Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Readers, writing and writers

I have posted on the issue of the grounding of morality before, most recently here, but I want to do it again in light of what I have just listened to.

I was listening to an atheist taking Christians to task about the subject of morality, and he said that he didn't understand why Christians insisted that you needed to be a Christian or need to read the Bible in order to live a good life and know right from wrong, because there are people from all over the world who have never seen or read the Bible who nevertheless know right from wrong and can lead good lives.

Now this is where I really have to question the intention of the atheist, because I have never heard a Christian use the argument that he puts in our mouths.  Indeed, the Bible itself tells us you don't need the Bible to know right from wrong, (e.g. Genesis 39 v 9; Romans 2 v 15).  The Bible certainly clarifies and expands upon our moral duties, but everyone has a basic knowledge of right and wrong on the hard drive of their being.  The Christian argument is not that you need to believe in God to know right from wrong, but rather you need God in order for there to be right and wrong.  If there is no God then there is no transcendent standard and there is nothing that is objectively right or wrong.

I want to pass on an illustration that makes the point (found here).  Imagine a man sitting reading the newspaper, and you come to him and ask him what journalist or columnist he's reading, and he looks at you and says, "I don't believe in authors, and I can read just as well as you, in fact, I can read better than a lot of people who do believe in authors!  Believing in authors doesn't make them better readers!  Why do you need to introduce unseen authors, and invoke something unnecessary like an intelligent mind, when I can read perfectly well without a belief in such things."  You can hopefully see the stupidity of the argument, and also, hopefully you can see the accuracy of the parallel.  Of course you don't need to believe in writers in order to read, but there needs to be a writer in order for you to have something to read.  And another thing - if what you are reading did not come from an intelligent mind, why would you believe it is in any way reliable?

So just to spell out the application of the illustration, the atheist can say, "I can lead a good life without believing in God", completely misses the point.  The point is there needs to be a God in order for anything to be objectively good and obligatory for us to do.