8/01/2008

The End of Reason – Zacharias Does It Again

I have grown to appreciate the apologetics ministry of Ravi Zacharias, so it should come as no surprise that I purchased and read a copy of his latest book. The short little book is titled: The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2008), and it is a winsome and effective counter-argument to Harris, Dawkins, et. al. Zacharias’ polemics are clear and convincing. His version of the moral argument for God’s existence is emotional and intellectually vital.

Here is part of his response to Harris’ argument that evil and suffering prove that an all-powerful, good God cannot exist:

Harris’ antagonism toward God ends up proving that he finds some things reprehensible. But he cannot explain his innate sense of right and wrong – the reality of God’s law written on his heart – because there is no logical explanation for how that intuition toward morality could develop from sheer matter and chemistry.

Popularly stated, I would put it this way:
* When you assert that there is such thing as evil, you must assume there is such a thing as good.
* When you say there is such a thing as good, you must assume there is a moral law by which to distinguish between good and evil. There must be some standard by which to determine what is good and what is evil.
* When you assume a moral law, you must posit a moral lawgiver – the source of the moral law.
But this moral lawgiver is precisely who atheists are trying to disprove. (pp. 54-55)


We know evil because of what it does to others and to ourselves, but that knowledge assumes that all people have worth in and of themselves. When we postulate a moral code, we assume that people have this intrinsic worth. How can mere matter in motion make us worth something? We end up being big germs. Why should we care if the big white germs discriminate against the big black germs? Neither color of germ has any value anyway.

Back to the book:

…in a world in which matter alone exists there can be no intrinsic worth. Let me put it in philosophical terms:
* Objective moral values exist only if God exists.
* Objective moral values do exist…
* Therefore God exists. (p. 56)



We have to assume that true moral standards exist in order to object to the evil and suffering we see all around us. We cannot have those standards in a universe without God. A person’s denial of God’s existence because of evil ends up being an affirmation of the existence of the God that he tries to avoid accountability to.

[I have used this argument as formed by Greg Bahnsen here.]

10 comments:

that atheist guy said...

Hi JK,

Have you heard this debate with William Lane Craig? I think it's a interesting discussion about these topics. (Click on his name to find part 2):
http://www.veritas.org/media/talks/639

I suspect Harris would say our moral laws come from our natural psychology, combined with experience from society. Ie. we are the "law giver".

Personally, I suspect morality is somehow related to mathematical truths which I tend to think exists independently of human consciousness. This idea is not necessarily incompatible with the idea of a god.

Of course the problem evil/suffering isn't much of a problem if you assume God isn't all powerful, or isn't all good, or maybe isn't all knowing. I've read that Rabbi Kushner believes that God isn't all powerful.

Anyway, even if there is no moral reality or God beyond us, we as humans still have value because WE value each other. I think that's enough.

J. K. Jones said...

Glad to hear from you, TAG.

The debate you linked to is interesting, but I am not as familiar with Craig’s form of the argument, so I won’t comment on that debate. Craig is a big boy; he can take care of himself.


“…our moral laws come from our natural psychology, combined with experience from society…”

My problem is that different societies have different standards of right and wrong. To paraphrase Ravi Z.: “In some cultures it is acceptable to give hospitality to strangers; in other cultures it is acceptable to eat them. Do you have a preference?”

“..mathematical truths which I tend to think exists independently of human consciousness…”

But how is it that this idea is compatible with atheism? It would seem that atheism can only support a universe that merely contains physical reality (a material universe). How can a material universe support the existence of truths that exist independently of human reason?


“…Of course the problem evil/suffering isn't much of a problem if you assume God isn't all powerful, or isn't all good, or maybe isn't all knowing…”

Please see the search label on this blog for “Moral Argument.” You are assuming that an absolute standard of good and evil exists outside of us. This is a big assumption on the part of someone who thinks that we create our own morality.

You are also assuming that an all-powerful God does not have a good reason for allowing people who commit evil acts to continue to exist and make free choices. You are also assuming that an all-powerful God has no reason for suffering. I am not sure you can assume those things, either.


“…we as humans still have value because WE value each other..”

I am glad you value me as a person. I have tried to express that I hold you as a valuable person by addressing your concerns and allowing your comments here. I value your opinions.

Remember that the argument is not a matter of how we try to live our lives. It is a matter of what our views of the world can support. I know that an atheist can value human life and live a moral life; it’s just that I don’t see how that can be justified.

