In my last post, I reflected on the significance of truths which are unchanging – timeless truths, they’re sometimes called. I concluded that only a “timeless” eternal mind was a sufficient explanation to make sense of the fact that some concepts don’t ever change, regardless of the otherwise transitory nature of both mind and matter.
One such truth involved “morality.” Torturing children for fun is always wrong, i.e. objectively evil, I contended. It’s not just something that society frowns upon, but something that will always be wrong regardless of time, place or culture. In using this example, I moved from one proof of the existence of God – the existence of timeless truths – to another, slightly different but related proof – the existence of morality. While moral truths are indeed one type of truth that I contend remain timeless, limiting my examples to, for example, mathematical truths, may have made my post clearer.
Indeed, one reader took up the issue created by my merging of the proofs like this:
I don’t see why my (and practically everyone else’s except for psychopaths’) objection to torturing children for fun is any worse than yours, when the only difference is that you claim yours is god given and thus “objective”. You just have a couple more unfalsifiable claims attached to your objection, and my objection works just as well to stop me from torturing children for fun as yours does. So what do you gain, and what do the children gain, from your “objectivity”?
This challenge brings into focus the real question. The question I sought to answer was, do timeless truths help prove the necessity of a creator God? Does the universe as we perceive make more sense with a Creator or without one? The challenger’s question is, instead, what benefit does your worldview give when my worldview can reach the very same answer?– viz. torturing children for fun is wrong.
A slight detour is necessary here: there are two kinds of societal obligations that are placed upon citizens. In the law, they’re referred to generally as things that are “malum in se” and things that are “malum prohibitum.” The former relate to things that are intrinsically wrong, actions such as murder and rape. They are wrong – indeed bad or evil – in themselves. Other things are wrong because they violate a social convention or rule; they are prohibited. It might be something like parking in a red zone or driving on the left side of the street. Included in this latter category, though not necessarily reduced to law, are other social conventions. It’s rude to talk with food in your mouth. You can wear a bikini to the beach but not to the PTA meeting. You can spank your child with your hand but not a belt. These rules reflect the consensus of a community and are subject to change. Bikinis weren’t permitted on beaches in the 1920’s but spanking a child with a belt was.
The challenger seems comfortable with the notion that all moral claims can be pushed into the social convention category. As he says, his objection to child torture is just as good even though he doesn’t claim it is “objective,” like mine. While he doesn’t say where his objection comes from, he appears to think it’s self-evident.
If it is self-evident (and I agree that it is), something very odd is at play. I’m sure that my challenger would agree that many social conventions can change without much impact on a culture. But if torturing children for fun beliefs changed – or if any of the malum in se kinds of things became popular – there would be grave cause of concern. Nazi Germany makes the point. When murder of a no longer protected class of human beings becomes a favored social norm instead of an instance of genocide, the world – and all of its inhabitants – suffers and is indeed diminished.
Where, then, does this lead? The challenger is right that he does not need to point to the Bible to know that torturing children is wrong. But the deeper question is, where does notion of things which are intrinsically evil come from? How is it that we know such things? How do we draw that line?
The proof from the existence of objective moral truths plays on these arguments. The question – is there a God? – must necessarily be answered in the affirmative when one considers this argument. Why?
Premise one of the argument goes like this: if God does not exist, as the skeptic insists, there can be no objective moral rules. As the above hopefully demonstrates, there may be social conventions and general consensus, and these may be backed by the force of law. But without an ultimate rule-giver who is apart from and above these societies, they remain no different in kind than the rules about manners or modesty. They are mere social conventions, subject to the whims and vagaries of public opinion.
But, we all intrinsically know that some moral rules are more than just conventions. Yes, they may embody a consensus of the public anyway, but that’s not really the point. If I suddenly found myself in a society which practiced baby torture or murder, I would persist in my belief that these things are not simply to be frowned upon, but are in fact objectively wrong, objectively evil. And I would remain confident in the rightness of my cause if I took action against them.
The challenger refuses to engage the right question. If he did, he would see that the conclusion that logical minds draw from these two premises is obvious: objective moral laws do exist, therefore it follows that a moral law-giver must also exist.
There are very good reasons indeed to believe that God is the source of the moral order that we know is there.
Posted by Al Serrato