A common theme for Naturalists scrambling to find a justification for the morality they appeal to everyday is to claim that morality is innate within us. A couple examples of many should be sufficient: Christopher Hitchens made this claim to Douglas Wilson and President of the American Atheist orginization , David Silverman, made this claim in a debate about the New Testament with Dr. James White.
This brings up two questions for me.
1) Does this check out for the Naturalist?
2) Should Christians believe morality is innate?
First, for the Naturalist:
Morality being innate solves no problem for the Naturalist/Evolutionist. As a matter of fact, there are three main problems with this claim.
Doug Wilson rightly pointed out, lots of things were innate to us when we were, as he wittingly put it, “another kind of critter”. In other words, the first problem with this claim, is that according to the Evolutionist worldview, lots of things are innate to species which are lost during evolution. Humans (allegedly) were very different, in their nature, then they are now at one point. Thus, for the Naturalist, an innate morality is constantly changing and could be lost. Therefore, they are still left with an uncontrollable, subjective feeling. That’s not morality. Especially since evolution is positive changes.
Also, natural selection typically drops the bad things. Therefore, those in the state of evolution are still improving. The innate morality then, is not completed or perfect yet. A human might have this feeling of right and wrong, but natural selection hasn’t fixed it totally yet. Who knows what should be kept or lost?
Lastly, lots of things are apparently innate that conflict with this morality. It seems humans evolved an innate mechanism that desires to blow up their enemies. Can we slaughter our enemies? When can we? How can we? Our innate instincts have many different faces. Thus, the Atheist needs an objective standard outside of us to determine when our innate instincts are the moral aspects to us and when our desire to rape or kill are the immoral aspects in us. Again, our innate feelings conflict. Innate morality is almost more subjective then just adhering to a majority rules opinion on morality or whatever other forms are being promulgated.
What about innate morality for the Christian? Does the Bible teach this?
The Answer: Mostly.
The Bible certainly affirms a concept of innate morality God designed us with. As Wayne Grudem points out in his Systematic Theology, our moral accountability and moral awareness are aspects of bearing the image of God and separates us from animals.
The Scriptures also affirm this fact.
It is one of Paul’s arguments to the Jews in Romans 2 Paul is condemning the Jews for thinking they were “good” just because they merely possessed the Law. They didn’t follow it or obey it, they just took it as a stamp of approval from God. In Romans 2 Paul reminds them that the Law was meant to be lived. That’s what a law is. And in verses 14-15 Paul says,
“For the Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them”.
Clearly, all people have an innate moral compass, programmed by God.
In Romans 4, Paul teaches that Abraham was in need of justification. He needed to be saved. But Abraham long precedes the Law. He had no law to break. Thus, the only way he was sinful was if he somehow knew law without being given one.
However, that being said, there are other passages that shed light on this issue.
Paul continues his argument in Romans. After telling the Jews that the Law was not given to save them, the obvious question they had was, “well what is the point of the Law then Paul?” And in Romans 3:20 Paul answers this hypothetical objection with, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin”.
Is Paul contradicting the point he just made in Romans 2? In fact, he continues his discussion of the Law even deeper. In Romans 6:5 Paul discusses how our flesh is “aroused” by the law and that we need to “die to the law“. Another hypothetical objection is raised: if the Law arouses my sin and I need to die to be released from it, then is the Law sin? That makes the Law sound pretty bad. But Paul answers this by saying,
“What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.'”
How do we harmonize these? Paul says that the law is written on our hearts and that we can be condemned without it. But Paul also says the Law is to bring about the knowledge of sin and that some things he didn’t know were wrong without it.
All human beings, being made in the image of God, have innate, objective morality written on their hearts, but it’s only enough to damn them.
We know enough morality innately to stand before God without excuse.
However, we do not have a whole, complete understanding of Law and sin without extra revelation outside of that innate morality.
We have enough innate morality as Paul says in Romans 2:1, to perish. We know what’s good and bad so that when we sin before Christ we have no excuse. Those who have never read the Bible have no excuse. But, the Law opens our eyes even more, and exposes the Holiness of God with a force that is much more blunt and powerful than we experience innately.