Roe v. Wade & Imago Dei

26 01 2010

It has been 37 years since the ruling of the Roe v. Wade case by the U.S. Supreme Court.  To date over 51,000,000 babies have “legally” lost their lives as a result of this ruling.  That is the equivalent of roughly 17% of the current U.S. population.  We can honestly say that a generation has been lost.  The city of Jackson, MS decided to create a display to represent what this looks like in pennies – that is a half-million dollars worth of pennies.

However, how does one put a value on a human life?  Well, there are a few ways to do this.  First, from a purely naturalistic point of view, we can sum up the cost of the ingredients.  Here is a list of what makes up the human body: 65% Oxygen, 18% Carbon, 10% Hydrogen, 3% Nitrogen, 1.5% Calcium, 1% Phosphorous, 0.35% Potassium, 0.25% Sulfur, 0.15% Sodium, 0.15% Chlorine, 0.05% Magnesium, 0.0004% Iron, 0.00004% Iodine; the actual weight of these ingredients will vary by body.  Yet, the rough estimates of the cost of these elements would run between $5-$90.

Still, we look at the body and we know that it is not just the materials that make it up, it is made up of complex parts, so what would they cost?  It must first be understood that it is illegal to traffic in human body parts.  However, the website Accuracy in Media recently ran a story of a human kidney that was being auctioned off on eBay.  The bidding hit $5.7 million before eBay put a stop to the auction.  I mentioned that it is illegal to traffic in human parts; however, that does not apply to the parts of aborted babies.  In that case, a spinal cord can bring in $325 and a brain $999.

As far back as Plato and Aristotle, it has been understood that man has a soul, so even if we added up the “sum of the parts,” we would still have an aspect to us that could never be sold on eBay; and, despite what you see in books and movies, the soul cannot be sold.  In fact, there is an aspect to the soul that gives it this immeasurable value, which is that it is made in the image of God (Imago Dei).  When God created man he said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Gen. 1:26)  David describes, “For you formed my inward parts;you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made…Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm 139: 13, 14a, 16)

It is for this reason that every time we abort one of these precious little ones we killing one made in the image of God and knitted together by him.  It is true that we cannot destroy that soul as that is eternal; however, we are taking the life of God’s creation, an innocent life.  When my wife and I saw the movie Amazing Grace a few years ago, we both walked out weeping and wishing that God would raise up a Wilberforce for our times to help bring an end to this blight on our society.  May we pray for an end to this scourge and do what we can to support life.


The Real Thing and the Really Real

16 01 2010

Years ago, in fact when I was a kid, Coca Cola had a tagline, It’s the Real Thing. I’m not sure
why they believed that this was the right message for the time (1969), but for some reason that is the message that their marketing team thought was most important to convey. People always feel more secure dealing with the real thing in these days of fakery and fraud. We want to know when we buy something online that we are going to get the genuine item and are dealing with a legitimate merchant.

It has been often said that when a federal agent wants to learn to spot counterfeit currency, they must first know the genuine currency inside and out, so much so that it is easy to spot the fake. We live in an age of technology in which it is much easier to make realistic looking fakes. It has made many of us cautious and skeptical when reading marketing pitches, buying items online or in stores, and even when listening to the media.

There is another level of skepticism that is rising in our time and culture related to the nature of reality. This new skepticism would have us believe that reality consists only of that which one can see, feel, hear, taste and smell. In reality, this type of skepticism is not new, but merely a repackaging of an old skepticism that dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries A.D., which itself was a repackaging of skepticism that dated back to the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C., which was a repackaging of skepticism that dates back to the Garden of Eden. Wasn’t it the first skeptic who started his question with the words, “Did God actually say…?” Skepticism is not new, however, it is being renewed in our time in the guise of the new atheists.

C.S. Lewis set  this type of battle of the mind against skepticism in his book, Til We Have Faces, his retelling of the ancient myth of Psyche and Cupid. It is Orual in Lewis’ book who is in the battle with skepticism as she is raised on Greek philosophy by a materialist known as The Fox. Even when she has an encounter with the gods and the immaterial world into which her sister, Psyche, has entered she simply dismisses it once the vision has gone away. Throughout the book she is in a battle to suppress that immaterial reality and to hold on to her belief that reality consists of the material world.

I often encounter this same attitude these days in people with whom I have discussions. Their attitudes are much like the Kangaroo in the movie Horton Hears a Who who said, “If you can’t feel it, see it or hear it, it does not exist!” The question is whether this is true? Is the physical stuff all there is, or is there a reality beyond the physical stuff?

Plato certainly seemed to understand that the physical stuff was not all there was to reality. He understood, in fact, that it is the immaterial forms (the perfect idea of what is represented in the material world) that were the highest and most fundamental nature of reality, and not this world of material world. This was one of the ways that Plato overcame the problem of universals or ideals (i.e. how does one account for perfection or ideals if everything is in flux). I think that in many ways Plato was moving in the right direction with his thoughts, although, I think where he missed the mark was to have abstract ideas without a mind from which they originated. It seems to me that it is more logical and reasonable to think that these ideals were the thoughts of a perfect being – God.

The author of Hebrews echoes these types of ideas in the ninth chapter when he compares the earthly tabernacle (the tent that served as Israel’s meeting place with God as they traveled through the wilderness) with the new tabernacle that God has prepared for us. The author writes,

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

Friedrich Nietzsche, in his book Thus Spoke Zarathustra, wrote of Jesus, “If only he had remained in the desert and far away from the good and the just! Perhaps he would have learned to live and to love the earth – and even to laugh! Believe me, my brothers! He died too early; he himself would have recanted his teaching if he had reached my age! He was noble enough for recanting! But he had not yet matured.” (from On Free Death, p. 55) Nietzsche’s mistake was to think that this world was all there was to reality, when in fact, Jesus knew of a better reality – he knew the difference between the real and the really real.

If this physical world is all there is to reality, maybe Nietzsche was right and we should learn to love this world and eat, drink and be merry (even though Nietzsche himself never epitomized this in his life). On the other hand, if Jesus and the authors of the New Testament were right, then we are called to a different mindset, one completely opposite of what Nietzsche advocated. The Apostle John writes,

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

Jesus, through his resurrection demolished the idea that this physical world is all there is to reality. Jesus told his disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them and that he would come back and take them with him, he said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6,7) In Jesus we have seen God.

Jesus himself is the bridge between what we see as real and that which is really real. He left heaven to enter into space and time. He left the immaterial world to take on flesh and blood. He is evidence to all who will see and hear that there is a reality that we cannot now see or hear, but which is more real that which we do now see, hear, feel, taste and smell. Like Orual, we can convince ourselves that it doesn’t exist, or we can embrace what we truly know deep down, that this world is only a pointer, an indicator, a sense of longing for the truer reality that lies beyond it. Let me return to C.S. Lewis to tie these ideas together. He wrote in Mere Christianity, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” And so we are…

PZ Myers’ Morality

2 01 2010

You may not be familiar with PZ Myers; however, he is one of the vocal new atheists out there ranting against the existence of God, and Christianity in particular. Myers is an associate professor of biology at University of Minnesota, Morris and publishes a blog by the name of Pharyngula.

I recently came across a post by Myers entitled I’m so sorry for you, Indiana in which he comments about an interview given by Mitch Daniels, governor of Indiana where Daniels addresses the topic of morality and Christianity that Myers says was “embarrassingly bad.” Daniels makes the point:

To me, the core of the Christian faith is humility, which starts with recognizing that you’re as fallen as anyone else. And we’re all constantly trying to get better, but… so I’m sure I come up short on way too many occasions.

