The subject of morality seems to always come up when the discussion turns to God and His existence (or lack thereof). So I want to make it perfectly clear that I completely understand and agree that non-theists, atheists, jews, muslims, Christians, pagans, etc, all have followers that are both moral and not very moral. The issue is not whether people can be moral and not believe in God. The issue is where the “Moral Law” comes from, who has the authority to set it, and whether or not there is such thing as a Moral law in the first place.
Also note that some of the subjects touched on in this post will be explored deeper in future posts.
Let’s begin with evolution. If we all evolved from on single cell to the plethora of life we have now, where does morality fit into the picture? Are there moral laws that always apply or are they specific to the human experience? The answer to this these two questions are very important. At the risk of once again over simplifying things, if Morality is a product of evolution, then we have to acknowledge some pretty ugly and uncomfortable truths.
Evolution science tells us that evolution is a constant. Species and creatures are constantly in a state of evolution. Granted, it happens so slowly that we don’t actually notice it at all. It is only after a great number of years that we can look back and say “Oh yeah, these were the changes that caused us to evolve to this state.” Those previous states however, in our evolution path, would not become irrelevant. What a species allegedly was at that point was legit.
If morality is also a product of evolution, then it means that it too is constantly changing. It also means that the understanding of what is moral changed over time. Thus if you take a snapshot of one period in time, the morality of the day is just as valid as the morality of today. Think everything from the crusades to slavery to the Salem Witch burnings. Are any of those things moral? Absolutely not. But if Morality is on an evolutionary path, then at that time, during those periods, it was absolutely moral. Thus, we as modern “enlightened” humans can’t really pass judgment on the “sins of the past” because that was a different morality for a different time.
“Outrageous! Those people committed a lot of heinous acts!” Well yes. I think of Christopher Columbus and the recent push to change his holiday to one that celebrates the people that he tried to destroy. If we apply that morality is this culture-specific, evolving thing, then we cannot hold Christopher Columbus to today’s standard. It must be considered through the lens of the time. Because it was deemed as moral then, it was a moral act. Morality has evolved. Today it would not be OK. But that’s today.
Now we’ve backed ourselves into a dilemma. Either Morality is a constant which still exists regardless of whether or not a people, culture, or society believe or agree with it, or morality is not absolute and is therefore subject to those that just happen to agree with it. If the latter is the case, then everyone throughout history was right. Including Columbus. Including the Crusaders. Including the slavers.
If however moral law is objective, then all of those atrocities were immoral regardless of what people at the time thought. They are immoral even if a group of people today got together and decided all of those things were good ideas. And the bigger problem is, in order for any person to be labeled as immoral, then there must be an objective moral standard to hold them to. This isn’t possible if morality is based on the current evolved state of the human consciousness. Other questions would have to be answered. Who’s morality is right? Which culture is right? Does the United States have moral authority? No? Perhaps Saudi Arabia then, a country that kills homosexuals? Surely they believe they are doing it for moral reasons.
See, without objective morality, then nothing is actually evil. It puts morality strictly in the eye of the person observing it. An argument can be made that a society comes up with a moral code in order to function. But even that isn’t a reason for their moral superiority. So what if one group of people came together on the planet and decided that these were the things they detested? It doesn’t mean that another group somewhere else had to agree.
Take for example the recent killing of a missionary by a remote tribe off the coast of India. Which side was evil? The ones that killed or the one that quite literally, just wanted to talk.
“Well, first he broke a law. They were to be left alone.” Great. Someone who kills gays in Saudi Arabia would be well within the law. Clearly a man-made law does not equal moral.
“OK, but it’s not our business to go there and tell them that the way they are living is wrong.” In a world without God, this makes sense. As we mentioned in the last post, in a world without God, we all meet the same fate anyway. So why bother with that one remote tribe that just wants to kill everyone?
Is it our business to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for their decision to execute a certain group of people? Is it our business to hold the people of the past up to our moral microscope? They were doing what was right in their own sight.
Isaiah 5:21, “What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes and think themselves so clever.”
We all hold people to a higher standard than we hold ourselves. That’s the problem with a world without God. There isn’t one final authority on what is right and what is wrong. There are just a bunch of people pointing fingers while hoping that nobody finds out about their own failures.
Since we now see that objectivity is necessary in order to truly hold people accountable to what is good and what is evil, we now need to establish where this objectivity comes from. If there is a transcendent moral law, there must be a transcendent moral law giver. This doesn’t mean you have to agree right here that it’s the God of the Bible, but this transcendent, objective moral law has to come from somewhere.
We don’t find it in nature because what is good and bad is inconsistent. A lion that eats its young is not evil. A human that does is. We don’t hold a mountain lion responsible for its actions when it attacks and kills. We might euthanize to keep it from killing again, but we don’t blame the mountain lion. If someone detonates a nuclear bomb destroying the world, they would be evil. If an asteroid strikes an obliterates the planet, that would not be evil.
This opens up another aspect as well. Why does objective morality only apply to humans? We’ve already determined that it can’t just be because of their higher evolved state. If the moral law is always in affect, why is it humans that it applies to.
This is where you have to decide who is in control of the moral law. This is where a moral law giver must be present. And this moral law giver must be above the human experience. This is the only way objective morality can exist and be specific to humans. The universe can’t give us that. Nature can’t. It must come from a being that had a specific standard of living in mind. You evolved mind doesn’t just decide what is good and what is evil. It has the knowledge of good and evil inside with a caveat.
This same mind also decides whether to agree with the objective moral law or to create it’s own version of the law. This is where we get all the different groups that claim they have the answer to all that is good. We can’t have all those answers. We can only judge the world from the perspective of our experience. So, our view of morality and good and evil will always be skewed based on how we experience the world. This is no way to set up an objective moral code and is the reason country’s are in a constant state of tension or war all over the world. The real reason for problems in the world is that humanity can’t agree on what is right and what is wrong. And, it’s been going on since nearly the beginning.
GOD IS THE ONLY MORAL LAW GIVER THAT MAKES SENSE
In the beginning, God…
This sentence in Genesis 1:1 starts the story of God and His interactions with the world and the human race. While many religions have creation stories that decry the evil woes of man, the Christian Bible is the only one that gives a reason for it and offers a path of redemption from it. The Ancient Egyptians had the most sophisticated theology of the ancient world. However in all there rituals and beliefs, it never addresses why humanity seems to always err on the side of evil.
Enter the Hebrews. God decides to pick out Abram from a random city (UR) and reveal his true self as well as a plan to redeem the brokenness in the world caused by humanity’s arrogance that it can decide good and evil for itself. The other religions of the ancient world might point to a god or gods that interact with humans as well, but they either find humans amusing, a nuisance, or even, as some ancient Babylonian texts show, just pawns in some celestial fight over heaven and earth. But then comes the Torah and the God of Israel who not only gives humans purpose for their existence, but also a willingness to correct the mistakes of their past.
As we continue our Journey of Faith, we will see what this path looks likes. For now, you must decide if a world without God, which would lack moral absolutes and judgment for never solved crimes makes sense or if God, a moral judge and lawgiver fits better with the narrative of life. Is life just a series of events and then you die? Or does it all work together of a higher purpose. Open your mind and put your beliefs to the test. You might be surprised where it takes you.
Until next time…