Geisler’s Five Ways – Part 9: The Supreme Moral Lawgiver
In Phase 1 of his case for the existence of God (in When Skeptics Ask, hereafter: WSA), Norman Geisler argues for the existence of a “supreme moral Lawgiver”. The argument goes like this (see WSA, p. 22):
Geisler’s Moral Argument
32. There is an objective moral law.
33. Moral laws imply a moral lawgiver.
34. There is a being that is the supreme moral lawgiver.
Premise (32) is a controversial claim, and so a good reason or agument is needed to support this claim. Geisler gives three reasons in support of (32) on pages 23 and 24 of WSA:
- “all men hold the same things to be wrong (like murder, rape, theft, and lying).
- “if there is no objective moral law, then there can be no right or wrong value judgements.” –including the judgment that “there is no objective moral law”.
- “Everyone expects others to follow some moral codes, even those who try to deny them.”
The first point is a weak and inadequate reason, because there are obvious practical advantages to the imposition of some moral contraints on human behavior. If given a choice between a world or a society in which murder, rape, theft, and lying were allowed without any punishment or constraint and a world or society in which murder, rape, theft, and lying were punished and constrained, most human beings would prefer to live in a world or society of the latter sort.
Life in “a state of nature” where there are no constraints on human behavior would be nasty, brutish, and short. There are obvious practical and self-interested reasons for prefering a world or society in which violent and harmful human actions were constrained. We don’t need to posit mysterious metaphysical entities (i.e. “objective moral laws”) to explain the fact that there are widespread (in various cultures and socieities) constraints against violent and harmful human actions.
The second reason is clearly FALSE. The non-existence of objective moral laws does NOT logically imply the non-existence of objective value judgements. Moral judgements are a sub-set of value judgements, so it is logically possible for there to be ZERO objective moral judgments while, at the same time, there are MANY objective value judgments.
Furthermore, the claim that “there is no objective moral law” appears on its face to be a metaphysical claim, NOT a value judgment. It is a claim about what sorts of things really exist, and such claims are descriptive or factual claims. But a descriptive or factual claim is NOT a value judgment. Therefore, the claim that “there is no objective moral law” appears on its face to NOT be a value judgement. Geisler, thus needs to provide a serious philosophical argument against the very plausible view that the claim “there is no objective moral law” is a desccriptive or factual claim. He has made no attempt here to do this, so his second reason remains very dubious.
The expectation that others will follow a set of moral rules or principles can be explained without appealing to the existence of “objective moral law”. A subjective, human-created set of moral rules or principles would presumably be based upon some practical and self-interested motivations (such as the benefits of cooperation between humans, and of avoiding “a state of nature” in which life was nasty, brutish, and short). But to acheive the goals of the practical and self-interested motivations, a society must actually constrain human behavior to a significant degree. A socieity, for example, would have to actually be successful in keeping murder and rape down to a low level; otherwise, the moral rules or constraints would fail to provide significant practical advantages.
It is obvious that inculcating belief in the importance of such moral rules or constraints in the individuals of the society would help to ensure that the society was successful in actually reducing the incidence of murder and rape, for example. Thus, we would expect that although most societies would use punishments of murder and rape to reduce the incidence of these behaviors, that most societies would ALSO inculcate beliefs and values in individual members of society so that individuals would view the moral rules and constraints of the society as important and worthy of being followed and maintained.
Therefore, even if moral rules and constraints are purely human creations that are based on practical and self-interested motivations, we would expect that most societies would inculcate beliefs and values in individuals such that most people in the society would “expect others to follow some moral codes”. Therefore, Geisler’s third reason fails to show that there is such a thing as “objective moral law”.
Premise (33) has the same sort of ambiguity as the second premise of Geisler’s argument from design. Does “imply” mean “logically entail”? If not, then what does it mean?
With designs and designers we have some actual experience upon which we can base an empirical generalization connecting designs to designers. But with moral laws, we have no such actual experience. It is not clear that there are such things as “objective moral laws” at all, but even assuming that such things exist, the origin of such laws are not subject to experience and observation in the way that designs and designers are subject to experience and observation. So, it seems implausible to assert an empirical or contingent relationship between moral laws and moral lawgivers.
But, as with the argument from design, if we take (33) to assert a logically necessary connection between “moral laws” and “moral lawgivers”, then in order to KNOW that a moral law exists, one must first KNOW that a moral lawgiver exists who “gave” that law, but in that case premise (32) would beg the question at issue, because in order to KNOW that (32) was true, one would have to first KNOW that there was a moral lawgiver who “gave” a moral law, but this is what the argument is attempting to prove. So, it seems clear that we cannot interpret premise (33) to mean that there is a logically necessary connection between the existence of a “moral law” and the existence of a “moral lawgiver”.
Furthermore, not only is the truth of (33) problematic, but there is good reason to suspect it is false. Some analogous claims are false or dubious:
A. Laws of physics imply a physical lawgiver.
B. Laws of mathematics imply a mathematical lawgiver.
C. Laws of logic imply a logical lawgiver.
Claim (A) is dubious, and claims (B) and (C) are clearly FALSE. The laws of logic and mathematics are logically necessary truths. But logically necessary truths do not require any explanation for their existence, so no god or “lawgiver” is required to explain the existence of laws of mathematics or laws of logic.
The laws of physics are not logically necessary truths; they are contingent truths learned by observation. However, it seems plausible that the laws of physics are NOT the product of a god or a supernatural mind, but are simply the result of unthinking random forces or processes. The laws of physics MIGHT be something that was produced by a god or supernatural mind, but it is far from obvious that this is the only reasonable explanation for the existence and nature of the laws of physics.
