Why I Believe God Exists – Part 2: Common Morality

I originally read Mere Christianity in college. At the time I was too immature to really deeply consider what it meant. I did what I needed to get an ‘A’ on the test but didn’t really consider its meaning. But I was in the throws of a rather narrow way of thinking, not really ever having considered the questions of God’s existence or that pieces of truth may exist outside of my sheltered little evangelical and somewhat fundamentalist world. I just believed what I had been taught. It wasn’t until the last decade that I seriously began to wrestle with those questions, the last 2-3 years of which have been the most intense for sure. I have described my process of doubt in a previous post “…that same old place again….” In many ways, it was a re-reading of Mere Christianity,along with Dawkin’s The God Delusion ,which prompted my most recent intensive search. I have read Mere Christianitya couple of times since and refer to it often, not necessarily because it gives great answers so much as it asks great questions. But there is one item with which CS Lewis deals that in my view is best interpreted as evidence for God’s existence. That idea is what Lewis refers to as the Moral Law. In my conversation I feel that “common morality” is a bit more descriptive for me so I tend to use this terminology. The word “law” has a certain finality to it, and I don’t want to imply that I am closing the door on the evidence by using that word. I certainly want to remain open to reconsidering errors in my own judgment and thought processes and be able to incorporate new discoveries and new arguments as they become available.

So first, a quote from Lewis in Mere Christianity that sums up the common morality idea fairly well:

“If there was a controlling power outside the universe, it could not show itself to us as one of the facts inside the universe- no more than the architect of a house could actually be a wall or staircase or fireplace in that house. The only way in which we could expect it to show itself would be inside ourselves as an influence or a command trying to get us to behave in a certain way. And that is just what we do find inside ourselves. Surely this ought to arouse our suspicions?”

I especially like the last line, “Surely this ought to arouse our suspicions?” As I state in Part 1, it is not possible to prove beyond doubt that God in fact exists just as it is not possible to prove that he doesn’t. And this entire quote speaks to that. If there is a creator behind all of this, he is outside of the natural world, which makes the tools of the natural world not fully adequate with which to learn about him. The best we can hope for using natural science is evidence that points to his existence. The observed existence of a common morality that largely crosses cultural and religious lines and has been consistent throughout much of known history, at the least, “…arouses our [my] suspicions.”

At this point I am not trying at all to say that a creator, if he exists, is the God of the Christian bible. There is an entirely different set of evidence to be considered there, which I will get to down the road. All this evidence can hope to point to is a creator who is responsible for the existence of the universe. But one of the things I like about this piece of evidence is that it does not make the Christian bible responsible for morality. Morality is something that exists deep within each and every one of us because of who we are as humans, not because of some arbitrary book. Atributing morality to the bible is problematic for me on several levels. It means that I have to believe that book to be true before I even consider if a God exists or not. Well, if I believe the book to be true then there is really no reason to try and discover evidence for God that lies outside the book. That feels rather circular to me. As AC/DC would say it “Who Made Who”. In order for me to believe the book, I first have to believe that a God does exist who could have been responsible for the book. And if a common morality is a pointer to God’s existence, it also has to lie outside the book because it has to be part of who that God is. Any book that exists would have to be a description of that God and his nature rather than that book being the source of his nature.

Now someone who is coming at this evidence from a naturalistic stance will of course be able to reason against it, and many have done just that. But their reading is not more or less reasonable than what is outlined above. Many have argued that morality was incorporated into the human genome because altruistic behavior toward an organisms own clan would result in a larger rate of survival for that clan. It is a stretch, however, to expand this to a larger community. It is my observation that while in nature an organisms immediate clan is favored, neighboring clans are considered hostile. Yet we humans still have a strong sense of obligation to help even our enemy as the right thing to do. It doesn’t make sense to me that this trait would be passed down through naturalistic evolution. It would seem that in the name of survival, this trait would have died out long ago.  I have had a couple of different atheists explain to me that a common morality is exactly what you expect to see if natural selection was responsible. I just don’t see it. Please feel free to enlighten me further. If this concept is expanded a bit into the concept of human dignity or human rights, I feel that there is no way to account for this by naturalistic evolution. Nature thrives on violence and predation in the name of survival of the fittest. That stands in startk contrast to the idea that every organism has inherent value. I do not know of any way to end up at human dignity from purely naturalistic processes.

Timothy Keller in his book, The Reason For God, probably gives about the best easy to understand explanation of common morality as evidence for God that I have seen recently. I will be discussing some other principles from his book in future posts. Francis Collins in The Language of Godalso gives this idea a fair discussion and explains how it was personally impactful for him. And of course Mere Christianity is a fine source. If you are an atheist or agnostic reading this, please do not dismiss what I have to say because I have made reference to Francis Collins and CS Lewis. I know that these circles do not feel like much of what these two men have to say is all that spot on. But I see both of them as putting forth their interpretation of the evidence that they see around them, and I respect that. There is really no way to say which side of the argument is more valid than the other. It is reasonable to interpret it either way.

Thanks for reading. Comment away. Pound me if you like. I’ll do my best to respond.

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3 responses to “Why I Believe God Exists – Part 2: Common Morality

  1. Morality and good is reason to believe in a good God – in my opinion. I watched the docu-story ‘God on Trial’ concering puting God on trial in a Nazi concentration camp – amongst the Jewish faithful and the arguments were great.

    One thing that stood out to me was the idea that they all knew this war would end and evil we be de-throned in the end. Why would they even think that being in a concentration camp? Yet they held on to that hope. There was a common belief good would overcome the evil that existed…this is a fairly common human trait – to hold out hope.

    I am not sure one can prove God – or that there is likely even one – but the closest thing I have seen is the way the teachings within faith can work and change situations – which they say they will. For example, you will be blessed if you are meek – which makes no sense – but it works. The more humble and nice you are – not about all the material goals of this life as a focus – you do find life does kind of become content/happy. And I can list many things in a list like this that are rewarding for one’s life as they follow the teachings.

    Beyond that – proving God is going to be a very futile effort in my opinion – because it’s working from the basis of guesswork. Morality proves God? What does evil prove then? Faith starts at a premise there is a God (or it’s probable) and then develops from the teachings of one’s faith. I can say for my faith – many people would have a tough time proving the teachings are not pushing me towards exactly what Jesus said would happen if I ‘loved my neighbor’ – yes – I would be rewarded or blessed for it.

    I cannot prove God – although your arguments raise good questions concerning this idea – I just believe there is one and I follow some teachings as guidance…

  2. CS Lewis has some great ideas there. We Christians really need to use the metaphor of architect more often as we just asssume everyone knows what a staircase is for. staircases are for going up and down and it’s best not to slide down the railing (if you want the varnish to last that is) or skip steps or run up and down it, there are rules (however unspoken) to going up stairs that our parents teach us. this, simply, is religion at it’s most basic. it’s not about where God is or how the Trinity works, it’s how to treat others with respect and dignity. We use the term morality, however, this term is really loaded for lots of people, so i would find a substitute.

    “Now someone who is coming at this evidence from a naturalistic stance will of course be able to reason against it,” -freestyle

    depends… Dawkins comes at it from a biologist’s point of view and biology looks are short-term systems that all end in death. however, a physics POV has a much longer term and is able to view energy as neither created nor destroyed with the possibility of transdimensional theory… a concept that biology would never have a use for. check out John Polkinghorne and his book “The New Natural Theology.”

    as SVS points out, we get into trouble when we try to prove God. Even as a trained seminarian that’s something i simply cannot do.. .just as i can’t prove why i’m straight, why i love my wife and dog, nor how i came to be who i am. God is simply proven to me through experience and it sure wasn’t through an institutional hierarchy but through someone teaching me what to look for… signs and potents.

    RAWK

  3. Societyvs. Thanks for reading. I fully agree that you cannot prove God’s existence, and I am not trying to do that. I for certain am not trying to change anyone’s mind at all. But, at least for me, I want to have reasons for my faith that go beyond just believing what somebody told me or just because I feel it. I need my faith to be grounded in something more solid. So I am just laying out the reasons that I have found, that for me at least, are that solid footing that convince me that God exists.

    As for the evil question that you have put forth…what does it prove?…Will it does not prove that a good God does not exist. I tend to favor philosopher Alvin Plantinga’s approach. From his work, “Philospers Who Believe,” as quoted by Tim Keller in “Reasons For God,” ‘Could there really be any such thing as horrifying wickedness [if there were no God and we just evolved]? I don’t see how. There can be such a thing only if there is a way that rational creatures are supposed to live, obliged to live…A [secular] way of looking at the world has no place for genuine moral obligation of any sort…and thus no way to say there is such a thing as genuine and appalling wickedness. Accordingly, if you think there really is such a thing as horrifying wickedness(…and not just and illusion of some sort), then you have a powerful…argument [for the reality of God].”

    Luke. I agree with you on the ‘morality’ term. In fact, I was thinking about this as I wrote yesterday. I think to use the idea of human dignity is better. Thanks for the confirmation on that. Thanks for the book recommendation. I have read about half of Polkinghorne’s “Belief In An Age of Science.” He is good, and I will check this book out. I am currently going through Alister McGrath’s new work, “The Open Secret,” which is also about natural theology. I really find that this idea of natural theology has significant meaning for me.

    As far as the faith issue goes…I am not at all trying to prove without question that God exists. I don’t believe that can be done. And I am not trying to change anyone’s mind. I am just laying out how it works for me. God existing only by my personal experience of him is not enough for me right now, at this place in my story. I could very well believe that I experienced green men on the moon, but that does not make it true. I need to have more than experience on which to believe.

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