“Without God…everything is permitted.” -Fyodor Dostoyevsky
As the name of this blog suggests, there is no such thing as neutrality. To be a Christian is to hold a worldview in which God’s revealed Word is our ultimate authority and the starting point of our reasoning. To be an atheist is to hold a worldview in which human reasoning is this authority. In this way, the Christian and the atheist start all reasoning assuming their ultimate authority is the correct standard. Each also assume that a correct view of reality can only come to those who share the worldview each has assumed (for more on this topic, go here).
How then, can we ever know which view of reality is true? Greg Bahnsen offers a solution: We are simply to ask the question “which worldview makes human experience intelligible?” (1).
This means stepping into the shoes of both parties, assuming for the sake of argument that each worldview is true, and determining which worldview comports with our experience of reality. This is a large task, and I am leaning heavily on the work of many smarter and more eloquent individuals to accomplish it. This post will focus only on one area of human experience: Morality.
Morality is a fairly straightforward concept. At its most basic, it is a standard we use to judge the “right” from the “wrong” when making decisions or assessing our claims against others. (2) Every one of us holds some set of moral beliefs, wether we are conscious of it or not. The belief that we should not scam someone out of her money, that we should assist a drowning child at the pool, or that we should not torture and eat babies, are all moral beliefs. We weigh these moral beliefs as being more than mere opinions or preferences- they are facts of reality.
So which worldview makes sense of this concept? For the Christian, our experience of morality is consistent with our worldview. Moral truth is grounded in the universal, unchanging, and perfect goodness of our creator (Psalm 77:13, Hebrews 13:8, Malachi 3:6). The character of God is the moral standard that all of our actions are measured against. Human life was created in his image (Genesis 1:27) with intrinsic value and dignity (Luke 10:25-37), and acts such as theft, rape, murder, and assault all violate God’s standard. This does not mean that belief in God is required for a person to be moral. It means that moral truth exists, something all of us plainly recognize (Romans 2:15).
Yet for the atheist, moral beliefs present an enormous problem. If we assume that the atheist worldview is true, we must admit that the universe is a cosmic accident. Human life is nothing more than the product of time and chance acting blindly on matter. We are simply complex clumps of stardust. When a murderer runs through a crowd stabbing innocent people, he is ultimately just a clump of stardust bumping into other clumps of stardust. (3) On what basis does the atheist claim that it is morally wrong to attack a crowd of people with a knife? He has none.
Because the atheist lacks an external standard by which human behavior can be judged, he has nothing to offer but his personal preference. Much like the young wolf in Jack London’s White Fang, his worldview leads to a reality in which morality is a meaningless concept- he simply does what his instincts and preferences drive him to do.
To our knife-wielding murderer, the only objective fact the atheist can offer is his mental state: “I do not like that you are stabbing people.” This is a far cry from the claim “You should not stab people,” but the atheist worldview cannot supply the preconditions necessary to make the latter claim intelligible. He has no authority to appeal to but the biochemical state of his own stardust brain. He has only personal preference.
The only way the atheist can be consistent with his own worldview is to consider moral belief a socio-biological illusion.(4,5,6) Yet the flagrant inconsistency of even the most popular atheist writers betrays their knowledge of God’s moral standards. In his book River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life, Richard Dawkins writes:
“The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” (7) (emphasis added)
Here it appears that Dawkins has accepted the logical conclusions of his own worldview, and yet a year later, in a speech delivered to the American Humanist Association, Dawkins makes a profound moral judgement. He claims that “faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate.” (8) (emphasis added)
This hero of modern atheism cannot maintain consistency with his own worldview. He is reduced to absurdity by claiming that belief in God is irrational while simultaneously borrowing from the Christian worldview to make a moral judgement against faith itself. Why is this? Because as an image bearer of God, he recognizes the existence of moral truth, yet suppresses that truth in unrighteousness. As the Psalmist observes of the wicked man “He makes a pit, digging it out,
and falls into the hole that he has made.” (Psalm 7:15)
- Greg Bahnsen, The Myth of Neutrality.
- T.M. Scanlon, “What is Morality?“, in The Harvard Sampler: Liberal Education for the Twenty-First Century.
- Jeff Durbin, “The Irrefutable Proof of God,” Scottsdale Community College.
- Michael Ruse, “Darwinism and the Moral Argument for God“, Huffington Post.
- Edward O. Wilson, “The Biological Basis of Morality,” The Atlantic.
- Provine, William B.; Johnson, Phillip E., “Darwinism: Science or Naturalistic Philosophy?, A Debate Between William B. Provine and Phillip E. Johnson at Stanford University, April 30, 1994,” Origins Research (Access Research Network) 16 (1).
- Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life.
- Alex Berezow, “Richard Dawkins is Wrong About Religion,” Forbes.