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The foundations of atheistic/agnostic morality

Updated: Mar 26

I've always had a fascination with history. It chronicles millennia of human endeavours, capturing our trials, innovations, creative spirit, conflicts, peaceful resolutions, diplomatic ventures, and numerous other facets of human life. Recently, there's been a trend to dismiss the experiences and insights of our predecessors as outdated or irrelevant to contemporary life. This perspective is misguided. The wisdom of figures like King Solomon remains instructive today; when he noted that...

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us.

Ecclesiastes 1:9 ESV


It's important to acknowledge that our ancestors didn't experience modern innovations like aeroplanes and cars. However, this doesn't negate the broader cultural and existential patterns that recur throughout history. Despite technological advancements, humanity continually grapples with the same fundamental issues. As highlighted in Ecclesiastes, all endeavours ultimately face the inevitability of being forgotten as generations pass [1]. From a Christian viewpoint, this historical cycle also reflects a constant struggle against sin, where individuals and societies strive to construct their lives in defiance of God's commands as outlined in Scripture. This rebellion is not novel; the nature of human challenges, temptations, and the fallout from turning away from God's directives has remained consistent over millennia.


This article aims to examine the principles underpinning the prevalent non-Christian worldview of our times, drawing on historical insights to illustrate the logical outcomes of such a perspective. Through an exploration of history, I hope to encourage contemporary secularists to critically assess their stance, which overlooks the significance of a relationship with their Creator. My aspiration is for them to reconsider their views, embrace Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and realign their lives according to what is objectively right, as intended by God.


Atheistic/agnostic worldviews and morality


Before delving into the specific historical case study, it's essential to explain my rationale for grouping atheism, agnosticism, Hinduism, and Buddhism in discussions on morality. Despite their distinct beliefs and practices, these worldviews share a fundamental perception of ultimate reality.


Atheists and agnostics typically do not adhere to the notion of a personal deity or deities, viewing the universe as lacking inherent purpose or direction. Similarly, while Hinduism and Buddhism present a more structured spiritual framework, they too conceptualize ultimate reality in fundamentally impersonal terms. In these traditions, the cosmos is often seen as governed by natural laws or cycles, without a singular, personal divine will directing its course.


This shared perspective on the nature of reality—seeing it as governed by impersonal forces or laws without a predetermined purpose—creates a common ground among these worldviews. To visually represent this similarity, one could imagine:

Non-Christian worldviews illustration
Non-Christian worldviews (fig. 1)

The crucial point we aim to highlight is that the three worldviews mentioned—atheism, agnosticism, and certain interpretations within Hinduism and Buddhism—converge on a fundamental perception of reality. This reality is characterized as being autonomous, impersonal, and uncreated. Within these perspectives, the existence or essence of reality (what is) inherently comes before our understanding or knowledge of it (how we know what is). Consequently, any fact becomes known only after it has emerged as a fact.


This approach implies that reality exists independently of our interpretations, leading to the notion that no single interpretation of reality holds more validity than another, even if they are in direct opposition. This lack of a definitive interpretative authority means that disparities in understanding the nature and truth of reality cannot be conclusively resolved. In essence, without a foundational, absolute standard or authority to adjudicate, contrasting views about the nature of reality remain irreconcilable.


 
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The bigger grey circles (in our illustration above), because they are uncreated (actuality precedes knowledge), mean that the relationships between what is (in the past, present and future - if such language even makes sense), are Chance generated (if there are any). The ancient "one and many" problem plagues the philosophy of the non-Christian. The non-Christian can form mental concepts based on his experience, but reality imposes no ought on the non-Christian to think in a certain way, live in a certain way, or exist in a certain way. All the non-Christian ultimately has, is personal preferences which are floating on a sea of flux and Chance. The non-Christian cannot make universal predications (acts of judgement like "this is wrong", or "this is a dog") as an uncreated world simply cannot sustain such universal claims. The non-Christian must always qualify his predications with the caveat, "for me, at this point", to indicate that his words carry no truth beyond his own experience. The result is that the non-Christian effectively destroys knowledge, truth, and morality.


A god doesn't assist the Hindu at this point. The god itself is contained in this greater, uncreated reality. Even if this god can somehow become all-knowing, the uncreatedness of reality will always sustain a greater mystery that this god cannot overcome. Flux relations between particulars of experience can upset the knowledge the god thinks it has at any point. Moreover, even if this god were to speak to us in some way (to perhaps reveal moral commands), its commands will be subject to the same restrictions as our own thoughts. It would have to be qualified with "for me, at this point in time". Hence, the gods cannot impose moral obligations on us. There can be no ought derived from the uncreated world of flux. If the god insists that we follow its commands, it would make the god an oppressive bully. This is why the "divine command theory" (what is moral and good is what a god commands) fails when coupled with a fundamentally non-Christian view of God and the world. Accordingly, philosopher William Wainwright argued that "being commanded by God" and "being obligatory" simply does not mean the same thing.


Now, most atheists/agnostics would agree with the above description of their worldview. The reigning post-modernism of today readily accepts this. This is also why they believe the Christian message (of rebellion, sin and salvation) to be impotent when it's presented to them. They can simply throw the Christian message into the same sea of flux that everyone is drowning in and continue to live their lives as they wish. For the non-Christian, sin boils down to a mere difference in personal preference and there can be no judgement for that. At a fundamental level, the non-Christian worldview allows everyone to be their own god. There is no authority, there is no truth, and there is no morality. All there is, is personal preference which itself is subject to Chance.


Sam Harris responds


Some non-Christians have attempted to salvage morality. Sam Harris in particular urges non-Christians to think about morality in terms of human and animal well-being, viewing the experiences of conscious creatures as peaks and valleys on a “moral landscape.” Harris thinks that because there are definite facts to be known about where we fall on this landscape, he can foresee a time when science should be able to tell us what we ought to do to live the best lives possible.


However, this simply does not follow. His system fails for two glaring reasons.


Firstly, there are no definite facts to be known if any fact that is known, is known only after it becomes a fact. Chance reigns supreme, so there is no "objective truth" that we discover in this non-Christian view. The egocentric predicament reigns supreme - what's true for you is not true for me.


Secondly, simply defining morality in terms of well-being sounds good at a surface level, but fails to live up to expectations. There’s nothing that precludes "psychopaths" from being perfectly happy (experiencing what Harris calls "The Good Life") all the while committing the cruellest of crimes. Harris more or less admits this near the end of his book. He remarks that “perhaps there is no connection between being good and feeling good … In this case, rapists, liars, and thieves would experience the same depth of happiness as the saints.” [2]

What I perceive as my own well-being, might not be what you perceive as your own well-being. What I think you ought to do, might not be what you think you ought to do. The non-Christian worldview, at a foundational level (as we discussed above), cannot sustain anything that resembles an objective morality. And so, it doesn't matter how complex of a system you might attempt to build upon this foundation, you will never reach a point where you can derive any objective meaning, truth, or morality from this worldview.


Do you agree with the above categorization of the non-Christian worldview? If not, let us know why in the post comments.

  • Yes

  • No

  • I'm not sure



A historical example: Fritz Haber


Fritz Haber was a German chemist who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1918 for his invention of the Haber–Bosch process, a method used in industry to synthesize ammonia from nitrogen gas and hydrogen gas. This invention is essential for the large-scale synthesis of fertilisers. Today, it is estimated that two-thirds of annual global food production uses ammonia from the Haber–Bosch process. Without ammonia, there would be no inorganic fertilizers, and nearly half the world would go hungry. Of all the century's technological marvels, the Haber-Bosch process has made the most difference to our survival. Indeed, the world's population could not have grown from 1.6 billion in 1900 to today's eight billion without the Haber-Bosch process. [3]


Haber was awarded the 1918 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this work.


Fritz Haber, as we see, was a brilliant man, and the modern world owes much of its success to his discovery - as food is one of the most critical resources.


The Haber-Bosch process is a process that fixes nitrogen with hydrogen to produce ammonia — a critical part in the manufacture of plant fertilizers

The waters get muddy when you read more about Haber's life and other inventions. Not only is Haber a Nobel Prize-winning chemist who invented the Haber-Bosch process, but in the winter of 1915 (during the first world war), Haber’s thoughts were less concerned about growing crops, but were focused on annihilating the Allies. For his efforts in directing a team of scientists on the frontlines during World War I, he would become known as the father of chemical warfare.


The same scientific method which led Haber to discover the Haber-Bosch process led to the development of poisonous gas-filled artillery shells that would blind and choke soldiers on the battlefield. The first use of Haber's gas weapons was during the second battle of Ypres in 1915. On April 22 1915 the Germans released 168 tons of chlorine gas to be taken by the wind towards the allied positions. Since chemical warfare was not yet an element of the war at this stage, the French troops were caught unprepared. Of the 10,000 French soldiers that were caught in the gas cloud, more than half reportedly died within minutes of asphyxiation.


Soldiers during the First World War. Note the gas masks.

This stark contrast between life and death in Haber's work led the rock band Sabaton to ask a significant question (at least from a non-Christian perspective) in their song titled Father:

[On] the battlefield they're dying. And on the fields the crops are grown. So who can tell us what is right or wrong? Maths or morality alone? ... Where's the contradiction? Fed the world by ways of science. Sinner or a saint?

The reality is that there can be no answer forthcoming from an atheistic/agnostic worldview. Whether chemistry (matter in motion) is used to grow crops, or whether it is used to kill soldiers, makes no difference. Death and life are merely "matter" in different states of existence. One state has no intrinsic moral superiority over another. There is no right or wrong.


Haber himself echoed something of this when he received pushback for his advancement of chemical weapons:


He defended gas warfare against accusations that it was inhumane, reportedly saying that death was death, by whatever means it was inflicted and referred to history: "The disapproval that the knight had for the man with the firearm is repeated in the soldier who shoots with steel bullets towards the man who confronts him with chemical weapons. [...] The gas weapons are not at all crueller than the flying iron pieces; on the contrary, the fraction of fatal gas diseases is comparatively smaller, the mutilations are missing"


Haber's defence can be restated in the following way: What difference does it make if you kill someone using a stone (one piece of matter), a bullet (another piece of matter), or gas (different pieces of matter)? In the end, it's all just "matter in motion". There can be no right or wrong. There can be personal preferences, but these, being subject to Chance, carry no objective force - just like my preference for chocolate ice cream is in no way superior to your preference for strawberry ice cream.


Haber was right, at least if he makes the argument from a non-Christian view of the world. There is no such thing as "crueller", "less cruel" or "humane" in a world that ultimately consists of dead matter in motion. It just is.


Many people did speak out against Haber's work. Notably, his own wife.


Clara Haber


Clara Haber (who married Fritz Haber in 1901, and who had a PhD in chemistry herself) condemned her husband’s weapons as a "perversion of the ideals of science" and "a sign of barbarity, corrupting the very discipline which ought to bring new insights into life." Publicly, she pleaded with him to end his experiments in chemical warfare.


She committed suicide shortly after the second battle of Ypres (where Haber's chemical weapons were used for the time), though the exact reason for her suicide remains a matter of speculation.


Was Clara Haber's criticism against Fritz justified? Was Haber's work in chemical warfare a "perversion of the ideals of science"? Why did Clara think Haber's work is "a sign of barbarity, corrupting the very discipline which ought to bring new insights into life."?


Given what we know about the foundations of the non-Christian worldview (based on the initial sections of this article), there is no such thing as "ideals of science" beyond the ideals that the individual conceives for himself. Again, any fact that is known is known only after it becomes a fact. There are no ideals, there are just brute uninterpreted facts. There is nothing that makes the facts what they are beyond some mysterious principle of Chance.


And so I present the reader with the following question: Do you agree with Clara Haber that Fritz's work in the development of chemical weapons is evil? On what grounds do you distinguish between his Haber-Bosch process that grows crops and the toxic gas that killed soldiers on the battlefield?



It is at this point that I want to turn to the answer offered by the Christian worldview, and the answer that is only available to the Christian. I don't believe that anyone reading this article really believes that murder is a subjective preference, that lying is virtuous, or that stealing can be permitted. All of us believe in objective morality, and it is my contention to show that this is the case despite the prevailing non-Christian worldview and because the Christian worldview is true even though non-Christians obviously don't accept it as such.


The Christian worldview and morality


The Christian worldview rejects the basic contention of the non-Christian worldviews which implicitly believe that the world is impersonalistic. The Christian worldview can be visualised as follows:


The Christian, in contrast to the non-Christian, does not believe in a "one-circle reality" governed by Chance. The Christian believes in a "two-circle reality", with a very clear distinction between Creator and creation. God, as Creator, is absolute, self-sufficient, and original. God's existence is the ultimate reality. Everything that is not God, is creation. Creation, in the Christian system, is, therefore, necessarily creation ex nihilo (from or out of nothing). God did not create by drawing upon concepts independent of His own being, nor did He create by re-arranging independent matter (as many non-Christian views of creation believe), as that would at once reduce us to a one-circle system.


Fundamentally, this means that nothing in creation is independent of God as Creator. God is not constrained by creation. God is not affected by creation in any way. God is impassible, absolute, self-sufficient, immutable and personal (as He is a Trinity). Creation, in contrast, is dependent and mutable. Nothing in creation grounds its meaning or existence independently of God's intended meaning, creation and providence.


Therefore, where in the non-Christian system any fact that is known is known only after it becomes a fact, in the Christian system any fact that is known, is known before it becomes a fact (by the Creator). God's knowledge of the facts makes the facts what they are, and the creation of a particular set of facts with a particular set of relations between them is due to God's free choice as Creator. This means that in the Christian system, knowledge of any fact is thinking of the fact as God intended us to think of the fact. Knowledge in the Christian sense is "thinking God's thoughts after Him" [4].


There is no principle of Chance at work in this system.


Absolute authority in the Christian system


The absolute authority of the Word of God is an implication of God's nature. Because God is who He is, and creation is absolutely dependent on Him for meaning and existence, when God speaks, His Word comes with absolute authority, not expert authority. Expert authority (as the word implies), is the authority of someone who knows a lot more than you, but who knows in the same way as you (for example your boss at work, or your professor in the university class). Expert authority is something that changes and develops with time. For example, expert authority in medical science 2000 years ago is nothing compared to expert authority in medical science today. However, absolute authority is different in that it establishes all other authority of knowledge and cannot be questioned or verified using independent means. If absolute authority was up for questioning, it would cease to be absolute as it would mean that there is "some third thing" that is greater than the absolute authority to which it must conform in order to be an authority (which reduces it to expert authority). Whatever that "third thing" is, would then be the true authority (which would immediately bring us back to a one-circle non-Christian view of the world).


We can follow philosopher-theologian Cornelius Van Til when he connects God's absolute nature and the infallible nature of God's Word.

All facts of history are what they are ultimately because of what God intends and makes them to be. Even that which is accomplished in human history through the instrumentality of men still happens by virtue of the plan of God. God tells the stars by their names. He identifies by complete description. He knows exhaustively. He knows exhaustively because he controls completely... Such a God, and only such a God, identifies all the facts of the universe. In identifying all the facts of the universe he sets these facts in relation to one another... Such a view of God and of human history is both presupposed by, and in turn presupposes, the idea of the infallible Bible

Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge. (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Phillipsburg, NJ, 1969).


