The Moral Argument

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The Ontology of Morality: Some Problems for Humanists and their friends

 Louise Anthony did indeed present the case for secular metaethics. The problem is that this case is utterly vacuous. 

It will be my purpose in the following arguments to show that secular humanistic theories which try to ground moral ontology fail–and fail miserably.

Recently, I listened [again] to the debate between William Lane Craig and Louise Anthony. Some have lauded this debate as a stirring victory for secular ethics. (See, for example, the comments here–one comment even goes so far as to say “I swoon when someone evokes the Euthyphro Dilemma and frown at the impotent, goal-post-moving, ‘Divine nature’ appeal.”) In reality, I think Louise Anthony did indeed present the case for secular metaethics. The problem is that this case is utterly vacuous. 

I’ll break down why this is the case by focusing upon three areas of development in secular and theistic ethics: objective moral truths, suffering, and moral facts.

Objective Moral Truths

Louise Anthony and William Lane Craig agree that there are objective moral truths. Now, this is important because many theists take the existence of objective morality to demonstrate–or at least strongly suggest–the existence of God. Interestingly, other humanist/secular scholars have agreed with Anthony, claiming there are objective truths (another example is Sam Harris–see my analysis of his position contrasted with theism here). The question, of course, is “How?” Consider the following:

Louise Anthony seems to be just confused about the nature of objective morality. She says in response to a question from the audience, “The universe has no purpose, but I do… I have lots of purposes…. It makes a lot of difference to a lot of people and to me what I do. That gives my life significance… The only thing that would make it [sacrificing her own life] insignificant would be if my children’s lives were insignificant. And, boy you better not say that!”

Craig responded, “But Louise, on atheism, their lives are insignificant.” Anthony interjected, “Not to me!”

But then she goes on to make this confused statement, “It’s an objective fact that they [her children] are significant to me.”

Note how Anthony has confused the terms here. Yes, it is an objective fact that according to Louise Anthony, her children matter to her. We can’t question Anthony’s own beliefs–we must trust what she tells us unless we have reason to think otherwise. But that’s not enough. What Craig and other theists are trying to press is that that simple fact has nothing to do with whether her children are actually valuable. Sure, people may go around complaining that “Well, it matters to me, so it does matter!” But that doesn’t make it true. All kinds of things can matter to people, that doesn’t mean that they are ontologically objective facts.

It matters to me whether the Cubs [an American baseball team] win the World Series. That hasn’t happened in 104 years, so it looks like it doesn’t matter in the overall scheme of the universe after all. But suppose I were to, like Anthony, retort, “But the Cubs matter to me! It’s an objective fact that them winning the World Series is significant to me!” Fine! But all the Cardinals [a rival team] fans would just laugh at me and say “SO WHAT!?

Similarly, one can look at Anthony with incredulity and retort, “Who cares!?” Sure, if you can get enough people around Anthony who care about her children’s moral significance, you can develop a socially derived morality. But that’s not enough to ground objective morality. Why should we think that her values matter to the universe at large? On atheism, what reason is there for saying that her desires and purposes for her children are any better than my desires and purposes for the Cubs?

Another devastating objection can be found with a simple thought experiment. Let’s say Anthony didn’t exist. In such a world, there can be no one complaining that her children matter “to me!” Instead, her children just exist as brute facts. How then can we ground their significance? Well, it seems the answer for people like Anthony would be to point to the children’s other family say “Those children matter to them!” We could continue this process almost endlessly. As we eliminate the children’s family, friends, etc. and literally make them just exist on their own, we find Anthony’s answer about allegedly objective morality supervenes on fewer and fewer alleged moral facts. Suddenly “Those children matter to themselves!” is the answer. But then what if we eliminate them? Do humans still have value? The whole time, Anthony has grounded the significance of her children and other humans in the beliefs, goals, and purposes of humans. But without humans, suddenly there is no significance. That’s what is meant by objective morality. If those children matter even without humans, then objective morality is the case. But Anthony has done nothing to make this the case; she’s merely complained that her children matter to her.

Now, some atheists–Anthony and Sam Harris included–seem to think they have answers to these questions. They seem to think that they can ground objective morality. We’ll turn to those next.


One of the linchpins of humanists’ claims (like Anthony and Sam Harris) is suffering. The claim is that we can know what causes suffering, and that this, in turn, can lead us to discover what is wrong. We should not cause suffering.

