Even More Evidence Christians Just Don’t Think . . .

The other day I posted a response to an article written by John W. Loftus, the author of several books on atheism and the incendiary blog Debunking Christianity.  To my surprise, he was very quick to reply to my post, leaving several comments, and eventually writing a full length response on his blog entitled More Evidence Christians Just Don’t Think.  The evidence, of course, being me.  It is not often that one has the opportunity to participate in a meaningful dialog with someone he disagrees with.  My hope is that, through this conversation, John and I (as well as our readers) might develop a better understanding of our respective positions.  So, with that in mind, the following is  my response . . .

To begin with, I noticed that Mr. Loftus, neither in his original comments nor his blog post, addressed my concluding paragraph which reads as follows:

The Atheist, however, does not have a foundation upon which he might build the argument that anything is intrinsically evil.  A physical event–such as the movement of atoms, or the falling of an apple from a tree, or bodily death–has no inherent value.  Physical events simply happen; they just “are.”  Any value judgment that an Atheist makes about a physical event is totally subjective—for, ultimately, values amount to nothing more than statements about one’s inner feelings (which, by the way, are merely physical events that he has no control of).  When Mr. Loftus laments over the death of millions of people—as if death were an objective evil—he is merely sharing his personal feelings.  He has no grounds to claim that death is “evil’ in any real sense at all.  Furthermore, the Atheist, unlike the Christian, has no ultimate hope.  No matter how much power man gains over nature through science, he will never be able to change the fact that he is corruptible, dissoluble, finite, limited, contingent, and mortal.”

I would be interested to hear why Mr. Loftus finds creaturely pain and suffering morally appalling.  More precisely, I’d like to know if he believes pain and suffering are intrinsic or objective evils?  If so, I’d like to understand how, on Atheism, he justifies this belief?  As of now, he has failed to comment on this rather important piece of the puzzle.

I argued that Christians, unlike Atheists, have a reason to believe death is a horrendous evil and hope for a new life and the restoration of all things.  I’d like to take a moment to expound upon this.  It is because Christians believe human beings are made in the image and likeness of God that we are justified in our belief that human life is intrinsically valuable.  It is because Christians believe everything which has being (or existence) is good, in virtue of the fact that God made it, that we have grounds for believing that movement towards non-existence or non-being (i.e. physical death) is a great evil.  It is precisely because Christians believe  in the resurrection of the dead and in the coming of the New Heaven and New Earth, that Christians have hope.  Sadly, none of this can be said for the Atheist.

If God is dead, then human beings are meaningless, temporary, bits of matter with absolutely no intrinsic value or purpose.  The pain and suffering we regularly experience is normal and amoral.  The subjective meaning that individual human beings ascribe to life is merely an automatic, predestined, physical event (that is because all mental phenomena are ultimately explainable in terms of the laws of physics).  Furthermore, there is no hope of ever escaping death–for there is no afterlife and no escaping the reality that we shall forever be finite, limited, dissoluble beings.

Do you get this?  Mr. Loftus claims I, and all Christians, “dismiss the pain and death of millions,” while touting a worldview which ultimately teaches us that the pain and death of millions is a normal, amoral, meaningless, physical event and that human life is not intrinsically valuable.

Mr. Loftus states that, “Christians just do not care that people die when their faith is at stake,” but I wonder why it is that he cares that people die?  I care because people are inherently valuable (being made in the image of God), and were made to exist and flourish.  Death, therefore, is a terrible evil.  He cares because . . . well, I’m hoping he’ll tell me why.

Now, there are a host of other interesting things in his article we could talk about.  For instance, Mr. Loftus seems to have a limited view of the atonement–assuming that Penal Substitutionary Atonement is the only valid interpretation.  Accordingly, he fails to understand why the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ are so important in this discussion.  At present, however, I think it best to focus on the above topic.  Before we can move any further in this conversation, we need to understand why, on Atheism, anyone should be concerned about the pain, suffering, and death of others?

Nietzsche and a Pastor: The Will to Power

This is part two of a new series–to read the introduction click here.

