Where Do Ethics Come From? Atheist Convo (Bonus Material)

A chap in a Facebook group posted a few points in a post, of which I took this point up to respond to.

  • My moral values have a simple root…if an action causes harm to another person, that act is immoral. If my inaction causes harm to another person, that inaction is immoral

I first posted this as a response:

  • You would have to define and then implement this definition in a way that non-theistic governments would accept (like the many Eastern-block countries of our past for example). Some countries would view the disabled and farmers as harming society, and thus view the moral rout for said society as a whole to rid themselves of these persons/groups. They would say to NOT do so causes harm.

BUT, I didn’t have to really do any heavy lifting… this person did it for me. After reading through the discussion, the same person said this:

  • Morality actually derives from human self interest in preserving the group they needed to be part of to survive in a hostile world. It had to be a feature in the lives of the earliest human ancestor species

To which I replied:

Oh, this comment refutes you OP [original post]. “Morality actually derives from human self interest in preserving the group they needed to be part of to survive in a hostile world.”

So another group’s morality to survive in a hostile world (say, Pol-Pot, Stalin, Hitler, Caesars, etc) are just as “moral” then. Unless you are saying that there is a universal code you are tapping into to compare/contrast, and put on a higher plane? Not only that, but you would need to argue that another person would have to have that same ability…. At least if you are expecting your OP to carry any weight.

Otherwise you are merely here expressing your preference (emoting), like my children telling me they prefer chocolate ice cream over vanilla.

Not only that, but the majority group, whether in a country or in the world, would decide this ethos (what it “means” to survive). And thus, to speak out against this consensus (whether is science or in morality) would be immoral.


BONUS!


A couple examples of this ethos at work:

“Everything I have said and done in these last years is relativism by intuition….  If relativism signifies contempt for fixed categories and men who claim to be bearers of an objective, immortal truth then there is nothing more relativistic than fascistic attitudes and activity….  From the fact that all ideologies are of equal value, that all ideologies are mere fictions, the modern relativist infers that everybody has the right to create for himself his own ideology and to attempt to enforce it with all the energy of which he is capable.”

Mussolini, Diuturna (1924) pp. 374-77, quoted in A Refutation of Moral Relativism: Interviews with an Absolutist (Ignatius Press; 1999), by Peter Kreeft, p. 18.


“The stronger must dominate and not mate with the weaker, which would signify the sacrifice of its own higher nature.  Only the born weakling can look upon this principle as cruel, and if he does so it is merely because he is of a feebler nature and narrower mind; for if such a law [natural selection] did not direct the process of evolution then the higher development of organic life would not be conceivable at all….  If Nature does not wish that weaker individuals should mate with the stronger, she wishes even less that a superior race should intermingle with an inferior one; because in such a case all her efforts, throughout hundreds of thousands of years, to establish an evolutionary higher stage of being, may thus be rendered futile.”

Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, translator/annotator, James Murphy (New York: Hurst and Blackett, 1942), pp. 161-162; found in: Norman L. Geisler & Peter Bocchino, Unshakeable Foundations: Contemporary Answers to Crucial Questions About the Christian Faith (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2001), 206.


“What’s to prevent us from saying Hitler wasn’t right? I mean, that is a genuinely difficult question.” — Richard Dawkins

Stated during an interview with Larry Taunton, “Richard Dawkins: The Atheist Evangelist,” by Faith Magazine, Issue Number 18, December 2007.


Atheist Daniel Dennett, for example, asserts that consciousness is an illusion. (One wonders if Dennett was conscious when he said that!) His claim is not only superstitious, it’s logically indefensible. In order to detect an illusion, you’d have to be able to see what’s real. Just like you need to wake up to know that a dream is only a dream, Daniel Dennett would need to wake up with some kind of superconsciousness to know that the ordinary consciousness the rest of us mortals have is just an illusion. In other words, he’d have to be someone like God in order to know that.

Dennett’s assertion that consciousness is an illusion is not the result of an unbiased evaluation of the evidence. Indeed, there is no such thing as “unbiased evaluation” in a materialist world because the laws of physics determine everything anyone thinks, including everything Dennett thinks. Dennett is just assuming the ideology of materialism is true and applying its implications to consciousness. In doing so, he makes the same mistake we’ve seen so many other atheists make. He is exempting himself from his own theory. Dennett says consciousness is an illusion, but he treats his own consciousness as not an illusion. He certainly doesn’t think the ideas in his book are an illusion. He acts like he’s really telling the truth about reality.

When atheists have to call common sense “an illusion” and make self-defeating assertions to defend atheism, then no one should call the atheistic worldview “reasonable.” Superstitious is much more accurate.

Frank Turek, Stealing from God (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014), 46-47.


….Darwin thought that, had the circumstances for reproductive fitness been different, then the deliverances of conscience might have been radically different. “If men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill  their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters, and no one would think of interfering” (Darwin, Descent, 82). As it happens, we weren’t “reared” after the manner of hive bees, and so we have widespread and strong beliefs about the sanctity of human life and its implications for how we should treat our siblings and our offspring.

But this strongly suggests that we would have had whatever beliefs were ultimately fitness producing given the circumstances of survival. Given the background belief of naturalism, there appears to be no plausible Darwinian reason for thinking that the fitness-producing predispositions that set the parameters for moral reflection have anything whatsoever to do with the truth of the resulting moral beliefs. One might be able to make a case for thinking that having true beliefs about, say, the predatory behaviors of tigers would, when combined with the understandable desire not to be eaten, be fitness producing. But the account would be far from straightforward in the case of moral beliefs.” And so the Darwinian explanation undercuts whatever reason the naturalist might have had for thinking that any of our moral beliefs is true. The result is moral skepticism.

If our pretheoretical moral convictions are largely the product of natural selection, as Darwin’s theory implies, then the moral theories we find plausible are an indirect result of that same evolutionary process. How, after all, do we come to settle upon a proposed moral theory and its principles as being true? What methodology is available to us?

Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, eds., Contending With Christianity’s Critics: Answering the New Atheists & Other Objections (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2009), 70.

DAWKINS (44-Seconds):

PROVINE (43-Seconds):

BARKER (Almost 5-Minutes):

Wolpert (17+Minutes)


Rolling Rock Ethics


Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan, Did God Really Command Genocide? Coming to Terms with the Justice of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014), fn.2, 319 [added linked reference from Evolution News for context]:

Dawkins spells out the contradiction: “As an academic scientist, I am a passionate Darwinian, believing that natural selection is, if not the only driving force in evolution, certainly the only known force capable of producing the illusion of purpose which so strikes all who contemplate nature. But at the same time as I support Darwinism as a scientist, I am a passionate anti-Darwinian when it comes to politics and how we should conduct our human affairs.” A Devils Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2003), 10-11.

In another place, he admits to the logic of his own determinism (that people cannot be held responsible for their actions), but emotionally he cannot accept this. See the Dawkins interview by Logan Gage, Who Wrote Richard Dawkins’s New Book?,” Evolution News (website), October 28, 2006:

Manzari: Dr. Dawkins thank you for your comments. The thing I have appreciated most about your comments is your consistency in the things I’ve seen you’ve written. One of the areas that I wanted to ask you about, and the place where I think there is an inconsistency, and I hoped you would clarify, is that in what I’ve read you seem to take a position of a strong determinist who says that what we see around us is the product of physical laws playing themselves out; but on the other hand it would seem that you would do things like taking credit for writing this book and things like that. But it would seem, and this isn’t to be funny, that the consistent position would be that necessarily the authoring of this book, from the initial conditions of the big bang, it was set that this would be the product of what we see today. I would take it that that would be the consistent position but I wanted to know what you thought about that.

Dawkins: The philosophical question of determinism is a very difficult question. It’s not one I discuss in this book, indeed in any other book that I’ve ever talked about. Now an extreme determinist, as the questioner says, might say that everything we do, everything we think, everything that we write has been determined from the beginning of time in which case the very idea of taking credit for anything doesn’t seem to make any sense. Now I don’t actually know what I actually think about that, I haven’t taken up a position about that, it’s not part of my remit to talk about the philosophical issue of determinism. What I do know is that what it feels like to me, and I think to all of us, we don’t feel determined. We feel like blaming people for what they do or giving people the credit for what they do. We feel like admiring people for what they do. None of us ever actually as a matter of fact says, “Oh well he couldn’t help doing it, he was determined by his molecules.” Maybe we should… I sometimes… Um… You probably remember many of you would have seen Fawlty Towers. The episode where Basil where his car won’t start and he gives it fair warning, counts up to three, and then gets out of the car and picks up a tree branch and thrashes it within an edge of his life. Maybe that’s what we all ought to… Maybe the way we laugh at Basil Fawlty, we ought to laugh in the same way at people who blame humans. I mean when we punish people for doing the most horrible murders, maybe the attitude we should take is “Oh they were just determined by their molecules.” It’s stupid to punish them. What we should do is say “This unit has a faulty motherboard which needs to be replaced.” I can’t bring myself to do that. I actually do respond in an emotional way and I blame people, I give people credit, or I might be more charitable and say this individual who has committed murders or child abuse of whatever it is was really abused in his own childhood. And so again I might take a…

Manzari: But do you personally see that as an inconsistency in your views?

Dawkins: I sort of do. Yes. But it is an inconsistency that we sort of have to live with otherwise life would be intolerable. But it has nothing to do with my views on religion it is an entirely separate issue.

Manzari: Thank you.

2 Peter 1:5-8:

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In other words, there is no absolute moral ethic, Dawkins wants to have a consensus of people agreeing what is “right” and “wrong” — he says as much in the audio above. Which means that rape and murder are only taboo… not really wrong.

Secondly, there can be no concept of “ought”

What about human actions? They are of no more value or significance than the actions of any other material thing. Consider rocks rolling down a hill and coming to rest at the bottom. We don’t say that some particular arrangement of the rocks is right and another is wrong. Rocks don’t have a duty to roll in a particular way and land in a particular place. Their movement is just the product of the laws of physics. We don’t say that rocks “ought” to land in a certain pattern and that if they don’t then something needs to be done about it. We don’t strive for a better arrangement or motion of the rocks. In just the same way, there is no standard by which human actions can be judged. We are just another form of matter in motion, like the rocks rolling down the hill.

We tend to think that somewhere “out there” there are standards of behaviour that men ought to follow. But according to Dawkins there is only the “natural, physical world”. Nothing but particles and forces. These things cannot give rise to standards that men have a duty to follow. In fact they cannot even account for the concept of “ought”. There exist only particles of matter obeying the laws of physics. There is no sense in which anything ought to be like this or ought to be like that. There just is whatever there is, and there just happens whatever happens in accordance with the laws of physics.

Men’s actions are therefore merely the result of the laws of physics that govern the behaviour of the particles that make up the chemicals in the cells and fluids of their bodies and thus control how they behave. It is meaningless to say that the result of those physical reactions ought to be this or ought to be that. It is whatever it is. It is meaningless to say that people ought to act in a certain way. It is meaningless to say (to take a contemporary example) that the United States and its allies ought not to have invaded Iraq. The decision to invade was just the outworking of the laws of physics in the bodies of the people who governed those nations. And there is no sense in which the results of that invasion can be judged as good or bad because there are no standards to judge anything by. There are only particles reacting together; no standards, no morals, nothing but matter in motion.

Dawkins finds it very hard to be consistent to this system of belief. He thinks and acts as if there were somewhere, somehow standards that people ought to follow. For example in The God Delusion, referring particularly to the Christian doctrine of atonement, he says that there are “teachings in the New Testament that no good person should support”.(6) And he claims that religion favours an in-group/out-group approach to morality that makes it “a significant force for evil in the world”.(7)

According to Dawkins, then, there are such things as good and evil. We all know what good and evil mean. We know that if no good person should support the doctrine of atonement then we ought not to support that doctrine. We know that if religion is a force for evil then we are better off without religion and that, indeed, we ought to oppose religion. The concepts of good and evil are innate in us. The problem for Dawkins is that good and evil make no sense in his worldview. “There is nothing beyond the natural, physical world.” There are no standards out there that we ought to follow. There is only matter in motion reacting according to the laws of physics. Man is not of a different character to any other material thing. Men’s actions are not of a different type or level to that of rocks rolling down a hill. Rocks are not subject to laws that require them to do good and not evil; nor are men. Every time you hear Dawkins talking about good and evil as if the words actually meant something, it should strike you loud and clear as if he had announced to the world, “I am contradicting myself”.

Please note that I am not saying that Richard Dawkins doesn’t believe in good and evil. On the contrary, my point is that he does believe in them but that his worldview renders such standards meaningless.

(Nothing Beyond the Natural Physical World)

We know Dawkins’ position is not science, so… what is it? Here begins the journey for the truly curious.

Logical Consequences of Atheism (e.g., Silly Syllogisms) [Updated a Tad]

Here is a thoughtful challenge by someone a friend is in conversation with:

I’ll jump into this message by addressing the assertion that suffering is related to sin. I understand that this is what the Bible says, and during the infancy of the human species, when religion was our first attempt at making sense of the world, it might have made sense to attribute suffering to violating the will of a god. However, to make such an assertion in 2016 seems rather ridiculous. Nine million children die every year before they reach 5 years old. Remember that tsunami in 2004 that killed 250,000 people? Imagine one of those every ten days, only killing children under the age of five. We’re talking about a thousand dead children per hour, or about 17 every minute. This means that before you reach the end of this paragraph, some few children will likely have died in terror and agony somewhere in the world. The parents of these children almost certainly believe in God, and are praying at this very moment for their children to be spared. You and I both know that these prayers will go unanswered. The classic position taken by nonbelievers is that any god who would allow children by the millions to suffer and die in this way, and their parents to suffer and grieve in this way, either can do nothing to help them, or doesn’t care to. This conception of a deity is therefore either evil or impotent.

The very first thing that pops into my mind is the idea Dr. Clouser pulls from many positions taken by people who profess to “think well,”

The program of rejecting logic in order to accept mutually contradictory beliefs is not, however, just a harmless, whimsical hope that somehow logically incompatible beliefs can both be true…it results in nothing less than the destruction of any and every concept we could possess. Even the concept of rejecting the law of non-contradiction depends on assuming and using that law, since without it the concept of rejecting it could neither be thought nor stated.

Roy A. Clouser, The Myth of Religious Neutrality: An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories (Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame Press, 2005), 178.

(More can be see in this regard in my intro chapter to my book, here)

We will venture into how this challenge is void of “thoughtfulness” — which is why I italicized this word in the first sentence at the top of this post. The main laws of logic will show that if the skeptics viewpoint is “true,” then “truth” does not exist. But I digress ingress.

…continuing…

In the challengers paragraph we find him inferring the classically and oft used syllogism that follows:

  • Premise 1: God is all-good (omnibenevolent)
  • Premise 2: God is all-powerful (omnipotent)
  • Premise 3: Suffering and evil exist
  • Conclusion: An all-good, all-powerful God could not exist since there is so much suffering and evil in the world. If he did, he would eradicate this evil.

However, not many atheists use this any longer since the excellent work of Alvin Plantinga in his book, God, Freedom, and Evil. This syllogism changes a bit and looks like this:

  • An omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God created the world.
  • God creates a world containing evil and has a good reason for doing so.
  • Therefore, the world contains evil.

Ronald Nash comments further, and a larger excerpt can be found in my detailing Greg Gutfeld’s agnosticism:

Numbers 1 and 2 taken together do, of course, entail 3. Therefore, the propositions from our original theistic set that now make up 1 are logically consistent with the existence of evil. The only relevant question regarding 2 is whether it is possibly true. Obviously it is since it is not logically false. Therefore, the theistic set is logically consistent from which follows the impossibility of anyone’s ever demonstrating that it is not.

Ronald Nash, Faith & Reason: Searching for a Rational Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988), 189.

So we see that by using logic found in philosophical principles that the challenger alluded to, especially in his last sentence, saying “This conception of a deity is therefore either evil or impotent,” that the challenge is defeated.

Not only that however, is, HOW does the challenger come to a conclusion that he can judge something to be wrong, outside of his personal opinion that is. In other words, he is saying that an action or inaction constitutes evil. He uses this moral presupposition bound up in “evil” to insert into a syllogistic formula to disprove God (at least God in the Judeo-Christian sense… for “evil” being negative is absent from every other religious viewpoint).

He, the challenger, is saying that I, that my neighbor, someone in Bangledesh, or Papua New Guinea [etc.] should see this formula, understand what “evil” action or inaction is, and agree with him. He is – in other words – inserting an absolute principle in the formulation. This is where I want to challenge such an idea.

CS Lewis once reflected on himself doing the same thing as an atheist when he said:

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too–for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist–in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless -I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality–namely my idea of justice–was full of sense. Consequently, atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco, CA: Harper San Francisco, 1952), 38-39.

To further draw out this idea, Ravi Zacharias responded to a questioner at Harvard where a moral principle was inserted into the premise of the question:

You see… when an absolute is brought into the equation, the challenger ceases being an atheist or skeptic. UNLESS they pause and explain to others why they should accept what they consider to be an “evil” act. ~These presuppositions also assume a goal or end to life, inserting meaning and purpose that the skeptic EXPECTS others to see and agree with.~ Let us see a little about what atheists consider to be “evil.” Again, these are people bringing their worldview to their logical ends (for references, see, 26 Brutally Honest Atheist Quotes Worth A Read):

  • “When one gives up Christian belief one thereby deprives oneself of the right to Christian morality. For the latter is not self—evident. . . Christianity is a system.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
  • “…to say that something is wrong because… it is forbidden by God, is… perfectly understandable to anyone who believes in a law-giving God. But to say that something is wrong… even though no God exists to forbid it, is not understandable….” “The concept of moral obligation [is] unintelligible apart from the idea of God. The words remain but their meaning is gone.” ~ Richard Taylor
  • “There is no objective moral standard. We are responsible for our own actions….” | “The hard answer is it [moral decisions] is a matter of opinion.” ~ David Silverman
  • “There is no purpose to life, and we should not want there to be a purpose to life because if there was that would cheapen life.” ~ Dan Barker

Here is my “AFTERTHOUGHT” to two examples proffered by myself in regards to a meme floating around the internet:

AFTERTHOUGHT

Just as an afterthought. A skeptic who rejects God and accepts naturalism cannot say rape is wrong like the theist can say this:

RAPE:

  • theism: evil, wrong at all times and places in the universe — absolutely;
  • atheism: taboo, it was used in our species in the past for the survival of the fittest, and is thus a vestige of evolutionary progress… and so may once again become a tool for survival — it is in every corner of nature;
  • pantheism: illusion, all morals and ethical actions and positions are actually an illusion (Hinduism – maya; Buddhism – sunyata). In order to reach some state of Nirvana one must retract from this world in their thinking on moral matters, such as love and hate, good and bad. Not only that, but often times the person being raped has built up bad karma and thus is the main driver for his or her state of affairs (thus, in one sense it is “right” that rape happens).
[….]

