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11: Does God Exist? A Short Look At Moral Arguments

An explanation of the prevailing moral arguments for the existence of God.

Moral arguments for God’s existence form a diverse family of arguments that reason from some feature of morality or the moral life to the existence of God, usually understood as a morally good creator of the universe. After some general comments about theistic arguments and a brief history of moral arguments, this essay will discuss several different forms of the moral argument for the existence of God.

To begin, it should be noted that there are many different kinds of moral arguments for God. Some of these have been discussed in previous essays; others may not be familiar to philosophers but are important topics for theologians and ethicists. 

The most common ones include (1) the argument from design, which argues that certain features of nature provide strong evidence for the existence of an intelligent designer; (2) the argument from trustworthiness, arguing that we have reason to believe something is true because its truth would benefit us in some way; and (3) the argument from motivation, arguing that we have reasons to do what we do because doing so serves our interests. 

Each of these types of arguments has strengths and weaknesses, but they all share one thing in common: they appeal to our sense of rightness or wrongness. In other words, if something seems right to us, then it must be so. If something seems wrong to us, then it must be so. For example, we might feel justified in killing someone who threatens our safety even though we don’t know why he did it, and many of us would not have moral quandaries with doing so.

Another type of moral argument appeals to our feelings about things. One of the best examples of this type of argument is called the moral fiction argument. The moral fiction argument attempts to argue that we are obliged to behave in a certain way because it makes society better. For example, this argument claims that we should be honest because honesty is beneficial to society, but not because it is a moral requirement.

The moral fiction argument has some things going for it. It does not suffer from the problem of relativism, for example. 

Relativism is the view that what is right or wrong depends on your point of view. For example, if someone were to say that it is morally acceptable for one race of people to enslave another race because their religion tells them that it is morally acceptable, then we have a relativistic position. In other words, one person’s moral standard differs from another’s.

Moral fiction does not suffer from this problem. It is a non-relative moral system. It believes that it does not matter what your religion or beliefs are – you should still follow these rules because it is beneficial for society as a whole.

A question somewhat related to the above argument is that if God exists, why does he allow suffering? This is sometimes called “The Problem of Evil.” This is a very deep and difficult question, and many religions have different explanations of it. In Christianity, for example, suffering is seen as a test of faith, and it is through suffering that you will be rewarded in the afterlife. Other religions have other answers.

This can be difficult to rectify, and brings up a number of important questions. Worldwide suffering has certainly been steadily decreasing over the last several centuries, but it is still substantially higher than one would suppose we deserve given the existence of a moralistic, intelligent Creator.

If suffering is necessary for moral development, why is it necessary only in this life? Why isn’t it necessary for future lives as well? If God can send people to Hell for not believing in him, surely he could give them longer on Earth to change their ways. There are also an enormous number of animals that suffer. Why do they have to suffer if there is a loving God? Wouldn’t a kind God eliminate all suffering?

The problem of evil, in one form or another, has been attacking the core of every religion for centuries. One of the main reasons for this is because if a loving God does not exist, then it seems unlikely that an all-powerful, all-knowing, and benevolent one exists either. The simplest answer, although hardly satisfactory, is that no God capable of creating our universe exists. If no such God exists, however, it is very difficult to explain where the laws of nature come from. This is explained in more detail in the third argument.

The final type of moral argument is a practical one. It is based on consequences: what works and what doesn’t. For example, let’s look at lying. Some people would say that lying is always wrong no matter what, while others would say that a little lie, such as a surprise party, can be good. Other people would disagree with both of the above. In other words, different people have different ideas of what is right and wrong when dealing with lying.

The utilitarian approach, on the other hand, would say that the morality of an act should be judged based on whether or not it increases pleasure and decreases pain in the world. By this standard, a lie would only be acceptable if, for example, it decreased suffering in some way. Perhaps it spared the feelings of a family member, or helped someone who was seriously ill.

One of the most popular contemporary approaches to morality and the question of God is known as ethical relativism. This approach is based on the idea that there is no one right way to assess the morality of any particular act. Rather, different moral values are appropriate in different situations. For example, killing someone might be wrong in most situations, but it could be moral to kill a criminal who has been sentenced to death.

When discussing these types of questions, people often disagree about things. One person’s fundamentalists are another person’s moderate believers. Definitions, as you can see, can be very complicated. You may have even found yourself in this book based on one set of criteria, and found yourself outside it based on another set of criteria.

At the very least, however, it seems clear that there is a widespread disagreement about what God (or gods) may or may not have planned for us. It also seems clear that this disagreement has existed for a very long time.

Many people would argue that without God there can be no basis for morality at all. Although this is not necessarily true (as shown above), let us pretend for a moment that it is true. If God does not exist then we would have to construct a basis for morality ourselves. This would elevate humanity, in a way, so as to make ourselves the measure of all things. We would then have to come up with a way of deriving what is right and what is wrong.

Many people would propose that the most logical basis for morality would be something like the “greatest good for the greatest number” or some version of utilitarianism. In this system, an act can be said to be moral if it increases pleasure and happiness in the world and/or reduces pain and suffering.

The major advantage to this system of morality is that it seems to provide a solid foundation upon which people can agree. Even the most ardent moral relativist would have a hard time saying that reducing pain and suffering is a bad thing. Another advantage is that this system can in fact be tied to biology. While it may be debatable whether we as humans have a sense of right and wrong, it is undeniable that we have certain feelings which have evolved to help us. Pain aversion exists for a reason, as does our ability to feel pleasure. Both of these things can be said to benefit the species in some way and therefore can be said to have helped us survive longer.

There are, of course, obvious problems with basing a system of morality on feelings. One of these problems is that feelings can be influenced by so many different factors (upbringing, culture, media, momentary stimuli, etc.); it is therefore unreasonable to think that they can be a stable moral guide. Just think about how many people supported segregation, the holocaust or even slavery at one time in history.

Even basing morality on something like utilitarianism is dangerous, as it is based on guesswork. How do you know that a certain act will increase happiness or pleasure overall? As we have seen throughout history, things don’t always work out quite like we plan. Just think about how much suffering the Industrial Revolution has caused.

There are, of course, other theories of morality and each one has their pros and cons. The point is that if God does not exist then we would have to come up with a non-religious way of determining right from wrong.

Living With Uncertainty

One last thing that we must consider in all of this is the fact that morality is often uncertain. In fact, many people live their lives on a day to day basis without giving morality much serious thought. This is not to say that they are immoral; I am merely saying that they lead their lives without analyzing every little action and its moral implications.

This raises the question of whether or not one needs to be certain of one’s moral decisions in order to be considered moral. After all, if one was certain of everything that one did then one would not even need to think about whether or not a particular act was moral. In other words, a doctor may be certain that draining a patient’s blood to help another patient is the right thing to do, but should he really feel comfortable with this decision given that he is not absolutely sure that it is the right thing to do?

This is a difficult question to answer. Many people would say yes and that all of our important decisions in life should be certain ones. This may seem somewhat reasonable, but there are still problems with this approach. One obvious one is that we do not live in a world of certainty. No one can be certain of anything, at least when it comes to future events. There are too many variables and unknowns for us to predict the future, at least with any real certainty.

This problem of uncertainty is even more apparent when we start dealing with morality. People often do things that they believe to be morally right even if there is some doubt involved. The obvious problem here is that it would seem unreasonable to condemn someone for doing something immoral if they were certain that it was the right thing to do given the information that they had. After all, no one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. To expect otherwise is perhaps unrealistic.

In short, the existence of God is a hotly debated topic. There are many moral arguments for God’s existence and I have outlined only a few of them here. Ultimately, it seems that whether or not God exists determines whether objective morality exists. If God does exist, then it would seem that our moral compass should be thoroughly aligned with His and we have little choice but to follow it.

