Moral foundations - Objective, Subjective & etc: The forever topic


A religion that banned other religions would be appealing to the same higher court. That’s the problem.

Another possibility is that our subjective sense of morality is what God bases that reality on so that we have the same access to morality that God does. God is trying to help us be better human beings based on the very things that make us human.

I would say that the lower court of appeals, which would be us, works just fine. :wink:


It still makes us ask how we know that we have discovered these morals in an objective manner. At least with different equations you can show that they objectively work in the real world. If you take two apples and add two more apples you can count four apples. I don’t see how morality can be objectively tested in the same manner.

One could argue that certain cultures have discovered democracy and secular governments, but it really does come down to a preference. Western cultures prefer these types of democracies, and it is supported by the consensus of the people who are governed by these institutions.


I fully agree. I think part of the problem is that some people have knotted themselves up in the Moral Argument for God, so they need morality to be objective. Their view is a bit more top-down because they started with a conclusion and then tried to work out the argument from end to beginning. Like I said before, I don’t see subjective morality as a mark against theism, and I sense that there are Christians who don’t see subjective morality as a problem for their faith either.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #64

You are right. God did guide evolution and God made symbiosis the foundation of evolutionary change AND morality, as E. O. Wilson has indicated. The wolf pack because it kills is not immoral, any more than humans who kill for food. We know that humans also kill for sport, which is immoral from some points of view.

Your terminology is poor. Morality is not based on the subjective, but the spiritual. Good morality is when the rational or objective and the spiritual come together. That which is good is that which benefits the individual and the group, the part and the whole, the one and the many. Symbiosis or living together in dynamic harmony is good.


Well, the objective existence of something is different from objective proof of its existence, that even goes to math, a mathematical conjecture can be objectively true even if we haven’t found its mathematical proof yet (or maybe never). Like we were discussing in the previous topic, it is possible to reach conclusions about morality given some axioms, some of these could be the fact that other people also have minds, an fact which is objectively true (unless you are into solipsism) and which we aprehend by using our mental faculties (theory of mind) like we use them to discover mathematical truths, or the notion that everyone deserve the same rights (you could summarize that in something like “everyone is equal before the eyes of God” for religious people). Besides that, I think it is fair to say that mankind has gone through moral progress, and progress mean going in direction of something better. What would that “better something” be if not if the best possible set of morals (which we could them call objectively better)?

(Mervin Bitikofer) #66

A hypothetical one. If I ever encounter a religion that bans all other religions, I’ll be sure to pass along our mutual concern to them.

The trouble with this is we can’t be talking about the classic Christian conception of God if there is a more fundamental reality that both we and God are beholden to. It could be some other conception of a god, though. I’ll grant that.

The jury is still out on this, unfortunately.


I was thinking more of their social order. Only the alpha pair are allowed to have pups, and there is a strict hierarchy that is enforced through violence and sometimes even death.

Then you should be able to demonstrate what that objective morality is independent of the subjective needs and wants of humans. Also, spirituality is a very personal thing so it is very subjective. It isn’t objective.


The current persecution of Christians in Muslim countries is one example.

For the purposes of this thread, I would point out that the classic conception of God is subjective.


Then I would like to see the same objective argument for objective morality that we have for mathematics.

We also expect that mathematics exists independently of the human mind, but I don’t see how we can say the same for morality. As you say, our views of morality start with our own subjective views on morality, what our minds see as moral. We don’t say that 2+2=4 because of the human mind. We can demonstrate that reality works through mathematics, it is the language of physics. The best morality is the morality that hues closest to our subjective views on morality.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #70

Persecution happens for all sorts of [nefarious] reasons. Jumping from the fact that persecution happens to: “therefore the persecutor represents a religion that does not tolerate the existence of any other religion” is an unwarranted leap. I don’t doubt that proselytes from any major religion can always be found who are happy to claim that no other religions should be tolerated. But once again, jumping from claims of a few militant “faithful” to the conclusion that therefore “the religion they represent teaches this …” is not always warranted.

Yep. None of us can escape that one. Our a-priori commitment that we are appealing [always subjectively] to something that is ultimately objective is a 100% faith commitment. But we all do it every time we show up places like this to dicker and argue over this or that. It looks as if we believe that there is something worth arguing over that we really [even if subjectively] take to be objectively true – that remains true whether or not our interlocutor [or even the entire culture!] accepts it.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #71

Humans have objective needs, including those that are physical, mental, and spiritual.

