Where Does Morality Come From?

Everyone in our culture would agree that some things are wrong. Human trafficking, sexual abuse of women and children, and mass murder are obviously immoral. Lying is considered wrong. Who wants to be deceived? Stealing is wrong. “That’s mine and you have no right to take it!”

C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity that this sense of right and wrong is universal. Everyone agrees that there is a morality that ought to govern human behavior. If someone says, “Everybody has the right to define right and wrong for himself or herself,” Lewis would disagree. He would argue that an absolute standard of right and wrong is a “clue to the meaning of the universe.” He would say that there is a moral authority that, like the law of gravity, must be obeyed if human civilization is to exist.

Diplomats and international treaties raise the issue of human rights. We are rightly appalled by reports of genocide, religious persecution, and tribal warfare. Most people would say they are against violent repression of minorities by more powerful majorities. But who gets to define human rights? Who can say what is right and what is wrong? Where does morality come from?

If the answer is that morality is the product of evolution, that won’t work. Advocates of an evolutionary worldview that encompasses everything say that evolution is based upon the “survival of the fittest.” They concede that nature is cruel and violent. If predatory violence is natural, then where do love, generosity, and altruism come from? How can natural selection produce a sense of human dignity, value, and human rights?

Does it originate in society? Does morality exist because it is a social construct, created by us to maintain an orderly world? In this view the people who write the laws get to define what is best for civilization. But what if those who write the laws decide that a segment of the population should be exterminated, or enslaved, or forced into exile? If “society” is the final arbiter of right and wrong who is to say that an oppressive government cannot suppress dissent with imprisonment and firing squads?

Many Christian thinkers, like C.S. Lewis, have made the point that apart from God, there is no explanation for the existence of morality. If God does not exist, there is no basis for kindness, love,  and working for the betterment of humanity. If there is no God, there is no meaning for human life, no human dignity.

The fact is, morality depends upon the fact that God exists and that he has spoken. His moral law (an awareness of right and wrong) is written into the heart of every human being. The fact that some people (and cultures) suppress that fact does not change its truth.

“Indeed, when Gentiles who do not have the law, do by nature the things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness . . .” (Romans 2:14-15). This says that all people and cultures have a sense of right and wrong “written” in their hearts, even if they do not obey it. It comes from God.

Even people who do not like to acknowledge God’s authority in their own lives, keep on making moral judgments about others’ lives. They operate as though some things are obviously right and some things are wrong. Why? Because God has put it in their hearts and put it in his written word.

In fact, God’s moral standard, summarized in the ten commandments and in the teachings of Jesus, is the real basis for human worth, dignity, and value. It is the source of morality. This universal moral sense is a pointer to the existence of God.

Pastor Randy Faulkner