Posts Tagged ‘moral’

Refuting Moral Relativism

March 3rd, 2010

This is an excerpt from Dr. Fernandes’ book, “God, Government and the Road to Tyranny“.

Moral relativists deny the absolute moral law. Still, they, like all people, recognize the evil actions of others when they are wronged. When they are wronged, they appeal to an objective and universal law that stands above man. Moral relativists deny the absolute moral law in the lecture hall, but they live by it in their everyday lives. Moral relativists reserve the right for themselves to call the actions of Hitler wrong, but, if there is no such thing as right and wrong (as the moral relativists say), they cannot really call any action wrong.

God Government and the Road to Tyranny coverThe moral law does not ultimately come from within each individual, for then no one could call the actions of another, such as Hitler, evil. The moral law does not ultimately come from each society, for then one society could not call the actions of another society (such as Nazi Germany) wrong. Finally, the moral law does not ultimately come from world consensus, for world consensus is often wrong. World consensus once thought the world was flat and that slavery was morally permissible.

Appealing to world or societal consensus as the ultimate source of the moral law is actually just an extension of the view that the individual is the ultimate source. The difference is only quantitative (the number of people increases). However, for there to be a moral law above all men (in order to judge all men), this moral law must be qualitatively above all men. If there is an absolute moral law qualitatively above all men, all societies, and the world consensus, then there must be an absolute moral law Giver that stands qualitatively above all men, all societies, and world consensus.

The absolute moral law is eternal and unchanging, for we use it to condemn the actions of past generations. Since the moral law is eternal and unchanging, the moral law Giver must also be eternal and unchanging. The moral law is not descriptive of what is; it is prescriptive of what should be. Prescriptive laws need a Prescriber.

Since the absolute moral law leads directly to the existence of the theistic God (the absolute moral law Giver), many atheists and pantheists may feel compelled to reject it’s existence. On the other hand, people who wish to live promiscuous lives often choose to reject God’s existence. The apostle John appears to be talking about these people:

“And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3:19-20).

Refuting Moral Relativism

May 25th, 1997

by Dr. Phil Fernandes
A chapter from his doctoral dissertation
© 1997, Institute of Biblical Defense, All Rights Reserved

Philosophical apologetics often deals with the branch of philosophy called ethics. Ethics deals with issues of morality, that which is right and wrong.1 The Christian ethical perspective holds to absolute moral values, laws that are universally binding. Often, non-Christian views hold to moral relativism. Moral relativism rejects the idea that there are objective rights and wrongs.2 What is right for one person is not necessarily right for another person, and vice versa. Each person decides what is right for himself. Many atheists and pantheists are moral relativists.3

AN EXAMINATION OF MORAL RELATIVISM

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) was a German philosopher. He believed that the advances of human knowledge had proven that belief in God was a mere superstition. Nietzsche therefore reasoned that since “God is dead,” all traditional values have died with Him. Nietzsche was angered with his atheistic colleagues who were unwilling to dismiss traditional moral absolutes which had no justification without God’s existence.4

Nietzsche preached that a group of “supermen” must arise with the courage to create their own values through their “will to power.” Nietzsche rejected the “soft” values of Christianity (brotherly love, turning the other cheek, charity, compassion, etc.); he felt they hindered man’s creativity and potential. He recommended that the supermen create their own “hard” values that would allow man to realize his creative potential.5 Nietzsche was very consistent with his atheism. He realized that without God, there are no universal moral values. Man is free to create his own values. It is interesting to note that the Nazis often referred to Nietzsche’s writings for the supposed intellectual justification for their acts of cruelty.6

Many other atheists agree with Nietzsche concerning moral relativism. British philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) once wrote, “Outside human desires there is no moral standard.”7 A. J. Ayer believed that moral commands did not result from any objective standard above man. Instead, Ayer stated that moral commands merely express one’s subjective feelings. When one says that murder is wrong, one is merely saying that he or she feels that murder is wrong.8 Jean-Paul Sartre, a French existentialist, believed that there is no objective meaning to life. Therefore, according to Sartre, man must create his own values.9

There are many different ways that moral relativists attempt to determine what action should be taken. Hedonism is probably the most extreme. It declares that whatever brings the most pleasure is right. In other words, if it feels good, do it.10 If this position is true, then there is no basis from which to judge the actions of Adolph Hitler as being evil.11

Utilitarianism teaches that man should attempt to bring about the greatest good for the greatest number of people.12 Utilitarianism is problematic. First, “good” is a meaningless term if moral relativism is true, for then there would be no such thing as good or evil. Second, to say that man “should” do something is to introduce a universal moral command. However, there is no room for universal moral commands in moral relativism.13

Joseph Fletcher founded “situation ethics.” Situation ethics is the view that ethics are relative to the situation. Fletcher claimed that he was not a moral relativist. He believed that there was only one moral absolute: love. Still, his concept of love was so void of meaning that his view of ethics, for all practical purposes, is synonymous with moral relativism.14

The situation never determines what is right. It is God who determines what is right. Still, the situation may aid the Christian in finding which of God’s laws should be applied.15 For when two of God’s commands come in conflict due to a situation so that a person cannot obey both, God requires that the person obey the greater command. God then exempts the person from obeying the lesser command. An example of this is the fact that god compliments Rahab the Harlot for lying in order to save two innocent lives (Joshua 2; Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25).16

REFUTING MORAL RELATIVISM

Moral relativists deny absolute moral law. Still, they, like all people, recognize the evil actions of others when they are wronged. When they are wronged, they appeal to an objective and universal law that stands above man. Moral relativists deny absolute moral law in the lecture hall, but they live by it in their everyday lives.17 Moral relativists reserve the right for themselves to call the actions of Hitler wrong,18 but, if there is no such thing as right and wrong (as the moral relativists say), they cannot really call any action wrong.

