Top Ten Arguments for God: Jeff Cook

Jeff Cook (info at bottom) has examined ten arguments against God-belief and now he turns it around for the positive case — apologetics — of arguments

Socrates said, “Philosophy begins with wonder” and nearly all human beings at all times have looked at the world around them and, given its beauties, powers, and complexities, asked if what they saw was designed by a mind for a purpose.

I think it is vitally important to think hard about God. Whether or not you are a committed atheist, a believer in God, or something quite different—knowing why you come down where you do is a mark of a good character, of a thoughtful soul, of a person who cares about what reality is like.

So Question: Do you find these arguments compelling? Does the argument give you pause, or actually sway your thinking? Do I pitch the argument well, or could you state these arguments in a more compelling way? And of course the real question—Am I getting the list right?

#10 Moral Truths.

Here’s two formulations of the argument.

(P1) Either theisms or materialism is true.

(P2) Some actions are always wrong.

(P3) “Wrongness” cannot be established by a material universe (“You cannot derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’).

(C1) Therefore, Theism is true.

A more complex version might be:

(P1) Morality requires both (1) a motivation to be moral and (2) an objective, ontological grounding of moral truths.

On (1)

(P2) Only a being of immense power that cares for us, could save us from ceasing to exist when we die.

(P3) If we cease to exist when we die, nothing we do will benefit us after death.

(P4) If (P3), the choice to be moral or immoral will not benefit us after we die.

(P5) Some immoral choices can benefit us (murder, torture, cheating, successful bank robberies).

(C1) If we cease to exist when we die, some people would have more beneficial lives by making more immoral choices.

(C2) If (P2) and (C1), a being of immense power that cares about us is necessary for the motivation to be moral (1), and this being we call God.

 

On (2)

(P6) Moral truths exist only in minds.

(P7) Some acts, like torturing little kids for fun, are wrong at all times.

(P8) If moral truths are objective and ontologically grounded (2), there must be a mind which contains such moral truths at all times.

(C3) An eternal being with a mind is an adequate objective, ontological grounding for moral truths (2), and this being we call God.

(C4) Given (C2) and (C3), only God belief provides both a motivation, and an adequate objective, ontological foundation for morality.

(C5) Given (C4), God-belief is necessary for morality.

For me, there is an easy out. One simply needs to deny that there are moral truths, which—if one is a consistent materialist—shouldn’t be that hard. Societies create laws that promote the most happiness for the most people, and that is often enough for us practically. If practically we can establish morality, why should we care about if something is wrong “objectively”? There’s no reason to require something above and beyond that verifies what we have discovered through experience: suffering is bad; happiness is good; we prefer societies that maximize happiness.

However, if we hold to the reality of morality then moral truths are an anomaly for materialism and at the very least they make the existence of a God more likely (as atheists like Sartre and Nietzsche have both argued), if not prove that God exists.

JEFF COOK teaches philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado and is the author of Everything New: One Philosopher’s Search for a God Worth Believing in (Subversive 2012). He pastors Atlas Church in Greeley, Colorado. www.everythingnew.org

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Paul W

    Moral arguments for God sort of fall flat to me. It seems to me that morality is something which can be variously defined and legitimized in a “good enough fashion” from within just about anyone’s particular world-view. I suspect that a generic case can be made for some type of coherent morality from most every major orientation to the world.

    Also the premise that “Either theism or materialism is true” is rather reductionistic don’t you think. I would think that a rich and diverse polytheistic orientation could have a fair amount of explanatory power for morality and the complexities of life with all the good and bad, ugly and beautiful, joy and sadness in the world as we experience it.

    Moral arguments for God’s existence just don’t elicit much more than a yawn from me.

  • phil_style

    I’m with Paul.
    I don’t see morality as being persuasive at all.

    Moral argument usually rest on some kind of universal definition of morality – which does not exist. Morality, ethics and cultural norms are so tangled in among each other from place to place, and from time to time that it’s almost impossible to make provide any universal application based on them.

