Do we need objective morality?

I recently had a question from a student writing a paper on whether God’s existence was important.  He was taking the moral angle (that God is necessary for objective morality) and wanted to know why it wouldn’t be enough to say that morality was simply a social construct.  Why not just say that society can condemn whatever is detrimental to it?

My response is below:

You seem to be on a very fruitful track.  God’s existence is most certainly necessary for morality to be objective.  I would want to make a distinction, however, between appealing to people’s moral intuition and their emotions.  We most certainly do have an emotional response to morally repugnant behavior, but we don’t merely have an emotional response.  We can have emotional responses to non-moral behavior, and we can recognize the evil of certain actions without any emotion attending such deliberations.  Since moral intuition is not the same as emotion, an appeal to moral intuition is not a mere appeal to pity/emotion.

You wrote, “Is there really any consequence to believing morality does not exist, but rather that certain actions are deemed socially unacceptable because they are detrimental to society?  Is it really internally inconsistent”  We will want to answer this on three fronts.  First, this sentiment just doesn’t correspond to our moral experience, whether or not it is consistent.  You bring up Hitler’s activities in Germany.  Historically, Hitler did in fact bring Germany from a destitute nation following WWI into a global superpower.  It would be hard to argue apart from moral grounds that his actions were a detriment to German society.  Should we, therefore, say that Hitler’s actions should not be condemned?  Several people were executed following a plot to assassinate Hitler towards the end of the war.  Were they really immoral, since their actions would have stopped all the “good” that Hitler was doing?  Remember, we in your example we are defining “good” as “that which is helpful to society”.

Second, as you see above, moral improvement becomes impossible.  Martin Luther King Jr., who marched against society at large, would really have been doing something immoral.  Whatever the social ethic happens to be is “the good” and therefore any attempt to tear down that ethic must by definition be “bad”.  Are we really going to say that Dr. King’s efforts were immoral?  Does that correspond to our moral experience?

Thirdly, the entire conversation has been framed in terms of consequentialism.  This is the theory that the “goodness” of something is determined by its consequences.  This is a fundamentally anti-Christian ethical system, and so we don’t want to play into it.  On its face, we can see that consequentialism does not correspond to our moral experience.  As with the Hitler example above, we do not have the experience that the ends justify the means.  I would encourage you to look into “Deontology” or “Divine Command Theory” (these are two different theories), as these are more consistent with both our moral experience and Christian theology.

Lastly, I think you have another avenue to pursue as it relates to whether God’s existence matters.  If God does not exist, then we have no hope of eternal life, no objective moral values and duties, and no ultimate moral accountability.  I would carve out some time and listen to a lecture by Dr. Craig on this subject, as it may be helpful to you.  One of his lectures on this topic can be found here: The Absurdity of Life Without God.  You can also find a short video produced by Reasonable Faith that touches on this subject, which can be found here: Is there Meaning to Life?


Matt Bilyeu

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