Moral Law, Yet Again

In recent dialogue with a couple of atheists, the moral argument was given for the existence of God. The argument says that there exists an objective moral law, therefore there has to be a moral law giver, a prescriber of these morals. The atheists of course always deny this, but as is always the case, they ultimately hold that some things are morally right and wrong, and all attempts to deny the moral argument end in contradiction.

The two most common arguments given against an objective moral law are herd instinct and social convention. Regarding herd instinct, the atheists hold that one cause of humans having morals is due to animal instincts developed to enhance survival. They feel that if they can show that animals show some sort of assistance to another member of their specie that they have refuted the idea of our behavior towards others as being truly moral. But this is untrue, for 1) morals involve choice, and there is no choice in instinct; 2) morality is often a conscious choice to go against our instincts; 3) if instincts equaled morals, then all instincts would be, by definition, moral. Thus the praying mantis who eats its mate would be equally moral as the bird who mates for life. Such a view destroys any concept of objectivity, choice, or right and wrong. All behavior is merely behavior. If I say that stealing your stuff is human instinct expressed by young humans, you have lost the right to say that someone stealing your stuff is wrong. 4) The fact that we have a sense of “ought” destroys the instinct argument, for instinct never gets to a sense that things ought to be different than they are; 4) there is no objective reason that animals could not make moral choices, for not all of animal behavior is instinct, but some is learned. Thus the argument from herd instinct fails.

The argument from social convention, or social contract, says that all morals are merely agreements between members of social groups to ensure mutual survival. This is untrue, because 1) everyone who expresses this view must hold that all social conventions are moral, and no one believes this; 2) there is no objective way to determine what constitutes a social group. Is it a family? a clan? a town? a country? Universal human experience tells us that social groups have conflicts, often ending in war and death. So there are obvious practical limits to the edge of social groups, but no objective way to determine where these are. This lack of definition of social groups limits the application of the theory so severely as to make the theory mostly useless.

Perhaps the most severe flaw of the social contract theory seems to be the one to which the atheist and skeptic are most blind. The first response above says everyone who expresses social contract theory of morals must hold that all social conventions are moral, and no one believes this. A main pillar of atheist and skeptical criticisms of Christianity is that the Bible presents ideas which are morally abhorrent. Well, if the social contract theory of morals says that all social definitions of behavior are moral, then the social definitions in the Bible must be right for that culture. The skeptic has pulled the rug out from under his own argument, for in reality, they teach that the things in the Bible are truly wrong, i.e., objectively immoral. If the things in the Bible are immoral, the main premise of the moral argument is found true; if there are no objective morals, the skeptic has given up the right to criticize any and all human behavior, including the acts in the Bible. But more importantly, social contract theory gives up the right to criticize any act by a member of another social group, no matter how awful. Thus this view turns out to be the most morally abhorrent view imaginable.

That the atheists and skeptics do not grasp this huge flaw in their reasoning is astounding. They continue to hold that things in the Bible are truly wrong, but turn around in the next breath and deny the existence of any concept of objective morals. The Bible is shown true when it says that those who are not regenerated by God are blind…..they are described in Ephesians 4:18.


About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
This entry was posted in Apologetics, Atheism, Skepticism. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Moral Law, Yet Again

  1. llondy says:

    All good points. I would just add that the Atheist must cling to the social contract theory of morality because they really have no other way to argue morality which is clearly displayed in all human beings. They must develop a construct that explains how this evolved from animal instinct and this is all they have. When A-Theists get backed into a corner they do what most human beings do in this situation and that is deny truth even to absurd lengths. As you pointed out however they are blinded to the things of God so we must be patient and continue to challenge them should God turn on the light.

  2. I don’t know of many atheists who use these arguments. Or at least not the way that you’ve presented them. Perhaps they’ve lost something in ‘translation’?

    Morality never presented a problem for me. We evolved as a social species, and so have a propensity for keeping a society together. Thus, our evolved ‘instincts’ are, in general, to do things that make sense as social beings. Which leads to helping each other. But we also evolved in small groups, which can create a definite in-group and out-group feeling, leading to conflict between groups. It’s a perfectly logical explanation for our behavior to me.

    I base my own morality on harm and benefit. And it’s worked out quite well for me and those around me.

  3. llondy says:

    I see your point here, but the problem is with what you “ought” to do. If morality evolved from pure instinct based on what is good for society then how does one explain a persons ability to look at a situation and decide for him or herself to go against this evolved behavior? I “ought” to be moral because society functions better if I am, but I don’t have to be. Instead of external, morality seems to be better explained as an internal function within our own conscience.

    • “how does one explain a persons ability to look at a situation and decide for him or herself to go against this evolved behavior?”

      Because people are often short-sighted. It isn’t just because society functions better if I act a certain way. It’s that, if society functions better things turn out better for me in the long run. If you don’t look at the long run, or don’t care (and a noticeable minority of people don’t), then you’d ignore the evolved behavior. Evolved behavior doesn’t work as absolutes.

  4. llondy says:

    But to leave it at simple “short sided thinking” is to go against how all species evolve it seems. If we are just acting on a “higher sense of awareness” then the animals then you could see the relationship just more finely tuned. However what you see is human beings acting in a peculiar, or totally different way. Human beings can act against their own self interest and agaisnt the interests of society for their own reasons. This is not seen in any other life form on the planet. Making a judgement call between one thing I consider good for me now, and another that might be bad for me now, is something that has nothing to do with laws or instinct in a sense that it is not a higher evolutionary form but something different entirely.

    Evolution can explain how lower life forms do things for the proposed good of the group short and long term, but not a human beings ability to judge all factors and make the decision for or against based on desire. Science stops at explaining “what is” and not things like desire which we all have.

    This essentially is the argument of C.S. Lewis that is nobody could explain morality in human beings by looking on the outside and judging facts like science does. The only explanation is from people explaining what is happening on the inside.

  5. Pingback: Does The Mere Existence of Morality Demonstrate God Exists? | Thomistic Bent

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