Atheism and Morals

November 11, 2011

If  you missed the first blog about morals and God you can click here and read it if you want to gain an understanding of morals from a Biblical view-point.  In my second blog about God, Morals, and Atheism I want to talk about the way that atheism views morals.    I want to be careful to describe their view of morals correctly because then I want to test it with some questions. After reading books by atheists and talking with them this is what I have found in general about what they believe about morals.

Since most atheists ascribe to Darwin’s theory of evolution, it would not surprise you to find that they believe morals have evolved as well.   They use the example of animals that have a basic conscience that can show fear and shame with their actions.  One website explains “Morals are, basically, the rules by which our social groups function. They ensure that things are reasonably fair and that relationships run reasonably smoothly. Social groups simply wouldn’t survive without rules, so the evolution of the ability to create and follow rules should be expected.”   Atheists also claim that morals have evolved over time and this proves that moral evolution is true.  They claim that we no longer follow the morals of the Bible like slavery, treatment of women, and war.

From here there is a divide about how some atheists see the individual evolution of morals.  Some insist that morals as an individual trump the morals of a society.  Others see it the opposite way around that in order to survive as an individual, humans somehow find it in their best interest to work together as a society to survive.  In the late 19th Century most atheists seem to take the individual viewpoint of morals.  Atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche remarks “Equality is lie concocted by inferior people who arrange themselves in herds to overpower those who are naturally superior to them.  The morality of ‘equal rights’ is herd morality and because it opposes the cultivation of superior individuals, it leads to the corruption of the human species.”   New atheists like Sam Harris who are seeking to find a naturalistic view of morals, look more toward the influence of the culture as to defining the morals of an individual.  In his book, The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins uses 4 main ideas that can create a cultural view of morality.  They are altruism, kinship, reputation, and fear of punishment/desire for reward.  But both Dawkins and Harris admit that natural will give little help in cultural morals because the individual will fight against other individuals.  There seems to be an evolution of the way things are explained as it comes to morals.  Others might call this a change of mind.

What about the claims of atheists?  Are we really not that much different from all the other animals?  Have morals changed from the times of the Bible?  How do morals evolve?  All that being said, these are some questions that I believe need to be answered and I have difficulties that I have found with the idea of evolutionary morality.  Here are a few thoughts.

1. Are humans really not that much different from the animals?  Darwinism would have you think not, but one look around at the world tells the real story.  Biologist have been experimenting with primates for years, trying to teach them sign language, teach them behaviors, and more, but the best that can be observed is a mimicking of human behavior for a short time for a reward.  Animals are still called the savage beasts for a reason.

2. What about the claim that morals have changed over time?  The idea that we are no longer the selfish individuals of the past or of the Bible?  One look at the last century will tell you that indeed we are not becoming more morally evolve.  The 20th century was the bloodiest centuries of in history.  David Berlinski, in his book The Devils Delusion, outlines all the wars that have been fought and the number of deaths that been as result.  The numbers are over 160 million total.  The Biblical view of slavery is a bit of a straw man argument and was never anything like the African slave trade of the recent century. There is still mistreat meant of women today, perhaps as much as there was in history.  Take a look at the issue of sex-preference abortions that take place in China and India because families don’t want a female child they will terminate the pregnancy in order to try to have a boy. Also just  take a listen to a few Hip Hop songs and you will understand what some people still think of women.  Since the rise of atheists in the 19th century, as far as evolving morals, I see things actually getting worse, not better.

3. How do morals evolve?  This is perhaps the biggest leap concern I have with evolutionary morality.  How does a cell produce thought, a conscience, or morals?  Naturalists who argue for evolution want to say the brain is so highly developed, which it is, and it gets to the point where conscience is born.  This is not the traditional view of the human mind and body that are separate and that the human soul exists separate of the body.   Atheists want to argue that some how, the matter created the mind.  They try to explain it with the complexity of the brain and the long time that has passed to allow slow changes to create a mind.  But, no matter how complex something is, or how much time might pass, cells don’t grow feelings, atoms don’t feel things.  Science has no explanation for this as of yet, perhaps they might in the future, but I doubt it.   There is more to add to the brain/mind discussion but I will save those for another post.

4. There is also another area in morals that has a wide range of thoughts by atheists.  It is the question, Are morals objective?  From a Biblical perspective the answer is an easy, yes.  The Christian worldview has no issues with objective morals or right and wrong because they come from a transcendent God who sent the standard.  On the atheist side of the coin there is wide debate between atheists.  If you ask an atheist whether Rape or child abuse, which is a current topic in the news with Penn State, is objective wrong, they will most likely say yes, it is universally observed as wrong.  They may however be hesitant to say yes because they cannot explain where this universal moral comes from.

I will address some other thoughts related to morals in the near future.  As always, questions, comments, and discussions are welcome.

Indoctrination Unavoidable?

