The conditional premise of the moral argument

By Glenn Andrew Peoples

The title of this blog entry is a little misleading, since I’m actually talking about a conditional premise of one formulation of the moral argument. It’s not the five-step formulation of the moral argument that I prefer to use, but it’s a common one nonetheless, and one that I do think is sound.

The common formulation that I have in mind is this:

1.If God did not exist, then there could not be any objective moral duties and values
2.There are objective moral duties and values
3.Therefore God exists
This formulation is the one that most have in mind when they think of the moral argument. In a recent radio discussion I outlined my own formulation of the argument (see the above link), only to have my argument immediately re-described back to me using the above formulation (not I that I minded too much, as the above formulation is simpler and probably more appropriate for the radio discussion format). Such is the familiarity of this form of the moral argument in the minds of many.

The logic is flawless, there’s no doubting that. This is a valid argument – the conclusion follows inevitably from the premises. The only way to show that the conclusion is false, therefore, is to show that one of the premises is false. Usually when this argument is presented, those who take issue with it reject the first premise, which is a conditional premise (as it takes the form of “If… then…”). Most often when the argument is presented in a public forum the objection comes in the form of a misunderstanding along the lines of “Wait, do you really think atheists aren’t moral – that we can’t do good?” This is an objection that came up when I last presented the moral argument to a group of Students at the University of Auckland. This objection clearly misses the mark, since the argument has little if anything to do with how moral or immoral specific groups of people might happen to be. It’s about how moral facts can exist at all – about whether any actions might be objectively morally right or wrong, whether they are carried out by Christians, Taoists, Muslims, Jews or atheists. But another common rebuff that I hear is “Oh come on, that old canard? Seriously? That claim is so common but nobody EVER gives any reasons for thinking that it’s true!” In nearly every case I just ask the person who said that how many philosophical defences of the moral argument they have read. Plenty, I’m told – they’ve discussed in on the internet quite a few times! One (but only one) person has actually told me that they’ve listened to Bill Craig’s presentation of the moral argument and also read his summary of that argument in Reasonable Faith and they still say that he actually didn’t offer any considerations, but that claim is fairly unique (I don’t think any fair reader can say that Bill has actually offered no serious considerations at all in any of his books or public debates).

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One thought on “The conditional premise of the moral argument

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