This is a response to the following arguments from a video called Is There Real Proof That God Exists?:
If God Doesn’t Exist, Objective Moral Right and Wrong Lack a Concrete Foundation
However, Objective Moral Right and Wrong do Exist, and Must be Founded on Something
As Proof of This, the Following Argument Seems to be the Strongest;
Torturing Someone For Fun is Morally-Wrong, and Anybody Who Disagrees is Wrong.
Proof #4: The Argument from Evil
Evil Exists, and Must Therefore Have an Objective Foundation
See Previous Argument For the Implications of This
Proof #6: Value
Many Things Clearly Have Value
However, That Value Can’t Exist Unless There’s an Ultimate Measuring Stick/Source For Value
[But they can’t have any intrinsic value unless there’s a measuring stick for value which represents the greatest possible value.] God and Only God Provides This
Proof #5: The Meaning of Life
There is a Meaning to Life
However, There Can’t be a Meaning to Life Unless It’s Given Meaning by Someone
However, we Don’t Give Our Lives -Objective- Meaning; we Just Make Choices About Our Future Actions
God Explains How Our Lives Could Have Such Meaning
I agree that torturing someone for fun is morally wrong. I’ll explain why in terms of values, goals, and character. First, value. My life has value to me. I enjoy living and wish to continue. This is not a mere subjective value. Without being alive, I could not value anything at all, and nothing could be of value to me. This makes the value of my life fundamental and invariable. In recognizing the value of my life, I recognize that life is also a fundamental and invariable good for others sufficiently like myself. I cannot value something for another person unless I first value that person’s life. And it’s not just mere life that matters. Bacterial life, for example, is not as significant as human life. What also matters is sentience and the ability to value one’s own life. If a lifeform has no mind and does not consciously value its life, its life has no inherent value. But a sentient life that can value itself does have inherent value. And this is typical of human life. In recognizing that life is a good for me, I recognize that it is also a good for other people. In recognizing that happiness is good for me, I recognize that it is good for others. In recognizing that suffering is bad for me, I recognize that it is bad for others. My measure here is the value of my own life, as I experience it. This may not be the ultimate measuring stick of the greatest possible value, but it is the fundamental measure of value from my own experience. It is what makes the concept of value meaningful to me. In recognizing the value of other human lives, I reaffirm the value of my own life. If I were to torture others for fun, I would be treating the humanity of others as something worthless, as something that does not matter in a real and fundamental sense, and in doing so, I would fail to affirm the value of my own humanity. To truly value my own humanity, I must value humanity in others. To fully value my life, I must value the lives of others. Acting in accordance with this, I should not torture others for fun.
Second, goals. It is in my vested interest to live in a society where people do not torture each other for fun. After all, I don’t want anyone to torture me for fun. Society is not a single being I can control with my might. Society includes myself and others. All those who have a vested interest in society following certain rules also have a responsibility to follow those rules. Therefore, I have a responsibility to not do to others what I don’t want them to do to me. Since I don’t want anyone to torture me for fun, I have a responsibility to not torture others for fun.
Third, character. Virtuous character is character that helps a person live the good life. In The Risk of Being: What It Means to Be Good and Bad, Michael Gelven distinguishes between the experience of glee and the experience of joy. Glee is a kind of pleasure felt in doing bad things, and joy is a fullness of being and a true appreciation of life. I might feel glee in torturing someone for fun, but this activity is not conducive to feeling joy. If I torture someone for fun, I cannot share glee with my victim. But if I help someone, I can share joy with that person. To engage in activities that produce glee rather than joy is to diminish my capacity for joy and my experience of true happiness. Furthermore, true happiness is about appreciating what I have in my life. I appreciate my life best when I have a productive and helpful orientation, and I undermine my ability to appreciate my life if I follow an orientation that is malicious and destructive of value. To develop a character that is best for appreciating life, it is best for me to avoid such destructive and malicious behavior as torturing someone for fun.
So, there you have it, three good reasons for regarding torturing someone for fun as morally wrong. It is wrong for failing to recognize the value of human life. It is wrong as a failure to uphold my responsibility to not do to others what I don’t want others to do to me. And it is wrong for being destructive of the sort of character most conducive to happiness. The notable thing about each of these reasons is that none involves God. Clearly, I have good reasons to not torture others for fun even if there is no God. For me, these are reasons for considering it objectively wrong to torture someone for fun. And on that basis, I deny the claim “If God Doesn’t Exist, Objective Moral Right and Wrong Lack a Concrete Foundation.”
Now, you might try to save this claim if you use a very strict sense of objective. But if you use a sense of objective that is so strict it is impossible without God, then it becomes less evident that “objective” moral right and wrong actually exist. So, attempts to support the first premise with a strict sense of “objective” undermine support for the second premise. If you choose to go with the sense of “objective” that best supports each premise, you would have to equivocate on the meaning of objective, which destroys the validity of the argument. Therefore, the argument either has an unsupported premise or it is invalid. Either way, it is an unconvincing argument.
Beyond what I have already mentioned, there is a more fundamental objection to the first premise. This can be called the Euthyphro objection after the dialogue of Plato in which it comes up. If morality is defined in terms of God, such as the Divine Command theory, then that leaves God with carte blanche to do anything, and the assertion that God is good has no more content than the assertion that God is God. This actually leaves us without any objective criterion for distinguishing right from wrong. When we look at moral systems that use God as an authority, we actually find a lot of diversity. Compare, for example, Jewish law, Muslim Sharia, and Christian morality, and you will find lots of differences right there. There are also differences between Jews, between Muslims, and between Christians. For example, some Christians consider homosexuality a sin, and other Christians condemn homophobia as evil. If God is supposed to provide the criterion for objective morality, it’s a wonder that so many of his followers differ on the subject.
But in fact, God cannot be the basis for objective morality. If God determines what is moral, then morality is ultimately subjective, not objective. Subjective morality is not limited to what is personally subjective. It also includes what is subjective to an authority. A God-based morality would just be God’s subjective morality. Objective morality, if there is such a thing, follows an objective standard that is independent of anyone’s particular wishes or preferences. An objective standard must be applied not only to people but to any God we may conceive of as real. If we assert that God is good, an objective standard of morality gives that real content. It tells us that God promotes what is truly of value, which includes the value of human life, human happiness, and human character. But any truly objective standard is going to be independent of God. It is a standard God may meet and educate us about, assuming there is a God, but it is not a standard God may dictate. If there is a God, it would make sense that God, in his omniscience, would be the ultimate expert on morality, but this is far from the idea that God can decide what is moral by fiat. Might does not make right, not even the might of God. God cannot determine what is moral. All God can do, if there is one, is abide by objective morality or ignore it. Consequently, the objectivity of morality has nothing do with whether there is a God. There is no relationship between the existence of God and the foundation of objective morality. Therefore, the existence of objective morality does not imply the existence of God.
That takes care of the moral argument for the existence of God. The argument from value and the argument from evil are just variations on this, and they fail for similar reasons. I’ll point out that I have already given an objective criterion for value that does not depend upon God. Although God, if there is one, could destroy my life or make my life miserable through endless torture, there is nothing God could do that would destroy the role my life plays as a source of value. My life makes possible real value that would not be possible without it. The same goes for your life and the lives of other people. This value is real, and it exists independently of any God. This makes human life an objective value.
As for evil, there is going to be plenty of it in a world that is not guided by the hand of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent deity. Human life is a real, objective value, and its inevitable end is a real, objective evil. The misery that often besets human life is another evil. The existence of these evils is not a sign that God exists, and our hatred of them is justified without assuming that there is a God who also hates them. In fact, far from being used as evidence to support belief in God, the existence of evil is often taken as evidence against the existence of God, and the practice of theodicy is about reconciling belief in God with the existence of evil. In fact, one of my old college professors wrote a book on the subject: God and the Challenge of Evil: A Critical Examination of Some Serious Objections to the Good and Omnipotent God (Cultural Heritage and Contemporary Change. Series I, Culture and Values, Vol. 24). Whether or not the problem of evil disproves the existence of God, and that’s not what this video is about, it is normally admitted, even by Christians, that the existence of evil challenges belief in God.
As for moral evil, that is a matter of bad character, and character matters whether or not there is a God. For an in depth discussion of moral evil, you can go read my doctoral dissertation. The essential point to make here is that moral evil cannot be defined in terms of God, and its existence does not point to the existence of God.
Finally, meaning is dependent on value. My actions have meaning when they support or create value. My actions have meaning when I do good for others, when I express myself creatively, and when I stand up for the value of my life by facing suffering with dignity. None of this depends upon some external entity bestowing meaning on my actions. Certainly, the objective meaning of my life, if there be such a thing, cannot come from the whim or fiat of an external being. That’s not objective at all. That’s subjective, as I already explained while discussing morality. My life has meaning through helping others, through educating others, through creating games, through writing my own programming language, through learning about the world I live in, through not letting hardships break me, and through enjoying life, among other things. None of this is meaningless unless and until some external entity imparts it with meaning.
That said, these four arguments for God’s existence all fail. The key word in each one of these arguments is objective. But God cannot possibly be the source for objective value, objective morality, the objective foundation of evil, or objective meaning. If there is a God, God may create things of objective value, abide by and encourage the practice of objective morality, fight objective evil, and contribute to the objective meaningfulness of people’s lives. But God cannot define objective value, morality, evil, or meaning by fiat. That goes against what it means for something to be objective. What is objective is so independently of anyone’s whim, desire, or preference, and that includes God. Therefore, God’s existence is not implied by the existence of objective value, objective morality, objective evil, or objective meaning.