There is no basis for an ethic apart from the theistic worldview.
What determines right and wrong?

If you say the individual, then you must admit that what Hitler did to the Jews was acceptable. I hope no one would say such a thing.
If you say the community determines right and wrong, then the same as above is true as well. The community of Nazis decided that it was right and desirable to exterminate the Jews.

In this kind of utilitarianism, might makes right. If there is a larger group who believes something is right then they are justified to force others to live a certain way. For instance, if a society thinks that is right for a man to be able to have sex with any woman he wants – even raping her – then one would have to acquiesce to this.

Again, who is to say that the majority in one culture is wrong and the majority in another culture is right? That is, how can people say that the entire Third Reich was wrong? According to an atheist ethic, it is impossible to say this. On what is the morality based?

When we set this on paper, we see the ridiculous nature of such a way to view ethics and morality. This is the way that one must live to be somewhat consistent in their morality. Apart from God, there can be no true morality. One community cannot tell another group that they are wrong.

God is the fount from which flows morality and right living. He has defined what is good and what is evil. As Francis Shaeffer has said, an atheist cannot be consistent (rational thought post and contradiction post).

Additionally, if someone who does not believe in God says, “I operate from the maxim: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’” This maxim cannot be separated from the person who gave it: Jesus. A non-Christian cannot say, “I can believe in what Jesus said, but I don’t have to believe in him.” What will the non-Christian say is “good”? How he defines this is dependent on his own subjective experience…and then we go back to the beginning of this post — goodness cannot be defined by the individual.

One cannot live in the world of the atheist. Where there is no God that is worshiped, there can be no objective reality. This is why there is such a desire to do away with any notion of God’s existence. If this is done in the person’s mind (for it can never be done!), then they have no accountability for the wrongs they have done…they have freedom from judgment (at least in their minds!) and can feel free to do as they please without remorse…for who can tell them they are wrong?

For those of you that would disagree, how would you respond to this conclusion? What are some arguments that others of you have heard that would contradict this post? Essentially, the non-Christian cannot live a consistent, nor coherent, moral life.

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This post has 13 Comments

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  1. Thanks for the comment, Joe.

    You’re right, outside of Christ there can be no explanation as to why and how we as humans are moral creatures. I will talk more about the inconsistency of an atheistic worldview in the days to come…stay tuned.

    I would like to see, though, what kind of rebuttals or issues anyone takes with my assertion…

  2. Matthew:

    Could you define what you mean by a moral act. Because, on the one hand you are correct (If you are talking only to Christians). But on the other, you are not (if your audience is broader). Because it depends on what we mean by morality. I understand a moral act to be an act in conformity with God’s law which can be rewarded. An athiest may understand a moral act to be one wherein he satisfies his own ethical code only.

    But, I have met many an athiest who would say that he doesn’t necessarliy have to believe in God to feel he needs to love his parents or give to the poor etc. He says that doing good has an “intrinsic value.” If I do not believe in God, does that mean that whenever I give to the poor, my giving has no value?

    Essentially, the athiest is not interested in the eternal value or meaning or an action. He is not interested in the notion of reward either. The athiest says: “I don’t need the notion of a reward, or debt to Christ, or freedom from guilt to motivate me to do good…I do my moral acts because the are good in and of themselves.”

  3. Thank you very much, heyirishman,

    I really appreciate your clarifying questions. A moral act is what is good and right. This pertains to three areas (as explained in CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity, Book III): Aim, Behavior, and Character. That is, morality cannot be based merely upon action – there is also motive and aim. The difference between motive and aim can be explained by example better than I can do with abstract expanation. In euthanasia, the motive is compassion for the person who is suffering whereas the aim is death.

    The Bible does not teach that we earn points with God. I do not doubt there are many Christians who have this false notion. We are told that a relationship with God has been devastated by sin and only a perfect person can have an unblemished relaitonship with God. Since even our nicest deed is shot through with evil intentions, if you dig down deep enough, a human is not able to have such a relationship with a pure, holy, and just God. That’s why the Christian flings himself upon the mercy of God in Christ – most exemplified by his death on the cross.

