“But my excitement was undimmed. There were no more external, absolute rules. The supposed foundation of every ordinance, regulation, law, and maxim – from “don’t talk after lights-out” and “give way to pedestrians on the crosswalk,” to “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” “Thou shalt do no murder”… was a fake… I could behave as I wished, without fear of eternal consequences and (if I was cunning and could get away with it) without fear of earthly ones either… I acted accordingly for several important and irrecoverable years (Former atheist Peter Hitchens, Christopher Hitchens’ brother, p. 20).”
“In my thirties I found that what was almost being said seemed to be the thing I had sought to avoid so hard a few years earlier. But I still did not know what it was. I no longer avoided churches. I recognized in the great English cathedrals and in many small parish churches the old unsettling messages. One was the inevitability and certainty of my own death, the other the undoubted fact that my despised forebears were neither crude nor ignorant, but men and women of great skills and engineering genius – a genius not contradicted or blocked by faith, but enhanced by it (Hitchens, 2010, p. 103).”
His sighting in an ancient hospital in France of a painting of The Last Judgment by Rogier van der Weyden cemented Peter Hitchens’ journey back to Christianity. “But I had a sudden, strong sense of religion being a thing of the present day, not imprisoned under thick layers of time. A large catalogue of misdeeds, ranging from the embarrassing to the appalling, replayed themselves rapidly in my head. I had absolutely no doubt that I was among the damned, if there were any damned (Hitchens, 2010, p. 103).”
Peter Hitchens’ experience as an atheist is similar to many, yet not all atheists. His words indicate he focused more on misdeeds than on good deeds, unlike some of the other atheists I’ve encountered. So-called secular humanists are people who emphasize the importance of good deeds. Many consider themselves virtuous, focusing on their families and friends and values such as empathy and equality.
“Many theists have – in the face of overwhelming evidence – grudgingly conceded that at least some atheists can be good people (Secularhumanism.org, 2017). Grudgingly, indeed, as previous research has shown that many people (including atheists) associate atheists more than other religious, cultural, or ethnic groups with a variety of immoral acts (serial murder, consensual incest, necrobestiality, cannibalism) (Gervais, 2014). Perhaps such perceptions contribute to some atheists’ passion for humanism.
One such atheist is a person I’ve encountered on Twitter: @MrOzAtheist. I came upon his well-written blog entitled “Society vs God,” which appears to be a good take on the atheist humanist position. I endorse his position on just about every aspect, aside from the most important aspect, which is the source of the good deeds that he reveres: God. Therefore, the rest of this short essay will be devoted to explaining why God should not be excluded as an explanation of the moral fabric that guides society. It is not “Society vs God” but “Society under God.”
Mr. Oz Atheist’s blog can be summarized by a meme he created, which states: “For me it’s not necessarily about promoting atheism over theism. It’s about promoting positives such as empathy, compassion, equality, acceptance, and critical thinking over negatives such as bigotry, oppression, blind faith, and intolerance.” Such words indicate to me that Mr. Oz Atheist is in the curious position of endorsing the same values endorsed by those who practice Christianity while simultaneously denying the source of said values: Jesus Christ.
“I am the vine. You are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” John 15:5
Atheists believe that moral values are simply byproducts of biological evolution and social conditioning (Craig, 2010). As noted by Michael Gerson, ‘Atheists can be good people; they just have no objective way to judge the conduct of those who are not’” (Secularhumanism.org, 2017). The objective way to judge conduct is to consider it against the objective set of moral values which guide society. The source and giver of this objective moral standard is God. William Lane Craig outlines this logic as follows (2010, p. 129):
- If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
- Objective moral values and duties do exist.
- God exists.
Secular attempts to provide an objective foundation for morality have been unsuccessful (secularhumanism.org, 2017), so humanist atheists call on history to suggest that “any community in which these (ethical) norms were lacking could not survive for long. This shared core of moral norms represents the common heritage of civilized human society” (secularhumanism.org, 2017).
Yet a common heritage sorely lacks an external and objective standard against which all positive moral norms can be evaluated. Such shared norms have no external enforcer either. This equates to having a set of laws, yet no lawgiver or source of the codes against which the laws were established. It equates to having grapes without vines, branches without trees, and corn without cobs.
Furthermore, as William Lane Craig (2015) states, “there is no compelling evidence that our moral beliefs are the product of biological evolution. In a complex survey of contemporary work on evolutionary theories of morality, biologist Jeff Schloss reports (Schloss, 2014), ‘not only do we currently lack a fully adequate evolutionary account of morality, but the manifold accounts we do have are also disparate and are often represented by prominent exegetes as having resolved issues that are still in dispute. In personal correspondence Schloss wrote,
‘the evolutionary debunking argument . . . assumes that moral beliefs are in fact adequately explained by natural selection. . . . there is little question that they are not. Dispositions toward certain behaviors . . . (reciprocity, parental care, etc.) do have fairly compelling evolutionary explanations. But . . . we don’t actually have a plausible evolutionary proposal for the moral beliefs associated with these behaviors. I’ve done a fairly recent review of the literature. . . , and I can’t find any coherent account for moral beliefs or even normative intuitions.'”
To put it another way, consider Frank Turek’s argument.
“Some atheists persist in claiming that evolution somehow gives us objective morality to help us survive—that if we didn’t ‘cooperate’ with one another, we wouldn’t survive. But this argument doesn’t survive for several reasons.
First, trying to explain morality by biology is a massive category mistake. A category mistake is when you treat something in one category as if it belongs in another category. Questions like those posed earlier do that: ‘What is the chemical composition of justice?’ or ‘What does courage taste like?’ Justice and courage do not have chemicals or flavor, so the questions commit category mistakes.
The same is true when atheists try to explain moral laws by biological processes. Morality and biology are in different categories. You can’t explain an immaterial moral law by a material biological process. Justice is not made of molecules. Furthermore, moral laws are prescriptive and come from authoritative personal agents. Biological processes are descriptive and have no authority to tell you what to do. How could a mutating genetic code have the moral authority to tell you how you ought to behave?
Second, biological processes can’t make survival a moral right. There is no real “good” or purpose to evolution. Without God, survival is a subjective preference of the creature wanting to survive, but not an objective moral good or right. Biology describes what does survive, not what ought to survive. Why should humans survive as opposed to anything else? And which humans, we or the Nazis?” (Click here for further reading: http://www.outreachmagazine.com/resources/15813-no-book-without-an-author-no-morality-without-god.html/2)
Secular atheists call on the classic Euthyphro argument to suggest that God is not needed to develop positive values. This argument began when Socrates asked Plato “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” The argument presents a false dichotomy, as it forces respondents to make one of two choices, as if there are only two choices. The third option is the answer, which is that God is love and the standard of what is pious.
Mr. Oz Atheist’s blog closes with this question: “Rather than asking an atheist why we care about life, if this is all there is, the question should be to theists – why isn’t this life – your friends, your family and your society enough?” Atheists are confronted with (in Sartre’s words) “the bare, valueless fact of existence.”
Why? The reason this life isn’t enough is because God did not intend for our spirits to expire. Instead, He intends that our spirits thrive by capitalizing on each of our unique spiritual purposes that we nurture and develop to make the world better. If we all fulfilled the spiritual purposes assigned to us by God, this world would be heaven. We would all share the intense feelings of joy that can only be felt when we are one with our Lord.
After reflecting on atheist humanism and on Mr. Oz Atheist’s blog, I have determined that he is closer to God than he realizes. I also believe he is not alone as many atheist humanists share the following characteristics with Mr. Oz Atheist: (1) they endorse shared values; (2) they believe in the Golden Rule; (3) they focus on empathy, compassion, equality, and acceptance; and (4) they desire to be happy. It is the desire to be happy that eventually leads all to God, the source of all joy and happiness.
Thank you for your time.
God’s moral law is “written on the hearts of all men” and “their conscience bears witness to them” – Romans 2:14-15
Click here to read Mr. Oz Atheist’s blog: http://mrozatheist.blogspot.com/2016/08/society-vs-god.html
Craig, W.L. (2010). On Guard. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook
Gervais, W.M. (2014). Everything is permitted? People intuitively judge immorality as representative of atheists. PLoS ONE 9(4): e92302. Doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0092302. Accessed at http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0092302
Hitchens, P. (2010). The Rage against God. USA: Zondervan.
“Darwinian Explanations of Morality: Accounting for the Normal but not the Normative,” in Hilary Putnam, Susan Nieman, and Jeffrey Schloss, eds., Understanding Moral Sentiments: Darwinian Perspectives? Piscataway, N. J.: Transaction Publishers, p. 83.