“What is good? — All that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man.
What is bad? — All that proceeds from weakness.
What is happiness? — The feeling that power increases — that a resistance is overcome.
Not contentment, but more power; not peace at all, but war; not virtue, but proficiency (virtue in the Renaissance style, virtu, virtue free of moralic acid).
The weak and ill-constituted shall perish:  first principle of our philanthropy.  And one shall help them to do so.
What is more harmful than any vice? — Active sympathy for the ill-constituted and weak — Christianity . . .”

It’s important to remember that any definition of the good or of happiness proceeding from a naturalistic framework, such as Nietzsche’s, is completely arbitrary and, if I dare say, totally farcical — that is to say, it is a rather deceptive act in which moralistic language is ascribed to fundamentally neutral, amoral, categories.  So, when Nietzsche speaks about the good as being, “the will to power, power itself in man,” it’s important to remember that he is not outlining a system of morality; rather, he is simply describing a brute process of nature using moralistic terminology.

Any student of Biology can tell you that life is a power struggle — those organisms with the strongest will to survive and the power to do so will inevitably outlast other organisms with a weaker constitution.  In evolutionary terms, this is commonly described as the survival of the fittest.  Consequentially, a brute physical process, such as this, can hardly be described as “the good” in any objective moral sense on naturalism.  For this would imply teleology within nature — which is precisely the thing that a naturalistic view of reality denies.  Hence, to assign the, “feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man,” or, “all that proceeds from weakness,” the terms “good” or “bad” says absolutely nothing about the true goodness or badness of such things — it is merely to state a brute fact about reality.

According to naturalism, values are completely dependent upon the observer and therefore totally subjective.  In other words, they have very little to do with reality and everything to do with one’s personal opinions or feelings.  What we are left with, under this  scheme, are merely objects and events.  How we interpret the objects and events we find in nature is purely a matter of personal taste.  This mindset explains  why we often hear the term “meaning-making” used to describe values.  What this heart warming little term is actually communicating is that nature, in and of itself, has no intrinsic meaning; you, the observer, must make meaning.

The reason I’ve gone through great pains to express the above point is that many, these days, mistakenly believe it is possible to have objective morality within the naturalistic framework.  This belief, however, is entirely incompatible with the naturalistic worldview.  For there is nothing, objective, to ground values in under this framework–and this is something that Nietzsche understood all too well.  This is precisely why he speaks of the desire for power and the will to power–because this is, essentially, what life boils down to in a world without God and without objective  moral standards or purpose.  So, do not be confused by Nietzsche’s use of the terms “good” or “bad” and suppose that he is speaking of morality; on the contrary, what he is proposing is the complete antithesis of morality.  He is proposing that those who believe God to be dead embrace the implications of this belief and recognize what life truly is:  a cold, and fundamentally meaningless, struggle for power; the brutal battle for survival.

It is no wonder that Nietzsche viewed Christianity with such contempt; for Christianity stands in complete contrast to this view of reality.  It teaches that there is an overarching meaning and purpose to reality and that values are grounded in the source of existence Himself.  It asserts that man is made in the very image and likeness of the source of his existence and is, therefore, intrinsically valuable and important.  It further insists that, as creatures made in the image of their Creator, man is accountable to Him and obligated to care for all the things which He has made–even the lowly.  Hence, Psalm 41 implores us to, “consider the poor,” and Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it for me” (Matt. 25:40).

As  you can see, the Christians attitude towards the “ill-constituted and weak” and his mindset that our existence is rooted in notions like love, service, and self-sacrifice, stands in total contrast to the naturalistic worldview which explains human existence in terms of a desire for and will to power.  Under the naturalistic view such care for the weak is truly absurd: for, “the weak and ill-constituted shall perish:  first principle of our philanthropy.  And one shall help them to do so.”  This is simply a brute fact about reality that one must accept, or else, continue to live in a delusional state and be subject to the control and power of those few human beings who do accept it.

