Thursday, 6 January 2011

It's in the genes???

I just read a transcript of a radio debate between Greg Koukl (a Christian who heads up Stand to Reason) and Michael Shermer (an atheist and Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine).

The discussion focused largely on the subject of morality and how atheists ground it (i.e. what they base it on).   This is a big problem for the atheist who wants to be honest to his moral intuitions and affirm that there is an objective standard of right and wrong, and that there are some things that are truly evil.  If all there is in the universe is molecules moving and chemicals reacting then where or what is this objective standard and why are we obligated to it?

When Koukl said that Shermer believed morality was subjective (i.e. it's in the subject - the person; it's not in the object - the actual action, so that subjective morality is a statement about how an action makes you feel rather than a statement about the action itself), Shermer's response was astonishing - he said that morality was objective because it was in the genes!!

Now there are a couple of huge issues here that Shermer either can't or won't see.  First of all, if that makes morality objective then what on earth would make it subjective?  Surely, as a materialist (one who believes there is nothing apart from the material universe), Shermer believes that everything is in the genes.  What would subjective morality be, on his view?

Secondly, if selflessness, courage, kindness, truthfulness and humility are all in the genes, it has to be said that selfishness, cowardliness, cruelty, deceit and pride are in the genes too.  What makes one behaviour set good and the other bad if they are both just in the genes?  Why does Shermer arbitrarily assign a transcendent notion of goodness to one set of actions and evil to the other?  What is he using to distinguish?  It will have to be something outside of ourselves.  The colour of your hair and eyes are in the genes - why do we not assign moral qualities to those things?  The answer is because morality is nothing to do with your genes - it is transcendent.

When Michael Shermer says rape, stealing, murder and lying is wrong, I want to know what he means by wrong and what his logic was in arriving at his answer.  I know those things are wrong and evil (we all do), but I know what it means when we say something is wrong (a departure from what is right) and evil (a departure from what is good), and I know then why those things are wrong and evil - they are against the will and contrary to the nature of a holy and righteous God.

And another thing - if it's in the genes then why should I be punished for the "wrong" and praised for the "right".  No one hands out prizes or gets sent to prison for the colour of their eyes or the size of their nose - if it's in the genes then it's determined, yet we know that our behaviour is not like that - we are morally responsible.

Once again, the Bible gives the true picture of reality - we can find that which is noble (because we are made in the image of God), we can find that which is evil (because we are fallen and sinful), and we know the difference because God has put the demand of His law upon our hearts (Romans 2 v 15).

This is a further example of how atheists have to borrow from the Christian worldview to survive.  They can't live consistently with the logical outworking of atheism.

Thankfully the Bible gives us the answer to our moral guilt and sinfulness - the Son of God to pay the penalty for our sins and reconcile us to God, and the Spirit of God to take up residence in the repentant sinner to empower them to live holy lives.  This is the good news of the Gospel.