Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Reasonable Morality

Throughout the history of humanity, a society's moral codes were inexplicably tied to the local religion. Things have not changed in 2007. Many Christians believe that a belief in God is necessary for a person to live morally; atheists disagree. The atheist's argument revolves around the idea that natural law and civic virtue is available to people due to their ability to reason. The system of morality is established by natural law and civic virtue. Therefore, morality is a by-product of people's ability to reason.

A few terms must be defined before the discussion can begin. These definitions are taken from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Natural law "constitutes the basic principles of practical rationality for human beings, and has this status by nature which is universally binding and universally knowable." Civic virtue is "a willingness to do one's part in supporting the public good." Reason can be defined as "the general human capacity for resolving, through reflection, the question of what one is to do." Morality "is an informal public system applying to all rational persons, governing behavior that affects others, and has the lessening of evil or harm as its goal." Christians are men and women believing in the Judeo-Christian God, the deity of Jesus Christ, the infallibility of the Bible, and the existence of an afterlife. And atheists are men and women who believe that it is impossible to prove the existence of a divine being or an afterlife.

Many Christians believe that morality comes from God; an example of this is the Ten Commandments. For many believers, a life of sin and depravity is the only option for those who do not accept God. This is illogical, not only because it presents an either-or situation, but because it brings up questions of the source of goodness. Frank Zindler, a professor of biology and the editor of American Atheist Press, writes:

Plato showed long ago…that we cannot depend upon the moral fiats of a deity.
Plato asked if the commandments of a god were 'good' simply because a god had
commanded them or because the god recognized what was good and commanded the action accordingly. If something is good simply because a god has commanded it, anything could be considered good…On the other hand, if a god's commandments are based on a knowledge of the inherent goodness of an act, we are faced with the realization that there is a standard of goodness independent of god and we must admit that he cannot be the source of morality.

There is a standard of goodness independent of God and it is called natural law. This is the system that is at work in the natural world. From the beginning, survival of the species was, and still is, the overwhelming purpose of an organism. Certain behaviors benefit the group, while others hurt it. Generosity, loyalty, defending the group, etc, are behaviors that benefit the group. On the other hand, murder, stealing, selfishness, lying, etc, are behaviors that can damage the group's ability to survive. Throughout the evolution of humans, this behavior was analyzed as right or wrong based on the consequences of the action. Over time, this analysis would form the moral code that underlies ancient and current societies. In other words, "they are generalizations from experience…A moral law makes explicit in theory what is implicit in fact. The fact creates the rule; it is not the rule that creates the fact."

Even C.S. Lewis, one of Christian's favorite apologists, saw the foundation of morality as reason—"the fundamental maxims of civic morality are accessible to all human beings by virtue of their God-given reason. This natural moral code cannot be escaped, he said; it is the source from which all moral judgments spring." This reason is the key to morality, not religious dogma. It is the mind of humans that separates them from the animal world; reason is the best weapon with which to face everyday events. Too often, Christianity demands that reason and a questioning mind be shut down to give way for blind faith.

For two centuries, we have looked to the Christian God to provide us with morality and have not been satisfied. The issues that we face today are human problems and it is within our humanity that the answers will be found. This is the time for a return to reason, for a new focus on natural law as it applies to humanity, for civic virtue to once again gain prominence in our national discussion.

Civic Virtue. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,, July 25, 2007.

Cohen, Chapman. "Morality Without God." American Atheists, Inc.,

Morality. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

Natural Law. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,, July 25, 2007.

Practical Reason. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,, July 25, 2007.

West, John G., Jr. "Politics from the shadowlands: C.S. Lewis on earthly government." Policy Review (Spring 1994 n680: 68(3).

Zindler, Frank R. The Probing Mind, February 1985.

Fallacies of Morality

Fallacies occur often in everyday speech, especially when one is caught off guard. "One of the first questions atheists are asked by true believers and doubters alike is, 'If you don't believe in God, there's nothing to prevent you from committing crimes. Without fear of hell-fire and eternal damnation, you can do anything you like.'" The obvious response is "Of course not," but the fear behind the question is quite real and deserves consideration.

In this essay, I will analyze the above statement and discuss the main fallacies of false alternative. I will offer an alternative argument that says belief in God is not necessary to live morally and, in fact, may undermine true morality. I will then discuss several examples that support my claim.

Explicit in this statement is a fallacy of false alternative. This statement offers an either-or proposition: Either a person believes in God and lives a moral life, or they do not believe in God and are not able of living a moral life. Limiting the possible outcomes that extend from a belief or non-belief in God is not logical.

In a letter to the Romans, the great Apostle Paul wrote about living a moral life. "For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I do." He is referring to the sin nature that Christians believe to be born into all humans. It is this sin nature that causes them to sin and not to live morally.

