When the Christian says that the moral law comes from God, unbelievers sometimes think we’re saying they aren’t as good or can’t be good as us because they don’t believe in God, but this is a misunderstanding of what we mean. The unbeliever is confusing moral ontology with moral epistemology. Ontology deals with the existence of moral values and duties, epistemology deals with our knowledge of moral values and duties. We aren’t saying that unbelievers lack moral knowledge or don’t act in accordance with it (the Bible seems to show that they do in Romans 1 and 2), we’re just saying they don’t have any grounding for objective moral values and duties without God. If there is no God that grounds goodness and no commands from Him to give us our duties, how do atheists explain good and evil?
What about the Euthyphro dilemma (see last blog)? Is something good because God commands it, or does God command it because it’s good? Remember, these are supposedly the only two options available to us, and neither are desirable. If we say something is good because God commands it, morality is arbitrary because God could have said rape is good and honesty is evil and it would have been so! If we say God commands it because it’s good, then the moral law is independent of God; so not only does it not originate from Him, He is subservient to it Himself. So which do we choose?
The answer is neither! The Euthyphro dilemma is a false dilemma. We’re only given two options, but they aren’t the only possible options that we have available. Instead, I think the Christian would want to say that God commands something because He is good! Goodness is grounded in God’s holy and immutable character (for more on immutability, see my previous blog post). If it’s grounded in His character, then the moral law isn’t independent of God; if His character is immutable, then the moral law isn’t arbitrary. He would never command us to rape because it goes against His goodness. If we choose this option, we successfully dodge the dilemma.
Therefore, we can have confidence in our view that the moral standard comes from God and need not fear these common arguments from opponents.