Atheists and objective morality

Casey Luskin from ID The Future recently interviewed (podcast here) Professor Bradley Monton. For me this was an especially interesting interview for a number of reasons:

  1. Bradley (like me) has done work on understanding quantum physics.
  2. Bradley (like me) started studying physics, then discovered philosophy and got hooked on it!
  3. Bradley has written a book manuscript on Intelligent Design
  4. Bradley is going to do a debate on “Intelligent Design and the Existence of God” and is speaking for the pro-ID side (against Lawrence Krauss and another)
  5. Bradley (unlike me) is an atheist!

Unlike many atheists, Bradley sounds like he is interested in looking at the evidence, and is not interested in pursuing fundamentalist-Dawkins-style-nastiness.

Anyway, that interesting stuff aside, Bradley also believes in objective morality. In fact, he offered Casey Luskin the opportunity to hear it, but the podcast was short and it was off topic. Perhaps it will be picked up on a later podcast — well, I hope so anyway.

Here is a short article from Bradley, justifying his “objective morality” claim. What do you think? Is it convincing? Here is the relevant text:

This gets at a standard Philosophy 101 topic, the Euthyphro Dilemma. Is killing an innocent person wrong because God says that it’s wrong, or does God say that killing an innocent person is wrong because it really is objectively wrong? Some people, like Joseph A., believe that God determines what is objectively morally wrong or right. If God says that it’s morally permissible to rape children, then it’s morally permissible. In contrast, I say that, even if God exists, the objective moral standards aren’t set by God. If God were to say that raping children is morally permissible, that wouldn’t make it morally permissible; it would just mean that God is incorrect.

Most theists think that it’s impossible for God to be incorrect, so in practice God would always prescribe the correct moral view. But it doesn’t follow from the fact that God always prescribes the correct moral view that God is the source of morality.

I’m not an expert in this argument, but I suspect Bradley has misunderstood Euthyphro’s Dilemma. Here are a couple of my thoughts.

  1. This dilemma is simply solved by understanding that morality comes neither from God’s arbitrary willing of it, not from His subservience to any cosmic objective morality, but rather morality comes directly from His character. Thus, God cannot do anything less than perfect and holy, because He is perfect and holy.
  2. If “objective moral standards aren’t set by God”, then where do they come from? If the universe is only material, how did objective morals arise from a material-only universe?
  3. From (2), I would argue that without God, objective moral values cannot exist, thus the atheist is left with a worldview where he cannot even comment coherently on rights and wrongs as these categories cannot be objective — only subjective. They are non-existent categories.
  4. Finally, unless “God is the source of morality”, I cannot see how right and wrong can be anything more than preferences.

Where am I going wrong in my thinking about this? Comments appreciated.

2 replies
  1. Rob
    Rob says:

    Sartre said “Nowhere is it written that the good exists, that we must be honest, that we must not lie….if God does not exist we find no values or commands to turn to to legitimise our conduct.”

  2. Ray Bradley
    Ray Bradley says:

    The "Bradley" referred to by Rob's post is NOT the Prof Ray Bradley scheduled to debate Matt on 2July.

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