In addition, the Bible has a story of a non-believer who acts in a moral way when the religious leaders have turned away from a fellow believer. Many people are familiar with this story as the parable of the Good Samaritan. Without the teachings of God and attending religious services, the Samaritan knew that the moral behavior was to help a man in need.
Belief in God is not necessary to live morally and, in fact, may undermine true morality. This is an incredibly bold statement that atheists are presenting and needs to be examined carefully. Not only have many Christians lived complete lives of depravity, but Christianity itself is based on immoral premises.

As to the first point, the Old Testament is full of stories of rape, genocide, child sacrifice, and war all done in the name of God. The New Testament does not fare much better with God striking down Ananias and Sapphira , and the constant threat of Hell. The Crusades have recently been examined in a different light, not as a great and holy movement, but an attack of fear and intolerance. Even in the present day, the Catholic Church is making reparations to the thousands of children molested by priests.

As to the second point, the immoral premises of Christianity follow:
• presenting a false picture of the world to the innocent and the credulous
• the doctrine of blood sacrifice
• the doctrine of atonement
• the doctrine of eternal reward and/or punishment
• the imposition of impossible tasks and rules

Christians are pushing their creation myth into schools under the guise of "Intelligent Design" while attacking evolution, which is more plausible based on scientific research to date. Refusing to let creationism be a rich myth, Christians are attempting to take the story literally, despite inconsistencies in the book of Genesis. The origin of humanity is important because it shapes our understanding of our place and purpose in this world. To twist that message for Christianity's gain is unethical.

The premise of blood sacrifice, whether it involves an animal, a man, a woman, or a child, is immoral. Life is sacred and should not be offered up to spirits in the sky. One of the most disturbing stories in the Bible describes the great patriarch Abraham tying his son Isaac up, placing him on an altar of wood, and raising a knife to kill his son according to the commandment from God. Luckily, an angel stops Abraham from going through with this act and commends him on his faith. This story is evidence of the sadistic mind behind the Christian's God.

Blood sacrifice is inextricably linked to atonement. The original sacrifice for the sins of the Jews is once and for all paid with Jesus Christ becoming the sacrifice for all humankind; he becomes the scapegoat for humanity. It is one thing to take the place of another in their punishment; this theme is common enough in literature, theater, ballet, and other dramas. It is quite another thing to absolve a person the responsibility of their actions. Without a sense of responsibility and consequence, chaos will reign unchecked.

As to the last two points, they are interrelated as well. At the end of time, God acts as Judge and rewards and/or punishes humanity based on their behavior and faith. This is a judgment that extends for eternity because Christians believe in the eternal soul. These rules and tasks that God demands of his followers are impossible to fulfill. It is not just actions that are considered sin, it is the thought behind the action that is punishable as though the actual sin were committed. "The essential principle of totalitarianism is to make laws that are impossible to obey. The resulting tyranny is even more impressive if it can be enforced by a privileged caste or party which is highly zealous in the detection of error."

Taken together, these premises create a totalitarian regime that seemingly establishes unattainable rules and tasks, then punishes its followers for not performing adequately. The guilt and the shame that go along with this kind of situation, along with the terrorism that is practiced in the name of God, makes the very premises of Christianity immoral.
Atheists do not need belief in the Christian God to know right from wrong. It is an utter fallacy to state that atheists must live immoral lives without Christian teaching. It is Christianity itself that is flawed, not atheism.

Acts 5:1-11. The Holy Bible. Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999.

Hitchens, Christopher. God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. New York: Twelve, 2007.

Luke 10:25-37. The Holy Bible. Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999.

Morality. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy., 07/17/07

Romans 7:19. The Holy Bible. Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999Zindler, Frank R. The Probing Mind, February 1985.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Morality: The Natural vs. The Supernatural

The central question of my essay is whether or not a system of morality can exist apart from religion; therefore, the definition of morality is pivotal to both sides of this argument. I am defining morality as a system of rules governing outward behavior; a line separating right and wrong; a set of guidelines benefiting not only the individual, but society as a whole. The Judeo-Christian faith believes that this system may only come from God, while atheists believe that morality is a natural system established by reason and logic.

From the beginning, it must be understood that I am considering only the Judeo-Christian faith in opposition to atheism for this essay. Time limits and other obligations keep me from attempting to take on all the religions of the world, past and present. Sam Harris, an atheist author, is fond of pointing out that "we are all atheists in regard to Zeus and the thousands of other dead gods whom now nobody worships." But for now, I will remain in the present and discuss modern Christianity and atheism.

