Note: What follows below is a transcript of this video
I wanted to cover some of the best objections to the moral argument for gods existence in their own smaller, easier to digest videos.
To sum things up quickly, here’s the standard moral argument for god’s existence:
1. If god does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
2. Objective moral values & duties exist
3. Therefore god exists
This video is going to cover an objection about what are called “Moral Brute Facts”, which is an idea I got from reading the work of atheist philosopher Erik Wielenberg.
In order for the moral argument to work, an apologist must assume a theory of ethics known as Modified Divine Command Theory. In philosophy, this is what is called a meta-ethical theory. That’s a theory that attempts to explain what makes something morally valuable, and what constitutes our moral obligations.
Modified Divine Command theory says that objective moral values are equivalent to “gods nature”, and that objective moral duties, that is what we “ought to do” morally speaking, are made up of god’s divine commands to us.
As we’ll see, Modified Divine Command Theory causes some problems for an apologist who tries to use the moral argument to say that atheist can’t have objective moral values or duties. I should point out that this objection is going to focus on moral values, with another video will focus on moral duties.
This is because like many meta-ethical theories, Modified Divine Command Theory rests on what are called “brute facts”. Brute facts are true facts that are not logically necessary, but have no further explanation, they just are.
This isn’t to say that Modified Divine Command Theory is wrong because it relies on brute facts, but it is to point out that an atheist can appeal to a number of other meta-ethical theories that similarly rely on brute facts, and get a system of moral values and duties that are just as objective as what theism can provide. This refutes the moral argument and shows that atheism does not entail moral relativism or nihilism.
So how does Modified Divine Command Theory rely on brute facts?
Well, apologists say that for something like love to be considered “morally good” it has to be a part of god’s nature. In fact, anything that is part of god’s nature is considered good, and Christians conceive of god as a host of things: Loving, Kind, Truthful, etc. and so all those qualities count as good.
The problem with this view is that the fact that god’s nature has any given property is itself a brute fact!
So the fact that Christians conceive of god being loving instead of hateful has no explanation any more than Christians can explain why their god is a trinity instead of a duet or quintuple. Those are all just brute facts.
In fact, any logical proof that could attempt to show this is going to need to make assumptions that would themselves be brute facts about the nature of being, or love, or whatever metaphysical topic they want to engage in to try and derive it.
What’s worse is that Modified Divine Command Theory actually cuts off even analytic appeals to say something like “god’s nature is loving” is logically necessary in the same way we would say “all bachelors are unmarried”.
This is because if apologists assume that moral values existed apart from god, they could at least say that “since god is defined as the greatest conceivable being, he must necessarily be loving because loving is good”.
But this doesn’t work, because Modified Divine Command Theory says that the only things that are good are the things that are in god’s nature. So if god was say: Hateful, Mean, and Deceitful – then those things would be “good” on that view. As such there’s no logically necessary reason to think god’s nature must be “Loving” instead of “Hat eful”, it just happens to be that way – according to apologists.
Similarly, apologists can’t appeal to their conception of god as a necessary being to explain why god’s nature has one set of properties over another.
A necessary being or thing is something that exists the same way in every possible world. We typically consider things like mathematics or logical laws to be necessary, so when we say 2+2=4, there is no possible world where 2+2=5. When it comes to god, it just means that whatever set of properties god has, he has those properties in every possible world.
So if you say it’s logically necessary that god is loving because god is loving in every possible world, that’s because you’re assuming god is loving in the first place. There’s no logical reason you can give to say why god is loving instead of hateful, because even if god is a necessary being he could just as easily have a hateful nature in every possible world instead of a loving nature.
Now that we’ve shown that the theistic meta-ethics behind the moral argument relies on brute facts as an explanatory ultimate, we can move to show why an atheist isn’t forced into moral relativism or nihilism.
An atheist is free to adopt other meta-ethical theories which rely on their own brute facts. There are theories Platonism, where the form of the good just exists. Modern defenders of this view would be philosophers like Erik Wielenberg’s “Value & Virtue in a Godless Universe”. There are other ways to answer this question without resorting to Platonism, though I’ll touch on them in other videos in this series. In each point we’re going to end up with some kind of brute fact as our ‘explanatory ultimate’, or the stopping point in our moral theory.
A theist or apologist may not like the brute facts that are used in atheistic ethics, but then atheists and philosophers have issues with their brute facts at the same time. Like nearly every issue in metaphysics, we end up arguing over unprovable intuitions. Either way, disagreement about the basis for ethics does not mean that atheists don’t have objective ethical systems or lack an objective basis for moral values and duties.