Myers responds that he believes the “core of Christianity has never been humility , but arrogance.” Why does he draw this assessment? Simply because Christianity claims that we can know and have a personal relationship with God. In fact, he believes that all this Christian talk about being fallen sinners is false modesty. What Myers is claiming is to know the minds of every single Christian living such that he knows that any claim of being a fallen sinner is really just the false modesty of an arrogant person! It seems that Myers, who denies the existence of an omniscient being, is somehow claiming to be one. I’ve often heard that those who deny the existence of God will find a replacement, oftentimes in their own mirror.

Yet, the point of this post is to discuss Myers claim that morality doesn’t need to be grounded in God, but can simply be grounded in man. In fact, Myers makes the audacious claim that there “is no eternal standard of right and wrong.” His claim is that standards change with time. Really what he is claiming is that there is no objective standard of right and wrong.

Myers has already, in his post, castigated the Bible for justifying slavery and God for ordering the slaughter of women and children. Even more, he claims that equality was an ideal of the Enlightenment rather than Christianity. He claims that a 1st century B.C. Judean priest would be calling for the wrath of Jehovah on the likes of Pat Robertson and James Dobson “who lead millions into a life antithetical to ancient Jewish custom.”

Myers, however, has a different answer from Daniels and other Christians when it comes to morality. He says,

I’d answer differently. In the absence of a god-given absolute morality, all that matters is how we treat one another in this one life we have. What flows naturally to me is not brutality, which requires an absence of awareness of the suffering of others, but recognition of the fact that my fellow human beings really are my equals: we’re all going to die, we only have these few brief decades of life, and who am I to deny someone else the same opportunities I’ve been given?

My question to Myers is if morality is not grounded in anything objective or eternal, then why is his answer any better than Daniels’ or Hitler’s for that matter (he also refers to Hitler in his post – for what would a discussion of morality be without invoking Hitler?) Who says that it matters how we treat one another? On what basis does he consider suffering to be bad? We would all agree that not all suffering is bad as many of us willingly expose ourselves to suffering when we go to the dentist or college or even to a football game in temperatures that are below zero (I grew up in Green Bay, WI and did this on a number of occasions). So, obviously suffering is not a universal wrong, on what basis does Myers determine some suffering to be wrong?

Now, I am not saying that these behaviors are right, simply saying that when Myers rejects objective standards, he must then defend why I should consider his standards to be binding on me or anyone else. If morality is not grounded objectively, then he is merely expressing his opinion, or maybe the opinions of a group with whom he happens to agree, but he is not expressing objective morality.

Myers is holds to what is known as hard atheism, in other words, he holds a belief that God does not exist. He says, “There are no gods, no objective enforcement of a benign morality on us.” Since there is no God (or as he says, gods), then that means that we need to figure out our own morality. Myers says that we “should build our morality on reason.” But how is this done? How do we figure out what is right or wrong based upon observation and reason alone without an objective basis against which to test our reason. It is like measuring without an objective standard by which to measure or reasoning without an objective truth by which to check our reason. Whose reason reigns supreme?

C.S. Lewis spoke about this in his book Abolition of Man when he speaks of the Innovator in values, the one who tries to arrive at moral values through reason alone. He explains that reason can be broken out into two categories. First is practical reason which “confess that judgements such as society ought to be preserved…are not mere sentiments but are rationality itself; or else we must give up at once, and for ever, the attempt to find a core of ‘rational’ value behind all the sentiments we have debunked.” He says that the Innovator will not take this alternative as it seems too much like objective morality. So, it seems that Myers must explain what he means by reason. Maybe he takes Lewis’ second alternative, which fits better with an evolutionary framework, that of instinct.

This seems to be the only alternative left for the naturalist as reason would require some sort of plumb line against which to assess our reason. There has to be an objective standard or reason will be left to the individual’s own judgment. However, instinct leaves us no better off, for we would ask, whose instinct should we trust? How do we know who is more highly evolved and therefore whose instincts are more trustworthy if we have no objective standard against which to measure?

You see, Lewis had it right 65 years ago when he wrote this Abolition of Man, yet, somehow the new atheists still haven’t figured out that reason alone cannot get one to objective morality. Unless we are all using the same external standard to measure weight, length, height or depth; unless we are using the same mathematics and rules of logic (which themselves are not arrived at by logic, but simply known to be true); unless we trust an objective external ground of logic which itself is eternal and to which we are bound, then morality is simply a matter of one’s tastes and preferences and nothing more.

One can deny the existence of God, as does Myers; yet at the same time, one also is denying the existence of objective morality, along with a host of other ideas and concepts which I don’t believe we can live without. Myers wants to give up God, but still retain all of the benefits of what God brings to us. It is time that he faces the reality that if he gives up God, he also gives up objective morality and has no right to say that anyone is wrong; at best, he can say that he simply doesn’t prefer their behavior and ideas. I will take his displeasure into consideration and go on trusting God and living with the reality of real objective morality.

Abolition of Man

14 09 2009

Morality signThis week the book discussion group in which I participate gathered for our final discussion on Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis and again had a great discussion. It is amazing how in three chapters and less than 100 pages Lewis could weave together such a compelling argument, yet that is just what he has done in this book.

To review his argument, Lewis began the first chapter discussing two actual authors whom he pseudonymously referred to as Gaius and Titius (G&T) and their book to which he referred to as The Green Book. In this book, in which G&T set out to write about writing styles and the proper use of grammar, the two actually instead write about philosophy, describing how a writer doesn’t describe a thing in itself, but only how they feel about that thing. They used Coleridge’s story of a couple at a waterfall, one who described it as sublimeand the other describing it aspretty. Lewis tells us that “Coleridge mentally endorsed the first judgment and rejected the second in disgust.” However, he goes on to tell us that G&T explain that they were not giving an actual judgment or description of the waterfall, but only theirfeelings about the waterfall.

Lewis tells us that in The Green Book the schoolboy will learn two things: first, that “all sentences containing a predicate of value are statements about the emotional state of the speaker”; and second, “that all such statements are unimportant.” In contrast to these postmodern ideas of truth and reality, Lewis introduces the concept of the Tao, a shorthand word to refer to objective reality and truth. Lewis also explains that when filtering reality the head rules the belly through the chest. In other words, reason or intellect rules emotion or instinct through sentiment, magnanimity or nobility. This ruling is governed by the Tao. He explains that G&T and their kind are producing Men without Chests, those who are either all head or all belly but without the chest to govern the two.

Lewis explains that even though G&T attempt to tear down objective truth, they seem to believe in an inherent objective standard toward which they are driving the readers of their book. They imply that certain states of mind are intrinsically good. They are promoting their own dogmatism while tearing away at traditional values. Yet the standards that they are trying to establish are built upon reason and pragmatism alone and Lewis shows how this attempt at values breaks down in the end as it does not have the force ofoughtness to it; there is no reason one should be compelled to follow them. Lewis also argues that following instinct won’t lead us to workable morality either. We have competing instincts and yet, who or what is to govern between them.

SignIn the final chapter, entitledAbolition of Man, Lewis argues that man in his attempt to conquer nature, will in the end only be conquered by nature. He shows how man has advanced in developing technology to, in a sense, conquer nature. One of those technologies is contraceptives. Contraceptives allow people to engage in certain behavior without all of the “consequences” entailed in these practices. Lewis makes an interesting point in regard to the usage of contraceptives in that “there is a paradoxical, negative sense in which all possible future generations are the patients or subjects of a power wielded by those already alive.” In other words, the user of contraceptives is impacting and exercising control over future generations; they are denying them existence.

Lewis tells us that eventually all species will end up in extinction and the closer we come to extinction, the easier it will be to take control of Nature, especially our Human Nature. He writes:

I am only making clear what Man’s conquest of Nature really means and especially that final stage in the conquest, which, perhaps, is not far off. The final stage is come when Man by eugenics, by pre-natal conditioning, and by an education and propaganda based on a perfect applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself.Human nature will be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man. The battle will then be won. We shall have `taken the thread of life out of the hand of Clotho’ and be henceforth free to make our species whatever we wish it to be. The battle will indeed be won. But who, precisely, will have won it?

He argues that Conditioners will be developed, people who will train the coming generations to follow the artificial Taothat they have developed. However, as one of the conditions that they will instill will be to break from past traditions and develop new ones, those taught by the Conditioners will also eventually be abandoned in place of new ones. We will have people conditioned to act in a purely natural manner, according to natural impulses, yet in man’s attempt to conquer nature, acting naturally, he will eventually conquer himself, thus in the pursuit of the abolition of man, man will be destroyed.

Without objective truth and morality, what Lewis in this book refers to as the Tao, there is no way to make sense of moral behavior at all. At best, all we can say is that we have certain behavior, but we cannot call it moral, or even good as that would imply an objective standard. If a person were to love another person or hurt another person we could only say that they were acting differently from one another, not better or worse.

The conclusion of this argument has implications for a naturalist who believes that morality can be determined by evolution. Lewis debunks such an idea and tells us that we need an objective standard to truly have morality at all. Apart from God, that objective standard cannot exist. Does this mean that a naturalist cannot live a moral life? No, they certainly can. However, it does mean that they don’t have a basis for that behavior according to their worldview. It is only by what Lewis calls the Tao, an objective standard that requires a transcendent source, that man has a basis for this objective morality.

Are We Merely Creatures of Instinct?

7 09 2009

This week in a book discussion of which I am a part, the discussion centered around Lewis’ discussion of the concept of instinct. What he says is that if we are merely evolved beings then we should operate on instinct rather than intentionality. There should be no oughtness to our behavior, simply an isness. What he means is that we should only be able to describe how a person behaves, not how they ought to behave, as ought would imply that there is a right and wrong way to behave, which cannot come via natural processes.

right-way-wrong-way1Often evolutionists will argue that survival is the result of evolution, and some will take an extra and unwarranted step of saying that survival is the “goal” of the evolutionary process, thus implying a purpose for evolution. I say that this is an unwarranted step as evolution is a blind process according to people like Richard Dawkins and others, and therefore cannot have a purpose or goal. So, survival is just a chance result of the evolutionary process rather than a goal or purposeful end.

What one of our members did to test this idea was to pose a case in which a person (A) had a choice to make between B, C & D to achieve the end of fulfilling a desire (sorry for all the letters, but it is the best way to explain the situation). His instincts were equally divided between the options and he had no history with any of the choices, so he arbitrarily chose B, which gave him fulfillment of his desire. The next time, given the same choices, instinct should direct A to choose B again to fulfill A’s desire, as B fulfilled A’s desire the first time.

Now the scenario changes and the option for B is taken out of the mix of choices, leaving A to choose between C & D. A arbitrarily chooses C, and A finds that C fulfills him even better than did B. The next time, given the choices of B, C and D, instinct should drive A to choose C over B & D.

In these scenarios we are assuming that A does not reason or is not influenced by anything other than instinct. Suppose that A, driven by the instinct to survive, began to steal food from Y who had more than needed to survive. If we are truly driven by instinct alone, we could not say that A has done anything wrong, even if our instincts tell us that stealing is wrong. We could only say that A has done something different from what our instincts would drive us to do. That would include every other behavior that we consider moral or immoral. Those actions would not be truly moral or immoral, just different.

Neither can we determine what actions would have ultimate survival value as we cannot determine how a certain action will impact the future. For example, suppose society judged murder to be an action that impeded survival, yet A were to murder a person who would have become a Stalin or a Hitler should he have lived, that murder would have actually had a greater impact on survival than not murdering the Stalin or Hitler. Yet, we cannot determine who will become a Stalin, Hitler, or Mother Teresa. In other words, we don’t truly know which of our actions will have greater impact for survival and which will not. Yet, to not murder will generally have greater survival impact than to murder. The choice not to abort the unborn should also have greater survival value as well, yet, it has not led us to ban abortion.

The other challenge with the instinct driven scenario is that often we have competing instincts and are left to “decide” between them. I put decide in quotes as we aren’t, in the case, making rational decisions, but somehow our instincts are arbitrating between them and one ends up “winning.” We are told that we have an instinct to survive by evolutionists, yet, we often see situations in which a person will put him or herself in harms way for no “good” reason from a survival viewpoint.

For example, on 9.11.01 we saw the efforts of the NYC fire fighters as they rushed into a burning building that they knew could be hazardous and possibly lethal to them. The higher up they went, the lower the chances of their survival as well as the survival of the victims inside the buildings. Yet, we saw these men and women rushing into the building and up to the higher floors against their instinct to survive. There was no guarantee that their efforts would have led to the ultimate survival of the species or even the improvement of the odds of the survival of the species. So, how does one explain that these people gave their lives and why do we call them heroes if instinct is the driver?

I think the reason that we consider them to be heroes is the same that we consider the person who does what we consider to be immoral to be an immoral person. We know that people act on more than just instinct, we know that they also act based upon reason and that reason is directed by a moral code that exists outside of us. C.S. Lewis calls this the Tao, a shorthand name for what we know to be objective moral values that really exist and by which our actions are judged and which also directs our conscience. We are driven by more than just instincts as we consider criminals to be truly guilty of doing wrong and someone like Mother Teresa to be truly virtuous. We don’t just chalk it up to instinct and leave it at that. We are not indifferent to these behaviors as we should be if we were truly driven by instinct as the instincts of those people would be no better or worse, just different.

We celebrate the heroes of 9.11, those who have given their lives for our country in war, and many others who made conscious choices to resist the instinct to survive as the highest good and chose instead to put their lives on the line for the good of country and those who were in need.

Men Without Chests

31 08 2009

Men Without Chests is the intriguing title to the first chapter of C.S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man.  It is not only an intriguing title, but it is a compelling topic in today’s culture where we are told to tolerate lifestyles and ideas, but not truth or necessarily, people.

Abolitoin of ManLewis begins the chapter with the discussion of a book, a real book by real authors; however, he masks both the name of the book and the names of the authors as an act of kindness toward them, a kindness, although undeserved, is displayed out of Christian charity (this is my interpretation, not his).  Lewis writes, “I shall refer to these gentlemen as Gaius and Titius and to their book as The Green Book.  But I promise you there is such a book and I have it on my shelves.” (2)

The book was intended to be a book on writing and literary style, yet, as Lewis points out in this chapter, the book turns out to be a insidious book of philosophy.  Lewis discusses a portion of the book in which they discuss Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a poet and philosopher, who wrote of a couple of tourists viewing a waterfall.   One says that the waterfall is sublime while the other says that it is pretty.  Now, since we don’t use the word sublime commonly in our vernacular, let me give you the definition: impressing the mind with a sense of grandeur or power; inspiring awe, veneration, etc.

My wife and I have had the opportunity to go to Niagara Falls years ago and I will tell you that neither of us would have described the falls as simply, pretty.  To do so would have done an injustice to the grandeur of the falls.  The same could be said of the Rocky Mountains, the Alps, the Grand Canyon and many other natural wonders of this world.  Coleridge as well endorsed the observation of the first tourist and rejected that of the second.

This is where Gaius and Titius step in to introduce philosophy to the conversation.  They tell the reader that the tourists were not making an observation about the waterfall itself, but an observation about their own feelings.  Lewis quotes Titius as saying, “When the man said This is sublime, he appeared to be making a remark about the waterfall…Actually…he was not making a remark about the waterfall, but a remark about his own feelings.  What he was saying was really I have feelings associated in my mind with the word “Sublime”, or shortly, I have sublime feelings.” (2)

In other words, we are not making objective observations about a thing, in fact we cannot, we can only express the feelings or emotions brought about when observing a thing.  I called this insidious on the part of Gaius and Titius and here is why.  In the name of teaching the proper use of the English language, they are implanting ideas about the world into the heads of school children in a somewhat subversive manner.  They are not coming out and telling them that they are discussion philosophy and a worldview, they are merely slipping it in the back door, as it were, in the guise of an English lesson.

Gaius and Titius go on to give another example of this in the fourth chapter of their book where they take an advertisement for a cruise line and again slip in philosophy under the cover of English composition.  The ad encourages the reader to buy a ticket to sail the “Western Oceans where Drake and Devon sailed” seeking the adventures and treasures of the Indies.  Lewis criticizes the ad as a poor piece of writing, but criticizes Gaius and Titius for not only overlooking the poor writing, but instead focusing on the idea that the cruise ship won’t sail were these adventurers sailed and that any treasures that they bring home will be metaphorical.  In other words, instead of dealing with the grammar and syntax, these men attack the philosophical and literary underpinnings of the ad.  Lewis points out that they could do the same with Wordsworth and many of the other great writers in literary history as most of them used metaphor in their writing.

CS LewisLewis explains that up until recently our emotions and observations were connected to something real, something objective.  Our observations could be judged to be right or wrong as they were compared to the reality of that which was being observed or judged.  He explains that every culture had an understanding of a good that is beyond the physical world and that is objective in nature.  He illustrates this by using the Chinese concept of the Tao, “the reality beyond all predicates”, or as Plato called it, the forms.  Again, he uses the Tao not necessarily as a reference to Chinese thought, but to a concept that he says spans all major worldviews and that represents an objective reality beyond the physical world.  Readers can get tripped up on this concept and I will say that I am not in full agreement with Lewis’ presentation of this concept; however, it is helpful in understanding that there is a reality beyond this physical world that can be understood and grasped by us.

It is those who not only deny this reality but also convince others that this reality is no reality at all that Lewis calls men without chests. These people claim the title of intellectual and yet set out to destroy.  In destroying a person’s confidence in being able to grasp objective truth and in the very existence of objective truth, these people destroy hope, meaning and purpose in the person’s life as well.  If there is no objective truth, there can be no real meaning to life.  Morality becomes a quaint concept with no grounding in reality.  The Apostle Paul said that if the reality of the resurrection does not exist, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Cor. 15:32)  In other words, if there is no hope beyond this world, we might as well live it up in this world as it is all we have.

Yet, Paul says the same thing of these people that Lewis says of Gaius and Titius, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’” (v.33) Paul tells us that there is a reality beyond this physical existence and that Jesus is the demonstration of that through his death, burial and resurrection.  So, let us heed the words of Paul:

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (vv. 57-58)

Is Morality the Product of Evolution

25 08 2009

ArrowsLast week, we considered the question of whether religion could be explained by evolution alone, and this week we will do the same with the question of morality and ethics. I hear quite often in discussions with skeptics that morality is simply the product of evolution, something that has just helped our species to survive. Let’s begin by considering that possibility and find out what would be true of ethics and morality if it were merely a trait or mechanism that evolved to aid our survival as a species.

The first thing that would be true of morality would be that it would not be objective in nature. In other words, what we consider to be moral or immoral would not be a fact independent of our belief in the same. Murder would not be objectively wrong or evil, nor would rape, racism, or a whole host of other actions that we deem to be wrong, or even evil. In the same way, actions like helping the poor and needy, rescuing a drowning child, or being kind would not be objectively good things. It is possible, given evolution, that we could just as easily live in a world where killing the disabled or even people with certain characteristics would be considered to be good, or preventing the torture of animals would be evil.

After all, as the famous evolutionist, Stephen Jay Gould, in his book Wonderful life: the Burgess Shale and the nature of history (the name is a takeoff of the holiday favorite “It’s a Wonderful Life”) said that if we replay the tape of evolution “a million times…I doubt that anything like Homo sapiens would ever evolve again.” (289) He believed that because evolution involves chance mutations and that there is no telos (purpose or end goal), that if evolution were to be rerun, it would produce different results each time, including that Homo sapiens would not be a part of the other permutations.

We could equally extrapolate out for morality that it would turn out different each time, if it evolved at all! So, we could quite likely see a world where acts that we consider evil might be considered to be good and vice versa. Richard Dawkins, in a post debate radio interview, he would be OK with the idea of rape being acceptable if evolution had turned out differently. Dawkins replied that he would not like to live in such a world. In other words, Dawkins believed rape to be objectively evil, wrong despite what evolution would lead us to believe.

The second thing that would be true of morality, given evolution, would be that it would be possible for each person to evolve in a slightly different way such that we would each see morality differently from other people. In other words, morality would be person-subjective. No one would be able to say that their evolutionary view of morality was “better” than another person’s. So, if I evolved such that my morality allowed me to steal from others, the one from whom I have stolen could not say that I have done anything really wrong. It may be wrong to them to steal, but they would be in no position to impose that morality on me.

The third problem is also an epistemological problem (a how we know problem) in that evolution would not necessarily lead us to be able to distinguish truth as evolution (according to evolutionary experts) only puts our bodies in the right place at the right time so that we can survive as an entity and as a species. Now, I have problems with this view that evolution has this “goal” of survival as evolution is a blind process and has no goals or direction, it just is a process. However, even if evolution were capable of creating within us the ability to get our bodies in the right place at the right time, it would not necessitate that we would do so in a manner that would be considered moral or ethical. The fact is that we would not really have need for objective morality, just a need to make sure that we survive.

Morality, according to philosopher J.P. Moreland, implies a design or telos to our existence. Why, you might ask? Moreland uses a couple of illustrations to make the point. First, Moreland uses the example of an automobile carburetor, the part of the car that used to (carburetors are not found in many modern cars with fuel injectors) that would atomize gasoline so that it could be ignited by the spark plugs. Moreland asks whether there there could be a bad carburetor. Those of us who used to drive cars with carburetors would answer that yes, there could be a car with a bad carburetor, in fact, I a lot of time trying to start cars with bad carburetors. How do we know the carburetor is a bad one? Because we know how a carburetor is supposed to work, we know how it was designed to work. When it doesn’t work according to the design, we know it is bad.

So, are people designed to work a certain way, or are we the product of a blind chance process operating by selection? The answer obviously has implications. If it is the former, then there is a design according to which we are to live our lives and when we don’t live according to that plan, we are acting in a bad manner. However, if we are the product of a blind process, then there is no plan or design and no wrong way to live. Even if we are living in such a way that would lead to the extinction of the species, we can’t even say that this behavior is bad since the system is not “designed” for our survival, survival is merely a byproduct of how the system has worked out.

Moreland also uses an example of playing a game of Monopoly. He tells his opponent that the rules of the game are that his opponent can do anything he wants when it is his turn. He can make a sandwich, turn on the TV, ring a bell, or anything else he wants. His opponent begins his turn by loading up properties with hotels. Moreland counters by tipping over the board and ringing the bell. His opponent is confused by that move and proceeds to load up the properties with hotels once again. Moreland counters by wiping the board clear and turning on the TV. On and on it could go and since there is no ultimate purpose to the game with these rules, there is no right or wrong to the moves. The same is true of our lives, if there is no ultimate purpose, then there is no right or wrong behavior. We can either tip the board or put on the hotels and either move is just as “meaningful” or “meaningless” as the other. If life has no ultimate meaning, it has no ultimate morality and if it has no ultimate morality, then it has no ultimate meaning either.

These are the reasons that I believe that morality and meaning cannot be ultimately explained by evolution. Life has too much evidence of design, and design begs for a designer.