The Tribe of the Collective Consciousness — Musings on Morality

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The Tribe of the Collective Consciousness — Musings on Morality

The respected Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias tells this amusing story:

I was giving a lecture at the University of Nottingham when a philosophy student interrupted me.

“There cannot be a God!” he said. “There is too much evil in the world.”

I replied, “Young man, please stand up. I’d like to converse with you.” He stood up, looking somewhat defiant and a little sheep-faced. “When you say there is something as evil, are you not assuming that there is such a thing as good?”

And of course he says yes.

“When you say that there is something as good and evil, are you not assuming that there is a moral law on the basis of which you can differentiate between good and evil?”

He uttered his second yes with less certainty, sensing perhaps that he had walked into quicksand.

“Young man, if you assume a moral law, you must posit a moral law giver. But, that’s who you are trying to disprove. If there is no moral law giver, there is no moral law. If there is no moral law, there is no good. If there is no good, there is no evil. What is your question?”

The student thought for a moment, and I promise you this is what he said, “What then am I asking?”

Despite the use of poetic license, my transcription does not do justice to Mr Zacharias’s authoritative oration. It’s easy to get lost in the narrative and easy humour. The premise—of lecturer silencing student, like a comedian dealing with a heckler—makes the argument all the more compelling. It makes it so easy to accept.

The linchpin to the argument is the statement, “If you assume a moral law, you must posit a moral law giver.” The error—although I suspect that it’s no error on Mr Zacharias’s part—is the assumed divinity of the law giver. Attached to this assumption is a poisonous sentiment that is commonly shared by believers: you cannot be good without God; or you can be good, but it doesn’t matter.

Consider for a moment the actions of a thief thieving, a rapist raping, and a killer killing. Now, think about a donor donating, a carer caring, and a lover loving. If you accept Mr Zacharias’s reasoning, you must accept that it’s impossible for mankind to evaluate said actions and differentiate between good and evil.

As sure as Godwin’s law, any discussion on the existence of God is likely to digress to an argument about morality. What is it about morality that gets the theist’s goat? It certainly doesn’t bother atheists near as much—by which I do not mean to say that atheists think morality is unimportant—quite the contrary—but rather atheists don’t find it distressing to accept mankind as the authors of moral law. Theists’ fear appears to be that evil actions could become good actions in the eyes of a society who’s moral law is changeable. I guess they are glass-half-empty people.

This type of fear is also projected onto science. Science always changes its mind it is said. That’s just not true and it’s a fallacy to think so. There is a vast amount of scientific knowledge that is unlikely to change. The planets orbit the sun, DNA contain our genetic make-up, germs make us sick, gravity pulls, light travels at 1.07925285 × 109 km/hour, to name but a few. There is undoubtedly more to learn about these phenomenon, but the fundamentals aren’t going to change. Typically, it’s only the fringes of science where big shifts occur, but that’s how we get closer to the truth. The willingness of science to adjust its views, is its primary strength; it’s the reason why science can be trusted. Cannot the same be said about a “changeable” moral law?

An annoying theist habit is to blow things out of proportion, and expect the worst. For some believers, the pursuit of equal rights for gay couples must inevitably lead to a future where it’s okay for Bob to fuck his horse and marry a gerbil. Likewise, if moral law is man-made, anything goes right? The world is doomed to chaos! I have more faith in us than that.

There is evidence that humans—and other animals—have an evolved morality, at least in the tribal sense. That is why there are strong similarities in the answers to morality test questions across different cultures; murder is wrong, thievery is frowned upon. It’s good to know that we are inclined to behave well toward each other in our tribe, but we should not pat ourselves on the back. We are not so naturally altruistic towards those outside of our tribe.

Religion, of course, has done much for our moral values—more good than bad on balance, arguably, although there are some real stinkers—and it’s important to acknowledge the contribution. In a very real sense, religion helped us to transcend our limited evolved instincts—although it also struggles to think outside the tribe. But there are still many worthwhile pearls of wisdom to be had. The golden rule for example—treat others how you would like them to treat you—is common in many religions (it’s interesting to note that it predates Christianity), and it’s still a practical maxim that covers a lot of ground. If there is a better summary of what it takes to be good person, I’ve not seen it.

