The second of the three Apologetics Fails #6: Without God There Are No Moral Standards
This apologetics argument (without God there can be no objective morals) has been around as long as there has been religions.
It is a consequence of the Kalam Cosmological Argument for a “first cause.” In the manner of morals, there must be a “first cause” of morals.
In the USA by Christians, it is frequently formed as a statement such as “Without God people would just go around raping or killing. Without some sort of eternal lawgiver who can dispense ultimate justice, there is no reason not to do these things.”
When I don’t feel like arguing with a person who makes that statement to me (a person who has never raped or murdered anyone), my usual response is simply “If you need a god to prevent you from raping or murdering, by all means, don’t give up your religion.”
Dennis Prager (a former Orthodox Jew turned now Christian apologist) is famous for arguing about objective morals in speeches, his radio show, YouTube, and his “university.” He dropped out of college for what is euphemistically called the “wingnut welfare circuit” and has a nutbar right-wing political show, and owns a diploma mill where you watch a few videos for a degree from his so-called Prager University. He frequently making variations on this argument, that the godless would turn society into some sort of criminal playground. Unsurprisingly, he uses the same argument for same-sex marriage. He also argues that Muslims or atheists should not be allowed to hold political offices because they won’t swear in on a Bible (and they are Muslims or atheists). He was thrown off the Holocaust Memorial Museum Council for condemning Rep. Keith Ellison (Democratic Farmer Labor Party, MN-5) for swearing in on a copy of the Qu’ran, claiming no oath is valid unless sworn on a Bible (thus, my political position is invalid as an atheist as well).
This argument fails on several fronts.
a) Largely atheistic First World nations (Japan, Canada, the United Kingdom, Sweden, &c) all have much lower crime rates than the USA, and score better in pretty much every metric of societal health.
b) In the United States, areas with the highest crime rates, teen pregnancy rates, lowest education attainment, lowest life expectancy, &c (including my area) are the most religious. This is also true around the world: religiosity is inversely proportional to crime and poverty.
c) Morals are never objective. The Bible holds slavery to be moral. In the United States that was once true, and the idea was held up with the Bible. When slavery was abolished after a brutal civil war, Jim Crow laws (the USA version of apartheid) designed to disenfranchise minorities were implemented, and they were also justified with the Bible. Jim Crow laws were later overturned (along with its anti-miscegenation laws [laws prohibiting interracial marriage] and eugenics laws. They were also supported using the Bible and so-called objective morality).
d) There is in fact punishment for rape or murder: that is what secular law, jails, and courts are for.
e) Objective morality argues for some sort of fundamental “fairness” in the Universe.
f) Christianity itself offers a loophole: The worst murderer, on his way to execution, if he sincerely repents and accepts Jesus, is bound for Heaven. The kindest, most loving, and most community-minded atheist is bound for hell.
The most glaring example of a failure of objective morality I can find is the Ten Commandments statement “Thou shalt not kill.” That line is pretty clear. It makes no room for self-defence, defence of another, defensive warfare on behalf of a nation, offensive warfare to prevent such things as genocide (Bosnia, the Yazidi under ISIS, &c). All of those involve killing.
When I was in the Navy and the ship aboard which I was stationed launched aircraft against Serbian positions to stop the genocide of Bosnian Muslims, is that a violation of that command “Thou shalt not kill?” Are only the pilots who dropped bombs or launched rockets guilty of killing, or does that include air traffic control, aircraft maintenance personnel such as myself who made the planes ready for those missions, the galley cooks who fed us so we could do our duties, the politicians who ordered us into battle, the voters who put those politicians in power?
Are they all guilty of a violation of the objective “thou shalt not kill,” or is killing in fact subjective morality (a moral act that changes depending on the situation, also called situational ethics)?
In fact, Christians exercise situational ethics rather than objective morality all the time (especially in politics). Jesus in the New Testament (KJV, Luke 19:27) says,
“But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.” (It has been many years since Christians went on killing sprees against other religions or atheists.)