Moral Order

The world has a moral order. Many are unwilling to concede that truth, however. But the world functions as if that is the case. Let’s take my kid’s classroom as an example.

In my kid’s classroom there is a telos, or goal for which the students gather. There are also specific means that are employed to reach that end.

The whole education system is predicated upon the goals of teaching things that are deemed important for the betterment and healthy functioning of the individual student and society. Various means are employed to best meet those goals. There are subtle disagreements of course. For example, people have disagreements over the best forms of discipline. But there is overarching agreement across America.

Think of the quintessential school. Perhaps for you it’s John Adams High from Boy Meets World or maybe Bayside High School from Saved by the Bell. Regardless, there is a quintessential school. There is something that is aimed for, something that is ideal.

If, however, the world had no moral order—if it started out of random chaos and continues in random chaos—then there would be no ideal for which to aim. Schools would be akin to the Lord of the Flies. That would make sense. That would be consistent.

Of course, even those who don’t believe in a moral order, in telos, don’t want their children to go to a school that’s similar to the Lord of the Flies. Most Americans want their children to go to a school where they will be taught in a conducive environment for learning. And I’m thankful for that.

It should be realized, however, that the reason a conducive environment can even exist is because we don’t live in a random world. There is indeed order. We can create settings in which certain things are more likely to occur. In the example of school, we create sittings where learning can best occur. There is telos. There is a moral order in classrooms all across this great big country. And that, I think we all agree, is well and good.

The truth is that there is also a universal moral order as well. We do not live in a world of blind “pitiless indifference,” as Richard Dawkins says.[i] All across America, those who believe we live in a world of random chance, a world in which there is no moral order, very often live as if we live in a world of moral order.[ii] At least for their kids… At least where they can see where the moral order impacts them directly.

The western world is saying out of one side of its mouth that there is no moral order and all things are permissible. Out the other side of its mouth, however, it’s claiming vigorously that there is purpose. We cannot have it both ways.

There is order in the universe. There is even moral order. We can create settings in which certain things are more likely to occur. We can follow the moral order that God has given us and then there will be optimal conditions for harmony and human flourishing.


[i] Dawkins has said, programmed into our brains are “altruistic urges, alongside sexual urges, hunger urges, xenophobic urges and so on…. We can no more help ourselves feeling pity when we see a weeping unfortunate (who is unrelated and unable to reciprocate) than we can help ourselves feeling lust for a member of the opposite sex (who may be infertile or otherwise unable to reproduce). Both are misfirings, Darwinian mistakes: blessed, precious mistakes” (Richard Dawkins, the God Delusion, 252-53). Thus, for Dawkins, kindness is just a mistake. This is because Darwin argued that humans that developed certain traits, like kindness, tend to survive longer because they team up with others. Darwin says, “When two tribes of primeval man, living in the same country, came into competition, if the one tribe included a greater number of courageous, sympathetic, and faithful members, who were always ready to warn each other of danger, to aid and defend each other, this tribe would without doubt succeed best and conquer the other” (Charles Darwin, The Decent of Man, 130). So, in On The Origin of Species, Darwin says, “Natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinizing, throughout the world, every variation, even the slightest; rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good; silently and insensibly working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being” (Charles Darwin, On The Origin of Species, 133).

It’s also strange to note that Dawkins essentially says evil does not exist and also says God and Christians are evil. In contrast to Dawkins, I appreciate William Provine’s honesty. He said in a debate at Stanford University with Phil Johnson that “there is no ultimate foundation for ethics.” It was Provine’s view that no life after death exists, no ultimate foundation for ethics exists, and there is no ultimate meaning to life. Jean-Paul Sartre, and really all the existentialists I’ve read, are logically consistent. Sartre says, “The existentialists… thinks it very distressing that God does not exist, because all possibility of finding values in a heaven of ideas disappears along with Him; there can no longer be an a priori Good, since there is not infinite and perfect consciousness to think it. Nowhere is it written that the Good exists, what we must be honest, that we must not lie; because the fact is we are on a plane where there are only men” (Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism and Human Emotions, 22).

[ii] C. S. Lewis says, “Let us begin by supposing that Nature is all that exists. Let us suppose that nothing ever has existed or ever will exist except this meaningless play of atoms in space and time: that by a series of hundredth chances it has (regrettably?) produced things like ourselves—conscious beings who now know that their own consciousness is an accidental result of the whole meaningless process and is therefore itself meaningless…

In this situation there are, I think, three things one might do:

  1. You might commit suicide…
  2. You might decide simply to have as good a time as possible. The universe is a universe of nonsense, but since you are here, grab what you can…
  3. You might defy the universe…” (Lewis, “On Living in an Atomic Age”).

Of course, naturalists are not always consistent. C. S. Lewis says, “The Naturalist can, if he chooses, brazen it out. He can say, ‘Yes. I quite agree that there is no such thing as right and wrong. I admit that no moral judgment can be ‘true’ or ‘correct’ and, consequently, that no one system of morality can be better or worse than another. All ideas of good and evil are hallucinations—shadows cast on the outer world by the impulses which we have been conditioned to feel.’…

But then they must stick to it; and fortunately (though inconsistently) most real Naturalists do not. A moment after they have admitted that good and evil are illusions, you will find them exhorting us to work for posterity, to educate, revolutionize, liquidate, live and die for the good of the human race… They write with indignation like men proclaiming what is good in itself and denouncing what is evil in itself, and not at all like men recording that they personally like mild beer but some people prefer bitter” (Miracles). “When men say ‘I ought’ they certainly think they are saying something, and something true, about the nature of the proposed action, and not merely about their own feelings. But if Naturalism is true, ‘I ought’ is the same sort of statement as ‘I itch’ or ‘I’m going to be sick’” (Miracles).

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About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)

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