SRR | Christianity and Morality

I believe he [God] is “really there” because, without him as the universe’s final Reality, there would be no intelligibility anywhere. (Robert Reymond, etc.)[1]

Dr. Reymond’s statement is both profound and insightful. Without God, there is no intelligibility. While the unbeliever cannot account for and at times disregards logic, he must still rely on logic in his own thinking and argumentation. The unbeliever must use the laws of logic in order to make his case against Christianity intelligible, yet it is only the Christian worldview that can account for these laws. He is therefore required to “steal” from the Christian worldview to argue for his worldview. By this, the unbeliever shows that he is inconsistent and demonstrates that his own worldview is wrong. One cannot make a counter argument to this without first presupposing the laws of logic, and it is impossible to account for the laws of logic apart from the God of Scripture.

Only if the God of the Bible exists do we have the laws of Logic and only if the laws of logic exist do we have intelligibility. This necessarily includes the intelligibility of moral judgments. While the laws of logic are necessary for the intelligibility of moral judgments, they cannot tell us what is morally right or wrong. For that, we need an objective moral standard. The charge against atheism, secular humanism or any worldview which rejects the Bible is that it cannot establish an objective moral standard and therefore it cannot rationally justify any moral judgments. Only if the God of the Bible is our lawgiver do we have an objective moral standard, and only if we have an objective moral standard do we have a basis for moral judgments. In the Christian worldview it is God’s character, his commandments, and his authority that establish an objective moral standard as the basis for making moral judgments indissoluble (perpetually binding or obligatory), and it is Jesus –the Logos of God–who endows the mind of man with the logic necessary to make those moral judgments intelligible (capable of being understood or comprehended). The unbeliever cannot account for either of these two necessary conditions in his own worldview. He cannot account for the laws of logic necessary to make moral judgments intelligible, nor can he account for an objective moral standard by which to make moral judgments indissoluble.

Objective Vs Subjective

That which is objective is true, independent of personal belief or opinion. We may simply say that truth is objective. Although this may seem obvious to most people, it is possible that in some postmodern academic circles someone will argue that there is no such thing as objective truth. When such irrational objections are raised we might ask their proponents if it is objectively true that there is no objective truth. If they say no then we can simply agree that their statement was wrong. However, if they say yes, then they have refuted themselves by claiming it is objectively true that there is no objective truth.

By contrast, that which is subjective is merely regarded as personal belief or opinion which may or may not reflect the truth. It’s not difficult to see that many people hold opinions that are not true. Whatever is subjective is not universally true or binding for all people; it is a matter of personal opinion. Many times people equate or confuse subjective opinion with objective reality. Some people will argue something similar to this: Mike sees a green maple leaf but Terry sees a yellow maple leaf and both perspectives are equally valid and true. But as Dr. John Robbins rightly points out, “The law [of non-contradiction] is expressed symbolically as: ‘Not both A and not-A.’ [This means that] a maple leaf may be both green and not-green (yellow) but it cannot be both green and yellow at the same time and in the same respect—it is green in the summer, yellow in the fall. If it is green and yellow at the same time then it cannot be green and yellow in the same respect; one part, however small, will be green, another yellow.”[2] Mike and Terry may have observed the maple leaf at different times or they may have observed different parts of the maple leaf in order to reach their conclusions, but if they are observing the same areas of the same leaf at the same time then they cannot both be right about the color. The Christian should understand that subjective opinion can only be validated by objective truth. It is objectively true that each of them is of a different opinion about the color of the leaf, but it is not true in any sense that both opinions are correct if, in fact, they are contrary. The terms objective and absolute are many times used synonymously as well as the terms subjective and relative. That which is objectively true is regarded as absolutely true in all instances and that which is subjectively true is only regarded as relatively true in particular instances.

Moral Relativism

Moral Relativism holds two main tenets. The first is that there are no moral absolutes which apply universally to all people. Instead of moral judgments being absolute they are only relative to individual preference or perspective. The second tenet is that there is no objective moral standard which is universally binding and unchanging. Instead of an objective moral standard, which is true, independent of personal opinion, relativism stipulates that all moral judgments are subject to individual preference or perspective. True moral judgments can, therefore, differ from person to person, and can even change over time. Every person can choose for themselves what is morally right or wrong. According to the relativist’s view, that which is morally wicked for one person may be morally righteous for another.

Those who subscribe to this view of morality often seek the moral freedom it offers. We can decide for ourselves what is morally right and wrong. This view often resonates with those who support the homosexual agenda and those of the pro-abortion movement. While the moral relativists seek to empower every person by giving moral authority to each individual, they inevitably make it impossible for moral judgments to be intelligible. This is because the inevitable result of moral relativism is that contradictory judgments of morality must be true at the same time, but it is impossible for contradictions to be true. The result is a worldview in which murder, rape, and child abuse are both morally right and wrong at the same time.

Let’s consider an example in which a father physically abuses his children. From the father’s perspective, his actions are morally right. He believes he is conditioning his children for the real world and that he is teaching them to be tough. Now let’s suppose that his youngest daughter dies as a result of the injuries inflicted from the physical abuse. We might expect at this point that there would be an admission of wrongdoing from the father but to the contrary, he stands firm and professes that his actions are nothing less than merciful. Perhaps this response from the father is too extreme to even be considered possible, but before we dismiss it altogether, let us remember that it was abortion icon Margaret Sanger who said, “The most merciful thing that a large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it.”[3] While the father feels that what he has done is morally right and even merciful, the mother and his other children view his actions as morally wrong. Because the moral relativists say that what is morally right or wrong is determined by individual perspective, the inescapable conclusion is that the very same actions of child abuse and murder are both morally right and not morally right (morally wrong) at the same time.

Here we have a clear violation of the law of non-contradiction because “the same attribute [in this case moral rightness] cannot at the same time belong and not belong to the same subject [child abuse and murder] and in the same respect.”[4] The Relativist intends to argue that moral judgments held by different individuals, which are contradictory, are equally valid and true. This view, however, requires the rejection of logic which in turn provides a sanction for evil because it refuses to properly distinguish right moral judgments from wrong moral judgments. This rejection of logic makes morality unintelligible. If such contradictory moral judgments were made in reference to the same moral action then those moral judgments would be unintelligible. The inevitable result would be a state of confusion in which we could not know whether or not child abuse was morally right or wrong. If all moral judgments are shown to be contradictory then all moral judgments are reduced to absurdity. While the relativist may wish to disregard logic at this point he is still required to use logic in his own argument and he cannot advocate his own views without first presupposing the law of non-contradiction.

Not only does moral relativism fail to make moral judgments intelligible, it also fails to make moral judgments indissoluble; that is perpetually binding or obligatory for all people. This is due to the fact that all moral judgments in this view are grounded entirely in subjective arbitrary opinions which have no universal significance at all. It is important to understand that whatever the moral relativist may propose as morally right or wrong is not to be regarded as universally true or obligatory for all people. On moral relativism, there are no universal moral obligations that one should live by. This concept, however, seems to stand in direct opposition to our thinking when it comes to certain moral judgments.

When we make the moral judgment, for instance, that murder (the unjustifiable killing of an innocent person) is morally wrong, we intend to imply that murder is morally wrong for everyone. It does not matter if the person committing the murder is someone of wealth, influence, status or power; wrong is wrong and murder is morally wrong. This, of course, is not a new concept and one should only keep in mind the history of tyrannical dictatorships when considering the indissoluble nature of certain moral judgments. History is full of dictators like Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, and many others who murdered millions of people. These tyrants are a sobering reminder that everyone, including the person in power, has a moral obligation to act justly and refrain from murder. Murder, however, cannot be considered morally wrong for all people unless all people have the same moral obligation to not murder. This creates a problem for the moral relativist because in their view there aren’t any indissoluble moral obligations. This means that the moral relativist has no foundation upon which to stand and criticize the actions of people like Adolf Hitler or anybody else for that matter. According to the moral relativist, Hitler could decide for himself what was morally right or wrong even if that meant the systematic genocide of an entire group of people.

In other words, if there are no indissoluble moral judgments then there are no moral absolutes. It stands to reason, though, that if every person has the same moral obligation to refrain from murder then the wrongness of murder stands as a moral absolute. We could simply say that murder is absolutely wrong. The moral relativist, however, denies moral absolutes and does not ultimately believe that murder is absolutely wrong. Similarly, they do not believe that child abuse or rape are absolutely wrong either. We should press the issue here and ask the relativist, “Since you believe that murder, rape, and child abuse are not absolutely wrong then can you give some examples of when these things are not morally wrong and are morally right?”

