The Argument from Morality

One of the arguments for the existence of God is that morality is explained better by the existence of a God who formulates a moral code which is planted within us, than by any purely naturalistic explanation. If God does not exist, then where does our morality come from?

Philosophers have been puzzling for many years (centuries?) over this question, and there have been many attempts to come up with naturalistic theories of morality. Some of these theories are relativist theories, which say that there is no absolute right or wrong but that these are defined by the culture, personal or historical setting in which we are found. Others are utilitarian theories which define right actions as the actions which attempt to maximise (or minimise) a certain function over the population, for example, those actions which lead to the greatest happiness of the greatest number, or to the minimisation of harm. Still others are variations of the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you), such as Kant's formulation that goes along the lines that you should only do those actions which you would be happy about being made a universal law. I'm sure there are many other theories out there, feel free to enlighten me if you know of any more.

The problem with all these theories, according to the theist, is that whereas they may or may not give an accurate formulation of right or wrong, they still do not explain why we should do what is right, however defined. For example, if it is wrong to kill a person to steal their money because the harm caused to society by the murder would outweigh the inconvenience to me of being less well off, why should I care about society as opposed to my own welfare?

There are responses to this, for instance to say that I can never be sure that I won't get found out, which would in the long run be a greater inconvenience to me than having less money, whether it be by a prison sentence, or by being ostracised by society. Or alternatively, that psychologically I would be comparatively worse off, because of the person I had become, or the guilt I would suffer. But I don't think these are adequate, because we can always hypothesize a perfect crime, which would never be found out, or someone with no feeling of guilt.

So is this an insurmountable problem for Naturalism then? That naturalistic theories of morality cannot adequately explain why we should do what's right instead of what's wrong? Maybe, maybe not - I don't know. Maybe someone will come up with such a theory; maybe someone already has and I don't know about it. Maybe there never can be such a theory. However, I don't think that matters too much, because I don't think Theism can account for it either!

Let's ask the theist: "Why should we do what's right instead of what's wrong?". The theist will probably respond along the lines that God has created a moral code for us, either written down in the Bible, or in our hearts, or probably both, and given us a conscience so that we know when we've done right or wrong. But then we can ask the question "but why should we obey this moral code?" The thing is that whatever the theist responds, we can keep asking the question "but why should we do that?", until we eventually get to a selfish motive, or a mere assertion that "we just should!" The point being here, that neither of these is any more satisfactory than the naturalist position, the former being no different to the selfish motivation in naturalist theories, and the latter not answering the question at all!

Here's an example dialogue:

Naturalist: Why should we obey the moral code?
Theist: Because God commands us to obey it.
Naturalist: But why should we obey God?

The theist now has the option here of saying "we just should", or giving a selfish motive.

Theist: Because if you disobey God, he will punish you, and if you obey him, he will reward you.

Alternatively:

Theist: Because God knows what is best for you and this is the only way for you to be happy.

And so on... whatever response the theist gives, it can be reduced to either a selfish motive, question-begging, or an opportunity for another "why should we do that?" question.

In conclusion, that naturalistic moral theories cannot explain the 'should' of morality should not be a huge problem for Naturalism, as Theism cannot account for it either.

Comments

  1. <i>So why the need to create some mysterious law o...

    by LAUGHING BOY on FRIDAY, JUNE 15, 2007 at 3:18AM
    So why the need to create some mysterious law of the universe, when there are plenty of reasons for acting morally?

    There are plenty of reasons to act morally but none of them are ultimately coherent with a materialistic worldview.

    do you obey the moral code just to avoid death...

    First let me clarify my previous comments. The consequences of breaking the moral law are "hardwired" to the act; that was the intended point of my first comment. Add to that the severity of those consequences, and you've got a pretty compelling reason for keeping the moral law; which was the intended point of my second comment.

    To answer your question: I can't obey the moral code sufficiently well to avoid death. It's at this point that Christianity parts company with other religions (and even from the way Christianity itself is popularly understood).
  2. Of course I know that. And of course you know tha...

    by STU SHERWIN on FRIDAY, JUNE 15, 2007 at 1:39AM
    Of course I know that. And of course you know that. So why the need to create some mysterious law of the universe, when there are plenty of reasons for acting morally?

    "Do you obey your government's laws just to stay out of prison, or because you see the value in participating in an orderly society?"

    I ask you, do you obey the moral code just to avoid death, or because you see the value in participating in an orderly society?
  3. Other than fear of punishment? You mean you can't ...

    by LAUGHING BOY on THURSDAY, JUNE 14, 2007 at 2:17AM
    Other than fear of punishment? You mean you can't think of any yourself? Do you obey your government's laws just to stay out of prison, or because you see the value in participating in an orderly society? Do you obey your lover just to avoid their disapproval, or to show your affection? Obedience is not all about avoiding negative consequences, surely you know that.
  4. What other reasons are there?

    by STU SHERWIN on SATURDAY, JUNE 09, 2007 at 12:19PM
    What other reasons are there?
  5. It may not be the <i>only</i> reason, but it's a d...

    by LAUGHING BOY on THURSDAY, JUNE 07, 2007 at 3:51AM
    It may not be the only reason, but it's a damn good one; especially if you're convinced that your neighbor deserves to die (say, for example, he was the guy from the Justice and Mercy post who raped and murdered your daughter).
  6. Exactly. I should obey the moral laws if I don't w...

    by STU SHERWIN on WEDNESDAY, JUNE 06, 2007 at 12:34AM
    Exactly. I should obey the moral laws if I don't want to die, physically or spiritually. The only reason I should not murder my neighbour is because it will hurt me in some way if I do, right?
  7. <i><b>Naturalist:</b> Why should we obey the moral...

    by LAUGHING BOY on FRIDAY, MAY 25, 2007 at 8:53PM
    Naturalist: Why should we obey the moral code?

    Theist: Because the moral code (law) is as much a law of the universe as are the laws of physics. If you ignore (disobey) the laws of physics by, say, jumping out a window on the 10th floor, you will pay inevitable consequences. Your death would not be punishment but simply the result of your actions.

    You should obey the moral laws because you (both body and soul) will die if you don't.
  8. Separate but related question.<br>Who is a more wo...

    by KITCHEN MAN on MONDAY, MAY 21, 2007 at 8:50PM
    Separate but related question.
    Who is a more worthy object of trust?

    Someone who will never let you down

    or

    Someone who has never let you down (yet!)
  9. Taking your last two posts on morality together, a...

    by TIM on WEDNESDAY, APRIL 25, 2007 at 1:06PM
    Taking your last two posts on morality together, am I to understand then that morality is based on knowledge?
    Who teaches a child to do wrong things and to know that he/she has done wrong without being told? Evolution and natural philosophy cannot explain this. We are shut up totally to the enlightenment of the Bible to explain that we have a conscience placed within us by God as part of our make up for this very purpose (see Rom 2).
    The Bible teaches that law merely hammers home the verdict already given by the conscience – guilty; and the law then provides a mechanism for a sentence to be passed.

    You ask why we should do right. This surely solely depends on your worldview,
    e.g.: -
    1) There is no God: I can do what I want and what I see is right for me. I can break laws with impunity. If I do get caught, this will be an inconvenience only (see Luke 17 v 27). I have no responsibility to society at large.
    2) There is a God: then I am answerable to Him as my Creator. My view on life will permanently be influenced by what He thinks of me (Heb 10 v 31). Records are being kept (Rev 20 v 12).
    Without a worldview that includes God, society will inevitably fall apart. Life has no meaning apart from self assertion.

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