There are many names for it. The Law of Nature. The Moral Law. The Rule of Decent Behavior. But everyone knows it. It is the tears in your eyes when you watch a terrorist attack on TV. It is the pit in your stomach when you look away from someone in need. It is the whisper in your ear that cries out ‘This is wrong’. But where did this “Moral Law” come from? Inside us? Or maybe it came from Someone Else. C.S. Lewis presents a strong argument that it comes from Someone Else in his book Mere Christianity.
The Moral Law is our knowledge of the difference between right and wrong. It is why we value truth, justice, selflessness, and integrity. All over the world, people know the Moral Law. Yes, as “Daytime Atheism” points out, “Mormon and Arab polygamy, ancient Greek pedophilia and infanticide, Chinese foot-binding, Japanese ritual suicide, Aztec human sacrifice, African female genital mutilation, Islamic ritual murder (‘honor killings’), terrorism and suicide bombings, medieval European totalitarian monarchy and inquisitions, Nazi eugenics and racism, even Christian-inspired slavery and colonialism, oppression of women, and anti-Semitism” display the chasms between morals in different cultures, and seem to destroy the argument that everyone knows these morals. Even so, at a baser lever, there is a worldwide commitment to honor selflessness, purity, and justice, and condemn greed, laziness, and selfishness that cannot be explained. Almost everyone agrees that some standards people have are better than others, for instance the standard the Nazi’s held is condemned almost everywhere. But this means that there is a higher standard that the Nazi standard is compared to, and found wanting. We cannot have a knowledge of wrong until we have a knowledge of right. This standard is written in our hearts, and the souls of everyone everywhere.
So where did this sense of right and wrong in us come from? Well, there are two ways this could’ve happened; either humans came up with it, or we got it from somewhere else.
Maybe we were taught it by our elders and teachers. While it is true that our elders refine and sharpen our sense of right and wrong, we do not get it from them. Children cry “It’s not fair!” before someone comes along and tells them, “It was unfair for that child to take your toy. You should be upset.” It’s not something learned like math or science. Hearing an incorrect math problem summons a distinctly different feeling of “That is wrong”, than seeing someone steal something. It isn’t even something acquired and honed over the years like a musical ability. A master musician knowing an instrument is tuned wrongly is different than knowing that conning people is wrong. Things you learn can be “incorrect”, but the Nazi’s actions during WWII were not just “incorrect”. They were wrong. So, it seems that we did not learn the Moral Law.
The Moral Law isn’t just an instinct within us either. Instincts are not necessarily right nor wrong, but in some situations we expect them to be repressed in favor of the Moral Law. A man has sexual instincts, and in some situations they are appropriate to use, but in general we expect him to restrain this instinct, and not take any girl he wants. In fact, if he doesn’t, we condemn him with the Moral Law. It was wrong of him to do that. If we expect instincts to be repressed in favor of the Moral Law, then the Law itself cannot be an instinct.
It didn’t spring up from evolution, because the Moral Law goes against the survival of the fittest. Defend the helpless. Don’t take advantage of the weak. Give to others at the expense of yourself. Even given that some animals act in ways that negatively impact them for the good of the species, (such as bees stinging and dying for their hive,) the feeling of wrongness we get when doing something wrong is different than the fact that Chinese people can’t drink cow’s milk because they “evolved” differently. Clearly, we didn’t get it from evolution.
So perhaps people have figured out that it is better for society as a whole if everyone was kind and truthful, and thus better for themselves. But we must remember again, children know the Moral Law, long before they are able to understand the complex workings of society. We also come again to the feeling of wrongness. It might be that everyone agrees that if the government worked a little differently, got rid of it’s debt, and lowered taxes, that it would be better for society as a whole. But we wouldn’t say that it is wrong of the government not to do that, not in the same way that American slavery was wrong. It doesn’t tug on your chest, and make your heart heavy, and whisper in your ear that this is wrong. It isn’t the same thing.
Where did we get it then? We didn’t get it from our intellect, we didn’t get it from our instincts, and we didn’t learn it. That leaves one option. It came from somewhere outside of us—Someone outside of us. This Power, nudging us, turning us, and pointing us in the way we should go, is God. He has given us the Moral Law, and expects us to follow it.
But that is the next plot twist in this story. We don’t truly follow the Moral Law—no one does. You break the law once—do one, tiny, small thing wrong once—and that’s it, you’re guilty. You’ve broken the law, and it cannot be unbroken. The Law has been broken, and justice must be dealt out—and the punishment for breaking the Moral Law is death. That is when the Hero enters the story.