October 18, 2011

Several weeks ago in a post about worldviews, I mentioned a statement by atheist, Richard Dawkins about indoctrination.  I would like to address the statement Dawkins made and deal with the subject of indoctrination.  In the ninth chapter of Dawkins’ book The God Delusion, Dawkins makes the following statement:

“Isn’t it a remarkable coincidence almost everyone has the same religion as their
parents?  And it always just happens to be the right religion.  Religions run in families.
If we’d been brought up in ancient Greece we would all be worshiping Zeus and
Apollo.  If we had been born Vikings we would be worshiping Wotan and Thor.   How
does this come about? Through childhood indoctrination.”

First, let’s define indoctrination before we discuss the quote by Dawkins.

Indoctrination – The act of teaching a doctrine, principle, or ideology, especially one with a specific point of view.

I would first like to concede that indoctrination does take place, in fact, I would like to add, that it occurs everywhere, through everyone, in varying levels.  Because of the way we can know something and not know something, we are limited in a semi-transcendent view of knowledge.  There is really no way to “get out of the box” as Ravi Zacharias puts it, in a transcendent way, and know everything about everything in life.  We can know things on a subjective level and we can compare them to a uniform experience that we have in our life and culture.  The varying levels of indoctrination that may take place can range from the highest and strictest of worldviews to the smallest and most trivial examples of allowing an opposing team’s uncle call the balls and strikes in a little league baseball game.

As a parent of three children, I want my children to own their own faith and not have the faith of their parents.  As they get older I will encourage them to do the work that I have done in my own searching, including all sides.   But that doesn’t mean that I am not going to teach them what I have found to be good, reliable trustworthy truth now.    I will help them, answer questions, give them resources to help them make their own decisions as they are ready.

Not everyone does their homework.   It has been apparent to me that not everyone that believes a particular worldview, including Christianity, knows what they believe and why they believe or at least can articulated it in a meaningful and understanding way.  On the surface level many worldviews can look and make sense, but in truth and reality, there can only be one worldview that is correct.  As you dig a little deeper you will no doubt encounter difficulties as you look for coherence in the worldviews that are incorrect.   For many people, the statement, ignorance is bliss, is true to life.  As I have stated before I will be digging deeper and looking at each of the major worldviews in the future posts.

Christianity stands out among other worldviews.   I would like to point out that many worldviews are very closed-minded to allowing opposing views to influence their captors.    Jehovah’s Witnesses will cut you off if you show any signs of doubt or begin to look outside the ideology they teach.  They have been even known to excommunicate their own family members if they reject the teachings.    This is nothing however to the Islamic world where if you leave your Islamic faith, could mean death if you are caught.  As I type this, there is a pastor in Iran who is in prison, in fear of his life because he left the Islamic faith for Christianity.  There is also the certainty of ridicule that will come from scientific atheism that if you renounce your atheism and still maintain your scientific beliefs.

Compare those to the words of Paul in the Bible as he challenged the Thessalonians “Test everything, hold onto the good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) and then in Acts, “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:11)   You will find no where in the Bible that it tells us to just believe and not examine the evidence.   One of my favorite verses, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13)  Each of these scriptures shows the open, unafraid mindset of the Christian worldview.

So what are we to make of Dawkins’s comment that “almost everyone has the same religion as their parents… Religions run in families.”  Two things to consider.  First, for the worldview that is most coherent, and dare I say correct, people will examine it and stay with what they find to be true.  Secondly, I would challenge Dawkins’ assertion that almost everyone  has the same religion of their parents.  Consider what is taking place today in China and other countries like Russia and the former Soviet Union.   In 1966  through the leadership of the atheistic communist party in China, all books, Bibles, and any references to religion were burned and destroyed, its leaders declaring God is dead.   Today in China, Christianity is the fastest growing worldview than all others.  Nearly 100 million strong.  When there is a vacuum of truth, it is a most welcome breath of fresh air.

The last point I want to make with indoctrination is that there seems to be a conflict with the view of naturalistic determinism, of which Dawkins and many other of the new atheists claim to support.  If we can be indoctrinated by things outside ourselves like the Bible, religious parents, reruns of old TBN shows, etc., then we are  not locked into genetic determinism through our DNA.  If everything we believe and know is because of genetic determinism then we cannot be indoctrinated.

As always, questions, comments, and discussions are welcome.  I will take a closer look at determinism and free will in my next post.

Objections to the Cosmological Argument

October 13, 2011

Talk to the hand!

In my last post I introduced the Cosmological Argument to you and in this post I want to address some objections or questions that may come up from those you share with.  If you missed the Cosmological Argument click here to read it first.

The most likely response to the Cosmological Argument that you may get is a question, “Who made God?”   This is a key question in Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion.    Apologist Sean McDowell notes “While rhetorically powerful, this objection misses the point of the argument.  The claim is not that everything has a cause.  Rather, everything that begins to exist has a cause.”  Think about it, if God was caused, then you would have an infinite regress without a beginning.  Remember our conclusion from the last post.

Since the universe is physical, finite in space, has a beginning, and slowly running out of energy we can then say the cause had to be outside the physical, (i.e. non-physical) infinite, timeless, changeless, and powerful.  Sounds a little like the God the Bible describes.

