Whose Morality Is It Anyway?
Can there be right and wrong without God?
January 15, 2013 - 7:00 am
A pastor visiting our church shared a story from when his children were young. The oldest was four years old, and the younger three, when their mother served them grapes on the vine. As they plucked the sweet fruit, the younger child asked of the older, “How does Mommy get the grapes on there?”
Summoning elder gravitas, the firstborn replied, “Mommy doesn’t put the grapes on there.
“The store does.”
Children have a wonderful way of modeling our deficiencies. While it is easy to laugh at the reasoning of a child, we ought to consider how silly our reasoning might prove if the whole truth were known. Indeed, if we cannot point to an idea or two which we have reconsidered in light of new evidence, it cannot be said we have grown.
One idea which I used to hold, which made perfect sense to me at the time and still makes perfect sense to most of my Christian brethren, is the notion that man cannot rationally demonstrate an absolute morality in a world without God. My reasoning echoed that of Jeff Jacoby in a 2010 piece for Townhall. He wrote:
For in a world without God, there is no obvious difference between good and evil. There is no way to prove that murder is wrong if there is no Creator who decrees “Thou shalt not murder.’’ It certainly cannot be proved wrong by reason alone. One might reason instead — as Lenin and Stalin and Mao reasoned — that there is nothing wrong with murdering human beings by the millions if doing so advances the Marxist cause. Or one might reason from observing nature that the way of the world is for the strong to devour the weak — or that natural selection favors the survival of the fittest by any means necessary, including the killing of the less fit.
Reason is not enough. Only if there is a God who forbids murder is murder definitively evil. Otherwise its wrongfulness is a matter of opinion. Mao and Seneca approved of murder; we disapprove. What makes us think we’re right?
This perspective contrasts with that typically offered by atheists and agnostics, who assert that right and wrong can be discerned without reference to the supernatural. As a Christian, it is tempting to respond to such skeptics as PJ Lifestyle contributor John Hawkins did while affirming Jacoby.