Can objective morality be an evolutionary illusion?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... the place where I discuss the thinking that went into this article.)

Question: I’m not sure if I’m a Christian, but here’s a question that’s been bothering me. Can objective morality be an evolutionary illusion?

Answer: Objective morality can indeed be an evolutionary illusion... but I use the word “can” advisedly. I cannot “prove” logically or biologically that human altruism did not come from the pressures of evolutionary forces across a population. There are many reasons I think this is not true — and I will share a few — but anyone who says they can prove that such evolution is not possible probably underestimates what it takes to prove something.

You see, Christianity and its doctrines are built upon the assumption that God exists. The first four words in the Bible are, “In the beginning, God...” (Genesis 1:1). I will take you outside of the Bible to discuss what I think are the best explanations for human morality, but Bible-believing Christians are committed to the biblical assertion that God created human beings in his image (Genesis 1:26)... and that we have moral capacities because our Creator is infinitely moral. These assumptions are part of the package we call faith.

That being said, we have a warrant for our faith, but science will only look at physically provable phenomena... and even among atheistic scientists, there is no consensus on whether or not the morality we see in humankind is ontological (a trait given by our Creator) or merely functional (a habit that caused biological changes that were distributed over a population). I believe our morality is ontological, and that objective morality can only exist in a world where God exists.

Reasonable Faith Ministries has great resources for these types of questions. In fact, they have a five-minute video on the argument for the existence of God based on morality... which covers objective morality. I suggest that you watch this video now because I’ll be changing focus in the second half of my answer. Click here to watch that video.

If there were only one extra-biblical argument for the existence of God, I would consider our philosophical position vulnerable. But there are many extra-biblical arguments for the existence of God, the veracity of Scripture, the person of Jesus Christ, etc. I maintain a list of these on my website. Click here to see an index of those arguments.

But now I’m going to shift the focus of my answer from the issues of morality to the various revelations of God to mankind.

God’s revelation is God’s information output — and there is a surprising variety! The traditional idea is that God has two revelations: his special (written) revelation in the Bible and his general revelation in creation. People have been picking up on a third revelation in the human conscience — which has to do with your question — but I have identified no less than eleven revelations from God! Here’s why these are important to your question.

A single proposition concerning God (like that he is the source of objective morality) may be reasonably rebutted... and even perceived as having been defeated by many people. This is why it is unwise to rely on only one truth about God — even though you are 100% convinced that it is true. That makes your worldview vulnerable to collapse because it would have a single point of failure.

I suspect that the majority of people who have left the faith have left it for just that reason. This is why I gave you an index to 19 extra-biblical supports for biblical ideas... and sharing eleven ways in which God reveals himself has the same effect. There are multiple streams of information coming at us that were generated by God’s decrees. Therefore, there are no excuses for not finding him.

Here is part of my article on the eleven revelations of God. (I’ll close with one more thought after this article.)

What is revelation?

Revelation is a general term referring to all of God’s information output. Although human beings are the target and information output is the action of revelation, it manifests in useful phenomena. Whether we consider the rain from heaven, the morality of humankind, the sense of eternity in our hearts, all of creation benefits from the physical, metaphysical and spiritual aspects of these revelations.

I have identified eleven ways that God has revealed himself. As you read these remember that because of who God is — the Truth — all his revelations must be true. Furthermore, they must be true together and at the same time.

How has God revealed himself to us?

God has revealed himself in Scripture — but not just in Scripture. I’ve identified eleven ways that God reveals himself. To form a hardy Christian worldview, we must embrace all of them.

  1. The most well-known way God has revealed himself is in the Bible. This sixty-six-book collection is sometimes called Scripture, God’s word, God’s written revelation — and God’s special revelation. But since this is God’s only written revelation, I cannot overemphasize its importance (Psalm 119:105; Hebrews 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:16).
  2. God also reveals himself through the things he created. We call this his “general” revelation to differentiate it from his “special” revelation, the Bible. Since all the following revelations have to do with God’s creation, they are often included under the “general” category, but I find describing them separately to be more useful (Genesis 1:1; Romans 1:18-20; Hebrews 11:3).
  3. God also reveals himself through the human conscience. This is his moral revelation. Morality is ubiquitous among humankind! When an atheist argues against the existence of God using the idea that a loving God wouldn’t allow murder, he is applying moral judgments. The problem is — in the absence of God — there is no objective morality! — so their argument fails. Without God, murder is not wrong in itself. It is customarily.. and customs are merely collective arbitrary opinions (Jeremiah 31:33; Matthew 5:48; Acts 28:4; Romans 2:14-15).
  4. God reveals himself through the Holy Spirit. This is a spiritual revelation. The Holy Spirit works in the world to convict people of sin. But (arguably) more importantly, he indwells believers, giving them veridical proof that they are children of God. He also helps them understand Scripture, supplies gifts for their work in the Church and wisdom when they engage with the world (John 1:12; 14:26; Romans 8:14-15; Revelation 2:7; 22:17).
  5. God reveals himself through the gospel. This is a salvific revelation. People think that God will accept them if they live good lives in the main… and they’d be wrong. People are saved through the atoning death of Jesus Christ. That is the gospel. That is the salvific revelation of God (Mark 16:15; John 3:16; Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-10).
  6. God has revealed himself through the birth of the person Jesus Christ. This is a living revelation (John 1:1; John 4:13-14; 1 John 5:11-13; Luke 2:1-21).
  7. God reveals himself through the continual revelation of Jesus Christ. This is different from the living revelation where God provided Jesus to the world through the virgin birth. This is also more specific than the spiritual revelation. This is God the Father taking care of the world’s most important business personally.
    You see, God wants everyone to believe in the one he sent (John 6:29), so he is proactive in drawing everyone to him. He is not merely letting everyone figure out Jesus for themselves. There’s more going on than that. The Father is proactively drawing people to Jesus (John 6:44).
  1. God also reveals himself through human intelligence. This is a philosophical revelation (Isaiah 1:18; Romans 1:20; James 1:5).
  2. God reveals himself by writing eternity in our hearts. This is a metaphysical revelation (Ecclesiastes 3:11; Romans 11:33).
  3. God reveals himself through the free will of humankind. We humans have self-awareness and agency. This is an ontological revelation. In my opinion, this is part of being made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26). But also, these would be basic requirements for subduing creation (Genesis 1:28; Joshua 24:15; Galatians 5:16-17; Revelation 3:20, 22:11).
  4. God reveals himself through direct revelation. The Bible shows God sending people information in dreams, visions and direct words. He did this to people like Abraham, Moses and the prophets of old. He continued this in the New Testament to the disciples of Jesus Christ — but perhaps most notably to the Apostle Paul (1 Chronicles 17:15; 1 Corinthians 7:10, 12, 25; 15:8; Galatians 1:12). This is where a lot of the Bible comes from.

But note this well: Scripture did not capture every word spoken by God to every person or every historical detail of their lives. That was not its purpose. It did, however, capture everything that God wanted us to have in writing.

Note also that our official position is that this still can occur — particularly in churches that are underserved by Scripture. But the Mainsail churches are served well by Scripture and by teaching… so don’t look for this type of thing… and if it shows up, be suspicious.

(Close of article).

I have shared eleven ways that God reveals himself — and eleven is a lot! So I agree with Paul that people are “without excuse” (Romans 1:20). God has loaded both the physical and the metaphysical creation with enough information for people to see his power, his deity and his provision. So, when they “miss” it, they have no credible excuse.

But it’s not so much that unbelievers are “missing” God. They are dis-missing God. That’s a whole other animal. Jesus too taught that such people were without excuse.

“If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’” (John 15:22–25, NIV)

God balanced his revelations so that people with true free will can truly choose. It is not irresistibly apparent that he exists — and God could have made such a world! Instead, he made one that engages every aspect of who we are — who we are made to be. All of creation is optimized to engage with the free will of humankind as are all of God’s revelations.

Now, God understands that we will have seasons of ignorance (Acts 17:23, Hebrews 9:7). That’s part of the human condition. He established the Church to help overcome that! (Matthew 28:18-20). But dismissing God is not ignorance — it’s arrogance… and the penalty for dismissing God’s revelations is as severe as it gets (Mark 3:28).

That’s the end of my answer... but not the end of my concern. I see that you are “unsure” about your status as a Christian. Well... I’d like you to be sure! So, please indulge me and make one more trip to my website. I have an article that explains how salvation works... but with a major in logic and a minor in Scripture. My prayer is that this will give you the information you need to become sure.

God bless you. Click here to read that article. 

 

(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: 20220502 Must God exist for there to be objective morality? ).

(For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at mainsailep@gmail.com. To submit a question about God, the Bible or the Christian culture, click here.)