BSR 17: There Are No Objective Moral Truths

BSR 17: There Are No Objective Moral Truths May 28, 2020

Summary of reply: Rejecting a claim on a flimsy technicality is cowardly, claims of objective morality fail, and adding “for fun” doesn’t help.

(These Bite-Size Replies are responses to “Quick Shots,” brief Christian responses to atheist challenges. The introduction to this series is here.)

Challenge to the Christian: There are no objective moral truths.

Christian response #1: “This kind of claim is clearly self-refuting. The challenge isn’t whether objective, moral truths exist, the challenge is simply identifying them and explaining where they come from.”

BSR: They’re trying to get a lot of mileage out of this tired and (in my opinion) cowardly charge that arguments are self-defeating. Specifically, the attack here is that “There are no objective moral truths” is itself an objective truth claim, which means that the statement defeats itself. But this charge fails.

What would work is dropping the “moral” part. Now, “There are no objective truths” is an objective truth claim and technically defeats itself. But let’s go back to the original challenge. “There are no objective moral truths” does not claim to be an objective moral truth, so the self-defeating charge fails.

My own position would be something like “I see no evidence for objective moral truths; if you have some, provide it.” Phrase it this way and, yet again, the self-defeating claim dissolves away.

And let’s highlight the second sentence in the response. It basically says, let’s not worry about whether objective moral truths exist; let’s assume they do and find out where they come from.

Uh, no, let’s not assume that. That objective moral truths exist is a bold claim that must be defended.

“That argument is invalid on a technicality, and I won’t respond” is a popular but cowardly retreat by which Christian apologists try to avoid difficult arguments. [Click to tweet]

Christian response #2: Here’s an objective moral truth: “It’s always wrong to torture babies for fun.” You would fight anyone who didn’t see this truth limiting their behavior.

BSR: Yes, I would reject the claim that it’s okay to hurt someone for no good reason, but who says that’s objective morality? That moral claim about torture is both strongly felt and universally agreed to, but that doesn’t make it objectively true (that is, grounded outside humanity and true whether there are humans to appreciate its truth or not).

Notice the appeal to emotion. Here’s something that we all feel strongly about, and the argument wants to cheat by avoiding the difficult intellectual argument and claim success based on emotion. But it doesn’t work that way. Look up “morality” in the dictionary, and you’ll find no mention of objectivity.

Objective morality is unchanging morality. If slavery and genocide are wrong today, they should have always been wrong, but the Bible shows God supporting slavery and demanding genocide. If “slavery is morally wrong” is objectively true, then God was objectively wrong.

Or consider moral dilemmas today that divide society like same-sex marriage, abortion, euthanasia, contraception, sex education, or capital punishment. Are there objectively correct moral stands for each of them? And are these objective moral truths reliably accessible by ordinary humans? If so, then why don’t we agree?

Consider society’s current moral dilemmas: SSM, abortion, capital punishment. Are there objectively correct moral stands on each? Are these objective moral truths reliably accessible by ordinary humans? If so, why isn’t it obvious? [Click to tweet]

Christian response #3: How do you find objective moral truths? Lying is bad, for example, but what if you’re protecting someone’s feelings? Solution: add “for fun” to the end of the moral statement.

BSR: Here’s the idea: take a moral statement like “Don’t steal” for which there seem to be exceptions. For example, what if you’re stealing because your family is starving? What if you’re stealing from a thief? The solution is to add “for fun” on the end. Now we have “Don’t steal for fun,” which shrinks the scope of the rule so that it is universally true.

But how does this help? Okay, I shouldn’t steal for fun. That seems to admit no exceptions, but I already knew that. And the moral questions remain: what if my family is hungry—is stealing okay then? Or take a persistent moral issue within society like abortion. I’ll agree with “Don’t have an abortion for fun,” but again, where is the new insight?

Sure, we can add “for fun” to any moral statement (“Don’t steal FOR FUN”), but how does this help? This teaches us nothing new, and it does nothing to resolve moral issues like abortion or same-sex marriage. [Click to tweet]

(The Quick Shot I’m replying to is here.)

Continue with BSR 18: Being a Good Person Is All that Really Matters

For further reading:

How can [God] be a source for any sort of morality
if [he’s] not held morally responsible?
— commenter Susan

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Image from Alice Alinari, CC license
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