When the Gentiles who do not have the law do instinctively the things of the law, these, not having the law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness - Romans 2:14,15
Shockingly, one of the most intrinsically compelling arguments for God’s existence is also one that is often discounted by believers and unbelievers alike. The moral argument has undeniably captured the attention of many skeptics and lifted them out of their intellectual doubts and settled them onto firm theistic foundations. Yet, some have considered it to be an elaborate case of question begging. What cannot be denied is its usefulness in convincing skeptics of the truth of Christian theism. Francis Collins, the head of the human genome project, describes his experience of the argument as follows:
Encountering this argument at age twenty-six, I was stunned by its logic. Here, hiding in my own heart as familiar as anything in daily experience, but now emerging for the first time as a clarifying principle, this Moral law shone its bright white light into the childish recesses of my atheism, and demanded a serious consideration of its origin. Was this God looking back at me?
Most famously, C.S. Lewis articulated the argument in his classic, Mere Christianity. Thus, since the second half of the 20th century, atheist philosophers have been arguing against it and Christian philosophers have been using it. Though it does not rely on the scientific sophistication of the design argument, nor the epic grandeur of the cosmological argument, it is born out of a reflection upon the human experience and what that experience demonstrates about the nature of reality.
Our discussion will focus on a proper articulation of a moral argument in use by Christian philosophers in the 21st century. The “R.” stands for RULES because the existence of moral values and duties result in Rules for mankind. We will examine objections to the argument as well as consider how the argument might best be explained to, and defended by, the layman. Ultimately, readers will find an argument for God’s existence which is immediately accessible to them and is difficult to dismiss.
The Formal Argument
At present, William Lane Craig’s moral argument is the most repeated and defended formal articulation of the case. He states his moral argument thusly,
1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.
For the truth of the argument to sink in, thinkers need to be aware of what is meant by objective and subjective moral values and duties. If something is objectively true, it means that it is true no matter what anyone thinks about it. In other words, it is not a matter of opinion. Mathematics are objective in this way. Two plus two equals four. If it were the case that everyone on planet earth disagreed with this claim, it would still be the case that two plus two does equal four. This is an objective truth. Conversely, subjectivity does deal with matters that are relative. Whether or not chocolate ice cream tastes the best or bald men are the most attractive kinds of men are subjective questions. The answers will depend on one’s personal opinions or the consensus of society. Examples are prevalent of the chaos that can ensue when one mistakenly categorizes something as subjective which is actually objective.
Relativism is a fine example of this misstep. Cognitive relativists hold that all truth is relative. What is meant by this is that truth is subjective. For example, it is not only a subjective statement to say that chocolate ice cream is the best flavor, but the cognitive relativist would also claim that the existence of the planet earth is also subjective. That is to say, he would have to hold, if he is going to be consistent in his cognitive relativism, that whether the earth exists is a matter of opinion. This extends to all truth. Situational relativists claim that the truth depends on the circumstances. Moral relativists hold that absolute, or objective, truths do exist, but moral values and duties are not objective in this way. One can see how relativism is dangerous territory precisely because it categorizes certain things as subjective which should be considered objective. It is for this reason that Peter Kreeft warns, “No culture in history has ever embraced moral relativism and survived. Our own culture, therefore, will either (1) be the first, and disprove history's clearest lesson, or (2) persist in its relativism and die, or (3) repent of its relativism and live. There is no other option.”
Another point of clarification needs to be made with respect to the terms values and duties. A value is something that is good or bad. Conversely, a duty is something that is right or wrong. Exercise is good, but sickness is bad. However, treating others well is right, while murdering others is wrong. This is the distinction in Craig’s argument between moral values and moral duties. From here we can move forward to discuss how the argument works.
The claim of premise (1) is that if God doesn’t exist then moral values and duties which are objective, or absolute, do not exist. The reason for this is simply that if God does not exist then it becomes a matter of opinion whether something is truly right or wrong. As Francis Schaeffer rightly explains,
If there is no absolute moral standard, then one cannot say in a final sense that anything is right or wrong. By absolute we mean that which always applies, that which provides a final or ultimate standard. There must be an absolute if there are to be morals, and there must be an absolute if there are to be real values. If there is no absolute beyond man's ideas, then there is no final appeal to judge between individuals and groups whose moral judgments conflict. We are merely left with conflicting opinions.
What higher authority would we appeal to in making the claim that it is wrong to murder, rape, steal or treat others unkindly? One’s governmental edicts or laws will not do because they represent the subjective decisions of a nation or national leaders. That is to say, the laws in one nation can, and often do, differ from the laws of another nation. For this reason, when you leave one nation where it is against the law to buy and sell marijuana and enter another nation where it is legal to buy and sell marijuana, you discover that the legality of the buying and selling of marijuana is subjective and dependent on whose laws are at play. Without God, moral values and duties are subjective. If God does exist, then moral values and duties are objective.
In a world without God there is no intrinsic purpose to human life. Strikingly, many atheists have admitted this. It is for this very reason that existential atheist, Jean Paul Sartre, described man as creating purpose for himself. He passionately writes,
But in reality and for the existentialist, there is no love apart from the deeds of love; no potentiality of love other than that which is manifested in loving; there is no genius other than that which is expressed in works of art. The genius of Proust is the totality of the works of Proust; the genius of Racine is the series of his tragedies, outside of which there is nothing. Why should we attribute to Racine the capacity to write yet another tragedy when that is precisely what he—did not write? In life, a man commits himself, draws his own portrait and there is nothing but that portrait. . . What we mean to say is that a man is no other than a series of undertakings, that he is the sum, the organization, the set of relations that constitute these undertakings.
For Sartre, man is what he does. But this, by no means, requires any real purpose of him. His purpose is subjective and dependent upon what obligations he chooses to accept or assign for himself.
Some naturalists might contend that man does have one simple purpose, namely, the propagation of his own genetic material for the sustaining of his species. While this is descriptive of what biological beings do, it is not something that they must do. That is to say, they are not morally culpable for not doing so. Thus, naturalism can provide no real purpose for the human race. However, it gets worse than that.
Similarly, and flowing from this, in the absence of God there are no moral values or duties. Atheist thinker Frederick Nietzsche recognized this and it was the genesis of his famous, “God is dead” statement. Here, it will simply suffice to say that if there is no God, everything is permissible and nothing has value.
Ultimately, the truth of atheism would mean that we may only properly refer to man as liking kindness and disliking murder. We cannot say that kindness is good or murder is wrong. This strikes most people as horrid, but it is even more deplorable when one considers even more horrendous events in human history. As many Christian defenders have pointed out, the holocaust of the Jews would, if there is no God, not be a bad thing. It would just be a thing. Worse still, there would be no moral difference between humanitarian efforts in Africa and the genocide of the Jews. What these would represent, are just different things that different humans like to do. Only a little better, we could say that they were different things that different humans thought should be considered right. Nevertheless, on atheism they are neither right nor wrong. They just are.
What I am not saying is that we should believe that God exists just because of how awful it would be if morality were subjective. What I am saying is that our certain knowledge that acts like the holocaust are deplorable and acts like building wells in Africa are admirable is clear evidence that morality is objective and that God does exist. This sort of knowledge is wired into humans. It is not wired into the animal kingdom.
When a snake devours a mouse, or a black widow spider cannibalizes her mate, we recognize that the predator devoured its prey, but we would never say that it murdered its prey. Forced copulation occurs with great regularity in the animal kingdom, yet no one charges the male with rape. This is because mankind recognizes that morality is a special aspect of humanity, which is not necessarily binding for other earthly beings. All of this serves to confirm the truth of moral objectivity and the existence of God from whom morality springs.
In next week's post, I'll handle the most common objections to this moral argument.
 Collins, Francis, The Language of God, (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2006), 29.
 Craig, William Lane, On Guard, (Paris, Ontario: David C. Cook; New ed., 2010), 129.
 Kreeft, Peter, The Philosophy of Jesus, ( South Bend, IN: St. Augustine Press, 1st ed. 2007), 118.
 Schaeffer, Francis, How Should We Then Live, (Wheaton, IL:Crossway, 50th Anniversary L’abri ed., 2005), 145.
 Marino, Gordon, Basic Writings of Existentialism, (New York, NY: Random House, 2004), 355, 366.