Saturday, August 27, 2016
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 presuppositional 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 universal 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?” Morren neglects the fact 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. Well, the first known philosophy 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]
Saturday, August 13, 2016
“Responding to Tom Krattenmaker”
Christian bodies that claim to follow “no creed but the Bible” put themselves at an enormous disadvantage for many purposes, not least for promoting Christian learning, because they cut themselves off from the vitally important work that has been accomplished by the numberless assemblies making up the community of Saints. [Mark Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind]
Tom Kuttenmaker recently published an article entitled, “Why a Stout Theological Creed is Not Saving Evangelical Churches.” You may read this article HERE. There is a lot of truth in Tom’s article. However, overall, the article is misguided at its most fundamental level.
Tom spends his time rebuffing the likes of like Al Mohler for pointing out that Liberal Protestantism is chiefly in decline is because of its lack of conviction around basic Christian doctrine. Mohler often points out that Liberal Protestants reject the one thing that could restore their communities to health: a return to biblical authority. It is here, and nowhere else, that all professing Christian communities are defined. A rejection of biblical authority leaves a vacuum that no version of a social gospel can fill. Moreover, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is life, a vibrant community filled with a love for God, for God’s truth and a love for each other.
Protestant Liberalism gets the cart before the horse. She has lived for decades now, attempting to place love of men prior to love for God. Or worse, she redefines love according to criteria over which she is the sole authority. What Tom Krattenmaker and others like him do not understand is that where there is no love for divine truth, no love for biblical authority, there can be no love for God. And where there is no love for God, there can be no love, no true love for humanity. But I digress. Evangelicalism is in decline. And her supposedly firm grip on staunch theological creed is powerless to curtail her slide. The point is that if it is true that a stanch theological creed would save liberal Protestantism from her decline, then why isn’t this staunch theological creed saving evangelicalism? That is indeed a very fair point. But Krattenmaker is only seeing and telling half the story. What he is not telling you is that the evangelical trends that Mohler and others see and have seen for years now is a trajectory much like that of the liberal Protestants of years gone by.
The point is precisely this: liberal Protestantism abandoned the historic creeds and a staunch theological conviction years ago and as a result, over time, people have exited her in droves. What has held much of evangelical churches together for years, however, has been her strong convictions around biblical authority and other basic tenets of historic Christian orthodoxy. However, evangelicals have shifted from a staunch theological creed to a weakened one and now to outright abandonment of such a concept.
Some leaders are afraid to call themselves reformed, and they fail to recognize that a subscription to reformed theology matters, and it matters a lot. They worry that if they say Calvin or Calvinism that someone’s senses may be offended. We essentially make decisions on what to say and how we say it, based on the ignorance of those who haven’t cared enough to educate themselves. That’s right. What we preach, teach, and call ourselves in many instances is determined by the ignorant rather than by the informed. What? Say it with me: What!?
Tom is right when he says that church membership is not the place to look if we are seeking evidence for the beauty and power of truth. He is right when he says it never was the place to look. But still many, including the SBC, look exactly right there. And that is more than a little disturbing and has been since the practice began. The beauty and power of the gospel is witnessed not in the masses of people joining a church or an organization. It is witnessed in the miraculous change of the sinner’s heart. The transformation is indeed miraculous.
The church in modern America has been far too involved in the political system, the outward governmental structure and even economic policy. American Christians can hardly distinguish between their faith and their patriotism. Christ told us to make disciples and to preach the gospel and somehow, that has turned into outlawing abortion, stopping homosexual marriage, ending sex trafficking, fighting over things like “Merry Christmas rather than Happy Holidays,” and putting a stop to world hunger and a host of other good and noble causes but sadly, not the primary, or even the secondary purpose of the church. And now, we are starting the pay the price. It is all really very pathetic when you think about the mission of Christians in the world. We are fighting over prayer in secular school and whether or not we can bake a cake for a gay wedding. The distractions of political and social activism have drowned the gospel. Pagans in America think the gospel is “thou shalt not have an abortion,” or “thou shalt pray in school,” or “fill in the blank.” It isn’t because we should not be preaching against these vile sins. We should. But they are no longer issues of sin when you frame them up in political conversations. The gospel runs the risk of looking just like any other political posturing when we make it about issues like gay marriage or abortion or whatever.
Carl Truman, in his excellent book, The Creedal Imperative, hits the target; all Christians engage in confessional synthesis; the difference is simply whether one adheres to a public confession, subject to public scrutiny, or to a private one that is, by its very nature, immune to such examination.
In the end, liberal Protestants have their own staunch theological creed. Even though they like to claim they are more tolerant, the truth is, they are not. Just as true Christianity rejects those who claim to be Christian and yet reject basic Christian tenets, like the authority or Scripture, liberal Protestants reject those tenets outright. And just as true Christians reject the sexual ethic of the modern liberal Protestant, the modern liberal Protestant rejects the sexual ethic of biblical Christianity, characterizing it as hateful and bigoted. You see, both biblical Christianity and liberal Protestantism engage in confessional synthesis. We confess that Scripture alone is our final authority for faith and practice while liberal Protestantism confesses that human reason will decide which portions of Scripture are acceptable for faith and practice. That is the basic difference.