Some time ago listening to an apologetics talk I heard something that was so obvious I wondered why I had never thought of it just that way before. I probably had to some degree, but it never made as much sense in the context of evidence for God’s existence. The statement went something like this: you can no more break God’s moral laws than you can break his physical laws. If you tried to break the law of gravity by jumping out of a building with thoughts of flying, you would shortly surely splatter on the ground. God’s moral laws are just as unforgiving if not just as immediate. Take sex as a ubiquitous example in our culture. If you do it God’s way, man, woman, lifelong commitment in marriage, it is a very good thing, and there is no downside. If pleasure and romance and self-fulfillment are your gods, then misery awaits, whether that is a sexually transmitted disease, or broken hearts, or jealousy, lying, violence, or children growing up without a mother and a father, or killing the “product of conception.”
Ever since I became an obsessive reader back in college, I always underlined important points in the non-fiction (and sometimes fiction) books I’ve read. I decided this year to go back and read through all those underlines in books I’ve read in the past, and I’ve recently been re-reading the great 19th Century Princeton Theologian Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology. It was my introduction, and a very thorough one at that, to Reformed theology, and it blew my mind. I came across the following in Vol. III, page 196:
The influence of Kant’s philosophy upon theology, for a time at least, was very great, and in some aspects salutary. As he exalted the power of pure reason, making it give law to the outward, subordinating , as his disciples say, the objective to the subjective, so in the sphere of religion and morality he exalted the power and authority of the practical reason. Everything was subordinate to moral excellence. Happiness was not the end. It was only a means of promoting and rewarding what is morally good. The attainment of the highest amount of moral excellence requires perfect harmony between happiness and goodness, that is, that rational creatures should be happy in exact proportion to their goodness, and miserable in proportion as they are wicked. The punishment of sin is therefore inevitable. It is determined by the immutable moral order of the universe, which can no more be changed or set aside than any physical law on which the existence or order of the external world depends.
I fell in love with Hodge because of insights like this expressed in impeccable logic over 2200 pages of this work. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to know the fundamentals of Reformed theology in an historical context. (As an aside, notice that in our day happiness is completely divorced form the morally good.)
The reason the moral argument for God’s existence is so powerful is because the atheist who asserts that reality is solely material has no basis for morality. As the saying goes, you cannot get ought from is. In other words, if we are just a bunch of atoms brought together by mere chance, then there can be no basis for good or evil in atoms alone. Something has to stand above the atoms to judge whether what they do is by definition good or evil. The problem the atheist has is that every human being knows there are such things as good and evil. If you asked said atheist if it is wrong to torture babies for fun, he of course, hopefully, will say that it is. What he cannot do is answer why, at least in any coherently logical fashion. The moral sense, as C. S. Lewis argued in the Abolition of Man, is common to all of humanity across all cultures and races and time. This is very difficult, and I would argue impossible, to explain, on the basis of materialism.
One last point in this very short discussion of the moral argument. Since atheists have no basis beyond personal preferences to establish their moral values, they have to in effect steal them from somewhere else to make any moral judgments at all, and where they steal from mostly is Christianity. On what basis would a strict materialist say that genocide is wrong? What makes killing someone else wrong? What gives human beings value so there can be such a thing as human rights? In any discussions of this kind I always come back to the patron saint of consistent atheists, Friedrich Nietzsche. He realized that the only basis for right and wrong in a universe without God is power, or the will to power. Might makes right. He who has the biggest and most powerful guns declares what is “moral.” I respect the Nihilist because he is willing to take his basic presuppitions to their logical conclusion. Fortunately for him, and others, he could never live consistently with those presuppositions. Hitler tried, and because he broke God’s moral law, untold millions died and suffered for it.