But why not?

Most often the response I’ve received to this question is simply that because we do not wish to suffer, we should not wish to have others suffer or cause suffering for others. But why should that be the case? Why should I care about others’ suffering, on atheism? That’s exactly the question humanism must answer in order to show that objective morality can exist in conjunction with secularism. But I have yet to see a satisfactory answer to this question.

Anthony was presented with a similar question in the Q&A segment of her debate with William Lane Craig. One person asked (paraphrased), “Why shouldn’t I base morality as ‘whatever benefits me the most’?” Anthony responded simply by simply arguing essentially that it’s not right to seek pleasure at the expense of others, because they may also want pleasure.

But of course this is exactly the point! Why in the world should we think that that isn’t right!?

The bottom line is that, other than simply asserting as a brute fact that certain things are right and wrong, atheism provides absolutely no answer to the question of moral objectivity. People like Anthony  try to smuggle it in by saying it’s objectively wrong to cause suffering [usually with some extra clauses], but then when asked why that is wrong, they either throw it back in the face of the one asking the question (i.e. “Well don’t you think it’s wrong?”) or just assert it as though it is obviously true.

And it is obviously true! But what is not so obvious is why it is obviously true, given atheism. We could have simply evolved herd morality which leads us to think it is obviously true, or perhaps we’re culturally conditioned by our close proximity to theists to think it is obviously true, etc. But there still is no reason that tells us why it is, in fact, true.

Moral Facts

Anthony (and Harris, and others with whom I’ve had personal interactions) centralize “moral facts” in their metaethical account. As a side note, what is meant by “moral fact” is a bit confusing but I don’t wish to argue against their position through semantics alone. They claim that we can figure out objective morals on the basis of moral facts. Sam Harris, for example, argues that there is a “continuum of such [moral] facts” and that “we know” we can “move along this continuum” and “We know, we know that there are right and wrong answers about how to move in this space [along the moral continuum]” (see video here).

Now it is all well and good to just talk about “facts” and make it sound all wonderful and carefully packaged, but Anthony and Harris specifically trip up when they get asked questions like, “How do we figure out what moral facts are?”

Anthony was asked “How do you determine what the objective moral facts are”, and responded by saying, “We do it by, um, testing our reactions to certain kinds of possibilities, um, thinking about the principles that those reactions might entail; testing those principles against new cases. Pretty much the way we find out about anything” (approximately 2 hours into the recorded debate).

One must just sit aghast when one hears a response like that. Really? That is the way we discover moral truths? And that is the way we “find out about anything”? Now I guess I can’t speak for Anthony herself, but when I’m trying to find out about something, I don’t test my reaction to possibilities and then try to figure out what my reaction “might entail.” That is radical subjectivism. Such a view is utterly devastating for not just morality but also science, history, and the like. If I were to try to conduct scientific inquiry in this manner, science would be some kind of hodgepodge of my “reactions” to various phenomenon. Unwittingly, perhaps, Anthony has grounded the ontology of her morality in the reactions of people. But this error isn’t restricted to Anthony. Harris also makes this confounding mistake. His basic argument in the talk linked above is simply, “Science can tell us what people think about things, so it can tell us about morality.” This is, of course patently absurd. Suppose I tried to test these humanists’ theories on groups of people by sticking them in a room and having them watch all kinds of things from murder to the rape of children to images of laughter and joy. Now suppose I randomly sifted my sample among the population of the world, but somehow, by pure chance, got a room full of child molesters. As I observe their reactions, I see they are quite joyful when they observe certain detestable images. Now, going by Anthony/Harris’ way to “find out about anything” and thinking about what these people’s reaction entails, I conclude that pedophilia is a great good. But then I get a room full of parents with young children, who react in horror at these same images. Then, as I reflect on their reactions, I discover that pedophilia is a great evil. And I repeat this process over and over. Eventually, I discover that the one group was an aberration, but it was a group nonetheless.

What does this mean?

Quite simply, it means that both Harris and Anthony haven’t made any groundbreaking theory of ethics. Rather, they’ve just made a pseudo-humanistic utilitarianism. They ground moral ontology in our “reactions” to various moral situations. The only way for them to say something is morally wrong if people have different reactions is either to go with the majority (utilitarianism) or choose one side or the other, which essentially turns into a kind of Euthyphro dilemma against atheists. Either things are wrong because enough people think they’re wrong (in which case morality is arbitrary) or things are wrong because they simply are wrong, period (in which case the humanist has yet to provide an answer for moral ontology).


Given the discussion herein, one can see that those atheists, humanists, and/or secularists who desire to ground objective morality still have a lot of work to do. Louise Anthony’s best attempt to ground morality boils down into radical subjectivism. Sam Harris’ account fares no better. Those who are trying to ground objective morality within an atheistic universe will just have to keep searching. The solutions Anthony and Harris have attempted to offer are vacuous.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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The Moral Argument: Mistakes to Avoid and Practical Advice

The moral argument has experienced a resurgence of discussion and popularity of late. Some of this may be due to the increased popularity of apologetics. Philosophical discussions about metaethics also seem to have contributed to the discussions about the moral argument. Regardless, the argument, in its many and varied forms, has regained some of the spotlight in the arena of argumentation between theism and atheism. [See Glenn Peoples' post on the topic for more historical background.]

That said, it is an unfortunate truth that many misunderstandings of the argument are perpetuated. Before turning to these, however, I’ll lay out a basic version of the argument:

P1: If there are objective moral values, then God exists.

P2: There are objective moral values.

Conclusion: Therefore, God exists.

It is not my purpose here to offer a comprehensive defense of the argument. Instead, I seek to lay out some objections to it along with some responses. I also hope to caution my fellow theists against making certain errors as they put the argument forward.


Objection 1: Objective moral values can’t exist, because there are possible worlds in which there are no agents.

The objection has been raised by comments on my site (see the comment from “SERIOUSLY?” here), but I’ve also heard it in person. Basically, the objection goes: Imagine a world in which all that existed was a rock. There would clearly be no morality in such a universe, which means that P2 must be false. Why? Because in order for there to be objective moral values, those values must be true in all possible worlds. But the world we just imagined has no morality, therefore there are no objective moral values!

The objection as outlined in italics above is just a more nuanced form of this type of argument. What is wrong with it? At the most basic level, the theist could object to the thought experiment. According to classical theism, God is a necessary being, so in every possible world, God exists. Thus, for any possible world, God exists. Thus, to say “imagine a world in which just a rock exists” begs the question against theism from the start.

But there is a more fundamental problem with this objection. Namely, the one making this objection has confused the existence of objective morals with their obtaining in a universe. In other words, it may be true that moral truths are never “activated” or never used as a judgment in a world in which only a rock exists, but that doesn’t mean such truths do not exist in that universe.

To see how this is true, consider a parallel situation. The statement “2+2=4″ is a paradigm statement for a necessary truth. Whether in this world or in any other world, it will be the case that when we add two and two, we get four. Now consider again a world in which all that exists is a rock. In fact, take it back a step further and say that all that exists is the most basic particle possible–it is indivisible and as simple as physically possible. In this universe, just one thing exists. The truth, “2+2=4″ therefore never will obtain in such a world. But does that mean “2+2=4″ is false or doesn’t exist in this world? Absolutely not. The truth is a necessary truth, and so regardless of whether there are enough objects in existence to allow it to obtain does not effect its truth value.

Similarly, if objective moral values exist, then it does not matter whether or not they obtain. They are true in every possible world, regardless of whether or not there are agents.

Objection 2: Euthyphro Dilemma- If things are good because God commands them, ‘morality’ is arbitrary. If God commands things because they are good, the standard of good is outside of God. This undermines the moral argument because it calls into question P1.

Here my response to the objection would be more like a deflection. This objection only serves as an attack on divine command theory mixed with a view of God which is not like that of classical theism. Thus, there are two immediate responses the theist can offer.

First, the theist can ascribe to a metaethical theory other than divine command ethics. For example, one might adhere to a modified virtue theory or perhaps something like divine motivation theory. Further, one could integrate divine command ethics into a different metaethic in order to preserve the driving force of divine commands in theistic metaethics while removing the difficulties of basing one’s whole system upon commands. In this way, one could simply defeat the dilemma head-on, by showing there is a third option the theist can consistently embrace.

