It’s become popular to shout down Christian views on subjects like abortion, euthanasia and same sex marriage in today’s secular societies claiming they are no more than opinion. Objective morality is shunned in favour of an evolving morality, one that doesn’t require us to be accountable to anything outside our natural world.
This Purposeful Parenting post is to help us explore in a little more depth the arguments for and against God’s existence based on the moral order we see in our world. If you've just tuned in, this is conversation No.3 of a 5 part series.
PS: [spoiler] I’ve been wanting to share with you a helpful little resource I’ve put together designed to initiate conversation with your kids, but alas, due to some tech hitches, it hasn’t been possible. Hopefully in the near future I'll be able to send it through to you. In the meantime, I hope you don’t mind me doing things the other way around, that is, sending you into ‘deeper thought’ before I send you the ‘shortcut’!
Atheists often reply that since morality is common across cultures regardless of their religion, that this suggests religion is not the determining factor and there are natural ways of explaining this common morality. Furthermore, it is argued that such moral laws that do find expression across cultures are malleable and evolve with time. That is, society is the ultimate arbiter of what is right and wrong.
The Christian person stands in direct opposition to this line of thinking, arguing for universal accountability to a moral code derived from the character and purposes of God.
Does religion give an unnecessary explanation for morality that is in reality just a by product of evolution? Or does evolution and science provide us with insufficient grounds for why we should do anything?
Let’s look at one example, something that is very much in the ‘water cooler’ area of conversation these days:
Freedom and equality
For the religious person, equality, it may be argued is a direct derivation of the Judeo-Christian ethic, founded on man being ‘made in God’s image, male and female’. Once we abolish God, we lose the value of the human being, indeed we become at best just another animal with no justifiable mandate to subject or care for the rest of the planet except for our own selfish purposes. At worst we are just random atoms and it really doesn’t matter what becomes of us or our fellow human.
We may ask so, what makes humans inherently willing to help others and be concerned for their wellbeing? Why care about racism? Why stop genocide?
Some may say it just is.
But why is taking care of others a good thing if there’s no objective reason for doing so.
Dawkins might say it is based on our Darwinian heritage whereby we learnt to behave in such ways to ‘preserve our tribe’ and gain reciprocal benefits from one another. In other words, such behavior is not dependent on God, nor his purpose in us, but purely a bi-product of the ‘survival of the fittest’ shaping moral behavior.
Consequently, the royal law, ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ Dawkins no need for a Scriptural basis but would argue the other way, that Scripture is reflecting what is already there in the biproduct of evolution.
Dawkins will say that our morals are ‘derived behavior that allows us to cooperate and get along, minimize harm and risk’. Consequently, morals are ‘self-evident’ reality based, to survive we have a biological imperative hard wired into us that is driven by evolution to cooperate and reduce risk.
But how does the naturalism provide an account for right, wrong, good, evil or freedom or equality?
‘Is’ but not ‘ought’
Where does the ‘ought’ come from. Atheist like Dawkins will often dodge this or at least acknowledge that it is difficult to explain. They may be able to offer a naturalistic way of explaining how morals might come about as a bi-product of the survival of the fittest, but we are left without any basis for ‘ought’.
How can we help our kids (and ourselves!) answer or defend against this?
Not everyone feels bound by the so called evolutionary biproduct to care for one’s fellow human being. Just because caring for one’s fellow human being can have reciprocal benefits and enhance survival doesn’t lead automatically to what we ‘ought’ to do. Take Hitler or Stalin for example. Neither felt it necessary to care for other people in the same way they cared for themselves to survive. So why stop them?
Why is it wrong, where does the standard of ‘good’ or right and wrong come from if there is no God only behaviours that sometimes benefit our ongoing existence? Where do we get the justification for saying to the German people…you shouldn’t have obeyed your government? Might one just as easily take the opposite view and say that it helps the nation to survive if you kill off the Jews and other perceived ‘drains’ on your utopian ideal?! But no, the world condemned it was wrong. You see we perceive and fight for a higher standard above our governments and their ideals.
The Christian person, and those who believe in an authority that is stamped on the natural world by God have a reason to argue ‘that’ we ought do something to stop the Nazis. The atheist does not. It’s just one person’s preferred way of surviving over another.
How do we determine if something is good?
How do we move from something ‘is’ to ‘ought’?
Why is it good to stop the Nazis? As we have already said, the atheist might answer, ‘because it helps us survive’.
But why is surviving a good thing? A Bible believer can establish the ‘good’ from God and his purpose in making the world. But the atheist has great difficulty establishing ‘good’ for anything. It’s just purposeless reactions and chemicals. Why survive? What’s the point? Why not just die? The Christian answer lies in the creator, who gives life its meaning and mankind his place in the world.
Instead of defending their position, a position that is difficult to rigorously defend, the atheist will attack the Bible’s morals and call them immoral. Richard Dawkins will say we have to cherry pick the good ones and ignore the abhorrent ones. So, for example we ignore the commands to destroy the inhabitants of the promised land in the Old Testament but apply the laws against something like same sex marriage. However, this fails to account for biblical theology and the fulfilment of the law by Jesus. Let’s briefly look at this relationship so we can have confident we are not Scriptural ‘cherry pickers’.
Jesus and the law
Jesus is the one true Jew who fully obeys the law and completes what it was designed to do. Consequently, we apply the law through the prism of Jesus. What he fulfils, we no longer apply and what he upholds we continue to obey. The law was set up to lead us to Jesus, showing us the extent of our sin and our inability to fully obey God. His death pays for our debt under the law and his resurrection frees us to obey the moral demands of the law. Laws that relate to the national legal system, worship system etc. of Israel no longer apply because Jesus fulfilled them by becoming the one true place and people of God in his own body. However, as the reformers noted, the sense in which the law has a moral demand on us, we are not excused from, and most clearly this is seen in the 10 commandments and the royal law ‘do unto others as you would have to yourself’. Remember, to fulfil all the law is to love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. Ultimately, our obligation is ‘love’. However, this love is not uninformed but shaped by the order of the creator. Consequently, we are NOT law ‘cherry pickers’ but apply the full force of the law’s obligation when we love according to God’s definition of what is ‘good’.
The Christian person then has reason to both know what ‘the good’ is and how to make it happen. This is because God defines it for us. The atheist on the other hand is left with no basis for either determining what good is nor for making it happen. Instead, they haveto keep borrowing and importing ideas from the Bible.
Look out for my freebie short cut to 5 Conversations to Protect Your Kids From Atheism, coming soon!
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image g crescoli on Unsplash.