Like our evolved morality, religion has proven inadequate. We can think about our nature, see its flaws, and say that’s not good enough, we can do better. Similarly, we can analyse religion, and make the same conclusion. There are good bits, like the golden rule. Let’s keep that. There are bad bits, like stoning woman for adultery. Let’s weed that out. Ironically, believers are already adept at picking out the good and ignoring the not so good—the endorsement of slavery is a case in point.

Morality is complex. Massively so. But that is no reason for us to just accept the moral laws of thousands of years ago. The questions might be difficult and the answers might be hard to find, but nothing worthwhile comes easy, as they say. Given what history has taught us about the well-being of the tribe of collective consciousness, the wisdom in our literature, the revelations of philosophy and science, the ingenuity and compassion of the human spirit, and our dedication to intellectual honesty, I’d say that goodness is in good hands.

Does that matter, being good without God? Of course, how could it not? I reject the argument from morality for the existence of God—if you’ve not picked that up already—so, to anyone who concedes that I can be a good person, but that it doesn’t really matter because only God can judge me by His law, this is my response: meh.

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67 responses »

  1. YES! I have never understood why people give this argument so much weight in the religious world. Isn’t it more impressive that a person has moral integrity all on their own rather than because some deity told them to? Since becoming an atheist, I have realized that I am a good person because I want to be. I volunteer, I donate to charity, I work for a non-profit that helps low-income families all because I believe that it takes people helping people to make a community, a country, a world great. NOT because I have an irrational fear of eternal damnation. How selfish is that??

    • Yeah, believers’ perceptions of atheists are quite ironic. It’s my experience that atheists are generous people who care deeply the moral life and doing no harm.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. If you need a god to tell you right from wrong how can you know anything of the morality of that god? How do you know it isn’t an evil god trying to deceive you?

    If our morals come from a god then our morals are essentially arbitrary and capricious unless that god conforms to some objective standard of morality. However, if it DOES so conform then it is not the giver of morals but is constrained and subject too an external standard – by which we can also measure our morality, eliminating the need for gods in respect of morality.

    In other words, either our morals are arbitrary and capricious or gods are unnecessary.

    The objective standard is, of course, the set of memetic ethics and our ability to empathise which we have evolved and which made us successful as a sentient, co-operative evolving ape.

    People who claim to require handbooks in which to look up right and wrong are admitting to psychopathy, or at least to sociopathy.

    • Thanks RR, I can always count on you to offer comments that require some thought!

      Regarding the penultimate paragraph, I *think* I agree with idea of memetic ethics, so long as we allow for the “mutation” of the meme through our culture, literature, philosophy and science–in particular, neuroscience.

      I’m not sure you’d agree with that, or if I’m completely understanding your point, because I think your last paragraph is going too far. Even if most of our decisions on what is right or wrong are instinctive, there are some difficult scenarios where it is not necessarily clear what we ought to think is right or wrong.

      I like the idea of moral relativism, but I find Harris’ take on morality more practical. If we can agree to the presupposition that a morally good action is something that will increase the well-being of all conscious creatures–not an unreasonable thing to do–then there can be truth to a moral code, and empirical science can help to define that.

  3. I think that everything you said has a lot of weight except for the part where religion has done some good for our morals. It almost seems like a huge part of hypocrisy. Since I don’t believe in god, I believe morals were man-made, so which came first? Good instrinctual morals, or religion? At present time, morals seem to be the last thing on religious agenda. I love your point about moral evolution. And it seems to grow and outgrow religion. You’re right, religion is inadequate, and unnecessary. But, it would be fun to go back in time and see if the chicken or the egg came first. Dare I say morals predate religion?

    • Well, I did use the word arguably 😉

      My point is just that religion–being man-made–helped evolve our morals. And there is a lot of good in there, among the bad. But now that we know more and know better, we can evolve and refine it further.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

      • Religion is the grand co-opter (is that a word?) It co-ops concepts and claims them as it’s own. Christmas, Easter, virgin birth, morality–all existed pre-religion–yet they adopt and lay claim like an lost Italian sea-voyager.

