Thirty-four-year-old Justin Scott of Waterloo, Iowa, is a self-described atheist voter. He has been asking the presidential candidates their opinions about God’s law and the Constitution. For example, Scott asked Ben Carson if he “agrees that ‘God’s law trumps our country’s law.’”1
Let’s begin with the Constitution. There is very little moral law found in the Constitution even though it says that it’s “the Supreme law of the land.” For example, there’s no direct prohibition against murder, stealing, or rape.
Seven justices of the Supreme Court did not find a “right to abortion” in the text of the Constitution but in its “penumbra” – its shadows. But there needs to be a light and an object to cast a shadow. What is that light and object?
The Constitution assumes that there is an external body of law. In the Declaration of Independence the founders described it as “the Law of Nature” (General Revelation) based on the premise that it was rooted in the character of “Nature’s God” and the fact that humans are created in the image of God and have “the work of the law written in their hearts” (Rom. 2:14-15).
Over time this belief became secularized where political and moral philosophers claimed that God was not needed to account for morality. This was done, of course, while Christianity was still in ascendancy. The newer secular philosophy was living off borrowed moral capital that had been stored up for centuries. The new way of looking at law and morality was “like the Irishman who preferred the moon to the sun, because the sun shines in the day-time when there is no need of it, while the moon shines in the night time; so these moralists, shining by the borrowed, reflected light of Christianity, think they have no need of the sun, from whose radiance they get their pale moonlight.”2
Without God as the basis of moral law, what’s left is human autonomy that manifests itself in anarchy or collectivism. In either case, it’s “nature, red in tooth and claw,” survival of the fittest. In principle, Charles Darwin made survival of the fittest a fundamental scientific law with the publican of his On the Origin of Species in 1859.
President Harry Truman observed, “If we don’t have the proper fundamental moral background, we will finally wind up with a totalitarian government which does not believe in rights for anybody.”3
Darwinism made the Declaration of Independence null and void. Rights are no longer considered to be an endowment from the Creator, and there is no “Supreme Judge of the world.” Dr. Gary North writes:
“Charles Darwin destroyed natural law theory in biological science. . . . His successors destroyed natural law theory in social science. In the 1920’s, quantum physics destroyed natural law theory in the subatomic world. This immediately began to undermine modern legal theory.”4
The Declaration of Independence and Constitution rested on a foundation greater than themselves. “We the people” were never thought of as autonomous moralists, “every man doing what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6). Self-government under God was the operating assumption, even for those who were not Christians.
With this very brief background, let’s hop in our Way Back Machine and take Justin Scott back in time to the Nuremberg Trials and let him ask the Nuremberg Tribunal this question: “Do you agree that God’s law should have trumped Germany’s laws?”
Remember that Justin Scott is an atheist. To what ultimately can he appeal to as fundamental law? He says it’s the Constitution and our nation’s laws. Are there any situations where God’s law should trump a nation’s laws?
John Warwick Montgomery explains the problem the tribunal faced:
“When the Charter of the Tribunal, which had been drawn up by the victors, was used by the prosecution, the defendants very logically complained that they were being tried by ex post facto laws; and some authorities in the field of international law have severely criticized the allied judges on the same ground.
“The most telling defense offered by the accused was that they had simply followed orders or made decisions within the framework of their own legal system, in complete consistency with it, and that they therefore could not rightly be condemned because they deviated from the alien value system of their conquerors.
“Faced with this argument, Robert H. Jackson, Chief Counsel for the United States at the Trials, was compelled to appeal to permanent values, to moral standards transcending the life-styles of particular societies — in a word, to a ‘law beyond the law’ of individual nations, whether victor or vanquished.”5
The problem for an atheist voter is that there is no “law beyond the law,” and therefore no basis to argue for or against any law.
A. T. Pierson, The Second Coming of Christ (Philadelphia, PA: Henry Altemus, 1896), 35. Also see Cornelius Van Til, “Nature and Scripture,” The Infallible Word: A Symposium, eds. N. B. Stonehouse and Paul Woolley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1953), 257. ↩
Harry S. Truman, Harry S. Truman: Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States Containing the Public Messages, Speeches, and Statements of the President—January 1 to December 31, 1950 (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1965), 197. ↩
Gary North, Political Polytheism (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), xxii. ↩
John Warwick Montgomery, The Law Above the Law (Minneapolis, MN: Dimension Books/Bethany Fellowship, 1975), 24–25. ↩