Share This Episode
Renewing Your Mind R.C. Sproul Logo

Kant’s Moral Argument

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
July 9, 2022 12:01 am

Kant’s Moral Argument

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

On-Demand Podcasts NEW!

This broadcaster has 1539 podcast archives available on-demand.

Broadcaster's Links

Keep up-to-date with this broadcaster on social media and their website.

July 9, 2022 12:01 am

The universal human sense of moral obligation requires a morally perfect Judge who sets the standard for right and wrong. Today, R.C. Sproul teaches on the moral argument for the existence of God.

Get R.C. Sproul's 'Defending Your Faith' 32-Part DVD Series for Your Gift of Any Amount:

Don't forget to make your home for daily in-depth Bible study and Christian resources.


Today, on Renewing Your Mind. Imagine that a tornado ripped up a stop sign and planted it right in the middle of your yard. When you opened your front door, would you stop and look both ways before continuing?

Of course not. There's no purpose for the sign being there. In order to be a law, the sign must have a purpose and enforcement behind it. In the same way, if there are objective moral standards, then there must be a moral standard giver. Today, on Renewing Your Mind, Dr. R.C. Sproul explains how one 18th century philosopher came to the conclusion that God must exist because morality exists. Earlier on in our course on apologetics, I mentioned the revolutionary impact of Immanuel Kant's critique of the traditional arguments for the existence of God.

And that watershed work was in his publication called The Critique of Pure Reason. But even though Kant was agnostic with respect to the ability of proving the existence of God through theoretical thought, he himself was a theist. He believed in God. He just didn't think he could prove the existence of God. And he wrote another book called The Critique of Practical Reason, where he came at the question of God, not from a theoretical perspective so much, but rather from practical considerations.

I like to look at Kant this way and say that on the one hand he impolitely ushered God outside the front door of the house and then ran around to the kitchen door and let him in the back door as kind of the way he progressed, because in his practical reason he gave his famous moral argument for the existence of God, which we're going to look at in a few moments. But before I do that, I want to take a few moments to look at some of the considerations that we find in the New Testament with respect to the moral argument. When Paul writes to the Romans in the first chapter, which we've already looked at in terms of his statement early in the chapter that the invisible things of God are known through the things that are made. But later on in chapter 1 and verse 28, when he's going through an indictment against the whole human race in their fallen and corrupt state, he says about human beings, verse 28, and even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind to do those things which are not fitting, being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, full of envy, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness.

They are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful. This list is not exhaustive, but it may seem like it as we go through it, as he catalogues all of the ways in which human beings violate each other with immoral behavior. But here's the kicker in verse 32, who, that is these people who are doing these things, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same, but also approve of those who practice them. What the apostle is saying here clearly is that God has revealed His holy character to all creatures, and that every human being knows that God is righteous, and basically what that righteousness commands from us with respect to our behavior. In other words, what Paul is saying is that every one of us knows the difference between right and wrong.

We know how we ought to behave sexually. We know that we ought not to rob from other people, or murder other people, or be malicious, or covetous, or unloving, and all of the things that he lists here. We know that these things are evil and that they are wrong. And he said, yet despite our knowing that clearly, because we don't want God in our minds, we don't want God in our thinking, not only do we behave in this manner, and not only do we approve of them knowing that God is going to judge us and that these things are worthy of His judgment, we enlist the support of other people and encourage other people to participate in these same actions.

Pick a sin, any sin, and you will find some group out there that militantly argues for its acceptance and tolerance in a civil and right and just society. Now, over in chapter 2, the apostle goes on to say this, in verse 12, for as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law. And then when he goes on in verse 14, for when Gentiles who do not have the law, they don't have the Old Testament law, by nature do the things that are contained in the law. Even though they don't have the law, they show that the work of the law is written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness.

What Paul is saying is that not only does God give the law to Israel on the Ten Commandments and so on, but He writes His law in the heart of every creature. And the proof that there is that law written on the hearts of men is this apparatus that we call the conscience, that conscience is part of the constituent makeup of every human being. And we know consciences can be corrupted, they can be seared, they can be calloused, and all the rest. But if somebody is completely devoid of conscience, we call them a psychopath or a sociopath, a person who can do pernicious wickedness without feeling any sense of guilt whatsoever. That we see as a perversion of natural humanity itself.

And again, what the apostle is saying, both in chapter 1 and in chapter 2, is that God bears witness to Himself by planting His moral law in the minds of every human being. Now, I realize that the antidote or the response of that from the atheistic community is that our conscience is simply the result of the taboos of the society in which we live, the influence of Queen Victoria or of the Puritans who lived in New England and so on, that they've put these taboos into our culture. And as Freud tried to argue in his writings in The Future of an Illusion, for example, in Civilization and His Discontents, Freud argued that these taboos are culturally inflicted and imposed by psychological dwarves and so on, and that the real free expression of our humanity comes out in our sexual behavior that is without restraint. But everybody knows better than that.