      • Co-opter is a word now, English is an evolving language after all..

        Yes, Christianity borrows many things. The most striking is perhaps the similarities to the Mithraic religion.

        Taken from: http://www.seesharppress.com/20reasons.html

        The ancient world was rife with tales of virgin births, miracle-working saviors, tripartite gods, gods taking human form, gods arising from the dead, heavens and hells, and days of judgment. In addition to the myths, many of the ceremonies of ancient religions also match those of that syncretic latecomer, Christianity. To cite but one example (there are many others), consider Mithraism, a Persian religion predating Christianity by centuries. Mithra, the savior of the Mithraic religion and a god who took human form, was born of a virgin; he belonged to the holy trinity and was a link between heaven and Earth; and he ascended into heaven after his death. His followers believed in heaven and hell, looked forward to a day of judgment, and referred to Mithra as “the Light of the World.” They also practiced baptism (for purification purposes) and ritual cannibalism—the eating of bread and the drinking of wine to symbolize the eating and drinking of the god’s body and blood. Given all this, Mithra’s birthday should come as no surprise: December 25th; this event was, of course, celebrated by Mithra’s followers at midnight.

    • My impression is that religion consists of a set of morals which made sense at a certain time, in a certain place. The mistake they made was turning those morals into a religion! Morality changes, adapts to society – or should, anyway – but religions don’t.

  4. Even the golden rule has been recently attacked by none others than Christian theologists, because it supposedly leads to moral relativism, and we all know how scary it is to them. I personally, of course, don’t buy into their views, but I find the observation they make essentially correct: the golden rule puts too much emphasis on the worldviews, opinions and desires of the actor and does not even mention the wishes of the actee. I find this to be a major omission that must corrected before the golden rule is to be applied in practice. It must be emphasized that the wishes of both (or all, if more than two) participants should be upheld as best as possible.

    “Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same” — George Bernard Shaw
    “The golden rule is a good standard which is further improved by doing unto others, wherever reasonable, as they want to be done by” — Karl Popper, sometimes referred to as a platinum rule.
    “People can do whatever they please as long as every participant is consenting” — me.

    P.S. I honestly think that the golden rule predates religion. All religion did to it was put it in a nice soundbite form and dump it into a popular book or two everyone have read at some point in their life.

    • Good point, thanks for that. Haven’t quite thought about the golden rule in that way. I think it still covers a lot of mileage, flawed thought it might be.

      There’s a nice ring to your maxim, what shall we call it? The diamond rule?

      I like Harris’ point of view (moral landscape) because it covers the what is best for everybody bit.

    • What I find interesting is that the negative form of the golden rule written roughly as ‘One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated’ is known as the silver rule…but I find this more important. treating others nicely because you like it is one thing but not being bad because you don’t like bad things has so much more going for it, I think this is where religion go it backwards, and could be part of the reasoning why their moral codes revolve around rules and regulations rather than “well obviously that’s bad…people didn’t like it when that happened”

  5. Excellent post.

    I think the parallel between morality and science is a very powerful one. Although science is sometimes wrong, we only know that because there is a reality, a truth, out there and we can adjust accordingly.
    Equally, morality has a basis and a point of reference. We can argue about what, exactly, that is. Some people do place is on the subjective authority of humans, and our inherent ‘sense’ of morality and evolved psychological points for evolutionary propagation. Personally, I think arguments like those put forward by Sam Harris, for basing morality on the utilitarian metric of conscious wellbeing, are very convincing. And no matter what you and I think think about morality, there can be a point of reference out there meaning we are wrong. And that point of reference doesn’t have to be Divine.

  6. Sam Harris’s scientific ethics is complicated.

    For one, his book ‘The Moral Landscape’ berates scientists for taking too little interest in philosophy. Then, when he discusses ethical philosophy, he neglects to mention the naturalistic fallacy, the is-ought gap, the fallacious “appeal to nature,” etc. While it is true that the brain has distinct pleasure centres, their rampant stimulation probably doesn’t constitute the most moral thing one can do. His scientific ethic is far too simplistic to be viable.

    He does not clarify whether he is a moral realist or anti-realist; that is, whether he believes “goodness” exists as a thing in the world, or whether there is no such thing. This is important, because as a hedonistic utilitarian–someone who values conscious wellbeing–he has to answer the theists’ argument that an atheist ethic is at base wholly arbitrary. If he is an anti-realist then this argument is weighty; if he is a realist, then he is closer to theism than to most of atheism and has a *lot* of convincing to do.

    In any case, he has stated he takes conscious wellbeing to be the only thing that is morally relevant. Yet he disregards the wellbeing of the majority of conscious beings on earth (i.e., sentient non-humans) and in doing so vitiates his right to claim that an atheist ethic can be socially or individually binding.

    Morality did evolve before religion. This is indisputable. But religion helped mold it, and caused some ideas to be emphasised over others. On the whole, though, it’s difficult to know whether the role of religion has been net-negative or net-positive–what good could possibly offset centuries of violent warfare and persecution? Finally, Buddha and Confucius and Laozi and Mahavira, andmany Hindus, and so on, all believed one could be good without God. Fight fire with fire . . . 😉

    • My post has got very little to do with Harris’s ethics, but thanks for commenting, you make some interesting points.

      I disagree that Harris berates the scientific community. What he does is to point out that the scientific community does not extend the same scientific values to the science of morality, and he questions why the scientific community generally avoids the topic altogether.

      Because of his presupposition “a morally good action is something that increases the well-being of all conscious creates”, I’d argue that he is a moral realist. I.e. if you accept the presupposition, then there can be truth (or falsehood) to a moral code, and science can help to discover the truth. That makes sense to me, I don’t see the problem with that. Without the supposition he’s probably a anti-realist.

      He includes all conscious creatures in the supposition, but accepts that there are different levels of relevance. Again, I don’t see the problem with that.

      I would say that I don’t think his thoughts on morality is necessarily without criticism, but I think it’s very compelling and has value enough to be explored. I certainly don’t think that your opinion–that Harris is a little man with a little mind that is in desperate need of a bath–is justified, and I think it’s an asinine viewpoint with unnecessary name calling–despite the intended humour. It’s like saying all Christians are stupid.

      I agree with your last paragraph. It’s difficult to make a judgement on net-result. I include Buddhism, Hindi etc under religion.

  7. Interesting article! Being an atheist myself, I do agree with you that we can have morality without god. I wonder about the good and the evil. Do you believe in a pure good and evil? Do you believe that we can always know what’s good?

    • Thanks!

      I’m still finding my feet on the topic, tbh. Moral relativism makes sense to me seeing as there is can be no absolute universal law, i.e. there is no truth of falsehood to a moral code. However, I don’t find that very practical.

      That’s why I like Sam Harris’ idea. If we could agree on the presupposition that a morally good action is something that increases the well-being of all conscious creatures–not an unreasonable thing to agree on–then there can be truth to a moral code, and science can help with that.

      But, like I say, morality is complex, and I am but a babe in the woods.

  8. I enjoyed the post. Morality has been seen in nature generally, leading me to come to the conclusion that it must have been at least a by-product of evolution by natural selection – in essence, it’s innate to us. Clearly, there are people who don’t follow moral codes, but that’s exactly what you’d expect from a primate species. Evolution isn’t perfect. It’s not what you’d expect if everyone was made in god’s image. Moreover, as you say, humans realised what was beneficial to society, and created laws.

    When religious people claim that, without god there is no basis for morality, they’re basically using a slippery slope fallacy. It’s also worrying that they even presume that, hypothetically, they’d be able to do whatever they wanted if god did not exist. This thought never occurred to me before I started looking into morality more. In any case, it is society which will enforce the laws without god, and our basis for morality would be reason. I quite like Sam Harris’ idea too, and I think that this is what our ancestors basically realised.

    • Yes, it’s almost like the religious are saying that if they didn’t have the divine law, they’d start killing babies in the night.. very slipper slope.

      Thanks for reading and the thoughtful comment.

  9. Pingback: Is Evolution A Sufficient Explanation for Morality? | Thomistic Bent

  10. Thank you, AmRestorative, for commenting on my post “Is Being Good Enough?” http://nextlevelfaith.com/2013/04/23/isnt-being-good-enough/

    I don’t think atheists can assume there isn’t such a thing as God any more than Christians can assume that there is. Blind faith and blind disbelief are equally illogical. Without a higher being to order the universe, moral relativism is the only version of morality available to humanity, because there can be no absolute standard.

    I base my faith on my relationship with God, by the way He has communicated to me in my life, as well as the Bible and outside confirmations of Biblical materials. The compounding of personal religious experience, truths of scripture, and confirmations of scripture independent from scripture, have broadened my experience beyond what only logic can dictate or prove.

    Believing that human beings are the pinnacle of knowledge and wisdom in the universe is folly, in my way of thinking. Although there is some collective wisdom and morality to be found in humanity, there is also much foolishness and immorality. Faith in and a personal relationship with God is humanity’s only hope for transcending that foolishness and immorality.

    • Thanks for the reply. I appreciate the read.

      The atheist stance is not to say I believe there is no God–although, in my case I do believe there is no God, and I think we know enough to conclude this is likely–instead the atheist says I don’t accept your (Christian, Islamic etc) claim of a God, because there is no reason to believe this. There is a difference. We don’t claim to know the unknownable. This act of disbelief is the very opposite of being illogical.

      An absolute standard is not necessary, and therefore is not a proof for God. Relativism is what we have to work with, and I’m just fine with that. Why be so afraid of it? Because it’s more difficult than a spoon-fed absolute standard? Besides, with reasonable presuppositions–that all of humanity can accept–we can find truth or falsehood about moral codes.

      I felt the same as you, everything you mentioned I relate with. My relationship with God was very real to me too. But my feelings changed. And that’s all it is: feelings. As much as you believe otherwise, there are better explanations. Feelings doesn’t matter. My belief in science, however, is backed up, by something more than feelings. It’s not just subjective. Something that should worry believers.

      We’ve come a far way, and we’ve got a good idea of what is good and what is bad. Wishing that there is a God who can help us transcend our “wickedness”, does not make it so.

      Your concluding statement is demonstrably false. Religion, Christianity included, are very often the cause of injustice and harm.

    • Humanity is most assuredly not the pinnacle of knowledge and wisdom in the universe. Afterall, we are of the universe and subject to the whims of its natural phenomena–over which, we have very little control. But humanity could be the only hope for itself.

      The more we continue to believe we need to ‘contract-out’ our salvation or have hope in some thing external to ourselves regarding our fate, we are doomed. Let’s ween ourselves off the psychic and spiritual welfare and pull ourselves up by our moral bootstraps and light a fire under our evolution. There, I’ve satisfied the metaphor quota for this thread in one post. 🙂

  11. My biggest issue with the argument that since not all science agrees that it is no different than religion. Science is a process of finding explanations for the natural world around us. Inherently theories and hypothesis will be wrong from time to time as we try to find the answers. Religion starts from the basis of they have all the answers already. The bible being 2000 years old doesn’t give much room for changing with the times. Science evolves. God cannot evolve because that would make him wrong. If god was wrong all of his infallibility and morality instantly vanished. So Christians are stuck trying to shoe horn new ideas into a belief structure that isn’t designed to adapt.

    I enjoyed the post and the commentary following keep up the good work.

    • Man has not fully come to accept , just what the word has said from the start. He cannot see the why ,Until that is done, It is what it is. We compound mistake after mistake. That is why we we have a million laws ,unable to fully follow, When instead there is only one ,Good . Simple.

  12. Well said, and thanks for taking the time to say so. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

    The difference is intellectual honesty. Scientists, above everything else, wants to discover the truth about things, and so, no matter how much they know or how passionately they believe in a theory or hypothesis, they will abandon their position–if reluctantly at times–when evidence proves them wrong. It is the more noble position to take. Considering this, it’s baffling that they are viewed as the arrogant ones.

    The shoe horning is becoming all the difficult for the Christian as science reveals more. At least it’s half entertaining to see the apologists perform their acrobatics (As Seth Andrews would say).

  13. Thank you for the comment on my blog and my book.

    I doubt that evolution by itself gives any indication of ethics or morality directly (ethics as the “do”s and morals as the “don’t”s, though I have used them interchangeably in most of my writings). However, it gave us one very important thing, our cognitive faculties. I suspect what makes moral understanding complicated is the fact that it happens in human societies and is attributed to human interactions. It is also dependant (though not determined by) our scientific discoveries.

    All in all, religions did something interesting, they shifted moral understanding (moral discovery, similar to science perhaps) from reason (arising from cognitive faculties) to social institutions and an ultimate authority (god).

    This is damaging. If Socrates was capable of continuing the way he did. If we were not bound by the hijacked moral system of religions, we most likely would have been far better off. In the light of this reasoning I reject religions did much good, if any, for morality and understanding in general.

    //

    The story of moral law and moral lawgiver is kinda funny. Florence Nightingale once wrote a book, in it she tried to prove the existence of God similarly:

    The world works based of specific laws.
    Any law needs a lawgiver.
    ==> The world needs a lawgiver.

    She sent the book to John Stuart Mill, to which he respectfully replied that he didn’t find the argument convincing. Obviously, since the laws that govern the world are not man made laws (natural law ≠ man made law).

    The same thing here: Who says that moral laws, if they indeed do exist (I don’t believe so), need a lawgiver?

    //

    Nice post, written patiently and analyzed very well. Thanks again!

  14. You make some good points. Thank you very much for reading my post, and for your thoughtful comment (and kind words).

    Yes, ultimately, our brain is an evolved organ. Making our morality at least rooted in evolution. The wonderful thing is that we can use our cognitive faculties to analyse our instincts and value the good and transcend the bad.

    I didn’t know Florence Nightingale nursed a passion for philosophy..

  15. You missed what Ravi is pointing to – the fact that a moral law-giver must be an absolute one. Listen to his other teachings and you will find him saying how one culture loves their neighbor and another culture loves to eat their neighbor. These each have their own version of good. How do we pick a moral law-giver among humanity alone? Generic goodness is common on the surface, but once you break it down, even in modern times, societies disagree.
    Another problem you bring up is the evolution of morality. Evolution depends on random compositions of chemical basis. Unless you borrow from a religious moral view, compassion and the like are elusive phantasms. This makes for an even more unstable mixture.
    Finally, I would like you to do your own research, straight from the BIble, to study Jesus with your own eyes. You’d be surprised on his view of the law. He speaks as if he was there before the Mosaic law, and He breaks many of the ideologies of the day about women and other points of the law.

  16. The talk you’re referring to can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqbFxZ-3XA4, I *think* the particular story, of the student and the cannibals, is in part 4; I forget which.

    I appreciate you reading and taking the time to comment, but I’m somewhat at a loss at how to respond. It’s almost like you didn’t read the whole article or maybe you scanned over it and missed the between-the-lines rhetoric.

    I did not miss the point that a moral law-giver must be an absolute one. That is *entire* point of my article: I highlight the divinity (or absoluteness) of a law giver is an assumption. I challenge this assumption and conclude that it is a bad one, exactly because there are alternatives. Just because there are tough questions and because societies disagree, doesn’t mean absoluteness is required. Why is it necessary!? Because without it, things are difficult? Is life ever that neat? As for how humanity can be the authors of moral law, I’d refer you to my penultimate paragraph.

    Disregarding your claims that evolution is random–it’s not btw–I’d like to point out that your religious moral view borrowed first from other sources (philosophy, literature, other religions). I point out in my article that it’s a good thing–sometimes–to borrow from religion, provided that you through away the bad stuff. We can do this, you see, because we have evolved our morals and we know better now, than what we did 2000 years ago. I reject your elusive phantasms. Evolution is a fact, and we are compassionate because of it–at least in the tribal sense. Fortunately, our evolved brain, allows us to transcend and be better. It’s quite wonderful.

