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THE MORAL ARGUMENTS for the existence of God

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1 THE MORAL ARGUMENTS for the existence of God

This Powerpoint presentation is prepared by Dr. Peter Vardy, Vice-Principal of Heythrop College, University of London for DIALOGUE EDUCATIONAL VIDEOS. Copyright reserved Heythrop College, University of London, is the specialist theology and Philosophy College of the University. It offers undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Theology, Philosophy, Philosophy of Religion and Ethics.

3 Immanuel Kant Kant did NOT put forward a moral argument!
Kant rejected all attempts to argue from the world to God, he regarded such an exercise as impossible. However he thought that God was a POSTULATE of practical reason. If you share Kant’s assumptions, then it becomes necessary to assume that there is a God…..

4 PHENOMENA and NOUMENA Kant distinguished between the Phenomenal and Noumenal world. The Phenomenal world is the world as we experience it, the Noumenal world is the real world, as it really is independent of our experience. Kant considered that all experience is mediated through TIME and SPACE. The world as we see it is spatio/temporal – what the world is really like, independent of our experience, is unknowable. Since God belongs to the noumenal world, there is no way of arguing from the phenomenal world to God so arguments for God’s existence are impossible.

5 Kant’s reasoning…. 1) The universe is fair
2) All human beings desire and seek happiness 3) All human beings ought to be moral and do their duty 4) The Summum Bonum (highest good) represents the combination of virtue and happiness 5) Everyone seeks the summum bonum 6) What is sought must be achievable because the universe is fair (see (1)) 7) The Summum Bonum is not achievable in this life 8) So it is necessary to POSTULATE a life after death in which the Summum Bonum can be achieved 9) AND it is necessary to POSTULATE a God to guarantee fairness.

6 Kant’s key postulates Kant puts forward key assumptions.
The fairness of the Universe and the claim that the Summum Bonum is achievable are assumptions. Kant did not think that either of these could be proved. Kant has a deep trust in the fairness of the Universe, but this is effectively a faith claim. What he is claiming is that IF you hold the universe is fair and IF the Summum Bonnum is achievable then life after death and God become necessary postulates. If the assumptions are rejected then so are the postulates.

7 Argument from absolute moral values
Rashdall put forward this argument but it was developed by Sorley: There is an absolute moral law. Reasons include: People are conscious of such an absolute law People acknowledge the demands that this law makes on them even if they break it No finite mind grasps the whole of what this represents Ideas exist only in minds Therefore there must be a supreme mind, beyond all finite minds, in which this absolute moral law exists. Sorley claims that unlike Natural Law which is descriptive of human nature, the Moral Law is prescriptive. It describes not what IS but what SHOULD BE.

8 C.S. LEWIS 1) THERE MUST BE AN ABSOLUTE MORAL LAW (otherwise disagreements would not be possible; promise and treaty keeping would be unnecessary; we would not make excuses for breaking the moral law) 2) THIS MORAL LAW CANNOT BE HERD INSTINCT (otherwise the strongest moral idea would always win [and it does not]; we would act from instinct and we don’t [sometimes our instinct is to help someone in trouble even though this goes against our interests]; some instincts would always be right [and patriotism and the love of money may be wrong]) 3) THE MORAL LAW CANNOT BE MERE CONVENTION (not everything is a social convention – e.g. maths; judgements about the moral values of a society only make sense if the basis of the judgement is independent of society)

9 C.S. Lewis Contd. 4) THE MORAL LAW CANNOT BE A LAW OF NATURE (as the moral law is not a descriptive ‘is’ but is an ‘ought’, situations which are factually convenient may be wrong [e.g. betrayal of a friend]. To argue that what is moral is what is good for the whole race, does not explain why I may do something that is against my own interests) 5) THE MORAL LAW CANNOT BE MERE IMAGINATION (as we cannot get rid of it even if we want to, we did not make it, it is impressed on us from outside) 6) THE MORAL LAW MUST RESIDE IN A MIND (as it is an ‘ought’ not an ‘is’; moral laws come from minds not from matter, just as an architect is not part of the building, so the source of the moral law cannot be part of the Universe) 7) THEREFORE THERE MUST BE A MIND WHICH IS THE SOURCE OF MORAL LAW. (This must be absolute good, since the source of good must be good)

10 THE PROBLEM The trouble with both Sorley’s and Lewis’ argument is that they present as an obviously true assumption something that is highly debatable – namely the existence of an absolute moral law. Many philosophers and others today maintain that morality is something developed by human beings to help them to live together and there are no absolutes – morality is relative to culture.   The second problem is that even if it is granted that there are absolute morals, one could take a Platonist position and hold that these are absolute because they participate in the Forms.

