The moral argument is typically constructed as follows:
P1. If God does not exist then objective moral values do not exist.
P2. Objective moral values do exist
C. Therefore God exists
In Latter-day thought God is not the source of moral values but being good, he reveals moral values to us through his commandments.
Blake Ostler objects to P1 in that objective morality is not dependent on God:
God…does not exist in those possible worlds where there are vast amounts of unjustified evils. It follows that there are possible worlds where God does not exist but the moral laws still obtain in those possible worlds because they are necessary truths.
Thus, it also follows that moral law cannot be dependent on God, or be included within God’s nature, because they can exist even if God does not exist.
If God did not exist, would there be some possible world in which “it is not morally objectionable to torture little babies” is true? Hardly. In fact, it seems to me that the proposition: “It is morally objectionable to torture little babies” is analytically true because what we mean by “torture” is “a morally wrong action.” 1
The Euthyphro dilemma
The moral argument begs a question raised in Plato’s dialogue “Euthyphro”. In the dialogue, Socrates asks
“Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?”.
Pious means “righteous” or “holy”. In other words, is something good because God wills it, or does God will something because it is good? This appears to be a problem for the argument that morality originates with God.
- Saying that whatever God says is good, because he commands it is called Divine command theory – leading to arbitrariness. It is possible for God to command something new tomorrow which would not be considered good
- Some say that God by his very nature is divine and good, however this moves the question back a step and leads to the question did God choose his own nature? If he did, then did he choose his nature because it was good, or is his nature good because he chose it (arbitrarily)?
In Latter-day thought, God chooses to be good, and as such can be wholly trusted.
One response to the Euthyphro Dilemma is that it is not a true dilemma and there is a third alternative that “God wills something because he is good” or that “God’s nature determines what is good”, however this simply moves the dilemma back one step.
Blake Ostler said:
Is God good because he has these properties, or are these properties good because they are God’s? If God is good because he has these properties, then we imply that there is a standard apart from God by which we judge his goodness. That is, God isn’t the ultimate standard of moral goodness; rather, the moral content of his properties is thus the standard of moral goodness. On the other hand, if properties such as being generous, loving, kind etc. are good merely because God has them, then their content is not important, what is important is that they have a certain “owner” rather than a certain moral content. But then it seems that moral goodness is arbitrary and loses its meaning. Don’t generosity, loving kindness, and faithfulness have moral value regardless of who has these properties? It seems to me that they do.
The notion that God is good by nature entails that we cannot truly trust him. A nature is not a person, nor can a nature enter into interpersonal relationships. Nor can we praise and express gratitude to God for doing what is good on this view because he simply can’t do otherwise. Could I trust my wife to be faithful to me if it were impossible for her to be unfaithful? 2
This is no way diminishes God or puts something “above” him. This standard of goodness is not a personal agent but a force to be acted upon of which God is the master.
Brigham Young said:
Even God himself should He act upon this principle He would cease to be God for the principles that Sustain him & his Throne would forsake him & he would cease to be God. For light & truth & every other good principle cleaves unto itself. And these all sustain the throne of God & He sustains them. 3
Terryl Givens said:
Parley Pratt took Mormon cosmology to mean that not just humans but God as well must fully recognize and embrace independently existing laws. God’s perfect mastery of and compliance with those laws constitute his divinity. Salvation is the process by which humans are schooled to do the same. 4
Wes Morriston said:
What if we take a broadly Platonist view of moral value, asserting that goodness supervenes directly on properties like lovingkindness and justice, and that these properties themselves constitute an eternal standard of goodness apart from God? Does that leave us with a terrible unsolved problem about divine sovereignty? The first thing to see is that taking such a view in no way challenges God’s moral authority. Who could be better placed to tell us what we ought morally to do than an omniscient being who knows both the standards of moral goodness and all the relevant facts? Whose moral instruction could be more trustworthy than that of perfectly good person who knows the secrets of all hearts? Whether or not there is a standard of moral goodness apart from God, he is still the supreme moral authority 5
Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?. The pious is loved by God because it is pious.
- Blake Ostler. 2016. Moral Obligation and Mormonism A Response to Francis Beckwith. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.fairmormon.org/archive/publications/reviews-of-the-new-mormon-challenge/moral-obligation-and-mormonism-a-response-to-francis-beckwith. [Accessed 25 March 2017]
- Blake Ostler. 2016. Moral Obligation and Mormonism. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.fairmormon.org/reviews_of_the_new-mormon-challenge/moral-obligation-and-mormonism-a-response-to-francis-beckwith#en11. [Accessed 2 May 2016].
- Brigham Young, 27 February 1853
- Terryl Givens, Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015),
- WES MORRISTON. 2001. Must There Be a Standard of Moral Goodness Apart from God?. [ONLINE] Available at: http://spot.colorado.edu/~morristo/GodGood.pdf. [Accessed 11 August 2016].