I have been expending a great deal of thought regarding the common contentions I hear from atheists, agnostics, etc. regarding the matter of the origin of morality. My concern is that when I hear an atheist give the “Christian” reason for the existence of moral understanding it is not really the Christian argument at all. Then they proceed to give response to this and fail to give a response to our real assertion. I would think if we want to further understanding and dialog we really need to understand each others position much better and fully address it adequately.
Many of the apologists I am familiar with often spend time getting to know real people of other beliefs and seeking out the expert representatives of those beliefs to truly understand their position. Moreover, when they write a book they give a copy of their manuscript to said experts to ensure that they have fairly and adequately presented their beliefs. This way they can give the counter response to legitimately held beliefs without setting up an unfair straw man.
When I listened to The God Delusion Debate, Professor Richard Dawkins summed up why God is not needed to explain morality. One point that he made was that we don’t need a holy book to give us the rules of morality for we are able in and of ourselves to realize what things a book tells us are good and what are not good. So there must be something outside of reading of a book by which we use to judge morality. This is a very good point, and I concede the point. There is indeed something beyond reading a book even if that book is the Bible by which we know right from wrong. Someone who has never read the Bible still has the ability to differentiate between right and wrong.
Next Dawkins asserted that the only reason a God based morality is needed is to create a fear of punishment by God if one behaves badly or to provide a system of rewards for good behavior. I can understand his reasoning. To him it is complete lunacy to believe God exist. Thus his argument assumes God’s non-existence. If God didn’t exist and God was an invention of man it would follow that somewhere in the past the powers that be used this myth to make people behave out of fear or hope for rewards. All very logical, expect there is one problem. He hasn’t answered the Biblical Christian argument for the reason for morality.
Before I present it, let me reiterate that Dawkins admits that humanity universally accepts a moral right and wrong. He said, “its common sense.” His brief explanation of its evolution is that it probably began with the hunter-gather tribes that formed a value of good things and sympathized with suffering passing on this value from generation to generation. He cited that attitudes towards women and slavery have changed to support that morality isn’t fixed, it is evolving. Again, he only had a few minutes to give a response to such a matter and I am sure he has or could write entire books on the subject.
Now let’s turn to the Christian argument for the reason for morality for Biblical Christianity does not teach that one ought to be good to avoid punishment or to earn God’s favor. In fact, the Bible teaches that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The Bible further teaches that we cannot earn righteousness by good deeds. Nor can we lose righteousness by bad deeds in and of themselves. Our righteousness comes as a gift from God for those who look to Him for eternal life. I am not seeking to insert a salvation message. I am merely illustrating that Christianity isn’t about doing good for the reasons aforementioned.
The Christian argument as best as I know how to state it is this:
A good God exists. He created us good. In actualizing the good into creation, all that is not good became possible, but not actualized into being in creation. For instance, before there was light there was nothing, but when light came into existence darkness became the absence of light. Similarly, the actualization of the good gave that which is outside of the good a potential of becoming something actualized. Moreover, man had freedom to choose between what is good or leaving the good and entering something unnatural so to speak. When the non-good was chosen over the good the non-good came into existences gaining a reality of evil. Thus, man now knew good and evil. This altered the good. This changed the creation, corrupting it, subjecting it to a foreign contaminant so to speak. Now all mankind had in their nature the understanding of a difference between good and evil. It is common sense, as Dawkins says. It is universal. It is in man’s nature. That is why all men, except a few with physiological problems, internally know right from wrong. A struggle between the two natures exists to this day. The good news is that there is a solution to that struggle and it is not found in human efforts to do good things to please a dictator God. It is found in coming back into alignment with our created nature through redemption. God paid the debt to this corruption of sin for us so that we can step forward into a redeemed nature that doesn’t struggle with the corruption of sin. We grow into becoming people who do what is right because of the righteousness that flows through us as one of the many byproducts of knowing the Lord relationally.
To recap, the reason for our knowledge of good and evil is that there is a good God that created a good creation and when by the choice of human will evil entered the picture that knowledge increased to include awareness of what is not good. The struggle in every human between doing what we know in our hearts and minds as good and what is not good is a direct result of the corruption that entered creation. Yet that is not the end of the story, and the way of redemption was provided by God for all who will enter life through Him and the fullness of the glory of creation will be redeemed as well.
I understand that many religions have their own explanation and science has its. I think we need to take a look at them to see if they logically answer these questions of the origin of morality and the reason we have moral understanding. Compare and contrast the different explanations. Scrutinize the atheists’ argument the same as you would the theists’ argument. The truth can stand up to investigation. Most of all be sure you know the position of the one you discount and have researched it fairly and present a response that actually corresponds to the argument given. Don’t set up a non-good God scenario that is not given by theists. Actually respond to what is given. Thank you for your time.