Question: I have always believed in moral absolutes, which must be determined by some ultimate standard outside of any opinion that originates with mankind, and thus by God alone. Recently, however, an atheist friend has tried to persuade me that ethics and morality can be derived simply by determining what behavior would be beneficial for most people and thus for the survival of mankind. I find it difficult to dispute his point. Can you help me?
Response: First of all, your atheist friend will heartily agree that because of its changeable nature human opinion cannot be the source of moral absolutes. Consequently, all those who argue for a system of ethics or morality without God must deny the very possibility of moral absolutes. By that decision, however, they have established an absolute. They are thus on the horns of a dilemma, for they dare not open the door to absolutes; but by keeping that door closed, they unavoidably establish a contradiction—an absolute of their own. The humanist, with his head in the sand, pushes on in denial of his own obvious inconsistency.
One must then ask what the point of morals could be if no one can be certain whether the morality in vogue is right or wrong, good or bad. Indeed, such concepts have no meaning without some absolute standard by which they are determined. And here, again, the humanist blithely pretends to stand for what is right and good, while at the same time denying any validity to such terms.
The UN Pavilion at Expo 86 in Vancouver, Canada, provided a classic example of such folly. Upon entrance, one was exposed to exhibits purporting to show that life began and developed totally by chance. Obviously, then, there could be no meaning or purpose to life. The main attraction in the pavilion, however, was a propaganda film in a large theater that made no sense at all if there were no meaning to life. Appealing for unity to establish peace in a troubled world, the movie demanded, “Why must there be good and bad, right and wrong, us and them?” The implication was clear that such concepts were a mistake and stood in the way of goodwill and brotherhood among men.
As one exited the theater, a further appeal for worldwide cooperation met the eye, with this surprising heading in large, bold print: FOR THE COMMON GOOD. Having just been advised so authoritatively of the nonexistence of good or bad, one was puzzled by an appeal for something called “the common good.” What could that mean, and how could one be certain of it?
No Escape from Standards
Quite clearly, as a practical matter, those who insist upon absolutely no absolutes find it impossible even to carry on a meaningful conversation let alone deal with society’s serious deficiencies and problems within the framework of their standard of “no standards.” The concept of good and evil obviously must be granted a deeper meaning than convenience or comfort. Like every other false religion, humanism also has its priests. Having denied that there can be any good and bad or right and wrong, they proceed to impose upon the rest of us what they have decided is “for the common good.”
The high priests of humanism are quick to tell us (from their lofty perspective and after assuring us that there is no right or wrong) that much is wrong in our world and that they alone know how to make it right. Even those who deny absolutes cannot avoid arguing that their view is correct. No one can live without purpose and meaning. The question is: Who is to decide the answers to the ultimate questions?
A politician or a teacher must have a goal in mind, some standard by which to guide pupils or society. What folly, then, to deny any basis at all for determining the validity of such guidance. One can’t even play a game without rules. And how can one have a meaningful discussion apart from some basis for judging which view is right or wrong? As C. S. Lewis observed in his day:
Their skepticism about values is…for use on other people’s values: about the values current in their own set they are not nearly skeptical enough…. A great many of those who “debunk” traditional or (as they would say) “sentimental” values have in the background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process.
Why Is Survival Good?
The atheist can claim that “good” or “evil” are established only in terms of whether or not an action helps the race to survive. The idea that something would help society to survive, however, provides no reason why it ought to be done. Why should the race survive? No ethical or moral reason can be given if man is merely the product of chance. And what if his survival conflicts with the survival chances of other species?
One of the necessary by-products of evolution is supposed to be the extinction of species. There is no basis in that theory for valuing one species above another. Evolution mourns the passing of none of them. Evolutionary theory cannot value man more highly than an animal—or even than a leaf or rock—inasmuch as we all supposedly came from the same ingredients and merely “progressed” by chance. The very concept of “value” has no meaning in a universe ruled by chance. Furthermore, what is “progress”? And if, according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the entire universe is heading for oblivion and all will one day be as though it had never been, what does anything matter?
In the meantime, society is falling apart. Even the humanist must reluctantly admit that murder, rape, war, poverty, and rampant venereal diseases are not desirable, whether they threaten our survival or not. Will the remedy be a “return to traditional moral values,” as some propose? Who is to say what tradition and by what authority? By mutual consent of decent society? How is “decent” to be defined?
There is no hope unless man was created by God for a purpose that his Creator will eventually effect. Before any help can come from that Source, however, there must be the admission of one’s unworthiness, repentance for one’s rebellion against God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ as the Savior who paid the penalty for sin.