Saturday, November 21, 2015

Who or what determines morality? Each culture? Each person? or God?

Matthew 19:17 "And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

The above verse is an excerpt from a conversation Jesus had with a young man - a religiously upright, successful figure in the community - about questions pertaining to salvation. The young man - or rich young ruler - is confident in his own standards of goodness and regards Jesus in seemingly high regard. What Jesus does is dismiss the would-be questioner's personal scale of "goodness" by asking him why he would regard Jesus as "good". On any human scale, Jesus was perfect. What Jesus is trying to reveal to the rich-young ruler is that there is only one standard by which to measure all other standards of "good" - namely God. By the time the conversation is through - the rich young ruler walks away from Jesus because he realized that Jesus has revealed the hypocrisy that characterized self-righteousness. Once again, we are faced with the fact that there is objective "rightness" and "wrongness", and that there is Only One worthy of being called "The Good One", namely God. 

Who or what determines moral values and duties? Each person, society or God?
In the last few days we have labored to show how the reality of objective moral values and duties points to proof for the Existence of the Moral Law Giver. When it comes to discussion of moral values and duties, the question must be asked: "who or what has the right to tell everyone what to do?" Even for people who deny objective morality, it is clear that they are articulating an objectively universal ethical judgment - namely, that there are no such things as objective moral values! When we talk about who or what determines right and wrong, at least three answers are given.

First, some say it is society or culture that determines right and wrong. Those who look to a given society as the standard will claim that since there are different cultures, hence there are different moralities. Moreover, human cultures use moral values as "conventions" to maintain a harmonious society. 

C.S Lewis anticipated this viewpoint (called by various names such as "utilitarianism" or "conventionalism") when he wrote his classic defense and articulation of the Christian faith: "Mere Christianity". In his work he writes: "Other people wrote to me saying, "Isn't what you call the Moral Law just a social convention, something that is put into us by education? I think there is a misunderstanding here. The people who ask that question are taking it for granted that if we have learned a thing from parents and teachers, then that thing must be merely a human invention. 

But, of course, that is not so. We all learned the multiplication table at school. A child who grew up alone on a desert island would not know it. But surely it does not follow that the multiplication table is simply a human convention, something human beings made up for themselves and might have made it different if they liked." 

Lewis' observation is brilliant in that he equates moral values and duties to other fields of fundamental knowledge as mathematics. Lewis then closes the paragraph of this particular point with these words: "But some of the things we learn are mere conventions which might have been different-we learn to keep on the left side of the road (Lewis was an Englishman), but it might just as well have been the rule to keep to the right-and others of them, like mathematics, are real truths." 

Lewis' point clearly establishes the nature of objective moral values and duties over against the idea of their being merely determined by a given culture. Another Christian apologist, Dean Hardy, has noted the following critique of the idea that each culture determines its own morality as "conventions" for maintaining harmony. Hardy writes in his book "Stand your Ground" - "If conventionalism were true, one nation, or a group of countries like the United Nations, would never have the right to look upon a culture and claim that they were doing 'wrong'. 
Hardy's point is well taken when we consider Nazi Germany in WWII and the Allied defeat of the Third Reich. No matter if even Hitler had ended up on the winning side of history, brain-washed everyone to believe his ideology and even had made the vast majority of people on planet earth convinced of his plan - the holocaust would still be an objective evil act. The more recent attacks by ISIS on Paris France in November 2015 demonstrate once again that people deep down still believe there is such a thing as evil.

So then if societies and cultures do not determine "right and wrong", what about the individual? I am sure you have heard the old familiar saying: "what is right for you may not necessarily be right for me". At bottom, such a statement arises from the belief that each individual determines their own morality. This ideology, called "moral relativism", suffers from the same malady as its larger "society determines morality" sibling - namely, it is self-defeating. Again C.S Lewis anticipated the moral relativists opposing his case for objective moral values and duties in his work "Mere Christianity", wherein he writes: "The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than anotherm you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than another." The moral relativist, who says "what is right for you may not be right for me" will get equally angry as anyone else the moment someone tries to take his wallet, or misuse his name or take his words out of context. Moral principles and duties such as "fairness" and "justice" and "goodness" are not mere preferences. 

Christian apologist Doug Powell in his book: "Holman Guide to Christian Apologetics" cites the late Christian Scholar Francis Shaeffer's conversation with several students on the folly of moral relativism. The quote highlights why the individual alone does not determine moral values and duties common to all people: "Christian thinker Francis Shaeffer once had a conversation with several students, one of whom disagreed with Shaeffer's moral objectivism. The student believed there was ultimately no difference between cruelty and non-cruelty. Another student who was listening decided to put that belief to the test. He picked up a tea kettle full of boiling water and held it over the first student's headas if he were about to pour it on the student. He then said, 'There is no difference between cruelty and non-cruelty.' The first student got up and left the room.'"

So clearly then this "obligation" that human beings have to do what "ought" to be right cannot be ultimately derived from the given culture or country of origin nor themselves. So then this leaves us with only one option, namely that objective moral values and duties derive from God. To cite once more the argument articulated by philosopher and theologian Dr. William Lane Craig:

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

Objective moral values and duties do exist

Hence, God exists.

As we have been laboring over the last several days, our universe and world is not only a physical reality, but a moral one. Unless the Holy God of Christian Theism exists, there can be no such realities as objective morality and duties. Why the Christian God? God is holy - meaning that He is His own standard of Goodness, rightness and thus morality. Right and wrong never existed apart from God. Rather, such values are inherent within God's very nature. Henceforth despite all claims to the contrary by athiests, skeptics and moral relativists - the fact of objective morality stands stubbornly unmoved. 

In closing out today's post, we must say that of the three general options typically cited for explaining the existence of morality and ethics in our world (society determines it, we ourselves determine our own morality or God is the basis for it), with the other two options shown to be inadequate, the only thing we can conclude then is that the only reason why there is such thing as good and evil and laws defining such, then there must be an Ultimate Moral Lawgiver - and that Lawgiver is God. 

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