Tag Archives: Morality

The drowning stranger illustration challenges atheistic morality

Learning about right and wrong, good and evil
Learning about right and wrong, good and evil

This is by Matt from Well Spent Journey blog.

Excerpt:

Here’s a thought experiment.

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Imagine that you’re a healthy, athletic, 20-year-old male. It’s the morning after a thunderstorm, and you’re standing on the banks of a flooded, violently churning river.

You notice an object floating downstream.

As it moves closer, you suddenly realize that this object is a person. The head breaks the surface, and you see a panic-stricken elderly woman gasping for air. You’ve never met her before, but vaguely recognize her as an impoverished widow from a neighboring village.

You look around for help, but there’s no one in sight. You have only seconds to decide whether or not to jump in after her – recognizing that doing so will put your own life in significant peril.

_____

Is it rational for you to risk your life to save this stranger? Is it morally good to do so?

For the Christian, both of these questions can be answered with an emphatic “yes”.

The Christian is called to emulate the example set forth by Jesus, who not only risked, but sacrificed his life for the sake of others. The Christian believes that the soul is eternal, and that one’s existence doesn’t come to an abrupt end with death.  Additionally, he can point to the examples of countless Christian martyrs who have willingly sacrificed their own lives.

For the secular humanist, the answers to these questions are much more subjective. When I previously asked 23 self-identifying atheists, “Is it rational for you to risk your life to save a stranger?” only 4 of them responded with an unqualified “yes”.

Biologically speaking, the young man in our scenario has nothing to gain by jumping after the drowning woman. Since she’s poor and elderly, there are no conceivable financial or reproductive advantages involved. Evolutionary biologists often speak of “benefit to the tribe” as a motivation for self-sacrifice…yet the young man’s community would certainly place greater practical value on his life than that of a widow from a neighboring village.

Secular humanists argue that people are capable of making ethical decisions without any deity to serve as Moral Lawgiver. On a day-to-day basis, this is undeniably true. We all have non-religious friends and neighbors who live extremely moral and admirable lives.

In the scenario above, however, secular ethics break down. The secular humanist might recognize, intuitively, that diving into the river is a morally good action. But he has no rational basis for saying so. The young man’s decision is between empathy for a stranger (on the one hand) and utilitarian self-interest & community-interest (on the other).

In the end, there can be no binding moral imperatives in the absence of a Moral Lawgiver. If the young man decides to sit back and watch the woman drown, the secular humanist cannot criticize him. He’s only acting rationally.

When I read this, I was of one of the questions from one of my earliest posts, where I list a dozen interview questions to ask atheists. His question is very much like one of my questions. You may like the others in my list, as well.

It seems to me that on atheism, the only answer you can give for why you would do the right thing is “because it makes me happy”. And as we see with abortion – 56 million unborn children dead – it very often doesn’t make atheists happy to save someone else’s life. Not if it means any infringement on their own happiness. Every time an atheist votes Democrat, they are voting to declare that people who get in their way should not be saved. And atheists (the “nones”, anyway) are one of the largest Democrat voting blocs. According to the 2012 Secular Census, 97% of secularists deny that unborn children have a right to life. And the 2013 Gallup poll found that “nones”, people with no religion, are most likely to be pro-abortion. (Note that “nones” are not necessarily atheists, they may have some beliefs, but they are not observant). It’s not rational to inconvenience yourself to save others on atheism. You have one life to live, be happy, survival of the fittest.

Should Christian apologists avoid political, moral and cultural issues?

The Sexual Revolution and the decline in religious affiliation
The Sexual Revolution and the decline in religious affiliation

Here’s an article from The American Conservative, by moderate conservative Rod Dreher, dated April 2013.

He writes:

Twenty years ago, new president Bill Clinton stepped on a political landmine when he tried to fulfill a campaign promise to permit gay soldiers to serve openly. Same-sex marriage barely registered as a political cause; the country was then three years away from the Defense of Marriage Act and four years from comedian Ellen DeGeneres’s prime-time coming out.

Then came what historians will one day recall as a cultural revolution. Now we’re entering the endgame of the struggle over gay rights and the meaning of homosexuality. Conservatives have been routed, both in court and increasingly in the court of public opinion. It is commonly believed that the only reason to oppose same-sex marriage is rank bigotry or for religious reasons, neither of which—the argument goes—has any place in determining laws or public standards.

The magnitude of the defeat suffered by moral traditionalists will become ever clearer as older Americans pass from the scene. Poll after poll shows that for the young, homosexuality is normal and gay marriage is no big deal—except, of course, if one opposes it, in which case one has the approximate moral status of a segregationist in the late 1960s.

[…]When they were writing the widely acclaimed 2010 book American Grace, a comprehensive study of contemporary religious belief and practice, political scientists Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell noticed two inverse trend lines in social-science measures, both starting around 1990.

They found that young Americans coming into adulthood at that time began to accept homosexuality as morally licit in larger numbers. They also observed that younger Americans began more and more to fall away from organized religion. The evangelical boom of the 1970s and 1980s stopped, and if not for a tsunami of Hispanic immigration the U.S. Catholic church would be losing adherents at the same rate as the long-dwindling Protestant mainline.

Over time, the data showed, attitudes on moral issues proved to be strong predictors of religious engagement. In particular, the more liberal one was on homosexuality, the less likely one was to claim religious affiliation. It’s not that younger Americans were becoming atheists. Rather, most of them identify as “spiritual, but not religious.” Combined with atheists and agnostics, these “Nones”—the term is Putnam’s and Campbell’s—comprise the nation’s fastest-growing faith demographic.

Indeed, according to a 2012 Pew Research Center study, the Nones comprise one out of three Americans under 30. This is not simply a matter of young people doing what young people tend to do: keep church at arm’s length until they settle down. Pew’s Greg Smith told NPR that this generation is more religiously unaffiliated than any on record. Putnam—the Harvard scholar best known for his best-selling civic culture study Bowling Alone—has said that there’s no reason to think they will return to church in significant numbers as they age.

Putnam and Campbell were careful to say in American Grace that correlation is not causation, but they did point out that as gay activism moved toward center stage in American political life… the vivid public role many Christian leaders took in opposing gay rights alienated young Americans from organized religion.

In a dinner conversation not long after the publication of American Grace, Putnam told me that Christian churches would have to liberalize on sexual teaching if they hoped to retain the loyalty of younger generations. This seems at first like a reasonable conclusion, but the experience of America’s liberal denominations belies that prescription. Mainline Protestant churches, which have been far more accepting of homosexuality and sexual liberation in general, have continued their stark membership decline.

It seems that when people decide that historically normative Christianity is wrong about sex, they typically don’t find a church that endorses their liberal views. They quit going to church altogether.

That’s why I am somewhat underwhelmed with the pure apologetics approach of most apologists.The real reason that drives atheist “apologetics” is, to be frank, the desire to dispense with rules around sexuality. The sexual freedom comes first, and then the speculative smokescreens follow. Close behind the sexual freedom is leftist economic policies (which are seen as more “fair”) and anti-business environmentalist policies. So there’s more turf to defend here than just the existence of God, the resurrection and the reliability of the Bible. That’s not what’s behind the drift of young people away from Christianity.

That’s why on this blog, you get a ton of politics and tons of studies and arguments against premarital sex, no-fault divorce, single motherhood by choice, same-sex marriage, and everything else that comes before traditional apologetics. (And you also get lots of apologetics, too!) We need to get better at defending Christian sexual ethics using purely secular arguments and evidence, e.g. – showing people how premarital sex undermines marital stability or how gay parenting harms the well-being of children. There are reasons for these rules we have, and we have to go beyond “The Bible Says…” if we expect to be convincing to young people.

And when we go against the Sexual Revolution, we have to bring secular arguments and secular evidence and bring it to bear squarely against radical feminism, and the Sexual Revolution. In particular, we have to put the burden of responsibility for poor sexual decisions back on the shoulders of young people. Young men must reject a cultural standard of what a “good” woman is. Young women must reject a cultural standard of what a “good” man is.  Men and women who reject traditional Christianity, traditional morality, and traditional notions of male leadership and male roles are bad people to have relationships with. We have to persuade both men and women about the harm that poor choices cause – abortion,  divorce, fatherlessness, expensive welfare programs. There is no point in blaming bad men and women – they are already bad. We have to teach young people to choose good men and good women. We have to teach them that choosing mates poorly, and making poor sexual choices, is their responsibility. They are not victims! And we shouldn’t be blaming one sex for the others poor choices, i.e. – we should not be blaming bad men when women chose them and make bad choices with the bad men. Those men were bad before the women chose them, and those women are only victims of their own poor choices.

