Some Pig: Why God’s laws are not written on our hearts

Morals

According to Christians, everyone of us knows the right way to behave because God has written his laws in our ‘hearts’. We don’t always bother to consult what he’s written there, however, because we prefer to do our own thing, which is when our consciences start to bother us about our wicked ways. Here’s how Paul put in Romans 2.15:

Gentiles show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.

There’s no evidence that this is how it works, of course; Paul never cared much for evidence nor even for making sense. We know that, provided we are not born with psychopathic tendencies, we learn values, morals and how to relate to others from care-givers in our early lives. They teach us to share (or not) and how we should treat other people, and while it’s true we do seem to be born with a sense of empathy – watch a young child respond to the distress of another – this needs to be cultivated and nurtured. A knowledge of the 613, frequently absurd stipulations of the Old Covenant (which is what Paul is referring to) is demonstrably not genetic; we do not have an innate or instinctive understanding of God’s requirements. Psychologists point to the fact that it is only when she is three that a child learns that stealing is wrong; she is not born knowing it.

All of which is a far cry from ‘God’s law being written in (our) hearts’. Even if Paul meant we have a sort of general, non-specific understanding of how we ought to behave – though this is not what he actually says – there is no evidence this has been planted in us by a supernatural being. Certainly not one that thinks slavery is okay and whose prohibition against killing doesn’t extend to tribes beyond one’s own.

The Christian approach to morality puts me in mind of Charlotte’s Web. In that great children’s book, Charlotte the spider adds messages to the webs she spins to help save her friend, Wilbur the pig, from slaughter. When the gullible humans in the story see ‘Some Pig’, ‘Radiant’, ‘Amazing’ and ‘Humble’ written in the webs, they inexplicably give the credit, not to Charlotte, but to Wilbur. No-one, either in the book itself nor in reviews, comments on the fact that it is not Wilbur who has these qualities, despite what the messages say, but the creature who made them (an anomaly I’m sure E. B. White was aware of when he wrote the book.)

If I might interpret Charlotte’s Web allegorically, we humans are Charlotte, while Wilbur, on whom everyone seems focused, is God. It is we who have developed moral codes throughout our existence, the latest versions of which our children learn from us, and attempt to follow (or not). Meanwhile, the likes of Paul and contemporary Christians refuse to give us one iota of credit. Instead, they insist, the credit goes to their god; a being nowhere near as pleasant as Wilbur, though he’s every bit as fictional – another of our creations, just like those moral codes we invented.

 

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“When (a worldview) doesn’t include God, there is no basis for morality.” Roy Moore, 2008

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I planned to dissect Ravi Zacharias’ morality argument even before recent revelations that he lied about his credentials. I’m sure that, despite his fraudulent claims, he’s still a good Christian™, perfectly entitled to tell the rest of us what terrible sinners we are. If you’ve ever seen his grandiose sermonising, you’ll know he likes to pretend that Faith is something deeply intellectual, despite Paul’s contention in 1 Corinthians 1. 26-27 that it isn’t. Zacharias’ pseudo-intellectual Christianity is, like many of his qualifications, fake.

In common with other Christians desperate to prove their God, he relies too on circular reasoning. He tells us that our morality derives from God (you listening TC Howitt?) and then uses this to argue that, because of we have morality, God must exist. His unproven conclusion is his premise, with nothing in between to justify either.

Here’s his ‘argument’ in full:

Ravi3

Let’s take a closer look:

‘When you say “There’s too much evil in the world”, you assume there’s “good”. Who says this? How much evil is ‘too much’? Do people other than Christians see the world in terms of good and evil? Does acknowledging evil mean one also assumes there is good? How is this ‘good’ defined? So many unanswered questions in this first muddled statement.

‘When you assume there’s good, you assume there’s such a thing as a “moral law” on the basis of which to differentiate between good and evil.’ The only one making assumptions here is Ravi himself. The considerate treatment of others, which is how we might reasonably define morality, is easily recognisable when it occurs. This presumably, given he fails to define any of his terms, is what Ravi means by ‘good’ (and conversely, inconsiderate or malicious treatment of others is his ‘evil’). There’s no reason to suppose, however, that the demonstration of good is a component of an objective ‘moral law’ that exists somehow independent of human interaction. Morality and any resulting goodness (or ‘evil’), is human interaction.

