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Can Morality Be Explained Without God?

For millennia, philosophers have sought to explain the goodness and badness of human actions without appealing to theology. This essay aims to examine if any have been successful, or whether morality can only make logical sense if grounded in the existence of a moral deity.

The Moral Argument for God’s Existence

The “Moral Argument” is a popular argument used by religious apologists. It asserts that in light of the existence of moral good and evil, it logically follows that God must exist. One popular, deductive formulation of the Moral Argument is put forward by William Lane Craig as the following:

“Premise 1: If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.

Premise 2: Objective moral values and duties do exist.

Conclusion: Therefore, God exists.” (Craig, 2010, pp. 128–129)

The remainder of this essay aims to test the strength of the Moral Argument, by exploring the possible alternative explanations of morality that do not appeal to theology. Part 1 examines the explanations of morality that reject Premise 1 of Craig’s Moral Argument: “If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist”. Then Part 2 explores the positions which reject Premise 2: “Objective moral values and duties do exist” (Craig, 2010, pp. 128–129).

Part 1: Explanations that Reject Premise 1: “If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.”

1. The Transcendental Explanation of Morality

The first recorded explanation of morality that does not appeal to theology appears to be Plato’s so-called “World of the Forms” (Plato, c.360BC, para. 102). This dualistic theory suggests that there are two worlds: the Perceptual World that we experience through our physical senses, and the transcendent World of the Forms. Plato argues that contained within the World of the Forms are the true, objective and universal “forms” of moral goodness, and our experiences of moral values on Earth are simply reflections of these transcendentals (Plato, c.360BC, paras. 109–111), akin to shadows cast on a dark cave wall (Plato, c.375BC, pp. 227–235).

In Plato’s framework, morality is not grounded in a personal deity. Rather, moral values are drawn from an impersonal, transcendent and immaterial realm that exists independent of humanity and the physical world. For Plato, objective moral values are simply self-existent, self-sufficient and self-evident.

Although very few, if any, modern philosophers openly subscribe to Plato’s belief in the World of the Forms, Plato’s ideas of self-existent objective moral values permeate the modern world. For example, Article 1 of the United Nations (UN) Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” (UN, 1948, Article 1). The Declaration assumes the objective and self-existent reality of moral values such as equality, freedom and dignity. In a similar vein, the United States (US) Declaration of Independence describes the equality of men as “self-evident” (Jefferson et al., 1776, para. 2).

However, there are several logical issues with the Platonic, transcendental explanation of morality.

Firstly, Plato’s hypothesis of the World of the Forms is empirically unsubstantiated. Plato does not appear to give a reason for why he believes the World of the Forms exists; he simply asserts that it does. Furthermore, the existence of a completely immaterial realm, that can only be seen upon the observer’s death (Plato, c.360BC, para. 63), appears to be an untestable hypothesis. Bertrand Russell illustrates the importance of hypothesis testability by posing a thought experiment in which he attempts to persuade the reader that there is presently an undetectably microscopic teapot elliptically orbiting the Sun between the Earth and Mars (Russell, 1952). Russell argues that it would be illogical to accept the truth of this untestable assertion for it is an “intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it” (Russell, 1952). Plato’s World of the Forms is comparable to Russell’s teapot; it is an untestable and unsubstantiated ontological claim.

Secondly, as William Lane Craig points out, Plato’s World of the Forms can somewhat explain moral values, but it cannot explain moral duties (Craig, 2010, p. 137). In other words, even if moral values such as equality and justice exist in a transcendental realm, Plato fails to explain why humans are duty-bound to obey and uphold these moral values. Nor is there an explanation for why it is only humans that are duty-bound to uphold the moral realm, when the same does not appear to apply to animals, plants or inanimate objects (Craig, 2010, pp. 137–138). For moral duties to exist in Plato’s World of the Forms, one must also posit a personal moral authority who can mandate obedience to the moral values and enact retributive justice on those who disobey. The same must logically be true for the moral values asserted by the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the US Declaration of Independence. Even if moral values exist in a self-sufficient and self-evident transcendent form, one still requires a personal moral authority to establish these values as duties that humans ought to obey.

It is thus notable that, although both the US Declaration of Independence and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights appeal to the self-evident nature of moral values, both documents also have Christian foundations. The US Declaration of Independence describes men as “created equal” and that unalienable rights are “endowed by their creator” (Jefferson et al., 1776, para. 2). And as Tom Holland points out, the concept of Human Rights originated with the 12th Century Christian Canon Lawyers, who believed in the equality of all people because they believed all people bear the image of God (Holland, 2019, pp. 385–386).

Therefore, the transcendental explanation of morality is an untestable hypothesis and cannot give an adequate explanation for the existence of moral duties without additionally presupposing a moral deity.

2. The Rationalistic Explanation of Morality

Another way that philosophers have sought to explain objective morality is by grounding it in human reason. One of the most notable proponents of this view is Immanuel Kant. Like Plato, Kant argues for the existence of objective and universal moral values: what Kant terms “categorical imperatives” (Kant, 1785, p. 19). But rather than appealing to an immaterial realm that exists independent from humanity, Kant proposes that objective morality can be rationally deduced by human reason, through the principle: “Act as though the maxim of your action were to become, through your will, a universal law of nature” (Kant, 1785, p. 24).

A similar rationalistic explanation of morality is proposed by Sam Harris who argues that a “moral landscape” exists within human civilisation that can be discovered through science (Harris, 2010, p. 18). Harris postulates that, in the same way that physics can differentiate between correct and incorrect answers to questions about the physical world, psychology and neuroscience are becoming increasingly able to differentiate between right and wrong answers to questions pertaining to morality (Harris, 2010, p. 44).

However, the rationalistic explanation of morality becomes logically problematic in light of David Hume’s so-called “is-ought divide”. Hume argues that deductions about what is cannot lead to assertions about what ought to be, and therefore “the distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely on the relations of objects, nor is perceived by reason” (Hume, 1740, pp. 715–716). Reason and science can inform observers about how people behave. But alone, they cannot instruct them on how people ought to behave. (Hume overcomes the “is-ought divide” by denying the existence of objective morals, which shall be addressed in part 2 of this essay.)

This logical problem can be seen in Kant and Harris’ own writing. Both authors posit ultimate moral ideals that are the end-goals of human behaviour; for Kant this is “happiness” (Kant, 1785, p. 20) and for Harris this is “well-being” (Harris, 2010, p. 12). However, neither author gives a rational explanation for why happiness or well-being ought to be the end-goal of morality. They simply presume these values and then show that reason and science can help people attain them.

In addition, Harris argues, interestingly in common with Plato, that increased knowledge and understanding of moral philosophy increases moral behaviour (Plato, 375BC, pp. 119–129; Harris, 2010, p. 55). If morality can be deduced by reason, it would logically follow that people who know more about morality will act more morally. However, the evidence appears to contradict this. For example, in a series of studies, Eric Schwitzgebel and colleagues show that compared with non-ethicists, ethicists are: equally likely to show discourteous behaviour at philosophy conferences (Schwitzgebel et al., 2012), equally likely to respond to undergraduate emails (Rust and Schwitzgebel, 2013), and less likely to return academic library books (Schwitzgebel, 2009). Schwitzgebel et al. are yet to find any moral behaviour that ethicists exhibit better than their lay counterparts (Haidt, 2012, p. 104).

Therefore, appealing to reason and science to explain morality is neither logically consistent nor empirically verifiable. This is the view advocated by Albert Einstein who remarks uncompromisingly: “I do not believe that a moral philosophy can ever be founded on a scientific basis… Every attempt to reduce ethics to scientific formulas must fail” (Einstein, 1930).

3. The Teleological Explanation of Morality

A third possible position that rejects Premise 1 of Craig’s Moral Argument (Craig, 2010, pp. 128–129) is the teleological explanation of morality postulated by Aristotle. Rather than grounding morals in an external, transcendent realm like Plato (c.360BC, paras. 109–111), or in a moral landscape within humanity like Harris (2010, p. 18), Aristotle sees morals as rooted in human beings’ inherent function and purpose. He argues that, in the same way that a good flute fulfils its function when it produces pleasant music, a good person fulfils their moral functions when they act in accordance with their inherent purpose (Aristotle, c. 350BC, pp. 10–12). Therefore, moral good is determined by that which will lead to human flourishing, in line with our true nature and purpose.

Alistair Macintyre advocates a similar view to Aristotle, arguing that ethics presupposes that humans have an inherent purpose or “telos”, and moral decision-making is simply ascertaining “how to realize our true nature and to reach our true end.” (Macintyre, 1981, p. 52).

Interestingly, Macintyre claims to be able to bridge Hume’s “is-ought divide” (Hume, 1740, pp. 715–716) without appealing to theology. He points out that if a person is a good farmer, that person ought to carry out successful and productive farming, thus deducing a moral “ought” from an ontological “is”. Similarly he argues that if someone is a human, they ought to act in line with their human purpose and nature (Macintyre, 1981, pp. 57–58).

Jean-Jacques Rousseau proposes a slightly different teleological explanation of morality when he contends that humans are born with innate and natural moral virtue, that is then corrupted by the malevolent forces of society (Rousseau, 1750, pp. 7–8). He thus argues that the route to moral virtue involves introspection, finding one’s innermost desires and consciences, and then authentically living out one’s inner psychological life in public (Rousseau, 1763, p. 473). For Rousseau, moral living consists of following the inherent, teleological virtues that lie in the heart of each individual, rather than looking to external moral authorities or influences, which only act to corrupt one’s innocence.

However, when posed within a purely naturalistic framework, the teleological explanation of morality becomes problematic. This is primarily because it assumes a preordained purpose or telos of mankind, in the form of either a pre-existent “human blueprint” or a real archetypal human. To use Macintyre’s analogy, a farmer can only be called a “good farmer” if either: it has been pre-established what a good farmer ought to do, or an archetypal good farmer has existed at some point. But when applied to morality, this leaves unanswered the key questions of: where and when did this human archetype exist, and who or what designed it? These questions seem impossible to answer without appealing to some sort of cosmic Creator. And conversely, this view seems to naturally lead to belief in a Creator who designed the human being and bestows on humans purposes and functionalities that, if obeyed, will result in human flourishing.

Thus the teleological explanation of morality appears to lead towards, rather than away from, the belief in God. Rather than fitting with naturalism, Aristotle, Macintyre and Rousseau’s frameworks seem to better fit with a theistic worldview, such as the moral mandates found in Christianity. This has been convincingly argued by various Christian authors including Nancy Pearcey who proposes that morality is “the guidebook for fulfilling God’s original purpose for humanity… [and] the road map for reaching the human telos” (Pearcey, 2018, p. 23), and Glynn Harrison who similarly writes that true human flourishing can be achieved when people “work with the grain of God’s reality and not against it.” (Harrison, 2017, p. 127).

Conclusion of Part 1

In ‘The Brothers Karamazov’, Fyodor Dostoevsky quips: “without God…everything is permitted” (Dostoevsky, 1880, p. 589). Part 1 of this essay has argued that, from a metaphysical perspective, Dostoevsky is correct; objective morality cannot logically exist if one denies the existence of God. Many philosophers, from Ancient Greece through to the modern day, have attempted to explain the existence of objective moral values and duties whilst denying the existence of a moral deity. However, as discussed in this Part, each of these attempts have proven logically flawed, empirically deficient, or both. This is a point noted by Richard Dawkins who, despite his fervent atheism, concedes that “it is pretty hard to defend absolutist morals on grounds other than religious ones” (Dawkins, 2006, p. 266). (Dawkins’ explanation of morality shall be addressed in Part 2 of this essay.) Thus it would logically follow that, if objective moral values and duties do exist, they must be grounded in a moral authority who transcends human subjective decision-making and who has the authoritative right to imposed moral laws and duties on human beings. In other words, Premise 1 of Craig’s Moral Argument appears to hold true: “If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist” (Craig, 2010, pp. 128–129).

Part 2: Explanations that Reject Premise 2: “Objective moral values and duties do exist”

1. The Emotive Explanation of Morality

Another common approach to explain morality without appealing to theology is to deny the existence of objective moral values and duties, and instead to appeal to a relativistic moral framework. This is advocated by Baruch Spinoza who argues that objects and actions are not intrinsically good or evil, but rather morality is judged by the subjective perception of the individual (Spinoza, 1677, p. 1).

David Hume, who highlights the “is-ought divide” discussed in previous sections, advocates for a similarly relativistic view. Hume explains moral vices and virtues not as objective moral realities, but simply as expressions of the subjective feelings and sentimentalities of the observer (Hume, 1740, pp. 713–714). Alistair Macintyre terms this subjective view of morality based on emotional preferences as “emotivism” (Macintyre, 1981, pp. 11–12).

The problem with the “emotive” explanation of morality is that it seems to contradict most, if not all, people’s powerful a priori belief that there are some objective moral values. This means that, as Carl Trueman points out, even the most ardent defenders of emotivism find it very difficult to argue that their own moral views are simply based on their personal emotional preferences (Trueman, 2020, p. 87).

C. S. Lewis elaborates on this objection to emotivism by posing a thought experiment involving an observer hearing a cry for help from a stranger (Lewis, 1942, pp. 9–10). Lewis notes that the observer will experience two conflicting emotional instincts: one instructing him to preserve his safety and flee from danger, and one instructing him to value the well-being of a fellow group-member and go to help. However, the observer will also experience a third influence that judges between the two emotional instincts to ascertain which action is morally right. Thus it follows that this influence, that judges between emotional instincts, cannot itself be an emotional instinct; it must be of a higher cognitive faculty (Lewis, 1942, pp. 9–10).

To give another example, most people would find it difficult to concede that the concept of justice is simply an expression of subjective emotional preference, especially if the person is the plaintiff. People may disagree on what is just, and whether or not justice has been served in a particular circumstance. However, the national and international judiciary systems depend on a unanimous consensus that justice is not simply subjective and emotional, but rather an objectively and universally good value. Therefore, if a proponent of emotivism were to be a victim of immorality, for example theft, it would be surprising and unprecedented if the victim simply accepted that the defendant and claimant had equally valid moral sentiments, rather than appealing to the transcendent moral value of justice in order to bring about retribution on the perpetrator.

That is not to say that emotions do not play an important role in moral decision-making. As Jonathan Haidt notes, there is substantial psychological evidence that humans make many moral decisions based on intuitive emotional instincts, and then use reason to justify their decisions post-hoc (Haidt, 2012, pp. 32–83). For example, Haidt recounts his own unpublished research which shows that when confronted with deliberately emotive ethical scenarios, such as being offered a drink containing a sterilised cockroach, or consensual incestuous sexual intercourse using contraception, or someone eating cooked human flesh that would otherwise be discarded, participants often made fast and instinctive moral judgements, and then verbalise tenuous and often irrational post-hoc justifications for their moral instincts (Haidt, 2012, pp. 43–48). However, the involvement of (sometimes irrational) emotions in moral decision-making cannot explain the ontological existence of morality, any more than the instinctive (and sometimes irrational) emotion of fear experienced when one sees a large animal can explain the existence of the animal. (Haidt himself argues for an evolutionary model of the origins of morality, which shall be discussed later in this essay.)

Therefore, Spinoza and Hume’s view, that morality is entirely produced by subjective feelings and sentiments, is at odds with most, if not all, people’s experience of moral awareness. It is undeniable that emotions play a role in many moral decisions. Nonetheless, emotivism appears incomplete and pragmatically unsustainable as a comprehensive explanation for morality.

2. The Sociological Explanation of Morality

One increasingly common conceptualisation of morality is as a socially-constructed invention. In his book ‘Sapiens’, Yuval Noah Harari explains his view of morality by exploring the founding of two key historic moral edicts: The Code of Hammurabi and the US Declaration of Independence. Harari notes that both of these codes “claim to outline universal and eternal principles of justice” (Harari, 2011, pp. 120–121). However, rather than grounding these moral codes in an objective moral realm, or in the subjective moral sentiments of individuals, Harari describes them as collectively “imagined realities” (Harari, 2011, p. 35) created to maintain cohesive and stable societies. Harari compares morality to the automobile company Peugeot and the American dollar, arguing that these are all establishments that do not exist as true realities in the physical world, but are rather socially constructed imagined realties that exist only insofar as people believe in them (Harari, 2011, pp. 30–36). He then goes on to describe how subsequent generations within the society have these imaginary moral codes instilled in their minds, through education, stories, arts, media, and political propaganda (Harari, 2011, pp. 124–133).

Friedrich Nietzsche, who famously proclaims: “God is dead… And we have killed him” (Nietzsche, 1882, sec. 125), takes an even more cynical sociological view of morality when he describes morals and virtues as simply invented weapons that groups use to compete with other groups (Nietzsche, 1883, sec. 86). Nietzsche specifically attacks Christian morals, describing them as “mob-egotism of the weak”, and arguing that Christian commandments pertaining to altruism and equality are simply invented to advantage the weak and subvert the strong in society (Nietzsche, 1883, sec. 246).

However, there are two significant problems with the sociological explanations of morality that are worth considering.

Firstly, Harari and Nietzsche commit the genetic fallacy. In positing a sociological explanation for people’s beliefs in morality, Harari and Nietzsche both fallaciously assume to have discredited the belief in objective moral values. However, positing an epistemological explanation for people’s belief in objective morality does not disprove the ontological existence of objective moral values. Put simply, just because belief in morality appears to be socially conditioned does not automatically make the belief false. Furthermore, as William Lane Craig argues, it is equally plausible that, rather than being gradually invented by evolving humans, moral values and duties are discovered, as humans gain increasing awareness of the real and objective moral realm (Craig, 2010, p. 143).

Secondly, the sociological explanations of morality argued by Harari and Nietzsche are rooted in naturalistic presuppositions. Harari and Nietzsche both assume that the only true reality is the physical world and therefore all non-physical entities are nothing but imagined. However, neither authors substantiate their naturalistic assumption that non-physical entities do not truly exist; it is simply presupposed. And more significantly, it can be argued that naturalism is logically self-defeating. As Alvin Plantinga proposes, if naturalism is true, then the human brain has been created entirely by a blind evolutionary process that is only driven to produce characteristics that increase the survival and reproductive capability of the organisms (Plantinga, 1993, pp. 216–237). It would logically follow then, that the human cognitive faculties have developed to maximise survival, not truth. Clearly, there will be times when truth and survival value will intersect. However, it is difficult to imagine how the cognisant individual would be able to differentiate between the two. Therefore, naturalism calls into question the reliability of all truth claims produced by human cognition, including naturalism itself (Plantinga, 1993, pp. 216–237). J. B. S. Haldane summarises this point succinctly when he writes: “…if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.” (Haldane, 1927, p. 209). If morals are nothing more than socially conditioned imaginations, the same ought to be true for all truth-claims, including naturalism, and the belief that morals are nothing more than socially conditioned imaginations.

