The burden of proof in absolute/objective religious morals


This post will not examine whether humans are capable of doing good without God, but simply present religious apologists with the burden of proof they have to satisfy in order to argue that God is indeed the source of human morality.

Rather like Creationists and Intelligent Design proponents stating that God must occupy gaps in human understanding of science, religious apologists invariably fall back on the self-same deity of the gaps when arguing for the source of human morals: “Science seemingly cannot explain where human morals come from and why we are capable of behaving with kindness, compassion and altruism towards our fellow man, therefore it must be God”.

In presenting this false dichotomy and arguing for God as the default explanation, they are actually make at least four distinct claims which they must substantiate, namely that:

  1. there is de facto a predetermined objective/absolute moral standard;
  2. this moral standard originates from a supernatural deity;
  3. said supernatural deity is the one in whom they believe i.e. Yahweh, Christ or Allah as opposed to Krishna, Zeus or Poseidon; and
  4. they know what acts their deity considers to be moral.

Evidence for a de facto absolute/objective moral standard

There is no evidence whatsoever that a pre-determined objective or absolute moral standard.  As Th1sWasATriumph puts it in his videos debunking William Lane Craig’s five “arguments” for God’s existence, “morality is an infinite spectrum of grey areas”.

You only have to look at the moral disagreements between people of all faiths and none (or the cartoon at the head of this post for ease of reference) to see that there are no easy answers to questions of ethics.

Maybe it would be wonderful for us to refer all our ethical problems to a supernatural agency for ultimate answers, but just because a certain concept may give us comfort, this does not mean for one moment that it exists in reality.

Evidence that moral standards can only originate from a deity

As Victor Stenger argued in his 2003 debate against William Lane Craig, even if an objective moral standard did exist, it could have been hardwired into our genetics by evolution as a mechanism to assist our survival.  I have not been presented with any convincing argument or evidence ruling out such a naturalistic possibility.

Evidence that a particular deity is the only source of human morals

Human societies have earnestly believed in countless millions of gods over the centuries; none of them have been disproved with absolute certainty.  As Sam Harris has pointed out, the Biblical God has exactly the same evidentiary status as Zeus and Poseidon, yet it is only by slight variation in language that outwardly religious politicians like Tony Blair and George W. Bush do not sound like complete lunatics to the majority of people by citing his moral guidance as opposed to the residents of Mount Olympus.

Who knows; perhaps the key to objective morality lies in Ovid’s Metamorphoses?

Evidence for knowing what their deity considers to be moral and ethical

How exactly do religious believers know that their god disapproves of murder, rape, child abuse, genocide, eugenics and so forth and approves of love, compassion, charity, truth and altruism?  This is the heart of Plato’s Euthyphro Dilemma: is the good loved by the gods because it is good, or is it good because it is loved by the gods?

William Lane Craig has written and recorded a disgusting tract arguing that Yahweh can arbitrarily alter his own moral law to command his chosen people to commit genocide, which has rightly been lambasted by Richard Dawkins as the reason why he will never share a public platform with Craig.

Furthermore, the equally repulsive branch of theological “thought” known as theodicy has it that all evil and suffering in the World is part of God’s great plan to redeem as many souls as possible and bring them into his kingdom for an eternity of bliss once they are through with this veil of tears.

The unfortunate – but nonetheless unavoidable – fallout from this line of “thinking” is that everything that the victims of Nazism went through was perfectly worthwhile, their transition to a better place was simply accelerated, and Hitler and SS were agents of the divine will.

As Muslims say, “All is as God wills it”, which is another theological profundity that I have yet to fathom.

But that’s for another post.

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One Response to “The burden of proof in absolute/objective religious morals”

  1. Sam Harris beats William Lane Craig in their debate on morality | manicstreetpreacher Says:

    […] that the dust of their clash has settled, I have read Harris’ book more than once and offered my own thoughts on the burden of proof in showing that the source of human morals is divine, and Harris has issued […]

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