‘But if you assume a moral law you must posit a “Moral-Law Giver.” Well, of course we’re not assuming a moral law, not in the magical way Ravi is assuming we’re assuming. And how about that imperative: ‘You must posit a “Moral-Law Giver”‘! Must we? Morality is socially determined by human beings themselves; we see this is in the different moralities that have emerged in cultures with shared heritage; we see it in the changing attitudes over the last fifty years to the treatment of women and gay people. Morality is fluid; it evolves. The ‘Moral-Law Giver’ then, if we must have such a term, is we ourselves.

‘But that’s Who you’re trying to disprove and not prove.’ Erm no. Ravi’s being disingenuous here. ‘We’ were not trying to disprove a Moral-Law Giver at all; he was trying to prove it (him? – note the capital sneakily added to ‘Who’). Let’s though, for the sake of argument say Ravi is right; let’s say there is a Moral-Law Giver out there somewhere. Why has he, over the expanse of human existence, issued such varying and often conflicting moral codes? Compare, for example, today’s moral standards with the harsh, brutal morality of the ancient Israelites, which demanded the death penalty for almost any infringement of the law. Compare that with the morality Christians today claim they derive from New Testament. Then compare Jesus’ impossible demands with how Christians actually behave. By and large, they’re happy to ignore him and, with the exception of one or two areas they get hot under the collar about (abortion, same-sex relationships), they go along with the consensus of the culture in which they live.

‘Because if there’s no Moral-Law Giver, there is no moral law.’ There is a ‘moral-law giver’: it is us. That is why moral laws vary according to culture and through time. Zacharias wants us to conclude that this capitalised ‘Moral-Law Giver’ is his God, yet he has neither demonstrated that a deity (any deity) decrees moral codes from on high, nor has he ‘proved’ (his word) that this cosmic law giver is his god, the barbaric and inconsistent YHWH. Rather, he ‘assumes’ this to be the case and hopes that his audience, failing to notice his assumptions, presuppositions and sleight of hand, will too. Given that most of them are Christian sheep  (Jesus’ term, not mine) they will no doubt do just that.

‘If there’s no moral law, then there’s no good. If there’s no good, there’s no evil.’ This is where the argument, such as it is, turns back on itself. Zacharias thinks he’s being very clever (he always thinks he’s being clever) but all he’s doing is declaring his premise over again.

Of course there are moral standards; humans have devised them throughout their existence. The ‘Golden Rule’ promoted by Jesus, for example, is first recorded thousands of years before him. We determine for ourselves what is good and therefore what is ‘evil’; these defintions are not delivered to us ready made from a “Moral-Law Giver” in the sky.

(While Zacharias doesn’t use the argument, there are those who like to say, on the basis of Romans 2.15, that God has written his (ever-changing) rules in our hearts, a fallacy I’ll address in the next post.)

‘What is your question?’ clever Ravi finally asks. We didn’t have a question. Here’s one for him anyway: how has he got away with such fraudulent drivel for so long?

 

On being free

chains

Commenter Rebecca responded at length recently to my post ‘Why God Could Not Possibly Have Created The Universe (pts 4 & 5)’. There was so much in her response, that I thought it best to reply to her in a full length post rather than with a brief comment:

Hi Rebecca,

I won’t be able to respond to all of your points as there are so many, but will attempt a few.

I’m glad you find your faith beneficial. You’ve obviously thought about the whole incarnation/sacrifice/reconciliation issue, but I wonder whether you’ve ever asked yourself what it is you need saving from and reconciled with? What is it that means you personally need to avail yourself of the sacrifice Jesus supposedly made (however you interpret that)? I guess evangelicals, of which you seem to say you are not one, would claim it’s because of sin; the alienation from God that our very existence seems to cause.

