This is the second post in a series of posts providing counter-arguments to common religious apologetic arguments for God. Click here to see the list of all posts in the series.
Last time we tackled the argument from religious experience. This time we will take a look at the “argument from morality”. The argument from morality is an attempt to argue that moral order must exist in the universe and God must exist in order to support it.
This argument is deeply flawed. If God existed and instituted a moral order over the universe then we would expect to see physical evidence of this kind of moral law and order. In a universe like that we would expect those who behave immorally to grow weaker or sicker, or to have some other kind of terrible punishment laid upon them (like consistently horrible luck, or the ability to live a normal life somehow otherwise taken away from them). We would expect those who are good and pure to be rewarded with greater strength and vigor, or some other manner of divine reward. But that is not what we observe. Innocent children suffer from cancer. Thousands of innocent people die of hunger or starvation a day despite committing no immoral acts. Rape, intentional or accidental death, torture, or terrible afflictions can befall anyone regardless of previous moral or immoral behavior.
But is there even moral order to the universe? Let us leave humans out of the matter for it moment. That question ignores all the needless suffering that animals endure. Outside of the predator/prey relationship all manner of cruelty can be observed in the wild. A universe-spanning moral order does not exist in any way that can be observed.
Bringing the conversation back to religion, if we look to the holy texts that the faithful base so many of their morality claims on, we again find challenges to God's moral universe. Take, for instance, this passage:
"Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.” - Numbers 31:17-18 (NIV)
That is Moses issuing commands from God to an army. Is that really moral behavior? Now let us see what Samuel tells us God said. Here is Samuel quoting God directly:
“I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.” – 1 Samuel 15:2-3 (NIV)
Those are not the orders issued from a moral being. But according to the faithful these are from the supposedly sacred stories that we are meant to base our own morality on.
Here is another way to think about it: Do you know someone who is religious? Does that person own slaves? The Bible condones slavery which means that anyone who decides that slavery is morally wrong is making a moral judgement outside of their own faith. Their faith is not playing any role in what they deem moral, at least in regards to slavery. This ties back to the concept of cherry-picking that I discussed in the previous post. The faithful who cherry-pick which Bible passages to base their morals on and which ones to ignore are using their own moral test which does not rely on God or faith.
Let’s look at the opposing view now. The secular view of morality comes down to this: based on our evolutionary history, we began as, and continue to be, social and communal animals. It is in our own best interest to be good to others so that we can foster a strong community that we, too, can gain support from. This means our morals are derived from our own judgement, which also means that we have developed these morals through trial and error over millennia. If this is true then we would expect them to be deeply flawed at first and to gradually get better over time. And that is what we observe when we look at history. Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature takes a look at the history of human violence and explains why (despite what many think) we are living in the most peaceful time in human history. Generally over time, humans have become more and more peaceful and treat each other better and better. We may take one step back after every two or three steps forward, but the general arc is clear.
All of this eliminates the need for morals provided by God, for we clearly dictate our own morals as a cooperative society. So be good to each other. The current political climate in the United States and elsewhere does indicate that we are likely facing a “one-step back” scenario in our immediate future. We need to turn around and make sure we keep moving forward.