Morality is Metaphysical

September 30, 2020 | Mural on a boarded building in Portland, OR

The Moral Limitations of Empiricism

Contemporary Western culture is marked by a keen awareness of morality. We oppose all forms of injustice. We march in the streets in the name of ending racism. We protest oppressors and expose evildoers. The mood of public discourse in the West has revealed an inescapable truth: an innate sense of morality lies deep within us. We all know, intuitively, the difference between right and wrong. We all know that some things are objectively good and others objectively evil. 

This innate sense of morality, common to all humans, is at odds with the West’s prevailing story of the origins and purpose of humanity. If we do not owe our existence to anything other than random chance; if we are merely the products of millions of years of unguided evolutionary processes; if our driving impulse is simply to preserve and propagate our species, morality makes no sense.

And yet, most of us would agree with moral statements like: it is a good thing to ensure that the weak, the vulnerable, and those afflicted with various kinds of disabilities are taken care of. Western societies have done a remarkable job creating safety nets to ensure the welfare of such people. But this sentiment, noble as it is, is directly at odds with the Darwinian notion of the survival of the fittest.1 If our goal is simply to advance the strength and survival of our species, we have no obligation to care for the needy, nor do we have any objective responsibility to advocate for the rights of the underprivileged and oppressed. 

If all meaning and purpose is simply human-created, so is the idea of human dignity. If we are nothing more than Darwinian creatures of random chance, human rights are nothing more than a pleasant fabrication — no one intrinsically matters. If we follow the dominant Western story to its logical conclusion, there is no such thing as objective morality; nothing is actually right or wrong, good or evil. But we all know deep in our bones that kindness, care for the needy, and human rights are good things. And we know that things like abuse, murder, and prejudice are bad

In the midst of the confusion and contradiction of the West’s prevailing narrative, another story speaks — a story we do not often like to consider, for we have been trained to take a perspective less seriously as soon as we deem it to be religious. This story tells us that all things were made by a benevolent Creator, who, by fashioning humans in his own image and likeness,2 has given them inherent value. This story tells us that we possess an intuitive understanding of morality because God has written the requirements of his law on our hearts and given us consciences that can detect the difference between good and evil.3

This story makes much more sense of our moral compasses than the other story. There is a moral law upon our hearts. This law is at odds with our evolutionary impulses. Therefore, it makes sense that this law was placed within us by something, or Someone, outside of ourselves.4

Referenced Sources

1. Charles Darwin – On the Origin of Species, Fifth Edition

2. Genesis 1:26-27

3. Romans 2:15 

4. C.S. Lewis – Mere Christianity: Book 1, Chapter 1, The Law of Human Nature

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