Moral Absolute(ly not)s (Worldview 11)
In this article we explore where no-god worldviews seek to grab their morality and human value from and we explain why they can't work.
Option 1 - We are Animals
Some tell us to look to nature and the animal kingdom to evidence our morality. The idea is that, since we are simply evolved animals, we can look to the animals and see how they treat one another.
The problem with this idea is that the animal kingdom is massive and varied. Is it okay for a woman, after she has mated with her man, to eat him? Is it okay for the male to abandon the woman once she has conceived? Is it okay for the woman to abandon her child after giving birth or to pick one and leave the other to die? Is it okay for a man to have a harem of women who serve his needs and desires? We know it happens, and we know it happens in the animal kingdom too. Is it okay and according to what standard are we judging?
To go into the tropics of the animal kingdom hunting for the elusive trophy of morality is more like walking into the candy store for a pick and mix. We take what we like and reject what we don’t. We don’t get our morality from nature, we already have our set views on morality and then we walk into nature to try and prove and affirm the moral code we have already established.
Option 2 - We are a Society
Some say morality comes from society. The problem is when two societies meet in the cafe with opposing moral values. Who is right? Since, in this option, society is the highest pinnacle of morality, which society is right when they differ? Some societies still practice cannablism, some kill slaves or children to bury alongside dead rich and powerful people. Some have arranged marriages. Some have strict gender roles. Are they wrong? Or is it more of a preference issue; like choosing between cricket and baseball?
There are things in society years back that were allowed which now aren’t. Did we get better? Better according to what? Surely not according to society since we changed the rules. When we changed our societal morals - what standard, if not society, did we use to change them?
I agree that, in some ways, society wires us morally - but where we wired correctly? Who has the blueprint to make sure? Is the green wire supposed to connect here?
Is veganism better than cannibalism? Who says? Do you like pineapple on your pizza?
What happens when my society needs more land and resources, and your society happens to have what we need? In a world of subjective morality, my tribe is more important than yours and our swords are sharper.
Option 3 - We are Evolving
Many describe our generation as progressive. They claim that we are still evolving as a species, and much of that evolution is occurring on the inside - in our cranium. But what direction are we evolving or progressing towards? You've heard of having a moral compass. Compasses point North, you would need a "moral north" for your compass to function. Are we evolving towards that North or away from it? Are we making positive progress? How would we know? We would need a moral framework to be able to determine whether we are heading in the right direction or whether we should get off at the next exit and turn back round.
Whose got the map? What do you mean there isn’t one!?
Option 4 - Best for everyone/How I like to be Treated
Why are those important? These are moral issues in and of themselves. We are assuming that our morality is based on everyone being treated the same. But that very goal is a moral statement - is it good for everyone to be treated with equality? If so why is that good? You would have to go beneath this statement to prove its point.
Option 5 - Size, Development and/or Sentience = Value
Many claim that the size of a creature gives it value, or its level of development or its sentience. At what point does a creature start mattering? Do I matter more than you because I'm taller? Do centimetres and millimetres carry worth? Do I matter more now that I am a fully grown man than when I was a 15 year old chav in Belfast? Sentience is not just a state, it's a spectrum, at what point on the spectrum does value come in?
Who determines the answer to all these questions?
Option 6 - Survival
Morality, say some, is based on human survival. Some say we are evil for letting the worlds ecosystems fade away. The reality is that other creatures could easily survive melting ice caps and coral bleaching. Nature will simply move from one kingdom to another. If the sun sets on the kingdom of man let the cockroaches plant their flags on the Nappy (Diaper) Hills of Waste. Do they have less value than us? Says who? If we aren’t strong enough to withstand global warming and the fading ozone then let the weak die and the strong creatures survive us. If we can't learn to breathe underwater let the fish have their day.
You see, the question isn’t just “where does our morality come from?” but rather “how do we know our morality is right?”
Either we live in a world of moral absolutes or we don’t. If we don’t, if it is purely subjective - then some people think women should be treated as equals and some don't. Some people like Coke and some prefer Lemonade. Some think abortion is fine and some don't. Some people add milk and sugar to their tea.
If we do live in a world of moral absolutes - then we need something or someone outside of ourselves, someone or thing higher than society, further back than history and unchanging. An Absolute Morality Giver.
Alan Campbell is from Belfast, Northern Ireland. He came to Christ as a young adult and trained for ministry at Bethesda Free Church, Sunderland. Alan ministered in Bethesda as the Associate Pastor until 2019 and now ministers at Union Chapel, Bath. From time to time he teaches at North Cotes (NTM/Ethnos 360) College and The Theological College of North Staffordshire. Alan travels across the UK, Ireland, Europe and the States speaking at universities and equipping churches and campus ministries to share the gospel in a post-modern context. He is passionate about helping the believer to root their identity more and more into the person and work of Jesus Christ. Alan is married to Victoria.