Monday, April 25, 2016

Born Yesterday

A post over at Why Evolution Is True, a site at which scientistic materialists and naturalists tend to gather, recently caught my eye. The poster, who went by the name Grania, wrote this about the ethics of the Bible:
A number of people over the years have pointed out that almost anyone can improve upon the Ten Commandments with minimal effort, the original set of ten ... moral laws by which humans were purportedly to live their lives.

What appears in Exodus is so old that its ethics are more concerned with livestock, possessions and outward symbols of worshiping the right god. It’s not particularly concerned with the well-being of children say, or women or pretty much anyone who wasn’t an adult male Jew camping at the bottom of Mount Sinai.

The point is that through no effort of our own and no failing of theirs, we live in a century where we are moral giants compared to our ancestors. We benefit from their failings and their flaws as much as from what wisdom they collated; and now we can do better without even thinking too hard about it.
There are at least two things wrong with what Grania claims.

First, the ethical imperatives in the Old Testament, and elaborated upon in the New, impose upon us the duties of doing justice, of caring for the widow, the orphan, the weak, the stranger, and the poor. I don't think that the last two thousand years has seen any improvement on those commands.

The Israelites were enjoined to love their neighbor as they loved themselves, and much of the rest of the Bible is a commentary on how, in practical terms, one might do that. The claim that we are moral giants compared to those who went before us seems to reflect the naivete of the person "born yesterday." It's very hard for anyone conversant with the last 100 years of world history to think that we today are morally superior to the inhabitants of earlier centuries, but if we grant that Western civilization has achieved a measure of moral superiority it is only because it has been for two thousand years marinated in the ethical teaching of Scripture, not because we're somehow better moral examples of the human species.

Second, the people of the Book can say with perfect logical consistency that to fail in the duty to love our neighbor is to do grave moral wrong. It is to violate the will of the Creator who, by virtue of His perfect goodness, power and knowledge, is a supreme moral authority and who holds us accountable for our behavior. The modern atheist, however, lacking any objective moral authority, cannot claim that any moral duties exist nor that there exist any moral wrongs. One can choose to love one's neighbor, of course, but if one chooses instead to harm one's neighbor he's violating no duty nor doing anything that's morally wrong. On an atheistic view there simply are no objective moral duties and thus no moral wrongs because there's no objective moral authority and no real accountability.

On atheism human beings are like the citizens of a town in the wild west with no laws and no sheriff. What's right is whatever the guy with the most guns on his side says is right. The atheist might bristle at this claim. He may strenuously deny it, but he has to piggyback on the moral assumptions of theism in order to do so. Atheism itself offers no grounds for supposing that morality is anything more than a cultural or social convention.