No scientific experiment can conclude for certain that the external world exists—for the scientific method assumes that the external world is real before it even begins. Science tells us things about reality; not virtual reality. Or so we believe in good faith. How do we know we haven’t been kidnapped by aliens and plugged into some life simulator – like the Matrix – but with all traces of our memory about the process of “being plugged in” erased from our mind? Furthermore, how do we know the past events we hold in our memory aren’t in fact false, programmed memories? It seems we just do.
There are some things we know by a special insight, without any logical argument or scientific experiment. Some things we just know – and know for certain – by intuition. It would seem that objective moral laws – that is, laws that dictate what is morally “right and wrong” regardless of human opinion – are known by this same intuition. Our conscience is our litmus test; the aboriginal voice of the Law-Giver. And inasmuch as our conscience is formed as it ought to be, it shall tell us whether or not we our actions are squared with that self-governing law we know naturally by that special intuitive insight.
Morality cannot be determined in a laboratory. Yet we all accept that some things are just right (or wrong) despite no scientific way of knowing so. We all know things like rape and the torture of babies are wrong. No person desires to live in a world where rape and baby torture are encouraged and embraced. We despise these actions, whether a skeptic or a believer, as moral abominations; they are truly wrong for everyone. It is a truth – and a truism – that these things are really wrong for all. Opinion – personal or popular – does not change this truth. A rapist who believes he is right in raping someone does not make rape “right”. A country which accepts rape as morally upright does not make rape “right”. An entire world – God forbid – that comes to accept rape as morally good does not, in the end, change the fact that rape is actually morally “wrong”. It would seem that there are some things in this world that are really morally right (like feeding one’s baby) and really morally wrong (like torturing one’s baby); and that these truths exist independent of our minds. As G.K. Chesterton remarked, “Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.”
Where do these objective moral rules for humanity come from? Indeed there seem to be objective moral laws that we all recognize, regardless of who we are, where we come from, where we were educated or whether we believe in God or not. It would seem that “right and wrong” are not created in our minds but, rather, exists independently from what we think. Again, the whole world can change their mind about rape and decide that it is “morally upright”. But I think that we all know deep down that even a moral consensus would not really make an action like rape morally upright. We might accept forceful copulation in the wild, among animals less than human; but for all humans in all times forceful copulation is not a thing. It is always rape. And it is always wrong. But who says?
As the first chapters in his epic Mere Christianity illustrate, C.S. Lewis wondered rightly why we expect others to follow our personal code of conduct. Why do we expect our moral standards to be obeyed by others? If a stranger punches me in the face I immediately get angry because I have been unjustly treated. A law has been broken. But whose law? Mine? This begs the common question of the modern man, but in reverse: Who am I to impose my moral standards on this man? Perhaps in his world – indeed in his mind – punching a stranger in the face because he is not very handsome is perfectly upright and just. Why should I impose my morality on him as though he is bound by the same moral law as I? Well. Because intuitively I know that he is indeed bound by the same moral law as I. But it’s not my law. It comes from somewhere else. In fact it comes from outside all people: me, the fella who thought I was ugly and every other person in the universe. There seem to be some moral laws. And it seems to be the consensus that violators of these laws ought to be prosecuted.
Good laws, when violated, lead to chaos and human unhappiness. Imagine a world where nobody heeded the law of gravity. Imagine a world where nobody heeded “thou shalt not murder” or “thou shalt not steal”. Imagine a world where nobody followed traffic laws. On the other hand, it would seem reasonable to conclude that a world that follows these “laws” would be in much better shape. Yes, it would seem that there are natural, moral and civil laws; and all of these laws when followed lead to human happiness and flourishing.
Along with C.S. Lewis, theists agree that this objective or mind-independent moral law or standard that we all accept points towards an omnibenevolent God; a perfectly good Creator who has determined a “best way to live” and desires nothing less for the created. His moral laws describe this best way to live, and we live less than best inasmuch as we ignore or reject these laws. Laws are signposts. They tell us how we ought to be. And once “being how we ought to be” becomes a habit, the laws no longer seem as laws. Rules cease to rule us in asmuch as we are in obedience to them. It as though the rules disintegrate altogether when we are living rightly.
Is it not true that all laws originate from an authoritative or “superior” Law-Giver: from king to kingdom, from father to son, from employer to employee, from court to civilian. And it also seems that there in fact does exist an objective “code of conduct” that exists outside of all human minds but that binds all humans. We acknowledge this when we expect others to live up to “our” moral standards. Thus these laws that define right and wrong which bind all humans must be from beyond all humans. That is, they must come from something or Someone who has the authority to bind all humans with such laws. Furthermore, it seems that all humans appreciate this law. Everyone with even a touch of sanity loves things like charity, courage and justice, which is exactly the things we expect from others. The moral law calls for such virtues and it would seem we are made for such things – and for the perfection of such things – indeed the fulfillment of all our desires rests in the perfection of all goodness – that is, God who is Goodness itself.
Although seen by many in a general and confused way – for some see it only as a distorted shadow of the real thing – it seems certain that an intuitive moral law has been written on the hearts of men indiscriminately in a heavenly language meant to be, as my friend Garth would say, spoken from the lips of our soul; that soul which animates our body in a union meant for the partaking in divine perfection. As St. Peter, St. Augustine and many others have noted in poetic phrases meant to be taken oh so literally: Absolute Goodness is indeed every person’s final resting place.