Episode 209 - Does Morality Require the Existence of God?



Hello and welcome to Unapologetic, a podcast about defending, not apologizing for your Christian convictions. We're going to continue on this week looking at 10 supposedly unanswerable questions by theists, by people who believe there is one personal God, and that includes Christians. And in fact, most of these objections in this list are against Christianity and I think they're very good for us to consider.

We don't want to just sit in our little Christian bubbles and reaffirm each other about the things we all believe and not engage critically with the real objections that are out there. Because if we don't engage with the objections, as America and just Western society in general becomes less and less hospitable to Christianity and Christian ideas, we will have an increasingly difficult time sharing the gospel with people.

People often are more educated, or at least have more pithy little statements to throw out in evangelistic conversations, and so we need to be prepared to deal with objections so we can contend earnestly for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So today, let's talk about this next objection on this list of 10. I'm just going to read. It might be a little long but I think it's helpful for us to understand how the non-Christian is framing the objection. Let's hear it in his own words. It's important for us to understand not just how we think about the objection but what the objection actually is.

So here's what he says.

”Many theists believe that our moral sensibilities are essences or qualities that have been given to us by a supernatural source we might call God. There is no evidence to support this claim. There is, however, evidence to support the idea that morality is based upon agreed upon subjective preferences. Broadly understood, morality is a human construct built on four things, reciprocity, altruism, principles of fairness, and empathy. Do you like being burgled? Probably not. No one else does either. And so, we take this realization that stealing from people is wrong and that we don't feel so good when we're the victims of theft, and then we codify our dislike of burglary, accompanied by a requisite punishment into law."

“As for altruism, it's a mechanism that helps ensure survival of the group. Remember, humans are social animals. But you want to believe the opposite, that God is commanding us to be nice and neighborly. No. Morality is an emergent property of evolution, a system, so to speak, in which we evaluate intentions and consequences and become aware of the effects of behavior on other sentient beings. People come to share conclusions about subjective experience, and from this conclusion, compassion and empathy emerge."

“Without empathy, you can't get human morality. It makes us interested in others. It makes us have an emotional stake in them. It should also be noted that rudimentary forms of morality can be found in other animals. Think of the number of videos you've seen of animals helping other animals. You'll even find a video of acorn woodpeckers cooperatively protecting a food supply. In light of the many shared behaviors we have with other animals, why do you think morality is something handed to us from on high, when there's no evidence to support this belief?"

So let's go through some of these statements he's said and think critically about them. So he says, "Do you like being burgled? Probably not. No one else does either, and we take this realization that stealing is wrong, and then we codify," or we make official, "and into law, our dislike for burglary," because attach a punishment to it and we give it a negative stigma. Well, several things about this, why should we believe that not liking something makes it wrong? That's basically what he's saying here. Morality is based on seeing something we don't like, and then making it official that you can't do it. But not liking something doesn't make it wrong in any other area of life, does it? So why would we treat morality this way? If a scientist gives a scientific presentation and says, "Hey, based on my research we came up with this finding," can someone in the audience just stand up and say, "Hey, I don't like that. That means it's wrong"? No. And it should be the same way with morality. If it's actually real, if it's something we can talk about and point to in the world, and we're actually going to hold people accountable to it, shouldn't it be just as real as a scientific finding? It should.

Now, it doesn't mean that it is science, but shouldn't it be just as real? Why does it get put into another lesser category. And the author here actually admits, in some ways, that this is happening when he says it's based on subjective preference. But why can we hold people accountable to our subjective preference? And we'll get into this in a little bit, but how can I say that you have to do what my subjective preference aligns with? That makes no sense. Why should we believe that that's how it's supposed to be? But more than that, not liking something doesn't make it wrong. And if that's the standard one wants to use, then all sorts of things become right and wrong. For instance, if a Christian doesn't like a gay pride parade, does that mean that parade is wrong? Well, no. Well, what about if enough people agree? Does that mean the parade is wrong? If it's just based on subject preferences, then it would have to mean that the parade is wrong, but that's not what it means.