When asking questions like this to someone who holds this view of morality the reply is often nothing more than an assertion of the obvious. They will reply that “to them” things like rape, child abuse, and murder are morally wrong, but “to someone else” these things might be viewed as morally right. This reply is nothing new or insightful and it offers no hope of establishing a system of morality. This is a very popular view of morality known as descriptive moral relativism, and although it is widely held, it too fails to make moral judgments indissoluble or intelligible because it merely states the obvious; that different people have different views about what is morally right and wrong. Descriptive relativism can tell us nothing about what actually is morally right or wrong; nor can it tell us what we should do. Because moral relativism cannot substantiate any intelligible or indissoluble moral judgments the moral relativist cannot establish any ethical normative conclusions or moral imperatives. They simply cannot provide us a coherent, rational view of morality.

Morality is either subjectively based or it is objectively based. These are two mutually exclusive positions and there is no third option. If morality cannot be grounded or rationally justified from a subjective standpoint then that leaves us with the only other alternative. Morality must be grounded in an objective standard. For the Christian worldview, God’s divine law provides us an objective standard by which we can say what is right and wrong as well as advocate what we should or should not do. This view is most often recognized as the divine command theory. This view stipulates that morality depends on God and his commandments.

Euthyphro’s Dilemma

Plato’s dialogue the Euthyphro Dilemma has become an enduring inspiration for argumentation against the Christian position that morality depends on God. In this dialogue between Euthyphro and Socrates, which takes place outside of a courthouse in Athens, Plato examines the essence of piety. This short dialogue has inspired many unbelievers to ask the question: Is something right or good because God decreed that it is, or is it decreed by God as right or good because it is right or good? The question is presented as a dilemma, a choice between two options, which ultimately lead to unsatisfactory conclusions for the Christian. If the Christian chooses the first option, that something is right or good because God decreed it to be so, then the implication is that God’s decree is completely arbitrary. This means that God could have decreed that murder and lying were good. If the Christian chooses the second option, that God decrees something is right or good because it is right or good, then the implication is that God must abide by a higher standard or authority than himself. This means that there is something greater than God and that he is not the ultimate source of goodness.

It is very likely that the Christian will hear some variation of this argument in a debate over morality. While some people may think this argument is sophisticated and persuasive, we should point out that it is fallacious because it presents a false dilemma. The argument only offers two options when in fact there is a third option. The third option is this: God’s decrees that something is right or good because it is in accordance with His own good character and righteous will. The standard for what is morally right and good is what God commands but it is vitally important to note that his commands are based on his own character and will. “Not only is God the governor and judge; prior to this, he is the legislator. It is his will that establishes the distinction between good and evil, right and wrong; it is his will that sets the norms of righteous conduct.”[5] Only God has the power and authority to legislate right and wrong, to judge between good and evil and to execute punishment to those who break his law. God has established the virtue of his own character as the basis for universal moral commands, while particular commands are based on his will. The universal moral commands are often referred to as moral law while the particular commands are often referred to as positive law. However, these distinctions are not mutually exclusive and there is overlap. Therefore, it is both his character and his will that are the basis for his commands. This means that God is neither arbitrary in his commands nor is he forced to appeal to a higher moral authority than himself. Scripture tells us, “For when God made a promise to Abraham since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself” (Hebrews 6:13). Clearly, there is no greater authority than God.

Some Christian apologists have argued that God’s commands are the basis for that which is morally right and good, while others have argued that it is His character. Although, it would seem that most Christian apologists who attempt to answer the Euthyphro Dilemma will argue that it is only God’s character and not his commands that are the basis for morality. Clearly, they are attempting to avoid the charge of God’s commands being arbitrary, but this misses the full picture.

Therefore, we must ask: is it God’s commands or it is His character that is the basis for morality? To answer this, we need to make a distinction between an ontological basis and epistemological basis for morality. Ontology is the branch of philosophy that deals with the question concerning what is real or what exist. The ontological basis for that which is morally right and good is God’s character, and in some instances, it is his sovereign will. Without God’s character and will as the transcendent ontological basis for morality, then right and wrong are reduced to subjective opinion and preference. In other words, there would be no actual right and wrong but only a difference of opinion and preference.

On the other hand, Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with the question concerning how we can know something, and without God’s revelation, we could not know his righteous decrees or his moral standard. Therefore, the epistemological basis for that which is morally right and good is God’s revelation which is given authoritatively and most clearly in the form of Divine commands. It is, therefore, appropriate to say that God’s commands are the basis for that which is morally right and wrong, and his character and will are the basis for that which He commands.
The question often arises, though; “how can we account for the fact that actions such as lying and murder were wrong prior to the issuance of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai?” Certainly, it was morally wrong for Cain to murder Abel even though it happened prior to God giving the command to Moses “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). Because God’s character and will are the ontological basis for what is morally good this means that objective right and wrong existed prior to Moses receiving the Ten Commandments. The Scriptures say that God is good (Mark 10:18, Luke 18:19), and that he is eternal (Revelation 1:8), which means that that which is good has existed in the eternal, unchanging character of God.

Now, this raises the question; “how can God find fault with Cain for murdering his brother Abel if he had not read the Ten Commandments?” There must be a revealed law in order for this act to be a sin. It cannot merely be based on God’s character. Clark notes, “The Scripture says precisely what sin is. ‘Sin is the transgression of the law’ (1 John 3:4). ‘Where no law is, there is no transgression’ (Romans 4:15). ‘Through the law cometh the knowledge of sin’ (Romans 3:20). It should be clear then that sin is always defined by the law. Unless one knows the law of God, he cannot know what is wrong, evil or sinful.”[6] How can God punish those who have not received expressed commands and how is it possible to know right and wrong prior to God giving the commands if that knowledge depends on God’s revelation? Here we must point out that no one is ignorant of God’s moral law (ie the Ten Commandments). The answer to this question of supposed ignorance to the moral law is God’s revelation, but not in the form of divine commands. Remember, revelation is the epistemological foundation for the knowledge of right and wrong, but there are two categories of revelation that must be considered in order to properly address this question. The first category is a general revelation which is given through innate knowledge in the form of a moral conscience and the second category is a special revelation which is given in the form of divine commands.

General Revelation and Morality

General revelation is the category of Christian epistemology that allows us to address how we can know what is morally right and wrong apart from the expressed commands of God given in Scripture. Matt Slick writes, “General revelation is the knowledge of God, as well as the knowledge of right and wrong, that can be obtained through nature. This general revelation of God’s existence and basic morality is known by everyone.”[7] The Christian can account for the fact that all people inherently know that actions such as lying and murder are morally wrong even if some people have not read the Scriptures. This is because we are made in the image of God. God is a moral agent and because we are imaged in his likeness we too are moral agents. We are not only endowed by God with the gift of rationality but we are also endowed with the gift of morality. We have been given the knowledge of right and wrong in the form of a conscience. Jesus Christ is “the true light, which gives light [knowledge] to everyone” (John 1:9), and part of that light is a moral conscience. The word conscience contains the prefix con, from the Latin com, meaning “with or together,” and the suffix science from the Latin scire, meaning “to know.” The mind of man is illuminated by Christ with a moral conscience that provides us with (con) the knowledge (science) of right and wrong.

While this answers the question of moral knowledge prior to the issuance of the Ten Commandments to Moses it may appear contradictory to what Paul says in Romans chapter 7. How can we suggest that people had the knowledge of right and wrong prior to the Ten Commandments (the moral law) when Paul says, “Yet if it had not been for the law [Ten Commandments], I would not have known sin? For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet” (Romans 7:7). It is important to note that Paul is quoting Exodus 20:17 and Deuteronomy 5:21 in this verse. Paul is saying that he would not have known that coveting or even that lying and murder were wrong apart from the Ten Commandments. This may appear to contradict the view that man had a knowledge of right and wrong prior to the Ten Commandments being given to Moses?

Paul does affirm that our knowledge of right and wrong depends on the knowledge of God’s moral law but he does not say that the moral law was first given to Moses. This is nothing more than an apparent contradiction and any perceived tension can easily be resolved. The answer is given earlier when Paul says concerning the Gentiles who do not have the law that; “…the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” This is why the 1689 London Baptist Confession states, “God gave to Adam a law of universal obedience written in his heart, (19.1) and that “the same [moral] law that was first written in the heart of man continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness after the fall, and was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables, the four first containing our duty towards God, and the other six, our duty to man” (19.2).

It is also important to note that the first chapter of Romans points to an innate knowledge of God and his laws. In verse 20 we read, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature [character], have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” God’s invisible attributes include His rationality and His morality which are part of his divine nature, and these attributes are clearly perceived in the creation of man who is the very image of God. God’s moral law is a direct reflection of His character. Lying is wrong because God is a God of truth and murder is wrong because God is a God of justice. Adultery is wrong because God is always faithful. God’s moral law is a reflection of who God is and it is because God has made himself known to us innately that we are without excuse. Knowledge of the moral law is given innately to all people. The knowledge of his decree is innate knowledge which is why Paul says, “they know God’s righteous decree” (Romans 1:32).