Now, you must ask yourself, at this moment, what view of reality you are prepared to accept.  If you truly believe that “God is dead” and that the physical world is all there is then you must be willing to embrace Nietzsche’s assertions with all of your being–for this is the only honest position to take.  However, if Nietzsche makes you uncomfortable, if you sense that love must somehow enter the picture, that the acquisition of power is somehow shallow and ultimately meaningless, that there is intrinsic value to all human beings–and, in fact, in every organism–that somehow morality must be objective and grounded in something, and that somehow you were made for a purpose, then you must come to terms with the fact that God may not be as dead as you had originally thought.

Why Should I be Moral? or Here’s to You Akron!

Last week for Mystic Mondays I posted a passage from the Wisdom of Solomon which outlined some of the consequences of embracing a naturalistic ethic.  One of the questions I asked readers to consider as they meditated on this passage was: if God does not exist why should we be moral at all?  One of our regular commentators, Akron,  was kind enough to take the time to respond to this question.  His answer was that we should be moral because, “it’s the right thing to do,” and he further asserted that we, “don’t need orders from God to do the right thing.”

Let’s take some time to dwell upon this question and upon the answer that Akron gave (an answer, by the way, which is very common among your average atheist or agnostic).

To begin with, let’s consider the question itself: if God does not exist why should I be moral at all?  If God does not exist we are living in a universe in which there is no objective purpose, no objective morality, no underlying intelligence or rationality, in which men are simply the chance byproduct of blind brute physical processes, in which we cease to exist upon death, and in which there is no one watching over what men do or holding men accountable for the things in which they do.  If this, indeed, is the type of universe we live in, this question becomes extremely difficult to answer because it is hard to know, objectively, what it is to be moral in the first place.

Now, there are several ethical theories that a naturalist could maintain but these theories hardly explain the nature of morality in any objective sense.  For example, a naturalist could adhere to some form of Utilitarianism in which the good is defined as whatever brings the most pleasure (and the least pain) to the most amount of people.  However, adopting this ethical system would be completely arbitrary.  Defining the good in such a way would be totally subjective.  According to naturalism, there is no underlying law written within the fabric of the universe which states that the good is whatever brings the maximum amount of pleasure, and least amount of pain, to the most amount of people.  We may argue that Utilitarianism is a useful way of living one’s life and good for maintaining a stable society, but we could not argue that Utilitarian ethics, or any ethical system, was objectively true or said anything concrete about right and wrong.

Hence, if we embrace naturalism, we must also embrace the fact that morality is totally subjective–that is, dependent upon an individual or a society.  From this point we may now examine the question of why, under the naturalistic worldview, someone should adhere to some form of morality?  A naturalist who was being honest with himself would have to answer that there is no objective reason why someone should adhere to an ethical system.  This is not to say that an individual or society might have reasons why they would want to adopt some form of morality, but simply to acknowledge that there is no objective reason why they should adopt a form of morality.

Perhaps I may want to embrace a form of anarchy in which I do whatever pops into my head at any given time.  When I see a beautiful woman I just walk up and kiss her, when I see something in a store that I want I just take it, if I suddenly have the urge to hit someone or something I act upon that urge without restraint.  You might tell me that it would be more advantageous if I were to embrace some form of Utilitarianism, and perhaps that would be true; or, perhaps, I feel that I am more powerful than most people and don’t really care about the rest of society.

Perhaps I don’t care if I live a long life and don’t care about anyone else’s welfare; perhaps I’m only interested in the here and now.  There is nothing about the nature of reality, according to naturalism, which states that I am wrong to live this way.  No one could point their fingers at me and claim that I’m being immoral or evil.  All they could do is claim that I was not adhering to the social norm or that I was disrupting society.  They could not say that I was being objectively evil or that anything I did was objectively  wrong.

All of this is to say that to claim that, if God does not exist, we should be moral because it is the right thing to do is simply question begging.  If God does not exist there is no such thing as the “right thing to do.”  There is what I say to do, or what society says to do, or what some ethical theory says to do, but there is no such thing as the right thing to do.

If, however, God does exist, then there is an order and a purpose woven into the fabric of reality.  There is, more specifically, an objective purpose to human life; there is an objective standard that we must all measure up to which is independent of our society , our culture, or our feelings.  There is also someone watching what we do and to whom we are accountable to.  It is only under this scheme that there are objective reasons why we should be moral and in which there is a clear and definable sense of what being moral is.

