The Innateness Of Moral Law
Some people, including some members of the Lord’s church, have denied that moral law is in any sense innate. And by “innate” I mean something within a person’s mind from his conception rather than something within a person’s mind exclusively by experience/learning/development. Some have argued that moral law is something that has to be learned and that no one knows the difference between right and wrong without having to be taught. But there are enormous implications that follow such a position. The position that one is born without some innate ability to discern the difference between right and wrong is itself without reasonable and, certainly, without Scriptural support.
It is certainly true that a little baby has to develop in all areas of normal growth. And that is why some things have to be in place from the start of his being in order for that development to be possible. Origin and then development is the order. In this article I am not claiming that a baby comes into the world with a knowledge of the difference between right and wrong, for to make such an absurd claim would mean that I was claiming that a baby is morally accountable before God.
However, I am claiming that unless there is the innate capacity at conception for the baby’s later intuitive grasp of the meaning of “moral distinction” (the basic distinction between good and evil), that he can never know the meaning of what moral good is at all. There is a sense in which moral good simply cannot be learned or taught as a mere intellectual exercise. It has to be intuitively comprehended in a child’s initial mental experience with it or the child forever remains outside the realm of moral responsibility. Positive law (such as “Thou shalt not commit adultery”) and Pure positive law (such as “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy”) can be “taught,” but there is a prior fundamental necessity of moral intuition without which the compliance with positive law (which is an articulated statement of moral law) and pure positive law (laws which have no inherent connection to moral law) loses all moral significance.
In order to develop and prove the point that in a fundamental sense, moral law is innate, I want to consider (1) some relevant statements from both Thomas B. Warren and Anthony Flew in the Warren-Flew debate, and then point out (2) why it is that moral law must in some sense or to some degree be innate.
Of course this discussion of the status of moral law is very significant because it has to do with (1) human nature itself and thus with (2) human responsibility, and with (3) human accountability. First then, let us move to the Warren-Flew Debate which contains the discussion between Thomas B. Warren (who at the time was Professor of Philosophy of Religion and Apologetics at the Harding Graduate School of Religion, now the Harding Graduate School of Theology, in Memphis, Tennessee) and Antony G.N. Flew (who was at the time of the debate Professor of Philosophy at Reading University in England). The debate took place on September 20-23 in 1976 on the campus of North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas) in Denton, Texas. Warren was a theist and Flew was an atheist. Warren affirmed “I know that God exists.” Flew affirmed “I know that God does not exist.” By the year 2007, Flew had surrendered his atheism and opted for a kind of theism which he discussed in his book, There Is A God. However, in this article we will be dealing with Flew’s views at the time of his debate with Warren in 1976.
In the course of their debate, Flew took the position in his third affirmative speech on Monday night that “value is somehow—somehow—a function of human desires, human wishes, and so on” (p. 43). But then he took the position that value is not “merely a matter” of individual tastes, desires, and so on . . .” (p. 43). And then he illustrated his point by suggesting that “value” with regard to human beings is like the market value of a 1974 Volkswagen Beetle. A person cannot merely purchase a car for the price that he alone desires, but must pay the going price. But the going price is not established without people. In other words, there is no value in the world unless people are here, but being here, value can be set without appealing to something beyond the universe. So, he was trying to say in one sense value is subjective (it comes from within the person), but that it is also objective (it cannot be set simply or merely by an individual’s choice).
It is interesting to note that Warren and Flew before the debate took place had agreed that each one had the right to submit in writing ten questions to his opponent each night before that night’s session began. Warren used this privilege each night, but Flew did not. And on Monday night, the very first written question that Warren gave to Flew was a True-False question:
T F 1. Value did not exist before the first human being. Flew answered True. Warren noted on the paper that Flew was in that answer admitting that value was “a function of the human mind.”
The second question for Flew on Monday night was also a True-False question:
T F 2. In murdering six million Jewish men, women, and children the Nazis were guilty of real (objective) moral wrong. And Flew answered it True. On the paper, Warren noted that Flew had in his second answer contradicted his first answer, but by his second answer had admitted an objective standard.
The third question for Flew was a multiple choice:
“In torturing and/murdering six million Jews, the Nazis were guilty of violating (check all appropriate boxes):
Law of Germany
Law of England
Law of U.S.A.
Law of God
Some other law (explain):
Beside the answer “Some other law,” Flew wrote “International (Nuremberg Trials),” and under that answer he wrote the word “Moral.” Thus he equated moral law to international law. Thus, we can see Flew’s dilemma and his confusion. On the one hand, he cannot admit that any value is higher than the nature of man and on the other hand he cannot bring himself to say that the Nazi treatment of the Jews was anything lower than violation of real objective moral law (even though he wrongly equates it with or describes it as international law).
As Warren pointed out in the debate, international law is simply another product of the human mind. International law is simply the agreement of nations to abide by certain laws that they stipulate as binding. Obviously then, moral law to be distinguished from international law cannot simply be the product of a man’s mind or of the minds of many or all men. It can’t be simply something produced. If a man’s mind has access to it, it must be internally accessed or intuited or mentally grasped without going through the process of induction and deduction. It has to be immediately comprehended.
Warren several times during the course of his debate with Flew referred to Robert Jackson, an American Supreme Court Justice, who prosecuted the case against the Nazis at Nuremberg following World War II. Warren quoted some of the words of Jackson in Jackson’s final speech at the trial. Warren quoted Jackson: “‘These men should be tried on this basis, on a higher law, a higher law which rises above the provincial’—(the provincial is the area of Germany, the geographical area) ‘and the transient’ (the period of time in which the Nazis had charge of Germany). In other words he (Jackson) contended that the Nazis did not have the right to invent a law within their own nation and say, ‘This is right for us even if it is wrong for you.’” (Warren-Flew Debate, p. 17).
So, without God to appeal to as the ultimate standard of right and wrong for human action, the best Flew could do was to say that right and wrong are not determined merely by one person’s desires but that right and wrong are determined by human agreement in the international community. So after all, value is completely subjective in that men themselves without appeal to anything above them are the ones who decide what is right and what is wrong morally speaking.
On Tuesday night, Warren’s eighth written question for Flew was another True-False question:
8. T F The Judges at Nuremberg would have been justified in concluding that, since the Nazis were obeying the law of their own land, the Nazis were not guilty of real (objective) moral wrong in torturing and/or murdering six million Jewish men, women, and children.
Interestingly, Flew answered False. And Warren noted on the paper that Flew “admits the judges were under a law higher than international law!” Thus, Flew was having to admit that moral law was not the equivalent of any alleged international law after all.
Now, there are many other points that are so relevant to the discussion of ethics that Warren introduced in the debate, that we do not have the space to address just here. However, since this article is about the innateness of moral law, I want to get into a few things that were said in the debate about “conscience,” because it was Flew’s conscience, after all and according to Warren, that would not allow Flew to admit that the Nazis violated a merely subjective human law.
In Warren’s first negative speech he said, “But note: there is the conscience within man that will simply not allow Dr. Flew to accept that kind of ungodly doctrine, that the German nation had the right to invent a law, which because of the alleged needs and desires of their own society allowed them to seek to exterminate this nation of people—not only to exterminate them but to do so in the most agonizing ways; e.g., to build roads to the East in such fashion that none of them could survive the ordeal” (Warren-Flew, p. 17).
In Warren’s third negative speech on Monday night, Warren said of Flew, “Now what this amounts to is this. He wants to say, in harmony with the implications of his atheistic doctrine that morality is subjective, but there is something in him that will not let him be consistent with this implication. That thing is conscience!” (Warren-Flew, p. 50).
In his sixth negative, Warren said, “Dr. Flew cannot escape his own conscience, which is God-given. That is why he rejects the monstrosities of the Nazis—because of his God-given conscience!” (Warren-Flew, p. 124).
In his sixth affirmative, Warren said,
Of the complexity of the human being—with his soul, with his spirit, with his moral capacity, with his longing for God, with his recognition that he ought to act in certain ways and not in other ways—he has tacitly admitted that man has a conscience. There is no atheist that can get around the fact that he has a conscience. And I know that God has given him that conscience” (Warren-Flew, p. 235).
And near the end of that same affirmative, Warren pointed out the absurdity of attempting to base ethics and value on the mere agreement of men in a nation as to what its laws will be. It is not enough for men to agree that certain things are right and that certain things are wrong. If the Nazis agreed that in Germany it was moral for Germans to exterminate Jews, why wasn’t that sufficient justification for the deed? Warren again reiterated that the Nazis “. . . were tried and convicted on the basis that there was a higher law, not that they became theologians but they were implying that they were recognizing that there is within man this conscience which can be only God-given and that only a law above mere human law can be the basis for which such a decision is made” (Warren-Flew, p. 238).
