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Argument from morality

The argument from morality is one of several arguments for the existence of God. These arguments fall under the larger category of philosophy of religion.

It is God, and God alone, who decides what is right and wrong. God's commands are the only and ultimate standard of morality. So, if one supposes that God does not exist, then one is doomed to a life without moral standards. One will have no reasons to think that lying, stealing, or even murder are wrong. That means that, as a nonbeliever, one contributes to the corruption of oneself, others, and the entire culture. There is a famous quote associated with Dostoevsky, "If God does not exist, everything is permitted." In other words, if we no longer believe that God exists, then we will think we are morally permitted to do anything. To have stable standards of morality, we must believe that God exists. We obviously have or need stable standards of morality, therefore, God exists.

Now there is one important premise that this argument rests on -- namely, that God's commands are the only possible standard of morality. This implies a theory of ethics, which is called theological ethics[?], or alternatively, the divine command theory. According to theological ethics, something is right just in case God commands it; something is wrong just in case God forbids it; and something is morally permissible just in case God neither commands nor forbids it.

Socrates first provided one common objection to theological ethics. Do we want to say that an action is right because God commands it, or do we want to say, instead, that God commands an action because it is right? If we say that actions are right because God commands them, then we can't explain why God commands what he does. On the other hand, if we say that God commands right actions because they are right, then we're saying that what makes actions right isn't just the fact that God commands them. Rather, God sees that an action is right, and commands us to do it because it is right. If we accept theological ethics as our only ethical theory, then there's no moral explanation for why God commands what he does. If God had commanded us to murder each other, then that would be right -- by definition.

You might object to that, and say that of course God wouldn't command us to murder each other. That's just ridiculous, you'll say. But why is it ridiculous? If you say, "Because God commanded us to love each other, not murder each other," you're arguing in a circle. You're saying that God commanded us not to murder -- why? -- because God commanded us not to murder. Or else, if you're not arguing in a circle like this, then you're saying that we can not know why God commands what he does.

One proposal is that there is something about human nature, and the nature of the universe we live in that makes murder wrong; God recognizes these facts and, having recognized them, commands us not to murder each other. So what if we do say that God has reasons for commanding and forbidding what he does? Then we say: God's reasons, the facts about our humanity and our universe that lead him to legislate what he does, are what make actions right and wrong. For example, suppose he forbids us to murder because murder is totally contrary to human happiness. Then we may say: the reason that murder is wrong is that it is totally contrary to human happiness. Then God's reasons for saying loving each other is right will be just the same as our reasons for thinking loving each other is right.

Morality is then, strictly speaking, conceptually separable from what God commands. In order to understand what is right and wrong, we need only understand what God's reasons for commanding things would be, if God were to exist. And that does not even require that God exists. It is not so easy to separate God's commands and morality if you assume that God created humans and the universe in such a way that was consistent with his commands. Conversely, separating God's commands and morality presumes that God did not create the universe in a way that was consistent with his commands, or that his commands are inconsistent with the nature of the universe.

So in light of this, let us examine a claim brought out earlier: "If God is dead, then everything is permitted." If God were to have any reasons for what he forbids, those reasons are what make the forbidden things wrong. So it is argued that it is possible to understand that we might lead moral lives, and accept very strong moral standards, even if we deny that God exists. We do not have to believe in God in order be rational in accepting moral principles. Instead, we can deduce the reasons that a hypothetical God would have for defining moral principles.

A possible response to this objection is that God's commands are not arbitrary, but are a reflection of His own infinite, eternal, and unchangable nature. God is defined as being the highest good, so therefore it would be illogical for us, as His creatures, to be able to consider His commands or His actions and find them to be evil. But if we had been created by an evil god, then that would not explain why we seek the good. Also, it can be argued that it would be impossible for evil to be the fundamental of a universe, because evil is primarily a negation - actions and commands are judged to be evil insofar as they are contrary to our standards of good. So therefore, if the world was created by a god, this god is good and not evil. Then it would impossible for Him to command good sometimes and evil other times, because God cannot contradict Himself. It would be as illogical for God to be able to command evil as it would be for Him to create a rock that He couldn't lift, or to destroy Himself.

We can recognize the rationality and goodness of His commands because He created the universe to follow laws, rather than to be chaotic, and because we were made "in His image" (Gen. 1:26) and thus have an innate moral sense. There are some things that almost all people agree upon (murder is wrong, you shouldn't steal from others, we can't go around having sex with whatever we feel like {animals, children, our parents, etc.}). Even people who do those things would probably object if someone did it to them. Therefore, there is a conscience that convicts us when we do wrong, and a judicial sense that is offended when others do wrong to us. A purely utilitarian ethic is judged by most people to be flawed (for example, it is difficult to find the utilitarian reason one would sacrifice himself for his country, and then there are utilitarian ethicists such as Peter Singer who believe that infanticide is permissible and that the elderly and disabled can be removed from the population if they are a burden). If the conscience and the judicial sense do not function in a strictly utilitarian manner, then it makes a transcendent basis for morality seem more plausible. According to this view, areas of moral consensus show God's fingerprints on His handiwork, so to speak.

This text was originally taken from Larrys Text -- please continue to wikify and make conform to NPOV:

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