Christians think that the presumption of absolute or universal moral principles or values is some kind of powerful argument for their side. They act on the basis of two implicit premises:
1. Without God, there are no absolute/universal moral principles.
2. With God, there are absolute/universal moral principles.
Both these premises are absolutely and completely false.
Let’s start with the second one. If God exists and created the universe, then all material facts, including ethics, are contingent on God’s mind. Therefore, it cannot be the case that there are absolute moral principles; in fact, there cannot even be “objective” moral principles, since that would assume independence from minds. If everything is contingent on God’s mind, then everything is “subjective,” that is to say, cannot be regulated by any principles or laws.
Or to rephrase the point more concretely: if God is in control of everything, then reality is whatever God decides. If God decides that murder is good or that the Sun does not move (as it does many times throughout the Bible), then murder is good and the Sun stops moving.
The belief that there is uniformity of nature, that is to say natural laws which are the subject of scientific inquiry, and the belief that there are absolute or universal moral principles, are absolutely contrary to this. If such laws and principles can be overridden at any time, then they are not laws or principles. They are merely subjective beliefs. If God can stop the Sun at any time, then the law of angular momentum does not exist. if God can make murder good at any time, then the principle that murder is wrong does not exist.
Not only that, but since God or its actions cannot be observed in any way by definition, if God exists we must be plunged in fundamental epistemic anxiety. If I seriously believed God existed, I would have no grounds to believe anything to be true or false, since it is on the basis of these natural laws and universal moral principles that we decide whether something is true or false.
We see how little guidance Christians receive from this so-called moral authority in their struggle to impose their vision of what they think God’s rules are on each other. If it was true that Christians had access to absolute morality, why would they disagree? How could they possibly disagree? People don’t argue on whether the Sun exists, because everyone can see the Sun very clearly. People don’t argue on whether the Earth exists. People don’t argue on whether air exists. But not even committed, honest Christians can agree on what this absolute morality is about, even though such an absolute morality, if it existed, would be as salient in a person’s life as the Sun, the Earth, and the air they breathe!
It is obvious that even Bible fundamentalists adhere first and foremost to a personal standard, because what they accept as literally true in the Bible changes depending on the era. When slavery was commonplace, fundamentalists readily accepted the verses about slavery to be literally true. Nowadays, they claim the verses about slavery applied to the times they were written for, not modern times. So much for the “absolute truth” of the Bible: it can’t even stand the test of time, let alone that of some pretty basic rational inquiry.
When challenged on the fundamental subjectivism of Christianity, Christians answer that God cannot change good ethical rules because it can’t help but be good: being good is part of its very nature. here are so many things wrong with this argument that I won’t get into all of them in this entry (I’ve listed seven fatal problems with it on my Strong Atheism article on Materialist Apologetics). It is an often-repeated, and completely bankrupt, argument.
I will address one problem with this answer, which is sufficient to demolish it: it is absolutely irrelevant to the issue. The Christian is not denying or refuting the fact that morality becomes subjective if God creates it, he is only specifying the nature of that subjectivity.
So he is in fact supporting that statement of subjectivity. Once the Christian admits that morality is not absolute or universal but in fact entirely subjectively based on God’s will, he has lost the argument, as well as any rights to debate any further, because he has plunged his worldview into complete and total subjectivism. From this point forward, he can no longer make assertions of knowledge. He can no longer argue about what God’s nature, since he has just denied himself any possibility of knowing anything (any such line of reasoning can be easily defeated by asking “how do you know?”- in the absence of an epistemic foundation, the Christian has no grounds in trusting his senses or his reason).
Now on to the second point. I’ve already addressed the absurdity of the belief that atheism implies that morality doesn’t exist. This could only be the case if human nature was a blank slate, but it’s not. The fact is that evolution has armed us with a moral code with the (unconscious, non-designed) aim of genetic perpetuation. We know instinctively that it is wrong to kill people in our in-group and that it is good to help others in our in-group, not because God exists, but because our brain has been hardwired that way by evolution. All societies recognize these principles because all societies are composed of human beings, therefore they have the same general nature.
Going beyond that, we are also intelligent enough to establish more explicit and refined universal ethical principles. But the Christian can, perhaps understandably, ask whether there are ethical principles that exist apart from human beings. Doesn’t the fact that human beings come up with these principles make them as subjective as God’s will?
But this is to misunderstand the difference between objectivity and subjectivity. Obviously all knowledge comes from man’s mind, but not all knowledge is subjective. My knowledge of, say, the law of gravity pertains to an actual unchangeable fact, the fact that objects attract each other proportionally to their mass and inversely to the square of their distance. This is measurable and verifiable by others, regardless of what they believe. But suppose I daydream and imagine a giant slide, on which, while sliding, one may see anyone currently living that one wishes. I may accumulate any amount of imaginary and coherent facts about this giant slide, but it will forever remain subjective, as no one else can observe it for themselves.
Because I believe in a material universe governed by unchanging laws, I can make any number of objective statements. I have no anxiety over the accuracy of inductive or deductive methods, because I have no reason to have such anxiety. I do not turn over in bed worried that the Earth might stop in its orbit, because unlike the lunatic Christians who believe Joshua 10, I do not hold to any belief that some force outside of the universe might brandish its magic wand and magically stop the Earth. Of course Christians also believe that the Earth will not stop in its orbit, but they are wrong in believing so.
It is precisely the non-existence of God that makes ethics even possible in the first place. Otherwise all we have, and all we had when organized religion was dominant, is a might-makes-right non-ethics, where the one who wins the wars or converts the most people makes the rules, with God assumed to be at the top of the pyramid because of its infinite potential to kill and damn, and lesser kings and priests down from there.
The end product of ethics should be a society that puts into action all the greatest values of human beings, and this is not what we have today, or have ever had. For the human species to survive and for all that is good about humans to persist and flourish, we need to think carefully about the values we wish to pursue with our actions and our institutions, and religious belief is the exact opposite of this. Religious belief teaches children (and the resulting “adults” who grow up thinking and acting like children) that they cannot decide for themselves, that they are innately evil, and that they must bow down to higher authorities. This part of human evolution, that is to say organized religion and religious “education,” has always led, and will continue to lead, to slaughter unless we utterly smash it and convert or destroy all its proponents.