Tag Archive: Morality


Previously, I finished up an explanation of the argument for God based on our moral intuitions, and today I want to take a bit of a side-trip while on the subject of morality. As noted previously,choice we do find that objective morality exists, but sometimes it can be hard to discern what the moral thing to do is in a given situation. This does not constitute an argument against objective morality (the ontology of it), only our ability to know what the moral good in the situation is (epistemology).

We often characterize moral dilemmas as choosing between “the lesser of two evils.” and this certainly conveys the angst involved in having to choose among difficult options. I would submit that this proves ultimately to be an unhelpful phrasing of the problem which leads to unnecessary additional indecisiveness, guilt, and second-guessing. It also doesn’t seem to be quite accurate: if one imagines Christ himself in a position of “choosing between two evils,” doesn’t that still equate to Christ choosing evil? That must not be the right way for us to approach these dilemmas, so how should we then?

I believe a more helpful and accurate way to look a these moral dilemmas is, rather, by asking, “Which option will accomplish the greater good?” The answer to that question, as best as we can discern it, is the option we ought to take. Perhaps a couple of examples will clarify this point.

In Joshua 2, the Hebrews sent spies into Jericho to assess the strength of the people and the city. While there, they came under suspicion of the city guard and took refuge with a woman named Rahab. When the guard approached Rahab, she faced a moral dilemma: reveal the location of the spies, leading to their deaths, or lie to the guards. Rahab concealed the spies and mislead the guard, recognizing that the Hebrews served the true God. In this case, did Rahab sin?

A more contemporary example is that of Corrie Ten Boom’s family who sheltered Jews in their home during the rise of persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany. Her family had to make a choice: admit to the German soldiers that Jews were hidden there, or tell a lie to the soldiers. They chose to lie. Did God disapprove of their actions? Was it sin?

I believe in both of these cases, we are not stuck in a position in which there is sin, no matter which option is chosen. Instead, in moral dilemmas, such as these, we must assess the good available to be accomplished in the situation, as best as we are able, and choose the greater of these goods. Is honesty usually a virtue? Yes. Is saving a life a greater virtue? I would think so. In both of these examples, the greater good is accomplished by working to save the lives of the Jews, than by giving the truth to those who did not have legitimate right to it.

In these sorts of circumstances, we choose the greater good, and that good supersedes the other lesser good which we must violate, and I believe that God gives his blessing. No repentance for sin is needed. That’s not to say that these become easy choices, but it should make them easier to decide with clear conscience, even if sadness for difficult dilemmas still weigh on us. This should be quite freeing for you! We all face moral dilemmas, but facing them from the perspective of “what is the choice that can bring about the most good?” can be an easier question than “which of these alternatives are the least evil?” Is this just semantics? Well, sort of, but the difficulty of decision-making can be trying enough without unnecessary guilt adding the paralyzing further pressure of a no-win sin situation. It doesn’t have to be that way.

I hope this was helpful for you! If so, let me know! If you disagree, let’s talk about it. Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

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One fact which each of us must face is the real presence of evil and suffering in the world. This is undeniable – we all recognize that bad things happen, that bad things happen to good people. accident-2-1474589-1599x1066We have to make sense of this somehow. Often this is presented as a problem for Christianity: something along the lines of, If God is good (as you say he is), how can there be so much evil and suffering in the world? If he was real, there wouldn’t be so much. So, he must not really exist. In essence, the argument says that the presence of evil means that the God Christians proclaim can’t exist because he is either unable (and therefore not all-powerful) or unwilling (and therefore not all-good), since he has not eradicated evil.

Identifying the Problem

Of course, there are really two issues when considering an answer to the problem of evil. The first and most immediate is that when this issue is brought up, it isn’t usually academic, but a response to a personal tragedy. Christian apologetics will almost never be helpful or appropriate here; compassion and empathy are by far what is more called for at this time.

But there is also an academic side to this problem as well, and that is worth considering in more quiet and stable times. Having worked through the problem in one’s mind ahead of time will give a bit of stability when the pain comes and the emotions are high. That is what I hope to offer here.

