Imagine William is a father who claims to have objective rules for his three sons’ behavior. But William then writes up those rules vaguely and hands them to only one son, Now also imagine William applies those rules differently to each son and at different ages, What would you think of William’s claim his rules are objective?
Now consider the alleged objective moral laws of the Bible. Are they unchanging over time? Are they applied consistently across all humans? Are they expressed precisely? Do they apply only to those aware of those laws? Can those laws be considered truly objective if they fail in any of these ways? Are they objective simply because a father or a God declares them “objective”? Do not the alleged objectively moral laws of the Bible instead reflect a subjective standard similar to what we would expect from an incompetent father or a society with evolving behavioral standards and empathy?
Christian leaders often claim that objective morality is intrinsic to the unchanging and just character of God. Yet an objective morality is not reflected in the moral commands found in the Bible. Consider four points:
1: Objective morality is unchanging. The commands of the God of the Bible have changed considerably, some being completely abandoned. Consider the Old Testament commands for rebellious children, adulterers and witches to be stoned to death.
2: Objective morality is universal across humans. Yet, as merely one example of many, the Biblical command not to lie did not apply to Rahab who was honored for her utilitarian lie that saved Israelite spies.
3: Objective morality is precise. Yet consider the vague notions of marriage and adultery found in the Bible. Was King David living in adultery subject to death by stoning when possessing many wives? Or is polygamy a legitimate marriage, and not adulterous?
4: Objective moral injunctions are known to those to whom they apply. We immediately perceive the injustice of a town ticketing drivers for violating a 20 mph speed limit that is nowhere posted. Yet many biblical injunctions presumably apply to all humans, even to humans who have no access to those particular injunctions.
The moral commands found within the Bible are very consistent with 1) the subjective whims, emotions and unclear expectations of a highly incompetent father and 2) what we observe in a survey of evolving societies. What can we conclude is their likely source?
Do not the changing moral laws ascribed to the God of the Bible much better map to what we see in naturally evolving societies rather than to the “objective” morality of a “just” God who holds accountable even those never exposed to the relevant moral laws? Does not the progressive move from the command to enslave or kill surrounding tribes to the notion that God has given us all “inalienable rights” reflect an evolving mutual empathy extending across tribal lines rather than reflecting the erratic morality of some God?
Either the God depicted in the Bible is not an actual God, or the God of the Bible has no legitimate claim to an objective morality. Which is most probable in your mind?
Note that it takes only one of the four criteria in the syllogism to hold true for the general argument to hold true.
Not only do Christians now consider acts of adultery unworthy of death, Christians now consider the killing of adulterers (as Phinehas killed an adulterous couple in Numbers 25:8) to be immoral. While a small number of Christians in some countries do kill homosexuals and witches even today, many other Christians claim this type of killing, once morally obligatory and praised, is now itself immoral, even when it is certain the victim is truly gay or practicing witchcraft. Biblical morality has not only changed, but has actually been inverted to some degree. Does this sound like an objective morality?
The issue of marriage is also instructive. There is no rebuke of King David’s polygamy other than his marriage to a woman whose husband he successfully got killed by placing him on the front line of a battle. Is polygamy wrong? If it is, why would there be no clear biblical injunction against having multiple wives? Does this reflect an objective morality?
Perhaps the God of the Bible does change his mind. Perhaps there is no unchangeable objective morality, and this God of the Bible, because he is God, can simply change the rules for behavior anytime he’d like. After all, monarchs and dictators do this all the time. Yet note that we don’t call their ever-changing rules “objective”. The commands of the Biblical God are demonstrably subjective.
In conclusion, if the moral commands found in the Bible are an integral part of the character of the God of the Bible, then the character of that God is far from a reflection of an objective morality. The moral injunctions of the Bible appear no more less subjective than the evolving societal expectations of most societies as they have evolved over time.
So which is more probable? A God of the universe with a moral system so subjective and arbitrary that it is indistinguishable from the whims of a king or dictator or a society’s evolving opinions on behavior? Or is it far more probable and parsimonious to simply conclude that interpretations of Biblical moral injunctions simply follow human history in terms of deepening mutual respect, and notions of fairness?
(See also #41 for more on the Christian notion of morality.)
THEO: Unless you have an objective standard of morality, you can not make claims about what is right and wrong.
VERITY: You probably mean “morally” right and wrong, right? It is merely pragmatically wrong to avoid university if you wish to become a physicist, though it’s not morally wrong.
THEO: Yes, morally wrong. You can’t make claims about moral right and wrong unless you have a foundation for those claims.
VERITY: It appears to me there is no objective morality.
THEO: Ha ha! Then you have no foundation for your notion of morality!
VERITY: But what if I dismiss the conventional notion of morality, and simply follow my emotions?
THEO: Follow your emotions? Do you mean something is wrong only if you find it distasteful?
VERITY: No. I mean I find something distasteful only if I find something distasteful. If you want to steal my car, I don’t claim it is morally wrong, but that it simply evokes my anger.
THEO: Evokes your anger? How silly! Why should I respect your emotions and not steal your car?
VERITY: You have no obligation to respect my emotions. But because you have similar emotions to mine and find it emotionally distasteful to harm others, you have a reason not to steal my car, right?
THEO: But your emotions impose no objective obligation on me to respect your emotional preferences.
VERITY: True, but if you violate the emotional dispositions of those in my community who have cars and who, based on those emotions, created laws against car theft, you will suffer significant consequences, right?
THEO: I suppose, but that does not make it morally wrong.
VERITY: That’s correct. There is no moral obligation. There is no moral realm in which moral facts can reside. There are only societal consequences to your actions.
THEO: That is an inferior ideology. It contains no objective morality.
VERITY: Yet is it not an honest ideology without a fabricated “objective” morality that fails test after test of its objectivity?