Introduction: “That’s Not Fair!”
If you have ever been around kids at all you have, no doubt, heard this: “That’s not fair!” As a parent of four kids and now a grandparent, I’ve heard that many times. In fact, if we’re being honest, we have all said that. And more than likely you have heard, or said, this response: “Life’s not fair. Get over it.” But I honestly don’t recall sitting down and teaching my children a specific lesson on fairness. “Okay, kids, we’re going to talk about fairness and why it’s important to be fair.” But over the years all of us have taught our kids various lessons of morality at appropriate times. But where does that sense of fairness or unfairness comes from? Where did it begin?
The moral argument begins with the fact that all people recognize some moral code. We all have a sense that some things are right and some things are wrong. In fact, we have learned that even the most remote tribes who have been cut off from the rest of civilization, observe a moral code. Although differences exist in some areas, there are some things that are universal. Where did that come from?
When we say that a moral law exists, we mean that all people are impressed with a basic sense of right and wrong. C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:
“Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of double-crossing all the people who had been kindest to him. You might just as well try to imagine a country where two and two made five.”
What he’s saying is clear, there are basic principles of right and wrong that everyone understands. We know that it is wrong to kill innocent people, to torture infants for fun or to take someone else’s property or possessions without asking. Where did that sense of right and wrong start?
The moral argument goes like this:
- Premise 1: There is a moral law.
- Premise 2: Every law has a law giver.
- Conclusion: Therefore, there is a moral law giver.
If the first two premises are true, then the conclusion that there is a moral law giver naturally follows.
There are hundreds of thousands of laws, maybe millions, on the books on the local, state, national and even international levels. But how did those laws get there? There had to be an individual or, most likely, a group of individuals who decided to pass those laws. They decided that murders, rapists, thieves, lawbreakers, swindlers and crooks of every type must be fined, jailed, or somehow punished for breaking those laws. Even in our homes we impose certain “laws”, don’t we? Things like lying, stealing, and violating other family rules are not tolerated. Violation of those rules means some type of disciplinary action will be imposed by dad and/or mom. Where do those laws, regulations, rules, etc., come from? They come from law givers.
There Is A Moral Law
The first premise is really the main point, without it the argument falls apart. How do we know there is an objective moral law? Terms like “injustice” or “wrong” imply that there is some objective standard to compare those terms to. By “objective” I mean acts that are immoral in a way that goes beyond merely our personal opinions or feelings; they are immoral no matter what my, or my community’s, or my culture’s opinion or feelings may be. So, there must be some objective moral standard. Without such a moral standard, there would be no moral difference between Adolf Hitler and Mother Theresa. In other words, without an absolute moral law to guide us towards right and wrong, then to say Hitler was wrong would merely be an opinion that has no real, objective basis for others to agree or disagree with. Without an objective moral standard there is no right and no wrong. But if Hitler was wrong based on an objective standard or moral law, then there must be a standard that rises above and beyond all of us.
Those who do not believe in God object to such an assertion and say that a person does not need to acknowledge any kind of deity to understand moral right and wrong. In fact, it is not unusual to hear, “Atheists can be good without God.” I agree. Human beings do not need to believe in God to merely recognize moral duties or understand that moral values exist. The moral law argument has nothing to do with belief in God. The argument is that in order to have any kind of firm, unshakeable, unmovable grounding of an objective moral law, you need to have a greater, superior source of those values, a source not bound or influenced by imperfect, shifting human emotions or opinions. It cannot come from any temporal or natural source. If it all becomes just a matter of opinion or personal preference, who is right? Hitler or Mother Teresa?
As mentioned above, if there’s no objective moral law, then Hitler’s truth is no better or worse than Mother Teresa’s truth. If God does not exist, then there can be no basis for objective morality. The point is that there must be a basis–some kind of standard–that is outside of ourselves, in order for there to be truly objective morality. People who deny God exists can still do good things but only because God really does exist and has established what the standard of good is. God’s existence is the only way that doing any kind of good at all is even possible to begin with. However, a problem arises when, although human beings may recognize moral absolutes, they don’t always practice them. But while the moral law does not describe what people may actually do, it does prescribe what they ought to do. Those are significant differences.
Many atheists believe that a convincing case can be made for objective moral values and duties in the absence of God. One of the most prominent of these voices is Sam Harris, a hotly vocal critic of religion, particularly Christianity. His particular position for objective morality is grounded in the measurement of overall “wellbeing” and “flourishing” for the greatest amount of people. A couple of examples would be to evaluate the amount of “flourishing” and “wellbeing” that resulted from say, organizing a government in a particular way, raising children in a particular manner, and contributing to certain charities.
But I see problems with this, don’t you? Who defines what “wellbeing” and “flourishing” is and who decides what it looks like? How is it decided? How is that measured? What standard is used? That’s very subjective. Additionally, under Harris’ position, what reason does anyone have to believe that their actions are objectively moral or immoral instead of subjective? Who would be the judge of determining whether an action really added to human flourishing or actually detracted from it? If there is no absolute standard for human flourishing, who decides and how? The next generation in that type of community may very well decide that their parents’ idea of well-being and flourishing is too oppressive or restrictive for them and decide to cast their definition off in favor of a more popular and liberating idea of wellbeing and flourishing.
