The notion of morality can easily be said to affect every person every day. One cannot simply escape its cognizant force. As a result, there seems to be common ground for the believer and non-believer. One of the best ways to look at this is via a deductive argument: (1) If God exists, then objective moral values exist; (2) Objective moral values exists; (3) Therefore, God exists. The idea that everyone believes in objective morality appears to be self-evident and transcends all people, places, and time. Those who try to escape this reality find themselves unable to do so, lest take on a sociopathic mindset. The atheist philosopher Michael Ruse—who denies the foundations for objective morality—is not immune when he admitted, “I have no intention of denying that a claim like ‘rape is wrong’ is true.” Additionally, no one would believe that inserting a samurai sword through one’s own infant’s eyeball as a test for love is grounded in morality even in the most outlandish fantasy world. There are some things that are intuitively right and wrong whether one is a believer or not.
This intuition explains how humans are able to make moral decisions such as “I ought” or “I ought not” to do a certain thing. We do so based on our reason because there are facts about morals which are logically perceived. And these facts can be said to be morally good or bad. Therefore, these facts must be grounded by and measured by an immovable standard. Lewis put it best when he stated, “If your moral ideas can be truer, and those of the Nazis less true, there must be something—some Real Morality—for them to be true about.” This standard is what the Christians know as God.
C.S. Lewis, Miracles (San Francisco: Harper Collins Publishing, 1996), 54.
Michael Ruse, “Evolution and Ethics: The Sociobiological Approach,” “Ethical Theory: Classic and Contemporary Readings,” ed. Louis Pojman (Belmont: Wadsworth Thomson Learning, 2002), 658.
On the other hand, if there is no perfect standard, there are no moral acts that can be described as good or bad. This is because there could be no truth concerning morality. There would only be the opinions and whims of humans as to what should be considered moral. The idea that “I ought” to do something would be the equivalent of “I itch.” Both have the same exact foundation, which would be biological and genetic activity. But this seems to go against basic human beliefs. And this is according to one of the most brilliant agnostic minds, Graham Oppy, who stated, “Going further, some people think that a disposition towards ethical belief is written into our biological evolutionary heritage. These claims strike me as both incautious and improbable.” If this were the case, then consequently, the genocidal tactics of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao would be qualitatively no different than a group of volunteers serving the homeless a Thanksgiving meal. Morality would be reduced to an illusion, which only aids in surviving; not because there is any truth about morality. Therefore, we can conclude that there is an objective standard of morality that we can all agree upon. And if this is the case, we can also state with confidence that naturalistic explanations fall short. God, therefore, becomes a plausible and rational foundation for the standard of objective morality.
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Simon & Shuster, 1996), 18.
Lewis, Miracles, 56-57.
Graham Oppy, “Reinventing Philosophy of Religion: An Opinionated Introduction. Basingstoke,” GBR: Palgrave Pivot, 2014, 71-72. Also see Harvard evolutionary biologist, Stephen Jay Gould who stated, “We still cannot draw moral messages…from any factual construction of nature…Nature…doesn’t give a damn about us…Therefore we cannot use nature for our moral instructions.” These statements came from his book, Rock of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life (New York: Ballantine Books, 1999), 194-5.
Alvin Plantinga, “Two Dozen (Or So) Theistic Arguments,” assessed September 29, 2015, http://www.calvin.edu/academic/philosophy/virtual_library/articles/plantinga_alvin/two_dozen_or_so_theistic_arguments.pdf
The Big Gap Means a Big Problem
Once objective morality has been established, the next step concerning morality in this personal apologetic method is the idea of a big gap. Believers and non-believers alike can agree that no matter how hard we try to live a good life, our efforts will always come up short of perfection. We simply aren’t perfect and we know it. Therefore, we find ourselves on one side of this gap (or chasm) with a perfect standard on the other side. Lewis remarked, “human beings…have this…idea that they ought to behave in a certain way. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves…”
Here’s a good example of how this appears in reality. Benjamin Franklin attempted to live a morally perfect life by holding to thirteen virtues. He soon found out that he simply could not obtain it. In his Autobiography he stated, “I soon found I had undertaken a task of more difficulty than I had imagined. While my care was employ’d in guarding against one fault, I was often surprised by another; habit took the advantage of inattention; inclination was sometimes too strong for reason.” The bottom line is, it couldn’t be done.
The reason it couldn’t be done is the same for all of us. We are imperfect people and imperfection cannot always produce perfect behavior. We know imperfect behavior is wrong, immoral, etc. It is to be less than what a human should be. This means that we are simply a broken people. Therefore, it’s not so much a matter of what we do, but who we are. This is where the Bible talks about there is no one who is righteous (Rom 3:10). All have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). And if God is the standard of righteous and moral perfection, then the gap is not so much between us and some abstract standard, but between us and God. This should cause us to seriously reflect on the human condition. None of our good works of charity will make any difference because we can never cross this chasm.
John Hare, The Moral Gap (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 37.
Lewis, Mere Christianity, 21.
Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography, 38, assessed September 29, 2015. http://www.ushistory.org/franklin/autobiography/page38.html
The Need for a Savior
If we cannot cross this chasm by ourselves, then it stands to reason that we are in need of serious help. This help can only come from God. At this point many will assume or ask why God can’t just overlook our imperfection or forgive perhaps forgive our actions against him and others. At the same time, we also believe in fair treatment because we are human beings with certain worth and value. There appears to be a metaphysical tug of war taking place. We all believe the punishment fits the crime (imperfect behavior), but we don’t want it when it comes to us getting our due. However, we cannot have it both ways. Lewis explained it this way:
To be ‘cured’ against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level with those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals. But to be punished, however severely, because we have deserved it, because we ‘ought to have known better,’ is to be treated as a human person made in God’s image.
The good news is the Christ has come. The Christ—God incarnate—has taken on the imperfection of humanity as the mediator between God and us (Gal. 3:20). The punishment we were due as a result of our sin and wrongdoing was put on him on the cross. On the third day he conquered both sin and death by rising from the dead. In fact, Christianity’s very existence hinges on it, which is why there are very few topics that have received such attention. Paul said, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless” (1 Cor. 15:17).
Douglas J. Moo, “The Epistle to the Romans,” (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 226.
C.S. Lewis, “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment,” “God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics,” ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972), 290.
William G.T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 3rd ed., ed. Alan W. Gomes (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co, 2003), 675.