Your Morality, My Morality, Everyone’s Morality: In Defense of Moral Absolutes

To say that the Christian worldview is true is to say that it best describes the contours of the world as it actually exists.

For example, Christianity says that the universe is a product of design and that this fact is observable by everyone, whether or not that truth has been suppressed by other commitments.

Christianity’s correspondence with the observable moral order of the world is an aspect of Christianity’s justified true belief. As Francis Schaeffer pointed out, “If there is no absolute beyond man’s ideas, then there is no final appeal to judge between individuals and groups whose moral judgments conflict. We are merely left with conflicting opinions.” To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, if moral judgment is impossible, then whether we like certain values is just a preference for certain impulses based on how strongly we feel them rather than on whether they are actually real. In a world of merely conflicting opinions, those best able to muster the power to get their way will always win. The biblical idea is that moral absolutes are not around to benefit the stronger and meaner but rather to protect the weak. Bullies are not right just because they are mightier. Common sense tells us that only bullies disagree with this claim.

So far every culture in the world has understood and embraced moral absolutes to buffer society from the influence of raw power. Richard H. Beis, professor emeritus of philosophy at St. Mary’s University in Nova Scotia, collected a list of moral absolutes that seem to be true in every culture that anthropologists have studied:

Moral Absolutes Consistent in Most Cultures

  • Prohibition of murder or maiming without justification
  • Prohibition of lying, at least in certain areas such as oaths, etc.
  • Right to own property such as land, clothing, tools, etc.
  • Economic justice: reciprocity and restitution
  • Preference of common good over individual good
  • Sexual restriction within all societies
  • Reciprocal duties between children and parents: parents care for and train children, and children respect, obey, and care for parents in old age
  • Loyalty to one’s social unit (family, tribe, country)
  • Provision for poor and unfortunate
  • Prohibition of theft
  • Prevention of violence within in-groups
  • Obligation to keep promises
  • Obedience to leaders
  • Respect for the dead and disposal of human remains in some traditional and ritualistic fashion
  • Desire for and priority of immaterial goods (knowledge, values, etc.)
  • Obligation to be a good mother
  • Distributive justice (fairness)
  • Inner rather than external sanctions considered better
  • Recognizing courage as a virtue
  • Identifying justice as an obligation

People who believe there are moral absolutes think moral rules are universal because they are universally true, revealed to everyone. Yes, they work, and, in that, they are good.

But they are not good because they work; they work because they are good. They are sensible, surely. But they are sensible because they are true, not the other way around. Christians can think this way because they believe the Bible’s revelation of God’s nature and character.

From a biblical viewpoint, it is not that the truth is unknowable or that we are confused; it is that truth is knowable and we have rebelled. Even fallen humans can know the truth, and we ought to encourage one another to embrace it.


This is an excerpt from Understanding the Faith: A Survey of Christian Apologetics by Jeff Myers, available in Summit’s bookstore.