Spirituality is personal, but not any more subjective than anything else. It is objective as well.


What humans want and need are subjective, by definition.

How is it objective?

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #73

Wolves and humans and most organisms objectively need a social order to survive. That is objective. Some social orders are more effective than others, so it is a matter of degree, not good or evil, right or wrong.

What humans and all organisms need is symbiosis, which is an objective scientific concept, so what we want and need is not purely subjective. Subjective and objective are not opposites or exclusive. They need to be complementary, just like all of life.


David was a man after God’s own heart, yet he committed (arranged for) murder and committed adultery.

Just because a “good person” did something in the Bible doesn’t make it right.

I kind of break it down to 3 categories. There is good, acceptable, and bad. All things from God are good. Some things God allows and is acceptable, and things opposing God are bad.

Giving to the poor in love is good, have a spouse for life is good.
Having a slave is acceptable. Getting divorced for a infidelity is acceptable.
Torturing or mistreating another human is bad. Sleeping with multiple women is bad.

Acceptable things are not good, but in the fallen world we live in, is acceptable within constraints. There is clear constraints to treat a slave fairly and release them on the 7th year ect. There are constraints that allow divorce in cases of infidelity.

There are things God doens’t like/prefer, but He allows.

I agree

I am not sure I subscribe to this. If one is to lie to save a life, one is not trusting in God, but one’s self. In the man tied up story above. One could not say anything and give their live for the hidden family. Or could tell where the hidden family is at trusting in God to provide a way out.

Not to be on a high horse, I am not saying it is easy, or what I would do. But lying is lying. Thanks be to God we don’t have to follow rules to earn salvation. He allows us to be weak and fail, and lie (to preserve what we value, like family) as opposed to trusting in Him.

Abraham didn’t lie to preserve his one and only son. He followed the Lord in obedience, and God provided a way out.

Maybe you do tell the truth, and the robber kills your family and lets you live. It would be hard, but you can’t be mad at God for not stepping in, He gave them to you, He blessed you with that family. what of those with no family? Are you better than them, deserve it more than them? Anything you have is from Him, and He can surely take it back, and He is still good. Job 1:21

Do you want to be God, are you in control? Or is He? Do you want to eat that fruit though you know you are not supposed to? God said don’t lie, just a nibble of that fruit is all Adam had to take. Will you trust Him? Is He your all? I want Him to be, despite my daily failures. In my heart I want Him to rule.

Rom 7:15
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

Rom 7:24-25
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Not many people go from praising God’s name one day to murdering 100 people the next. It’s a slow fade, slow compromises. It’s just a lie to save a life (maybe that is acceptable? Certainly not good). What about the atom bomb? It just killing tens of thousands of lives to save millions. Was that moral?

Maybe lying to the guy who tied you up is a merciful thing. You don’t want a murder to be on his conscience, so you are saving him from murdering? A good lie?

It’s absolutely objective, and impossible to follow apart from God, He is holy, we are not. This also shows how loving He is. He knows how flawed we are and how we reject Him and pervert His holy laws and still, He loves us and wants to redeem us so much that He sent His son to live a sinless life that we couldn’t and die for us to atone for every and all “little” sins. Sin is an archery term for missing the mark. If lying is a sin, then lying to save a life is a miss.

All that being said…Is lying a sin? Maybe lying isn’t a sin, and Rahab didn’t sin there.

Bearing a false witness isn’t a cut and dry lie like @Swamidass said . To condemn a fellow man, you needed 2 witnesses I think. If you were to lie, and bear a false witness, that could condemn a man to death. So for many reasons, bearing a false witness was bad. But when you do a magic trick and pull a quarter out of your kids ear, is that tying? You made him believe there was a quarter there…

Or is lying to save a life a bad thing? We are doomed to hell from our other sins long before this scenario would come up probably. Thankfully we are not legalistic like the Jews and don’t really have to answer that. All we are to do, is our best to love God and our neighbors to honor God the best we can. Not to save ourselves, but because we love Him because He first loved us.

The 10 commandments are a measuring device, a spiritual thermometer. If your heart is cold, a law might prevent you from killing someone. If your heart is hot, you love your neighbor and any harm to them is the last thing on your mind. If your heart is cold, the law might prevent you from stealing. If it is warm, you give to others gladly, out of the surplus and blessings God gave you. You only steal if you covet what you don’t have, or you could buy it and not steal it. You think you deserve something that someone else has.