    I studied Jesus for over six years. And if he existed, he’s a real stand-up guy, and there is much to learn from him, especially his compassion. But if some of the things he said is accurate, he’s a bit a of a mad-man too. Best to use some discernment.

    Finally, I’d would like you to research Peter Singer, Sam Harris, Paul Chamberlain, Michael Shermer, Robert Buckman, Richard Dawkins, Greg Epstein and Christopher Hitchens. They have a few things to say about being good without God.

  17. Ah! loved your thoughts on this. To be honest, as i have journeyed away from christianity into agnostic/atheism morality has been the one thing that has continued to…bug me. Something I am still working through. It is very difficult walking out of black/white binary type looking at everything into….no walls. 😉
    Subjectivism scares the pee out of me… 😀 (or well it did for a very long time) It is growing on me.
    But I do understand completely why it scares others.
    I remember when questions about…why morals evolved (which of course i was told they did NOT@!) but..it is obvious they have…even (and especially) within christianity…
    I was given this exact lecture and a few other by Ravi Zacharias, and Mere Christianity by Lewis which does the whole must be a moral lawgiver thingy as well…
    I struggled with it wholeheartedly…thinking if such was the case..why were not morals universally accepted and understood equally by all? What about remote civilizations that had weird cannibalistic, and sacrificing virgin stuff? or…why couldn’t things that seem to be pretty important today like pedophilia…(which one could compensate for once upon a time by child marriage when one could have continuously added on new partners) be a thing that was universally understood from the beginning? or slavery? if there was a moral law giver…would not more things have been known from the beginning?

    Thank you for tackling this one!

    • Thank you Holly, you are very kind.

      Yes, I was convinced by Zacharias, Lewis and other apologists when I was a Christian too. I to was scared of subjectivism. Funny how things can change when you see the other side.

      You ask good questions. On the one hand, one is relieved that religion evolves their morals, it can only be good that slavery is now condemned, that woman are more respected, and that the sentiment to gay people are warming. But on the other hand, I’d like to say, “You can’t do that!”. Surely it undermines the entire proposition of God’s universal law!? Christians will probably argue that it’s our fault somehow, that sin is to blame or some such. We obviously didn’t fully understand his purpose and he’s revealing it us. Yada, yada, yada. Sigh.

      Also, the fact that Christians choose what is good in the good book (as Sam Harris says), makes the religion very hard to get of. If all were as devoted as Westboro Baptist…

      I appreciate the comment. Take care.

    • Thank you for saying so, I appreciate that very much. As most people I hack together arguments from borrowed wisdom.

      Well done with the launch of Followed. Much respect. My protagonist–of my still-in-outlining project–is tentatively named Gabriel 🙂 It’s a good name!

      • That’s crazy cool that we have protagonists who are both named Gabriel. Thanks for the kind words about my book launch – much appreciated! 🙂

  18. The problem is easily highlighted when you realise that the “moral law means a moral lawgiver” treats morality as an actual *thing* that exists in such a way that the logic of “moral law means a moral lawgiver” makes sense. That’s only justifiable circularly. If you de-construct morality entirely, and treat it just as behaviour that is desirable vs behaviour that is undesirable, the need for a lawgiver collapses. It even manages to bypass the is-ought problem in a sense.

    • Interesting point. I like it. That’s how I think of morals: desirable vs non-desirable behaviour (and thoughts to a lesser extent). And it’s rather insulting to claim that we, as humans, are incapable of figuring out what is desirable or not.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

  19. I had a discussion with a Christian about the apparent lack of intervention by god in the case of the three women held captive in Ohio recently. He was thanking god for their release and I asked why thank god when god hadn’t done something before this, why god apparently chose to placidly watch while the men committed rape and torture on the women for ten years? He replied “Stop asking where was god and ask where people were”. He was prepared to exonerate his god for lack of action morally, because he saw god as having a different set of morals. That doesn’t make sense. If god cannot operate by the laws he created, then he is a hypocrite. The Christian also said that only fools interpret the Bible literally. I replied that if people are free to interpret the Bible as it suits them, then it is not a true guide to morals or anything else. He didn’t have an answer to that.

