Craig Hazen encourages Christians to challenge the New Atheists on their claims of being good without God (and claiming that God is a moral monster, too). How are they helping themselves to objective morality on atheism, so that these statements are more than just their personal opinions?
The primary technique the new atheists have adopted for dealing with the issue of the origin or grounding of the moral law is obfuscation. The new atheists are very fond of saying, “We don’t need God to be good.” Indeed, they often say that atheists, agnostics and skeptics often lead more wholesome lives than lifelong professing Christians. Now, theists should not be fooled by this. Our response should be, “Of course you don’t need God to be good — we’ve never claimed that you do.” You see, it is not knowledge (epistemology) of the moral law that is a problem — after all, the Bible teaches that this law is written on every human heart. Rather, the daunting problem for the new atheist is the nature and source (ontology) of the moral law. Here are some questions you can ask Richard Dawkins the next time you sit next to him on a bus:
• If everything ultimately must be explained by the laws of physics and chemistry, help me understand what a moral value is (does it have mass, occupy space, hold a charge, have wavelength)?
• How did matter, energy, time and chance result in a set of objective moral values? Did the big bang really spew forth “love your enemy?” If so, you have to help me understand that.
• What makes your moral standard more than a subjective opinion or personal preference? What makes it truly binding or obligatory? Why can’t I just ignore it? Won’t our end be the same (death and the grave) either way?
The old atheists did not want to have to face questions like these, so they simply denied the reality of objective moral values. The new atheists have thrown the door open. Let’s not make it easy for them. Let’s ask the hard questions in a winsome and engaging way.
Where does the standard that allows atheists to “be good” come from on atheism? And where does the standard that allows them to judge God as evil come from on atheism?
Comedy: atheists making moral demands on atheists
I think that this article on The Other McCain is relevant to Hazen’s essay. The article explains the latest scandal in the atheist blogosphere: A 30-year old divorced atheist feminist tried to impose objective moral obligations on another atheist who hit on her in an elevator.
There is nothing wrong with “don’t do that” as advice. The guy’s approach was clumsy and creepy. But it seems obvious, to me at least, that he was merely exhibiting a deficiency of social skills, rather than predatory menace.
While we cannot rule out the possibility that the guy is a serial killer with the bodies of 11 victims buried in his backyard, I’m inclined to believe he was just awkward and clueless. It was 4 a.m. and, in the famous words of Mickey Gilley, “The women all get prettier at closing time.” What was this guy’s blood-alcohol content? Was he at the beer-goggles stage where he saw Watson as Ingrid Bergman and thought he was Humphrey Bogart?
Well, as Watson says, “don’t do that.” But it’s a huge leap from “don’t do that” to a very broad and general accusation of misogyny and a complaint about being sexualized.
What set off the big brouhaha amongst atheists and feminists, however, was when Dawkins showed up in the comments of a blog to belittle Watson’s complaint by comparing her unpleasant elevator experience to the sufferings of women in the Islamic world. Once the feminists started screaming for blood, Dawkins’s fellow atheists were only too happy to throw him under the bus. The reaction was as if Dawkins himself had hit on Watson.
This is one of those episodes where the totalitarian impulse of feminism is glaringly apparent. Feminists ferociously suppress dissent and seek to impose a conformity of thought, so that anyone within the movement who expresses doubt about the dogma and the agenda is condemned as a heretic.
But I wanted to address the issue of atheism and morality in my comment to McCain’s post:
It’s hilarious to me that a woman can be an atheist, think the universe is an accident, think that there is no objective moral law based on a design for how humans ought to be, and then prescribe criteria for male behavior as if it is not just her personal opinion, but is a shared, objective standard that men should adhere to.
If the universe is an accident, then whatever is, is right. If matter is all there is, then there is no way that the matter “ought to be”. Matter just is.
Here’s Dawkins himself:
“In a universe of 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, or 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 and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference… DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.”
You can’t derive a prescriptive morality if nature is just about survival of the fitness. Either we are moral agents endowed with consciousness and free will (which requires a non-material soul) OR WE ARE ANIMALS. And animals are not moral agents. The customs and conventions of different social groups in different times and places in history are not objective moral duties. They are just like culinary customs and dress styles. And you can’t accuse anyone of being immoral on that kind of relativistic view. The worst she could say is “I don’t like it” or “that person is acting unfashionably”. She can’t say that anything is WRONG.
And I also thought this comment to McCain’s post was pretty funny:
There’s a possibility here that you’re overlooking, which is that the young lady might just have wanted for people to know–in a shrill, scolding, disapproving, school-marmish kinda way–that somebody was attracted to her. Because otherwise, you know, we would probably assume that nobody is.
Indeed. It makes me laugh when atheists assert that marriage, which is built on self-sacrifice and moral obligations, is somehow compatible with the view that morality is “an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes”, as atheist Michael Ruse says. Atheists reduce morality to personal opinions and cultural conventions that vary by time and place, and then they demand that other people act according to those preferences and conventions. “[They] laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in [their] midst. [They] castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful”, as C.S. Lewis argues in his essay “Men Without Chests”.
Recall the study that showed that Christians who attend church regularly have vastly lower divorce rates than average. Maybe that’s because they are constantly reminded in church that morality is rooted in God’s character, and not a figment of their imaginations that can be vetoed for selfish gain? That might be a helpful bit of knowledge to have in your worldview if you’re considering marriage, you know. Love requires that the idea of self-sacrifice be rationally grounded in some sort of objective design for the universe and us. You can’t get love from selfishness. You can’t get marriage from survival of the fittest. Not rationally, anyway. And when the chips are down, and obligations clash with self-interest, reason has a major part to play in determining how we will act. Either you ground morality or you cave in to selfishness, and marriages don’t last when you have no reason not to be selfish.
By the way, the best article refuting evolutionary explanations of morality is written by Mark D. Linville. It’s in the book “Contending with Christianity’s Critics“.
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