The Morality Argument

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. ~Psalm 19:1

In response to a question posed by one of his former students pertaining to the relationship between morality and God, a college professor wrote a note on facebook lamenting on how some people rely on the idea of God to define their concept of morality. He summarizes his post this way:
"The bottom line is that the existence of God is immaterial to virtuous, moral behavior. Good people don't need a pastor, a minister, a prophet, or a church to tell them how to behave. They already know what's right in their hearts -- and if they don't, they have the ability to figure it out."
I do not personally know this professor, nor was his post of sufficient length or detail to fully flesh out the reasoning behind his argument but the gist of it is clear. It is actually an argument I know quite well because it is based on the view that I firmly held as an atheist. There are two basic paths that this line of reasoning generally takes. The first is the idea that there are no absolutes and that all concepts of right and wrong are determined either by the individual or by society.  I address this point of view in the blog post titled Absolute Truth.

The second line of reasoning, and the one that the professor seems to be following, is that there is such a thing as a collective morality and that each of us has an instinctual knowledge of the definition of morality, or at least what it should be. In one sense, this point of view is absolutely correct in that there is an absolute standard for morality and each person does have some internal and inescapable awareness that the standard exists. One aspect this point of view does not account for very well is the question; if we all know about this internal morality, why do we seem to have such difficulty in following it?

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis describes the matter this way:
"These, then, are two points that I wanted to make. First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and they cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in."
It is vitally important, when addressing a matter of any seriousness, that we ensure that we are starting our thinking from a solid foundation. It is very easy to throw out high-minded, feel-good statements about our own goodness and moral abilities, but upon what do we base our beginning assumptions?  

In our western culture there are two fundamentally opposed world views upon which people generally base all of their thinking. These are the natural and theological. Do your observations and philosophy about the universe begin with the view that all life is the result of a combination of time and random chance and where every ability we have is due to the process of natural selection over billions of years? Or do you see the universe from the perspective that all life was created with purpose and with meaning; that there is a power higher than us that has made Himself known through all that He has created and through specific special revelation (see our post on God's Revelation for more on this)?

If these are the two main competing world views (I am simplifying for brevity) then the question becomes how do we determine which is correct? If you have a personal relationship with God, this question is easy to answer, but what about those that do not yet know God? Is there any intellectually acceptable help to guide them? 

The main criteria for evaluating a world view is whether or not it is internally consistent. That is to say, does my world view ever contradict itself? For example, one of the foundational principles of the naturalistic world view is that every ability we have is the result of, and can be explained in the light of, natural selection. In other words, if a trait doesn't help us survive in this world, then it is eventually discarded as it is not passed on to successive generations. But this point of view is at odds with what we see in people. Our concept of morality and our inescapable internal desire to care for those that are weak and infirm is fundamentally opposed to the idea and theory of survival of the fittest.  

The Christian world view, however, is completely consistent in describing what we observe in human behavior. It fully explains our internal concepts of morality and our innate desires to help those in need as these are characteristics that define creatures designed in God's own image. It also completely explains why we, in practice and in heart, consistently fail to live up to this morality through our fallen sinful nature. Most people, when arguing the naturalistic world view will point to the failures of the church as an example of how religion fails to successfully fulfill the internal law that we all feel. But this failure itself is entirely consistent with what scripture reveals to us about the fallen nature of man and of our inability to navigate the path of moral behavior ourselves apart from God. 

This is just one example of many. A true and honest look will reveal that the Christian world view is the only world view that is completely free from all internal inconsistencies. Precisely what you would expect from the truth.

Much ink has been spilled over the course of human history debating this issue so I do not expect to be able to treat it fully here. For an excellent treatment of the subject in more detail, I would highly recommend Mere Christianity. No one quite says it like C.S. Lewis. In the mean time, if you will remember to ask yourself if your world view adequately explains the universe and observed human behavior in an internally consistent and complete way, you will begin to find that there is only one single world view that succeeds and that is Christianity. 

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. ~Colossians 1:16-17

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