NEW ORLEANS (BP)–The existence of objective moral values is evidence for God’s existence, Paul Copan, a philosopher and Christian apologist, said at a meeting of the Evangelical Philosophical Society at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
“There are certain moral truths that we all know,” Copan, associate professor of philosophy and ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University, said Feb. 24. “If objective moral values exist, then it is extremely likely that a Creator exists.”
The society’s meeting was held in tandem with the seminary’s Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum on the topic of “The Future of Atheism,” featuring Alister McGrath of Oxford University and Daniel Dennett, a professing atheist from Tufts University.
Copan, whose books defending the Christian faith include “True for You, But Not for Me” and “How Do You Know You’re Not Wrong,” said morality begins with certain self-evident principles upon which atheists and theists can agree.
Citing atheistic philosophers David Brink and Kai Nielsen, Copan said atheists also appeal to objective ethics and human moral awareness. Oxford evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins also contends that people can be good without being policed by God, Copan said.
In light of Romans 2, Christians should not be surprised when atheists live good, moral lives, Copan said. He quoted Dennett, who wrote, “People can be caring without a belief in immortality…. A scientific materialist may be concerned about justice, beauty, and even religious freedom.”
By virtue of being made in God’s image, atheists are connected to God the Creator, whose character is the source and metaphysical foundation for morality, human worth and dignity, Copan said.
“Anyone can know that humans have certain moral rights, but a far more fundamental question is, ‘How did they come to be that way?’” Copan said.
Naturalists have confused “knowing” and “being” — epistemology and ontology — by acknowledging certain truths but failing to explain why those truths exist, Copan said.
“Can the valueless, mindless, cause-and-effect physical processes of naturalism produce conscious humans with value and worth,” he asked.
Copan cited naturalist’s Colin McGinn’s admission that, “We know that brains are the de facto causal basis of consciousness, but we have, it seems, no understanding of how this can be so.”
Theism offers a more natural and plausible explanation for why humans are “valuable, truth-seeking, morally responsible beings in a finely tuned, beautiful universe,” Copan said. Humans have worth because they are the image-bearers of a good and personal God.
Although naturalists may live moral lives, naturalism itself undermines objective ethics and undercuts a motivation for morality, Copan said. He quoted Dennett again, saying that while moral norms “contribute to social cohesion,” they are “illusory rule-worship.”
Copan referred to naturalist Michael Ruse who said moral values are “an illusion of our genes to get us to cooperate with each other.” Seeing moral impulses the same as other impulses — such as the impulse to eat or scratch — doesn’t inspire the pursuit of virtue, Copan said.
Evolutionary ethics produce skepticism about a human’s ability to know truth, Copan said, adding that Charles Darwin said, “With me, the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals are of any value or are even trustworthy.”
Ethical foundations, then, are undermined by “an evolutionary process that is interested in fitness and survival but not true beliefs,” Copan said.
Theism offers a more plausible context for affirming human dignity than naturalism that puts moral objectivity and rational thought in question.
Copan cited the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights to show that humans have an intrinsic understanding of human rights, regardless of religious convictions. He quoted French philosopher Jacques Maritain, one of the document’s drafters, who said, “God and objective morality cannot be plausibly separated since God is the Creator of valuable, morally responsible human beings and is the very source of value.”
Copan concluded by saying that a moral argument alone doesn’t prove the existence of the Christian God but can be supplemented with other arguments for God.
“The moral argument points us to a supreme, personal, moral being who is worthy of worship and who made us with dignity and worth,” Copan said. “He is a being to whom we are accountable and who could reasonably be called God.”