Summit Lecture Series: Can We Be Moral Without God? with Frank Beckwith, part 4

Summit Lecture Series: Can We Be Moral Without God? with Frank Beckwith, part 4 May 19, 2015

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Let’s talk about God and morality. When we talk about the moral law, we have to first talk about its characteristics.

What do I mean by its characteristics? Well, when we talk about the characteristics of physical objects, such as a glass of water, we recognize that it takes up space, it has a certain shape, it’s somewhat transparent, and it’s wet just to name a few of its characteristics.

However, moral law is not a physical thing, so its characteristics are much different than a glass of water, but no less significant.

Just like the number five and other abstract objects, moral law has non-physical characteristics.

For example, if I think that it is wrong to torture children for fun, then that idea or belief – like all ideas or beliefs – would not be a physical thing. It does not have physical characteristics. So, if moral rules exist, they are not physical.

Secondly, moral rules are a means of communication. In other words, they have intellectual content associated with them.

If I were to say something like, “Shut the door.” That has intellectual content associated with it. It’s a command with meaning. But if I were to say, “blah, blah, blah.” That has no intellectual content.

However, moral law does, in fact, have intellectual content. For example, when we think of the moral principle “it is wrong to torture children for fun”, we universally know what that means.

Third, moral rules have an incumbency to them. In other words, prior to engaging in any act, we tend to have a tugging in our hearts, or a sense that we ought to do something. For example, if you receive a call at 3:00 am from a friend in need and you would rather just stay in bed, but you feel morally obligated to help them, you are feeling a sense of incumbency.

On the other hand, if you are tempted to do something wrong, but have an incumbent sense that you shouldn’t do it, that also is part of the moral law. I actually think that temptation is having a sense that the wrong thing is available to you at this moment. And resisting it means that you don’t accept the invitation.

By the way, being tempted is not a sin, because Jesus was tempted in every way but did not sin. Therefore, according to Scripture, one can be tempted and avoid sinning.

Finally, a sense of incumbency is different than guilt, which works the other way, where you regret doing something and wish you would have done things differently or avoided the situation altogether.

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