A Contradiction Without God

I cannot see any philosophical justification for the category of “evil” without God; not that God is somehow the source of evil, but that without an objective standard for good, how can we even know what evil is? Evil is not a “thing,” it’s an absence or corruption or something else. Just as a shadow cannot exist without light, evil cannot exist without good. The objection against Christianity doesn’t even make sense to me without an admission of objective moral standards, and as I pointed out previously, objective morality cannot be adequately explained without the existence of God. We cannot judge a line to be crooked unless we have some idea of what a straight line is. For these reasons, it seems to me that the problem of evil turns out to be one of the best evidences in favor of God, not against him!

But what of God’s attributes in the face of evil? Does the existence of evil mean God is not good or not powerful? Those who argue against God in this way make an assumption that all evil is gratuitous and unnecessary. But what if there is another category of evil which an all-good and all-powerful God allows to happen, both natural and moral evil, which God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting? God’s purposes in this world are not to maximize our comfort, but our character, and draw all mankind to him. Perhaps hardships are the only way some may have their attention drawn to the issues of ultimate importance in life.

A Problem for Everyone

As I see it, the problem of evil is a problem for everyone, not just Christians. We all have to live with evil, and cutting God out of the picture doesn’t explain it, it only removes any hope to relieve it. We can resign ourselves to purposeless evil with no justice and no comfort, and so we should, if there is no God. But if there is good reason to believe God is real and better explains the problem of evil than does alternate explanations, there is justice and comfort from a transcendent God who also took on humanity and experienced very real pain and suffering. In God we have someone able to offer ultimate justice for the evil and comfort for the victims, one who not only understands, not only sympathizes, but empathizes with our hurts.

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

In the previous post, we began to explore an argument for the existence of God based on morality. The argument goes like this:moral-scales

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

I spent the time discussing the first point, showing that if objective morals exist (and most people acknowledge that they do), they are completely unexplainable except that they be grounded in God. No other source can explain their origin, so that if God does not exist, objective morality cannot exist. So that brings us to the second premise:

2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.

This point itself is not without controversy, so let me give you some reasons to accept the existence of objective moral values and duties (as laid out by Frank Turek in I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist)

The first and foundational step is to acknowledge the existence of some absolute truths. If one wants to deny that there are any absolute truths whatsoever (moral or otherwise), he is going to be immediately caught in the unhappy position of affirming  a logical contradiction, namely “there are absolutely no absolutes.”

But what about absolute moral values and duties? It’s only when the moral relativist wants to philosophize that he claims that moral objectivity doesn’t exist. We simply cannot live that way. Innate to all of us are certain moral rules of “oughtness:” one ought to protect one’s family; one ought to be self-sacrificial for a good purpose; one ought not take a life without adequate justification; and so on. (The difficult bit, of course, is often in applying these sensibilities in day-to-day life, but that difficulty is not a point for or against this premise; it’s difficult whether you believe in moral objectivity or relativism.) The relativist betrays this inconsistency with his reactions when someone steals his wallet or cuts him off in traffic.

If you believe in universal human rights, you also cannot be a consistent relativist. If you are offended by foreign slave trade, or oppression of a people group by a dictatorial government in the third world, you have no grounding for this outrage under moral relativism. Only with some universal (objective) moral standard can this cry of wrongness make any sense.

Unless there is an absolute moral standard, we are incapable of knowing what is good or evil, justice or injustice, yet we make these moral judgments all the time. The “problem of pain” objection to Christianity trades heavily on this, and I will be talking more about this topic next post.

Without an objective moral standard, “moral progress” is meaningless. The terms “better” or “best” are comparative, and imply a standard. Was Mother Theresa “better than” Adolph Hitler? Is it morally “better” to abolish slavery than to embrace it? Unless an absolute moral standard, what are these conditions being measured against to say one is better than another?

      3. Therefore God exists

Having shown that no other system can account for the objective values and duties that demonstrably exist in reality, we are led to the conclusion that God exists. It is His character that forms the standard of “good” by which we must measure our actions and that of others. To be sure, many numb their consciences through volition and bad example, but a defective or damaged sense of right and wrong are not counter-arguments. It is because of the existence of objective morality that we recognize these deviations from it.

