Do you know any smugglers? You’re probably thinking, “That’s kind of of weird. I don’t know any smugglers.” Right? Honestly, I don’t know any either. In fact, when I think of smuggling, I think of Star Wars Episode IV, A New Hope, where Han Solo was a smuggler. He hides Princess Leia and Luke underneath the floorboard in his ship, where he used to hide the cargo or contraband that he’d hide from the Empire… because he was a smuggler.
That has really nothing to do with what we’re talking about today. Today we’re going to talk about people who smuggle in ideas, often undetected by us, in conversation. Here’s what I mean. When we talk about morality, most often that’s where this type of thing occurs. Someone might say, “I don’t need God to be moral. I just do things that help other people.” Or someone might even say, “I don’t think morality exists. It’s bad to force your moral views on people.”
Both of these individuals who make statements like this have smuggled in a moral concept, and we need to be able to pick up on that. We need to catch on to the smuggling of morality into the conversation. Did you notice where it happened? Let’s go back through it quickly and I’ll point it out.
When someone says, “I don’t need God to be moral. I just do what helps other people,” they’re implicitly saying that helping other people is a moral good. It’s a good thing. In the second example, “morality doesn’t exist; it’s bad to force your moral views on people,” Where did this idea of bad come from? Isn’t that a moral idea? They’ve smuggled in their moral views. In fact, I would suggest to you that no one can actually consistently live in this world and deny that morality exists, or say that it’s just up to the individual. At some point they will try to apply their moral views to someone else. They will act like morality is not subjective, like it’s not just up to me to decide, but they will act as though it’s objective, a fact of reality, something that’s true for everyone.
Let’s talk about some problems with this view that “I don’t need God to be moral. I just do what helps other people.” The first thing to point out is non-Christians can do moral things. They can. They can do good actions. They can hold the door for someone. They can hop on a grenade to save their comrades in war. They can do those types of things. But they can never be as moral as they should be because it is immoral to not worship God. Not worshiping is actually a sin. Not placing faith in God is a sin. You might think that sounds extreme. Well God has commanded us to worship him. He has commanded everyone to repent, so not doing that is sinful. Non-Christians cannot be as moral as they should be.
But, more than that, they can do moral actions. They can still do good things. We need to be clear on that. Denying the existence of God doesn’t mean you won’t end up doing moral things. You’ll be inconsistent when you do it, which is something we’ll get to in a minute, but nonetheless, everyone actually knows what morality is. Everyone knows morality exists, and in general, people all believe the same things, by and large, to be moral — at least the big ones. Breaking a trust is considered to be immoral. Murdering is considered to be immoral. Why? People just seem to innately know this, but the reason is actually because God has created us in his image and these things are written on our heart, Paul tells us in Romans. That’s the first point: not worshiping God is immoral. However, the non-Christian can still do moral actions.
The second is that, as I’ve already pointed out, morality often gets smuggled into conversations. This is something we always have to be on the lookout for. Someone will be saying, “Well, morality doesn’t exist. It’s wrong when you do this.” Where’d you get this idea of wrong? Where did you get this idea of bad? Where did you get this idea of evil? Look for moral terms in conversations and put the burden of proof back on the person making the statement. How do you ground this? Where does this come from? Why should I believe you that it’s actually evil, moral, immoral, whatever, when someone does this type of action.
Don’t just look for negative words. Don’t just look for “evil” and “moral” and “bad.” Look for good things. Look for what they celebrate. Someone might say morality doesn’t exist and say it was great today, that all of these people marched for LGBT equality. Really? Great? Was that good? Was it a good thing that they did this? Because that’s a moral claim. If it’s not a moral claim, then what is it? Just your feeling? Do you think there’s any kind of transcendent quality to this thing you’re saying is great or good? Or is it merely just your emotional opinion? Are you just emoting or is it actually true that it is great that people stood up for LGBT equality?
By extension, would it be not great, might it be bad for people to oppose LGBT equality? We can tease people out on this. We can draw them out and get them to see that you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say morality doesn’t exist and make moral claims.
People cannot avoid making moral claims. It’s just how we’re made. It’s fair to confront someone with that. We’ve just covered that smuggling in morality is something that often occurs. We’ve also mentioned that the non-Christian can behave morally. That’s important. We also need to make a distinction between believing God exists and that being necessary for a grounding of morality, and saying God doesn’t exist but still being able to act morally.
That brings us to our third point. Some people confuse the existence of morality—where does it come from, its source—with a knowledge of morality. It’s common today for people to say, “I know this thing exists, so therefore I don’t need God.” “I know morality exists,” some atheists will say, “so I don’t need God. We can know this on our own as a society. Don’t we just know that slavery is wrong?” Now as an aside, I would say we should just know slavery is wrong, and pretty much any argument against slavery is also an argument against abortion, so it’s interesting when people are inconsistent on that. But that’s a topic for another day.
People often confuse existence and the source of morality with the knowledge of it. They’ll say, “Well I have a knowledge of it, so therefore God’s not required.” But no one should be making the argument that God is required to know morality. At least a conscious admission that God exists isn’t required to know morality. What we are saying is God is required if there is to be something that is moral. God is the grounding for morality.
Now in a very strict and technical sense, God is also required for us to know morality. If God didn’t exist, we wouldn’t be able to know morality because morality wouldn’t exist. But that’s not really the point we’re making. We’re making the less nuanced point that if God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist. If God doesn’t exist, then there’s no reason why I shouldn’t murder someone else, shouldn’t steal from someone else, or any of those things. There’s no “ought” to it. An ought is a just claim, like where you have to do something, where it is wrong for you not to do that thing.
Now there might be societal reasons to behave morally. Society might make me hurt, might punish me if I don’t do what it says. But that doesn’t mean it’s actually wrong to not do what society says. That simply means there might be a cost. What we’re talking about here is objective morality, the type of thing that’s true whether anyone thinks it’s true, believes it’s true, or anything like that.
So why is it true that morality doesn’t exist if God doesn’t exist, or said a little more easily to understand, why is God required in order for there to be moral values and duties? Simply put, a moral law requires a moral law giver. You don’t get laws, you don’t get obligations without someone to place those obligations upon you. If you lived in a country with no government and no other people there, there are no laws on you for that nation. It’s the same way with us, in fact. We are members of God’s creation, and hence, and only hence, and only as a result of that, we are bound by where requires of us. If there’s no God, there are no overriding, no transcendent requirements. I hope that’s clear.
But this goes back to the point that the atheist is going to say, “No, but I can behave morally.” You’re going to say, “Yeah, we’re not talking about how you behave, although we might another time. We’re talking about why you think it’s actually good to do this thing. Where does this idea of good come from? I know you know it exists, but can you tell me where it comes from? Because we can know things exist and not know their source.“
You could know that gravity exists and not know why. In fact, that’s the exact state of modern science. It knows that gravity exists and it can’t really tell you why. You can know, and I’ve used this example before, that your car has an engine that will bring you places, but you cannot know how it works. Those are two separate ideas.
Perhaps a better way to say this is an example I’ve picked up from Greg Koukl. Here’s what he says: You can believe that books exist, you can believe that sentences and paragraphs and stories exist and say that authors do not exist. You can deny the existence of authors and still affirm that there are things that you can read.
Now where did those things come from? Someone had to write them, right? No, not at all. The words are just there. We can read them. Authors aren’t necessary. That’s exactly what the non-Christian/atheist is doing when he affirms that morality exists and denies that God is necessary for it, or that some type of transcendent source and grounding is necessary for morality. This concept of grounding is so important. Doesn’t it just seem silly though to say, “Well, books are real and authors aren’t”? That doesn’t make sense. Things require a source and a grounding. What makes it right? What makes it wrong? In the atheist’s view, nothing.
That’s where we push. Those are the questions we ask. But it all starts, oftentimes, with realizing that someone has smuggled in a moral term. They’ve said that something was good, bad, not good, not bad, evil. They’ve praised something. They’ve complained about something. At the same time, maybe in a different statement or context or conversation, they’ve said morality doesn’t exist. Those two things cannot coexist together.
Why? Why do we care about this? Is it just simply to prove someone else wrong? No. What we’re trying to get to is this idea that in order for people to make sense of the world, they must believe in God. In fact, a belief in God makes the most sense of their basic, intrinsic intuitions. One of the things we know most deeply is that some things are objectively wrong and other things are objectively good. But what can best explain that?
In the past we’ve talked about this idea that evolution can’t actually account for doing selfless deeds because evolution puts me first, and yet morality is commonly agreed to put others first. More than that, it can’t just be something where we decide for ourselves. That doesn’t work. I can’t decide for you that you should do this thing for me. There must be an overriding kind of transcendent grounding for that. It can’t just be society, because that’s just a bunch of people agreeing and being arbitrary about deciding that something should apply to a bunch of other people.
Objective claims are true regardless if people agree with them, if they know them, or think about them. That’s the type of morality we’re talking about. But that’s the same type of morality that people have an innate sense for even if they deny that God is a grounding for it.
We want to use that. We want to trade on that intuition to then argue for the existence of God and point out the fact that since they know things are wrong, God’s going to hold them accountable for that. Let’s not stop with just demonstrating that a theistic god exists. Let’s take it all the way to saying you know certain things are right; you know certain things are wrong. The only reason that makes sense is that there is a God, and this God has revealed himself in scripture, and this God holds us accountable, holds me accountable, holds you accountable for the things we have done wrong. That’s a problem. There is a all powerful God who’s the grounding for morality who is holy and perfect, who holds us accountable for our actions. It is not going to end well.
In fact, he even says that the payoff for this sin, these wrong things we’ve done, is death. That’s not good, but that’s not where the story has to end for anyone. The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus when we repent of our sin and place faith for salvation in him, and trust that he died in our place.
We can use this with just a couple steps to get to the Gospel, to trade on this idea that people have innate moral notions even if they don’t believe God exists, and to turn it around and say: You know what? This is an easy doorway to get to the Gospel in this conversation.
I hope you’ll give that a try. If you do, I’d love to hear from you. I’d love to hear how it goes. If you have questions, I’d be glad to address those, too. Lastly, if you haven’t picked up the book on Gender: A Conversation Guide, specifically for parents and ministry leaders, but I think it’s helpful for everyone, go get it on Amazon. I think it will help anyone who reads it. I will talk with you next week, on Unapologetic.