Second, one could point out that the dilemma doesn’t actually challenge P1 at all. All it challenges is the grounds for objective morals. Certainly, if the theist embraced the horn of the dilemma in which that which is “good” is grounded outside of God, there would be a problem, but very few theists do this (and for them it seems unlikely the moral argument would be convincing). If the theist embraces the other horn–that what God commands is good/arbitrary–then that would not defeat objective morals anyway, because one could hold that even were God’s decisions arbitrary, they were still binding in all possible worlds. While this would be a bit unorthodox, it would undermine the concern that the Euthyphro dilemma serves to defeat P1. Combined with the first point, it seems this dilemma offers little to concern the theist.

All morality is relative

I prefer Greg Koukl’s tongue-in-cheek response to this type of argument: steal their stereo! If someone really argues that there is no such thing as right and wrong, test them on it! Don’t literally steal their things, but do point out inconsistencies. Everyone thinks there are things that are wrong in the world and should be prevented. If someone continues to press that these are merely illusory ideas–that things like rape, domestic abuse, murder, slavery, genocide are in fact amoral (without any moral status)–then one may simply point out the next time they complain about a moral situation. Such is the thrust of Koukl’s remark–everyone will object if you steal their stereo. Why? Because it is wrong, and we know it.

Advice to other Christians

The moral argument brings up some extremely complex metaethical discourse. While it is, in my opinion, one of the best tools in the apologist’s kit for talking to the average nonbeliever/believer to share reasons to believe, one should familiarize oneself with the complexities facing a fuller defense of the argument so they do not come up empty on a question or objection someone might raise. As always, do not be afraid to acknowledge a great question. For example, one might reply to something one hasn’t researched enough to feel comfortable answering by saying: “Great question! That’s one I haven’t thought about. Could I get back to you in a few days?”

As with any philosophical topic, the more one researches, the more questions will arise, the more interesting branches in the path one will approach, and the more one realizes that philosophy is an astoundingly complex topic. For those theists who wish to use the moral argument, I suggest doing so with a courteous, humble manner. The argument is an attempt to answer some of the hardest questions facing anyone: does God exist? is God good? what does it mean for something to be good? do objective morals exist?

Thus, theists using this argument should be prepared for some serious study. Be ready to answer some hard questions. Be open to great discussion. Above all, always have a reason.



The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Case for Christianity in 15 Minutes (or less)

Recently, the need for defending Christianity in a short time period has come to light. I was in a discussion with some acquaintances and was asked to outline why I believe what I believe, but we were on a time crunch so I only had about 15 minutes. Thankfully, I have had access to some wonderful resources that allowed me to memorize some quick, but useful arguments.

This post is intended to provide other Christians with a case for their beliefs that they can memorize and share with others. Note that the study cannot stop here. Most people will not be convinced by the basics outlined here. The goal of this post is to provide a springboard for discussion and keep people engaged in  the idea that God exists and Jesus is Lord. Each section is intended to flow directly into the next. I encourage my fellow Christians to memorize a “case for faith” in a manner like this, so they may be prepared with a reason for the hope within them (1 Peter 3:15).

The arguments are necessarily short and simple due to time constraints, but they offer a short defense that will, hopefully, spur further conversation (again, don’t forget to do more research!). Greg Koukl says we don’t need to convince someone right away–we just need to “put a rock in their shoe” so that we can keep the discussion going later. As always, the most effective apologetic is a prayerful, Christ-reflecting life. May the Holy Spirit guide you all.

1. God Exists (7 minutes)

There are many reasons to believe God exists, let me share a few:

Kalam Cosmological Argument

1) Everything that began to exist has a cause

2) The universe Began to exist

3) Therefore the universe has a cause.

It seems intuitively obvious that 1) is true. Things don’t just pop into and out of existence. 2) follows from modern scientific discoveries like the Big Bang, which implies a single cosmological beginning. 3) follows via modus ponens (the most basic form of argument) from 1 and 2. This argument shows a transcendent cause of the universe. The cause must also be personal because [it] brought the universe into existence at some point, which requires a choice. Choices can only be made by persons, so this entity is personal. (See William Lane Craig in “On Guard”, linked below, for more.)

[For more reading on the Kalam Cosmological Argument see my posts linked below.]

The Moral Argument

4) If there are objective moral values, then God exists

5) There are objective moral values

6) Therefore, God exists.

