March 7, 2010

A Sense of Ought – Steve Dewhirst

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:00 am by kdkelly

Human beings have a universal sense of right and wrong. The particulars of what is “moral” may vary from culture to culture, and yet man’s moral sense is remarkably consistent throughout the world and has been throughout history. We are created with instincts which are aroused in various ways, but it is that sense of right and wrong which tells us which instinct we ought to listen to. And this sense of right and wrong is separate from our conscience. The conscience is the mechanism that gives us a capacity for determining right and wrong, but the standard which influences the conscience must come from outside the conscience itself. All humans feel the press of Moral Law on our lives and conduct. Occasionally one may encounter a sociopath with no apparent concept of good and evil, but he’s the exception rather than the rule. It is the existence of this Moral Law we feel pressing upon us that serves as one of the greatest evidences for the existence of God.

Now immediately, many will object to the existence of any such Moral Law. But think about it from the basis of personal experience. Why do we become upset if someone cuts to the front of the line while others have been waiting patiently? Because we perceive “it’s not fair.” But who says “it’s not fair?” Every time we pass judgment on behavior we deem unethical or immoral, we acknowledge the existence of an objective Law higher than ourselves. We appeal to it even while we might foolishly deny its existence in another setting.

Likewise, why do even unbelievers “feel guilty” over their bad behavior? It’s not because of a mere social convention they’ve violated; it’s because they know deep down that they are guilty. And guilt itself is an admission of the existence of a Moral Law dictating what they ought to have done. Isn’t it interesting that when professed atheists campaign for social change, it’s on the basis of what is right and fair? Their very efforts to establish “social justice” speak to the fact that there exists an independent, objective standard of right and wrong in the universe. They do not want to obey, but they will appeal to it for political gain.

Of course many will argue that this human sense of “ought” is nothing more than the product of persistent education by parents and teachers. But it is just too ingrained in the human psyche. And history demonstrates that from earliest times, man has had this innate sense of what he should be doing. Moral Law exists separate from man in the same way as mathematics. We teach mathematics, but we didn’t invent it. Mathematical truth existed long before many ever figured out how to write it down and use it. And even if we never learn it, mathematics will exist anyway. So it is with Moral Law. We teach what we have learned of morals and ethics, but Moral Law exists even if we refuse to recognize it.

It was this very recognition of Moral Law existing separate from man which led the great Christian apologist C.S. Lewis from atheism to belief. He could not ignore his own conclusions. Please note that the recognition of Moral Law in the universe does not tell us anything about the personal God of the Bible, but it leads one to a willingness to read scripture and find out. It serves to make the concept of faith viable to those who have rejected faith in the past. For further insight, I heartily recommend Lewis’ book Mere Christianity from which these ideas were taken. It’s a profound little book which can greatly effect the way we try to lead others to Christ.

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