Moral Law argument - humans versus other mammals

Hi there, I had a discussion with an atheist friend during the week where we discussed the Moral Law argument. I pointed to the fact that something as a moral law cannot be described by a naturalistic framework, which therefore also points to a moral lawgiver. I also made the statement (perhaps erroneously?) that this was part of God’s gift to humans as we were specially created in His image. Animals are not credited with being immoral if they kill (preditor vs pray for example). However, he cited examples of primates exhibiting behavior where members of a group (ie. similar species) will ostracise or even kill a single member of a group if he/she does not behave according to ‘accepted behavior’ and therefore according to their own ‘moral law’ which means that it is not peculiar to humans but simply a trait of social beings which they learned as part of ‘evolution’ to be beneficial for survival of the group as a whole. What would you answer to this?

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Great question!!
I had a similiar discussion. An aquaintance was pushing the idea of animals in how they cooperate and so on and I finally said after a bit of silence…So you are saying we are mere animals? There was a delay and he said nothing. He knew that to say this woud have big implications. He is big on the idea of rules and justice.

It is a great and tricky question.
I think we are related genetically close to the other mammals. So I think it is no wonder that if God created them and us there would be some similarities. The idea of fairness could be among them. Why not? But taking a cue from the animal world is filled with difficulties. Some animal parents protect their young while others eat them. I said to this person that man is made in the image of God. The scale of difference in self-awareness, intention, creativity etc. is much larger in man than the animals. Of course this can lead into an even greater debate. I guess that Jesus … his life and teachings trump the idea that we are mere animals. Of course I am not sure where you can go with this with an atheist. I think at a minimum we are rationally still within our ‘epistemic rights’ as Plantinga woud say that there is still a huge difference. To prove this from a scientifific naturalistic view may well be impossible. Again a great question that is a good challenge to think about.


Using society as a moral standard still fails. Humans give the biggest examples of this in history. Slavery and the holocaust being the biggest. Hitler believed that “weaker” races were taking up resources and killing these “weaker” races would leave resources for the stronger ones. So that means Hitler wasn’t wrong for what he did if it meant the survival of his own people.

I would ask your friend according to their logic does that mean rape is morally okay if society says so? What about kidnapping or selling someone as a sex slave? There are cultures today who still do this and it’s considered socially acceptable.

Then you have to ask the question what makes it wrong. If your people are dying out and you rape to procreate wouldn’t that be a good enough reason for society to say it’s acceptable in their culture? Animals do this all the time.

If he’s consistent with his beliefs then he’s in trouble cause that means all it takes is enough people to believe something and that makes it right morally which isn’t hard to accomplish these days. If he doesn’t stay consistent with his logic and says rape is wrong regardless then he is proving the point that he believes there is an objective moral law outside of ourselves.


Excellent point, @Luna! Let’s remember too that in English when we say someone is a “beast” or an “animal,” it is never meant as a compliment, it is derogatory. Why? Because at its core, nature is out for itself. We humans are not meant to be that way; we are meant to be God’s Image and love with an unconditional love as He does. The ironic thing is that when a non-Christian speaks of people’s humanity, they tend to be speaking about the willingness to be kind simply to be kind. This means that even non-Christians tend to believe that humans are meant to love and be kind and not be “beastly.”

@pietventer, if you listen to Jordan Peterson, he mentions that rats do have “morality,” which boils down to this: if you are mean to me, I’m not going to want to interact with you. He mentions that in this video:
As Mr. Peterson suggests, for any society (animal or otherwise) to work out, there has to be a certain level of being kind to others. But what is considered kind and right will vary greatly. That is the question: What makes something right and kind? And as @Luna said, if it is society, that is really bad news.

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Thank you for all the replies here! It really helps to unpack the issue and I am still trying to figure this out for myself.

My issue wasn’t so much with what constitutes right and wrong (that would be another debate about relativism) but the question is more that if there is any sense of right and wrong, does that on its own imply a moral law, which then according to Ravi points to a moral lawgiver? In other words, does the “morality” in mice which Jordan Peterson describe in @RebeccaN 's reply imply that there is also moral lawgiver or does the sense of right and wrong which humans poses contains something more which is distinct from examples among animals? If it does, then I should be able to point out that there is a difference in the “morality” observed in mammals and humans. I think the link that I was missing here is ‘personhood’ which Ravi (see link) says that only if a person has intrinsic worth does it points to a moral lawgiver. So, I guess the issue to unpack is intrinsic worth in personhood?

Yes, the question would be “Why are any of us humans valuable at all?” And for the Christian, people are valuable because God made us and loves us so much that He died so that we could turn from our shortcomings and wrongdoings and love as He loves.

Now, God loves his creation too. We forget that part sometimes. His plan is to redeem a fallen creation with the plants and animals too. But Jesus did not die for birds, cats, and dogs. He died for human sinners.

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