"Human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and can't really get rid of it…Whenever you find a man who says he doesn't believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later." (C.S. Lewis – Mere Christianity)
In preparing for this series on the Knowledge of God, the approach concerning ethics has been the most difficult for me for a variety of reasons. For one, I’ve never been well read on the subject of secular ethical theory. To me, as a Christian, the very idea that a material world can produce moral obligation is absurd. In reviewing the current ethical theories that are currently being promoted, this absurdity is verified, proving that all men know God on some level, and one way that we know Him is by the moral standards that he has written on our hearts. We know that there are moral standards, and we also know that we have failed to live up to them.
“For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.” (Romans 2:14-15)
When Paul tells us that the Gentiles “by nature do what the law requires”, he is not saying that all people are naturally obedient to God. Rather, he is saying that all societies, even those who haven’t been given the written law, are aware of God’s standards to the point of enacting rules to follow suit. For example, all societies view dishonesty as immoral, even though all men are clearly not honest. Even so, they know that, on some level, they are wrong because “…their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.”
All people have moral standards (even those who deny that there is any standard), yet as with knowledge and science, unbelieving worldviews cannot account for these standards. In their attempt to ascend to the heavenly throne and establish their own kingdoms, secularists have sought to erect their own versions of morality.
"The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, "Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us." (Psalms 2:2-3)
The Cultural Relativist argues that, since moral standards differ from culture to culture, there is no moral absolute by which one may judge cultural morality. Of course, even is the premise were true, the argument is a Non Sequitur. It does not follow that, because two cultures disagree, that there is no absolute moral standard. One could be right and one could be wrong, or both could be wrong.
Cultural differences in moral standards aren't as widespread as the relativist would make them out to be. All cultures view dishonesty, murder, etc. as morally wrong. In addition, ethics themselves have little to do with many of the differences in behavior that cultural relativists point to. For example, cultural relativists like to point out that people will not kill or eat cattle in India, while beef is a mainstay of western diets. But the differences in this respect are not ethical, but metaphysical. Indians believe animals, especially cattle, to be divine, and possibly be reincarnate loved ones. Ethically speaking, we would be in full agreement that it is wrong to kill and eat ones ancestors.
Consistent cultural relativism would result in individual societies being morally infallible (including Nazi Germany, etc.) Within those societies, morality would be reduced to a mere “societal norm” based on popular vote, while immorality would simply be defined as non-conformity. Yet another implication would be that the idea of "moral progress" would be a sheer myth and a useless endeavor.
"In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes." (Judges 17:6)
The various forms of subjectivism have a common thread, that ethics are a matter of personal taste rather than being a universal, objective standard. Simple Subjectivism argues that moral opinions are not fact, just feelings of personal approval or disapproval, and nothing more. Emotivism suggests that moral language itself is not "fact-stating" language, but rather behavior-influencing language. Regardless of the category, subjectivism results in a world where any and all actions would theoretically be beyond moral judgment.
Of course, the most obvious problem is that no one lives this way. In the world of subjectivism, individuals are morally infallible. Yet subjectivists do make moral judgments, especially against people who make moral judgments. By suggesting that no one has a right to hold another person to a moral standard, they are establishing a moral standard. This is especially true of emotivism, where moral judgments are beyond reproach since they aren't really judgments, only expressions of attitudes.
Subjectivism cannot account for disagreements in ethics, nor can it account for moral truth or falsehood. While attempting to honor the ethical standards of individuals who have various opinions in this matter, subjectivists must presume a moral obligation to honor such standards (or else you are being “judgmental”). Subjectivism is thus self-defeating, and cannot justify moral absolutes, since it denies that such an absolute exists.
"The truth is that the only rational basis for morality is a concern for the happiness and suffering of other conscious beings." (Do We Really Need Bad Reasons To Be Good? by Sam Harris / Boston Globe October 22, 2006).
Altruism bases its ethical standard on what is deemed to be an impartial concern and benefit to other people. Indeed, those who show concern for other people are often held up as heroes in our society (especially when such concerns are made with the TV cameras rolling.)
But eventually we must ask the question: What obligates one to be impartial or to have concern for the well-being of others? Where does this obligation come from? Altruism arbitrarily favors one group of people (others) over another (ourselves). Rather than being a “rational basis” for morality, Altruism begs the question by assuming that we have a moral obligation to live for the sake of others. Pragmatic concern for others cannot produce an obligation to any duty, nor can it provide a rational basis for morality since it must presume a moral obligation to be concerned with others as a basis for itself.
“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-8)
"The achievement of his own happiness is man's highest moral purpose." (Ayn Rand - The Virtue Of Selfishness 1961)
Egoism is the idea that morality is based upon rational self-interest. It is suggested that all people, even altruists, act out of self-interest, doing what they want to do. While altruism, as a moral philosophy, degrades the value of the individual, egoism promotes it. Taken to its logical conclusion, unrestricted egoism would lead to hedonism, the desire to maximize individual pleasure.
As to the charge that altruists do what they want to do, that may well be the case. However, no matter how one slices it, wanting to act with others in mind is contradictory to egoism. Even the egoists "peace of mind" can be rooted in the interests of others. In addition, egoism as a philosophy is self-defeating, ie. "It is everyone's best interest is to act out of self-interest".
Egoism also cannot resolve conflicts of interest. If person A can benefit from murdering person B, yet person B clearly benefits from not being murdered, then what is the correct moral behavior? Faced with this dilemma, revisionist egoism calls for restraint based on self-interests in:
• Duty not to harm others
• Duty not to lie
• Duty to keep promises
Again, we would have to ask what the basis is for the above duties. Duty presumes obligation, and often the "duties" to not harm others, not lie, and keep promises conflict with self-interest. We often do things that we OUGHT to do instead of what we WANT to do.
Egoism fails to account for the value that it places upon individuals, thus arbitrarily favors one group of people (ourselves) over another (others). Pragmatic self-interest cannot produce an obligation to any duty, nor can it provide a rational basis for morality since it must presume a moral obligation to self-interest as a basis for itself.
"Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign." (John Stuart Mill, On Liberty - 1859)
Utilitarianism holds that morally is based upon whatever is required to promote the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people. While many people have never heard the term “utilitarianism”, the effects of this philosophy are felt in nearly every corner of modern western society. Utilitarianism is heavily influential in the pro-euthanasia, pro-abortion, and animal rights movements. It is also the foundation of socialism. In modern democratic societies, any groups of people are clambering for all kinds of “rights” that are defined by whoever is speaking and whatever axe they are grinding.
There are two types of utilitarianism. Act utilitarianism judges each individual act on its own merits as to whether or not this act has increased happiness as a whole. In doing so, it places impossible demands on people, and is often used to manipulate people through false guilt. Modern socialists try to push their “live simply” philosophy by blaming western consumption for poverty in parts of the world. Rule utilitarianism, rather then judge each individual act, seeks to establish a basic set of rules to follow.
One area where utilitarian philosophy is quite apparent is out modern judicial system. Utilitarianism cannot allow for retribution or punishment for immoral behavior, since such punishment would increase misery in the world. Instead, the judicial system has taken on the label of “corrections” (even though they don’t “correct” anything). The Department of Justice has become the Department of Corrections. Prison guards are now called “corrections” officers. This radical change in how we treat criminals can be best spelled out by utilitarian philosopher Karl Menninger, (cited in James Rachels; "The Elements of Moral Philosophy", 2007 McGraw-Hill, p. 135).
