God Exists: The Moral Argument and Relativism

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Life and death decisions are taken every day in courtrooms around the world over our concepts of right and wrong. Most people perceive something is right or wrong as a “gut feeling” but when asked to explain the origin of morality they often appeal to personal experience, society, or simply fail to provide a logical basis for their moral system. Morality then is understood as a human construct, relative to persons, and subject to change. This is commonly called moral relativism. In this essay I will argue that moral relativism is untenable and self-refuting.

If morality is to be grounded in society or individuals, then it becomes impossible to condemn, for example, the passing of the Nuremberg Laws that stripped Jews of citizenship and gave them the status of “subjects”; the submission of Jews—children, women, and the elderly—to inhumane conditions and often worked to death in concentration camps; and ultimately the methodical genocide of over six million Jews. If morality is relative, then one can only express an opinion about these atrocities, and Hitler’s opinion—or the opinion of the Nazi regime as a whole—becomes a simple matter of taste or disagreement.

If morality is relative, then one can only express an opinion about these atrocities, and Hitler’s opinion—or the opinion of the Nazi regime as a whole—becomes a simple matter of taste or disagreement.

Fortunately, most people agree that Hitler’s actions were immoral, but the matter of the source of morality can’t be settled by fiat, but requires an objective explanation. Let us analyze a few options that have been offered to explain the origin of morality:

  1. Morality is defined as that which assists the flourishing of society. If this is the case, then the advancement of human evolution through the survival of the fittest would be the ultimate benefit to society. This ideology—supported by social Darwinism—is at home with the proceedings of the second and third Reich and can be used to justify genocide through the systematic elimination of the weakest and less privileged members of society; a sort of man-made “power boost” to natural selection.
  2. Morality is defined by the individual. But here, again, morality is simply reduced to a matter of opinion and any disagreement is to be settled by a majority. This method is also inadequate to determine if the atrocities of Nazi Germany were immoral for Hitler’s opinion would be as valid as any other. After all, he had the support of the majority of German citizens and the German parliament.
  3. Morality simply exists as a metaphysical truth. Here morality is an abstract concept that exists by metaphysical necessity like logic, numbers, and mathematics. But the value judgment of that still remains a matter of opinion as there is no logical rule of inference that states that killing Jews is immoral in the same manner that 2+2=4.
  4. Morality is defined by God. Whatever God commands is good. But under this concept, right and wrong become arbitrary mandates dictated by God. What if God commanded to torture babies for fun? Would the command make such an action good? Far from it! A different horn of this dilemma would see morality as something that exists outside of God, in such a way that God is restricted to command only those things that are good (making morality something outside God’s purview. God ceases to be a law-giver to become a law-transmitter). 1

Unfortunately, none of these options allow us to condemn the worst atrocities in the history of humanity: we can’t really say that the holocaust was objectively evil, or slavery, or the oppression of women.

Unfortunately, none of these options allow us to condemn the worst atrocities in the history of humanity: we can’t really say that the holocaust was objectively evil, or slavery, or the oppression of women.

Under moral relativism talking about moral improvement is nonsense for there is no standard rule of measure to compare different moral acts or systems.

What then would be the ground to assert objectively that the holocaust was morally wrong? Or that torturing babies for fun is objectively evil? In a very objective way, our moral experience dictates that there are truly objective moral values and duties.

That stealing and murder are wrong independently of what individuals or societies believe and in that sense, even if the Nazis had won the war and either annihilated or convinced the rest of the world that what they did was good and justified, it would still be objectively wrong and perverse. The very fact that our moral experience points to objective morality (note here to not confuse with moral ontology) indicates that morality must be grounded in something beyond society or individuals and in fact points to the existence of God; for if God does not exist then humans are just super-sized bags of chemicals in a cosmic atom blender. It is impossible to deduce from chemicals that killing babies for fun is evil. This goes at the core of the moral argument for the existence of God:

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.

  2. Objective moral values do exist

  3. Therefore, God exists.

This argument is logically valid and if 1 and 2 are true, then the conclusion (3) necessarily follows. Furthermore, the fact that our moral experience strongly attests that object morality exists combined with the failure of chemicals, societies, and individuals to explain such experience indicate that there is in each person an ingrained morality that is a reflection of God’s good nature, even if this is hard to explain and define. “Right” and “wrong” are not commands that God prescribes capriciously or that exist independently, but goodness is part of God’s intrinsic nature and the absolute standard of morality and justice.

 This is the reason C.S. Lewis abandoned atheism as he later wrote:

“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I gotten this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?” 2

Taken to its ultimate consequence, a moral relativist asserts that we ought to “tolerate” all other moral systems as equally valid. But this is a self-refuting and morally indefensible position for if we have two moral systems in conflict (suppose that one culture judges that discrimination against woman deserves jail time while another affirms that women are little more valuable than cattle); whose version of morality would we call to solve the issue? The relativist’s own belief system forbids him to judge the other moral system, but to “tolerate” it. He cannot fault the other culture. This position fails its own application test and defeats the purpose that it initially sought to promote ending up in a moral Gordian knot. The “tolerance” banner becomes an excuse to accept immorality and indirectly promote it. However, if “tolerance” is an absolute moral virtue that the relativist wants to push, then objective moral values do exist and relativism falls on its own self-refuting sword.

  1.  This is also known as “Euthyphro’s Dilemma”. For a detailed explanation, see “Euthyphro’s Dilemma,”  Stand to Reason, http://www.str.org/articles/euthyphro-s-dilemma#.VLgGGyvF9WU (accessed January 15, 2015).
  2.  C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2009), 38.

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