The Moral Laws Require a Moral Lawgiver Argument

Consider the following argument.

(1) If God does not exist, then there is no divine lawgiver.
(2) If there is no divine lawgiver, then there are no moral laws.
(3) If there are no moral laws, then there are no moral obligations.
(4) Therefore, if God does not exist, then there are no moral obligations.

Why should we believe (2)? It’s not hard to imagine what an argument for (2) might look like. One might argue for (2) on the basis of the following supporting argument:

(5) Laws must be made by a lawgiver.
(6) A lawgiver must be either natural or divine.
(7) Moral laws cannot have a natural lawgiver.
(2) Therefore, if there is no divine lawgiver, then there are no moral laws.

But why should anyone believe (5)? Laws require a lawgiver only if they are, in fact, made. Statutory (governmental) laws are the paradigm example of laws that require a lawgiver, but, to use one of William Lane Craig’s trademark expressions, statutory laws began to exist. Not all laws are made, however. The laws of nature, logic, and mathematics are three examples of laws that are discovered, not invented. Not only do these examples undercut the support for premise (5), they actually provide the basis of an argument against (5), based on the following negative analogy.

(8). The laws of nature, logic, mathematics, and (objective) morality did not begin to exist.
(9) The laws of nature, logic, and mathematics also do not have lawgivers.
(10) Therefore, the laws of (objective) morality do not have a lawgiver.

 (10) entails, accordingly, that premise (5) is false.

There are many additional points I could make here, but they aren’t needed. Laws do not need to be made by a lawgiver.

Jerry Coyne Blocking: Episode II
More on the Arbitrariness Objection to the Divine Command Theory
What if you Saw a Miracle?
Paul Copan’s Noseeum Argument Against Ethics Without God
About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.

  • Jerry Reyes

    You could also include Plato’s argument against the divine command theory

    • Jeffery Jay Lowder

      Jerry — I intentionally did not include Plato’s Euthyphro dilemma because I am not convinced it is the killer objection that many people think it is. Why? There are a variety of theories about the relationship between God and ethics. (See here.) The Euthyphro dilemma is a fatal objection against the (unmodified) Divine Command Theory (DCT),but unmodified DCT is just one of many options. One could then debate whether a modified version of the ED works against these other theories. I’m not sure a modified version of the ED is a successful objection against all of the other alternatives to DCT. But that’s a complex discussion I intentionally wanted to avoid. Even without using the ED, the “laws require lawgiver” argument fails.

      • The Thinker

        Here’s how I respond to the moral argument using the Euthyphro dilemma the proper way.

        The Moral Argument is just another failed attempt to make god into a required being. How can we have objective morality, it is asked, if there is no god? Thus it is argued that if god does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist, but they do, so god exists. Enter the Euthyphro Dilemma: Is something good because god commands it, or does god command it because it’s good? The first part makes morality arbitrary, and the latter makes god irrelevant to what’s good.

        The standard response is that god is the good – god is the ontological foundation of goodness because he is intrinsically loving, compassionate and fair, etc. But then we can ask, is god good because he has these properties or are these properties good because god has them? In order to avoid compromising god’s sovereignty and admitting that these properties are good independently of god, the theist who wants to hold to the moral argument must say that these traits are good because god has them. But how is love, compassion, fairness or any other positive attribute good only because god has them? They would be good irrespective of god’s existence, as would be evident by their effects. The theist would bear the burden of proof to demonstrate that they wouldn’t be good without god, which I haven’t yet seen anyone successfully achieve. Thus I say objective moral values exist independently of god. Duties on the other hand are more tricky. I simply don’t believe in objective duties in the sense that they’re issued from some kind of cosmic police officer. Duties arise primarily from social obligations, or obligations to principle. Under secular ethical systems, we need to appeal to reason to understand our obligations to one another, not commandments. Besides, the other major hurdle that divine command theory suffers from is the epistemic problem. That is, even if people believe in god, no one is going to fully agree on what god or what version of god is the correct one, or what commands are authentic and how to properly interpret them. You’re going to be faced ultimately with moral relativism in practice, as is evident from the wide range of beliefs and practices of all religions. Thus the moral argument fails in theory and in practice.

        • the thinker

          to all:
          all the arguments, words and thinking used were all for and from humans, human thinking, human arguments, human logics in topic existence or non-existense, of god or pro n cons if theres a universe-creator. if we placed the identity of god or creator thru god’s accpted or not accepted attribues: everlasting, infinite, spirit, not from this earth, any investigation or arguments we made we can’t point to god for god is not present not we can’t present him even his mind or thinking.Simply put if anybody of you can give me one feelings of god that is not the same feelings of man. like if we say love or hated is one feeling of god is also feelings of man. am asking is give me one feeling of god that is not man’s so that we can separate god from man if not we are placing god like one of us, or like man that’s why we can attack, discuss, make god small or big, stayabve pedestal or make him step in a circus balancing wire. we must discuss god in god’s way above man not in man’s way. look even in this earth how can you discuss the universe or measure when everything on this earth revolves. if you say i am now standing still you are fooling yourself coz everything revolves if this earth dies everything on it dies. is earth now your god?

  • someguy

    How do you establish 8 and 9?

    • Jeffery Jay Lowder

      Well, I wasn’t attempting to argue for either (8) or (9) in this post. If you want, you may treat (8) and (9) as assumptions–assumptions typically shared by proponents of the “moral laws require a moral lawgiver argument”–for a reductio ad absurdum argument.

      With that said, I did give one reason for believing (9): “The laws of nature, logic, and mathematics are three examples of laws that are discovered, not invented.” There is no time at which such laws did not “exist.” Think for a moment about 2+2=4. Does anyone really believe that there was a time, say, 15 billion years ago, when 2+2 did NOT equal 4? But if 2+2 has always equalled 4, then that “law” did not “begin to exist,” was not invented, and does not have a “lawgiver.”

  • Pofarmer

    Thinking about moral law and moral behavior from the aspect of ” benefits society” isn’t it true that many other species, behave in ways signifigantly the same as humans while not having any cognition of morality? Many, if not most, for example, are attached to their young. Many operate in large social groupings, even when they are generally aggresive to others, think large carnivores, for example. To me the fact that we really aren’t all that unique speaks volumes.