Absolute and Objective Morality – My Response

Since becoming an atheist there’s been a handful of go to arguments for believers to try and show me how wrong I am. Far and away the one that’s most common, and that I’ve grown most weary of discussing, is absolute/objective morality. For the sake of my sanity I’m writing my response to that argument here.

Objective morality is the idea that certain systems of ethics or moral judgements are not just true according to subjective opinion, but factually true. People that think along this way would say that murder is wrong in the same way that 1 + 1 = 2.

The theist argument goes like this: If objective morality exists it has to come from a god. Objective morality does exist, therefore god exists.

Please note that the theist can’t do anything more than assert that objective morality exists. They can’t point to it or go to it for reference. It’s a feeling they have. A very subjective feeling as it seems that not everyone agrees that murder or rape is wrong.

They then almost always go on to tell me that if there’s no objective morality then what’s stopping us from raping and killing anyone and everyone? If there’s no absolute truths then why live morally at all?

What a sad way to view the value of human life.

So, you’re telling me the only thing keeping you from raping and killing people like Ted Bundy is because you believe in the god that authored an ancient text that damns people to hell? The same god that condones slavery and genocide and you dare to say you have a moral high ground? Do people not see a contradiction here?

Some non-believers argue for the existence of objective morality, but that it’s not given by a god. That science can tell us what is objectively moral. I don’t particularly agree with that point either, but my contention may be more of a case of semantics than anything else.

The only morality I believe in is subjective morality. I do believe that there can be an agreed upon “best fit” in terms of morality for a society. You could even argue that the best fit is objective morality, but I wouldn’t take it that far. Even a society where human sacrifice was common practice had a basic understanding of right and wrong.

Subjective morality is what’s allowed us to evaluate current moral standards and move away from them once we realize how immoral they are. Moving away from the barbarism of the bible, like stoning unruly children at the city gates, killing non virgins, killing rape victims, owning slaves and even killing people of different religions, has taken a subjective viewpoint.

Is god moral because he does things that are good or is he moral because he’s god and anything he commands, by nature, is good (Divine Command Theory)?

If god gives us the source of this objective morality then why would he himself allow something like child rape to happen? Does he let kids get raped so that we have a standard by which to say it’s wrong? If god does this then is he worthy of worship and why would you accept a moral code given by a provably immoral being?

If the world received proof tomorrow that god doesn’t exist would you then conclude that the rape of children is morally acceptable?

If god gives us morality how do we know this code is actually moral? If god tells you that child rape is wrong how do you know he’s correct? Or do you admit that you don’t know and that you’re just following what god says? If so, then by your own admission, god hasn’t given you moral standards by which to comprehend right from wrong. He’s just given you a list of rules to obey without any understanding being necessary. What’s so moral about obedience?

People will usually bring up how the Problem of Evil exists because god gave us free will to choose to love him or not. You can’t have free will without the potential of evil. I’ll save my problem of evil response for another post, but for now I’ll say that god has shown he’ll intervene in free will as he did when he hardened the pharaoh’s heart. So, to the god of christians at least, he’s proven to step in and change a man’s mind against the man’s will.

My point is that if christians argue for the existence and following of an objective moral code from their god, that they really don’t have a concept of what morality is.

If believers really think that if there’s no objective moral truths, that we should all just rape and kill then, by all means, give it a go! See how long you last in a world where people have decided that rape and murder deserves imprisonment or death in return.

The truth of the matter is that evolution has bred in us traits of altruism and cooperation. The societies where these tendencies were more prevalent would’ve been more likely to survive not only the elements, but against other groups that were hostile.

If objective morality really exists how come it seems that so many people didn’t get the memo? The Nazi soldiers (Godwin’s Law just entered the post) felt they were in the right when pushing Jews into the showers to be gassed. The things that people claim to be objective usually coincide with what they feel subjectively to be true.

And finally, if you insist on the existence of objective morality how do you determine it’s actually your god that gave it? How do you separate your god from the thousands of others, both living and dead, that have existed?

When people ask me how I determine what’s moral my response is about as simple as it gets. I ask myself, “is what I’m about to do going to help or harm anyone?” If there’s a possibility of harm coming to a conscious creature (humans) then it’s probably not moral and shouldn’t be done.

It’s really as simple as that.

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4 thoughts on “Absolute and Objective Morality – My Response

  1. Nicely put, you cover many more absurdities that I’d considered. I share your frustration that religious people don’t get what an illogical case they’re putting forward.

  2. >The only morality I believe in is subjective morality.

    But in that case the only ground you have to judge other people is your intuition. Subjective morality means there is no common ground for moral consensus, in other words might makes right. Although it may seems to be the case, reality is that people still prefer discussions and agreement to simply using force. Therefore, intuition also tells us that there is a ground for moral consensus, we have to search for it.

    > I do believe that there can be an agreed upon “best fit” in terms of morality for a society.

    I agree. The objective common ground for moral concensus is freedom. That is the essence of being human. Morality is impossible without freedom. Freedom is an objective property of reality just like determinism but determinism (ie following own instincts or external forces) has obviously nothing to do with morality.

    >If objective morality really exists how come it seems that so many people didn’t get the memo?

    The answer is people are living creatures and are subject to determinism too. We have to overcome determinism to be moral and free, and that is not easy. If you are interested in this topic, there is a book “Cult of Freedom & Ethics of Public Sphere” describing the objective moral system. It is available at http://ethical-liberty.com. Thanks.
    Reply

    • OE,

      Thanks for stopping by and responding with your thoughts. From what you’ve responded with I think we may actually agree more than not. We may just be squabbling over the semantics of absolute, objective, subjective and relative.

      I fail to see that if subjective morality is all there is, how people couldn’t find agreement amongst themselves. A common ground can still be found for moral consensus among varying peoples. I do agree that it could and does result in a might makes right, but that doesn’t mean moral consensus can’t be reached. Even one that I would subjectively call terrible.

      In the US the people that find rape reprehensible outnumber the people that don’t. Rapists go to jail. Might makes right.

      What is moral for one is monstrous for another. This is the way it’s always been. My wanting to make the world a better and more moral place, at least in my view of morality, comes from my desire to leave this earth a better place for my two kids.

      Just because I feel morality is subjective doesn’t in any way mean I don’t feel there’s a conversation worth having about what is moral. It’s those very conversations that have grown us as a species these thousands of years.

      Many, usually non-theists, like to dress up the “best” and most moral decision possible in a situation, whichever results in the least suffering of conscious creatures, as the objective morality. While I may agree with them over what the most moral decision could be, I just disagree about what to call it.

      Thanks again,

      Nate

      • > A common ground can still be found for moral consensus among varying peoples.

        Yes, but in this case reaching consensus is not guaranteed. Therefore, people will have not point to strive for it.

        > Just because I feel morality is subjective doesn’t in any way mean I don’t feel there’s a conversation worth having about what is moral. It’s those very conversations that have grown us as a species these thousands of years.

        I believe your feelings (ie that morality is subjective) are the result of the objective difficulties with consensus. We all try to find it but we do not know how to do it. Freedom is paradoxical. It promises consensus but leaves each to himself. Conversations is a mark of freedom – when people talk they do not fight.

        > …the least suffering of conscious creatures, as the objective morality.

        I agree. I think it is a simplification. Suffering is very subjective and is a consequence of determinism. Freedom is much more complex.

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