The late philosopher/theologian, Edward Carnell, in An Introduction to Christian Apologetics, made the following observation in his chapter on ethics.
It is evident that we must act, if we are to remain alive, but we find ourselves in such multifarious circumstances that it is difficult to know at times whether it is better to turn to the right or better to turn to the left, or better not to turn at all. And, before one can choose a direction in which to turn, he must answer the question, better in relation to what or to whom? In other words, if a man is going to act meaningfully and not haphazardly, he must rationally count the cost; he must think before he acts. Right judgment, then, and proper actions always go together (1948, p. 316, emp in orig.)
Dr. Carnell’s point is well taken. Each of us must act as we face opportunities and challenges that require not only forethought and decision, but commitment and dedication. Right judgment and proper actions do go together. If we desire to think carefully, choose wisely, and act forcefully, what standard(s) shall we use to ensure that our thoughts, choices, and actions are, in fact, correct? What shall be our moral/ethical compass?
Morality (from the Latin, mores, meaning habits or customs) is the character of being in accord with principles or standards of right conduct. Ethics—the discipline concerned with what is good and bad or right and wrong—deals with moral principles and values.
Morals and ethics are important to all people, regardless of their world view. The late atheistic evolutionist of Harvard University, George Gaylord Simpson, stated that although in his estimation man was “the result of a purposeless and materialistic process that did not have him in mind,” nevertheless “good and evil, right and wrong, concepts irrelevant in nature except from the human viewpoint, become real and pressing features of the whole cosmos as viewed by Man—the only possible way in which the cosmos can be viewed morally because morals arise only in man” (1967, p. 346, emp. added). Indeed, the words “ought” and “ought not” are as much a part of the atheist’s vocabulary as they are the Christian’s. The question is: If good-and-evil/right-and-wrong are “real and pressing features,” how are we to determine what thoughts and actions fall into those categories?
Atheism contends that each indivdual should make that determination—separate and apart from any objective, moral standard. Simpson wrote:
Discovery that the universe apart from man or before his coming lacks and lacked any purpose or plan has the inevitable corollary that the workings of the universe cannot provide any automatic, universal, eternal, or absolute ethical criteria of right or wrong (1967, p. 346).
It hardly is surprising, then, that the Humanist Manifestos I & II (atheism’s “Bill of Rights”) boast:
We affirm that moral values derive their source from human experience. Ethics is autonomous and situational, needing no theological or ideological sanction.... We strive for the good life, here and now (1933/1973, p. 17, emp. in orig.).
As a “naked ape” in an “accidental Universe,” man’s morals and ethics are viewed as “autonomous” and “situational.” That is to say, something becomes “right” because the individual determines it is right on a case-by-case basis, thus invalidating the concept of common moral law applied consistently. For example, if a sane man decided it was “right” to kill his business competitors, upon what basis could we (justifiably) ask someone (e.g., the police) to stop him without denying his autonomy and thus violating (and ultimately invalidating) the very principle upon which this ethic is supposed to work? But then, who really wants to live under such a system? As Wayne Jackson has noted:
No sane person will argue that absolutely “anything goes....” One may indeed become so insensitive that he abandons virtually all of his personal ethical obligations, but he will never ignore the lack of such in those who would abuse him (1984, p. 320, emp. in orig.).
If humans are merely “matter in motion,” if no one piece of matter is worth more than any other piece of matter, if we are autonomous, if the situation warrants it, and if we can further our own selfish interests by doing so, could we not lie, steal, maim, or murder at will? If not, why not?
Compare that kind of thinking, however, to the moral/ethical instructions contained in God’s Word that teach us to: love all people—friend and foe alike (Matthew 5:44); treat others as we would want to be treated (Matthew 7:12); help those who are afflicted (James 1:27); aid those who are less fortunate (1 John 3:17); embody joy, peace, patience, kindness, and meekness (Galatians 5:22-23); and do good unto all men (Galatians 6:10). Then answer this question: Who would you rather have as your neighbor—a person who practices the brand of situation ethics advocated by atheism, or a Christian who practices the kind of objective morality taught in the Bible? Kind of makes you think, doesn’t it?
Carnell, Edward John (1948), An Introduction to Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Humanist Manifestos I & II (1933/1973), (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus).
Jackson, Wayne (1984), “False Doctrines of Human conduct,” Doctrines and Commandments of Men: A Handbook on Religious Error, ed. John Waddey (Knoxville, TN: East Tennessee School of Preaching).
Simpson, George Gaylord (1967), The Meaning of Evolution (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press), revised edition.
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