Defining morality: objective morals must be grounded in God

by Lenny Esposito

Last time, we looked at the three main concepts of morality offered today. In that post, I showed why neither the emotive definition nor the subjective definition can properly ground moral values since neither provides a prescription for the way people ought to behave, but only expresses the opinion of the holder. Even if the holder of a moral view is the community at large, it doesn’t follow that the community opinion is the moral one. (See my post “Relativism sinks into the quicksand of meaningless morality” for more.)

I’d like to now look at the last definition of morality, that morality is objectively discerned from a source outside of us. If morality is objective, it means that we can hold opinions on moral issues that are wrong; moral duties and values are prescriptive, and they tell us what we should do rather than merely describing what we are doing or what we’re most likely to do. This view is also called moral realism, because it holds that moral facts are real and they can be true independent of one’s beliefs. Indeed, under moral realism, a moral statement can be true even if no one believes that it is.

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However, between those who hold to an objective moral framework, there is still a significant disagreement on where those moral duties and values are rooted. The Christian worldview holds that moral values and duties are binding on the individual simply because these things have the property of being good and right. We are created by a good and righteous God who wishes us to be morally upright, and we are morally aware. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to behave in a morally upright manner. Rightness and wrongness are rooted in God’s nature; they are independent of our whims or opinions. This idea doesn’t yet account for how we know certain things to be right or wrong, which is a topic that I’ll examine in a later post.  But it does say that morality is objective and transcends human opinion.

Others, such as naturalists, offer that morality is rooted in the way the world works. That is, they hold that morality is simply describing actions that allow human beings to thrive. If people were to be more selfish or less altruistic then we as a species would not do as well. They argue that values like cooperation and empathy give human beings an advantage in a hostile world and since that advantage falls outside of only human opinion, this qualifies as an objective morality.

There are several problems with this view of morality…

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Come Reason’s Apologetics Notes: Defining morality: objective morals must be grounded in God