A commenter at my blog has requested that I respond to what he considers his most important point in a series of coments. His contention is as follows: Because the Bible was written over thousands of years and is open to different interpretations, therefore, it is not a reliable source of objective truth and "arguing that a secular humanist morality is not "objective" does not make it less suitable to follow than a Bible-based one."
Firstly, my definition of the theistic God in terms of the Christian worldlview is quite simple with respect to the subject of objective morality and it does not depend on any particular denominational interpretation. Secondly, the manner in which the Bible was written and has been interpreted does not impinge upon the idea of God as a philosophical concept. Logical arguments for God's existence have been presented in other articles, and that is not the underlying issue at hand. I choose to specifically defend the Christian understanding of God because I believe it is the correct one. It is also the view of God that seems to best coincide with what may be considered "The Maximally Great Being" - the logical necessity of who God must be if God exists.
Logical points to consider
1. If God does not exist, then there is no objective basis for human morality.
2. If God does exist, then there is an objective basis for morality in God's unchanging perfect nature.
Back in 2006, Daniel Dennet wrote, "Thanks to technology, what almost anybody can do has been multiplied a thousandfold, and our moral understanding about what we ought to do hasn't kept pace."
Dennet's comment seems a bit too gratuitous. Secular humanists have not only failed to keep "pace" with today's moral questions, they haven't even been able to take the first baby step. Take Sam Harris' book, for example, The Moral Landscape
. The criticisms from the atheist camp alone have underscored that there is no foundation whatsoever to his proposal that science alone can produce an objective moral foundation.
If we were to take the biblical example of the God and ask, "If the God of the Bible exists, does objective morality exist?" a number of questions would arise. This article will address the main points of consideration and will suggest that atheists consider possible challenges to the main thesis.
First, let us consider the Oxford Dictionary definition of objective - adjective: 1(of a person or their judgement) not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts: historians try to be objective and impartial.
1. If God exists, then God's eternal nature is an objective fact
The "if... then..." logical precept is known as modus ponens and, though not a logical law, it is a commonly used mechanism helpful in logical deduction. The God of the Bible is defined as being perfectly true and unable to lie.
This would imply that truth is a part of the very nature of God, not just an ancillary characteristic. Not only that, the Bible defines God as a perfectly just being as well. Again, if God's justice is unwavering, then it is not an ancillary characteristic, it is a part of God's very nature. The same could be said of God's love. If these three points are a part of God's nature, and God's nature is unchanging and eternal, then we may surmise that these points are objective facts.
2. If God exists, then human morality is based upon God's nature
If God created humans, then God has the right to set the ground rules. God is the lawgiver and the one who determines the basis of human morally. Because God is God, His moral foundation is not subservient to human approval or human understanding. In order to better understand the ultimate foundation of morality, we have only to look at God's unchanging nature. Atheists frequently offer the Euthyphro Dilemma as a critique of this moral foundation. However, it has been demonstrated by William Lane Craig and his blog commenters that God's nature remains a logical foundation for morality.
Premises outline why God’s nature is good neither because of the way He
happens to be nor because of His fitness with reference to an external
standard of goodness.
(1) God is, by definition, a maximally great being.
(2) This entails His being metaphysically necessary and morally perfect.
(3) Therefore, by (2), God exists in all possible worlds.
(4) Primary moral values are not contingent, but hold in every possible world.
(5) So, by (1), (3) & (4), it follows that God has the same moral
character in every possible world.
(6) Therefore God’s nature is good neither because of the way He
happens to be nor because of His fitness with reference to an external
standard of goodness.
Do God's standards change?
A common criticism of God relates to the differences in the Old and New Testaments. For example, in the Old Testament the death penalty was considered valid for homosexuals. But in the New Testament grace is supposedly emphasized over the law. Does this mean that God is changing his mind with regard to ethical standards? No, God himself is still the ultimate basis and standard of ethics. There are three points to consider; first, supercessionism, second, the main purpose of the law and, third, eternal justice. When critics make the claim that Christians should follow all of the Old Testament law to the letter, begin by pointing out basic differences between the Old Testament and New Testament as described in scripture. This subject is referred to as supersessionism, which has been acknowledged since the inception of all three main historical traditions within Christianity — Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant. Outline of basic Christian supersessionism 1. Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant traditions embrace the doctrine of basic supersessionism.
2. The New Testament is based on a new covenant. 3. The new covenant is supersedes the old covenant. 4. The new covenant emphasizes grace over the law. 5. The new covenant emphasizes changed relationships and attitudes with God and among fellow citizens. 6. These changed attitudes reflect proactive love-based ethics over vindictive law-based ethics, as outlined by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, the introduction of the New Testament. The main purpose of the law
Secondly, it's important to understand the main purpose of the law. All through the Old Testament, there are references to a future Messiah who would bring salvation to all people. In order to prepare the way for Christ, God the Father demonstrated how the law is inadequate to bring spiritual salvation. The law actually gives us a desire to sin more. The Apostle Paul wrote, "I would not have known sin except through the law." (Romans 7:7b NIV) But he goes even further when he states, "the strength of sin is in the law" (I Corinthians 15.56b NIV) This principle is more easily seen with young children. Tell them they cannot do something, and they will often want to do it all the more. These types of verses lead us to the main purpose of the law, which is to demonstrate our sinful nature and to humbly cry out to Christ for redemptive forgiveness: "Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith." (Galatians 3.24, NASB) In this way, Christ came to fulfill all of the law.
In Matthew 5.17-18, Jesus states, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them."
Even though God has chosen to 'teach' humanity using different covenants and different laws in history, this does not mean that the objective basis has changed, as noted in the following outline:
Eternal divine judgements supersede earthly human judgements.
1. God has chosen to 'teach' humanity emphasizing different legal requirements in different periods.
2. Eternal divine judgements do not depend on temporal earthly judgements.
3. Eternal divine judgements supersede temporal earthly judgements.
3. God knows the hearts, thoughts and actions of all people.
3. Therefore, God's eternal judgements may be perfectly consistent and righteous irrespective of temporal changes in legal requirements.
Atheists have had a difficult time attempting to come up with an objective basis for morality outside of God's existence. Sam Harris' scientific basis of morality in his book, The Moral Landscape,
does not cut muster. Massimo Pigliucci remarked, "He is, however, no more successful in deriving 'ought' from 'is' than anyone else has ever been."
Our moral duties as humans are essentially bound up in the question of personhood. Atheists, as much as they may try, will never be able to base human morality and the question of "ought" on science alone. Atheists, such as Harris, have been attempting to impose scientific answers upon moral philosophical and religious questions and it just doesn't work.
4. If God exists, God must be the maximally great being.
God is a transcendent being who exists eternally. If God exists, then God must be perfectly true, perfectly correct, perfectly moral and perfectly capable. Paraphrasing a quote by Jesus, a house divided against itself cannot stand.
If God were to be a liar, then God would contradict himself and, thus, God would be unstable and incapable of being the "maximally great" being that God is logically required to be. It may seem like a paradox that objective morality is based on what seems to be subjective, something called personhood. However, God's personhood and nature are indeed eternal and thus must be considered an objective fact within this paradigm.
1. If God exists, then God's nature is an objective fact
2. Human morality is based upon God's nature.
3. Our moral foundation is both personal and objective.
4. Therefore, if God exists, objective morality exists.
The typical atheist criticism: The God of the Old Testament seems cruel, arbitrary and unjust, therefore, it seems God's character and nature changes from chapter to chapter.
Secular society demands that God's laws and actions should conform to their understanding of what is right and wrong, what is just and unjust. It was supposedly not fair for God to have the Hebrews attack the land of Canaan and kill seemingly innocent people. However, there are a number of points to consider. Firstly, God has the right to treat nations as nations.
1. God is sovereign and has the right to bless a nation or to judge with righteous judgement.
2. A nation that chooses to practice egregious and prolonged sin would not be exempt.
3. Canaan practiced egregious and prolonged sinful behavior.
4. God, being omniscient, is able to judge each individual justly in the afterlife.
5. Therefore, God would be justified in the destruction of a wicked nation.
The fact is, God is more loving than judgmental. God afforded more than 400 years for the land of Canaan to repent, but they chose not to. God has the right to judge individuals and nations not simply because God is the omnipotent Creator, but also because His standards of holiness as Creator are high, perfect actually. It is only by God's grace and mercy that we subsist as sinners. As Jeremiah wrote, "Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail."
We as humans tend to see God's righteous judgment as extreme because we tend to underestimate and under-appreciate His holiness. God knows our hearts and what kinds of sins we've committed. Our sins may seem petty in our eyes, but in God's eyes all sin is grievous. God provided salvation through Jesus Christ. And Christ's perfect life is the objective standard we can look to as an example to follow.
Templestream Blog, comment by imnotandreAugust 24, 2012 5:44 AM, http://templestream.blogspot.com/2012/08/why-sam-harris-human-flourishing-is-not.html?showComment=1345812251237#c3932232069938471679
 Breaking the Spell (2006), Full title: Breaking the Spell: Religion As A Natural Phenomenon, http://www.iwise.com/ckx1Z
 Templestream, Why Sam Harris' Human Flourishing is not a Valid Basis of Human Morality, http://templestream.blogspot.com/2012/08/why-sam-harris-human-flourishing-is-not.html
 Oxford dictionary definition of objective, http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/objective
 Numbers 23.19, http://bible.cc/numbers/23-19.htm
 Reasonable Faith, Euthyphro Dilemma,
 Ibid. Slightly modified per William Lane Craig's comments.
 Rationally Speaking, Genuinely puzzled: what exactly is Blackford saying about Harris?,
Quote by Pigliucci, http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com/2011/02/genuinely-puzzled-what-exactly-is.html
 Matthew 12.25 paraphrase, http://bible.cc/matthew/12-25.htm
 Templestream, Dawkins-Craig Debate, Genocide, Israel's Occupation of Palestine, http://templestream.blogspot.com/2011/10/dawkins-craig-debate-genocide-israels.html
 Lamentations 3.22, http://bible.cc/lamentations/3-22.htm
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