Is Morality eternal and unchanging?

An atheistic counter-argument to the moral argument for the existence of God:

“If God was absolutely moral, because morality was absolute, and if the nature of “right” and “wrong” surpassed space, time, and existence, and if it was as much a fundamental property of reality as math, then why were some things a sin in the Old Testament but not a sin in the New Testament?”

The premise of the question is faulted first off. When the argument begins “If God were absolutely moral, because morality is absolute” it begins with a conceptual misunderstanding.

God’s nature is unchangeable and eternal. What is argued by theistic apologists concerning morality is not that morality cannot exist without God, but that the foundations upon which morality is built cannot exist without God; and that the good and necessary consequences of this is a denigration of morality to mere preference.

Second, morals are not unchangeable or absolute. Moral judgements must account for many different variables. Killing someone may or may not have been in self-defense; depending on this the act could have been moral or not. In some cases an action can be morally permissible, and in others not. What is crucial is the need to see that someone like the apostle Paul say to one person “you can eat meat offered to idols” but say to another person “you shouldn’t eat meat.” This, Paul does, as he accounts for variables for which is he is cognizant that differ in each party.

What is countered by theists on this point is actually different than what the original argument proposes: the foundation for all morality; namely, the nature of God, is eternally unchangeable. Therefore the objective standard by which morality is determined is unchanged. If God, the eternal and unchanging foundation for all morality, gave a specific moral standard, in a given context, for given purposes, and he gives a set of instructions to a particular time, at a particular place, that doesn’t mean that all people, at all times are somehow included. It still means that it was binding on them, and the argument goes, that it was a proper expression of God’s nature in the given context. The moral standard is not eternal and unchanging, but rather its foundation is; God. This leads to the third point.

Finally, something can be wrong for a two year old, and not necessarily wrong for a 21 year old (obviously enough). The change of standard is mainly due, not to some ontological deficiency in the rule itself, but rather is a concession of something that could be good (sex, or a beer) due to some immaturity (a necessary and proper immaturity I might add) in the child.

If Jesus Christ is the climax of the earlier stages of moral development in which Israel found herself throughout the Scriptures; and he himself was appointed to bring God’s eternal and unchanging character more fully to bare through his life, death, and resurrection; and this watershed moment in history radically affected the entire context in which humanity found itself; then, the objective foundation for morality established by the eternal character of God is hardly undermined by changes Jesus Christ may effect with regard to specific rules given to a people in relative immature stages that God was intending to transcend.
If Israel is understood as “the people through which God’s to promise Abraham for the world” would be accomplished; and that this promise would be climactically fulfilled by Christ and carried forward to the intended era God has planned for humanity; then changes in moral rules once the all-important Messiah arrives are not somehow undermining God’s eternal and unchanging nature, nor is he undermining the rules that were fitting for the immature stage in which Israel lived. God is their Father, and Fathers must do things like that with their children. [They may say its ok for an infant to cry every time she wants something; and turn around and get on to a 12 year old who attempts the same behavior.]

[I will probably return to draw this third point out much further at a later date]

Advertisements
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: