Atheistic Justification for Moral Judgments: A Response to and Rebuttal of Gerrit Morren

 

Someone recently pointed me to a long Facebook article that was written nearly a year ago is response to my arguments around the inability for atheistic thought to provide the necessary preconditions for the intelligibility of the human experience of morality. This post is my response to and rebuttal of that article, written by Gerrit Morren. Mr. Morren attempts to justify morality within his atheistic paradigm as well as point out that Christian morality is self-contradictory. In other words, atheism can account for morality but Christianity is actually inherently immoral.

The Christian has an authoritative guide for all of reality; we call it the Bible. However, it would be a mistake to think that the atheist does not have a guide for all of reality as well; he or she calls it science. According to popular atheist, Alex Rosenberg, Science provides all the significant truths about reality, and knowing such truths is what real understanding is all about. … Being scientistic just means treating science as our exclusive guide to reality, to nature—both our own nature and everything else’s.” [Alex Rosenberg, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, pp.7-8] This quote is also found over at James Andersen’s blog. It was Dr. Andersen’s article that prompted me to pick up a copy of Rosenberg’s book. If it is true that science provides all significant truths about reality, then science must also provide the truth about morality as well. And that truth will either be a naturalistic explanation for morality or its outright denial. The former will always end in moral relativism or even moral skepticism while the latter leads to the unimaginable: anything goes.

“I’ll argue that if naturalism is true, then so is moral nihilism, the view that there are no objective moral standards and that anything goes, ethically speaking. I’ll also call this view moral relativism, moral subjectivism, and moral skepticism. [Mitch Stokes, How to be an Atheist, p. 151]

Stokes tells us that naturalism produces moral relativism because it is relative only to human desires or preferences. It produces moral subjectivism because it seems to require a personal subject to affix value. And it produces moral skepticism because we can have no knowledge of objective moral standards – pretty much because there really aren’t any such standards. Now presents no small problem for science. Contrary to what many atheists and even Christians have been led to believe, the problem of evil is a much bigger problem for atheistic thought than it is for Christian thought.

As I said at the beginning, this post is a response to and rebuttal of Gerrit Morren’s open letter to me that he posted on Facebook nearly a year ago. I did not see the letter because I am no longer a FB participant. From the very beginning of the article Mr. Morren gets it wrong. He writes:

Dear Ed Dingess, you asked me to account for my morality after I accused Jesus –  disguised as the holy spirit – of cruelly and unjustly slaying Ananias and Sapphira, because of their ‘crime’ of not giving all of their savings to the early Christian church and lying about it.

Note that Ananias and Sapphira were not judged because they did not give all their money to the church. They were judged because they liked to God. That is a vastly different scenario than Mr. Morren has created. If Mr. Morren is going to indict Christian belief, he should at least criticize this historical facts of the matter. Not only is this the case, but Morren goes on to classify the lie that the couple told as a white lie. But Morren offers not defense, to definition, no criteria for why he classifies this lie as a white lie versus a more serious one. We are left to just accept Morren’s ethical system on the face of it.

Morren also contends that Adolf Hitler was a committed Christian:

Well I’d like to inform non-dr. Frank Turek and all of his type of Christians that Adolf Hitler was a Roman Chatholic [sic], remained so all of his life.

This is simply another error concerning the facts. Hitler stopped going to mass after he became a man and there is no indication that he ever returned to his Catholic faith.

 

Morren then lays out his basic foundation for objective morality:

I think informed opinions can contribute to working towards better and more universal beneficial ethics, that are so commonly shared  (even instinctively longed for) that they gain such an inter-subjectivity – meaning they are shared across cultures by most of the Homo Sapiens-family – that they may be considered ‘objective’ in the sense that their generality is accepted world-wide. Even then they would not be absolute in the sense of divinely issued. They would just be commonly shared, and thus reach a certain level of universality.

To begin with, what is it exactly that informs this universal ethic as Morren calls it. That is the whole point in dispute where the presupposition apologist is concerned. The challenge to Morren is that he must provide the necessary preconditions for the intelligibility of morality. To say that everyone seems to agree that right and wrong exists is merely to beg the question. Yes, there is a universe sense of morality within humanity. That is exactly my point as it has been the point of every Christian theologian and philosopher down through history. What else must be true, or must be the case in order for this state of affairs to make sense? Morren does not say. He just points out what we all already know. Morality seems to be innate. Moreover, Morren talks about information, agreed upon information. That opens a whole new can of worms. Where does this information come from? Is it inside us? I go back to Hitler and ask, did Hilter have the same information about morality as Gandhi? So it seems that while humans have a universal sense of morality, they differ on the details of moral behavior. For example, I think sex outside of marriage is immoral. There are many who disagree with me. That raises the question as to the truth value of the proposition: All extramarital is wrong. This proposition can either be true or false. It is a strong universal claim about a very specific kind of human behavior. What information could Morren or any atheist provide either affirm or refute this proposition? Do we vote on it? Perhaps American culture should decide? Maybe all of Western culture should have the say? But who gets to establish the method by which morality is determined? It seems to me that under all circumstances, the choice reduces to an unavoidable arbitrariness.

Morren then categorizes Christianity in such a way that it becomes obvious to any reader that he is actually arguing with a Straw Man version of Christianity instead of biblical Christianity: I reject the Christian ethical system because in its theology, its veracity claims, its presuppositions and view of other worldviews I think it is non-benevolent and seeking world-supremacy by force. So Morren thinks that Christianity is basically unloving and seeking to impose itself on the world by force. This is a pretty bold claim. I wonder if Morren has any evidence that this is actually what Christianity teaches. If one reads Morren’s article here, they will discover that he engages in one lie after another where Christian teaching, Scripture, and even history is concerned. Morren seems intent on not letting the facts stand in the way of his attack on the morality of Christian theism.

In one example, Morren claims that Paul attempted to justify lying. Saint Paul already teaches that lying is a lesser vice than not being able to convert people. Here’s from Romans 3:7: “For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?” Morgen fails to understand that Paul is saying that he was being accused of lying, not that he was actually lying. This seems to be one more attempt by a dishonest atheist to set up his own version of Christianity so that he can knock it over.

The task of grounding morality in something other than God…has occupied nearly all of Western ethical philosophy since the Enlightenment. I don’t think it has been at all successful; all the main moves have been tried and found wanting. [Mitch Stokes, How to be an Atheist, 154] In the end, it comes down to two basic choices even though these choices encompass a number of nuances that do become highly complex. Either morality is grounded or not grounded. From there we have the second choice. If morality is not grounded, then we fall into moral nihilism and anything goes. If we ground morality at all, we must ground it in God or in man. If we ground morality in God, our task is to understand God’s revelation about himself in nature and in Scripture so that we may understand what constitutes moral behavior. If, on the other hand, we ground morality in man, we are left with the task of determining how it is possible to remove the bias of men so that we can avoid moral relativism; to remove the personal subject so as to avoid moral subjectivism; and to discover an objective standard so that we can avoid moral skepticism.

Gerrit Morren concludes his argument by attempting to ground his morality in a list of virtues. In other words, Morren adopts, for the most part, Kant’s philosophy of morality. Morren says he thinks of morality as duty: I think of morality mainly as a set of unbiased, civil duties. This is a deontological approach to ethics. And as we shall see, atheism is not capable of providing the necessary foundation for deontological ethics. Morren contends that the virtues that he lists existed before Christ, in ancient Greek philosophies and in Confucius. Let us explore whether or not this is true. The first known philosopher was purported to be Thales, was born in 624 and Confucius was born in 551. Yet, we find Moses writing in Leviticus what has become the golden rule in modern vernacular. And this predates both Greek philosophy and Confucius by approximate 1000 years. In addition to this, Solomon pinned Proverbs over 300 years before Thales and nearly 400 years before Confucius was even born. Finally, in Christian theism, Christ always is. There is never a time when Christ was not. In summary then, not only does Moses and Solomon predate Greek philosophy, and Confucius, Christ does as well, being the eternal Son of God within the self-contained ontological Triune God of Christian Scripture.

An atheistic deontological morality ultimate lands Morren in the sea of moral skepticism. If morality is the product of the human mind, and it seems that it must be so within his system, then it follows that such rationalism must inevitably lead to irrationalism as John Frame puts it. To anchor morality to the rational mind is to anchor it to unknowable chance or fate. Frame tells us that rationalism leads to dogmatic certainty about an absolute that is empty.

Frame writes, “But, in the end, nobody has the right to argue an ethical principle unless he is willing to listen to the God of Scripture. Moral norms can come only from a personal absolute, and the Bible is the only written revelation that presents such a God to us. So we must now turn to Scripture to hear the word of the Lord.” [Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, p. 125]

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. so, you fiat that the bible is somehow “authoritative”and that means it is? is there a difference that makes a difference if we declared “madam bovary” or “canary row” as “authoritative” and called or case a victory?

    if two identical universes exist, one with a god and one without, then if there is no way to tell which is which, there is no feature about either universe which can be used to suggest the kind we live in.

    as a result, we have brute facts; morality, maths, logic, and the rest of a list of nothing presuppositionalists conjure up. these are actual. no matter how queer or long the odds, here they are, undoubtable. god, then, is all that can be considered dubious.

    another axiomatic absolute is this: morality is a judgement about behaviors. normative behavior is defined by society, not only definitionally (ie behavioral patterns in society which constitute “normal”) but through cultural relativity. this makes morality entirely natural, and objective as well.

    it is fallacious to reify the word “morality” as if it is an object or property of the world. and since we DELIBERATE what is moral, we prove that 1) social behaviors and sentiments about them, and 2) reasoning about circumstance and sentiment mean there is nothing absolute about morality at all.

    next, euthyphro applies, to wit, folks like WLC argue that god isn’t moral, good is mortality itself. aside from reification, the problem is that this is an ontological statement. as such, and since god is ineffable, we cannot know anything about morality of morality is god’s nature.

    furthermore, as hume notes, morality and justice can only exist among contingent beings, where there is society but not equality, where there is need and scarcity creates notions of property. see an enquiry concerning the principles of morals.

    to say then that god’s nature is morality itself is to say god is not god but a contingent being equal to sentient, needy beings such as human beings.

    no. it suffices to say that god is not a necessary idea when human beings embark on the enterprise of simply being human; which entails as a brute fact to being a sociable creature who’s conduct will be judged by his peers.

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  2. The Word of God is not authoritative simply because I decided that it was for me. It is not authoritative because I have come up with some proof outside of Scripture. The Word of God, being what it is, must be self-authoritative, self-authenticating. It relies on no argument to demonstrate it’s authority. The demonstration of Scripture’s authority is realized through the gift of faith that is objectively given to the sinner in the process of regeneration.

    We live in the kind of universe that God actualized.

    Brute facts are impossible and if they did exist, we could never know them. Christian theism contends that man is responsible to recognize created reality in accord with God’s description of that reality. We know its a tree created by God because God has revealed to us it is a tree created by God. Otherwise, skepticism carries the day. And it that is the case, you have nothing to add to the discussion since you don’t and can’t know.

    If morality is defined by society, which society? I addressed this issue in my post. You cannot even make a moral judgment about Hitler, slavery, the sex trade, etc. Philosophical naturalism cannot provide the necessary framework for moral norms. The brain does whatever it is naturally determined to do in A and the same for B and the same for C, ad infinitum. But how dare A impose his chemical activity on B or C or D! A rapist does what his brain determines that he do. There is no free will and any talk about morality is simply unintelligible.

    We experience morality on the face of it. That we would attempt to make sense of that experience is no different than us attempting to make sense out of any other human experience. But to confine morality to temporal phenomenon does nothing to account for the experience. There is no “ought” in your reasoning. And until you can explain the “ought” you will continue to come up lacking where morality is concerned.

    Of course we can know something about the moral nature of God. You are not accounting for the Christian epistemology: all knowledge is revelational in nature. Philosophy has attempted to account for human knowledge for 2500 years now and still, no solution is found. The philosophers disagree more today than they did 2500 years ago. That is not a good track record in my book. Human knowledge is dependent on God’s natural and special revelation. In this sense, the faithful have a distinct advantage. But that is as God has willed it to be.

    It is only if I accept your definition of morality that God becomes contingent. That is not the position of the Christian Church. Morality has its basis in the nature of the self-contained ontological Triune God revealed in the Christian Scriptures.

    In your final analysis, my peers are left speechless when I tell them to stick their morality in their ear. If I want to murder men, rape women, and eat babies, there is nothing they can say or do to show that I am wrong. Sure, they may kill me. But they would only do so because I am behaving in a way that they would prefer I would not behave. It would not be because I am, in your system, behaving actually immorally. Why do men prefer that we not rape women and eat babies but its perfectly fine to crush an ant or roach? If we can eat baby cows why not baby humans? The same natural processes that produced the cow, the ant, and the roach produced the human. Why the difference? So your view reduces to moral skepticism, which in turn ends in moral nihilism: anything goes.

    I have a saying for people like you Steve: “People live what they believe; everything else is just noise!”

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