It is worth noting that sociological influences evidently play a key role in the learning and propagation of moral values. The Jewish Rabbi Jonathan Sacks makes this point and then goes on to argue that much immorality in modern society can be traced back to individualism, the self-esteem movement and/or the deconstruction of the traditional family structure (Sacks, 2020, pp. 38–74). In Sacks’ view, strong and stable social influences are essential to maintain morality. He is possibly alluding to biblical passages such as Deuteronomy 6:7 in which the prophet Moses instructs the Israelites to teach and instil the commandments of God in their children. However, the sociological explanations, such as those proposed by Harari and Nietzsche, cannot fully account for the existence of moral values; they can only explain how those moral values are propagated. For Sacks, the existence of morals is rooted in the commands of God, but learned, in part, through sociological influences.

In sum, although sociological influences are important in the propagation of morality, a purely sociological explanation of morality, grounded in a naturalistic worldview, is both logically fallacious and self-defeating.

3. The Evolutionary Explanation of Morality

One final way that philosophers have attempted to explain people’s belief in objective morals, whilst denying the existence of an objective moral realm, is by appealing to Darwinian evolution. Charles Darwin proposes that all living beings have evolved from a single unicellular ancestor, through the principle of “survival of the fittest” and the propagation of characteristics that give individuals competitive advantage (Darwin, 1859, pp. 60–61). Several philosophers and biologists have built on Darwin’s principles in attempts to explain the origins of people’s beliefs in objective moral values and duties.

Richard Dawkins argues that morality can be explained entirely by the evolutionary process and propagation of “selfish” genes that give the individual a competitive advantage (Dawkins, 1976, pp. 3–4). Intuitively, this would lead to the evolution of exclusively self-serving and self-preserving behaviours. However, Dawkins then goes on to assert that virtues which appear selfless, such as altruism and kindness, can have a Darwinian explanation if we consider factors such as “reciprocal altruism”, where individuals show kindness in the knowledge that kindness will be shown in return, or “reputation”, where individuals act in altruistic ways to gain repute and consequent good-treatment from competitors (Dawkins, 2006, pp. 247–254).

Jonathan Haidt expands the Darwinian model of morality even further. Building on concepts penned by Émile Durkheim (1887, p. 220), Haidt argues that “natural selection works at multiple levels simultaneously, sometimes including groups of organisms” (Haidt, 2012, p. 254). He uses the concept of group-selection to explain the existence of moral actions that appear to go against the self-interest of the individual, but actually act to competitively advantage the group, such as collaboration, fairness, gentleness and justice (Haidt, 2012, pp. 219–255).

However, there are several criticisms that can be levelled at the evolutionary explanations for morality.

Firstly, Dawkins and Haidt commit the same logical fallacies as Harari and Nietzsche. They ground their theories in a naturalistic worldview which, as discussed above, appears to be logically fallacious and self-defeating. And both authors also commit the genetic fallacy (in this case quite literally) by assuming that the positing of an evolutionary explanation for people’s beliefs in objective morals consequently proves these beliefs to be false. Thomas Henry Huxley summarises this fallacy succinctly when he writes: “evolution may teach us how the good and evil tendencies of man have come about but, in itself it is incomplete to furnish any… reason why what we call “good” is preferable to what we call “evil”” (Huxley, 1894, p. 80).

Secondly, as John Lennox argues, a naturalistic evolutionary explanation of morality inexorably leads to the thorny problem of biological determinism (Lennox, 2011, pp. 109–111). If all moral decisions and actions are determined by evolutionary forces, then humans are nothing more than biological machines programmed by their genes to carry out pre-determined actions and decisions. Or to use Dawkins’ metaphor, humans have no choice but to “dance to [the] music” of their DNA (Dawkins, 1995, p. 133). However, if human decisions are genetically determined, it is difficult to justify holding anyone morally accountable for their actions, or enforcing punitive justice on “wrong” behaviour. Holding humans morally accountable for their actions would be no more logical than punishing an under-watered plant for not growing, or an incorrectly-set watch for telling the wrong time. In order to maintain a logically coherent evolutionary model of morality, one must jettison all notions of moral accountability and justice. However, very few, if any philosophers appear willing to do this (Lennox, 2017, pp. 36–41).

Thirdly, both Haidt and Dawkins demonstrate in their writing that the evolutionary model of morality is practically unsustainable. In their respective books, both writers appeal to objective moral values, despite claiming that moral values are subjective by-products of evolution. In ‘The Righteous Mind’, Haidt proposes his “normative ethic” called “Durkheimian utilitarianism” (Haidt, 2012, p. 316), and Dawkins spends large portions of ‘The God Delusion’ attacking and condemning the morality of the Judeo-Christian God (Dawkins, 2006, pp. 268–316) and various religious practices and ethics (Dawkins, 2006, pp. 317–383). It is clear that neither Haidt nor Dawkins sees his own moral values as unimportant and subjective by-products of evolution. Rather, both authors frame their moral views as objective imperatives, grounded in some sort of objective moral reality.

In conclusion, the evolutionary explanations of morality are fraught with significant problems, philosophically, jurisprudentially and pragmatically.

Conclusion of Part 2

Part 2 of this essay has analysed various positions that philosophers have taken that deny the existence of objective moral values and duties. Although several of these views are commonly held and growing in popularity, this essay has argued that they have all been shown to be either logically fallacious or pragmatically untenable, if not both. Rather, as argued by John Henry Newman, the powerful, tangible conscious awareness humans have of moral right and wrong is so compelling that in the absence of a defeater, it is logical to infer that a real, objective moral realm exists (Newman, 1909, p. 48). William Lane Craig summarises this argument by noting that people’s powerful, tangible, a priori awareness of the physical world gives compelling grounds to believe in the reality of the physical world, as opposed to the belief that the physical world is illusory. Therefore, people’s powerful, tangible, a priori awareness of morality similarly gives compelling grounds to believe in an objective moral realm (Craig, 2012). Therefore, Premise 2 of Craig’s Moral Argument appears to be affirmable: “Objective moral values and duties do exist”. (Craig, 2010, pp. 128–129).


This essay has sought to test the strength of the Moral Argument for God’s existence, by analysing whether there have been any successful attempts made to explain morality without appealing to theology.

In Part 1, a range of positions were reviewed that endeavour to account for the existence of objective moral values and duties without appealing to God, including positing the existence of a transcendental moral realm, rooting morality in human reason, and appealing to inherent human nature. However, all of these views have been shown to be logically incoherent and thus it would appear that Premise 1 of Craig’s Moral Argument is correct: “If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist” (Craig, 2010, pp. 128–129).

Part 2 explored several different positions that deny the existence of objective morality, including the beliefs that morals are nothing more than expressions of subjective feelings, moral codes are socially constructed inventions, and moral behaviour is a by-product of Darwinian evolution. This essay has argued that all of these views are either logically flawed or pragmatically unsustainable, if not both. Therefore, Premise 2 of Craig’s Moral Argument appears to also be correct: “Objective moral values and duties do exist”. (Craig, 2010, pp. 128–129).

If both Premise 1 (“If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist”) and Premise 2 (“Objective moral values and duties do exist”) of Craig’s Moral Argument are correct, it must logically follow that Craig’s conclusion is also correct: “Therefore, God exists.” (Craig, 2010, pp. 128–129). The evident existence of objective morality appears to lead logically to the inevitable conclusion that a moral deity exists, who transcends human subjectivity and possesses the inherent authority to instruct people on how to live. In other words, in light of the above analysis, one must conclude that morality cannot be adequately justified without theology.

This article was original submitted as an essay for my Masters in Bioethics and Medical Law at St Mary's University Twickenham.


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