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Objective morality and the argument for God 

If there are really objective moral values which do not depend on culture or opinion, then we have to ask how such values came to be. This article explores the arguments for and against objective morality. We look at the implications of objective morality: does this imply there is a God? If we then can agree there is a God, then what can we infer about the God behind such morality.
 The principle argument goes like this:
1. If objective moral duties exist, then a god exists.
2. Objective moral duties exist.
3. Therefore god exists.[1]
Arguments for the existence of objective moral values.
By objective moral values we mean that they are independent of the subject. Subjective moral values are dependent on the subject and the view that this is true is often called ‘moral relativism’.
Moral objectivism  holds that there are moral truths that do not depend on our belief in them. For example: child sacrifice has been considered morally right by some cultures while other cultures believe that this is morally wrong. Slavery is considered morally right by some cultures and others believe it to be wrong. The argument for moral objectivism is that we cannot hold both views to be right. The moral objectivist does not even need to know which view is true, just that one of them is true. If there is disagreement over morality this just means that some people’s beliefs are mistaken – without even deciding which one is correct.
We hold to objectivism in other disciplines such as science. Some people believe that climate change is occurring, due mainly to carbon emissions. Others dispute this sincerely. They cannot both be right. One of these views is objectively true. In the same way moral values, it is argued, do have objective truth and cannot be relative to each subject.
Arguments for subjectivism
One of the main subjectivist’s arguments is like this: ‘The fact that no one can establish exact rules of this law (objective morality) calls its objectivity into question, thus supporting a human as opposed to divine origins.’[2]  In other words, lack of agreement amongst people about moral values suggests that there is no objective truth to them.
Suppose a culture believes that it is wrong to eat meat and another culture believes it is right; the fact that there is disagreement is hardly a reason to say that both are right.
Indeed the moral subjectivist must also come under his own philosophy: how does he know that he is right, if all views are to be held equal?
Another argument of the subjectivist is that it is intolerant, dangerous and bad to impose certain morals on people. They say it is better to accept one another and not condemn each other. This indeed sounds ‘tolerant’ and respectful on first sight. But, there is a difference between objectivism and absolutism. Objectivism simply maintains that there is objective truth about moral values. Absolutism is more about forcing one’s views on others and condemning them. Objectivism and absolutism are very different things. In fact it can be argued that subjectivism is the dangerous position. The subjectivist can never challenge people about their behaviour. They would have to tolerate slavery for instance because sincere people believe slavery is morally right.
It can be argued also that moral progress in our societies cannot happen unless we believe in moral objectivity. The abolition of slavery had much to do with people like Wilberforce who held strongly to a moral objectivity about the evil of slavery.
Objective moral values and the existence of God
If there are indeed objective moral values then we must look to their source. Why are there such values which do not depend on any individual or group or culture? It seems obvious to conclude that only God can have put such values in place.
The atheist is really only left with a moral vacuum – believing there is just energy and matter and no purpose or person behind the universe. The atheist, when the chips are down, has to face the fact that this position out rules absolute morality; there is nothing out there that is right or wrong. He has to face the grim fact that, in his world, there is no argument for or against slavery, child abuse or murder.
If we, quite rationally, believe in absolute values or objective morals, then we are inevitably led to believe in a God who is behind all this.
Objective value and God’s nature
What can we deduce about God’s attributes from all this? If God is the source of moral values, which are objective, necessary and eternal truths, then we can assume that God is necessary and eternal. More than this; the Creator relates to us personally as humans by enabling us to know his moral law. We mostly know this intuitively. Both the atheist and the theist know intuitively that child sacrifice is wrong and the holocaust was evil; we are related to in this way as persons by a personal moral law-giver.
Responsibility and sin
If we are honest and we know there are objective moral values, then we have to admit that we often transgress them. This is not the place to put forward a doctrine of sin but it at least shows us that in the face of eternal moral rules, we often do not live up to them or obey them… which leads us on to the need for salvation.
There is every reason to believe rationally that objective moral laws exist. This leads us to believe there is a law-giver and Creator. Such a provider of moral values must also be moral, eternal and personal. Referring to the gentiles who had no knowledge of the scriptures, Paul wrote: “They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.” [3]
Antony Latham June 2017

[1] I am indebted to Peter S. Williams for the chapter on this subject in: Peter S. Williams, A Faithful Guide to Philosophy -  A Christian introduction to the love of wisdom. Paternoster, 2013.
[2] Jordan, Lockyer and Tate, Philosophy of Religion for A Level, Nelson Thornes, 2004.
[3] The Bible, Romans 2:15

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Antony Latham, 17/07/2017