Metaethics Videos

Debate: What Is the Best Account of Objective Morality?

In September 2020, Adam Lloyd Johnson debated Dr. Erik Wielenberg, an atheist philosopher and Professor of Philosophy at DePauw University. They discussed the foundations of morality and whether or not God is necessary to explain the existence of objective moral values and duties.

Divine Love Theory

In this presentation to the Ratio Christi chapter at Rutgers University, Adam explains "Divine Love Theory," which is a theory of morality that holds that God's existence as a Trinity, His triune nature, is the foundation of all morality. Specifically, the loving relationships between the members of the Trinity are the basis for all moral values and duties for human beings since humans are called to imitate that love and reflect it to others. As Jesus explained in Matthew 22:37-40, love of God and love of neighbor are the foundations of all morality, and this love flows from the loving relationships within the Trinity, which is why Adam proposes that God's triune nature is the best explanation for the existence of morality.

Does the Problem of Evil Prove There Is No God?

The problem of evil is something we probably all struggle with at one time in our lives. If there really is a good God out there, then why is there so much pain and suffering in this world? There are two ways to look at the problem of evil: the logical version and the probability (or evidential) version. The logical version argues that if God is all powerful and all good, then evil wouldn’t exist because God can and would want to eliminate it. Thus, since evil does exist, it is impossible for God to exist. In response, Alvin Plantinga has proposed the free-will defense, which says that God allowed human beings to have free will, and no matter how God could have created us, there would always be a way we would choose to do evil. This is known as “transworld depravity,” and it sufficiently responds to the logical problem of evil. But since all this evil exists anyway, isn’t it the case that God probably doesn’t exist? This is called the probability version of the problem of evil. Christians have offered various explanations, called “theodicies,” of why God would allow evil. Examples of these include the Greater Good theodicy or Adam’s own Divine Love theodicy, which says that God allowed evil because he wanted to create beings who could love like He does, but love requires free will. In order to allow His creatures to truly love Him and love each other, they had to have the free will to do so. God can’t force us to love, because then it’s not truly love.

The Moral Argument for God’s Existence

The moral argument for God’s existence says that God exists because He is the best explanation for the fact that there are objective moral truths. Unlike the first-cause and design arguments, the moral argument is not based primarily on scientific evidence. Rather, it is based on the premise that objective morality is self-evident – we intuitively know that some things are right and others are wrong. Objective morality means that there are moral truths that exist beyond anybody’s own individual preferences, beliefs, or opinions. So, if morality is objectively real, what’s the best explanation for it? Where does it come from? Morality seems to be of a personal nature, and so it would make sense that morality comes from a personal source, but some atheist philosophers like Erik Wielenberg now argue that even though morality is objective, it doesn’t need a personal source. However, Adam believes that the description of God as a trinity in loving relationships provides the best explanation for the existence of objective morality.

What Makes Something Morally Good or Bad?

Everyone seems to have an idea of right and wrong. We know that being loving and forgiving are good things to do. We know that it is wrong to murder or to rape. We all know about the existence of moral rules, such as "Thou shalt not steal" and "Love your neighbor as yourself." In philosophy, the study of these moral rules, of right and wrong, good and bad, is called ethics. So, what makes something good or bad? We might know what things are good and bad, but why is something good or bad? Who's to say that loving someone is good but hating them is bad? Where do right and wrong come from? In philosophy, this area of study is known as "metaethics," and in this series, Adam explores both theistic and atheistic theories of what makes something morally good or bad. Is God the foundation of morality, or is God not needed to explain the source of moral values and duties? What does it even mean to say that God is the "foundation" of morality?

Why Johnson’s Trinitarian Moral Theory is a Better Explanation Than Wielenberg’s

Adam believes that his Trinitarian Moral Theory is a better explanation for the existence of objective morality than Erik Wielenberg’s theory of Godless Normative Realism. Why does Adam think his theory is better? The Trinitarian Moral Theory contains five elements that are important for moral truth to be objectively real that Wielenberg’s theory lacks. First, the Trinitarian Moral Theory posits the existence of an ultimate moral standard, God, to which humans can be compared. Second, it offers an objective purpose for human beings that contextualizes morality. Third, it provides a social context for moral obligation, since moral obligations arise out of social relationships. Fourth, it recognizes a personal authority at the head of the chain of moral obligation to whom human beings are obligated. Finally, it grounds all moral truth in an ultimate foundation. Taken together, these features of the Trinitarian Moral Theory make it a more plausible explanation for objective morality than Wielenberg’s theory.

Adam Lloyd Johnson’s Trinitarian Moral Theory

Adam has proposed his own metaethical theory, a theory about where morality comes from, which builds on the foundation of Divine Command Theory. He calls it the “Trinitarian Moral Theory” because it holds that morality is based on the loving relationships within God between the members of the Trinity. God is love, and His love is the source of moral values and duties. Adam believes that his Trinitarian Moral Theory, which is uniquely Christian, is the best explanation for the existence of objective morality. He thinks that the Trinitarian Moral Theory is true for several reasons. First of all, his theory centers on the Trinity, which is a key aspect of who God is. In addition, focusing on the loving relationships of the Trinity explains why the meaning of life is personal loving relationships, it explains how we can be morally good by resembling God, it explains the purpose of God’s commands, and it explains why there are different types of commands from God.

Natural Law vs. Divine Command Theory

The two predominant positions within Christianity that answer the question of "Where does objective morality come from?" are known as Natural Law Theory and Divine Command Theory. Both theories have strengths and weaknesses, which leads to robust debate between proponents of each. Natural Law Theory says that both human moral values (i.e., what things are good and bad) and moral obligations (i.e., what things are right and wrong to do) come from facts about what causes human beings to flourish. In Natural Law Theory, God created the world, including human beings, and thus something is good or right when it causes human beings to flourish. On the other hand, Divine Command Theory says that our moral obligations come from God’s commands. Right and wrong are determined by what God commands us to do, and God commands us according to what is good. In this lecture, Adam explores each of these theories and discusses objections against each offered by proponents of the other.

Erik Wielenberg’s Theory

Erik Wielenberg has proposed an atheistic theory of where morality comes from. He claims that God is not necessary in order to have objective morality by which humans are required to live. Wielenberg's theory has three main components: First, it is not a materialistic theory, meaning that it does not assume that the physical world is all there is. Second, Wielenberg's theory proposes the existence of "brute ethical facts" that exist outside of nature which ground moral values and obligations. Third, Wielenberg says that these facts become applicable to human beings by something he calls the "making relationship," whereby facts about circumstances in the world cause moral facts to become applicable to certain situations (to be instantiated). This lecture explains the main concepts of Wielenberg's theory and also examines some objections to his theory.

Introduction to Metaethics

Metaethics is the study of what makes something good or bad. It is not the study of what is good or bad, but why there are such things as moral good and moral bad. What is morality? Where did it come from? There are many theories of what morality is; some think morality is subjective and depends on individual people, cultures, and circumstances. Others believe that morality is objective, that it is independent of human beings. Most theists think that morality comes from God, but many atheists claim that God is not necessary for morality. Non-naturalists, for example, believe that morality can exist objectively without God. Thinkers throughout Western history have defended many positions, both subjective and objective as well as theistic and atheist ones. Listen in as Adam gives an overview of the different metaethical theories.