Moral Authority

Here is an old one, but a good one (argument that is). Its thesis is something like "In order for human beings to have some moral authority God must have absolute moral authority." An ultimate moral authority is a person who is, knows and acts entirely morally. An ultimate moral authority is self-attesting – there is no outside judge to determine his goodness. A derivative moral authority assumes a hierarchy of beings who are, know and act morally relatively to an ultimate moral authority.

So, consider the one-level-causally-determined universe that many assume - causally determined, purely material and god-less.

If all human beings are determined to be and act as they do from within the causal system of the universe (this excludes a transcendent being – God), “a one layered universe,” then all moral judgments are caused in the same way as every other being and event. A criminal action is caused by environment, genes, mechanics etc. A court judgment is caused-by environment, genes, mechanics etc. The criminal could claim that he could not be or do otherwise and so he is not responsible for his crime. However, the judge could also claim that he is similarly unable to do other than pass an extensive sentence, courtesy of the US tax-payer. Therefore, the crime committed and the judgment passed is equally determined by genetics, environment and synapses etc.
There appears to be no moral authority that is not subject to the same preconditions in the causally closed universe system. Therefore, there cannot be an ultimate moral authority. If there is no ultimate moral authority, then there can be no derivative moral authority.

One might deny moral categories, but to do so is only parasitic upon them. You have to assume them to deny them. (Gilbert Ryle's “polar concept argument”). One might say that one can have a hierarchy of moral persons – the judge being a more moral kind than the criminal, but with no need for any ultimate authority. However, how would one know that the judge is the more moral one? One would need another authority to determine the judge is the more moral of the two. And so it would go on ad infinitum.

But we do appear to have the ability to make moral judgments. Rather than deny this intuition it is better to change the assumption entailed by holding to a one-level-causally determined universe.  By virtue of what would we have the ability to make moral judgements? The Christian answer to this question is a good one: By virtue of our being made in the image of God and of our consciousness of our sinful nature before him. Since God does exist (the ultimate moral authority) it is possible for human beings to make moral judgements. Furthermore the ultimate moral authority--God--is known by criminal, judge and jury and is the ultimate grounds for the deliverance of judgments (it does not matter if this is explicit belief, if it is denied entirely or even if the judge turns out to be incorrect, or if false evidence is submitted). 

Therefore, the one-level-causally-determined universe position is false. And, I would suggest, God (whether or not he is acknowledged) is the ultimate moral authority providing grounds for all derivative moral judgments made by all human beings.