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Can Morality Be Objective without God?

2. Christian View of Morality

Let's get started. One of my interests in ethics is enquiring about what things are good and bad and what actions are right and wrong. Is abortion ever justified? Ought we allow people to euthanize themselves? What is a just distribution of wealth in society? The other key area that interests me is the nature of ethics itself. When we debate these big moral questions of our day, are we just negotiating our separate wants and interests? Or is there some extra-human dimension to morality that underpins and validates our moral judgments? This question about what validates our judgments is often couched as the question of whether ethics is 'objective' of 'subjective'. Some moral philosophers have argued that without a human-independent 'objective' foundation, all of our moral judgments are baseless. Let me illustrate this view using two prominent Christian theologians.

1. Firstly, writing in The Huffington Post, well-known Christian philosopher, William Lane Craig, had this to say about the possibility of moral objectivity without God:

In a world without God, there can be no objective right and wrong, only our culturally and personally relative, subjective judgments. This means that it is impossible to condemn war, oppression, or crime as evil. Nor can one praise brotherhood, equality, and love as good. For in a universe without God, good and evil do not exist—there is only the bare valueless fact of existence, and there is no one to say you are right and I am wrong.

[The Absurdity of Life without God, TheHuffingtonPost.com, December 18, 2013]

Book cover: I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek

2. As my second example, take the famous Christian apologist, C. S. Lewis. In his book, Christian Reflections, he railed against (and I quote)

. . . the fatal superstition that men can create values, that a community can choose its 'ideology' as men choose their clothes.

Lewis then goes on about the moral subjectivists' moral indignation against the Axis' powers during World War 2. He objects that (quote)

. . . this indignation is perfectly groundless if we ourselves regard morality as a subjective sentiment to be altered at will. Unless there is some objective standard of good, overarching Germans, Japanese, and ourselves alike whether any of us obey it or no, then of course the Germans are as competent to create their ideology as we are to create ours.

[The Poison of Subjectivism, Christian Reflections, 1967: 73]

I think Craig and Lewis are right about morality requiring an 'objective' foundation. Deciding what's right and wrong is not at all like deciding which tie to wear. However, introducing a super-human law-giver adds nothing to our capacity to make moral judgments. Tonight, I want to offer an alternative approach. This alternative view is that even without a God, a rule-giver outside of ourselves, there is a crucially important sense in which we can reason about what's right and wrong in a way that is 'objective'.

Copyright © 2017

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