Now, let us begin to explore the meaning of this “conscience” to which Warren appealed as proof of the existence of an objective (rather than merely subjective) moral law which would not allow professor Flew to excuse the Nazis for the mere violation of a subjective human law. The English word “conscience” means “Internal knowledge or judgment of right and wrong; the moral sense; morality” (New Webster’s Expanded Dictionary, 2005 Edition, p. 54). A more elaborated definition is the following: “the sense or consciousness of the moral goodness or blameworthiness of one’s own conduct, intentions, or character together with a feeling of obligation to do right or be good . . . a faculty, power, or principle enjoining good acts . . . the part of the superego in psychoanalysis that transmits commands and admonitions to the ego. . . . .” (Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 177).
The Greek word used in the New Testament for conscience means, according to the lexicographer, Thayer, either “the consciousness of anything” or “the soul as distinguishing between what is morally good and bad prompting to do the former and shun the latter, commending the one, condemning the other; conscience . . .” (Thayer, 602).
Please notice that the definition of the Greek word used for “conscience” in the New Testament entails a“consciousness” of something. There is an awareness of something that allows a conscience to function. And regarding morality, Thayer says that the awareness or consciousness that exists within a person is “the soul as distinguishing between what is morally good and bad prompting to do the former and shun the latter, commending the one, condemning the other.” Please notice also that according to the definition, it is not simply “that” a distinction is being comprehended between the morally good and the morally bad.
Before a person can be conscious of something, that something (regardless what it is) must already exist. Before a baby can possibly be aware of himself for the first time or become self-conscious, that baby must already be there. Both the baby’s body and brain must precede his conscious state. But his mind, too, must exist in order to give him consciousness of self if consciousness is a function of mind, and it clearly is. The function of conscience then, at minimum, has to do with rational awareness. But when we come to the other part of the definition of the Greek word for “conscience,” we see that something other than mere rationality or intellectuality or mental awareness is in play. This second part of the meaning of “conscience” has to do first of all with (1) apprehending the distinction between good and evil, and second of all with (2) the internal prompting toward one and a prompting toward the avoidance of the other.
Now, please consider carefully that the function of conscience in prompting or urging us to do the right and avoid the wrong is secondary to (can only work if) the first work of conscience, which is to detect the difference between right and wrong, is going on. That is, unless we can by our conscience to some degree first of all know the “content” or meaning of right and the “content” or meaning of wrong, then the conscience cannot secondly urge us in one moral direction opposite the other.
The conscience is not urging anyone merely to make an intellectual decision or to intellectually decide from two choice-possibilities or two possible selections of equal and non-moral value and which selection , then, has absolutely nothing to do with the distinction between moral good and moral evil. In other words, when we deal with conscience, we are not dealing with a part of human makeup that simply tells us to choose between a Ford or a Chevrolet. Conscience is urging us to choose right over wrong or good rather than evil. And that is not and cannot be merely an intellectual decision. In involves the intellect, to be sure, but it cannot be merely that. And it was the conscience within Flew that Warren said constituted the reason why Flew could not excuse Nazi behavior, and the conscience required God for its explanation within any person.
Now, let us further develop what we are into here as we explore the concept of conscience. In order for conscience to urge us to do the right thing as opposed to the wrong thing, then since “right” and “wrong” have to have meaning for the conscience (as directional signals that point us to something and away from something else) to thus work in this urging, the meaning of “right” and the meaning of “wrong” have to have application (as direction objects). In other words, if conscience is to properly function as our prompter toward the right and away from the wrong, the prompter cannot possibly know the direction in which our choice should go unless the choices themselves represent themselves in the categories of good and evil. Now what does all of this mean?
It means that it is incorrect or false to say that the conscience only tells us that we ought to do what is right but that at the same time it never does tell us what the right is. If the conscience to no degree tells us what is right, then it cannot point us in the direction of right as right. In other words, if the conscience cannot inform us at all of the “content” of right, it is simply urging us to make a merely intellectual decision such as choosing the Ford rather than the Chevrolet or the Chevrolet rather than the Ford. But according to definition, the conscience is not exactly the same thing as the intellectual part of man’s mind. And if you go back and read the definition of the Greek word for conscience, you will see that there is no such essential distinction made by definition itself between (1) conscience urging us to do right but (2) not informing us as to what is right.
Now, someone may be thinking that I am, unintentionally, equating the proper function of conscience with the proper function of intelligence as intelligence functions as our information collector. The reader may be thinking that I am involved in self-contradiction by confusing the conscience with the role of intelligence after trying to show earlier that they do have different roles to play. Let us see.
I want us first of all in this part of our exploration to consider the “laws of thought.” According to the logician, Lionel Ruby in his Logic-An Introduction, these laws are (1) The Law of Identity, (2) The Law of Excluded Middle, and (3) The Law of Contradiction (p. 262). These are the traditional descriptions of an apparatus operative in the mind of man that makes rationality possible. In other words, without these “laws” working, thinking cannot be done. According to Ruby, each law applies to things and to propositions. The law of identity for things means that “A is A” and for propositions it means that “If a proposition is true, then it is true.” The law of excluded middle for things says: “Anything is either A or not-A” and for propositions it means that : “A proposition, such as P, is either true or false.” And the law of contradiction for things means: “Nothing can be both A and not-A.” For propositions, it means that: “A proposition, P, cannot be both true and false.” And as Ruby rightly observes, “These laws, though not the only principles used in reasoning, are certainly basic in the sense that all reasoning presupposes them” (p. 262).
If Ruby’s conclusion is true that all thinking presupposes these three “laws,” then it means that these laws cannot be discovered or found or collected or identified or described before they are, in fact, already being utilized. Rational thinking can only commence with these “laws” being already operative within the human mind. There is no other way for the mind to think. If the mind could somehow “think” without the use of these already in place and operative laws, the “thinking” would make no sense. It would be “irrational.” It could not be thinking or clear comprehension at all. It could never reach the level of mental clarity. Confusion would be characteristic of the mind in this condition. Let us say it like this: if (1) A is not necessarily A (itself) at all or if (2) anything is not necessarily either A or not-A (that is, it is false to say that a non-horse must be a horse since A could be both a horse and non-horse) and if (3) something can be A and not-A at the same time (a ball can be both a ball and a non-ball), then nothing is rational. A human mind would be completely incapable of comprehension and the world (if there were one) would be incomprehensible (incapable of being understood or mentally grasped). If the world were arranged so that it is unintelligible (that is, if it were not capable of being rationally understood), then we couldn’t make sense of it. And even if the world was there, it still could not be rationally comprehended by man unless the laws of thought were being applied to it.
This means that these “laws of thought” are innate which, according to the New Webster’s Expanded Dictionary, means “Inborn; natural; native; inherent” (p. 146). In order for us to identify the laws of thought and describe them, we have to already be using them! We cannot “discover” them in the sense that they were completely external to our minds at the time that we were looking for them. Such is impossible!
Now, if the “laws of thought” are innate in the mind of man in order for rationality to exist (in order for thinking to get done) and which thinking shows us to be in the “rational” image of God, then why would we suppose and how would we prove that the “moral law” somehow can give us moral clarity simply by (1) telling us that we ought to do right rather than wrong but (2) while never telling us anything about the nature of the right? If the “laws of thought” must already be operational before any thinking can “get off the ground,” then why wouldn’t it also be the case that the “moral law would have to be already operational to some degree in the human conscience in order for moral decisions to be first initiated? In other words, how is it possible for a human being to make a moral decision (for which he is morally accountable) without that decision already utilizing moral law itself?
Consider the following True-False propositions:
T F 1. We ought (by virtue of moral law) always to do merely or only what we think is right.
T F 2. We ought (by virtue of moral law) always to do the right.
T F 3. We ought (by virtue of the moral law) to do what we think is right and are at the same time under obligation to do what is right even though what we think is right contradicts what is actually right.
T F 4. We ought (by virtue of the moral law) to violate the moral law if we think the violation itself is no violation.
T F 5. No one ever has the right to violate moral law.
T F 6. At times a person has the moral obligation to violate moral law.
T F 7. No one ever has the right to go against his conscience even if his conscience urges him to do what he merely thinks is morally right (but which is, in fact, morally wrong).
If proposition #1 is true, then moral law does not obligate one to choose between actual good and evil but to choose what he considers good instead of what he considers evil, even though his choice may be the selection of evil over good. This means that moral law has no connection to the moral distinction of good and evil. It means that “moral” law is not “moral” at all. It is urging us to make a merely intellectual distinction between what we consider right and wrong but without any information as to what “moral” actually means. The choice made has nothing to do with morality. But he is under obligation to choose right without knowing what right is. It makes no sense. The proposition then is false. If proposition #1 were true, then the Nazis could justify themselves in their treatment of the Jews by claiming that they thought they were doing the morally right thing.
If proposition #2 is true, then every person is under moral obligation not merely to do what he thinks is right but to actually do the right thing all the time. Now, if he is under obligation to do the right thing all the time, then, of course, he is under obligation to do what he thinks is right when what he thinks is right since he is under obligation to do what is right, and he is supposed to think in terms of what is right. But what if what he thinks is right is not right? We then need to consider the next proposition. He cannot be under moral obligation to do what in fact is immoral but which he misguidedly considers moral. And furthermore, he cannot be under moral obligation to do merely what he considers to be moral when, in fact, it is immoral.
Proposition #3 must be false because of the law of contradiction. We simply cannot at the same time being under moral obligation (due to moral law) to do X and at the same time be under moral obligation (due to moral law) not to do X. For example, we cannot be under obligation (1) not to commit murder and to be under obligation (2) to commit murder. But what if a person unknowingly commits murder, while knowing that murder is a violation of moral law, because he misjudged the situation and killed a man, thinking that the killing was not murder but rather justified homicide? This would mean that he still recognized the force of moral law regarding murder even though he violated it by his not knowing of its rightful application in a given historical situation. In this case, he was not ignorant of the moral law against murder, but of what constituted its rightful application in a given human situation. But no one ever has the moral right to murder someone with the existing approval of his conscience.
Proposition #4 then must be false. No one ever has the authority by virtue of moral law to violate moral law. One simply cannot be bound by moral law to do evil when he thinks that evil is good.
If number #5 is true, (and it is) then the content of moral law has to be sufficiently clear in the initial stage of its implementation for a person to realize his basic obligation.
Proposition #6 is false. One cannot have moral obligation to be immoral. Such a thing is absurd and is self-contradictory by definition.
Proposition #7 would have to be false. If my conscience is prompting me to do what, in fact, is moral evil, because I have misjudged the proper application of moral law, and if I have no right ever to violate moral law, then in some sense, I have to disregard my conscience. If I have the moral right to violate moral law by the compliance with the urging of my conscience to do the morally wrong thing, I cannot be under obligation to moral law because the law with which I am attempting to comply cannot be moral. In some sense, then, there can exist a situation such that a person is either (1) under obligation to go against his conscience or (2) moral law. But if he cannot be moral at the same time that he conscientiously violates moral law, then there has to be a refined sense in which he can be under moral obligation to violate his conscience. And that brings us to this clarification. If a situation can develop such that a person is under moral obligation to violate his conscience (in some sense)seeing that his conscience now sanctions the violation of moral law obligation, to understand this, we must look at conscience from a three-fold point of view:
Three Functions Of Conscience
(1) Conscience as providing content of the moral right (moral law);
(2) Conscience as compeller to do what is the moral right (moral law);
(3) Conscience as applicator of perceived moral duty (at times in violation of moral law).
No one has the right to violate his conscience in the sense of (2) as it functions as a compeller or prompter to do what is right. And no one has the moral right to violate his (1) conscience as it contains clear content of moral law. But if, because of existing conditions, he misapplies moral law content to a situation thereby unknowingly violating a moral obligation and with a clear conscience, he also at the same time remained under obligation to the rightful application of actual moral law. It is at point (3) that going against conscience becomes a moral obligation (although this certainly is not being comprehended at the time). The problem is with the application of the moral law. If a Nazi had the approval of his conscience to kill Jews and to label such as “justified homicide” in his own mind, it is not because he does not recognize moral law but that he has misjudged miserably its application. He has altered the definition of “justified homicide” to including his own killing of the Jews. He now thinks that, due to existing conditions, the killing of Jews is not “murder.”
It is not that he cannot tell the difference conceptually between murder and justified homicide, but that because of historical circumstances, the killing of Jews is now justified in his own mind. The “information” that led him to this unfortunate and horrible conclusion is certainly insufficient to justify his confusion. However, his confusion is not to be interpreted as evidence of a complete disconnect between the Nazi and moral law. The conscientious Nazi (in the killing of Jews) would certainly still see the difference between the concepts of justified killing and murder if someone tried to kill his own wife and children. The moral distinction remains in his conscience, but the application of the perceived concept is misdirected when he thinks in terms of Germany’s law and Germany’s needs. His moral duty is to preserve and protect Germany. This shows us how man is capable of sincerely (that is, with a good conscience) doing moral evil.
No one ever has the right to violate the moral content of conscience, but if a person misguidedly applies moral law, he remains under moral law obligation to violate the misapplication of that obligation. In other words, if a Nazi (1) knew that only some killing is justified and that all murder is moral evil, but if he justifies himself in the killing of six million Jews because it was the moral obligation of Germany to satisfy its needs, and if his conscience prompted him to obey the law of Germany in the extermination of the Jews, he would still be under moral law obligation to go against his misguided and approving conscience. He could say that while he knew that murder was evil, he did not in the situation of World War II think that killing the Jews was murder. So, he conscientiously killed Jews. He was, however, under moral obligation to violate the urging of his conscience (if his conscience was urging him) to comply with the law of Germany with regard to the Jews! It is a violation of moral law by misapplication due to an alteration of definition. It is clear, therefore, that someone can still recognize the existence and force of moral law (a person should not murder another person) and yet, due to misapplication of the law or a change in definition of the word “murder” exempt himself from violation of the content of moral law.
Now notice please that in Thomas Warren’s third affirmative speech on Wednesday night of his debate with Antony Flew, he presented a chart entitled “Moral Codes—And God” (1) which was numbered as chart 43-A13:
- If the moral code and/or actions of any individual or society can properly be subjects of criticism (as to real moral wrong), then there must be some objective standard (some “higher law which transcends the provincial & transient”) which is other than the particular moral code and which has an obligatory character which can be recognized.
- The moral code and/or actions of any individual or society can properly be subjects of criticism (as to real moral wrong).
- Therefore, there must be some objective standard (some “higher law which transcends the provincial & transient”) which is other than the particular moral code and which has an obligatory character which can be recognized (p. 173).
And in that affirmative speech, Warren again alluded to the fact that the thing which would not allow Flew to excuse the Nazis for their treatment of the Jews was his conscience (p. 172). He pressed Flew in the matter. Referring to Flew, Warren said, “He knows the British were right in saying that the Germans were wrong. And, when he says the British were right in saying the Germans were wrong, he knows the Germans were wrong when they say they were right. But the only way he can consistently say this is to recognize the law of Almighty God” (p. 172).
Warren was thus claiming in the debate that the atheist, Antony Flew, could recognize the moral law. Of course he did not see and could not admit that such required God for its existence, but Warren never doubted that Flew recognized the law. Warren never told Flew that his “recognition” of moral law was a mere illusion or that it was a fiction of his own imagination. Throughout the discussion, Warren maintained that Flew really did comprehend moral law even though Flew was an atheist. But, he was an atheist who had a conscience.
To comprehend it, to use it, to apply it to real situations is what Flew did with moral law, even though he did not recognize that its existence required God and that without God there could be no objective standard by which he could meaningfully criticize the Nazis. And just here we need to mention that if no law is the proper subject of criticism on moral grounds unless there is an ultimate objective moral standard, and that if that standard implies God, and if conscience is the connection between Flew and his inability to excuse the Nazis, then the conscience must contain moral content whereby Flew recognized that the Nazis were guilty of real moral evil.
Now, remember that several pages back we pointed out that over the years a lot of us have been taught that the conscience urges us to do what is right but that it does not tell us what is right. We are now seeing that such a statement is erroneous. If someone says that conscience has no knowledge of the content of right as such initially, but that it does have knowledge that there is a distinction between right and wrong, he must face the fact that such a claim means that then (1) the conscience has no knowledge of the content of right, and that (2) the alleged knowledge of the distinction between right and wrong is no moral content either. In other words, when a man says that conscience tells us to do the right but that it can never tell us what the right actually is, he is saying that the conscience entails no concept of moral right at all. And if the conscience contains no concept of moral right at all, it certainly cannot be utilized as a moral argument for the existence of God! In other words, this view entails the implication that there is no conscience at all that distinguishes it from intellect. So, if conscience can be rightfully employed as a proof of the moral law (and hence of the existence of God), then it has to have knowledge of moral content!
