Argument from Morality: Bible-Free Apologetics

Christians apologists have a list of very common, centuries-old Bible-free arguments. Bible arguments (by bibliolatrists) try and show that the Bible itself is always right and therefore so are its conclusion that the Christian god (Yahweh-Jesus) exists. On the other hand, “Bible-free arguments” try to argue generally for God without reference to the Bible. Bible-free apologetics is a sort of “pre-evangelism”: prepping the hearer to be more open to hearing “the Word of God” (the Bible).  Some of the most common “Bible-Free” apologetic arguments are:

  • The Cosmological Argument (Kalam’s)
  • The Ontological Argument
  • The Teleological Argument
  • Argument from Morality
  • The Design Argument
  • The Argument from Miracles
  • The Argument from Personal Experience

Of these, the new favorite is the Argument from Morality (AfM) — Evangelical’s favorite apologist William Craig uses it in almost each of his debates.  The argument goes back to Kant and Aquinas (not usual Christian intellectual diet — nor mine). Christians study up on these Bible-free popular apologetics and try their best to replicate their heroes’ arguments again and again on blog threads. The many variants of the argument and the hidden presuppositions which are characteristically not laid out clearly can lead both the atheists and the theists to jump around forever talking past each other on blogs. I find reading such things tedious thought many people enjoy them.

To that end, I am using this post to index links to others who discuss the AfM with a bit more organization than occurs on blog threads. Interestingly, the AfM is in a class of apologetic arguments the rely on intuitions: consciousness, aesthetics, evil, rationality, desire, religious experience and morality.  Intuitions arguments say, “look, since we have these things, there must be a god”. To me these are all incredible failures, but I won’t discuss them here.

Knowledge progresses by sharing advances and failures in tested theories. But recognizing failures of an argument is important. And to recognize failures, you must have know of those who went before you.  And you must organize carefully and exhaustively the various detours of arguments to help extinguish confusion. As I said, it is a tedious task and one reason I never finished my Ph.D. in philosophy.

To best understand arguments, you need to read both sides and the best of both sides. Unfortunately most theists have not read the other side, but only their own in-house material. And worse, not only is their argument “Bible-free” but also “Science-free” — they come in with very little background in mathematics and biology which are pre-requisites for understand god-free arguments.  This is not true for all theists, however.

I find the AfM argument (like the other Bible-free apologetics) to be completely lacking, but I have no ambition to try to replicate the long, almost-always unproductive arguments on my threads though I invite others to knock themselves out. I may, in future posts, try to visually illustrate some of the common options to aid discussion. But for now, here I begin a list of others who have spent pages delineating the issue (please suggest more):

God-Free Arguments:

  • Luke Muehlhauser: now archived, Common Sense Atheism, this link is to a critique of: Mark Linville’s Paper “The Moral Poverty of Evolutionary Naturalism”. Linville has a PhD in Philosophy (Madison, Wisc), BA in Biblical Studies (Florida Christian College).
  • Luke Muehlhauser: On “Desirism” and Theist Morality by Sean McDowell (son of Josh McDowell-my go-to apologist when I was a Christian)
  • The Secular Web: with link to other posts
  • Debunking Christianity: site of former minister, apologist. (info)
  • NonStampCollector : (video) Objective Morality vs. Christianity [William Lane Craig]. Takes tack of granting objective reality, argues that it can’t be Yahweh that determines it.
  • Iron Chariots : anti-apologetics site

God-Dependent Arguments:

Miscellaneous:

  • Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: the last line being: “For if there is no God, morality is a more perilous enterprise than if there is.” Which is indeed an intuition for many — though not I. I’m not sure of the position of the author (whose name is not given).
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8 Comments

Filed under Philosophy & Religion

8 responses to “Argument from Morality: Bible-Free Apologetics

  1. I like this video about objective morality:

  2. Also, there is a bit of “language” at the end of this one in case the kiddos are around.

  3. Thanx, Alice: I watch it and added it. Like it.

  4. CRL

    While I know you asked no question at the end of this post, and you thus may not want much discussion on it, I haven’t been commenting here for quite a while, this is a post that very much interests me, and I have a slight disagreement with you.

    I think it may be quite telling of personality which arguments are most compelling to a person. You are, as far as I can tell from this (and from dim memories of past posts), not strongly drawn by the argument from morality. But I remember being 13 years old and reading the copy of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity I had just received as a confirmation present far, far too late into the night (by my standards then, at least), and his introduction to God as being necessary for a universe with true morality making me begin to truly care about and believe in God. That led me into a long line of thinking, and a gradual deconversion from universalism through Catholicism precipitated by the belief that a morality which must flow from a higher power is weaker and more arbitrary than that which exits on its own. And thus I ended up here. But the argument still holds great emotional power for me, I think because I still want to live in a world where there is a deeper basis for the simplest code of morality, “make the world a better place for all” than, “it makes me feel good (and makes other people think I am a good person).” Because all codes of morality must start with a reason why morality is important in the first place. I now take this as an axiom which allows me to function, and calls me to be the best version of myself, but I could very much take God as an axiom to the same end.

    While I can’t say I plan to return to any religion, I’m pretty confident that if I were to, this would be what sells me. So I certainly can’t agree with you that the AfM is terrible, even if it is certainly not rational. But when have rational arguments for (or against, really) religion ever been effective?

  5. @ CRL,
    When I declared that I find “the argument to be completely lacking” does not mean I don’t find the rhetoric unpersuasive or as you say, “compelling”. But since leaving religion and seeing religion-free morality, I now find it also uncompelling.

    But I get your point, that is not the same for everyone. Indeed, when I converted to Christianity, it was compelling — I felt I was facing a morally unstable sea of college when I was younger and it felt like a life vest.

  6. Weissman T.

    AfM arguments require an objective basis (anchor) that doesn’t seem insubstantial. Atheists and theists alike agree that if God exists his nature or character would provide such a basis that could anchor morality.

    The trouble is finding an equally compelling basis apart from God. Positing basis such as ‘supreme desire’ are not compelling because many see them as sophist attempts simply to re-label ‘God’. Therefore, carry an arbitrary and whimsical air.

    You may not personally find AfM arguments compelling, but so what? That’s you. Many other atheists do and have begrudgingly; even if they they originally rejected its premises (Leah Libresco, Anthony Flew, etc).

    That many atheists do take this argument seriously (just as many theists take the argument of Evil seriously) means that it has polemic force. If you’re not even willing to give the argument it’s due (as you’ve indicated in this blog) perhaps you don’t find it compelling because your not giving it due attention …

  7. @ Weissman,
    Often someone finds a theist “compelling” not because it is logical, but because they are intuitively inclined to the conclusions. I am no longer intuitively inclined to the conclusions — though I may have been much closer to emotionally desire to see them true years ago. The arguments are based on intuitions and fears of meaninglessness that I do not share with others — theist or atheist.
    Does that make sense?
    Perhaps, in the future, I shall make a diagram to illustrate the point.

  8. CRL

    Fair point, and very much my misinterpretation. An argument that has desire and emotion at its core is almost by definition lacking as a logical argument.

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