In debates with religious apologists, I’ve noticed their moral arguments rely on the imprecise meaning of right and wrong--of good and evil. Ask them to define them clearly and you will be met with resistance. Define them secularly and those meanings will be dismissed. Push, and you will likely hear one of two meanings.
- Good or evil are inherent properties of the action in question.
- That which is right is that which we have a moral obligation to God to do and that which is wrong is that which we have a moral obligation to God to refrain from.
Let’s take the first one first. “Good or evil are inherent properties of the action in question.” The first problem is that most will latter disagree with the definition they provided. If evilness or wrongness is an inherent property of lying or killing, then it can’t ever be right. However, they will almost certainly agree that lying to protect others or killing in self defense isn’t wrong or evil. In Catholicism there is something called The Principle of Double Effect which allows Catholics to break commandments to achieve what they judge to be the greater good. Hell, most theists in America support the death penalty, that should tell you something.
The second problem is that the property definition is incomplete. It’s like explaining to a child that wetness is a property of water without ever getting into what it means to be wet. Wetness could mean it’s liquid, it could mean it’s clear, it could mean it’s made of molecules. What does the property of good or evil say about the actions? From here they might falter and give secular reasons regarding a harm vs. benefit analysis of the actions, which would negate the perceived need for a deity entirely, or they might move to the previously mentioned secondary definition.
“That which is right is that which we have a moral obligation to God to do and that which is wrong is that which we have a moral obligation to God to refrain from.” Not only does this mean nothing to anyone who doesn’t already believe and therefore has no persuasive power, it also undermines the moral argument entirely. Assigning morality a definition that assumes God exists, cannot then be used to demonstrate that God exists. It is a simple example of circular reasoning. The crazy thing is, I’ve heard many apologists be fine with that--to the point that they ask “what’s wrong with circular reasoning?” Jesus Christ!
Don’t follow apologists down the moral rabbit hole until you know just what they mean by right and wrong. Depending on how these terms are framed, morality can be subjective, objective, relative, conceptual, nonsensical or anything in between.