Do you think the moral argument for God’s existence is bulletproof?

Hi Nathan, do you think the moral argument for God’s existence is bulletproof? Can you point me to some resources about it? Any advice on using this argument with laymen?

Thanks
Michael

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Thanks for a good question, Michael. I believe that the moral argument for the existence of God is a strong one, but doesn’t necessarily need to be bulletproof in order to be strong. People still shoot at things that are bulletproof, so there are no easy conversations here (see a million online critiques of the moral argument and the fact that almost every new atheist has written a book on it). Despite the hype, I believe there is a growing sentiment that some of our naturalistic assumptions about the foundation of morality are pretty shaky. I was just reading some critical reviews of https://www.amazon.com/Science-Good-Foundations-Foundational-Questions/dp/0300196288 which make that point. The only reason that I say that it isn’t bulletproof is that there are people who believe in the metaphysical existence and grounding of morals without believing in God- essentially a retro-Platonism. Even if you get to an agreement that morals actually exist, that doesn’t always lead to a belief in God. Now, how you can believe in a mind-independent grounding for actual morals without attributing that to some sort of greater being is fascinating to me, but the fact that it exists shows that the argument isn’t bulletproof. Andy Bannister recently said in a talk at the University of Alberta that he was recently on a talk show in the UK with a prominent Atheist who said that he was a neo-Platonist! Andy was so surprised he hardly knew what to say, which if you know Andy is truly amazing.

I like Tim Keller’s distinction between ‘proofs’ and ‘pointers.’ (Keller himself says that the moral argument isn’t watertight) The only proofs that are bulletproof are actual mathematical proofs. Unfortunately mathematical proofs don’t address important questions of meaning and morality. To try to answer shortly, I would say that the moral argument is a strong pointer to the existence of God and that grounding morality in God’s nature is the most coherent foundation for ethics if you have clarity in the revelation of God’s character (Jesus).

As far as resources go, William Lane Craig has some videos online that address this. For a deeper dive see https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-arguments-god/. The conclusion of this argument (which fits your question nicely) is:

“It seems clear that no version of the moral argument constitutes a “proof” of God’s existence. Each version contains premises that many reasonable thinkers reject. However, this does not mean the arguments have no force. One might think of each version of the argument as attempting to spell out the “cost” of rejecting the conclusion. Some philosophers will certainly be willing to pay the cost, and indeed have independent reasons for doing so. However, it would certainly be interesting and important if one became convinced that atheism required one to reject moral realism altogether, or to embrace an implausible account of how moral knowledge is acquired. For those who think that some version or versions of the arguments have force, the cumulative case for theistic belief may be raised by such arguments.”

That last sentence addresses the final part of your question about conversations with laymen, I believe that the moral argument is an excellent argument in a cumulative case for belief in God, but we shouldn’t put all of our eggs in one basket.

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