Sunday, 10 June 2007

The moral argument

Humans acknowledge they are moral beings. That is they have a sense of "ought" as C.S. Lewis put it. There is no denying that virtually every person has a sense that some things are right and some things are wrong. So there is a universal sense that morality is a real phenomenon. That is not to say all people have the same set of morals. While an innate sense that there is right and wrong exists, being fallen creatures we may not always recognise all that is truly right or wrong. We may so dull our senses that we struggle to hear our conscience. Or we may need clarity as to God's rules. There are persons who have a strong sense of obligation to conscience and they limit themselves from doing legitimate things for their conscience's sake. While this behaviour is still honourable it shows that sense of "ought" is not the same as the true "ought."

Scripture shows us what this true ought is and in societies where Christianity has not yet had significant influence the distinction between Christians and non-Christians in their approach to morality can be quite marked.

The general sense of ought in a person is a pointer to God. If God exists then there is the possibility for an objective morality; the objectiveness coming from God's character. It is objective because it is obligatory and applies to all men. The obligation comes because we are owned by God.

If God is non-existent then there can be no objectivity. There is no true obligation. There is nothing that allows us to say this is how it should be for all men. All is personal opinion and competing preferences. But a personal preference is not an "ought", it is preference. A preferred behaviour is the same as a preferred food or a favourite tie.

So without God how do we explain this universal trait? And even if an explanation is forthcoming it does not answer the question of why we should obey the "ought." If we recognise it as a quirk of nature then we are under no obligation to obey it, even if we can explain its reason for coming into existence. So without God, that is, without objectivity we realise that this is not true morality, it is merely an apparent morality. Something that confers survival value but it derives its importance from what it offers, not what it intrinsically is.

However this is not how we see morality. When we examine ourselves we know it is not a preference. In us there is a sense of objectivity. Not all moral codes are equal. Some choices really are better than others. We may argue morality is subjective in the abstract but when faced with certain behaviour it becomes clear that not all is equal. We appeal to some standard which must be external to us. By judging competing systems and claiming some systems are better than others we are appealing to objectivity. Objectivity can only come with a moral God.
  • If there is no God then morality is subjective
  • If there is a God then morality may be objective
  • If morality is objective then there must be a God.
Should atheists still behave morally? Yes. Because morality is real there is a moral giver who has stated he will judge us. Atheists will be judged as will all men. Better they obey the sense of ought which they have no reason for than to be consistent with their (false) philosophy and glory in their shame.

2 comments:

  1. Well stated. Obedience to "ought" makes a better culture. When every one is attempting to live by a similar standard, even one not "christian", there well be less conflict between people.

    I would mention that Paul makes it clear in Romans 2:14 that even those who do not have the written law, Scripture, still have the law vs.15 "written on their hearts".

    Have you read the book by J. Budziszewski
    "What we Can't Not Know".
    I personally derived a great deal of insight into this subject from reading that book.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Have you read the book by J. Budziszewski "What we Can't Not Know"?

    No, but you have mentioned it on haloscan previously and I read the reviews on amazon. I will add it to my list but I am reading less paper these days.

    ReplyDelete

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