Ethics

Is God the Basis for Morality? Part 2

1024px-CMB_Timeline300_no_WMAP

As you recall from part 1, I argued that it is more rational to believe that morals originated from an intrinsically valuable, intelligent Creator (commonly known as God) than for morals to have emerged evolutionarily through a valueless, non-intelligent, cause-effect physical process.

To defend this argument, I suggested three criteria that every valid ethical system of morality should require. First, any sufficient moral system should have an objective standard of what is right and wrong. Second, any sufficient moral system should explain the connection between free will and human responsibility. Third, any sufficient moral system should present justification for human value. In this paper, I will argue the second point.

#2. Any sufficient moral system should explain the connection between free will and human responsibility.

The Oxford dictionary defines free will as “the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one’s own discretion.” When we say a person has free will, we are assuming the person is responsible for his or her action. Why? Because humans are capable of freely choosing to do either good or evil.

This makes sense if God exists. Because God is a non-physical being, God is not controlled by anything external or internal. Since we as human beings are created in God’s image, we all possess a non-physical mind that is not determined by the physical and chemical processes in our brain state. So then, if I speak rudely to my wife, I am obligated to confess my wrongness, seek forgiveness, and take responsibility for my wrong behavior. I can’t say that my prefrontal cortex was acting up that day as an excuse not to apologize.

Atheist Sam Harris states in his book Free Will, that “A person’s conscious thoughts, intentions, and efforts at every moment are preceded by causes of which he is unaware. What is more, they are preceded by deep causes—genes, childhood experience—for which no one, however evil, can be held morally responsible.” Even Michael Shermer said in his book The Science of Good and Evil: If you abandon free will in favor of Naturalism, moral responsibility flies out the courtroom window.

So then, next time you say something rude to your friend, cheat on your exam, or get pulled over speeding by a cop, just tell them: “I am simply an organic machine at the mercy of the chemical and physical reactions occurring in my body. See if they let you off the hook…

Is God the Basis for Morality? Part 1

1024px-CMB_Timeline300_no_WMAP

Before I argue that God is the best explanation for moral values, I want to first clear up four misconceptions that people have regarding morality.

  1. You do not have to believe in God to perform moral actions. An Atheist can give his wife flowers on Valentine’s Day, be a crying shoulder for a friend, or give charitable donations to those in need.
  2. You do not have to believe in God to know morality. Everyone is capable of recognizing moral values because they are embedded in our consciences by God. Romans 2:15 says that the laws of God are written on the hearts of mankind.
  3. You can believe in God and do bad things, and even do them in the name of religion. The Medieval Inquisition in 1252 led by Pope Innocent IV, who was not so innocent, tortured apostates by roping their hands behind their back and painfully dislocating their joints. These actions were morally reprehensible because of our understanding of human dignity. People can do bad things by distorting religious creeds just as easily as people can do bad things by distorting the methodology of science. For example, Nazi doctors infecting innocent humans with gangrene to experiment for future biological warfare. The argument goes both ways.
  4. The definition of morality – Most people would approve that morality deals with the intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are good or right and those that are bad and wrong.

Now that common ground has been established, here is my main argument for why God is the best explanation for the origin of moral values: It is more rational to believe that morals originated from an intrinsically valuable, intelligent Creator (commonly known as God) than for morals to have emerged evolutionarily through a valueless, non-intelligent, cause-effect physical process.

To defend this argument, I suggest three criteria that every valid ethical system of morality should require. First, any sufficient moral system should have an objective standard of what is right and wrong. Second, any sufficient moral system should explain the connection between free will and human responsibility. Third, any sufficient moral system should present justification for human value.

Let’s now focus on the first criteria. #1. Any sufficient moral system should have an objective standard of what is right and wrong. To say that morality is objective is to argue that the idea of right and wrong are universally fixed for all times and all cultures, regardless of human opinion. Saying “murdering an innocent person is wrong” is just as objectively true as 2+2=4 or the speed of light travels at 186,000 miles per second. So, even if someone believed that 2+2=something other than 4, or said “murdering an innocent person was okay” their opinion would still be wrong.