The conscience simply will not go away. And we can argue that in various societies different things are elevated as law and taboos. Some cultures put a taboo against drinking. Other cultures drink without guilt and so on.

And we know that there are those differences from time to time. But you can't find a culture anywhere in the world, Margaret Mead notwithstanding, that doesn't have some sense of an ethical structure because an ethical structure is necessary for social interaction and for society and civilization in order to be preserved. You know, our culture today has been called the post-Christian. It's been called neo-pagan. I think a more fitting description of the American culture today is neo-barbarian, that with the relativism that prevails in our culture, at least with 50 percent of those who profess what they do, it's amoral.

It is barbarian. We have educated barbarians in our culture today. That's the moral revolution that we've gone through in this country. But with all of that, you cannot extinguish conscience altogether. And this is where Kant's practical argument and moral argument came in. Kant said that it is a universal phenomenon that every single person in the world has a sense of oughtness, what we would call in simple terms an internal native sense, inherent sense of right and wrong. And this sense of oughtness Kant described by his phrase, the categorical imperative. And the categorical imperative represents an absolute command.

It is not moral relativism, but Kant is saying that everybody in this world has a sense of duty that requires them and obligates them to behave in a certain manner. And we can do everything we try to erase it, to deny it, to flee from it, but you can't get rid of it. There is this sense, you know, like Lady Macbeth, after she committed her murder in her blood-stained hands, she scrubbed with soap, and she couldn't get rid of the blood, and she cried out, out, dammit, spot.

But her exercise was an exercise in futility. The biggest problem that people have that they cannot solve is guilt. I often say this to people when I'm discussing religion, theology, or apologetics after we're done with the philosophical arguments, and somebody stands there and tells me they're an atheist, I'll stop and mid-sentence and I'll say, tell me this, what do you do with your guilt?

I've yet to have somebody look me in the eye and say, look me in the eye and say, I don't have any, because they know that I know that that would not be true. But all of a sudden, the whole ambiance of the discussion moves to a different plane, because everybody understands that they have a problem with guilt that has not been resolved. Now, Kant is saying that guilt comes from failing to do our duty, from failing to do what we are morally obligated to do. Now, at that point in his reasoning, Kant proceeds in a manner that he defines as transcendental, which is basic to his whole approach to philosophy. His critique, even his critique of pure reason and his epistemology was based on his transcendental approach. In other words, when he came to the question of knowledge, he didn't say, here's how knowledge takes place. And he didn't start off by saying, knowledge is possible.

But rather, he started off with this question. If knowledge is possible, what would have to be? What are the necessary ingredients to make knowledge possible?

And then knowledge possible. And then he constructed his philosophy from that basis. In other words, he transcends the problem. He rises above the problem and say, I don't know whether knowledge is possible, but if it is possible, what would have to be?

And that's the way he proceeds, which was an innovation in the approach to philosophical problems. But in any case, when he comes to the moral argument from God, he's asking this question. It's a given that we have this universal sense of oughtness. Now, that universal sense of oughtness may be a glitch in the composition of human beings. And in the final analysis, as the nihilists would argue, people like Nietzsche and so on, that that sense, that moral sense is meaningless. And really, we ought to get rid of it, because it doesn't have any significance.

But that's not the way Kant approaches it. He says, for it to be meaningful. So, I don't know if it is meaningful. I can't prove that it's meaningful.

But if it is meaningful, what would have to be? In other words, what would be necessary for true ethics and morality that imposes obligations for that to be meaningful? And he's also asking this question for a practical reason, because he understood that without some objective standard of behavior, in the final analysis, society and civilization is impossible. Law, by sheer preference, is simply might makes right, and you end up with the law of the jungle, which inevitably and ultimately destroys civilization.

And that's where I'm afraid we are, to a certain degree today. Now, that's why Dostoevsky said, if there is no God, if there is no ultimate God, if there is no ultimate ground for rightness, then all things are permissible. Because if there's no objective ground for what is right, ultimately, then it just becomes a battle over preferences, my preference over your preference. Everybody does what is right in their own mind, and that creates conflict and warfare between classes of people, between individuals, between wives, because there aren't any rules that have any foundation to them.

And so Kant is acutely aware of this, and that what is at stake here is nothing less than Western civilization. And so he asked the question, what is necessary for the categorical imperative to be meaningful? And he said the first thing that is necessary for any ethic to be meaningful in the final analysis is justice. Because if ultimately crime pays, then there's no practical reason to be virtuous.

There's no practical reason to be anything but selfish. So there must be justice where right behavior is rewarded and bad behavior is punished. He said, well then what would be necessary for justice to take place? And he said, well, the first thing that you would have to have to have justice is that you would have to have life after death, because we know that this world does not dispense justice perfectly. There are innocent people who perish at the hands of the guilty.

The Old Testament saint asked the question, why do the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer? That can only happen in an environment where justice is not perfectly carried out. And so he said, since there is no absolute justice in this world, there are approximations of justice. We seek justice.

We have courts to dispense justice, but it doesn't always work. And so he said, you have to have perfect justice. You have to have life after death. So we have to survive the grave to make sure that perfect justice is experienced.

But even if we survive, maybe the next environment will have all of the weaknesses that we have now. So what you have to have in addition to life after death is that you have to have a judge who himself is morally perfect or righteous. Because if the judge who judges us ultimately is not perfectly righteous, then he himself could be an administer of injustice because he's corrupt, he's bribable or selfish or whatever. So you have to have, for perfect justice, you have to have a perfect judgment. And for that perfect judgment, you need a perfect judge, one who is above reproach, one who is beyond corruption. But suppose, for example, that this perfect judge were there who was morally upright, but he did the best job he could in carrying out justice. But unfortunately, there is a limit to his knowledge, and given the limitations to his knowledge, he makes mistakes because he doesn't know all the facts or all the extenuating circumstances and the cases that come before him.

And so he errs, not out of a corrupt motive, but out of a simple accident of being limited in his knowledge. So if we're going to have perfect justice, not only must the judge be morally perfect, but he also must be omniscient. He has to know all of the facts so that the judgment that he renders is without error and without blemish. Well, suppose you have life after death and you have a final judgment, and that final judgment is presided over by a judge who is perfectly righteous and who knows everything. Will that now ensure justice?

Not yet. There's still one more element that has to be present in order to ensure that justice prevails, and that is the judge who is perfect in his knowledge and perfect in his motives and his virtue must have the power to enforce his judgment. Because if he were powerless or restricted in any way by some outside agency from bringing justice to bear, then there is no guarantee that justice would take place. So this judge finally must be omnipotent, stronger than any counterforce that could possibly hinder his judgments from being carried out. And so Kant now is arguing transcendentally, practically speaking, say, if your sense of oughtness is going to matter, that means you have to matter, and that means you have to survive the grave, and that means that you have to be held accountable ultimately for every single thing that you've ever done in your life, every word that you've spoken, every thought that's going through your head, every deed that you've done, every virtuous deed that you've left undone.

You will be held accountable, and you will be held accountable by a judge who has no blindfold around his eyes, who is not open to bribery or corruption, but who himself is altogether holy and good and righteous, and who knows you far better than you know yourself. He knows everything you've ever done and said and did. And he's strong enough to bring his judgment to bear. And you see that in the final analysis, this philosopher who demolished the traditional arguments for the existence of God, once he went to the back door in the kitchen, he brought in the Christian God, the Judeo-Christian God, on the basis of his moral arguments, saying that morality, if it is true, is not going to make the affirmation of God a practical necessity. That's why Kant concluded this. We must live as if there is a God, because if there isn't, we have no hope for civilization and for human community. Now, of course, the critics of Kant came after him, the existentialists, who said, well, just because the options to morality are grim, nevertheless, that's why Nietzsche would say, life is meaningless.

There is no hope. You see, but most people who don't affirm the existence of God try to live on borrowed capital. They don't want God, but they still want morality. They still want salvation. They still want God. They don't want God, but they still want morality.

They still want some kind of significance and meaning to human existence. But what Kant is saying here is that you can't have both. That's Dr. R.C. Sproul walking us through Kant's moral argument for the existence of God. You're listening to Renewing Your Mind, and each Saturday we present a message from R.C. 's comprehensive series on apologetics. It's called Defending Your Faith, and with a total of 32 messages, it covers a great deal of ground. Let me encourage you to request this 11-DVD set with your donation of any amount to Ligonier Ministries.

You can do that online at or when you call us at 800-435-4343. Dr. Sproul urged us today to study apologetics in order that our faith would be strengthened, our courage stiffened, and that our answers would be God's answers. That's why I hope you'll contact us today and request Defending Your Faith. Our phone number again is 800-435-4343, and our online address is Well, after Kant presented his moral argument, many of his peers chided him. They continued to claim that everything was meaningless. Next Saturday, Dr. Sproul will show us that not only is there true meaning in life, but that we can find it and enjoy it. Please make plans to join us again next week here for Renewing Your Mind. Thank you.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-26 14:47:17 / 2023-03-26 14:55:17 / 8

Get The Truth Mobile App and Listen to your Favorite Station Anytime