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.