Here’s a great summary video by Dr. Craig:

 

Next time, what about the so-called “Problem of Evil”? We’ll take a look at it and see the implications of it for the Christian worldview.

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

In recent posts, I have been defending the reasonable notion of God’s existence with the Cosmological argument (causation) and the Teleological arguments (design). Today, I want to turn to

what I consider to be one of the most powerful and compelling arguments for the existence of God, the Moral argument.

First, here is the structure of the argument, as proposed by William Lane Craig in On Guard:

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

This is a deductive argument in the modus tollens form, and so the conclusion follows if the premises can be shown to be true. I believe they can, so let’s have a careful look at them.

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.

Possibly I am ignorant, or simply do not understand alternate explanations, but without a transcendent source, I cannot fathom how any objective standard of right and wrong can exist. Since we all seem to have a sense of right and wrong innate within us, we must account for it somehow. And unless that source is God, I don’t see how it can exert any moral authority in a final and objective sense; all other explanations seem to collapse into moral relativism and subjectivism. Here, in brief, are the other proposed explanations I’ve heard for the origins of morality.

Social Contract

The social contract theory observes that in order for a civilized society to exist, the members of that society have to agree to abide together peaceably to promote safety for citizens and their property. This social contract is one which we agree to implicitly by living in such a society, and it is enforced by laws. The trouble is that the social contract theory is not an explanation of the origin of these moral rules we contract to live by, but a statement of their need. The social contract may be cited as an argument in favor of the existence of objective morality, but it does not serve as an alternate explanation of the origination of objective moral standards.

Evolutionary Ethics

Another offered origin of objective morality applies macro-evolutionary theory in that as we as a species developed over time, so too did our sense of right- and wrong-ness. Societies flourished as we observed such rules as “don’t kill your neighbor” and “don’t take what is not yours.” As societies flourished, more reproduction occurred, and this sense of right and wrong progressed through the surviving and thriving generations. Stated this way, it becomes more of a discovery of objective morals, rather than a development or their origination. And if we say they just developed over time to the objective set we have now, this actually constitutes a contradiction, as if they changed and developed, they cannot be objective.

Love

Another explanation of objective moral values I have heard given is that if one just does the loving thing in a given situation, that is guide enough, and no detailed rules or God is necessary in the process. Each person can discover the objectively right thing to do if guided by love. This sounds great, and is true, as far as it goes. The difficulty comes in applying this to dilemmas. If a strong swimmer sees a small child drowning in a pool, the loving thing is easily seen to be rescuing the child. Moral dilemmas occur when two different “goods” are in conflict with one another, and one must be chosen. In these situations, declaring that the objectively right thing to do is to do what is loving is far too simplistic. Some people consider Christian evangelism to be intrusive and offensive; most Christians consider it to be the most loving thing that can be done for someone. Who decides? It ends up distilling down to personal or group moral relativism, not objectivism.

Next post, we’ll investigate premise 2: Objective morals and values do exist, and on to the conclusion.

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

Do values fall under the category of “facts” or “opinions”? Is there a line between facts and beliefs at all, or is it a false dichotomy? If our children are being taught that moral facts don’t exist, then is it any wonder if  they live on the implications?

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com//2015/03/02/why-our-children-dont-think-there-are-moral-facts/

Why be moral?

I’ve been thinking over the years since I read “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis about whether objective morality is possible without the existence of God.

The best answer I could come up in favor of morality without God as a standard was the Social Contract model, in which morals developed as part of an evolutionary …survival tool as societies formed for the protection of the masses.

The problems I have with that though is that it’s too arbitrary – whose society gets preference in a conflict? That is, how do you define a society? It could be a country, an ethnic group, a minority group, a family, or even perhaps an individual.

The other issue that follows from this is whether or not living with “positive” moral values is really in my best interests without an afterlife in which I must account for my actions. That is, if I think I can get away with it, why not lie, cheat, and steal to improve my own condition?

The attached link is a paper (not mine) which develops this argument.

http://www.calvin.edu/academic/philosophy/virtual_library/articles/clark_kelly_j/why_be_moral.pdf