Is it always wrong for anyone to torture babies to death merely for their personal pleasure?

by Matt Slick

There are those who say there are no moral absolutes. Many say that because a moral absolute implies a Moral Absolute Lawgiver. In any worldview that denies moral absolutes, a Moral Absolute Lawgiver is not allowed. So, when I discuss the basis of morality and where morals come from, the typical answers are that morals are derived by personal opinion and by the norms of society. That is when I offer the following statement with which they can agree or disagree. I ask if the following statement is true or false.

"It's always wrong for anyone to torture babies to death merely for their personal pleasure"

Now, let's analyze the statement. The word "always" means in every circumstance. The word "anyone" necessitates the inclusion of all people. The word "merely" mean for no other reason than to do so. And "personal pleasure" is the reason given. So, atheists have different reactions to this moral absolute. Here they are with responses.

  1. It is only an individual's opinion that it is always wrong.
    1. If it's only the person's opinion that it is always wrong for everyone, then the person is asserting a universal moral truth for everyone based on his opinion.
    2. If it is not a universal truth but only his opinion that it is universally true, then how can he assert there's a universal truth inside his worldview that does not allow for it?
    3. The statement does not become true because someone's opinion says it's true.
  2. Yes, it is always wrong.
    1. If it is always wrong, then that supports a universal moral absolute. But how is it possible in a worldview that contains no God and/or does not allow universal moral truths?
  3. No, it is not always wrong.
    1. If it is not always wrong, then I ask the person to give me an instance when it is morally acceptable to torture babies to death "merely for their personal pleasure." Sometimes they offer some situation, such as everyone in the world would die if a particular baby wasn't tortured to death or something like that. I then tell them they are misrepresenting the statement since they are not addressing "merely for their personal pleasure."
  4. The statement is not valid.
    1. If the statement is not valid, then please explain why it's not valid. Simply claiming that the statement is not valid doesn't address it. It's only a dismissal, and I point out that it is probably because it's too difficult for them to answer in their worldview.
  5. The statement is a trap.
    1. Yes, it is a trap for those who deny universal moral truths. It's a trap because if they answer that it is true, they affirm a moral absolute and imply a moral absolute lawgiver, God. If they don't agree with it, then they are supporting the idea that it's okay to torture babies merely for one's personal pleasure. So, yes, it's a trap; and it only works with those whose worldviews are insufficient.

This basic principle can be used with other statements.

It is always wrongfor anyoneto torture babies to deathmerely fortheir personal pleasure
It is always wrongfor all mothersto kill their childrenmerely becausethey are inconvenienced by them
It is always wrongfor anyoneto murder peoplein order towatch them suffer
It is always rightfor everyoneto love peopleinstead ofmurdering them for no reason
It is always rightfor everyoneto be compassionate to peopleinstead ofstealing from them for personal pleasure

If these statements are false, then it must be true that there are occasions when torturing babies merely for personal pleasure is the right thing to do. It would also necessarily be true that there are times when it's okay for all mothers to kill their children because are inconvenienced by them, etc. 

But, if these statements are true, why are they true? If they are true, then they have universal truth value. How do they obtain their truth value? Atheists, pantheists, agnostics, etc., might propose different reasons on how the statements become true. Are they true because someone believes they are true? Or, do they have some inherent truth value? Or, are they true because they reduce harm in society? But what makes it true that reducing harm is what is morally right? If there are no inherent values but reducing harm is the value that is obtained, then it's either true that reducing harm has an inherent moral value, or it's arbitrary. If it has an inherent moral value, then there's a universal absolute. If it's arbitrary, then what good is it except to say that it's functionally practical? But practicality doesn't mean something is good or bad; it just means it is practical.

Therefore, it would seem that the best the atheist, agnostic, deist, pantheist, etc., has to offer is to say there is nothing good or bad. There is only whatever works. But of course, the problem with that is what works can also be bad. It worked for Nazi Germany to kill the Jews. If what works is said to be good, then what the Nazi's did must be said to be good. But, would anyone really support that idea?

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.