Many times when I argue with people, they do not seem to grasp the four dimensional nature of reality. They act as though it is possible to consider a moral question for a single instant of time without considering the context or the history of the events that preceded it. While a little thought would demonstrate that many real concepts (such as speed, acceleration, thermodynamic work etc…) are meaningless without considering reality in its four dimensional complexity, they persist in treating moral questions as though they could occur in a timeless vacuum. An argument I used to hear a lot that illustrates this ignorance is that morality does not exist because sometimes there are choices which are both good and evil. I haven’t heard this argument in a while, probably because it is not used by any of the brand name atheists out there, but I thought I would use it as an illustration of four dimensional morality.
A Rational Faith Section 10.8
As a second example, let us consider a man hiding Jews in Nazi Germany. When asked by the police if he is hiding Jews, this man has a choice. Lie to the police or condemn the Jews that he has hidden to death by telling the truth. Many people conclude that because there is no simple black and white in this situation, that right and wrong do not exist. If right and wrong do not exist, then moral absolutes do not exist. If moral absolutes do not exist, then God does not exist.
The problem with this argument is that it considers right and wrong to be simple state properties and not complex path-dependent properties. What is the difference between state and path-dependent properties and how does this difference solve this difficulty? The difference between state properties and path-dependent properties can most easily be seen when you consider my commute.
Let us say that I drive to work and return after eight hours. Let us further imagine that a young child measures the position of my car when I leave in the morning, naps all day and measures the position of my car when I arrive home in the evening. The child then comes to the conclusion that all I did all day was drive three feet very slowly. What is wrong with this reasoning?
Position is a state property but the distance that I have driven is a path-dependent property. Position can be measured at an instant of time, but the distance that I have driven can only be measured if you know the route that I took to get from one position to another. This is the difference between state and path-dependent properties. How does this help answer our ethical dilemma? Good and evil are path-dependent properties that cannot be measured at an instant of time. Instead you must know the complex path that was taken to get there.
In the case of Nazi Germany, many people made many evil choices in order for that police officer to be asking that man whether he is hiding any Jewish people. Is it possible for so many people to make so many evil choices that the only choices that remain are evil choices? Yes and this is what is happening in this example. When you consider the entire set of circumstances that led to the rise of Adolf Hitler, then you can see the small choices that people made over the course of history that resulted in this spectacular explosion of societal evil.
At the root of all of the “moral dilemmas” that are used to demonstrate that black and white do not exist is a fundamentally erroneous notion. That notion is that God sends people who break the rules to hell and sends those who do not break the rules to heaven. This idea is false. Everybody breaks the rules. As we have seen, those who admit that God has the right to tell them what to do and accept God’s help in doing what he tells them can exist in paradise. Those who reject that God has the right to tell them what to do and who do not accept his offer of help would destroy paradise and cannot be allowed to enter. It is precisely because our limited abilities prevent us from knowing what is right and wrong in morally complex situations that God requires our obedience and trust.