The law also shows us that we can’t do this, and if this is how to be holy, we are doomed. The fact that we need a Savior.

If you want the min objective morality, then yes, I do believe there is a objective moral basis. But it goes so much deeper than that.

I do believe this was one of the points, but I don’t think the commandment is to “not work on the sabbath”, rather to “remember it, and keep it holy”. The purpose of the sabbath was for man, to help us out. We need a day off, we need a day to remember God, we need a day of rest to be at our best physically and spiritually. It was basically meant to say, work on the heavenly kingdom on the sabbath, not your earthly kingdom. If you are working your fields because you don’t trust in God to provide, you think your fields need your effort, that is wrong. But if your donkey falls, you get him up, you help him out. If a man is hurt and you can heal him, do it.

Jesus never violated the 4th commandment.

It does say against your neighbor though. Ironically the very thing they do to Jesus on the sabbath before His death.

Basically the ends don’t justify the means. If don’t something bad, results in something less bad being done, the means by which you did something is being justified by the ends. Jesus lived in the means, and let God be the ends. The means glorify Him and show faith in Him, He got the ends too. If you need to use the ends to justify the means, it is a good indicator, that it is probably immoral. If the means are moral, why are you using the ends to attempt to justify them?

(John Dalton) #75

I guess someone will say this so it may as well be me now. Are you really saying that owning another human being as a slave is morally preferable to having multiple sexual partners?

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #76

As Jesus made clear morality is based on relationships. We are to love God and to love others. It is possible to be in right relationships to some and not to others.

When polygamy was accepted as in the OT it was acceptable, which does not mean that it was right. We see that it invariably caused problems.

I would say that slavery is similar. Slavery is not right, but where was legal, owning a slave does not automatically ■■■■ one to hell. Murder, lying, etc. are clearly evidence of wrong relationships and sin, but they can be overcome by repentance and love.

Christian morality is not based on legalism. It is based on right relationships.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #77

There is much in your long post to respond to … some good, and maybe some not so right; but others are chipping in responses too. I’ll just respond to these couple of things here.

I suggest that this is not at all comparable to Rahab’s situation. Rahab is directly commended for what she did in saving the spies. David is known as a man after God’s own heart, but certainly not because of his adultery. It was most definitely in spite of it (and in spite of other things too where David displeased God). So I don’t think this situation is the clear cut case of comparison you want to make it.

I wouldn’t be so sure that Abraham never lied in that situation. We are not told in scriptures of course, but the silence of his wife Sarah in the account is deafening. Can you imagine how this conversation would have gone down? “I’m headed out for a couple of days, honey, I’ll remember to pick up the things you wanted at the grocery store on the way back. Oh, and by the way I’ll be sacrificing our only son since God told me to do that. See you when I get back.”

Something tells me that nothing like the above conversation ever took place. It would have been more in Abraham’s nature to lie to his wife by neglecting to tell her important things. This is the same guy that was willing to lie to other powerful men about Sarah in order to save his own skin. (Those particular lies were not held up as heroic, though they may have been considered understandable, or common practice for the day; it is interesting that Abraham’s only chastisement comes from his pagan hosts for this, and God’s chastisement falls on them rather than on Abraham - more muddying considerations for any proposed “no lying” absolute.)

[clarifying and correcting edits have happened]


Survival itself is a want and need that the organism experiences, so that is subjective. Right now, scientists are discussing wiping out entire species of mosquitoes that carry diseases like malaria, and we think that is good.

Extinction is also an objective scientific concept. Why we would choose life over extinction is subjective. Ice cream and excrement are objective things, yet preferring one over the other is subjective.


I think we judge both the means and the ends by how they affect other humans. I would fully agree that we can’t focus on just one while ignoring the other. I think we would all agree that feeding the poor is a good thing to do. However, if you raid and pillage another country to do it, then it isn’t justified and isn’t moral.


No no no no.

I was simply giving Biblical examples of things that God allows for a ‘compromise’ of sorts in this fallen world.

Mat 19:8ball:Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.

Slavery was like many things COULD be acceptable, but could also be horrendous. There is and was terrible slavery, that would go in the bad column. So would having a divorce every 5 years because you ‘fell out of love’, or whatever the reason may be.

No I am again not comparing the severity of brutal slavery and divorce, any more than stealing a candy bar form a store and stealing millions from a bank is a theft and against the law. I was simply stating 2 different examples of bad things.

