Terribly sorry for the time since the last post. I took a hiatus of sorts. Without further ado...
The next argument in our series is the moral argument. It reasons from the universal, objective nature of morality (the law) to the existence of God (the lawgiver).
A simple version can be sketched like so:
(1) If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
(2) Objective moral values do exist.
(3) God exists.
By 'objective moral values,' we mean moral truths that exist independently of humanity. That is, even if there were no one around to know them, they would still be true.
The form of this argument is what philosophers call modus tollens or 'denying the consequent.' That's because it works by positing a conditional (if-then statement) and then denying its consequent (the 'then' portion of the statement). The result is the denial of the antecedent (the 'if' portion) of the conditional, and it is always valid.
So now that we're clear on the logic, what about the premises? Unfortunately, neither is without controversy. A denial of (1) leaves the atheist with two options: he can either deny that objective moral values exist, OR he must provide a better explanation for their existence than God. And this is notoriously difficult to do. But some attempts have been made, and I will turn to the best of them in the next post.
Denying (2) leaves us with some form of ethical relativism. Most of you have probably heard of the evils of relativism (it seems to be something of a favorite among apologists to pick on), so I won't spend much time on it here. I believe (hope) it is declining in popularity, but there are still enough folks out there who think it's a valid option (mostly first or second year undergrads in the softer disciplines) to make it worth mentioning.
Ethical relativism is basically the view that moral values may differ from person to person or maybe culture to culture. On this view, since they depend on human perspective for their truth, these values are not objective. This idea is often expressed in such popular catch phrases as "Well that may be true for you, but not for me..." There are many problems with this position, not least among them the fact that it is logically unaffirmable. This means that in order for the relativist to assert her position, she has to simultaneously contradict it (e.g. "It is true [objectively] that truth is not objective." or "It is immoral [objectively] to push your moral values onto others.") Not to mention the logical consequences of such a view (all those fun Hitler analogies come to mind).
Fortunately most academics, especially those in the most relevant disciplines--ethics and philosophy--realize that this view is nonsense. Consequently, and contrary to popular opinion, there are very few serious relativists in academia. In fact, it has become something of a derogatory label, along the lines of 'nihilist' or '4-dimensionalist.' * Besides, we all actually believe that objective moral values really do exist, or at least we live as though they do. If you don't believe me, try stealing something from someone (anyone you like) and then explaining to them that your set of moral values is different from theirs. Let me know how it goes.
One more thing should be made clear here. What this argument is NOT saying is that people who don't believe in God cannot be moral. That's nonsense. Of course they can. What the argument IS saying is that without God, morality is neither objective nor motivating (more on that later). Objectively moral behavior doesn't require belief in God--it requires God.
* Occupational humor. Sorry.