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Encyclopedia > Argument from morality
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The argument from morality is one of several arguments for the existence of God. This argument comes in different forms, all aiming to prove God’s existence from the evidence of morality in the world. January 2006 : January - February - March - April - May - June - July - August - September - October - November - December- → 31 January 2006 (Tuesday) U.S. President George W. Bush delivers the State of the Union Address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress (the House of Representatives and the Senate). ... Image File history File links Stop_hand. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged into Existence of God. ...


The argument

The moral argument works on the idea that most people have some experience of morality, and feel there are certain rules about how they should behave.

Divine Command

  1. Moral law requires a moral lawgiver.
  2. There is a moral law.
  3. There must be a moral lawgiver. (from 1 and 2)
  4. This moral lawgiver is God.

The two premises must, of course, be defended separately. However, usually this argument is employed with those (the great majority of the human population) who already subscribe to the second premise. Thus, the first premise is the more oft-debated. That the moral lawgiver is God must also be justified, but so with most arguments for God's existence must the proven entity be shown to be God as regularly understood (e.g., that Aquinas' prime mover is the God of the Bible). This is not, however, a circular argument.

Another argument from morality can be expressed as follows:

  1. If God exists, then God and God alone decides what is (truly) right and wrong. Without God there could be no ultimate standards of morality.
  2. So, if people assumed that God does not exist, then they would be doomed to a life without fixed moral standards. They would have no reasons to think that lying, stealing, or even murder are wrong. According to this view, nonbelievers contribute to the corruption of themselves and the entire culture. (Cf the famous quote associated with Dostoevsky, "If God does not exist, everything is permitted".)
  3. Given the above, it is necessary that God exists if society is to have stable standards of morality.
  4. Everyone in society either obviously needs or already has stable standards of morality. Therefore, God exists.

That is the basis of theological ethics, or alternatively, the divine command theory. The argument is valid if and only if the following assumptions are correct: Michelangelos depiction of God in the painting Creation of the Sun and Moon in the Sistine Chapel This article discusses the term God in the context of monotheism and derived henotheistic forms. ... Morality, in the strictest sense of the word, deals with that which is regarded as right or wrong. ... To tell a lie is to make a declarative statement to another person that one believes to be false, with the intention that the other person believe that statement to be true, and with the intention that the other person believe that one believes the statement to be true. ... Thief redirects to here. ... The word culture, from the Latin colo, -ere, with its root meaning to cultivate, generally refers to patterns of human activity and the symbolic structures that give such activity significance. ... Fyodor Dostoevsky. ... The divine command theory is the metaethical theory that moral values are whatever is commanded by a god or gods. ...

  1. There is an ultimate standard of morality.
  2. People are able to know God's commands, and the sources of such knowledge are infallible.
  3. Something is right if and only if God commands it; something is wrong if and only if God forbids it; and something is morally permissible if and only if God neither commands nor forbids it.
  4. God's standards are stable; God's commands are as valid today as they were when the infallible sources of information were created.
  5. There is no alternative source of moral and ethical ideas and action, meaning that all other systems such as utilitarianism are invalid; that is to say, even if they ultimately endorse the same morals they are wrong about what it is that makes those things moral.

A third variant of the argument from morality is based on the existence of standards, and the existence of conscience in humans. In any argument, various standards are appealed to, and only unreasonable arguers would make claims like "I am right because I think I am." If no standard really exists, then no justice system can ever be objectively just, and all justice systems would be shams, which is assumed to be untrue. Therefore, it is argued that the standards of moral good exists external from ourselves, and are not arbitrary. Since such standards exist, so must God. This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ... Lady Justice - allegory of Justice as woman with sword and with book - statue at court building. ...

Pointing towards God

This form of the moral argument interprets morality as an indirect religious experience which points towards God.

  1. Our feelings of obligation guide us to make a moral decision.
  2. This obligation is due to the fact that each person has value, and this supports each decision.
  3. If people have an intrinsic value, there must be a source to this value.
  4. This source must be God.

Kant's argument

Immanuel Kant believed that in a perfect world behaving morally should lead to happiness. However, as this rarely happens in our world, he considered that there must be another answer. He argued that there are certain rational laws which we feel duty bound to follow, and these he called categorical imperatives. He concluded that if this is true, we can assume three things: It has been suggested that Kantianism be merged into this article or section. ...

  • Free will – We must have the free will to act
  • Immortality – happiness will eventually reward us (in the afterlife)
  • God – there is a regulating being that will reward virtue with happiness.

His argument is thus:

  1. If it is our unconditional duty to follow these moral laws, it must be our unconditional duty to aim for the goal of these laws, and so we seek to bring about the highest good.
  2. Humans do not have enough power to bring about the highest good. Even with perfect morality, we cannot ensure the perfect happiness that should follow.
  3. However, if we aim for the highest good, it must be possible to achieve it. If we are unable to attain this goal in our present life, there must be someone else to ensure we can attain it in a future life.
  4. God has this necessary power, therefore we can assume the existence of God.

Kant believes that this does not prove the existence of God, but our sense of morality implies the world is ordered in a moral way.


Logical flaws

The most common attack on the logic of this argument is by the conclusion (4), which is an assumption. Objections point out that there is no reason to assume that God is the moral lawgiver; or that if he exists, he should be the only moral lawmaker. Such an assumption requires knowledge of the existence of God (which is what the argument is trying to prove) and of the character of God (which is disputed).

Indeed, there is no reason to suppose (or given by the argument) why morality is objective, or that people themselves are not the moral lawgivers. Morality can easily be explained as a social contract which everybody agrees to for the purpose of maximising survival - if everybody acted as they wished, most people would invariably end up committing selfish acts (eg. to gain power and possessions) at the expense of others; eventually nobody would live. Some people might unconditionally wish not to do harm, other people might wish not to do harm to prevent harm from being done to themselves. However, the result of a social contract being formed is the same. Social contract - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia /**/ @import /skins-1. ...

Formal formulation

  1. Humankind's core motivations are greed and a fear of the wrath of God.
  2. Greed is defined as wanting things that benefit oneself, possibly at the expense of others, and avoiding things that cause detriment to oneself, possibly at the expense of others.
  3. Greed causes people to want to experience as little suffering as possible since suffering is unpleasant.
  4. Morality is defined as a set of rules that one should follow to prevent suffering.
  5. Assume morality can only come from fear of God's wrath.
  6. Then a world devoid of God would have no morality. (by 5)
  7. Since greed is the only remaining motivation, people will engage in immoral behavior in order to satisfy their greed. (by 1, 2, 6)
  8. This causes a state of nature.
  9. Due to greed, humankind is eventually motivated to lessen the overall suffering of humanity (and thus its individuals) by preventing a state of nature. (by 1, 3)
  10. Governments of some sort are established to further this goal. (by 9)
  11. Governments create and enforce a social contract. (by 10)
  12. This contract is a form of morality. (by 4, 9)
  13. But this contradicts assumption 5 and logical consequence 6.
  14. Therefore assumption 5 is incorrect, thus morality doesn't only come from a fear of God's wrath.

Another criticism of the existence of standards variant, in addition to the argument for using man as the moral lawgiver, is that it equates the "ultimate standard" and God, and that this is an example of equivocation. This article or section contains information that has not been verified and thus might not be reliable. ... Look up Anger in Wiktionary, the free dictionary Anger is a term for the emotional aspect of aggression, as a basic aspect of the stress response in animals in which a perceived aggravating stimulus provokes a counterresponse which is likewise aggravating and threatening of violence. ... Michelangelos depiction of God in the painting Creation of the Sun and Moon in the Sistine Chapel This article discusses the term God in the context of monotheism and derived henotheistic forms. ... Look up greed in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... For use in social policy, see the article social welfare. ... Wikipedia does not yet have an article with this exact name. ... To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article or section may require cleanup. ... Morality, in the strictest sense of the word, deals with that which is regarded as right or wrong. ... A moral is a one sentence remark made at the end of many childrens stories that expresses the intended meaning, or the moral message, of the tale. ... State of nature is a term in political philosophy used to describe the hypothetical or empirical condition of humanity when or if government did not exist. ... Social contract - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia /**/ @import /skins-1. ... Equivocation is a logical fallacy. ...

Contrary evidence

Many argue this argument makes the prediction that since God is the source of morality, then someone who believes that (and behaves as if) God does not exist, i. e. a nonbeliever, should generally behave less morally than a believer. Therefore, the argument goes, nonbelievers should perform immoral actions more frequently than believers.

Some of these immoral actions fall under the category of secular crime in most legislations around the world (such as homicide, rape and theft); others are punished in some but considered private actions in others (homosexual intercourse, drug consumption); other are considered immoral by certain religions (such as divorce).

The prediction has been found to fail in the following cases:

  • In the United States, a 1999 poll by the Barna Research Group showed that in fact certain religious groups, such as Jews, Mainline Protestants, and Evangelical Christians, get divorced more often than atheists.
  • If prison statistics in the USA are reliable, religious people are imprisoned by at least 40 times the rate of atheists.
  • Believers have been solely responsible for countless historical atrocities, including (but certainly not limited to) the Crusades and the September 11 attacks. While atheists have also been responsible for some atrocities, such as the Soviet gulag camps of Joseph Stalin or the genocide of the Khmer Rouge, they are not primarily motivated by their religious beliefs.

Statistics for other measures of morality provide similar results. This article is about historical Crusades . ... September 11 is the 254th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar (255th in leap years). ... Soviet redirects here. ... Gulag (Russian: ГУЛАГ (help· info)) is an acronym for Главное Управление Исправительно—Трудовых Лагерей и колоний, Glavnoye Upravleniye Ispravitelno-trudovykh Lagerey i kolonii, The Chief Directorate [or Administration] of Corrective Labour Camps and Colonies of the NKVD. Anne Applebaum, in her book Gulag: A History, explains: Literally, the word GULAG is an acronym, meaning Glavnoe Upravlenie Lagerei, or... (help· info) is the form usually used in English for the Russian name of Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin (Иосиф Виссарионович Сталин), born with the Georgian name Ioseb Jugashvili (Georgian: ოისებ ჯუღაშილი, Russian: Иосиф Джугашвили); (18 December [O.S. 6 December] 1878 – 5 March 1953). ... Some of the Khmer Rouge leadership during their period in power. ...

However, many advocates of the moral argument deny that the prediction is valid, arguing that believers who don't act morally are not correctly interpreting God's morality, and that non-believers who do act morally may still believe in morality, but only not see it as connected to God.

Responses and counter-responses

Response: Many theists, or believers, will argue that the prediction stated above does not logically stem from its premises, i.e., that (4) is a non-sequitur. Thus, from this point of view, the "contrary evidence" would in essence be evidence against a straw man. Non sequitur is Latin for it does not follow. ... The straw man fallacy is a rhetorical technique (also classified as a logical fallacy) based on misrepresentation of an opponents position; deriving from the use of straw men in combat training. ...

Christians, for example, argue that The Absolute Moral Law is written in our consciences, those of both believers and non-believers (Romans 2:15). It would then follow that the morals accepted by both believers and non-believers are essentially the same. Therefore we would logically expect their behavior to be essentially the same as well. The theist making this argument would claim that that is exactly what we see throughout history and even in modern societies today. A Christian is a follower of Jesus Christ. ...

Response: The prediction claimed above assumes that because believers believe, they will always (or usually) act on this belief. Many Christians will state that this is contrary to well-established Christian doctrine, that all are sinners (Romans 3:23, 1 John 1:8), including Christians. Simply believing in a god of some sort does not necessarily enable anyone to behave more righteously than anyone else.

Response: When assessing the above tests and "morality measures" in the prediction, some issues must be taken into account:

  • How terms such as "religious", "nonreligious", "atheist", "agnostic", "believer", "nonbeliever", etc. are defined, if at all.
  • Whether the tests assume that there are no factors correlated with religiosity or belief that may influence the measurement.
  • Whether the statistics have taken into account the religious demographics of the U.S. namely that the 'religious' far outnumber the atheists, which could account for the above results.
  • Whether society prosecutes and punishes the "correct" crimes (are laws moral? are the police, the judicial system, etc. biased towards believers or nonbelievers?).
  • Whether there is such a thing as a "right" crime, or whether it's all relativistic.

The last point may be raised by some believers as an objection. It is entirely possible that those who make the laws are failing to conform with the "correct" moral standards (for example, most modern societies do not punish divorce or homosexual behaviour, which most believers consider to be morally wrong).

Response: Many theists may posit that certain societies, such as that of the United States, have been so molded by believers, that the modern individual morals of atheists are often molded by the historic values of the believers in that society. Thus, the behaviors of the two would be very similar in most circumstances.
Counter-response: While this may be so in some cases, there is nothing to suggest that this is always the case (i.e., the argument is not universal or objective). Indeed, there are counterexamples, for example in Ancient China where there was no structured concept of God, yet it had a highly advanced moral and legal system for its time. For information about the band, see Atheist (band). ... China is the worlds oldest continuous major civilization, with written records dating back about 3,500 years and with 5,000 years being commonly used by Chinese as the age of their civilization. ... Michelangelos depiction of God in the painting Creation of the Sun and Moon in the Sistine Chapel This article discusses the term God in the context of monotheism and derived henotheistic forms. ...

Response: Another viewpoint to consider is that if God is not responsible for morality, then moral values are simply social constructs (or memes) created by a certain individual or group to abridge the behavior of another group to benefit themselves or others like themselves. (For example, a mother who has been abandoned by her partner may teach her sons not to cheat on their wives to spare other women from her pain, which eventually leads to the concepts of monogamy and chastity.) In this way, morality originates as a principle of self-preservation. But as it is propagated, it is ingrained into the younger generation and colours their conception of morality. The logical conclusion to this viewpoint is that the morals of a society are ultimately subjective (even though certain morals are quite ubiquitous, suggesting a common psychological prompt), so nothing is objectively wrong. Meme, (rhymes with cream and comes from Greek root with the meaning of memory and its derivative mimeme), is the term given to a unit of information that replicates from brains and inanimate stores of information, such as books and computers, to other brains or stores of information. ...

A possible reason that certain morals are so ubiquitous in otherwise divergent societies, is to be found in evolutionary theory. If consider that a society may be susceptible to natural selection, we can determine that certain moral behaviors, when practiced by a majority of a population, will give an advantage to those societies that practice them over those that do not (see Evolutionary psychology, Game theory, Evolutionarily Stable Strategy, etc). Thus, rather than having a divine source, morality simply consists of a consensus behavior that benefits the population as a whole. Charles Darwin in 1859 in his book The Origin of Species defined Natural selection as the principle, by which each slight variation [of a trait], if useful, is preserved. ... Evolutionary psychology (abbreviated ev-psych or EP) proposes psychology can be better understood in light of evolution. ... Game theory is a branch of applied mathematics that studies strategic situations where players choose different actions in an attempt to maximize their returns. ... In game theory, an evolutionarily stable strategy (or ESS; also evolutionary stable strategy) is a strategy which if adopted by a population cannot be invaded by any competing alternative strategy. ...

External links

  • Moral Arguments at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • Moral Argument by C. S. Lewis
  • Atheist morality
  • Barna Research Poll Results

  Results from FactBites:
Moral Arguments (1192 words)
The metaethical moral argument contends that the existence of objective moral values either entails the existence of God or at least is best explained by theism (e.g., William Lane Craig, Robert Adams).
Martin argues that a theistic ontological foundation of morality is impossible, that moral realism is possible in a godless universe, that theistic morality is subject to the accusation of arbitrariness whereas naturalistic moral realism is not, and that human beings are not "special" in the sense intended by theists.
Moral arguments for God's existence may be defined as that family of arguments in the history of western philosophical theology having claims about the character of moral thought and experience in their premises and affirmations of the existence of God in their conclusions.
Morality (2533 words)
Morality is a word that we use to extend right and wrong from the factual realm to the realm of conduct.
Defining morality in terms of ought, where the ought describes the obligation of an action in terms of morality, is rather circumlocutory.
Morality is defined by the force that "pushes" society to define the correctness of conduct in a certain way.
  More results at FactBites »



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