Christian morality


The implications of the Christian worldview in the field of morality should become obvious. Whatever is good, whatever is praiseworthy, and whatever is moral is God. God is good. Goodness on a created level is reflective of God's goodness. God's goodness is reflected in nature (creation), but also in particular in God's revealed law (documented in Exodus 20, and Deuteronomy 5).


[1] You shall have no other gods before Me.

Because it would at once reduce the Christian worldview to a one-circle system in the mind of the creature, reducing God to a mere god in a greater reality of gods.


[2] You shall make no idols.

Because of the Creator-creature distinction and God's absolute nature, any graven image of Him again reduces the Christian worldview to a one-circle system, as the implication of graven images is that God can be represented by ideas more fundamental than Himself.


[3] You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

[4] Keep the Sabbath day holy.

[5] Honour your father and your mother.

Created authority teaches us about God's absolute authority.


[6] You shall not murder.

God is just, and the unjust taking of a life is murder. God is not a murderer.


[7] You shall not commit adultery.

God is faithful to His Word. By being unfaithful, we are failing to reflect our God.


[8] You shall not steal.

Everything belongs to God, and He has the sole authority to give to His Creatures as He sees fit. If you take something that doesn't belong to you, it's an implicit denial of this basic truth.


[9] You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.

God is the author of truth. Facts are what they are because He created them and gives them meaning. Lying twists this reality.


[10] You shall not covet.


Given the above, it should be clear why Jesus Christ was able to summarise the law in the following way:

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”
Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, OIsrael: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12: 28-34, ESV


Love God. If you love God, your life will reflect His goodness.


Because God is the absolute authority (because He is the Creator), His Word and his moral law come to us with absolute authority. His law is the standard of goodness and justice, and the redeemed Bible-believing Christian seeks a life that is in accord with how God intended it:


My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!
When I told of my ways, you answered me; teach me your statutes!
Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works.
My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word!
Put false ways far from me and graciously teach me your law!
I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I set your rules before me.

Psalm 119: 25-30, ESV


The Euthyphro dilemma


The Euthyphro dilemma is found in Plato's dialogue Euthyphro, in which Socrates asks Euthyphro, "Is the pious [good] (τὸ ὅσιον) loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious [good] because it is loved by the gods?"


Although it was originally applied to the ancient Greek pantheon, the dilemma is thought to have implications for modern monotheistic religions. Gottfried Leibniz asked whether the good and just "is good and just because God wills it or whether God wills it because it is good and just". Ever since Plato's original discussion, this question has presented a problem for some theists.


The dilemma seems potent because if [A] something is good because God wills it, it makes the good arbitrary. If [B] God wills it because it is good, it means the good is independent of God. Either way, theism would fail to account for objective morality. Either good doesn't exist (because it is arbitrary), or good exists whether God wills it or not.


The Christian worldview escapes this dilemma completely, but the non-Christian worldviews don't. The dilemma is only potent in "one circle" conceptions of reality. Observe:


The Christian vs non-Christian worldview
The Christian vs non-Christian worldview

In the one-circle (non-Christian) conception of god or gods, "reality" is fundamentally uncreated. It follows that whatever the gods will as good is either arbitrary (for the reasons explained at the beginning of the article), or good exists independently of them. They are not in control of greater reality, so they have no right to legislate morality lest they risk being bullies. Plato was absolutely right when he raised this dilemma against the backdrop of the ancient Greek pantheon. But, it is not applicable to the Christian worldview simply because there is no greater reality independent of God.


The Christian God is His own existence, moreover, God is not made up of parts more basic than Himself. This basic fact of God's nature means that God's will is God's goodness which just is His immutable and necessary existence. That means that what is objectively good and what God wills for us as morally obligatory are really the same thing considered under different descriptions and that neither could have been other than what they are. There can be no question then, either of God's having arbitrarily commanded something different for us (murdering the innocent, or torturing animals ) or of there being a standard of goodness apart from Him. For the Christian, the Euthyphro dilemma is a false one as it fails to reckon with the Creator-creation distinction which is basic to all Christian theology.


Ironically, the dilemma solidifies our conviction that there can be no such thing as objective moral truths in the non-Christian worldview. You can replace "god" with the atheist / agnostic in the dilemma, and you'll see that what the person thinks is "good" is either arbitrary, or they somehow attained an objective knowledge of the "good", which cannot exist in a world governed by Chance, and which they cannot attain even if it exists because of the egocentric predicament.


Clara Haber revisited (the ideals of science)


If the reader is familiar with the history of Fritz Haber and Clara Haber, the reader might know that both of them claimed to be Christians. The atheist/agnostic might want to use this as ammunition to argue against what is contained in this article so far, for then it was a Christian that is the father of chemical warfare and not a non-Christian! This argument remains impotent for the simple fact that even regenerate Christians still struggle with sin, and that not all those who claim to be Christian actually believe in Jesus Christ as their King. There is also, in particular, evidence that Fritz and Clara's Christian faiths were merely for political reasons.


However, it is interesting to note that Clara condemned Fritz's work as a "perversion" of the ideals of science. The obvious question is what these "ideals" of science are, and what they ought to be.


As a Christian, I believe Clara's condemnation of Fritz's work to be just and justified for the simple fact that the ideals of science should be nothing other than the ideal of the Christian's entire life: The glorification of God, our Creator and Redeemer. Science as a disciple is what it is because God has ordained the relationships between the various facts of the created world, and sustains the relationships between the facts (i.e. the natural laws) such that we can manipulate, and rule the created order as God's vice Kings. The ideals of science should, therefore, be in sync with God's moral commandments. Science should therefore implicate itself deeper into the natural order to serve the created order (allow for animal and in particular human flourishing) and glorify and give thanks to God.


For the non-Christian, there are no such things as "ideals of science". There is just the Chance-generated world. Everything is permissible, nothing ought to be one way or another. The ideals can be whatever you wish them to be, and no disagreement can be settled in any objective manner. There is no perversion (which is a distortion or corruption), simply because there is no standard by which distortion or corruption can be measured. Human flourishing is not a valid standard as discussed previously.


Current social issues: A case study in marriage


We can apply Christian morality to a plethora of social issues today. I will apply it to marriage so the reader can understand where the Bible-believing Christians are coming from in the modern debate surrounding marriage (i.e. what is it, what does it mean, and who qualifies?).


Prior to the 21st century, the fact that marriage can only be between a man and a woman wasn't a controversial topic. The Defense of Marriage act (September 21, 1996) in the United States codified this truth. This is poised to be changed in the Respect for Marriage act (2022) which would recognize marriage between two individuals regardless of their "sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin".


According to Biblical standards, marriage is between a man and a woman (regardless of race, ethnicity, or national origin), and not between two persons of the same sex. This is how God created it to be.


Marriage was instituted shortly after the beginning of time, and God said:

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

Genesis 2:24, ESV


Jesus re-affirmed this truth (as He is the Creator), stating that

Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.

Matthew 19:4-6, ESV


Marriage is a significant social structure that God instituted for various reasons according to Scripture:

  • Marriage ought to be the sole context in which child-bearing is to take place.

  • Marriage ought to be the context in which the child is to be raised and taught about God.

  • Marriage reveals the relationship between God and His Church. The Church is the bride of Christ, and Christ as the groom unconditionally lies down His life for the Church. In the same way, the husband ought to love his wife more than his own life, and lay down his life for her. The wife responds to the sacrifice of her husband with obedience and love - just as the Church listens to the Words of Christ in Scripture out of love.


Jef Durbin recently published a video in which he reacted to a discussion between Joe Rogan and Matt Walsh on marriage. The reader will benefit from Jeff's insights, as it also serves to explain the Christian's position on marriage:


Much more can be said about marriage, but the reader should see that marriage is an incredibly sacred institution in the Christian worldview that cannot be meddled with. For Christians, marriage between a man and a man, or a woman and a woman, the breaking of marriage (adultery or unfaithfulness in marriage) is sinful because it fails to reflect how God is.


