Monday, August 17, 2009

Moral Absolutes

This is a comment I posted on an atheist blog in response to the charge that I couldn't provide evidence that there are moral absolutes.

Proving the existence of moral absolutes isn’t easy. They can’t be seen, touched, measured or quantified, but neither is it easy to prove our own existence. Although I can be touched and even photographed, all of this “evidence” might be no more than a dream, and not even my own dream. Nevertheless, I can’t deny my own existence without also denying everything that is part of my life—my thoughts, speech, and activity.

Likewise, I want to demonstrate that the denial of moral absolutes is contradicted by our very lives, thereby contradicting and disqualifying this denial. In others words, a denial of moral absolutes can’t stand any more than a denial of one’s own existence.

I think that we would all agree that we are wired for morality, whether this wiring of our conscience is a product of evolution or also reflects some grand design and a truth independent of our own electro-chemical reactions. It is interesting to note that many atheists say something like this:

“You don’t need god to be good. I am good because there are many benefits personally, socially and politically.”

Although this is true, this also acknowledges certain facts around which we can all agree:

1. Acting “morally” has its own rewards.
2. There is an obvious correspondence between moral behavior and personal and social benefits.
3. This very obvious and thorough correspondence gives the appearance of a grand design.

Putting the question of design aside, I want to demonstrate that while the atheist denies the existence of moral absolutes with his mouth, he involuntary affirms them with his life, thereby disqualifying his denial.

We cannot avoid acting like we are aware of moral absolutes—a common law to which we are all bound. It is unavoidable to say things like, “How would you like it if someone did the same to you?” or “That’s my seat! I was there first!” or “Leave him alone; he isn’t doing any harm,” or “Give me a bit of your orange. I gave you a bit of mine!” All of these statements imply that there are external and authoritative moral truths that govern our lives. Regarding this, C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity) writes,

“Now what interests me about theses remarks is that the man who makes them is not merely saying that the other man’s behavior does not happen to please him. He is appealing to some kind of standard of behavior which he expects the other man to know about. And the other man very seldom replies, ‘To hell with your standard.’ Nearly always he tries to make out that what he has been doing does not really go against the standard, or that if it does there is some special excuse.”

“Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promises to you, but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining, “It’s not fair.”

“If we do not believe in decent behavior, why should we be so anxious to make excuses for not having behaved decently? The truth is we believe in decency so much—we feel the Rule of Law pressing on us so—that we cannot bear to face the fact that we are breaking it, and consequently we try to shift the responsibility.”

Of course, the atheist will laugh in agreement, but will also insist that this is merely the product of his genetic programming. However, rather than steadfastly maintaining the relative nature of his moral inclinations and dissociating himself from the “Rule of Law,” he embraces it. He continues in his moralizing judgments as if they are based in objective reality (which they are).

Atheists have often called me “liar” or hypocrite,” suggesting that there are objective and external categories I have violated. They aren’t merely saying, “According to my subjective and relative way of thinking, you are a liar.” Instead, their denunciations suggest that I have violated a cardinal truth.

If you deny the existence of moral absolutes, you must act in accordance with your denial and quit making accusations.

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