“Objective” or “Absolute” Moral Values?

Hello Dr. Craig,

As always, I want to thank you for your continued commitment to defending the faith and equipping the church to meet the challenges of this increasingly secular age that we live in. I myself have been deeply influenced by your work and am in the final stages of completing my requirements to be a Reasonable Faith Chapter Director in West Texas.

My question to you today is about the difference between absolute vs. objective when speaking about morality.

I have heard you address this question in one of your Q&A sessions while doing your tour through Europe. You stated that you were very committed to stating the moral argument in terms of "objective" morality, rather than "absolute" morality. However, I do not believe there was further explanation on the subject.

In your debate with Sam Harris, you refuted the notion that you were advocating for a position that asserted a "universal" system of morality, but maintained that objective moral values and duties are what you were declaring to be evidence for God's existence. In both Reasonable Faith and On Guard, I've noticed you define "Objective" by stating that something is objective if it does not depend on human opinion or knowledge. It is simply valid and binding, regardless of human opinion.

While chaperoning an Apologetics mission trip to a local college campus, the moral argument was addressed and one of the atheists made the statement that went something like this:

"When you say absolute, I don't know what that means. What I hear most Christians say when they speak of 'Absolute Truth' or 'Absolute Morality' is really the same thing as speaking in terms of Objectivity. Most of the time the words 'Absolute' and 'Objective' are used interchangeable with no meaningful distinction".

Since you've spoken extensively about the moral argument, and given your educational background, I'm sure that this is a question that you have thought about and resolved yourself. My hope is that you can shed some light on this subject for myself and the rest of us. Thank you very much, once again, for all that you do in the name of Jesus. God Bless!

Joshua

United States

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Moral Scepticism

Dr. Craig,
My wife and I have begun to teach an apologetics class at our church, and we invited our class to our house to watch your debate with Alex Rosenberg. We also invited my wife's father, who claims to believe in the Christian God, but is very defensive about morality. He basically believes there are no objective morals, which makes me wonder how he can truly be saved, since the crux of Christianity is about needing God's grace because we have broken objective morality.
Watching your debate got us talking about objective morality and intuition - or as you called it, a "properly basic belief." But when we pressed my father-in-law, he denied that the notion of objective morality was an intuition like other minds. It's difficult to find anyone we'd classify as sane who believes other persons don't exist, yet we can find examples galore of those like Bundy or Hitler who think rape or murder are perfectly fine. In fact, my father-in-law even went so far as to say if a society of Ted Bundys would arise, while he doesn't like the thought of it, he couldn't say it was objectively wrong.
In our discussion, it also seemed like he was hung up on the idea that there was no "list" of morals. The "Ten Commandments" aren't exhaustive, and Jesus's notion of loving God and loving others is too subjective for him. If you can't prove objective morality by providing a knowable, exhaustive list, he's not satisfied. We can see demonstrations of abstract concepts like the addition of numbers, we can empirically test scientific truths, and we can intuitively know that we exist, but objective morality seems to fail all these tests.
He seems to conflate the epistemological struggle of morality with the ontological struggle. However, we're having enough trouble in even showing him that objective morality exists at all. How do you talk to someone who is willing to say that a future society of Ted Bundys wouldn't be objectively wrong? Thank you again for all you do.
Derek
USA
United States


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Objective Truth Is One Thing, But Objective Moral Truth Is Another

I get the opportunity to train church groups all the time and I relish the chance to talk about the nature of truth.

Brett Kunkle

 and I have been taking a similar approach in this training, offering a “Truth Test” to Christian groups across the country. We begin by describing the difference between “objective” truth (which is rooted in the nature of the object under consideration and transcends the opinions of any subject considering this object), and “subjective” truth (which is rooted in the opinions and beliefs of the subjects who hold them and vary from person to person). We provide several examples of truth claims and ask groups to tell us whether the statements are subjective or objective.

Objective vs. Subjective Truth Claims

As an example, we offer the proposition, “Jim’s car is a Hyundai”. Is this an objective claim or a subjective claim? It is clearly objective. My car is either a Hyundai or it is not, and my personal opinion will not change this fact. The truth is rooted in the nature of the object, the Hyundai automobile, and it is not dependent upon my subjective opinion. Now let’s examine another claim: “Hyundai’s are the coolest (hippest) cars”. This second claim is highly personal depending on what each of us considers “hip” or “cool”. Our opinion about this is rooted in each of us as subjects who hold varying opinions about “hipness” or “coolness”. See the difference? “1+1=2” is an objective truth statement; “Math is fun” is a subjective claim.

Objective Spiritual Claims

But it seems to get trickier for people when they begin to move away from physical realities or math facts. Consider the following claim: “God exists”. Surprisingly, many Christian groups I work with struggle to define this statement as objective. But the existence of God is either a true reality or it is not, and our personal opinion is not going to change this reality. It is something we can either acknowledge or reject, but doing so does not change the reality of God’s existence. Does that make sense? Spiritual truth claims about the existence of God are objective, they are rooted in the object under consideration: God. He either exists or He does not; my opinion won’t change that fact.

Objective Moral Claims

At some point toward the end of our “Truth Test,” Brett and I will begin to post moral claims such as, “Premarital sex is morally wrong.” Now things usually get interesting as the Christians in our groups struggle to decide if there are such things as objective moral claims. Some are very uncomfortable identifying this statement as an objective truth claim. It’s one thing to say that we, as Christians, might believe this statement to be true, but some Christians hesitate to say this is a truth claim that transcends those who don’t accept our Christian values. The culture has effectively eroded our confidence in objective moral truth claims. The new cultural definition of “tolerance” obliges us to embrace all truth claims as equally valid or true. This is an important re-definition, because classic “tolerance” acknowledges disagreement and allows each person to hold an opposing view without having to embrace the other view as equally true. Classic tolerance requires us to endure and respect the people who hold opposing views, even as we resist these views themselves.

The Evidence of Objective Moral Truth

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OBJECTIVE MORALITY SHOWS THAT GOD EXISTS!

Does "Objective/Absolute Morality" really exist?

Are moral duties and values absolute and binding on all men, at all times, everywhere?

Can "Objective Morality" somehow demonstrate that GOD truly does exist?

These are just some of the questions that will be brought up and discussed in this newest addition to our series"Good Arguments for God's Existence", in which we'll be examining the Moral Argument (also known as the Axiological argument) for God's Existence.  

The power of this well known argument from Natural Theology is that it deals with something that every human being is in touch with on a daily basis - right and wrong.  Whether a person claims to be an atheist, agnostic, pantheist, or any other type of worldview, we all have moral inclinations and perceptions of right and wrong, of good and evil.  Even though a person may not be impacted by the Cosmological or Design arguments, the Moral argument has an interesting way of penetrating the thoughts of most people, since it deals with a subject that we come into contact with every day.  This makes it an essential argument to understand and master, for use in sharing and defending our faith. 

But there are certain questions that must be asked in relation to Objective Morality, such as: 

"What is their ultimate foundation and source?" 

"Where do our moral inclinations and perceptions come from?"  

"Is it sufficient to ground them in an individual's personal opinion?"

"Is it enough to say that they come from a society, a consensus, or a particular culture?"

Join us as we now begin to examine this argument for God's Existence, in the following weeks.  See if you can detect any logical errors or mistakes within the premises, and try to commit the argument to memory for your own personal use in discussions with your friends!

Until next time...... have an Intelligent Faith!