The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Can Moral Values Exist if God Doesn't?

In his book The Creation of Evil, John Noe writes:

D’Souza picks up on this point in noting that “evil and suffering pose no less of a problem for unbelievers.” In their invoking of evil to undermine the existence of God, “this implies that there are objective standards by which we identify good and evil. Well, where do those standards come from? What is the source of the moral law that enables us to distinguish good and evil?” . . . Strategically speaking, Jeremy A. Evans suggests that Christians “turn the table on the atheist objector” with this new set of propositions for the existence of God . . .

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist
  2. Evil exists
  3. Therefore, objective moral values exist–namely, some things are evil!
  4. Therefore God exists

I would like to propose a possible response to this proposition. One could say: Things aren’t right or wrong because God says so; God says something is right or wrong because it is. If this is so, then objective moral values would still exist even if there were no God.

I think this topic was mentioned before. What about Buddhism and Jainism? They have morality but no definitive belief in God.

I’m not saying you can’t SUBSCRIBE to certain moral values without a belief in God. I’m asking if objective moral values truly exist if there is no God.

It depends on what philosophers and theologians you listen to and read.

Not necessarily. That COULD be the case but it depends on where the objective moral values come from/are based on. If they were based on ‘something’ that could only ‘be’ if God existed then you can have God saying something is right or wrong “because it is” and yet still say that objective moral values couldn’t exist without God. I’m sure [tag]JasonPratt[/tag] could weigh in on this in terms of the impact of the Trinity on ethics but if you, using that example, say that objective moral values come from the Triune relationship, then you wouldn’t have the problems of divine command theory, nor would you have to admit that objective moral values could exist without God (or at least that particular ‘standard’ of objective moral values).

Hi Steve
I think that your proposition no. 1 may be over-simplified and it is this which leads to the chicken and egg conundrum of whether morality precedes God.
I would rephrase your prop. 1 to something like:

  1. Without a transcendent meaning/purpose to existence which, him/itself, includes a moral dimension, then objective moral values cannot exist.

I happen to firmly believe this and I imagine that all religions would be able to subscribe to this.

However, in my experience, the atheist’s response (or one such response) would be to agree that ‘evil’ does not exist. What exists are countless examples of ‘inappropriate behaviour’. Some behaviour is mildly inappropriate ( breaking wind on certain occasions) others are grossly inappropriate ( terrorist acts). The simple person may wish to use terms such as ‘right/wrong, evil’ etc. but in reality it is society which decides what is grossly inappropriate and therefore can be loosely labelled as ‘evil’. It is subjective.

-just my 2c

This discussion should not refer to “objective moral values.” That is a self-contradictory phrase. For the word “values” implies a chosen preference rather than a moral imperative. In the realm of piedom, blueberry pie is one of my values. But this value has no relation to whether or not it is morally right for me to eat blueberry pie.

As I see it morality is objective rather than subjective. If morality were subjective then what’s right for me may be wrong for you. For example, maybe it’s right for me to steal a tool when I need it, but wrong for you in the same of similar circumstances. In other words, the morality or immorality of stealing is depends upon our thoughts and beliefs and has no objective reality. But the objectivist, believes that if a moral imperative holds, it holds equally well for everyone.

I have problems with the concept that morality cannot exist unless a lawgiver exists who commands a list of moral behaviours, both those that ought to be practised and those that ought to be avoided. From eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge, Adam and Eve gained a knowledge of good and evil.

If morally right behaviour is defined as that behaviour that benefits other people as well as ourselves, and morally wrong behaviour is defined as that which harms others as well as ourselves, cannot morality exist independently of God?

God knows how the Universe functions. After all, He created it. So He knows what will benefit people and what will harm people. So He gave commandments through Christ that benefit people and avoid harming people. He doesn’t simply throw out commands upon a whim, and those commands define morality.

However, there are at least three distinct types of objective morality.

  1. Absolutism

In this view, a moral imperative is independent of all circumstances or relation to other moral imperatives. For example, the moral imperative to avoid lying always holds.

Erwin Lutzer, pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, is an absolutist. He wrote a book on the matter. He said that if you live your life correctly, you will seldom encounter moral conflicts. And example of a moral conflict: If you lie, you can save someone’s life. If you don’t, the person is sure to be killed. Lutzer said that he would probably lie to save a life, but he would still have committed the sin of lying. So he would need to ask God for forgiveness. If Lutzer had chosen not to lie, but to let the person die, he would then have to ask God to forgive him for allowing someone to die whom he could have saved.

  1. Situationism

What is normally morally wrong might be morally right in certain situations. For example, Joe Bloe, a situationist, considers adultery normally wrong, but in his situation it is right, since his wife hates him, and he and his friend Sally love each other.

  1. Hierarchalism

In this view, moral imperatives exist in a hierarchy where some imperatives take precedence over others. For example the imperative to save a life takes precedence over the imperative to refrain from lying. Therefore it is morally right to lie in order to save a life. You haven’t sinned in doing so. Rather, if you had chosen not to lie, and to let a person die as a result, you would have made an immoral choice.

My own moral position is that of hierarchalist obectivism.


Excellent overview. I especially like the concept of hierarchalist obectivism.


I think you are getting seduced with the magician, pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

Rather then a study of ethics and God, you are mesmerized by a proof for God’s existence.

That’s all well and good. But each proof:

Can have objections, exceptions and loopholes, found by professional philosophers
Have contrary proofs by atheistic and agnostic professional philosophers

If you want to embrace philosophy, do what the Roman Catholic church did in the middle ages - study Aristotle and Plato (but throw in Immanuel Kant for epistemology). And if you want to study proofs for the existence of God - study the master - Thomas Aquinas.

And no. Buddists and Jains do not make up morality. They get it from their understanding of ultimate reality. And even if we establish a proof for God’s existence that even God couldn’t disprove…Which God does it establish? The God of Mormonism and Islam is really different from that of the Christian God. And in China, we have Taoism with the Tao. It’s an ultimate reality like God - but much different.

Anyway, let me leave folks with some Some alternative definitions … (courtesy of Sunil Bali)

deduce - the juice from de lemon.
Himalayas - a religious song sung by hens.
flabbergasted - reaction to seeing oneself naked in a mirror.
petroleum - floor covering for dog and cat owners.
politician - one who shakes your hand before elections and your confidence after.
politics - where truth lies
hunch - a gut feeling you get during lunch.
lymph - to walk with a lisp.
shin - what you use to find furniture in the dark
teenager - one whose hang-ups do not include clothes.
volunteer - take on work that makes no cents.