The moral law does not ultimately come from within each individual, for then no one could call the actions of another, such as Hitler, evil.19 The moral law does not ultimately come from each society, for then one society could not call the actions of another society (such as Nazi Germany) wrong.20 Finally, the moral law does not ultimately come from world consensus,21 for world consensus is often wrong. World consensus once thought the world was flat. World consensus once considered slavery morally permissible.

Appealing to world or societal consensus as the ultimate source of the moral law is actually just an extension of the view that the individual is the ultimate source. The difference is only quantitative (the number of people increases). However, for there to be a moral law above all men (in order to judge all men), this moral law must be qualitatively above all men. If there is an absolute moral law qualitatively above all men, then there must be an absolute moral law Giver that stands qualitatively above all men. The moral law is not descriptive of what is; it is prescriptive of what should be.22

Since the absolute moral law leads directly to the existence of the theistic God (the absolute moral law Giver), many atheists and pantheists may feel compelled to reject it’s existence. Also, people who wish to live promiscuous lives often choose to reject God’s existence. The apostle John appears to be talking about these people:

And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed (John 3:19-20).

ENDNOTES

1 Geisler and Feinberg, 24-26.

2 Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, 240.

3 Geisler and Watkins, 59, 99-100.

4 Friedrich Nietzsche, 95-96, 143, 228.

5 Ibid., 124-125, 139, 191, 197-198.

6 Copleston, A History of Philosophy vol. 7, 403.

7 Russell, 62.

8 Norman L. Geisler, Christian Ethics (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), 32.

9 Geisler and Feinberg, 406.

10 Ibid., 400-401.

11 Geisler, Christian Ethics, 36-37.

12 Ibid., 63.

13 Ibid., 73-75.

14 Ibid., 43-61.

15 Geisler and Feinberg, 411.

16 Ibid., 424-427.

17 Hodge, Systematic Theology vol. 1, 210.

18 Hick, The Existence of God, 183-186.

19 Moreland, 246-247.

20 Ibid., 243-244.

21 Geisler and Feinberg, 355.

22 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 27-28.

The Moral Argument

May 25th, 1997

by Dr. Phil Fernandes
A chapter from his doctoral dissertation
© 1997, Institute of Biblical Defense, All Rights Reserved

The moral argument for God’s existence reasons from the existence of universal moral values to the existence of a universal moral Lawgiver.1 This argument maintains that the source of the objective moral values we experience must be an ultimately good Being.2

The apostle Paul stated that Gentiles, who do not have God’s written Law, “show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (Romans 2:15). The Bible declares that God has written His Law on the hearts of all men. This is the basis for defenders of the faith using moral arguments for God’s existence.

THOMAS AQUINAS

Aquinas’ fourth way to prove God’s existence is his argument from the different degrees of perfection found in finite things.3 Men commonly judge some things to be more perfect than other things. But judgment concerning the degree of perfection in things only makes sense if there exists a most perfect Being. To say that something is more perfect than something else is to say that it closer approximates the perfect. One cannot determine that something falls short of a perfect standard unless that perfect standard is known. Therefore, the perfect must exist. Whatever contains the most perfection must be the source of all the perfection that exists in other beings. Therefore, concludes Aquinas, there must exist a most perfect Being who is the cause of all the perfections that exist in beings containing lesser degrees of perfection.4

IMMANUEL KANT

Immanuel Kant rejected any attempts to prove God’s existence through pure rational argumentation. However, he believed that God’s existence must be practically posited in order to make sense of man’s moral experience.5 Kant argued that man must assume the existence of God and life after death if he is to make sense of his desire for happiness and his moral duty.6 Kant believed that the uniting of man’s desire for happiness with man’s moral duty could not occur in this life or without God’s power. Therefore, reasoned Kant, it is morally necessary (not rationally necessary) to assume God’s existence.7

It must be remembered that this argument does not prove God’s existence. It only states that man must assume God’s existence and the afterlife if he is to make sense of his moral life. Kant’s argument does not demand that we conclude that God exists; it merely says that man must live as if God does in fact exist.8

