“Sheep have a strong instinct to follow the sheep in front of them. When one sheep decides to go somewhere, the rest of the flock usually follows, even if it is not a good ‘decision.’ For example, sheep will follow each other to slaughter. If one sheep jumps over a cliff, the others are likely to follow. Even from birth, lambs are conditioned to follow the older members of the flock. This instinct is ‘hard-wired’ into sheep. It’s not something they ‘think’ about”.
What about you? Are you like that too? Are you just a sheep following the herd when it comes to right and wrong? Some people make this objection saying that morality is really just a “herd in-stinct.” In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis notes and answers this objection:
‘Isn’t what you call the Moral Law simply our herd instinct and hasn’t it been developed just like all our other instincts?’ Now I do not deny that we may have a herd instinct: but that is not what I mean by the Moral Law.
Are our morals really just evolved instincts—some kind of “go-along to get-along” adaptation for survival? On the Naturalist worldview (think Atheism), this is the common explanation. Michael Ruse, a Naturalist and philosopher of science, writes,
“Morality then is not something handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai. It is something forged in the struggle for existence and reproduction, something fashioned by natural selection ”.
But, is Ruse right? Lewis argues that there is clear evidence from everyday life that shows that the Moral Law is not a matter of instinct. He puts it this way:
If two instincts are in conflict, and there is nothing in a creature’s mind except those two instincts, obviously the stronger of the two must win. But at those moments when we are most conscious of the Moral Law, it usually seems to be telling us to side with the weaker of the two impulses. You probably want to be safe much more than you want to help the man who is drowning: but the Moral Law tells you to help him all the same..
In other words, Lewis argues that we often choose to act against our strongest instinct in order to do what is right and in so doing, actually put ourselves at great personal risk. Or, to say it another way, we act selflessly—a very difficult behavior to explain on Naturalism, coincidentally.
How do we decide to go against the stronger instinct of self-preservation in order to save the life of another—a drowning man crying for help, for example? Lewis argues that we judge both in-stincts against some third thing, some kind of standard. In the case of the drowning man, we are impelled by this standard to risk our lives to save the drowning man’s life.
This process of deciding between instincts and acting against our stronger instinct in order to do what is right, Lewis argues, shows that what determines right is neither of our instincts but some-thing else altogether. It is the standard by which we judge our instincts and according to which we act—it is the Moral Law.
So, relax. If you are following the Moral Law that you feel pressing on you, you aren’t a sheep following the herd. You are something much better! You are a highly sophisticated, rational soul following the universal Moral Law.
- Are murder and rape always wrong? If not, what circumstances could possibly make them right, or, at least, not wrong?
- Who taught you right and wrong? Did they invent right and wrong?
- Do most societies agree in the major points of morality?
Lewis, C. S. (2009-05-28). Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics) (p. 8). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.