Can we prove that God is the basis for morality?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

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Question: When postmodernist atheists try to skirt around objective morality by arguing that we can be good without God by having "survival of the fittest" as our moral standard. The Christian apologist might then ask, "Ok, but why is survival good?" The atheist might respond, "Because it'll allow us to propagate our DNA." The Christian can still ask, "Ok, but why is propagating our DNA good? Why must humanity flourish?" And the atheist might respond, "Because that's simply what reality is." To which a Christian, like apologist Dr. Frank Turek, would reply, "Well, that is an 'is,' not an 'ought.' The existence of a thing doesn't explain why the thing is good or bad."

So, this tactic of asking "why" questions and explaining why existence on its own doesn't really explain the "why" is very useful for dismantling such Godless notions for morality.

However, my question is, "Can't this same tactic be used by atheists to dismantle our God-centered notions for morality?" In other words, can't atheist ask, "Ok, God may be the perfect standard for morality, but why is perfect good? And if you say, 'it just is,' aren't you creating the same problematic explanation as atheists for their justifying of DNA propagation as good on its own?"

Answer: Dr. William Lane Craig of Reasonable Faith Ministries sees the Moral Argument as (arguably) the most powerful in the panoply of good arguments for the existence of God. This is because morality is ubiquitous in humankind, and as such, atheists must account for it. Reasonable Faith has produced an excellent five-minute video on this topic which you might want to use in your apologetics work. Find it at the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxiAikEk2vU&t=12s

The issue is that Darwinian mechanisms purportedly drive us towards selfishness and away from altruism. But when you look around — and I mean take in all the data — we find that every society has a moral core. I cannot name a country that does not have police departments, courts and prisons. Furthermore, phrases like, “That’s not fair!” are common worldwide. This is because people have a moral sense about these things; this moral sense gives feedback the same way their physical senses do — and we have a name for this device: we call it the human conscience… and everybody has one (Romans 2:14-15).

But where does objective morality come from? The Bible teaches that God is holy (Revelation 4:8); it also teaches that we were created in his image (Genesis 1:26). This is where we get our intrinsic morality. If human beings were not also demonstrably moral, then atheists could simply point to our incongruency. But they can’t. We admit that we sin! The thing is, it bothers us when we do.

Because of this, what the atheists cannot do is say that our failure at reaching God’s moral standard demonstrates that morality does not exist. In fact, our failures and our subsequent guilt feelings are consistent with what the Bible (and experience) teaches. Throughout history and across the globe, people have shown that they are moral beings at their cores. We Christians like to tell the atheists why this is so. But it helps when we are also positive moral examples. When our actions match our words, they will see that our worldviews are hardy, defensible and congruent.

As you mentioned, a skeptic can counter that just because altruism happens to exist doesn’t mean it ought to exist… and that this is where we find ourselves as a species. But this does not answer the question, “Why are we here?” Answers to the “why” questions are always metaphysical, so they belong to philosophers and theologians.

By way of contrast, physicalists reductionists are — by definition — people who believe that life has no “reasons” other than chemistry or physical necessity, so it would be absurd for them to weigh-in on a “why” question. If they do weigh-in, perhaps they are showing their emotional cards (which could be a “way in” for us).

That being said, it is entirely appropriate for an atheist to engage with “why” questions for the purposes of argument. In your scenario, one of them says, “Let’s say that God exists and that he is the perfect standard for morality. What gives you the right to call his perfection good?” You say that we can’t counter, “Just because he is” since this would give credence to their argument that morality exists because that is the way things are. I don’t agree. We can use that statement. We just need to finish it.

I don’t know if you are familiar with the Euthyphro dilemma. In one of Plato’s plays, Socrates and Euthyphro are discussing moral epistemology. They’re wondering, is something good because God wills it, or does he will it because it’s good. But that’s a false dilemma; neither is true and there’s another alternative.

Most atheists affirm that without God, the world would be a-moral — and I agree. Let me say also that if God were not good, “willing” things to be good would not make them good either; they would merely be God-specific. But when God wills something, it is good because he is good. He is the standard for goodness. His nature gives us warrant to call things good.

Do you see how this is your missing piece? Even though the skeptic does not believe in God, he has volunteered to become a theist for the purposes of this argument. The thing he cannot do, though, is insert his definition of God — and then go, “See! Even with God in the mix, there is no basis for morality!” We must insist upon using our definition of God, and our God is personally good. This takes shape when we add that we human beings were made in his image.

If the Westminster Shorter Catechism is correct — and I believe it is on this point — the reason we exist is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. But this purpose only makes sense in a moral universe. But there’s more. God knew the act of creating us as volitional beings would cost him his Son (1 Peter 1:20). I see Jesus’ death — which even atheists believe took place — as the ultimate moral statement and the ultimate testimony to Christian congruency.

So, Paul was right: without the resurrection, we are men most miserable (1 Corinthians 15:19) … and this statement would be absurd in an amoral universe.

I pray all this helped. God bless you.

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20201102 Can we prove that God is the basis of morality?).

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