Does Society Determine Morality?

Jul 25, 2017 | Apologetics, Article, Ethics, Philosophy

Recently I was engaged in a discussion with an unbeliever on another apologetics ministry’s website. Repeatedly, this individual claimed that there is NO absolute moral standard. And in fact, morality is determined by the society in which you live.

The argument, at face value, seems plausible. I mean, it’s obvious that throughout history, societies have taken a different stance on moral issues.

Consider, for example, Nazi Germany. Nazi Germans were convinced that they were the superior race, and thus, exterminated millions of Jews in the event known as the Holocaust.

Does this prove relative morality? Here in America, we claim to value life–surely, that means our society is different!

Not so fast.

The numbers start to look much different if we, as a culture, begin to acknowledge abortion for what it really is–murder. All of a sudden, the tide begins to turn. The Nazi’s were responsible for the death of about 6 million Jews. But since Roe v. Wade in 1973, Americans have been responsible for the death of over 45 million babies.

Sure–a SMALL fraction of those were due to extenuating circumstances, which some feel would warrant an abortion. But remember: you NEVER evaluate a rule in light of its exceptions. The majority of abortions in America are, in fact, due to “accidental pregnancy.”

Scientists have confirmed over and over that a human baby is a real person at the point of conception–in fact, you have no new DNA from the moment you were conceived until this very moment in your life!

What right do we have to put ourselves on a pedestal, as a society, above the Nazi’s? We say that our society condemns murder, but really, does it?

While I do not intend to focus on either the Nazi’s or unborn babies in the remainder of this blog post, I feel it is a solid example of the hypocrisy a person shows when they attempt to argue for relative morality, specifically that one’s morality is a result of where they were born or live.

If you are born in America where murder is “wrong,” and then move to a jihadist society where murder is celebrated, does that then make murder the right thing for you to do? Of course not! Even if you say you believe that you can’t live consistently with that belief.

Let’s take a deep dive into morality to see if we can really get to the bottom of things.

Morality–Fact or Figment?


One of the very first things we must come to terms with is the nature of morality itself. In other words, is morality itself a real THING or just a figment of our imagination?

Some believe that morality is simply an invention of the human mind, but if that’s true, there are a couple of very difficult (I would say, insurmountable) hurdles to overcome:

Hurdle #1. Explaining Consciousness

First, we’re going to look at the claim that morality is a figment of our imagination. But to do that, we have to explain and understand imagination.

I don’t see how this is possible on a humanistic, materialistic, naturalistic worldview. Now–I get that not ALL “humanists” hold this viewpoint. It doesn’t mean their position is any more consistent, I just cannot cover each worldview in this one post.

I’m assuming (I think with good authority to do so) that the majority of those who claim that morality is relative take the materialistic naturalist position, so that is what we are addressing.

The problem is that there is no known process today in which consciousness and sentience arise out of matter. Frankly, it just doesn’t happen–not in a way that we can observe, anyway.

In fact, this is one of the greatest known arguments for theism from a scientific perspective. I have heard many arguments, but none of them stand up to scrutiny.

If we are nothing more than the product of undirected chemical processes, there is no reason to assume we would somehow end up with the ability to make logical and rational decisions, to feel remorse for any action we take, or to love someone so much we would not dream of hurting them.

For me, consciousness arriving out of the matter that arrived out of nothing takes WAY more faith to believe in than a creative, intelligent, personal being choosing to create, telling us how He did it, explaining the human condition, and giving us a way of escape from the judgment of our rebellion.

Hurdle #2. Explaining Tendencies

In a recent article I wrote on Pandeism (which supports and relies on naturalism), I argued that its failure to provide perspective on the human condition was an immediate disqualifier.

The same holds true here!

By the human condition, I mean our propensity to do wrong even before we know what is right. The Bible explains this nicely and identifies it as sin.

From the moment we are born, we do the wrong thing naturally–not the right thing. But why is that? Why do children have to be taught not to lie, cheat, and steal?

I find it interesting that many people who have left the church because of the “hypocrisy” found within STILL lie, cheat, and even steal on occasion, yet teach their children those things are wrong.

There is no escaping this! If you, mother or father, TRULY believe morality is relative, I call on you not to teach your children right from wrong–they should be able to decide for themselves. This is the only way to remain consistent with your own worldview.

The moment you introduce training to improve or influence someone’s moral capacity towards “goodness”, you are borrowing from the Christian worldview. Proverbs 22:6 – “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

Hurdle #3. Explaining Laws

Just as one must account for logic as a naturalist, one must also account for laws. There are laws in nature, laws dealing with logic, and, as we are arguing, moral laws.

If morality is indeed objective, one must explain where this morality originates. If it originates in our minds, there is no reason for any certain society to come to a consensus on a moral code.

In other words, is morality is relative at all, there is no reason to attach it to a government or society. It should be solely based on the individual’s preference.

A common objection to this is that it is “better” for the human race to survive, and therefore, society creates laws and rules that facilitate that survival. But again, this emphasis on humanity surviving and thriving is inconsistent apart from the biblical worldview.

Therein lies the problem.

Furthermore, this makes no sense because if both truth and morality are subjective as naturalists argue, perhaps Hitler’s idea of human survival is actually the correct one? Who gets to be the judge and the arbiter between societies and worldviews? More on that in a minute.

Hurdle #4. Explaining Punishment

This last hurdle is a pretty big one. How, outside of the Christian worldview, does one provide ANY justification for the punishment of morally wrong acts?

Saying that “society” makes the moral code is really just a way of saying the “majority rules,” but if that’s the case, all of the “moral reform and progress” our country has made such as the abolishment of slavery and the equality of humanity where the minority overcame the majority is meaningless and groundless! Just where did the morality come from that told the minority slavery was wrong, anyway?

So then if morality is really just up to the individual, what gives anyone the right to uphold or enforce the “law?”

I understand the jurisdiction is given by the government, but where does the right come from?

If morality is relative, then our justice and education system is the most unfair and inhumane racket there has ever been. We tell the kids in high school and in college that morality is relative, and that they are nothing more than animals and can live as they please. And then, we put them in jail when they act on the impulses our college professors have told them were natural!

There’s just no getting around it. I have found plenty of people who hold to the claim that morality is relative, but I have yet to meet one person who actually lives that way.

Who Gets to Judge?


Now that we understand the true nature of morality, it begs the question, “Says who?”

On the atheistic worldview, it follows that there simply is no judge—no way to say whose way is “right.” So if our society and say, ISIS, go toe-to-toe, it is simply their morality against our morality.

If that’s so, who are we to say that we are right? Perhaps the “better” morality belongs to ISIS, and we are so blinded by our own moral propensities that we do not see it.

But we know it’s not that way.

We know our moral grounding here in America, insofar as are we not meaninglessly killing babies by the millions, is generally better. As a country, we generally punish wrongdoing and don’t encourage rebellion. The question is, “why do we know that?”

It’s simple really. Our morality is founded in God’s Word! See, God is the ultimate judge.

In Romans, He conveys that the moral law, HIS moral law, is written on our very hearts. THAT is why we know right from wrong. It’s not because our parents taught us, not because our society dictated it to us, but because every person KNOWS they should do right from the beginning, and yet, they do wrong.

As mentioned earlier, this is what we mean by sin.

When societies, countries, people groups, and individuals go toe-to-toe and head-to-head on moral issues, there is truly only ONE arbiter—God Almighty.

Only He sets the standard by which all others are measured.

The Majority Rules?


Another key issue with relative morality, and specifically the claim that societies determine morality is that the only logical way this is even possible is if the majority always rules the vote.

Yet again, this is a claim that naturalists make without understanding the severe implications it would have were it ACTUALLY true!

We touched on this briefly earlier, but consider the world we would live in today if the majority society actually determined morality:

  1. Nazi Germany would still rule and reign—more Jews exterminated—worldwide extermination??
  2. Slavery would still be allowed in the United States.
  3. Women would have almost no rights whatsoever.
  4. Black people would be considered inferior and treated like dogs almost worldwide.

As a matter of fact, to remain consistent, “moral reformers” throughout the centuries the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks should have been treated, tried, and punished as criminals!

Surely nobody actually believes this, though. It sounds nice to say that we are all moral relativists, but when we examine our lives, it is easy to see that we just simply don’t live that way!

Improvement Presupposes a Standard


Speaking of moral reform, I want to give you one final consideration.

It seems as though, especially in our country, we are pushing for a sort of “Utopian society.” We see it depicted in the arts over the years, powerful minds like Walt Disney were at the forefront trying to make it a reality, and popular shows like Star Trek only propagated further the idea that humanity would one day figure it out—it was the other “alien” races who had things wrong.

But if we are going to push for things to get better, envision a world where crime is a thing of the past, everybody has enough water to drink, and nobody senselessly kills their neighbor, mustn’t we ask why we are pushing for such things?

We can say it’s the “survival of humanity,” but many scientists have predicted that humanity will not survive very long at all in the grand scheme of things. After all, if evolution is true, nothing really matters anyway.

You know, there’s a reason nothing satisfies. There’s a reason why no matter how hard you try to fill the void and longing in your soul, you just can’t. There’s a reason why after child stars experience all the fame and fortune the world has to offer at a young age, and it never gets better than that, they turn to drugs, alcohol, pornography, and fornication or adultery to fill the void.

C.S. Lewis said it best: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

We push for moral reform because our country is founded on God’s Word, and though they are fading, its statutes and commandments are still known to the heart of the people today. We push for moral reform because God wrote a moral code on our hearts, and we know, deep down, how wrong it is to hurt our fellow man.

We depict a Utopian society in the arts because that is where our deepest longing lies—to be in a place where evil and suffering do not exist, and only goodness is allowed.

We love the idea of superheroes in our culture because they are a champion for all that is good, and they protect us from the evil we know is always around the corner.

You know, our longings are not unfounded—the Bible fully explains each one. It tells of the “other world” Lewis spoke of—the one we are truly made for. Jesus Christ is the true, real life version of the superhero we all wish to have.

He is the force that is unseen in this world who protects us from our enemies, calms us from our fears, and keeps us from our sin. But He can only enter into a heart and life that is ready and willing to receive Him.

He gave us a free will because it is the ultimate right—the ultimate human dignity is to be able to choose one’s own destiny.

But, there are really only two paths. Which one will you choose?

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Hi, I’m Steve, an author, speaker, and Bible teacher with a heart for exploring God’s Word and God’s world.

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