If you’re an atheist or agnostic, you may be likely to believe that moral values are relative to individuals and cultures – but I submit that you don’t really believe that. Deep down, you know that objective moral values exist – and that they’re imposed upon your conscience by God; you know that He is there, but you suppress that knowledge.
Before going any further, it will be helpful to offer a definition of objective moral values. Christian theologian Dr. William Lane Craig offers a good working definition:
“To say that there are objective moral values is to say that something is right or wrong independently of whether anybody believes it to be so. It is to say, for example, that Nazi anti-Semitism was morally wrong, even though the Nazis who carried out the Holocaust thought that it was good; and it would still be wrong even if the Nazis had won World War II and succeeded in exterminating or brainwashing everybody who disagreed with them.”
Let’s be honest, there are people out there doing things that you find morally reprehensible (like raping and torturing children) and you feel justified – indeed morally obligated – to speak out against such behavior. But if you claim to embrace moral relativism (the belief that morality is culturally based and thus a matter of individual choice), your belief is, at the very least, inconsistent. And that is because, as noted above, you really do believe in God-given objective moral standards – which is to say, you believe in moral standards that everyone must abide by regardless of whether they feel like it or not.
If objective moral values do not exist, then God does not exist and thus there is no basis for morality and no moral accountability for one’s behavior. No one can say a particular action is “immoral” (torturing babies, say) or “moral” (the life of Mother Teresa, say ) but only a matter of personal taste or cultural convention.
Some atheists will argue that “moral feelings” are the result of evolution.In his book, The Reason For God, Timothy Keller defines this theory thusly:
… “this view holds that altruistic people, those who act unselfishly and cooperatively, survived in greater numbers than those who were selfish and cruel. Therefore altruistic genes were passed down to us and now the great majority of us feel that unselfish behavior is ‘right.'”
But this theory is flawed and counterintuitive. If you take the position that we are here because of a process of natural selection, survival would best be achieved by acting selfishly rather than altruistically. “Without religion the coherence of an ethic of compassion cannot be established,” notes University of Toronto philosopher R.Z. Friedman. “The principle of respect for persons and the principle of the survival of the fittest are mutually exclusive.”
The truth of the matter is that objective moral values do exist. And because objective moral values exist, God exists (a holy God who provides us with absolute standards of right and wrong by which we are held accountable).
I cannot think of a more appropriate way to close this article than by once again quoting Timothy Keller:
“If a premise (“There is no God”) leads to a conclusion you know isn’t true (“Napalming babies is culturally relative”) then why not change the premise?“
The Indispensability of Theological Meta-Ethical Foundations for Morality
The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism