While debating an atheist about objective moral values they presented this argument.

If God exists then human moral standards are based in God’s personal preferences (what he would rather we do than not do and vice versa) and thus based in the personal preferences of a single individual. This makes them subjective.

If a moral standard that we live by is not binding on God (he is permitted to do the thing that we are not or vice versa) or if God has commanded or permitted people to do it in the past then it is not absolute. So to finish, theists who are making the argument (that there are objective moral values), please can you supply an example of a moral requirement that can be demonstrated to be an objective moral absolute?

I have not heard this argument before so any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

– Brandon


Brandon,

We appreciate your desire to give an answer (1 Peter 3:15). This atheist’s argument seems formidable until we remember the basis for our worldview—the Bible.1 When we read God’s revelation of Himself in the Bible, we realize the atheist has committed the straw-man logical fallacy. He has misrepresented God—suggesting God is like man in that His moral standards are merely personal, subjective preferences—and then refuted that false idea of God.

You must expose his fallacy, showing him the true God who reveals Himself in the Bible. Share the following biblical principles that display how God’s moral standard is objective and absolute. When he faces up to God, he will have no argument. Who can contend with the Almighty (Job 40:2)?

God created us, so He has the right to hold us to His moral standard.

From its first verse, the Bible asserts, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Because God created us and made us in His image, we belong to Him and are obligated to live according to His standard or face His judgment.

If a fellow human were to arbitrarily decide what morality involves and impose his standard on us, we could say his morality is subjective, according to his personal preferences and beliefs. But because God created us, He has authority over us and has the right to hold us to His standard. We inherently know this ultimate standard of right and wrong because God has written His law on our hearts (Romans 2:15).

God’s moral standard flows from His unchanging nature, so His standard is absolute.

The atheist argued that God’s moral standards are merely personal preferences that have changed. For example, he may bring up Old Testament passages where God commanded the Israelites to slaughter the Canaanites, even the women and children. He may wrongly think God was a bloodthirsty Hitler in the Old Testament only to change in the New Testament to a cheery Santa who winks at sin.2

You may briefly explain why these common charges do not prove that God has changed.3 Although God’s rules to man may change because His truth is progressively revealed (e.g., God’s laws to the Israelites about animal sacrifices do not apply today because God sent His Son as the fulfillment of those sacrifices), God’s character and moral standards do not change. The atheist confuses God’s rules to man at various stages of the past to His moral character. This is apples to oranges.

For example of God’s unchanging moral character, show His consistent response to sin. God is just and does judge sin. We all deserve to die for sin, including the Canaanites wiped out by Israel, who, according to Genesis 15:13–16, were given roughly 400 years to repent of their wickedness but did not (Ecclesiastes 12:14; Romans 6:23; Hebrews 9:27). God has always perfectly balanced His justice and mercy—reserving His wrath for unrepentant, unbelieving sinners, and showing mercy to sinners who turn to Him in faith (Romans 4).

God Himself testified, “For I am the Lord, I do not change” (Malachi 3:6). He didn’t ever think up a moral standard to decide right from wrong. Rather, His moral standard flows from His perfectly pure and holy nature. Since His nature is unchanging, His standard is absolute.

God cannot sin, so His standard is objective.

The atheist argued that God’s standards are not binding on God Himself. But remember that God’s moral standard flows from His unchanging nature. Because God’s nature is perfect and holy, He cannot sin, so His standard is objective. It is impossible for God to contradict Himself or act inconsistently with His own nature (2 Timothy 2:13).

The atheist requested an example of an objective moral absolute. Here’s one: God’s moral standard prohibits lying, a standard flowing from His nature that cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18).

Instead of ending the conversation at the Bible’s revelation of God, consider introducing the Bible’s revelation of man—as a sinner. Ask, “Have you fallen short of God’s absolute, objective moral standard?” (Romans 3:23). Show him the judgment that sin brings (2 Thessalonians 1:8–9). Then share how God poured out His justice on His Son at the Cross and gives grace to those who turn in repentant faith to the Lord Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 2:8–9).

May the Lord give you wisdom, Brandon, to earnestly contend for the faith (Jude 3).

His,

Darius and Karin Viet

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Footnotes

  1. In fact, if the Bible were not true, there would be no basis for any morality, even that which the atheist you were debating may think exists. All correct morality is predicated on the Bible being true. Please see Evolution and the Challenge of Morality. Back
  2. Keep in mind that Hitler was an evolutionist who, like the atheist, believed that morality was not absolute. Please see The Results of Evolution. Back
  3. Please see Contradictions: Slaughter at Jericho. Back