Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Moral Argument for the Existence of God

At Faith Church, we have recently been considering some philosophical arguments for the existence of God. (Listen to our sermon series here).

One such argument for the existence of God is called the Moral Argument. It is an argument for the existence of God based on the undeniable existence of Good and Evil in this world. 

Consider Exodus 3:7,  "Then the Lord said, 'I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings'" (Exodus 3:7, ESV). Historically, we know from Scripture that the Egyptians treated the Israelites wickedly. They held them as slaves. They beat them viciously, even slaughtering their children. Slavery and genocide were both inflicted upon God's people Israel (cf. Exodus 1:13-16).

Slavery is an interesting and timely example today because even the most secular, left-leaning, veggie-burger eating liberal must acknowledge slavery to be a monstrous Evil. Ethics professors at secular, state-funded universities will get on their soapbox  to declare slavery to be Evil. And I agree! I doubt that many ethics professors today would label slavery today as “morally relative.” It is interesting, isn't it, which actions relativists choose to label as "relative."

But the more important question here is this: “Where did human beings (even atheists) even get the idea that some actions are Evil and others are Good?”

Good and Evil 
The Moral Argument for God works on the premise that everyone (universally!) acknowledges the existence of morals—right and wrong. You say, ‘What about criminals and the people that fill our overcrowded jails and prisons?’  Well, one may be the most notorious, cold-blooded mobster in 1940’s Chicago, but if you shoot up his hideout, he calls it Evil. The Moral Argument doesn’t assume people are good, but it states that everyone certainly knows when they’ve been wronged!

Here are the premises on which the Moral Argument rests...

a. All men know intuitively that there is a distinction between Good and Evil, especially when evil is done unto them. 

b. The fact that there is a distinction between Good and Evil requires the existence of a universal Moral Law to differentiate between them. 

c. The existence of a universal Moral Law differentiating between Good and Evil requires there to be a universal Moral Law-Giver.  

Conclusion: This Moral Law Giver must be God.

As an interesting historical anecdote, it was the Moral Argument that convinced CS Lewis—one of the world’s all-time greatest thinkers—to lay down his atheism and to worship at the feet of Jesus. He found it to be irresistibly compelling, and writes about it eloquently in his Mere Christianity.

Notice that we don’t have to agree on which acts are inherently Good and which are Evil to make the case. Some societies in the Middle East argue that a woman must cover her entire body. In other societies in the south pacific islands women wear virtually no clothing at all. Here in America, we can argue all day about birth control for instance. Divergences in moral theory do not undercut the moral argument; the fact remains that everyone believes some actions are good and others wrong. If someone doesn’t agree with that, just kick them in the shins and they soon will!

The main point is this: If you say there is really such thing as “right” and “wrong” you must acknowledge the existence of One who created and defined such categories in the first place!

Alvin Plantinga, recognized to be one of the most astute philosophers alive today, sums the argument well, 

“Could there really be any such thing as horrifying wickedness [if there were no God and we just evolved]? I don’t see how. There can be such a thing only if there is a way rational creatures are supposed to live, obliged to live…a [secular] way of looking at the world has no place for genuine moral obligation of any sort…and thus no way to say there is such a thing as genuine and appalling wickedness. Accordingly if you think there really is such a thing as horrifying wickedness (and not just an illusion of some sort), then you have a powerful argument [for the reality of God].”[i] 

--Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. 

[i] Quoted in Timothy Keller. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. P. 26-27.

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