Can we prove that God is the basis of morality?

Monday Musings for November 02, 2020

Good morning, Musers,

The familiar phrase, “God is good,” comes into focus today. If you are like me, you say it and hear it sincerely… but without thinking systematically about its implications. Today’s question hinges on the fact that God is good, so we will unpack this and go deeper than usual.

A few weeks ago, I talked about “the problem of goodness” (which is a problem for physicalist atheists, not for believers). The brute fact that goodness exists in the world is evidence that God exists. But we didn’t bore down into God’s nature in that treatise; we were speaking more of his largess. But today, we will use the term technically. The only warrant to say anything is good is because God is good… and that may be one of the most profound statements in Christendom.

Atheists do not concern themselves with the epistemology of morality, however. They aver — because they must aver — that what we perceive as morality is just a function of our chemistry. Both sides agree that living in groups gives the individual a better chance of propagating their DNA, but atheists attribute that decision to Darwinian processes.

However, if we are just driven by chemistry, something must fool us into believing that love and morality are desirable. Since physicalists do not believe in the existence of spiritual or metaphysical realms, what a sad life they live… insisting on being fooled rather than being informed.

By way of contrast, the Bible informs us that God is holy, and we were made in his image (Genesis 1:26). This alone could account for the goodness in the world. But not only is the ontological goodness of God and humankind revealed in the Bible (and predicted for us), it is also revealed in nature (Romans 1:18-20) — and especially, in human nature (Romans 2:14-15).

Now, nature is, as Tennyson observed, “red in tooth and claw.” Yet still, it is wonderfully optimized for human flourishing. This is why the whole of creation is easily categorized as “good” … even from the lips of observers who don’t realize that God said it first! (Genesis 1:31).

I don’t want you to get the wrong idea, though. When I say that we humans are ontologically good, I do not mean that we can do an end-run around Jesus. All of us are sinners — categorically and experientially — and we would go to hell without God’s intervention. What I am saying is that we were created with the moral capacity to perceive and embrace goodness. The naturalist’s alternative is, to quote Richard Dawkins, the “pitiless indifference” of the universe.

Here’s one of the things I wonder about physicalist atheists: when they stand on a New England mountain in October and watch the vast woodlands change colors, when they stand on an ocean cliff and see the gray sea pounding, when they stand at the Grand Canyon and consider its depths or when they peer up into the heavens on a winter night and see manifold billions of stars, don’t they feel some variation on good? But more importantly, doesn’t it bother them when they do?

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