Special Revelation and Morality

While general revelation makes God’s commands known innately, it is special revelation that provides us with expressed commands given in Scripture. However, there are two different categories of divine commands that we find in Scripture. There are universal commands which are morally binding for all people (referred to as moral law), and then there are particular commands given to certain individuals (referred to as positive law). The universal commands are primarily an outworking of God’s character while particular commands are primarily an outworking of his will. The moral law (i.e. the Ten Commandments) comprise a set of universal commands that are morally obligatory for all people, but God has also issued commands to individuals that are not morally obligatory for all people. Particular commands are replete throughout scripture. God commands Noah, “Make yourself an ark of gopher wood” (Genesis 6:14). Surely, we don’t have to obey this command and build an ark out of gopher wood, but Noah had obligation to obey this command. It would have been wrong for him to disobey it. This particular command given to Noah was based on God’s will which was to show mercy and preserve mankind through Noah and his family while bringing judgment upon the rest of mankind for their wickedness.

In a similar manner, God commands Jonah, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me” (Jonah 1:2). For Jonah, this particular command from God was a moral duty and he had an obligation to obey, but we are not all called to go to Nineveh and preach against it. When Jonah did not obey God’s command to go to Nineveh we see that God punished him; “And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17). These types of commands reveal God’s will and they are morally obligatory for their recipients, yet they are not morally obligatory for all people. We will not be judged for our lack of obedience to any particular command of God unless we are the direct recipients of such commands.

It is important to point out that commands that are primarily based on God’s will and those that are primarily based on his character both reflect God’s goodness and never contradict. Some people have suggested that God’s particular commands have conflicted with his universal commands, but this would result in a contradiction. In other words, God would be self-contradictory and double minded. As an example, we can consider God’s universal command not to murder (Exodus 20:13), and contrast that with God’s particular command to the Israelites to wipe out the Canaanite clans (Deuteronomy 7.1-2; 20.16-18).

The KJV renders Exodus 20:13 as “Thou shalt not kill,” and this is perhaps the reason for some of the confusion. This passage is better translated “Thou shalt not murder,” and most, if not all, other Bible translations correctly translate the passage with the verb “murder.” God commands us not to murder and some have misunderstood this to mean that God commanded us not to kill. We need to understand the difference between killing and murdering. Most people tend to recognize that there is a distinction to be made, and may even try to think of scenarios in which killing is not considered murder. Often these scenarios involve situations of war or self-defense in which there is no other option but to kill another person in order to preserve one’s own life or protect someone else. In such cases, killing is not always morally wrong, however, murder is always morally wrong and should never be condoned. Simply put, murder is the wrongful killing of another person.

Just as the state may be justified in the execution of a guilty criminal so too God is justified in the death of the wicked. This certainly was true of the Canaanites. By the time God had commanded the destruction of the Canaanites, their wickedness was no longer restrained and their evil was exceedingly great. In fact, their iniquity was complete. As a society, they were completely given over to practices such as homosexuality, bestiality, ritual prostitution, and even child sacrifice. Infants and children up to age four were often sacrificed to the pagan god Moloch by being burned alive. It is important to point out just how patient and longsuffering God was with these people. In Genesis 15:16 God says, “the iniquity of the Amorites [a clan of the Canaanites] is not yet complete” and we see that God withheld his judgment against the Canaanites for 400 years. God waited until their entire society became exceedingly wicked and they were completely given over to their sin. We should also remember that God was willing to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of only 10 righteous people. Although no petition of mercy was ever made on the behalf of the Canaanites, and there was no obligation for God to be merciful, we can certainly suppose that God would have shown mercy for the sake of 10 righteous Canaanites. What we do see is that God waits until their iniquity is complete. This means there were no righteous Canaanites to be found among them. This should give us some perspective as to just how wicked the Canaanite societies were and just how patient and longsuffering God is in his judgments.

When God finally dealt with the Canaanites he used the Israelites to execute his judgment. The Israelites, in effect, became the instrument of judgment by which God punished them for their wickedness. There is, therefore, no contradiction between God’s universal moral command and his particular command. God commanded the Israelites to kill, but not in the same sense in which he had previously commanded them not to kill; that is not to murder.

While these particular commands are morally obligatory only for their recipients a system of morality, a theory of ethics requires universal commands that are morally obligatory for all people. These commands or laws must be universal and fixed. The Christian worldview provides such universal and fixed moral commands, yet the unbeliever’s worldview cannot establish any universal and fixed moral command or law. This is an important point to make with the unbeliever.

Universal and Fixed Laws

Earlier it was argued that only if God exists do we have an objective moral standard and only if we have an objective moral standard do we have a basis for moral judgments. An objective moral standard can also be referred to as an objective moral law. The argument is still the same though because only if there is a moral lawgiver do we have an objective moral law and only if we have an objective moral law do we have a basis for moral judgments. The Christian worldview is able to establish an objective moral law because “the LORD is our Lawgiver” (Isa. 33:22). Unless a moral standard is objectively binding and unchanging it cannot be regarded as a universal and fixed moral law. God’s revealed moral law is an objectively binding moral standard because He has the authority and power to punish those who break his law. This makes His law a universally binding moral standard. His moral law is also fixed because it will not arbitrarily change from one day to the next. Laws which reside in the eternal and immutable character of God, whether the laws of logic or the laws of morality are universal and fixed. However, it is important to note that the laws of physics are only universal and fixed as long as God chooses to uphold the universe in a law-like fashion, but the laws of logic reflect the eternal character of God’s thinking. While God may break the laws of physics he can never break the laws of logic. These two types of laws should not be equated. The moral laws are similar to the laws of logic in that they reflect the eternal character of God’s goodness and righteousness. The laws of logic are God’s standard for rational thought and the moral laws are God’s standard for moral conduct. The problem for the unbeliever is that he cannot account for nor can he establish any universal and fixed laws in his worldview.

Moral laws are universal because they apply everywhere and to everyone, but the unbeliever cannot rationally justify any universal law from his worldview. Without divine revelation from an all-knowing God, he is limited to his own observation and experience and no universal law can be deduced from observation or experience. Of course, we can expect that an observant unbeliever will point out that universal laws are not arrived at by a deductive method of reasoning but are rather based on an inductive method of reasoning. But here the unbeliever is committing the fallacy of induction if he intends to establish any universal law, moral or otherwise, on the basis of his own limited observation or experience. “Induction is the attempt to derive a general [universal] law from particular instances”[8] and unless the induction is completed it is always fallacious. “As Hume amply showed, our experience is limited in the past and non-existent in the future, with the result that we cannot know that all bread is nourishing, or that all arsenic is poisonous, or that all motions require a cause.”[9] In the unbeliever’s worldview, there is no epistemological foundation which would allow him to establish that murder is universally wrong. The unbeliever cannot establish any universal moral judgments in his worldview. This is once again because universal judgments are contingent upon universal laws and universal laws cannot be established on the basis of limited observation or experience.

Not only are the moral laws universal but they are also fixed because they will not arbitrarily change from one day to the next. This is true of moral laws just as it is true of the laws of logic. Moral judgments concerning the future will reflect past moral judgments if they are based upon unchanging moral laws. In the same way, that we can ask the unbeliever how he knows that contradictions are always false, we can also ask how he knows that murder is always morally wrong. The unbeliever may wish to say that the Nazi genocide of the Jews during WWII was morally wrong, but how can he say that a future genocide will be just as morally wrong. To say that we should not murder because it would be morally wrong is to make a judgment on a future action. The unbeliever cannot provide an epistemological foundation by which he can say that the future act of murder will be just as morally wrong as past acts of murder without fallaciously begging the question that the future will be like the past because of past experience. To suggest that the future will be like the past on the basis of past observation or experience is circular. Because his worldview is unable to provide a non-circular justification for saying that the future will be like the past he cannot affirm any timeless moral laws without being fallacious. He cannot say we should not murder because it will be morally wrong on the basis that it was wrong in the past. He has nothing outside of his own limited past experience to provide a basis for his judgments. Again, Hume pointed out that “our experience is limited in the past and non-existent in the future” with the result that we cannot know that the future will be like the past on the basis of observation and experiences. The reason is simple; no one has ever observed or experienced the future. In the unbeliever’s worldview there no justification for arguing that we should not murder tomorrow because it would be morally wrong, for that bears judgment on future actions which he has not yet observed or experienced. He, therefore, cannot advocate any moral imperatives in his worldview.

Contrary to the unbeliever’s inability to account for universal and fixed moral laws the Christian is able to account for such laws from the Bible. Scripture is the epistemological foundation for the Christian’s worldview which means that we have an epistemological foundation for universal and fixed laws. The Christian does not rely on observation or experience but rests wholly on the word of God. God, who is the lawgiver, has established his law as the universal and fixed rule of life. We know that His law is universal because everyone is held accountable to that standard. Paul writes, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God” (Romans 3:19). John further tells us, “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:14) and we know from Paul that, “all have sinned [broken the law] and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This is why God “commands all people everywhere to repent,” (Acts 17:31). We should note the universal terms in these passages: “every mouth; whole world; all;” and “all people.” These laws are the universal standard of morality. But the laws are also fixed and will not arbitrarily change from one day to the next. Jesus said, “But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void” (Luke 16:17).

