Horvath’s “own loose ends” and why Christian morality does not workOctober 28, 2007 — Deacon Duncan
Anthony Horvath is back for more. Apparently he has now decided that he never even intended to talk about there being anything wrong with what Watson said, and thus I was just making a big issue out of a misinterpretation of his point.
You can find the original article here.
I think that you will see that I was really working on a whole different set of points. Namely, I was arguing in relation to the Maine birth control incident that we have got to be careful in our deference to scientists and ‘experts.’
Which of course is why he spent the first four paragraphs talking about Watson putting his foot in it and this just goes to show that you shouldn’t give scientists “undue regard.” He was talking about the school board in Maine. Of course, how silly of me.
While Horvath is trying to figure out what Watson’s allegedly innocent remarks have to do with scientists getting undue regard, I’d like to turn to the more interesting topic that came up during our conversation: why all morality has an atheistic foundation, and why Christian morality can’t work without turning to atheistic principles.
The problem with Christian morality, as with Christianity in general, is that God does not literally show up in real life. This is one fact that everybody can verify for themselves, by direct, first-hand observation. And because God does not show up in real life, it is completely irrelevant what His moral standards would be if He were willing and able to tell us about them. He is not here. He does not speak. This is an absence with an inescapable consequence.
In this case the inescapable consequence is that, since we can’t know what God’s moral standards are, we have no choice but to take the Christians’ word for it. No doubt this is entirely to their satisfaction, but it’s not faith in God or obedience to God. If we let Christians tell us what God’s moral standards, are, we’re putting our faith in men, not in God, and we’re obeying men, not obeying God.
What’s worse, we can’t just take the Christians’ word for it, because they don’t all speak the same word. Each Christian follows whatever interpretation seems right in his own eyes, or else takes some other Christian (e.g. a pastor) who is preaching whatever interpretation seems right in his own eyes, and just takes their word for it. (In theory this is a violation of sola scriptura, but it’s common and even unavoidable in practice.)
Nor does it help that each Christian can give you an argument for why the interpretation that seems right in their own eyes really is the “correct” interpretation. Kids seem to be born with an innate capacity for self-justification; almost as soon as they can talk, they can give you an argument for why they’re right and mom and dad are wrong. Part of “that which seems right in your own eyes” is that you’re convinced you’ve got compelling reasons why your way is right and others are wrong. And you love to tell people about it, at length.
And again, because God does not show up in real life to tell us who got it right and who got it wrong, each Christian can believe whatever interpretation seems right in his own eyes, without ever needing to fear that anyone else will be able to conclusively and objectively demonstrate any error in his opinions. Talk about moral relativism! Catholic and Orthodox traditions at least lend a certain objectivity and continuity to their doctrines by requiring compliance with Apostolic Tradition, but even here, in God’s real-world absence, we are left to just take their word for it that they’ve got the right Tradition–and Catholic and Orthodox contradict each other, even about such fundamental issues as the nature of God!
The only other alternative is to say that God does not have to show up in order to communicate His moral standards to us. He can simply make them part of human nature, so that we know them instinctively even without any input on His part. The problem with this approach is twofold. First, this is simply taking the atheistic basis for morality, and “Christianizing” it via the superstitious claim that God is responsible. (That’s what superstition is: taking an observed phenomenon and then attributing it to some unverifiable cause with an unverifiable and often indescribable connection to the effect.)
The second problem with this approach is that not all cultures develop the same moral standards. Nudity, for instance, is perfectly normal and unremarkable in some cultures, whereas in others it’s seen as a sign of moral depravity. You’d think that if God were going to take the trouble to write His moral standards into our hearts, He’d at least write the same standard in everyone! But that’s not what we find.
Christians can excuse this as being the result of sin, but that takes us back to the first problem: if human nature is an unreliable guide to morality, and if God does not show up in real life to give us direct, personal moral guidance, then the only basis we have for our morality is just to take the Christian’s word for it, which we can’t do because they don’t all agree.
Any way you look at it, Christian morality just doesn’t work. If God does not show up in the real world, Christian morality boils down to putting your faith in a bunch of uninspired men, and just taking their word for what’s good and what’s bad, even though they themselves are subject to the same “sin nature” that allegedly made human nature an unreliable guide to morality in the first place. The only method that works objectively and reliably is to take the secular approach and make moral judgments based on consequences. Granted, this does not always give unambiguous answers, but it’s the only approach that does not boil down to just taking the word of someone who is judging according to whatever seems right in his own eyes.