Categorized | Religion

Do objective moral values exist?

“If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist,” says an apologist. This will soon be followed by the contention that objective moral values do exist, leading to the inevitable conclusion that, well, God exists.

From my discussions with the resident theists in the FF Forum, I have come to understand moral values as the rightness/wrongness of certain human actions, while Collins English Dictionary defines objective as “existing independently of perception or an individual’s conceptions.”

The famous Christian apologist William Lane Craig defines it even more narrowly:

To say that there are objective moral values is to say that something is right or wrong independently of whether anybody believes it to be so. It is to say, for example, that Nazi anti-Semitism was morally wrong, even though the Nazis who carried out the Holocaust thought that it was good; and it would still be wrong even if the Nazis had won World War II and succeeded in exterminating or brainwashing everybody who disagreed with them.

I think the fallacy of Craig’s argument lies in his use of the word objective. Craig says that objective moral values exist whether anyone believes them or not, and by anyone, that should include God, otherwise it would be special pleading. However, moral values themselves do not exist inherently with human actions; moral values exist only when someone judges the actions and establishes moral values on them. If moral values are established by God, they are only objective as far as man is concerned but they are actually subjective from the point of view of God.

And that’s why I don’t think it’s right to call the moral values allegedly established by God as objective moral values since they cannot exist independently of God’s perception or judgment. They should be called divine moral values instead, but I think I know why Craig would refuse to call them as such. That’s because his moral argument would turn into something like this:

1. If God does not exist, divine moral values do not exist

2. Divine moral values exist

3. Therefore, God exists

But the problem with the new Premise 2 is that it’s easier to refute than the original “objective moral values exist” because skeptics would then demand a list of moral values unmistakably coming from God, and I’m sure the Bible would fail miserably. (As for the existence of objective moral values, however, Craig doesn’t seem to offer much support apart from saying that the Holocaust would still be wrong even if the Nazis had won World War II and that we intuitively perceive certain acts like rape and torture to be wrong, but instead challenged skeptics that they could not prove that physical reality exists either and that even as one could only rely on his own sense perception to perceive reality, no one in his right mind would deny that objective reality exists, so it should follow that no one in his right mind would also deny that objective moral values exist even if he only had his own moral perception to rely on.)

I posted this objection on the FF Forum along with the Euthyphro dilemma (does God command something because it’s good or is something good because God commands it?) and got very interesting answers from our resident theists who call themselves Miguel and XIII. What they are practically saying is that God does not command the good nor likes the good but that God is the good, and being good, he cannot command something that is not good. I took the liberty of refining their argument to make it more relevant to objective moral values (Miguel and XIII, if you think I did not give justice to your views you may rebuke me at the comments section):

1. Objective moral values are moral values that exist whether anyone – including God – perceives them or not.

2. God is inherently good, so he cannot perceive something evil as good and vice-versa.

3. So even if moral values are directly dependent on God’s perception, such perception is not subjective because it is anchored on God’s goodness, which cannot be separated from him, and therefore the moral values established by God are ultimately grounded on his objective goodness.

While the conclusion seems logical, I’m going to try to refute Premise 2, that God cannot perceive something evil as good. In the Old Testament, God established extremely negative moral values on homosexuality, working on the Sabbath, and losing one’s virginity before marriage – and positive moral values on killing homosexualsSabbath workers and non-virgin brides. And in both the Old and New Testaments, God/Jesus never established a negative moral value on slavery but actually condoned it. So in order to honestly say that “God is the good,” one would have to agree with the above moral values established by God.

Otherwise, the moral argument will be gored by the second horn of the Euthyphro dilemma (something is good because God commands it, making the good arbitrary), refuting the premise that if God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist, because objective moral values are supposed to exist even if everyone – including God – does not agree with them. And that’s why I believe that not only do objective moral values not exist but the term “objective moral values” itself is an oxymoron, because moral values will always be subjective to the mind (whether man’s or God’s) that perceives them.

[Continued on The closest thing to objective moral values]

DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this post do not necessarily represent the position of the Filipino Freethinkers.