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Reasons For Believing in Christian Theistic Ethics

  • Morality - often used in a descriptive sense to describe the behavioral patterns of a given person or society
  • Ethics - seeks to describe the foundations for our moral obligations. Is concerned with the determination of the proper imperatives for human behavior and the grounds of these imperatives.
    • personal ethics - relating to the motivation and character of the moral agent (one person)
    • interpersonal ethics - related to the attitude and actions of an individual with his neighbor
    • social ethics - related to the structures of human existence such as family, church and state
Thesis: The Bible provides the only valid grounds for a system of ethics.

The Failure of Secular Ethical Systems

Questions asked by ethical systems:
  1. Obligation - Which actions are right and which are wrong and why?
  2. Value - What goals in life are worthwhile?
The question of ethical guidance, when pursued logically, leads to a an ultimate first principle or ground, on which all other ethical judgments depend. If this ultimate first principal is not justifiable, then all ethical judgments that depend on it are not justifiable.

There is a way that seems right to a man,
But its end is the way of death. - Prov. 14:12 and 16:25


Utilitarianism (associated with Oxford's Jeremy Bentham, 1748-1832) is a hedonistic theory of ethics. Hedonism is the belief that whatever feels good, is good. Utilitarianism teaches that one ought to seek, not only for his own pleasure, but also the greatest pleasure of the greatest number. Pleasure in Utilitarianism is measured by various parameters (i.e. intensity, duration, certainty, propinquity, etc.).
  • No way of knowing how much pleasure or pain a given action will give people in the future. This system would require you to be omniscient in order to know what actions are right or wrong.
  • Used by many tyrants to justify all manner of cruelty
  • Fails to protect the minority from the majority
  • As a descriptive science, it fails to justify why anyone should govern his actions by the good of others. In fact, it does not justify why pleasure is good. Nor does it justify why the pleasure of the many should out-weigh my pleasure.


Doing what is right is defined in terms of good, and this good being intuitive or grounded in "intuitions" about the world and our universe. An action would be good if it produces more good than would have been produced by any other action open to the agent. So, it is very similar to utilitarianism in this way.
  • Suffers from the same problem of knowing how my actions would produce "more good".
  • Does not define good.
  • Tells us only what we think we know but does not justify that "intuition".
  • So many different considerations to make regarding the "most good" that the attainment of certainty or even probability is impossible. Therefore, practical knowledge cannot be derived from theory. Intuition provides no criterion by which differences of opinion may be settled.


There is no right or wrong, but only meaningless expressions of emtions. For example, the statement "stealing is wrong" functions primarily to express your feeling about stealing and to generate a similar attitude in others.
  • emotivism is not a theory about ethics
  • fails to identify the aim of life
  • provides no guidance for human action
  • denies the possibility of knowing ethics (skepticism)


Based on subjective experience, the existentialist' theory of ethics emphasizes living authentically. The sole "principle" of conduct is "Whatever you do, do it because you choose to do it and for no other reason." According to existentialism, to choose is the human one single value. Choosing is what makes a person a responsible moral agent.
  • If "living authentically" is the highest value then the free choice to drink coffee in the morning is as valuable as the choice to murder someone. There is nothing that is not commendable so long as it is freely chosen.
  • If one really lives authentically and makes choices without any outside influence ("because you choose to do it and for no other reason"), then all choices are without reason and are not rational.


Usually associated with John Dewey (1859-1952), an atheist, pragmatist, and behaviorist. He believed that man had only himself to draw from and that intelligent action is the sole ultimate resource of mankind in all fields. Therefore, fixed ethical principles do not exist. To him, rules of morality change like we rules of grammar or changing customs. If they solve human problems, they are good instruments. If they do not, they are bad.

This would suggest that any action (e.g. cannibalism) that begins to gain acceptance becomes morally good. To deal with this problem Dewey appealed to "common opinion". But what is common? Communist common opinion during the cultural revolution in China committed horrible terror campaigns. Islamic radicals have a common opinion about waging "holy jihad" and use any means, such as terrorism, to achieve dominance.
  • If nothing is intrinsically right or valuable how can anyone choose between incompatible common ideals.
  • If nothing is intrinsically right or valuable why continue living?
  • This is another non-theory (skepticism)

Evolutionary Ethics

The evolutionary theory of ethics presupposes as true the claim that the history of mankind is a continuation of the evolutionary process. Accordingly, all moral ideas are rooted in human needs. Such moral ideas evolve due to natural selection. In this theory there is no fixed morality, nor finality.
  • The very foundation of evolution is false. Man can know nothing from probability statements about evolutionary theory because probability statements are meaningless (as discussed in prior lessons).
  • If all moral ideas originate through evolution, then no possible criterion is exempt from being used to determine right from wrong, and hence there is no basis criticism of one over the other. This is another non-theory.


We affirm that moral values derive their source from human experience. Ethics is autonomous and situational needing no theological or ideological sanction. Ethics stems from human need and interest.  - Humanist Manifesto II (1973)
The ground of humanistic ethical systems is human experience (need and interest). But what about when these needs or interests conflict? What if I need your new car? What does a person have to appeal to other than personal experience? The Humanist Manifesto III (2003) appeals our "social nature".
Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. - Humanist Manifesto III (2003)
But how can a society obligate a person purely on experiential or empirical grounds? Experience and empirical observation only seeks to explain what is, not what ought to be. Even if a humanist appeals to the higher law of society, or loyalty to the state, we are still left with the same ethical problems when the that higher society demands us to murder or steal.

The Christian knows that ALL ETHICS ARE BASED ON GOD'S LAW.
There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another? - James 4:12
All secular ethical systems are a complete failure because they throw out the foundation of all ethics, God's law.