The Instigator
Con (against)
4 Points
The Contender
Pro (for)
0 Points

Is God required for an account of moral ontology?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 4/21/2015 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 588 times Debate No: 73937
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (3)
Votes (1)




Moral ontology is the branch of meta-ethics that deals with the origin or existence of morality. Morality is often cited as proof that God exists, but this claim is usually not that atheists cannot decide right from wrong, but that without God, we have no foundation for morality.

In other words, for morality to exist, it must be grounded on something, namely God. This is not a debate about moral epistemology, moral semantics, or normative ethics. It is about whether or not we can establish a moral ontology without God, which I believe we can.

Comment if you want to accept so we don't have to waste a round on formalities. I'll present my argument, then we can do a round of responses, then a round of responses + conclusions. (We don't have to follow this strictly, but I think it's a reasonable guideline.)

I'm using standard definitions of "God," "moral," and "ontology." Just google them and it's whatever the first result displays.


I accept your argument.
Debate Round No. 1


(I'm new to this site and didn't realize that what I originally typed counted as the first round. I wish we had more rounds, but nothing to be done about it now.)

Is God required for an account of moral ontology? I think not. I would posit that evolution gives us an account of morality, and that it is from evolution that we derive the very concept of morality. Arguments for God-based moral ontology typically center around the fact that without God, so-called objective morality could not exist. The reason cited for this is usually that if morality is just a product of evolution, all we're REALLY talking about is socially beneficial versus socially harmful behaviors (i.e. "Hitler didn't really do anything WRONG, he just did something socially unacceptable).

But I believe that argument begs the question. Here's what I mean: if it's true that morality is just a product of evolution - in other words, not founded on God's command - then what we call morality is PRECISELY those actions that we have evolved to see as socially beneficial or socially harmful. In other words, that's what morality is, if the concept is it all meaningful, which it clearly is. So to say, "No, that would not give an account of morality but only of social behavior" would be to presuppose that morality and social behavior are not the same thing - but there's no reason to grant that assumption. After all, all of our behavior seems to have evolutionary origin, as we are undoubtedly evolved primates. This ALONE, of course, would not necessitate that morality is also an evolutionary byproduct, but it gives us a good reason to think that it probably is.

A less strict objection might be: "Okay, but when we see someone e.g. torturing a baby, it seems like there's something wrong with that which goes beyond social behavior." But if our sense of morality is based on hundreds of thousands of years of evolutionary progress, then they would be as ingrained in us as most physical traits are. Of course that does not mean people cannot defy them, as they often do, but we see those deviancies as just that - deviant behavior - because we have an ingrained standard against which to measure the deviant behavior. (This is especially true when it comes to children: we are DNA-replicating machines, and the protection of our genetic information into the next generation is a huge evolutionary priority for us.)

The other objection is about the objective nature of morality. That is, even if we grant my previous argument, morality might be accounted for but still only apply to human beings, thus it would not be 'objective' in the metaphysical sense. But it's not clear that we could extrapolate an objective (that is, human-independent) morality even with God, unless we assume that human beings are the only life forms in the universe. If we DO operate under that assumption, then 'objective,' as it relates to morality, can only be human-dependent (because it would have nothing else to apply to), and the objection would no longer apply; and if we don't operate under that assumption, then we would be forced to apply codes of ethics that seem to only apply to human beings to any and all lifeforms in the universe. Stealing, for instance, is only wrong because we live on a planet with scarce resources and we have concepts of ownership. Monkeys, snakes, and bacteria have no concept of possession and therefore to apply an ethical code about stealing to them would obviously be absurd.

My goal is not to give an evolutionary account for every moral action (keep in mind, this is not about normative ethics or epistemology). Rather, it is to show that God is not required for an account of moral ontology. I believe that the objections to a moral ontology that is not God-dependent fall short; without them, we have no reason to doubt an evolutionary account of moral ontology. (I'm not asserting as a strict truth that evolution logically entails morality, just that it is a viable alternative.)

Finally, I think in order to establish a moral ontology that is grounded in the concept of God, pro must address Euthyphro's dilemma. That is: are right actions right because God orders them, or does God order them because they are right? If it is the former, then it seems God's commandments are arbitrary. Whereas pro might object to my argument by saying "What you call 'right' is just social behavior," I would reply to an ontology based on God that what pro means by 'right' is just what God has decided to command. In other words, murder would not be wrong because there's JUST something wrong about killing a fellow human being; rather, it's wrong because God said so, which does not bypass the arbitrary objection. If it is the latter - that is, God commands right actions because they are right, then it is clear that morality exists independent of God, which would mean that God is NOT required for a moral ontology but rather is himself subject to it.

Well that's it from me, I suppose. I'll wait for pro's argument (and thanks for taking the time to accept my debate - I hope it's fun for both of us).


mwesigwa1 forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2


Vote con?


mwesigwa1 forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
3 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Posted by fullofhopkins 3 years ago
No worries.
Posted by mwesigwa1 3 years ago
I tried to post but it expired before I could. I'm sorry.
Posted by joetheripper117 3 years ago
It would be difficult for Con to lose this debate, but I am interested to see if they will bring up empathy based morality or society based morality.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by joetheripper117 3 years ago
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Total points awarded:40 
Reasons for voting decision: I give Con conduct because they posted on all possible rounds. I also give Con arguments because Con is the only one in this debate that makes an argument at all.