When it comes to same-sex marriage, we have to defend traditional marriage using secular arguments and secular evidence. We have to show how same-sex marriage undermines religious liberty. We have to show how same-sex marriage undermines marital norms like exclusivity and permanence. We have to show how same-sex marriage harms children by depriving them of a mother or a father or both. And so on. We have to defend the goodness of traditional marriage.

Six reasons why you should believe in non-physical souls

This podcast is a must-listen. Please take the time to download this podcast and listen to it. I guarantee that you will love this podcast. I even recommended it to my Dad and I almost never do that.

Details:

In this podcast, J. Warner examines the evidence for the existence of the mind (and inferentially, the soul) as he looks at six classic philosophical arguments. Jim also briefly discusses Thomas Nagel’s book, Mind and Cosmos and discusses the limitations of physicalism.

The MP3 file is here. (67 MB, 72 minutes)

Topics:

  • Atheist Thomas Nagel’s latest book “Mind and Cosmos” makes the case that materialism cannot account for the evidence of mental phenomena
  • Nagel writes in this recent New York Times article that materialism cannot account for the reality of consciousness, meaning, intention and purpose
  • Quote from the Nagel article:

Even though the theistic outlook, in some versions, is consistent with the available scientific evidence, I don’t believe it, and am drawn instead to a naturalistic, though non-materialist, alternative. Mind, I suspect, is not an inexplicable accident or a divine and anomalous gift but a basic aspect of nature that we will not understand until we transcend the built-in limits of contemporary scientific orthodoxy.

  • When looking at this question, it’s important to not have our conclusions pre-determined by presupposing materialism or atheism
  • If your mind/soul doesn’t exist and you are a purely physical being then that is a defeater for Christianity, so we need to respond
  • Traditionally, Christians have been committed to a view of human nature called “dualism” – human beings are souls who have bodies
  • The best way* to argue for the existence of the soul is using philosophical arguments

The case:

  • The law of identity says that if A = B’ if A and B have the exact same properties
  • If A = the mind and B = the brain, then is A identical to B?
  • Wallace will present 6 arguments to show that A is not identical to B because they have different properties

Not everyone of the arguments below might make sense to you, but you will probably find one or two that strike you as correct. Some of the points are more illustrative than persuasive, like #2. However, I do find #3, #5 and #6 persuasive.

1) First-person access to mental properties

  • Thought experiment: Imagine your dream car, and picture it clearly in your mind
  • If we invited an artist to come and sketch out your dream car, then we could see your dream car’s shape on paper
  • This concept of your dream car is not something that people can see by looking at your brain structure
  • Physical properties can be physically accessed, but the properties of your dream care and privately accessed

2) Our experience of consciousness implies that we are not our bodies

  • Common sense notion of personhood is that we own our bodies, but we are not our bodies

3) Persistent self-identity through time

  • Thought experiment: replacing a new car with an old car one piece at a time
  • When you change even the smallest part of a physical object, it changes the identity of that object
  • Similarly, your body is undergoing changes constantly over time
  • Every cell in your body is different from the body you had 10 years ago
  • Even your brain cells undergo changes (see this from New Scientist – WK)
  • If you are the same person you were 10 years ago, then you are not your physical body

4) Mental properties cannot be measured like physical objects

  • Physical objects can be measured (e.g. – use physical measurements to measure weight, size, etc.)
  • Mental properties cannot be measured

5) Intentionality or About-ness

  • Mental entities can refer to realities that are physical, something outside of themselves
  • A tree is not about anything, it just is a physical object
  • But you can have thoughts about the tree out there in the garden that needs water

6) Free will and personal responsibility

  • If humans are purely physical, then all our actions are determined by sensory inputs and genetic programming
  • Biological determinism is not compatible with free will, and free will is required for personal responsibility
  • Our experience of moral choices and moral responsibility requires free will, and free will requires minds/souls

He spends the last 10 minutes of the podcast responding to naturalistic objections to the mind/soul hypothesis.

*Now in the podcast, Wallace does say that scientific evidence is not the best kind of evidence to use when discussing this issue of body/soul and mind/brain. But I did blog before about two pieces of evidence that I think are relevant to this discussion: corroborated near-death experiences and mental effort.

