Why can theism better account for moral facts?

Does your definition of objective moral truths implicitly postulate the existence of an external moral agent? Dr. Sam Harris has said the fundamental moral fact is that the maximizing of human flourishing is good. The objection is, “Why is the maximizing of human flourishing good?” Couldn’t someone ask you, “Why is obeying God objectively moral?” It’s not obvious to me why this problem is different from the issue with Harris’s view. 


The concept of an “objective” moral value or duty is simply a moral value or duty that is not dependent on the subject. Objective moral values are object-relative (true of the object), whereas subjective moral values would be subject-relative (true of the subject.

Consider a man viewing a painting. The man may say two things about the picture. He may say that the artwork is beautiful, and he may say that the artwork is on canvas. His first statement isn’t about the painting. The claim is about the man. He is saying that he finds the artwork to be beautiful. The second statement, however, is about the painting and is thus objective.

Sam Harris’s moral axiom is something like, “That which is conducive to human flourishing is good.” Presumably, he takes this to be a brute fact. If correct, then this would count as an objective moral value. It wouldn’t be merely a statement about what Harris thinks about human flourishing; he means it as a statement about human flourishing. He says that it is good.  

The challenge is that, as a brute fact, this axiom would be true without any explanation. Theism is a better worldview because it can explain more. Theism can furnish an account for the truth of moral facts.

Theism ground moral values in God’s moral character. God is “the good.” Moral duties are rooted in God’s commands. You bring up an important question, “Why are we obligated to obey God?” We are obligated to obey God because he is our creator. The type of union we have with someone gives rise to our moral duties (consider how a child develops the duty to obey his parents). In creating us, God became our creator. God’s authority to issue us commands is not a moral axiom taken as a brute fact but is grounded in God’s historic act of creating us.

2 thoughts on “Why can theism better account for moral facts?

  1. While I think the modified DCT of Adams and Craig clearly is objective when it comes to values, I’m not so sure about it when it comes to obligations. Huemer suggests DCT about obligations is subjective in his book Ethical Intuitionism. In the recent book A Debate on God and Morality, Craig objects to Huemer, but I think Craig clearly did not represent Huemer’s view correctly. Huemer says “F-ness is subjective = Whether something is F constitutively depends at least in part on the psychological attitude or response that observers have or would have towards that thing ….Since it takes rightness to be reducible and dependent on the attitudes of an observer (God), the Divine Command Theory is a form of subjectivism.”

    You say “Theism grounds moral values in God’s moral character.” Here it seems by ground you mean what Craig calls an ‘informative identification,’ because the grounding is reducing or identifying ‘the good’ with God himself. But nonreductive moral realists will be fine with not grounding in this sense, because they think goodness is irreducible.

    The last sentence is unclear to me because I don’t know how you’re using ‘grounded’ there. So it’s unclear to me how an action grounds an axiom. Supposing it does, aren’t God’s acts brute facts on libertarian free will?


    1. We typically think of brute facts as true without explanation as to why they are true. The exercise of God’s free will explains God’s acts. Since we can explain his actions, they are not brute. I discuss this further in a recent post.*

      Let’s consider a person P and an action A that God commands (perhaps something like the command that P loves his neighbor). It is an objective fact that God has commanded P to A. Since God has authority over P in virtue of God’s standing with P as P’s creator, P has to obey God’s commands. If anyone were to say that P had no duty to A, they would be wrong.

      Now consider if moral duties are subjective. Is P obligated to do A? It will depend on the person (the subject) who is considering the scenario. P may think A to be obligatory, but you and I might not. Since on this view, moral duties are relative to the subject, none of us are wrong.

      If you wanted to say that the obligations are subjective because they are relative to God’s commands, then I wonder if it isn’t mere terminology getting in our way rather than real disagreement. I agree that moral obligations are relative to God’s commands … I think moral obligations are God’s commands. My point is that it is not relative to the observer whether P is obligated to A.



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