Honest Q & A: The Existence of God (3a) – Morals Exist (continued)

justiceIn a previous post I made the point that the idea that we are made in God’s image does a lot to explain our intuitive moral sense. If he is, and is good and we are wired to reflect his character, then human guilt (or the lack of it) is not merely a feeling, but the result of actual moral knowledge. Such knowledge may need refining, but it is not our invention.

One comment I received in said, “If knowledge of morality is granted by a morally perfect god, the feeling of moral disgust at his actions should not be possible. This necessitates an alternate method of attaining these feelings …”

We might reword this into a collection of questions something like these:

“If our understanding of morality is based on our being made in God’s image, then why don’t we always agree with him? How is it even possible for me to disagree? Why do I even have moral questions? Further, why do people ever disagree with one another in areas of right and wrong?”

These are great questions, but not particularly vexing, at least not from the biblical position. Speaking as a Christian, these tensions are not only explainable, they are exactly what we should expect. This is what I see in myself and what I see in others – and it is true for at least two reasons: 1) Our inborn need to grow in understanding, and 2) Our regrettably clouded vision.

  1. Our need to grow in understanding: The Bible agrees with our observable reality, revealing that no one is born with perfect wisdom or perfect moral sense. Even Jesus, like all people, grew in wisdom (Luke 2:52). Peter encourages us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). The book of Hebrews speaks of “the mature … those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). In other words, our moral sense will not naturally agree with God’s any more than a student will always agree with her professor before doing the proper assignments, or a child will naturally agree with his parents while growing up. Time and normal effort can do their part to bring their views closer together. Much more is this true with us and God.
  2. Our regrettably clouded vision: Under the best of conditions we would still need to grow, but the conditions, alas, are not the best – far from it, in fact. The problem is our present state of rebellion. We don’t naturally see things from God’s perspective, nor even from some impartial neutral ground. Our nature has become corrupt, making us biased against him. We too often agree with God only if doing so gives us an advantage.

There is ample opportunity to change this state of affairs. We need to be taught and our fairly steep learning curve begins by getting into a right standing with him. Again, that implies growth and a change of heart. Karen Swallow Prior sees the right place as one of wonder, “Even the ability to doubt him, to struggle against him, to wonder at his ways is rooted in him. Certainty seems bigger than me, skepticism smaller. Wonder is just right.” (Booked, p. 191)

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7 thoughts on “Honest Q & A: The Existence of God (3a) – Morals Exist (continued)

  1. Adam and Eve were made in God’s image on Day Six, and God said it was good, but the first parents did not acquire a moral sense until they ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil later. We must therefore conclude that having a moral sense is not a facet of being made in God’s image, and in fact, the acquisition of a moral sense is deemed by Christians from Paul to Pope Francis to have been a “Fall”. Presumably salvation consists of reversing this process and returning humanity to the state of Adam and Eve before they ate the fruit, opened their eyes, and knew they were naked and in transgression against God.

    • Hi Linuxgal. Thanks so much for reading and responding. My main point had more to do with the existence of God than the fact that we are made in his image. Maybe I didn’t make that clear enough, but thanks again anyway.

      That said, I don’t think God’s image is necessary in order to have a moral sense, nor do I believe that our moral sense is the primary manifestation of his image in us. (Creativity might get that nod on my end.) I guess I simply disagree that our moral sense is not one facet (great word choice, by the way) of that image. I’d say it is one facet of a multi-faceted concept, and I’m surprised and rather disappointed to hear that “Christians from Paul to Pope Francis” would not allow for that. I’m far more familiar with Paul’s views than the Pope’s, but I guess I’ve just failed to see that. Seems kind of hard for me to grasp that the choice to eat the fruit, coming, as it must, chronologically prior to the “Fall,” was made without any accompanying moral sense. Neither person knew that they were about to do something “wrong?” Saw it as breaking an arbitrary rule, without moral value? Nor do I feel attracted to the idea that the future “post-fallen” condition holds a complete reversal of the moral sense that we have, back to a complete lack thereof. I believe it’s possible to negate the transgression without negating moral perception. Thus, we will always know that God is perfectly good, and that we have had “knowledge” of evil by sad experience.

      Indeed, the biblical concept of “knowledge” can be allowed a strong experiential component in Genesis 3 as it does elsewhere even in Genesis. Thus complete ignorance is not a prerequisite to gaining such knowledge. Take for example Genesis 4:1, though it may cross the lines of good taste. “Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain…” This was hardly, “Glad to meet you Eve. Well, I guess we’re going to be parents!” (I’ll delete any or all of that example if you wish, but it does serve to make the point.)

      So thanks again, and if we disagree, perhaps disagree we must.

  2. It is interesting that you insist upon your morality being grounded in your god, but then, when looking at what you see in yourself and in others, you see secular morality: morality that grows as we learn, and varies between individuals and cultures. Where exactly does your god and his perfect morality fit in to this, because you’ve not made any argument for his necessity, instead saying that the Bible suggests that morality comes about as a secular process.

    • Ah, dear IA, thanks very much for reading and responding, but we seem to misunderstand each other. I do not see “morality that grows as we learn,” or one “that comes about” as a secular process, but an understanding that grows as we learn of a preexistent morality. A mountain is not formed by my climbing and descending it, though I know the mountain better by so doing. Law doesn’t grow as a result of the law student going through law school. Nonetheless, the student has a much better grasp of the law and legal process by graduation than on the first day of the first year of classes – and there will still remain much more to learn. Further, I didn’t intend to use this evidence to point to God’s “necessity,” so I hope I didn’t give that impression. Thus, you are quite right in saying I have not made any argument to that effect. That was not my goal.

      If you must know my goal, it was really just to answer a simple question I received regarding evidence for God from someone who attended a church service a while back. I hoped to present a variety of seemingly unrelated lines of evidence, all of which, when taken together, can point to God as a good, or even best, explanation. You might call it a bit of abductive reasoning or inference to the best explanation. Don’t expect there to be any slam-dunk, drop-dead proofs offered. I don’t expect I will give any.

      Thanks again, very much.
      Respectfully,
      DCK

      • Morality can be described in several different ways. There is objective and subjective morality, characterizing the difference between morality that you, personally, feel versus a morality which can be determined apart from individuals. Then there is relative and absolute morality, characterizing unchanging values versus values that vary between cultures and individuals. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that you subscribe to objective absolute morality, and I will confess to a belief in objective relative morality. You apparently don’t define the morality of an individual as morality, which rules out an additional subjective variant, but I believe that objective relative morality is the result of a consensus of subjective relative moralities, whether in the form of religion or various levels of society.

        When you say

        Speaking as a Christian, these tensions are not only explainable, they are exactly what we should expect. This is what I see in myself and what I see in others – and it is true for at least two reasons: 1) Our inborn need to grow in understanding, and 2) Our regrettably clouded vision.

        I interpret this to be 1) Our cultural influence that attaches values to our instinctive responses, and 2) Our individual variance, most ably demonstrated by psychopathy, and cultures we don’t agree with. In other words, it is also exactly what I would expect.

        What surprises me, however, is that you don’t say that morality is directly granted by a god, or that it is instilled gradually over time. You point to the same process of learning that secular morality already assumes, but you just believe that there is an end goal for the process. Don’t get me wrong, I find it to be much more honest a position than I typically come across. I’m just wondering how it is you can distinguish secular morality from your version, without presupposing a moral target in God. From where I stand, it appears that, just as the paradigm of universe plus God can function adequately as just the universe, so can morality.

        But as you’ve said, you don’t expect to give any slam-dunk proofs. So, if this is it for you, then it’s been lovely. You’ve been quite polite, which is a rarity on the internet. I feel like you are someone I could grab a beer with, assuming your religion permits that.

      • Thanks again, IA. I suppose I’ll respond first to this, “I’m just wondering how it is you can distinguish secular morality from your version, without presupposing a moral target in God.” I’d say that God provides a better explanation for the person who believes morality should have a an ultimate standard that is higher than either cultural influences or individual variances. It may be that I got there in part due long thinking about the Holocaust and Marxism when I was younger, being of an age and ethnicity when both of those things hit a little closer to home. Holocaust survivors were easy enough to find and Marxism was the philosophy du jour in many circles, not to mention whole swaths of the planet.

        As for grabbing a beer, my religion allows it; it’s my doctor that advises against it these days. I suppose I drank my quota long ago. Maybe coffee?

      • I’d say that God provides a better explanation for the person who believes morality should have a an ultimate standard that is higher than either cultural influences or individual variances.

        In other words, confirmation bias helps things along. Naturally, I don’t see any necessity to appeal to a higher standard. The world, and morality, is what we make of it, as can be witnessed by studying views through history and the way that people change prevailing mores, for good or for bad.

        As for grabbing a beer, my religion allows it; it’s my doctor that advises against it these days. I suppose I drank my quota long ago.

        That’s good, I’m not actually a fan of beer, but grabbing a bottle of wine makes it sound like I have a problem, so I stick with the traditional phrase.

        Maybe coffee?

        Tea, thank you.

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