Tuesday, January 19, 2010

'Religion-free' Haiti Relief Fund

For those who haven't heard, atheist Richard Dawkins and 13 other groups of unbelievers have set-up a 'religion-free' relief fund for the earthquake victims in Haiti. For that I commend them.

Nathan Black, of the Christian Post writes:

"Dawkins has joined 13 other groups to create the Non-Believers Giving Aid. Donors are told that when they give they are "helping to counter the scandalous myth that only the religious care about their fellow-humans." [1]

The article goes on to quote an unidentified member of the relief effort:

"[W]e do not hide behind the notion that earthly suffering will be rewarded in a heavenly paradise, nor do we expect a heavenly reward for our generosity: the understanding that this is the only life any of us have makes the need to alleviate suffering even more urgent," the atheist and freethought groups say." [2]

Chad Meister, director of philosophy at Bethel College and contributor to God is Great, God is Good: Why Believing in God is Reasonable and Responsible, exposes the straw-man argument that Dawkins, and others like him, continue to put up:

"No one is arguing that atheists cannot utter ethical statements or live good, moral lives. Of course they can," Meister writes in God is Great. "Believing that something is right or wrong and justifying one's belief that something is right or wrong are two very different matters." [3]

The article continues....

"On Dawkins's schema, one is kind to his neighbor because he's been preprogrammed by his genes to do so (at least some individuals have been so preprogrammed; others perhaps not), and he's been so programmed because acting this way confers evolutionary advantage," Meister summarizes. "It's not that it is a universally binding moral value to be kind. We simply call it 'morally good' because our genes have, through eons of evolutionary struggle, gotten us to believe that it is so." [4]
Meister goes on to note that he has several friends who adopted children and he doesn't suspect they would agree with Dawkins's explanation for why they did so.

"In order to have a consistent and reasonable objective moral stand – a moral view in which you can substantiate a claim that this is right and that is wrong, this is good and that is evil – you need to have an objective moral basis," Meister argues. "I don't see how one can have an objective lawgiver with anything other than a transcendent God. Surely from the physical perturbations of the big bang, moral values didn't spew forth...and indeed nothing in biological evolution ... is capable of providing the foundation necessary to ground unconditionally binding moral values" such as compassion, dignity and respect."

Interestingly, Richard Dawkins, according to his own works, would agree with Meister! Consider the following statements from Dawkins:

"If the universe were just electrons and selfish genes, meaningless tragedies . . . are exactly what we should expect, along with equally meaningless good fortune. Such a universe would be neither evil nor good in intention . . . . The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference." [6]

Also, in one of Dawkins' earlier books, he concedes:

"Science has no methods for deciding what is ethical. That is a matter for individuals and for society." [7]

So, Dawkins and his fellow atheists are not helping the Haitians because they are created in the image of God or because it's objectively the 'right' thing to do, but because 'individuals and societies' have deemed it appropriate.

The late existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre admitted that in a world in which God does not exist, there was no real 'good' or 'evil,' but just the authentication of self. Sartre provided the scenario of an old lady crossing the street, while a truck is heading in her direction. One could pull her to safety or one could push her in front of the truck. All that mattered was one authenticating ones self. Meaning, if the person who decides to push the lady in front of the truck feels he is "authenticating" himself, he was therefore justified in his actions.

In closing, I want to once again commend Dawkins and his fellow atheists for providing relief for those in Haiti; and, it is indeed wrong to say that atheists cannot be good or live ethical lives. However, from the atheistic worldview it is unsustainable why it is better to help the Haitians than to not help the Haitians.

May we continue to pray for the New Atheists and those in Haiti.

Courage and Godspeed,


1-5. Directly taken from this article.
6. Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, p. 133.
7. Dawkins, The Devil's Chaplain.


Jake said...

Praise God that He evens uses those who denounce Him for His good and great will. Continual prayer for those in Haiti.

For His Glory,

Chad said...

Hello Jake,

That is a great point! I didn't think of it that way! Thank you!


Janney said...

If I understand this post correctly, Christians believe that the only reason to behave morally is because God wills it. Indeed it seems like the definition of what is moral is left entirely up to God.

A couple of questions leap to mind.

Why don't Christians agree on what is the right thing to do, when the right thing to do isn't obvious to the rest of us?

And more to the point: what is "morality" to a Christian, if they believe they're behaving according to the dictates of some outside source--following orders, as it were?

Chad said...

Hello Janney,

Thanks for stopping by the blog. It is a privilege to interact with you regarding your thoughtful questions.

As a Christian, I understand that “goodness” is neither external to God, nor merely willed by Him. This would surely make “goodness” rather arbitrary. Ethics, from a Christian perspective, are grounded in God’s Holy Character. His commands are not simply whims, but rooted in His holiness. It’s not a matter of command; it’s a matter of character. Of course, His character expresses itself in His commands.

Regarding “Christians who don’t agree on the right thing to do,” I would not conclude that it follows then that there is no objective moral truth. On the contrary, I would find it more likely that one or more of the groups is wrong. Admittedly, there are many examples of people making poor moral choices in complicated situations, but we (majority of mankind) normally don’t get it wrong on the basics. For example, torturing and killing innocent people for pleasure is surely wrong. If just one moral obligation exists, then the Moral Law exists.

Finally, as a follower of Christ, it is my conviction that He died for my sins because of His love for me; therefore, my response to that act of love is to following Him and learn from Him. The more Christ-like I become, the more I will be able to live a life of holiness. Trust me, I still working on it!

Please let me know if you would like some online resources to explore these moral questions more in-depth.


Janney said...

What does it mean to say that atheists have no justification for their ethical behavior? It seems to me that a Christian has no such justification, inasmuch as she claims that her religion tells her what is right and what is wrong. This is the opposite of justifying a belief, and an admission that she, herself, doesn’t think about issues of right and wrong at all.

Inasmuch as a Christian does actually think about ethical issues, she is doing exactly what an atheist must do, and she could in principle explain her belief by talking about the thoughts behind her actions, as an atheist would.

What does “justification” mean to you? Does it mean “divine sanction,” or something? That would explain why you think it’s impossible for an atheist to achieve.

Chad said...

Thank you again for the thoughtful inquiry.

Your comment seems to be focused on "how" someone comes to know something is "right" and/or "wrong." This is not directly related to the point I was making in this post.

My focus is not how we come to know something is right and wrong, but that objective morality (a Moral Law) is a reality and the atheist is unable, on his or her worldview, to explain or account for (i.e. justify) the ultimate reason that something is "right" or "wrong" or the existence of morality. As I mentioned before, it is wrong in all places, at all times, for all persons to torture and murder innocent people for pleasure. I would argue that this is self-evident. So, if we agree that some things really are "right" and others are really "wrong," the question is, "What is the ultimate reason for these Moral laws?"

As a theist, I believe:
1. Every law requires a lawgiver.
2. A Moral Law exists.
3. Therefore, a Moral Law Giver exists.

It seems to me that the only way an atheist can call something really (objectively) right or wrong is to borrow from the theistic worldview because Moral Laws can have no grounding if God does not exist. The atheist must believe that moral laws are the result of a series of accidents; therefore, in theory, they are more like moral opinions than imperatives.

I want to restate that I do believe an atheist can live a moral life; however, I see no reason to believe that an atheist, on his own worldview, can ground their morality in their atheism. It has been well said that if God does not exist, all things are permissible.