Objective Moral Values or Mere Preferences?
By Mike Robinson
You’re thinking in black and white. Think in shades of gray.
[When I was an atheist], My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But, how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?
Let us change the rule we have hitherto adopted for the judging what is good. We took our own will as rule; let us now take the will of God.
Objective moral values are not determined by the opinions, preferences, or psychological dispositions of an individual man or groups of men. It is a moral value “independently of whether anyone believes it or not” (William Lane Craig). The moral view which is based on one’s personal preference is a type of ethical subjectivism. Ultimately, it is based on preferences similar to one liking clam chowder over chicken soup. It is a descriptive form of ethics that leaves one without an ultimate arbitrator to settle moral disagreements among men with different preferences.
One can prefer torturing babies for fun over forbidding such behavior in the same way one prefers the chowder over the soup; it is a matter of personal taste and choice. In principle, if one observes a greasy old man ready to torture an innocent little baby, your repugnance is no more morally justified than one who is a bit queasy over a friend sipping his clam chowder. Under this sort of subjectivism, formally, it makes no sense to claim that the man torturing the baby for fun is morally wrong. He prefers it and you do not. You have no principled justification to attempt to stop the baby torturer from preferring his behavior any more than you may stop a friend from enjoying clam chowder. Nonetheless, torturing babies for fun is objectively and immutably wrong. It cannot be morally right to engage in such behavior. The subjectivist lacks the foundation to declare that torturing babies for fun is morally wrong. There are no behavior directing moral laws; morality is merely a matter of one’s preferences. Of course most atheists know such actions are morally wrong. Nevertheless I contend that it’s not a matter of knowing right from wrong—atheists can know (epistemological realm) right from wrong (Romans chapters 1 & 2)—I argue that atheists cannot account for the truth that there are objective moral values (right & wrong exist; ontological realm).
If there is no God, anything is permitted.
If man is to change ethically, he must be converted.
Jesus taught that for men to change, their heart must change; men must be born again (John 3:3-8). If one dresses up a wolf to look like a lamb, one still has an animal that can viciously attack humans if hungry or alarmed. For the animal to become sheep-like, the wolf needs a miracle: regeneration into a lamb (or a huge genetic swap). The wolf needs a complete change. And that’s what God’s grace does to men by the power of the Gospel. By grace through faith men are born again by the Spirit (regenerated) and after regeneration they have a changed heart that leads them to grow in moral goodness.
Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long (Psalms 119:97).
Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4).
But about the Son He says, "Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever... You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness” (Hebrews 1:8-9).
What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! ... So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good... We know that the law is spiritual (Romans 7:7-14).
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him (John 14:15 & 21).
The moral commandments of Scripture found in the Ten Commandments must be the standard for normative ethics. Biblical ethics are proscriptive (what one ought not to do) as well as prescriptive (what one ought to do) of normative human conduct—the general equity of the Decalogue—should be the ground for our rule of law: deontological. Deontological is obligatory inasmuch as it is the moral will of God in real-life situations: explicit actions that are based on its broad principals. Thus all persons are obligated to affirm and embrace the commandments of God in establishing laws and in living their lives.
And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands (2 John 6).
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no way pass from the law, till all is fulfilled (Matthew 5:17-18).
Morality and Unguided Evolution
The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy defines morality as: “An informal public system applying to all rational persons, governing behavior that affects others, having the lessening of evil or harm as its goal, and including what are commonly known as the moral rules, moral ideals, and moral virtues.” The word "ethics" is given the following definition by the same dictionary: “The philosophical study of morality. The word is commonly used interchangeably with morality ... and sometimes it is used more narrowly to mean the moral principles of a particular tradition, group, or individual.” Theologian Norman Geisler states: “Moral law is morality for conduct... Law is a moral rule by which we are led to act or are withheld from action... God’s purpose for law is to regulate human activity.”
The theory of unguided evolution offers no ontological basis for fixed moral values. Many people have fallen for the bamboozlement of the ages, the theory of unguided evolution. This theory, along with selected features of Nietzsche’s philosophy, has accomplished a lot. What has been accomplished by this misreading, this hoax, this fallacy, this misapprehension? This theory has given many of the world’s despots and dictators aspects of their ideological systems for carrying out the atrocities they had ordered. Stalin, Mao, and the Khmer Rouge butchered over fifty million people in the twentieth century under the influence of communism, atheism, and evolution. Unguided evolution not only gives no fundamental basis for morals; it, in principle, disallows essential features of benevolent ethics. The evolutionist’s creed is “survival of the fittest.” This doctrine helps hoist the proposition that “might makes right.” When one applies this to reality, the strong should take everything they can through force. Under that view, they should go through the country raping, trampling the weak, and killing the handicapped. Strict Darwinism undermines selected altruistic endeavors and charitable ethics as it gives men reason to be selfish, inhumane, wicked, murderous, and destructive.
All power grows from the barrel of a gun (atheist Mao Zedong).
In atheistic evolution, ultimately, the only thing that is important is promoting the survival of one’s own genes to the next generation. Turning the other cheek or doing good to the physically and mentally challenged only weakens the gene pool, so charity and benevolence should be rejected. The strong should step on anyone they can to promote their own genetic success. In contrast, I agree with the way Martin Luther King put it in his homily upon receiving his Nobel Peace Prize: “I refuse to believe the notion that man is mere flotsam and jetsam ... unable to respond to the eternal oughtness that forever confronts him.”
The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes (Psalms 19:8).
Today, many people assert that there are no moral absolutes. Yet arguing against unchanging moral truths is self-stupefying. What the anti-moralist asserts stifles itself on its own grounds. If he objects to you pointing this out, he also stultifies himself. To state that he rigidly objects to any moral notion is to appear to assume a moral absolute. Hence, his objection is duplicitous. Just ask the non-absolutist, “Do you think that it is always ‘wrong’ to affirm moral absolutes?” If he answers “No,” at that point he has contradicted himself and indirectly affirms moral absolutes. If he answers “Yes,” you point out that this objection is a moral truth; a truth he seems to want you take as an absolute.
Universal Binding Laws Presuppose God
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them (Romans 2:14-15).
The moral law was written on the human conscience by nature. This writing has been defaced, but not obliterated. A clear and correct knowledge of the moral law requires the republication of the commandments, summarized in the Decalogue as the permanent and unalterable rule of man’s duty on earth.
Moral laws are immaterial immutable realities that presuppose an immaterial immutable God who has the wisdom and authority to decree and enact them. Without God, as the moral lawgiver, there cannot be invariant moral laws. A holy, wise, and good God is the essential truth condition for true, invariant, immaterial, and irreducible realities called moral laws. The Decalogue provides apodictic (established by God as immutable commandments) moral duties since they are universal and unconditional; they are laws for all cultures and people in all time periods. A distinction is made regarding case law. Case laws are specific applications for particular people and definite applications of these apodictic commandments.
Materialistic atheism cannot account for irreducible immaterial invariant entities that are to govern human behavior. Without an omnipotent sovereign God, issuing laws that are based on His perfect character, one has no motivation to obey the law simply because obedience is morally good. Leave God out of the picture and one only obeys the law because of the fear of possible penal sanction and civil punishment from an earthly government. When the civil authorities aren’t looking, one can steal, lie, cheat, and rape with impunity. There must be a sovereign God, as the sufficient and universal condition, to obey out of gratitude and love. We have strong motivation to follow laws, when no one is looking, if the laws are intrinsically good, and come from a good all-seeing God. A God one loves, who commands humanity to love Him by obeying His commandments. When you take away the character and authority of God to enact law, one is not obliged to obey them out of mere love and gratitude.
Without postulating the existence of God it would be impossible to link the moral order to the natural order: the two realms would remain separate. How could the moral laws confront me with the kind of demands they do, how could they come to me with the kind of force they do, unless they have their source in a Being who exists objectively that is, independently of me and is essentially good? ... There is something in every man, it may seem, that demands God as a postulate.
Placing No Value on Objective Moral Absolutes
The denial of moral absolutes is a self-diminishing exertion because the denial of moral absolutes presupposes a moral view: it is morally permissible to absolutely deny absolute moral values. So in a sense, the attempt to deny absolute moral values affirms that they exist. To deny fixed moral values is self-deflating; the denial, in the end, leads to the removal of a standard that obligates others to communicate the denial absolutely. If you ask them if they absolutely believe that there are no absolutes; they may say no. Then you just ask them if they absolutely believe their answer of no. At some point they must stand on an absolute or they fall into idiocy.
It is a divine doctrine which teaches what is right and pleasing unto God and reproves everything that is sin and contrary to God’s will (The Book of Concord).
Fearing the Lord is the beginning of moral knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:7, NET).
1. Craig Boldman, Every Excuse in the Book: 714 Ways to Say it’s not My Fault (New York: MJF Books, 1998), p. 94.
2. C.S. Lewis: Martindale and Root, Editors, The Quotable Lewis (Wheaton, Il: Tyndale House, 1989), p. 59.
3. Thomas Morris, Making Sense of It All (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman, 1992), p. 211.
4. Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Brothers Karamazov, Bantam Classics. Many impute this line to Dostoevsky, but it nowhere appears in the volume. Perhaps it is a summary of a position of one of the characters within the text.
5. P. Andrew Sandlin, We Must Create A New Kind of Christian (Vallecito, CA: Chalcedon Publication, 2000), p. 16.
6. Robert Audi, General Editor, The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, Second Edition (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Press 1999), p. 586.
7. Ibid., Audi, The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, p. 284.
8. Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), pp. 414-416.
9. Carl Henry, Editor, Wycliff Dictionary of Ethics (Peabody, MA: 2000), p. 432.
10.Geddees McGregor, Introduction to Religious Philosophy (Boston, MA: Mifflin, 1959), pp. 117-119.