    My issue with someone saying, “I do good things because they’re good” is that he has only scraped the surface when it comes to true morality. 1) What is his status of “good” based upon? 2) If everyone lived by an individualized morality, the world would be in even worse shape than it is (Hitler would not be seen as wrong and the world would have had no right to quench his passion to kill).

    3) I do not think an atheist can explain what true morality is (as it must be objective) nor can he explain why he does good things. Why do good things rather than bad things? There is no rational based upon a coherent atheistic worldview. I hope some of the CS Lewis quotes are helpful a well when thinking through this.

    Does this make sense? I hope I was clearer. Was there anything that you felt I didn’t make clear? Would you agree with this assessment? At what point would we part ways in my logic?

    Thanks again for taking the time to respond! I love it when people think through and seek to know…

  4. Matthew:

    Let’s take giving to the poor. Is giving money to the poor moral? The atheist may give his own hard earned money to the poor, have good intentions, and do so in a humble way. Is this action not moral? Why not?

    What makes giving to the poor good or moral?

    If we say that a moral act is one that:

    “is good and right…pertains to three areas (as explained in CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity, Book III): Aim, Behavior, and Character. [and that] morality cannot be based merely upon action – there is also motive and aim,”

    …we are saying no more than the atheist, for the atheist would hold all of the above. Granted, I have not read all the details of Lewis’ book.

    However, if we take “Aim,” that’s where the atheist and Christian would part ways. Because, when the Christian gives to the poor, he does so not only for the betterment of the poor, but also to please God. The atheist however, has no interest in pleasing God, because he doesn’t acknowledge Him. But, the question is, is it necessary, when performing a moral act, to be consciously thinking to oneself: “I am doing this to please God”? If a Christian were to give to the poor without being consciously aware that he is doing the act to please God, is that act thereby rendered not moral or neutral?

  5. heyirishman,

    I am not saying that an atheist cannot be moral. I hope that is not what I have conveyed. What I am saying is that there is no grounding for a morality based upon an atheistic understanding of the world.

    I know that there are many, many atheists who do good things. But like I said in my comment above, in an atheist worldview, how do they judge what is good?

  6. Matthew: How does the athiest determine what is good or not? I think that it depends on the athiest. Personal feeling, common good, general consensus, etc. But then, admitedly, there are many Christians who differ on certain points of doctrine. The use of contraception is one example. Smoking is another. Drinking alcohol is another. So, how do these Christians themselves determine what is the correct thing? Will God hold us accountable to a standard which he has not made clear?

    The athiest will quote to you what you yourself admited: there is no slam dunk proof for the existance of God. So, if there is no such proof, then there is no proof that he doesn’t exist, and we are both living (at least with respect to the smoking and drinking and contraception mentioned above) on common ground.

    I hope I am not too confusing at this point :)

  7. heyisrishman,

    You are opening up a whole other discussion when you bring in people’s convictions. Though important, it is not on the same level of argument, nor importance as the existence of God.

    You’re right, I did say that there is no slam dunk proof for God’s existence, but if you go to my first post on the topic of God’s existence (entitled “Many Buckets”) you will see that although there is not one proof that will win the argument, there are several proofs that point us to a solid defnese of the existence of God.

    Some may say this is playing with words, I think they may just be getting lost in the words rather than being able to see and show where there would be any hollowness in what I am saying. It comes down to the fact that finite brains cannot contain the exhaustive knowledge of that which is other-worldly (for lack of a better term).

    Briefly, the atheist and the Christian are not in the same boat as you might think when it comes to convictions. The Christian is led so far as he can be with regard to revealed right and wrong. The other issues, smoking, drinking, movie-going are relegated to what is known as adiaphora, which are matters of indifference or permissible acts.

    I would highly suggest reading CS Lewis’ Mere Chrisitianity, Book I.

    My main premise regarding the atheist and morality is that he does not have a solid footing to stand on if he uses only atheistic presuppositions. He must borrow from the theistic worldview. Why do right? I would suggest that it comes from the image of God that is pressed upon the individual. And in a few days I will go further in my argument where the atheist has no grounding for logic and argumentation. Stay tuned…

  8. Matthew:

    I’m just in this for the enjoyment of the topic…

    Personally, I think that the causality proof for the existence of God is pretty slam dunk, if you ask me. Anyone who denies this is merely supressing the obvious truth.

    But the point is not what we think. The point is what to say to an athiest when you meet him. Otherwise you just end up talking past one another, and both parties get annoyed. So, I think that the best thing to do at that stage is to show that the Christian viewpoint is more reasonable, not that they’re just *wrong*

    I think that it would be good to admit that the athiestic viewpoint is logical to a point. Paul commended the Greeks for their religiosity (sp?). You gotta give credit where credit is due. For example, if you start out doing a math problem with a faulty equation, you may use all the correct steps in solving the problem, but you will just arrive at the wrong answer. And in an exam, even though you will get the wrong answer, you will still be awarded some points for having used mathamatical logic to arrive where you arrived. I think that we should give the same to the athiest. Otherwise, they will think that we are so full of ourselves and all that. To say to some athiest: “but your view doesn’t make sense” is (to them) like calling them an “idiot”… and we all know what Jesus said about calling people idiots. So, I think some sensitivity is called for. Give the athiest his due, I mean, afer all, *theoretically* and *hypothetically,* it is *possible* that we all just appeared. So, the athiest argument is one from mere possibility, which in and of itself, should be recognized as an argument. But, as you and I know, the possibility is probably 1 in a million billion or something.

    I would go on to say that the Christian viewpoint is a lot more reasonable than the athiest’s. I think that this is a good way of saying it, because in saying this we are not denying that the athiest has reason…

    What would you say to the athiest if he said to you that he does moral acts because they give him a sense of personal fulfilment? I would like to hear what you have to say.

  9. Matthew,

    Your post is so far off the mark I don’t know where to begin commenting. So I won’t waste my time doing so.

    As for your many posts trying to “prove” the existence of God, you’re sadly missing the beauty of the whole thing. It’s about faith. If we could prove it, faith becomes meaningless.

    I think I’m done reading your blog. No offense meant, but I can’t take this anymore. That’s why we have free speech, though, right? You can keep blogging away but I don’t have to look at it.

    -J.D.

  10. Come on now j.d. Get a grip.

    I don’t think that Matthew has once stated that you can prove the existence of God. He said himself that there is no slam dunk proof. I don’t know if you read that part. But what he does do is show how belief in God is reasonable…hence the arguments for the existence of God. These arguments demonstrate that it is not illogical to believe that God exists… rather, it is very logical.

    If there were no arguments for the existence of God, then you would have to say that your faith runs completly contrary to reason, which, I for one cannot hold.

    I believe that our Christian faith is a reasonable faith, otherwise, whenever you try to introduce someone to Christ, you might as well say: “hey I have this great faith that I want to introduce you to…but before I do that, let me tell you that it doesn’t make any sense, it’s completely illogical and it even contradicts our basic reasonable instincts.”

    I don’t think so.

    Rather, you would want to say: “Hey let me tell you about this awesome faith; it is a reasonable faith.”

  11. j.d. ~

    I am sorry if I offended you. My intention was to present proofs, not prove the existence of God. As heyirishman said, I want to show the rationality of faith in God.

    I do not agree with you that the beauty of faith is that it is trust upon a reality not some blind leap. The picture I get is in Indiana Jones’ Last Crusade…he is told that there is a bridge he must cross. He knows there is a bridge, though he does not see it. He trusts the directions to be reliable and he takes a step, though he does not see.

    If you go to my post Locke, Lost, and Faith I think you will see where I am coming from.

    I’m not offended that you will not read my blog anymore, but I do wish you would. I think it would help explain my understanding of faith in Christ – that it is a firm foundation. I would like to hear where you think I am off the mark. I may not have explained myself as clearly as I would have liked (I have been known to do that before).

    Again, thank you for your comment…

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Less Hype. More Humility.

Please. Embedded in our consumeristic culture, there is the assumption that newer is better than older–though I prefer aged beef and cheddar to new. There is the assumption that grand and renovated and powerful is preferable to meek and lowly and weak.