Mystic Mondays: Is there Something More?

Today  I’d like to share a passage from The Wisdom of Solomon which vividly portrays the ethical consequences of the naturalistic view of reality.  I ask you to meditate on these words and to wrestle with the implications of a world in which God does not exist, in which there is no objective purpose or reason for anything, and in which there is no life after death.  Do not simply engage this topic with your mind but examine it with your heart as well. Ask yourself these questions:  What is the purpose of my life?  Is there an objective purpose to my life if God does not exist? If there is no life after death then why should I live a moral life?  Is sensual pleasure what defines me?  If there is no God, why should I care about the weak?  Why should I be moral at all?  Is there something more?

“For they [the ungodly or atheists] reasoned unsoundly saying to themselves, ‘Short and sorrowful is our life, and there is no remedy when a man comes to his end, and no one has been known to return from Hades [i.e. death].  Because we were born by mere chance, and hereafter we shall be as though we had never been; because the breath in our nostrils is smoke, and reason is a spark kindled by the beating of our hearts.  When it is extinguished, the body will turn to ashes, and the spirit will dissolve like empty air.  Our name will be forgotten in time, and no one will remember our works; our life will pass away like the traces of a cloud, and be scattered like mist that is chased by the rays of the sun and overcome by its heat.  For our allotted time is the passing of a shadow, and there is no return from our death, because it is sealed up and no one turns back.

‘Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that exist, and make use of the creation to the full as in youth.  Let us take our fill of costly wine and perfumes, and let no flower of spring pass by us.  Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither.  Let none of us fail to share in our revelry, everywhere let us leave signs of enjoyment, because this is our portion, and this is our lot.  Let us oppress the righteous poor man; let us not spare the widow nor regard the gray hairs of the aged.  But let our might be our law of right, for what is weak proves itself to be useless.” – Wisdom of Solomon 2:1-11

Random Thoughts for June 16, 2011 – Concerning God and Morality

* If God doesn’t exist, then how do our moral actions matter? A man brutally murders a child and can escape justice. Even if given justice, 200 years from now it will not matter.

* What hope exists for those who suffer in this world? While the evidential problem of evil poses a challenge for theism, it is only in theism that we can recognize suffering as a tragedy (thus, the paradox in the problem of evil). Without God, such suffering is simply a part of nature and nothing to fret about.

* The skeptic will shout about the crimes of the Old Testament, but what objective moral code can the atheist point to in order to justify his rage? The best he can do is show that the Bible presents an incoherent view of God, but he cannot attack the morals of the Old Testament (or Bible in general) because he lacks any foundation to do so (again, another paradox).

* “Why act morally?” Atheism is left without an answer. “To survive” they say, but how shall we survive? What methods are best for survival? Why should we accept those methods. And finally, why should we desire survival? Is our survival necessarily a good thing?

* That one can be moral without God isn’t an argument against God, it’s an argument against atheism. That we somehow possess the ability to make a free and conscious decision to go against our nature and do what is right, even if it is against our own survival or self-interests, is something that simply cannot be naturally explained.

* Christianity has caused a lot of ills – certainly such a statement is true, but how do we know they are ills outside of having a moral code based upon God?

* The saddest part of people still using the Euthyphro dilemma is that there are hardly any Platonic religions around to which such a dilemma would apply. Regardless, it’s a flawed syllogism anyway and is guilty of begging the question (it doesn’t allow for a third option and forces an unnecessary either/or).

* Morality must be objective, but that objectivity cannot be abstract; it must be relatable. Yet, only persons are relatable and personable. Thus, objective morality must be found in a person, not in an abstract. Ultimately, much to the chagrin of the skeptic, objective moral truths are found in God.

