The Moral Argument for God Gets Some Air

[On August 21, 2021, our local newspaper, The Eugene Register-Guard, published a “Guest View” by atheist Charles H. Jones, to which I felt compelled to offer a riposte, which was published as a Guest View September 4, 2021.  Here are both essays.]

Guest View, “Whose Morality Carries More Weight?

By Charles H. Jones, Register-Guard August 21, 2021, page 6A

Saying an entire class of people is immoral, such as Blacks or Jews, is generally considered prejudicial and hateful. I would be surprised to see, and don’t recall seeing, such racist statements in The R-G. Yet, versions of “atheists are immoral” have appeared at least eight times in the past four years – including three columns within the last year. This is usually stated in less obvious, but logically equivalent, variations of “morality derives from God.” But, after all, how can atheists be moral when they deny the source of morality?

This isn’t just a philosophical issue. There are countries where atheism is a capital offense. I’ve met someone who is hiding for fear of their life because they left Islam. Complete shunning – loss of family, friends and jobs – is not unusual when people leave some religious communities.  I’ve met someone who was kicked out of their house at 16 for leaving Christianity.

The acceptance of openly stated anti-atheist prejudice epitomizes religious privilege.  But this privilege shows itself daily via “in God we trust” and “under God.”  Public promotion of faith and prayer also is an example of this privilege and prejudice.  And it is very concerning that the Supreme Court is legalizing religious discrimination based on this prejudice.

Claims of moral superiority based on God aren’t limited to denouncing atheists.  There are religions where not believing in the proper god deserves eternal torture.  Even within a single religion, God’s supposed morality has been used to claim supremacy and privilege for men, heterosexuals, the monogamous, the married, whites and castes (among others).

Another harmful result of morality from God is the promotion of the United States as a Christian nation.  Stating the mistaken belief that the Constitution is based on biblical principles reduces the roughly 30% of the U.S. that are non-Christian to second-class citizenry.  I’ve personally been told I should leave the country because I’m atheist.  This erroneous belief also played a part on Jan 6.  Most of the people in the Capitol mob weren’t just white supremacists, they were also Christian Nationalists.  Their movement is partially motivated by the belief that Christians are morally superior.  Their violent actions are even supportable by Jesus’ militant side (Matthew 10:34).  The Christian god is an authoritarian figure – a divine king, not an elected official.

I am not saying all theists are inherently immoral.  I am not claiming there is a single external source of morality and you are immoral if you deny it. I claim, and the evidence supports, that theists are simply mistaken about their source of morality. For example, most people today condemn slavery, yet slavery is doctrinally supported by the three largest religions.  Jesus never denounced slavery and implicitly condoned it, while Paul explicitly wrote, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters …” (Ephesians 6:5-6); Mohammed owned slaves; and then there’s karma. Even if some doctrinal passage appears to be anti-slavery, it demonstrates doctrinal self-contradiction rather than elimination of the doctrinal support. This is evidence that people look for doctrine to support their preexisting beliefs rather than deriving their beliefs from doctrine or God.

Religions are doctrinally in opposition.  Yahweh is not Allah is not Zeus.  Reincarnation does not lead to Valhalla.  Claiming belief in one religion is claiming that all other religions are false.  (Why claim one of thousands of religions if you don’t think it’s the one true – and thus superior – religion?) If you want to promote unity – to bring everyone together – you have to keep your religion out of the public square.  This is the reason for the establishment clause of the First Amendment.  This is why it is unconstitutional to promote religion in public schools and why it is polite to hold a moment of silence rather than a prayer at public gatherings.  I fully support people’s right to their religious beliefs, but that same right allows me to say, “Keep them to yourselves; they’re divisive.”

Where does morality come from? There are arguments based on evolution, but most people are unaware of them.  I believe most people, secular or not, derive morality from love, compassion and humanism.  Isn’t having a conscience part of the human condition?  Would you rape and murder if God didn’t tell you not to?

What’s more important, promoting morality and unity, or claiming one group of people is morally superior to all others? 

Charles H. Jones, Ph.D., is a retired mathematician. He organizes the Eugene Atheist Pub Social through Meetup.

Guest View, “Objective human values we all cherish

By Thomas Alderman, Register-Guard September 4 2021, page 6A

Charles H. Jones (Guest View, Register Guard August 21, 2021, page 6A) maintains that the expression, “‘morality derives from God’ [is the] logical equivalent [of] ‘atheists are immoral,’” and thus claims that to hold to traditional theism is in itself a claim to moral superiority.  How fortunate we are that it is not so!

Christian theists, of all people, are the least likely to consider themselves morally superior, for the faith itself entails an admission of moral failure and the need for forgiveness.  It is forgiveness that we celebrate.

Jones goes on to say that “theists are simply mistaken about their source of morality. . . .  I believe most people, secular or not, derive morality from love, compassion and humanism.  Isn’t having a conscience part of the human condition?  Would you rape and murder if God didn’t tell you not to?”

But the question is not what I would or would not do: the question is, if I do it, am I wrong, or am I merely breaking a social convention?

Jones himself expects us to acknowledge such duties as binding apart from God, and he says we can know about these duties through conscience.  Conscience is merely the perception of a moral duty, however; and in order for a duty to be objective, it must be binding irrespective of our perceptions.  If it is wrong, it is not because I think it is wrong: it is wrong whether I think it is wrong or whether I do not.  Otherwise, it is not objective, and my perception is an illusion – which is precisely what many other non-theists maintain.

But Jones joins the rest of humanity in affirming objective moral values and duties; his appeal to conscience, however, does not account for their existence.

If we have a duty to care for each other, it must be because of something inherently valuable in us.  Then there would be something real for conscience to apprehend.  But Darwinism does not help us – what is my duty to an accident of nature or a highly-organized collection of cheap chemicals?  And if I myself am an accident of nature, how can I know that my experience of conscience is not itself an illusion?

Other nontheistic accounts of morality also fall short.  Under social compact theory, I give up some of my prerogatives in exchange for your doing likewise so that we can coexist; but I am perfectly entitled not to give up my prerogatives (even if we call such people criminals and put them in jail).  Immanuel Kant’s (1724-1804) Categorical Imperative taught that we are obligated to act according to principles which we would wish to be universally observed.  That is surely good advice, and may seem appealing to other philosophers; but it fails to explain why we are morally wrong if we reject it.  In short, no adequate nontheistic account of objective morality has ever been proposed.

But the biblical account of creation explains it well: humans have inherent value and dignity because we were created in the image of God, as we see in the first book of the Bible:

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

     Genesis 1:26-27

Jones is right about one thing: we do have an intuition of the value in ourselves and others and hence, of our duty to care for one another.  The God image in ourselves and in others, if it is real, explains, as nothing else does, our perception of ourselves and of others as having inherent dignity and value, and justifies our belief in objective moral values.  Conversely, our intuition about inherent human value, supposing it to be true, provides additional warrant for our belief in God.

God is also the best explanation for the origin of the universe, for the fine-tuning of the laws of physics, for the origin of life, for language, mathematics, and for reason itself.  God exists.  If God exists, then there is a ready explanation for the objective human values we all cherish.

Bio: Thomas Alderman is a lawyer and blogger living in Springfield.

Posted in Philosophy, The Existence of God, The Moral Argument for God | 1 Comment

Friendship

It’s like all the best qualities of all the greatest heroes throughout history, all rolled into one person – Socrates and the Greeks, Maimonides and the great rabbis, Augustine and the church fathers, Aquinas, Newton, Einstein and the great scientists, Washington, Lincoln, Churchill: all in one man, only greater by far.  And here you are, being introduced to him:

Tom, this is Jesus.  Jesus, this is Tom.

Hi, Tom, good to meet you.  Can I be your friend?

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.  We’ll hang out together.  All the time.  Wherever you go, I’ll go with you.  I’ll be your sidekick.

He is the Son of God, yet he loves me and wants to be my friend!  How and why can that be?  It must mean at least two things.  One, he must have an enormous capacity for love, and two, there must be something valuable in me, indeed, something loveable.  And the cross is the divine and conclusive declaration of that, demolishing my guilt and self-loathing.

We follow him haltingly, turning to him and turning away, and returning again.  Yet he is constant.

Friendship.  How many true friends does each of us have in a lifetime?  Or rather, how few?  How many are worthy of our friendship?  How worthy are we?  And we wonder why we are lonely, and why our relationships are so superficial.

Jesus not only wants to be our friend; he also wants to make us to be a friend, to be worthy, capable of friendship. 

Jesus not only reveals God to man: he also reveals man to man: this is what you will be.  A true friend among true friends.  Your loneliness is not forever.

Posted in Spirituality | 5 Comments

Human Origins Research is in Complete Disarray

I haven’t written much about evolution in these pages.  The principle reason is that I consider the debate on that question to be a distraction from the question which really ought to concern us, namely, did biological diversity arise by accident, or was it by design?  And we already know from other lines of reasoning that it was by design. 

God could have used an evolutionary process, but whether He did or not is of very little consequence to me.  What is of tremendous consequence is that living systems unmistakably reflect the activity of a mind.  They are distinctively characterized by information, and information, wherever it is found, always reflects intention.  Intentions are mental activities.  Always.

There is another reason I do not jump into the debate with both feet, and that is that I usually find that those who subscribe to evolutionary theory are entrenched in their view and are not amenable to persuasion.  Since the question is of little consequence, I prefer to spend my time in other ways.

You may ask, however, Isn’t the veracity of Genesis also at stake?  Isn’t that a matter of some consequence?

Yes, it is a matter of great consequence, but I really don’t think that evolutionary theory places the veracity of Genesis at issue.  That depends on one’s interpretation of Genesis, which is another topic I prefer to avoid, for three reasons: One, I already know from other lines of reasoning that Genesis is true (regardless of what it means); two, Genesis is very difficult to interpret; and three, many people are again entrenched.  The things that matter to me, namely, God’s existence and our redemption through the Cross of Jesus, are not in doubt.

That is why, whenever anyone tries to pull me in to a conversation about human origins, the first thing I say is, Yeah, we can talk about that, but first we need to understand what is NOT at stake: God’s existence and His love; for our knowledge of these things is established through independent lines of reasoning.  There is no reason to resist God’s free offer of forgiveness merely because you think the church has it wrong about evolution.  The interpretation of Genesis is not essential to salvation.  There is a diversity of opinion within the church about the meaning of Genesis.

Nevertheless!  Sometimes there is a development in science that has great bearing on the human origins debate, and that I think deserves to be more widely heard.

In the May 2021 issue of Evolution News and Science Today (a publication of the Discovery Institute, an intelligent design think tank), Gunter Bechley brings to our attention an important research article published May 7, 2021 in the journal Science, which is the peer-reviewed academic journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and one of the world’s top academic journals.

Bechley’s essay is titled, “Scientists Conclude: Human Origins Research is a Big Mess,” and it may be found at https://evolutionnews.org/2021/05/scientists-conclude-human-origins-research-is-a-big-mess/.

The Science article is titled, “Fossil Apes and Human Evolution,” (Science Magazine, 07 May 2021: Vol. 372, Issue 6542, eabb4363 DOI: 10.1126/science.abb4363), and may be found at (https://science.sciencemag.org/content/372/6542/eabb4363).

Here are some choice quotes from the Science article:

After 150 years of continuous discoveries, essential information about human origins remains elusive owing to debates surrounding the interpretation of fossil apes.

. . . .

The root of the conflict is the remarkable differences in subjective definition and scoring of complex morphologies.

The decades-long feud regarding arboreality [tree-dwelling] and bipedalism in A. afarensis exemplifies the complexity of inferring function from anatomy. . . .

Humans are storytellers: Theories of human evolution often resemble “anthropogenic narratives” that borrow the structure of a hero’s journey to explain essential aspects such as the origins of erect posture, the freeing of the hands, or brain enlargement. Intriguingly, such narratives have not drastically changed since Darwin. We must be aware of confirmation biases and ad hoc interpretations by researchers aiming to confer [upon] their new fossil the starring role within a preexisting narrative. Evolutionary scenarios are appealing because they provide plausible explanations based on current knowledge, but unless grounded in testable hypotheses, they are no more than “just-so stories”

Bechley says, “The press release from the American Museum of Natural History (2021) sums up the gist of this review article:”

Most human origins stories are not compatible with known fossils. . . .  [T]he number of species in the human family tree has exploded, but so has the level of dispute concerning early human evolution. . . .  However, many of these fossils show mosaic combinations of features that do not match expectations for ancient representatives of the modern ape and human lineages. As a consequence, there is no scientific consensus on the evolutionary role played by these fossil apes. . . .  Overall, the researchers found that most stories of human origins are not compatible with the fossils that we have today.

Bechley concludes:

That is a fair assessment indeed, which admittedly does not mean that these evolutionary speculations are all wrong or futile enterprises. However, it at least shows that those bold hardcore Darwinists, who think they can dismiss and rebuke Darwin critics and ID proponents with some grandiose claims of allegedly settled science, are not just vastly overstating their case but indeed are ignorant of the current state of the scientific debate. The question of human origins is far from being resolved, and non-mainstream options should be explored based exclusively on the available evidence, rather than being rejected due to world-view bias.

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The Divine Personality

Why do I believe in Jesus?

I believe, because:

1. God exists; therefore, a resurrection is possible.

2. The figure of Jesus as presented in the NT is authentic – it must be.  His character is so magnificent that no one could have invented him if he had not existed – and he predicted he would be killed and that he would rise on the third day; therefore, a resurrection is highly likely.

3. The tomb was empty, the apostles honestly believed they had seen the resurrected Christ, and thousands immediately became believers – these are facts which the great weight of scholarly opinion acknowledges.  Resurrection is the best way to account for these facts.

Oh, it’s all too convenient.  We are expected to believe that a man once dead is now alive?

Well, given that God exists, it does become possible.

Well, then, if he rose from the dead, then where is he?  Oh, the reason we still can’t see him is that he ascended to heaven!  Now that’s really convenient!  Why should we believe that?

Here is why.  Given that the figure of Christ as portrayed in the NT is authentic, a resurrection becomes highly likely.  And if he was raised, then the account of the ascension becomes highly likely as well, “convenient” or not.

As to the authenticity of the figure of Christ as presented in the NT, no one has said it better than Simon Greenleaf:

§ 48. Lastly, the great character they have portrayed is perfect. It is the character of a sinless Being; of one supremely wise and supremely good. It exhibits no error, no sinister intention, no imprudence, no ignorance, no evil passion, no impatience; in a word, no fault; but all is perfect uprightness, innocence, wisdom, goodness and truth. The mind of man has never conceived the idea of such a character, even for his gods; nor has history nor poetry shadowed it forth. The doctrines and precepts of Jesus are in strict accordance with the attributes of God, agreeably to the most exalted idea which we can form of them, either from reason or from revelation. They are strikingly adapted to the capacity of mankind, and yet are delivered with a simplicity and majesty wholly divine. He spake as never man spake. He spake with authority; yet addressed himself to the reason and the understanding of men; and he spake with wisdom, which men could neither gainsay nor resist. In his private life, he exhibits a character not merely of strict justice, but of overflowing benignity. He is temperate, without austerity; his meekness and humility are signal; his patience is invincible; truth and sincerity illustrate his whole conduct; every one of his virtues is regulated by consummate prudence; and he both wins the love of his friends, and extorts the wonder and admiration of his enemies. He is represented in every variety of situation in life, from the height of worldly grandeur, amid the acclamations of an admiring multitude, to the deepest abyss of human degradation and woe, apparently deserted of God and man. Yet everywhere he is the same; displaying a character of unearthly perfection, symmetrical in all its proportions, and encircled with splendour more than human. Either the men of Galilee were men of superlative wisdom, of extensive knowledge and experience, and of deeper skill in the arts of deception, than any and all others, before or after them, or they have truly stated the astonishing things which they saw and heard.[i]


[i]Simon Greenleaf (1783 – 1853), The Testimony of the Evangelists Examined by the Rules of Evidence Administered in Courts of Law.  (Public domain.  Greenleaf was the 19th Century’s foremost authority on the law of evidence and one of the founders of Harvard Law School.  He set himself to refute Christianity and was converted in the process.)

Posted in Scripture | 1 Comment

Social Media, Woke Culture, and the 2020 Election

Do you find yourself wondering what just happened?  The last four years are bewildering without some coherent theoretical framework by which to make sense of them.  I want to share with you an article which for me, at least, significantly helps me to understand the time we live in.

After the 2016 election I saved a half dozen opinion pieces by national columnists who identified an important factor in Donald Trump’s election to the presidency, namely, his skill in exploiting the resentment which many Americans felt toward political correctness and the superior attitude of most American elites.  At no time since then have I seen any indication that the Democrats were conscious of that phenomenon.  But now here is an opinion piece that helps to explain why the Democratic Party is so out of touch with exactly half of the American populace: “Slouching Toward Post-Journalism: The New York Times and other elite media outlets have openly embraced advocacy over reporting,” by Martin Gurri, City Journal, February 13, 2021 (https://www.city-journal.org/journalism-advocacy-over-reporting).

Gurri reports that the Times had given Hillary Clinton an 84% chance of winning the 2016 election.  The actual outcome was profoundly disorienting for them.  “In a somber column published the morning after, Liz Spayd, public editor, announced that the Times had entered ‘a period of self-reflection’ and expressed the hope that ‘its editors will think hard about the half of America the paper too seldom covers.’  The reflective mood quickly passed.”

Indeed it did, and it never returned.  Gurri shows how social media delivered a one-two punch to traditional journalism and produced what he describes as “an extinction-level event.”

Do you remember Marshall McLuhan’s “The medium is the message?”  What about Neil Postman’s Entertaining Ourselves to Death?  Ever wonder why critical race theory and woke culture don’t die a natural death, given the tsunami of penetrating critical analysis they have attracted?  Here it is.  READ. THIS. ARTICLE (if you want to).

https://www.city-journal.org/journalism-advocacy-over-reporting

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Review: Ben Stein documentary, “Expelled”

[The following essay was written in fulfillment of an assignment for a class I took at Reasons Institute in the spring of 2020.]

Critics of the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution are systematically denied a fair opportunity to present their views in and through established science organizations.  That is the major premise of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, a 2008 Ben Stein documentary.

Through a series of interviews with scientists on both sides of the creation-evolution divide, Stein establishes that Intelligent Design theory (ID) is suppressed in the science establishment.  The scientists whom Stein interviews are well-credentialed and articulate, but they are almost to a person taken from one or the other of two classes, namely, Discovery Institute fellows, or the victims of anti-ID persecution.

Stein’s authorities claim that in private, leading scientists will sometimes acknowledge concerns about the truth of neo-Darwinism.  There are numerous published writings which show that such admissions do not occur in private only, and it would have advanced Stein’s argument considerably had he mentioned them – or better yet, interviewed their authors.

It also would have been useful had Stein spent more time explaining ID and demonstrating its religious neutrality.  This is especially the case in view of the justification which evolutionists typically offer for suppressing ID, namely, that it is just religion in disguise.

Perhaps the most serious weakness of the film, however, is the extravagantly bad light in which mainstream science is presented.  It is true that ID advocates are censored and persecuted by the science establishment, and the western public needs to be aware of it.  It is also true that Darwinism was a significant contributor to Nazism abroad and euthanasia in this country, and that it helps to sustain the right-to-die and abortion movements.  These are all important circumstances.  They are even marginally relevant, but Stein makes far too much of them.

