Questions for non-Christians #7
In what world would torturing a child for fun be acceptable? None, you say? “None” seems to be the obvious answer, but I can actually think of one. I’ll get to that in a minute.
In our “progressive” age a number of moral issues which in the “old days” had near consensus now divide us quite radically. Abortion, homosexuality, capital punishment, to name a few, are now what I call squishy issues…you push on them a little and they “give.” They’re pliable…given to multiple theoretical forms rather than resisting variation as hard and fast rules.
Other moral matters, however, are clearly wrong and to think otherwise makes one a deviant…murder, rape, and torturing a child for fun, to name a few. But why are they soundly and unequivocally condemned across countries and cultures that are widely divergent otherwise?
Asking that question is like asking, why is the grass green? It just is. Murder, rape, and torturing a child for fun are just wrong. End of story. But just like a four-year-old with an annoying inquisitiveness, I’m asking, why? If a rapist feels no compunction about his deed and claims no civil government has jurisdiction over him, to what would you appeal beyond “It just is” to convince him that rape is wrong?
You probably already see my next question coming, so here’s number 7 for the non-Christian:
Can you ground objective morality on your worldview?
Jews and Muslims can skip this one, as they share with Christians belief in one God who is the standard for morality and makes the rules. A theistic worldview provides a firm foundation for objective morality, but all others lack such solidity. I don’t mean that only theists believe in objective morality nor, of course, that only we can act morally. Just that only theism has a satisfactory answer when the rebellious and non-compunctious wrongdoer asks, “Says who?”
Naturalistic atheism in particular would have a tough time persuading the rapist whose conscience is defective that rape is objectively wrong. I’ve read Sam Harris and interacted with others who try and ground morality on some kind of ill-defined and nebulous concept like human flourishing, but a man who violently forces himself on a woman or child for his own satisfaction is hardly likely to give a crap about human flourishing. Harris would say, well…he’s still wrong even if he doesn’t care and we can’t convince him because those of us with more sense know it’s wrong.
But the reason we know rape is wrong is not because we have consciously weighed its impact on human flourishing but because it weighs on our conscience. And if there are some who can conceivably “flourish” by their own estimation in raping and taking advantage of others, human flourishing is not an objective standard.
The achilles heel, though, in a naturalistic worldview that must hold to Darwinian evolution is that there is no reason why anyone should care about human flourishing since humans are just products of a directionless, natural process and so have no inherent value. We’re merely more advanced primates without souls nor purpose or worth beyond what we or other humans give to us.
So, technically, just as in the animal world a male orangutan forcing itself sexually on a female orangutan is natural and amoral, torturing a child for fun entails no moral significance in a world originating by mindless processes operating on purely physical materials. There cannot be any such thing as objective morality if we are merely walking products of random mutation and natural selection.
Click here to read about a contemporary example of children being sexually abused and the inevitable impact of subjective rather than objective morality. And if you’re unpersuaded that atheism and objective morality cannot coexist, have a look at this short video from William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith ministry for a concise presentation of the Moral Argument for God.
“Can you ground objective morality on your worldview?”
Not any more than you can; a moral system based on the whims of a single being is subjective, by definition.
However, there needs not be any “objective morality” to craft a moral system that works. Humanism is an example of a moral system that works just fine whether there’s such a thing as objective morality or not.
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