Idiotic Argument Against Christianity
A side project that I’m working on, in addition to everything else, is to re-read (in their entirety) the books that are supposed to destroy not only Christianity, but theism in general. I’m creating a site, currently empty except for some cool pictures, where I will post my thoughts and links to the thoughts of others on these “masterworks” of atheism.
I’ve started with Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation, which is the shortest of all of the books. Harris makes a huge error in the opening pages of the book. This mistake might hold the title for the most idiotic argument against Christianity ever purported, and I’ve noticed that other atheists have propagated the error. Like a virus.
Although I will develop the argument more succinctly later, I wanted to take a moment to address it. Neal, a user who commented on John W. Loftus’s reactionary piece to The Infidel Delusion, stated that atheism cannot provide an objective moral standard, but Christianity does. Neal makes a serious philosophical error, though I don’t think he intended to. I think that he intended to suggest that Christianity, as it points to God, provides that as the ground for morals. Atheism isn’t able to posit objective morality, as much as it is synonymous with metaphysical naturalism. If the universe is all there is, then there is no transcendent realm to appeal to when looking for the ideal standard. The ideal standard ought to be, it does not exist in point of fact. “Ought to be” has no meaning in a universe where only the natural exists: nature is what it is.
The first reaction to Neal’s lengthy piece was from Jim, who said:
And atheism provides no objective criteria whatsoever. So even here Christianity is superior in that it provides objective foundations for society.
Sorry, Christianity doesn’t provide any objective foundations for society, either, except perhaps purely “within” Christian society.
There seems to be no evidence of any actual absolute objective morality. The universe doesn’t care what Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin, or the Inquisition did.
Within human society, we have determined certain “objective measures.” Take the length of the meter, for example. The length of the meter is only as good as HUMANS desire to accept OTHER HUMANS declaration of the standard.
If a group of humans decides to have a different standard for length (the “foot” or “yard”) they are free to come up with their own objective standard for their group. Or they can redefine the length of the “meter” for their own group. What they CAN’T do is redefine the “meter” for a different group.
What Christians have done, allegorically is subjectively decided on the nature of a GOD who decides what the length of the meter is and then claim that they have the ultimate OBJECTIVE foundation for the definition of a meter.
You see what Christians are doing? They are simply using the creative power of their mind to invent something (SUBJECTIVELY) and using that creation as a foundation for OBJECTIVITY.
It’s quicksand . . .
Both Neal and Jim fall into the same trap, propagating the same error that I’m accusing Harris of: Christianity is not the foundation for morals. God is the foundation for morals.
To his credit, Jim corrects himself (kind of) midway through the post, shifting the source of morality back to God. This is the correct view. Christianity is, with qualifications that I won’t get into here, a series of interpretations of the same book. Being subjective in nature, therefore, Christianity cannot provide an objective ground for morality. As such, it is not the source of morals.
Jim, however, makes many serious mistakes. The underlying assumption of his comment is that philosophy and theology cannot provide any objective insight into who God is, and what he would command. That is, philosophy and theology don’t consist of real knowledge, just mere opinion. He also rejects the authority of Scripture, and in all probability, the very existence of special revelation. He also implicitly accepts relativistic morality, which is also false.
I hate it when people say that Christianity is the ground of all morals. That’s patently false. God is the ground of all morals. Christianity is, with some qualifications, subjective and therefore cannot be the ground of morality. God, who is the good, is immutable. Therefore, God is our ground for morals. Atheism cannot account for the existence of the material universe, much less provide a ground for objective moral standards.
Posted on July 23, 2010, in Apologetics, Atheist Books, God, Heresy, Morality, Religion, Theology and tagged atheism, Religion. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.
You, too, are making a rather grave philosophical error here. God is only the ground for morals *within* Christianity (and I suspect that’s what Sam Harris is pointing to). For everybody else, *your* grounds for your morals comes from the bible first, and doctrine second.
Oh, and I suspect you’re using “objective” wrong; even God is a subject.
No, the ground for morals must exist independently of culture and religion, which God does. So I’m not making any philosophical error here. What God has decreed is preserved by Christianity, though some human interpretations of the words (including my own) may not be in line with what he intended. General revelation, that which exists in the heart of the believer, can only go so far. The Bible supplements the witness of the Holy Spirit to our hearts and helps us better understand what is moral and what is not.
That said, it is possible for humans to grasp (entirely without reading the Bible) what morality is, and even practice moral behavior. I don’t think that I’ve ever denied that such a thing was possible. But that’s not good enough to get to heaven in God’s eyes. Allow John Piper to explain better:
Cory, I understand what you’re saying, but you’re forgetting that your dealing with people both in- and outside of your Christian belief. The world has objective moral truth from God in *your* world and from *your* view only, making your philosophy a subjective one. The only way for you to claim an objective moral truth for the *world* is to prove as a fact that there *is* a God. You can’t. And because you can’t, there is *no* objective moral truth.
This is the typical problem of definitions within domains, and the leaking of those definitions between domains. Christianity is but one of many containers / domains on this planet, and what is true in one container usually aren’t true in some other container. It is very hard to demonstrate a join domain trait, however we do have a few things that are, and they fall into the realm of natural sciences; gravity exists whether you are Christian or Muslim or Atheist, for example. However, foundational ethics cannot by its very nature be cross-domain in nature. All you can do is to elevate your truth through evidence into the realm of many, but religion cannot do this.
So, once again; in *your* world you can claim absolute and objective moral truths, but those definitions do not apply outside your domain. On this outside there is only definitions that are shared that can be used.
Cory, I don’t suggest reading “atheist” books. However, I WOULD suggest learning a lot more about the Bible. Enormous philosophical questions might be where one naturally “wants” to begin. They are questions we’d all like to settle once and for all. But sticking with biblical studies makes more sense to me. That can lead you toward moderate Evangelicalism. From there, who knows? The journey is long but life is short as is the time for study.
NOTE THE “HUGE UPHEAVELS” EXPERIENCED EVEN BY N. T. WRIGHT AS HE LEARNED MORE ABOUT THE BIBLE:
The Jesus I have discovered through historical research is . . . not the Jesus I expected or wanted to find when I began this work nearly twenty years ago. Studying Jesus has been the occasion for huge upheavals in my personal life, my spirituality, my theology, and my psyche. . . . Second, the Jesus I have discovered is clearly of enormous relevance to the contemporary world and Church. I know that others with very different Jesuses would say this as well, so you may find the point irrelevant. . . . Let me put it like this. After fifteen years of serious historical Jesus study, I still say the creed ex animo; but I now mean something very different by it, not least by the word “god” itself. SOURCE: N. T. Wright, “Jesus and the Identity of God” (Originally published in Ex Auditu 1998, 14, 42–56.)
See also my list of suggested reading:
Though Dr. Price’s annotated list is far more comprehensive:
In addition to studying more Bible, I’ve also always meant to study more church history.