Last time we looked, in cursory fashion, at the second premise of the argument for God’s existence from objective morality. Namely, it seems clear that there are values and duties which are objectively right or wrong – that is, they are right or wrong no matter what anyone thinks of them, much like arithmetic.
Some want to challenge this second premise, but it quickly becomes a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater – in an effort to avoid all moral values and duties, the skeptic will even throw out the judgment that rape, or genocide, is objectively wrong. This seems to be a bold-faced lie, or else evidence of psychopathy.*
But virtually everyone will say there are objective morals and duties (e.g. of course rape is wrong). Most atheists I know have affirmed this much.
And so we fall under the weight of the first premise:
Premise 1 – If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
Now, if we’re talking with an equal opportunity skeptic, he has not decided already that atheism is true. How ought a premise like this strike him?
Well, I would expect him to search for a way to ground moral values and duties apart from God. If he can find one, then it might refute the premise; if he cannot, then it would seem he must accept the premise.
Here, our illustration from a few posts prior may be useful: Consider the author, stripped of her body, existing only as a mind. In the closed system of the author, who has not begun telling her story…now remove the author.
Is anything left? No, of course not – by definition. There is nothing left. And if there is not anything left, there is not anything which might be called “good.” We begin to see the ontological problem with objective morality – what can it be grounded on?
Let’s leave this aside, though, and entertain the notion that the story is underway, and we are not sure whether there is an author. Perhaps a story could tell itself by as-yet-unknown laws or logic. Either way, in the context of the story, we want to say that certain things are obviously right (e.g. loving one’s children) and others are just wrong (e.g. committing genocide). In the context of the story, we have no doubt: Premise 2 is true (objective moral values and duties do exist).
But where do these values and duties come from? What makes things objective right and wrong? We’ll look at one or two ideas in the next post, and see how there is often confusion (on both sides) between moral ontology and moral epistemology.
*Before the skeptic becomes inflamed, remember – I’m not saying anything bad about you, under the circumstances. Lying is no worse than truth telling, is no worse than lighting a candle or passing gas. This is just a factual observation, then, which could be wrong. If it is, so what? Why should it matter if I exaggerate or put false words in your mouth?