JK

Gandolf said...

"because there is no logical explanation for how that intuition toward morality could develop "

Morals evolve through thought facts and experiences .

The old and new testiment in the bible , we no longer see "stoning people to death " as a good moral .

Why ? well for many reasons no doubt , but most likely some poor people were stoned to death being wrongly convicted of a crime they didnt do .With facts thought and experience we evolved to the thinking that this wasnt so good .Why ? , maybe because we realised we just as easy could be wrongly treated to this nasty end ourselves .

Jk thanks for being a open minded person willing to atleast discuss .

J. K. Jones said...

Gandolf,

“…The old and new testiment in the bible , we no longer see "stoning people to death " as a good moral .Why ? well for many reasons no doubt…”

The Testaments do not disagree. The Old Testament prescribes the death penalty for all sin (Gen. 2:16-17). The New Testament prescribes the death penalty for all sin (Romans 6:23). That any of us is allowed to live at all is an expression of God’s mercy.

Viewed in this light, the capital punishment prescriptions in the Old Testament are a merciful reduction of the original list. God could give the death penalty for all sin, and all of us sin, so all of us deserve it.

Also, God no longer blesses Israel as a theocracy (a nation organized as a religion that takes all of its laws directly from religion). Israel was rejected as God’s nation because of the people’s sin. Now we live in a time when God chooses to show His grace to all peoples from every nation by establishing His kingdom on the earth without depending on political power (Matthew 22:21). I personally think that the only reason He worked through political power in the Old Testament time was that He wanted to show us that political power does not work.

JK

that atheist guy said...

Hi JK,

You wrote:
"My problem is that different societies have different standards of right and wrong."

I think there are some universals, such as no culture thinks murder is good. An analogy can be made with language. Cultures have different languages (like your example) but every language has basic building blocks like nouns and verbs.

JK wrote:
"But how is it that this idea is compatible with atheism? It would seem that atheism can only support a universe that merely contains physical reality (a material universe)"

Some atheists might be strict materialists, but that isn't a "tenet" of atheism which I usually define as a "lack of belief in deities".

JK wrote:
"How can a material universe support the existence of truths that exist independently of human reason?"

I don't know.

JK wrote:
"This is a big assumption on the part of someone who thinks that we create our own morality."

I'm not sure we do. I really don't know, but my semi-educated guess would be that the evolution of social animals tends to converge on certain moral principles. An analogous mathematical example is the physical development of things like pine cones and nautilus shells which are linked to the Fibonacci sequence.

JK wrote:
"You are also assuming that an all-powerful God does not have a good reason for allowing people who commit evil acts to continue to exist and make free choices. You are also assuming that an all-powerful God has no reason for suffering. I am not sure you can assume those things, either."

Yes, those are possibilities, and I've heard analogies like freeing an animal from a trap will cause it more pain temporarily and hence fear you. But certain cases are troublesome for the Christian conception of God, such as massive natural disasters and birth defects which cause great suffering to the infant and then death. Maybe my finite mind can't comprehend the benevolent plan behind it all, but some suffering seems excessive.

OK, I'm going to check out the comment you left on my blog now.

J. K. Jones said...

Hi TAG,

Good to hear from you.

“I think there are some universals, such as no culture thinks murder is good. An analogy can be made with language. Cultures have different languages (like your example) but every language has basic building blocks like nouns and verbs.”

Then how do you account for the similarities? How do you rationally explain the universals?

“Some atheists might be strict materialists, but that isn't a "tenet" of atheism which I usually define as a "lack of belief in deities".”

Please give one rational justification for the existence of a universal, abstract truth. It is not that all atheists believe that the world is strictly material. The question is: how can an atheist rationally justify a universe that is more than material?

“JK wrote:"How can a material universe support the existence of truths that exist independently of human reason?" I don't know.”

Then how do we account for the universally true tenants of logic and rational though? For mathematical laws? For moral precepts? If there is a God who designed us, He could have designed our faculties to operate according to universal truths that He knew. He could have made us to think His thoughts after Him, to think as He does. Someone who wants to deny this option must come up with another explanation for our rational, problem solving, and moral abilities in order for me to be satisfied. I am not one to believe things because ‘that is just how things are.’ I want to know why.

“… my semi-educated guess would be that the evolution of social animals tends to converge on certain moral principles…”

Isn’t this another way of saying that genetics and environment determine moral precepts? If my genetics are malformed or my environment does not lend to acceptance of morals, is morality still universal in any sense? How do we avoid the idea that there is no absolute morality?


“…But certain cases are troublesome for the Christian conception of God…”

They are more troublesome for any worldview that cannot give a rational reason why human life should be valued. The value of human life is the foundation of morality. If someone cannot give a reason why human life should be valued, the problem of evil is worse for him. In my view of the world, some things are wrong (outside of God’s perfect will). I also have a framework for seeing that these wrong things have their root cause in the wrong moral choices / actions of fallen human beings.

JK

that atheist guy said...

Hi JK,

My replies will probably continue to be delayed for various reasons. I'll try not to let too much time slip by.

JK wrote:
"Then how do you account for the similarities? How do you rationally explain the universals?"

Because we are all related. Both the literal creationist view of Adam and Eve and evolution agree that we are all cousins. Evolution has programmed our moral psychology.

JK wrote:
"Please give one rational justification for the existence of a universal, abstract truth. It is not that all atheists believe that the world is strictly material. The question is: how can an atheist rationally justify a universe that is more than material?"

I can't. I'm not sure, but I guess I lean slightly towards the probably minority view of Platonism. But I also don't see how the idea of God justifies it either. I think Euthyphro like dilemmas are inevitable.

JK wrote:
"Then how do we account for the universally true tenants of logic and rational though? For mathematical laws? For moral precepts? [clip] I want to know why."

Me too. I just don't find the idea of God a satisfying answer. I just have to suffer with not knowing (for now?)

JK wrote:
"Isn’t this another way of saying that genetics and environment determine moral precepts? If my genetics are malformed or my environment does not lend to acceptance of morals, is morality still universal in any sense? How do we avoid the idea that there is no absolute morality?"

Here's a probably bad analogy, but it's just off the top of my head. We also evolved to sense heat. The sense of heat is a subjective sense related to the motions of atoms or molecules. It's possible a genetic mutation will cause you to feel hot things as cold, but such a mutation will probably impede your ability to survive. Also the fact that you think hot things are cold doesn't change the objective reality of the motions of molecules. In other words our evolved genetics are converging on some kind of universal morality. (Maybe)

JK wrote:
"They are more troublesome for any worldview that cannot give a rational reason why human life should be valued. The value of human life is the foundation of morality. If someone cannot give a reason why human life should be valued, the problem of evil is worse for him. In my view of the world, some things are wrong (outside of God’s perfect will). I also have a framework for seeing that these wrong things have their root cause in the wrong moral choices / actions of fallen human beings."

But maybe we don't need some kind of absolute justification to live a good life. In reality we don't see atheists murdering and raping anymore than believers. And lots of self-described Christians commit crimes often. (Which I don't understand, because if you really believe in Hell it seems like the ultimate deterrent. I guess it's like lung cancer for smokers. Perhaps the pain and suffering seems distant or unreal to them?)

I also don't see how God can help you decide certain moral conundrums. For example the famous trolley problem where a runaway train trolley is coming down the track and will hit 10 workers. If you pull a switch the trolley will go on a side track and kill only one worker. Do you do it? What if instead of a switch, it was a large man standing next to you on an overpass. You can stop the train by pushing him on the tracks killing him, but saving the 10. Do you do it?

When people are polled most say yes to the first situation, but no to the second, but are they any different?

Are there gray areas in God's morality?

J. K. Jones said...

TAG

“My replies will probably continue to be delayed for various reasons.”

I hope you and yours are doing well, and this delay is for a positive reason.

“…Because we are all related…Evolution has programmed our moral psychology.”

Why should I care that we are all related if none of us have any transcendent value? Nothing plus nothing plus nothing …, is still nothing.

“…I'm not sure, but I guess I lean slightly towards the probably minority view of Platonism. But I also don't see how the idea of God justifies it either. I think Euthyphro like dilemmas are inevitable…”

God, as a transcendent being, gives value to what He creates. He gives order and rationality to His universe. He designs His creatures with the power to reason. He is the very definition of what is good, and He gives His creatures the knowledge of the good that He represents.

“…our evolved genetics are converging on some kind of universal morality…”

That still does not account for moral absolutes because everything you have expressed is a changing standard and therefore no justification for a universal morality.

