Saturday, March 20, 2010

Can We Be Good Without God?

In this article I'll be offering a simple, spoof critique of Michael Ruse's recent article titled "God is dead. Long live morality." I will be very direct and will pull no punches when it comes to exposing Ruse's ruse for the lie that it is. Don't expect fancy philosophical jiu-jitsu from me in this article because God's word is sufficient to refute Ruse, whether one believes it or not. Given his view of reality, Ruse gives a consistent answer to a great question:
The question: What can Darwin teach us about morality?

God is dead, so why should I be good? The answer is that there are no grounds whatsoever for being good. There is no celestial headmaster who is going to give you six (or six billion, billion, billion) of the best if you are bad. Morality is flimflam. [bold and italics mine for emphasis]

Assuming his presuppositions for the sake of argument, I agree completely. No God means that there are no objective, transcendent, moral standards and morality is "flimflam". Moral realism is a pipe dream. I couldn't have said it better myself. What's even more helpful is the fact that Ruse openly admits that there is no grounding for moral standards. So why am I so stoked about this since I'm a Christian and Ruse is an atheist? It's because he's making my point for me. So, thank you Dr. Ruse for owning up to the consequences of your own worldview. However, Ruse refutes himself when he opposes anarchy,

Does this mean that you can just go out and rape and pillage, behave like an ancient Roman grabbing Sabine women? Not at all. I said that there are no grounds for being good. It doesn't follow that you should be bad.
Why not? Why can't I go out and rape, pillage, and plunder like a champion serial killer? You may object, "Dude, you'll get thrown in jail and possibly be executed." But I'm really clever and I don't plan to get caught. So explain to me again why I shouldn't do it if I can get away with it and there's no grounding for morality? Worse yet, Ruse begs the question because he assumes that raping and pillaging are "bad." Who says it's "bad" and why should I listen to their opinion? Given his assumptions about reality, why should I give a rip what anybody else thinks? After all, I'm a clever atheist and I'm going to use my smarts to avoid not only being arrested, tried, and convicted, but better yet, I don't have to worry about Judgment Day since there will never be one!
Indeed, there are those – and I am one – who argue that only by recognising the death of God can we possibly do that which we should, and behave properly to our fellow humans and perhaps save the planet that we all share. We can give up all of that nonsense about women and gay people being inferior, about fertilised ova being human beings, and about the earth being ours to exploit and destroy.

First, which set of moral standards inform "do[ing] that which we should" and "behav[ing] properly" if different societies having contradictory "shoulds", "oughts", and "proper behaviors"? How do you "save the planet" if different societies have contradictory moral values about how that is to be done? An objection may be, "Scientific experimentation has demonstrated that we are destroying the planet, thus endangering future generations of humans." But again, given Ruse's fundamental axiom about morality, why should I care? Maybe I think the human race needs to go extinct in the future. After all, we've had our shot and we blew it, so it's time to give another organism a shot at the Darwinian crap shoot. Given Ruse's views, my contributing to the destruction of the planet won't immediately affect me and I'm not obligated to uphold Ruse's or anyone else's standards of what constitutes "shoulds" and "oughts". I can make up my own rules because I'm my own little god and I get to call the shots regardless of what other little gods feel, think, and experience. Third, if we're just organized molecules banging around how do I get an ought from an is? In other words, how does the description of what happens in the world tell me about how I ought to act in the world? Finally, Ruse begs the question again by assuming it is "nonsense" to object to homosexuality, to assume that the fertilized egg is a human being, and to think it's okay to not recycle. If I get to make up my own standards, maybe my standard calls for discrimination against homosexuals because I think they are disgusting, maybe I think abortionists need to die because they dress in ugly blue scrubs, and maybe I don't care whether the earth is destroyed or not because littering and dumping my trash in the woods feeds my rebellious streak. If Ruse can arbitrarily assume that certain things are bad without justification then I can do the same. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

So, according to Ruse, we make up our own moral standards and agree to follow the standards we have made up in order to promote survival value in our society. Those within that society who demur from the majority will either do what the majority says even though they don't agree with it or face the consequences for violating that particular society's made up standard. However, I'll face the consequences only if I get caught, and remember, I'm clever and there's no Judgment Day. I also own a lot of C-4, have over 5,000 rounds of 7.62 mm FMJ cartridges in my basement, own 13 well-polished Kalishnakov rifles, and I have different ideas than most about how to win friends and influence people. But I digress with my spoof. Ruse goes on,

Start with the fact that humans are naturally moral beings. We want to get along with our fellows. We care about our families. And we feel that we should put our hands in our pockets for the widows and orphans. This is not a matter of chance or even of culture primarily. Humans as animals have gone the route of sociality. We succeed, each of us individually, because we are part of a greater whole and that whole is a lot better at surviving and reproducing that most other animals.

The fact that humans are naturally moral beings doesn't tell us what our morality should be. The Bible says that we have a sense of right and wrong hardwired into us as well (Romans 2:14-15), but Ruse isn't going to accept God's account of why we are moral. You might care about families and orphans, but why should I care about your feelings towards them? If I like to torture four year old girls for fun because I feel I should do that since it gives me the jollies, whose to say it's objectively wrong since moral realism is a pipe dream? And even if it is generally true that group cohesiveness promotes survival value of the individuals in the group, why should I seek cohesiveness and how do these facts tell me what I ought be doing within the group given Ruse's axiom? Should I do this for my own survival? Maybe I don't want to live. Maybe I'm on a mission to die. But if suicide is wrong too then why is it wrong? Given Ruse's godless view of the world, why should I struggle to live in this miserable world when I could kill myself and take a few others with me just for fun? After all, there's no god and no ultimate consequences, so it's either eat, drink, and be merry for as long as you can like a consistent hedonist, or forget even trying to do that and end it all now because reality is nihilistic. But Ruse and others like him don't like the consequences of nihilism; it's just too uncomfortable to stay there too long. Thus, folks like this have to piece together "shoulds" and "oughts" from the very God that provides the grounding for those things, even though they hate him. The Christian philosopher Cornelius Van Til nailed it when he said that the unbeliever has to metaphorically sit on the lap of his Heavenly Father in order to slap Him in the face.

On the one hand, we have suppressed all sorts of common mammalian features that disrupt harmonious living. Imagine trying to run a philosophy class if two or three of the members were in heat. On the other hand, we have all sorts of sentiments about helping others and about the need to be fair. The love commandment is part of our biology.

Why suppress the so-called "mammalian features"? I'm sure there's loads of people that would love to run around naked in the woods acting like dogs without any consequences. If the "love commandment is part of our biology", why not also appeal to the "seek and destroy" commandments in the Pentateuch which are also supposedly part of our biology? The truth is, any moral "oughts" can only make sense if you first begin with the fact that humans are created in God's image and then ground those "oughts" in that established fact. That's not the answer the professed atheist wants to hear, but it's the answer that God gives them. You say, "But I don't believe in your Holy Book". I know, that's the problem. You cannot believe and embrace it, that is, unless God Himself grants you saving faith (John 6:65).

It is true that we are aggressive at times, and it is even more true that thanks to our technology we can and sometimes do wreak the most terrible consequences on our fellow humans. But even so, compared to many other species, we are softies. The murder rate among lions, for instance, makes downtown Detroit look like a haven.

Contrary to secular philosophy, God says He hardwired into us knowledge about His existence, a basic sense of right and wrong, and a sense of justice (Romans 1:19-21; 2:14-15). This explains why we are softies, why we should care and do care about others, and that's why downtown Detroit isn't as bad as it could be; well, at least not yet.

Morality then is not something handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai.
A boldfaced lie. "They exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the created thing rather than the Creator . . ." (Romans 1:25). Morality was given to Israel by God through Moses and God did it again through Christ, the greater Lawgiver.
It is something forged in the struggle for existence and reproduction, something fashioned by natural selection. . . .
Ruse begs the question again by assuming morality has a common cause rooted in evolutionary processes. Again, morality is hardwired into us by God, contrary to what Ruse suggests (Romans 2:14-15). You might object, "But aren't you assuming that too?" Yes I am. Everybody reasons in a circle since everybody begins with certain beliefs about the world that they can't empirically prove. Everybody has some type of faith commitment. The difference is that the Christian's circle is gracious and non-arbitrary since it is based upon God's own infallible word, whereas Ruse's is vicious because it is arbitrary by virtue of being based upon the contradictory opinions of men.
It [i.e., morality] works and it has no meaning over and above this.
If morality reduces to pragmatism then what are my goals? To love people as myself or hate some of them and treat them like cockroaches that need to be exterminated? Nazi Germany took the latter route in 1938 when the German Supreme Court ruled that Jews were not persons and upon that basis the Nazis eliminated 6 million of them. They had laws against murdering people, they just redefined what a "person" was. This is the kind of thing that can happen when morality reduces to pragmatism. When what "works" is merely defined by what your goals are versus what God says in His word then you can rest assured it will end in disaster because the nature of man is quick to leave God's precepts and adopt their own.
Why fall on a grenade to save your fellows when it hardly pays off for you?

It doesn't if Ruse is right. Why use the word "hardly" when being blown to smithereens to save the life of your friends amounts to a mere scattering of your molecules on a battle field? How does that bring some kind of benefit? However, since God's word is true, we can make sense out of something like this since Jesus gave us the greatest example of self-sacrificial love in His atoning death on the cross.

Morality is just a matter of emotions, like liking ice cream and sex and hating toothache and marking student papers. But it is, and has to be, a funny kind of emotion. It has to pretend that it is not that at all! If we thought that morality was no more than liking or not liking spinach, then pretty quickly it would break down. Before long, we would find ourselves saying something like: "Well, morality is a jolly good thing from a personal point of view. When I am hungry or sick, I can rely on my fellow humans to help me. But really it is all b******t, so when they need help I can and should avoid putting myself out. There is nothing there for me." The trouble is that everyone would start saying this, and so very quickly there would be no morality and society would collapse and each and every one of us would suffer.

But why should I care about suffering? Why should I care about how people feel given Ruse's assumption about morality and reality? Unless you begin with the God of the Bible, you're never going to have anything to grab onto when it comes to developing moral standards for society other than how certain actions make people feel per the majority. But again, this commits the is/ought fallacy.

So morality has to come across as something that is more than emotion. It has to appear to be objective, even though really it is subjective. "Why should I be good? Why should you be good? Because that is what morality demands of us. It is bigger than the both of us. It is laid on us and we must accept it, just like we must accept that 2 + 2 = 4." I am not saying that we always are moral, but that we always know that we should be moral.

This is the same ole' same ole' (i.e., "we always know that we should be moral" = question begging and is/ought fallacy). There is also a clear reference to self-deception in the statement, "It has to appear to be objective, even though really it is subjective. " Amazing. A convenient, pragmatic, self-deception. We deceive ourselves about the nature of morality because it affords survival value through group cohesion. Nice motive. The problem is, historically speaking, over the last 100 years the powerful, clever, and wicked have taken advantage ethics like these to suit their own evil agendas, and given enough time it can lead to the utter ruin of a society since the foundation thereof is built upon the sinking sands of man's word rather than God's. Just look at the history of the 20th century per Nazi Germany, communist Russia, China, and Cambodia.

Am I now giving the game away?
Yes you are. Thank you for doing the heavy lifting for us. We Christians truly appreciate it.
Now you know that morality is an illusion put in place by your genes to make you a social cooperator, what's to stop you behaving like an ancient Roman? Well, nothing in an objective sense.
Amen again!
But you are still a human with your gene-based psychology working flat out to make you think you should be moral.
That's good. I look forward to the day when marrying an aardvark is acceptable in my state since I and many others think that marrying non-humans should be morally permissible.
It has been said that the truth will set you free. Don't believe it.
Another lie. Your Creator told you otherwise. You would do well to heed His words, "31 So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." 33 They answered Him, "We are Abraham's descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, 'You will become free '?" 34 Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. 35 "The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. 36 "So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:31-36)

Oh and by the way, if the truth can't set us free, I guess that means then that we can't believe your "truth" about morality.

David Hume knew the score. It doesn't matter how much philosophical reflection can show that your beliefs and behaviour have no rational foundation, your psychology will make sure you go on living in a normal, happy manner.

Thank you for admitting to us that if one adopts your view of reality and ethics, they will be irrational for the purposes of promoting survival value through group cohesion to an arbitrary, made up standard. And it took a Ph.D. to tell people how they can be irrational and happy about it. This is great, we not only have the opportunity to reject the Creator but also to be irrational. Speaking of truth, David Hume knows all about the truth now. The problem is it didn't set him free. I hope God has mercy on you and sets you free before it's too late.

God is dead.
Nietzsche is dead. God is doing just fine.
. . . God is dead. Morality has no foundation. Long live morality. Thank goodness!
No, you ought to thank God that you're still breathing. God may have mercy on you before then. We'll have to wait and see. The type of "Morality" that "lives long" without a transcendent foundation is not the type of morality that most thinking people will be interested in, especially if they're not the ones with political power calling the shots. Just ask the 6 million Jews that died in the concentration camps, the Russian citizens that were murdered by their own dictator, or the huge numbers of people that died under Pol Pot's regime.

No, Dr. Ruse, we can't be good without God. We can't even get close. This is because apart from Christ, all your works are filthy rags in His sight and your definition of goodness runs contrary to His. What you call good (i.e., homosexuality, abortion) He calls evil (Isaiah 5:20-21). For God said through the prophet Isaiah,

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! 21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes And clever in their own sight! (Isaiah 5:20-21)
Thinking that one can set up their own standards of morality without dependence upon God is the height of arrogance (Isaiah 10:1). And as admitted by Ruse and demonstrated by me, without God one can neither ground nor define "good" in a non-arbitrary way. Spiritually, all of this ends up in a wicked mess that will merit eternal death. That's why we need Jesus. It's high time for Dr. Ruse to repent of his sins and put his sole trust in Christ as Lord and Savior. Unless he builds his hope on Jesus blood and righteousness, his continued truth suppression will not only cost him his intellect, but his eternal soul and the souls of those who are duped by his "ruse".

Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (1 Corinthians 1:20)


  1. "Thinking that you can set up your own standards of morality without dependence upon Him is the height of arrogance"

    Say I realized I had no sense of morals and I wanted to understand what God sees as moral. Should I pray and ask for guidance, or does God not reveal His will that directly to us anymore?

    Okay, so He doesn't "speak directly" outside of Scripture anymore. We're not prophets, after all.

    Should I just open the Bible, hoping for moral clarity on this or that situation?

    Say I was a soldier in Iraq and saw this attractive woman who I thought was a virgin and, feeling desperate, wanted to make her my wife (whatever she thought about it). Say that I wanted to kidnap her, shave her head and keep her in the cellar of my basement for a month. What would the Bible say?

    Well, I open up to Deuteronomy 21:10-14.

    "When you go out to war against your enemies and the LORD, your God, delivers them into your hand, so that you take captives, if you see a comely woman among the captives and become so enamored of her that you wish to have her as wife, you may take her home to your house. But before she may live there, she must shave her head and pare her nails and lay aside her captive's garb. After she has mourned her father and mother for a full month, you may have relations with her, and you shall be her husband and she shall be your wife. However, if later on you lose your liking for her, you shall give her her freedom"

    Now, before I'm scolded for being ridiculous and banned, why should I not take this passage at face value?

    If you mock me, isn't this an implicit acknowledgment that God's commands might sometimes be seen as morally offensive: therefore, you're sitting on judgment upon His decrees, no?

    Here I am, on a "God-ordained" mission in Iraq started by a Bible-believing President (well, at least before that Communist took office). Is there a passage from Scripture that clearly suggests such actions would be immoral? If so, I'm not aware of it.

  2. Since I, for one, have already discussed this passage, I won’t repeat myself here. Instead, I’ll share a personal anecdote. My high school German teacher was a WWII war bride.

    Now, for all I know, she genuinely loved her American husband. Still, why do you think she married him? Don’t you suppose he was her ticket out of war-ravaged Germany?

    You might say it was consensual, and–in a sense–it was. But what viable options did a German girl of her generation really have? Practically an entire generation of German men had perished in the meat grinder of a total war and total defeat. Germany was in shambles after the war. Poverty. Despair.

    In ordinary times, don’t you think her preference would have been to marry some nice eligible German boy rather than getting hitched to an American GI, moving to a strange land, thereby leaving her native land and surviving relatives behind?

    So, to some extent, I expect it was a marriage of convenience. He may have married her because he fell in love with her while he was stationed overseas, but don’t you think she probably married him in part out of desperation born of desperate circumstances?

  3. "You may object, "Dude, you'll get thrown in jail and possibly be executed." But I'm really clever and I don't plan to get caught."

    Not only that, but there are certainly enough examples of evil people who have escaped the law, such as the Zodiac killer as one example.

  4. Hi Rob,

    You asked,

    "Say I realized I had no sense of morals and I wanted to understand what God sees as moral. Should I pray and ask for guidance, or does God not reveal His will that directly to us anymore?"

    If you want to know God's will you must know God's word and know which Law you are under in order to please God. Prayer divorced from the word is a waste of time since you will fail to pray in accordance with God's will if you don't know God's word. It is important to note that I am about to say in response does not necessarily reflect the views of the rest of the contributors of this blog.

    The entire Mosaic Law was binding on the nation of Israel alone and it was inevitably tied to Old Covenant that Israel was under. The Mosaic Law is not binding as a unit upon the church of Jesus Christ today because we are under the New Covenant and with the New Covenant comes different laws. There are some commands that transcend all eras (i.e., the Greatest Commandment of Deut. 6:5/Lev. 19:18 cf. Matthew 22:37-40) and there are some commands that are brought over from the Mosaic Law (9 of the 10 commandments) that are now part of the New Covenant Law of Christ, but these "brought over" laws are now considered fully part of Christ's Law. Thus, believers today are under the Law of Christ and not the Law of Moses.

    "Should I just open the Bible, hoping for moral clarity on this or that situation?"

    Yes, but per the brief clarification above.

    Deuteronomy 21:10-14 should be taken at face value only for the ancient Israelite living in a physical, theocratic kingdom. This law was part of the Mosaic Law and thus, it is no longer binding.

    You go on to say,

    "If you mock me, isn't this an implicit acknowledgment that God's commands might sometimes be seen as morally offensive: therefore, you're sitting on judgment upon His decrees, no?"

    My desire is not to mock you, only to answer your questions to the best of my ability. It is true that God's commands can be viewed as morally offensive, but regardless of whether it is the Law of Moses or the Law of Christ, unbelievers will always take offense at God's commands since they are God-haters by nature and by choice.

    "Here I am, on a "God-ordained" mission in Iraq started by a Bible-believing President (well, at least before that Communist took office)."

    LOL! I'm not laughing at you, I'm laughing at the "communist" part. :-)

    "Is there a passage from Scripture that clearly suggests such actions would be immoral? If so, I'm not aware of it."

    Yes, there is Scripture that clearly teaches that such things would be sinful today. My theology of Law teaches that some things that were perfectly holy, righteous, and good under the Mosaic Law would be sinful today under the Law of Christ. For you to attempt to do what was commanded by God through Moses in Deuteronomy 21:10-14 would be sinful today. This is because President Bush is not the God-appointed King over Israel, a physical theocratic kingdom, nor are we under the Mosaic Law/Old Covenant. We are in a different era with different laws (cf. Galatians 4:21-31; Ephesians 2:15; Colossians 2:16-17; Hebrews 8:13). What applied under one covenantal era doesn't necessarily apply under this era. For example, to hate the enemies of Israel and hack them up in pieces as commanded by God in the OT was a righteous and holy thing to do as directed by God (Deut. 23:3-6; Joshua 6:15-21; Psalm 139:21-22), but under the New Covenant, we are to love our personal enemies and pray for them, instead of hacking them up into pieces (Matt. 5:44-45).

  5. Dusman: "I will be very direct and will pull no punches when it comes to exposing Ruse's ruse for the lie that it is."

    I, for one, prefer it that way.

    And for that matter, did John the Baptist pull punches?

    And what did Jesus say about John the Baptist?

  6. Does this mean that you can just go out and rape and pillage, behave like an ancient Roman grabbing Sabine women? Not at all. I said that there are no grounds for being good. It doesn't follow that you should be bad.

    This comes from a professional philosopher.
    Think about it.

    It's a sad, sad world.

    Let me try to translate this stupidity:
    But isn't it the case that "There are no obligations whatsoever from refraining from any action whatsoever" implies "There are no obligations whatsoever from refraining from from certain actions"? No, because "There are no obligations whatsoever from refraining from any action whatsoever" does not imply that "There are no obligations whatsoever to perform certain actions".


  7. Is Ruse a professional philosopher?

    What if I did choose to go ahead and do that to my future Iraqi bride? How do you know it would be wrong? If you don't know whether it would be wrong, why complain about it?

  8. Regarding Deut. 21:10-14, Steve wrote, "Since I, for one, have already discussed this passage..."

    Here is what Steve wrote elsewhere (Blinded by the light; Aug. 12, 2006):

    Todd: Rape is wrong, unless the Lord has allowed you to take a woman without her consent (Deuteronomy 21:10-14) in which case it's AOK.
    ("When you go out to war against your enemies and the LORD, your God, delivers them into your hand, so that you take captives, if you see a comely woman among the captives and become so enamored of her that you wish to have her as wife, you may take her home to your house ... but you shall not sell her or enslave her, since she was married to you UNDER COMPULSION." )


    1.The disposition of female POWs is a special case of the general predicament which Gene, among others, has already addressed.

    2.Beyond that, I’d say something else.

    In the ANE, marriages were arranged marriages. They were marriages of convenience, negotiated by the paterfamilias or elder brother with his counterpart.

    Marriage was an economic institution, concerned with legitimate lines of inheritance as well as provision for the elderly.

    In a tribal society, land was common property, belonging to the respective clan.

    This the primary reason for the patriarchal custom of endogamy.*

    And there was no welfare state to care for the elderly.

    Todd is judging Deut 21:10-14 by the anachronistic model of legally and financially independent men and women in a society structured by the nuclear families who fall in love and tie the knot. But ANE marriage was never consensual in that romantic, libertarian sense.

    Aside from the fact that the contemporary model has not been distinguished by its stability, it assumes a socioeconomic infrastructure which was nonexistent in the ANE.

    *BTW, I believe it was Todd who earlier noted an apparent or actual discrepancy between patriarchal customs and the Mosaic Law, with its forbidden degrees of consanguinity.

    But this would furnish evidence for the historical accuracy of the respective accounts. If the Pentateuch were composed during the Babylonian Exile, then the redactors would lack the historical know-how to distinguish between patriarchal customs and the Mosaic Law. Rather, they’d unwittingly retroject a 1st millennium perspective on both epochs.

  9. "it doesn't follow that you should be bad"

    Admittedly, I have no college level philosophy under my belt, so I may be missing something, but if there is no morality, then where does Ruse even get the categories of "good" and "bad" to begin with????

    If we lived in his world he wouldn't last 5 minutes. For if it REALLY was as he describes, then I don't see any reason why I shouldn't kill him and take everything he has as fast as I possibly can.

    Thank God we don't live in his world. Or rather, that his world does not exist.