To restate my position, I believe that the Bible is the best standard and foundation for ethics. Ethics is an unavoidable principle that must be addressed by any human society. I believe one must have a consistent worldview (a foundation for reality), and some form of guiding principles (a standard of morality) to do this.
One's worldview - the foundation - plays a large role in determining a system of ethics. What you believe about the nature of man, the existence of God, the origins of the universe, and other such questions are part of one's worldview. It essentially describes what you believe to be true about reality.
The foundation of Christianity is the Bible. Our claim is that the Bible is God's revelation of Himself to humankind. Our worldview is then derived from a proper understanding of the Bible. As with any other literary work, interpretation relies on the type or genre of writing, grammar and syntax, and authorial intent to understand what the text says. You wouldn't read a history book the same as you would read a poem or personal letter. Since criticism of the text of the Bible is likely to come up, I think it is important to make these clarifications.
Standard of Morality
A standard is something used to measure or weigh against. In the realm of ethics, a standard would be certain moral principles that guide a person's conduct. This standard must at least contain some method to determine right from wrong (e.g. "that which avoids pain" or "that which causes the greatest benefit").
Laws are an expression of moral principles used to encourage or discourage certain conduct. As an example, a law might claim that murder is evil or charity is good; the respective moral principles are the sanctity of life and the value of helping those in need. I am not taking for granted this claim can be disputed, but doesn't it make sense in a free society? If honesty is a virtue, and no one ever lies, there would be no need to create a rule or law against lying. The Christian claim then is that the moral principles determine laws, as opposed to laws determining moral principles.
An Example of an Ethical Issue
The abortion issue fundamentally comes down to two, possibly three, questions. Note, I am not trying to assert a position or start an abortion debate. I am simply seeking to show how one's standard and foundation play a role in making ethical decisions. The two questions are:
When does life begin?
What value does that life have?
A person's foundation or worldview will answer the question of when human life begins. Most people would say life (or personhood) begins sometime between conception and birth. That perception of reality informs their evaluation of actions like murder. If life begins at birth, an abortion is not ending a life and the issue is resolved. If life begins at conception, then it has to be shown that ending that life is justified. This leads to the issue of standards.
Most standards place some value on human life, which leads them to forbid the unjust ending of that life (i.e. murder). That is why most pro-choice arguments aim to deny the life or personhood of the fetus, or justify why that life can be ended without considering the act unjust. So the moral principles and worldview - the standard and foundation - will determine one's position in the debate.
The Issue of Objective vs. Subjective Morality
This issue is typically discussing one way that we categorize a system based on perspective, rather than dealing with the system itself. It would seem to answer the question about whether morality is an outside standard that is binding on all humanity, or if humans determine their own standards.
My goal is to compare one or more particular systems against the Bible, regardless of whether they would be considered objective or subjective in the typical sense. And to be honest, it seems that most subjective morality advocates would agree that rape and murder are wrong, they just disagree on how those terms should be defined. That does not mean it is not important to examine whether a system falls under the category of objective or subjective morality, but that is not the only aspect to examine.
The Bible as a Foundation for Ethics
I will lay out some essentials of the biblical worldview that serve as the foundation for Christian ethics:
- Humans are distinct from the rest of creation (Genesis 1:26), and have greater value than plants or animals (Matthew 10:31).
- Humans are created beings and, therefore, are subject to their Creator. (James 4:11-12; Matthew 10:28).
- Morality is determined by the character and nature of God, which does not change (Malachi 3:6).
- As image-bearers of God (Genesis 1:26), we are to reflect God's character in our conduct.
- Rules or laws given to humans may change (Mark 7:18-19), since laws are only expressions of God's unchanging character.
- Humans are inclined towards evil (Genesis 6:5; Romans 3:12).
The Bible as a Standard for Ethics
There are clear commands and prohibitions that make up the standard of right and wrong. The Ten Commandments are a summation of God's law. Here is the paraphrased version:
- You shall have no other gods
- You shall not make for yourself an idol
- You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain
- Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy
- Honor your father and your mother
- You shall not murder
- You shall not commit adultery
- You shall not steal
- You shall not bear false witness
- You shall not covet
I believe this is a good starting point to lay out the ethical system presented by the Bible. As I stated in the description, to say that the Bible is not the "best" system requires another system to compare it too. Even a system that simply states each society can make up whatever rules it wants is a system to compare. Many people are quick to critique the Bible but fail to provide any system that does not crumble under scrutiny. I look forward to hearing what arguments my opponent brings.