I shared a clip last time from a really smart and well-educated scientist who was an atheist and became a Christian (Francis Collins). And part of the reason for his conversion came from the writings of another really smart and well-educated former atheist who became a Christian (C.S. Lewis). The subject was morality, which I would like to continue looking at that today.
This post, like the last one, is not about mass shootings, gun control, or evil, or any other current event you might want to read into it. I’m not talking about symptoms but something much more systemic. It’s about why we have all failed to practice the kind of behavior that we expect from someone else.
You see, as long as the focus is on mass shootings and other terrible events in the world, we can excuse ourselves because, after all, we’re not doing those terrible things…we’re not like them. But when we talk about why we don’t do as we know we should, that includes all of us. I also realize there may be some readers who may not want to admit this.
Nonetheless, we do have strong empirical evidence for thinking that this “fish bowl” we’ve all been swimming in is not as it should be. We see it in our everyday life and in the news. And we know this because we have a sense of what is right, good, fair, just…moral, ethical… even though we’re not sure why we know this.
The funny thing is, while there’s many differing views on the specifics of morality, all healthy human beings seem to have an internal moral code about the way we ought to behave.
So, what I would like to do today is pull back the curtain and see what may lie behind our “should be.”
I’ve asked my atheist/humanists readers to tell me where they get their moral code from. One response was a reference to an Atlantic Monthly article by E.O. Wilson titled, “The Biological Basis of Morality.” You can read that if you would like.
This author puts how one answers the question of morality into two basic camps:
- The Transcendental view
- The Empiricist view
Wilson declares himself to be an empiricist and deist. Here’s how he frames the argument:
Every thoughtful person has an opinion on which premise is correct. But the split is not, as popularly supposed, between religious believers and secularists. It is between transcendentalists, who think that moral guidelines exist outside the human mind, and empiricists, who think them contrivances of the mind. In simplest terms, the options are as follows: I believe in the independence of moral values, whether from God or not, and I believe that moral values come from human beings alone, whether or not God exists.
While I can see why this view would be compelling for those who want to avoid being religious, it does become rather incoherent for the transcendentalist to believe in some outside “guidelines” without an intelligent being (or a “God”) as the source of those guidelines. But I do have sympathy for wanting to devise a scheme that avoids the religious abuses of the past.
Another way to look at where our standard of morality comes from is C.S. Lewis’s view in the short clip below. Lewis breaks the groups up into two polar opposite views:
- Materialist view
- Theistic (religious) view
And one in-between view:
- The “Life-force” view
You can watch this short clip to see what Lewis had to say about what’s behind the moral law:
According to Lewis, these views have been around since humankind started thinking, and you cannot tell which one is the right view from science. Science can tell us how nature works, but it cannot tell us why nature exists. Even if science were to discover everything there is to discover in the cosmos, the question about why there is a universe, or does the universe have any meaning, would go unanswered.
Lewis says there’s only one case where we can know whether there’s anything more, and that one case is our own case; we find there that we don’t behave as we know we ought. The other way around, if there was a controlling power outside the universe, it could not show itself to us as one of the facts inside the universe anymore than the architect of a house could be a wall or staircase or fireplace in that house. The only way we could expect it to show itself is inside ourselves, in an influence or a command to behave in a certain way. And that is just what we do find inside ourselves. Paul identified that internal influence this way:
14 For example, whenever people who don’t possess the law as their birthright commit sin, it still confirms that a “law” is present in their conscience. For when they instinctively do what the law requires, that becomes a “law” to govern them, even though they don’t have Mosaic law. 15 It demonstrates that the requirements of the law are woven into their hearts. They know what is right and wrong, for their conscience validates this “law” in their heart. Their thoughts correct them in one instance and commend them in another. (Rom.2:14-15 TPT)