Why I Believe – The Conscience

The conscience is a built-in compass

This is part of a series: Why I Believe



Have you ever been in a store and felt like stealing something?  The food/toy/whatever looks so good, and maybe it really is as good as it looks.  You look around, and you don’t see anyone nearby.  The door isn’t far away.  You know that you could take it and never get caught.

But you (hopefully) don’t.  Why?  What is this unseen hand that keeps you from taking what you want?  It’s your conscience.  And its very existence is irrefutable evidence that there is a god, that he is your creator, and that he is holy.

Why?  2 reasons:

  1. It’s unnatural
    We humans tend to place ourselves above others, unless taught/forced to do otherwise.  This is why kids must be taught to do good and be polite.  It’s also 1 reason why kids who grow up without parents are much more likely to do evil (PDF, abstract on page 3).  Yet even those who haven’t been taught to do good still know good from evil.  This is why thieves tend to make excuses for their actions (PDF, pp.32-37).  If they truly had no conscience, they would instead be forever wondering why people are pursuing them and punishing them, and they wouldn’t be able to reliably figure out which behaviors are good and which are evil.  They would basically have moral autism.
  2. It’s typical of a holy creator god
    It’s exactly what one would expect of a holy creator god, who wants to make sure that everyone is accountable to him for their choices.
    As the Apostle Paul wrote:
    “…when Gentiles (basically non-Jews), who do not have the law, by nature do what the law [of God] requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.  They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”

To understand the first reason, let’s do a thought experiment.  Imagine that life really appeared by evolution, and you were the first person with a conscience.

This means that you’re a mutant – a weirdo.  In a world where nobody has one, a conscience would be a serious and crippling mental disorder.  If psychopaths truly have no conscience, then everyone else is a psychopath, and you’re the only one who even knows that there is such a thing as good or evil.  In your culture, it’s normal, expected, and accepted that you will do absolutely anything you can to get what you want – especially when it comes to sex.

You’re a little weird to begin with, because you sometimes don’t take your opportunities to take advantage of others.  When they ask you why, you say that you ought not to.  It would sound to them like some kind of madness – a delusion.  You’re a loon who thinks that you’re forbidden to do what you want.  Then comes a famine.  The people in your village (pfleghmville) realize that there isn’t enough food for them to eat.  They hold a meeting to decide what to do, and someone suggests that we all raid the nearby village of spillville.  Your people already have plenty of grudges against them, and nobody has that instinct that tells them “thou shalt not steal“…

…Except you.  You speak up.  “No”, you say, “we shouldn’t raid spillville”.  Everyone else bursts out laughing.  “We don’t have enough food”, says the chief, mockingly, “why shouldn’t we take everything that those good-for-nothing spillvites have?”

That night, everyone else raids that village, but you don’t.  When they return, they refuse to share the spoils with you.  You didn’t help steal it, and your stand has made you even more unpopular.

How long will you last?

Will natural selection select for you or against you?

Because you have conscience disorder, you’ll die in the famine.  If your wife survives you, she’ll be taken by someone who doesn’t have the mutation, and she’ll help spread his genes.  This is natural selection at work.  Your conscience doesn’t give you a big, immediate reproductive advantage over others, and those without it have a big, immediate reproductive advantage over those who do.  Therefore, even if a conscience could appear by nothing but data corruption, natural selection is incapable of selecting for a conscience in the real world.

But even though natural selection – and thus evolution – is incapable of giving you your conscience, you still have one.  As far as I know, the only ways for life to appear without God are:

  1. Spontaneous generation
  2. Evolution

Spontaneous generation was soundly debunked back in the 1800s, and I just established that the most crucial part of evolution – natural selection – strongly prefers those without a conscience.  This holds true even if someone comes up with an alternative source of new genessomething besides blind copying errors.

The only serious alternative to these natural causes is a supernatural cause – an extremely intelligent creator god.  I don’t count aliens as a serious alternative because they’re alive, too.  If we can’t appear without God, they probably can’t either.  Thus there must still be a creator god.  The only way that it would be reasonable to believe that we were created by aliens instead of God would be if someone could show both that:

  1. Aliens exist and
  2. They created us

In addition, because this creator god gave us each a conscience, he must be a holy, righteous god.  If he gave us an instinctive knowledge of what we ought to do, it’s unreasonable to believe that he doesn’t want us to do good instead of evil.  It’s also quite unreasonable to believe that his commands are inconsistent with his character.

So who is this god?  He’s the god who gave the highest moral standard, and lives by it himself – the god of the Jews and Christians.


This is part of a series: Why I Believe



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