Friday, February 3, 2006

Do We Need God to be Moral?

John Loftus is a 1985 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School with a Th.M. who subsequently rejected Christianity and turned to atheism.

He currently manages a blog called Debunking Christianity at which he reminds us several times that he studied under prominent Christian philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig. It's not clear if he's claiming to be an atheist because of Mr. Craig's influence or in spite of it.

At any rate, Loftus has posted an essay on the matter of the relationship of God to moral behavior. In it he addresses the question whether one must be a Christian or a theist to be moral.

He quotes Craig:

"If life ends at the grave, then it makes no difference whether one has lived as a Stalin or as a saint...." "Who is to judge that the values of Adolf Hitler are inferior to those of a saint? "The world was horrified when it learned that at camps like Dachau the Nazis had used prisoners for medical experiments on living humans. But why not? If God does not exist, there can be no objection to using people as human guinea pigs."

Loftus then adds:

There are two bases for grounding Christian ethical standards. The first is known as the Divine Command Theory. The second basis is Natural Law Theory, which I will dispense with briefly later. I will show that neither of these bases for Christian ethics offers believers a special access to moral truth that unbelievers don't also share. Christian moral foundations are not superior ones based on their own assumptions!

He goes on to argue for his claim that neither of these ethical theories give the Christian an access to moral truth that the unbeliever, through the use of his reason, doesn't also have. In other words, an atheist can discover and live by moral truth equally as well as the Christian, and God is therefore superfluous to morality.

He then quotes the late Louis Pojman:

"God commands the Good (or right) because it is good (or right), and the Good (or right) is not good (right) simply because God commands it. Furthermore, if this is correct, then we can discover our ethical duties through reason, independent of God's command. For what is good for his creatures is so objectively. We do not need God to tell us that it is bad to cause unnecessary suffering or that it is good to ameliorate suffering; reason can do that. It begins to look like the true version of ethics is what we called 'secular ethics.'" Pojman rightly asked: "If [a Christian] wants to claim that it is goodness plus God's command that determines what is right, what does God add to rightness that is not there simply with goodness?....If love or goodness prescribes act A, what does A gain by being commanded by God? Materially, nothing at all."

If one need not resort to God to discover ethical truth then God is an unnecessary entity in our ethical lives and may as well be discarded like some vestigial anatomical structure that just gets in the way of proper functioning.

A careful reading of what Loftus and Pojman write here, however, will show that neither of them really answer the challenge that Craig lays down in the beginning of the post. Loftus may think he's debunking Christianity with this post, but all he's really doing is missing the point.

The problem for the atheist is not whether he can, through the exercise of his reason, discern moral truth independently of God, the problem is that if there is no God there is no moral truth to discern. Right and wrong are ontologically dependent upon a transcendent moral authority. If there is no such being then there simply is no way anyone can say that anything at all is morally right or wrong. There's no non-arbitrary answer to the question, what is it that makes an act wrong?

Pojman says that:

"if both modified divine command ethics and secular ethics have human flourishing as the goal, what difference should it make whether the very same [ethical] principle issues from a special personal authority (God) or from the authority of reason?"

The difference is that if the atheist is correct and God does not exist then there's no reason to insist that human flourishing should be the goal of human conduct. If someone decides that he doesn't care in the least about human fluorishing he does nothing wrong. If someone were to decide that all he cares about is his own personal pleasure, even at the cost of others' well-being, what is it about his decision that could possibly make him "wrong"? Indeed, if atheism is correct, there are no grounds for saying that any goal is right or wrong. Ethics reduces to one's own subjective inclinations and preferences and everyone's subjectivity is just as valid as anyone else's.

The next time someone passes a moral judgment on another's behavior, the next time you hear, for instance, someone say that the war in Iraq is immoral, ask them if they believe there is a God. If they answer "no" ask them then on what grounds they conclude the war is immoral. If they reply that it's wrong to kill people, then ask again, why is killing wrong? What is it about hurting people that makes it wrong? The usual reply is that we wouldn't want someone to hurt us, but, true as that is, it's no reason at all why one person shouldn't hurt another. What, precisely, is the connection between what I want done to me and what I should do to others? In a world without God I am free to do whatever I have the power to do, even if that involves visiting harm upon another human being.

Indeed, the only reason it's wrong to harm another is because persons are created in the image of God, they belong to God and are loved by Him. No one has the right to harm that which belongs to God. No one can harm God's beloved with impunity. Take God out of the picture, however, and all our ethical disputes reduce to matters of taste and temperament. As Dostoyevsky observed, If God is dead then everything is permitted.

The Bondage of Materialism

Michael Behe has an article in the December issue of First Things that illustrates the bondage to materialist philosophy that enthralls contemporary science.

This passage, describing some of the extraordinary reactions that Behe has elicited from antagonistic audiences, is especially remarkable:

Socially acquired materialism often manifests itself by an emotional reaction when challenged. When I lecture in favor of the idea that intelligence is explicitly needed to explain some aspects of biology, the response is not typically, "Gee, that's interesting, but I disagree." Instead, people become angry, denouncing the mildest of challenges to materialism as unspeakable heresy. Once after a lecture in Virginia a student declared she was going to dedicate her life to demonstrating I was wrong.

In Canada an academic ran after me with a loaded rat trap, inviting me to stick my finger in it to see if it worked (I use a mousetrap as an example of the sort of system that can't be made by Darwinian processes). After a lecture to the biochemistry department of a major west-coast university, a group of students I spoke with sullenly agreed that the evidence for Darwinism wasn't there. Nevertheless, they viewed the alternative with contempt and passionately swore to seek a materialistic answer.

At a debate before the Royal Society of Medicine in London, I argued for the incontestable position that science doesn't yet objectively know whether Darwinian processes can explain the human mind, simply because philosophers and neurobiologists don't yet even know what constitutes the human mind. After all, I said, one can't contend that science knows how an undefined entity could be produced by an unspecified process. By a show of hands, about 95 percent of the assembled scientists disagreed. Of course science already "knows" natural selection can explain the human mind-because science already "knows" Darwinian processes explain everything.

Behe's article confirms a point we've made here several times in the past. The attachment people have to their metaphysics is much stronger than the attachment they have to their science. Moreover, what people believe does not depend as much on evidence as it does on what they deeply want to be the case. Most scientists want some materialist explanation for life to be true, and thus their reactions to contrary arguments are as often characterized by irrational outbursts and obstinate denial as they are by reasoned counter-arguments.

Freud alleged that religious belief was nothing more than wish-fulfillment, but surely the same is no less true of materialism.

Behe's whole piece is worth a read.

Po-Mo Statistics

Of course if Bush had said something like this the media would be on it like piranha on a side of beef. "Bush Lies Again," the headlines would scream. Well, we don't think John Kerry deliberately attempted to mislead his listeners, as Kerry and other Dems assert that Bush has repeatedly done. We just think that the junior senator from Massachusetts, like the senior senator, doesn't have the faintest idea what he's talking about.

This report is from Drudge:

Sen. John Kerry claimed [Wednesday] morning on NBC TODAY that 53% of America's children do not graduate from high school -- a claim that raised eyebrows in the NBC control room, sources tell the DRUDGE REPORT.

Kerry made the comments after host Katie Couric asked the former presidential candidate about Bush's State of the Union call to train 70,000 additional teachers in math and science.

COURIC: He wanted to train 70,000 additional teachers in math and science.

KERRY: That's terrific. But 53 percent of our children don't graduate from high school. Kids don't have after-school programs... He didn't ask America to sacrifice anything to achieve great goals and the biggest example is making the tax cut permanent for the wealthiest people in America. The average American struggles to find time to take carry of families, working two or three jobs... It's a disgrace. He did not tell the real state of the union.

Kerry's 53% claim conflicts with a recent press release from the U.S. Census Bureau: "High School Graduation Rates Reach All-Time High"

And the Census Bureau's own website states: 85.9 Percent Of Americans Aged 20-24 Are High School Graduates.

Living in the Democrats' postmodern universe evidently means never having to get your facts right.

King Coal

Here's an interesting piece of news. The governor of West Virginia has asked that all coal mining operations in the state be stopped while the mines are inspected for safety. Sixteen miners have died in accidents in the state since January 2nd.

Whatever the inspections find, mining operations will certainly continue in the state's 544 mines, and coal will continue to be used to provide energy to feed our voracious appetite for it. This means acid rain and global warming will continue to ravage our ecosystems, it means our infrastructure will continue to corrode faster than it otherwise would, it means miners will continue to die, and perhaps thousands of other citizens will suffer respiratory ailments and other health problems from the effects of the contaminants coal introduces into the air.

Despite these hazards, there will be no serious call for the abolition of coal from the political left. There will be no serious arguments raised by them about the enormous damage we're doing to our people and our planet through the use of coal. Yet, were the utility companies to announce that they planned to build a nuclear power plant to help meet the energy demands for the 21st century, the cacaphony in liberal media precincts would sound like a dog kennel that's got a cat running loose.

No one in this country has ever died from a nuclear power accident. Nuclear plants put no contaminants in the air, and, unlike coal fired power plants, their normal use causes no environmental damage. There are drawbacks, to be sure. Safely disposing of spent fuel will remain a challenge, for example, but the problems are not insurmountable and, compared to coal, the safety record of nuclear power in this country is impeccable.

So why is the left so afraid of it? We have no idea, unless it has something to do with the fact that an energy independent U.S. would become an even greater economic colossus than it already is and stand as the ultimate refutation and reproach of socialism.