Premise A: If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
Premise B: Objective moral values do exist.
Conclusion: Therefore, God exists.
Imagine living in a world where there was no right or wrong.
- • Someone could kill your loved one, but because there is no right or wrong, they would be considered not-guilty of injustice. There would be no law by which they could be apprehended or convicted as a murderer.
- • You could walk into the nearest jewelry store, smash the glass, and fill your gym bag with as many diamonds and gems as you could manage to get away with. The owner of the store would have no moral reason to stop you from taking what is not yours.
- • A husband coming home from a tough day at work could start slapping his wife and abusing his children. But you wouldn’t be able to call the police about it, because spousal abuse wouldn’t be wrong. Besides that, there also wouldn’t be any police force to maintain law and order.
In a world without morality, a terrorist could kill hundreds of people, a modern Hitler could commit a new Holocaust, racism would be okay, misogyny couldn’t be condemned, corruption in government couldn’t be wrong, and it wouldn’t be bad to take away someone’s freedom. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to live in world where there is no right and wrong. Thankfully, I don’t have to. Right and wrong exist, and the conscience of everyone in the world is proof of this fact.
An objectively moral universe
Have you ever felt you were treated unjustly? Perhaps someone broke a promise they had made to you; perhaps they cheated you in some way or stole from you; perhaps they told a lie about you or broke your trust in another way; perhaps they were violent to you and physically hurt you. How did that make you feel? When such things happen to us, or we see them happen to someone else, we know that those things are wrong and that they should not happen. In the same way that we know what is wrong, we also know what is right. It is right to be kind to people. It is right to be honest and sincere. It is right to be patient and generous. No one needs a law to tell them that patience or generosity or kindness are right. We know that these kinds of actions are right because, when we see people acting this way, or experience it for ourselves, we start to think that the world isn’t so bad after all. As the saying goes, “our faith in humanity is restored.”
We know right from wrong not just by how it makes us feel when we are treated rightly or wrongly, but also because of what we experience when we treat someone else rightly or wrongly. Inside of every person is a moral compass—the conscience. The word “conscience” comes from joining two words together. The first word, con, means “with”; the second word, science, means “knowledge.” Conscience means that when we do rightly or wrongly, we do it “with knowledge.” When we knowingly do what is right, it makes us feel good, but when we knowingly do what is wrong, it makes us feel guilty. The difference between humans and animals is morality. Animals do not have a conscience. Sometimes a mother dog will eat her own puppies with no pain or guilt. A female praying mantis consumes the male after mating with him. A lion does not feel remorse after killing a young zebra. But, if a human treats another human the way animals treat each other, we call that person a criminal—or worse, a monster.
This knowledge of right and wrong is what the German philosopher, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), called a “categorical imperative.” By “categorical” he means that everyone has a category of understanding that some things are right and other things are wrong; by “imperative” he means that everyone is impelled to act upon this moral understanding. In fact, so strong is this universal moral sense, that even when someone tries to ignore or erase it, the moral sense remains. That is why we feel guilty when we do the things that we know are wrong even if they make us feel good in the moment. That is why we still feel good when we make a right decision, even if it costs us something valuable or makes us give up a pleasure. This sense of right and wrong, of guilt and goodness are experiences that both theist and atheist can agree on. For C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), failing to understand this innate moral sense is like failing to understand the basic laws of the universe:
These then are the two points that I wanted to make. First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.
By the term “Law of Nature,” Lewis means that our world is an objectively moral universe. The universe is observed to work in one way and not another—that is what is meant when anyone refers to the “laws” that govern it. These laws do not require us to believe in them for them to be true. Gravity does not exist because we believe in it, nor did it begin to exist when Newton discovered it. Regardless of what anyone believes about gravity, gravity exists and has always existed as a necessary part of the physical universe. Gravity is true everywhere and for all time—this is what makes it universal. Gravity exists independently of what anyone believes about it—this is what makes it objective. The same concepts of universality and objectivity apply to the ideas of right and wrong.
The law of nature, or natural law, refers to what is objectively true about all people as individuals and as societies. “The Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” are the basis of the Constitution of the United States. When it is said that everyone has an innate sense of right and wrong, that means two things. First, because everyone has a moral sense, it is universal. Second, because people are born with this moral sense and have no control over whether they will have it or not, it is objective. In the same way that we don’t get to choose if gravity exists, we don’t get to choose the existence of right and wrong or if we have a conscience. Simply, we are part of a moral universe where there are objective moral values of right and wrong, good and evil, justice and injustice.
Where does this moral law come from?
Just like the physical universe, the objective moral universe doesn’t come from nothing. All people have a conscience and are born with it. That conscience does not come from nothing. The knowledge of right and wrong comes from God. God is good and everything he does is good and just. Even if people have no knowledge of God, God has given people a conscience that tells them what is good and just. As it says in Romans 2:14-25:
…for when Gentiles, who do not have the law [of God—that is the Law of Moses], by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them).
God is the only possible source of an objective right or wrong. Atheists might reply that rules are created by society and that anything society approves of is right and what society disapproves of is wrong. To support their argument they point to examples of how morals can differ from culture to culture depending on the subjective will of the majority. Thus, while most cultures agree that cannibalism is wrong, in some tribes in Papua New Guinea it is considered noble to eat your enemy. But is that the same thing as believing that cannibalism is a moral good? While the cannibal chief may eat people, if we say to him, “Today, we eat your child,” he knows that eating his child is wrong. He does not celebrate the announcement as a victory for cannibalism. For thousands of years, cultures around the world have practiced the same moral values we practice today. In every society, some actions are considered good and some are considered bad. Murder, theft, and lying have all been considered wrong throughout human history. If there is a moral law, then there must be a moral lawgiver.
If there is true justice, there must be a just judge to dispense it. This judge must be morally perfect. In order to make perfect judgments, this judge must be all-knowing. In order to enforce his judgment, this judge must also be all-powerful. Thus, our innate sense of right and wrong and our inherent desire for justice requires a completely moral lawgiver who is all-knowing and all-powerful. This perfect, omniscient, and omnipotent judge we call God.
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About the Author: Dr. Daniel King is a missionary evangelist who has traveled to over seventy nations in his quest for souls. His goal is to lead 1,000,000 people to Jesus every year through massive Gospel Festivals, distribution of literature, and leadership training. Because of his experience and research on evangelism, he is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading experts in mass evangelism. As an evangelist, he has a deep interest in using apologetics to convince skeptics that God is real.