Christians believe that God created the world and everything in it. They believe that He gave them the Holy Bible and that He is directly involved in their lives. For many Christians, religion is such a crucial aspect of their lives that they cannot comprehend a worldview without a belief in God. Their initial reaction is one of shock and horror. The Apostle Paul wrote that if the resurrection is a false hope than, "let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die." It is thought and preached that without religion as a compass, atheists surely must lead lives of depravity and meaninglessness. Jacques Abbadie, a French theologist from the 17th century, says:

An atheist cannot be virtuous: to him virtue is only a chimera; probity no more than a vain scruple; honesty nothing but foolishness;--he knows no other law than his interest: where this sentiment prevails, conscience is only a prejudice; natural law only an illusion; right no more than an illusion; right no more than an error; benevolence no longer has any foundation; the bonds of society are loosened; the ties of fidelity are removed; friend is ready to betray friend; the citizen to deliver up his country; the son to assassinate his father, in order to enjoy his inheritance, whenever they shall find occasion, and that authority or silence shall shield them from the arm of the secular power, which alone is to be feared. The most inviolable rights, and most sacred laws, must no longer be considered, except as dreams and visions.

Christians believe that God is the creator of all things; He is in all things and nothing can be separated from Him. Stephan Evans, based on the writings of Kierkegaard, said, "I shall treat the claim that God provides the foundation for morality as equivalent to the claim that it is because of God that there are such things as moral obligations, or that it is because of God that there are particular moral obligations." Because they believe this to be true, it naturally follows that the system of morality has its origin in and cannot be separated from Him.

Atheists recognize a type of morality in the natural world of animals. They also see evidence that morality exists in humanity as a result of evolution and the survival of our species. It must also be remembered that many civilizations existed with laws and rules of morality before Moses met God on Mt. Sinai and received the Ten Commandments.

Frank Zindler, biologist and editor of The American Atheist magazine, is of the opinion that "the behavior of atheists is subject to the same rules of sociology, psychology, and neurophysiology that govern the behavior of all members of our species, religionists included." Zindler also references the African apes and baboons that are genetically similar to humans and finds several interesting relations. These apes live in social groups similar to humans; they care for their children and live according to rules. If the group is attacked, the older male apes even show altruistic behavior by "linger(ing) at the rear of the escaping troop and engage(ing) the leopard in what often amounts to a suicidal fight. As the old male delays the leopard's pursuit by sacrificing his very life, the females and young escape and live to fulfill their several destinies."

If morality is not supernatural, it is natural. It is a man-made system to govern behavior so that the community can prosper and grow. Morality is based on the experiences of trial and error that took place during evolution. Many atheists believe that morality was clearly in place before anyone created a religion to regulate life. And it is because mankind lives in societies that morality necessarily evolved. From an evolutionary standpoint, the success of a species depended on their ability to pass on their genes. Morality is the system of rules that made this a possibility.

Those who believe that the Ten Commandments were the beginning of moral codes need look to India, Persia, and Egypt as societies that had systems of laws that predate Christianity. These laws dealt with murder, adultery, cheating, lying, property rights, and more. In An Infidel Manifesto, Gary Lenaire quotes the 19th century lawyer and orator Robert Ingersoll:
Such laws are as old as human society; as old as the love of life; as old as industry; as the idea of prosperity; as old as human love. All of the Ten Commandments that are good were old; all that were new are foolish. If Jehovah had been civilized he would have left out the commandment about keeping the Sabbath, and in its place would have said: 'Thou shalt not enslave thy fellowmen.' He would have omitted the one about swearing, and said: 'The man shall have but one wife, and the woman but one husband.' He would have left out the one about graven images, and in its stead would have said: 'Thou shalt not wage wars of extermination, and thou shalt not unsheathe the sword except in self-defense.'

In this essay, I have looked at the definition of morality as a system of rules governing outward behavior; a line separating right and wrong; a set of guidelines benefiting not only the individual, but society as a whole. I have looked at the Christians belief that morality can only come from God and the atheists belief that morality comes from a variety of experiences that occurred in our distant past. In keeping morality grounded in religion, humankind is cheated from the rich and amazing social history that is theirs.

Burke, Thomas. The Christian Vision: Man and Morality. Michigan: Hillsdale College Press, 1986.

Evans, Stephan. Kierkegaard on Faith and the Self. Texas: Baylor University Press, 2006.

Lenaire, Gary. An Infidel Manifesto: Why Sincere Believers Lose Faith. Maryland: Publish America, 2006.

Meacham, Jon. "God Debate: Sam Harris vs. Rick Warren." Newsweek. 9 April, 2007

The Holy Bible. New King James Version. Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999.

Zindler, Frank R. "Ethics Without God." The Probing Mind. February 2005. American Atheists.