This seems to be a reoccurring theme, but it is one that we must all understand for the very foundation of society is built upon the concept of morality. Sadly, too few of us actually bother to think about morality, and fewer still actually understand it.
Let’s start by asking a question. If we saw a lion catch, kill and eat a zebra, would we arrest the lion, charge her with murder, read her her rights and then set a court date to try her for the crimes for which she is accused? If you’re rational, your answer is no – but why? Again, if you’re rational, your answer will be something along the lines of “It’s not murder; it’s just the law of the jungle – of nature.” So, if man is just the product of evolution and there is no such thing as a universal moral law, then why do we feel that it is perfectly acceptable to charge and try one human for killing another, or even for killing a cat or a dog? While he was still a devout Atheist, C.S. Lewis pondered this very question. That’s when it struck him that the very notion of right and wrong in connection to human behavior is among the strongest evidence for the existence of God – and he was right!
You see, unless you’re mentally ill, we all have a sense of right and wrong built into us. Anyone who would deny this need only look to their use of language. How naturally does the word “I” or “mine” roll off their lips when referring to themselves or their property, or even their life? “I” denotes autonomy, a claim to independent will. That is a moral claim. “Mine” denotes a claim to property, another moral claim. And what human in history ever existed who never thought that he or she did not have a natural right to claim their own life, or felt a wrong when something was done to them against their will? This is the support behind C.S. Lewis’s conclusion: for there to be a universal law of morality, there must be an ultimate source from which that moral law flows. And for those who would argue the source is logic, it isn’t. In fact, logic dictates that logic cannot be the source of moral law.
You see, contrary to what the rationalists would like to believe, logic has finite limits, and one of those is that it cannot set a fixed, universal law. The best we can hope for is to use logic to help us test our observations to determine whether or not they agree with the natural order of the world or with our internal sense of right and wrong. Or, in other words, we can use logic to test our observations and our conscience to determine whether or not an action is or isn’t in agreement with Natural Law. And this is where we derive our moral claim to our own will, life and body. Just like the lion, we have a right to live, which grants us a right to eat. And just like the zebra, had it managed to somehow kill the lion, we have a right to self-defense. However, unlike the lion and zebra, we have a duty to others not to encroach on their rights. This is why humans differentiate between murder and self-defense: one is in keeping with Natural Law; the other is a violation of that law. And for this relationship to even exist there must be a higher authority than anything confined by the Natural Laws of this universe. Logic actually can and does dictate this conclusion.
While logic cannot set a universal law, it can help us discover and test it. If we find that it exists, then logic can also help us determine that such a law must have an authority. It cannot come from man. The philosopher, John Stuart Mill, devised a system of morality that helps illustrate the point. Without going into it in too great of detail, Mill designed a system of governing the rightness or wrongness of any action according to how much good it does. Now, for all its flaws, this system was sound, valid and rational. It just so happened that it also justified the Holocaust, Stalin’s purges and Mao’s mass murder. Still, logically speaking, Mill’s system was everything we could ask it to be – but so were John Locke’s, and even Thomas Hobbes’. Now, how do we determine which of these three moral systems we should accept, especially since only one is in line with our claim to our own will, life and body? That is one of the limits of logic: as long as an argument is sound, valid and logical, there is no logical means of choosing between competing arguments. To make that decision, you have to go outside of the confines of logic, into the realm of understanding and wisdom – and where universal morality is concerned, that is where the Creator dwells. For you see, in order for there to be a universal law of right and wrong, there must be a source for that law. And in order for there to be a source of natural law, that source must be outside the constraints of this universe, above it, in control over it. And that would be God, and that is why a rational man – such as C.S. Lewis – once he comes face-to-face with this realization, makes the only conclusion logic will allow. From that point, what we do is all a matter of rightness or wrongness in determining the boundaries of Natural Law, and that is an area where reason can aid us.
This is the region where man’s ambitions and desires so often lead him astray: in determining what is and is not in accord with Natural Law. Man’s laws are just only in so far as they agree with Natural Law, but when they exceed those boundaries, though they may be part of man’s law, they become violations of Natural Law. This is why so many great people in history have cautioned us that, when it comes to matters of right and wrong, if Man’s law is wrong, we have a duty to violate Man’s law and not Natural Law. For our ultimate duty is to the Creator of Natural Law and not to men. It is our duty to the Creator that makes us equal in our rights, and which creates the very notion of morality. And without that duty, there would be no sense of wrong for killing another person – no more so than when the lion kills the zebra.
When you think about it, you know there is a part of you that recognizes this is true – all of it. There are those who will deny it, but they are in rebellion. The way you can tell that this is true, that there is a Natural Law of universal morality, is to consider that the ability to even understand right and wrong is actually the defining characteristic that separates us from all other animals. No other animal feels guilty for their actions because no other animal has a conscience. They simply do not understand right and wrong because that law does not apply to them. Now, if you still disagree with me, just ask yourself why the universal law of morality doesn’t apply to animals and see where that takes you.