“…maybe we don't need some kind of absolute justification to live a good life. In reality we don't see atheists murdering and raping anymore than believers. And lots of self-described Christians commit crimes often…”

Christianity holds that everyone sins by nature and by choice. No one lives a good life. Even our best works fall far short of perfection, and we all find ourselves in the same dilemma. We are all capable of any sin. Only what Christians call “God’s Common Grace” holds us back from the worst sins.

Is there hope? To quote Paul, “Who can rescue us from this body of death? Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!” We all stand in need of God’s forgiveness and His favor, and Christ earned these for us by His sacrifice on the cross. That’s the only hope I have.

“…I also don't see how God can help you decide certain moral conundrums…”

In a fallen world there will be some situations that arise where no perfectly moral choice exists. We have all participated in making this world what it is, again by nature and by choice. The bad situations are the fault of the human race. The best we can do in the situations you describe is the action that will result in the most good for the most people. This is called the greater good ethic, and Norman Geisler does a good job of defending the concept and giving examples.

There is also a hierarchy of values / moral precepts. The best example is the Nazi at the door looking for Jews during the holocaust. His intent, expressed by his actions in the past, is to find the Jews and kill them. If you have Jews hidden in your basement, are you honest with the Nazi, or do you lie to him and tell him there are no Jews in your house? You lie to him, because the command to preserve human life takes precedent over the command not to lie. In other words, because of the situation, the Nazi does not deserve the truth. R. C. Sproul does a good job of describing and defending this view.

“…Are there gray areas in God's morality?”

No. Even in the situation where there is no perfectly moral choice, we are held accountable for our actions. We are responsible for our sin. The key concepts here is that the world we find ourselves in is the world we have all created. I am talking here about the doctrines Christians call “The Fall of Man” and “The Universality of Sin / Total Depravity of Man.”

Christian morality leaves us all falling short in thoughts, words, and deeds; by the things we have done, and by the things we have left undone. Most Christians in my tradition call Christian morality “The Law.” The Law can do nothing for us but condemn us. It leaves us all hopeless in and of ourselves to meet its perfect requirements. It drives us to complete dependence on Christ and His work.

JK

that atheist guy said...

Hi JK,

You wrote:
"I hope you and yours are doing well, and this delay is for a positive reason."

I've just been busy lately. Plus I got some of that Olympic fever which is keeping me offline. (Actually I've watched quite a bit of it online so that isn't exactly true!)

JK wrote:
"Why should I care that we are all related if none of us have any transcendent value? Nothing plus nothing plus nothing …, is still nothing."

Well my point about all humans being related was to account for certain universal moral tendencies, not to give reason for caring. I see it in an opposite way, that is if humans are transient with no eternal consciousness we should care more, since life is brief and precious.

JK wrote:
"That still does not account for moral absolutes because everything you have expressed is a changing standard and therefore no justification for a universal morality."

I'm not saying it accounts for moral absolutes. I'm saying if moral absolutes exist (probably, but I'm not sure) then the evolution of social animals converges on those absolutes. We can see some of this in the rudimentary morality of chimps and monkeys.

But even if there are no moral absolutes, it shouldn't change our behavior. I still know senseless murder is wrong whether God exists or not.

JK wrote:
"Is there hope? To quote Paul, “Who can rescue us from this body of death? Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!” We all stand in need of God’s forgiveness and His favor, and Christ earned these for us by His sacrifice on the cross. That’s the only hope I have."

As I think we have discussed elsewhere I just can't understand how God's sacrifice of himself to himself pays for someone's crime. Common sense tells me that only the criminal can take responsibility for his crimes.

Maybe the Calvinists are right and God created me destined for damnation, because I just don't get it.

JK wrote:
"The best we can do in the situations you describe is the action that will result in the most good for the most people."

Just out of curiosity did you feel there was a difference between the two trolley problems? I like most people feel in my "gut" that pushing the large man is somehow more wrong than flipping a switch, even though my intellect tells me the situations are equivalent.

You can get in some sticky situations by using the "greater good" rule, since at its extreme we should allow human medical experiments etc. There are plenty of grey areas before we get to that extreme though (such as the hot button stem cell issue.)

J. K. Jones said...

TAG,

The Olympics are great to watch. Especially the swimming events this year, men’s and women’s.

I watched the women’s all-around gymnastics with my four-year-old. She takes a gymnastics class for toddlers, and it was the first time she saw a full gymnastics event. She was in aw of the spectacle and the feats of the participants. I was too.

“…Well my point about all humans being related was to account for certain universal moral tendencies, not to give reason for caring…”

If there is no reason to care, there is no reason to be moral. Again, it’s not about people’s moral performance. I am positive some atheists out-perform me. It’s about having a justifiable reason to be moral.

“…I'm saying if moral absolutes exist (probably, but I'm not sure) then the evolution of social animals converges on those absolutes...”

But I have argued that evolution is not a viable process without an intelligence to guide it (search label “Evolution”). Assuming that macroevolution is true for the sake of argument, the intelligence that guides it is moral or the process He guides would not lead to morality (The Law). If evolution is true, and if evolution moves toward morality, then a moral intelligence must guide the process to lead men to evolve into moral animals. An immoral intelligence would not “aim” the process at a moral target.

Besides, evolution would lead us to something that gave individuals within a species some form of competitive advantage over other members of that species. Would ‘survival of the fittest’ not become the norm?

“…But even if there are no moral absolutes, it shouldn't change our behavior…”

Why not? How do you avoid the conclusion that our behavior does not matter? After all, couldn’t different moral principles be chosen to reflect society’s norms? Couldn’t evolution suddenly direct us to move toward a different form of morality more in keeping with ‘survival of the fittest?’

My answer is that all men / women are made in the image of God, and they are valuable because they have this image of God stamped upon them.

“I still know senseless murder is wrong whether God exists or not…”

And that begs for explanation as well. How do you know it is wrong? Why is that so?

“…I just can't understand how God's sacrifice of himself to himself pays for someone's crime. Common sense tells me that only the criminal can take responsibility for his crimes…”

If seen as a debt to be paid, another person could pay for the debts owed by someone else. If it is seen as a relationship to be mended, then someone else can be a peacemaker and reconcile the parties in the relationship. If seen as punishment that needs to be endured, another can undergo that punishment. If all of this happens to the satisfaction of the Being who is the ground of morality, then why would it not satisfy us?

This is a different situation than we have between typical persons in one respect. The sinless Son of God is able to suffer wrath on someone else’s behalf because He was sinless. He alone, of all people, had no debt to pay of His own. If He suffered voluntarily to pay for the sins of mankind, His sacrifice is above and beyond what He had to pay for Himself, and this suffering can be transferred. It’s just like a debt to be paid.

The ultimate answer to questions like this is the Bible. There is a linear, rational, argument for the truth of Scripture that we have not discussed at length. By the way, based on your ideas that there is something immaterial out there and that there might be some form of self-existence, I think the argument can give light to our discussion. Let me know if you want to go there, and I will put up a post that ‘gets the ball rolling.’

“…Maybe the Calvinists are right and God created me destined for damnation, because I just don't get it…”

You never know whether your views will change in the future. You don’t know how it all will end. You might yet choose Christ. Never assume the outcome.

Besides, even a Calvinist would say you are responsible for your own choices. You do exactly what you want to do in any and every situation. You are responsible to accept Christ, and you may yet do exactly that.

“…Just out of curiosity did you feel there was a difference between the two trolley problems?”

No. Both situations will require a sinful choice to be made. The person choosing will sin either way.

“…You can get in some sticky situations by using the "greater good" rule, since at its extreme we should allow human medical experiments etc.”

Experimenting on another human being with no certain outcome is not an ethical choice at all.

Keep in mind that the ethic I am exposing does not make either choice in some situations either right or just. The idea is that in a fallen world, we will sin either way in certain situations.

“There are plenty of grey areas before we get to that extreme though (such as the hot button stem cell issue.)”

Do you think that experimentation on embryonic stems cells is wrong? I do. There is a vast difference between a situation where we know someone is going to die either way and the situation where one death is certain, but the saving of lives through research is uncertain.

By the way, I do not claim to be able to resolve all moral issues to my own satisfaction! I do not believe I will ever be able to do so since I am a sinful person in a sinful world. My morality, in that sense, has shades of grey. I do the best I can.

Keep in mind that, given that this is a fallen world, I do not have to know the proper course of action in any given situation in order to affirm The Law. The absolutes involved are real, or there would not be a moral dilemma at all. The choices you have mentioned would be easy if murder was not wrong. Either choice would be equal.

Besides, it’s not the situations when I don’t know the moral choice that are my problem; it’s the situations where the moral choice is obvious. Even when the moral choice is obvious, I often make the wrong choice and sin. That is the reason I cling to Christ so fully. My sinful habits have proven hard to break.

JK

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