And statistically, the LGBT community, if we want to call them that, are the great minority in Western society. So the majority does not share their preferences. Now, the public sentiment does seem to be aligning there. That's a different conversation. But my point is simply, if not liking something makes it wrong, then how does this not come back against what the left is pushing today? Well, it would.

Let's go on to another statement. "Without empathy, you can't get human morality." This is, I think, a very dangerous type of statement, because it basically seems to say, "If we aren't interested in others, then we don't need to treat them well." Or, "If there's something," once again, "that doesn't align with how I think or feel, then I don't have to be concerned about it." So if we go back to morality being a subjective preference, which is what he says, well, what if someone doesn't have a preference about something? Does that that mean that that thing is not wrong?

So let's imagine a world where rape happens and no one thinks it's wrong. Does that mean rape is not wrong? On this conception, it would have to mean that. But what if no one thinks about it? What if no one has empathy towards the rape victim? Does that mean the rape wasn't wrong? Well, that's what it would have to mean here, but that's obviously false. We know this is false because morality is not just based on what we think we should do. It's not just based on empathy for other people. In fact, it sits above all of that and it says, "You should do this because it's right, even if you don't feel the same way about it." That's the difference in a Christian concept of morality and the conception that's being taught here.

A true understanding of morality says, "Whether you feel a certain way about it or not, it's right to do X." Think back to our science example, or think of a medical context. If your doctor comes in and gives you a medical diagnosis that says, "Hey, you have cancer and you have a year to live," you can't just say, "Oh, I don't like that," and then that means it's false and you're going to live as long as you want. Reality isn't based on how we think and how we feel. In fact, morality is doing the right thing even when you don't feel like it.

But more than that, why would I have the obligation to do what other people like and that I may not like? So here's this interesting tension that exists. If morality is based on subjective preference, how do we work through a situation where someone thinks something is right, subjectively, based on how they feel, and I think it's wrong? Do I have to do what they want? But then that would mean doing what I think is wrong. So how does that work? And how do I have the obligation to do what they think is right? If morality's just based on subjective preference, why should I care? Why should I base my life around what your preference is? You might have a preference for ice cream, or steak over chicken, and that's great but I'm not going to feel constrained by that. But morality is the type of thing, as the author said, that we codify into law, we make official and we put binding on people. Well, if that's just based on a preference, how can we do that? And how do we figure it out when someone feels a certain way, has empathy towards a certain type of person and someone else actually thinks that that's wrong?

Go back to the pride parade. Some people have empathy on the LGBT community, and I do think there are certainly cases where Christians should have a deep empathy, from the beginning, that this is disordered, it's not good for people, it's actually harmful. LGBT persons have legitimately been mistreated. Now, we might disagree on what gets counted as mistreatment, but that's actually the point here, is based on our empathy we can't just say that because someone feels bad, they were mistreated. We actually have to look at an objective standard. How we feel is not good enough.

Well, let's look at something else. The author says that morality is an emergent property of evolution. In other words, do to what evolution is, the twin processes of random mutation and natural selection, that through that morality, and I guess he would say, "Our sense of morality," has developed. It's come out of that process. Well, if that's true and if evolution has coded us to think certain things are moral if they help the species survive, then why do people think abortion is good? How can that make sense? Literally killing the next generation is good for the generation surviving. That's not true.

Now, some people want to say, "Well, what evolution is actually coded for is an understanding of a human flourishing." Well, one, why should we think that this naturalistic process of evolution is sufficient to actually do that? I see no reason, no evidence to think that, which is ironic because the author is saying there's no evidence that God has instilled morality in the world. But more than that, if killing the next generation, because they might have a difficult life or ... based on the subject preferences or lifestyle choices of the parent, is somehow moral, then I don't think we actually have a consistent understanding of what morality is, even on this author's view. If evolution is coding in us our moral standards and we think abortion is good, how does that even make sense?

But more than that, why would we think rape is wrong if evolution has coded in us a moral standard? The best way to propagate your genetic material is not to care about consent. And isn't consent the main sexual ethic of the secular world today? It is. Now, a Christian conception is much higher than that. But more than this, if consent is all there is, why should we even care? If we say it's wrong not to get consent before you have sex, well, based on what? Based on whose subjective preference if we're going to be consistent here? And if it's only a subject preference and you have a different subject preference than I do, why should I care if I get consent?

