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"Where do you get your morality from? It can’t be God!" Debunked (A Response)
[Disclaimer: I wrote this Hub in an attempt to answer many of the questions I've been hearing regarding morality and the existence of God. It is not my intent to attack Atheists or those that believe otherwise. I have found, however, that many of the explanations I've heard on the flip side of the issue seem to break down when analyzed in a logical sense. I am one that loves others and respects others, whether they believe the same or differently. The purpose of this is to present where I see error in the logic of counter-arguments and to present what I see as a more logical conclusion. Thank you for reading!]
Does God exist? If God does exist, is He good? If a good, or benevolent, God does exist, then why is there so much suffering and evil in this world? Is there such a thing as moral absolutes, or moral law? And if so, does this prove the need for a moral law giver? If so, must this moral law giver be God?
These questions and others like them have been asked by many. This is not a new topic. You can find a plethora of information about the topic, on both sides of the issue, from the most intellectual of minds to the very common opinions of average men. I do not claim that this article contains the most well-thought-out and logical of arguments that have ever been offered—I know there are people much smarter than I that have written on the topic. This article is simply one perspective among many that exist. Additionally, I would like to state that I am not going to try and tackle this topic comprehensively. There is so much to be said and even if I knew all there was to know, my goal is to write an article, not to write a book series on the matter. Having said that, let’s jump in with both feet!
I’ve recently been paying attention to the topic of morality and ethics. I was curious to know people’s opinions on the topic of “morality/ethics and God.” So I considered these questions: “Can morality/ethics exist apart from God? Does the very existence of morality prove the existence of God? How can a good God exist in a world full of pain and suffering?
I’ve read many people’s responses to such questions. Although some who oppose God’s existence have explanations that seem compelling at first glance, my response is, “But is this really a valid explanation that makes logical sense or a cleverly stated opinion?” In an attempt to answer these questions, I had to dig deeper. I will not be presenting data from the other camp’s point of view. If you would like to read one’s attempt to explain how morality exists without God, please click HERE to read a fellow hubber’s point of view. (Thank you for your opinion on the flip side of the issue, Philantrophy2012!).
MORAL LAW AND GOD
This article will be predominately focused on the question of morality. I would like to suggest that Absolute Moral Law exists and that the existence of such a law DOES prove the existence of a moral agent that transcends humanity—namely, God. Therefore, I would like to frame the rest of this article within the context of what is called the “Axiological” Argument. The argument goes like this:
1. There is an Objective (Absolute) Moral Law
2. Every Law Has a Law Giver
3. Therefore, there is an Objective (Absolute) Law Giver
4. The Objective (Absolute) Law Giver is God.
If the foundation of this argument is true, then the conclusion is also true. Simply stated: If there IS such a thing as an absolute Moral Law, then it is logical to conclude that there IS an Absolute Moral Law Giver. The first task, therefore, is to determine if there is, indeed, such a thing as Absolute Moral Law.
A helpful distinction to make at the onset of this argument is to look at the difference between “what is” and “what ought to be.” When humankind looks at the world from a descriptive standpoint, it does not try to distinguish between what is “good” or “bad” but simply observes and describes “what is” and “what is not.” Within the realm of this descriptive analysis of moral behavior, humans do not really need help from an “outside source.” In other words, this way of viewing the world does not necessarily mandate the existence of God. If, on the other hand, moral behavior is more than each culture simply describing behavior, then there must be an overarching, superseding morality that exists. In this case, morality is not just described—it is prescribed. Instead of behavior being described as “what is” and “what is not,” it is categorized by “what ought to be” and “what ought not to be.” Reader, I implore you to answer this question: Do we live in a world that merely describes behavior or do we live in such a place where behaviors s are deemed as “right” or “wrong”?
“Just because humanity makes statements on what ‘ought to be’ does not mean that God is needed,” you may say. I would say that such a statement is an opinion, but not a logical conclusion. Let me explain why. For the concept of “what ought to be” to exist, there must exist a type of Moral Absolute, or Moral Law. How does one know what “ought to be” if one does not know what “ought NOT to be”? And how does one know that something is “wrong” unless there is an absolute or a law that states such a behavior is wrong? I’m not talking about a law that is mandated by a state such as, “Do not go over the speed limit.” The type of law I am talking about need not necessarily exist as a written statement of belief by a given culture. I am referring to a moral law that is built into your very humanity. It is a law that is written on one’s heart—or another way to think of this is as the concept of conscience. Both adults and children alike can experience guilt, shame, and regret, even if they haven’t been “taught” such responses to having done “wrong.” If there is no “law” to break, then there could be no concept of having done wrong. And if one cannot experience an action as “wrong” then one cannot have responses such as were mentioned above.
You may be reading this and thinking, “But there is no such thing as absolutes—everything you are describing refers to people’s varying opinions, perspectives, and beliefs.” Well, first off, if you say there is no such thing as absolutes, that statement itself is an absolute and therefore becomes irrelevant according to your line of thinking. Considering the second statement, allow me to share a metaphor to illustrate how although moral relativism may seem “to work” philosophically, it does not work very well in the practical, everyday world in which we live.
THE RULE OF NO RULES NOT SO PRACTICAL: A METAPHOR
A young teenage girl didn’t agree with the “rules” by which her family lived. She viewed her parents’ household rules as their opinions, of which she should not be forced to live under. One summer day, she asked for a family meeting and explained to her parents that the things they deemed “wrong” were simply their opinion. And she should be allowed to make up her own mind about what was “right and wrong” and live according to her own guidelines. Her father, who was a Sociology Professor, responded with the following reply: “Let’s try this for a week. We live according to our rules, and you live according to your rules.” The girl’s mother reluctantly agreed to go along with the trial, although she feared for her daughter’s safety and well-being. The young girl decided that she would only have one rule: NO RULES! She would do what she felt like doing, when she felt like doing it. Before she went to bed that night, she informed her parents that she would no longer be doing her chores on a regular basis. A mess didn’t bother her, so she wasn’t going to be a “clean freak” like the rest of the family. She fell asleep that night, feeling the most free she’d ever felt.
The next day started off great. She slept in as late as she wanted—she had thrown her alarm clock in the garbage. She woke up in the afternoon to an empty house. There was a note on the table that read, “We left to spend the day at the beach. We will be back after dinner!” The young girl was disappointed. Her family knew that going to the beach was her favorite thing to do—why wouldn’t they tell her that they were planning on going? She would have woken up earlier had she known what she would miss by sleeping in. “Oh well,” she said. “I am free! I have the whole house to myself, all day long. I can do whatever I want.” She went to open the pantry to get some food. Much to her surprise, there was a lock on the door! She saw a note fastened to the door that read, “Your mother and I have decided that since you will no longer be contributing to the maintenance of the household, you can no longer enjoy the benefits of labor.”
The girl’s jaw dropped—she couldn’t believe her parents would do such a thing! She ran upstairs to get her piggy bank. She knew she had at least $10—that would feed her for the day. When she went upstairs, there was a bright, yellow post-it note in place of where her piggy bank was supposed to sit. It looked like her older brother’s handwriting. It read, “Hey sis—remember all those times I gave you my extra change? I decided I wanted it back.” The young girl’s face turned red with anger. “This is NOT fair!” she screamed. She opened her closet door to take out her violin. Playing music was a way that helped her to relax. But when she opened the door, she was face-to-face with yet another note. “We know you did the laundry for a month to earn your violin, but we decided that we would rather use the money for an extravagant day out.” This was the icing on the cake. How could her family be so unfair and cruel? At least nobody had taken her computer. She sat down and wrote a very long, well-thought-out letter to her family, stating how unfair and hurtful their actions had been. When they got home that night, she called for a family meeting and said that she had something to share. “We decided family meetings can only be called by parents,” her father responded. But before the girl could open her mouth to reject, her father smiled and said, “So—I call a family meeting.” The girl read her letter aloud. Her father responded, “I can see your point. I suppose there should be a principle of fairness that overrides our personal opinions on the matter. Are you saying that there is a universal principle of fairness to which I should submit?” “Yes!” his daughter emphatically responded. “Then I suppose this universal principle of fairness also applies to you?” her father questioned. “Yes,” the teenage girl answered sheepishly.
This may be a simplified version of the concept, but hopefully this story illustrates the conflict with which many live. They don’t want some “law” to impose its standards of behavior on them, yet they still want to enjoy the benefits of others adhering to the very principles they say do not and should not exist! There is no getting around the fact that even those who argue that there are no absolute values, are holding an absolute value. The argument against there being no such thing as “moral absolutes” falls apart in a similar way. Let me illustrate this point. If moral absolutes don’t exist, then nothing can be considered fair, just, or right. Consider a judge who has strong opinions one way or another. Regardless of those strong opinions, we count on the judge to make decisions based upon something other than his/her personal opinions. We expect for fair and just decisions to be made based upon law. Would you prefer to live in a world in which each person being tried for criminal behavior was judged according to his or her own, personal law based upon his or her individual belief? “I’m sorry judge—but my law says it is good to kill a spouse when they are no longer physically attractive. It works for me!”
DO MORAL ABSOUTES TRANSCEND CULTURE AND TIME?
“But different cultures have different rules about what is right and wrong! One culture can’t dictate to another what they can and can’t do.” This is another statement that I’ve often heard. Well, let’s explore this further. True, what may be fine here is rude or even “wrong” there, but there are some universal values that transcend culture and time. For instance, it is never right for people to kill whoever they want to kill, for absolutely no reason. There are differences when it comes to the topic of what constitutes just or unjust killing, as every culture must determine when it is appropriate or not to kill. Regardless of the specific outcomes of this law in each culture, the point is that this discussion comes up for negotiation because there is an “ought to” to be discussed. Here is another moral absolute: I suggest that every culture would agree that torturing little children, just for fun, is absolutely, morally wrong. If such a society was discovered, I assure you it would be fiercely objected. It is imperative for the good of mankind that we agree to basic, moral absolutes. If we do not, then how could we ever judge the moral behavior of societies? If we can’t come into agreement that some things are just wrong in terms of how people are treated, then how could we ever oppose those who mistreat others?
CAN EVOLUTION EXPLAIN MORALITY?
If there are absolute moral values, then the next logical question is—“Why? Where did they come from?” If they don’t come from God because “God does not exist,” then they must come either from nature or from ourselves. Is this a logical conclusion? Many Atheists cite that they believe in theories such as evolution to explain the origin of our species. Does the theory of evolution agree with a scientific explanation of the origin of morality? Let’s take a closer look. If such a correlation exists, then that would mean that morality is a part of our overall evolution. Evolution suggests that whatever has survived is most fit. Therefore, whatever exists is the result of natural selection. In terms of morality, for example, a value such as “fairness” would only exist as a result of natural selection. Let’s look at an example of an “immoral action” to test this theory. But first, we must ask ourselves, “What constitutes an immoral action?” A simple definition is: “something that causes harm to others.” This definition implies that if there are no harmful consequences to an action, it can thus be deemed as ethical. As such, nothing is “inherently” wrong or right. It is only when an action brings harm to another that it is considered “wrong.”
“What is wrong with that definition?” you may ask. Consider the example of adultery. Let’s say that adultery is deemed wrong when it harms the faithful spouse. The consequences can include mental and emotional suffering, physical disease, and perhaps unwanted pregnancies. But what if the act of adultery does NOT lead to such consequences? What if the faithful spouse never finds out, and thus his/her feelings are never hurt? No diseases are spread and no unwanted pregnancies occur? Would the act of adultery no longer be considered wrong? For the one that does not believe in God, what valid reason exists for explaining why harming others “should” be wrong? Back to the example of the cheating spouse: If the faithful spouse is not experiencing pain because he/she is unaware of his/her partner’s unfaithfulness, and if the cheating spouse is getting his/her needs met by having an affair, then what prompts one to feel as if it is a “wrong” behavior?
We must answer the question of from where these moral absolutes come. Some suggest that people choose morality not because of moral law, but because it is self-serving to be moral. Kind of like, if you are “good,” people will like you. If people like you, you are happier and feel good about yourself, etc. But the question begs, “Why should being “good” make one happy?” Others say that a person tries to do “good” to avoid punishment. If one breaks the law, he or she may go to jail, so he/she behaves in such a way as to avoid punishment. However, neither of these suggestions seem to carry much weight. People do selfless things all the time that are beneficial to others, rather than choosing to be self-serving. And the second example, which is in essence a motivator of fear, is not very strong either. People often do things that they know will reap negative consequences. Fear of punishment cannot account for the many people who make decisions based on something other than fear of consequences.
CAN HUMANS BE THE SOURCE OF MORAL LAW?
Let’s explore this topic from yet another angle. Perhaps we, the species of human beings, are the source of moral law. This, too, breaks down. Have you ever done something and later felt regret or guilt? Where did these feelings come from? Maybe we learned them from our culture? Cultures change over time, right? If morals are learned by our culture, then they should change over time, as well. Many people argue that this is, indeed, the case. How we behave today as compared to fifty years ago, as opposed to 500 years ago, has definitely changed, right? Well—yeah! But just because behaviors have changed, doesn’t mean that moral absolutes have changed. Sure, we may behave differently, but is it any more acceptable to “kill whoever you want,” or to “torture children for fun” or to “have an affair” today as it was fifty or five hundred years ago? Regardless of changed behavior, what we “ought to do” is still the same.
MORAL LAW AND THE PROBLEM OF EVIL AND SUFFERING
Let me end this article back where I started. My observation has been that those who make statements such as, “There are no moral absolutes” are often the same who are declaring, “A benevolent God cannot exist because there is too much suffering and evil in the world.” If there is such a thing as evil, then there must be such a thing as good. For one to assume that there is such a thing as good, then one would also assume that there is such a thing as moral law—which is the basis on which good and evil can be differentiated. For moral law to exist there must be a moral law giver. But for the one trying to prove that a benevolent God does not exist, one cannot ascribe to the existence of a moral law. If there is no transcendent moral law giver, then there is no absolute moral law. If moral law does not exist, then there is no good. If there is no good, then there is no evil. But how can there be the problem of evil if there is no evil? The problem of evil cannot be solved by stating that God does not exist. This is illogical and the very fact that the question is raised creates the weight under which the argument collapses. There is no problem of evil if there is no evil, and there can be no evil in an amoral universe. And in an amoral universe, one wouldn’t be concerned to raise the question in the first place. If one wants to address the problem of evil and suffering, then it must be done while keeping God in the equation.
A REASON WHY PEOPLE DON’T LIKE GOD
But many people don’t want to keep God in the equation. They don’t want there to be a moral law giver because they don’t want there to be a moral law. They want to be on the receiving side of the benefits of moral law, but don’t want to be condemned by that same law. The moral law exposes their immorality. Who is judged as immoral? All people—for there is not one who has kept this perfect law. It is because of sin that the law declares that we are guilty. The Bible says of this in Romans 7:
"The law code had a perfectly legitimate function. Without its clear guidelines for right and wrong, moral behavior would be mostly guesswork. Apart from the succinct, surgical command, "You shall not covet," I could have dressed covetousness up to look like a virtue and ruined my life with it. 8-12Don't you remember how it was? I do, perfectly well. The law code started out as an excellent piece of work. What happened, though, was that sin found a way to pervert the command into a temptation, making a piece of "forbidden fruit" out of it. The law code, instead of being used to guide me, was used to seduce me. Without all the paraphernalia of the law code, sin looked pretty dull and lifeless, and I went along without paying much attention to it. But once sin got its hands on the law code and decked itself out in all that finery, I was fooled, and fell for it. The very command that was supposed to guide me into life was cleverly used to trip me up, throwing me headlong. So sin was plenty alive, and I was stone dead. But the law code itself is God's good and common sense, each command sane and holy counsel.13I can already hear your next question: "Does that mean I can't even trust what is good [that is, the law]? Is good just as dangerous as evil?" No again! Sin simply did what sin is so famous for doing: using the good as a cover to tempt me to do what would finally destroy me. By hiding within God's good commandment, sin did far more mischief than it could ever have accomplished on its own.”
A WAY OUT OF THE MESS
What, then, can we do? Are we to die in this sin, as helpless prisoners to its deceptive and evil power? We are guilty of breaking the moral law and are under a death sentence because of it. But there has been made a way to new life, by the only one that was able to keep and fulfill the law. He took our punishment upon himself, though he himself was innocent, and he became our advocate.
16-18"This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn't go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person's failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him. 19-21"This is the crisis we're in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won't come near it, fearing a painful exposure. But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is." John 3:16-21.
You are not guiltier than I—for we both have sinned and fallen short of the standard of “goodness.” Here is the difference: The one who says “yes” to God is pardoned and says “yes” to the gift of eternal life; while the one who rejects God, also says “no” to His gift of freedom from the condemnation of sin and death under the law. This gift is not earned, for it is freely given. But even a gift freely given, must be received. God is not asking you to give up your freedom, hopes, and dreams to become His slave. He is asking you to give up that which enslaves you, so that He can give you your hopes and dreams, and set you free.
FOR GOD OR AGAINST GOD—YOUR BELIEF ONE WAY OR THE OTHER
It is not as complex as it seems. There are two choices: Agree with God, or agree with those who oppose God. The choice is the most important you will ever make—so do not decide flippantly. When considering this choice, please be reminded that ‘Religion’ or those that say they represent God can be flawed and many do a very poor job of representing the true, living God. God is not a God of fear—for He even says that His perfect love casts out all fear. Those who use the “scare tactic” of “you better believe or else…” are using methods that, in my opinion, are not in alignment with the heart or ways of God. The best example of God can be seen in the person of Christ. If you want to know what God is like, study Jesus, for He, Himself, said that He is the exact representation of God. Make an informed decision—it’s not quite helpful to say “no” to a God you’ve never actually, really met, or have misinformation about. And to choose to be an “Atheist” is not a neutral choice. Just as the Christian has beliefs and are “for God,” so the Atheists have beliefs and are “against God.” If you are not sure—be Agnostic until you are confident. If you consider yourself to be an Agnostic, I’ve written a prayer just for you. Click HERE to see the prayer.
I’d like to close this article by sharing some statements of belief. You’ve probably heard of a “Creed,” which is usually associated with a religious statement of belief. Those that believe in God usually have a Creed by which they adhere. Those that don’t believe in God have a set of beliefs by which they live, as well, but they probably haven’t written it down and called it a Creed. Philosopher and apologist Dr. Ravi Zacharias has taken it upon himself to create a creed that represents the common philosophical beliefs of most Atheists. Please see this creed below. If you would like to see my own, personal creeds that I’ve created regarding my beliefs in God, I’ve created links at the bottom of this article. No matter your belief—here are my final thoughts. You are valued—you are loved—you were created on purpose, and for a purpose. May you seek and find Truth and may the Truth set you free. May Goodness be upon you and within you and may you live your life with Love and without regrets.
The Atheist's Creed by Dr. Ravi Zacharias
Note***My intention for including this Creed is not to "poke fun" at the Atheist. Although I have not authored it, I felt it to be important to include it because it shows, even if in an exaggerated way, how the main arguments of Atheism seem quite contradictory when looked at as a whole.
“We believe in Marx, Freud, and Darwin. We believe that everything is ok, as long as you don’t hurt anyone, to the best of your definition of hurt, and to the best of your definition of knowledge. We believe in sex before, during and after marriage, we believe in the therapy of sin. We believe that adultery is fun, we believe that sodomy is ok, we believe that taboo’s are taboo. We believe that everything is getting better despite evidence to the contrary. The evidence must be investigated and you can prove anything with evidence. We believe there is something in horoscopes, UFO’s and bent spoons. Jesus was a good man just like Buddha, Muhammad and ourselves. We believe he was a good moral teacher although we think his good morals were really bad. We believe that all religions are basically the same, at least the one that we read was. They all believe in love and goodness, they only differ in matters of creation, sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.
We believe that after death comes nothing because when you ask the dead they say nothing. If death is not the end then there is heaven for all except maybe Hitler, Stalin, and Khan. We believe in Masters and Johnson, what is selected is average, and what is average is normal and what is normal is good. We believe in total disarmament, we believe there are direct links between warfare and bloodshed, and that the Americans should beat their guns into tractors and the Russians will be sure to follow. We believe that man is essentially good, it is only his behavior that lets him down. This is the fault of society, society is the fault of conditions, and conditions are the fault of society. If man does what is right for him, then reality will adapt accordingly. The universe will re-adjust, history will alter. We believe there is no absolute truth except that there is no absolute truth. We believe in the rejection of creeds and the flowering of individual thought.
If chance is the father of all flesh, then disaster is his rainbow in the sky. When in a state of emergency the sniper kills the child, the youth go looting, or bomb blasts rock the school, it is nothing more than the sound of man worshiping his maker.”
To see my Creed on what I believe about God CLICK HERE
To see my Creed on what I believe about Jesus CLICK HERE
To see my Creed on what I believe about Holy Spirit CLICK HERE
To read about other reasons why some people believe in God CLICK HERE
To read a prayer I wrote that changed my life CLICK HERE
To read a prayer I wrote for the Agnostic CLICK HERE