Morality: Proof of God?
I recently watched a Youtube clip of a penguin trying to escape from a pod of orcas. The footage was filmed by whale-watchers on a nearby boat. Everyone was rooting for this poor penguin to outswim the killer whales and luckily the penguin launched itself into the boat where the delighted onlookers sat. The penguin stayed on board until the threat had passed and then it plopped back into the sea on its merry way.
Now, I love a happy ending, so I was thrilled the penguin won. However, if the orca had managed to capture the penguin and a bloodbath ensued, would we consider this an evil deed? Surely not. It’s just nature – the predator hunting the prey. In fact, wildlife photographers have a duty to not get involved, even if they are emotionally attached to the animal they are filming. Some wildlife cameramen infamously helped a colony of penguins escape from an ice bowl they were trapped in by digging them a trench to clamber out of. A huge debate followed about the ethics of humans tampering in nature due to the unforeseen knock-on effects caused by our ‘misguided’ compassion.
Some species of praying mantis rip off the head of the male after they’ve mated. Female digger wasps lay eggs in the spinal cords of caterpillars so their babies can feast on living, paralysed flesh the moment they hatch. Male chimps battle to the death to get to the top of social dominance hierarchies. But all these examples are viewed through the lens of nature just doing its thing. These aren’t morally good or bad acts; they are morally neutral. These behaviours are necessary requirements for different species to continue in their fight for survival.
Why do we have such a different way of interpreting human behaviour? We have an awareness of morality – a knowledge that we ‘should’ do this, and we ‘ought not’ to do that. Why? If human males have a fight to the death over a female in a chimp-like fashion, we tend to see this as a disagreeable outcome – something to be avoided in an ideal world. If a female human beheaded her mating partner, we would lock her up in prison and give her counselling. More and more people are becoming vegan in their diets as they rationalise that we have no right to kill another living creature if we can survive efficiently on plant alternatives. I’m not advocating for veganism by the way – my point is that humans alone of all the species exhibit a unique trait of comprehending a behavioural-standard to abide by. If we are honest with ourselves, we know when we have fallen short of the ideal. We can choose to follow this invisible code or not, but either way, there are real life consequences for our free choices. We are judged harshly by others for our indiscretions or commended by them for our virtue.
It is the trend of our day to argue that there is no such thing as an objective moral code inbuilt in humans. It seems offensive and intolerant to claim that some people/cultures act more moral than others. Surely everyone is entitled to ‘their truth’, right? You can decide for yourself how to live and I will decide what is good for me and neither can criticise the other because who knows who has got it right. To claim that you have access to ultimate truth seems arrogant. But scientists claim to have unearthed objective truth – they make truth assertions all the time. You may have the freedom to believe that 1+1=3, but don’t expect to be given a job as a maths teacher or declare discrimination when you are turned down for the post. The question is: is there a moral code that humans are subject to, like we are subject to the Law of Gravity and Law of Decay? And if so, who wrote it? Or is morality just a human construction that has evolved from our imaginations to enable effective ways to live in communities? And if so, can morality be whatever you want it to be, if this is all a cosmic accident with no one watching and no ultimate justice to be distributed?
Those who argue that morality is a human construction claim that it’s just the way we are socialised. Our parents taught us how to behave so we would fit into ‘the group’ and have friends and allies that allow us to survive into adulthood. Our parents received these ethics from their parents and so forth. But is it as simple as that? If you trace morality back to the beginning of the human species, does that imply that our first ancestors cleverly invented the moral code or did it evolve gradually over time? Or was it ‘implanted’ in us by design?
If we are accidentally evolved creatures, no more valuable than squirrels, penguins, butterflies, bacteria and mushrooms, then why form such a strong moral code? If everything else is subject to “survival of the fittest” as Darwinian evolutionists tell us (i.e. Natural Selection utilising random, natural forces to hone species; making some extinct while others live long enough to reproduce) what survival advantage does our moral code give us? If anything, it causes more problems than it solves if nature is guided by the impersonal law of “survival of the fittest”. For example, is it better if 20 billion weak creatures live a few short years on starved rations, measly resources and limited space? Or only 2 billion healthy creatures live on a planet with plenty of resources and an excellent quality of life through sacrificing the other 18 billion?
This is the premise of Avengers Infinity War when Thanos snaps his fingers to wipe out 50% of all living things in the universe so the other 50% can have a good chance at life. If “survival of the fittest” is a physical law of our universe that applies to the plant and animal kingdoms then does it/should it also apply to us? Would you be outraged if Governments started tabling genocide policies in the spirit of Thanos? Or would you be like the Avengers who undid ‘The Snap’ and brought back the good, the bad and the ugly to a planet that can’t sustain them all? Would you consider genocide to be a fundamental evil because there is something special about every human life which needs protecting under all circumstances – even if that leads to more suffering overall on a limited planet?
