How do we discuss the moral argument with an unbeliever?


(Danny Doyle ) #1

Forgive me for my ignorance but I am a little hesitant to discuss the moral argument with an unbeliever because I don’t fully comprehend it myself. Some help would be appreciated.

For the unbeliever would answer the question of morality along the lines of we get our morals from society.

I was actually talking to my brother about it and this is what he says:

"Our morality is based off laws that are put infront of us by people who don’t like this one thing
or making this thing illegal would make them more popular so they make it illegal "

I wasn’t able to give a sufficient answer to back up my own beliefs.

I look forward to hearing some of your insights guys as I have been truly blessed from this resource.


(SeanO) #2

@Dannyd Thank you for your question. The basic idea of the moral argument for God is that the fact that humans recognize that there is objective right and wrong (a moral law) points to the existence a God who gave us that moral law (the law is written on our hearts).

Your brother is positing that laws are created for selfish reasons and that our sense of right and wrong comes from the society in which we live. The evolutionary argument goes that social needs demand a common morality - that as a society develops a shared morality will evolve. So they argue that morality is a consequence of civilization and the formation of social groups (plus some other psychological reasons).

The Bible, however, says that the law of God is written on men’s hearts (Romans 2) and that when societies formulate their laws they do so with some fuzzy knowledge of God’s law. This law is called the ‘natural law’ that is evident to all men (read Romans 1). The below article should clarify natural law more. Romans is a good book to read in general for understanding natural law and its consequences.

Below are some resources from William Lane Craig, Ravi and Lewis that should prove useful in understanding this argument in more depth.

Resources from William Lane Craig

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Ravi Zacharias

C. S. Lewis on the Moral Argument

I hope those resources are helpful. Feel free to ask further questions. The Lord Jesus grant you wisdom as you study and interact with your brother. May the Lord open his eyes / heart as well to see the glory of God in the Gospel.


(Tim Behan) #3

@Dannyd Great question Danny. I agree with what SeanO has written above. But I totally think that it is much more difficult to think of how to respond on the spot in discussion, so I sympathise with you as there are so many occasions when, even knowing a topic pretty well, I flounder with what to say. May the Lord grant you and all of us the wisdom to share his grace well.

I can’t remember if I wrote this here or somewhere else, but I’ve used the following example before and found it to be quite helpful. Because people still argue back saying that they believe that morality is culturally or socially based. But I tend to bring up the abolition of slavery when this discussion is raised. Everybody (that I know of, at least) agrees that the abolition of slavery was the right thing to do. That treating slaves like they were is wrong. But we don’t argue that it is only wrong now that we’re “more enlightened” or “more highly evolved”… we all argue that it was wrong back then as well as it is now. The morality of the situation doesn’t change because of time or culture… some things are wrong no matter the time or situation.

Then… if the person you are talking to can see that… that’s when you can follow the line of reasoning that SeanO has put above… if there is an absolute moral right and wrong that transcends our own personal/cultural/social or even evolutionary basis, then where did that law come from? It must have a source.

Not sure if that is helpful, but hopefully it is. I hope and pray that you get more opportunities to continue that conversation.


(Joshua Spare) #4

Hey @Dannyd, great question! I find these types of questions quite compelling and interesting! I also have to resonate with @tsbehan about floundering with responding to a question. I find it especially to be the case with family when it seems so much more difficult to keep my frustration in check! So kudos to you on working hard to find good answers for your brother, and working through these tough questions with him!

I see at least three reasons why I find your brother’s line of thinking to be a bit lacking.

First, once again as Tim mentioned in his response, if morality is dictated by society, and there is no standard of morality external to society by which to determine right and wrong, then there is absolutely no ability to judge the moral standards of another society as right or wrong, i.e. we can’t condemn slavery in colonial England & America; we can’t condemn cannibalism in remote tribes; we can’t condemn infanticide in ancient cultures. All because we would be using our own societal standards as the basis for our condemnation! On the flip side, we can’t even commend acts of heroism and philanthropy in other societies which fly in the face of the standards established in those societies. I’m thinking of people imprisoned and punished for speaking out against a dictatorial and authoritarian governments. Our societal standards may say that their actions were good and just, but according to their societal standards, those actions were wrong, and ought to be reprimanded! In essence, I am saying that if the arbiter of morality is a given society’s standards, then we have no platform from which we can condemn wrong actions and praise right actions in a society other than the one in which we live.

