Response to Reverend Brewster’s moral argument

Reverend Brewster and I pose following our August 31 debate.
Reverend Brewster and I pose following our August 31 debate.

During the August 31 “Does the Christian god exist?” debate within Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania’s Mount Zion Baptist Church I participated in alongside Reverend Michael Brewster, I responded to a variation of the moral argument for God’s existence. I would like to address some of his points following the debate. Watch a video of the debate and listen to an audio-only version of the debate to better understand this piece.

Reverend Brewster advanced various problematic assertions in his opening statement and throughout the debate in his attempt to demonstrate the existence of the Christian god: (1) if the laws of morality are not revealed by a transcendent mind, morality is relative, (2) God reveals the laws of morality through reason and logic, (3) without absolute morality we cannot have laws, and (4) God is the source of morality.

As presented, I do not find Reverend Brewster’s argument to be valid (premises properly leading to a conclusion) or sound (having true premises). Before examining the strength of the presented premises, Brewster’s argument begs the question; he assumes what he is trying to demonstrate when he states God reveals morality inside his argument attempting to show God exists.

A reformulation of Brewster’s argument, as follows, may be more helpful:
(1) If the laws of morality are not revealed by a transcendent mind, morality is relative.
(2) Morality is not relative; objective moral values exist.
(3) A transcendent mind exists.

Brewster’s argument, at best, leads to the conclusion that a transcendent mind exists, but through the argument we do not know the characteristics of such a transcendent mind – namely those which constitute the Christian god. In his opening statement, Brewster said that the Christian god is a transcendent, intelligent, infinite, and all-powerful being from which all things move and exist. Also consider the fact that most Christians, including Brewster, although he did not mention this in his opening statement, believe that God sent his only son Jesus to earth in order to die on a cross for a redemption of sins. The moral argument cannot possibly demonstrate all of this.Debate Newspaper Ad
Before arriving at the conclusion and assuming the argument is sound — having true premises — it’s worth examining the strength of the premises.

Premise one, as I indicated in the debate, poses only two choices when more exist: either morality is relative or objective/absolute. I did not hear support for this premise during the debate other than assertions that humans, when left to their own devices, may disagree with others concerning right and wrong. It was not my responsibility, as I noted several times in the debate, to give an ‘atheist-friendly’ accounting for morality; since Brewster brought the argument forth, he needs to show that his premises are true.

Besides, the history of philosophy and moral thought has contained many approaches to establishing moral truths such as virtue ethics, deontogy, consequentialism, utilitarianism…and divine command theory. Divine command theory — an ethical approach asserting that morality is that revealed by a deity or deities — is one of the most failed ethical approaches in philosophy, yet this is the moral approach Brewster advocates.

Divine command theory faces a serious challenge known as the Euthyphro Dilemma: is that which is moral moral because God commands it or because it is endorsed by God? If morality is established as a result of a divine command, morality is arbitrary because God could command slaughter of innocents and other moral atrocities (as he does in the Bible, as I noted in the debate). If we can know something is moral because it is endorsed by God, there must be some external standard by which something is deemed moral.

Additionally, if we could rule out the Christian god as being a candidate for establishing objective or absolute morality, moral arguments fail to establish that the Christian god exists. I also fail to see how the moral argument leads to the Christian god existing instead of, for instance, an all-evil God who — through establishing that which is evil and good — may exist.

Finally, Reverend Brewster needs to demonstrate that objective moral values exist in order to properly advance his argument. Statements such as ‘we just know what is right and wrong,’ as I heard in the debate is not sufficient.

Reverend Brewster’s moral argument — riddled with multiple problems — fails to establish the existence of the Christian god.

As always, feel free to comment below. Consider watching a video of the debate and listening to an audio-only recording of the debate. Stay tuned for more post-debate thoughts.

Justin Vacula

Justin Vacula hosts the Stoic Philosophy Podcast; serves as co-organizer and spokesperson for the Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) Freethought Society; and has hosted monthly Stoic Philosophy discussion groups for the Humanist Association of Greater Philadelphia.

He has appeared on and hosted various radio shows and podcasts; participated in formal debates and discussions; was a guest speaker for college-level courses; was featured in local, national, and international news; and has been invited to speak at various national, local, and statewide events.

Vacula received bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Psychology, a minor in Professional Writing, and the distinguished W.A. Kilburn Memorial Award for Philosophy from King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He is currently living in the Scranton, PA area attending Marywood University’s graduate-level Mental Health Counseling program and has worked with the Arc of Luzerne County’s Transition to Community Employment program as a teacher’s assistant and job coach alongside adult learners with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

He also plays poker; volunteers as a member of the website and media team for the Greyhawk Reborn Dungeons & Dragons campaign while playing at events in the Eastern United States; and enjoys metal music.

  • James P

    I have yet to hear good solid proof that God does not exist , in fact there are accounts of where men set out to do just that and became strong believers in God

    • The burden of proof is on the believer to demonstrate God exists. Consider those, to demonstrate this, who advocate for the existence of Bigfoot. They can say, “I’ve never heard good solid proof Bigfoot does not exist.” It’s not up to, though, the person who doubts God or Bigfoot exists to demonstrate God or Bigfoot does not exist.

      Anyway, here’s a transcript of my opening statement for this debate in which I provide two reasons why I believe God does not exist:

      http://justinvacula.com/2013/09/01/debate-opening-statement/

      Feel free to comment on it there if you wish.

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