Welcome back to The Moral Argument. We’ve reached the lighting round, where in you, the atheist, post modernist, relativist contestants get to answer some easy questions for fabulous prizes! In round one we’ve determined that everyone knows that some things are truly right and good, while others are really evil and should NOT be done. Now, we’re going to ask, “How come?”
Ready? OK, here we go: It’s 1929 and you’re having Schnitzel with an up and coming German leader. Let’s just call him “Adolph.” Over the appetizer you find out that he is planning to take over the world and kill almost the entire human race in his effort to form a global dictatorship which he feels will last for a thousand years. You suggest that there is some moral ambiguity in his plans, to which he responds, “Do you think so? Golly, if I felt it was really wrong, then I certainly wouldn’t do it.”
How do you convince him that his plan is really wrong?
Remember, contestants, you and “Adolph” are both atheists, so you can’t and won’t appeal to God as a transcendent law giver.
Contestant number One: “I would say that the other nations would band together in an allied force to stop him, and he would probably wind up dying in some underground bunker.”
Nice try contestant one, but you’ve only succeeded at deepening his resolve. “Adolph” will just see that his many enemies will force him to act faster and more viciously than he had planned. The threat of losing doesn’t make him feel his actions are wrong- only that he is right and that he needs to work harder. After all, every good and right hero has faced opposition, haven’t they?
Contestant Two: “I would tell him that his plan is bad because it will hurt a lot of people, and make a lot of people unhappy, and that it would not make the world a better place.”
Ooh, a nice traditional reply from contestant two, but I think you’ll notice the mistakes you made. First of all, you’re done nothing to prove that hurting people is wrong. You’ve only moved the need for an objective moral standard over one place. Secondly, the aim of his plan is a world free of racism, classism, political struggles, religious fights, poverty, border disputes, and disease. In his mind it makes the world a MUCH better place. Besides, dead people don’t complain, so killing a lot of people only makes them unhappy while they’re still alive. The faster you kill, the faster you rid the world of unhappiness.
Contestant Three: “I think if “Adolph” looked at the cultures of the world, he would see that he is going against the normative implied social agreement of behavior for mutual benefit and survival. Laws and social norms of most people would go against these actions, and thus they are wrong.”
A noble sociological attempt from contestant three. However, “Adolph” knows as well as you do that social norms are no more binding to societies that agree to them than fashion or the rules of a game. If he is the dictator, he’ll make the laws and won’t have to worry about prior laws. Furthermore, if he kills everyone who disagrees with him, there will be no social norms which would condemn his actions. His plan includes altering such social norms so that the only surviving societies would celebrate him as a hero. Thanks for playing, but “Adolph” will still go on to kill all of you.
Contestant Two: “Hang on a minute! It’s wrong to hurt people! It’s wrong to kill lots of innocent people!”
Contestant Two: “Well… It just is, that’s all!”
How do you know?
Contestant Two: “I know it because I FEEL it, just as I know an apple is red because I see it.”
But as Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias points out, “There are some cultures who believe it is right to love their neighbors, and others who believe it is right to eat them, both based on feelings. Do you have a preference?”
Contestant Three: “It is true that some cultural norms presuppose an acceptance of killing and eating members of neighboring societies. But of course these are savage tribes, and many evolve out of this stage.”
And by evolving out of it, have they made moral progress?
Contestant Three: “Of course.”
But if you say they have progressed, do you not assume a better and a worse? But how can you do that without a transcendent standard to measure both sets of social norms against? How can you say they have gotten better if you cannot say there is a real good to which they are now closer?
Contestant Three: “Well, obviously there must be a higher good. It is better to love one’s enemies than to kill and eat them.”
Contestant One: “Yes! Justice is better than injustice, but not because there is some moral lawgiver telling us so. We can figure these things out for ourselves.”
But even if it could exist without a lawgiver, how would you figure out such a thing?
Contestant One: “For justice, you can see how it creates a better society than injustice. It makes for fair play, equality, and happy citizens.”
But then, what makes you decide that fair play, equality, and happy citizens are better than the alternative? What transcendent standard do you use to judge THOSE things as good?
Contestant Two: “Isn’t it good to make people happy?”
I would say so, but it is because God taught me to consider others as more important than myself. What makes YOU think so?
Contestant Two: “Because killing FEELS wrong. Justice FEELS right!”
I share your feelings because I believe God gave us conscience- an innate understanding of right and wrong. But others have vastly different feelings. Some people’s feelings lead them to murder anyone of a differing race, some to eat neighboring tribes, some to rape and pillage, and some to board a school bus covered in explosives to kill themselves and every passenger on the bus. These things happen all the time because some people feel they are right. Mind you, not just morally neutral and somehow justifiable, but they feel to rape, pillage, and murder is truly RIGHT and GOOD. Are they correct?
Contestant Three: “Of course not. But why must there be a law giver? Why cannot conscience simply evolve? Or morals be discovered as mathematics are discovered?”
The answer is something we all know instinctively as children. When one kid says to another kid, “You can’t do that!”or, “We’re not allowed to go in there!” the child who WANTS to do that or go there will inevitably reply, “Says who?” Our innate response is to seek out an appropriate authority that has the right to dictate right and wrong to us. We know that our boundaries are set for us by someone in authority over us. We know that mom and dad have the right to tell us what we can do, where we can go, what we should say, and what we’re allowed to eat. Otherwise, we’d go where we want, eat what we want, do what we please, and probably never survive long enough to reach the first grade. The Bible teaches us that God is the ultimate authority, and that he has given us a conscience so that we all instinctively know that it’s wrong to steal or lie or hurt other people.
Furthermore, if these morals are God’s revelation of right and wrong, then we CAN discover them as we discover mathematics. Otherwise we could only invent them as we invent the rules of a game. If I said I play four strike baseball, you would not find me morally evil. If I said I kill and eat my neighbors, you would know I was evil and would want the police to do something about it. To discover something it must exist. If we discover right and wrong, it is only because they are real and can be discovered. Evolution would only give us instincts for survival and passing on our genes.
If all we are is the product of evolution, then there is an evolutionary cause for racism, rape, murder, theft, and betrayal.
If evolution has given us the instinct to kill and the instinct to feel murder is wrong, why should we choose one over the other? Can we even choose, or is that, too, a product of evolution? Do we imprison murderers for behaving as they are programmed by their DNA? Would this not be like punishing a blender for making a fruit smoothie or a magnet for hanging onto the fridge? And even if we CAN choose, why should we choose feeling murder is wrong over using murder to survive and pass on our genes (Or to get rich, or get a better parking spot, etc)?
In conclusion, if there is no God, there is no one with the authority to be a moral law giver. If there is no moral law giver, there is no moral law. If there is no moral law, there is no objective right and wrong. If there is no objective right and wrong- then I’m going to have to flip a coin to decide if I want to love my neighbor or eat him with a side of potato salad.
If my neighbor is white and I serve him with a white wine, would that be wrong?
Please, love your neighbor, and remember
Well said. I think you’ve pointed out the absurdity of both subjective and emergent morality. Of course, the atheist still won’t listen and the subjectivist will say it’s just your opinion. That is, until someone does something morally wrong to either one of them. Then, all of a sudden, they’re dogmatic about their morals.
The atheists are a predictable lot, I will grant you that.
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