On the topic of morality, [Evangelical Frank] Turek couldn’t resist a Holocaust reference. He showed a photo of the Buchenwald concentration camp with stacks of dead bodies. He said,
If there is no god, this is just a matter of opinion.
The statement “I like chocolate” is just an opinion. By contrast, I wouldn’t call “I recommend we declare war” in a cabinet meeting just an opinion, but that’s a quibble. If Turek wants to say that both are conclusions grounded in the person making the statement and nothing else, I agree. The same is true for “the Holocaust was wrong.”
What alternative does Turek propose?
Turek imagines a morality grounded outside of humanity. He would probably agree with William Lane Craig’s definition of objective morality, “moral values that are valid and binding whether anybody believes in them or not.”
The other explanation for morality
But there’s no need to imagine Turek’s universal moral truth when we have a better alternate explanation: universally held moral programming. We’re all the same species, so we have similar responses to moral questions. That explains things nicely without the unsupported assumption of a supernatural being.
Turek confuses the degree of outrage (which, for the Holocaust, is quite high) with the degree of absoluteness. He seems to imagine that the more emphatically we think that the Holocaust was wrong, the more objective that moral opinion must be, but why imagine this? He provides no evidence to support universal moral truth or to reject the obvious alternative, universally held moral programming.
Let’s take a step back and consider his example. God allows 11 million innocent people to die in the Holocaust, and Turek thinks that this is an example supporting his side of the ledger?
Morality also changes with time. In the West, we’re pleased with our abolition of slavery and the civil rights we’ve established, but these aren’t universals. The modern views on these issues contradict the Old Testament’s, but none of us cling to the Old Testament view. Turek’s objective morality doesn’t allow change with time.
Morality vs. absolute morality
Turek listed things that must be true if God doesn’t exist. First, “The Nazis were not wrong.” If morality is an opinion, the Nazis had an opinion and the Allies had an opinion. We said they were wrong; they said we were wrong. Stalemate.
Nope—dude needs a dictionary. He’s confusing morality with absolute morality. I agree that the Nazis were not wrong in an absolute sense. But they were still wrong (from my standpoint) using the definition of morality in the dictionary, which makes no reference to an absolute grounding.
He continues his list with more examples of the same error: love is no better than rape, killing people is no different than feeding the poor, and so on. In an absolute sense, he’s right; he just hasn’t given any reason to imagine that morality is based in absolutes. Drop the assumption of absoluteness, and nothing is left unexplained.
Why the insistence on objective or universal or absolute morality? We don’t have any problem with shared (rather than absolute) ideas of other concepts like courage, justice, charity, hope, patience, humility, greed, or pride. Again, the dictionary agrees. None of these have an objective grounding, and the earth keeps turning just fine.
Subjectivity:The quality of being based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions. An explanation for that which influences, informs, and biases people’s judgments about truth or reality; it is the collection of the perceptions, experiences, expectations, personal or cultural understanding, and beliefs specific to a person.
Objectivity:The state or quality of being true even outside a subject’s individual biases, interpretations, feelings, and imaginings. A proposition is generally considered objectively true (to have objective truth) when its truth conditions are met without biases caused by feelings, ideas, opinions, etc., of a sentient subject. A second, broader meaning of the term refers to the ability in any context to judge fairly, without partiality or external influence.
Faith, by design, is inherently subjective. Even the writer of the book of Hebrews understood this, as evidenced by the words found in chapter eleven and verses one and three:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.
Hebrew 11 details the faith of Biblical luminaries such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sara, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, David, the prophets, and even the wandering children of Israel. Believing these people had great faith requires even more faith because none of them exist outside of the pages of Christian Bible. Hebrews 11 goes on to detail what these people of faith supposedly faced as earthly voices of the one true God:
Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions. Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
I say supposedly, because there’s no evidence outside of the Bible for these things actually happening. Believing them to be true requires faith. And that’s the essence of faith: believing without evidence. Now intellectuals among the faithful love to argue that their faith is reasonable, but I find their arguments unpersuasive. Is it reasonable to believe a man who was cruelly executed on a Roman cross resurrected himself from the dead three days later? Is it reasonable to believe that this same man was born of a virgin, turned water into wine, walked on water, walked through walls, teleported out of the midst of a crowd, healed blindness with spit and dirt, and fed thousands of people with a few loaves of bread and even fewer fish? Of course not. Believing these things to be true requires faith, a faith that rejects what we know objectively to be true. We know that virgins don’t have babies, water can’t be turned into wine (though my wife wishes this were true), people can’t walk on water or walk through walls, blindness can’t be healed through spit and dirt, and it’s impossible to feed five thousand men, and an unspecified number of women and children with five loaves of Wonder Bread and two perch filet. (Now, Jesus teleporting out of a crowd without being seen; that’s possible. SYFY channel, people. It’s all real.)
Imagine me telling you that over a twenty- or so year period I was beaten almost to death five times by Buddhists, beaten with wood rods by jihadists, stoned by ISIS, and spent thirty-six hours treading water in the Pacific. Not only that, the Chinese attempted to arrest me in Hong Kong, but I escaped by climbing over a wall. Would you believe my story? Of course not. A reasonable person would ask for some sort of corroborating evidence. Live long enough and you learn that when a story sound too good/bad to be true, it is likely a lie.
Yet, when a similar tale is told by the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 11, countless Christians believe it to be true:
Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. … In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands.
The Apostle Paul knew that readers would doubt his story, so he offered up proof for its truthfulness. Are you ready for some mind-blowing truth? Here it is: The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not.
God knows I am not lying. Paul’s Sunday night testimony is absurd, and most reasonable people would reject it as the rantings of a man who has spent too much time in the third heaven. You know you are in trouble when you have to call a mythical God as your witness. Yet, is this not what countless Evangelicals do when they argue that they know God/Jesus/Christianity is true because of what they have experienced in their lives? God did it, they say. Just ask him! Pray tell, how is this any different from Elwood P. Dowd’s six-foot three-and-half-inch tall pooka friend, Harvey the rabbit?
Dowd believed Harvey was real, taking him to the bar for drinks and even introducing him to his friends. Dowd even believed that Harvey had the power to stop time:
Did I tell you he could stop clocks? Well, you’ve heard the expression ‘His face would stop a clock’? Well, Harvey can look at your clock and stop it. And you can go anywhere you like, with anyone you like, and stay as long as you like. And when you get back, not one minute will have ticked by. You see, science has overcome time and space. Well, Harvey has overcome not only time and space, but any objections.
What an awesome, science/reason defying rabbit, right? Maybe we should start a religion.
Harvey existed only in Dowd’s mind. He believed Harvey was real, so that means Harvey existed — even though no one actually saw him. Dowd rightly ended up in an insane asylum, yet when Evangelicals make similar claims about their God and religion, they are considered fine, upstanding citizens, every bit as rational as hardcore skeptics and rationalists.
The world has a collective cognitive dissonance when it comes to deities and religion. Instead of objectively examining and testing religious claims, billions of people accept them at face value. By faith, they just believe these things to be true. The United States is one of the most religious country on Earth. While the U.S. is religiously diverse, Christianity is the primary belief system of most Americans. Approximately one out of four Americans claim he or she is Evangelical. Ponder that for a moment — one out of four. In some places, such as where I live in rural Northwest Ohio, the percentage of Evangelicals is even higher yet. This is why a century of scientific knowledge has done little to change the minds of Americans about evolution. Three-fourths of Americans either believe God created the universe pretty much as it is described in Genesis 1-3 (creationism), or God used evolution to bring our biological world to life (theistic evolution). For hundreds of millions of Americans, when it comes to understanding the world they live in, they are content to say, God did it!
I recently had a brief discussion with an Evangelical man who wanted to know how and why I no longer believe in God. This man wanted me to know that his relationship and experiences with the Jesus were real. Here’s some of what he wrote:
I am not being critical. I am talking from a heart of simple faith in my life. I became a Christian in 1979 as a young boy running away from home. I had never been to church, my parents had never been to church. I sat in class during a bible lesson and had the most incredible encounter, which at that stage I had no clue what it was. Today, I know it had to have been the Holy Spirit. I went home that day, sat on my bed, Gave my life to Christ and have never looked back.
Since then I have had the most incredible experience of Christ’s love, forgiveness, prophecies and jobs through prophecy and leading in Christ. I have seen live [sic] transformed in him.
I am now 55, serving in a Christian school and seeing lives touched. Kids from broken homes, destitute families, youngster in very difficult situations being healed. This is not a hyped experience. Our school has seen raped young girls have coming to incredible healing under Christ, girls wanting to abort their babies, deciding not to and producing awesome children and loving them, boys abused and abusers who have turned their lives around because of the love they have found in Christ and testimonies of students from our school who are making a difference in their work place because of their faith. We do not have extensive bible programs, bible lessons, etc…but simple faith in Christ.
For whatever has happened in your life, I know what I have received in Christ. Maybe for me it has to do with the fact that I truly met Christ, not in a Church, that I have a personal experience of His touch.
I politely responded to the man, and a short time later he sent me this:
Thanks for the honest reply. I have read some of the articles already [I sent him links to several posts, along with a link to the WHY page] . Every single article I have already read still does not disprove or prove the existence of God to me. The only proof of God to me is what I have experienced in Him.
The bible of course makes no sense in many areas! That’s what makes it so tangible for me. Only an idiot would write such rubbish trying to lead someone to believe in him regarding faith, what’s in the bible, the “stories” etc…… , unless that idiot happened to be God who knows infinitely more than I could ever understand. I cannot presume to know God’s thoughts behind what was written in the sometimes seemingly ridiculous writing’s. That’s okay for me.
Once again all I can answer to is my own experience. I have experienced Him personally.
If I am wrong in my belief then I have lived an incredible life of serving others, in my opinion, to a better life where they can live in peace (referring back to the lives I have seen transform from despair to hope). If I am right in my belief in God’s word and plan then I spend eternity with him. What you call life “anecdotes” based on scientific principles I call awesome God events. It is a matter of choice. One of us is going to be wrong at the end of the day. I think I would rather be in my shoes. That however is a matter of personal opinion.
This Evangelical man knows that what he believes is true through emotional, subjective experiences. Essentially, he is saying, I know I am right because I know I am right, no proof needed. I assume he believes that there is only one true God — the Evangelical Christian God — and that all other Gods are false. But people of others faiths have similar experiences. Shouldn’t their beliefs be accepted at face value? If this man expects me to accept his claims without evidence, shouldn’t he do the same for people who worship Gods other than his?
I appreciate this man being honest about the Bible:
The bible of course makes no sense in many areas! That’s what makes it so tangible for me. Only an idiot would write such rubbish trying to lead someone to believe in him regarding faith, what’s in the bible, the “stories” etc…… , unless that idiot happened to be God who knows infinitely more than I could ever understand. I cannot presume to know God’s thoughts behind what was written in the sometimes seemingly ridiculous writing’s.
Only an idiot would write such rubbish, he said. Now, that’s an objective statement if there ever was one. Believing the fantastical claims in the Bible requires the suspension of rationality and critical thinking skills. The only way to believe the Bible is true is to faith-it. Remember what I said earlier? That when a story sounds too good/bad to be true, it is likely a lie. The Bible, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 is the greatest lie ever told. At best, it is a historical novel; a work of fiction interspersed with enough historical facts to give it a sense of believability. Until Evangelicals understand this, there is little that can be done to reach them. No matter what I told the aforementioned man, he was going to continue to believe; he’s going to continue to believe that he has had and continues to have a supernatural encounter with a supernatural God (much like being probed by aliens while you sleep); he’s going to continue to believe that God speaks to him; he’s going to continue to believe that his life’s story was written by God from time immemorial; he’s going to continue to believe that the Bible is a supernatural inerrant text written by a supernatural God, and given to fallible humans so they can know how to live their lives (without any updates or corrections for two thousand years).
But, Bruce, you were once an Evangelical. My God, man, you were even a pastor for twenty-five years! You changed your mind and now you are an atheist. See, people can and do change! Sure, I changed my beliefs concerning God, Jesus, Christianity, and religion in general. Many of the thousands of people who read this blog have done the same. But, change is hard, and the first step towards change is admitting that you possibly could be wrong. It wasn’t until I considered that maybe, just maybe Rev. Bruce Gerencser was wrong, that my mind was ready to know the truth (not in an absolute sense, but the truth about Christianity in particular). Once my mind was open to the possibility of errancy, both on God’s part and mine, I was then able to begin the journey I am still on to this day.
For a time, faith kept me from openly and honestly considering my fallibility. What if you are wrong? my inner Bruce said. Most ex-believers went through times when their lives were like a game of Pong. Conditioned by church/pastor-induced fear, it’s hard for Evangelicals to even ponder not being who and what they are. After all, thoughts of eternal torture in a pit of brimstone and fire will do that to you. I frequently receive emails from people who recently deconverted, yet are having what I call a God hangover. They objectively know that they are right about God and Christianity, but a lifetime of religious conditioning causes them to fear. This fear is palatable, and can cause great emotional unrest. Evangelicals, of course, say that such feelings are God trying to woo us back to himself. The Holy Spirit is saying, don’t doubt. I am real. God is real. Jesus is real. Everything the Bible says is true! Of course, these thoughts and feelings are not God at all. They are vestiges of a former life, and over time they will go away, never to be remembered again. Once our minds are open to objective rational thought, there is no going back. The proverbial horse has left the barn, never to return.