Professor Garret Merriam argues that if God exists, then we can’t be moral. In other words, we can only be moral if morality is not grounded in God’s existence. This is a reversal of the moral argument for God’s existence. It’s a moral argument against God’s existence.
Like many new atheists, Merriam argues that the Christian God commands and commits evil, so if morality is rooted in God and our moral duties are based on God’s commands, morality is impossible. I don’t accept the premise that God commands or commits evil, but let’s grant it for the sake of argument. Does his conclusion follow? No.
If moral truths and duties are grounded in an evil god, how could one ever judge those truths/commands to be evil? To do so would require that one appeal to moral truths that are grounded in something or someone other than God, and that differ from the moral truths grounded in God’s nature. But a few things follow from this. First, to make this move is to repudiate the very view Merriam is critiquing. He is critiquing the view that God grounds morality. If there is another source of morality that stands above God, then it’s not true that God grounds morality. Morality is grounded in the other non-God source. This would be the ultimate bait-and-switch.
Secondly, if there is more than one source of moral truth, and the non-God source is truly good, then it’s false to say humans could not be moral if God exists. To be moral all we would need to do is follow the moral truths of the non-God source and ignore God’s moral claims.
Thirdly, if there are two sources for morality and the moral truths/commands of each source conflict at points, how does one decide which one is truly moral? If God commands genocide but the other source of moral truth condemns it, why would one assume that God’s command is immoral and the contrary moral command is good? What is the criterion for deciding which source of morality is truly morally good?
As I noted earlier, to judge God’s character, acts, and commands as evil one must appeal to a moral standard that exists beyond God. Where does this standard of morality that stands above God as His judge come from? There are only two options: human minds, some transcendent source.
If the moral standard is one that originates with human beings, then it is mere opinion, preference, or convention. It is an invention of the human mind. How can a subjective, human invention be used as an objective basis for judging God’s behavior and commands? That’s like saying, “God is evil because I don’t like carrots.” Why should anyone care what your preferences are, yet alone God?
In order for Merriam’s moral standard to be objective and binding, it must have a source that transcends human minds. That source cannot be God according to the professor, so what is it? Morals don’t just hang in mid-air.
Merriam does not identity his source of moral truths in his presentation, but he does seem to be a moral realist (moral truths are real, not just human conventions). But it’s one thing to believe in moral truths and a wholly other thing to ground those moral truths. Unless Merriam can ground the morals he uses to judge God by in some source that transcends humans, he has no right to use those morals to evaluate God’s morality and judge Him as evil. Well, at least he has no right to expect anyone else to take his criticism seriously.