Monday, November 30, 2009

Can Atheists Be Good Without God?, by Paul Copan

Reporting on the New Orleans Conference - Come, Let Us Reason.

Without attending a talk on this, my answer would be, "yes, and no". Yes, as good as anybody else (prior to regeneration) can be, but, if the standard is the goodness of God, or the standard of goodness to which God holds us, then, "no".

Christ wasn't impressed with the goodness that the best that self-righteous Judaism offered up -- and nobody tried harder than the Pharisees. And when someone called Christ good, he asked, "why do you call me good -- there is no one good but God alone". So, if the question is, can an atheist behave decently, the answer is a resounding "of course". But, if the question is can an atheist be truly, intrinsically good to the core, the answer is, unfortunately, no. In other words, an atheist falls into the same sinful boat as the rest of us. Christians recognize their sinful state, and have a Remedy in Christ. Atheists, if they do recognize their short-comings, are rather stuck, aren't they?

Note: The following is an indiscriminate summary of points made by Paul Copan interlaced with commentary by me. So, the following may be him, it may be me. If you like the point being made, let's just say it's me.

Paul Copan started his talk by contrasting two documents:

1. UN Declaration of Human Rights: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood". This he took as a simple asserting of human rights.

2. Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal [and] endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights". This actually offers a foundation for human dignity and worth.

"I don't need God to tell me how I ought to be treated". Ans: of course you don't, you were made in God's image and have an indwelling moral sense. Jesus implied as much, and Paul said as much in Romans.

Moral relativism -- "you shouldn't impose your moral values of others". J. P. Moreland responded to this moral relativism by breaking into the student's residence and stealing his stereo. The student was indignant! The point: "when convenient, you will say that morality is relative -- but not when it is you that is being sinned against".

Morality is fundamental to humanity. C. S. Lewis considered moral values as "properly basic". Kai Neilson atheist -- bedrock and right to believe in morality.

RIGHTS -- Knowing vs. Being.

Michael Martin atheist recognizes rights. But this is at the knowing level. The issue is at the being level -- how did these rights come to exist? The theist has great resources to such questions -- the materialist, sadly, does not.

Without God, human dignity and rights are ungrounded.

J.L. Mackie atheist - objective moral values make the existence of God more probable. (I would argue more strongly than this -- without God, objective moral values are not only impossible, the very idea is absurd)

Is right-and-wrong invented by human beings, or discovered by human beings?

(If right and wrong as categories are created by a mindless, amoral process called evolution, how seriously should rational thinking beings take them?)

"Morality is just built into us to survive and reproduce". Apply the same to belief in atheism, theism. Evolution is uninterested in truth. The only thing it cares about is brute survival and reproduction. Moral duty and obligation, if indwelling, must be rooted in nothing more than this mindless, amoral process. How seriously should thinking, sentient beings take these?

Michael Ruse -- morality is an illusion - we are self-deceived into thinking objective moral values exist -- a corporate delusion.

Dawkins -- we dance to our DNA.

If naturalism is true, how do we move from "is" (way things are), to "ought" (way things should be) -- descriptive vs. prescriptive. (Indeed, if naturalism is true, on what grounds can someone say there is anything wrong with anything -- is not everything that occurs by definition and of necessity just part of the natural order -- killing, raping, stealing, lying, over-using the earth's resources?)

Michael Shermer - why should we be moral - same as asking why we should be hungry -- simply built-in. (Sounds like the "brute fact, don't think too hard about it" strategy -- we just are, we just are!, it just is!, it just is!).

A Natural History of Rape. Rape can be explained biologically -- we see it in the animal kingdom -- why not in human beings (who do we think we are!) -- rape is as natural as eating or urinating or defecating.

If we are merely wired to survive and reproduce, we could have evolved like termites -- live in dark, eat each other's waste, eat our dead. Why are human beings "special", or "different" (who do we think we are!)

Being created in the image of God makes sense of this; being the product of an indifferent, amoral process, in which categories such as worth, value, etc. are utterly meaningless, does not and cannot.

* * *

As usual, theism offers a more plausible, more coherent, more comprehensive, more satisfactory explanation of reality than the dreary story-lines offered up by atheistic materialism.

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Paul Copan is the author of "When God Goes to Starbucks: A Guide to Everyday Apologetics."

He also referred to a book by Alvin Schmidt: "How Christianity Transformed the World".


shlemazl said...

Quite right. And the earth is flat too.

RkBall said...

I really don't know why you guys even bother commenting. You've said nothing.

Marx-A-Million said...

The State is God

RkBall said...

Re: flat earth comment.

Flat Earth?

"... nothing intellectually compelling or challenging.. bald assertions coupled to superstition... woefully pathetic"