Most of us have had that wonderful experience when a child asks the question “why?” And I use that as sarcastically as I can.
I can’t count the times when one of my children smacked the other, and asked why to me telling them it was wrong. It’s one of the most frustrating things that children do in my opinion. They do something wrong, I then tell them that it’s wrong, and now I have to explain the moral complexity of a subject to someone who won’t understand it, and has already lost interest and moved on. Now here I am, frustrated even more so and they’re fine with the world. It can be really frustrating to explain why something is right or wrong to a child, because it gets to the very depth of who we are as people, and if we haven’t understood why something is right or wrong, how then can we communicate it to a child in a way that makes sense to them?
I think that’s why Jesus spoke these words, “Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31a).”
Because the simplicity of that statement can be understood by both child and adult.
But it’s this question of why should I do good and not evil, that brings us to where we’re at today, where we’ll be talking about our second argument for the existence of God called the Moral Argument.
Last week we started a new series where we were talking about some arguments for the existence of God. The first argument we covered was called the Fine Tuning Argument. This argument looks at the universe around us, and notices the complexity and the “just right” physics that leads to habitable. This astounding reality, that we live in a universe that can support life, lead’s us to the conclusion that a supreme intellect or god, is the one behind it all. But as the MIT professor, Alex Bryne questioned, who then is this god? It’s at that question that we showed that the God of the Bible claims this creative role.
Today, we are going to turn ourselves to another argument, that instead of looking to the universe for proving God, we are going to look to ourselves. In fact, many people say, look to yourselves for answers, well, we’re going to do just that.
This argument, called the Moral argument, asks the simple question how do we have morality? Now, as soon as we bring this up, I have had atheists say to me, “I am just as moral as you are.” And you know what, they’re probably right. In fact, they’re probably, humanly speaking, better people than I am. But when we’re talking about the Moral argument, we’re not talking don’t start with the actions of morality, but rather, where does morality come from.
See when we tend to talk about morality, we instantly jump to discussing what is moral. Is murder right or wrong? Is abortion right or wrong? Is lying when you need food right or wrong?
But that’s not where the moral argument begins. We can have a moral frame work that we point to that tells us right from wrong. This is what is called moral ontology. But that’s not where we’re starting; instead we start by asking how do we come by that frame work. Where did our basis for right and wrong come from? What seeds were planted in our lives that grew into what we now judge good and evil by? This is what’s called moral epistemology.
On his website called commonssenseatheism.com, atheist Luke Muehlhauser recounts a Q&A session where a young Christian woman asked him, “Without God, how can you have any morality?” He goes on to say, “The mostly skeptical audience laughed, as if it was a stupid question. Geez, not that again. Well, it’s not a stupid question. Is a very good, important, difficult question (http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=8859).”
Muelhauser recognizes, as do many other atheists, that this question of what is the grounding of morality is an important and difficult question to deal with.
Why is that? For us as Christians we have a very simple explanation, morality is grounded in the person of God. God is good. We understand this through passages such as, Psalm 25:8, “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.”
Or in Jesus’ response to the rich young ruler in Mark 10:18, “‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good—except God alone.’”
Or in James 1:17, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
For the Christian, morality is based in Who the eternal person of God is, not based on who we are, or the state of the world.
But without God as a basis for morality where then is the basis? Let me share with you what several atheists who tell us what becomes the moral foundation without God.
David Silverman in his debate with a Christian name Frank Turek said, “There is no objective moral standard. We are responsible for our own actions….The hard answer is it [moral decisions] is a matter of opinion…” (Debate with Frank Turek: Which offers a better explanation for reality-Theism or Atheism?
In his book called Secularisms Ongoing Debt to Christianity, atheist John Steinrucken wrote, “Those who doubt the effect of religion on morality should seriously ask the question: Just what are the immutable moral laws of secularism? Be prepared to answer, if you are honest, that such laws simply do not exist!” (Steinrucken, J. 2010. Secularisms Ongoing Debt to Christianity.)
Finally, Julian Bagginin said in his book, Atheism: A Very Short Introduction wrote, “If there is no single moral authority [i.e. if there is no God, then] we have to in some sense ‘create’ values for ourselves… that means that moral claims are not true or false in the same way as factual claims are… moral claims are judgments [that] it is always possible for someone to disagree with… without saying something that is factually false… you may disagree with me but you cannot say I have made a factual error…” (Baggini, J. 2003. Atheism: A Very Short Introduction. p. 41-51.)
In other words, you and I, humanity itself, becomes the foundation of morality in the world. We have to decide what is good and what is not. If there’s no transcendent, no objective, no universal law of morality that is founded on a God who created us, then humanity must make it’s way on it’s own. We have to create and build the foundation through our own know how.
This is the beginning of the argument for morality. It has, at it’s base, only two options: either morality comes from a transcendent being who created us, or it comes from ourselves. Now I have heard people, when we come to this point in the argument, go in one of two directions. The first is a kind of giving up of our own ability to create morals, giving it over to evolution instead. This usually has the idea of, “Well over the millennia, our morality has evolved to where it is today.”
Buy to that, hear what another atheist’ssays. Richard Dawkins, known as one of the four horseman of the new atheists, said in his book The Selfish Gene, “Much as we might wish to believe otherwise, universal love, and the welfare of the species as a whole are concepts which simply do not make evolutionary sense (ch. 1).” In fact the premise of the book is that evolution creates in us a self-centeredness of survival, giving only an appearance to morality. When in reality, we are merely looking out for ourselves which can’t be construed as being moral.
It is at this conclusion that the other direction of creating morality comes up. People might say, “Well isn’t it obvious that certain things are right, and certain things are wrong?” or, “Morals are based on what helps society.” But this falls flat.
In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis says this, “If we ask, 'Why ought I be unselfish?’ And you reply, ‘Because it is good for society.’ We may then ask, ‘Why should I care what is good for society except when it happens to pay me personally?’ And then you’ll have to say, ‘Because you ought to be unselfish!’ Which simply brings us back to where we started. You are saying what is true, but you are not getting any further (ch. 3).”
See the problem that we have, is that the conversation always come back to the things we know we should do or do not. Back to is something good or evil. We know that we shouldn’t be selfish, but we are. We know that gossip hurts, yet we do it. We know that lying causes problems, but we continue in it. We know a lot of things we ought to do, by why should be do them?
This past week, I had a short conversation with one of our teens. He asked me about communism, the rejection of God within it, and how that affects a society. I told him that from a purely practical application of atheistic communism that we’ve seen in the 20th century, without the moral guidance of a transcendent God, the ones who have the power always do whatever they want over those who do not have power.
Now listen to what I am not saying. I am not saying that atheists can’t live moral lives. That they can’t have a moral frame work by which to live by. But what I am saying is that without God, morals fall back on us. We need to now create a reason for our moral frame work that others will also live by. But the reality is, we cannot hope to create a reason for others to follow the morals we have chosen.
It seems like this is understood across the world. In an August 2017 study, published in the journal on Natural Human Behavior, across the board people viewed those who held to an atheistic worldview as being more likely to be morality ambiguous at best. Even other atheists look at their own as being less moral than those in the religious communities (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-017-0151.epdf?referrer_access_token=SWI9fjHQkPTtOzDAPBvoW9RgN0jAjWel9jnR3ZoTv0MvTeF8lVJoWgIcOyeV6d3DbGiEl38dQASp7rKWPymhsAq-rKYTAcyjLWuDrJtvLgWsPs2KhMfbX9Lcy4OVzBo5YzlNW7dnfCdmfZ6DHZvbS7b0LodhIj98O37lvCBjOv6d-Cp5PP-pQczQZ5A2QcXN&tracking_referrer=www.bbc.com). Now is that true? Maybe, maybe not. But when the transcendent foundation of mortality, which is God, is taken out of the equation, and we only rely on ourselves as moral arbiters, then others tend to look upon that as not having steadfast morality. Because morality of one person, is self focused on what is good for them at the expense of another.
But if we base our morality on a transcendent being, that calls himself good, and then proceeds to tell us what good and evil are, we have a foundation of morality that is beyond ourselves. That’s beyond our own self-centeredness, and that is actually looking out for the whole of humanity.
This brings Jesus’ simile of the wise man and the foolish man into view. In Matthew 7 verses 24-27 Jesus says, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
When we build morality on God who creates us in a universe that can be inhabited, we then have a solid foundation on which to build all of society. But when that foundation is based on ever shifting humans on the other hand, that foundation will crumble. We’ve seen this in practice in the atheistic focused governments of the 20th century.
It is on this very idea that just the fact that we have morality in the first place, is an argument for the existence of God. Richard Dawkins had a discussion with fellow scientist named Francis Collins, and moderated by Time International in November of 2006 said this. “The moral law is a reason to think of God as plausible - not just a God who sets the universe in motion but a God who cares about humans beings, because we seem uniquely amongst creatures on the planet to have this far-developed sense of morality.”
The fact that we have morality makes the existence of God plausible, because there is no other reason for it.
And this God of the Bible, who calls himself good, calls us into that goodness. The Psalmist wrote of experiencing God’s goodness in Psalm 34, starting in verse 8, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. 9 Fear the Lord, you his holy people, for those who fear him lack nothing. 10 The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. 11 Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. 12 Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, 13 keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies. 14 Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. 15 The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry; 16 but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to blot out their name from the earth.”
When speaking on morality, God is the best answer to the question, “where does it come from?” He is beyond our universe, and places within us the a compass that forces us to wrestle with what is good and what is evil. If we move beyond him, we become gods unto ourselves, creating morality as we go. And in fact, if we look in the opening pages of the Bible, We see in the third chapter of Genesis, that this is exactly what the serpent says to Eve, “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil (v.5).”
But in reality, we do not know good and evil, we merely stumble trying to redefine what had already been given to us.
This week I want to challenge you to continue to study the moral argument, there’s a lot on the subject, because all we’ve done today is talk about it’s foundation. But as you do, seek God asking him to experience his goodness. To have sin dealt with in your life, and understand the exuberance that comes from living in relationship with a good God, who cares for us. Let us be the people called by God into a good relationship with our Creator. Amen.