The premise that evolution is necessarily progressive and that it is driven forward by a process whereby only the fittest organisms survive to propagate – the “survival of the fittest” – has indeed led to a phenomenon known as “social Darwinism,” according to which the extermination of certain classes of humans by other classes of humans is regarded as a good thing.  But Stein does not here so much critique social Darwinism as use it to damn his opponents by association, which is a type of ad hominem fallacy.  Darwinism isn’t false merely because it has effects which most people deplore.  It is possible, moreover, to believe in Darwinism while energetically opposing the death cult in all its forms, and some leading scientists do exactly that.

What is probably worst of all is that almost all of this propaganda is not conveyed in the script, but as part of the visual accompaniment of the relatively innocuous verbal material.  Such a device reaches the audience at an emotional, not a rational level. 

Stein is justifiably upset about the establishment’s refusal to permit ID theory a fair hearing; but I think he has missed an opportunity to make a more winsome, and perhaps a more effective appeal.  Darwinists viewing this film are likely to see Stein’s choice of means of persuasion as outrageous and, as always, to dismiss his arguments summarily – if they finish watching at all.  So much for winning over one’s opponents!

I doubt that I would recommend this film to anyone.  It contains a lot of important information about discrimination against perfectly competent scientists who happen to recognize the scientific status of ID, and I would like to see that information disseminated as widely as possible.  But I am afraid that the less an individual knows about that already, the more likely he or she is to be influenced by the propagandistic features of the film, and to become incensed at mainstream scientists.  And that can only make the work of the more circumspect more difficult.

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Letter to Mary

For Christmas 2019 my daughter-in-law gave me Andrew Roberts’ biography of Winston Churchill. This is the letter I wrote to thank her.

March 7, 2020

Dear Mary,

I just finished Andrew Roberts’ Churchill and I want to say again, thanks!

It was quite a few years ago that I first realized how indebted we are to “the Greatest Generation,” and I have since then had a heightened interest in the history of the 50-year period prior to my birth in 1949.  One of my regrets is that I did not quiz my parents more about their experiences.

But now I realize for the first time the extent to which we owe our freedom and prosperity to one man.

Roberts concludes by saying (p 975) that if Hitler had delayed the Anschluss [the annexation of Austria] and Czech crises for a few years, Churchill’s moment would have passed.  Halifax would have become Prime Minister, and he would have sought, quite reasonably, to discover Hitler’s terms of peace.  Those terms might not have been very onerous, since all Hitler needed at that moment was a single front.  Churchill saw that if the Soviets were alone, they would more likely face defeat; whereupon there would be nothing to prevent Hitler from disavowing the settlement with England, who then would in turn also be alone.  Then it would have been too late for the US to re-arm.

Churchill maintained that it was the British people who had the lion heart, and that he merely “had the luck to be called upon to give the roar.”  Roberts denies that: “[I]t was much more the case that Churchill had the lion heart and also gave the roar, and in so doing taught the British people to rediscover the latent lionheartedness in themselves.”  (p 980.) 

Whether one believes in Providence, as I do, we can only regard these things with gratitude and awe.

By the way, thanks, too, for the WhatsApp call the other day for Leona to chat with us.  So great to see her walking and flourishing as she is clearly doing in every way.  Thanks for thinking of us.

Love,

Tom

Posted in Spirituality, The Existence of God | 3 Comments

The Infinite Complexity of Cells/Is Following Jesus a “Politic”?

Two essential reads from this morning’s mail:

Excerpt — The Infinite Complexity of Cells

Is Following Jesus a “Politic?”

Posted in Evolution, Politics, Science and faith, Spirituality, The Fine-tuning of the Universe | Leave a comment

And this on “White Fragility”

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/07/dehumanizing-condescension-white-fragility/614146/

Posted in Law and policy | Leave a comment

User-friendly Reorganization!

You may have noticed (or if you haven’t, please do) that the website has been reorganized by subject area.  Formerly it was merely chronological, which was pretty useless in finding anything unless you already knew when it was published.  Now, you can find archived material much more easily.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment