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Morality is a system of conduct concerned with the distinction between good and evil or right and wrong (from the Latin moralitas "manner, character, proper behavior"). The system of conduct can be referred to as ethics. Ethics is defined as "The science of human duty; the body of rules of duty drawn from this science."[1] The word is rooted in the ancient Greek term ἦθος, ēthos which meant "moral character" or "nature". The biblical creationist worldview holds to the concept of natural law, that is, morality is absolute, because what is moral is established by the nature of God and accordingly in the image of God humanity has it "written in their hearts"[2] informing reasoning of good and evil thus even atheists can know what is moral. The distinction highlighted within Christian philosophy when confronted by natural relativistic theories of morality presented by evolution is not necessarily how to know what is moral, called epistemology, as it is written in the heart of humanity. Rather what is approached is why objective moral values and duties exist at all and what a person ought to do about them, which would be considered ontological or metaphysical. Actions are not good or bad because of their effectiveness at permitting reproduction but they are absolutely and objectively right or wrong.


Is and ought distinction

A long-standing paradigm in moral philosophy or what can be called more specifically meta-ethics is how people make statements about what ought to be on the basis of statements about what is. Within morality it is the attempt to turn what is about the world into what a person ought to do in response. The purely descriptive mode or what is about the natural are different sorts of facts than moral facts which are prescribed with ought. These distinctions were articulated by David Hume. Hume famously wrote in his Treatise about his troubles. He could not relate the is and ought difference, seeing it as something like a logical fallacy. So much so is the is/ought distinction an attractive philosophical issue then and now that it seems in one sense that no other phrase or sentences by a particular philosopher have been as widely discussed.

Hume famously closes the section of the Treatise that argues against moral rationalism by observing that other systems of moral philosophy, proceeding in the ordinary way of reasoning, at some point make an unremarked transition from premises whose parts are linked only by “is” to conclusions whose parts are linked by “ought” (expressing a new relation) — a deduction that seems to Hume “altogether inconceivable” (T3.1.1.27).

According to the dominant twentieth-century interpretation, Hume says here that no ought-judgment may be correctly inferred from a set of premises expressed only in terms of ‘is,’ and the vulgar systems of morality commit this logical fallacy.[3]

Natural or supernatural foundation

Starting with naturalism and science Sam Harris, a leading proponent of natural morality, does believe in objective moral values[4] and the need of foundation which Harris attempts to find within science itself. It is the extension of the dominant philosophy of science called scientism. While Sam Harris does not call it such, but by doing so and by redefining words in arbitrary ways, like the word good, according to Glenn Peoples, a vocal critic, are glaring difficulties with The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris.[5] Redefining the word good to mean "flourishing of conscience creatures" would produce nonsensical language so that to ask, why on atheism is the well being of conscience creatures good, would be like saying why on atheism is the well being of conscience creatures the well being of conscience creatures. So on the view of Sam Harris it is pointless to even use the word good when talking about morality.[4] Harris attempts to identify the foundation of morality as conducive to human flourishing or well being of conscious creatures. Harris believes that science can pronounce upon the deepest philosophical questions asked throughout human history regarding what is right and wrong, moral values and duties and the like. These according to creationists are considered metaphysical thus philosophical in nature and are not subject to scientific measurement in the empirical sense.

As I argue in my new book, The Moral Landscape, questions about values—about meaning, morality, and life’s larger purpose—are really questions about the well-being of conscious creatures.

Many people seem to think that equating goodness with “well-being” is philosophically problematic—akin to merely advocating hedonism. But while it is reasonable to wonder whether maximizing pleasure in any given instance is “good,” it makes no sense at all to ask whether maximizing well-being is “good.” It seems clear that what we are really asking when we wonder whether a certain state of pleasure is “good,” is whether it is conducive to, or obstructive of, some deeper form of well-being.[6]

Under metaphysical naturalism which underpins evolutionary thinking, it is hard to escape the undeniable implication that human beings are merely the result of social and biological evolution. Animals like monkeys or ducks, there is no special place on Earth nor within the universe that naturalism contends is all exists for humanity to ground why we ought to act morally different than what is observed in nature. The is/ought distinction remains on Harris' naturalistic view even though theism on the other hand offers grounding of moral duties and obligations, finding reason why objective morals exist. Why moral objectivity exists is a metaphysical notion about human morality, it is not trying to craft a moral epistemology, or how a person knows what is moral. That is a very important distinction that defenders of theistic morality are consistently aware of. Christian theism posits an epistemology of how to know what is moral but is not required to know what is good and evil. Christian divine command theory allows Christians to know good and evil being that it consists of commands reflective of God's necessary nature. Humanity in its total sense according to Christianity can also know what is moral being created in the image of God.[2]

William Lane Craig defines the views of Harris in this way;

So if God does not exist, why think that we have any moral obligations to do anything? Who or what imposes these obligations upon us? Where do they come from? It’s very hard to see why they would be anything more than a subjective impression ingrained into us by societal and parental conditioning.

On the atheistic view, certain actions such as rape and incest may not be biologically and socially advantageous, and so in the course of human development have become taboo, that is, socially unacceptable behavior. But, that does absolutely nothing to prove that such acts are really wrong. Such behavior goes on all the time in the animal kingdom. On the atheistic view the rapist who chooses to flout the “herd morality” is doing nothing more serious than acting unfashionably, the moral equivalent, if you will, of Lady Gaga. If there is no moral lawgiver, then there is no objective moral law, and if there is no objective moral law, then we have no objective moral duties.

Thus, Dr. Harris’s view lacks any source for objective moral duty.[7]

Natural Law


In Plato's Republic the well-nurtured youth is one;

"who would see most clearly whatever was amiss in ill-made works of man or ill-grown works of nature, and with a just distate would blame and hate the ugly even from his earliest years and would give delighted praise to beauty, receiving it into his soul and being nourished by it, so that he becomes a man of gentle heart. All this before he is of the age of reason; that when Reason at length comes to him, then, bred as he has been, he will hold out his hands in welcome and recognize her because of the affinity he bears to her." [8]


Main Article: Hinduism

The early Hindu concept of the Rta refers to the pattern of the natural and supernatural which is revealed alike in the cosmic order and moral virtues. The Rta is constantly identified with righteousness, correctness, and truth.


While the moral law is absolute, human moral codes may or may not align themselves with God's law. Often, they do not. Occasionally, human moral codes may prohibit impose prohibitions against things that are not addressed directly in God's law (for instance, exceeding a certain speed on a motorway) or against things that are commanded in Scripture (for instance, confessing a belief in Christ). Other times, human moral codes may permit things that are prohibited by God's law (for instance, eugenics). Where God's law conflicts with human law, the Christian should obey God's law.

Within biblical anthropology human societies function only as well as they adhere to God's absolute law. When a society falls away from God's law, reform becomes necessary. One example of a society returning to God's law would be the abolition of slavery in the United States. Abolition was largely driven by Christians. Abolitionists argued that it was immoral for one human to own another, because all humans were created in the image of God, and, in the words of the United States Declaration of Independence, "endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights."

Romans chapter 2 implies that all people, Jew and Gentile are instilled with knowledge of good and evil within their hearts.

14 For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, 16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. Romans 2:14-16 (NASB)

C.S. Lewis argues that the mainstream view of human morality will ultimately create "Men without chests". That is, men who have no courage or moral virtue because they will take no pleasure in the objective nature of moral values and duties. Having no fundamental values upon which to base their virtue, they will degenerate into animals capable only of following their instincts.

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6 (KJV)

In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis argues in favor of the concept of natural law, and against the concept of subjective morality. He identified his concept of objective natural law as the Tao (meaning the Way), which encompasses the principles and codes of behavior by which humans were intended to operate. They are encapsulated by Lewis in the Christian principle: "Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself." Lewis argued that although the natural law is absolute and objective, it is not natural to most men. Most men will not follow the natural law unless they were taught to value what is right and hate what is wrong from a very young age. He argued that the purpose of schooling was to inculcate the values of natural law within students, and referenced several other thinkers who supported the idea. Aristotle wrote that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought, so that when the age of reflective thought comes, the pupil who has been thus trained in 'ordinate affections' or 'just sentiments' will easily find the first principles in Ethics. But to the corrupt man they will never be visible at all and he can make no progress in that science. [9]


In contrast to biblical anthropology evolutionary anthropology holds that moral codes are social constructs and conventions which were developed by early human society. The constructs do change over time making them not immutable. For example, the practice of slavery was once accepted by many people as morally right and possibly beneficial to the slaves, and because of its practice employed by the citizens it maintained general happiness.[10]. However now the institution of slavery is seen as an abomination by most cultures. These moral conventions spread because they effectively organized human society, human equality became the goal, a common sense solution to the slavery problem thereby encouraging reproduction and the spread of those ideas. There is therefore nothing fundamental about these moral codes; they evolved and spread because they helped survival or improved the life of humans who lived under them.

I appreciate that when somebody says ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself, they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. It is a binding commandment, unlike a mere subjective claim (like ‘I like spinach and I hope you do too’). Nevertheless, to a Darwinian evolutionist it can be seen that such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, and has no being beyond or without this.[11]

Codes of morality

Fall of Man by Lukas Cranach the Elder

One method of enforcing moral behavior is to develop the concept of a God or gods who can reward or punish humans for their behavior. Almost all human societies consider murder, rape and incest to be morally wrong. They are also likely to cause the destruction or disintegration of the society if they become widespread. So morality can be seen as an adaptation by humans to discourage behaviors that are detrimental. But this evolutionary view does nothing to ground the objective and universal nature of morality.


Main Article: Judaism

The original sin occurred in the garden of Eden at a time when Adam and Eve were innocent. They had no knowledge of good or evil; they were naked, and were not ashamed. They were vegetarians. They did not labor. God's only command was that they not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because it would result in their death. This command they violated.

Adam and Eve violated God's command, and ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Instantly, they experienced shame for the first time -- they realized they were naked and covered themselves to hide it. They also hid from God. As a result, God removed them from the garden, and cursed them. Specifically, Adam was forced to work to provide for himself and his family, and Eve was given pain in childbirth.

Within a single generation, humanity degenerated from life in Eden to envy and murder. Cain, the son of Adam and Eve, killed his brother Abel.

Genesis reports that during the next 1600 years, humanity degenerated, and became totally corrupt and violent. During this period, only two men are recorded as being just: Enoch, whom God saved from death because of his righteousness, and Noah, whom God saved from the flood.

By contrast, mainstream anthropologists consider that clothing is a necessity in some environments for survival and in others it is adopted for decorative or ritual purposes. Humans may also ascribe characteristics of morality or immorality to various types of dress within their own society but these are not universal around the world. A woman in a strict Islamic society would be considered to be behaving immorally if dressed in conservative Western clothing.

Judaism is the world's first monotheistic worldview, and is foremost among the three great monotheistic religions, since from it came Christianity and Islam. The foundation, principles, and history of Judaism are found in the Hebrew scriptures or the Jewish Bible, more widely known as the "Old Testament", which is part of the Christian Bible. A proper name for the Bible of the Hebrews is the "Tanakh", which is an acronym for the different sections of it: the Torah, or the Instruction, the Law, the five books of Moses; the Nevi'im, the Prophets; and the Kethuvim, the Writings. The most revered section is the Torah, which is the foundation for the rest.

Noahic covenant

After the flood, God established the Noahide laws. These are interpreted in the Sanhedren as:

  • Do not murder.
  • Do not steal.
  • Do not worship false gods.
  • Do not be sexually immoral (forbidden sexual acts are traditionally interpreted to include incest, sodomy, male homosexual sex acts and adultery)
  • Do not eat anything of the body of an unslaughtered animal (This is a humanitarian command; in many regions the practice was to cut meat from animals still alive, despite the suffering caused. See Kosher).
  • Do not blaspheme.
  • Set up righteous and honest courts and apply fair justice in judging offenders.

These laws are to apply to all the descendents of Noah, meaning all of humanity. The Talmud says: "Righteous people of all nations have a share in the world to come" (Sanhedrin 105a). Any person who lives according to these laws is known as "the righteous among the gentiles". Maimonides states that this refers to those who have acquired knowledge of God and act in accordance with the Noahide laws.

Law of Moses

When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, God gave them the ten commandments on tablets of stone. Additionally, the book of Leviticus recounts many more laws which apply only to Israelites. God gave these commands to the Israelites that "He might be their God and they might be His people." All non-Jews remained under the covenant of Noah.


After Jesus, Christian views of morality diverged from traditional Jewish views. Jews continued under the Mosaic and Levitical law, and held that non-Jews remained under the law of Noah. Christians retained the moral law, as expressed in the ten Commandments, but no longer required observance of the Jewish ceremonial law. In the first century, a group of Jewish Christians known as Judaizers taught that Jewish practices, especially circumcision and observance of the Sabbath, were required for one to be a Christian.[12] In his Epistle to the Galatians, Paul condemns this teaching, writing that circumcision is irrelevatant to salvation because justification comes from faith, not from works of the law.[13]

Later, the tradition of St. Augustine developed the doctrine of Original sin, that is, the idea that Man is born evil due to the curse of Adam, and can only be reconciled to God through the blood of Christ. The tradition of Pelagianism, however, held that Man was born good, and remained capable of choosing God and Truth on his own right. Subsequently, an almost infinite variety of doctrines and codes of morality all developed under the title of "Christianity."


Main Article: Jesus Christ

Jesus stated that he came not to replace the law of Moses, but to fulfill it.[14] He instructed people to continue to follow the Law of Moses, but also challenged many other laws developed by the Pharisees, such as laws of the Sabbath. He also reinforced and restated the law of Moses by declaring the Greatest Commandment to be: "Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself", two commands taken from Deuteronomy, and he gave his own disciples a new commandment, to love one another as he loved them.

The New Testament teaches that sin originates in man's heart.[15] In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that sinful thoughts were equivalent to sinful actions.

You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. . . Matthew 5:21-22a (ESV)

You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27-28 (ESV)


Main article: Martin Luther

Martin Luther wrote in the Large Catechism that the Ten Commandments show us how God blesses us.[16] In his explanation of the first commandment ("You shall have no other gods."), he writes:

We are to trust in God alone and look to Him and expect from Him nothing but good, as from one who gives us body, life, food, drink, nourishment, health, protection, peace, and all necessaries of both temporal and eternal things."[17]

The Ten Commandments thus show God's spiritual gifts to us, as well as protect his gifts of authority, life, marriage, property, reputation, and contentment. Furthermore, Luther wrote that the Commandments show us how to serve our neighbor.[16] In the Small Catechism, he demonstrates that each commandment shows us what we are forbidden from doing and also what we are commanded to do. For example:

You shall not murder.

What does this mean?

Answer: We should fear and love God so that we may not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and befriend him in every bodily need."[18]


Main Article: Islam

According to traditional Islamic belief, the angel Gabriel revealed the final message of God (Arabic: الله, Allāh), the Qur'an, to the utmost and final prophet, Muhammad. Islam holds that the Five pillars of Islam are the proper means by which all men are to attain righteousness and be reconciled to God. Other moral guidance comes from other hadiths, stories about Muhammad and his close companions, and the Qur'an itself.

Argument from Morality

The argument from morality is an apologetic put forth by Christians in support of the necessity of the existence of God. If God does not exist, if there is no morally perfect transcendent being outside human persons there is actually no objective moral values and duties. If there is no morally perfect being then morality is just a mere product of human social construction. For a rational view of the moral order in the universe and its obvious objective nature the atheist cannot point merely to the utilitarian or usefulness of acting moral. Atheists have no justification to say that the torture of innocent children or that Nazi concentration camps, for example, is objectively evil. An atheist can know they are wrong but may not know the ultimate reason why they are wrong. On an atheist worldview the ultimate justification of their objective morality is based in subjective judgements brought about by biological evolution and any "deeper meaning is illusory".[19] There is no transcendent ethical standard to appeal to. This is in stark contrast to Christian theism because there is a morally perfect being that transcends human psychology and sociology, the necessary anchor of the objectivity of moral values and duties. Thus objective moral values and duties flow from the very nature of that being, which is God.[20]

The moral argument for the existence of God has many different forms by theists but can essentially be expressed as:

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.[21]

The argument from morality, is not, at its base epistemological. It does not state that you must believe in God to know what is good and evil.[22] The moral argument for the existence of God recognizes the reality that human persons apprehend and comprehend objective moral values and duties. Some actions are really evil and some actions are really good, and that knowledge is innate in the human condition. Because of this knowledge there must be a metaphysical or ontological grounding that transcends human society. The argument articulates the logical necessity of a metaphysical being that by its nature is good, fair and just.

14 For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, 16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. Romans 2:14-16 (NASB)

Euthyphro dilemma

The Euthyphro dialogue is originally found in the Dialogues by Plato. The dialogue takes place weeks before the trial of Socrates with Socrates and Euthrypho arguing about the nature of piety or holiness. The Euthyphro dilemma states:

We shall know better, my good friend, in a little while. The point which I should first wish to understand is whether the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy, or holy because it is beloved of the gods.[23]
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646 to 1716) in studying this particular dialogue rephrases and summarizes the thinking behind it.
It is generally agreed that whatever God wills is good and just. But there remains the question whether it is good and just because God wills it or whether God wills it because it is good and just; in other words, whether justice and goodness are arbitrary or whether they belong to the necessary and eternal truths about the nature of things, as do numbers and proportions.[24]

In popular discussions and academic debates the moral argument for the existence of God is questioned through the ancient philosophical and theological dilemma. There have been significant discussions on this since the time of Plato, and the atheist would say the theist has an inescapable problem. The skeptical question asked would be: "Is something good because God wills it or does God will it because it is good?" The question misses the point and attempts to tackle a certain kind of divine command theory no longer defended by theists. Theological voluntarism is to say that objective moral values and duties are rooted in the will of God. God chooses what is good and what is evil and divine commands flow from that decision of the will. The Euthrypho dilemma is fatal to a voluntaristic divine command theory of that sort. However construing the moral argument in this way, as supporting a certain kind of divine command theory ripe for challenge is essentially a case of mislabeling. It is a false dilemma because the moral argument is not about the will of God as the source of moral objectivity but rather the nature of God. The divine commands issued by God flow necessarily from his nature, not from his will alone. It is that the will of God "expresses his essential properties such as generosity, kindness, impartiality, fairness, and so forth." In putting forth the false dilemma, according to William Lane Craig, atheists essentially call, "all divine command theories voluntaristic", which "is misleading and I think inaccurate."[25]

What he will ask now is: are these properties like loving-kindness, impartiality, generosity good because God possesses them or does God possess them because they are good? He imagines this as a dilemma. It seems to me there is no dilemma there at all. The divine command theorist, and Alston in particular, is very clear. These properties are good because God possesses them. They are descriptions of the way God is and therefore these are goods.[25]


  1. Webster 1913 Dictionary edited by Patrick J. Cassidy.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Romans 2:14-15
  3. Hume's Moral Philosophy By Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  4. 4.0 4.1 William Lane Craig and Sam Harris debate Interview after debate by Kevin Harris
  5. New Atheism, Science & Morality by Glenn Peoples
  6. The Science of Good and Evil By Sam Harris
  7. The Craig-Harris Debate: Is the Foundation of Morality Natural or Supernatural? University of Notre Dame. April, 2011
  8. Republic 402a
  9. Eth. Nic. 1104, 1095
  10. Democrat slavery and Republican liberty By Tony for The Known Quantity, Posted on June 10, 2011
  11. Michael Ruse, The Darwinian Paradigm (Routledge, 1989), page 268.
  12. Englebrecht, Edward A., editor. (2014). "Lutheran Bible Companion: Volume 2: Intertestamental Era, New Testament, and Bible Dictionary". St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. p. 500.
  13. Galatians 3:2-9, 5:6
  14. Matthew 5:17
  15. James 1:14-15
  16. 16.0 16.1 Preus, Klemet I. 2004. The Fire and the Staff: Lutheran Theology in Practice.
  17. Luther, Martin. (1529). "The Large Catechism". In Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. p. 361.
  18. Luther, Martin. (1529). "The Small Catechism". In Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. p. 319-332.
  19. Michael Ruse, The Darwinian Paradigm (Routledge, 1989) page 268.
  20. William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologietcs Third Edition (Crossway books, 2008), page 104
  21. Bruce L. Gordon and William A. Dembski, The Nature of Nature: Examining the Role of Naturalism in Science (Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2011), page 912
  22. Douglas Groothius, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (IVP Academic, 2011), page 331
  23. EUTHYPHRO by Plato, 380 BC. translated by Benjamin Jowett (New York, C. Scribner's Sons, 1871) [1]
  24. Gottfried Leibniz, Philosophical Papers and Letters, Volume 2 (1989), page 561
  25. 25.0 25.1 The Euthyphro Dilemma Once Again

External links

Pro moral organizations