Why God is Still the Best Explanation for Objective Moral Truths
Can we “ground” moral truths in our personal opinion or in cultural consensus? If not, what is the better explanation for such truths? In this interview with Patrick & Tony from Cave to the Cross Apologetics, J. Warner talks about the case for Christianity, the nature of faith, and the role of differing approaches to apologetics (the rational defense of Christian belief). Be sure to check out other Cave to the Cross podcasts!
Transcript (lightly edited for clarity):
Patrick: If you want to know more about what J. Warner Wallace is talking about, see the podcast “Cave to the Cross Apologetics.” We recently covered all this. We’re talking about this now. Does morals or does ethics require a person or values to be a valuer, and how do you have values without people or more than one person? So-
J. Warner Wallace: Yeah, if you think about that, there’s only a couple ways to ground that. First of all, not every atheist agrees that there are object moral truths to begin with. But those who do think that there are objective moral truths have to figure out a way to ground them. Because there’s only subjective and objective and if it’s all a matter of personal opinion, well that’s a subject. If it’s a matter of group think, like cultural consensus, that’s a group of subjects. Those are both subjective explanations.
Sam Harris actually offers a better alternative, I think, which is that it’s grounded in the objective nature of human beings. The one thing that transcends all of us is our human nature. That for us to thrive as humans, we adopt a code that is really there to help us thrive. It’s just a reflection of what helps us to thrive.
But of course, the problem with that is that he has to import a certain notion of thriving, of well-being. Because if all he means is survival, all kinds of bad stuff can actually — as a matter of fact, the three of us are talking right now because somewhere in our history, somebody acted very poorly to make sure their tribe survived over another. If Harris is right, then you and I are both examples of how bad behavior can help us to thrive. We can’t live here to thrive at all if not for the bad behavior of our ancestors.
So I think we have to define, what do you mean by thrive? And then you import things you haven’t earned yet. Right? Because you have a notion — a very loving, sympathetic, tolerant notion — of what it is to thrive as a human. But where do you get that notion? Why is that true for us? Right? Well you can’t say it helps us to survive. The most tolerant, loving people were usually in history, the victims of a group that is thriving better now. Because they victimized the pacifists. So that’s the problem: that you cannot get here from there.
J. Warner Wallace is a Dateline featured Cold-Case Detective, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Adj. Professor of Christian Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, author of Cold-Case Christianity, God’s Crime Scene, and Forensic Faith, and creator of the Case Makers Academy for kids.