However, if God does not exist then we, as a species, are forced to come up with some other basis for morality. Some people attempt to create their own objective moral systems, but others adopt a more subjective approach by saying that morality is not really objective at all.

In either case, I think that we can see that the issue of morality is closely linked with the issue of God’s existence.

To begin, it should be noted that there are many different kinds of moral arguments for God. Some of these have been discussed in previous essays; others may not be familiar to philosophers but are important topics for theologians and ethicists. 

The most common ones include (1) the argument from design, which argues that certain features of nature provide strong evidence for the existence of an intelligent designer; (2) the argument from trustworthiness, arguing that we have reason to believe something is true because its truth would benefit us in some way; and (3) the argument from motivation, arguing that we have reasons to do what we do because doing so serves our interests. 

Each of these types of arguments has strengths and weaknesses, but they all share one thing in common: they appeal to our sense of rightness or wrongness. In other words, if something seems right to us, then it must be so. If something seems wrong to us, then it must be so. For example, we might feel justified in killing someone who threatens our safety even though we don’t know why he did it, and many of us would not have moral quandaries with doing so.

Another type of moral argument appeals to our feelings about things. One of the best examples of this type of argument is called the moral fiction argument. The moral fiction argument attempts to argue that we are obliged to behave in a certain way because it makes society better. For example, this argument claims that we should be honest because honesty is beneficial to society, but not because it is a moral requirement.

The moral fiction argument has some things going for it. It does not suffer from the problem of relativism, for example. 

Relativism is the view that what is right or wrong depends on your point of view. For example, if someone were to say that it is morally acceptable for one race of people to enslave another race because their religion tells them that it is morally acceptable, then we have a relativistic position. In other words, one person’s moral standard differs from another’s.

Moral fiction does not suffer from this problem. It is a non-relative moral system. It believes that it does not matter what your religion or beliefs are – you should still follow these rules because it is beneficial for society as a whole.

A question somewhat related to the above argument is that if God exists, why does he allow suffering? This is sometimes called “The Problem of Evil.” This is a very deep and difficult question, and many religions have different explanations of it. In Christianity, for example, suffering is seen as a test of faith, and it is through suffering that you will be rewarded in the afterlife. Other religions have other answers.

This can be difficult to rectify, and brings up a number of important questions. Worldwide suffering has certainly been steadily decreasing over the last several centuries, but it is still substantially higher than one would suppose we deserve given the existence of a moralistic, intelligent Creator.

If suffering is necessary for moral development, why is it necessary only in this life? Why isn’t it necessary for future lives as well? If God can send people to Hell for not believing in him, surely he could give them longer on Earth to change their ways. There are also an enormous number of animals that suffer. Why do they have to suffer if there is a loving God? Wouldn’t a kind God eliminate all suffering?

The problem of evil, in one form or another, has been attacking the core of every religion for centuries. One of the main reasons for this is because if a loving God does not exist, then it seems unlikely that an all-powerful, all-knowing, and benevolent one exists either. The simplest answer, although hardly satisfactory, is that no God capable of creating our universe exists. If no such God exists, however, it is very difficult to explain where the laws of nature come from. This is explained in more detail in the third argument.

The final type of moral argument is a practical one. It is based on consequences: what works and what doesn’t. For example, let’s look at lying. Some people would say that lying is always wrong no matter what, while others would say that a little lie, such as a surprise party, can be good. Other people would disagree with both of the above. In other words, different people have different ideas of what is right and wrong when dealing with lying.

The utilitarian approach, on the other hand, would say that the morality of an act should be judged based on whether or not it increases pleasure and decreases pain in the world. By this standard, a lie would only be acceptable if, for example, it decreased suffering in some way. Perhaps it spared the feelings of a family member, or helped someone who was seriously ill.

One of the most popular contemporary approaches to morality and the question of God is known as ethical relativism. This approach is based on the idea that there is no one right way to assess the morality of any particular act. Rather, different moral values are appropriate in different situations. For example, killing someone might be wrong in most situations, but it could be moral to kill a criminal who has been sentenced to death.

