Reasons for Faith Part IV: Right and Wrong?
by PastorErick | 8/29/17, 7:41 AM
Of all the Atheist apologists (“anti-theists”, “New Atheists”, whatev) to burst onto the scene a few years back, my absolute favorite was Christopher Hitchens. I had read/heard/seen some of the other big name dudes that were ferociously arguing for religion’s demise before (Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Denett, etc.), but no one of the bunch came close to the charisma, charm and piercing wit of Hitchens. He had the rare ability to make the most snide, offensive remarks and yet still be likable! I remember seeing him debate William Lane Craig some years ago at Biola University, and though I thought his arguments for Atheism were unpersuasive and old fashioned, I really got a kick out of him.
On top of this, I found that on many issues, Hitchens and I shared a similar moral compass. He was a fierce advocate for basic human rights and a bitter enemy of dictatorship everywhere (even "Heavenly Dictators" the name he sometimes gave to God). Even when it would make him unpopular with his fellow writers/journalists, Mr. Hitchens wasn’t afraid to stand up for “justice."
However, that admirable quality of Hitchens’ also created a logical problem for me. Here’s why: On the one hand, this polemicist would declare gleefully (and with great mockery toward those who believed) that there surely was no God. The universe was simply here as a result of random chance and time. There was no ONE governing this thing….
But then on the other hand, whenever Hitchens spoke of "justice” or “morality” he would speak with the same sort of passion and certainty that a fiery preacher might have. He would wax eloquent about why it was ABSOLUTELY wrong for someone not to have basic human rights. He would loudly yell from the rooftops that it was ABSOLUTELY wrong for Dictators to rule over their people in a despotic way.
But guys/gals/people, if there is no ABSOLUTE Governor of this universe and everything is here by chance, what did Hitchens base this ABSOLUTE “justice” on?
C.S. Lewis, in his little apologetic “Mere Christianity” hints at my problem with Hitchens’ moral certitude:
My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?In other words, apart from some objective moral Standard, how can one really be certain about what’s “just” or “unjust” at all? Justice is at best something determined in the court of human opinion.
Of course, that’s not the way we live though. We live, act and breathe believing inherently (like Hitchens did) that certain things are always wrong and always right. If anything is ALWAYS right or ALWAYS wrong, then there must be Something/Someone beyond us that has set that standard. Here’s how we might formulate the argument:
- If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist.
- Objective moral values and duties do exist.
- Therefore God exists.
Let’s briefly go over the various parts to this argument:
If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist-
This would be the position one has to hold (by logical necessity) if the universe is orderless and random. Indeed, many in more recent times have tried to make the case that morality is ultimately just that: a collection of opinions held by individuals or various groups of people. It’s known as “cultural relativism” or just plain old “ethical relativism”. Now it is true that certain cultures have different values and even different emphases on what constitutes moral behavior, but does that mean that none is MORE right or MORE wrong than another? We intuitively know better. If a certain person believed that it was a moral good to torture children for fun, we would instinctively know he wasn’t just misinformed; we wouldn’t merely say his was simply one of many possible “moral options.” We would say instinctively, “YOU’RE WRONG.” If a particular culture, say I don’t know, like Sudan stated that genocide was a moral good, we wouldn’t just say, “that’s one possible moral option,” we would say, “YOU’RE WRONG.” Ah, but once we say that, we’re instinctively showing that we do adhere to certain Universal principles. That leads to the second premise:
Objective moral values and duties do exist- We know it. It doesn’t mean we live like it (sometimes far from it), but we know it. Christopher Hitchens knew it, and that’s what inspired him to be so irate when certain Standards were violated. Tim Keller spells it out:
All human beings have moral feelings. We call it a conscience. When considering doing something that we feel would be wrong, we tend to refrain. Our moral sense does not stop there, however. We also believe that there are standards “that exist apart from us” by which we evaluate moral feelings. Moral obligation is a belief that some things ought not to be done regardless of how a person feels about them within herself, regardless of what the rest of her community and culture says, and regardless of whether it is in her self interest or not.
(The Reason For God, pg. 146)
Therefore God exists-
In other words, the only Thing that can adequately explain this Universal sense of moral obligation is that there is a moral obligation-Giver. I’ve always had great respect for Atheists like Nietzsche and Sartre because they at least acknowledged this implication of their worldview. Nietzsche was fierce in his insistence that apart from a God, the only “law” is some version of survival of the fittest. He knew that one could not really speak of humans as having any rights at all if there is no God. Consider this quote:
The masses blink and say: ‘We are all equal-Man is but man, before God we are all equal.’ Before God! But now this God has died.
Do you see it? Nietzsche is saying that all this talk of man’s equality is nonsensical since there is no God to determine that’s the case. Apart from God, man becomes just one more mammal in nature and should thereby live by “nature’s rules”. But again, we know better: We know it’s actually RIGHT that all human beings are treated equally. We value altruism and sacrifice as moral goods, in spite of the fact that they fly in the face of the way the rest of “nature” works. We know these things, because, well, because there is a God above all this.
As with the previous apologetic arguments, what this argument does is give strong evidence for believing some sort of Deity actually exists; it doesn’t specifically nail down which Deity should be worshipped. But for the first time in our series of arguments it does lead us to see that this God is not merely powerful and eternal, but also just and moral. So next week, we’ll become even more specific with a similar case: The argument from “Truth, Beauty and Goodness."
- 31 - Reasons for Faith in the Bible Part I: Jesus Said So
- 24 - Reasons For Faith In Jesus’ Resurrection Part V: The Uniqueness of the Resurrection
- 17 - Reasons For Faith In Jesus’ Resurrection Part IV: The External Evidence
- 10 - Reasons For Faith In Jesus’ Resurrection Part III: The Birth, Rapid Expansion and Martyrdom Of The Early Church
- 03 - Reasons for (Christian) Faith Part II: The Counterproductive Gospel