The Moral Argument: Are Objective Moral Truths Just Brute Facts?
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The Moral Argument: Are Objective Moral Truths Just Brute Facts?

The Brute Fact response is the last refuge of the atheist or agnostic who seeks, without God, to affirm the existence of objective moral truths. What is meant by brute fact? A brute fact is a fact that “is obtained or explained by itself rather than through other facts and that has a fundamental or underlying role in explaining other facts.”[1] Douglas Groothuis describes how a brute fact explanation of objective moral truths may be employed, writing,[2]

A second attempt to reject God as the basis of morality is to view objective moral values as brute facts in a godless universe. There are objective moral values, but they are not related to God because there is no God…This atheist argues that some things are morally despicable (rape) and other things are morally admirable (love). These are moral facts that cannot be reduced to contingent evaluations of individuals or societies. Thus, they are not reducible to any material properties, such as those addressed in biology.

Dr. Groothuis, in a thorough critique, finds six problems with this explanation for the existence of objective moral truths:[3]

  1. It is hard to explain what these moral truths are if they exist but are not material in a universe which otherwise is entirely physical. Are they spiritual in some way? If so, has not the atheist essentially conceded the existence of some god?
  2. Moral truths are statements of facts. But, how can statements of facts exist in the universe without there having been a mind to originate those moral statements?
  3. It is unreasonable to believe that the universe evolved randomly and yet, humans evolved the kinds of minds that allow them to apprehend these brute facts. This casts doubt on the idea that we are in fact intuiting facts when we search out moral truths of our reality;
  4. Evaluations of moral truth—what is just, good, right? etc.—must be made by minds. But, on this view, these universal assessments exist as laws in the universe without having originated from any Personal Evaluator or God. How can we accept this in the case of morals when we don't observe it or accept it in the case of any other kind of evaluation?
  5. Who does the binding in the case that moral truths are brute facts? Without a personal God, these facts seem to exist without any authority behind them. But, the atheist who holds this view would argue that these brute facts do have authority over us. How can this be?
  6. Even if these laws exist as brute facts of reality, they still fall short of assigning to man a higher value than animals. Consequently, this theory has a fatal deficiency—it treats humans as beings of higher value than animals and of equal value to one another concerning morals while also affirming that man is not any higher than any other evolved animal. Groothuis further notes, "when secular moral systems cling to this notion of equality, they illicitly depend on stolen capital from Christian theism."[4]

In consideration of these problems, it seems completely reasonable to reject the brute fact argument as an explanation for the existence of objective moral truths.

[1] Bunnin, Nicholas, and Jiyuan Yu. The Blackwell dictionary of Western philosophy. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. Print, p. 91.

[2] Groothuis, Douglas R. Christian apologetics: a comprehensive case for biblical faith. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011. Print, p. 357.

[3] Ibid., p.357.

[4] Ibid., p.357.

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