A response to Richard Dawkins

 

Dennis Prager

 

An interesting article from Dennis Prager, a Jewish writer and radio talk-show host whom I like (and whom, shortly after I arrived at BYU many years ago, I helped to host as part of a Jewish-Muslim dialogue on campus):

 

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/359999/response-richard-dawkins-dennis-prager

 

My only real quibble with his article would be to say that, in my judgment, the Turkish massacres of Armenians in the early twentieth century also had little or no direct connection with religion, as such, and that Pakistani killings of Hindus during the period leading up to and immediately following the establishment of India and Pakistan probably didn’t, either.  Although each plainly fell out along confessional lines, both seem to have been much more about nationalism.

 

 

  • Trenton Hansen

    Have you ever read “C. S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea” by Victor Reppert? From the review:

    “Darwinists attempt to use science to show that our world and its
    inhabitants can be fully explained as the product of a mindless,
    purposeless system of physics and chemistry. But Lewis claimed in his
    argument from reason that if such materialism or naturalism were true
    then scientific reasoning itself could not be trusted.”

    In other words, if there is no God, then there is no objective standard against which to verify that our reasoning is valid.

    http://www.amazon.com/C-S-Lewiss-Dangerous-Idea/dp/0830827323

    • DanielPeterson

      Yes. It’s a good book, and a serious argument.

  • Lucy Mcgee

    What Mr. Prager fails to discuss are those stable societies which have evolved in the absence of the God of Abraham. Think about those practicing Jainism who have nothing whatever to do with God, and who practice non-violence toward all living beings. What is their source for morality? It is one of the oldest religions in the world with over 4 million adherents. And of course there are secular, moral and peaceful societies thriving today.

    • paizlea

      But the Jains could change their minds at any minute, without a reliance on an immutable deity for moral guidance! As we see throughout history, those who believe in God have never changed their minds about what constitutes moral behavior. God laid it out unambiguously in the beginning, and believers have never, ever, had conflicting interpretations of God’s will.

      • Lucy Mcgee

        Yes they could, but why would they and what is the source of their morality if not from the God of Abraham? Or how about the San people of the Kalahari, one of the oldest people on earth, who knew nothing of God and yet lived quite peacefully in the African plain over the millennia. I suppose they could change their minds, develop a massive nuclear arsenal and biochemical weapons, and destroy the ecosystem, but it is as unlikely, as it is with the Jains.

        Nice reading your comments again.

    • Ryan

      Lucy:

      What motivates non-believers to act morally is an interesting, but different question from the one Prager is answering. Prager acknowledges that non-believers can act morally. What he’s arguing is that an atheist cannot give an explanation for why certain behavior is moral or immoral.

      If you believe in God and revelation, morality is fairly easy to explain. God has told us the behavior is immoral. Maybe he’s even given us explanations for why that’s the case. But certainly, his position as deity is enough to make his revealed moral law authoritative.

      If you’re an atheist, however, what is your source of objective morality? What standard do you measure right and wrong against? Science? How does science tell you murder is wrong? Evolution? How can evolution give us moral law, when it is constantly changing? Conscience? How can we rely upon individuals’ consciences when they give conflicting accounts of what is moral or immoral.

      There is no objective morality without God. As Prager shows, atheists usually acknowledge that fact.

      • Lucy Mcgee

        William Lane Craig goes on and on about objective morality. What theists rarely discuss is how societies, including ancient ones, flourished without the God of Abraham and Biblical scripture to guide them. They also fail to spend much time on all the other religions which have existed far longer than Christianity.

        Anyone who understands the history of religion in the world, would most certainly admit that there have been countless forms of belief which have evolved within the thousands of societies living on planet earth over many tens of thousands of years.

        If one believes that humanity “evolved” from primitive hunter-gatherer tribes many tens of thousands of years ago, it seems obvious that these ancient people developed moral codes which allowed them to survive, interact and make progress.

        Look at the tribes which have been studied in the Amazon, or Papua New Guinea, or in the Kalahari, by the likes of researches like Jared Diamond. Clearly, these people established flourishing societies, which were not involved in major world wars. There are examples of cultures which have, because of their isolation, never been exposed to Christian beliefs, and yet have carried on to build long-lasting and stable family units.

        I suppose that it’s much easier for a person to discount religion if they’ve never lived it. For me, there is nothing to miss and nothing to fear. Prager teaches from the Tanakh, and argues that he doesn’t trust society to do the right thing. I don’t agree.

        • Ryan

          Lucy, how can evolution be the source of objective morality, when evolution means the standards are in constant flux. Does that mean slavery was moral earlier in human history when it enjoyed more widespread acceptance? And that, while we reject slavery now, it’s possible we will evolve to a higher level of understanding in the future where slavery is again moral?

          I like the way Eugene Volokh summarize the argument to nonbelievers:

          Many of your [moral] beliefs might flow logically (perhaps not syllogistically, but using logical argument) from other beliefs. But at some point, you must reach what one might call a moral axiom that you can’t logically demonstrate. You doubtless find this axiom appealing. Yet why do you accept it?
          . . .

          Now if you believed that there was a God who created the world, who was concerned with human affairs, who in some measure controlled access to a happy afterlife, and who made his will known by delivering a book that chronicled both his prescriptions and a list of miracles that he himself had performed, you might choose as an axiom “Do what God tells me to do.” This itself wouldn’t be an open and shut argument; but I think that, if the factual assertions behind it were accurate, it would have substantial plausibility.

          But you don’t believe this. Why then do you order your life around some particular moral axiom that you can’t logically support, especially when disregarding this axiom could save you a lot of hassle?

          http://www.volokh.com/2012/09/04/a-question-for-our-irreligious-readers-2/

  • Ryan

    I think Mormons should reject the position held by Mr. Prager.

    “Objective morality” almost certainly is a ridiculous extension of the idea that God is an immaterial, indescribable, supernatural entity that exists outside of any natural laws.

    Like such a description of God, I fail to understand what objective morality is even supposed to mean. If everyone were to disappear, morality would still exist? How does that work?

    Mormons believe that God is a material, exalted, human being, and so I see no reason why God’s morals are any less subjective than our own.

    The qualities that make God’s morals unique from ours, I would argue, are the perfect knowledge and love by which they are designed, their perfect consistency, and the unconquerable (and very objective) power by which they are enforced.

    • RaymondSwenson

      The way I read the few texts from Joseph Smith on the topic, I understand that God the Father attained godhood by becoming perfected within the ineluctable laws of reality. He did not become perfect and then deduce those laws. The light of Christ with which we all are born (Moroni 7) is a compass that detects the orientation of that fundamental field in the universe that points toward what is good and true. So there is both an objective morality, and an instrument for us to discern it.

      • Ryan

        1) I didn’t say that God deduced the laws of reality.

        3) Scriptures never mention a “fundamental field in the universe.” The scriptures teach that God is the source of morality, not nature.

        3) “Objective morality” is a baseless, incomprehensible, and Nicaean-esque tradition invented by confused, fallible humans. Nature neither makes nor enforces moral declarations. There is no “fundamental field” of nature that declares stealing wrong. Morality is the product of minds, and without minds there are no morals.

    • Anyotheruser

      Doesn’t God’s omniscience make his morals objective?

      I’m not sure I’d agree with the position that God is subject to natural laws either – Section 88 states quite the opposite.


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