That pesky sense of oughtness

Science has done an admirable job of exploring and describing the processes and functions of the things I see around me. I am not an astrophysicist but because of advances in science, it is possible for me to know more about the composition and operation of stars than the best scientist of several hundred years ago. We have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the physical universe.

Is and oughtSimilarly, we have also progressed in our understanding of the human body. Medical science has improved our quality and length of life. For advances in medicine I am grateful.

Yet what science does not do very well is tell us what ought to be and why. So many of the people I meet and talk with express disappointment with the way things are. We are not satisfied with who we are and what we have. There is often a sense that something is missing or that something is wrong with the world. They express a sense that the world ought to be different than it is.

If the material world is all that there is, where does this sense of oughtness come from? If our life is determined by our genetics, why do we strive to be something different? Where do we get a sense of beauty? If everything we see is the product of chance, why would a mountain be considered majestic or a sunset considered sublime? Why should loving my neighbor be better than hurting him? If survival of the fittest is the rule by which we live, why should I care about posterity or the environment? On what basis should I value tolerance of others if I make my own rules or if my life is determined by my DNA?

I cannot find adequate answers to these questions from within the materialist viewpoint. But I have yet to find a person who does not have some sense of oughtness. What is the source of a longing for something better?

I believe it was C. S. Lewis who first pointed out to me that not only does man not live up to God’s standard, he does not even live up to his own. Most men would acknowledge that lying is wrong, but the honest ones will tell you that they have uttered falsehoods. Most men would say that it is wrong to steal but would then turn around and admit that at one time or another they have taken something that does not rightfully belong to them.

What becomes apparent is that those who proclaim morality as being fluid and relative are selective in which morals they treat this way. I assume that those who take this philosophical position will call the police if they are being robbed. How is it that those who say there should be no constraints on expression of sexuality get upset when their partner “cheats” on them?

That pesky sense of oughtness seems to keep creeping in, even in those who say it doesn’t exist. This is the dilemma of the materialist. It is this sense of right and wrong that has caused many to explore the claims of Jesus Christ.

Jesus did, after all, claim to be The Truth (John 14:6).