The Clues of God (Part 4)

 

EVIDENCE 4: OBJECTIVE MORAL VALUES

In our examination of the evidence for God’s existence, we now depart from the physical sciences and enter the realm of philosophy.

The existence of objective moral values is a very powerful piece of evidence for God’s existence. The central thesis of this argument is that objective moral values CANNOT exist without God, and that the obvious existence of objective moral values is therefore strong evidence that God exists. This argument is comprised of two premises and a conclusion:

PREMISE 1: If God doesn’t exist, objective moral values don’t exist.

PREMISE 2: Objective moral values DO appear to exist.

CONCLUSION: Therefore, God exists.

In order to fully appreciate the logic of this argument, it is helpful to examine each of the premises separately.

PREMISE 1:  IF GOD DOESN’T EXIST, OBJECTIVE MORAL VALUES DON’T EXIST.

This premise describes the concept that any moral standards which are absolute and objective are only possible if there exists some kind of ultimate, absolute standard against which all other standards are measured. If no such external standard exists, then human moral values are just one person’s opinion versus another’s.

Conceptual illustration of a group of people separated from the scales of justice by a large chasm depicting inability to get justice.

Let me give you an illustration. Suppose you lived on an isolated island whose small community had never seen a tape measure or a ruler.  The population had grown up with books that mentioned various units of measurement like inches and centimetres, but no one had ever seen anything to indicate the exact size of these units of measurement. People speculated as to how tall they all were, and often disagreed with each other about their relative heights, but without an objective means of accurately measuring height, they were only guessing. Then, one day, a tape measure washes up on the shore. Now they have an objective means of assessing their height. It is no longer a matter of debate or opinion. It is no longer one person’s opinion versus another’s. There is now an external, authoritative, objective ruler against which all former measurements and guesses can be compared. Measurement is no longer a matter of subjective opinion; it is now a matter of objective truth.

The same applies to moral values. Objective moral values can logically only exist if there is some absolute set of standards that exist APART FROM the subjective opinions of mankind, against which our various opinions can be measured and compared. Objective moral values are only possible if there is an external, transcendent set of absolute standards which can provide an inarguable, unchangeable ‘measuring tape’ for assessing human behaviour and attitudes. Without such an external, transcendent set of standards, morality becomes relative; a matter of personal opinion or, at best, group consensus.

The concept that moral standards are simply a matter of personal or group opinion is referred to as subjectivism or relativism. Indeed, relativism is the ultimate, logical extension of atheism. If God does not exist, then we can decide for ourselves what we will consider to be right and wrong. There is no one to tell us what to do, so we can make up our own rules and values.

This, of course, is precisely the direction in which our society has been heading during the last few centuries as we have gradually abandoned our previous Judeo-Christian roots and embraced secularism (a society divorced from religion). Relativism is now the predominant moral philosophy in our ‘sophisticated’ secular world: a philosophy which proclaims that there are no absolutes, that all values are valid and no one has the right to judge or criticise another person’s values. In removing God from our foundation, we have thrown away our objective measuring tape and now, it appears, almost anything goes.

Some atheist will try to argue that it is still possible to have objective moral values without God. They will argue that things like murder and rape are objectively wrong and we don’t need God in order to perceive that. But they are missing the point! I agree that murder and rape are objectively wrong, but only because horrible actions such as that go against the commandments and the very nature of our Holy God. But if atheists deny the existence of God, there is no longer any solid basis for objective morality, there is only the shifting sands of personal and public opinion.

Atheists will persist in their argument, claiming that objective standards can be ascertained via majority opinion or public consensus. But this is not a solid basis for any moral values, because the majority of people can be wrong. The majority of Nazis in Germany in the 1940s decided it was a good idea to exterminate millions of Jews and other minority groups. If objective values are determined by majority vote, then we are in big trouble, because the majority often get it horribly wrong!

Not only is it possible for the majority of people to get it wrong, but establishing societal values via majority vote will inevitably result in constant moral backflips, because society keeps changing its mind. Fifty years ago, the majority of people thought that homosexuality was indecent and a perversion, and homosexuals were even arrested. Today, society has changed its mind. The majority of people now believe that homosexuality is a beautiful expression of love, and we even allow homosexuals to marry. Where is the objective moral standard on this issue? Is our current view regarding homosexuality right, and the previous one wrong? Or vice versa? Both views were established via majority opinion, so which is the objective, absolute standard? They can’t both be right.

You see, absolute, objective moral standards cannot be established via popular vote or public opinion. Objective moral standards require an external, transcendent set of standards that do not change with opinion or popularity.

