Why are certain actions wrong?
The moral argument is a common case for God’s existence. It’s one of the only claims that I hear Christians make that I don’t feel I fully understand. I say that because it’s often cited as a solid argument for the existence of God, but to me I don’t find it convincing at all, which makes me wonder if I’ve understood it.
Here’s how William Lane Craig puts it:
1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.
And here is a video which sums up the Christian viewpoint as I understand it – http://www.reasonablefaith.org/moral
To summarise – without God humans cannot say objectively what is right or wrong. That someone might say that murder is wrong, but someone else might disagree – and there is no way of saying who is objectively correct. With God, moral laws are transcendent and sit outside the human realm, so there can be objective laws – providing a standard. As humans we instinctively understand right and wrong – we “know” that murder is wrong and this comes from God. It is written on our hearts.
From my basic understanding of evolution – it seems reasonable to postulate an evolutionary theory for moral instincts. Comparing two groups of humans – one which developed an instinct to not murder and a group which didn’t have that instinct – it seems reasonable to suggest that the group with the instinct against murder would have an advantage and be more likely to survive. Empathy to other individuals of the same species seems to go a long way in proving a base for morals. We see proto-moral behaviour in many animals, especially social mammals.
I can see some argument with the idea that evolutionary theories can’t account for “oughts” – we can’t say that something is definitely wrong. But I don’t really see oughts in day to day life. Morals are up for discussion and that discussion has always been part of the human project since we started. We can certainly assess morals against how it affects human flourishing and well-being – but it’s rarely black and white. Yes cats don’t see killing mice as murder, but we don’t tend to see killing cows are murder. Cats rarely kill other cats, perhaps for the same reason we rarely kill other humans.