    • Where were the people? Good question, one would expect God to rally his faithful posse that were in a position to help. Guess no one was listening.

      At the very least a godly handbook should be very explicit about what is literal and what is metaphorical. Lest it lead to confusion and misinterpretation.. But God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, don’t you know.

  20. Fantastically written post. I don’t understand why this argument is used by religionists, as I feel (like with most things atheistic) the concept is pretty sensible and easy to grasp.

    Will be returning to read more updates. 🙂

  21. Seems to me, those who posit a Lawgiver outside of humanity can subject government to the resulting laws whereas those denying any external source for law must accept government as lawgiver. Government as sole source of law is totalitarian, an unappealing sort. Government held to general Judeo-Christian standards of morality seems to me, preferable.

    Of course, that speaks as a citizen; when I take over government, I don’t want no damn churches telling me what to do!

  22. You could have just invented the criminals version of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’:

    Eight thieves a-thieving, seven rapists raping, six killers killing, five-go-ld-rings!…

  23. You could add to this argument the one that if God laid down his laws because they were intrinsically good, then this ‘good’ is independent of God and His advocacy of it is irrelevant. Good would exist without God.

    And if things are good simply because God says they are, then He could change His mind at any moment and claim that rape and murder are now moral. Humans would disagree with this because it doesn’t coincide with our ideas of good and evil. It must therefore be true that we get our ideas of right and wrong from some source other than God.

  24. The Laws of God are only laws to tame The Lawless. Therefore, The Law is not intrinsically “good” because The Law is a static and dead thing, meant not save but rather to stave off the effects of sin…which is ultimate decay and ruin eternally. The Living Truth behind The Law, is intrinsically Good….

    To understand the necessity we have for Christ, one needs to understand the nature of The Torah, and to understand the nature of The Torah, one must first understand the nature of Original Sin. There’s an easy way and a hard way to come to this understanding, and the hard way requires decades of disciplined study and spiritual practice in the ways of the mystical orders and rites….

    I’d reccomend the easy way: Read The King James Bible. Read it like the answer was plainly written there. Read it wholeheartedly. Read it innocently like a child.

    Please do, and I hope The Lord does find you.

    God bless, brothers and sisters.

    • Hi, thanks for commenting.

      How do you know God is good?

      How do you know the bible is “God breathed”?

      Is a sinful act–missing the target–a violation of God’s nature or command, or is it a violation of something that transcends God?

      I vehemently reject the poisonous doctrine of original sin. The very idea that humans are born depraved–in the image of sinful Adam–and that we are doomed to sin because it is our inescapable–God given–nature, and that we are then condemned and severely punished, by default, for this sin, is immoral by any standard.

      The only way to view this as “moral”, is to say, “well, it’s God, and whatever he says or does or is, is moral.”

      If that is the case, God is a monster. For this reason, and many others, it is my view that the biblical God is evil.

      This God could exist, of course, in which case I’m in trouble, but I’m relieved that there is no compelling reason to believe that this is true.

  25. Ultimately, The Torah and therefore Jewish Mysticism would end ideally not at man saving himself through practice of Kabbalah, but rather at the realization of man’s ruin, and the necessity for Christ. The realization that The Torah is an impossible sentence to complete and that man’s heart is like a rotten apple. The realization of things which should not be and more, and the realization of the ultimate destruction of the man apostate from The Lord. If the realization that this very one who talks to you right now has some sort of glint of an idea of what is up and seeks not vain debate but to point out realities has dawned upon you yet….. I would ask that you not ask me or debate me further, but instead turn to the True Teacher, Jesus Christ… and if you truly do get to know Christ, you’ll know what I mean. Anoint thyself with the oil of Christ, and mix not with the bloody waters of this murky bayou.

    • Thanks for sharing your revelations, but preaching is hardly convincing. Only debate and evidence can possibly compel me to change.

      I’ve read the bible as a child, repented, and turned to Jesus. For seven years, I was His follower. And it made me profoundly unhappy.

      My joy lay in the abandonment of faith. I now read the bible critically, and it’s a frightening book, with some good poetry.

      Fair thee well, Saul of Tarsus.

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