When discussing these types of questions, people often disagree about things. One person’s fundamentalists are another person’s moderate believers. Definitions, as you can see, can be very complicated. You may have even found yourself in this book based on one set of criteria, and found yourself outside it based on another set of criteria.

At the very least, however, it seems clear that there is a widespread disagreement about what God (or gods) may or may not have planned for us. It also seems clear that this disagreement has existed for a very long time.

Many people would argue that without God there can be no basis for morality at all. Although this is not necessarily true (as shown above), let us pretend for a moment that it is true. If God does not exist then we would have to construct a basis for morality ourselves. This would elevate humanity, in a way, so as to make ourselves the measure of all things. We would then have to come up with a way of deriving what is right and what is wrong.

Many people would propose that the most logical basis for morality would be something like the “greatest good for the greatest number” or some version of utilitarianism. In this system, an act can be said to be moral if it increases pleasure and happiness in the world and/or reduces pain and suffering.

The major advantage to this system of morality is that it seems to provide a solid foundation upon which people can agree. Even the most ardent moral relativist would have a hard time saying that reducing pain and suffering is a bad thing. Another advantage is that this system can in fact be tied to biology. While it may be debatable whether we as humans have a sense of right and wrong, it is undeniable that we have certain feelings which have evolved to help us. Pain aversion exists for a reason, as does our ability to feel pleasure. Both of these things can be said to benefit the species in some way and therefore can be said to have helped us survive longer.

There are, of course, obvious problems with basing a system of morality on feelings. One of these problems is that feelings can be influenced by so many different factors (upbringing, culture, media, momentary stimuli, etc.); it is therefore unreasonable to think that they can be a stable moral guide. Just think about how many people supported segregation, the holocaust or even slavery at one time in history.

Even basing morality on something like utilitarianism is dangerous, as it is based on guesswork. How do you know that a certain act will increase happiness or pleasure overall? As we have seen throughout history, things don’t always work out quite like we plan. Just think about how much suffering the Industrial Revolution has caused.

There are, of course, other theories of morality and each one has their pros and cons. The point is that if God does not exist then we would have to come up with a non-religious way of determining right from wrong.

Living With Uncertainty

One last thing that we must consider in all of this is the fact that morality is often uncertain. In fact, many people live their lives on a day to day basis without giving morality much serious thought. This is not to say that they are immoral; I am merely saying that they lead their lives without analyzing every little action and its moral implications.

This raises the question of whether or not one needs to be certain of one’s moral decisions in order to be considered moral. After all, if one was certain of everything that one did then one would not even need to think about whether or not a particular act was moral. In other words, a doctor may be certain that draining a patient’s blood to help another patient is the right thing to do, but should he really feel comfortable with this decision given that he is not absolutely sure that it is the right thing to do?

This is a difficult question to answer. Many people would say yes and that all of our important decisions in life should be certain ones. This may seem somewhat reasonable, but there are still problems with this approach. One obvious one is that we do not live in a world of certainty. No one can be certain of anything, at least when it comes to future events. There are too many variables and unknowns for us to predict the future, at least with any real certainty.

This problem of uncertainty is even more apparent when we start dealing with morality. People often do things that they believe to be morally right even if there is some doubt involved. The obvious problem here is that it would seem unreasonable to condemn someone for doing something immoral if they were certain that it was the right thing to do given the information that they had. After all, no one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. To expect otherwise is perhaps unrealistic.

In short, the existence of God is a hotly debated topic. There are many moral arguments for God’s existence and I have outlined only a few of them here. Ultimately, it seems that whether or not God exists determines whether objective morality exists. If God does exist, then it would seem that our moral compass should be thoroughly aligned with His and we have little choice but to follow it.

However, if God does not exist then we, as a species, are forced to come up with some other basis for morality. Some people attempt to create their own objective moral systems, but others adopt a more subjective approach by saying that morality is not really objective at all.

In either case, I think that we can see that the issue of morality is closely linked with the issue of God’s existence.

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