But we haven’t plumbed the depths of this issue yet. Let me go even further down a very dark path. If there is no God, then even murder and rape cannot be said to be wrong in an absolute, objective sense. The murderer or rapist is certainly going against the majority opinion by his actions; he is breaking a moral code that the vast majority have agreed upon. But on what basis can we objectively say that, even in these cases, the majority is right? The murderer or rapist can simply say, “I disagree with your moral standards. You can’t force your standards upon me.” We can lock up the rapist or murderer and throw away the key, we can condemn him for breaking a popularly voted moral code, but without an absolute, external measuring tape there is really no logical basis for claiming that murder or rape are OBJECTIVELY wrong. It is just the murderer’s or rapist’s opinion against ours. Without a Holy, law-giving God, there is no ultimate accountability and no absolute moral code, and we are all left shuffling around in moral darkness.

Jeffrey Dahmer was one of the world’s most infamous killers. He ate his victims and stored parts of them in his freezer. He was caught, convicted and imprisoned, where he was eventually murdered by another prisoner. Before his death, however, he was interviewed on the American TV program, NBC Dateline, and was asked why he did such terrible things. He stated,

“If a person doesn’t think that there’s a God to be accountable to, then what’s the point of trying to modify your behaviour in order to keep within acceptable ranges. That’s how I thought anyway. I always believed in the theory of evolution – that we all just came from slime and when we die, you know, that was it, there’s nothing.” [1]

Amazingly, before he was murdered in prison, Jeffrey Dahmer was genuinely converted to Christ. On the Dateline program he said,

“I have since come to believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is truly God and that I, along with everyone else, will one day be fully accountable to Him.”[2]

What is particularly striking about Dahmer’s confession is the correlation he made between his disbelief in God and the perceived absence of objective moral values. And in one sense, he was absolutely correct; if there is no God, there are no absolute, objective moral values. This is the ultimate extension of atheism, but very few atheists truly perceive this truth. The only way objective values can exist is if there is a God who has set in place standards which exist above and beyond mankind’s shifting opinions.

Some atheists DO finally reach this conclusion. Richard Dawkins, the outspoken atheist and evolutionist, once admitted,

“Without God, there is no evil and no good: nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”

Similarly, Fyodor Dostoyevski, the Russian novelist and philosopher had one of his characters declare:

“If there is no God, everything is permissible.”

These scholars have perceived a truth that few people fully grasp: without God, objective values simply cannot exist.

 

PREMISE 2: OBJECTIVE MORAL VALUES DO EXIST

Here is the great dilemma for atheists: objective moral values DO exist. Even atheists admit this. In my ongoing debates and discussions with atheists I find that almost no one denies the existence of objective moral values in our world.

Almost all of us hold to a strong belief in absolute moral goodness and evil. For example, we recognise that child abuse, rape and torture are evil. They are not merely socially unacceptable because of some kind of majority vote. They aren’t wrong simply because of some kind of communal subjective moral PREFERENCE. They are inherently evil actions, in and of themselves. There is something so IMPLICITLY evil about such things as child abuse and rape that we don’t have to be told they are wrong; we simply KNOW it in the depths of our souls. We don’t have to hold a national referendum to decide whether or not rape or child abuse are acceptable. The evil nature of such actions is so intrinsically obvious that we recoil from it with understandable disgust and those who commit such indecent acts are rightly regard as sick and evil.

In the same way, we don’t need to hold a referendum to determine whether it is a good thing to love someone or to care for little babies. These are so obviously and implicitly good, in and of themselves, that they require no debate. Once again, those who err from these objective moral standards are considered to be morally sick.

C.S. Lewis, in his masterpiece, Mere Christianity, refers to the fact that mankind has an inbuilt sense of right and wrong, a sense of what is fair and decent and what is not, which he calls variously “the Law of Conscience”, “the Law of Decent Behaviour” and the “Law of Human Nature” (not inferring that it has originated from blind nature, but simply that these values are “natural” to us).[4]

Lewis continues:

“Although there are differences between the moral ideas of one time or country and those of another, the differences are not really very great—not nearly so great as most people imagine—and you can recognise the same law running through them all.”[7]

Thus, while society may, at times, shift and change its collective opinion concerning the application of some moral values, there remains a core set of values that we regard as non-negotiable absolutes. Although our post-modern society claims to espouse relativism (the belief that there are no absolutes), in practice, the vast majority of the human race hold certain core values in place as absolutes. It is absolutely good to love and care for a baby, and it is absolutely evil to dash its brain out against a rock. It is absolutely good to love and care for a child and it is absolutely evil to torture and rape a child. As a society we are rightly incensed when we hear of clergy and priests who rape and sexually abuse children in their churches. Our moral outrage at such an action arises not merely from its departure from an agreed-upon moral preference, but from our sense, deep within our collective conscience, that the action itself is inherently, implicitly evil.

