Great question Bill and thanks for being willing to share one of your doubts (it sets a healthy precedent!). We want these digital spaces to be places were people can feel free to be open about their doubts.
Regarding your question, philosophers like to distinguish between “Objective” morality (the idea that there are things that are ethically right or wrong for all people, in all places, at all times and regardless of how we individually or as a society feel about it) and “Subjective” morality (the idea that morals are basically individually or socially constructed i.e. whatever we personally or as a society believe is right or wrong is then right or wrong “for us” - but not necessarily for all people across all times). When then philosophers or apologists talk about a “moral law giver” they are talking in the “objective” sense of morality. In other words, if there is such a thing as “objective moral laws” then there must be some basis for this objective morality - it must come from somewhere/someone. Moral laws don’t come from no where, they have to be conceived in a mind(s) and then revealed. Either that mind is our own mind and/or the collective minds of society (in which case it is subjective morality and not objective morality, and there is therefore no basis for saying that other human minds or societal minds who think differently about what is moral are any less right/wrong). Or what is moral is not constructed in our’s or society’s mind but transcends to us from a mind and law-giver outside of ourselves (i.e. God). So when Christians challenge atheists about their belief that morality is culturally constructed, they are NOT saying that non-Christians cannot be moral. Far from it. When Dostoyevski in The Brothers Karamazov wrote that “if God does not exist everything is permitted” he didn’t mean that people who don’t believe in God cannot be good. What he meant was that there was no ultimate BASIS for why any morality is more authoritative than another morality. If morality is all just a product of the human/cultural mind then there is no rational basis on which we can say that any other human/cultural mind that subscribes to a completely different (perhaps antithetical) morality is objectively “wrong” because, at the end of the day, its all just the product of human preference and why should any human preference be more authoritative than another? But if morality is created in God’s mind and beyond every human mind, then there is a real objective basis for saying that some behaviours are wrong, always wrong and wrong for everyone.
So if thats the case, then your question is really important: If morality is transcendent then why do human beings not all have the same ethics? Why do we appear to have such different morals? Let me finish by offering the beginnings of an answer:
- Although there are a lot of ethics that we disagree on (sexuality etc), human beings and societies across history and cultures have perhaps had more of a similar ethical compass than it might now appear. The fact that we have such a universe moral compass (a conscience or intuitive sense of right and wrong) at all is remarkable for beings with free-will who don’t just act on instinct like animals. Of course we disagree on some ethical questions but the fact that we experience morality at all is not a given in secular philosophy. And when it comes to things like murder, rape, infanticide, extreme racism etc the vast majority of humans do have a common ethical code and do believe that these issues are not just about personal preference. For me this is evidence that each human being is made in the image of God and capable of very ethical living, even if they don’t believe in God or have an objective reason for such morality within their worldview.
- Genesis 3 and Romans 1 make very clear that, since the Fall, all humans have both the opportunity and the tendency to “suppress the truth” and reconstruct morality in our own image and mind rather than take seriously what God says is right. And (amazingly!) God in his love and patience is willing to let us do so! God has not made us robots who can only operate according to his ethical instructions but rather has given us REAL freedom to choose whether we will listen to his word and law, or deny it and construct our own. This would then account for why people hold such radically different moral positions, even though objective morality, and an ultimate moral law giver, exist and has revealed his ethics to us. We cannot assume that simply because God has made His morality known to us, and that we have the capacity in Christ to live by it, that we will always do so. On the contrary, Romans 8:7 says that the “mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God, it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” The issue is that, even though objective morality exists, we do not want to acknowledge or obey God and so in rejecting him we created our own morals because society cannot live without some morals. These morals can be similar to God’s morals or radically different but no matter how similar or diverse the problem with humanity is that we do not want acknowledge God behind them. We now find ourselves a long way in history from Genesis, so humanity has had a long time to creatively construct morality that denies God and those ideas affect us all at different levels.
- So if I discover people in my life who have radically different morals than I do, it does not undermine my faith in God. If anything, it strengthens it because this is exactly what God’s word tells me that i should expect in a fallen world. The real question is not whether people have morals or not, the bigger question is whether our morals are true - not just “true for me” or “true for our society” but objectively true. My experience has been that there are at least some things that most rational people will accept must be right or wrong for everyone. If that’s the case, it must mean that morality is not just a human construct but transcendent. And that means it transcend from a mind and “law giver” that exists beyond us. And the most likely candidate for that role? God.
Hope this helps in some way.