Get the Ump! (The Axiological Argument)

AP Photo by Butch Dill
AP Photo by Butch Dill

We’ve looked at several lines of reasoning justifying a warranted belief in God this last month. Today, we turn to what can be called the Moral Argument, or the Axiological Argument (axia = “value” in Greek).

Here is a common formulation of the argument[1]:
Premise 1: If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
Premise 2: Objective moral values and duties do exist.
Conclusion: Therefore, God exists.

That first premise may seem like a big jump, so let’s dig into that  deeper by first defining our terms clearly.

  • “Values” are the moral worth of something; its goodness or badness. For example, helping the sick or the poor is generally recognized as “good”, while murdering them is generally recognized as “bad”.[2]
  • “Duties” are moral obligations or prohibitions; the rightness or wrongness of something. Something may be morally good without being an obligation. Moving to India to care for lepers may be a morally good action, but it’s not an obligation anyone has to do.
  • “Objective” means independent of opinion or perception of the subject, and is intrinsic to the object discussed. It’s the same for all subjects observing that object. Contrast this with subjective, which is based on a subject’s opinion or perception of an object and can vary between different subjects.
  • “Moral” refers to standards of right conduct.[3]

And therein lies the rub; standards are enforceable, while opinions aren’t. Morality is defined as a standard, but standards come from independent authorities. When two teams think the other one cheated, what do they do? They call for a decision from the umpire, the referee, the judge – whatever that sport calls their independent rule-enforcer. But the umpire has to be independent of either team, and he can’t make up the rules as he goes. He applies a defined standard impartially (we hope). What if each of the 2 teams comprised half the world? Who would be left to be an independent judge? The Axiological Argument highlights this need for a “third party”to define the standards we as humans abide by. Now, to clarify, this premise does not say that those who don’t believe in God can’t live ethical lives, understanding moral duties and making morally good decisions each day. Premise 1 is an ontological statement – a statement of existence; namely, that if God doesn’t exist, there would be no objective moral standards for us (atheist or theist) to recognize and live by. They would not exist without God, because He is the only one in the position to be truly independent and objective. Anything we come up with is just one person’s idea versus another’s.

Are there any reasons to accept premise 2’s claim that objective values and duties really do exist? J. Budziszewski has noted that “There is no land where murder is virtue and gratitude vice.”[4] Even in Nazi Germany, the Nazis dehumanized their victims (so it wasn’t murder) in an attempt to justify what they did. While extenuating circumstances can seem to relativize morality, the “fun test” confirms morality’s objectivity. “What’s that?”, you say? It’s a simple way to eliminate the effect of extenuating circumstances in justifying decisions. To see if circumstances would change the moral value of something, add “for fun” to the end of it. Lying to protect Jews from Nazis may be morally better than being an accomplice to their murder, but lying “for fun” is never considered morally good. Murdering Hitler to save millions may be justified, but murdering even Hitler “for fun” is not. Justifiable circumstances can be found for other deeds like stealing, arson, lying, etc, where the bad deed is the lesser of two evils. In dilemmas where the only options are all bad, a person may be justified in choosing the “least worst” choice. But murdering for fun, stealing for fun, etc, are never condoned or viewed as “good”. In an extreme example, the unacceptability of torturing innocent babies “for fun” would reveal that we really do consider there to be objective standards that shouldn’t be violated in any situation.

Therefore, God exists. Too simple? True premises and valid logic leave no other alternative but a true conclusion. We have defined our terms to avoid ambiguity and have provided support for the premises, and the syllogism that makes up this argument is logically valid (i.e. no logical fallacies present).  What characteristics about God can be inferred from this? First, His nature is intrinsic perfect goodness that is the standard for moral values. Second, His will establishes the standard for moral duties. What are some consequences of this conclusion? Simply this: we are accountable for our actions, but thankfully, it is a level playing field and we can know the game rules if we choose to learn them. We have an infallible Umpire who, unlike humans, will never make a bad call.

[1] See William Lane Craig, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision, (Colorado Springs, David C Cook, 2010), Ch. 6 for a much more detailed study of this argument.
[2] Evolutionary bioethicists like Peter Singer would disagree as this disrupts “survival of the fittest” by not killing off weak members of society. It’s more than a little disturbing that the New Yorker called Singer the planet’s “most influential living philosopher”. See why here.
[2] “Morality”, American Heritage Dictionary, 5th Ed., 2014.
[4]J. Budziszewski, Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law (Downers Grove, 111.: InterVarsity Press, 1997), p. 208-20, as quoted in I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, by Frank Turek, p. 171.

2 thoughts on “Get the Ump! (The Axiological Argument)”

    There are many arguments for God (T)
    God is here clearly defined (F)
    God is often defined as a perfect in all ways being (T)
    The moral argument claims OMVs prove God (T)
    This argument succeeds (F)
    People exist, and they often value things (T)
    When people value things, we often call that having “values” (T)
    Some people have “duties”: If they don’t do their homework, they don’t get dessert (T)
    So duties are (often) expectations of A, by Z, and A will punish/react to Z if Z doesn’t do it (T)
    Caring for lepers is kind, but rarely is there a duty (X will punish you) if you don’t do that (T)
    Thus some actions are kind even if there is no system of “duties” established about it (T)
    Some assertions are made by people: it is their opinion. These are called subjective.
    Some such opinions are true, and some are false (T)
    If A’s view is the Earth is flat, and mine is that it is round, these are subjective (By definition) (T)
    What we really care about here is Truth (T)
    Objective and subjective muddle our ability to talk plainly about the Truth (T)
    A=A is true, objectively: independently of what X things. It is true for all people (T)
    “This ice cream is delicious!” is subjective: true for some, not true for others (T)
    Opinions aren’t enforceable (F)
    Many standards exist, and are often enforced (T)
    Many standards come from humans: the Official rules of Monopoly (T)
    In sports, an arbitrary set of rules is often agreed to by both sides. (T)
    In baseball, an umpire is there in part to enforce the rules (T)
    The umpire “has to be” independent (F)
    Usually, both sides say they want the umpire to be independent (T)
    Usually, both sides don’t want the umpire to make up the rules as he goes (T)
    If all the world was split into 2 partisan teams, there would be no independent person left (T)
    If ½ the world wanted to play by 1 set of rules, but the other ½ wanted to play by another, there is an intellectual conflict here (F)
    Some people might wish there was some impartial judge who favored their side of things (T)
    If God doesn’t exist, there would be no godly moral standards (T)
    If God doesn’t exist, there would be no (moral) standards for living, how to treat others, etc. (F)
    Only a truly independent being is truly independent (T)
    Most/all humans aren’t perfectly independent and objective at all times (T)
    There is a being that is perfectly independent and objective, and which is not human (F)
    People often come up with ideas and standards (like the rules of Baseball) (T)
    These rules are “just” one’s person’s ideas (F)
    Other people might want to play by a different set of rules (T)
    Most countries have laws against murder (T)
    Most people don’t want murder to be legal (T)
    This shows that OMVs exist (F)
    This shows what many people value (T)
    That most people don’t want murder shows that God probably exists (F)
    The Nazi’s didn’t commit murder (F)
    The Nazi’s said false things to try to justify what they did (T)
    The fun test confirms morality’s godly objectivity (F)
    The fun test shows that many actions are more unkind than kind (T)
    Killing, which is prima facie very unkind, is not made more kind than not by doing it for “fun” (T)
    Thus, torturing for fun is still mostly unkind. Raping for fun is still mostly unkind (T)
    If this is objectivity, then nothing here proves God (T)
    Killing for fun can never be more kind than not, can never be For the Greater Good (F)
    One might prefer to be killed, and prefer that the killer have his fun (T)
    Killing those who prefer it is prima facie not unkind.
    Lying for fun is, for some, never considered to be kind (“morally good”) (T)
    Lying is never kind (F)
    Killing Hitler to save millions is kinder, “morally justified”, for the greater good (T)
    Killing Hitler for fun is not (T)
    Killing Hitler if he wants to die and he wants us to have fun is FGG (T)
    So adding “for fun” to normally unkind things never changes things (F)
    Stealing can be the lesser of two evils (T)
    Acting “for fun” can never be that (F)
    Stealing “for fun” can never be FGG, for the greater Good (F)
    If Torturing babies for fun was never for the greater good, this would show that God exists (F)
    We can infer from general moral truths (torture is unkind, torturing for fun is unkind) that god exists (F)
    We know God exists and is all loving (F)
    God’s “will” establishes moral duties for us (F)
    If God existed, and would punch us if we disobeyed it, many people would comply (feel a duty) (T)
    Humans are always held accountable for all their actions (F)
    God exists and is an infallible umpire (F)

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read my article and formulate your somewhat unusual response. You make a quite a few apparently unsupported statements in there that you seem to assume are self-evident, maybe? But as is, this is just a long series of statements of your opinion and not a refutation of the axiological argument. It appears from the structure that you believe these to be arranged into “true” and “false” statements, but that is not sufficient to prove your position. True premises must be joined together by valid reasoning to prove your conclusion. You might find it helpful to reformulate your position into a syllogism of premises and a conclusion rather than this series of somewhat unrelated statements. This will tend to focus your argument into a more logical structure and avoid making empty assertions like your unsupported statement that “There is a being that is perfectly independent and objective, and which is not human (F)”. Using a syllogistic format helps you as the author to avoid making those kinds of statements without supporting premises (i.e. why is that statement false?), and helps readers of opposing viewpoints (like myself) see whether your assertion has merit (i.e. is that a good reason for thinking the statement to be false?). If you would like, we could continue this dialogue, and you could maybe explain what premise in the axiological argument you disagree with, and why. Thanks again for taking the time to comment, and I look forward to hearing back from you.

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