat. We could use a similar argument to prove that God is the definition of the perfect homosexual lover.
  2. The fact that there may be an abstract standard of perfect goodness that an individual strives to achieve, does not indicate that this standard represents an existing object. For example, golfing a perfect game would yield a score of 18. However, even though no one in history has ever golfed an 18, this is the the best attainable score according to the rules of the game. It is quite possible to have a theoretical ideal, yet not have any concrete instance of that ideal. Therefore, we could say: "Yes, this thing that you call 'God' could be our standard for morality. However, this tells us nothing about whether or not God exists."

The Immoral Imperative[edit]

  1. Christians are called to evangelize and share the gospel as a command from God. The mercy of God is shared for the purpose of conversion which treats people as a means. According to Kant, treating anyone as a means rather than an end in themselves is immoral, therefore, Christians are immoral as is the command.

A possible solution to this dilemma is in reassessing the command from God. If the gospel of Christianity is not specifically for the sake of the gospel itself, nor is it a means to God's end, but rather is the means by which a person's life is improved, the individual becomes the end, thus making it moral under the Kantian mindset. The person "receiving" the evangelism (i.e. the gospel) is treated justly insofar as her personal improvement is the goal. This solution can only be upheld if the reality of "salvation" is in fact the reality of a better life.


  1. [1]
  2. [2]
  3. [3]
  4. [4]
  5. [5]
  6. [Stan W. Wallace, ed. Does God Exist?: The Craig-Flew Debate. Ashgate, 2003]
  7. [6]
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Neil Shenvi, Do Objective Moral Values Exist?
  9. 9.0 9.1 [7]
  10. 10.00 10.01 10.02 10.03 10.04 10.05 10.06 10.07 10.08 10.09 10.10 10.11 I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist
  11. 11.0 11.1 [8]
  12. Mere Christianity
  13. [9]
  14. [10]
  15. Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction, 2011
  16. Mere Christianity
  17. Edward O. Wilson, The Biological Basis of Morality
  18. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 1943, Chapter 1
  • Richard Swinburne. The Existence of God. Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Richard C. Carrier. 'Hitler's Table Talk: Troubling Finds.' German Studies Review 26.3 (Oct 2003): 561-76.

External Link[edit]

v · d Arguments for the existence of god
Anthropic arguments   Anthropic principle · Natural-law argument
Arguments for belief   Pascal's Wager · Argument from faith · Just hit your knees
Christological arguments   Argument from scriptural miracles · Would someone die for a lie? · Liar, Lunatic or Lord
Cosmological arguments   Argument from aesthetic experience · Argument from contingency · Cosmological argument · Fine-tuning argument · Kalam · Leibniz cosmological argument · Principle of sufficient reason · Unmoved mover · Why is there something rather than nothing?
Majority arguments   Argument from admired religious scientists
Moral arguments   Argument from justice · Divine command theory
Ontological argument   Argument from degree · Argument from desire · Origin of the idea of God
Dogmatic arguments   Argument from divine sense · Argument from uniqueness
Teleological arguments   Argument from design · Banana argument · 747 Junkyard argument · Laminin argument · Argument from natural disasters
Testimonial arguments   Argument from observed miracles · Personal experience · Argument from consciousness · Emotional pleas · Efficacy of prayer
Transcendental arguments   God created numbers · Argument from the meaning of life
Scriptural arguments   Scriptural inerrancy · Scriptural scientific foreknowledge · Scriptural codes
v · d Arguments against the existence of god
Existential arguments   Argument from nonbelief · Problem of Evil (logical) . Who created God? · Turtles all the way down · Problem of non-God objects · Argument from incompatible attributes · No-reason argument · Santa Claus argument · Can God create a rock so heavy that he can't lift it? · Outsider test
Arguments from the Bible   Failed prophecy in the Bible · Biblical contradictions
Evidentiary arguments   Problem of evil (evidential) · Inefficacy of prayer
Reasonableness arguments   Occam's Razor · Outsider test · Argument from locality · Argument from inconsistent revelations
Other arguments   Emotional pleas