How does Secular Humanism compare to Christian theism on morality? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
We’re continuing our look at Richard Carrier’s book “Sense and Goodness Without God.” Any book wanting to give a full view of atheism will have to cover morality, especially one that claims to have goodness without God. So today we’re going to be looking at those sections.
Much of this section has Carrier critiquing J.P. Moreland, to which I doubt Moreland is paying attention. Why should he? There are several ins and outs that I have no desire to get into, but I do want to get into some broader overlapping concerns.
Let’s start also with dealing with a common misunderstanding. No one is saying atheists cannot be good people. No one is saying you have to believe in God to be a good person. No one is saying you have to know that God exists to know the difference between right and wrong. These are common objections brought forward against the moral arguments that I have never heard any defender of such arguments use.
The moral argument instead argues that if there is no God, there is no foundation for moral truth claims. Now this argument is either right or wrong, but let us please be clear on what the argument is. This is not about any one person’s morality.
To begin with, on the Biblical front, it is amazing that the writer who spoke about using the principle of charity wants so much to speak about ideas in the Bible that he thinks are abhorrent, which is the usual argument from outrage. “God does something I don’t like, therefore He’s not real.” There is never an attempt to look at the culture and social context and see what is going on. “Well I don’t need to do that! It’s just obvious it’s wrong!” If you’re sure your case is right, you should have no hesitancy to look at further arguments. After all, suppose you met someone who said “I don’t need to look at evolutionary theory! It’s just obviously wrong!” Such a person would be seen as close-minded.
I suspect the major difference is that one area is science and one area isn’t. This could be a shock to some readers, but you can actually know things apart from the sciences. Yeah. Simply amazing thought isn’t it?
So what are some objections?
The first is picking up sticks on the Sabbath. Now why was this punishable? The reason is that the Law had already been stipulated. If you work on the Sabbath, you are to die. Israel had already agreed to this Law. This man doing this was in fact acting in defiance of the covenant and acting in such a way in a society built around the covenant was in fact an act of treason and if left unchecked, would lead to disaster for the whole community as the patron, YHWH in this case, would withdraw His blessings.
Also included is profanity as a cause of execution, yet the passage cited is not about profanity but about blasphemy. Carrier might think it odd to execute someone for words, but even in our society today, if you even made a joke that hinted at killing the president, the Secret Service would be knocking on your door before too long.
Blasphemy in this case again involves a severe treasonous offense against the good of the community.
Carrier also says Jesus is never said to have laughed. Apparently, this is a good argument against Jesus laughing. In other news, Jesus is never said to have used the bathroom, so obviously, Jesus never had to go to the bathroom. There is a reason arguments from silence are weak.
Finally, Jesus was apparently not a peace-loving man due to Matthew 10:33-36 and not restraining Himself from violence in the marketplace.
“33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.
34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’”
Carrier ignores that the passage is about what it means to be a follower of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is to be your first priority and if you accept the message of Jesus and your family doesn’t, you will be on the outs with your family. This is not saying Jesus supports this. It is not saying He endorses it. It is not saying He desires family division. It is a simple reality of the statement.
As for Jesus’s cleansing of the temple, this is an action that would have been understood by His contemporaries as a judgment on the temple. It also would have involved the wrongful use of the temple which was the sacred space of YHWH.
On page 303 Carrier also speaks about how moral our society is.
“In fact, when we look objectively at history, Americans are more moral as a society today than any society at any time ever in human history, apart from our free democratic cousins around the world, who tend to be far less religious than we, yet somehow enjoy far lower rates of crime, and sometime even greater economic equity and social justice, contrary to the very thesis Moreland is defending. But focusing solely on America, what do we really see? We see an amazingly progressive culture that has crawled out of an age of violent expansion and bigotry, and is starting to show incredible promise as an enlightened society.”
Try to watch the evening news tonight and keep this in mind.
Yes. Our society is so much moral. So how many school shootings did we have fifty years ago? How many cases of single mothers did we have? How high was the divorce rate? How many STDs were going around? How many people were living in poverty? How many murders were taking place?
As for these other places, David Marshall has done some excellent looking into the topic especially since he has debated Phil Zuckerman on this. I was thinking of linking to one article, but since there are several, I will include a link to the search I did for Zuckerman that you can peruse here.
One aspect to be considered is one should compare the societies not with others, but with themselves. How do they look by that comparison? How do Sweden and Denmark look compared to where they were, say, thirty years ago. How will they look thirty years from now?
Too often, we make long-term conclusions on short-term data. We take a little bit and look at how things work in the short-term and say “See! It will be fine in the long-term.” It doesn’t follow. Many ideas we need at least a generation to test their effects.
So for now, that will be it and keep in mind, we are coming into the final stretch of this book and already, I have another project in the works that I shared with my pastor as well who is quite excited about it. Be prepared!