11 PLATONIC FORMS If we see instances of beauty, justice, goodness Plato assumes that these all participate in or resemble the perfect Forms of Beauty, Justice, Goodness. The Forms are non-creative and were not created. They exist timelessly and spacelessly Plato’s God, The Demiurge, used the Forms as a model to fashion chaotic matter to form the Universe. The Universe is ‘the moving image of eternity’. The Demiurge is good because he can be judged to be so against the Forms. The world in which we live is a ‘shadow’ of the ultimate reality represented by the Forms. Iris Murdoch and Stewart Sutherland are modern Platonists

12 Effect of Plato’s Forms on the moral argument
Sorley and Lewis ask people to accept that there are absolute moral values and that these have to be grounded in the command of God. However even if the existence of absolute moral values is accepted (and this is highly debatable) their source could be Plato’s Forms rather than the mind of God. Plato thus provided a way of making sense of an absolute moral demand without claiming that there is a God who is the author of these moral laws.

13 Two sources of absolute morals
If there are absolute moral values, these could have two sources: The will of God, or Plato’s Forms. Socrates put forward what came to be called the Euthyphro dilemma to show the difficulty of choosing between these two options….

14 THE EUTHYPHRO DILEMMA Socrates put forward the Euthyphro dilemma in a dialogue with the young man Euthyphro. The question is whether: 1) The gods want what is good because these things are good according to some independent standard (this was Plato and Socrates’ position as they held that the Forms provided an absolute standard of morality) or 2) Whether whatever the gods want is good just because they want it (in which case the gods are the sole deciders of what is good). Either alternative has problems: The first implies that there is a standard of goodness independent of God (which means God is not supreme) The second seems to make it arbitrary as whatever God wants is good just because God commands it. This can be summarised as follows….


16 BERTRAND RUSSELL’s disproof of God
Russell uses the Euthyphro to try to disprove God’s existence: 1) If there is a moral law it either stems from God or it does not 2) If the moral law comes from God it is arbitrary (because whatever God commands becomes our standard of goodness and it is based on no more than the whim of God) 3) If it does not come from God then God is subject to it (this is the other horn of the Euthyphro dilemma) 4) So either God is not essentially good (because he is arbitrary about what is right or wrong) OR God is subject to an independent moral standard. 5) Neither an arbitrary God nor a less than ultimate God is worthy of worship. 6) Therefore there is no God.

Russell assumes that when one says ‘God is good’ this is a moral statement equivalent to making a statement such as ‘Isabelle is good’. However mainstream Christianity rejects this - God is not a moral agent, God is not a being who changes and is subject to some moral law. Instead, St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas and the mainstream Catholic tradition hold that to be ‘good’ is to fully actualise one’s nature - thus a good human being is everything that it is to be a perfect human being. On this basis, to say ‘God is good’ is to say that God is fully whatever it is to be God’ – God fully actualises God’s nature. In this case, the Euthyphro dilemma is irrelevant.

Camus also has a moral argument that tries to disprove God’s existence. He claims that theism is opposed to humanism. In his novel ‘The Plague’, Camus deals with the reaction by a Jesuit priest and a doctor to the plague in Oran…. Camus claims: Either one must join the doctor and fight the plague or join the priest and not fight the plague (as the priest says the plague is sent by God and to fight it means fighting the will of the God who sent the plague). Not to join the doctor and fight the plague would be anti-humanitarian But to fight the plague is to fight against the God who sent it and to reject God’s sovereignty. Therefore, if humanitarianism is right, theism is wrong.