The church often adopts this form of communicating in an effort to gather people into its doors. “God is doing awesome things here at Church _______.” The fact is that God is doing awesome things everyday and everywhere. He’s sustained your life. He’s given you sight and hearing and legs. And if you have none or only one of these, he’s still given you life and a mind to engage the world around you. Truly miraculous. What is more, is God not also doing something in the old, decrepit church that meets faithfully every Sunday? Is God not at work in the mundane? Is the changing of laundry and washing of dishes and working through an argument devoid of God’s presence?

I see so many churches trying to drum up excitement about the latest outreach or project, when what our culture needs is the staying power and sobriety of faithfulness in the ho-hum drudgery of going to a job you hate or a marriage that is contentious. What we need is not more hype, but more humility. More service and less heavy-handedness. We need more gentleness and less power grabs.

If we don’t, what then becomes of the senior citizen who is tired? What becomes of the baby who is sleeping? What becomes of the unemployed and outcast and burdened? They are forgotten. They are seen as less valuable because they aren’t producing the kind of energy requisite for assumed faithfulness to the disciples’ call.

In reality, we need less loud voices and red faces and sweaty brows and more silence and calmness and a deep well of contentment.

The New Economics Will Be People

So I went to a coffee shop this morning and was struck by the utter efficiency they were churning out drinks. In fact the team lead said this much as encouragement to the six other workers behind the counter.

I walked in. Smiled at the barista. Was greeted with a blank stare as he continued to froth the milk and deliver the piping hot skinny latte with extra foam to the drive-thru. I walked to the register and was passed with nary a glance…even when the team lead said “Hello.” No she didn’t look at me, but made sure that her metric of greeting a guest in the first ten seconds was met. A box that is checked. That’s what I was. A large dark roast with no room for cream and sugar. And surely there was no saccharin here. There was utility and efficiency.

In all our pandering for growth our marketing of environment is nothing more than a marketing tool. The timers and grids for efficiency have crowded out the thing that matters. The only thing that matters in products.

You see, the products that are pushed are labeled as though they were made for you. In reality, the products being sold to you have (for the most part) been made for the manufacturer. People have merely become a means to the end of bigger, faster, better.

In the new economy, people will matter more.

They won’t matter because they need to matter to grow the business. Too often companies tell you that you’re important because they want your money. They don’t want to make a difference as much as they want their new car or luxury vacation.

I want to say this loud and clear. In the new economy, people will be the end in themselves. They will no longer be viewed as a metric or a number. In the new economy, mom and pop will be sought after. Because, after all, we all know that the verbiage of how you matter to company x is just verbiage. It’s merely eliciting a response for another end.

In the new economics, people will want to matter. They will flock to the place where they are known by name. And not just to tout the “community” of an establishment. Did you notice the subtlety of that one? No, people will know your name because they know you and you matter. Your name is not known just to brag that you matter and sell the belonging you too can have if you buy your next skinny latte with extra froth…hold the pandering.

We are not there yet because executives are still measuring. Measuring people. Yet, what the new economy will have to embrace is not a spreadsheet or a graph. They will be forced to embrace people. Not to grow their graph. But to grow their own soul.

On Conformity

As much as I hate to admit it, Christians push conformity. Conformity to the wrong things. Being shaped by a group and set of ideals is inherent to being part of a group–be it Christian, straight edge, atheist. But I am speaking about and to my tribe.

Over the years, I have had the privilege of being a part of several different denominations and have seen this shadow overtaking much of the piety of its adherents. It wasn’t meant to do so.

Do you homeschool? The correct answer depends on the group you’re talking to. Do you go on mission trips? Do you adopt? Do you run around incessantly from meeting to meeting showing how you are making an impact for the kingdom?

We have steered far off course when we get away from the simplicity of the Gospel. Of a life changed and being changed by the Gospel. That is, before Christ’s ascension, he said to merely teach all that he commanded. Yet. Yet, much of our passing on of information is not what Christ taught. They are various implications and applications of what he taught. And so,

Might I encourage you to be slow in conforming to the standards? Not just of popular culture, but of the popularity of whatever group you find yourself milling about. The shadow looms to block out the sun of joy and hope. It chokes out the simple call to humble obedience to Christ, changing out a yoke that not even the teachers can bear.