Sunday, July 07, 2013

Rom 1 reply, 38b: On grounding ethics and morals in the face of evolutionary materalism-dominated scientism (a further step in responding to Patrick White in the Jamaica Gleaner, July 1, 2013)

As we continue our response to Mr Patrick White's recent attempt to dismiss Christian ethics as a relic of blind dogma in a centuries long losing war of religion with triumphant science, it is now necessary to discuss an adequate basis for morality and for ethical reflection on morality.

Especially, in the face of the sort of implications of evolutionary materialism as have been highlighted by that well known lab coat clad atheism advocate, prof. Richard Dawkins (ret'd.), in a well known 1995 Scientific American article:
Nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. This lesson is one of the hardest for humans to learn. We cannot accept that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous: indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose . . . . In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that 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 pitiless indifference . . . . DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music. [ “God’s Utility Function,” Sci. Am. Aug 1995, pp. 80 - 85. Emphases added.]
That is the general ideas context in which Ruse and Wilson said (as was more extensively cited last time):
Morality, or more strictly our belief in morality, is merely an adaptation put in place to further our reproductive ends. Hence the basis of ethics does not lie in God’s will  . . . In an important sense, ethics as we understand it is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate. It is without external groundingEthics is illusory inasmuch as it persuades us that it has an objective reference. This is the crux of the biological position. [Michael Ruse & E. O. Wilson, “The Evolution of Ethics,” Religion and the Natural Sciences: The Range of Engagement, , ed. J. E. Hutchingson, Orlando, Fl.:Harcourt and Brace, 1991.
Likewise, we must not let it slip that in his 1998 Darwin Day keynote address at University of Tennessee, Cornell University professor of the History of Biology, William Provine plainly stated:
Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent . . . . The first 4 implications are so obvious to modern naturalistic evolutionists that I will spend little time defending them. Human free will, however, is another matter. Even evolutionists have trouble swallowing that implication. I will argue that humans are locally determined systems that make choices. They have, however, no free will . . . [Evolution: Free Will and Punishment and Meaning in Life, Second Annual Darwin Day Celebration Keynote Address, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, February 12, 1998 (abstract).]

In short, we need to have it hammered home and clenched over that it is not just a "cynical dogmatic religionist's say-so" that raises the issue of the inherent amorality of evolutionary materialism, the evident driving force behind Mr Patrick White's article. Not at all. Instead, we must recognise and acknowledge the actual publicly declared implications of a worldview built up from the assumption that matter, energy, space and time interacting by blind chance and equally blind mechanical necessity are all that there is to reality. So declared, by leading advocates of the system of thought.

Where, indeed, it is obvious that blind matter, energy, space time and forces of chance and necessity have no purpose and can confer no value to the detritus tossed up by the throws of the dice that happen to have had our number come up. Accordingly, such adherents -- unless they are borrowing a sense of purpose and value (often, unacknowledged or even unrecognised . . . ) from our civilisation's historic Judaeo- Christian foundations -- think that we live in a world of blind struggle to survive and reproduce, with no reasonable expectation that others owe us duties of care to respect rights.

To such, if we want "rights" we have to fight for them, and "to the victors belong the spoils."

In short, we have already arrived at the nihilist's radical and horrific, devilishly Machiavellian credo: might and manipulation make 'right.'

And yes, that faint moaning sound you are hearing in the background is the echo of the ghosts of over a hundred million victims of nihilistic regimes over the past Century or so.

The ghosts are trying to warn us, but are we listening?

Speaking of ghosts, Plato, from 2350 years ago in The Laws, Bk X, would like to remind us that he warned our civilisation about the moral and civilisational hazard of evolutionary materialism promoted as progressive, avant garde "knowledge," c. 360 BC as follows:
 Ath. . . . [The avant garde philosophers and poets, c. 360 BC] say that  . . .  [t]he elements are severally moved by chance and some inherent force according to certain affinities among them-of hot with cold, or of dry with moist, or of soft with hard, and according to all the other accidental admixtures of opposites which have been formed by necessity. After this fashion and in this manner the whole heaven has been created, and all that is in the heaven, as well as animals and all plants, and all the seasons come from these elements, not by the action of mind, as they say, or of any God, or from art, but as I was saying, by nature and chance only.  [--> Evolutionary materialism is an ancient view that likes to pose as avant garde knowledge and the sophisticated person's natural position, but has well known consequences that Plato is about to expose.]

