The Laws of Men
Every day, unbelievers place innumerable moral demands upon those around them. They tenaciously issue complaints and demands regarding things such as love, intolerance, acceptance, consent, racism, language, cultural appropriation, etc.
But where does this morality come from? How can the unbeliever even define morality, given his worldview? What ultimate standard of morality does the unbeliever posit by which he could distinguish good from bad, right from wrong?
The aim of this article is to demonstrate that by rejecting the personal, Triune God of Scripture who has revealed His own character to all men through creation and the Bible, the unbeliever is left with absolutely no foundation for morality. Therefore, his worldview is proven to be irrational, unacceptable, and contradictory to the way that image-bearers of God actually live in this world.
Christian morality is based on three fundamental doctrines: the doctrine of God, man, and the covenant.
1. God is absolute, personal, Triune, and good. He is absolute with respect to His freedom and authority over His creation and His right to require a certain way of life from the creatures He made in His image. He is personal with respect to revealing Himself to man, bringing Himself into covenant with man, and being omnipresent in creation.
God is three in Person and singular in Being, demonstrating that personality is an eternal attribute of God and, hence, a fundamental principle of reality. God is the Archetype of goodness. God’s own character is the ultimate standard of good, and He reveals His character to all men through creation and Scripture. This revelation of God’s character, most clearly found in God’s Law, is the ultimate and final standard of morality.
2. Man is a creation of God, endowed with the glory of being made in God’s image. Man’s most fundamental purpose is to reflect, or “image,” God’s glory back to Him. He is the crowning jewel of all creation. Man has a body and soul that are united to one another. Due to being made in God’s image, man is endowed with innate moral knowledge and ability. Man is morally responsible to God’s Law and was originally created with the moral ability to obey them perfectly.
3. From the beginning, God brought man into an eternal, covenantal relationship with Himself, such that no man can be said to not have a relationship with God. God and man are inextricably linked by this covenant relationship, and man has no way to escape this reality. This covenant places a binding obligation upon man with respect to his obedience to God’s command to “be holy” as He is holy (Matt. 5:48, 1 Pet. 1:16, Lev. 19:2). We are obligated (required) to “image” God without fail.
Thus, we see that Christianity provides a system of morality that has both relevance to the details of life as well as absolute, binding authority. Christian morality is both necessary and non-arbitrary because it is based upon the necessary existence of God and the particular nature of God. Christian morality pertains to the interpersonal affairs of man because the Triune God is eternally personal within Himself (three, distinct persons in eternal harmony with one another) and brings this personalistic reality into every corner of the universe.
Finally, it establishes a concrete, final reference point, or standard, for knowing the Archetypal Good and, hence, being able to objectively distinguish good people from bad people, right actions from wrong ones.
The existence of morality as universal, necessary, interpersonal, intrapersonal, authoritative, relevant, and absolute inherently implies the existence of the biblical God. If this kind of morality exists, then God must exist as the necessary foundation of it. The personal, self-revealing, Triune God of the Bible is the only possible foundation for the existence of morality, as we normatively experience it.
The unbeliever rejects at least one or all of these doctrines and still wants to claim that he, too, can have a workable system of morality. But can he?
Here are three primary consequences of the unbeliever’s rejection of the biblical God which illustrate the irrationality of unbelief:
1. Impersonalism: In rejecting the doctrine of God, the unbeliever lands himself in a universe that is ultimately indifferent and impersonal. Consequently, how can he rationally believe that personhood came forth from the impersonal stuff of the universe? There is no rational way to believe that persons came forth from inherently impersonal matter. And if personhood, the self, or the soul, does not exist, then morality is irrelevant and unnecessary. We don’t concern ourselves with rocks falling on each other or throw chimpanzees into prison for viciously killing one another.
2. Materialism: In rejecting the truth of man as bearing God’s own image, the unbeliever reduces man to nothing more than the accidental byproduct of a chance universe; a random and unnecessary result of limitless possibility. Once again, personhood is destroyed. Man is a purely material object and does not have an eternal soul. Man is not existentially above the animals; he is an animal. There is nothing necessary or special about the existence of man. Man may be more complex than other physical objects, but he has no inherent or necessary dignity that must be preserved. Man is nothing more than the amalgamation of atoms randomly existing and moving amongst other amalgamations of atoms. Trying to determine moral obligations for some atoms in relation to other atoms is patently absurd.
3. Pure Contingency (No Necessity): In rejecting the doctrine of covenant which places necessary requirements on the conduct of man, the unbeliever abandons any rational foundation for moral necessity or obligation. He also destroys the possibility of a fruitful connection between an absolute, unchanging, transcendent standard of morality (God’s character) and time-bound, impermanent, particular objects (people). While the Christian doctrine of covenant necessarily binds man to the necessary and absolute God, the unbeliever is bound to no such transcendent authority. This is because he cannot rationally claim a transcendent, unchanging, personal authority for morality. And without a necessary and absolute standard for morality which transcends humanity, humanity itself must then become the absolute standard. And when humanity is the absolute standard, morality is reduced to subjectivism, relativism, and, ultimately, skepticism. Morality is reduced to the personal preference of a group or individual and ceases to have any binding authority over anyone.
I will mention briefly that while these points primarily address secular kinds of unbelief, religious kinds of unbelief will usually reject these three essential doctrines in part, but not in whole. Religious unbelief will typically borrow one or two of these doctrines, but they will never affirm all three in their fullness. Therefore, these will be reduced to absurdity as well.
A Final Word
We have observed that when we analyze the basic assumptions of the worldview which rejects the God of Scripture and compare those assumptions with the Christian worldview, the unbelieving worldview fails to account for the existence of morality. Here are the three big takeaways that you can incorporate into your Christian apologetic:
1. God’s Word is the only way to establish and know morality.
2. Unbelief results in the impossibility of morality.
3. The existence of morality, and the failure of all unbelieving worldviews to rationally account for it, objectively prove the existence of the God of Scripture.