If you are completely honest with yourself, you will almost certainly agree that objective moral values really do exist. Our strong reaction when they are broken indicates the fundamental nature of those values that runs far deeper than mere collective opinion or referendum. These values are right or wrong, not because we voted on them, but simply because they just are.

C.S. Lewis comments:

“We are forced to believe in a real Right and Wrong. People may be sometimes mistaken about them, just as people sometimes get their sums wrong; but they are not a matter of mere taste and opinion any more than the multiplication table.”[8]

But this presents a major dilemma for atheism. Because if absolute values DO exist, and such values are only possible if God exists (as Premise 1 states), then the inescapable conclusion is that God must, therefore, exist.

Some moral relativists will argue that our perceived objective moral standards are simply the product of social conditioning. They claim that these moral preferences have arisen as a result of society instilling those values into our collective psyche – a form of mass indoctrination. Furthermore, they claim that the reason for society’s preference for these values is not because of any inherent good or evil, but simply because those values are convenient for the advancement of society as a whole. According to this theory, we have come to uphold these values simply because they are convenient for our continuation as a species. For example, according to this view, moral precepts such as “don’t hit people” and “don’t lie” are ubiquitous not because they are rooted in some kind of pre-existing, transcendent, objective moral code, but simply because they have been arbitrarily instilled into us by society as a convenient means of maintaining order and optimising the quality of our lives. To put it even more simply, this view states that our moral values are TAUGHT rather than inherited from some transcendent source.

There are three things to say in response to this.

Firstly, just because something is taught to us, doesn’t mean it is not objectively true. School children have to be taught mathematical concepts, but they are still objectively true. The statement that 2 + 2 = 4 is objectively true and the fact that it has to be taught to young children does not negate its objective truth.

Secondly, the moral instruction that takes place within society is not merely the imposition of arbitrary standards upon individuals – not some form of indoctrination – but rather, represents the REINFORCEMENT of pre-existing objective moral values that already reside within the conscience of the individual and within our collective conscience as a society. When parents teach children that it is wrong to hit someone, they are appealing to the pre-existing objective moral value that violence is wrong; that to inflict hurt upon another person is inherently wrong. Deep down everyone, even children, know this, but we need reinforcement, particularly at a young age, to train us to live in accordance with this value.

Thirdly, the strength of our emotional response to certain moral values indicates they are not mere convenient social preferences. Our abhorrence and revulsion in response to hideous acts of violence and abuse make no sense if the perpetrators are simply breaking convenient social conventions. When someone rapes a woman or sexually abuses a child a profound sense of outrage and disgust is generated from deep within us. We know implicitly, without having to be taught, that such reprehensible acts represent the breaking of an absolute, objective moral standard. We recognise such crimes as inherently evil and the perpetrators as sick, and this is reflected in our emotional response.

C.S. Lewis states:

“Consequently, this Rule of Right and Wrong, or Law of Human Nature, or whatever you call it, must somehow or other be a real thing—a thing that is really there, not made up by ourselves. … It begins to look as if we shall have to admit that there is more than one kind of reality; that, in this particular case, there is something above and beyond the ordinary facts of men’s behaviour, and yet quite definitely real—a real law, which none of us made, but which we find pressing on us.”[11]

CONCLUSION

If both of the first two premises in the moral argument are true, then it logically follows that God must exist. If objective moral values are only possible if God exists, and if objective moral values DO, in fact, exist, then the unavoidable conclusion is that God exists. In this sense, it is a water-tight logical argument. To maintain atheism, one has to disprove one of the two premises of this argument, and it seems to me (and to many philosophers) that disproving either one is not possible.

For a more comprehensive treatment of the compelling evidence for God’s existence, see my book, “7 Reasons to Believe”.

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[1] Jeffrey Dahmer, interview on NBC Dateline, February, 1994

[2] Jeffrey Dahmer, interview on NBC Dateline, February, 1994

[3] William Lane Craig, “On Guard”, David C. Cook, Colorado, 2010, p.137.

[4] C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity”, 1952, republished 1980, William Collins, London. Kindle Edition, p.2

[5] See C.S. Lewis, “The Abolition of Man”, Oxford University Press, 1943, republished 1978.

[6] C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity”, 1952, republished 1980, William Collins, London. Kindle Edition, p.2

[7] C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity”, 1952, republished 1980, William Collins, London. Kindle Edition, p.6

[8] C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity”, 1952, republished 1980, William Collins, London. Kindle Edition,p.2

[9] William Lane Craig, “On Guard”, David C. Cook, Colorado, 2010, p.142.

[10] Michael Ruse, “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,” inThe Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262, 268-9

[11] C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity”, 1952, republished 1980, Harper Collins, London. Kindle Edition,p.11

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