[[Thus, they hold that t]he Gods exist not by nature, but by art, and by the laws of states [--> atheism is a logical consequence], which are different in different places, according to the agreement of those who make them; and that the honourable is one thing by nature and another thing by law, and that the principles of justice have no existence at all in nature, but that mankind are always disputing about them and altering them; and that the alterations which are made by art and by law have no basis in nature, but are of authority for the moment and at the time at which they are made.- [ --> Relativism, too, is not new; complete with its radical amorality rooted in a worldview that has no foundational IS that can ground OUGHT.]
These, my friends, are the sayings of wise men, poets and prose writers, which find a way into the minds of youth. They are told by them that the highest right is might [[ Evolutionary materialism leads to the promotion of amorality], and in this way the young fall into impieties, under the idea that the Gods are not such as the law bids them imagine; and hence arise factions [ --> Evolutionary materialism-motivated amorality "naturally" leads to continual contentions and power struggles; cf. dramatisation here],  these philosophers inviting them to lead a true life according to nature, that is, to live in real dominion over others [ --> such amoral factions, if they gain power, "naturally" tend towards ruthless tyranny], and not in legal subjection to them . . . 
Of course, when such worldview foundations and their implications and consequences are pointed out, many atheists and atheism sympathisers will often try to say that atheists can be moral, at least as moral as any theist. 

That is true and was not the main issue.

Since we have consciences implanted in us by our creator and at least the memory of a Judaeo-Christian consensus and its moral principles in us, that some or even many atheists can be better than their worldview is not any great surprise. But the pivotal issues at stake here are -- first -- that evolutionary materialism has no worldview foundations able to bear the weight of OUGHT (so, strictly it is amoral), and -- second -- that historically (as Plato warned), it often serves to open the door to nihilists with radical agendas through undermining knowledge, injecting radical relativism and inculcating the reduction of justice and morality to "the highest right is might."  Such as, today we can see with the ongoing attempt to homosexualise marriage by manipulating our sense of fairness and by trying to use poorly grounded but widely promoted "scientific" claims and a distractive distorted  rhetoric of 'rights' to desensistise us to the patently disordered [= un-natural] and often self-destructive nature of homosexual behaviour.

In short, the how dare you talking point is mostly a distraction. Let us duly note that due to implanted conscience and a cultural memory of sound ethical principles, even the most radical atheists will be influenced to live above the strict implications of their views.

But, we need to ask, what happens if/when such cultural influences are weakened systematically by pounding waves of rhetoric of the sort we are responding to, and when conscience after conscience becomes deadened or benumbed?

Romans 1, that's what.
Rom 1: 19 . . . what can be known about God is plain to [men], because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,[g] in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.  [--> in the old days, in idolatrous temples, nowadays, in natural history museums, textbooks, on TV or the Internet etc.]

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
32 Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. [ESV]
In short, what was happening in C1 Rome and is happening again is due to willful rejection of evident truth about our Creator and its moral implications. Truth that is so evident, that its denial lands us in the absurdity of imagining and declaring ourselves wise when in fact our worldly wisdom is patent folly. No wonder, we spin out of not only intellectual but also moral control.

To understand that, let us start with a commonplace of our day: we have rights, binding expectations or even demands that we will be treated fairly and with due respect, given our inherent status as human beings. So, my right to my life, dignity, innocent reputation etc. demands that you have duties to respect such, and in turn that imposes a reciprocal duty of care on my part that I also respect your rights.

That is, rights are the flip side of the coin of moral duty.

Duty, rooted in recognising (at minimum, intuitively) the inherent dignity and value of the individual human person.

But, whence come such dignity and duties to respect?

For instance, can the chance detritus of a world that is blind, callous and indifferent -- as Dawkins and ever so many others see the world from the lab coat clad evolutionary materialist perspective --  have any basis other than might and clever manipulation, to claim such 'rights'? (In other words, 'rights' on such a view means little more than that if you disrespect this I am coming after you with force, physical or manipulative words that imply physical force to back me up.)

 That is, we see the devaluing of the human being, and the horrific, Machiavellian nihilist credo that might makes right as the natural result of this flawed worldview.

Why is that?

Because of the valid part of Hume's guillotine argument, by which he was "surprized" to see that moral arguments start with IS, IS , IS and then at some point switch to OUGHT, which he saw as therefore groundless. That is, there is indeed a gap between IS and OUGHT on many worldviews and it can only be answered by a worldview that has a foundational IS capable of bearing the weight of OUGHT.

There is but one serious candidate, aptly described in the second paragraph of the US Declaration of Independence of July 4th, 1776:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security . . .
Self-evident truths can be seen as having two key characteristics: (i) once we understand the truth being stated in light of reflecting on our experience of ourselves in our world, we will see that it is true, and (ii) it must also be true, on pain of obvious absurdity or incoherence if we try to deny such. 

In this case, we understand ourselves to have a dignity in ourselves traceable to being human that demands respect. So, when we go out into a community of others who are as ourselves, we must on pain of hypocritical inconsistency be willing to acknowledge the legitimacy of their claims to the same status of dignity as human beings. Where also the only basis for such dignity is that we are made in God's image -- the image of the inherently good God -- and given worth as reflectors of that infinite value, however flawed we may be by our inclination to do that which we know or should know is wrong.

In short, we easily can understand that we are under moral government -- just look at how we quarrel: you unfair me (and the reply very seldom runs: shut up you sheep and slide down de throat nicely . . . ) -- which points like an unerring compass needle to the Moral Governor, the inherently good God our common Creator and Lord. Who, has placed us in a world brimming over with signs that underscore that patent fact. So, it is unsurprising that if we insist on turning our backs on him and refusing to acknowledge him, we find ourselves in moral chaos and folly. That is, the widely acknowledged truth that we have rights that demand fair and respectful treatment, points like a compass needle to our being under the moral government of the inherently good God.

At this point the ill-informed may want to trot out the objection that evil disproves that God is possible.

This only reflects lack of awareness that this classic problem has been answered for coming on forty years, through Plantinga's Free Will Defense. (Cf. here on.)

However, a much older answer by Boethius, in his the consolation of Philosophy, written as he was waiting on an unjust sentence of execution, is also worth pondering. As William Dembski put it:
In his Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius states the following paradox: “If God exists, whence evil? But whence good, if God does not exist?” Boethius contrasts the problem that evil poses for  theism with the problem that good poses for atheism. The problem of good does not receive nearly as much attention as the problem evil, but it is the more basic problem. That’s because evil always presupposes a good that has been subverted. All our words for evil make this plain: the New Testament word for sin (Greek hamartia) presupposes a target that’s been missed; deviation presupposes a way (Latin via) from which we’ve departed; injustice presupposes justice; etc. So let’s ask, who’s got the worse problem, the theist or the atheist? Start with the theist. God is the source of all being and purpose. Given God’s existence, what sense does it make to deny God’s goodness? None . . . . The problem of evil still confronts theists, though not as a logical or philosophical problem, but instead as a psychological and existential one [as was addressed above] . . . . 

The problem of good as it faces the atheist is this: nature, which is nuts-and-bolts reality for the atheist, has no values and thus can offer no grounding for good and evil. As nineteenth century freethinker Robert Green Ingersoll used to say, “In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments. There are consequences.” More recently, Richard Dawkins made the same point: “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.” ["Prepared Remarks for the Dembski-Hitchens Debate," Uncommon Descent Blog, Nov 22, 2010]
In short, to raise the problem of evil is to imply the priority of good, and thus to imply the existence of The Good. Until the atheist can answer to that, he has no right to raise the problem of evil.

But this does not stop here, the ancient argument commonly called the Euthyphro dilemma is also commonly trotted out. In essence, it challenges: Does God command the good which is separate from himself, or is “good” just the arbitrary whim of God? If the first, God does not ground the good, and if the second, “good” is little more than the arbitrary whim of God.

This also fails. 

Fails in a way that is instructive.

The fatal defect of the dilemma argument lies in its pagan roots: the Greek gods in view in Socrates' original argument were not the true root of being; so, they could not ground reality. 

But the God of theism is the ground of reality, so it is a classic theistic answer that the inherently good Creator of the cosmos made a world that -- in accordance with his unchangeably good character -- not only is replete with reliable, compelling signs pointing to his eternal power and Deity as the root of our being, but also builds in a real, reasonable, intelligible moral principle into that world. 

That intelligible moral principle is implanted inextricably in our very nature as human beings, so that for instance by our nature as creatures made in God's image with ability to know, reason and choose, we have a known duty of mutual respect.  

And, so also, when this inherently good Creator-God and Lord commands us on moral matters, what he says will be decisively shaped by that goodness on the one hand -- commandments are "for our good" -- and will also reflect a responsiveness to human beings who are intelligent, finite, fallible, struggling morally governed creatures, in a relevant situation. 

(A subtlety in this, is that there will be cases where there is ameliorative regulation of behaviour too deeply rooted in a culture shaped by "the hardness of our hearts" to be pulled up at once without unacceptable harm [cf. here the classic "I hate divorce" case of the Judaeo-Christian tradition], but there will also be provision onwards for reformation of the culture [cf. here for a similar case, on slavery].)

As a result, objective morality is grounded in the roots of our nature and in the moral Creator behind those roots. Richard Hooker, in his Ecclesiastical Polity sums this view up in a key passage cited by Locke in his Second Treatise on Civil Government, Ch 2 Sect. 5, to justify liberty and justice in government:

. . . if I cannot but wish to receive good, even as much at every man's hands, as any man can wish unto his own soul, how should I look to have any part of my desire herein satisfied, unless myself be careful to satisfy the like desire which is undoubtedly in other men . . . my desire, therefore, to be loved of my equals in Nature, as much as possible may be, imposeth upon me a natural duty of bearing to themward fully the like affection. From which relation of equality between ourselves and them that are as ourselves, what several rules and canons natural reason hath drawn for direction of life no man is ignorant . . . [[Hooker then continues, citing Aristotle in The Nicomachean Ethics, Bk 8:] as namely, That because we would take no harm, we must therefore do none; That since we would not be in any thing extremely dealt with, we must ourselves avoid all extremity in our dealings; That from all violence and wrong we are utterly to abstain, with such-like . . . ] [[Eccl. Polity,preface, Bk I, "ch." 8, p.80, cf. here. Emphasis added.]

The point Hooker makes, as Locke understood so well, is a pivotal ground for moral reasoning in the context of community and government with liberty and justice for all, under God.

Paul's form of the Golden Rule that Hooker uses above, brings this out:
Rom 13:Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. [ESV]
That is, the core Judaeo-Christian moral precepts are rooted in and  the principle of neighbour-love under God, whose commands are for our good.

To want what my neighbour legitimately has and to want to take it from him, is harmful to my neighbour as it is the well-spring of all sorts of evil. First, it motivates taking by force or fraud that which is his legitimate property. Or worse, it may motivate robbing him of his life. It may motivate destroying his family and hope for posterity by seducing his wife, or by perverting the law of marriage and indoctrinating his children into perversions that will undermine family backed up by false colour of law thus the twisted, oppressive power of the state in rebellion against God. And so forth.

And so we see that worldview foundations make a huge difference to moral reasoning (and to reasoning in general).

In particular, there is no reason whatsoever why we should allow ourselves to be intimidated by a self-refuting, necessarily false evolutionary materialistic worldview that -- never mind how it dresses up in a lab coat and pretends to be knowledge and wisdom -- exposes its moral bankruptcy (indeed, therefore its irretrievable folly)  by implying that on such premises there is no foundation for rights and the right beyond might and manipulation make 'right.'

From such patent folly, let us decisively turn away. And if evolutionary materialist objectors and their fellow travellers will not listen to Paul, the other Apostles, Jesus, Moshe and the Prophets on this matter, let them answer to Plato's Athenian Stranger [cf herehere, here and here], with the ghosts of Socrates and Alcibiades at his elbow.  END


PS: Having just listened to a discussion on radio by an outstanding and widely respected radio and TV preacher on how reformation comes to be that -- while it properly speaks to the importance of intercessory prayer -- misses the full significance of the associated prophetic vision and proclamation, analytical  instruction and correction in light of sound ethics that leads a nation or a civilisation in reformation in light of more and more people being broken to repentance, renewal and revival, I will turn to this matter next, with a particular reference to  the pioneering work of Francis Schaeffer in the past generation. (For a preview, cf. here.)