Was blind, but now I see.

2 : 6 May 2003


Professsor Mike Leeming

Professor Mike Leeming and his wife Karen Leeming were missionaries to Mexico for many years. Presently Mike teaches Cultural Anthropology, English, and Bible courses in Bethany College of Missions, Minneapolis. He is an avid reader of Christian fiction.

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Copyright © 2001
M. S. Thirumalai


Mike Leeming


A man who had been a missionary to a totally unevangelized tribe of people living on one of the smaller of the inhabited islands of Indonesia told a story once that I believe gives credence to the moral argument for God.

After he had learned the language of the people he was living among, he began to teach them the story of the creation, the flood, the calling of Abraham, and then the early history of the children of Israel, as these events are recorded in the Pentateuch. He said that something unusual happened when he got to the point in his teaching of the giving of the Ten Commandments by God to the people of Israel. As he listed and explained the Decalogue, a stunned silence fell over the group of men until finally one of the elders in the group spoke up. He said that they already knew those ten laws. The missionary was shocked. He wondered how these tribal people could possible know the Ten Commandments. He knew that no missionary had ever lived among these people, so how could they already know the Ten Commandments? He asked the elder how they knew these laws. The elder responded that they had these laws for a very long time, before the time of his grandfather's grandfather. They knew that stealing was wrong, and that lying was wrong, and that it was wrong to take some other man's wife. But then the elder of this tribe confessed, "We have broken these laws. All of us have. And we don't know what to do about it."1


Simply stated, the moral argument for the existence of God goes something like this:

  1. "Real moral obligation is a fact. We are really truly, objectively obligated to do good and avoid evil.
  2. Either the atheistic view of reality is correct or the 'religious' one.
  3. But the atheistic one is incompatible with there being moral obligation.
  4. Therefore the 'religious view of reality is correct."2


Probably the clearest biblical basis for the moral argument for God is found in Paul's letter to the Romans, especially in the 2nd chapter.

All those who have done wrong without the law will get destruction without the law: and those who have done wrong under the law will have their punishment by the law; For it is not the hearers of the law who will be judged as having righteousness before God, but only the doers: For when the Gentiles without the law have a natural desire to do the things in the law, they are a law to themselves; Because the work of the law is seen in their hearts, their sense of right and wrong giving witness to it, while their minds are at one time judging them and at another giving them approval; In the day when God will be a judge of the secrets of men, as it says in the good news of which I am a preacher, through Jesus Christ (Romans 2:12-16 BBE).

Matthew Henry's comments on verse 14 in this passage are very good.

They [the Gentiles] had that which directed them what to do by the light of nature: by the force and tendency of their natural notions and dictates they apprehended a clear and vast difference between good and evil. They did by nature the things contained in the law. They had a sense of justice and equity, honour and purity, love and charity; the light of nature taught obedience to parents, pity to the miserable, conservation of public peace and order, forbade murder, stealing, lying, perjury, & c. Thus they were a law unto themselves.3


The Apostle Paul claims that God has written the law, His law, in the hearts of those who obey the law and yet were never given the law, as were the Jews. And "their sense of right and wrong" (verse 15) bears witness to that law.

This idea of a universal sense of right and wrong is something that C.S. Lewis talks extensively about in his classic work, Mere Christianity. Lewis calls this sense of right and wrong "the Law of Human Nature."

Every one has heard people quarrelling. Sometimes it sounds funny and sometimes it sounds merely unpleasant; but however it sounds, I believe we can lean something very important from listening to the kind of things they say. They say things like this: 'How'd you like it if anyone did the same to you?'-'That's my seat, I was there first'-'Leave him alone, he isn't doing you any harm'-Why should you shove in first?'-'Give me a bit of your orange, I gave you a bit of mine'-'Come on, you promised.' People say things like that every day, educated people as well as uneducated, and children as well as grown-ups.4


Lewis' opening argument hits home with the reader because, I dare say, we have all experienced this ourselves. I can remember vividly not being given my turn up at bat in a baseball game during recess in fourth grade. I had a strong sense of having been dealt a serious injustice. Every fiber of my being cried out, "That's not fair!" I even presented my case to the teacher on duty, and, to my great satisfaction, he agreed with me and I was promised that I would be allowed to be first up to bat the following day at recess, which came to pass.

Now what interests me about all these remarks is that the man who makes them is not merely saying that the other man's behavior does not happen to please him. He is appealing to some kind of standard of behavior, which he expects the other man to know about. And the other man seldom replies: 'To hell with your standard.' Nearly always he tries to make out that what he has been doing does not really go against the standard, or that if it does there is some special excuse. He pretends there is some special reason in this particular case why the person who took the seat first should not keep it, or that things were quite different when he was given the bit of orange, or that something has turned up which lets him off keeping his promise. It looks, in fact, very much as if both parties had in mind some kind of Law or Rule of fair play or decent behavior or morality or whatever you like to call it, about which they really agreed. And they have. If they had not, they might, of course, fight like animals, but they could not quarrel in the human sense of the word. Quarrelling means trying to show that the other man is in the wrong. And there would be no sense in trying to do that unless you and he had some sort of agreement as to what Right and Wrong are… Now this Law or Rule about Right and Wrong used to called the Law of Nature… But when the older thinkers called the Law of Right and Wrong 'the Law of Nature,' the really meant the Law of Human Nature. The idea was that, just as all bodies are governed by the law of gravitation, and organisms by biological laws, so the creature called man also had his law-with this great difference, that a body could not choose whether it obeyed the law of gravitation or not, but a man could choose either to obey the Law of Human Nature or to disobey it.5


A common objection to this type of reasoning is that there are no moral standards that are absolute and universal because standards of morality-of rightness and wrongness-vary from one culture to another,6 and even from one age to another. This is commonly referred to as "cultural relativism." Commenting on cultural relativism, William D. Watkins says,

"It grows out of the conviction that there are no universal standards of good or bad, right or wrong, normal or abnormal, that we can apply cross-culturally. In fact, cultural relativists maintain that a society's beliefs and behaviors must be understood and judged within the context of that society. Whatever a society believes is right is right within that society; whatever beliefs and behaviors it condemns as wrong are, therefore, wrong for that group. We, from our culture, cannot impose our standards on any other culture, just as other cultures cannot judge us by their standards. No culture's code of conduct has special status; it is simply one code among many, no better or worse than any other."7

Lewis answers this argument well:

"I know that some people say the idea of a Law of Nature or decent behavior known to all men is unsound, because different civilizations and different ages have had quite different moralities.
But this is not true. There have been differences between their moralities, but these have never amounted to anything like a total difference. If anyone will take the trouble to compare the moral teaching of, say, the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks, and Romans, what will really strike him will be how very like they are to each other and to our own… Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of double-crossing all the people who had been kindest to him. You might just as well try to imagine a country where two and two make five. Men have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to-whether it was only your own family, or your fellow countrymen, or every one. But they have always agreed that you ought not to put yourself first. Selfishness has never been admired. Men have differed as to whether you should have one wife or four. But they have always agreed that you must not simply have any woman you liked."8


Cultural Anthropologists have given evidence for the existence of universal standards of morality in observing, for example, that incest-"mating between parent and child and between brother and sister"9 - is condemned in all societies.

Lewis also considers the case of the man that says that he does not believe in a universal sense of right and wrong.

Whenever you find a man who says that he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promise to you, but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining 'It's not fair' before you can say Jack Robinson… It seems, then, we are forced to believe in a real Right and Wrong.10


What is the source of these universal standards of moral behavior? Why do we all have them? John Frame claims that absolute moral standards presuppose the existence of an absolute personality-God.

Moral values, after all, are rather strange. We cannot see them, hear them, or feel them, but we cannot doubt that they exist. A witness to a bank robbery can see the thief walk into the bank, pull out his gun, speak to the teller, take the money, and walk out. But the witness does not see what is perhaps the most important fact-the moral evil of the robber's action. Yet that evil is unquestionably there… Robbery is not wrong because we dislike it; rather, we dislike it because it is wrong. Our evaluation of robbery, in other words, is not just our own subjective taste; it is a judgment which we are obligated to make and which, moreover, we believe everyone else is obligated to make… People can argue with one another as to [what] should be regarded as the highest ethical principle, the absolute norm. But all of us do acknowledge one; otherwise, we would make no moral judgments at all… The source of absolute moral authority is either personal or impersonal… An impersonal principle like fate is insufficient to create an 'ought,' to rightly demand loyalty and obedience… Obligations arise in the context of interpersonal relationships… [And] if obligations arise from personal relationships, then the absolute obligations must arise from our relationship with an absolute person… Moral standards, therefore, presuppose absolute moral standards, which in turn presuppose the existence of an absolute personality. In other words, they presuppose the existence of God.11

