Moral arguments are very simple, but powerful, attempts to show that believing in the existence of God is more reasonable than disbelieving. Moral arguments depend on the fact that there are certain universal, or at least nearly universal, moral principles of right and wrong. These are principles that transcend all cultures.
For instance, no-one has ever considered it morally acceptable to throw babies into the air and let them crash to the ground for fun. No one. This is not a culturally conditioned belief. Everyone believes it is wrong. It is part of a general prohibition against killing children that exists across cultures. Now, of course, there have been cultures that have sacrificed infants, but we’re not talking here about sacrificing a child out of what is mistakenly perceived to be a genuine need to appease a blood-thirsty deity, as in ancient Aztec society. This is horrible, to be sure, but it’s not the same thing as killing or seriously injuring infants for no good reason at all.
So the question is, why does such a universal moral belief that it is right to project children exist? One option is to say that it is a necessary instinct for survival of the species. In other words, if we didn’t have this instinct to protect our children, then the species would have died out long ago. Imagine two cavewomen: one has the instinct to protect her children and the other does not. Which one will have children that survive? Obviously it would be the one that cared for her children and therefore it would be her genes, including whatever gene codes for parental protectiveness, that would be passed on to future generations.
On the surface, that sounds like a pretty plausible answer. But if that’s the explanation for the widespread taboo against harming children for no reason, then what do we do with the several species of animals that do their best to eat or kill as many of their young as possible? These species seem to survive quite well, so it’s hard to say that protecting our offspring is a necessary trait for the survival of the species. And certainly, there are circumstances in which human beings protect their children and sacrifice for them even though that means the parents suffer and even die. Doesn’t this seem to go against the very notion of survival of the fittest? So why do humans have this universal moral prohibition against hurting children?
And it’s not just that we have inborn moral taboos. We also have inborn moral preferences. Take kindness for instance. I was recently watching an episode of a popular medical drama where the lead character argued that niceness was a symptom of disease. His reasoning? Imagine three cavemen who see a stranger running toward them. One fights, one runs and the other smiles. “That last one,” the doctor said, “didn’t last long enough to procreate.”
So how do we explain the fact that kindness is nearly universally valued? In fact, it seems to me that the only people who don’t like to see kindness in others are people who are not kind themselves and feel guilty about it. But what evolutionary advantage is kindness?
Why do we have these universal moral tendencies that transcend human culture? The best answer would seem to be that such moral principles ultimately come from something that exists independent of human culture…that these principles are what we call moral absolutes. The above examples are only two of several universal or nearly universal principles. Where do such moral absolutes come from?
Well, since moral principles are ultimately relational – that is, they involve the ways we relate to others – the ultimate source of moral principles must be personal (i.e. having the capacity to relate). Relational principles do not arise from non-relational things. So, the best explanation for transcendent moral principles is that they exist because a personal/relational being has created humans with an awareness of those principles. We call this being God.
Once again, this argument doesn’t exactly lead us to the Christian understanding of God, but it does get us a little closer than the cosmological or teleological arguments. The moral argument not only tells us that God exists, but that He is good.