Consider the following chart:
What Many Of US Have Been Taught
Conscience-----------------Doesn’t Know Content Difference Between--------------Right and Wrong
Intellect---------------------Must Learn Content Difference Between------------------Right and Wrong
Conscience----------------Urges Us To Choose-----------------------------------------Right /not Wrong
(But Without Knowing What Right Is)
Conscience---------------Is Then Completely Dependent On Intellect For
Content Of The Difference Between----------Right and Wrong
But we have come to see in this article that if conscience actually puts a person in contact with moral law so that he can recognize the difference between moral good and moral evil, the moral law itself must (in order to be moral law) contain moral content. This means that every accountable person on earth knows something of the moral distinction between right and wrong by being human. Even if he is an atheist, he is still in the image of God, and that image entails not only rationality (which is based on the “laws of thought”) but also morality (which is based on “moral law”).
If there is no innateness of moral law within man, then conscience operates blindly. Consider the following:
If Conscience Contains No Inherent Moral Content
Conscience Urges Us To Choose-------------------------------------------------What we think is right even
if it is wrong, or choose wrong
if we think it is right.
(“Oughtness” operates without any moral clarity)
Note: This means we would be under moral obligation in some situations to do wrong because we conscientiously thought that wrong was right!
If Conscience Contains Inherent Moral Content
By Its Connection To Moral Law
Moral Law Obligates Us ------------------------------------------------- To choose what is right all the time
Conscience by inherent intuition connects us to moral law----------- Contains knowledge of moral obligation
Conscience as compeller urges us----------------------------------------To choose what is right all the time
Conscience as applicator of perceived moral duty---------------------Makes conscientiously committed evil possible
The next chart shows the similarity that obtains between the way that the laws of thought function and the way that the moral law works.
Innateness Of Laws
Intellect--------------------------Entails Innate“Laws Of Thought”---------------------Makes Rationality Possible
Conscience---------------------Entails Innate Moral Law------------------------------Makes Morality Possible
The last chart shows how that a person’s conscience actually serves as a proof for the existence of God.
Conscience And Moral Law
Conscience Connects Us With---------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Moral Law
Moral Law Implies------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ God
Conscience Implies----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- God
Thus, moral law can be used to properly criticize other particular moral codes, and it can be used as an argument for the existence of God. Remember, that in his debate with Flew, Warren asserted that he knew that Flew’s conscience had been given to him by God! How can conscience be proof of God if it contains no innate moral content the awareness of which must be intuited (immediately grasped without the process of induction and deduction comparable to the way the laws of thought must be used)? It cannot.
Let me please make one final point. Many times many of us have heard warnings with regard to relying on our human emotions or feelings. We have been told and we have told others that we simply cannot rely on feelings as justification of the accuracy of our convictions. However, and with due regard to the important warning, it is not exactly as stated accurate either. The warning is all right as a general caution, but it is false as an exclusion of any reliance on feeling whatever. Why do I say such? Consider the feeling of “innocence” (conscience approval) and “guilt” (conscience criticizer). If I am to follow my conscience, then I am supposed to be able to some degree to rely on the feeling that I receive from it as it functions as approver or disapprover of my actions. The feeling of innocence and the feeling of guilt are there in moral beings as the result of the function of a working conscience. And even the sense of “oughtness” (that I ought to do a certain thing) is a matter of feeling. Revisit Webster’s definition of “conscience” earlier given in this paper where the word “feeling” is actually used. What philosophers refer to as a sense of “oughtness” is referred to by Webster as“a feeling of obligation” (Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 177). It is true that due to misapplication of moral law, my conscience can approve what it ought to condemn and can condemn what it ought to approve, but it also can be properly applied so that the feelings of innocence and guilt are in order. If the fruit of the Spirit is proof of a person’s connection to the Vine, including love, joy, and peace (John 15; Gal. 5:19-24), and if the peace that passes all understanding is characteristic of faithful Christians (Phil. 4:7), and if love, joy, and peace involve our feelings (and they surely do as much as the feeling of innocence and guilt), then feelings do have some secondary evidentiary value in Christian Apologetics after all. This point deserves much attention.