This is the eleventh article in an occasional series on apologetics and worldview analysis. This post is a continuation of the section on Apologetics and the Role of Plausibility Structures.
A sociopath is person who behaves in a dangerous or violent way towards other people yet doesn’t feel remorse or guilt about such behavior.* An example is David Wood, who was a murderous sociopath—until he came to Christ.
Wood’s story is both a chilling portrait of nihilistic atheism and a profound testimony of the power of Christ to transform the human heart. This superbly produced video is long (about 30 minutes), but well worth every minute. (Caution: the video includes disturbing descriptions of evil and acts of violence.)
At about the 23-minute mark, Wood discusses a version of the moral argument and how it persuaded him of the existence of God. But long before then anyone listening to his testimony will have a hard time believing that, as he says, “right and wrong are just useful fictions.” The reaction we have to Wood’s story is itself evidence that we recognize both the need for the existence of the moral law and a Moral Law giver.
As I’ve often claimed in this series, denying the reality of God is more a matter of the will and passions than of reason and intellect. But as Wood’s story shows, there is one argument for the existence of God that appeals to the will, passions, reason, and intellect in a way that ontological or cosmological arguments are unable to do. Ironically, while those heady forms have been used since ancient times, the moral argument is a product of modernity.
The moral argument for the existence of God takes the simple form:
If objective moral values exist, then God exists.
Objective moral values exist.
Therefore, God exists.
The main premise—objective moral values exist—is almost always conceded in practice, even when it is denied in theory. A budding moral relativist may confidently claim in philosophy class that all morality is subjective. But let the professor flunk her based on that opinion and she will cry that she has been treated “unfairly” (and not just unfairly in a subjective sense either). Let her face a threatening sociopath in a dark alley and she’ll pray her theory is wrong.
Moral arguments, therefore, have an intrinsic and intuitive appeal. Once we concede that morality is, in some sense, objective, we have to ponder where this objective standard emanates from. Several forms of the argument have been presented that attempt to build on that query.
The moral argument presented by Immanuel Kant is probably the most famous, and the form posed by C.S. Lewis is undoubtedly the most charming and popular (see both arguments below). But the late Quaker theologian Elton Trueblood presents a most interesting variation of the argument that combines elements of both:
1. There must be an objective moral law; otherwise:
(a) There would not be such great agreement on its meaning.
(b) No real moral disagreements would ever have occurred, each person being right from his own moral perspective.
(c) No moral judgment would ever have been wrong, each being subjectively right.
(d) No ethical question could ever be discussed, there being no objective meaning to any ethical terms.
(e) Contradictory views would both be right, since opposites could be equally correct.
2. This moral law is beyond individual persons and beyond humanity as a whole:
(a) It is beyond individual persons, since they often sense a conflict with it.
(b) It is beyond humanity as a whole, for they collectively fall short of it and even measure the progress of the whole race by it.
3. This moral law must come from a moral Legislator because:
(a) A law has no meaning unless it comes from a mind; only minds emit meaning.
(b) Disloyalty makes no sense unless it is to a person, yet people die in loyalty to what is morally right.
(c) Truth is meaningless unless it is a meeting of mind with mind, yet people die for the truth.
(d) Hence, discovery of and duty to the moral law make sense only if there is a Mind or Person behind it.
4. Therefore, there must be a moral, personal Mind behind this moral law.
As philosopher Norman Geisler has noted, the validity of Trueblood’s argument is based in terms of its rationality. It argues that to reject the moral law is irrational or meaningless and unless we assume the universe is irrational, we must accept that there is an objective moral law and, thereby, an objective Moral Law Giver.
The easiest defense against this argument is to simply deny the possibility of rationality and meaning. A skeptic could claim that the universe truly is irrational and meaningless, and that sociopaths who would murder us in our beds are no more immoral—objectively speaking—than anyone else. That’s a theoretical possibility. But it is a probabilistic or livable option? If there were no God, we wouldn’t think twice about the actions of sociopaths; their conscious-less violence would be morally neutral and no cause for concern.
Isn’t it more probable, though, that in a world with God we’d see the amazing transformation of people like David Wood?
And what happened to Wood? He’s now married, has four children, and serves with the ministry Acts 17 Apologetics. He’s also completed a PhD in philosophy. The focus of his studies: the Problem of Evil.
*The term is often used interchangeably with psychopath, though the preferred term by the medical community is antisocial personality disorder.
Immanuel Kant’s version:
1. The greatest good of all persons is that they have happiness in harmony with duty.
2. All persons should strive for the greatest good. 3. What persons ought to do, they can do.
4. But persons are not able to realize the greatest good in this life or without God.
5. Therefore, we must postulate a God and a future life in which the greatest good can be achieved.
(As Geisler points out, Kant never offered his postulate as a theoretical proof for God but rather viewed God’s existence as a morally necessary presupposition for morality.)
C.S. Lewis’s version:
1. There must be a universal moral law, or else: (a) Moral disagreements would make no sense, as we all assume they do. (b) All moral criticisms would be meaningless (e.g., “The Nazis were wrong.”). (c) It is unnecessary to keep promises or treaties, as we all assume that it is. (d) We would not make excuses for breaking the moral law, as we all do.
2. But a universal moral law requires a universal Moral Law Giver, since the Source of it: (a) Gives moral commands (as lawgivers do). (b) Is interested in our behavior (as moral persons are).
3. Further, this universal Moral Law Giver must be absolutely good: (a) Otherwise all moral effort would be futile in the long run, since we could be sacrificing our lives for what is not ultimately right. (b) The source of all good must be absolutely good, since the standard of all good must be completely good.
4. Therefore, there must be an absolutely good Moral Law Giver.
Other Posts in This Series: