This is a continuation of my response to the popular Christian apologetics book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norm Geisler and Frank Turek. Begin with part 1 here. For part 1 of the critique of the moral argument, go here.
We move on to dabble in history.
Founding U.S. documents
About the U. S. Declaration of Independence, Geisler and Turek (GT) say:
Notice the phrase, “they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” In other words, the Founding Fathers believed that human rights are God-given. (page 175)
Nope. “Creator” to the Founding Fathers wasn’t the Yahweh of the Old Testament, it was a hands-off, deist god. The Declaration is of no help to the Christian cause because it makes clear who’s in charge: “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Unlike Harry Truman, God doesn’t have a sign on his desk that reads, “The buck stops here.” God is irrelevant to the American experiment.
And an appeal to the Declaration is always a sign that the apologists couldn’t find what they wanted in the Constitution. The Constitution remains the supreme law of the land, while the Declaration is just an important historical document with no role in government today.
Objective morality in the Nuremburg trials
If there were no such international morality that transcended the laws of the secular German government, then the Allies would have had no grounds to condemn the Nazis. (175)
The Allies won, and they imposed their laws—is that surprising? Isn’t that how wars work? Whose laws do you think they should’ve used?
In other words, we couldn’t have said that the Nazis were absolutely wrong unless we knew what was absolutely right. But we do know they were absolutely wrong, so the Moral Law must exist. (175)
Who said the Nazis were absolutely wrong? The Allies said they were regular wrong, we had a trial of 24 German leaders, and we imposed justice from our perspective. This wasn’t a sham trial with summary death sentences for all—half were sentenced to death, three were acquitted, and most of the rest were given prison terms. Centuries from now, future historians might criticize those sentences from their perspective.
The Problem of Evil
GT move on to address what Christians often admit is their toughest intellectual challenge: why does a good god allow so much bad in the world? They answer with an analogy from C. S. Lewis: “A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.” God’s actions may appear wrong, but that can only be because we’re comparing them against an absolute good.
The only straight lines we can make are imperfectly straight lines; similarly, the only moral standards come from our own not-objective rules. GT have again only allowed themselves the option of imagining one kind of morality, an absolute or objective morality.
Notice also that to make this argument, GT must admit that there is a Problem of Evil, which puts God in a very bad light.
Lewis, like you and me, can only detect injustice because there’s an unchanging standard of justice written on our hearts. (176)
That’s another redefinition—now the Moral Law has become unchanging. But I don’t know what’s unchanging about it. Is slavery wrong? It sure wasn’t back in the Old Testament. Same for genocide. Same for polygamy. I certainly think that slavery is wrong for all time, but the Bible won’t support that.
The HolocaustGT want to know, how do Jewish atheists argue against the Holocaust? Are a critique about a meal and a critique about the Holocaust both mere opinions?
That works for me. Perhaps there’s a word difference that will capture the universally held or deeply felt nature of judgments about the Holocaust. Regardless, this still doesn’t get GT their desired objective morality. The natural explanation of morality works fine: we have a shared idea of morality, and killing millions of people is almost universally accepted as wrong.
GT can’t let go of the idea of a moral law that’s not objective. They imagine that a claim like “racism is wrong” has no objective meaning without the god-given Moral Law. This chapter is 25 pages long, but they could distill it to a page if they cut out the repeated groundless assertions. For example:
Unless there’s an unchanging standard of good, there is no such thing as objective evil. But since we all know that evil exists, then so does the Moral Law. (177)
If the Moral Law doesn’t exist, then there’s no moral difference between the behavior of Mother Teresa and that of Hitler. (178)
[C. S. Lewis said,] “If your moral ideas can be truer, and those of the Nazis less true, there must be something—some Real Morality—for them to be true about.” (178)
Suppose I think it’s okay to kill mice in my house, and you say that one must capture them humanely and set them free outside. There’s a moral difference; is that impossible without a Real Morality?
Ordinary, natural morality is quite capable of distinguishing between Mother Teresa and Hitler (let’s assume that Mother Teresa is the shining example of goodness, as they falsely imagine). GT refuse to consider that the natural explanation even exists, let alone explains morality better than any claim to objective morality. This is the Assumed Objectivity fallacy—either assuming without evidence that objective morals exist or assuming that everyone knows and accepts objective morality.
The word “moral” is just another adjective. Can a puppy be cute or a sunset beautiful or a resolution fair without objective definitions of “cute,” “beautiful,” and “fair”? Of course—look them up in the dictionary. The same is true for “moral.” These concepts come from within, not outside, human culture, and they’re not unchanging. Morality is important, like other aspects of culture, but here GT confuse important with supernatural, probably deliberately.
Moral relativists? Hoist by their own petard!
GT imagine a chaotic world where abortion, birth control, and sex were outlawed. What could atheists say about this?
So by rebelling against the Moral Law, atheists have, ironically, undermined their grounds for rebelling against anything. In fact, without the Moral Law, no one has any objective grounds for being for or against anything! (181)
Again, this is the Assumed Objectivity fallacy. We don’t need objective grounds for morality because the regular kind works (and is the only one we have evidence for).
They continue by arguing that excuses for breaking moral rules are evidence for the Moral Law. Excuses like “It was just a white lie” or “I had to steal the bread because I was starving” or even “I had to shoot him because he had a gun himself” point to the Moral Law.
Nope—these excuses point to a shared natural morality. There is no need to imagine an objective morality.
I don’t remember ever seeing so much blather that could be shut down so quickly, in Gordian Knot fashion. Just drop the demand for objective morality, and this empty argumentation blows away like irrational smoke.
Concluded in part 4.
after being exposed to the cosmic perspective,
you started your day with an unjustifiably large ego.
— Neil DeGrasse Tyson
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 9/23/15.)
Image from Wikimedia, CC license