The moral dimensions of Michael Martin's atheology: A critical assessment

Paul Harold Copan, Marquette University


The atheist philosopher Michael Martin has established himself as one of today's leading antagonists of theism. I have chosen to focus on one particular aspect of his atheological argumentation--the moral dimension--and offer criticisms of his position. Martin rejects the moral argument for God's existence--the argument from objective moral values--and claims that moral goodness can exist without rooting it in some transcendent Being. Martin utilizes the Euthyphro argument to reinforce his point. Martin believes the moral objectivism and atheism are perfectly compatible. First, as a prolegomenon, I try to show that natural theology serves a useful function to show the greater plausibility of theism over against atheism. Second, I argue that for Martin's moral objectivism to make any sense, he must be able to offer some reason from within his atheistic worldview for thinking that human beings have intrinsic moral value and are morally responsible agents. However, he offers no plausible ontological basis for affirming this; I suggest that the theistic understanding of the imago Dei furnishes us with the necessary basis. Affirming human dignity and significance is far more plausible and natural in a theistic setting. Third, despite Martin's claim that there are analytic moral truths that exist regardless of God's existence, a moral world can more readily be expected given a theistic framework. However, it is extremely difficult to see how a universe would emerge by chance that contains the sorts of beings to which moral truths apply. Fourth, Martin's Euthyphro dilemma used to show that some external moral standard must exist even if God did fails since Martin's own position cannot evade similar charges. Nor is God "obligated" to certain moral truths; rather, he by his very nature does what is right without consulting any standard external to him. Finally, despite Martin's appeals to various defenses of objective morality sans God, each of these defenses offers no ontological foundation for affirming human dignity and personal accountability but rather deals with the more surface level--namely, the epistemological and empirical considerations of morality.

Recommended Citation

Copan, Paul Harold, "The moral dimensions of Michael Martin's atheology: A critical assessment" (2000). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9977711.