“Objective moral values” here means that moral values are true regardless of what anyone thinks. For example, “murder is wrong” would be wrong even if every single human being thought murder was the way to achieve greatest happiness and encouraged it as an extracurricular activity for teenagers. But the only way to hold that objective moral values exist is to grant God’s existence, because objective laws require an objective lawgiver.

Without God, however, morals reduce to “I don’t like that.” It seems ludicrous to believe that murder is wrong just because we don’t like it. It is something actually wrong about murder that makes it wrong. That which makes it wrong is, again, the commands of the Lawgiver: God. People have a sense of moral objectivity built into them, which also suggests both the existence of objective morals and a God who created in us this conscience. (See Craig “On Guard” and C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity”.)

2. Christianity is Unique (3 minutes)

Religions are not all the same:

1) Many religions have contradictory truth claims. (Some forms of Buddhism say: There is no God; Christianity argues: There is a God; Hinduism states: there are many gods)

2) Even among theistic religions, there are contradictory claims (Christianity: Jesus is God; Judaism: Jesus is not God; Islam: Mohammed is prophet; Christianity: Mohammed is not a prophet; Judaism: Mohammed is not a prophet; Islam: Jesus is not God; etc.).

3) The Law of Noncontradiction (actual contradictions like “square circles” or “married bachelors” cannot exist and are not real) shows us that therefore, these religions cannot all be true.

4) Christianity is unique in that  its central religious claim is a historical one: that the person Jesus Christ died and rose again from the dead. This is a historical event which can be investigated just like any other historical event. Yet exploration of this event leads to the conclusion that…

3. Jesus is God (5 minutes)

1) The Gospels are reliable. They demonstrate many criteria for historical truth: multiple attestation (four Gospels telling the same story, but with enough significant differences to demonstrate they didn’t copy off each other), principle of embarrassment (the authors of the Gospels included details which would be embarrassing either to themselves or culturally, such as the fact that women were the first witnesses to the risen Christ in a culture in which women were not trusted), the writers died for their belief in the historical events (while many religious believers die for their beliefs, it seems unfathomable that the Christian Gospel writers would willingly die gruesome deaths for things they made up–which is what alternative theories argue), etc. (See Strobel, “Case for Christ”)

2) Jesus made divine claims “I and the Father are one” John 10:30; “Before Abraham was, I am” John 8:58; etc.

3) The miracle of the resurrection is God’s confirmation of Jesus’ divine claims. If the Gospels are reliable (per 1), then Jesus is divine.


There is good evidence to think that God exists. There are even other arguments that could be presented, such as the teleological, ontological, transcendental, argument from religious experience, and more. We can also see that not all religions can be true. Furthermore, there are good reasons to think the Gospels are reliable and that Jesus claimed to be God and had His claims authenticated by God Himself in Jesus’ resurrection.

Remember, this is not even close to a full defense of Christianity. It is simply a condensed, easy to remember defense designed to be ready at a moment’s notice for when the Holy Spirit leads people into our paths. We need to do more research, offer more arguments, and continue to witness as the Holy Spirit works through our testimony. This defense is by no means a total apologetic; it is meant only as an introduction to spur further conversation. Always have a reason.

Later Edit:

Some have objected to this post on various grounds, most of which are reducible to my arguments not being developed enough. I emphasize once more, this is supposed to be used for a 15-minute defense of the faith, not an entire survey of the field. See my links for more reading, and continue to investigate for yourself.

Further Reading

If you are interested in further reading on these topics, I suggest:

1) On my site, check out the posts on the existence of God: here. Specifically, for the Kalam Cosmological argument:

The Kalam Cosmological Argument

Dawkins and Oppy vs. Theism: Defending the Kalam Cosmological Argument

“The Multiverse Created Itself” and “Who made God after all?”- The Kalam Cosmological Argument

The Leibnizian Cosmological Argument (not developed in this post).

2) On Guard by William Lane Craig- a basic level introduction to many of the ideas discussed here.

3) The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel-a wonderful book which goes through many issues of historical Christianity. Presents evidence for the historicity of the Gospels and the divinity of Jesus.

4) Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis-a Christian classic, this work is a fantastic defense of Christianity. C.S. Lewis is a masterful writer and I highly recommend this work.


The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation and provide a link to the original URL. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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