In times of increasing “Euro-secularization” and decreasing religiosity in many countries in the West, many youth have gravitated away from God. For those who seek God, however, God answers their calls, often through spiritual experiences, churches, Biblical studies, or Apologetics.
“Ask and it shall be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7
Apologists over the centuries have advanced a number of arguments in support of God. I’ve written blogs on many of these arguments, which include the cosmological, moral, teleological, aesthetic and ontological arguments, along with arguments explaining pain and our purpose. The intention of the present blog is to advance an argument in support of God based on our terminal values. This argument builds off of the Moral Argument and incorporates the philosophies of objective moralist Plato and relative moralist Protagoras.
The Moral Argument for God
Morality can be defined as principles concerning the distinction between good and bad behavior and right and wrong. Examples of moral principles include truth, justice, equity, and equality. To state that morality is objective is to say these principles do not change over time or as a function of culture. They are the standards against which we judge behaviors and practices.
William Lane Craig has proffered the following three-step stream of logic to explain the Moral Argument for God:
- If God does not exist, objective morals and duties do not exist.
- Objective morals and duties exist.
- God exists.
Some people who don’t believe in God, such as new atheist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, adhere to relative morality, which is the belief that morality is relative to societies and varies over time. In other words, to Dawkins, truth, justice, equity, and equality are a function of the society in which they are called upon. Truth in Ireland varies from truth in the United States and both have changed over the centuries, according to moral relativism.
In his book, “The God Delusion” Richard Dawkins uses evolution as a proxy of God in an attempt to eliminate God. He seems to implicitly realize that evolution cannot explain objective morality, because objective morality necessitates a source from which the morality was derived. Therefore, he claims that objective morality does not exist and morality is relative. To back up his assertions, he states that slavery was acceptable in Biblical times. Since it’s unacceptable in most parts of the developed world today, our morals have changed. Hence, he says they’re relative.
Yet when we judge whether slavery is morally acceptable, we call upon an objective standard to make our judgment. We question whether the practice of slavery is just, equal, and fair. Slavery is not a moral value; it is “the practice or system of owning slaves.”
- Is slavery just?
- Are all men treated equally when some are enslaved?
- Is slavery fair?
Acceptance of the practice of slavery may change, though the standards of justice, equality, and equity do not change. People in Biblical times may have considered the practice unjust, unequal, and unfair, yet perhaps the practice was necessary to survival and thus acceptable. The standards of truth, equality, equity, and justice do not fluctuate subjectively by one’s personal tastes, influences, or opinions or relatively when compared to other standards.
Rokeach’s Terminal Values
Similar to our objective morality, we draw upon these distinctions to explain our objective terminal values. Values can be defined as principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life.
In 1968, social psychologist Milton Rokeach developed a list of 18 terminal values and 18 instrumental values. Instrumental values are distinguished as the means to the end states, while terminal values are the end states. They are the desirable values and guiding principles under which people direct their lives, so terminal values are most relevant in this particular context.
The terminal values in the Rokeach Value Survey are:
- True Friendship
- Mature Love
- Inner Harmony
- Social Recognition
- Family Security
- National Society
- A Sense of Accomplishment
- A World of Beauty
- A World at Peace
- A Comfortable Life
- An Exciting Life
Milton Rokeach and social psychologists such as Shalom Schwartz have conducted numerous studies in which individuals are asked to rank these values in order of importance as “guiding principles” within their lives. Schwartz analyzed the results at the societal and individual levels, determining that both societies and individuals vary in what is considered important. For example, some societies are more hedonistic, so within those societies, rankings of an exciting life and pleasure are higher than rankings of values such as inner harmony.
Distinguishing Subjective, Relative, Absolute, or Objective Morals via Philosophy
Does that mean that terminal values are subjective (influenced by personal feelings, opinions or tastes), relative (must be viewed in comparison with something), absolute (universal, fixed, and non-comparable) or objective (not influenced by personal opinions)?
In his book “Truth,” Greek philosopher Protagoras (490 BC – 420 BC) argued that “humans are the measures of all things.” Protagoras believed that all values – truth, beauty, and even existence – were the function of the human observer. In other words, he endorsed moral relativism.
Greek philosopher Plato considered truth, good and beauty to be objective values, which are values that lie outside of an individual and are not dependent upon his/her beliefs or perceptions.
“To know ‘how best to live’ we must know what is ‘best’. In contrast to the subjectivist or the relativist, Plato supposed that evaluative qualities really belong to the object that is valued. Thus we call something ‘beautiful’ not because we are pleased by it, but because it genuinely has, independent of being appreciated, the quality of beauty. Values are natural and objective. From his early days, Plato supposes therefore that what is valuable can be calculated and assessed in a decisive way” (MacKenzie, 1985, pp. 88).
Consider Plato’s view this way: would the view of the mountains overlooking Lake Tahoe at the Heavenly Ski Resort still be beautiful if no one were there to call the view beautiful? Would a glorious double rainbow be objectively beautiful if not witnessed?
The Divided Line
Plato realized that to some extent, values have both subjectivity and objectivity. He created his divided line as an explanation. Due to space limitations on mobile phones, I’ll split the line so that the left represents the top of the line and the right represents the bottom.
- Above the Line Below the Line
- One Many
- Identity Difference
- Permanent Changing
- Divine Human
- Soul Body
- Reason Senses
- Truth Appearance
- Knowledge Opinion
Above the line represents our objective reality, while below the line represents our relative reality. The human condition places us below the line, but we can aspire to be above the line.
What is the benefit of aspiring to be above the line and adopting an objective view of terminal values, morals, and duties?
Consider a portion from the Ring of Gyges from Plato’s Republic, Book II.
“They say that to do injustice is, by nature, good; to suffer injustice evil; but that the evil is greater than the good. And so when men have both done and suffered injustice and have had experience of both, not being able to avoid the one and obtain the other, they think that they had better agree among themselves to have neither; hence there arise laws and mutual covenants; and that which is ordered by law is termed by them lawful and just. This they affirm to be the origin and nature of justice, it is a mean or compromise, between the best of all, which is to do injustice and not be punished, and the worst of all, which is to suffer injustice without the power of retaliation; and justice, being at a middle point between the two, is tolerated not as a good, but as the lesser evil, and honored by reason and the inability of men to do injustice. For no man who is worthy to be called a man would ever submit to such an agreement if he were able to resist; he would be mad if he did. Such is the received account, Socrates, on the nature of origin and justice” (Available at: https://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl201/modules/Philosophers/Plato/plato_dialogue_the_ring_of_gyges.html).
The Ring of Gyges illustrates the opposite of what we experience in our lives in which we’re called to value justice and goodness. If we did not have an objective source of our morals, duties, and values, we would not have such an innate sense. Instead, each population and each society would create its own set of rules. Why are societies with rules similar to Gyges exceedingly rare, if present at all?
The answer is simple: The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.
Thank you for your time.
MacKenzie, M.M. (1985). Plato’s moral theory. Journal of Medical Ethics. 11: 88-91.