What’s Next? See all videos below In previous videos, I have been talking that I wanted to do some videos on apologetic arguments. Until now, I have chosen different topics each time. Topics that some of you suggested and also topics suggested by my own family. The latest suggestion was that of the impact of […]
Apologeet.nlThe Argument from Conscience Made Simple
What is good for you, isn’t necessarily good for me. Did you hear that one before? I did! It is called ‘moral subjectivism’, and it is very popular in our western society. But things seems to change if you start to talk about one’s conscience. I have met many who do not, or who refuse, to believe in universally binding morals. They will absolutely rebel against the idea of someone or something that dictates an absolute moral standard. They quite often say that they only follow their own private conscience.
Define and Clarify
First we should define and clarify the word ‘conscience.’ The modern meaning tends to explain it as just a feeling that I did something wrong, or I am going to do something wrong. The traditional Biblical view is that conscience is the knowledge of right and wrong. So we just know what is right and wrong, it is not just a fuzzy feeling. For this argument we use the word conscience as a given knowledge and not just a feeling. Peter Kreefti said that
it is intuitive knowledge rather than rational or analytical knowledge, and it is first of all the knowledge that I must always do right and never wrong, the knowledge of my absolute obligation to goodness, all goodness: justice and charity and virtue and holiness; only in the second place is it the knowledge of which things are right and which things are wrong. This second-place knowledge is a knowledge of moral facts, while the first-place knowledge is a knowledge of my personal moral obligation, a knowledge of the moral law itself and its binding authority over my life. That knowledge forms the basis for the argument from conscience.
Reasons Given for our Conscience
It is striking that no one, not even the hardcore subjectivist, believes that it is right to, on purpose and deliberately, disobey one’s own conscience. Even though people have different ideas about what is good and what is bad, there remains one moral absolute for everyone: Never disobey your own conscience! Almost everybody will admit this idea. Christians will argue that it is our God-given compass, while the atheists will insist it has nothing to do with God whatsoever.
Let’s see what kind of explanations people use for this idea of conscience.
- It is given by nature. So it comes from something which is unguided and thus lesser than us.
- But why should I absolutely obey something lesser than me? We all recognise that doing something purely out of instinct isn’t always the best way to go.
- Am I the absolute standard to all things? What if I just don’t like the possible outcome? I just as easy shift my thinking and permit myself something I previously thought to be wrong.
- Really? Am I going to allow others to dictate what is right and what is wrong? Who is to say that others are the authority on morals? If the whole society states that it is okay to experiment on twin babies? What if society think people should have only one child and if that child is a girl, that same society thinks it’s okay to dispatch off the baby. Do a thousand humans make a relative into an absolute?
- All the other options fail and this one is the only one most will feel as being absolute. Conscience is thus explainable only as the voice of God in the soul.
The Big No-Go
We live in a time when many think it is okay to disobey the church, the government, or any other figures of authority. However, the big no-go is still: Do not disobey your own conscience. This means that people usually believe in the absolute moral authority and binding duty of conscience. Off course, not many will say it in these words, but their action reveal it nonetheless.
Now we have to deal with this idea of ‘the voice of God in the soul’. As discussed, there seems to be not other option for the origin of our conscience. Some would say that this can be a variety of deities. Atheists like to point out that we could be talking about Zeus, Allah, or any other god we worshipped throughout the ages. Nope, the god-option can’t be right. So many will refer back to society or their own ideals, with all the inconsistencies taken for granted.
Why the Biblical God
Okay, why would this argument be best explained by the idea that it is the Biblical God, YHWH, who gave us our conscience? Among all the ancient gods, the God of the Jews was the first God who got identified as the source of moral obligation. The gods of the other people were maybe thought of in similar ways. Yes, they too required ritual worship, inspired fear, created the universe, or ruled over the events in human life, but none of them ever gave the Ten Commandments. Nope, it is only the God of the Bible who said, “Be ye holy for I the Lord your God am holy.”
Some would say that the Muslims worship the same god as we Christians do. Sure enough, there are rules to be found in Islam that look very similar to the commandments in the Bible. However, it was Jesus, the Son of God, who explained the commandments in a way we all understand as being superb! Love your neighbour as yourself; love your enemy, do to others what you want them to do to you, etc. Golden rules, which we mostly can find in our own conscience as well. Yes, Islam does teach similar rules, but they only apply to those who think the same. Quite different from that what Jesus taught us.
To Sum up the Argument
Let me conclude this argument with another citation from Peter Kreeftii:
To sum up the argument most simply and essentially, conscience has absolute, exceptionless, binding moral authority over us, demanding unqualified obedience. But only a perfectly good, righteous divine will has this authority and a right to absolute, exceptionless obedience. Therefore, conscience is the voice of the will of God.
Of course, we do not always hear that voice aright. Our consciences can err. That is why the first obligation we have, in conscience, is to form our conscience by seeking the truth, especially the truth about whether this God has revealed to us clear moral maps (Scripture and Church). If so, whenever our conscience seems to tell us to disobey those maps, it is not working properly, and we can know that by conscience itself if only we remember that conscience is more than just immediate feeling. If our immediate feelings were the voice of God, we would have to be polytheists or else God would have to be schizophrenic.
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As always, thank you for watching, God bless you, and we see each other in the next video!
i Kreeft, P., ‘The Argument from Conscience.’ excerpted from Fundamentals of the Faith. [internet] https://www.catholiceducation.org/en/religion-and-philosophy/apologetics/the-argument-from-conscience.html (accessed 26-01-2022).
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