Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Moral Argument – A Follow-Up

Courtesy of Google Analytics, I found a link to my post on the Moral Argument on Paul Wright's blog.

Paul paraphrased part of my argument as: “a God whose morality was similar to ours wouldn't allow there to be so much suffering in the world.” In response, one commenter wrote “Why not? We do...” This was probably tongue in cheek, but a valid point is raised. Our morality says we should care about a poor person in a third world country even at a small cost to us, but this small cost is sufficient to prevent us from helping them nearly as much as our morality says we should. And yet I talk about what a God who shares our morality would do. This shows there is something is wrong with at least the presentation of my argument – I will show that only the presentation is at fault.

My second rebuttal depends on the dichotomy “God's morality is/isn't similar to ours.” While these two cases cover Christianity, they do not cover all of theism. The implicit assumption in both cases is that God is living in a manner consistent with his own morality. Because this assumption is being made about God but not about people, it makes sense to say God necessarily would help if he could, despite the fact that we quite often don't help even in cases where mortals could solve the problem. I'm perfectly happy with the content of my arguments, I just need to specify that there are three cases: “God's morality isn't similar to ours,” “God's morality is similar to ours and God is moral by his own standards,” and a new case, “God's morality is similar to ours but God isn't moral by his own standards.”

This third option leads to perhaps the easiest of the rebuttals. If God is condemned by a set of standards, these standards must be above God. But now God is in a position directly analogous to the position people are in within the moral argument. So how can there be standards above God without a Higher God who wrote them? This rebuttal cannot be answered without undermining the moral argument. So the moral argument fails in all cases.

In case you are confused by how I can make this argument consistently, I'll put it in symbolic terms.

A: The moral argument is valid.
B: A God exists of the third kind, that is, God's morality is similar to ours but God isn't moral by his own standards.

I'm showing that A implies ~B. This is sufficient to refute the position A & B, and I can consistently evaluate the implications of A, even though I don't actually accept A. This doesn't specify which of A or B is false, but this is not needed to refute “I accept B because of A.”

This is perhaps a trivial point – I'm refuting a position that pretty much no one holds. But I expect my explanation of why it matters to actually be more important than the argument itself.

The outline of most cases for Christianity are: common knowledge implies God exists, given that God exists Jesus' Resurrection is plausible, given the Resurrection Christianity is plausible. But within this argument, games get played with the definition of “God.” The sort of God you get at the end is one who must resort to “who are you, O man, who answers back to God?” to “explain” how he is other than a cruel and unjust tyrant. This is very different from the sort of God imagined when the Moral Argument is being made.

So while the logical content of refuting the case for the God no one believes in is low, it blocks a common apologetic tactic – get any God you can in the door, even if its nature is directly opposite that of the Christian God, and then start turning it into the Christian God. While I object primarily to the use of the bait and switch, I will also argue against the bait itself. A God who is implicitly assumed to think about morality in much the same way that people think about morality is such common bait that it deserves a direct response.


  1. Hm.

    I've read a lot of your posts.

    Nothing I haven't heard before. Nothing I haven't wrestled with . . . perhaps in simpler wording

    I'm sorry this is better refuge than we provided.

    But you're still loved.

    And you have love, I saw it in your eyes.

  2. I John 4:7-8 is supposed to be written in admiration of love, but too often it gets turned on it's head to be "only Christians are capable of love."

    So the fact that you consider me to be even capable of love means more than you may realize. Thank you.

    Btw, do I know you? I can't quite tell how literal you are being.

  3. I meant what I said. Not everything needs scrutinizing and refutation.

    Nothing can survive that.

  4. Agnostics routinely refer to a lack of intelligent thinking on the part of Christians, and admittedly, ideas such as the dead rising long after their molecules are in use by later generations, and the unprovable concept of an immortal soul and the search for the simple whereabouts of God, lead to Yuri Gagarin stating that he had been in heaven and looked all around for God and saw no sign of Him.
    'Techie Worlds' (available at builds on 'Flatland's ideas about contiguous geometric worlds to show how logical Trinity is, how resurrection, judgment and soul are reasonable in such worlds, and that Christianity is as probable as that simplistic idea of 'only the material world'. Considering not just the testimonies of Wiccans and Satanists, but also miracles such as the dance of the sun at Fatima (witnessed by thousands) it appears that multiple-worlds is more likely. Oh well, the minds of agnostics are not really that open to any belief based on love. Techie Worlds presents a completely new way of looking at the truths of Christianity, able to persuade atheists that Christianity is logical and a fair well-reasoned view.