Ethics and Morality

What does it mean to be just? How do we define right and wrong to determine which actions/consequences are just?
The Rock! His work is perfect,
For all His ways are just;
A God of faithfulness and without injustice,
Righteous and just is He.
Deuteronomy 32:4 NASB
Back in college I took an ethics class. We discussed different methods and philosophies for determining whether an action is right or wrong. We discussed theories from Immanuel Kant, René Descartes, and Friedrich Nietzsche—but no religious philosphers, regardless of religion.

One topic of conversation was on if the end justifies the means. An example that came up in class was World War II; many of my classmates eagerly suggested that stopping Hitler (end) justified the war (means). That conversation got murkier when it was revealed that one classmate was a descendant of Holocaust survivors and another was a descendant of Hiroshima survivors. Don't worry, this post isn't about the politics of World Wars, I only bring it up to illustrate how perspective and experience made the conversation more difficult.

Another conversation required us to choose our action in a given scenario, where the scenario became increasingly more personal. Let's say there is train track that splits. There are five people standing on the right track and a single person on the left. You are standing too far away to signal to anyone, but you are able switch the track. Do you guide the train to the right or to the left? What if there's an equal number of people on each track? What if the 5 people are criminals? What if the one person is a family member? What if the 5 are the people who bullied you in high school? And so on, the discussion continued.

I enjoyed the class, as it forced me to analyze the larger picture of how I decided what was morally right in a given situation. However, there was one question that never came up...

If scientists are right, and all life is a happy coincidence, what really is ethics?

Human beings are the only species on the planet that concerns itself with the concept of morality. On my family's farm, we've had to separate chickens because they were fighting each other—the chickens don't have a "police chicken" that steps in to break up the fight, nor do they have "judicial chickens" who deliberate whether one of the chickens should be tried for assault. Similarly, my cat shows no remorse when some unfortunate bug finds its way on the screen porch and she kills it mercilessly despite having all the food she could eat inside the house. Buzzards eat roadkill, they don't stop to wonder how or why the animal died. Squirrels steal fruit from our fruit trees and don't concern themselves with whether another animal had lain claim to the tree. So, why is it that human beings—thiest or athiest—have any sense of right or wrong?
So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Genesis 1:17 NASB

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