What Criminal Trials Teach Us About Objective Moral Truth
by J Warner Wallace
I’ve been involved in numerous criminal trials over the years, most involving cold-case murderers. In many of these cases, the outcome was influenced (in large part) by activity outside the presence of the jury. There are legal rules both sides must follow when conducting the prosecution and defense. Sometimes these rules allow one side to take advantage of the other in subtle, yet powerful ways. If a rule allows one attorney to benefit strategically (while staying within the applicable legal restrictions) most lawyers will capitalize on this opportunity to gain an advantage (so long as they are within their legal right to do so). Here, as in every part of our society, there is an important distinction between legality and morality; between what is legally permissible and what is morally virtuous. This distinction highlights God’s role in the existence of objective moral truth, as it exposes the inability of culture to provide an objective, transcendent moral law.
I think there are good reasons to believe objective moral truth exists; it is a self-evident reality of our world if we stop to think about it. It’s never morally acceptable, for example, to torture babies for the fun of it. But how do we account for such moral truths? Are they embedded in our DNA or a product of evolution? Are they the result of societal development or cultural progress? Both of these explanations seem deficient. If moral truth is created by our culture, what is legally permissible in a society should be synonymous with what is morally permissible. If moral truths are the result of proclamations made by the government in a representative republic, our law reflects (at least in theory) the majority opinion and moral progress of our culture. In other words, our laws define moral truth by legal consensus. But most of us would agree laws such as these are (and have been) inadequate in determining moral truth.
Adultery, for example, is legally permissible in our country yet morally reprehensible. In addition, most of us have learned how to manipulate certain laws or societal rules to our advantage; we are more than willing to find a loophole in the tax law, for example, if it will help us avoid paying our share of taxes…
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