Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Outline for my Talk at University of Colorado Law School Today



A.    Declaration of Independence: inalienable rights granted by our Creator

B.     The Nuremberg war trials and Nazi “crimes against humanity” (See John Warwick Montgomery, The Law Above the Law)

C.     Martin Luther King and the reform of civil law based on higher, moral law

D.    Questions of jurisprudence: philosophical basis; justification of law; meta-ethics


A.    “The modernist impasse” or the secularization of law in the West (see Phillip E. Johnson, “Nihilism and the End of the Law”)

1.      Law as independent of God: “We’re free of God”

2.      Law as expression of contingent human arrangements only: “Oh God, 
      we’re free”

                  B.  Arthur Leff’s “Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law,” Duke Law Review

1.      Thesis: Authority of law depends on an ultimate Evaluator; without this      
                       Evaluator all law is arbitrary, however it is formulated.

                 2.   This God would have to be personal, moral, and communicative.

                       3.   Moral statements as “performative utterances”

                       4.   The conditions of performative success: authority in a situation

                       5.  The absence of God in the moral sphere: no moral authority

C.     Other non-divine principles for establishing the law

1.      Descriptivism/conventionalism: leaves everything alone; no outside judgment upon established legal systems. Legal positivism.

2.      Personalism: authority in individuals (godlets)—anarchy

3.      Majoritarianism: no basis in a moral principle beyond godlets

4.      Constitutionalism: not infallible, requires interpretation; not exhaustive


A.    All other evaluators fail to perform; morality and law are unjustified, unauthorized.

B.     No one can replace God as the ultimate Evaluator and justification of moral
                        law and civil law (“There is none like unto the LORD”).

                 C.  Nevertheless: evil exists; heroism exists (“Sez who?”).

                 D.  Either God or nihilism (“God help us”)


A.    An argument for the Ultimate Evaluator (by modus tolens)

1.      If there is no God (P), then morality and law lose their foundations and there is no objective good and evil (Q). (Leff and other arguments: Nietzsche, Sartre, Dostoyevsky.) If P, then Q.

2.      There is objective good and evil. Leff: “There is in the world such a thing as evil.” (See Romans 2:14-15 on the law written on the human heart.)

3.      Therefore: it is false that morality and law lose their foundations and there is no objective good or evil. (not-Q)

4.      Therefore: God exists as the Ultimate Evaluator (Leff, illogically, to the contrary). By modus tolens: not-Q; therefore, not-P.

5.      Therefore; nihilism is false.

B.     An argument against atheism, the claim that there is no Ultimate Evaluator

1.      If there is no God (P), then morality and law lose their foundations and there is no objective good and evil (Q). If P, then Q.

2.      There is no God. (Leff: “It looks as if we are all we have.”) (P)

3.      Therefore: morality and law lose their foundations and there is no objective good and evil (nihilism: “God help us”). By modus ponens: P; therefore, Q.

4.      But: Leff: “There is in the world such a thing as evil.” Objective good and evil do exist. (not-Q)

5.      If not-Q; therefore: not-P. By modus tolens

6.      Therefore: God does exist as the Ultimate Evaluator (same conclusion as the previous argument).

7.      Therefore, nihilism is false (same conclusion as the previous argument).

C.     The simplified argument (disjunctive syllogism)

1.      Either God exists (P) or nihilism is true (Q). P or Q.

2.      Nihilism is not true. (not-Q)

3.      Therefore, God exists. (P)

D.    Responses to three objections to God as the basis of morality and law

1.      Making God the ultimate Evaluator makes morality and law arbitrary.

a.       God’s commands are based on God’s character and the nature of the
      world God has created. “I the Lord do not change” (Malachi 3:6).

b.      God’s evaluations and commands are not arbitrary edicts of 
      changeable divine will, but are based on wisdom (Proverbs 8).

c.       Christian perspective: God’s character is demonstrated historically in Jesus Christ (Luke 1:1-4; John 1:1-3; 14-18).

2.      Moral truth can exist objectively apart from God’s existence.

a.       Moral law needs a Law-giver, imperatives, claims upon us, duty.

b.      A godless world coupled with human knowledge of objective moral principles is exceedingly unlikely give an impersonal, chance universe.

3.      Recognizing God as the Evaluator would lead to a dangerous theocracy.

a.       A theological basis for law does not entail a theocracy; consider early 
      American law and jurisprudence.

b.      An unacceptable nihilism seems to be the only other alternative;
      consider the USSR. Law and rights were created by the State alone.


A.    Modernist impasse is not solvable given its own premises: “God help us.”

B.     God as Ultimate Evaluator gives a solid basis for morality and civil law.

C.     Two qualifications to my argument

1.      Not a complete apologetic for Christian theism, although a foundation for personalist theism and some suggestions. Many other arguments available.

2.      Much more is required for a good society than well-rooted, authorized civil law: moral and spiritual renewal and consistency.


A.    Stephen L. Carter, The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion (New York: Basic Books, 1993). Examines the secularization of law and how it marginalizes religion.

B.     Douglas Groothuis, Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000).  See especially, chapter eight, “Ethics Without Reality, Postmodernist Style,” on postmodernist attempts (particularly by Rorty and Foucault) to establish morality apart from God and objective moral truths.

C.     Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011). See especially, “The Moral Argument for God,” which draws on Arthur Leff’s essay, “Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law.”

D.    Douglas Groothuis, “Thomas Nagel’s ‘Last Word’ on the Metaphysics of Rationality and Morality,” Philosophia Christi, 2nd series, no. 1 (1999):115-122. A critique of one attempt by a notable philosopher to establish objective morality and rationality apart from the existence of God.

E.     Phillip E. Johnson, “Nihilism and the End of the Law,” First Things, March 1993, 19-25. A reflection on Leff’s dilemma and how it relates to contemporary debates about civil law in America.

F.      Arthur Leff, “Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law,” Duke Law Journal, 1979, no. 6 (December):1229-1246. A pivotal and penetrating analysis.

G.    John Warwick Montgomery, The Law Above the Law (Minneapolis, MN: Betheny Publishers, 1975). Considers the relationship between civil law and theology.

H.    J. P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1987). See especially, chapter four, “God and the Meaning of Life,” for a defense of the claim that the existence of God is required for objective morality and existential meaning.


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