More Dumb Tweets: Belief and Morality
Juan A. Raposo put up a fascinating tweet:
The implication being that theists are only moral because our belief in God keeps us moral.
So if not for that belief, we’d be vicious killing machines. That thought misses a grand contradiction: Ask yourself, “What restrains the atheist from raping and pillaging?” Belief that those things are wrong.
Is that belief fundamentally different from belief in God?
The atheist would say yes, but if he were consistent he’d be forced to admit that it differs very little. After all, the Atheist Mantra is that there is “no evidence” for God and God can’t be scientifically proven, right?
And that means that belief in God is worthless. The underlying principle is a form of logical positivism, variously called empiricism or scientism. It accepts only that which can be proven scientifically (scientism) or that which can be experienced by the senses (empiricism) as valid evidence. Most atheists use this to disqualify evidence or argument that God exists.
The flip side is that morality can’t be scientifically proven, either. So the belief that it is immoral to rape and pillage local towns is on the same grounds as God. If one accepts the implied tenet that only that which can be scientifically proven is worth believing, then one cannot be consistent and also believe that raping and pillaging are morally wrong. One has to prove that case.
So we both believe, without empirical evidence, that something restrains us from committing grievous harms against our fellow humans. And that, by Raposo’s estimation, means neither of us are moral — but that’s the whole point of needing a Savior, isn’t it?
Surprise: Atheists Don’t Lack Morals!
Atheists really like to fight against us ignorant theists who say they have no morals. We’re the backwards hicks who take instruction from a book written by ignorant goat-herders who believed the earth was flat and that the sky was a dome that contained the sun, moon, and stars (all of which circled the earth!). What do we know about morality?
Atheists are so enlightened that they’ve thrown off the shackles of God-belief and are doing the right things because they’re the right things, not because some ancient patriarch shakes his finger at you from 1,000 years ago and says, “Do it or I’ll spank you!”
So of course they don’t lack morals! In fact, they’re more moral than religious people — the vague statistics quoted above don’t lie!
Sensing the sarcasm yet?
I hope so. Because I don’t know how to lay it on thicker than what I just did.
Atheists are not immoral. They are amoral.
Immoral means acting contrary to established morality. It is a question of ethics, not ontology or epistemology.
Amoral means lacking morals. It is a question either of ontology or epistemology, not ethics.
Morality represents the essence of good behavior. Ethics represent the execution of good behavior — in other words, the pudding that the proof is in.
In Plato’s dialogues, Socrates asks the good priest Euthyphro what piety is. Euthyphro comes up with several examples, which Socrates says were good but that only covers pious acts. Socrates wants to know what piety is.
By giving him extensive examples, Euthyphro wasn’t actually answering Socrates’ question.
The above graphic does the same thing — it only shows that atheists behave more ethically than religious people. But why do they do that?
They can’t tell you — there is no ground for morality given atheistic naturalism. That’s where the difficulty starts. Ethics can change; sometimes dramatically.
It was once legal to bet on (or against) your own team in professional sports. Professional sports also allowed the use of steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs without batting an eyelash. Now, both practices are deemed cheating in most professional sports.
What we need is something to ground our ethics in; something immutable that we can return to to see what goodness looks like. That way, when we find something new, we can create a code of ethics for it patterned after that which gave us the example of good ethics in the first place.
If morality is an immovable anchor and ethics are a boat on the rough, unforgiving seas of our culture, the boat is free to move about within the radius of the anchor. It might go adrift, it might even do something unacceptable, but it will remain in the range of the anchor. Conversely, without the anchor, the ship is free to be tossed around the sea of possibilities, moving unflinchingly into uncharted, dangerous waters with nothing to bring it back to safety.
The nature of God is that immutable ground of ethical behavior for the theist. The atheist has none. We are the boat that will return to safe waters, they are the one that will be tossed out to sea without a guide.
I have no problem with considering atheists ethical; the above examples show they are. However, they have no ultimate ground for the morality that informs their ethics and that means they will go seriously adrift.
On Originality and Divine Revelation
Peter Breitbart’s short film A Madman or Something Worse is the latest in a line of criticisms of Jesus’ teachings to carry an unspoken, but integral, underlying assumption that divine revelation must somehow be original in order to truly be divine.
So, I would like to pose the following question: Why must something be original in order to be considered divine revelation?
This criticism isn’t unique to Breitbart. When I mention a teaching of Jesus or the Bible, the skeptic counters that said teaching predates the Bible or Jesus by centuries. I see this especially in connection to Jesus’ ethic of reciprocity, the so-called Golden Rule. This little gem predated Jesus by quite a bit; centuries in fact.
The implication seems to be that if the Bible were truly God’s word, that it would be 100% original. Or, that if Jesus were the Son of God, he’d say things that no mortal teacher had ever said.
So pointing out that things like the Golden Rule existed well before Jesus is somehow supposed to mean that Jesus isn’t divine. Or that the Mosaic Law isn’t divinely inspired because similar legal strictures existed 500 or so years earlier in the Code of Hammurabi.
