Like Vegans Who Want Their Food to Taste Like Meat
- Thursday, September 21, 2017
- By Jon Morrison
If God does not exist, where do we get the sense of any foundation for right and wrong?
There are a few theories out there.
Some people think that we should base our behaviour upon the habits of our predecessors in the animal kingdom. I have heard a university student make a case for accepting adultery based on the mating habits of hyenas and primates.
I hope that student either smartens up or never gets married. His family would be destroyed with that kind of thinking.
A common explanation for morality is that human beings can craft a moral framework for our behaviour based on Darwinian natural selection.
Natural selection reasons like this, “If this is how the animals behave(d), this explains why we can/do behave as well.”
Even Darwin was confused about the foundation of human morality. He wrote in The Descent of Man:
If...men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters, and no one would think of interfering.
A university student once told me that homo sapiens have adapted the morality of being civil with each other in order to propagate the human species. They enter into a social contract where people look out for each other’s good in order to survive.
This reasoning is not only contrary to Darwinian “survival of the fittest” (think what Darwin said about the ethics of bees), but it also suggests that all acts of love are done “purely” out of self-interest.
Darwin knew that natural selection had limits in its ability to explain human behaviour. For instance, “survival of the fittest” cannot explain why a person does good deeds with no advantage to himself or herself.
When people give to the Red Cross to help hurricane victims, when someone selflessly volunteers their time and talents working with the poor, or when an upper-middle-class family adopts an African child, the Darwinian is left scratching his or her head.
These examples and other common sacrificial acts of service that we hear about every day often have no biological advantage to the DNA of the one making the sacrifice. To assume that their motive was to propagate their DNA would be insulting and demeaning to the heroism of their sacrifice.
How Honest Atheists Feel About Morality
I give credit to Richard Dawkins’ integrity for putting in print the moral conclusions of his atheistic worldview. I say this because most atheists I speak with are not willing to go that far. In River Out Of Eden, Dawkins willingly admits,
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, nor any justice. The universe 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 (Richard Dawkins. River Out Of Eden, Oxford, Eng.: Bantam Press, 1995. p133).
Professor Dawkins gets this from reflecting on the random chances he perceives in the movement of electrons. This is merely evidence of his scientific reductionism based on a worldview that does not include God. Dawkins looks at a cell and finds no instruction manual or game plan for how things should go.
Consider what Dawkins’ colleague, Dr. Stephen Jay Gould, has said about the process by which atheists draw such conclusions:
We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures; because the earth never froze entirely during an ice age; because a small and tenuous species, arising in Africa a quarter of a million years ago, has managed, so far, to survive by hook and by crook. We may yearn for a “higher” answer but none exists (Taken from James Haught. 2000 Years of Disbelief, Famous People with the Courage to Doubt, Amherst, NY.: Prometheus Books, 1996).
Given atheism, it is tough to find any deeper meaning than the story that Gould is telling here: “Don’t waste your time looking for any higher answers or deeper meaning. You will not find any.”
Can We Be Good Without God?
Twelve times out of ten when sharing this I will hear the rebuttal,
“I’m an atheist. Are you saying that I’m not a good person?”
It is always the nicest people who ask this. The jerks know they don't have a case.
That is, they are nice people who have misunderstood my argument. I never question an atheist’s ability to do good things, nor their ability to recognize goodness when they see it in others. I am only asking about the foundation where their idea of goodness comes from.
Think about goodness like you think about gravity. Whether or not you believe in gravity, it is still there. Every day you are affected by gravity regardless of how well you understand the physics of it.
Here I am asking whether objective morality is something like gravity operating in accordance with the laws of the universe.
Are there some things that are always right and some things that are always wrong?
Has there ever been a time in history where it would have been acceptable for Hitler to kill over five million Jews?
Or is mass murder always wrong no matter when or where you are? If mass murder is always wrong, then it turns out that objective moral values and duties do exist.
Philosopher Richard Taylor exposes the common mistake atheists make as they assume a foundation of morality that exists apart from God. He explains,
The modern age, more or less repudiating the idea of a divine lawgiver, has nevertheless tried to retain the ideas of moral right and wrong, not noticing that, in casting God aside, they have also abolished the conditions of meaningfulness for moral right and wrong as well. Thus, even educated persons sometimes declare things as war, or abortion, or the violation of certain human rights, are “morally wrong,” and they imagine that they have said something true and significant. Educated people do not need to be told, however, that questions such as these have never been answered outside of religion...Contemporary writers in ethics, who blithely discourse upon moral right and wrong and moral obligation without any reference to religion, are really just weaving intellectual webs from thin air; which amounts to saying that they discourse without meaning (Ethics, Faith And Reason (Englewood Cliffs, CA : Prentice-Hall, 1985).
To summarize Taylor’s view, atheists who argue that there could exist an objective morality without God are like vegans who still want their burgers to taste like meat.
These are people who have made their choice but are having a hard time accepting the consequences.
I have shown that if backed up only by the process of evolution or the worldview of atheism, premise one of the moral argument still stands: If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.