What follows is a post I originally shared on Facebook this past April — a post heavily influenced by the work of C.S. Lewis, Dr. William Lane Craig, and others.
Who is the greatest singer of all time? The greatest basketball player? The greatest rapper?
Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, or Elvis? Kareem, MJ, or LBJ? Biggie, Pac, or Jay-Z? (I’m probably irking some people by not including someone who tops their list lol). Such questions can be fuel for… spirited discussion.
For, it seems to me that we all have various, subjective criteria by which we judge singers, athletes, and rappers. The issue is that we do not all have an objective standard for greatness by which we can all judge.
Not everyone values records sold over vocal range. Or championships over cultural influence. Or content over rhyme scheme.
No matter how popular or convincing, we all have subjective reasons for believing a few to be greater than most. But it would be hard to definitively, objectively crown one as superior.
Subjective Moral Preferences
Similarly, we may feel strongly about our moral criteria. We may feel that certain moral standards are better than others. We may have reasons that are popular and convincing, but they are still subjective preferences.
Without an objective moral standard by which we can judge, how can one definitively crown one moral standard as superior? If there is no such objective moral law, how can we be sure that our subjective morality is superior to that of anyone else?
Unless, of course, there is an objective standard for moral values and obligations — a moral law by which we judge allegedly racist coffee shop employees, politicians we disagree with, and people who unload AR-15’s on schoolchildren.
Objective Moral Laws?
I believe most would affirm that certain things are objectively, morally wrong — regardless of one’s personal, subjective opinion (e.g., racism, rape, torturing infants for fun). But, from whence does this objective standard cometh?
Evolution? Even if it could be demonstrated that morality was baked into our genes, this would still be subjective morality. It could have outlived other moral standards from people in the past, and it could evolve in the future. At best, such a view could only describe what we currently think to be moral — not what ought to be moral (descriptive vs. prescriptive morality).
The “Harm Principle” / Minimalist Ethic?
Perhaps we can do whatever we want as long as we don’t harm anyone else. The classic rejoinder, however, is the Peeping Tom. One doesn’t really inflict harm on a woman by spying on her without her knowledge. But it’s still creepy — and wrong.
Moreover, who says that harming people is morally bad? According to what standard? We’re back where we started.
But maybe what is moral is anything that increases human flourishing and decreases human pain. But, again, who determines of what “flourishing” consists? And, who says “flourishing” is objectively good and pain objectively bad? By whose standard?
Objective Moral Lawgiver
Dear friends, it seems to me that, if we affirm that there are at least some objective moral laws, the most reasonable conclusion is to believe that there is some sort of Moral Lawgiver.
This does not mean that atheists are incapable of being “good.” It means that, if atheism were true [(as many prominent atheists have admitted)], nothing would be (objectively) good (or bad).
“If God does not exist, everything is permissible.”–