Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Morality, God and the "New Atheism"

I have written in the past in several places (like here and here) about faith in the view of atheism. Most of my writing, however, was been in the arena of science. Recently, on Biola Magazine, Craig Hazen wrote a good article on the idea of morality and the "new atheism", which does not specifically mention faith but it does highlight that atheists "began embracing basic morality as some sort of natural feature of the physical universe." This takes faith (something most ardently claim not to rely on), just as it does to accept the Laws of Physics as a "given". Of course, the article makes more points than that and it is well worth reading. Below is a sample of the article:
It’s been fascinating to watch the very vocal and prolific new atheists, such as Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins, make a case for objective morality. The phrase “objective morality” is a way of indicating that some behaviors are right (truth telling, kindness, tolerance) and some behaviors are wrong (rape, murder, racism) — for real. Morality is not just a matter of personal preference and choice (akin to liking peanuts better than almonds), but rather laws that are real and true and binding no matter what one thinks about them or whether one chooses to follow them.

The reason it has been fun to watch the new atheists defend this idea is because atheists of an earlier generation (such as J.L. Mackie and Bertrand Russell) thought it folly to do so. Classic atheists from the mid-20th century were very reluctant to grant that there was an objective moral law because they saw that it was just too compelling for believers to take the easy step from the moral law to God who was the “moral law giver.” Accepting a real objective moral law would be giving far, far too much ground to the Christians and other theists.
The primary technique the new atheists have adopted for dealing with the issue of the origin or grounding of the moral law is obfuscation. The new atheists are very fond of saying, “We don’t need God to be good.” Indeed, they often say that atheists, agnostics and skeptics often lead more wholesome lives than lifelong professing Christians. Now, theists should not be fooled by this. Our response should be, “Of course you don’t need God to be good — we’ve never claimed that you do.” You see, it is not knowledge (epistemology) of the moral law that is a problem — after all, the Bible teaches that this law is written on every human heart. Rather, the daunting problem for the new atheist is the nature and source (ontology) of the moral law.
I recommend you read the rest of the article and then start asking some tough, uncomfortable questions about morality.

By His Grace,

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