We live in a time of moral confusion, but every generation has felt that the question of morality was confused in their day. I can remember as a teenager in the 1950s feeling very confused about what was right and what was wrong. As an atheist, I had no real reason to bring my life into conformity with anyone else’s ideas of right or wrong, but I found that most of my friends who claimed to be religious were not a whole lot different than I was. In recent years we have seen an increasing number of religious/political figures involved in incredible moral turpitude. Atheists capitalize on these incidents to claim that religion has no relationship to morality.
Why should there be such a thing as morality? The more you investigate this question, the more you realize that the issue is rooted in the uniqueness of humans as being created in the image of God. Animals do not have a sense of right ideals or principles. Animals are controlled by instinct. A lion does not think of the morality involved in eating another animal. A beaver does not consider the moral issues involved in building a dam that floods a meadow and drives hundreds of other animals from their homes. On the other hand, humans may oppose a dam on the moral grounds of environmental impact.
The first step in discussing this issue has to be a consideration of the existence of free moral choice in humans. It is our freedom of moral choice that gives us the ability to change the direction of our future. Given a set of rules to govern life, every person must decide whether or not to conform to those rules. A burglar is not controlled in his criminal activity by the lock on the door or the presence of the police. These deterrents may temporarily delay the activities of the burglar, but they will not stop him from breaking into a house. The choice is up to the burglar. If his inner restraints do not stop him, he will break in and steal. Building jails and increasing police department rosters will never completely stop crime.
Free moral agency is one of the most important and most underrated capacities of humans. It is our freedom of choice that allows love to exist. I can enjoy the love of my wife because she has the option of not loving me. If she had no choice in the matter, there could be no love. Sexual love without choice is called rape and is recognized as a perverted, distorted, ugly substitute for love that bears no resemblance to the real thing. Without the freedom of choice, we become animals operating totally by instinct to fulfill our own selfish needs and desires.
If you think through this to any depth at all, you begin to see why we are having a difficult time establishing moral guidelines in our day. If we accept the idea that we are merely animals, totally and completely driven by those instincts and drives that govern all other animals, then morality does not exist! Belief in mechanistic, opportunistic evolution of human beings removes morality and all that goes with it. That includes the family, marital fidelity, family responsibility, integrity, and responsibility toward others. Even the most vociferous atheist will attempt to deny this assertion because we all realize it leads to a dog-eat-dog, jungle aspect of existence.
The starting point of morality is recognizing that we were uniquely created by God with an eternal soul created in God’s image. The consequence of that is free will which has implications in all areas of our lives. Human suffering, the proper standards of how we should live, and our view of how we fit into God’s plan are all rooted in our understanding of who we are and the value we have. The “naked ape” hypothesis cannot adequately deal with this aspect of our existence which is so vital to social order and peace.
Christians must speak out on the foundations of moral issues and teach the uniqueness and value of the human soul. We have a proven guide of conduct. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV).
–John N. Clayton © 2017