A Moral Argument for God which Begs the Question against Theists

Reposting a comment I left on fellow Patheos blogger Bob Seidensticker’s blog, Cross Examined. Bob was writing about Geisler’s and Turek’s book, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an AtheistBob quoted this passage from their book:

 If the atheists are right, then we might as well lie, cheat, and steal to get what we want because this life is all there is, and there are no consequences in eternity. (p. 68)

Bob’s response:

Wow—what planet are these guys from? How many atheists think that it’s fine to lie, cheat, and steal? Are the prisons filled with atheists? Do atheists not care about their reputations with their family and friends? Do atheists not have consciences?

Since you’ll agree, after a moment’s reflection, that atheists are indeed moral, maybe you should drop the “atheists have no morals” claim and wonder where they get their morals from. I predict it’s the same place where you do.

Atheism does indeed mean that “there are no consequence in eternity,” but (dang it!) there are consequences right here and now, so I’d better cancel my Saturday night orgy ’n bacchanalia.

What follows was my comment.


I think this reply misses the mark. Joe Sixpack will read this and say, “Yes, that’s exactly what I think of atheists.” And apologists will surely respond, “Yes, there are atheists who do that, but they’re simply acting inconsistently with or better than their atheism.”

If you’ll indulge me, I think a better reply would be something like this:

Geisler and Turek claim that by ruling out the supernatural, Darwinists can avoid the possibility that anything is morally prohibited. In fact, Geisler and Turek are tearing down a straw man of their own creation by linking ‘everything is permitted’ with the wrong ‘-ism.’ Contrary to what Geisler and Turek claim, neither atheism nor Darwinism says everything is morally permitted. That’s what nihilism says.

In fact, at least in this instance, it is Geisler and Turek, not atheists, who are guilty of ruling out things in advance. Geisler and Turek can assume that atheism leads to nihilism only by assuming that some God-based theory of morality, such as the (Modified) Divine Command Theory is true.

But that assumption is hotly contested, even by other theists. If someone read only Geisler’s and Turek’s book, they’d think the choices were “Theism and God-based morality” and “atheism and no morality whatsoever.” But that’s false. Bare or ‘mere’ theism says nothing about whether morality is based upon God. The belief that morality is somehow based upon God is an extra belief, on top of theism. Thus, Geisler and Turek not only beg the question against atheists, but they beg the question against other theists also.

First, their argument begs the question against moral anti-reductionists (like G.E. Moore) who hold that moral facts and properties are not reducible to non-moral facts and properties. There are both theists and nontheists who hold this position.

Second, their argument begs the question against reductive moral naturalists who hold that moral facts and properties are reducible to natural, non-moral facts and properties. As before, there are both theists and nontheists who hold this position.