Saturday, October 22, 2011

Is the Moral Law Evidence for A Creator?

One line of evidence for a reality that transcends

human existence and grounds morality is the moral law

itself. Relativists deny the existence of moral

absolutes. "There is no moral black and white," they say,

"only shades of gray." However, the apostle Paul

speaks of an inward law that governs Christians, Jews

and pagans--believers and non-believers alike (Romans

2:14-16). This law is capable of accusing or excusing

humans since it bears witness between their motives

and thoughts. Frank Turek and Norman L. Geisler

discuss this moral principle and make an observation

that has not gone unnoticed by others:

"So the Moral Law is not always apparent from our

actions, as evidenced by the terrible things human

beings do to one another. But it is brightly revealed

in our reactions--what we do when we personally are

treated unfairly" (I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an

Atheist, page 175).

When someone steals from us or does not

exercise justice in our case, it often shows that even

moral relativists believe at least some absolutes

exist. Assuming that some human acts either are

objectively wrong or right, good or bad, evil or

virtuous, it seems that the only way to ground

absolute morals is to posit a supreme being who is a

transcendent statute-giver.

Immanuel Kant argued that one must believe in God to

ground morality; even Nietzsche conceded that if

God is dead, there are no absolutes. It does, in fact,

seem that morals cannot obtain without the existence

of a divine being. The apostle Paul argues that even those

who do not have law, do by nature the things of the

law. What or who is responsible for the strong feelings of

justice that humans time and again express? Has

evolution brought it about that righteous indignation

or grief are commonly displayed over agreed upon injustices or

atrocities? Has the "blind watchmaker" of evolution caused humans

to conduct themselves altruistically (i.e. selflessly,

with no regard for one's own benefit) toward others or

to universally oppose the heinous act of murder?

Maybe some individuals can bring themselves to accept

such naturalistic explanations of morality. However,

it seems that no natural immanent force could ever "cause"

morals to obtain, much less bring it about that unselfishness

or altruistic behavior exist. It certainly appears that no

blind natural force caused life to obtain in the material order since life usually begets



aservantofJehovah said...

how would you respond to the argument often posited by materialist,that man is a social animal and that what we think of as morality is simply a manifestation of our social instinct,no different from what is observed among other social animals such as wolves,mole rats etc.,for instance some may point out that while the extra-judicial killing fellow members of the human herd/pack is universally lamented,we generally have no problem killing other species for food,clothing,sometimes purely for sport.

Edgar Foster said...

Firstly, it seems that there's some question begging going on to me by the materialist. IT must first be proved that man is a "social animal." Secondly, what justification do we have for giving the appellation "social animals" to wolves, moles or rats. I'm not denying that wolves (etc) may run in packs or manifest what might be called "social tendencies. But even Aristotle (in Politics 1) makes an important distinction between man as a social and rational/lingual "animal" (zoon politikon) versus bees and animals like wolves.

Edgar Foster said...

An additional point I want to make is that Edward Feser takes on this view in his work The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism. Feser maintains that even if one assumes that we are hardwired by evolution to be inclined toward the "pretense" that morality is objective, when it's really not, "that would not change the fact that, given a modern mechanistic-cum-materialistic view of the world, this would inevitably be nothing more than a pretense, with morality itself being an illusion" (page 215). If morality results from some evolutionary instinct, then what makes it binding or normative? What makes killing an animal for food or clothing wrong, or killing a fellow human being morally wrong, if there's no objective basis for morality besides a social instinct?

Nathan said...

Hi Edgar,

Nicely said.

Aside from the lack of objectivity within herd morality, I would go even further than Feser and say that the example statement "morality is simply a manifestation of our social instinct" is a meaningless statement. If we are able to presume anything about healthy social behaviour we must validate it against anti-social behaviour. However, assessing anti-social behaviour is a value-laden task and therefore cannot be loosed from the moral moorings that undergird it. And therein lays the real problem: one cannot assess morality as anything (let alone a social instinct) without first assuming morality in order to assess it! But if morality really is just a social instinct then it can only be assessed by that same instinct. As such, it is akin to saying, "our social instinct is simply a manifestation of our social instinct" – a hopeless tautology and therefore a meaningless statement.

Of course, I recognise *how* naturalists want such statements to be understood but it seems very few really press their moral theories to their implied conclusion.



Nathan said...

"our social instinct is simply a manifestation of our social instinct"

Should be:

"this manifestation of our social instinct is simply a manifestation of our social instinct"

aservantofJehovah said...

It does seem that materialists' attempts at countering the moral argument for the existence of the divine do tend to leave the original question(which is after all the origin of the CONCEPT of morality) abegging,My father (a marxist)for instance,supposes that the concept of morality is the product of primitive man's attempts at self knowledge.But though this kind of logic once seemed impressive to me,I now find it difficult to conceive of an amoral mind producing the concept of morality.

Edgar Foster said...

I like your observations, Nathan. It's a good point that social behavior must have a point of comparison for it to be social behavior. Reducing social actions to social instinct does not seem to satisfactorily account for social behavior.

Regarding the amoral mind point, David asked how it's possible for an argument to make the leap from "is" (fact) to "ought" (value). That is, how is it possible to go from what's descriptive to what's prescriptive (binding or normative)? He implied that it's not possible, where Immanuel Kant emphatically denied that one could bridge the chasm between facts and values.

If we're talking about employing reason without any other considerations, then I believe Hume and Kant just might have a point. Furthermore, if there's no God, I would also say that the leap from facts to values appears to be nigh impossible. For, let's say, how does the fact that I'm becoming aware of myself entail the value that I ought not steal, murder, or lie?

Edgar Foster said...

Correction: "David" should be David Hume.