While this doesn’t point to a particular God, like that of the Bible, the character traits that are given this creator/beginner are the same as the God of the Bible.  God is non-physical, infinite, timeless, changeless, and powerful.  This type of being does not need a cause.

Another objection you might hear from someone is that the universe caused itself to come into existence without the aid of anything outside itself.  This is as it sounds, absurd.  It that were possible, why wouldn’t other things come into existence all by themselves also?  Why don’t we have people or basketballs randomly appearing in the universe?  The laws of nature cannot explain how this might be, this is the ultimate magicians rabbit out of the hat trick.

One last objection to the Cosmological Argument might be to the premise that the universe does not have a beginning.  Someone may want to challenge your statement that you make on a beginning.  They may point out that the recent work of Stephen Hawking, a brilliant Astrophysicist and mathematician.   Hawking says that the beginning of the universe can be avoided because time has been rounded off at the final moments before the Big Bang Singularity.  The way that Hawking got this to work in mathematical equations was with the use of imaginary numbers combined with Einsteins equations.  Unfortunately these numbers do not work out when you replace the imaginary numbers with real numbers in real life.  “But if the universe can be eternal and uncaused,” as Sean McDowell states “then why can’t God?”   What is most unreasonable is to suppose that the universe arose, uncaused from nothing.

As always, questions, comments, discussions are welcome.  If you can think of any other objects feel free to post them in a comment.

Real Faith: Biblical Not Blind

October 6, 2011

Over a week ago I posted a blog titled Why I believe.  I quickly listed out the reasons that I believe in God and hold the worldview that I do.  The very first item I listed was faith.  I realize that you may think that faith is not objective, but I hope that you will see at the end that it is based on an object.  According to the Bible, faith is a requirement to have a relationship with God and for an eternal life in Heaven.   I have already explained why faith is necessary, but now I want to go back and spend more time on what real faith is and also try to clear up what many people consider of faith as blind faith.

You may have asked, “Why faith?”  Look at the following scripture.  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” – Ephesians 2:8 [Emphasis added]  It is ‘through faith’ that we are saved ‘by God’s grace’.  The Bible is clear that God requires faith, that is His standard.

Chris Sherrod, a former student minister and friend of mine breaks down faith like this.

Faith has two elements.
1. The person doing the trusting
2. The object that the person is putting their trust in.

Using the “trust fall” example Sherrod explains; “Imagine you are standing on the end of a table and about to fall backwards into the arms of six strong adults waiting below you.  As the ‘faller’ you portray the first element of correct faith – the person doing the trusting.  Obviously for this exercise to work must have enough confidence in the people below you to take some action and actually fall backwards.  But correct faith involves one other element – there must be a trustworthy object that you are placing your faith in waiting there to catch you!  In other words your ‘subjective’ (or personal) faith must be placed in something that is objective. (i.e. outside of you) and trustworthy.”

Sherrod continues, “To understand the importance of the second element, imagine that we alter one feature of our exercise: the group standing below you is now six toddlers!  Would you consider this an important detail that has changed?  Obviously so! Your faith, no matter how genuine or strong, would matter little now because the object of your faith is no longer trustworthy.”

The sincerity of the person doing the trusting really have nothing to do with it.  If I believed that I could jump off my roof while holding an umbrella and float slowly to the ground, the only thing that matters is the object, the umbrella, that I am placing my faith in.  The same can be said of other worldviews.  If Mormonism and Islam are objectively false, it really doesn’t matter how sincere the person’s faith is, it is still objectively false.  Later after establishing the evidence for God I will begin to look at other theistic worldviews and the objects that they place their trust in and compare them to those of the Christian worldview.

There is a misunderstanding by many about the type of  faith that Christians have in God.  Richard Dawkins, in his book The God Delusion seems to see it as a blind faith.   It is a not blind faith.    Blind faith meaning that for no reason or any evidence at all a Christian believes in God.  Similar to me thinking I can fly because it would be really cool and I like superman.  Biblical faith is based on the objective evidence that we do have.  What objective things can we look at?  The universe, human life, conscious thought, The Bible, Historical Jesus.  We will get into these one at a time and look at specific facts, and see where they lead.  The argument boils down to what is acceptable evidence and what is not according to who’s looking at it.

Every single person uses faith that is based on evidence or reason, even if they are not religious in their worldview.   The scientific atheists want to try to separate religious faith from that of scientific faith saying it is a different type of faith, but it is one and the same.  Here are a few examples.  You trust an airplane to fly you safely across the country without crashing, even though you don’t understand all the laws/rules of aviation.  You have faith because you have seen planes fly and more often than not make it safely to their destination.  You trust a pharmacist to put the right kind of medicine in a pill bottle and you take it without question, even though you don’t know everything about medicine and biology.  You have faith because they have proven themselves reliable in the past.  Even in the field of science.  Physicists have never been able to weigh a sub-atomic particle, like a neutrino, it is to small, yet based on all the fundamental laws of physics, mathematics, their reasoning, and deductive skills scientists do believe that a neutrino does have mass.

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands – Psalm 19:1

As always, questions, comments, and discussions welcome.