How do we describe objective morality and attribute it to God?

I am in week #6 of the RZIM course, which is week #1 of morality. (I can see why some of us need two weeks to grasp these concepts.) So, at the end of week #1, I must confess that I am still not comprehending the topic. Ergo, a question of Kasey, please.

Objective morality, how do you describe it and attribute it to God?

Thank you


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Hi Bill-

Great to meet you, and thanks for your question! I’ve heard the RZIM course on morality is fantastic, so I’ll be eager to hear your thoughts as the week progresses.

I’ll post some of my initial thoughts, but I would love to hear more from you too, to see if I’m hitting the mark!

So, here’s the simplest answer answer to your question: objective morality is the idea that right and wrong are not defined by what anyone says about them. In other words, they are true facts about the universe, regardless of anyone’s thoughts or opinions, just like 2+2 will always be 4, even if everyone you ever meet says otherwise. Sometimes people will talk about “moral realism,” which is more or less the same thing: morality = REAL, not something people made up.

The alternative to objective morality is moral relativism , which teaches that right and wrong are not objective facts about the universe, but are actually different for each person ( morality = RELATIVE, it changes depending on your perspective. Another word for this is “subjective morality.”)

I’ve always found it hard to imagine a world where moral relativism is true, because it leads to some astounding conclusions. For example, if right and wrong are only in the eye of the beholder, nothing is truly good or bad- the only thing that matters is how you feel about it. Hitler’s actions, for example, would be no more right or wrong than Mother Teresa’s: they both would only be doing what was right in their own eyes.

The question of morality looms large in the public discourse, and it’s important for us to understand why. This is where God enters the picture.

For Christians, morality has always been objective: it has existed outside of anyone’s opinions, because it has always been determined by God and his character! The Bible is chalk-full of descriptions of God as the perfect judge who establishes righteousness. Like it says in Psalm 89: “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you.”

In the Christian worldview, our perspectives don’t change the facts of right and wrong- it would be like trying to change the sum of 2+2 (or like stubbing your toe on a sharp rock. Just like objective morality, that rock ain’t going anywhere- it’s your toe that’s going to take the brunt of the impact!)

But without God, what happens?

This is the debate that is raging in philosophy and culture right now.

Some people say that right and wrong are still objective facts, even if God doesn’t exist. But the natural question to ask is, “says who?”

Obviously, in a world without God, people still think things like murder and robbery are wrong… but we can just as easily ask, “why does it matter what people think, especially since people so often disagree with each other?”

As a result, the route many people have taken is the route of moral relativism: that right and wrong aren’t objective truths, so the best bet we have is to just do what we can to get along.

To many, this seems like a good compromise! But there are a lot of problems that inevitably arise.

  • What do we say to people whose actions are clearly evil- (murderers, rapists, dictators) if their morality is merely a matter of opinion? Were the crimes of Hitler, Mao and Stalin only bad from our point of view?

  • How can a society that has abandoned truths about right and wrong continue to head in the “right” direction?

  • Why should we rely only on our feelings about right and wrong when they lead us astray in so many other areas?

There is so much more to be said on this question, so I’ll wait for your response and we can take it from there!

Further resources:

Have you heard Ravi’s answer to this question at University of Pennsylvania? It’s awesome (though obviously I’m insanely biased :wink:)

If you haven’t read it, I also would highly recommend the first chapter of Mere Christianity called “The Law of Human Nature.” CS Lewis is the OG (original gangster) of Christian apologetics for a reason- he’s clear, compelling, and fun to read.

Third, if you haven’t heard me ramble on about this topic long enough, here’s a talk I did at MIT entitled “Do we need God to make moral judgements?” It’s on this page, if you scroll down!

Sorry for the massive post Bill! Looking forward to hearing your take!