Objective Morality

This post from Odder Stories defines “religious morality” this way:

  • That morality is divinely inspired or divinely ‘given’ to us by God. Occasionally this is implied to be directly instilled in every human via the conscience, but more often it involves morality being codified in something like the Bible.
  • That their particular brand of morality is absolute, objectively true and applies everywhere, in every circumstance.
  • That morality exists independently of human thought or action.
  • That morality is not bound in any way to utility. In other words, it’s enough that God or the Bible says that something is wrong; there doesn’t have to be any clear reason as to why.

This is almost accurate. Consider the first point. The Bible doesn’t codify morality for us that, as in the second point, “applies everywhere, in every circumstance.” Paul Copan, in “Is Yahweh a Moral Monster,” from the latest volume of Philosophia Christi (vol. 10, #1), argues that the morality codified for us in the Bible only applies to the ancient Israelites. The Mosaic law points to a higher standard of morality, but is not that standard.

Jesus was the end of the Law (Rom 10:4). That which was written the Law is for instruction (Rom 15:4; cf. 1 Cor 10:11 and Gal 3:23-24). By the prophet Jeremiah, God predicted a better day, which has now come:

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jer 31:33)

So the Bible isn’t our source of morality–God has written it on our hearts. That is not to say that we are done with the Mosaic law altogether, for it still exists for instruction. This way, we have an objective, absolutely true sourcebook for when our feelings fail us.

It follows naturally that the morality exists independently of human thought and action.

Finally, the way that Vitaminbook phrases the fourth point makes us sound like cultists. In fact, it isn’t as bad as that, provided that one accepts two points. First, that God is Creator and therefore Lawgiver. Second, that as Creator, he would know better than us what is and is not harmful to us.

I’m sure that VB is primarily referring to something that is near and dear to his own heart, Leviticus 18:22. The reasoning behind that goes back to Genesis 2:18-24, an account which is confirmed by Jesus in Matthew 19:1-12. Marriage is between one man and one woman, according to Genesis and Christ. Therefore, it is an abomination to the Lord for two men or two women to lie together.

That rule doesn’t seem arbitrary to me; it seems as though there is a clear reason why this rule is in place. The only problem is whether someone accepts the authority of God or not.

About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on June 14, 2008, in Morality and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I think I would add a couple of things here…when vitaminbook says:

    That morality is not bound in any way to utility. In other words, it’s enough that God or the Bible says that something is wrong; there doesn’t have to be any clear reason as to why.

    he doesn’t seem to realize that utility relies on “valuation”…the principle of utility is an application of value related to morality. We say something is useful if the end result is “good”. But how do you know the end result is good?

    It’s like someone pointing to a large building and saying “look how that building provides shelter for dozens of people…I can see there are steel beams, drywall, electrical, plumbing, bricks, and a roof…I could buy those materials, only more, I could build a bigger, more useful building than that.”

    Let’s assume this person has the ability to put up this structure, but he couldn’t see the foundation supporting the first building…so he doesn’t build one. As he’s building this larger building, a passerby asks about the foundation…he looks confused. “I’m not building a foundation, I’m building a place to shelter hundreds of people.”

    He’s ignoring the preconditions that make such a building sustainable. The assumption of utility demonstrates he believes in good…he believes it so strongly, he doesn’t bother explaining it…it’s just axiomatic…which is why his assertions are self-refuting.

    If I built a building in order to collapse on people, he’d say “that isn’t very useful”…to which I’d reply, “I built it to collapse on people…it’s doing exactly what I designed it to do”. Then he might counter: “but you’ve violated their right to live…we have defined our rights to include the right to not be murdered.” And I’ll simply say: “Yeah, I know…I don’t agree with that…all those people the building collapsed on…was the ‘Great We’…now, it’s just ‘Me’.”

  2. Even though Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets, we shouldn’t forget that “the message [i.e., the Law and the Prophets, 1:1] declared by angels proved to be reliable and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution” (Heb. 2:2, ESV). Thus, if the laws given to the Israelites were perfectly just–every crime received the exactly appropriate penalty, as evaluated by God Himself–then we really only have three logical positions we can affirm:

    (1.) The laws and punishments given to the Israelites are still appropriate for all men and anything else is unjust. God is consistent, and morality (including civilly legislated morality, and the morality of those civil legislations) is absolute.

    (2.) The laws and punishments given to the Israelites are inappropriate (or not exclusively appropriate) and something else is (or at least can be) appropriate now, because God is inconsistent. In which case morality is relative to the time period we happen to live in. Murder may not be wrong tomorrow, or it may deserve anthems of praise rather than death.

    (3.) The laws and punishments given to the Israelites are inappropriate (or not exclusively appropriate) and something else is (or at least can be) appropriate now, because while God is consistent, He has different standards for different ethnic groups, or locations, or whatever. In which case morality is relative to being Jewish, or living in Palestine, &c. Blasphemy may be alright across the street, or if you’re Chinese.

    Only option (1.) is also Biblically possible. (not to mentioned that in Matt. 5 Jesus said that the world would pass away before a single jot or tittle of the Law would cease to be binding). Thus, I’m a Theonomist.

  3. >> That morality is not bound in any way to
    >> utility. In other words, it’s enough that God
    >> or the Bible says that something is wrong;
    >> there doesn’t have to be any clear reason as
    >> to why.

    Morality not bound by utility. The law of gravity isn’t bound by the fact that it makes it harder to travel to the moon, either. People have no problem accepting physical laws as absolutes. But on the Biblical view, laws of morality are no different (gravity isn’t just some abstract law–it’s the outworking of God’s will in the world–not even a sparrow falls out of a tree apart from God). God is absolute and unchanging, He always acts consistently with His nature, so he always declares good to be good and evil to be evil. Thus moral laws, as reflections of Go’s own nature, are absolute and unchanging. Thus, there is always a clear reason as to WHY a moral law stated in the Bible is true (viz., because it’s consistent with, or else at odds with, God’s nature).

    Now if you just mean that humans are not God and don’t understand everything about God’s thoughts and nature; that’s perfectly true–the Bible says as much:

    Isa. 40:13-14, 55:8-11 Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD, or who gave Him His counsel? (14) Who did He consult with? Who gave Him understanding and taught Him the paths of justice? Who taught Him knowledge and showed Him the way of understanding? […] (8) “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways.” [This is] the LORD’s declaration. (9) “For as heaven is higher than earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. (10) For just as rain and snow fall from heaven, and do not return there without saturating the earth, and making it germinate and sprout, and providing seed to sow and food to eat, (11) so My word that comes from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please, and will prosper in what I send it [to do].” (HCSB)

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