See, this standard of morality and ethics does not work. You can't actually tell someone why they have to follow what someone else's preference is. And what if someone has a different preference than you, like we've already said? But I think there are multiple other examples of how this morality and evolution argument doesn't really work. And we've gone into them in the past on the podcast, so you could search on the website and you'll probably find some more examples there. But another example would be homosexuality, literally, does not lead to the propagation of the species. So why would evolution create in us the understanding that this is a good thing? That doesn't make sense.

Well, let's look at some other responses, and lines of thought in response to this article just quickly. If morality is what we agree on and agree is right, well, how many people have to agree? You never get a clear answer there. And if that's true, then is beating your wife good if the people in your culture agree on it? There are certain cultures that agree that a man has the right to beat his wife. Is this good? Or what about burning of widows in other cultures? Can we say that that's good because that culture agrees on it? And if you say, "No," then based on what standard? Because we don't agree? Well, we're not in that culture. And if you say that it's not good, you're inconsistent because the people in that culture agree.

Was slavery good when everyone agreed on it? Well, I think that's going to be something that people who hold this view have to grapple with. Was Martin Luther King Jr. immoral for going against the agreed norms of the day? He was in the minority. He disagreed with what the actual settled law was. So this author is saying that we put our subjective preferences into law and we codify it. Well, Martin Luther King went against that. And based on this author's standard, Martin Luther King Jr. was immoral.

What about female genocide in other countries? Can we say that having a preference for a male child is actually good because the culture has enshrined that? Well, no. And what about toxic masculinity, which is a big topic today, at least on Twitter, and at least in the United States? What if there are cultures that we would agree actually have a conception of toxic masculinity and it's enshrined into law? Does that mean it's okay, because their preferences work that way, because they don't have the same empathies we have? And this is the problem if you base morality on empathy. What if someone's empathy is different? What if someone feels different about it?

Liking something doesn't make it moral. Not liking something doesn't make it immoral. There are countless examples of criminals who like what they did. That doesn't mean that it was good. And it also doesn't mean that if you got enough criminals together and they all agreed that that bad act was good, that it would suddenly become good.

And lastly, we need to separate out what good is from how we know what good is from why we should be good. Now, we've talked about these interspersed today, and we've talked about these topics in the past. You could go back on the podcast and search for morality. But if all we're doing is basing our knowledge of good by looking inwards, we're going to set ourselves up for trouble. Most of the atrocities in human history were done based on looking inwards, not looking outside of ourselves to an objective standard. And I don't mean looking to consensus. And is there actually good in the world? We didn't talk about that much today, but on this author's conception right and wrong isn't actually real. There's nothing you can point to in the world, which is why he says honestly, it's based on subjective preference.

But I see no reason to think, going back to where we started, and we'll conclude here, that morality is different than a scientific finding. Now, obviously they're different types of things. But my point is, they're both features of reality. What is right and what is wrong does not depend on how I think. The validity of a scientific finding does not depend on what I think. A medical diagnosis does not depend on what I think. We put morality in a different category and then, based on our own subjective preferences, we constrain people and punish them when they don't do what we think is right, instead of what is objectively right.

And maybe this explains why many people on the left today, who hold this conception of morality, actually don't think we should punish crime nearly as hard as we have in the past. Because hey, if it's just things we agreed upon as a society and it's not actually breaking a law that sits over all of us, then how can we treat it that harshly?

And lastly, just to continue putting this idea out there, because I think it's really important, just because, let's just say, there is morality in the world, which on this author's view there isn't, that can't tell you why you should do the good thing. Obligations to do things are only placed on us by other persons and we, as equal humans on this planet, do not have the ability to say, "You have to do something else, and therefore it's right." That has to be set over us by a moral law-giver. And Christianity provides the explanation there, God created everything and everyone, and he gets to say how it functions and how it should work. And hence, what happens when you don't follow that standard.

There's so much I wish we could have talked about in addition to this, even though we've gone longer than usual, but I hope this was helpful and I'll talk with you next time on Unapologetic.