The Naturalistic Fallacy:
In a recent episode on the Logical Belief Ministries podcast (Episode 61) Jason and Vincent the Fake Greg Bahnsen addressed the accusation from atheists that Christian’s commit the Naturalistic Fallacy when asserting that God is the definition and standard for morality. The Naturalistic fallacy is in short, that it is impossible to get an “ought” from what “is”. This is also know as the is-ought problem. In other words you can’t just jump from the metaphysical, to ethical normative conclusions. No matter how much we assert how reality “is” this does not offer any grounds on how we “ought” to behave. In the podcast Jason offered the argument below to refute the claim that the Christian position commits the Naturalistic Fallacy.
- God is the definition of Good (Psalm 136:1) – Descriptive Premise
- God commands us that we ought to be like Him (Matt 5:48) – Revealed Normative Premise
- Therefore we ought to be Good – Normative (Prescriptive) Conclusion
Now some atheists may object to this argument on the grounds that premise two is not a normative premise, however this is a normative premise within Christian World View. The Christian World View contains by virtue of God’s revelation the belief that we “ought” to do what God has commanded us. God is both the ultimate and perfect metaphysic “being” and the ultimate and perfect standard of behavior “ethic”. God is the perfect “ethic, his behavior is the standard of good, the “summum bonum”. By fruition of human beings being made in the “imago dei” they are required to reflect the perfect standard of behavior that the Christian God exemplifies. Humans are creatures created in the image of their Creator, created things owe all things including obedience to their Creator. Within God himself we can bridge the gap between what “is” and what “ought” to be. The atheist has no such “bridge”, he rejects God’s revelation as the grounds to his ethical system.
The atheist may object to premise two not being normative but this is based upon the acceptance of his own presuppositions which we as Christians ought not accept as true. He presupposes we are not in the “imago dei”, not creatures created by the Biblical God and God’s revelation is not authoritative. On the basis of these presuppositions a command by the Biblical God will not be a normative “ought” statement for them. This problem is ultimately a World View problem.
The World View Problem:
The question then needs to be why does the atheist accept any normative statements as true, considering that he does not have a World View that accounts for them? He has no ability to bridge the “is” “ought” gap. He has two options… First he can say he does believe there are particular normative statements which are true, he just cannot account or justify why they are true without committing the naturalistic fallacy. Second he could say he does not believe there are true normative statements. If he chooses the former he has conceded what we claim. The atheistic World View cannot account for objective moral claims, therefore the atheist is living by faith. If he concedes the second, he loses on the basis that he is having a conversation with the assumption that we “ought” to believe what is true. This assumption however contradicts his “claim” that there are no true normative statements.
The atheist when accusing the Christian of the naturalistic fallacy is fighting with a sword that only cuts himself. Christians should not fold to the Atheist’s own presuppositions in a discussion about ethics. The atheist is after all not abandoning his own, even while he continually borrows conclusions from the Christian’s presuppositions. Christians, do not pretend God does not exist to argue that God exists.