Ethics: The Reality Of Objective Good

Evil Proves God

“Ethics” sits at the base of our diagram for a reason: If you have any intention of training yourself or others to defend the truth of Christianity, this topic is the most likely source of skepticism, disillusionment, debate, and objection you will ever encounter. Why is there evil in the world if God is so good? How could a good God allow all this pain and suffering? Who are you to say what’s right and wrong?

You will confront this issue in various forms but, no matter how it is presented to you, there are two main points that you should always keep in mind as you attempt to address them.

  1. Complaints about evil assume that there is actual evil in the world.
  2. Every worldview needs to be able to explain it.

It is vitally important that you always keep these two points tied together because every complaint you will ever hear used to argue against God’s existence, or to justify some moral point of view other than the theistic one, violates one of them. The goal (as always) is to show that theism is the most reasonable explanation for the existence of evil in the world and for our ethical solutions to our moral dilemmas.

The Formal (Axiological) Argument

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values do exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

Stated simply, this argument says that if we claim that there are moral values of right/wrong or good/bad, we have to have a standard outside ourselves — an objective standard — by which we measure them. Such a claim cannot be subjective — it cannot just be our opinion.

Everyone recognizes that there seems to be an endless array of evil things that bad people do in this world. That fact is not even debatable. But when we claim that something is in fact bad/evil, we are presupposing that there is a standard by which we can even begin to judge such things.

So, there has to be a standard and there are some facts we can deduce about what kind of standard it is.

Identifying The Standard

There are three points to recognize about the standard we all use to judge things as being good/bad, right/wrong.

  1. Moral obligations are always between persons — You don’t have any moral obligation to the chair you’re sitting in or the computer you’re reading this on. We all recognize this.
  2. Moral values require a scoring system we use to measure them — Think of what makes a “good” golfer. It’s not his caddy, the clothes he wears, the brand of golf ball he uses, or his determination or sincerity about playing the game of golf. There is only one way to determine who is a good golfer. You must compare the score he shoots to par. The scoring system resides outside the golfer. Moral values are no different.
  3. Enforcing a moral code requires a moral authority — I can’t plant a “Speed Limit 70” sign on the street in front of my house in my residential neighborhood because I have no authority to do so. In order to hold someone accountable for breaking a law, the law itself has to have come from an entity with the authority create it. A law requires a lawgiver.

The source of the morality we all recognize to exist must be personal, objective, and have the authority to enforce the rules. Do these traits sound like they describe anything familiar?

Moral Laws Require a Moral Lawgiver!

Good And Atheism

At this point I want to go back to emphasize the importance of keeping the two points (above) linked together: 1) that there is actual evil in the world and, 2) that everyone — atheists included — have to be able to explain it. Here’s why:

On atheism, there is no moral lawgiver and therefore no objective standard for moral values. The atheist recognizes the evil in the world but the has no way to “ground” the good — no way to explain what makes something good or bad outside his own opinion.

If there is no moral lawgiver, there can be no moral law.

This doesn’t mean an atheist can’t be good or do good things. It just means he can’t explain why they are good. Greg Koukl gives a nice, compact explanation of this here:

Take some time to think about the difference between being good without God, and being good without a belief in God. Anyone can do the latter, but no one can do the former.

Koukl’s illustration of being able to read books but claiming there are no such thing as authors is a powerful one to keep in your back pocket. Get comfortable with it and use it. And remember what we’re doing here. We are not arguing for Christianity yet. We are only making the case for theism. The moral argument may never convince a doubter that it is “proof” of the Christian God, but what it does is give a plausible, consistent argument for a Moral Lawgiver as the Source of objective moral values.

In the next post, we will talk about why a good God would allow evil, how to respond to some common objections to the moral argument, and provide some resources to help cement this concept in your mind.

What issues does this argument bring to mind?

I welcome your challenges and questions.

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3 thoughts on “Ethics: The Reality Of Objective Good

  1. I had both this discussion with an athiest friend a few weeks ago and his response was good is not an absolute, it is determined by each society.
    How do I respond to that?

    • That’s a common response. There are a few problems with it, however.

      First, my claim was not that good is “absolute,” but that it’s objective — that it exists outside of us as subjects. We discover it; we don’t create it. Objective does not mean absolute.

      Second, ask your friend to follow that claim to its logical conclusion. I doubt that anybody wants to defend standards of good that originate in every individual — for good reason. It would lead to chaos. But how does the situation improve if we get a group together (call it society, or culture, or a community) to vote on what is good? Defining good in that way leads to tyranny and injustice.

      For instance, the Nazi party was elected to rule Germany in the 1930s. Does the fact that a majority of Germans liked the Nazi’s ideas make them good? Does the fact that a majority of the folks in the southern U.S. in the mid-nineteenth century promoted slavery make slavery good? My point is simply that declaring something good by majority vote is not a valid or reliable method of producing ethics and history is replete with examples of why that is.

      • Thanks Bob,
        That will help. I did use the Nazi examplealong with head hunter and cannibalistic cultures as examples. He didn’t really have a good answer but still felt that generally culture could still define morality. I guess if someone doesn’t want tonsee the trith you can’t force them.