Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask (With Answers) (chap. 1) by Mark Mittelberg (Tyndale House, 2010).
As an avid news watcher I often get depressed about the bad things that are happening in the world (and in my own city!). In Question 5, we'll address the problem of evil, focusing on how a good and loving God could allow pain and suffering to exist in the world. But what the news reports all too often overlook are the really good things that are happening in our midst.
Here are some examples of goodness I've come across recently:
A celebrity telethon (Hope For Haiti Now) raised $57 million in donations for the Haiti earthquake disaster.
Parents in Iowa adopted six young special-needs kids now that their biological children are nearly grown.
A Chicago man donated his kidney to save a local grocery store cashier whom he hardly knew.
A church in Indiana paid for a poor student's first year of tuition at a private college.
A group of California students devoted countless hours of work to help displaced children in Uganda.
The list could go on and on. There are countless examples of goodness and virtue in our world. But a question arises: On what basis is something considered good or evil, right or wrong? And where did this basis come from? Did it start with the Big Bang? I can just imagine it: billions of years ago . . . massive explosion . . . galaxies emerging from the fiery blast. And then, out of the gaseous flames, "Thou shalt act altruistically; thou shalt be kind to the underprivileged; thou shalt love thine enemies; thou shalt not steal; and—oh yes—thou shalt maintain a moderately small carbon footprint" (all in perfect King James English, of course).
No one really believes that moral values emerge out of physical explosions. So where did they come from? Atheists are hard pressed to provide an answer for the existence of objective moral values. Look at what one atheist wrote in a recent article entitled, "Secularism's Ongoing Debt to Christianity":
Although I am a secularist (atheist, if you will), I accept that the great majority of people would be morally and spiritually lost without religion. Can anyone seriously argue that crime and debauchery are not held in check by religion? Is it not comforting to live in a community where the rule of law and fairness are respected? Would such be likely if Christianity were not there to provide a moral compass to the great majority? Do we secularists not benefit out of all proportion from a morally responsible society?
An orderly society is dependent on a generally accepted morality. There can be no such morality without religion. Has there ever been a more perfect and concise moral code than the one Moses brought down from the mountain?
Those who doubt the effect of religion on morality should seriously ask the question: just what are the immutable moral laws of secularism? Be prepared to answer, if you are honest, that such laws simply do not exist! The best answer we can ever hear from secularists to this question is a hodgepodge of strained relativist talk of situational ethics. They can cite no overriding authority other than that of fashion. For the great majority in the West, it is the Judeo-Christian tradition which offers a template.
We have, then, what is sometimes called the problem of good. The problem of good is a major challenge for atheism, for within the atheist view there simply is no way to explain or justify objective moral values.
When I read about or travel to other parts of the world, I'm often intrigued by the differences in etiquette. In India, many nationals do not use utensils to eat; they use their fingers instead. It would probably be rude in those contexts to whip out my travel mess kit and eat in front of them with fork and spoon. We should respect the differences in etiquette that have been created by various people groups and societies.
But morals and values are different from etiquette, and we all know it. They are not the creations of human beings. As we've said, they are objective, not relative—so they are above us and our particular laws and practices. If there were a culture, for example, that threw their firstborn male babies into the flames in order to gain the favor of the gods, this would be a morally dreadful act. If there were a culture in which men kept females as slaves and beat and raped them at will, we would be morally outraged. If there were a culture that locked up black people for their color or Jewish people for their heritage or left-handed people for their differentness, we would decry these actions as moral abominations.
If that culture's members objected to our indignation by saying that's just the way people do things in their culture—it's their tradition or custom or preference—we would flat-out reject their answer. We know that murder and rape and bigotry and racism are wrong—really, objectively wrong—regardless of traditions, customs, or preferences. But where did we get this knowledge—this intrinsic sense of right and wrong? If we didn't invent it, if it transcends the realms of culture and politics, if it's something we can't get away from, then what is its source? Could it be that a Moral Lawgiver actually knit those moral standards, along with the ability to understand and operate by them, into the very fabric of what it means to be human?
That conclusion certainly seems to square with logic and experience. It explains why we could boldly tell the Nazis that exterminating Jews was wrong and that they deserved to be punished for such wicked acts. And why we knew that Saddam Hussein was doing evil when he oppressed the Iraqi people, murdered his own family members, tortured and killed those he considered political threats, and ordered the gassing of thousands of Kurds. Our confident conviction about these matters—then and now—shows that morals are objective, not relative.
Unlike the atheist, the Christian has a solid basis for objective moral values, for in the Christian view, God exists as a supreme, transcendent, divine person—the Creator of the universe and everything in it. Goodness flows from God's very nature; moral values are not invented by human beings. They are discovered by human beings, but they are grounded in the very nature of a good, loving, personal God who made us in his image, implanted a sense of right and wrong in our hearts, and told us to live as imitators of him (see Eph. 5:1). Interestingly, this is also what the Bible tells us in Romans 2:15: "They demonstrate that God's law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right."
This is powerful evidence for God. We can put this evidence in the form of a simple argument:
1. If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
2. But we know that objective moral values do exist.
3. Therefore, God does exist.
I'm not saying that atheists cannot recognize moral values or live generally moral lives. I'm certain they can. But recognizing something and even living by it does not mean that one has a real basis for it. The "moral" atheist is simply left hanging in midair on this issue, without any solid footing. Christians, on the other hand, have a rock solid foundation on which to build their beliefs and to live their lives. Our universe is morally good, and it's good because a transcendent and good God created it that way.
As we saw at the beginning of the chapter, God is like the virtue of love in this way: while we can't see love directly, we can often see evidence for it. The same is true about God. In addition to our own experience of him—which is important to talk about—we have looked at three kinds of evidence for him. These arguments provide solid reasons to believe in God: the existence of the universe, the amazing fine-tuning of the universe, and the reality of objective goodness. While each of these points to the existence of God, taken together they provide strong confirmation of his existence. We could sum it up like this: the cumulative case for God's existence is more than sufficient for an open-minded person to believe that he really is there.
God doesn't force his reality on anyone, but if our friends are interested in real evidence and answers, he has not left them wanting. God's fingerprints are dispersed throughout the cosmos. Maybe that's part of why Jesus told us so boldly in Matthew 7:7 to "keep on seeking, and you will find."
Editor's Note: taken from The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask (With Answers) (chapter 1) by Mark Mittelberg (Tyndale House, 2010).
Mark Mittelberg is a best-selling author and sought-after speaker. His newest book, The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, deals with the ten issues believers most want to avoid — but must not! His prior release, a story-driven devotional he wrote with his ministry partner, Lee Strobel, is called The Unexpected Adventure. His book before that, Choosing Your Faith, is a great resource to give to friends who are figuring out what to believe — and he's just released a DVD study course based on that book called Faith Path: Helping Friends Find Their Way to Christ. Mark is also the main author of the updated Becoming a Contagious Christian Training Course, through which more than a million people have learned to talk about their faith in natural ways.