This is a continuation of my response to the Christian apologetics book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norm Geisler and Frank Turek. Begin with part 1 here.
Geisler and Turek (GT) spend 25 pages giving their argument for a divine source for morality. I’ve written a lot about the weak Christian justification for morality before, but this is the most thorough version of the Christian argument to which I’ve responded.
That doesn’t mean that it’s well thought out. The chapter is titled, “Mother Teresa vs. Hitler,” and we’re already off to a bad start. Mother Teresa isn’t the saint that GT imagine and has received much criticism. She wasn’t much concerned about healing her patients or even preventing their pain. She saw her patients’ suffering as a moral crucible and said, “There is something beautiful in seeing the poor accept their lot, to suffer it like Christ’s Passion. The world gains much from their suffering.” The goal of modern medicine is precisely the opposite—not to celebrate suffering and disease but to fight it.
GT’s moral arguments are shallow, and the same few mistakes are made repeatedly. I’ll give a fair amount of the argument rather than simplifying it, in the hope that this prepares you for similar arguments. Their argument is aimed at the choir. The thinking is confused and sloppy and only serves only as a pat on the head to assure Christians that they’ve backed the right horse.
At this point in the book, GT has given us their Cosmological and Teleological arguments. Their third is the Moral Law argument:
1. Every law has a law giver.
2. There is a Moral Law.
3. Therefore, there is a Moral Law Giver. (page 171)
Newton’s Second Law of Motion (f = ma) is also a law. Must there be a physics law giver? GT will say Yes, but I need evidence. With GT, we rarely go beyond an intuitive, kinda-feels-right type of argument, but I suppose that works well with their target audience.
The theme running through this argument is a Moral Law that mimics the Greek god Proteus, changing shape whenever we grab it. The Moral Law is a claim of objective morality, but “objective morality” is never clearly defined. Let’s start with William Lane Craig’s definition of objective morality: “moral values that are valid and binding whether anybody believes in them or not.”
And let me define my opposing hypothesis, the natural morality position. Morality comes from two places. Our programming (from evolution) explains the traits that are largely common across all societies such as the Golden Rule. We’re all the same species, so it’s not surprising that we respond in similar ways to moral challenges. Our customs (from society) explain society-specific attitudes to issues like capital punishment, sex, blasphemy, honor, and so on. I hope to argue that natural morality explains what we see better than GT’s Moral Law hypothesis.
More from GT:
Without an objective standard of meaning and morality, then life is meaningless and there’s nothing absolutely right or wrong. Everything is merely a matter of opinion. (171)
When we say the Moral Law exists, we mean that all people are impressed with a fundamental sense of right and wrong. (171)
Redefinition! Now the Moral Law is that which we all feel. I suppose this is an appeal to our moral conscience? The focus is now on people, while William Lane Craig’s definition was on a morality grounded outside people.
Everyone knows there are absolute moral obligations. An absolute moral obligation is something that is binding on all people, at all times, in all places. And an absolute Moral Law implies an absolute Moral Law Giver. (171)
How about “slavery is wrong”? Is that binding on all people, at all times, in all places? I wonder why we didn’t get that from God and, indeed, got the opposite. Apparently in God’s youth, slavery was hunky dory.
Let me invent a term that will get some use as we go through this chapter: the Assumed Objectivity Fallacy. GT declares that, “Everyone knows there are absolute moral obligations”? Nope. The Assumed Objectivity Fallacy is either assuming without evidence that objective morals exist or assuming that everyone knows and accepts objective morality.
Back to GT:
This does not mean that every moral issue has easily recognizable answers. (171)
Redefinition! Now the Moral Law is something that we only dimly feel. The Moral Law is binding on all people … but we don’t really know for sure what the Moral Law is saying to us at every moral fork in the road. That seems unfair—to be bound by a law that we don’t understand—but I suppose GT’s God works in mysterious ways.
The challenge that I like to give any believer in objective morality is to take some moral issue of the day—abortion, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, capital punishment, and so on—and give us the resolution that is objectively correct and that everyone can see is correct. Like GT, they quickly back away from any claim that this Moral Law is reliable accessible. I wonder then, what good is it?
GT’s childlike idea that our morality is objective isn’t supported by the dictionary or everyday experience. Being a grownup is apparently easier for some of us than others.
Critique of Geisler and Turek’s moral argument is continued in Part 2.
If they can get you asking the wrong questions,
they don’t have to worry about the answers.
— Thomas Pynchon
Image credit: thierry ehrmann, flickr, CC