In response to my previous post, DarkSyde has posted another article on UTI on the question of morality and revelation. In that article, he attacks the premise that I have attempted to bring to bear against him on a number of occasions, the premise that all morality must be based on revelation.
The premise, even if true, is of questionable value in determining what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’ in gray areas … unless the deity gets off its ass and speaks up, eh? Otherwise, perception of right V wrong winds up depending on where you’re standing. And BTW, we need to be able to do more than just interview the deity for answers. We need to test it continuously to make sure it’s really what it claims it is. We don’t want just any sleazy, lowlife, land-squid from Vega 3, sneaking onto the earth behind a dazzling array of hi-tech gadgetry, and fooling the primitive humans into thinking it’s God by way of a Cosmic version of the Wizard-of-Oz con, do we?
But I am saying “God says so” does not give us anything in the way of absolute morality, let alone an absolute code of anything else. Because it’s not “God says so”, it’s “I claim God says so” and those two items are not even close to the same thing. Religion is flexible enough that it can be used to justify or condemn damn near anything. It has been so used and continues to be.
He is of course exactly correct. “I claim God says so” is not an authoritative statement at all, and “God says so” is no more authoritative a statement of itself. If God did not actually say so then my claiming that He did does not affect anything other than perhaps my own credibility.
But DS is in the first place not addressing my original challenge, which is the question of how any statement at all can be made about right and wrong, if it’s not based on some authority to make such statements? How can any standard of better or worse be derived in a universe made up purely of material? If everything just “is”, how can we talk about what “ought” to be?
DS frequently compares the acquisition of moral perspectives to the acquisition of language, but that still doesn’t tell me what morals are. And we don’t send people to jail for bad grammar.
But there’s another aspect of DS’ claim that I am most interested in addressing here, and that is the “God says so” question, the revelation claim. The point of DS’ statement is that if God is the determiner of right and wrong, then wouldn’t he have told us very clearly and repeatedly what right and wrong is?
And I am absolutely sure that DS would know my answer to that question, but here it is anyway- He has. But what kind of message would you expect? Fifty foot high letters of fire on a mountain somewhere?
In the first place, sometimes people attacking Christianity will point out that the moral code prescribed by Christianity is very similar to that prescribed by most other religions, and they’re right. Jesus’ Golden Rule looks a lot like Confucian ethics and like the Kantian categorical imperative. This is the basic rule that every mother teaches her child – when your son pushes someone over on the playground, you say to him, “Now, would you like it if someone pushed you over?” As I expound in more detail here, rather than any kind of assault on Christianity, this should instead be seen as justifying it. The Bible teaches us that it is God that has implanted our moral character in us and therefore the moral code that we all hold is substantially the same. This is a constant testimony to us of God’s will for our lives. So if you were going to expect a deity to give His creation an understanding of right and wrong, what more effective way is there than to hardwire that sense right into people?
We express this understanding whenever we express revulsion at someone who violates this moral code. Everyone, even an atheist, is disgusted at the murder of a child. Why is that? Why do different people with radically different philosophies still feel the same revulsion at crimes against the innocent? Why do such different people feel the exact same indignation at crimes against themselves? If ethics are derived from philosophy, then our ethics ought to be very different when we hold such radically different philosophies. But I have never heard an atheist just shrug his shoulders and say “well, that’s survival of the fittest, I guess” when he gets mugged. So God has spoken, and he’s spoken undeniably and clearly and in a message that is far more compelling than anything He could have written or spoke verbally. We have His holiness written throughout our very being.
Further, if you’re looking for a verbal revelation, again we have to start with the question, what would you expect? What standards would such a revelation have to have?
It would have to be clear.
It would have to be detailed.
It would have to be understandable to us humans in the context of what we humans go through.
It would have to tell us humans what God has done in the past, what He’s doing now and what He will do in the future.
It would have to be preserved without error throughout history for all mankind to see.
It would have to be obviously the word of God, so that it contains within itself the proof that it was in fact the word of God.
This is precisely our doctrine of Scripture. DarkSyde would argue with me about many of these points, no doubt. I never said that everyone would agree that the Bible is what it is, and the Bible itself recognizes that many will refuse to hear it. But if human beings have any measure of freedom, then it must follow that some will refuse to hear. If they have no measure of freedom, then there’s no point in the whole thing anyway.
But if it’s posited as a flaw in my moral philosophy that there is no undisputable revelation from God regarding right and wrong, then it must be accepted as an answer to that flaw when not just one but two such revelations can be produced. The atheist may choose not to accept those revelations as valid, but he could say that about anything. And he still hasn’t answered the question of where his own rock-solid moral convictions come from, which in their basic elements are the same as everyone else’s, if we are all just purely physical products of a blind natural process.
So it’s true, that the statement “I claim God says so” is not authoritative, and neither is the statement “God says so”, since the second claim is really substantially the same as the first. I claim no authority based on either of those statements. If I tell my congregation “God says so”, and they look up in the Bible and discover that God has not said so, they can and will tell me that I am wrong.
But if God has actually said so, then it is an authoritative statement, and all are bound to listen. This is the question before us- has God actually said so? And if there is no God to say so, then there is no good or evil, no right or wrong, and DarkSyde will have to just accept it if someone knocks him down and takes his money some day. It’s just survival of the fittest.