Under such a view, individuals have no absolute basis to refer to when making a moral judgment or defining well-being or flourishing. What if the Nazi’s killed everyone who disagreed with them and brainwashed a large majority of the people of the world into thinking that their murderous actions towards the Jews resulted in their continued flourishing? What if Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse Tung and Pol Pot did the same. These men are responsible for the murder of nearly 100 million people in the twentieth century. If tens of millions of people are presumably murdered so their country or even the remaining portion of the world’s population may flourish, who is the judge of whether this example of murder is morally right or wrong? No one! Hitler believed the Nazis would flourish better in a world with no Jews and the Jews felt they would flourish better with no Nazis. Hitler’s idea of flourishing was much different than Mother Teresa’s was. Where there is no absolute, objective morality, no one is absolutely right. In such a scenario the one who holds the power makes the final determination.
Every Law Has A Lawgiver
This is the part of the argument that atheists most strongly disagree with because there is a direct link between the moral law and a moral law-giver. The controversy is centered on the claim that it is not possible to have a moral law without a moral lawgiver.
While most atheist philosophers are unwilling to deny the reality of morality, they also think that the moral law stands on its own without any need for further justification. In other words, one does not need to appeal to a moral lawgiver to acknowledge that there is indeed a moral standard that is independent of human decisions, will or desires, and that helps us differentiate between good and evil. I don’t necessarily disagree with that statement. As an example I could say,
- All men are mortal.
- Socrates is a man.
- Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
That’s all true and not once did I appeal to God. That’s simple logic. I could also say, 2+2=4. Once again, I made no appeal to God. That’s simple arithmetic. These are truths that are simply a part of reality, truths that we use every day without making an appeal to God. According to this view, moral truths work the same way. They are just there as part of reality, and we understand and use them in the same way we understand and use truths of logic and mathematics. We do not need God to understand and apply these truths to our lives.
However, if you go back and look carefully you will notice that the argument has changed from what is the source of the moral law, or where does it come from, to simply how we know about the moral values. Even if it is true that we understand moral truths just like we understand logical and mathematical truths, it does not follow that morality is not based in God. Rather, could it be the case that God actually made us in such a way that we are born with the capacity to understand laws of mathematics, logic, and morality immediately? Could it be that the child who cries, “That’s not fair,” or “Mine,” has an innate understanding of fairness implanted there by God?
As a matter of fact, the Scriptures teach that this is exactly what happened, specifically with regard to the moral law. In Romans 2:14-15, the apostle Paul writes,
“For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.”
The law written on the hearts of every human is the moral law (or conscience). It comes from a moral lawgiver who is above man. Atheism provides no objective basis for morality, as well as no hope, and no meaning for life. Without God there would be no objective basis for morality, life, or for a reason to live it. The moral argument states that all these things do, in fact, exist. Therefore, so does God.
Conclusion: There Is A Moral Lawgiver
C.S. Lewis rightly said,
“’A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.’ In other words, we cannot say something is bad unless we know what good is, just like we cannot know darkness without knowing what light is.”
Morality is grounded in God’s nature, which is the reason why morality even exists at all and is absolute. The hard part for atheists is the idea of a personal God who has an intentional interest in humankind. And the argument that Lewis makes for the moral law in Mere Christianity is a powerful one. How is it that we human beings, unique in the animal kingdom, know what’s right and what’s wrong? In every culture that innate knowledge of right and wrong, good and evil, is there. Where did that come from?
Morality comes from a God who made us in his image and who makes it possible for us to understand and apply morality to our lives. Christianity makes a practical, verifiable analysis of our spiritual condition; we have broken God’s law. We are at odds with a system of morality that we did not invent, and we stand condemned. But Christianity does much more. It offers a solution to the human condition through the Cross of Jesus. At the cross, God marvelously honors both his justice while demonstrating his infinite love at the same time. And, finally, the Word of God promises that we will one day be made totally and completely morally perfect. At that point, morality will no longer be a subject of debate—we will just live it out the way we breathe oxygen today, only without the threat of air pollution. Imagine that!
Without God objective morality would not exist. Since we recognize the undeniable difference between good and evil in our daily lives, I confidently state that God is the only foundation for an absolute, objective moral law. What makes this argument so powerful is that everyone honestly seeking the truth can acknowledge the truth of these premises. There is an objective difference between right and wrong. Our experiences tell us this. This objective truth leads us, it points us, to the conclusion that someone is behind this moral law. The most reasonable inference is that that someone is God.
While atheists or secular humanists try very hard to work around the argument for God from the existence of an objective moral law, they cannot justify their godless position and make sense of morality at the same time. If we reject that there are first objective moral laws; that all laws have a law-giver; and that the moral law has a law-giver, then we are on the path, and will eventually reach, not nirvana, or utopia, but nihilism.
God has imbedded within each one of us, he has written on our hearts his moral laws that make sense out of how everyone acknowledges the difference between moral good and evil. Ultimately, that is why this argument is so powerful with so many people. An honest search inside our own hearts will lead us to the conclusion that God is the only adequate explanation that makes the most sense of our experiential acknowledgement of objective moral values and duties.
We have now examined the Cosmological argument, the fine-tuning argument and the moral argument for the existence of God. While none of these arguments alone provides us with direct evidence proving with 100% certainty the existence of God, all of them together do provide us with significant and powerful circumstantial evidence that points us in the direction of the existence of God. So, we ask: “Is this the most reasonable explanation?
If we were in a court of law, at this point, the judge would direct the jury, “based on the evidence, you must decide beyond any reasonable doubt.” Not beyond the shadow of doubt. That’s not how cases are decide. They’re decided on a beyond-a-reasonable-doubt basis. So, what’s your decision?
If you’re still not sure, please go back and read the previous four articles. Also, you may go to my resources and links page at https://equip412.com and see if there’s anything there that might be able to help you explore this topic further.
Until next time, “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV)