What Is the Source of Morality?

06 Mar
Morality - 3

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At the very heart of any criticism of God’s judgment of the Canaanites is the question of our source of moral consciousness. If morality is not what God says it is, then it must be what man says it is. If morality is what God says it is, then we have no right to judge God for doing whatever he does, because all of his judgments are good (moral – see Deuteronomy 32:4). On the other hand, if morality is what man says it is, how have we come upon this knowledge of knowing right from wrong? What is its foundation, and can we trust it?

“…with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?”[1]

If our convictions are developed from the minds of lower species, how could the accusation be accurate that God is a moral monster? In other words, concluding such a thing would be simply a matter of voting—that is, most people agree that God is a moral monster—therefore, he is a moral monster. The majority rules! Richard Dawkins has claimed: “Science has no methods for deciding what is ethical. That is a matter for individuals and for society.”[2] Put another way:

“…if the universe were just electrons and selfish genes, meaningless tragedies like… (the destruction of the Canaanites) are exactly what we should expect, along with equally meaningless good fortune (the conquest of Canaan). Such a universe would be neither evil nor good in intention. It would manifest no intentions of any kind. In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. As that unhappy poet A. E. Housman put it: “For Nature, heartless, witless Nature will neither know nor care.” DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.[3] (parenthesis and emphasis mine)

The problem with this idea is that if morality is rooted in the evolution of our genes, then the whole matter becomes one of trust. Why should we trust our genes? Could anyone trust the convictions of a monkey, if he has any? Certainly the new atheists have been made in God’s image, just as believers are. The new atheists also like to point out that they are capable of recognizing and exemplifying the same virtues that believers recognize and demonstrate. They also know, as believers do, that rape and murder are immoral, because they violate human rights. However, our similarity ends with this knowing. There is a huge difference between knowing and being. That is, it is one thing to know I am a “rights-bearing valuable person.” It is quite another to actually be a “rights-bearing valuable person.” The believer is able to point to the Bible as his foundation for his understanding that humans have rights and are extremely valuable in the universe. How are the new atheists able to show humans have any rights greater than the worm we squash on the asphalt on a rainy day? How are we more valuable than worms?

One’s skin color has been the source of prejudice and pain for countless people. Yet, who is able to change the color of his skin (even if he desired to change it)? Skin color is part of our DNA make up and cannot be changed just because we might want to do so. If, as Dr. Dawkins claims, we are all dancing to our DNA—over which we have no control—how do we know we are right about anything?—that driving the Canaanites out of their homes was wrong?—that God is a moral monster? Aren’t such conclusions merely a vote, if morality “…is a matter for individuals and for society” to settle on?


[1] Charles Darwin, The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Letter to W. Graham Down, July 3, 1881 (see HERE).

[2] Richard Dawkins, A Devil’s Chaplain (Boston: Houghton & Mifflin, 2003), 34.

[3] Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (New York: Basic Books/Harper Collins, 1995), 132-133.

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Posted by on March 6, 2016 in apologetics


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