In other words they have to BORROW FROM ethics the worldview that they are trying to disprove (again referencing CS Lewis and Ravi Zacharias’ work above).

For more on this, see my post noting many more atheist/evolutionary (philosophical naturalism) positions followed to their logical conclusions here:

Here we see the logical consequences of the “God Is Dead” movement and Nietzsche’s prophecy concerning the outcome:

Nihilism can take more than one form. There is, for instance, passive nihilism, a pessimistic acquiescence in the absence of values and in the purposelessness of existence. But there is also active nihilism which seeks to destroy that in which it no longer believes. And Nietzsche prophesies the advent of an active nihilism, showing itself in world-shaking ideological wars. “There will be wars such as there have never been on earth before. Only from my time on will there be on earth politics on the grand scale.

The advent of nihilism is in Nietzsche’s opinion inevitable. And it will mean the final overthrow of the decadent Christian civilization of Europe. At the same time it will clear the way for a new dawn, for the transvaluation of values, for the emergence of a higher type of man. For this reason “this most gruesome of all guests”, who stands at the door, is to be welcomed.

Frederick Copleston, S.J., A History of Philosophy, Volume VII (New York, NY: Image Books, 1994), 405-405.

And so, the Twentieth Century was indeed the bloodiest ever. In fact, non-God [atheistic] governments killed more people in 100-years than all religion did the previous nineteen. See my “Religious Wars” post for more.

Again, even truth is called into question, as the many quotes in the above link show, if God is extant from our discussion about reality.

“If the solar system was brought about by an accidental collision, then the appearance of organic life on this planet was also an accident, and the whole evolution of Man was an accident too. If so, then all our thought processes are mere accidents – the accidental by-product of the movement of atoms. And this holds for the materialists and astronomers as well as for anyone else’s. But if their thoughts — i.e. of Materialism and — are merely accidental by-products, why should we believe them to be true? I see no reason for believing that one accident should be able to give a correct account of all the other accidents. It’s like expecting that the accidental shape taken by the splash when you upset a milk-jug should give you a correct account of how the jug was made and why it was upset.”

C. S. Lewis, God In the Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1970), pp. 52–53.

Do you see? If atheism is true, then these absolute statements entwined in these skeptical position vanish. In fact, “consciousness” is a problem for this discussion:

Atheist Daniel Dennett, for example, asserts that consciousness is an illusion. (One wonders if Dennett was conscious when he said that!) His claim is not only superstitious, it’s logically indefensible. In order to detect an illusion, you’d have to be able to see what’s real. Just like you need to wake up to know that a dream is only a dream, Daniel Dennett would need to wake up with some kind of superconsciousness to know that the ordinary consciousness the rest of us mortals have is just an illusion. In other words, he’d have to be someone like God in order to know that.

Dennett’s assertion that consciousness is an illusion is not the result of an unbiased evaluation of the evidence. Indeed, there is no such thing as “unbiased evaluation” in a materialist world because the laws of physics determine everything anyone thinks, including everything Dennett thinks. Dennett is just assuming the ideology of materialism is true and applying its implications to consciousness. In doing so, he makes the same mistake we’ve seen so many other atheists make. He is exempting himself from his own theory. Dennett says consciousness is an illusion, but he treats his own consciousness as not an illusion. He certainly doesn’t think the ideas in his book are an illusion. He acts like he’s really telling the truth about reality.

When atheists have to call common sense “an illusion” and make self-defeating assertions to defend atheism, then no one should call the atheistic worldview “reasonable.” Superstitious is much more accurate.

Frank Turek, Stealing from God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014), 46-47.

These are meta-narratives just assumed by the skeptic with no regard to how they arrived there. I liken it to an analogy of driving a car. The atheist thinks he has gotten in his car, backed out of the drive-way, and is a few turns into his trip to the market of reason. I am merely pointing out that the car is not starting when the key is turned. One may wish to go through another post of mine entitled, “Is Evil Proof Against God? Where Does It Come From?

Remember, always ask yourself if the question or challenge is a proper one to begin with…

Mortimer J. Adler rightly points out that while many Christians are quick in responding to the conclusions in an argument often times the Christian is unaware that the point of departure is not in the conclusion, but in the starting premise, the foundational assumptions.

Norman L. Geisler & Peter Bocchino, Unshakable Foundations: Contemporary Answers to Crucial Questions About the Christian Faith (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2001), 20-21.


Classic Syllogism – Simple Change


This is how it is often presented:

★ If God is all-powerful, He can prevent evil.
★ If God is good, He would want to prevent evil.
★ Evil exists.
★ Therefore, there is no God. (Or: God is either not all-powerful, or He is not good.)

All that is really being done is this simple change, and it is sound:

★ If God is all-powerful, He can prevent evil.
★ If God is good, He would want to prevent evil.
★ Evil exists.
★ Therefore, the world contains evil.

The conclusion that the world contains evil has no explanatory power on why it does or even if this impacts the existence of God in any way.

Hypocrites in the Church ~ Conversation Series (Updated)

“We are all fallen creatures and all very hard to live with.” — C.S. Lewis

I wanted to update my earlier post with this from Andy Bannister (great book BTW) and STAND TO REASON’S clear insight… BEFORE getting to my original post. Enjoy:

The problem is us. We poison everything. And, as it happens, that is precisely why we need Jesus. Far from contradicting Christianity, the existence of sin in the world (even in the church) confirms this central truth of Christianity. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and “if we say that we have no sin, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:10).

At root, the objection that “Christians are hypocrites” comes down to a fundamental misunderstanding of Christianity. It is widely believed (sadly, even by some who claim to be Christians) that Christianity is mainly about becoming a good person, and that being a good person is the way to heaven. This belief only glorifies the churchgoer, not God, for such a person is his only savior. It also inevitably leads to disillusionment and cynicism because it is false. No one is sinless, and anyone who expects otherwise of Christians will be let down sooner or later.

Christians, we openly recognize our sinfulness, so when someone accuses the church of housing sinners, that’s an opportunity to explain that our sin is the very reason why we go to church. We’re Christians because we know we sin. A Christian’s sin doesn’t contradict Christianity; it confirms it. It’s only more proof that we all need Jesus to take our sin and give us His righteousness….

(read it all)

(Originally posted September 6th, 2007)

This was a conversation with a very nice lady from work who wanted to discuss Christianity but couldn’t (or wouldn’t) get pass this point of hypocrites in the church.  This wasn’t in conversation with me, but another Christian in my place of work and he asked me for a response and understanding on how to answer such a challenge. I mentioned that the best answer/response that was honest and forthright was one I read in a book by an ex-atheist, Reasons for Believing: A Seekers Guide to Christianity (emphasis added). At a later date the woman and I discussed the topic in the “Pit,” which is the specialty cubicle at Whole Foods:

GOD CONDEMNS HYPOCRISY

The word hypocrite comes from the Greek word hypocrites which means pretender or dissembler. It was originally used of Greek actors who uttered their lines behind masks. The word hypocrite was used to portray someone who was pretending to be someone else. A hypocrite is an actor, a person who pretends to be something he is not. Christ’s harshest words were reserved for hypocrites:

  • Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which appear beautifully outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and uncleanliness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matthew 23:27-28).

Jesus was abrupt with hypocrites because the evil of hypocrisy. The scriptures repeatedly warn against hypocrisy (1 Timothy 4:1-2). Warnings are issued for true Christians to avoid association with them (1 Corinthians 5:11). Jesus foretold the ultimate fate of hypocrites; they will be identified and separated from true Christians for judgment (Matthew 7:21-23).

THERE ARE SOME HYPOCRITES IN THE CHURCH

The charge that the church is full of hypocrites is certainly just not true. To even say that the majority of Christians are hypocrites is distantly removed from reality. The reality is that only a small minority of Christians in the Church are hypocrites. This is something that the Church has never denied. There have always been and will always be some hypocrites in the Church.

Throughout history the Church has worked hard to identify and remove hypocrites from its ranks. Such has been the case in recent days with some prominent Christian leaders [book was written in the 90s]. But rather than congratulating the Church for its integrity, critics have focused n the negative.

NOT ALL CHRISTIANS ARE HYPOCRITES

It is wrong to condemn all Christian as hypocrites. Christians do not claim to be perfect. If Christianity claimed to be an organization for perfect people, then all Christians would be hypocrites.

Though not all Christians are hypocrites, all Christians are sinners. In fact, admitting that one is a sinner is a prerequisite to belonging to the Church. Public acknowledgment of one’s sinful condition is a condition for membership. Though hypocrisy is a sin, being a sinner does not necessarily make someone guilty of hypocrisy. The terms sinner and hypocrite are not synonyms. 

  • Many skeptics are actually guilty of imposing a double standard on Christians. They expect Christians to hold to standards they themselves could never dream of attain. Moreover, when Christians do try and live up to these standards, they are often accused of false piety and pretense.

Christians are not perfect; they are forgiven. They are seeking to become more Christ-like and Godly in their conduct. The vast majority of Christians fall into this category. They are sincerely striving to live the Christian life.

CHRIST IS NOT A HYPOCRITE

  • When someone charges that the Church is full of hypocrites, they are really implying that because Christians fall short, Christianity also falls short. The central truth of Christianity does not rest in the performance of its followers but in the merit of its founder. Christianity stands or falls with the person of Jesus Christ. Thus, the real question is not are there hypocrites in the church, but rather, was Christ a hypocrite? (See Below)

This last point is an important one. Many point fingers to the followers, when, the character of the founder of the religion in question is what we are after — ultimately.



For Christ claimed something that no other founder of a world religion has. That is: to be Creator of the space/time continuum who loves us soo much that He willingly was led to the cross. This is a love story that is missing from all other religious narratives.

The nine founders among the eleven living religions in the world had characters which attracted many devoted followers during their own lifetime, and still larger numbers during the centuries of subsequent history. They were humble in certain respects, yet they were also confident of a great religious mission. Two of the nine, Mahavira and Buddha, were men so strong-minded and self-reliant that, according to the records, they displayed no need of any divine help, though they both taught the inexorable cosmic law of Karma. They are not reported as having possessed any consciousness of a supreme personal deity. Yet they have been strangely deified by their followers. Indeed, they themselves have been worshipped, even with multitudinous idols.

All of the nine founders of religion, with the exception of Jesus Christ, are reported in their respective sacred scriptures as having passed through a preliminary period of uncertainty, or of searching for religious light. Confucius, late in life, confessed his own sense of shortcomings and his desire for further improvement in knowledge and character. All the founders of the non-Christian religions evinced inconsistencies in their personal character; some of them altered their practical policies under change of circumstances.

Jesus Christ alone is reported as having had a consistent God consciousness, a consistent character himself, and a consistent program for his religion. The most remarkable and valuable aspect of the personality of Jesus Christ is the comprehensiveness and universal availability of his character, as well as its own loftiness, consistency, and sinlessness.

Robert Hume, The World’s Living Religions [New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1959], 285-286.

Josh McDowell put it best on why there has to be judgment for our sins, let me paraphrase him with this story of a judge and his daughter.

There was a district court judge who had been on the bench for thirty years, he was a just judge. He has never taken a bribe, always handed out judgment and leniency in a fair and balanced way, only within the parameters of what the law allowed. In other words, a just, righteous member of the legal system as well as the community. One day while in session, his only child, a daughter, was brought before him with a traffic violation. She had broke the law and was arrested for her excessive speeding. What was he to do? He loved his daughter immensely, so he could fine her only one dollar and no jail time. But this would mean he would be an unjust judge, not worthy of the position he holds.

So instead, he fines her 500 hundred dollars and three days in jail. He is heart broken, but that is what the law requires. Just as soon as his gavel hits the bench, he rises from his chair, removes his robe of authority, steps down from the raised platform to come around to the front of the bench. He, with a tear in his eye, throws an arm around his daughter, whom he loves dearly, and with the other hand pays the fine and puts himself in her place in the three day sentence. This is TRUE love, and TRUE justice.

In the same way, the just God of the Bible is our judge. He would be un-worthy of our worship and honor if he acted any other way. He has pronounced death as the judgment of our rebellion and sin [Death and hell are merely eternal separation from him, and because of that, there will be gnashing of teeth]. As our heavenly Father, who knew us before we were in the womb, he loved us so much (His creation) that he stepped down from his heavenly throne to the earth and paid the price for our infractions against the “court.” No other god in history in any other religious belief cared so much as to offer the only acceptable (free of sin) gift, Himself. This is the beauty of the Christian faith.

God doesn’t put people he loves in “hell”, those people choose that place as a replacement for God’s already done work on the cross.

Read more: Good News Means There is Bad News (the choice in this cosmic drama is yours)

There is another aspect to this idea of hypocrisy. Often times the charge of hypocrisy is merely a psychological crutch to find people we deem worse than us in order to build up ourselves in a moral way. Or, it is done in order to not face our own failures and deeds in order to obfuscate what God wants to do in our own lives.

Jesus actually expands the definition a bit when He described the symptoms of hypocrisy specifically:

  • hypocrites “love to be seen by others” (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18);
  • they invent weaselly excuses to disobey God while looking spiritual (Matthew 15:3-9);
  • they manipulate spiritual language to disguise their actual agenda (Matthew 22:15-21);
  • they might actually be preaching the truth, but they don’t follow it themselves (Matthew 23:1-12);
  • and they major on nit-picky rules (even legitimate ones) and miss the heartbeat of God behind them (Matthew 23:13-36).

Often times the use of “hypocrisy” is a means of justifying spiritual compromise and departure from the inspired Word is something that the postmodern world has accelerated, not abated. People use hypocrisy as a way to abandoned Bible truths, or, to not fellowship with the body of Christ and thus be challenged to live a holy life (i.e., the church), often unleashing a myriad of wrongs committed by others! These same persons will joke about being headed to hell in a hand-basket — determined to share a place in hell with these hypocrites rather than spend time with them in church… there fellow hypocrites.

But if you bear the name “Jew” and rely on the Law [for your salvation] and boast in [your special relationship to] God, and [if you claim to] know His will and approve the things that are essential or have a sense of what is excellent, based on your instruction from the Law, and [if you] are confident that you are a [qualified] guide to the blind [those untaught in theology], a light to those who are in darkness, and [that you are] a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the [spiritually] childish, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth— well then, you who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal [in ways that are discrete, but just as sinful]? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who detest idols, do you rob [pagan] temples [of valuable idols and offerings]? YOU WHO BOAST IN THE LAW, DO YOU [REPEATEDLY] DISHONOR GOD BY BREAKING THE LAW? For, “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” just as it is written [in Scripture].  (Romans 2:17-24, Amplified Bible).