Because claims that appear to be analogous to (33) are false or dubious, this gives us a good reason to doubt that (33) is true.
The inference to the conclusion is also logically invalid. There might well be MANY moral laws, so for all we know there might well be MANY moral lawgivers, even if we assume that the premises of Geisler’s argument are both true. What we can validly and logically infer from these premises is only that there is AT LEAST ONE moral lawgiver; we cannot logically infer that there is EXACTLY ONE being who is “the supreme moral lawgiver”. Claim (34) does NOT logically follow from premises (32) and (33).
NOTE: Geisler actually uses the phrase “a supreme moral lawgiver” rather than “the supreme moral lawgiver”, but the word “supreme” implies that he is talking about ONE SINGLE being, and in Phase 2, Geisler shifts to talking about “God” instead of “a supreme moral lawgiver” and this also implies that he thinks that he has previously established that there was EXACTLY ONE “supereme moral lawgiver”. In any case, Geisler’s argument requires that he establish that there is EXACLTY ONE supreme moral lawgiver, otherwise he cannot identify “the” cause of the begninning of the universe with “the” moral lawgiver, and that means he cannot show that the cause of the begining of the universe has the characteristics (allegedly) possessed by moral lawgivers (e.g. moral goodness).
Both premises of Geisler’s moral argument are dubious and problematic, and the inference in is logically invalid, so Geisler has FAILED to show that there is a being that is “the supreme moral lawgiver”. So, he has nothing to build upon in Phase 2 of his case for the existence of God (in terms of the moral argument that he presented in Phase 1 of his case).
The Fourth Argument in Phase 2
In Phase 2, Geisler argues that “God is a moral being” and that “God…is good.” (WSA. p.27). Here once again, Geisler is misusing the word “God”. Phase 2 is part of his case for the existence of God, so he cannot have premises that ASSUME the existence of God. The use of the word “God” at this stage of the game is misleading and confusing. Geisler knows that he has not yet proved the existence of God, that is to say, that he has not proved the existence of God in the ordinary sense of the word.
Geisler thinks that in Phase 1, he has proved the existence of the being that caused the universe to begin to exist, and that he has proved the existence of the supreme moral Lawgiver. So, when Geisler uses the word “God” in Phase 2 when he is building upon his previous moral argument, he either means “the being who caused the universe to begin to exist” or else he means “the supreme moral Lawgiver”.
In the first three arguments of Phase 2, Geisler attempted to show that “whatever caused the universe to [begin to] exist…had great power, …[and] also great intelligence.” (WSA, p.26). So, it appears that Geisler is trying to show that the being that caused the universe to begin to exist has all of the main characteristics that are part of the concept of God. Therefore, it seems clear that when Geisler is arguing in Phase 2 that “God…is good”, what he means is that the being that caused the universe to begin to exist is good [morally good].
However, Geisler’s fourth argument in Phase 2 is clearly focused on “the supreme moral lawgiver” whose existence Geisler supposedly established in Phase 1. So, once again, Geisler is ASSUMING that the cause of the beginning of the universe is the same being as some other being that he thinks he has shown to exist, namely “the supreme moral lawgiver”. But Geisler has provided no reason whatsoever to believe that these two beings are the same being. Once again, his Phase 2 argument about the supreme moral lawgiver FAILS, just like the other Phase 2 arguments FAILED, because he made similar assumptions for which he provided no reason whatsoever to believe.
Geisler gives one argument to show that “God is a moral being”, that is to say, to show that the cause of the beginning of the universe is a moral being (see WSA, p.27):
ARGUMENT 4 of PHASE 2
34. There is a being that is the supreme moral lawgiver.
35. A moral law exists in the mind of every moral lawgiver.
36. A moral law exists in the mind of the supreme moral lawgiver.
37. IF a moral law exists in the mind of the supreme moral lawgiver, THEN the supreme moral lawgiver is a moral being who knows the difference between right and wrong.
38. The supreme moral lawgiver is a moral being who knows the difference between right and wrong.
39. The being that caused the universe to begin to exist is also the supreme moral lawgiver.
40. The being that caused the universe to begin to exist is a moral being who knows the difference between right and wrong.
Here is a diagram of this argument, with the conclusion at the top, and the supporting premises below it (click on the image below for a clearer view of the diagram):
There are two obvious major problems with this argument, right off the bat. First, because Geisler FAILED to establish the conclusion of his moral argument, there is no good reason to believe that premise (34) is true.
Second, in order for Geisler’s case to work, he needs to show that the being “that caused the universe to begin to exist” has the characteristics that are (allegedly) possessed by “the supreme moral lawgiver”. To do so, he must use premise (39), which asserts that these two beings are the same being. Premise (39) is obviously a controversial claim, so it is a question begging premise, unless and until Geisler provides a good reason or argument to show it to be true. But Geisler has provided no reason whatsoever to believe that premise (39) is true. So, we ought to reject premise (39).
Furthermore, since Geisler has FAILED to show that there is such a being as “the being that caused the universe to begin to exist” and since he has also FAILED to show that there is such a being as “the supreme moral lawgiver,” premise (39) is highly questionable.
So, it is clear from the start that Argument 4 of Phase 2 is a FAILURE, and that Geisler has FAILED to show that claim (40) is true.
There are other problems with this argument, which I will explore in the next post in this series, and there is also another Phase 2 argument to consider: Geisler’s argument for the claim that the being that caused the universe to begin to exist is a morally good being.