Bertrand Russell in his essay “Why I Am Not A Christian” demonstrates that the classical moral argument for the existence of God does not amount to a proof. The argument, simply stated, says that the fact that we know there is a right and wrong proves there must be a moral governor who is God. As Russell points out, this is only a proof if we agree that right and wrong are categories that do not apply to God but that he has chosen to define for us. If this is the case then God is above the categories of good and evil and consequently could not be said to be good, since he decides what good is. On the other hand, if God is good then he must also be conforming to a law that pronounces him good. If this is the case, and if moral law requires a governor above, then who gave law to God? To posit another god above God is to posit an infinite regress.
The answer to this question is that God receives his knowledge of moral law from intuiting the value of his own being, which obligates him to choose this good for its own sake. Equally so, men intuit moral law from perceiving the value of being, of their own being, and of the being of others. But since this is the case it does not require the existence of a moral governor to explain the existence of morality. Morality stems from the intrinsic value of being and we would be under obligation to choose this end for its own sake, whether or not we ever came to accept the existence of a God from whom all things come. Thus, the classical moral argument for the existence of God accomplishes nothing more than to establish that reality is moral. It does not prove a moral governor.
Or does it? True enough, moral law does not prove there is a moral governor. Before God had created, he would have had no such governor even though he knew himself to be under moral obligation. In fact, the only reason why he would be the moral governor is that he is the most qualified for the position due to his moral and natural attributes. And his being qualified would also make it obligatory for him to govern since the value of being necessitates government in order for its true good to be promoted. To refuse to govern would be evil for God. But the fact of God’s being the moral governor flows from the fact that God exists and is qualified to govern. We cannot argue directly from the fact that there is a moral law to the fact that God is the moral governor of the universe. If God did not exist then whatever being was most qualified to govern would be under obligation to govern, even though he did not have the attributes of God.
So morality does not establish God’s existence as a moral governor. But there is another aspect of this question that we must consider. This is the fact that morality is personal. Moral obligation is a characteristic reaction of personality to reality. Moral obligation is a subjective response to the objective value of being in general. It is both objective and subjective. There could be no morality if I were not here. The impersonal universe in and of itself could never produce moral phenomena. This requires a person present to make the object an object. It requires consciousness. The universe could never ‘give itself’ value. The correlation between consciousness and the universe that produces the phenomenon ‘value’ could never arise from one or the other by itself. They exist ‘for’ each other. Value is an ‘ought to be chosen-ness.’ One of the objective characteristics of being is that it is in relation to subjective personalities. Value is an objective fact that includes within it an appeal to subjective obligation. The arrival of personality itself could never ‘give’ the universe its value. Consciousness and being in general exist ‘together.’ As they presently exist, they could never exist apart. The inevitable conclusion is that morality and personality is intrinsic to the universe.
There is a necessary relation between man and the universe, one to the other, while neither ‘is’ the other. But if all there is ‘is’ man and the universe, then the universe is contingent for it exists as a relationship of impersonal being to personality, a relationship that cannot be explained in terms of finite, transient personality. No personality in the universe of finite beings has the characteristics necessary to validate the objective value of the universe. That being is valuable is intuited by all. This value necessitates that it exists intrinsically as a relationship to personality. But ‘I’ cannot be the personality with which it is in relation because I have not ‘always been.’ The universe has its value independent of any individual personality. People come and go, each in turn perceiving the value of being and experiencing moral obligation due to this value, yet its value was there before they were and will be so after. But the universe could not ‘be’ valuable unless there is personality co-existing with it. The value of the universe necessitates the conclusion that some personality ‘must’ exist in eternal relationship with it and that it must be derived from a personal source. These observations require at the very least a personal beginning.
The question then is, does the universe simply exist eternally in relation to a personal being, or is this personal being prior to the universe? It is clear that the universe could not exist without a personality in relation to it. It is in its very nature ‘in relationship’ to personality. Could the universe have always coexisted with this personal being with which it is in relationship? We will discuss this possibility in a moment. But we must not miss the fact that the universe could not exist without a personal being. In other words, the universe is contingent, or depends upon something else if it is to exist. But the more important question is, could God exist without the universe? We have said that God is a moral being and that morality is a relationship of personality to the value of being. Does God need the universe in order to have being to perceive the value of? Clearly he does not. God has his own natural being whose value he perceives and recognizes his obligation to choose for its own sake. He does not need the universe in order to be ‘in relationship.’ This being the case, it is quite reasonable to conclude that God is the creator of the physical universe, created it with real ‘value’ which his finite moral creatures are able to perceive and experience moral obligation through. That the universe should exist eternally having value that is intrinsic to it, while remaining impersonal is not possible. The person must ‘be’ the thing of value if the moral relationship is to be founded and escape contingency. The universe must be created since it is impersonal and dependent on something outside itself. It is not a necessary existence and its nature necessitates a personal origin which it cannot be for itself.
If we have been successful in our argument we have demonstrated that the moral argument for the existence of God is a failure only if we are trying to establish the idea of a moral governor directly from moral phenomena. This does not however change the fact that the moral argument still demands a being who is both object and subject in the moral relationship, in order for the contingent relationship of man and the universe to be ultimately founded. This necessarily requires the existence of God the creator, a moral agent himself. But as soon as this existence is seen as a necessity, it is only one step to the assertion that God is also the moral governor of the universe. He is the one whose attributes would make this position obligatory for him to assume, owing to the necessities of the universe. Conversely, these same necessities would in kind place us under obligation to submit to his government for the good of the universe. Hence, our own moral nature affirms to us that there is a God and that we ought to love and obey him as the supreme end of our life. To do otherwise is sin and is recognized as blameworthy by our own nature. Hence we know our obligation and are without excuse for choosing to pursue our own selfish ends instead of loving God supremely. The fact of our moral experiences establishes the existence of God and our obligation to him.
Copyright 2019 Kel Good. This publication may be copied freely as long as no alteration is made to the text. For more information write: Kel Good via What I Believe This Week (www.whatibelievethisweek.com)