Defining Sexual Deviancy or the Problem of Objectivity or Why Sam Harris was Unable to Defend His Contentions

I recently began reading Philip Jenkins’ book, Moral Panic, which traces the fluctuating views of sexual deviancy among Americans in the twentieth-century.  In the book, Jenkins argues that our conception of sexual deviancy is completely subject to the whims of social and environmental influences.  As he explains:

“In this book I contend that all concepts of sex offenders and sex offenses are socially constructed realities: all are equally subject to social, political, and ideological influences, and no particular framing of offenders represents a pristine objective reality. Each in its way is instructive for the light it casts on the concerns, prejudices, and fears of the society that thus defines its deviants and outsiders. The changing frames of the sex offender provide an index of shifting social attitudes to matters as diverse as the status of children, the structure of the family, the range of acceptable sexual behaviors, and tolerance of alternative sexual orientations. By definition, deviance supposes a norm: we can speak of what is odd or different only when we agree on what is normal. In order to understand changing notions of sexual deviancy, then, we must first understand fluctuating concepts of sexual normality.  Abuse is meaningless without a standard of proper use.”

What is interesting about Jenkins’ approach is that he is not rejecting the idea that sexual deviancy is objectively real (as he goes on to say a few paragraphs later) but merely asserting that our concepts of sexual deviancy are completely subjective—that they are the byproduct of, “social, political, and ideological influences.”  If Jenkins is correct, however, and it is impossible for us to conceptualize the true nature of sexual deviancy, then it is, likewise, impossible for us to know what sexual deviancy truly is.  All we could ever know, according to this view, is what our society currently believes sexual deviancy to be; but not what it truly is.

Jenkins asserts that, “by definition, deviance supposes a norm: we can speak of what is odd or different only when we agree on what is normal.”  The problem is, according to Jenkins, we can’t objectively know what ‘normal’ is; only what society says is normal.  This is why his book focuses its attention on the, “fluctuating concepts of sexual normality,” throughout the twentieth-century; rather than on the objective reality of sexual normality.  He doesn’t set out to discover what sexual normality is; rather, he sets out to discover what society, over time, has said sexual normality is.

Clearly, there is tension between Jenkins’ metaphysical realism and his epistemological skepticism.  The question is what is creating this tension?  The answer is obviously his methodological naturalism which stems from his secular humanistic proclivities.

At the end of the day, Jenkins’ book highlights the fundamental problem facing secular humanistic ethics—the problem of objectivity.  The majority of people, like Jenkins, who embrace secular humanism are uncomfortable admitting that moral values are totally subjective; this is because most of them recognize that, say, the brutal rape and murder of a six year old girl is horrendously evil.  Hence, they desire to hold onto the idea that there is an objective morality.  Nevertheless, secular humanists find it impossible to ground or justify such beliefs within the framework of their own worldview.

Some, like Sam Harris, have tried but to no avail.  In a recent debate with William Lane Craig at Notre Dame, Dr. Harris (an ardent atheist) asserted that moral values and duties were, in fact, objectively real.  However, when pressed by Dr. Craig to provide justification, on atheism, for this belief, Dr. Harris was unable to provide any grounds for this belief (in point of fact, Dr. Harris seemed quite unable, or unwilling, to engage with any of Dr. Craig’s arguments).

The naturalistic view of reality that intellectuals like Sam Harris ardently advocate and researchers like Philip Jenkins employ methodologically will never explain what a sexual deviant is or why sexual deviancy is wrong.  Naturalism says that there is no design or purpose in nature and that the universe is merely a closed system of material/physical causes and effects.  Under this scheme, human beings are simply an accidental byproduct of the mindless forces of nature; therefore, human beings do not have a nature, as such, nor do they have an objective purpose.  Accordingly, it is wrong, on naturalism, to suggest that there is such a thing as ‘normal’—in which case it will always be impossible to objectively define what a sex offender or a sex offense is.

Happily, the problem of objectivity is no problem for the theist—especially for the orthodox Christian.  Christians understand what ‘normal’ is through God’s Word—through both the Word (Jesus) who became flesh and the living word of God (the Holy Scriptures).  For the Christian, concepts like sexual deviancy are not up for reinterpretation with each successive generation; rather, they are grounded in an objective reality that we all can know (regardless of our social and cultural background).  After all, as Jenkins states, “abuse is meaningless without a standard of proper use,” and that standard is only found in Christ.