Recently, I wrote an article concerning the problem of whether or not an objective moral standard (or truth) exists and how, in pre-establishing the existence of God, this problems ceases to be a problem at all.
However, if you were to believe that this would be the end of the argument, you would be mistaken, and quite so. For while the existence of God does serve as a means of explaining the existence of moral truth, some people would argue that His existence is not the only means of explanation.
You see, in my previous post I wrote my response largely in regards to two types of people: (1) those who believe that there is no objective moral standard whatsoever, and (2) those who believe in an objective moral standard, but find it far less easy to be defined and would argue that it does not come from any particular source (this is where the controversy between what is “opinion” and what is “fact” came into play). However, a third group of people arise in opposition to my question, and they are who I seek to address today: those who believe that there is some sort of objective moral standard, or Natural Law, in this world, but believe it to be defined by someone other than God.
This is a topic that Lewis addresses directly in the first book of his Mere Christianity, though I think my arguments in response to the objections he raises will be far different than those he uses in the text. (Not to say that his arguments are inferior to my own, for I would be foolish to claim as much of a man whose name is nearly synonymous with the word “apologetics.” I am merely stating that my approach is slightly different to that which he took.) In the book, Lewis begins his moral argument for God by introducing the idea of quarreling, and how the very human partaking in such a frivolous act in fact proves that each of us inherently believes that we know something which is “right” and which is “wrong.” Lewis acknowledges two objections to this argument, and those are the two arguments I seek to debunk today.
The first objection is that of instinct. “’Isn’t what you call the Moral Law simply our herd instinct and hasn’t it been developed just like all our other instincts?’” Lewis paraphrases his opponents in the beginning of Chapter 2. The objection is that morality is in fact based on our natural instinct and that that moral defense of God falls flat if you simply consider that morality is something ingrained into our innermost psyches. Proponents of this argument say that God need not exist for Moral Law to exist, simply because our instinct dictates that which is good and that which is bad.
I could address this objection by itself, but I find it easiest to address the two together, because I believe that the two objections in and of themselves point out the flaws in the other, with little work needing be done by me other than listing out the loopholes through text. You see, the second objection is that of convention. “’Isn’t what you call the Moral Law just a social convention, something that is put into us by education?’” Lewis writes in summary of this latter group, those who argue that morality is simply an echo of the past, a result of what our parents and teachers and peers have taught us over the course of our lives. From this perspective, our morality is simply a human construct, and thus God need not exist for Moral Law to be established.
Do you already begin to see the failures of these two arguments?
The way these arguments work against each other is this: Instinct, in and of itself, is naturally a selfish albeit uncontrollable trait, whereas unselfishness lies at the very foundation of morality. You see, whenever a car comes barreling at you from down the street, your first response is to save yourself, and it is only with afterthought that you think, “Wait, is there anybody else in danger that also needs saving?” Instinct is, first and foremost, a desire of self-preservation, whereas the morality that kicks in later must be gradually woven into the mental framework so that it appears as a subsidiary of instinct, though it cannot in fact be instinctual in and of itself. This is not to say that what is instinctual cannot be moral – for certainly instinct is a good thing in and of itself – but merely an acknowledgement that instinct can produce things that would be considered immoral, such as pushing pulling somebody else out into the road as you try to push yourself out of the car’s path. Conversely, the argument of social convention works against that of instinct in the fact that one is learned or taught, whereas the other is, well, instinct. Natural. Inherent. The two arguments cannot work together, and they are thus self-defeating.
However, these are two separate arguments, so pointing out that one defeats the other does me no good given the fact that one person who adheres to one of the beliefs might not adhere to the other, and thus they are not defeated in their single belief. So now I must address them separately, and I will try to do so quickly so as to honor your time and not make too much of an argument that has been debated for centuries past.
In regards to the first objection, I will not spend much time on this one because I will admit that I find it quite silly. I have already proven that morality and instinct do not always fall in line with one another (instinct tells me to save up my money so that I can live prosperously, whereas morality begs that I give some of it to the poor), so I feel that nothing more needs be addressed here. Let us then turn to the second objection – that of social convention – because that is where things get a little more muddy:
To those of you who would argue that morality is something learned through the ages, I would say that you fall into a category that has failed to truly consider the reality of your objection. If your parent or teachers or peers taught you morality, and their parents and teachers and peers taught them morality, and so on and so on to the beginning of time, then this would suggest that there was somebody who would have to have established the basic groundworks of Moral Law in the very beginning, would there not? There must have been a man – or woman, have you – at the beginning of time who would have been the first being of rational thought to think, “Ahh, I must established that which I can call ‘good’ and that which I can call ‘evil.’” And then, this law being established, they would teach their children this law, which would then be passed down through the ages until it at last reaches you and me and all of those living on the world today. Make sense? (This is still under the presumption that there is no God, as is the stance of many people who make this objection.)
So then, I beg ask you, where did unselfishness come from? If a single being at the beginning of time created morality – for certainly it had to be sourced from a single entity rather than a multitude – what reason would he or she have for defining that which is “good” as anything but that which benefitted them? What reason would they have from withholding their anger at the first person who made them mad, and thus killing them then and there simply due to annoyance? The self-preservation argument – to multiply and populate the world – could be made, but what then of honesty and graciousness being labeled as moral? What reason would man have to be honest or gracious to another person if it was not a pre-established thing defined as “good”? I cannot see a reality in which man, on his own, would be able to define these things as good, because naturally he would only define that which is moral as things that best benefited himself, for he would have no reason whatsoever to consider the opinions or feelings of others. There is no God in this situation and therefore no reason to call that which is good “good,” so he would define morality in a way that best suited him. And thus, by teaching what is moral to his children and them to their children – all the way along the line until you reach our current generation – we would reach a definition of morality grounded in relativism: “Do whatever best fits you. Treat yo self.” And while there are people who do attest to this argument, I have already proven in my previous post how this too falls flat. Do you follow?
Given all of this, I would say that yes, morality is something that must be taught, but it is not merely a social convention. If you trace it back to the beginning of time – to that single, defining entity – the source must be an almighty Creator (a case for theism) and even more importantly the source must be the Christian God, since He alone is the God that defines morality as most would define it. Many gods are kind, or good, or compassionate – I believe the god of the Jews and the Muslims would fit into this category – but only the Christian God – Jesus Christ – fits into that which can be called “gracious,” that which is most definitely a character that would be placed on Moral Law, regardless of who you are and what your viewpoint is. Lewis in fact made this very point at a conference one day, when debate broke out about what made Christianity unique amongst all the other world religions. “What’s the rumpus about?” Lewis asked as he entered the room. Upon being filled in on the topic of the situation – the uniqueness of Christianity, he did not hesitate in his response: “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”
Do you see my point? Let me try to break it down for you:
- For those who argue that Moral Law is a result of instinct, your argument loses ground at the topic of unselfishness.
- For those who argue that it is a result of social convention, your argument falls to the same pitfall when you realize that at the beginning of time, a human would only define that which is good as that which would naturally benefit himself – he would have no reason whatsoever to be unselfish.
- Thus, the existence of Moral Law proves that God must exist. (An omnipotent God cannot act selfishly or unselfishly because He is already complete, and thus nothing can add to or take away from Him. Thus it logically follows that He would be unbiased in establishing a Moral Law, explaining why some elements of morality work against our selfish nature.)
- Concludingly, the very fact that “grace” is unquestioningly labeled as a moral act proves that the Christian God is the true God, because He alone has displayed grace in that He sent His Son – Jesus Christ, who was, is, and will always be God – down to earth, God made flesh, to die for us. If God is omni-benevolent – which He must be – then the very act of this graciousness proves that He alone is the pinnacle of morality, Goodness in its truest form.
This is how I make sense of things, and I hope it makes sense to you as well. NOW LET’S BE HONEST…other arguments can come up to refute my own arguments, but that’s the fun of it all! I take great enjoyment and discovering how all things point to God, so even if you can logically refute the points I have made, I will take great pleasure in debating God’s existence to no end. If you have questions as to God’s existence or questions as to whether or not morality truly exists, I ask that you pray about it – it couldn’t hurt, could it? Pray that God opens your minds and shows you truths that you never before experienced, revealing Himself to you in the world that surrounds you, even if that be through the very existence of right and wrong.
Hopefully I didn’t ramble to long, but thanks for reading. Have a nice day.