* Since "Hitchens" Is Mentioned on Today's Program: We thought we'd embed this video we produced a decade after today's program...
* Limp Wrists Infiltrate the Tea Party: In a letter written by lisping GOProud founder Chris Barron conservatives are encouraged, (and some tea party leaders have signed on) to abandon conservatism in favor of sodomy and a lower deficit.
* Pet Peeves: In New York the profligate governing officials have chosen to preserve the patronage jobs of legions of life’s losers, while abandoning their citizens lost cats to the dogs!
* Today’s Resource: Have you browsed through our Science Department in the KGOV Store? Check out especially Walt Brown’s In the Beginning and Bob’s interviews with this great scientist in Walt Brown Week! You’ll also love Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez’ Privileged Planet (clip), and Illustra Media’s Unlocking the Mystery of Life (clip)! You can consider our BEL Science Pack; Bob Enyart’s Age of the Earth Debate; Bob's debate about Junk DNA with famous evolutionist Dr. Eugenie Scott; and the superb kids' radio programming, Jonathan Park: The Adventure Begins! And Bob strongly recommends that you subscribe to CMI’s tremendous Creation magazine and Ken Ham's Answers magazine! (And you can order Darwin's Dilemma DVD by calling BEL at 1-800-8Enyart.)
* Hitch a Ride: Also on today's program and picking up on yesterday’s Martian theme Doug expresses his desire for Christopher Hitchens to join a special guest for the 6 month journey to Mars! Other Christopher Hitchens mentions on BEL include:
- Bob interviews Hitchens' debate opponent apologist Frank Turek
- Stop the tape! Peter Hitchens debates abortion and Bob weighs in
- BEL friend Douglas K (of Douglas & Jenna fame :) responds to Christopher...
The moral argument for the existence of God
by Douglas K
I have remarked from time to time on Christopher Hitchens, a famous and aggressive atheist. He was the author of the book “God is not great” for example. I once read an article he wrote for the magazine “Free Inquiry” about the fact that atheists could be just as “good” as any Christian. This has always puzzled me because it strikes me as incoherent (i.e., inconsistent). The inconsistency is, how can “good” even exist if there is no God? Mr. Hitchens is essentially saying “There is no God, but if He asks I will say I am just as righteous as any Christian.” A Christian apologist who debated Christopher summed up his attitude as “God does not exist and I hate Him”. How can that be, right?
When I’ve mentioned this oddity, people do not seem to understand the conflict. I believe this is because they do not understand the nature of morality and seem to think it just is or has always been as if it is a force of nature. So I propose to explain what is called the moral argument.
CS Lewis addressed the question of whether one can be “good” and not be a Christian in his essay “Man or Rabbit”. He points out that what constitutes “goodness” depends on whether Christianity is true or Materialism is true. If Materialism is an accurate representation of reality, then the best we can do is make a comfortable life for a short time (as Kenny Rogers once sang, “the best you can hope for is to die in your sleep”). If Christianity is true, then we have an opportunity to live forever with a Being of Infinite Goodness and missing out on that would be a serious tragedy.
Good and bad are somewhat vague terms. But in the context of whether one can be good apart from religion I think what we are really taking about is morality.
Throughout history people have defined various moral systems. With the term moral system I mean some means of defining “moral good”, “moral bad” and “moral neutral”. That which is morally good are things people are obligated to do, that which is morally bad are things people should never do and if neither applies then it is something that is morally neutral.
Throughout history people have also complained about whatever moral system was in place in a society as being inconsistent with some “higher” moral system. Sometimes they succeed in changing the morals of a society, sometimes they don’t. However, when a person appeals to a “higher” moral system they are making an assertion that morality is not subjective. That is, it is not up to human beings to decide what is right, or good, or moral any more than we can decide what the gravitational constant or the speed of light should be.
Consider the comment “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” or the comment “One person’s trash is another’s treasure.” These express the truth that the value we place on persons, places or things originates in our minds. It is entirely subjective.
To say that something is inherently beautiful is to deny that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If a sunrise is inherently beautiful, then it is beautiful even if everyone looking at it decides it is not. It would then be considered objectively beautiful.
The moral argument for God is the question of whether morality is objective or subjective. Because if morality is subjective, all moral systems are just based on preference and one preference is no more valid than any other. Morality is just whatever is popular at the moment and there is no “higher” moral system.
Here are some definitions of what I mean by certain terms. I’d like to make that clear as philosophical terms can be somewhat slippery. This is due to the fact that philosophy is just people making stuff up.
This is the idea that matter is all that exists. If we see it, hear it, touch it or taste it, then it's real. This includes natural law as that is just an explanation of how matter behaves. It also includes energy, which as Einstein showed is an alternate state of matter and includes anything we can detect with machines. We regard quantum particles as real because we can build machines that show effects explained by these particles, for example. We build radios and this demonstrates the existence of the electro-magnetic spectrum which exceeds the visible light range.
This refers to the descriptions of how space, time, matter and energy behave based on observations that we have made.
By this I refer to the total of social constraints and expectations regardless of source. Legislative acts, government edicts, social custom, home owner's association rules, whatever constitutes the in-crowd at the local high school. Human law varies greatly in detail, scope and enforcement. What distinguishes it though, is the fact that all human law is invented by some person or group and is enforced in some way by the particular community that adopted it.
This is the idea that each person has the ability to make choices, not imposed by external forces. Not every action is the result of free will, as we do have an autonomous nervous system, for example. But everything else is the result of a conscious choice made by the individual. I reach for the soda instead of the water because I have made a choice, not because of some external stimulus. The devil didn't make me do it. No one cast a spell on me. It's not because of subliminal advertising, or the state of the weather. Someone might say the choice was coerced, because soda tastes better than flat water. Or coerced because without water I would become dehydrated. But that only illustrates that free will does not mean unlimited options or that one cannot be influenced. It only means that I am the one making the choice.
This is the idea that there are things which human beings should do or not do. Examples are: do not engage in deception, theft, or murder. Do promote creativity and learning, do help others in need, and do take care of the environment. People are considered moral when they do the things they should and avoid doing the things they should not. People are considered immoral when they behave in the opposite manner. A moralist is someone who preaches specific moral codes. I use the word preach because I wish to emphasize that moralists are focused on convincing others that they have an obligation to do what the moralist likes and should not be doing what the moralist does not like. It's a more intense activity than simply promoting a preference for some public polity option such as zoning rules or taxes.
It is an irony that while moralists are in general not popular, there are so many of them. In addition, morality preaching is not limited to the religiously motivated. There are plenty of secular people spending time condemning those with whom they disagree. Richard Dawkins, the current premier atheist, likes to call those who promote belief in God as either ignorant or wicked.
This is the title for whoever or whatever a person looks to, to determine what is right or wrong.
"There is a God"
This phrase is using the term God as a title. 'God' designates the Being who created us for a purpose and will judge whether we are fit for that purpose and either decide to end the experiment or give us the stamp of approval. God is not simply a very powerful Being who can benefit or harm us according to whim.
By contrast the Greek and Roman “gods” were powerful entities who could benefit one if they were appeased and harm one if they were angry. They were sort of like forces of nature that the initiated could manipulate. They had no inherent right to judge humanity, they were just beings with superior power.
The Creator has the right to judge us because the purpose for our existence originates in His mind. If I were to create a company and hire someone to fill a position, it would be up to me to decide whether that individual was doing it well or not, because I’m the one who created the position and decided what its purpose is.
Now we can talk about the moral argument for God. It can be expressed as a question that anyone can answer on the basis of one’s own experience.
Is morality a human invention?
An atheist has to say yes. It is obvious to anyone that morality is not an effect or extension of natural law. Gravity is a natural law and we have always obeyed it. This obedience was absolute even when no one knew or even had any idea what gravity was. There is no free will with respect to natural law. Can the same be said of "moral laws"?
No. This is obvious as moral transgressions are everywhere. The most common complaint by the irreligious is the question of how can there be a loving God when there is so much evil? This observation confirms that immorality is the norm in our world.
Some atheists like to be dogmatic and say there is no God. But others like to project open-mindedness and simply assert there is no evidence for God. With respect to morality, this makes no difference. No one who asserts there is no evidence for God, is going to say we get our ideas of morality from God.
Nature is full of fascinating coincidences. The atheist dismisses them all.
We observe the bizarre behavior of sub-atomic particles. It is from this bizarre behavior that the vast array of chemical properties are derived. Pretty interesting ones, too. Water is less dense as a solid then a liquid, which causes ice to float. If this were not true we would not be living on this planet. That this is true is a product of the unique geometry of the water molecule, which is an effect of the nature of sub-atomic behavior of the hydrogen and oxygen atoms. This is one of many examples of the suitability of the physical nature of the universe for life (called the "fine-tuning" argument). Monarch butterflies winter in Mexico. Then they fly north and lay eggs on milkweed plants. These become caterpillars and then mysteriously transform into butterflies. The next generation flies further north, lays eggs that become caterpillars that turn into butterflies. This third generation then flies back to Mexico for the winter. This cycle is just one of the many examples of mysterious animal characteristics and behavior that are not explainable by natural selection.
Since all of this is "not evidence", atheists are asserting that natural law and what follows from unguided natural processes is all there is. It follows that morality, which is a great concern for humans, but does not seem to be a concern for all other species on earth has to be a human invention.
Atheists will ask "who created God?" This question implies that God could not exist because God has no origin. These same people have no problem believing that natural laws have always been and also, according to them, have no origin. Stephen Hawking (The Grand Design) stated, "Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing." Lawrence Krauss (A Universe from Nothing) attributes the entire universe to quantum fluctuations. Steve doesn't say why there is a law of gravity and Larry doesn't say why there is a quantum field to fluctuate. They just assume natural law has always been and has always been consistent.
What does it mean that morality is a human invention?
First of all, it says the rules of morality are not different than any other human law. People argue about what is or is not moral. Some ideas are popular and adopted widely. Other ideas drop out of favor. Whenever a moral notion becomes inconvenient it can just be discarded. Over time we see that the things considered morally good change.
These days, for example, environmental protection is considered a moral obligation, but was not considered such, not so many years ago. Smoking is severely criticized in popular media, but drinking alcohol is only considered bad if it is very excessive.
Moral systems require no great investment or effort to invent. Anyone can make an assertion that this or that behavior is moral or immoral. By what do we judge correctness? Is there some person who is the moral authority? Can a group of people have moral authority? What meaning can it have to say the moral assertion of person A is wrong because it conflicts with the moral assertion of person B? To say that a moral rule is real and meaningful if many people accept it or that it has been held for a long time is simply to use peer pressure to force compliance to some dogma. Using force to determine what is right and wrong is just another way to say that might makes right. Does might make right?
How many parents agree when teenager says, "everyone is doing it, so it must be a-ok"? If might makes right, wouldn't it be correct to say the Roman Empire was morally justified in enslaving non-Romans? Remember, we are looking at what it means if morality is of human origin. If that leads to a strange conclusion, the premise must be wrong.
What about the idea of moral obligation? Can a person be obligated to a thing? Or to a natural law? Can we truly be obligated to other human beings who are just making up assertions about what we should be doing? When moral law is no more than a human notion, one notion is no more inherently compelling than any other. Granted, some notions are more attractive to some people than others. But if what makes a notion compelling is the “eye of the beholder” then it is not inherently compelling. Morality is just one more personal preference and in reality, no more significant than saying chocolate is better than vanilla.
Consider the notion that it is morally wrong to commit murder. Most people like that because they don’t like the idea of being murdered. However, while it is quite popular these days to say murder is wrong, there are exceptions. Western societies think that it is quite ok to murder unwanted infants in a socially approved manner, for example. Add to this the fact that there are murderers who, when caught, are only punished with a few years of prison. This shows we don’t really think it is that bad.
What happens to those who are immoral? (If morality is a human invention)
Imagine, says John Lennon, there is no heaven above and no hell below. Imagine there are no countries and no religion too. John thinks that situation would lead to peace because there is nothing to kill or die for. There is only the now, no future reward for good deeds, no future punishment for bad deeds, no reckoning. People just doing whatever they want. Or whatever they can get away with. That is, whatever they can without getting interference from other people. What John is overlooking is that people kill for many other reasons than country or religion. I know of several instances in Aurora, where I live, where people were killed because of an argument about parking spaces.
Since immorality only means behaviors to which society objects, the only impact for being immoral is the risk of punishment by society. When society does not notice or care, then there is no punishment. It should also be noted that if there is nothing to die for, there is nothing to live for. If this model is true, we are only marking time, seeking to minimize pain until we die. (Imagine no possessions, says John, but don't you dare imagine no copyrights!)
If society is annoyed, there can be punishment for what are later considered good deeds. This is illustrated by the story of Ignaz Semmelweis. These days he's considered a hero, but that doesn't mean anything to him. He investigated the high incidence of puerperal fever in Vienna General Hospital in the 1840s and introduced hand-washing in chlorinated lime solutions for doctors who had performed autopsies. This reduced the transmission of disease, but the doctors didn't like doing it. It was an irritation to them. Semmelweis was eventually fired.
He started writing letters to convince prominent doctors about the need for washing up and then began to denounce them as murderers when they ignored him. He was committed to an asylum and died in 1865. In this case, society punished the healer and let the murderers go free.
I believe the attraction of disbelief in God is precisely this; it implies no judgment. Morally wrong acts are not going to be punished and a person is "free" to do whatever they want to do. This is the irony in Dawkins' assertion. If there is no God, there is no judgment and calling someone wicked is no more meaningful than saying, "your mama is ugly and you are too!"
People frequently complain about some aspect of society as being unjust, or unfair. The implication is that society has some moral obligation to behave differently than it does and it does not matter that the status quo is popular. This complaint amounts to an assertion that society is not the source of morality and that there is something beyond the human mind that defines right and wrong. It is simply non-sense to assert that society is doing something wrong if it is society itself that determines what is or is not wrong.
Someone may object that one can point out that society is mismanaging resources and that there is a better or more practical way to achieve some desirable goal and that this is based on observable material reality. Like Semmelweis proposed, society can avoid killing hospital patients by practicing better hygiene. That in itself is not a moral argument, though. It is a policy argument that rests on the assertion that society has a moral obligation to avoid killing hospital patients. This illustrates that science only answers the question of how things work, it never answers why something should or should not be done.
Summary of the moral argument
1) If there is no God, there is no Judge of the rightness or wrongness of our actions.
2) If there is no judgment on our actions, it does not matter what we do.
3) If it does not matter, nothing is objectively immoral.
4) Since we all know that there is a higher morality than human law, there is a God.
Simply put, to assert there are moral obligations is to assert there is a God. Christopher’s assertion that he could be “good” is a statement that there are moral obligations, contrary to his assertion of atheism.
People talk about “legacy” or the judgment of history. But it does not matter to Attila what anybody thinks of him now. Adolph got a lot of people mad at him, so he had to leave a little before his time, but Josef and Mao murdered more people than Adolph and were never called to account by anyone.
Our actions likely will matter to someone or other, but why should anyone care what some other person thinks? Likely some will approve and some disapprove no matter what we do. When someone claims another person's actions are "immoral" they are more or less trying to act as judge, but if they can't enforce it, it's just so much “hot air”.
It is the sticks and stones that break one’s bones, words will never hurt them.
So that is the story with materialism. Objective morality does not exist if materialism is true. But people still want to claim we have moral obligations while denying that there is a God who will judge. An alternative is the idea that there are spiritual laws that we can discover. Could morality be the result of impersonal “spiritual forces”?
Some time ago there was a series of movies known as “Star Wars”. The premise of this series is that there was a “force” active in the universe. This force had a “good” side and an “evil” side. Some people, able to use the force, had unique gifts. However, they could be trapped by the “dark side”. So there was constant conflict. Since the movies more or less focused on conflict, it didn’t really make clear how good differed from evil other than evil was a little more aggressive and mean. They both engaged in a lot of destructive practices.
We are all aware of natural law to some extent. If we act in ways consistent with natural law then life can be pleasant. If we act in ways inconsistent with natural law then life can be unpleasant. For example, being overweight promotes diabetes. If I act consistent with that by not being overweight, I will reduce my chances of getting diabetes. Likewise, some assert that morality is an expression of “spiritual” law. Acting in ways consistent with “spiritual” law will benefit one, acting inconsistently will harm one. This was expressed in Star Wars by the “good” jedi entering the “spirit” world after death. What happens to the bad jedi or the non-jedi, we don’t know.
As stated above, these cannot be laws in the same sense as natural law because it is our choice to accept or reject them, which is not something that applies to natural law. The assertion is that these laws just exist, they were not decreed by any being, in the same way as natural laws which just exist and were not decreed by any being. (Asserting spiritual laws are decreed by some Being is to assert that there is a God.)
Both materialists and non-materialists make the claim for spiritual laws. One may go to the council for secular humanism's web page and find a list of affirmations. These are claimed to be based on "scientific naturalism" and longstanding philosophical thought. Ayn Rand promoted "Objectivism" which she firmly believed was rooted in completely rational and "objective" observations of life on earth, history and natural law. I mention Ayn since she affirms a similar basis for "objective" ethics as does the council, but if you look close, you'll find significant differences and no doubt, they would both be saying the other is misguided.
Materialists point to the multiplicity of religions as evidence that people are just making things up to feel good about themselves. Life is hard and the weak need a "crutch". But the fervent belief that we can create a just society in a purposeless universe through rational discussion is just another "crutch". If there is no "there" there, all these efforts are so much aimless wandering.
Or one may go to the Self Realization Fellowship's web site. This organization was founded in 1920 by an Indian practitioner of Kriya Yoga to bring spiritual enlightenment to the west. They also have a list of affirmations, the first of which says, "To disseminate among the nations a knowledge of definite scientific techniques for attaining direct personal experience of God." That is, techniques that the Yogis have discovered that can bring spiritual enlightenment.
For both the humanist and the self realizer, life is about making one’s self better through some list of behaviors, though they may disagree on what those behaviors are, and what constitutes being better. The attitude here is that we do some good and we do some bad, but as long as we are mostly good and don't do anything unforgivable bad we can move on to the next level (whatever that is).
The idea that non-material laws or forces account for morality is lacking because it does not account for purpose.
The essential question is whether there is a judgment or not. If there is no reckoning, the rules are irrelevant. We have dispensed with the materialists right away. As they assert there is nothing beyond this life, the rules they propose have no reckoning, and can therefore be ignored. Like Pharaoh, we can say, "who are these materialists, that we should pay any attention to them?"
It only makes sense to speak of spiritual laws if there is a spiritual dimension to reality. The question becomes, does the impact of a spiritual law constitute judgment?
Let us think about purpose. It is purpose that makes a given action morally good or morally evil. Fire is a simple example. If I start a fire in my fireplace to stay warm that would be good. If I leave the screen open in the hope it will spark and set fire to my house so I can claim insurance, that would be evil.
A long time ago I watched a Star Trek episode that illustrates the importance of purpose. In this episode Kirk and Spock were put into a conflict with various “villains” from their past. At the end of the episode they meet an alien who explained that the aliens were trying to understand the concept of “good” and “evil”. What was the difference? In the situation they were in, they used similar methods as the villans. The answer that Kirk gave was that the difference was in what each group was offered, ie, the purpose they were working to achieve. Kirk and Spock were fighting to protect innocent people, the villians were fighting for power and prestige.
Within criminal law is the concept of “mens rea”. This phrase literally means “guilty mind”. Every crime consists of two things, an illegal act and intent. TV shows often talk about motive. But motive is not what a prosecutor needs to prove. What the prosecutor needs to show is that the harm that was done was intentional. That is, that the harm was the purpose for the act.
We see that purpose is an essential component of moral good. But fixed “spiritual forces” can have no purpose. They do not intend to do things. They do not plan. Purpose is the product of a conscious mind, a free-will choice. A spiritual law could only be a tool in the hands of the “spiritually” adept.
Here is an illustration. Suppose I find a pot of water boiling on a stove. I might ask why the water is boiling. Someone might say, well, heat is being applied to the water molecules and that causes them to acquire energy and begin to turn to steam. This is sort of a correct answer but does not account for purpose. The purpose for which the water is boiling is to make a hot drink and that purpose originated in the mind of whoever put the water on to boil.
To say impersonal spiritual forces account for morality is like answering “heat is being applied.”
How is it possible that evil exists?
People often ask, why do bad things happen to good people, why do good things happen to bad people, why is there pain, why would a good God allow all of this? This is a serious question and there has been much written on this subject. I did an internet query on “why does evil exist” and got more than 100 million hits in less than a second. It is out of scope to fully deal with this question here, but the thing to note is that all of these questions represent recognition by the one asking that the universe is broken. Something is wrong. These things should not be. Con artists should not get away with it. Ignaz Semmelweis should have been honored.
However, if the universe is not the result of intentional design it can have no purpose because purpose originates in a conscious mind. If the universe has any purpose, any at all, there has to be a Creator, who exists outside, or apart from the universe and that Creator decided what that purpose would be.
Being broken means something is not working as intended. It is non-sense then to say that a thing with no intended purpose is broken. So these questions lead to a conundrum. The fact of evil does not imply the universe is the product of time and chance. That the things that are, just are and stuff just happens. It is what it is. One may adapt to the environment or not. Life that is not well-adapted to the environment usually goes extinct.
The fact of evil implies the universe has a purpose, and that purpose has not yet been achieved.
The question people should consider is why does it bother me that the world is evil? Where did I get the idea that this is wrong? That the world should not be this way?
Since people know the way things are not the way things should be, they know the universe has a purpose. That purpose can only be the product of a Mind that existed independently of the universe and made the choice to make the universe. I think it is in this sense that Christopher Hitchens had the attitude “God does not exist and I hate Him”. He knew God existed because he knew he had objective moral obligations, but he hated that he had to make moral choices.
I certainly agree, if it were possible to create a universe in which evil could never exist, a good God would have created that universe, not the one we have. The fact that the universe is broken shows that it is just not possible to create such a universe.
A universe in which evil could never exist is a universe without free will. Such a universe would not be “real” in that there would not be any choices being made. Everything is running according to script like a very formulaic movie. It would not be a good universe. There would be no opportunity to learn, to grow, or to love.
The biblical story is that God created a universe that was perfect. Humanity was placed in a garden and everything was good. But our ancestors wanted to be like God and know good and evil. So we are learning; the hard way. However, God does not leave us there. Because He is good, He provides a way for us all to get to that place where everything is perfect again.
There is a song called “Big Yellow Taxi” which contains the following phrase, “You don’t know what you’ve got 'till its gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot”. This expresses the idea that we don’t really know something unless we’ve experienced it. Because we have experienced evil, we know that is something we never want to be involved with again.
While a good universe that could never experience evil cannot exist, God did the next best thing. He created a universe that could be fixed and He is making sure it gets fixed.