There is a pervasive confusion about the meaning of morality shared by believers and skeptics alike. Theists typically assert that nothing could be “really” right or wrong without an authority – a God – to define it as such. Atheists often accept this premise and so conclude there is no objective morality. Meanwhile, neither side has said a single word about what morality actually entails. They don’t seem to notice that morality is based fundamentally on concepts like fairness, equity, and justice which are objectively defined and measurable properties.
What determines if something is just or unjust? The answer flows immediately from the definition of the word. Here are some representative samples from various dictionaries on the net:
- Guided by truth, reason, justice, and fairness
- Done or made according to principle; equitable
- Conforming to high moral standards; honest
- Having a basis in or conforming to fact or reason
- Fair or impartial in action or judgment
Justice is grounded in reason, rationality, truth, and fairness. For a judgment to be just it must correspond to reality which is why it is objective (as opposed to subjective). Justice, fairness, and equality all lie at the root of our moral intuitions. Indeed, the word iniquity is based on the Latin root iniquitas which literally denotes unequalness, unevenness, injustice. Something is just and moral if it is equitable, fair, reasonable, impartial. It is an objective property no different than the objective fact that two authentic coins of the same denomination have the same weight. That is why Lady Justice, an allegorical personification of the moral force in judicial systems, is pictured with a scale. Nothing is more objective than a scale. She wears a blindfold because justice must be impartial and objective, which means she ignores any factors not specifically relevant to the thing being judged (weighed, in the metaphor of the scales).
Morality is grounded in rationality and so is, by its very nature, objective. It is taught to children throughout the world in some form of the Golden Rule which tells us how to tap into our moral intuitions by putting ourselves in the place of the other. This helps us be impartial and fair and promotes mercy, compassion, kindness, and empathy. The Golden Rule stands “in light of its own reason” as explained by Professor R. M. MacIver in his article The Deep Beauty of the Golden Rule (provided online by Google Books):
Do to others as you would have others do to you. This is the only rule that stands by itself in the light of its own reason, the only rule that can stand by itself in the naked, warring universe, in the face of the contending values of men and groups.
Rationality and the Golden Rule are the foundation of morality as explained in my articles The Golden Rule and the Foundation of Objective Morality and The Logic of Love: A Natural Theory of Morality. See also my wife’s article, Justice: The Root of Morality, on her blog GodAndButterfly.net.
The Moral Argument for the Existence of God
- If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
- Objective moral values and duties do exist.
- Therefore, God exists.
His argument is immediately susceptible to Euthyphro’s dilemma: Is something morally good because God says so, or does God say so because it is morally good? The first possibility implies morality is arbitrary, while the second implies it is objectively true independent of God. Either horn of this dilemma destroys Craig’s moral argument so he needed to find a third option which he developed in his article Euthyphro Dilemma Once More where he splits the horns by asserting that “God’s moral nature is the paradigm of goodness; what is good or bad is determined by conformity or lack thereof to His nature.” Craig asserts that there would be no meaning to words like “good, just, true, or fair” if there were no God. He then presents this question by a reader “James”:
If God’s nature rejects the raping of little children, but it is not an arbitrary rejection (rejected for no reasons), then would this not mean that God’s nature is good in accordance with good reasons? In other words, can we not say that God’s nature is necessarily opposed to the rape of children BECAUSE in every possible world it causes injustice and injury to the victim (i.e. good reasons)?
Here is how Craig responded:
I’d respond that there certainly can be reasons for what God commands. For example, He forbids raping little children because it would be unjust and injurious to them. But then the deeper question is, “Why is it wrong to cause injury to innocent persons? What determines what is just or unjust?” Eventually such questions must find a stopping point in the character of God. Kindness is good because that’s the way God is; cruelty is evil because it is inconsistent with God’s nature. Therefore He issues commands that forbid behavior which is cruel and prescribe behavior which is kind. Rape is cruel, not kind, and therefore it is forbidden by God and therefore wrong.
Craig’s question “What determines what is just or unjust?” exposes the rank absurdity of his assertions. He appears to be profoundly ignorant of the meaning of basic moral terms like “just” and “fair”. As a supposed “philosopher” such ignorance is inexcusable. The job of a philosopher is to take concepts like justice and unpack them in terms of things that are commonly understood, such as a scale which is a universal symbol of justice. His assertion that we could not determine the difference between just and unjust without ultimately appealing to God is as ridiculous as saying that scales would cease to function if God did not exist. Likewise, we need not appeal to any God to understand why it is wrong to rape children. Craig addressed this point as follows:
You rejoin, “Must we conclude that the reasons to not rape (unloving, unjust) would cease to exist if there was no transcendent, necessarily, good nature in existence?” Yes, in the sense that in the absence of God it’s not evident that cruelty would be wrong. Activity that looks very much like rape goes on all the time in the animal kingdom but without any moral dimension to the act. On atheism that’s all we are—just animals, relatively advanced primates, and it’s hard to see why human activity should have the moral dimension that is missing from the activity of other animals. So while rape in the absence of God would still be injurious, cruel, and demeaning, there wouldn’t be anything, so far as I can see, that would make an action having those properties morally wrong. One could try to defend some sort of atheistic moral Platonism, I suppose, but then one must answer my three-fold critique of Atheistic Moral Realism in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview.
Craig said that “it’s hard to see why human activity should have the moral dimension that is missing from the activity of other animals.” This is the fundamental flaw in his moral argument. He falsely asserts that humans would be nothing but animals under atheism, as if we would lose all human capacities of language and logic if there were no God. He repeats this error in almost every presentation of his moral argument. He usually puts on a very pained look on his face, and whines on and on about how he just can’t “see” how, under atheism, humans would have a “moral dimension.” I addressed this error in gruesome detail in my article Why Most Animals are not Philosophers: Fatal Flaws in Dr. Craig’s Moral Argument. There is no excuse for Craig’s continued error on this point. He is simply incorrigible. He has been corrected by many professional philosophers, as seen, for example, in this clip from his debate with Shelly Kagan: