Materialism is Deficient

“Is materialism actually deficient? Whole books have been written on the question. We cannot enter into all the issues in detail. Perhaps the easiest way of exposing one of its problems is by way of ethics. Is murder wrong? Is theft wrong? Why or why not? Do standards for human behavior have any foundation other than the fact that individuals or societies have invented them? If everything boils down to matter, that is, if materialistic, purposeless evolution gave rise to human beings, each individual is simply the product of evolution of matter and motion. We would then have to say that each person’s moral preferences are also the product of evolution. You have evolved in such a way that you prefer helping the old lady across the street. Joe has evolved to prefer mugging the old lady and taking her money. According to this view, both you and Joe are equally products of the same impersonalist evolutionary process.

But if Joe were to mug you, you would know instinctively that it was wrong. No one actually lives on the basis of complete moral relativism or materialism. There is an obvious disconnect between someone’s claim to be relativist and his own moral judgments, including his judgment that people ought to be relativist.

Can we rescue ourselves by appealing to a social rather than merely indi- vidual moral judgment? Is murder wrong just because society declares it to be wrong? We still have to deal with whole societies that have practiced child sacrifice or have enslaved outsiders. And in modern times we have had to deal with Nazism, where the oppression of the Jews had official government sanction. A whole society was in the wrong. We know that. And we also know when we make a judgment of that kind that we do not intend merely to express a personal, subjective preference, like preferring vanilla ice cream to chocolate. We instinctively know that there are absolutes in morality, even if some of us try to evade such knowledge by clever rhetoric.

The problem of having a foundation for ethics is serious not only because our moral judgments contradict relativism, but because every area of human endeavor, not just our attitude toward gross crimes, depends on moral foundations. People cannot practice science, or undertake historical investigation, or use language to make promises or communicate truth, or even argue for moral relativism, without presupposing that we ought to be faithful to standards for science and history and language. They presuppose an “ought,” in the form of real moral standards. In particular, they presuppose that we ought to honor truth. If the standards are merely artificial social products, they are ultimately meaningless, and the products produced under the guidance of the standards have no trustworthiness or ultimate value. Why not rebel against social standards, as atheistic existentialists like Jean-Paul Sartre contemplated doing? The disappearance of transcendent morality undermines not only ability to act against blatant crime, but ability to evaluate anything at all. In particular, without moral standards, criticisms that people launch against the Bible from the platforms of science, historical research, or linguistics have no foundation.

The Bible provides a clear answer. God is the source of morality. He is absolutely good and he created us in his image, so that we have a sense of right and wrong derived from him. We depend on God being there when- ever we make moral judgments. But our judgments are corrupted through sin. A lot more is corrupted as well. So we have to come to Christ to receive redemption. As part of that redemption, we receive instruction from the Bible about who God really is and what he requires, as well as instruction about redemption itself.”

(Poythress, Inerrancy and Worldview, 31-33)

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