J. Warner Wallace

Author, Cold-Case Christianity

Are Moral Truths An Illusion?

In my new book, God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for A Divinely Created Universe, I describe eight pieces of evidence “in the room” of the natural universe and ask a simple question: Can this evidence be explained by staying “inside the room” or is a better explanation “outside the room” of naturalism? One important piece of evidence I consider in this effort is the existence of objective, transcendent moral truths. Some philosophers and scientists deny the existence of moral truth altogether. As Richard Dawkins has famously asserted: “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”

Nihilists (derived from the Latin word nihil, meaning “nothing”) reject the idea any moral claim could be either true or false. Some nihilists believe moral claims don’t actually describe what the universe is like, but instead describe how humans feel about events occurring in the universe.

For example, the statement, “Jesse tortured his victim,” is true or false because it describes an event in the universe. But the statement, “It was morally wrong for Jesse to torture his victim,” does not describe an event. Instead, this second statement merely expresses an attitude about the event. The second statement cannot, according to this view, be classified as either true or false.

In addition, “Logical Positivist” nihilists argue against moral truth claims because such features of the universe cannot be verified or confirmed by observation or perception. Since we cannot verify (or falsify) the sentence, “It was morally wrong for Jesse to torture his victim” with our empirical senses, or through some process of empirical testing, they believe the sentence is meaningless. While this approach certainly eliminates the need to account for the evidence of moral truth by rejecting this kind of truth altogether, it suffers from several explanatory liabilities:

This Approach Is More Evasive Than Explanatory
Like efforts to redefine free will or consciousness, this approach to moral truth simply evades the question altogether. When detectives enter a crime scene and encounter a piece of evidence, we’re not allowed to avoid the evidence by redefining or ignoring it. Moral truth cannot be similarly ignored or redefined. All of us have a strong inclination to make moral judgments, even those of us who deny morality is a real feature of the universe. Simply denying the existence of moral truth does not effectively eradicate it.

This Approach Inappropriately Elevates Empirical Observation
Many truths can’t be verified through empirical processes of examination. They can’t be accessed through those routes. Truths related to logic and mathematics, for example, must be embraced prior to any empirical, scientific examination. In addition, the assertion: “The only meaningful claims are those we can verify with our senses,” is itself a claim we cannot verify with our senses. It is a self-refuting assertion violating its own foundation. There are many truths we accept even though we cannot verify them empirically. Moral truths are but one example. Professor of Philosophy, Emmet Barcalow puts it this way: “most philosophers today reject the view that a sentence is meaningless if it is used to attribute properties whose presence cannot be detected by means of empirical observation and testing. So even if sentences attributing the property of being morally wrong to things cannot be verified or confirmed by appeal to observation, it doesn’t follow that they’re meaningless. It only means that they’re not verifiable or confirmable. They still could be true or false. And then it would only follow that we cannot appeal to observation to verify or confirm the truth of a claim attributing a moral property to something.”

Efforts to avoid accounting for the existence of objective, transcendent moral truth by denying their existence amount to little more than linguistic exercises in futility. Moral truths are not an illusion or series of meaningless expressions. Atheist philosophers who recognize and admit the existence of objective, transcendent moral truths have a difficult task at hand, however. How can such transcendent truths and personal obligations be grounded in something other than a Transcendent Personal Being? The better explanation is a transcendent, all-powerful Being “outside the room” of the natural universe. If such a powerful Being exists, He would certainly have the power to eliminate moral imperfection. This kind of Being could adequately ground the objective, transcendent moral truths we all recognize. This short blog is an excerpt from God’s Crime Scene. For more information, refer to Chapter Seven – Law and Order: Is Morality More Than An Opinion?

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene.

Comment or Subscribe to J. Warner’s Daily Email


About J. Warner Wallace

J. Warner Wallace is a cold-case homicide detective, adjunct professor of apologetics at Biola University, Christian case maker and author. J. Warner was a conscientious and vocal atheist through his undergraduate and graduate work in Design and Architecture (CSULB and UCLA); he always considered himself to be an “evidentialist”. His experience in law enforcement only served to strengthen his conviction that truth is tied directly to evidence. But at the age of thirty-five, J. Warner took a serious and expansive look at the evidence for the Christian Worldview and determined that Christianity was demonstrably true. After becoming a Christ follower in 1996, Jim continued to take an evidential approach to truth as he examined the Christian worldview. He eventually earned a Master’s Degree in Theological Studies from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. J. Warner served as a Youth Pastor for several years, then planted a church in 2006. Along the way, he created and built the Cold-Case Christianity website, blog and podcast as a place to post and talk about what he discovered related to the evidence supporting Christianity. Jim has appeared on television and radio, explaining the role that evidence plays in the Christian definition of “faith” and defending the historicity of Jesus, the reliability of the Bible and the truth of the Christian worldview. Jim also speaks at churches, retreats and camps as he seeks to help people become confident Christian case makers. J. Warner’s first book, Cold-Case Christianity, provides readers with ten principles of cold case investigations and utilizes these principles to examine the reliability of the gospel eyewitness accounts. In his second book, God’s Crime Scene, he investigates eight pieces of evidence in the universe to make the case for God’s existence. J. Warner’s professional investigative work has received national recognition; his cases have been featured more than any other detective on NBC’s Dateline, and his work has also appeared on CourtTV and Fox News. He also appears on television as an investigative consultant and had a role in God’s Not Dead 2, making the case for the historicity of Jesus. J. Warner was awarded the Police and Fire Medal of Valor “Sustained Superiority” Award for his continuing work on cold-case homicides. Relying on over two decades of investigative experience, J. Warner provides his readers and audiences with the tools they will need to investigate the claims of Christianity and make a convincing case for the truth of the Christian worldview. You can follow J. Warner Wallace on Twitter @JWarnerWallace

  • Editors' Picks

    Why the Church Must Start Talking about Domestic Violence
    Why the Church Must Start Talking about Domestic Violence
  • Don't Think of Church as Your Own Spiritual Power Bar
    Don't Think of Church as Your Own Spiritual Power Bar
  • So You Think Theology Is Impractical?
    So You Think Theology Is Impractical?