However, if one specifically follows very specific guidelines, some things are acceptable.

Again, this is a fallen world, not God’s ideal world. I don’t want to derail it too far and get into Numbers and the conquest of the promised land ect. I don’t have an answer for everything. But when you conquer a nation in a war, it is very sticky. The ones you conquered didn’t waive the white flag willingly. It is kind of hard to just be neighbors after that… Slavery was a historic solution to that problem.

This is why a king was so highly regarded, respected and feared. You life was pretty much in his hands. If you disrespected him and went to his chamber without being summoned, the sentence was death, unless he extended his scepter to spare you. But this (hopefully) wise and gracious king would also build a great kingdom, that gave you safety from marauders and other nations. You paid a tax to him to keep the walls up and keep the army fed and trained. Basic govt agreement.

This is also why I chose the Kingdom of God. We were designed to, but logically, it is the kingdom that cannot be overthrown and offers great protection and peace and has a loving and merciful and gracious king.

If your king was a hot head, or unwise, or greedy, and tried to make war with another country you would probably die in some war, and wouldn’t want to live there. You could seek to join another kingdom, with a wiser or more powerful king. But war wasn’t really a surprise, it was announced and prepared for. When the battle began, you basically hedge your bets. If you knew your king was going to lose, you could be a traitor (not a bad thing if you were leaving a bad kingdom and probably were going to die anyway), but you might be able to join the other kingdom. Sure not as a citizen at first, but perhaps as a slave or a servant? You sell your life to another man, to save yours or your family. You just hope the slave owner is a just person.

Or if your nation is conquered, you can sometimes become a slave at that point unwillingly. Which still is not the worst thing IF, the slave owner is a just man and there are guidelines to follow. And the alternative was, either die in war, or you could have left your nation. You made your bed, now you have to lie in it. Life isn’t fair. Again, because of this fallen world we live in.

So slavery is not automatically the a horrendous thing (can be merciful) that it can be and often becomes. I am not a biblical scholar, maybe one who knows more about it can chime in. But I recall reading things like Ex 21:2
"If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything.

So slavery was a way to earn freedom, citizenship, and land. It was a lot more like an indentured servant than the brutal slavery we read about. Eph 6:9 And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.

Maybe I should have said slavery COULD be acceptable just like divorce. But it is not always acceptable.

That is why under it (in the bad column), I said mistreating another human is bad. I was attempting to say, “this is bad form of slavery”. I listed 2 good things, 2 acceptable things, and 2 bad things, and all 3 that I chose were relatable as best as I could within the 3 things. and I chose 2 unrelated things to give 3 examples of 2 different things.

But just like slavery is bad as it creates anger and strife and physical harm, multiple divorces cause great strife and emotional harm.

So again, to clarify. No, slavery is not morally preferable to having multiple sex partners.

Slavery can be an acceptable practice at one point in history, if one follows guidelines. But slavery or divorce is not something God ever designed or intended to have happen, but due to our hard hearts, it is sometimes allowed.

Though really we are all slaves to something. Most of us are slaves to debt. We chose the comforts of the things we buy as a master. We can’t leave it without being punished. We have to work to pay it off. I am a slave to God’s will, His design. I feel living (or attempting to) live according to His design gives me freedom/peace. Those who reject God’s authority are still slaves to His design. Just like gravity doesn’t care if you jump off a building if you believe in it or not, you will fall, the truth of what gravity is won’t change. You can fight your design and try with all your might to live other than you were designed to live, try to fill that void (when being separated form God), but only God can fill that. You are a slave to your desires. This void needs to be filled and you are a slave and will attempt to fill it with anything and everything, and nothing will set you free other than the truth. God is the truth, and the light, and the truth will set you free.

The entire reason for “rules” and “morals” is not to hurt us, but to help us. and engine is a slave to it’s design, it operates optimally when the engineer’s specifications are followed. We have the Bible and the Spirit to inform us of our operating specs, and will live the most optimal life when we follow them. But all of these operation specs are impossible to follow alone. We needs God to help us follow them. We need to depend on God, to help us to honor Him. That is how we were designed. Jesus was the Great Mechanic, that was able to live under operation specs 100% with God’s help, and is our High Mechanic that allows us run despite being way out of specs, and even more, runs for us so we don’t need to run. We are all like failed 1.21 gigawatt generators, and Jesus is the 1.21 gigawatt generator (more like a sun or some big bang event of infinite power, but I like back to the future jokes) that provides unlimited power to all who believe. If we believe in the Mechanic, we are still stuck with this slightly restored generator, and still do our best to produce 1 milliwatt if we can, but that is not used to power anything, nor is it relied upon, we do it out of love for our Great Engineer who engineered us to make power.