C. S. LEWIS (1898-1963)

C. S. Lewis used an advanced form of the moral argument for God’s existence in his work Mere Christianity.9 Lewis argued that man’s idea of right and wrong is a clue to the meaning of the universe.10 Lewis reasoned that there must exist a universal moral law for several reasons. First, all moral disagreements between persons imply an appeal to a standard of behavior to which all persons are subject.11 People accused of doing wrong usually claim that their action did not violate the universal standard, or that they somehow had a special excuse for not submitting to the standard in this particular case.12 They do not usually deny the standard itself. Second, quarreling often occurs when one person tries to prove that the action of another person is wrong. However, the fact that two people quarrel about whether or not an action was moral implies that they agree that there is such a thing as right and wrong.13 One person claims the action was right; the other person claims the action was wrong. What they agree upon is the concept of right and wrong (the moral law).14

Lewis reasons that this moral law could not be mere herd instinct. If it were, then the stronger instinct would always win, but, this is not the case. Often, man suppresses his stronger instinct in order to do what he thinks is right.15 For instance, when confronted with imminent danger, a man may desire to run for safety but instead chooses to disregard his own well-being to rescue another. Therefore, the moral law is not man’s basic instincts. Instead, it judges between these instincts to determine which instinct is to be applied in the specific situation.16

Lewis also believed that it is wrong to say that this moral law is merely a social convention.17 For not everything that man has learned from others is a social convention. Some things, like mathematics, would be true even if it was never taught.18 The moral law is like mathematics in this respect. It is real regardless of what one’s society teaches about it.19 Social progress makes no sense unless the moral law exists independent of societies.20 If the moral law is merely invented by society, then one society (America) cannot call the actions of another society (Nazi Germany) wrong.21

Lewis declared that the moral law cannot be a law of nature.22 For a law of nature is descriptive. It describes how nature is, how it usually acts. But, the moral law does not describe how nature is. The moral law is prescriptive; it prescribes how nature ought to be.23 The moral law stands above man and judges his behavior.

Lewis concluded that there exists a moral law above all men to which they are subject.24 However, matter could not be the cause of moral laws.25 Matter gives instructions to no one. Experience shows us that mind is the cause of moral laws.26 Therefore, this universal moral law that stands above all men must come from a Mind that stands above all men.27

CONCLUSION

Each of the three thinkers mentioned in this chapter have contributed valuable aspects to the moral argument. Lewis’ argumentation is impressive. A person might arbitrarily deny the existence of the moral law, but the denial is forced and temporary. If that person is wronged, he will appeal to the moral law for justice.

If the moral law is merely subjective, then no one can declare the actions of another to be wrong. If the moral law is produced by nations, then no nation can condemn the actions of another nation. The moral law could not even be the product of world consensus. The world consensus of the twentieth century could not condemn the slavery of the nineteenth, first, or any other century since world consensus favored the practice of slavery during those times.

The moral judgments of men do not make sense unless the moral law stands above all individuals, all nations, and any supposed consensus of the world. The moral law is universal; it applies to all mankind. The moral law is also eternal; it does not change with time. Therefore, there must exist an eternal moral Lawgiver who stands above all men. Prescriptive laws only come from lawgivers.

A variation of Kant’s argument can be utilized effectively by apologists. If there exists no God who will someday judge the actions of men, then it makes no difference how one now lives. One million years from now it will make no difference if one lived like Mother Theresa or Adolph Hitler. If God does exist, then how one lives does make a difference. If there is life after death with rewards and punishment, then the moral experience of man makes sense.

Finally, the thought of Aquinas can be used. When a man makes moral judgments he determines some things to be more perfect than other things. This implies the knowledge of something which is the ultimately perfect standard by which all else is judged. No one can determine a line to be crooked without knowledge of a straight line. The Christian believes that this ultimately perfect standard is the all-good God Himself. Without this all-good God, there could be no such thing as evil. For evil is merely the perversion of that which is good. There could be nothing that is good unless there exists an ultimately good Being who is the source of all lesser goods.

Despite the apparent strengths of the moral argument for God’s existence, it is susceptible to some of the same criticisms as the teleological argument. Could not there be several moral lawgivers instead of one? Maybe the moral lawgiver is only a finite being?28 Though these objections can be answered, premises from the cosmological argument for God’s existence must be utilized to do so.29

Therefore, it is probably best to start one’s argument for God’s existence with cosmological premises. This will provide evidence for the existence of one Being who is the eternal uncaused cause of all else that exists. Then one can use premises from the moral and teleological arguments to show that this one Being must also be a moral and intelligent Being.

ENDNOTES

1 Geisler and Corduan, 94.

2 Craig, 70.

3 Geisler, Thomas Aquinas, 121.

4 Ibid.

5 Geisler and Corduan, 109.

6 Ibid.,109-110.

7 Ibid., 110.

8 Ibid.

9 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 15-39.

10 Ibid., 15.

11 Ibid., 17.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid., 17-18.

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid., 22-23.

16 Ibid., 23.

17 Ibid., 24.

18 Ibid.

19 Ibid.

20 Ibid., 24-25.

21 Ibid., 25.

22 Ibid., 27-29.

23 Ibid., 28.

24 Ibid., 31.

25 Ibid., 34.

26 Ibid.

27 Ibid.

28 Geisler and Corduan, 121-122.

29 Ibid.