Ward Patterson, Campus Chaplain at Indiana University, also asserts that absolute moral standards originate in God:

Man cannot explain his moral nature or define principles of value without some outside reference point. Satisfactory answers as to the nature of man and the purpose of man always lie outside the unaided wisdom of man. Thus the answers must come from outside, in the form of a message-or a messenger. The Christian believes that such a message from outside does, in fact, exist (in the form of the Bible) and that, in fact, such a messenger has come (in the form of Jesus Christ).12


This universal acceptance of certain moral standards is, I also believe, important evidence of the existence of God, and, I believe that it is evidence of the existence of a holy God who distinguishes between good and evil.

Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy; for I am the LORD your God (Leviticus 20:7 RSV).
Do not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling; but on the contrary bless, for to this you have been called, that you may obtain a blessing (1 Peter 3:9 RSV).


On this note, I would like to conclude with some remarks from Joseph Blasczyk, who critiques Joseph Fletcher's book Situation Ethics.

"Fletcher maintains that love is the sole criterion to be used in judging the rightness or wrongness of actions. In any situation, he says, we are to maximize love, to do the most loving thing. And the loving thing will be the right thing… According to Fletcher, we are to carry principles from our community and its heritage into situations with us. These principles are then to be used as illuminators of the situation, but not as directives. They are to be kept in a position subservient to love and only to be used if they serve love's purposes. Thus if it is more loving in a given situation to lie, one would be right in lying . . .
In place of Fletcher's view of morality, I suggest a view which is consistently Christian. God's particular and revealed laws in Scripture are absolutes for moral conduct. Furthermore these revealed laws are in fact the practical outworkings of His pure love. That is, they are statements of how true love acts.13


1. New Tribes Missionary at a lecture during a "Perspectives on the World Christian Movement" Seminar given in Winter 1987-1988 at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (I'm sorry that I do not know the missionary's name.)

2. Peter Kreeft & Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994. p. 72.

3. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 6. McLean: MacDonald Pub., 1985. p. 376.

4. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity New York: Harper Collins, 1980. p. 3.

5. Ibid, 3-4.

6. Adamson Hoebel and Thomas Weaver, Anthropology and the Human Experience, 5th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979. pp. 184-186.

7. William D. Watkins, The New Absolutes. Minneapolis: Bethany, 1996. pp. 22-23.

8. Lewis, pp. 5, 6.

9. Paul G. Hiebert, Cultural Anthropology (2nd ed.). Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1983. p. 198.

10. Lewis, pp. 6, 7.

11. John M. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction. Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub., 1994. pp. 93, 94, 95, 97, 98, 99, 100.

12. Ward Patterson, The Morality Maze: What is Right, and Why? Cincinnati: Standard Pub., 1982. pp. 83-84.

13. Joseph Blasczyk, "What About Situation Ethics?" Christianity For the Tough-Minded, ed. John Warwick Montgomery. Minneapolis: Bethany, 1973. pp. 91, 95-96.


Blasczyk, Joseph. "What About Situation Ethics?" Christianity For the Tough-Minded. Ed. John Warwick Montgomery. Minneapolis: Bethany, 1973. pp. 91-97.

Frame, John M. Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction. Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub., 1994.

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible. 6 vols. McLean: MacDonald Pub., 1985.

Hoebel, Adamson, and Thomas Weaver, Anthropology and the Human Experience. 5th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979.

Hiebert, Paul G. Cultural Anthropology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1983.

Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. New York: Harper Collins, 1980.

Kreeft, Peter and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994.

New Tribes Missionary at a lecture during a "Perspectives on the World Christian Movement" Seminar given in Winter 1987-1988 at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Patterson, Ward. The Morality Maze: What is Right, and Why? Cincinnati: Standard Pub., 1982.

Watkins, William D. The New Absolutes. Minneapolis: Bethany, 1996.

Versions of the Bible used:

BBE - The Bible in Basic English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965.

RSV - Holy Bible, The Revised Standard Version. Nashville: Holman, 1982.


Mike Leeming
Bethany College of Missions, Suite C
Bloomington, MN 55438, USA.