Far from the Euthyphro dilemma being a problem for the Christian worldview, we find instead that it is the Atheist who is lacking. We should point out for the Atheist that using the Euthyphro argument is an exercise in futility. It is clear that those who advance the argument are aware that being arbitrary is unacceptable and recognize the need for an objective standard. At this point, the Christian may want to turn the tables on the Atheist and ask: Is something right or good because you said that it is, or did you say it is right or good because it is right or good? We can refer to this as the Atheist’s dilemma and to help the Atheist see the problem they are facing we can also ask: Is murder wrong because you say so, or did you say murder is wrong because it is wrong.

While this is a false dilemma when used against the God of the Bible it is a true dilemma when applied to the unbeliever. Every moral judgment the unbeliever makes must be established on the basis of one of these two options and neither option is satisfactory. If he says that murder is morally wrong because he said so, then we may just as well ask who made him the boss. In this reply, he is not claiming to be a moral relativist but is rather claiming to have moral authority over everyone else. Not only is this extremely egocentric and narcissistic but it is equally delusional. Hopefully, the unbeliever will recognize that they personally don’t have the moral authority to determine what is right or good for everyone else. We should point out again that their subjective opinion is not morally binding for others. What makes them the moral authority for all humanity? We should ask them; “does everyone have to abide by your subjective, arbitrary moral opinion?” I have yet to hear someone argue in the affirmative to that question.

This leaves the unbeliever the other option; which is to say that murder is wrong because it is wrong. If he says that murder is wrong, not because he said so, but because it is wrong, then he is appealing to an objective moral standard that does not depend on his own personal belief or opinion. The problem is that in his worldview there no objective moral standard by which to make such judgments. As we have already seen, any moral standard established on the basis of individual opinion is purely subjective and every individual lacks the moral authority to establish universal indissoluble moral judgments. The unbeliever cannot establish an objective moral standard from the subjective opinion of the individual. This is why the unbeliever must now appeal to a standard outside of himself, an objective moral standard, to say that murder is wrong because it is wrong. When such a reply is given we can simply ask: “based on what objective standard?”

[1] Reymond, Robert L. A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith. Nashville: T. Nelson, 1998.
[2] Robbins, John W. “Why Study Logic?” Trinity Foundation RSS. July/August 1985. Accessed June 28, 2016. http://trinityfoundation.org/journal.php?id=39.
[3] Sanger, Margaret. Woman and the New Race. New York: Brentano’s, 1920.
[4] Robbins, “Why Study Logic?”, 2.
[5] Clark, Gordon H. Religion, Reason and Revelation. Vol. 4. Signature. TN: Trinity Foundation, 2012. Pg. 137
[6] Clark, Gordon H. What Is The Christian Life. TN: Trinity Foundation, 2016.
[7] Slick, Matt. “What is general revelation and special revelation?” CARM.org. Accessed December 12, 2016. https://carm.org/questions/about-bible/what-general-and-special-revelation
[8] Crampton, Gary. “The Biblical View of Science.” Trinity Foundation. http://trinithttp://trinityfoundation.org/journal.php?id=163yfoundation.org/journal.php?id=163.
[9] Clark, Gordon H. Christian Philosophy, The Works of Gordon Haddon Clark. Vol. 4. Signature. TN: Trinity Foundation.

9 Comments
  1. Garrett 2 years ago

    And I find it repugnant that you would fancy yourself so worthy of your intellectual perfection to see this discourse as hardly worth engagement. You spent the time to respond, therefore you have some interest in the matter. Don’t sell me short just because you think it’s necessary to make your position more sound. Arrogance is bliss.

    • Author
      Tim Shaughnessy 2 years ago

      Why should I consider this valuable time spent if you are going to misrepresent my position, and make false assertions and assumptions about me. I’m not obligated to give up time away from my family to engage someone like you. You just provided another example. You have misrepresented and misunderstood what I hold as the Christian axiom. It is not God because who is God. Which God are we talking about? I hold the Bible as my axiom.

      Your arguments are not making sense to me either so I am having a hard time figuring out what you mean. You said, “please demonstrate to me the quantifiable means in which you can axiomatically show that God is not separate from Christian.” Did you mean to say “Christianity?” Are you asking for a demonstration of an axiom which cannot be demonstrated but must be assumed and is evaluated in a different manner? Your little formula about God(axiom)=Christian=Correct makes no sense to me whatsoever. I don’t know why you are engaging like this but this is not a productive use of my time. You clearly don’t understand the position you are trying to refute or discredit or criticize. I have shown this to be the case with just about every comment you have left on here.

      Please read Clark’s 4th book in his signature series and that might help you. http://www.trinitylectures.org/christian-philosophy-the-works-of-gordon-haddon-clark-volume-p-146.html

      Thank you for leaving a comment. I am sorry about offending you but I just don’t have time for this kind of interaction with you.

  2. Garrett 2 years ago

    If you are on the offensive, then please demonstrate to me the quantifiable means in which you can axiomatically show that God is not separate from Christian. You can pontificate all you want but your avoidance is what stands out. God(axiom)=Christian=Correct. This is simply absurd and you have demonstrated nothing other than a regurgitation of philosophical treatise.

  3. Garrett 2 years ago

    This is the absurdity of your dissertation. You have qualified an axiom as that of what Clark has defined. You have made no further demonstration and I welcome your dismissal as an ad hominem approach that lacks relevance. Thanks, it’s actually what I expected.

  4. Author
    Tim Shaughnessy 2 years ago

    I’m sorry but you are so confused it is hardly worth engaging you and I fear that you find more pleasure in your own opinion than in trying to understand. You are saying things that are just absurd. You are making assumptions and assertions that are completely false. You seem to have me confused me with a Van Til presuppositionalist. I would agree that in order to prove the God of the Bible I would have to disprove every other theistic system out there. That is not what I am attempting to do so I am not making a false dilemma as you attempted to point you. That criticism is warranted for a Van Til presuppositionalist but not a Clarkian Scripturalist such as myself.

    Also, I am not saying that because God “is” then we automatically have an “ought.” I would be facing Hume’s guillotine as you pointed out. Thankfully I made no such argument. God has to actually provide the “ought” by way of divine commands. So you are trying to apply a problem to me that wouldn’t apply to me.

    I am also not rewriting the laws of logic. I quoted Aristotle’s definition of the law of contradiction so to make such a claim is just foolish. I have little patience for this kind of nonsense.

    You also don’t seem to understand Clark’s position on axioms. Every worldview must have a first principle laid down dogmatically which cannot be proved. So Clark set’s for the idea that first principles must be regarded as axiomatic, which is to say that they cannot be proven by anything prior and must be assumed. Clark even gives criteria for judging the acceptability of an axiom. Clark was a logician by trade and a theologian by preference. You should take some time to read his Logic book.

    If you are not going to take the time to understand my position and are just going to try to create problems that don’t apply to me then I find little value in engaging you further.

  5. Garrett 2 years ago

    You really need to go over Hume’s Law if your assertion is that logic is objective. According to Hume, just because something “is” (i.e.-your logical demonstration that a God exists) does not mean that it “ought” to be that the Christian God accounts for moral objectivity. You incorrectly assume (by creating a false dilemma as you so laid out discussing Euthypro’s dilemma) that it is either the Christian God or no God that accounts for morality. In order to avoid these issues, you must 1) avoid violating Hume’s law by dissecting every other conceivable religious text accounting for objective morality to show what “is” and avoid the “ought” to be fallacy – and 2) include those texts to avoid the false dilemma created by incorrectly assuming only two options exist (either the Christian God or no God).

    • Author
      Tim Shaughnessy 2 years ago

      You misunderstood the arguments put forth in the article which embrace the Biblical view as axiomatic and are an ad hominem response to atheism.

      I did not creat a false dilemma nor did I attempt to draw an ought from an is.

      I will be writing more on this in the future but unfortunately your criticism is lacking merit.

      • Garrett 2 years ago

        You spelled out an entire dissertation, borrowing selectively from philosophical lines of thought, without any logical continuity. You’ve made an appeal to an axiom that simply does not exist. If it were considered an axiom then there would be no debate as to its validity. That is a true axiom. You are rewriting the laws of logic to fit your premise, which is a logical fallacy.

      • Garrett 2 years ago

        Also, a claim of a lack of merit requires more than just the assertion. But I f you plan on writing another dissertation in response to a paragraph objection to your approach then you are missing the point. It’s really quite simple so please don’t complicate it more than it needs to be; especially if you’re working with an axiom (an implication of non-complication). You’ve got your work cut out for you.

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