Morality and God, Part I

William_Lane_Craig

 

Dangerous Man?

William Lane Craig argues that he has proved there is a god, that god teaches that homosexual activity is abhorrent and that therefore it is right and proper to condemn the behavior, if not the gender preference. He is somewhat more modern than many, or at least he reduces his cross-sectional area as a target, by pointing out that nowhere in the Bible does it say that being a homosexual is bad;  rather that homosexual activity is bad. Homosexuals, then, must abstain to be good people. Craig does seem to admit that homosexuality is not the gay person’s choice, but nevertheless, this is their cross to bear, unfairly perhaps (but who ever said God was fair: certainly not Job, nor Abraham, nor even Jesus, really).

The two criteria are that according to the absolute morality given to us by God, we must eschew homosexual behavior, and that there really is a God who defines this absolute morality.

It is an interesting position to take, to claim to be moral by doing God’s bidding. Craig is clever enough to consider a…to him hypothetical…thought experiment.

What if God Does Not Exist?

One of Craig’s arguments appears to be that absolute morality exists and therefor God exists. To show that absolute morality exists he appeals to emotion; torturing babies is bad…everyone agrees (well, everyone except baby torturers, I suppose).

But I would like him to imagine that there is no God, and then answer the following question? Is torturing babies no longer bad?

Let’s pretend he says torturing babies is still bad, then his line of reasoning that morality comes from God loses some support, the quantum of which is dependent on just how good he is at imagining stuff. Here, he would have to admit that the morality he relies upon is coming from humans, not God. He will deny this and say he cannot put the specter of God out of his mind sufficiently to rid himself of God’s absolute morality.

OK.

Try anyway. Consider the state of affairs where there never was any God, and two people on the desert island are told that a baby is about to be tortured. One is told he must oppose such an evil act, or he will be immediately shot in the head and killed. He complies, and his behavior in this test is consistent with a moral person. The other is told nothing of the sort, simply asked what he thinks, and let’s suppose his answer too, is consistent with the behavior of a moral person.

Assuming you can quantify morality, and I guess you can, who is the more moral?

I do think Craig, and most sentient people, would argue in favor of the guy who makes the right decision without the gun to his head. Well, Dr. Craig, that is the atheist. The first guy, the one who needs a gun to keep him moral, is the theist (I admit that not all theists require this coaxing. In fact, I think most theists would be quite moral without God, they just don’t realize it). God was created by atheists (among others) to keep the rest of the populace in check, as a quick method of teaching morality. Atheists knew that people needed something, something to keep them on the straight and narrow, so they created God. And it worked. Sort of. It was not our greatest invention, but it served its purpose.

The above is hyperbole, clearly, but the point is that the person who requires hell and damnation to be moral, is not moral, they are simply rule-abiding and risk aversive. In fact, the guy who only occasionally tortures babies is more moral than the guy who never does this because of the gun, but who would always do this if God did not exist.

Rules of civil behavior have developed over time, and pre-dated the Bible by at least a thousand years. It’s hard to argue that such civil behavior was demanded by God before the Ten Commandments, or rules in Leviticus, because prior to that is seems God had not voiced His concerns. Thus there is every reason to think some people, including all those who never heard of God, live on another planet, can’t read, or whatever…there is every reason to think some people figured out some semblance of morality before being taught by a deity. History tells us that rules of law pre-dated the Bible, anyway.

Animals Have Rules

Look at animals. Those who spend any time with animals can see evidence of love and nurturing, as a mother and newborn, certainly among the mammals at least. Such bonds clearly develop between dogs and their owners, and while I realize the anthropomorphic attributes we project onto them are problematic, many of us, myself included, have been helped by our pets. As a young boy, my dog tried to pull me out of a fast running river.

Of course, among the carnivorous animals (which includes us), there is a competition of behavior. Eating your enemy is a pretty efficient way of a gaining a useful quantity of energy. But rampant cannibalism is held in check by…what? By rules of civil behavior. By instinct. By species memory or whatever instinct turns out to be. By social learning.

There is a component of volition in instinct, as opposed to reflex, and sometimes the drive can get muddied, as in breathing, for example. Or sex. Or eating. No one seems to question these issues of instinct or inherited memory, but somehow civil behavior is interpreted by theists as taught by God. We atheists often suffer the “Oh, how can you have a moral code if you don’t believe in God?” Bigotry much?  Since God ‘taught it’, there must be absolute morality. This leads to the circular argument that God creates absolute morality, and thus there is an absolute morality, and because there is an absolute morality, God must exist (do I need to provide the reference for that one?).

But no one seems to question that animals, in the varied hierarchy of life, show evidence of instinctual behavior, of volition, of empathy and nurturing, of friendship and even of codes of civil behavior. Do animals listen to the voice of God? Well, I suppose the theist can argue about that, and I have no idea what the Franciscans might say, but if you think, as I do, that ‘the voice of God’ is a metaphor for our code of behavior, I would say, “Yeah,” animals have a code which they consider, and which is subject to their own volition, and which varies from species to species as well as from individual to individual.

If humans get theirs from God, where do animals get it?

Let’s back up a bit. A lot of Craig’s argument seems to centre on the existence of absolute morality. But is there such a thing, really?

Thou Shalt Not Kill

Unless God tells you to, in some sort of indemnification by divine command. Unless you are defending yourself, which to the best of my knowledge does not show up in the bible. And when this commandment was handed down (written in stone, no less, just to emphasize the point), there was no equivocation about the perp stealing, or murdering, or messing around with someone else’s husband (remember, there are gender distinctions in the Bible…this degree of punishment is pretty straight forward for the female…if you can define what female is, which is a whole other story). Thou shalt not kill is pretty absolute. And yet, very few God-fearing individuals quibble with it in all circumstances.

War, punishment, self-defense, treason. All of these are stimuli for looking the other way when it comes to this commandment, this absolute morality. In fact, it seems to me that the only time the theist really complains about justifiable killing is when it is done in order to help the person being killed, as with the relief of pain and suffering. Very strange, don’t you think?

Slavery

Is keeping slaves contrary to some absolute morality? Certainly the bible, the word of God, mentions slaves several times, though never that I am aware of in some way that suggests slavery is wrong.

And whosoever lieth carnally with a woman, that is a bondmaid, betrothed to an husband, and not at all redeemed, nor freedom given her; she shall be scourged; they shall not be put to death, because she was not free. Leviticus 19:20 (KJV)

We certainly accept this to be wrong now, and have done so for the last 200 years (well, 150 or less for the Americans) though most people are hard-pressed to see the obvious slavery inherent in the socioeconomic ‘gap’.

One can safely infer that absolute morality has changed. To me, this means it is not absolute. [Please, biblical scholars, don’t quibble that slaves are different from bondmaids. Other translations of the bible call them slaves in the spirit of literary honesty, and the author of the bible could have given his writing more clarity, if he had been concerned about misinterpretation.]

Relative Morality

Moral relativism asserts that different groups have different codes of conduct, and that there is no absolute morality. The problem with denying absolute morality is that religious apologists lose their best circular argument for the existence of God. And unfortunately, I believe that is what guides their arguments. Instead of reviewing the facts to develop the conclusion, they appear intent on finding the ‘facts’ that support their conclusion.

But we all know that torturing babies is wrong (though we treat neonatal cancers and leukemia). And that killing is wrong (though we defend ourselves to the point of lethal force). And that keeping slaves is wrong (though on this the bible does not seem to concur). And that homosexuality is wrong (though we don’t know how to define same-sex intercourse, because we really don’t know how to exhaustively define gender. See second half of LGBT).

Where Does Morality Come From?

When we think of morality, it seems to me most of us are thinking about some internal guide, some innate knowledge that certain things are wrong. Not simply that God declares it wrong. To be truly moral, we have to feel that it is wrong. Like those two guys on the desert island. What I like to call, “Listen to the voice of God,” in part because it confuses my theist friends. Morality, to me anyway, is not simply a list of rules, but is an instinctual or learned deep seated knowledge that some behavior should not be carried out.

How did we get it, those of us who have it, those non-sociopathic members of our society.  To answer that we learned from our parents, and others in our community, is ducking the question. To say ‘God gave it to us’ is the result of our arrogance that we think we should be able to explain everything (and when we cannot, it must be God). I think it is evolution. I think there is random variation in possible behavior with respect to morality, and that the selection advantage of Darwinian evolutionary theory promotes communal living as an survival improvement over isolationism. The survival of the community of fittest beats out the survival of the fittest every time.

We evolved to be moral, though it is by far a work in progress, and is easily subverted. We evolved toward moral behavior. And then we started teaching our children. How much is in the gene, and how much is in the meme, I don’t know. But given that memes may be hard things for other animals to develop, I would have to guess there must be a lot in the biochemistry and physiology. All for the general purpose (anthropomorphizing again) of promoting our DNA.

Jared Diamond points out (Guns, Germs and Steel) that getting people of the same religious faith to spill blood for you is the next most successful recruiting device to getting family to fight for you. Which, by the way, may well be the selection advantage of theism over atheism.

Why Do I Think WLC Is Dangerous?

I have spent a lifetime interviewing people and quickly getting a measure of them by appearance, behavior, ideas, body language, education, demeanor and so much more. I have probably treated close to 25,000 patients in the course of my career, and have interacted with many times that in terms of family. It is rare indeed that my initial impressions prove wrong.

I have listened now to several talks, debates and speeches given by WLC, and while I have heard of disagreement from others, I really find him to be amiable, pleasant, and kind. I know, as with any prominent individual, that opinions will vary, and I am aware that some find fault with him, his education in spite of two PhDs, his logic (which I also question, well, mostly his premises), and his tactics in debates. I do know that I am at one extreme of people who truly have to find something egregious and undeniable about someone before I relegate them to the categories of nasty and indecent.

So, I think I would quite like WLC if I met him, recognizing that such an opinion necessarily is shallow. So what. I don’t like everybody, but largely because I don’t know everybody.

But I think William Lane Craig is dangerous, as many moderate theists are, because the moderates provide guidance and shielding for the radicals.

I can’t get away from the feeling that if WLC were convinced there was no god, no higher authority, he might well make up his own mind that homosexuality and homosexual behavior is not immoral. Although I have read or heard him make some highly questionable and derogatory statements about disease in homosexuals related to sexual behavior, setting those rather breath-taking misunderstandings of the medical and physiological aspects aside (as examples, I suppose, of trying to find facts to support your conclusions), with time he might come to accept that there is no inherent immorality in homosexual behavior. But as it stands now, his view of the existence of a God which has condemned homosexuality as an abomination, essentially by Divine Command, can lead to hate crimes in people who believe WLC.

If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. Leviticus 20:13 (KJV)

Combine that with WLC’s reported acceptance of genocide as justified by Divine Command Theory, it is not so much of a stretch to think some misguided disciple of WLC could use an AK-47 on a gay night-club.

William Lane Craig would consider such an horrific action to be, itself, an abomination, but I think he would still have blood on his hands. Words matter; words are powerful; unintended consequences can be predicted sometimes. I just don’t think it is worth all the sophistry.

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One thought on “Morality and God, Part I

  1. What a gift that such a person with their fixed views could have stimulated you to think and feel so deeply about such an important subject. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Like

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