    Either way, using “morality” as some kind of divine proof create sit’s own subsequent problem: The Euthyphro dilemma. A problem only solved if you remove the “moralistic” description of God, and replace it with an essence.. say, “love” for example – which is not a moral (good v bad) code, but an invitation.

  • phil_style

    @ Paul, by the way, Jeff does allow for polytheism in his formula. It says “either theism S or materialism is true”.

  • Paul W

    @ phil. Yes; agreed. Thought that was a typo but get it now.

    Nonetheless, it still seems a bit reductionistic on the surface to me. It doesn’t seem that difficult to think of there being nonphysical/nonmaterial/spiritual realities without admitting the existence of god(s).

  • phil_style

    @Paul, It doesn’t seem that difficult to think of there being nonphysical/nonmaterial/spiritual realities without admitting the existence of god(s).

    I thought this exact same thing too. But I gave Jeff the BotD on the basis that any supernatural being or structure might qualify as a “god” of some kind. I guess the issue is borderline semantics….

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Paul and Phil (1-5). Gentlemen. I’m just gonna jump in.

    Paul you wrote, “I suspect that a generic case can be made for some type of coherent morality from most every major orientation to the world.” Do it. I think this actually much much more difficult than one might suspect.

    You wrote, “Also the premise that “Either theism or materialism is true” is rather reductionistic don’t you think?” Nope. I think these are far and away the two most common beliefs about the metaphysical nature of reality.

    Phil. You wrote, “Moral argument usually rest on some kind of universal definition of morality – which does not exist.” Can you imagine a world in which torturing little kids for fun is an amoral act?

    You wrote, “Either way, using “morality” as some kind of divine proof create sit’s own subsequent problem: The Euthyphro dilemma.” Do show me how the Euthyphro assaults the arguments I outlined above.

    To you both. I skipped polytheism in the first argument because with the exception of mormonism it is not being discussed in our culture. I think the stronger alternative to theism and materialism is actually idealism but I wanted the first argument to be more clean.

    The second argument–which is a stronger moral argument–does take not of polytheism and you are welcome to advocate for that position if you think it helps side steps the argument at hand.

    Peace!

  • DMH

    I think “moral truths” can make a positive contribution… when placed in a larger context. Any argument (about anything), when isolated, will often fall flat. Also, the larger context doesn’t have to be (IMO shouldn’t be) the stereotypical classical rationalistic approach.

    I suppose someone could argue that ultimately “theism or materialism” is the choice we have to make but it does seem a bit reductionistic (or not fleshed out enough) for real world discussions.

    I understand this is a top ten list, (and I have appreciated the posts and discussions). I’m perhaps thinking more about strategy and approach.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    DMH (7). You wrote, “I suppose someone could argue that ultimately “theism or materialism” is the choice we have to make but it does seem a bit reductionistic (or not fleshed out enough) for real world discussions.”

    I wrote above that I think these are far and away the two most common beliefs about the metaphysical nature of reality. Would you disagree?

    Also, my second argument doesn’t need that claim. That claim–btw–is borrowed from CS Lewis’s presentation of this argument in Mere Christianity.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    DMH (7). You wrote, “I suppose someone could argue that ultimately “theism or materialism” is the choice we have to make but it does seem a bit reductionistic (or not fleshed out enough) for real world discussions.”

    I wrote above that I these are the two most common beliefs about the metaphysical nature of reality. Would you disagree?

    Also, my second argument doesn’t need that claim. That claim–btw–is borrowed from CS Lewis’s presentation of this argument in Mere Christianity.

  • phil_style

    @Jeff ” Can you imagine a world in which torturing little kids for fun is an amoral act?”

    Well, I’m not going to give you a scenario where torturing kids is “fun”. I would say that humans brains are hard-wired in most cases to not take pleasure in torturing kids… But that’s not proof of a “moral” law. It’s a position based quite firmly in observable disgust mechanisms within the human brain.
    Death, blood, pain, bodily fluids, screaming, squirming – these are all activities and objects for which the human brain has specific aversion mechanisms for.