The non-Christian view of marriage is understandably very different (think back to our diagrams). In the non-Christian context, marriage is part of the Chance-generated flux in terms of culture. Marriage can evolve is in this view to whatever the individual wishes it to be. There is no objective good in marriage, and there is no objective bad if two people of the same sex want to get married. The non-Christian does not think marriage is revelational of God.


If a non-Christian were to press a Christian to marry (or accept the marriage of) a couple in a manner that is not faithful to God and Scripture, the non-Christian would be asking the Christian to deny the most fundamental aspect of their worldview - the Creator-creature distinction - which forms the basis for the Christian's high view of marriage. It does extreme violence and discomfort to the Christian. Read Psalm 119 (even just the section quoted above) to understand the heart of the Christian when it comes to these kinds of moral issues. The Christian doesn't restrict marriage to only be between a man and a woman because he arbitrarily feels like it, he does so because he seeks God's ways in all aspects of life.


Usually, it is only thought that the violence (or attack) is from the Christian toward the non-Christian, but it goes both ways really! What we have is not merely a debate about marriage as such - but a clash of fundamentally different worldviews. A debate about marriage without considering the broader worldview issues won't resolve anything. This is why I believe a lot of people are hurting when these discussions pop up, as they keep missing the point that caused the difference in the first place.


It is also worth noting that the change from the Defence of Marriage act to the Respect for Marriage act exposes that the prevailing worldview in the United States (at least among the Senators), is a non-Christian worldview. According to a Christian worldview, morality cannot "evolve". Christians, therefore, cannot recognize same-sex marriage as a legitimate marriage without quite literally apostatizing from the Christian faith. The law of the land which was once based on Christian ideals is drifting towards a secular view of man and God, and Christians simply cannot follow along.


Can non-Christians be good?


Not all non-Christians are neutral toward chemical weapons. Indeed, most people (Christian or non-Christian), would strongly condemn the uses of chemistry during the Second World War which killed approximately 6 million people (particularly Jews) during the Holocaust. Is a distaste and condemnation of Nazi ideology merely due to a personal preference? Is genocide something that is objectively wrong? Is peace better than war? People would praise Fritz's work in the Haber-Bosch process, but condemn his pioneering work in toxic gas. Is this just because of Chance and subjective preference?


No. You see, even though non-Christians deny the Christian view of reality, it doesn't make the Christian view false. This is where the clear distinction between worldviews assists us greatly in making the point clear. The two-circle Creator-creature view of the Christian remains the case even when creatures reject the existence of the sort of the Creator that actually made and sustains them. Whether they like it or not, all people everywhere are made in the image of God and are endowed with certain inalienable rights and knowledge.


The apostle Paul also indicates that all men have the law of God written on their hearts (by nature):

They [the gentiles] show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.

Romans 2:15, ESV


Hence, God's law is available to those who have no copy of the law (as recorded in Scripture), because God has put his law in the hearts of men and given all of us a conscience to awaken us to this moral knowledge in our hearts [5]. No unbeliever will be held accountable for what they have no knowledge of or no access to. But unbelievers have access to many things about right and wrong simply because they are created in God's image: They have access to knowledge of God that is revealed to all men, and they have access to God's moral law written on their hearts.



Now, just because men know the law, does not mean that they will keep the law. As unregenerate creatures, our sinful natures tend to rebel against God and His precepts. However, despite our rebellion, God is gracious and has bestowed common grace upon all men that restrict our evil. Regenerate Christians have received specific grace and have received renewed hearts and minds that seek the things of God rather than flee from them. Unbelievers, therefore, sometimes act in accord with God's law and largely hold the right moral beliefs despite their unbelief, and because of God's common grace. Thus, unbelievers can largely live in accord with God's law - they don't murder, steal, lie etc., and moreover, they can be fiercely offended when they have been wronged themselves (e.g. lied to, hurt, defamed etc.)


However, this doesn't mean the unbeliever is justified in those morals beliefs from their own worldview-level perspectives, because as soon as these truths (like God's moral law and the knowledge of their Creator) take hold in their hearts, they attempt to drown it by erecting the non-Christian worldview in the place of the Christian worldview which is basic to them, which effectively, fundamentally, is designed to keep the knowledge of God at bay. The one-circle non-Christian worldview makes the prospect of a future judgement impossible - as there is no universal standard of law and goodness.

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Romans 1: 22-23, ESV


...they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator...

Romans 1: 25, ESV


I.e. unbelievers exchanged the two-circle worldview, for the one-circle worldview.


And so, non-Christians can be good in the sense that they know and most of the time live according to God's law written on their hearts. But it does them no good as the requirements of the law demand perfection, and any imperfection amounts to cosmic treason and rebellion against God. The Christian joins the unbeliever in this problem, as the Christian would also readily admit that they have broken God's law countless times. They too have sought to be their own god (as per the one-circle worldview) and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie countless times. Where does this leave us all?


Hope in Jesus Christ


God is the standard of justice and righteousness. As such, any law that is broken demands justice. If God were to overlook any laws that were broken, He would cease to be God. The two-circle view, therefore, entails that there will be perfect justice even if the justice is not immediate (for example, a person who just committed murder isn't immediately struck by lightning).


The apostle, Paul, speaking of all men (Jew, gentile or Christian) writes that by nature:

"None is righteous, no, not one;no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
“Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Romans 3: 11-18, ESV


You see, there is no distinction. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. All of us deserve perfect justice for our treason.


However, right after Paul paints this bleak picture, he gives us the good news that was prophecied since Genesis 3 and finally occurred approximately 2000 years ago: The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law: the righteousness of God is made available through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. We can be justified in the sight of God by His grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation (atonement for our transgressions in our place).


Ultimately this is what differentiates the Christian from the non-Christian. The Christian trusts in the work of Jesus Christ on his behalf. The Holy Spirit works in the heart of the Christian to re-orient the Christian's worldview back toward the two-circle (right) view, and the Christian thereafter seeks the will of God in all aspects of life. The invitation remains open to the non-Christian to share in this wonderful hope. The non-Christian can also receive this righteousness and justification. It is free. Trust in Jesus Christ's work on the cross on your behalf (just like you trust in a parachute to catch you when you jump out of a plane), and there will be no condemnation for you on the day of judgement because Christ has paid for your sins, and you have received his righteous in return. This is what Christians call "The great exchange".


Whose flesh bore our condemnation? Jesus'. Whose sins were being condemned? Ours. This is "The great exchange".

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV


Conclusion


Morality can sometimes be complex water to navigate. When debates arise as to what is right and what is wrong, we need to remember that worldview issues at play will greatly affect whether there is an answer to be sought to begin with.


The Christian worldview is the only worldview that can save morality. Once we realize this, we need to deal with the fact that we have failed to live up to God's standard for "the good life" and stand to be condemned for our cosmic treason. It is at this point where we need to hear to Gospel of Jesus Christ and make it our own. God has made a way for sinners to be redeemed and to be brought back into the fold. This invitation is open to all people everywhere.


To any non-Christian readers (and even Christians who have strayed from the path): Repent of the false one-circle view of the world and yourself. Acknowledge God as your God. Stop worshipping the creature. Jesus Christ has made a way for you.


References


[1] Reformation Study Bible


[2] Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: The Future Of Happiness.


[3] Nature. 2022. Detonator of the population explosion | Nature. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/22672. [Accessed 24 November 2022].


[4] This phase was regularly used by philosopher-theologian Cornelius Van Til.




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Published by Apologetics Central

At Apologetics Central, we are committed to providing biblically grounded, Reformed presuppositional apologetics resources to equip believers in defending the Christian faith. As a ministry, we strive to uphold the truth of God's word and present it winsomely to a world in need of the gospel.

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