Is that really the case though? Isn’t it rather that ancient superstitious peoples needed some explanation for why life was so difficult, short and brutish? They reasoned that surely it couldn’t be the fault of the creator God, so his tendency to treat them badly must be entirely their fault. Consequently, they had to do something to appease this god, to make him smile upon them again as they felt he must once have done. They thought the way to do this was, variously, through sacrifice and/or righteous living, by murdering those they felt offended him the most, and through praise and supplication.

There is no getting away from the fact, however, that the primary way they sought to reconcile themselves with their deity was through blood sacrifice. The New Testament’s interpretation of the death of Jesus is expressed in just such terms:

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of His grace (Ephesians 1.7).

This is not just an evangelical perspective; it is the major theme of much of the New Testament.

I’d like to ask you, Rebecca: are you really so steeped in sin that you need to avail yourself of a bloody human sacrifice in order to be reconciled with God? I have to say it seems extremely unlikely.

I didn’t leave faith behind because of how repugnant this idea is, however. I experienced an epiphany while walking one day, after many years of thinking about such things, and realised with conviction that there was no god: no god to appease, be reconciled with or commune with. He simply didn’t and doesn’t exist (see here for why I think this is the case). Of course, there being no god means there’s no son of god either.

I then started living my life on the basis of the fact there is no god, and I have to tell you it became a whole lot better. I didn’t have the constant feeling I had to come up to some impossible standard; I didn’t feel guilt for the most trivial of ‘sins’; I no longer worried that not getting my beliefs quite right would result in the loss of my eternal life; I stopped worrying about eternal life because it was obvious there was no such thing; I stopped thinking hell and heaven were real; I started living in the here and now; I stopped thinking I had to respond to others’ needs by telling them about Jesus (and started relating to them as people); I no longer had to subjugate whatever intellect I have to force myself to believe things that were clearly nonsense; the self-loathing I felt about my sexuality began to slip away. I could be me, and what a massive relief that was. I think I became a better person as a result. I certainly became a happier one.

You say the bible contains many deep truths – perhaps – but it also includes much that is cruel spiteful, damaging and just plain wrong. I lost interest in sifting the wheat from the chaff because there was just too much chaff (a free biblical analogy for you there.)

The secrets of life, whatever they may be, Rebecca, are not in the bible, nor in any convoluted explanation of what Jesus stood for (he was just another failed apocalyptic preacher). They do not lie in Christianity or in any religion. Life is more than any of these ultimately dead things.

Thank you for writing. It can only be a good thing that you’re thinking about these issues. You will I’m sure find your way out into the light. I hope what I post here can help you with that.

The evidence for Christ

Christ

The evidence for Christ is not historical — it’s spiritual — and that evidence is indeed abundant for those who believe.

So says T. C Howitt, commenter on the Rational Doubt blog. And what is the ‘abundant evidence’, of which he speaks, for the existence of this spiritual being? It is, he says, ‘spiritual’. That’s quite a tautology: ‘the evidence for my fantasy is my fantasy’.

T.C. goes on to say that only those who truly believe can know that their experiences of the spiritual are real; the rest of us, he decrees, are blind. In other words, evidence that his fantasy is real is that other people have experienced versions of the same fantasy – some of them thousands of years ago. The ‘evidence’ for Christ (as opposed to Jesus) is therefore one’s own feelings plus the strange psychotic experiences Paul relates that he feels sure must be this supernatural being.

Science removes human subjectivity, as far as is possible, from its demonstration of how things are. All that Christians (and other believers in the supernatural) need do is similarly demonstrate that the spiritual realm, with its attendant beings, has an existence independent of human emotions, feelings and imagination. They could show us that, like gravity, electricity and quantum mechanics, Christ and angels, seventh heavens, demons and all manner of spiritual beings, have an existence separate from the internal, subjective experiences of human beings.

They’ve had two thousand years to do just this and still they haven’t. Why not? Because it can’t be done: Christ and his angels, God and his heaven are mythologies and, like all others, are constructs of the human mind.

 

Why God could not possibly have created the universe (pts 4 & 5)

Sacrifice2

The final two reasons why it is altogether unreasonable to credit the God of the bible with the creation of all that there is.

4. YHWH is inadequate

Christians want us to believe that the God of the bible is the ‘First Cause’ who purposefully created the cosmos. He is, they tell us, powerful beyond imagining, capable of bringing into existence a universe of infinite proportions, with its billions of suns, trillions of planets, nebulae, dark matter, black holes and the rest.

But this vast complexity stands is incompatible with YHWH, who demonstrates all the limitations we might expect of a god devised by primitive nomadic herdsmen. He is anthropomorphic, restricted in knowledge and defeated by technology his creators didn’t possess; like other deities of the period, he is obsessed with bizarre ritual, requiring genital mutilation and the sacrificial burning of animals. He lives, alternately, at the top of a mountain or in a box, from where he is capable of smelling roasting meat, and spends his time issuing laws about sex and slavery. He is primarily a god of war, his acts almost entirely destructive, rarely creative, which is what we might expect from a people continually in conflict with their neighbours.

Whatever else such a being might be, he is not one capable of creating the universe. He is nothing more than a small and petty tribal deity – one of many recognised by the Israelites during their history – created and sustained by men who knew no better. This is the god Jesus believed in, though he relocated him in the sky (‘the heavens’) and tried to turn him into something more amenable.

Despite this partial make-over, the New Testament version of God retains the attributes and limitations of his older self. He is, if Paul is to be believed, still pre-occupied with blood sacrifice, in dictating sexual behaviour and wreaking destruction on his supposed creation. He is no more capable of creating the cosmos than his predecessor. The God that modern Christians insist brought everything into being isn’t this limited, feeble, unsavoury figure. That God is another construct altogether, a far cry from the paltry god of the bible, and one they have devised themselves, that they make appear capable of creating the universe as we now know it to be.

5. The supernatural has no independent existence.

This is the bottom line: outside the human imagination, there is no evidence the supernatural exists. Even if we do take the human imagination into account, there is no evidence of an independent supernatural realm. No-one has ever seen a god, demon or angel, in exactly the same way they’ve never seen a fairy, goblin or unicorn. They may think they’ve experienced spiritual beings ‘within’ or felt them emotionally or hallucinated about them, but this does not mean they have independent existence. Despite millennia of religious belief no supernatural beings have ever manifested themselves, been witnessed, demonstrated or measured. Gods, like angels and spirits, do not exist. It follows, therefore, that the cosmos cannot have been created by them.

Thank you for bearing with me on my exploration of why god could not possibly have created the universe. I don’t know, of course – none of us do (yet) – how it came about, but the notion that it must have been god, the Christian god no less, simply isn’t feasible:

He would have had to create something from nothing, when the supernatural and immaterial are incapable of creating the natural and material.

The bible’s YHWH is too feeble to have been responsible and God-as-creator leads, in any case, only to an infinite regress.

The supernatural is a product of the human imagination; it has no independent existence.

However the universe came to be, we can be certain no gods, including the Christian one, were involved.

 

 

 

 

 

Why God could not possibly have created the universe (pt 3)

Sun

Posts here and here considered two reasons why Christians’ claim that their God created the cosmos is preposterous. A third reason is that –

God as creator leads to an infinite regress.

Christians like to assert that everything that has a beginning has a cause; the universe had a beginning therefore it had to have a cause. That cause – watch the unwarranted leap of faith here – can only have been have been their god. My previous arguments notwithstanding – that God needed to create everything from nothing (which according to Christians is impossible) and the immaterial cannot produce the material – the notion that god caused everything begs the question, as Richard Dawkins points out, of who caused his being. If, as Christians like to argue, everything has a cause then their god must have one too. Their assertion that he is the exception because, by definition, he has no beginning and consequently has no need of a cause is merely special pleading; why should he be different from everything else?

Christian apologists – William Lane Craig, for example – always assume that the first cause is their god, without a beginning and need of a cause. Their thinking goes as follows: everything that exists has a cause; the universe must have had a first cause; this first cause was somehow sentient; we are going to call this sentience ‘god’; this god must be our god, YHWH.

Yet they provide no evidence that there is, or was, a first cause; there could have been several contributory causes, including chemical, physical (gravity, for example) and activity on a quantum level. They then make the unwarranted assumption that this cause must have been sentient, again without evidence, and load this presumption with further insupportable connotations when they label it ‘god’. Finally, they make another leap of faith by claiming this ‘god’ is their god, YHWH.

This is all so much special pleading, insisting everything has a cause except the thing Christians don’t want to have had a cause. But God cannot be excluded; he too must have a cause (and indeed he does). So who or what caused him and gave him his start? And who or what created whatever it was that created god? Who or what created that? And on into infinite regress.

Those who offer such arguments put the proverbial cart 613.772 billion years before the horse. As Richard Dawkins says in The God Delusion, intelligence and creativity have only ever arisen as a result of evolution, specifically the evolution of the (human) brain. We know of no other means – there is no other means – by which intelligence and high-level creativity are produced. For a creative, super-intelligent mind to exist prior to the beginning of everything is, therefore, an impossibility. As I suggested in the second part of this series, the physical always precedes the immaterial; the natural world produced the advanced human brain about 200,000 years ago, and that brain has, ever since, projected its gods backward to the beginnings of the universe. This does not mean that a being without a beginning was actually there, much less that he produced the whole show. It means we know the cause of god. It is us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why God couldn’t possibly have created the universe (pt 2)

Where'sGod

More thoughts on why it is impossible that a God, much less the God of the bible, could have made everything.

2. The supernatural and immaterial cannot create the natural and material.

Let’s explore a little more of the nature of the God of the Christians. He is, they say, transcendent; ephemeral, intangible, invisible, ineffable, wholly spiritual. He is super-natural, existing on a plane outside the universe of matter, separate and removed from it and unlike any aspect of it. The bible implies as much and Christians have elaborated on these qualities throughout the millennia. The Christian God is everything, in fact, apart from physical matter (yes, those who claim to know all about this unknowable being assert he took on physical form as Jesus, but he’d yet to do that at the beginning of everything; 6000 years ago if you believe nutjobs like Ken Ham, 613.772 billion years if you accept the science.)

There is no incidence anywhere, no evidence that has ever existed ever, that demonstrates that something ephemeral, immaterial and super-natural is capable of creating the concrete, tangible and natural. To draw an analogy or two: music, which as heard is ephemeral and intangible, does not create the physical objects of the orchestra that play it. It does not look back as it vibrates through the air and conjure up the instruments from which it emanates.

Similarly, human thought, itself largely ephemeral and capable of imagining possibilities that don’t yet exist, does not of itself produce physical objects. However much you picture your ideal house in your mind, it will not produce the bricks and mortar without you taking action to realise them. This is always the case (and why prayer, spells and other wishful thinking are always ineffective); further action is required if what the human mind can imagine is to become a reality – some manipulation of the physical world. In all of our experience, in everything we know of reality, the transcendent cannot and does not produce anything material, ever. Music does not produce the orchestra. Thoughts do not construct the house; they must be translated into action, in the form of engagement with the physical world, for anything to materialise.

Two things follow: while the transcendent or spiritual cannot create anything in the real world without the corresponding physical activity, the reverse is not the case. Physical activity can and does produce the ephemeral. The instruments of the orchestra can produce music. The synapses of the brain can produce thought, love, empathy, desire. These do not exist, like other abstract concepts such as peace, hope and beauty, outside the physical human brain. In this reality, as opposed to that of the bible and the Creation Museum, the physical is always primary; it always comes first, the transcendent second. Never the other way round.

This, in fact, would appear to be a ‘law’ of the universe. As such, it is impossible a transcendent, supernatural being could have created the natural, material world. Applying this law, it can only be the case that the physical reality – or some aspect of it (guess what) – imagined the transcendent, without it having any real existence. No amount of physical activity has ever been able to produce it. If Christians therefore want to postulate a spiritual being as the first cause they need explain how the universal law that the physical always precedes the non-physical came to be overturned.

More to follow. Part one of this series is here.