We humans are made in the image of God. While every fiber of our being is tainted by sin, the fact of the matter is that we still retain part of this identity as God’s special creation. And that means that it is possible for us to know morality when we see it, and that means that moral teachings might come from places other than the divinely inspired texts or the words of Jesus. It is possible that some enlightened individuals, though not divinely inspired in the strictest sense of the term, may have found part of the divine truths by means other than a word from God. Moreover, they might have discovered them before God revealed them in a divinely inspired teaching.
Given that humans are made in God’s image, this isn’t really unexpected.
Morality is absolute and objective. Our knowledge of morality can change, but what is right is always right and what is wrong is always wrong. Child sacrifice is just wrong, whether or not Canaanite society believed it was right and just. The Holocaust was wrong, whether or not 1930s-1940s German society was overwhelmingly in favor of it.
Morality, therefore, is something that we discover as our knowledge increases; not something subjective that we put to a vote. Being made in the image of God means that this morality is written on our hearts and that we can gain a greater understanding of it as time passes. We can find a better path than even the morality on display right now.
And we probably will.
Two thousand years from now, an enlightened society will probably look at America 2011 and think that we are as backwards and as barbaric as we in America 2011 view the ancient Israelites and their Canaanite opposition.
The Bible is the divinely-inspired and objective guidebook to finding this higher morality, but no one is claiming that it is the only source of morality or even the first source of any particular moral teaching.
Now, some folks do claim that the Bible is the source of certain teachings, like the Golden Rule, but they’re misinformed. Since, however, there’s no reason (given that humans are made in the image of God) to believe that a teaching must be unique to the Bible or to Jesus to be true and divinely inspired, let’s just educate the misinformed person and move on. Unless the skeptic is prepared to explain why a teaching must be unique in order to be divinely inspired.
Can Atheists be Moral Without God?
A few days back, I promised that I would discuss the answer to a question that has been raging in the atheist-theist dialogue for a long time. It stirs up controversy wherever it goes. The question: Can atheists be moral without God?
The short answer: NO, absolutely, unequivocally, not. It is impossible to be moral without God.
I had best get to the long answer before I get flamed by my atheist readership, which actually amounts to 99% (if not 100%) of my overall readership. First, I must explain an important, and oft overlooked, distinction that will bring this entire question into focus: the difference between ethics and morals.
When he was learning the art of the psychological autopsy, NCIS’s Ducky was asked by Mr. Palmer to explain the difference between ethics and morals. Ducky said something akin to “The ethical man knows he shouldn’t cheat on his wife, while the moral man would not.” In other words, ethics govern solely the behavior of an individual, where morals begin with the heart and proceed out, modifying the behavior as a result.
It is quite possible for a man to watch rape porn, read erotica featuring rape or non-consensual scenes, constantly fantasize about raping women, and even request that his consensual partners fight him, beg him to stop, and cry real tears during sex. He literally views women as objects that exist solely for his enjoyment. What holds this individual back from actually raping a woman is the threat of jail time, the looming possibility of having to register as a sex offender, and the associated shame and loss of status all of that would bring.
This person actually quite ethical. He doesn’t act on his impulses. He obeys the law. By all outward appearances, he’s a fine, upstanding citizen. But his hidden dark side poses a problem with calling him “moral.”
Ethics are solely concerned with behavior. A person can be ethical and even appear to bear the good fruit associated with the Kingdom of God, but essentially be a “whitewashed tomb full of dead man’s bones.” If you take care to wash only the parts that people can see, while continuing to live a robust life of mental evils, are you really moral?
If my neighbor, the guy with the really hot wife, the awesome job that I could never get in a million years, who paid off his house because he’s a millionaire in his twenties, and owns three fancy sports cars suddenly got divorced, fired from his awesome job, and totaled two of the three sports cars (in one day), how should I react to that?
Externally, if I offered a shoulder to cry on anytime he needed one and offered to help him financially if he needed to pay some debts or bills (no millionaire is completely without debt), and tried to help him get a job; would I still be good if in my mind I kept thinking silently, “I’m so happy! I want to see this S.O.B. fall further into despair. I’m going to nickname him ‘Job.’ May he total the other sports car, too!”
I’m thinking, “NO.”
That example is perfectly within our fallen natures. It isn’t that we can’t do good. We, in our fallen nature, can’t will good. We may do some (relative) good, but privately, we still entertain impure (or even evil) thoughts. Our behavior conforms to the good, but our minds do not.
Contrast this with a Christian, who is a Christian in both word and deed. I hate to say a “true” Christian, so let’s say a “sincere” Christian. Once his faith has been placed in Christ, a transformation occurs. He is a new creation. His inward thoughts are taken captive, to conform even those to Christ. Our carnal minds, after all, aren’t subject to God’s law (nor indeed can be).
Ethics are external. Those are what people see. However, morals work from the inside out. Instead of just doing good, we are good. That’s a far cry from simply acting ethical. Instead of not stealing thousands of dollars from the bank at which I work, the capability of that theft is no longer in my person. That, in a nutshell, is what it means to be conformed to Christ.
That, however, isn’t something that just happens the day of my altar call. It is part of sanctification, which is a life-long process where I work with God to conform both my actions and my thoughts to Christ’s example.
This is hard. But no one ever said Christianity was supposed to be easy.