We are the only animal species that has the understanding and passion to encourage helping poor strangers around the globe that we may never meet, just because they are human like us and deserve a shot at life. Where does this drive come from? Does it need an explanation? You don’t see it in any other species to the same degree. However, the Bible can shed some light on this strange phenomena… God made humans in His image. Paul writes that all humans have the Moral Law written in their hearts and that’s how we instinctively know what is right and what is wrong. This needs some training in children to unearth their moral sense, but even in very young kids we see understanding of justice and when it is slighted. If someone snatches a toy from them, they know what unfairness means and will kick off accordingly.
We tend to think that diverse cultures have extremely different morals and therefore we can never claim that there is one code that operates in us all. Surely the Moral Relativism we see around the world is an example of the human construction argument – that morals evolve to fit a context and can thus be changed overtime to meet new needs. Hitler thought it was morally good to slaughter millions of ‘deficient’ people groups. Does that mean he is entitled to his opinion and that ‘his truth’ has to be accepted, if morality is just a human invention that can change to suit the needs of a majority?
C S Lewis argued that the differences between cultural moral norms are not as vast as you might imagine: “think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of double-crossing all the people who had been kindest to him. You might just as well imagine a country where two and two made five. Men have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to – whether it was only your family, or your fellow countrymen, or everyone. But they have always agreed that you ought not to put yourself first. Selfishness has never been admired. Men have differed as to whether you should have one wife or four. But they have always agreed that you must not simply have any woman you liked. But the most remarkable thing is this. 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 a promise to you, but if you try breaking one to him, he will be complaining ‘it’s not fair’ before you can say Jack Robinson!”
Surely what we see in the animal kingdom is survival of the fittest keeping animal populations in check; food webs operational; with no particular species dominating; so that the precious resources can go round and Earth can be sustained for generations to come. We wash our hands to wipe out bacteria so we can be healthy – but why do we think we are above bacteria and can kill them indiscriminately if this random, unguided universe is all there is to it? Bacteria are made from atoms configured into one cell; we are atoms configured into 50 trillion cells. Does greater complexity imply greater value in an accidental universe? Why do we assume we are more worthy over the lifeforce of another?
We think racism and sexism is wrong – why isn’t speciesism also bad if you accept Darwinian evolution? And if you want to be completely consistent with your philosophical worldview you would have to conclude in this model that any human can decide to do whatever they want to do. No-one’s opinion is greater than another, not even over other living things. We live a few short years and the whole universe will end one day, so what’s it all for? What’s the point in being good and sacrificing for others? Why don’t we follow ‘every man for themselves’ as a life principle and ensure that only the fittest survive? Why do we condemn Hitler for his policies of eradicating what he considered the ‘unfit’ who consumed resources that ought to be redirected to the fittest? What gives us the right to deride his view?
The Moral Law I am advocating for is not my own. I didn’t come up with it. It’s not "my truth"; its The Truth that I have discovered. It’s not a Western code of conduct (Christianity began as a Jewish Middle Eastern religion and has spread to every continent on the planet – it is a universal phenomenon). Everyone deep down, if they were being honest and rational, can see when their behaviour doesn’t meet the ultimate standard that we are all aware of. We are superb at justifying anything to ourselves and easing guilty consciences but that doesn’t make our rationalisations true. Someone may hold the opinion that it is OK to torture babies – they would be wrong! You are entitled to your opinion but some opinions are wrong. I know that isn’t a popular position nowadays as it sounds so exclusive. But if Maths is either right or wrong and Science is either right or wrong; why would morality be an ‘anything goes’ scenario? We seem to be just as subject to morality as we are to scientific laws. Plus, to even say that no-one’s opinion is better than another is itself a universal Truth claim. To advocate for Moral Relativism you have to use Moral Absolutism to prove it; but this Absolutism is what you are trying to argue does not exist!
Is it because we don’t want to face up to what a universal moral code upon humanity entails? We’d have to face up to the Author who wrote it and most would rather insist that everyone’s opinion is equal in value instead. I believe the Author’s opinion is what counts if you want to qualify for the next round. You have freewill to ignore the demands but you can’t ignore the pull of morality on your life. Every human is under a moral code, even if they created their own – you can’t escape it. This awareness of morality and drive to live by a code needs a sufficient explanation for its origins.
Tolerance doesn’t work as an ideal because you’d have to be tolerant of horrendous ideas like Hitler’s and Stalin’s as well as altruistic ones. We are happy to argue for relative truth till it comes knocking on our door and marching us off to a concentration camp. Then we see evil as it really is – a real force that destroys and consumes. Yes, there are differences between cultures, but following the Law of Non-Contradiction it either is good to torture babies or it isn’t. They can’t both be valid positions. Difference doesn’t negate there being one Truth. It just highlights the many deceptions that can exist. How do we KNOW it’s never OK to torture babies? Because the “Author of Life” has written it so and we exist in His image and can comprehend His ideals. I choose to submit to the original code rather than invent my own. How about you?
References  https://youtu.be/Ljx-czk4B80  Genesis 1:27  Romans 2:15  Mere Christianity by C S Lewis  Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn and The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky  Acts 3:15