Tag Archives: Moral Duty

How do *you* define morality? Three options and a challenge

I saw that Brian Auten tweeted this thought-provoking post from Come Reason Ministries

He starts with this:

In my posts on natural marriage and the recent Supreme Court decision on DOMA, I had made the claim that the Supreme Court cannot define morality. There are many people in the world who will claim that simply because an action is legal it is thus moral; I argue that the former does not necessarily imply the latter. But others have been confused on how I can make such a claim. So, I’d like to back up a bit and talk about just what I mean when I speak of morals and morality. 

The study of morality—what it is, how we come to know it, and its distinctions—is a field of study known as ethics. There are several ethical theories on just what morality is, but I will focus on the three main ways people define moral principles: the emotive definition of morality, the subjective definition of morality, and objective definition of morality.[1]Within the objective view, there are two more subsets: morality stemming from the nature of man and morality that transcends man’s nature.

It lists 3 views of morality:


And then he explains each one.

I think that it is tremendously difficult to make sense of morality unless morality is objective. In my set of marriage questions for women, I wrote about how important the idea of objective morality is for marriage:

4. The moral argument

What is the is-ought fallacy? What is the difference between moral objectivism and moral relativism? Give one reason why moral relativism is false. Give one reason why an atheist cannot rationally ground prescriptive morality. Explain why objective morality relates to God’s existence.

SAMPLE ANSWER: Explain the is-ought fallacy. Explain objective and subjective morality. Discuss the reformer’s dilemma and how it refutes relativism. Explain that atheism requires materialism, and materialism denies free will – so moral choices are impossible. Outline the moral argument.

BONUS POINTS: Give more than one reason where only one was asked for, refute attempts to assert objective morality on atheism, explain how moral obligations are related to God’s design for humans.

WHY IT MATTERS: You can’t marry a person who thinks that the moral law is not a brake on their desire to be happy. There are going to be times in the marriage when self-sacrifice is required by the moral law – either for you, for God, or for the children. It will not be easy to be moral then, so you are looking for someone who thinks that morality is real, and not subject to their feelings and whims. It might be worth asking the person when she has had to do the right thing when it was against her self-interest, like those valedictorians who name Jesus in their speeches and then get censored.

It’s scary that people have let behind the notion of morality as a real, objective thing. What I see emerging from that is that the weakest people in society (unborn and born children) will suffer from the selfish decisions of the adults. I’ve been warning about that for a while now.

Craig Hazen asks: “can atheists be good without God?”

Craig Hazen encourages Christians to challenge the New Atheists on their claims of being good without God (and claiming that God is a moral monster, too). How are they helping themselves to objective morality on atheism, so that these statements are more than just their personal opinions?

Hazen writes:

The primary technique the new atheists have adopted for dealing with the issue of the origin or grounding of the moral law is obfuscation. The new atheists are very fond of saying, “We don’t need God to be good.” Indeed, they often say that atheists, agnostics and skeptics often lead more wholesome lives than lifelong professing Christians. Now, theists should not be fooled by this. Our response should be, “Of course you don’t need God to be good — we’ve never claimed that you do.” You see, it is not knowledge (epistemology) of the moral law that is a problem — after all, the Bible teaches that this law is written on every human heart. Rather, the daunting problem for the new atheist is the nature and source (ontology) of the moral law. Here are some questions you can ask Richard Dawkins the next time you sit next to him on a bus:

• If everything ultimately must be explained by the laws of physics and chemistry, help me understand what a moral value is (does it have mass, occupy space, hold a charge, have wavelength)?

• How did matter, energy, time and chance result in a set of objective moral values? Did the big bang really spew forth “love your enemy?” If so, you have to help me understand that.

• What makes your moral standard more than a subjective opinion or personal preference? What makes it truly binding or obligatory? Why can’t I just ignore it? Won’t our end be the same (death and the grave) either way?

The old atheists did not want to have to face questions like these, so they simply denied the reality of objective moral values. The new atheists have thrown the door open. Let’s not make it easy for them. Let’s ask the hard questions in a winsome and engaging way.

Where does the standard that allows atheists to “be good” come from on atheism? And where does the standard that allows them to judge God as evil come from on atheism?

Comedy: atheists making moral demands on atheists

I think that this article on The Other McCain is relevant to Hazen’s essay. The article explains the latest scandal in the atheist blogosphere: A 30-year old divorced atheist feminist tried to impose objective moral obligations on another atheist who hit on her in an elevator.


There is nothing wrong with “don’t do that” as advice. The guy’s approach was clumsy and creepy. But it seems obvious, to me at least, that he was merely exhibiting a deficiency of social skills, rather than predatory menace.

While we cannot rule out the possibility that the guy is a serial killer with the bodies of 11 victims buried in his backyard, I’m inclined to believe he was just awkward and clueless. It was 4 a.m. and, in the famous words of Mickey Gilley, “The women all get prettier at closing time.” What was this guy’s blood-alcohol content? Was he at the beer-goggles stage where he saw Watson as Ingrid Bergman and thought he was Humphrey Bogart?

Well, as Watson says, “don’t do that.” But it’s a huge leap from “don’t do that” to a very broad and general accusation of misogyny and a complaint about being sexualized.

What set off the big brouhaha amongst atheists and feminists, however, was when Dawkins showed up in the comments of a blog to belittle Watson’s complaint by comparing her unpleasant elevator experience to the sufferings of women in the Islamic world. Once the feminists started screaming for blood, Dawkins’s fellow atheists were only too happy to throw him under the bus. The reaction was as if Dawkins himself had hit on Watson.

This is one of those episodes where the totalitarian impulse of feminism is glaringly apparent. Feminists ferociously suppress dissent and seek to impose a conformity of thought, so that anyone within the movement who expresses doubt about the dogma and the agenda is condemned as a heretic.

But I wanted to address the issue of atheism and morality in my comment to McCain’s post:

It’s hilarious to me that a woman can be an atheist, think the universe is an accident, think that there is no objective moral law based on a design for how humans ought to be, and then prescribe criteria for male behavior as if it is not just her personal opinion, but is a shared, objective standard that men should adhere to.

If the universe is an accident, then whatever is, is right. If matter is all there is, then there is no way that the matter “ought to be”. Matter just is.

Here’s Dawkins himself:
“In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, or any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference… DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.”


You can’t derive a prescriptive morality if nature is just about survival of the fitness. Either we are moral agents endowed with consciousness and free will (which requires a non-material soul) OR WE ARE ANIMALS. And animals are not moral agents. The customs and conventions of different social groups in different times and places in history are not objective moral duties. They are just like culinary customs and dress styles. And you can’t accuse anyone of being immoral on that kind of relativistic view. The worst she could say is “I don’t like it” or “that person is acting unfashionably”. She can’t say that anything is WRONG.

And I also thought this comment to McCain’s post was pretty funny:

There’s a possibility here that you’re overlooking, which is that the young lady might just have wanted for people to know–in a shrill, scolding, disapproving, school-marmish kinda way–that somebody was attracted to her. Because otherwise, you know, we would probably assume that nobody is.

Indeed. It makes me laugh when atheists assert that marriage, which is built on self-sacrifice and moral obligations, is somehow compatible with the view that morality is “an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes”, as atheist Michael Ruse says. Atheists reduce morality to personal opinions and cultural conventions that vary by time and place, and then they demand that other people act according to those preferences and conventions. “[They] laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in [their] midst. [They] castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful”, as C.S. Lewis argues in his essay “Men Without Chests”.

Recall the study that showed that Christians who attend church regularly have vastly lower divorce rates than average. Maybe that’s because they are constantly reminded in church that morality is rooted in God’s character, and not a figment of their imaginations that can be vetoed for selfish gain? That might be a helpful bit of knowledge to have in your worldview if you’re considering marriage, you know. Love requires that the idea of self-sacrifice be rationally grounded in some sort of objective design for the universe and us. You can’t get love from selfishness. You can’t get marriage from survival of the fittest. Not rationally, anyway. And when the chips are down, and obligations clash with self-interest, reason has a major part to play in determining how we will act. Either you ground morality or you cave in to selfishness, and marriages don’t last when you have no reason not to be selfish.

By the way, the best article refuting evolutionary explanations of morality is written by Mark D. Linville. It’s in the book “Contending with Christianity’s Critics“.

Hmmn, I wonder where this link goes.

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