"We, the agents of society, must move to end the game of tit-for-tat and blow-for-blow in which the offender has foolishly engaged himself and us. We are not driven, as he is, to wild and impulsive actions. With knowledge comes power, and with power there is no need for the frightened vengeance of the old penology. In its place should go a quiet, dignified, therapeutic program for the rehabilitation of the disorganized one, if possible, the protection of society during the treatment period, and his guided return to useful citizenship, as soon as this can be effected.”What has been the result of this approach? Depending on the area, it appears that anywhere from 56% to 90% of violent crime in the United States is committed by repeat offenders. In its attempt to replace judicial penalty with rehabilitation, the utilitarian approach accomplishes neither. It assumes that man is basically good, while arbitrarily defining what “good” is (an increase in “happiness” as a whole.)
Utilitarianism is at odds with justice in other ways. In order to be consistent, one would have to consider any act to be morally acceptable if it results in an increase in happiness. What about a thief who steals something that is never missed, or a peeping tom who is never noticed?
Like any other secular ethical theory, utilitarianism cannot be a foundation for an ethical standard, since it must presume a standard a priori, that being the obligation to promote the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people. Where does such an obligation come from?
Kant's Categorical Imperative
"Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." (Immanuel Kant, “The Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals” - 1785)
Immanuel Kant suggested that morality should be based on human dignity and reason, sort of like the "Golden Rule", but without the Golden Rule Giver. From a practical perspective, the categorical imperative fails when trying to resolve two evil choices (ie., lying to save a life). From a secular standpoint, neither human dignity nor reason can be justified, thus the categorical imperative begs too many questions. Consider the following quote from atheist Richard Dawkins:
"For the first half of geological time our ancestors were bacteria. Most creatures still are bacteria, and each one of our trillions of cells is a colony of bacteria."
From a secular standpoint, human dignity and human reason must be accounted for before any moral standard can be build upon them. Finally, we must ask yet again,
What obligates us to act “according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law”? Like all other secular ethical theories, the categorical imperative cannot be a sound basis for ethics, since it must assume a moral standard in order to build rules by which we act.
The “Social Contract” holds that humans, by virtue of being human, are contracted to obey ethics laws which are necessary for peaceful, cooperative, social order.
Aside from the fact that what makes up a "peaceful, cooperative, social order" is subjective at best, the social contract does not justify ethical standards as much as it assumes them in advance. What obligates humans to be concerned about a peaceful, cooperative social order? Like relativism and subjectivism, the social contract reduces immorality to mere "non-conformity", thus has no objective meaning.
The Moral Argument Revisited
In dealing with the various secular theories of ethics, two questions immediately come to mind.
1.) Why so many? If the secular worldview can justify morality, I would have expected there to be a predominant theory, with maybe one of two non-conforming theories. Instead, however, what this study shows is that there is no moral standard in a secular world.
2.) All of these theories have in common the fact than none of them can account for moral obligation. Instead, they must assume their standard in order to promote their theory.
As we have shown, not only are secular moral theories logically inconsistent, they are also unjustifiable. It is one thing to invent a moral theory, as many secularists have done. It is another thing to give a rational justification for that theory, and all secular moral theories have failed in this regard. The natural, materialistic worldview simply cannot justify obligation, “IS” cannot produce “OUGHT”.
John Owen correctly observed:
“Without absolutes revealed from without by God Himself, we are left rudderless in a sea of conflicting ideas about manners, justice and right and wrong, issuing from a multitude of self-opinionated thinkers.” - John Owen
Therefore, we may conclude with yet another transcendental argument for God’s existence…
P1: If Moral Absolutes exists, then God exists, since God is the precondition of Moral Absolutes.
P2: Moral Absolutes exists.
Conclusion: God exists.
There are many transcendental proofs for God’s existence. We hit only three in the areas of knowledge, natural law, and ethics. But we could also include areas such as intelligible experience, free thought, free will, personal identity over time, etc. None of these things can rationally be justified in a godless worldview. Man may makes attempts at autonomy, but like Nimrod, he is doomed to failure. All men live in God’s universe, and cannot even function without acknowledging him in some way.