My grandmother-in-law lived during the diabolical reign of Josef Stalin. Between the years 1937 and 1938, commonly known as the great purge, Stalin authorized the execution of over 40,000 innocent people, 90% of which were confirmed to have been systematically shot to death. The historian Dmitri Volkogonov in his book, Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy, said that Stalin was reported saying: “Who is going to remember all this in ten or twenty years of time? No one.”

Stalin was wrong. Today, we still remember the evil atrocities that happened during the Soviet Union. Both the skeptic and I would agree that what he did was evil. Even if Stalin thought it was morally permissible, or the Communist Party in the Union justified genocide since they were just following orders from their leader, it was still wrong. International law today, which supersedes particular cultures, would condemn this act as a human rights violation, just like suppression of women’s rights, human trafficking, and racial discrimination.

If an Atheist was asked, why was this wrong?” I think they could make a case, even without referencing God. They might say mass genocide does not lead to the survival and flourishing of human beings; it leads to starvation, pain, and psychological trauma. Also, randomly killing people will not build trust and cooperation within a species group. A Naturalist might further add that evolution favors genes that cooperate, which will aid you in survival.

I would agree with some of these statements, but then I would ask the skeptic the following question: Is genocide evil because it prevents human well-being, or is it evil regardless of what you or your DNA thinks? If you say it is evil because genocide prevents human well-being, what if we conceive of a world in which Stalin won the war, brainwashed everyone into believing what he did was okay, and it became a social norm. Even if you’re genes in DNA “used to think” genocide was evil, wouldn’t it need to adapt to this new way of thinking to survive? If you don’t adapt, you are not socially cooperating with the majority’s opinion. If you don’t cooperate with the majority’s opinion, your being a rebellious genetic mutation. And if the majority finds out, you could be exterminated. This will not maximize your human well-being. Richard Dawkins even said on p.69 of his book, the Selfish gene: “The best strategy for an individual depends upon what the majority of the population are doing.” I hope Richard Dawkins doesn’t think that premise is true in a corrupt society.

If you say that “genocide” is wrong regardless of what you or your genes think, then it must be grounded in something other than your opinion or the process of Naturalistic evolution. The example above eliminates Naturalistic evolution as a valid source for objective morals since it can be shown to change depending on the situation. So then, the best option for objective moral values is that they are found in God’s unchanging character. Contrary to what Atheists might say, God’s commands are not random like evolution and are not independent of His character. God is the greatest good, full of love, and is the standard that informs us the objective rightness of justice and the wrongness of hatred, discrimination, and “genocide.”

Please leave any comments or questions below. In my next post, I will demonstrate that any sufficient moral system should explain the connection between free will and human responsibility.

Accountability Check-Up

I encourage you to have an accountability check-up with a friend, relative, or pastor that you know well. Here are specific questions that you can ask one another as you meet at Starbucks, work, church, etc. 

Coffee cup

1. How had God blessed you this week? What went right? What problem consumed your thoughts? What went wrong?

2. Have you read God’s word consistently this week? What did you learn? How will you apply it in your life? Describe your prayers for yourself and others. Are you spending time communicating with God? How has your relationship with Christ grown over the past week?

3. How were you tempted this week? How did you respond? Do you have any unconfessed sin in your life? If so, would you like to share it. Did you worship in church this week? Was your faith in Jesus strengthened? Have you shared your faith? Tell me about your experience.

4. How is your relationship going with friends? family? spouse? How are your children doing? Are you encouraging them? How are your finances? Are you sharing, saving, or spending in a godly manner?

5. Do you feel you are following God’s will? Do you sense his peace and presence in your life? What are you struggling with? Have you made provision to overcome this struggle? Are your priorities in the right order? Is your moral and ethical behavior as it should be?

6. Have you lied about any of these questions? Then you can close with 10 minutes of prayer and focus on the concerns of the week. This is a great tool to keep one another accountable. It should be practiced with grace and humility.

These questions were taken from The Man in the Mirror. For more help, see their website at http://www.maninthemirror.org