Getting the Moral Argument Wrong — Again
by Tom Gilson
Atheists are forever getting the moral argument wrong. A.C. Grayling, in The God Argument, says,
The argument that there can be no morality unless policed by a deity is refuted by the existence of good atheists. Arguably, non-theists count themselves among the most careful moral thinkers, because in the absence of an externally imposed morality they recognize the duty to examine their views, choices, and actions, and how they should behave towards others.
Begging a Question
There are multiple problems here. I’ll note briefly that Grayling begs an important question. Atheists can indeed be very moral among other human beings, and I’m sure examples of this could be multiplied. But if there is a God, whom to love is the highest good, then there is no morally good atheist. This is the teaching of Scripture: see Romans 3, which also emphasizes that Christian theists’ goodness is granted only by the grace of God.
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“We’re Right: Just Ask Us”
Second, there’s something odd about appealing to the way atheists think about themselves in support of the idea that their thinking is right. It sounds oddly like, “we’re right: just ask us!” And the reasoning he offers for it fails to rescue it from that silliness. His “because” clause fails completely, for theists (a) do not believe in an externally imposed morality (that’s a straw man), (b) theists also recognize their duty to examine their views, choices, actions, and behavior toward others, and (c) theists do so in view of a standard that is pure love, holiness, justice, and goodness.
I recognize that Grayling tempered that statement with “arguably,” so I’ll grant that he didn’t stake everything on it. That’s the counter-argument, or at least a brief beginning to it. It seems to me it undermines his “arguably” quite severely.
Getting the Whole Point Of It Wrong
But where I really want to focus is on his misunderstanding of the moral argument: “there can be no morality unless policed by a deity.” I wonder where he got that from. Theists (many of us) actually believe that without God there can be no objective morality — not because morality requires a police function…
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