This is the the twenty-fourth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I looked at why naturalistic foundations of ethics seem unsatisfying to many people. In this post we'll now turn to what non-naturalistic accounts of ethics can do and why some take theism to be the best account of the foundations of morality.
How does this become an argument for God? What can someone say about morality if moral truths go beyond the natural world? It doesn't immediate show that theism is true. A few possible accounts of morality remain:
A) Moral truths are beyond nature but have no explanation.
B) Moral truths are beyond nature but necessary. Their explanation lies within themselves.
C) God's nature explains moral truths.
Moral truths have no explanation:
The first view is that moral truths go beyond the natural order. Science can't tell us anything about them. However, this view doesn't have anything additional beyond nature to ground these truths. They're true on their own as abstract principles, part of the very fabric of the universe, but there isn't anything that makes them true. They're just true, although they didn't have to be true. Some see this view as having an advantage over theism because it's simpler and admits to fewer entities.
One problem with this view is that it requires some truths that have no explanation, which not everyone will want to do. Some will say we've explained morality through having moral truths beyond the natural world. However, we haven't explained why there are any moral truths to begin with. So is it really an explanation?
Moral truths are necessary:
Some philosophers believe moral truths are necessarily true. They couldn't have been false. There couldn't have been different ones. They are true because of their nature, just as with mathematical truths. If this is true, then moral truths mean naturalism is false, but they don't provide the basis of an argument for God.
On this view, there is an explanation for moral truths. Their explanation lies in their very nature. Some may wonder why moral truths should be necessary. Doesn't it seem as if there could be a world without morality? What about moral truths makes them have to be true?
Even if we're satisfied with necessary moral truths, there's another argument for the existence of God that a theist may try to offer. Doesn't it seem strange that there happen to be beings that fall under the morality that these necessary truths are about? These moral truths are true of necessity, but there didn't have to be any beings that they govern. The chances seem really low that moral truths would be out there of necessity and that some beings would happen to come along who are the right sort of being for these moral truths to apply to. So it's surprising enough that a theist may turn this into a moral version of the design argument. This seeming coincidence calls out for explanation, and a designer would explain it.
God's nature explains moral truths:
If that argument is convincing, then someone will want to move to theism anyway. That requires making some move beyond just saying moral truths are necessary. Even if the sort-of-design argument in the last paragraph isn't a good argument, one might wonder what about moral truths would make them necessary truths. Explaining morality in terms of God may then be the most plausible option. The moral truths may then be necessary but only because God is. God couldn't have failed to exist, and the moral truths come from God. A world without God wouldn't have had moral truths, but there couldn't have been such a world, because God is a necessary being. That's why some see this as an argument for the existence of God rather than just an argument against naturalism.
In the next post, I'll look at an objection to any appeal to God as an explanation for morality.