Apologetics to the Glory of God

An Informal Introduction to Covenantal Apologetics: Part 33 – Ethics and morality.

By C.L. Bolt

Moral values, rules, laws, principles, standards, etc. cannot be seen, smelt, touched, heard, or tasted. They are not empirically verifiable entities. They are not part of the material or physical realm, or so most would hold. Still, people will believe that morality exists and will believe this even more strongly than they do that other empirically verifiable entities exist. Even those who deny that morality of any kind exists tend to behave in ways that contradict this claim, if they do not outright reject the claim through other claims and assumptions found elsewhere in their thought. Good and bad, we want to say, are real.

Within the Christian worldview are many entities that are not empirically verifiable. The God of Christianity is one such entity. He is a personal God who created and controls the world. The Bible presents God as a rational being who has thought and words. He is a God of love and of judgment. Humanity is held accountable to Him. God is all-powerful and absolute. He not only is capable of enforcing moral standards, but is revealed in Scripture as doing so through reward and punishment. There is no one who is free from the morally binding nature and will of God. God is an absolute and personal standard for moral good. In the Christian worldview there are such things as absolute moral values or standards. They are outside of us, are obligatory for everyone to follow, and do not change depending upon how people feel or what their opinion is of these laws.

Note that when the non-Christian denies God, a host of worries await him. A problem rather similar to the is-ought problem discussed earlier in this introduction results from denying the ultimately personal nature of things. If everything is ultimately impersonal then there is no real moral obligation no matter how central this tenet is to our lives. People possess no moral obligation toward entities that are impersonal. People are obligated to persons, not things.

Denying the absolute found in God is likewise problematic in that everything becomes relative or subjective. Here too moral obligation is removed from one’s view of things. Moral indignation then exists only because of personal choice or feeling, but then one might simply eliminate every problem of moral indignation by changing his or her opinion or conditioning the emotions to respond differently than they do. There are no more objective moral judgments, and morality becomes a rather arbitrary matter. Some may suggest that we arbitrate through some internalized sense of right and wrong, but then the question becomes who’s alleged “standards” one should internalize if not one’s own, and aside from this, there is certainly no objective moral reason to follow the person who wishes to say we must internalize morality. If what is morally good or bad is to be determined by individuals then we would never be able to make identical judgments about good and bad for the reason that one person could take, for example, murder to be wrong along with another person, but both individuals have completely different individualistic reasons behind thinking that this is the case.

There have of course been many theories of ethics set forth to try and solve these types of problems. An immediate attempt at a solution is to take morality to be whatever the majority says about it. Unfortunately for the non-Christian, this only pushes the aforementioned problems of relativism and subjectivism back a step. It should be submitted as well that good and bad exist independently of what majorities say about them. Moving from descriptions of statistics concerning positions held about morality is hardly offering a way out of the problems already mentioned.

Some have suggested that moral good and bad are to be determined by looking at consequences, but a problem here is that we do not know all of the consequences of an action. We also need something by which we are to judge whether or not the consequences themselves would be good or bad. Others have suggested that happiness for the greatest number of people is a good thing and the end of our meta-ethical theorizing, but then there appears to be the trouble of putting the minority in any given case down while exalting the majority position. Non-Christians are ultimately unable to give consistent reasons for adhering to absolute moral principles.

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