Camus seems to assume that plagues and other diseases are literally sent directly by God. However few contemporary theologians would accept this. Instead they would maintain that the world follows predictable laws and these are good and human beings can learn from them. Plagues are part of the working of a system which is, overall, good. For instance, a virus would fulfil its nature if it killed a human being, but this does not mean that it would not be right for humans to eliminate the virus. Similarly it is part of the nature of a snake to bite, but this does not mean that God wants snakes to bite human beings!

20 “God is Dead!” Nietzsche has had a profound influence on philosophy this century. When he said that ‘God is dead’, he was not simply announcing the death of the God of the monotheistic religions. He was claiming that now that the idea of God is no more, with it goes all claims to absolute value, truth and goodness. With the death of God go all claims to absolutes and this opens the door to some forms of postmodernism. The noumenal or real world of Kant has finally been done away with and all we have is relativity. Human beings are now ‘makers of meaning’, not ‘discoverers of meaning’ Humans, therefore, have to dare to become God by creating their own values. If this is accepted, then any idea of moving from morality to God disappears….

21 MORAL RELATIVITY If there are no absolute moral values, then Sorley and Lewis’ version of the moral argument collapses. However not everyone would want to accept that morality is truly relative (e.g. Nazi death camps and female circumcision which most would hold are absolutely wrong.) It can still be held that morality is based on our common human nature (this is the Catholic tradition stemming from Aristotle). One could then argue that this nature stems from God, but not all will accept this……

22 CARDINAL NEWMAN Newman was once an Anglican and became a Catholic and a Cardinal He converted because he felt called by God to do so. He did not think that, in good conscience, he could remain as an Anglican (it is worth noting that he did not think this applied to everyone – but he, for his part, felt that he could not remain as an Anglican). He therefore felt compelled to follow his conscience (as did Thomas More and Vaclav Havel).

23 Newman’s argument Newman claims that when we do something wrong we feel ashamed, we feel guilty, we feel responsible. This implies, he holds, that there is ONE before whom we feel ashamed, guilty and responsible. It will not do to say that we are ashamed before the community – because we feel guilty even when no-one does or can know of what we have done. Notice that Newman is NOT claiming that God ‘whispers in our ears’ to tell us what to do…. instead…

Newman’s claim is that humans, unlike animals, possess a conscience. This conscience is INFORMED differently in different societies – so the claim that moral intuitions vary does not undermine his argument. It is, therefore, the duty of each individual to INFORM their conscience directly… But it is the existence of the faculty of conscience that points to God as the Divine author of this faculty.

25 Freud "The long period of childhood during which the growing human being lives in dependence on his parents leaves behind it a precipitate, which forms within his ego a special agency in which this parental influence is prolonged. It has received the name of ‘super-ego’. The parents’ influence naturally includes not only the personalities of the parents themselves but also the racial, national and family traditions handed on through them, as well as the demands of the immediate social milieu which they represent." Sigmund Freud. Trans. Strachey ‘An outline of Psychoanalysis. Hogarth Press, 1949 pps. 3-4 Conscience, then, may be argued to be little more than the inherited traditions of the community and family in which one is brought up and which lives in one’s super-ego for the rest of one’s life.

26 Bringing the threads together
Kant did not put forward a moral argument – instead he maintained that God is a postulate of practical reason. If the Universe is not fair or the Summum Bonum is not achievable, then there is no need to postulate God. Sorley and Lewis’ arguments depend on whether there is an absolute morality. Many reject this, but even if there IS such a morality, it could be explained by reference to Plato’s Forms rather than God. Newman’s argument from conscience depends on a rejection of Freud and acceptance of the view that conscience necessarily entails a Divine Other before whom we feel guilty, are ashamed, etc..

27 FINALLY The Moral argument is not likely to succeed as a proof, but it may be that some will consider that there IS something more to morality than simply a system humans have constructed to enable them to live together. If they do feel this, then God is one possible grounding for morality – but it needs to be noted that there are other alternatives which do not depend on God.. Most religious believers will accept that it is possible for non-believers to be morally good – so the existence of a moral demand of itself is unlikely to be decisive in deciding whether or not God exists.

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