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Moral Law, Justice, and Evolution
We already mentioned intelligence. Remember in the article: How Do We Account for Instinct? we divided it up into two broad categories, one of which we call instinct and the other a type of decision-making ability? We grouped the lower forms of animals into the first category and humans into the second. Other creatures, we allowed, appear to operate using a combination of instinct and “thinking.”
But, of course, it is really more complicated than that. People have instincts too. The sexual drive, a mother’s love for her offspring, and a basic desire to survive are undeniable human instincts. Each of these traits are shared to one degree or another with animals. However, we seem to have something more than mere instinct.
Somehow or another we find ourselves with a moral sense of right and wrong. We feel as though we know somethings are right and others are wrong. But then again, is what we consider right and wrong merely a subjective whim? Or is it possible that there might be a real, honest-to-goodness, objective standard for good behavior?
Some people claim there’s no fixed standard for decent behavior. It varies over time and from one culture to another. Different civilizations and different ages have had very different ideas on morality, they say. And they seem to have a point.
Manners and Styles
Certainly manners, styles, and dress codes change over time. The past half century has seen considerable change in the United States. In 1960, most women worked in their homes raising children. They usually wore dresses, and those dresses were of a certain conventional length.
Men were expected to be the breadwinners. They wore their hair short and rarely had facial hair. Children addressed grownups as “Sir” or Ma’am” and in general were taught to be deferential to adults. Unless you were well acquainted, it was Mr., Mrs, or Miss whatever their last-name-was. Times have changed!
Much of what passes as normal behavior nowadays would have been socially unacceptable just thirty years ago. And it works both ways. Many of the things our ancestors did in the past would not be tolerated today. A few hundred years ago, capital punishment was the approved punishment for crimes ranging from petty theft to treason. Witches were hung or burned. And slavery was by and large considered an acceptable practice.
Obviously some of the things our forefathers believed are social taboos today and vice versa. However, that’s not the whole story. While some values can and do vary, others evidently do not. In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis points out that if you take the trouble to compare the moral teachings of ancient Egyptians, Hebrews, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks, and Romans, you will be struck with how much they have in common with each other and with us today.
Fair play, unselfishness, courage, faithfulness, honesty, and truthfulness have always been admired, whereas treachery, murder, robbery, theft, and rape have always been condemned. Men have disagreed over whom you should be unselfish to – just your family, your country, or to everyone.
But none have advocated putting yourself first. Some cultures have allowed more than one wife, but none allow you to have just any woman you want.
The most universal concept of all is also the most basic. We call it the Golden Rule. Most moral teachings state it in a negative form such as “Never do to others what you would not have them do to you.” This fundamental rule of conduct turns up in rabbinical Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.
We also see it in Greek and Roman ethical teachings and even in Old Norse proverbs. Jesus Christ turned it around and put it in its positive form two thousand years ago. “Do to others what you would have them do to you.”
Is any other type of morality possible? Lewis challenges us, “. . . think what a totally different morality would mean. Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battles, or where a man felt proud of double-crossing all the people who had been kindest to him. You might as well try to imagine a country where two and two make five.”
The Moral Law
It sounds like the rule of right and wrong, the moral law, or whatever you want to call it, exists on two separate levels. One is arbitrary. Fashion, convention, or taste sets the tone for acceptable behavior on this level.
Then we see another moral level beyond the trends of society. Here we find a permanent core of values. These fundamental guides for human behavior seem to be deeply ingrained in mankind and are not swayed by time and place circumstances.
Everyday conversation suggests that most of us at heart believe in a real right and wrong. Take arguments for example. People young and old, educated and uneducated, often say such things as: “Come on, you promised.” “Hey, you broke in line ahead of us. That’s not fair.” “Why don’t you help me? I helped you when you needed it.”
C.S. Lewis tells us that remarks of that sort don’t just mean that the other fellow’s attitude doesn’t happen to please the speaker. There is something else involved. The one who makes the complaint is appealing to a certain standard of behavior which he expects the other person to know about.
And usually he is right. The other man rarely replies, “I don’t give a hoot about fairness.” No. He makes out that what he’s doing isn’t really unfair after all. He claims to have some special excuse which lets him off the hook for not living up to his promise this time, or for breaking in line, or for not helping you on this occasion.
It looks as though both sides really agree there is a law or rule of fair play. Quarreling means trying to show the other person is wrong. What’s the sense in trying to do that unless both sides agree as to what is right and wrong. Just as in basketball, to paraphrase Lewis’ example, there’s no sense in saying a player committed a foul unless there is an agreement on the rules of basketball.
Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Thieves cannot excuse themselves saying they didn’t know stealing was a crime. Murderers can’t get away with murder, claiming they didn’t know murder was wrong. The underlying idea is that all citizens are expected to understand that stealing and murder are wrong.
Can you imagine an attorney in a request that the case be dismissed against his client, saying, “No judge, I don’t think my client should be held responsible for murdering his wife and six children. After all, the defendant doesn’t have a law degree. Why should we expect him to know all the finer points of the law?”
On the other hand, lawyers do try to excuse their clients by pleading “temporary insanity.” Doesn’t that let the cat out of the bag? What they are saying is that for one reason or another, the accused was momentarily mentally unbalanced and didn’t understand he was committing an act which all of us know to be wrong. Had the defendant been sane at the moment, he would have recognized and upheld the same Rules for Right Conduct that all the rest of us sane people do.
They seem to be affirming that criminal codes are based on certain moral truths. In fact, federal and state criminal laws wouldn’t make sense unless there were a real standard of decent behavior which the “sane” criminal knows as well as we do and ought to have practiced.
Sometimes right and wrong are so obvious, no one seriously questions it. After World War II, Germany was widely denounced for their war crimes. But as Lewis observes: “What was the sense in saying the enemy were in the wrong unless Right is a real thing which the Nazis at bottom knew as well as we did and ought to have practiced?”
Earlier we asked, is our idea of right and wrong a subjective whim or a real objective standard for good behavior. Evidently it is both. Manners, styles, clothing, and opinions on any number of subjects vary over time and location.
Then again virtues such as courage, faithfulness, and honesty have always been praised. Likewise, vices such as treachery, murder, and theft have been universally condemned.
Civilizations throughout history have reflected these eternal values. And they are still with us today. Much of what we think, much of what we say, and much of what we do would be utter nonsense if there were not a true moral standard of right and wrong.
Now if we can agree that there really is an objective standard of right and wrong, we can go on to our next question. Namely where does this standard come from? Some say mankind invented the moral code because civilization couldn’t function without basic rules for getting along. Through education, they passed these rules for right living on down from one generation to the next.
Others say the same Outside Source which designed the human body also produced the moral code as a guide for our behavior. The moral law was imprinted in humans much the same as instinct. Who’s right?
Before we take up that question, let’s first consider an entirely different subject – mathematics. Math, as we know, is based upon certain objective truths. Algebra, calculus, and trigonometry are all derived from solid mathematical principles which have been around long before mankind discovered them.
And if we somehow lose knowledge of them again, those principles would still be there awaiting future generations to rediscover them. Therefore, we can say that mathematical truths exist separate from any human knowledge of them.
Notice we say such things as: Pythagoras discovered the principles governing the right-angled triangle. Or Descartes discovered the principles behind analytical geometry. We don’t say they “invented” the principles. They were already there. In the same way we speak of people discovering other scientific facts.
In 1781, William Hershel discovered the planet Uranus, and in 1930. C. Tombaugh discovered Pluto. Uranus and Pluto have probably been around as long as our own planet. They would still be there even if we had never learned of their existence.
Bearing that in mind, let’s return to the moral law. The most reasonable assumption is that individuals down through the centuries discovered and rediscovered certain fundamental truths of right and wrong. They didn’t invent them any more than Pythagoras invented the principles governing the right-angled triangle or William Hershel invented Uranus.
The moral law for decent behavior was already there. Men and women merely looked into their own hearts, their own conscience, and there they found a bundle of “oughts.” “Oughts” such as: I ought to keep my promises, even if I would rather not. I ought to tell the truth, even if it makes me look like a fool. I ought to finish my assigned duty, even though I would rather do something else. I ought to remain true to my spouse, even if I am attracted to another. I ought to be honest, even if it would be easy to cheat. I ought to treat the other fellow the same way I would like to be treated, even if I think he is a jerk.
Apparently, none of us made up this moral code of “oughts.” Sometimes it would be rather convenient if they would just go away. But they don’t. They continue to press in on us whether we like it or not.
One thing more, if man created the moral law himself, we would expect to find each society and each civilization developing their own set of basic principles. Our clue is that they did not. While they came up with widely different customs, conventions, and manners, every civilization, past and present, discovered the same bundle of inconvenient “oughts” to direct their lives. Isn’t that curious?
It looks very much like the Outside Source is behind all of it. What does the moral law tell us about this Outsider? Obviously, he’s not a create-’em-and-let-’em-run-amuck sort of being. He’s not a neutral, hands off, passive creator. Instead we find a Moral Agent who has loaded the dice trying to influence our thinking.
Freedom of Choice
He implanted basic instincts in us much as he did the animals. But he gave us something other creatures apparently didn’t receive. This Moral Agent programmed a series of “oughts’ into us to guide our behavior. Clearly, he wants us to keep our promises, tell the truth, do our duty, remain faithful, be honest, and to do to others the same way we would have them do to us.
Notice though, however much the Moral Agent wants us to act in a certain way, he does not force us. He allows us free choice. We can chose to obey the moral law, or we can reject it.
Before we leave the moral law, I would like to draw your attention to an enigma. Our natural desires in life seem to be satisfied by one means or another. We thirst; water quenches our thirst. We hunger; food quenches our hunger. We want sex; our mate quenches our desire. Our human nature appears to be in close harmony with what life has to offer; so much so, it looks like someone planned it that way.
Give them a desire, then give them a way to satisfy it, seems to be the idea. It keeps us busy doing the things that Whoever-made-us wants us to do. And it all works well, up to a point. Then we run into something that doesn’t quite pan out.
Deeply embedded in our conscience we find a penchant for justice or fair play. We are not neutral observers; we are moral creatures. We want the good guys to win. We like happy endings. And we cheer when good triumphs over evil.
About the only place that happens, however, is at the movies, old movies at that. Real life isn’t nearly as accommodating. In fact, life often seems inherently unfair.
Consider the following: One baby is born to wealth, another to poverty. One is born to a family that loves him, another to a family that abuses him. One is aborted, the other is not. I don’t need to tell you, there is nothing fair about any of that.
Fortune seems to smile on some and frown on others. We see geniuses, and we see idiots; women with great beauty, and women who are downright ugly; people with many talents, and people with no talents at all; and those who are healthy, and those who are sickly or physically deformed. What’s fair about that?
Let’s take it a step further. Some people are endowed with good looks, sound nerves, wit, charm, and a pleasing personality. Popularity and admiration come fairly easy for them. They fit in naturally wherever they go. They don’t need to work at it. It’s a gift. They are the blessed. They are life’s winners.
At the other end of the totem pole, it’s an entirely different story. There we find the homely, dull, slow-witted, timid, warped, lonely people or the passionate, sensual, unbalanced people. By no choice of their own, many are born into homes filled with hatred, petty jealousies, and constant bickering. Others are tormented by sexual perversions or nagged by an inferiority complex. No matter how hard they try, they don’t fit in anywhere. They are life’s losers – unappealing, unloved, and often the object of ridicule and jokes. These folks will be quick to tell you, “life is unfair.” And they are right.
Notice, what we have mentioned so far are traits and circumstances over which we have little or no control. What about those things over with we do have control? Do we find fairness there?
Some people work long and hard, day in and day out, sunup to sundown. Others do nothing they are not forced to do. Both live out their seventy or so years and die. Memory of both soon fades away. All they had, whether plenty or little, is left to someone who did not work for it. Somehow that doesn’t strike us as fair either.
And what of the honest, the faithful, the kind, and the generous? Do they not meet the same fate as the hypocrite, the unfaithful, the cruel, and the greedy? Death overtakes them all, good or bad. And soon they are forgotten. Certainly, that’s not fair. Where are the scales of justice?
But it is even worse than that. You and I know that as often as not, it is the bad man who prospers while the good suffers all kinds of afflictions. The bully wins, and the weak pays the price. The cheater gets off scot-free, while the innocent is accused. Crime all too often does pay. The criminal really does get away with murder. His victim suffers the loss. Justice is stood on its head.
We know life is full of injustices. No one denies it. They spring up everywhere. Our sense of fair play tells us something is fundamentally wrong. Something is out of kilter. We long for a world turned right side up. We want those who have been forced to suffer to receive their just compensation.
We want those who have benefited others to receive their just reward. We want those who have abused others to receive their just punishment. Anything less would be a travesty of justice.
Our True Home
Why then, are we given a longing for justice and forced to live in an unjust world? Has the same Agent who provided so generously for all our other needs, created an elaborate hoax just to frustrate our desire for justice? Or could it be that this world is not our final destination?
Perhaps we were made for a better world, a world without death, suffering and injustice. We might find our ingrained sense of fair play to be in complete harmony with the reality of our true home.
Evolutionists have nothing to say about justice or fair play.
Questions to Consider:
1. If we are nothing more than the chance meeting of random atoms of matter, why are we concerned about justice?
2. One more question: If we are nothing more than the chance meeting of random atoms of matter, how did we ever acquire the intelligence to figure out that we are nothing more than the chance meeting of random atoms of matter?
About the Author
Jerry Boone, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, United States [email protected] Mr. Boone is a sailor, author, and webmaster of http://merechristianity.us with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology from Georgia State University. His works include: Mere Christianity.us and SAFETY LINE – EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN, an apologetic study published 1998.
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