    Although, that’s not so say that societies in history have not considered it abnormal or abhorrent to do things to children that we would now describe as despicable. In fact, we can find plenty of archaeological and literary evidence that historically people have seen the killing (in horrible ways) of children as a sacred act, a moral duty to their Gods or any number of other conveniences.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Phil (10). Does disgust and attraction define what is an is not moral?
    Does evolution decide?

  • Mark

    I would prefer C.S. Lewis’ argument from ‘Miracles’ coined ‘The Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism’. By this I think he means materialism. He divides reason into Cause and Effect type and Ground and Consequent type. Materialism only allows for cause and effect. However we have used ground and consequent type reasoning to come to a materialistic world view. . .a world view in which ground and consequent type reasoning cannot actually exist. I think this is what he’s saying but you have to read it (the chapter is available online) to see how he gets to this conclusion.

  • phil_style

    @ Jeff, Does disgust and attraction define what is an is not moral?
    Does evolution decide?

    ^
    This has all the appearances of a trap. The position my argument comes from is that there is no universally “objective” morality in the first place.

    What is, and what is not moral is determined within cultural, historical and geographic settings. Morality (always embedded) is influenced by the structure of the individual’s brain and the overparticular of the sociology-geographically and historically located society. There is ample neurological, archaeological and literary evidence to support this.

  • Percival

    An amoral universe is too horrible to fully contemplate. It is logically possible but existentially absurd.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Mark. We’ll get to arguments about the mind and cognition soon.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Phil.

    Right. So you are going with the exact out I prescribed: deny that any moral truth exist.

    New question : do you think the problem of evil gives you a good reason to doubt God’s existence?

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Percival. It seems to me also that if a God like being is metaphysically necessary for moral truths to exist, then it gives us good reason to *want* a God to exist. Which, as I’ve argued here in the past and in Everything New, I find presuppositionally very important.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Phil. To build on the value judgment side of this argument. Do you think there is a good way to think? Good arguments? Where do you lock down such judgments? Peace.

  • Adam

    Jeff,

    Doesn’t something like the Civil Rights movement prove that a “practical morality” doesn’t work? Societies actually don’t create laws that make the most people happy. This is generally the fear behind socialism and communism as well, that laws will be created that only make the minority happy.

    I don’t see a lot of evidence that a practical morality actually functions properly.

  • DMH

    Jeff #9 I don’t altogether disagree with you. I might add “spiritual” to your “materialism”, and I think that people’s metaphysical positions can most of the time be abstracted down to personal vs. Impersonal. It’s just that in “my” world, away from the university setting, people usually carry a somewhat fleshed out philosophy or religion. I find it more beneficial to compare and contrast their whole package with my whole package understanding of christianity- rather than reducing christianity down to theism and trying to avoid abstractions (which you can’t always do:) )

  • phil_style

    Hi Jeff, firstly my personal opinion is that there might be a divine morality (based within God’s essence as “loving”, as opposed to a set of ethical behavioral demands..) but I’m kinda arguing here for a position I don’t really hold (devils advocate if you will).

    So you are going with the exact out I prescribed: deny that any moral truth exist.
    Yes I agree with you that the “out” from the moral argument is to deny that objective morality exists. I think it is an effective out too. It has both philosophical AND empirical support. (I’m not prepared to say “proof”).

    New question : do you think the problem of evil gives you a good reason to doubt God’s existence?
    I’m going to deal with “pain/ suffering” and “evil” separately.
    I think the generally described “problem of pain” is a real problem for theists. If God loves people and has the power to reduce their suffering then there is a contradiction in his character IF those two descriptions can not be reconciled (note that I do not claim god has any “moral responsibility” here). The logical problem lies with the theist who chooses to give God a description that is self-contracting. Of course I think there are mechanisms for reconciling these two aspects of God’s nature in light of the suffering in the reality we observe.
    Is there a “problem of evil“? Well, I’m not sure how one goes about describing a universal “evil” if there is not a universal morality. On e can only rely on the logical problem of evil, in so far as the existence of evil would require a description of God that is incompatible with other descriptions of God.

    Do you think there is a good way to think? Good arguments? Where do you lock down such judgments?
    Well, an argument is “good” if its conclusion logically follows from the premise. Is that a moral stance? I’ve always considered it a matter of pragmatism. It’s a matter of efficacy. When we describe an argument as good, are we not using a different use of the word “good” [i.e. good = effective, bad = ineffective or illogical] from the “moralistic” use of the term?

  • Percival

    Jeff #17,
    Yes, the fact that we want/assume a god is presuppositionally important AND indicative. I am not a philosopher, so perhaps I assume too much. But in order to think, we must make assumptions. I suppose it is possible that humans want morality to actually exist in the universe, so we invent it along with divinity who ordains it. However, isn’t it also true that some people do not want morality to be actual? Or more accurately, most of us want to be the arbitrators of whether morality has a voice in some of our decisions. I don’t know anyone who is ambivalent about all moral matters. (I think we call them psychopaths?) Presumably, rocks, plants and lower life forms have no desire one way or the other. However, humanity’s very existence is inextricably tied to morality.

    If we want to pretend we are something other than human, I suppose we can pretend there is no actual morality. It seems to me that the fact that we exist as moralistic beings implies that morality is part of the universe and not merely a psychological fantasy. Personhood exists, therefore divinity is a person. Personhood demands morality, therefore divinity is moralistic. A denial of personhood or morality is either disingenuous or insane.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Adam (19). You wrote, “Doesn’t something like the Civil Rights movement prove that a “practical morality” doesn’t work? Societies actually don’t create laws that make the most people happy. ”

    The argument above is inviting us to ask about the moral questions of “happiness”. What is happiness? Why is it good? How should we construct societies around human happiness? All these are moral questions, and there answers are either objectively discovered or subjectively created. If you hold to an objective answer, I find it difficult to get there without God as an ontological foundation.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    DMH (20). True.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Phil (21). You wrote, “I’m going to deal with “pain/ suffering” and “evil” separately.” [Right!] I think the generally described “problem of pain” is a real problem for theists. If God loves people and has the power to reduce their suffering then there is a contradiction in his character IF those two descriptions can not be reconciled (note that I do not claim god has any “moral responsibility” here). The logical problem lies with the theist who chooses to give God a description that is self-contracting.”

    Very well put.

    You wrote in response to my question, “Do you think there is a good way to think? Good arguments? Where do you lock down such judgments?” “Well, an argument is “good” if its conclusion logically follows from the premise. Is that a moral stance? I’ve always considered it a matter of pragmatism. It’s a matter of efficacy. When we describe an argument as good, are we not using a different use of the word “good” [i.e. good = effective, bad = ineffective or illogical] from the “moralistic” use of the term?”

    Its a value judgment, an objective value judgment if one holds that a form of pragmatism is the objective way to assess rational conclusions. But Nietzsche’s question, “Reason? Why not unreason?” hovers over our thinking here.

    I would push here to show that we do make value judgments regarding “good” and “bad” thinking, value judgments that are the same sort of claims as moral assessments of “good” and “bad” actions. Peace.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Percival (22). You wrote, “However, isn’t it also true that some people do not want morality to be actual?” Yep. If you get a chance, look at Chapter 2 of “Everything New”. There is a discussion of this exact point and how it works into the things you argued about. Good stuff.

  • DMH

    Jeff, I find it interesting that morality is at the bottom of your top 10 list. Perhaps you are organizing things around a “most rational” type of outlook- something along the lines of the classical rationalistic arguments? I think for me, morality would be closer to the top of the list. I tend to organize things around beauty and love. I ask what is the most beautiful/loving perspective (rationality and connection to reality being included in those concepts)?

  • Dana Ames

    One of the things I love about EOrthodoxy is that the starting point is not proving God exists. The starting point is the Cross and Resurrection of Christ, and through those lenses we consider the meaning of all the rest. That is not to disparage reason – we love our Cappadocian fathers. But they especially knew that reason can only take one so far.

    The best EO missionaries did not try to prove God exists. Their starting point was moving into a territory and commencing worship through the services of the church, and let people come and ask what it was all about. Nations were brought to Christ in this way. I know we don’t live in those times anymore, but I think we can glean something from that MO.

    I admire what Jeff is trying to do, and at the same time see it as mostly not helpful. First of all, a lot of people are tired of argument, myself included. I’m so weary of “being right,” and I see that as the legacy of Scholasticism worked out in Enlightenment Protestantism. I may be wrong about that; but I don’t think it necessarily helps us live the Jesus Creed, worshiping God and serving our neighbors. Secondly, in his formulation of The Tao in “The Abolition of Man,” CS Lewis showed that pretty much all cultures have a common apprehension of morality. I think in this day, to argue the value of a religious system based on its ideas about morality is to beat around a certain kind of bush that a lot of people, especially the “Nones”, are ignoring.

    Forgive me for my convertitis slip showing.

    Dana

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    DMH (27). The arguments up top are one’s that I think may resonate with you even more than the moral argument along the loving/beautiful side of thought.

  • DMH

    looking forward to them.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Dana (28) You wrote, “One of the things I love about EOrthodoxy is that the starting point is not proving God exists. The starting point is the Cross and Resurrection of Christ.”

    Why think such lists are a starting point? :)

    You wrote, “I admire what Jeff is trying to do, and at the same time see it as mostly not helpful … people are tired of argument … I don’t think it necessarily helps us live the Jesus Creed.”

    All people? I teach at a state university, and very seldom do any of my students know a single argument for God’s existence, and the only one they have against is the problem of evil. Also, arguments are not good or bad it seems to me. Jesus argued frequently his positions and certainly that was a great good. Its arguable that letters like Galatians and Hebrews are nothing but a sustained argument for a position. Now are arguments all we need to live life in Christ–nope. But certainly they can be valuable ya?

    You wrote, “Secondly, in his formulation of The Tao in “The Abolition of Man,” CS Lewis showed that pretty much all cultures have a common apprehension of morality. I think in this day, to argue the value of a religious system based on its ideas about morality is to beat around a certain kind of bush that a lot of people, especially the “Nones”, are ignoring.”

    Two thoughts here. One, the argument above is not about the norms people practice (applied ethics), but the ontological foundations of morals (metaethics). Two, certainly some philosophies view of what is good and appropriate are horrific. I had a conversation with a student yesterday trying to convince me of the piety of decapitation. Certainly such claims should be challenged.

    Peace!

  • Jon G

    I believe that if you “take the out” of denying that any [objective] moral truth exists, then you’ve eliminated more than just this argument. You’ve also eliminated any point for having the argument. Let me explain:

    In the context of Theism vs. Materialism, if there is no actual moral truth, it is so because there is nothing beyond the material – Truth is a metaphysical reality not a material one. Same with morality, nobility (it’s honorable to seek these truths), and even logic. Thus, if you’ve chosen to discount morality on its metaphysical grounding, you also must eliminate other metaphysical realities like the very reason for having this discussion.

    I’ll tell you where I stand on this issue. I do “feel” that there is objective morality. But, I understand that my feeling may be wrong. However, if it is wrong, I see no reason to be honest about it because there is nothing noble or pragmatic about honesty when it doesn’t actually exist. I would rather believe in objective morality in the hope that it is correct than not believe in it in the reality that it doesn’t actually matter what I believe.

    Does this make sense? If so, please explain it to me! :-)

    Jon G

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Jon G (32) Great point. No reason to argue anymore–unless its about controlling other people.

  • angusj

    Dana, loved your post.

    A couple of my own thoughts …
    1. Addressing the postulate (P3) above:
    “If we cease to exist when we die, nothing we do will benefit us after death.”
    I would suggest that many humanists/materialists would believe that they ‘exist’ both in their legacy and in their descendants, and both these motivate for morality.

    2. A very brief thought re the problem of evil:
    Evil can exist if it allows a greater good. If God gives us free will, then surely evil must exist if any choose to exercise autonomy in rebellion. Likewise there is knowledge and wisdom gained in seeing the consequences of rebellion.

