Recently I looked at Mere Christianity by CS Lewis in terms of his thoughts on sex. The plan was to look at Lewis’s argument for the existence of God* from objective morality. But then I realised that the modern Christian apologist William Lane Craig presents a very similar but simpler argument from morality. So, best to look at that one first. Here is Craig’s argument*, paraphrased but almost verbatim:
- Without God, objective morality wouldn’t exist
- But objective morality does exist (since we know murder is objectively wrong)
- Therefore God exists
Now, I happen to think even if there was a God, objective morality is still in trouble. This is ye olde Euthyphro dilemma: If morality is whatever God says, then how does God’s caprice make something objectively moral (or immoral)? If on the other hand morality is something outside of God, then adding God doesn’t help us explain objective morality (or even what it is).
Also if you think there IS an objective secular morality, you’ll write the whole argument off as nonsense because #1 above is false. But I’m taking a harder line, since I’ve never seen a good religious or secular argument for objective morality. So let’s grant #1 for the sake of argument. What’s wrong with the rest?
The problem is that #2 asserts that there’s an objective morality — but does does this based on our intuitions alone. But intuitions are subjective — in fact there’s nothing to prevent an explanation of our moral intuitions without God. (I think such a thing has been done by Dawkins’s original selfish gene theory.) Once we take into account that #2 relies on moral intuitions, we need to rewrite the argument’s real form:
- If God exists, objective morality would exist AND we’d have a [correct] transcendent feeling that it exists
- If God doesn’t exist, objective morality would NOT exist AND we might have a [wrong] transcendent feeling that it exists**
- We have a transcendent feeling objective morality exists (since we intuit murder is objectively wrong)
- Therefore God exists
To quote a good saying by Gold: “[W]hen put this way, the mistake is obvious”.
But why can Craig get away with it? Why does the original form of the argument seem so compelling to so many? It must be the strength of our subjective moral intuitions. Look at #2 in the modified form of the argument. It essentially says “your intuition is wrong”. And we use our intuition a lot — even when evaluating that very statement! #2 is itself unintuitive, which makes the whole argument very hard to accept with our “gut”. But to me, this just makes it another example of a case where we can be freed from our intuitions.
Our intuitions say your umbrella has an “objective length”, irrespective of your motion relative to the umbrella. Relativity says no. Our intuition is wrong. Likewise, our intuitions say murder is somehow “intrinsically” wrong***. But looking at the argument more closely says no, our intuitions are quite likely to be wrong. Especially given what we know about our evolution.
*Note that these are effectively arguments for deism [EDIT: and/or generic theism], not Christianity! Especially not a Biblical Christianity where a God is very subjective in his moral judgements.
**Given evolutionary theory, it’s reasonable to replace “might” with “probably” or even “almost certainly”
***Whatever that means — if someone has an idea of what it would be like for something to be “intrinsicaly wrong”, please let me know!