First, a post by Luke Nix defining the term objective morality.
Let us examine a more recent debate: William Lane Craig vs. Sam Harris. One of the words that was not clearly defined and accepted by both participants was “objective”. Sam Harris clarified that he was only arguing for a “universal” morality (one that only exists as long as conscious minds exist- he’s referring to humans), while Craig was arguing for morality that exists regardless of whether or not conscious minds exist- he’s also referring to humans. The fact that they were each using different definitions of “objective” caused much confusion for those who did not pick up on the distinction or its significance for the debate (even though Craig pointed out both in his first rebuttal).
Objective morality is binding on us whether we like it or not. An objective moral standard lays out what is right or wrong for us independently of how we feel about that standard. What could ground such a moral standard?
From the Apologetics Guy blog, a simple post explaining the main issue in the debate over morality.
“Can’t people be good without God?” I mean, couldn’t an atheist do some really good things without God? I guess if we mean “doing the right thing while not believing in God,” then sure. An atheist could do the right thing. For example, they could honestly report their income to the government, be faithful their spouse and so forth. And why not? But maybe the better question is, “Why?” Why even care about being moral?
Think about it like this: If God’s not real, there’s no moral law giver and no such things as objective moral commands. If that’s true, then why not say, “I’ll do the right thing when it makes me feel good or gives me an advantage, and I’ll do the wrong thing when it makes me feel good or gives me an advantage.” Or why not say, “I hereby declare from this day forward that it’s always right to steal.”
If there’s no God and no objective moral standard, there’s no moral difference between abusing someone or taking care of them. Basically, good and evil are reduced to preference. All you could say is, “I don’t like terrorism,” or “I’m not into slavery.” “Human trafficking isn’t my thing.” But who can really live like this?
If there is no designer of the universe, then there is no design for the universe. If there is no design for the universe, then there is no way that anything ought to be. If there is no way anything ought to be, then there is no way humans ought to be. Any statement about what we “ought” to do in an accidental universe is just someone opinion – you can accept it if you like it, but it’s not real.
Here’s another post by Micah from the Student Apologetics Alliance about the most common objective to the moral argument from objective morality to a moral lawgiver.
First and foremost though, I want to start off with some background information…namely the Euthyphro Dilemma. This famous dilemma is named after Plato’s dialogue Euthyphro. The dilemma here is thus, “Is something good because God commands it? Or, does God command it because that thing is good?” Either way, one runs into problems. If something is good because God commands it, then God could command anything–like rape or murder–and that would be good, and Christians certainly don’t want to advocate that. On the other hand, does God command something because it’s good? If so, then aren’t we appealing to an independent standard of goodness? Is it that God is looking at some moral standard and says, “Oh, I see, that’s a good thing. I’ll command people to do this then…”? We would then have something that sets itself above God, and in fact, this standard would seem to exist even in God’s absence.
Now, the response I and a lot of other Christian thinkers have offer is that there is a third option: namely that something is good because God is good. God is the standard for morality to which all others measure up to. God being good and being moral is essential to His nature. What this implies is that God’s commands are not arbitrary at all, but rather expressions of His nature. What this also implies is that God does not obey moral laws, but rather He is goodness itself. God being good is as natural and essential as humanness is natural to Plato. What this also implies is that without God, we would not have objective moral values and duties incumbent upon us as humans. Sure, we could subjectively make up our own rules, but they wouldn’t be objective or binding. We would not be able to truthfully say, in the absence of God, that rape is objectively wrong regardless if some believe it’s right.
What I’m NOT saying here is that a person needs to believe in God in order for him or her to recognize moral values and vices. One does not need to believe in God in order to know that rape is wrong, but that’s not the argument here. The argument being offered is that without God Himself, objective morality would not exist–morality would not be grounded. The difference lies between two domains: epistemology (how we come to know things; we can come to know certain moral truths without reference to God) and ontology (the nature of being and existing; that such moral truths would need to be grounded in God’s nature in order for them to be binding on everyone).
It’s very important that we all understand what the moral argument is about. It’s about the means of existing of moral value and moral duties. Are they real? Do they really exist somewhere? Or are they just our personal preferences – like clothing fashions and culinary conventions?