Book Review: I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist – Ch 7.1

7: MOTHER TERESA VS. HITLER

Oh the moral law argument. So far, nothing new has been presented in this book. Many evangelical apologetics attempt to establish these same arguments in the same order, and I’m disappointed not to see anything different here, as these are points that have been debated to death so that my observations are also nothing new. Furthermore, the level of reasoning in this book does not even come close to the level presented by William Lane Craig.

The author starts the argument by asserting that every law has a law giver, and ends by concluding that there is a Moral Law Giver, capitalized. He immediately assumes that such a law giver must be a personal entity and does not consider the possibility of a law given by the properties of the universe or by behavioral or communal evolution, by humans developing a sense of behaviors that benefit them by benefitting their community which allows them to have safety, to have boundaries, and to have secure reproduction.

The author claims that we know the moral law exists because it is undeniable. He goes on to say that the relativist’s claim of no absolute truth is irrational because it asserts an absolute truth (p 172). To describe my own beliefs about morality, I would not claim that there is no absolute truth or that one must not say always or never. I would say, rather, that it appears to me that there are general moral principles rather than rigorous moral laws, and that the right application of such principles varies according to the situation.

To use the author’s example, although almost all people appear to know that it is wrong to kill innocent human beings, there is not absolute agreement even among Christians about exactly what defines an innocent human being or about an undeniable hierarchy of moral actions. I am also suspicious, although perhaps unjustly, that the claim that the moral law is undeniable is masking a less savory claim – that anyone who disagrees with the author’s view of morality is suppressing what they know to be the truth. If there’s something that’s undeniable to me, it’s that people can look at an ethical situation, come to two different conclusions, but each be honestly and positively sure that they are supporting the correct ethical choice. I was recently reading about a Christian pro-life group’s stance that ectopic pregnancies did not justify abortion. It is undeniable to me that this violates reasonable moral principles. However, the moral principle of reducing harm to the greatest number of people is, in this case, based upon statistics that Vision Forums would find unacceptable. I am sure that it is undeniable to them that even if only one in sixty million fetuses will survive in a fallopian tube (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/443373.stm), that one is enough to avoid aborting.

The second reason is that we know the moral law by our reactions (p 172). Since the entire book is an apologetic for evangelical Christianity, I feel that it’s acceptable to assume that the moral law the author is arguing for is synonymous with the moral law presented in the Bible. Thus, when he says that the Moral Law is not always the standard by which we treat others, but it is nearly always the standard by which we expect others to treat us (p 175), I must conclude that the Bible can be evaluated in that context.

There are many examples that I could use, such as Deuteronomy 22:23-24, where a woman raped within the city should be stoned because she did not cry out so that someone could hear her. My reaction to this moral law is that it’s repugnant and misogynistic, and it is neither the way that I would desire to treat a rape victim, nor is it the way that I would want to be treated were I raped. I think that the best example of how moral reactions change according to culture and time period is the reaction to laws dealing with slavery. If one were to approach almost any modern Christian and tell them – I’m going to buy another human being as property and make them work for me – then that Christian would react with horror. Consider laws governing treatment of slaves, such as Exodus 21:2-6, in which a male slave is freed after seven years, but if he wants to stay with his slave wife and children, he will belong to his master forever, or Exodus 21:20-21, when a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished.  If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property. Some Christians assert that parts of the Bible were written for certain people in a certain culture in which slavery had a different meaning (for example, http://www.christian-thinktank.com/qnoslave.html), so that god was actually showing a great amount of mercy in making laws that made things less harsh for slaves. Is that not the ultimate expression of cultural moral relativity, when the reaction of a modern person toward the ownership of another person, no matter how non-violent, is one of disgust?

Leadville Heavy Half Marathon

I did not die.