In discussing the moral argument, it seems possible – if not necessary – that objective morality is grounded in God. That is, according to the argument, we can know there is a God from the existence of objective moral values and duties.
The second premise, that objective moral values and duties exist, seems clearly true. When push comes to shove, most people seem willing to admit this. The fight, WLC has noticed, comes with the first premise.
Premise 1 – If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
This premise, as we have seen, leads us to the conclusion that God does exist. But can’t there be any other grounding for objective morality? If there is, at least possibly, then we might not be inescapably led to the existence of God after all.
This is where the conversation has become – weird? – sometimes. A few atheist friends, and even a devil’s advocate (atheist-ally?), have tried to find a loophole here. WLC notes some more academic possibilities, and dismisses or refutes them. You can have a look here; for now, I’ll only deal with the ones I’ve personally encountered. They are neither the best nor the worst objections, but they do appear to follow a common theme.
Namely, they seem to confuse moral ontology with moral epistemology.
The difference is important, and this will require us to add a post for clarity. For now: If you’ve been following the blog, you understand that epistemology is the study of knowledge. What do we know? How do we know it? Can we know it for certain? Can we know anything for certain? These are the questions which keep the epistemologist employed.
Ontology, according to Google, is the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being. Namely, if moral values and duties are an objective reality, from where do they get their being? Or, “Where do they come from?”
This is a lot like asking where humans come from – what causes us to exist? Where do the laws of physics come from? What causes them to exist? From whom or from what do they receive their being?
So – we are not asking how a person comes to know the content of objective morality. We are asking how it is that objective morality can exist, from where objective morality receives its being.
Here is what some of my friends have said: They come from evolution.
Let’s flesh this out, and in the next post I’ll respond.
The argument is some variation of the following: Evolution by natural selection is responsible for our present existence. According to evolution, survival is the purpose of life – that is, each individual wants to live, and propagate the species. Well and good – so where does morality come in, which requires such counter-intuitive actions as sacrifice, even dying so that someone else might live?
Well, these things turn out to make good evolutionary sense: A soldier dying for his country might propagate the country, after all. A mother dying for her children propagates her very own genes. Even a monk, giving up sexual intercourse altogether, gives his life for ideas which are all but genetic – they are memetic, according to one line of thinking.* He is, in the final analysis, not really being so altruistic – his ideas live on.
The argument is that morality makes good evolutionary sense because these are the rules by which the human species may prosper. Of course we’d eventually figure them out, or at least some of them – the sooner we figure them out, the better our long-term survival. Even conflict in war – I say in brief – is really a conflict of ideology, and what is conflict in ideology except the conflict of two different ideas about the way humans should conduct themselves, thereby promoting the survival (and happiness, among we enlightened being) of the human species?
Let’s zoom in, just for effect: Why is rape “wrong”?
Well, it’s wrong because it violates the rights of an individual. But why is that wrong?
By respecting the rights of individuals, we thereby promote the health of a society. Promoting the health of a society is just one step below (if not the very step itself) of promoting the survival of the species.*
Is this an answer, then? Does this defeat Premise 1 of the moral argument for the existence of God?
Perhaps you already know what the response will be. Nevertheless, stay tuned!
*I refer to the concept of the “meme,” which I believe was either invented or championed by Richard Dawkins. The common objection to this naturalistic notion is that “Memes do not exist.” If they do – prove it. Where is the empirical evidence?
**One might ask – is rape, therefore, absolutely wrong? Say there is only one rape a year; there is no culture of rape, only an isolated incident from time to time. It does not even remotely affect the health of the society, let alone the health of the species (say that there is no trend – the frequency is exactly one per year). Moreover, say we can somehow isolate the rape victim, to an island paradise where he/she has servants waiting, where every need and desire is met for the rest of his/her life, in order to compensate for the felt violation of rape. Even better: say we can manipulate the brain, so that the whole experience of rape, and all its repercussions, are entirely erased. In its place, we manufacture an experience of unspeakable joy and peace. Is rape still wrong?