    Anyhow, I accept that scholars need grapple with these existential questions, but like Dana, I hope we all spend most of our time loving by serving others.

  • http://www.christylambertson.com Christy

    I’ve never found the “God is necessary for objective morality” argument very convincing.

    Take one of your premises: Some acts, like torturing little kids for fun, are wrong at all times.

    I agree with you, of course. I wish everyone did. The Taliban just shot a 14 year old girl in the head because she wanted to go to school, and they most assuredly believe in God. I don’t know whether they found that “fun” or not, but they believe that they are morally right when they deny girls basic rights or kill them for any one of a large number of perceived offenses against Allah.

    Debbie and Michael Pearl (http://nogreaterjoy.org/) also believe in God. They also promote tremendously harsh corporal punishment techniques as the God-ordained method of child-rearing- the whole spare the rod, spoil the child thing taken to extremes. If you read what they are promoting or talk with someone who was raised in accordance with their child-rearing practices, it’s horrifying. Several children have died from the beatings. Personally, I think physically beating toddlers counts as torturing a little kid. Again, I don’t know if they consider child abuse “fun” – but they do believe it is moral.

    Female genital mutilation is another practice that strikes me as something that could easily be defined as torturing children – also believed to be something approved of by God. Child marriage, sex trafficking, 8 year olds working 14 hour days in dangerous, exploitative conditions – there are unfortunately a whole lot of people who are entirely comfortable with torturing kids for profit. The vast majority are not atheists.

    I’m sure the vast majority of Christians would say, “Well, that’s horrible, and that’s not the God I believe in.” I’m sure that’s true, but if you look at the global day to day reality of what various theists believe to be moral, there is precious little common ground. An atheist and your average Christian in America have much more in common as far as their moral beliefs go than do an American Christian and a fundamentalist Muslim somewhere in the middle east. I’m married to a man who doesn’t believe in God, and he gets all twitchy about moral relativism. I am not a materialist, and the two of us agree on 96% of moral issues.

    Logically convincing someone that there is no ontological basis for objective morality without God-belief seems entirely beside the point to me. But perhaps that is why I was only a philosophy major for a semester and a half and then switched to sociology.

  • Dana Ames

    Jeff,
    Not sure what you mean about the lists maybe not being a starting point…

    I didn’t say “all people” anywhere in my comment above. And Christ and St Paul “argued” for certain reasons, so I’m not saying it’s not useful. But it’s not ultimate. I feel like argument gets used to bludgeon people into a corner and force them to a point of view. I don’t think the Lord and St Paul were doing that.

    Certainly “the piety of decapitation” should be challenged. If the student is somebody who would actually practice such a thing, he/she needs to be locked up, so the applied ethic is definitely relevant! And with that student, or anyone else, I would want to bring the discussion around to what it means to be human, along with the problem of good (the latter not my idea, got it from Fr Stephen Freeman, whose blog would be beneficial for anyone, perhaps especially a philosopher :) http://glory2godforallthings.com/).

    Best-
    Dana

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Christy (35) You wrote, “I’m sure the vast majority of Christians would say, “Well, that’s horrible, and that’s not the God I believe in.” I’m sure that’s true, but if you look at the global day to day reality of what various theists believe to be moral, there is precious little common ground.”

    So the question is not, is God necessary to establish what one ought to do morally. The argument above suggests that if the kinds of things you mentioned–shooting 14 year olds in the head, severe beatings, genital mutilation–are objectively wrong, we need to establish what “wrongness” is, what makes some acts “wrong”, and what is the metaphysical grounding of wrongness would be.

    If you say the above three acts are in fact always wrong every where, and you reject God belief, the question is why are there such moral truths? How do we establish them?

    You wrote, “Logically convincing someone that there is no ontological basis for objective morality without God-belief seems entirely beside the point to me.” It is important if you care about the nature of reality. If you do not care about questions like what exists, what gives life meaning, why should I be moral–you can certainly skip those. But Socrates claim still seems true to me that the unexamined life isn’t worth living.

  • Dinah

    I have loved this series of posts …

    But the longer I live the more convinced I am that there is good evidence for good in both the physical and metaphysical realms …. what always seems to be the deciding factor is whether or not people WANT there to be a God (I have even come across the very occasional atheist who admits to the fact that what keeps them from faith is that they dont want any kind of God to exist who would have a say over their lives)

  • http://www.morasophia.blogspot.com Ian Campbell

    Denying that there are moral truths doesn’t seem to me to be the only way out for a materialist. Couldn’t they be consequentialists? Or is consequentialism/utilitarianism what you were getting at with the talk of the overall happiness of the society?

    But even in terms of deontology, it seems that you can do it just fine without it necessarily being founded on God. Kantianism does not necessitate a God to derive the categorical imperative–He gets the categorical imperative from the notion of a rational will. The categorical imperative dictates that certain things are always wrong, and others are always right, but it doesn’t require God as the foundation of this imperative. (Kant was a Theist, but he didn’t need God as the foundation of his moral theory).

  • Dinah

    of course it is “evidence for God” …. but can’t edit

  • John I.

    Earlier in this thread the issue of nonmaterial and theistic reality was raised. I suppose the more basic division would be between solely material reality (as it is composed in the various dimensions), and material reality plus one or more non-material realities. To put the latter point constructively we could call them spiritual realities. Jeff is right that a nonpersonal spiritual reality just isn’t on for virtually anyone that believes in a spiritual reality. I suppose Buddhists might come close, in terms of ultimate reality, but I don’t think that they would deny that as sentient personal beings we have a spiritual component that is connected to / exemplified by personalness.

    But if there were a nonpersonal spiritual reality, how would we know that it exists or know anything about it? Our only means of detecting it would be either material senses (fail) or our sensus divinatus. But the latter is inherently personal, because we are personal. Moreover, for the spiritual to reveal itself would require a person to do so, unless it is inherently in the nature of the nonpersonal spiritual to be breaking into the material realm–and this does not seem to be the case. Finally, we also detect the spiritual within or alongside the material by discerning intent and goals–and these are personal attributes. That is, if we discern a spiritual intent or goal in something that happens to us, then the spirituality that we are discerning must be personal.

    A good argument can be made (and JP Moreland has made it), that if we are–or assume that we are–only material then there cannot be a spiritual god, or we cannot know that there is one. Everything that would occur would be a material manifestation, or indiscernible from a material manifestation.

    *********

    In terms of personal morality, one can derive it from any basis that one can live with. But the critical issue becomes when we do not want someone else to relate to us according to their different personal morality, or when we want to enforce our personal morality on others. To do either requires some sort of justification that would be acceptable to both parties. If both share the same subjective morality (or other moral basis) then all is OK, but if their morality differs AND the basis for that morality differs how do we then decide which to enforce? to act upon? to allow? This is obviously important for police powers and a national justice system.

    The only rational way out seems to be to settle upon an objective morality, that is, a morality that lies outside of us. But if morality has no ontological existence, then it cannot be objective. We are each then left with only our internal (i.e., subjective morality). And then might (individual or group power) makes right–not objectively so, but practically so.

  • phil_style

    @John, I #41

    “We are each then left with only our internal (i.e., subjective morality). And then might (individual or group power) makes right–not objectively so, but practically so.”

    This is what has happened throughout human prehistory and history. Societal groups change their ethical/ cultural norms depending on the power structures that exist. Moralities have varied significantly across time and space. Throughout human history “might” has made the local “right”.

  • Guest

    People are not interested in cleverness, or in answers to questions they aren’t asking. Everyone who can prove God exists can be matched by someone who proves He doesn’t, so it’s just a cleverness contest. No finite human can have infinite metaphysical certainty, and those who claim it are invariable the proud and arrogant. What we have is “faith” and the best witness is to live by that faith. Those around you that God wants to save, he will bring to you, often in their time of life-crisis. It’s good to know some apologetics for those times, but those who focus on apologetics are really wasting time that would be better-spent feeding the hungry and caring for our friends and neighbors. Seriously.


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