In a 2005 episode of the BBC’s Doctor Who, The Doctor is on a space station that broadcasts nothing but game shows in which the penalty for losing is death. In this world, the “weakest link” gets incinerated in front of millions of people.
In a key scene, The Doctor turns to the manager of the station and says “Your staff executes hundreds of contestants every day.”
“That’s not fair,” the manager replies. “We’re just doing our job.”
“With that response,” growls The Doctor, “you just lost the right to even talk to me.”
The fascinating thing about this scene is that it takes place in a universe in which God does not exist. (At least there’s been no indication that anyone believes in an omnipotent, benevolent creator) Yet in this simple exchange, The Doctor reveals that not only does he believe that there are moral absolutes, but that everyone should intuitively know them and be held responsible for violating them.
In just a few lines of dialogue, the writers of this episode evoke one of the 20th century’s most powerful images—a Nazi standing in a courtroom in Nuremberg in 1945 claiming that he killed hundreds of men, women, and children in the German death camps because he was just following orders. The response of most people, both then and now, is that anyone committing such atrocities should have known better. There is no excuse for ignoring one’s moral intuition.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the book that topped Christianity Today’s 2012 Book Awards in the Apologetics/Evangelism category was David Baggett and Jerry Walls’ Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality. Yes, this book happened to be my favorite book of the year (I blogged about it for several weeks then reviewed it on Amazon), but I am also encouraged that more and more people are recognizing the significance of moral apologetics. There is, I think, no stronger evidence for the existence of a morally good God than that most people instinctively know that there are a few things that are always, always wrong. (as well as a few things that are always right)
One of my favorite things to write about is how sci-fi, fantasy, and murder mysteries often reveal this universal moral intuition even (and perhaps, especially) when the official position of the characters is that God does not exist. While these characters exist in a presumably godless universe, they are invariably guided by a moral code that is never questioned. Love and mercy are always good. Hate and cruelty are always wrong. And fighting the good fight is always worth it.
Dr. Who, Buffy Summers, Merlin, Captain Kirk, Sherlock Holmes, and countless other godless heathens will always step up to save us. Not because someone tells them to, but because they know it’s the right things to do. Because they can’t hide their moral absolutes.
Who is your favorite godless heathen with an instinctive moral compass?