The power created is the ‘good morals’. It is a result of our inside, that is why the Bible refers to it as fruit. You don’t attempt to grow fruit out of thin air. You could produce a wax apple or wooden apple or some kind of fake apple in a day. But you couldn’t eat it, you wouldn’t get any nutrients from it. The only way to get a nutritious apple, is to plant a tree, and work on the ‘inside’. You allow Spirit to water your tree, and sink your roots in the Word of God, delicious, nutritious fruit will come abundantly!

If you are chasing subjective or objective morals, you missed the message of Jesus entirely. The Pharisees wanted fruit, to show off and and show their ‘glory’. Whitewahsed tombs with filth inside. But a tree with the Spirit and Truth produces an abundance of fruit for the glory of God!

I agree it caused many problems, but I am not sure it was ever acceptable. I don’t recall any scripture that puts any allowable marriage other than one man and one women. It happened, sure, but I don’t think it was ever acceptable.

Commended by God or man? They made a mutually beneficial agreement and stuck to it.

Good point.

I know it is difficult to trust God fully. Even with faith the size of a mustard seed could move a mountain. So I mostly agree that most of the time, we will use the ends to justify the means. I just don’t think that is considered ‘good’.

Where do you draw the line? Is it okay to kill 1 to save 2? What about 1 to save 1 million? Kind of like Hiroshima killed again tens of thousands, but allegedly saved millions. What if it was a quick painful death or a slow painless death?

I forget this myself at times, this is why I need things like my daily bread to keep me refocused on God and the eternal and not the world, but chasing apples is not what Christianity is about.

I am not for pro-life. It is a very complex situation that the government shouldn’t have a say in. But I am very for mandatory education. I don’t think it is good to shame or rub it in. But you should be well aware of the tough decision you are making. What I think is a crime, it telling them it is not yet human. It is very easy to do horrendous things to people when you dehumanize them. An ultra sound should be mandatory. I think way less abortions would happen if that was law.

I know we are told to look after those who can’t themselves, and that is the '(misguided) backbone to the pro-life movement. But then they go to extremes of insulting and hating on others to achieve this ‘wonderful’ goal they set out. God is in control, we need to trust Him, and can debate in love, and try to inform. But legislation (and even less hate) does not fix morality, but God can. We need to (myself included) quite chasing apples, and start focusing on the waters of the Spirit and the soil of God, and fruit will come, and abortion wouldn’t be needed. A little faith could move the mountain of abortion and remove it from this earth.

I don’t know if I could make that blanket statement either. Based off of the proverb to give a man a fish or teach him to fish. It isn’t the action that is moral, it is the heart. If you love and care for your fellow man, you have a genuine desire to help him out. Maybe it is to give a fish, but it might be to teach how to fish. but that moral heart is to glorify the Father who blessed you with what you have, share His love with them. Like what Jesus did, He related with people, and met their needs.

Which is why I am not a fan of the whole WWJD moevment. It doesn’t matter what would Jesus do as much as it would if it was Why Did Jesus Do it? Much fruit and ‘good’ moral’ things came from Jesus because of the Spirit in Him and His heart, not trying to do good acts.

I think the best moral advice I could give to anyone (even a non-Christian), would be the golden rule. Treat others as you want to be treated, aka the 2nd greatest commandant. if this was followed, I don’t think anyone would ever disagree on the morals of something.

The major problem that a non-Christian would have with this, is that they might think they can do that alone. But they can’t, we need god to produce the fruit in us, we can’t produce it ourselves. A world were everyone believed in the golden rule might be slightly better off, but not much, as we would fail to follow this rule often. We would find a way to justify the means by the ends.

Why should this guy have this nice thing, he doesn’t work as hard as me. I should steal it. Boom, that hardened heart broke two commandments, coveting and stealing. When you allow the waters of the Spirit run dry, the fruit becomes rotten. And we see this rotten fruit, so we have to try ourselves even harder to avoid it and reject dependence of God even further, thinking we can fix this mess ourselves.