24 December 2004, reposted and updated 2–3 December 2006
A critic of the article How to build a bomb in the public school system argued that a biblical foundation was unnecessary for ethics. Jonathan Sarfati’s response explains how Christian foundations underpin the prosperity and science of the West, and contrasts these with the atrocities of atheistic regimes. This needs to be revisited especially with the increasingly shrill atheistic attacks on Christianity in general and on Christian freedoms, pushing moral boundaries, and even a leading atheistic evolutionist saying that Hitler’s ideas should be reconsidered. Then the response explains the real problem for atheists trying to build an ethical system.
That belief system which is indoctrinated into kids provides the perfect basis for this.
Actually, biblical Christianity has provided the only basis for prosperous modern democracies, including:
All these are biblical principles, and it is no accident that the most prosperous countries have adopted them, and that the poorest countries fail. Even now, prosperous countries in the west are still benefiting from these Christian-based foundations laid down in their past.
Conversely, atheism has been tried as a basis for life in many countries in the 20th century. The results have been some of the biggest bloodbaths of all time under communist despots above the law, e.g., Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. For example, the Inquisition killed 2000 people in three centuries; Stalin killed that many before breakfast. Neither could atheistic economies remotely compete with the West—e.g., it didn’t take long for the USA to outstrip the USSR in the space race when they put their minds to it.
And nice to your mother too, I’ve heard.
Nothing to explain. The article explained that evolution provides the basis for the bomb-building, not that everyone would act consistently on this basis. We know that many atheists borrow a moral code from outside their belief system, since that can’t provide any. The rabid misotheist Richard Dawkins even claimed that he was a passionate Darwinist as to how we got here, but a passionate anti-Darwinist when it came to morality.
Rather, our argument is not that atheists cannot live ‘good’ lives, but that there is no objective basis for their goodness if we are just rearranged pond scum. Christian philosopher and apologist Dr William Lane Craig explained the Christian moral argument for God in The Indispensability of Theological Meta-Ethical Foundations for Morality:
It would, indeed, be arrogant and ignorant to claim that people cannot be good without belief in God. But that was not the question. The question was: can we be good without God? When we ask that question, we are posing in a provocative way the meta-ethical question of the objectivity of moral values. Are the values we hold dear and guide our lives by mere social conventions akin to driving on the left versus right side of the road or mere expressions of personal preference akin to having a taste for certain foods or not? Or are they valid independently of our apprehension of them, and if so, what is their foundation? Moreover, if morality is just a human convention, then why should we act morally, especially when it conflicts with self-interest? Or are we in some way held accountable for our moral decisions and actions? …
Now it is important that we remain clear in understanding the issue before us. The question is not: Must we believe in God in order to live moral lives? There is no reason to think that atheists and theists alike may not live what we normally characterize as good and decent lives. Similarly, the question is not: Can we formulate a system of ethics without reference to God? If the non-theist grants that human beings do have objective value, then there is no reason to think that he cannot work out a system of ethics with which the theist would also largely agree. Or again, the question is not: Can we recognize the existence of objective moral values without reference to God? The theist will typically maintain that a person need not believe in God in order to recognize, say, that we should love our children. Rather, as humanist philosopher Paul Kurtz puts it, “The central question about moral and ethical principles concerns this ontological foundation. If they are neither derived from God nor anchored in some transcendent ground, are they purely ephemeral?”
An idea of the problem for atheists was illustrated in the famous radio debate between the Jesuit philosopher and historian of philosophy Frederick Copleston and the anti-Christian mathematical logician Bertrand Russell (www.bringyou.to/apologetics/p20.htm):
Bertrand Russell [BR]: You see, I feel that some things are good and that other things are bad. I love the things that are good, that I think are good, and I hate the things that I think are bad. I don’t say that these things are good because they participate in the Divine goodness.
Frederick Copleston [FC]: Yes, but what’s your justification for distinguishing between good and bad or how do you view the distinction between them?
BR: I don’t have any justification any more than I have when I distinguish between blue and yellow. What is my justification for distinguishing between blue and yellow? I can see they are different.
FC: Well, that is an excellent justification, I agree. You distinguish blue and yellow by seeing them, so you distinguish good and bad by what faculty?
BR: By my feelings.
As Christian apologist Dr Ravi Zacharias said in Can Evil Exist without God?, if Copleston weren’t such a gentleman, he might have asked, “in some cultures they love their neighbors; in others they eat them, both on the basis of feeling. Do you have any preference?”
This is a blatant category mistake. A human father is equal in nature to his children, while God the Father is infinitely superior by nature, as our Creator. His Fatherhood to believers is only one aspect of the relationship. God is also rulemaker, Savior and Judge.
This oversimplifies our relationship with God to be merely like a child’s relationship to his earthly father. Since this is a false premise, the argument crumbles.
This is disingenuous, since you don’t believe God exists at all, so it’s not logical to believe he has any attributes at all, let alone being a good friend. First you have to show why atheism is true (and it is an active belief system), not simply assert it by facile fallacious comparisons.
Let’s be honest—one has no excuse for disbelief because of what God has made (Romans 1:20), and He has also given tangible proof by raising Jesus from the dead (Acts 17:31). It is not enough to display airs of superiority; these arguments must be addressed.
Also, no one in any published CMI article has tried to shift responsibility for our actions onto anyone. Quite the opposite in fact—see ‘Evolution made me do it!’ and My genes made me do it! ‘Infidelity genes’ discovered?
Why should we? On what grounds do you derive what ought to be from what is? Science can at best only tell what people actually do. Science may indicate that if a 20 kg weight is dropped from a height of 100 metres on someone’s head, it would probably kill him; morality decides that this is murder and therefore wrong. Yet your statement says we ought to do something, e.g., face up to responsibilities, without showing where this ‘ought’ comes from.
Actually the childishness of man rejecting God is much older than 2000 years—it goes back to Eden, “did God really say …”. It’s time to move back to the wisdom of the all-knowing Creator.
Jonathan Sarfati, Ph.D.