“You Shouldn’t Do That!” [and other absurd remarks]

“The argument from design and the cosmological argument conclude that God exists, and that He created the universe with life in mind. They do not, however, tell us much about how we ought to respond. That brings us to the moral argument.”

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The moral argument appeals to the existence of moral laws as evidence of God’s existence. According to this argument, there could not be such a thing as morality without God. To use the words that Sartre attributed to Dostoyevsky, “If there is no God, then everything is permissible.” That there are moral laws – that not everything is permissible – provides us with strong evidence that an ultimate moral being, presumably God, exists.

Some facts are facts about the way the world is. It is a fact that many cats eat mice because there are a lot of cats in the world, and a lot of them eat mice. It is a fact that Dublin is the capital of Ireland because there exists a city called Dublin that is the capital of a country called Ireland. For most facts, there are objects in the world that make them true. Moral facts are not like that. The fact that we ought to do something about the problem of famine is not a fact about the way that the world is, it’s a fact about the way that the world ought to be. There is nothing out there in the physical world that makes moral facts true. This is because moral facts are not descriptive, they are prescriptive; moral facts have the form of commands.

There are some things that cannot exist unless something else exists along with them. There cannot be something that is being carried unless there is something else that is carrying it. There cannot be something that is popular unless there are lots of people that like it. The moral argument seeks to utilize this fact. If moral facts are a kind of command, then who commanded morality? Or, to put it differently, if there is such a thing as a moral law, there must be a moral law-giver – so who is this law-giver? To answer this question, it is useful to examine the significance of morality.

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Morality is of over-riding importance. If someone morally ought to do something, then this over-rules any other consideration that might come into play. It might be in my best interest to not take the time to stop and help someone who’s been hurt, but morally I ought to – so all things considered, I ought to. If someone has one reason action (a), but morally ought to do action (b), then all things considered, he ought to do action (b). Morality over-rules everything. Morality has the ultimate authority.

Commands, though, are only as authoritative as the person that commands them. If I were to command everyone to pay extra tax so that we could better fund the police force, then no one would have to do so. I just don’t have the authority to issue that command. If the government were to command everyone to pay extra tax so that we could spend more money on the police force though, then that would be different, because the government does have that authority. As morality has more authority than any human person or institution, the moral argument posits, morality cannot have been commanded by any human person or institution. Since morality has ultimate authority, morality must have been commanded by someone who has authority over everything. The existence of morality thus points us to a being that is greater than any of us and that rules over all creation. Of course, I would call this being “God,” but that can come later.

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Next time we’ll look at one objection to the argument from morality. Can you think of any?

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About Tweed Tavern

We exist to exhort passionate followers of Christ to think more deeply about their faith, and to challenge deep thinkers to become more passionate followers of Christ. Throughout history, taverns have provided a venue for theological and political debate. Hoping to honor that tradition, welcome to the Tavern!
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