You might remember that Dr. Craig brought up the issue of substance dualism, and the argument from intentionality (“aboutness”), in his debate with the naturalist philosopher Alex Rosenberg, so this argument about dualism is battle-ready. You can add it to your list of arguments for Christian theism along with all the other arguments like the Big Bang, the fine-tuning, the origin of life, stellar habitability, galactic habitability, irreducible complexity, molecular machines, the Cambrian explosion, the moral argument, the resurrection, biological convergence, and so on.

Are atheists able to perform the greatest moral duty?

Goodness Without God: is it possible?
Goodness Without God: is it possible?

J. Warner Wallace looks at what Jesus says the most important commandment is, and then asks whether atheists can be justified morally if Jesus is right.

He writes:

I was an atheist for the first thirty-five years of my life. While I was a committed (and often aggressive) non-believer, most people who knew me would probably have described me as a “nice guy”. My behavior wasn’t all that different than many of my Christian friends. I worked with many other atheist police officers. We were often suspicious of the Christians in our midst and the people we arrested who claimed to be Christians. Even as atheists we were familiar with Jesus’ directive to “love your neighbor as yourself.” My partner, Tim, used to say, “If there is a good God and a good Heaven, I think I will be there when it’s all over. I’m a good person. I try to ‘do the right thing’. I’m not a bad guy; I put bad people in jail. So I’m not worried about it.” Tim held a “works based” moral worldview and he was sure his good deeds would earn him a spot in Heaven if he was wrong about the existence of God. But Tim (and I) were unfamiliar with Jesus’ teaching in its full context, and now, years later as a Christian, I’ve come to understand why the first part of the “Greatest Command” is even more important than the second.

When approached by a skeptic, Jesus affirmed the greatest commandments of God in the following way:

Matthew 22:35-40
One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

Most unbelievers recognize the value of the second half of this command (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”) but deny the value of the first part (“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”) There’s a reason, however, why Jesus listed these two commands in this specific order. The first command (loving God) is the “great and foremost commandment” because it is required to achieve the second command (loving others). You can’t truly do the right thing unless you understand the relationship between these two commands:

Read the rest at Cold Case Christianity.

I’ve made the same point here many times, but I have never been an atheist and I don’t make the point in the same winsome way that Wallace does.

I think his post is worth sending along to any atheists you may know who think themselves justified. I think it is a mistake for people to derive their own version of morality based on the time and place where they are, and then think that picking and choosing the parts they like will justify them with God. Remember, a recent survey of atheists found that 97% of them favor abortion rights. I think this is consistent with the atheist view that there are no human rights, including a right to life. Moreover, in my experience, I have found that most atheists have no problem with the government stomping all over the consciences of Christians when it comes to things like gay rights. It’s important to show them that there is a standard independent of their personal opinions, justifications and rationalizations. And that they don’t measure up to it. You can make up your own morality all you want,

Was Stalin an atheist? Is atheism or communism responsible for mass murders?

Disclaimer: small-government libertarian atheists, you are exempt from this post’s criticism.

Let’s take a look at what Josef Stalin did during his rule of Russia in the 1920s and 1930s.

The Library of Congress offers this in their “Soviet Archives exhibit”:

The Soviet Union was the first state to have as an ideological objective the elimination of religion. Toward that end, the Communist regime confiscated church property, ridiculed religion, harassed believers, and propagated atheism in the schools. Actions toward particular religions, however, were determined by State interests, and most organized religions were never outlawed.

The main target of the anti-religious campaign in the 1920s and 1930s was the Russian Orthodox Church, which had the largest number of faithful. Nearly all of its clergy, and many of its believers, were shot or sent to labor camps. Theological schools were closed, and church publications were prohibited. By 1939 only about 500 of over 50,000 churches remained open.

Let’s see more from a peer-reviewed journal article authored by Crispin Paine of the University College, London:

Atheist propaganda and the struggle against religion began immediately after the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917. While social change would, under Marxist theory, bring religion to disappear, Leninists argued that the Party should actively help to eradicate religion as a vital step in creating ‘New Soviet Man’. The energy with which the Party struggled against religion, though, varied considerably from time to time and from place to place, as did its hostility to particular faith groups. The 1920s saw the closure of innumerable churches and synagogues (and to a lesser extent mosques) and the active persecution of clergy and harassment of believers. From 1930, though, Stalin introduced a less aggressive approach, and wartime support for the government earned for the Russian Orthodox Church, at least, a level of toleration which lasted until Stalin’s death. Under Khrushchev antireligious efforts resumed, if spasmodically, and they lasted until the end of the Soviet Union.

An article from the pro-communism Marxist.com web site says this about Stalin:

During the ultra-left period of forcible collectivisation and the Five Year Plan in Four an attempt was made to liquidate the Church and its influence by government decree. Starting in 1929 churches were forcibly closed and priests arrested and exiled all over the Soviet Union. The celebrated Shrine of the Iberian Virgin in Moscow – esteemed by believers to be the “holiest” in all Russia was demolished – Stalin and his Government were not afraid of strengthening religious fanaticism by wounding the feelings of believers as Lenin and Trotsky had been! Religion, they believed, could be liquidated, like the kulak, by a stroke of the pen. The Society of Militant Atheists, under Stalin’s orders, issued on May 15th 1932, the “Five Year Plan of Atheism” – by May 1st 1937, such as the “Plan”, “not a single house of prayer shall remain in the territory of the USSR, and the very concept of God must be banished from the Soviet Union as a survival of the Middle Ages and an instrument for the oppression of the working masses.”!

Now, if all you read were atheist web sites, you’d think that Stalin loved religion and wasn’t opposed to Christianity at all. An atheist I know told me that Stalin was a Christian because that’s what he was as a child at one point. Funny sort of way to carry out your Christian faith, isn’t it? If you read atheist web sites, you’d expect Stalin to have had the career of a William Lane Craig or a J.P. Moreland. And yet in the fever swamp of atheist web sites, this is what they tell themselves. They believe it because they want to believe it. They have to believe it, in order to keep God at bay.

Now, if you were going to pick a hero of the Christian faith, you’d probably pick a real fundamentalist like William Wilberforce, who freed the slaves – because of his evangelical Christian convictions. Wilberforce took Christianity seriously – he believed every verse of the Bible, he tried to convert people to his faith, and he pushed his faith on others by passing laws. He was the worst nightmare of atheism – a politically active Evangelical Christian.

But who is a great atheist who was politically active? When I think of a great atheist, someone who really did the most to oppose the “lie” of God’s existence, I think of Josef Stalin. So what kind of morality can we expect from someone who takes the message of Richard Dawkins and Dan Barker seriously and has the political power to really do something about it?

The Ukraine Famine

Take a look at this UK Daily Mail article about a great achievement of the atheist Josef Stalin, which occurred in 1932-1933.

Excerpt:

Now, 75 years after one of the great forgotten crimes of modern times, Stalin’s man-made famine of 1932/3, the former Soviet republic of Ukraine is asking the world to classify it as a genocide.

The Ukrainians call it the Holodomor – the Hunger.

Millions starved as Soviet troops and secret policemen raided their villages, stole the harvest and all the food in villagers’ homes.

They dropped dead in the streets, lay dying and rotting in their houses, and some women became so desperate for food that they ate their own children.

If they managed to fend off starvation, they were deported and shot in their hundreds of thousands.

So terrible was the famine that Igor Yukhnovsky, director of the Institute of National Memory, the Ukrainian institution researching the Holodomor, believes as many as nine million may have died.

[…]Between four and five million died in Ukraine, a million died in Kazakhstan and another million in the north Caucasus and the Volga.

By 1933, 5.7 million households – somewhere between ten million and 15 million people – had vanished. They had been deported, shot or died of starvation.

This is what follows when you believe that the universe is an accident, that there is no objective good and evil, that human beings are just animals, that no God will hold us accountable, and that human beings are not made in the image of God for the purpose of freely choosing to come into a relationship with him. The Ukrainian famine is an action that came from a man whose worldview was passionate atheism.

Atheism today

You might think that today’s atheists are much different than Josef Stalin, but understand that according to a recent survey of atheists conducted by atheists, 97% of atheists are pro-abortion. How many people have been killed by abortion? 56 million in the United States alone. Atheists in a society like ours, founded on Judeo-Christian values, are obviously going to live a lot better than Stalin. For one thing, they don’t have the power that Stalin had to eradicate theism, although you can see Stalinism in the anti-Christian activities of groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation. But take away the Judeo-Christian foundations of this society, and what would you see atheists doing?

Remember the words of Richard Dawkins:

The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.

(“God’s Utility Function,” Scientific American, November, 1995, p. 85)

Now, having said that, I readily admit that many atheists adopt Judeo-Christian values if their society is saturated with them, but they are acting better than their worldview requires. They are acting inconsistently with what atheism really teaches. It’s good for us that they do, but for how long?