First published 24 October 2010
What I’ve done so far in this series of blog articles is only to sketch outlines. I’ve tried to outline the fundamental difference between Christian morality and non-religious philosophies of morality – the final authority. For the Christian the final authority in all matters is God, and He communicates through His Word, the Bible. For the non-religious person, however religious his background and upbringing, the final authority is himself. I believe, as I’ve said, that this is the reason why Christians are treated so harshly in the West when we use our right to free speech to point out the immorality of certain actions and lifestyles. It’s because any criticism is taken personally, as an affront to the non-religious person’s authority and autonomy.
However, I also indicated that the lack of absolute standards gives problems for the non-religious person. When they meet someone whose moral standards are different they have no basis on which to argue.
But there are other problems. The majority of moral opinions held by non-religious Westerners – those brought up under the influence of Christianity – assume human beings are superior to, or at least set apart from, other animal species, and further regard all human beings as equal. In some ways this is not remarkable. Since we are human we are naturally concerned with the morality of our own species, and we naturally generalise for all of the same kind. Apes have certain general habits and traits, iguanas have their own general characteristics, eagles and rats too, and so on. So we humans focus on the general moral characteristics of humans. But in many ways it is more than that. We do tend to talk about the human race as somehow special or greater than animals.
The problem is that these assumptions are inconsistent with other fundamental beliefs of non-religious people.
First, let’s think about whether human beings have any intrinsic value that means we should care what happens to them. To do that we have to have some definition of what it means to be human. If we want to have a concept of some kind of intrinsic value in humanity, then that must come from what we are. And what we are is determined by how we originated.
My amateur assessment is that non-religious people divide into two camps with regard to how we originated. One group is the atheist group that believes everything that exists is the product of random chance evolution. This is their most basic assumption. (It’s an assumption that has no proof… but that’s not for discussion here!) The other group cannot bring themselves to believe that the intricate beauty of the universe – in its majesty, complexity, intricacy and variety – could have evolved randomly. They believe that the universe was probably designed and made by an intelligent being, greater than any other being or any part of creation. In short, they believe in a Creator. They just don’t see Him as relevant to the way they live their lives, or indeed have any concept of His attachment to any particular religion.
The atheist, I assert, would be inconsistent and irrational to build any moral code at all based on the value of human life. As Christians living in a democracy we are thankful for this inconsistency, for without it we would have violent anarchy and a disintegration of civilisation. However, for the atheist to say that something is wrong because it attacks a valuable human life is irrational, because it conflicts with their basic belief.
I’m worried that this may be stating the obvious, but I’ll explain it anyway, just in case. If atheistic, random evolution is true then the basic building blocks (let’s call them atoms and molecules to save us from unnecessary technicality) of the universe simply ebb and flow in a meaningless progression that we define as evolution. One formation of atoms looks like primordial soup, another like rocks, another like invisible gases such as oxygen. Chemical reactions happen as these atoms and molecules come into contact with each other, and these reactions bring about big changes from time to time. The result is yet more different formations of atoms and molecules. Mutations happen so that some fish spawn new amphibian species; some amphibian species spawn bird and reptile species; some bird and reptile species spawn mammal species, and so on through to apes and humans.
With evolutionary philosophical foundations, though, the progression has no meaning. And the distinctions between different forms have no meaning either. Different forms of atoms are just different forms of atoms. End of story. And yet even an evolutionist makes distinctions between things, even though in his own worldview these distinctions are meaningless. They persist in distinguishing between non-living things (solids, liquids, gases) and living things (animals, birds, trees); between plants, animals, fish and birds; and between non-intelligent animals and intelligent animals (of which human beings are allegedly the only type so far known to have evolved… but leaving the possibility that we may find that some animals or aliens qualify as being intelligent). Non-living things tend to just follow the laws of physics and chemistry. Non-intelligent living things tend to just follow the instincts, cycles and habits of their species. But as intelligent living things we are characterised by conscious struggle, according to the secular atheist – the struggle for meaning and to “find our place in the universe”.
However, these distinctions are arbitrary for the atheist, since he wants to say that fundamentally we are just random collections of atoms. Feelings, knowledge, memory, understanding, wisdom, relationships are all meaningless for the atheist. They are simply, for him, just more random chemical reactions within the random atomic residue. So we, as human beings, surely should have no more rights than the gecko, the gopher, rocks, seaweed or nitrogen gas!
The atheist is inconsistent and irrational because they persist in living their lives as if things that happen to human beings matter whilst philosophically asserting that they don’t! Why do they get so upset about certain things they claim are “wrong”? Why do they get upset about people who disagree with their irrational babbling? Those are not the logical responses of people who really believe that all human beings are only different to rocks, plants and lizards by degrees of evolution.
The real logic of atheism and evolution is that human beings are not special at all, and deserve no special laws. So what if one random atom blob called a child is attacked by another random atom blob called an adult, and in a way that other random human atom blobs call sexual abuse? So what?
In the film Collatoral Vincent (played by Tom Cruise) is a cold-blooded contract killer who hijacks a taxi and forces its driver, Max (played by Jamie Foxx), to take him to various places to kill people. Max asks Vincent at one stage why he is killing the people he kills that night. Vincent’s reply is typical of the consistent atheist, “Get with it. Millions of galaxies of hundreds of millions of stars, and a speck on one in a blink. That’s us, lost in space. The cop, you, me… Who notices?” Later on, he says simply, “There’s no good reason, there’s no bad reason to live or to die.”
So the atheist not only has the problem that he cannot find an absolute and universal basis on which to argue for his moral standards, he also has the problem that his own philosophy concludes that morality and immorality is meaningless!
But what of the non-religious person who believes in a Creator? Their basic problem is that their concept of the Creator or god comes from within themselves. As such it has no objective truth, and therefore there is no way to know this god absolutely. The reason I say that their conception of god comes from within themselves is that it cannot come from anywhere else. What I mean is that even if they are influenced by Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism or whatever, they consider themselves authorized to vary and contradict elements of those religions on the basis that they simply don’t feel like believing them. You may hear them say things like, “I don’t see god as being angry,” or “I see god as primarily a benevolent force,” or “I don’t think god will judge people”. If you were to ask them why they believe these things about god, they would say they just think it’s obvious or that they’re entitled to their opinion.
This applies just as much, by the way, to the assertion that the gods of all religions are really different faces of the same being, and therefore all religions lead to God. It is a belief that has no basis. It is wishful thinking, inasmuch as people don’t want to have to choose. They don’t want God to be someone whom they must know and honour. That would be too threatening. They want the Creator to be a being so distant and unknowable that we only catch glimpses of him/it in the insights of various religions. From that distance and obscurity he/it is no threat and they can choose to ignore him/it.
Their feeling that the human race was created, or that evolution was guided, by some intelligent powerful being, however, gives them no clue as to what they are as human beings. They too, like the atheist, are left wondering, making it up out of their own emotions and intellect. They have no basis on which to talk about what human beings are or what our purpose is. And therefore they have no basis on which to build any conclusions about whether we are distinct or set apart from animals, and about what constitutes right and wrong things that we should or should not do.
So non-religious people of the West in the early 21st century have some serious problems when it comes to discussing morality. Everyone has concepts of right and wrong, as we saw, but the criticisms of Christian moral standards from contemporary non-religious people fall apart because they have no rational basis.