Missing the Point: Atheist Response to the Moral Argument

I just encountered this again going through a New Atheist book, and I have to admit it’s becoming a pet peeve for me in atheist-theist debates. It goes like this. The theist presents the moral argument. If you aren’t familiar with that argument, in a nutshell it is this:

  1. Objective moral reality exists
  2. Objective moral reality requires a source
  3. Therefore there is a source of objective moral reality which we call God

My point here is not to argue for or against the validity of this argument. There are better arguments against it, mainly by rejecting that objective moral values exist.
In any case, this is my pet peeve: atheists often respond with the obvious truth that non-Christians have morals, too, and they think this is against what the Christian is saying. Sometimes in those moments I wonder if the atheist was even listening to the argument. The point is not that Christians have morals and nobody else does. Christians do not believe that. The point is that morality, for everybody whether they realize it or not, has a source. The fact that atheists have a sense of objective morals actually works in favour of what the Christian was saying. But atheist debaters often seem to be determined that what the Christian really means is that we get morals from proclaiming certain laws in holy books to be from God, even though the Christian isn’t saying that at all. No matter how many times the Christian says that they don’t think morality comes from religious rules in the debate, but from a God writing it on everyone’s conscience, the atheist simply points out that they and many others have morals so obviously morals don’t come from our religious rules.

I find it interesting that the fact that atheists have a sense of objective morals is actually better explained by theism than atheism. Atheism can explain morals as what was evolutionarily beneficial, which isn’t really objective, or they can use some other way to say that there isn’t really any objective morality. Those are intellectually-honest positions that I definitely respect. Yet most atheists do believe in objective morals. Some debaters do a much better job and attempt to posit other ways that an objective moral reality can exist. Of the different atheist responses, those are definitely the most intriguing and most attractive, but they are relatively rare in the debates. So many just miss the point completely, and I’ve actually heard this circular debate for over an hour a few different times where the atheist debater either doesn’t understand the argument (they’re usually very intelligent people so I doubt it) or they just aren’t actually listening to it. So please, atheist debaters, stop and realize what we’re saying with the moral argument. It isn’t really helping the discussion at all to ignore the actual point.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.