Second, if we say that morality is determined by society, then we have no ability to say that there has been moral “progress.” I think that many people who hold to the idea of a societally-detemined standard of morality simultaneously think that we have had progress in our moral standards - i.e. abolition of slavery, civil rights movements, etc. However, if the society in which we live determines the moral standards, then we can in no way say that we have progressed morally. If we cannot say that it is better now that slavery is illegal here in the United States, I think that the statement of “morality is determined by the society in which you live” loses a great deal of its impetus and appeal.

And finally, I may need to do some more research into this, but it would seem to me as though societally-determined morality is offered as an alternative to a God-given standard of morality, but there doesn’t seem to be much logical force behind why it would be actually true or a more compelling argument. At the surface, it would seem plausible, but I don’t see any reason offered why I should in fact think it is in fact true. (Once again, please do point me to some research or thought that has been put into this that would contradict me on this point). The only reason that I see is the motivation to how we can conceive of morality without the existence of God, and this, I believe, is often the heart of this statement. Namely, I do not want God to exist so I would like to try to find an explanation for everything in a way that precludes the existence of God.

I hope these thoughts are helpful as you continue the dialogue with your brother! I know that it can be especially difficult to have these conversations with family, but I know that through the power of God and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, you will be able to articulate well your thoughts on this with your brother. Praying for you!


(Harris Ratnayake) #5

Dannyd, I have a brother also that said something similar to what your brother said. He said morality is derived from people putting up ideas as to how people ought to live and when majority of the people see this is reasonable it comes to be accepted. So he admits that in this view morality is not an absolute thing but is relative. Apart from what others have mentioned here that according to this view you cannot say that slavery, infanticide etc were wrong at those times when they were practiced my question is why does an individual have to practice what is accepted by the rest of the society?

As an example, if society has come to the conclusion that cheating is wrong what makes this binding on me. Your brother (and mine) may say that you can go ahead and cheat but you will be punished if you don’t follow what society has come to accept. But this is politics (rules put forward by the ruling class) not morality. Morality has to do with a way we ought to live by and this can only come from a God who created us. If we simply evolved into existence without a creator then morality (a way we ought to live by) is a meaningless term.


(Omar Rushlive Lozada Arellano) #6

Hello @Dannyd. I appreciate your candor. The responses that were provided to you are helpful. Though this does not directly answer your main question, I just want to add some practical tips which could help in your engagement. One practical tip is that it’s not the Christian who should always defend their beliefs. If an unbeliever you know makes a claim, then they have the burden of proof to make their case.

You could many questions like, “what do you mean by that?,” “how did you come to that conclusion?,” or specific to what you brother said, “It seems to me that what you said is that morality is based on laws that are based on human preference. Did I get it right?,” or “How is morality being derived from preference a solid ground for morality?,” or “By what standard do you use to evaluate that morality by preference is much better than objective morality?”

The question would depend on what they would say. You just need to make sure that you understand it by confirming with them what they mean. Another practical tip is to see yourself as a learner. If you don’t know what to answer, instead of answering them, switch to fact-finding mode. Ask them specific questions to get to know their position better. And if you can’t answer it, tell them that you’ll think about it and you’ll get back at them.

This is not meant as a ploy in order to avoid something, though it would remove the pressure of you. This will help in producing confidence in your conversations, and through the process you get to learn solid objections from people you meet in real life, and get to learn more on how to answer them as you study further.

Pray for them as well. There are times when I was not able to give an answer to someone, but I was able to ask them hard questions about their beliefs. I pray that the Lord will be able to use it for them to doubt their worldview, so that they would start to see the beauty of Christ.

Here is another link that might help: