It seems, listening to debates between theist (primarily Christians) and non-theist, one issue arises over and over again and that is the question of morality. Whether the debate is about the existence of God or about morality proper (can one be good without God), morality comes up over and over.
With regard to the debates about the existence of God the argument seems to be that without God there can be no objective (read, I believe, universally obligatory dictates of behavior) morality. God is the source and, more importantly, the “ground” of what is “good” and therefore of the dictates of “good” behavior and “not-good” behavior. They then either argue that there is a necessity to have dictates of “good” behavior or that our “sense” of an objective morality prove the existence of God, God being the only guarantee of or explanation for such objective morality. Otherwise on the one hand, there would be an outbreak of “not-good” behavior which everyone agrees would not be pleasant. If not a descent into immorality there would at least be confusion about what to do in specific situations because we are concerned about what we “must” do, that is we are concerned about “good” and “not-good” or “right” and “not right”. Thus there must be a God. On the other hand, the argument might run that there is a sense of “good” and “not-good” even if we don’t know what is “good” and “not-good” or that we do seem to have some sort of universally accepted idea of what is practically “good” and “not-good” thus there must be a God for this sense or practical knowledge to exist.
However, if God does not exist and therefore is not the source or “ground” of what is “good” then the only approach left to us is a non-theistic, non- “divine command” approach. It doesn’t matter whether such an approach is desirable or undesirable, it is all that is left. Just because we think we “need” objective, universally obligatory dictates to behavior does not justify manufacturing a source and “ground”. This is akin to the “usefulness” of religion argument. Whether it’s true or not true is secondary to it’s usefulness. If it is useful then why not acknowledge that it might be true and indeed it’s usefulness may be an argument that it is probably true. This is of course ridiculous. What is true is our primary concern regarding the existence of God. Whether we like where that leaves us morally in the even God does not exist is beside the point, that is our reality.
In addition to the above argument often then there is thrown in the critique of “naturalistic” morality that you cannot get an “ought” from and “is”. This is given credence by quoting the epitome of empiricism and naturalist philosophy, Hume. Other philosophers have followed suit, like G.E. Moore to argue that Hume is right. So, it would seem that non-theist are left with no method or path to universally obligatory dictates of behavior. This is used to strike fear into the hearts of any insipient non-theist or to argue that non-theist are really theist when it comes to “morality”. You can’t throw away your cake and have it too was it were.
It seems to me that this argument has a number of issues in terms of hidden assumptions. First there is the assumption that there must be Objective dictates, meaning they arise outside of and apart from the minds and consciousness of human beings. It is assumed that if it does not arises outside of human beings it must be individualistically relative, that is that it cannot be universal (similarly held ideas or dictates). It is also assumed that there must be “obligation” and obligation cannot exist unless the dictates arise from some source to which one is obligated presumable external to oneself and to humankind in general. So the assumption is that you must have an “ought” which is imposed from outside, not arising from human beings or human society or human development and you must have a source which is unchanging so that the dictates do not change. Only then can you have “morality”.
Lying deeper is the assumption that human beings are incapable of determining what to do in these special “moral” situations and that there is some special category of “moral” behavior which is more than practical. Apparently you cannot have principles unless they are not practical and unless they never change and never admit to exceptions. Much ink has been spilled by Christian apologist to deal with exceptions which are clear but which are unpalatable, to show they are really not exceptions. A classic example is the “hiding-Jews-in-your-basement-when-the-Nazis-coming-knocking” problem. The argument regarding Objective Morality falls apart if even one of these assumptions proves false.
Another issue is the question of “good”. What exactly is “good”? They argue there must be an Objective (coming from outside human beings) definition of “good” or “not-good” otherwise there can be no definition of “good and “not-good”. They then argue that God is the very definition of “good” and “not-good”, that God is the “ground” of “good” and “not-good”. So that the very nature of God is “good”. However unless you allow for there to be a sort of ideal outside of God by which God is judged then you simply move the relativism from human consciousness to God. “Good” and “not-good” become relative as they are determined by divine fiat based on divine nature. In this sense what is “good” is “good” simply because God says so. Just because it is a reflection of the “divine” nature does not make it any less a fiat. Is it not possible that what we accept generally and mostly universally as “good” actually arises from human consciousness from which the “goodness” of God has been created. So, the aseity of God becomes an issue but cannot be given up. Otherwise “good” becomes god and God is no longer supreme. Obligation is simply based on God being more powerful than we are and perhaps having created us.
That there is a special category of behavior called “moral” seems to beg the argument and essential come from the assumptions of religion and of Christianity in particular. They then define this special category as by necessity requiring obligation and universality of a non-relative sort. This obligation must be “objective” and the universalism must also be “objective”, the only alternatives are said to be no obligation and total individual relativity. They also insist on a category of behavior called “good” and “not-good” which like morality is a special category or behavior which does not arise out of human nature or consciousness and is not perceivable by that consciousness. It must be revelatory or infused.
The latter is the explanation of the “Presuppositionalist”. Any universal consciousness of “good” does not arise from human nature or consciousness but rather was infused by God and continues to be witnessed to by God in creation and revelation. In fact they go further and claim that while one might expect mankind to descend into utter wickedness (as they define it) they do not because God prevents them from being as bad as they could and “ought” to be by his “Common Grace”. So, the world outside the box is explained by arguments in the box so that the world within the box continues to “sync” with the world outside the box.
Another issue is the assumption of Free Will but that is another argument.
Suppose this is all just a self-created problem which then, from their view, admits only to their answer. Suppose there is no special category called moral behavior there is just behavior. Suppose it is possible to have universally held ideas of behavior which arise out of human nature and consciousness. Suppose then that people are naturally inclined to behave that way. While there are exceptions generally people do.
Suppose further there is no need for a category of “good” and “not-good” in a moral sense. Suppose that there need be no other obligation other than common social and cultural obligation or obligation to “humanity” as a whole. Why would it not be sufficient to determine behavior by what promotes well-being for example unless they impose restrictions like those imposed above by hidden assumptions. Is this not similar to the issue of uncertainty and unknowing but in the realm of behavior and not cosmology or ontology? Being fearful of that which one cannot know and of what is inevitably uncertain there is an insistence there be knowledge and certainty in areas where there is and can be none. In this case, a wrong answer is better than no answer.
Perhaps there is no need to go from Is to Ought. Perhaps is, is enough. Most likely “is” is what we have.