One commentarry gets to the heart of the issue:

But now Paul turns the tables on them. They do not live up to their knowledge (cf. 13). They do not practise what they preach. Following his eight verbs which portray their identity, he asks five rhetorical questions, which draw attention to their inconsistency. The first is general: You, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? (21a). It is followed by three questions about particular sins: You who preach against stealing, do you steal? (21b). You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? (22). The last-named might refer to the misappropriation of funds intended for the temple, since Josephus tells the story of just such a scandal, but Paul is more likely to have pagan temples in mind. You who abhor idols is an accurate portrayal of Jews. They recoiled from idolatry in horror. They would not dream of going anywhere near an idol temple, therefore—except for the purpose of robbery. In such cases ‘scruple broke down before thievish avarice’. Some commentators think all three sins so unlikely in Jewish leaders that they suggest a non-literal interpretation. ‘When theft, adultery and sacrilege are strictly and radically understood, there is no man who is not guilty of all three,’ writes C. K. Barrett, and reminds us of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount about the thoughts of our hearts.6 But Paul seems to have actions rather than thoughts in mind, and Dodd quotes Rabbi Jochanan ben Zakkai, a contemporary of Paul’s, who bewailed in his day ‘the increase of murder, adultery, sexual vice, commercial and judicial corruption, bitter sectarian strife, and other evils’.

Paul’s fifth rhetorical question is again more general: You who brag about the law (which the Jews did, see verse 17), do you dishonour God by breaking the law? (23). As it is written, ‘God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you’ (24). This quotation seems to combine Isaiah 52:5 and Ezekiel 36:22. In both texts God’s name had been mocked because his people had been defeated and enslaved. Could Yahweh not protect his own people? Just so, moral defeat, like military defeat, brings discredit on the name of God.

The argument of verses 17–24 is the same in principle as that of verses 1–3, and is just as applicable to us as to first-century critical moralizers and self-confident Jews. If we judge others, we should be able to judge ourselves (1–3). If we teach others, we should be able to teach ourselves (21–24). If we set ourselves up as either teachers or judges of others, we can have no excuse if we do not teach or judge ourselves. We cannot possibly plead ignorance of moral rectitude. On the contrary, we invite God’s condemnation of our hypocrisy.

John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 91–92.

CARM wisely adds to the discussion the following:

  • It has been said that you must be smaller than the thing you hide behind. Are you hiding behind the hypocrisy of others to keep yourself out of church? You must realize that you are responsible for yourself and God won’t ask others about you on judgment day. He will come to you and ask you to give an account for your life. The hypocrites in the church will also stand before God, with or without you there.

The issue is, what does the person saying there are hypocrites in the church going to do on judgement day? Hopefully none of the following:

Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Forgotten Warning to America (Updated)

“I would like to call upon America to be more careful with its trust and prevent those wise persons who are attempting to establish even finer degrees of justice and even finer legal shades of equality – some because of their distorted outlook, others because of short-sightedness and still others out of self-interest – from falsely using the struggle for peace and for social justice to lead you down a false road. Because they are trying to weaken you; they are trying to disarm your strong and magnificent country in the face of this fearful threat – one which has never been seen before in the history of the world.” ~ Alexander Solzhenitsyn

found in Larry Elder’s book, Showdown: Confronting Bias, Lies and the Special Interests That Divide America (New York, NY: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2003), 64.

(Book 1)

BigGovernment has this article (GONE! Now found at found at Virtue Online) to which I will only post a small portion of here. It is nice to see this level of deep thought over there!

The fact that moral relativism, multiculturalism, and political correctness are failures hasn’t prevented us from adopting these self-destructive concepts as the basis upon which we interact with others, at home and abroad. The failure to prevent the jihad treason murders at Fort Hood is perhaps the most obscene and obvious culmination of the damage that moral relativism has done to us all.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines moral relativism as something that one accuses another of, rather than something to which one proudly admits. Reasonable people know that some cultures, ideologies, and political systems are better than others, but most now lack the courage and clarity to declare it.

Most often it is associated with an empirical thesis that there are deep and widespread moral disagreements and a metaethical thesis that the truth or justification of moral judgments is not absolute, but relative to some group of persons. Sometimes ‘Moral Relativism’ is connected with a normative position about how we ought to think about or act towards those with whom we morally disagree, most commonly that we should tolerate them.

(Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Solzhenitsyn’s 1978 “A World Split Apart” speech at Harvard was both an appreciation of and a warning to the West that rejection of definitive truths will lead to our decline and eventual fall. He identified the abandonment of the concept of evil and the rise of “humanism” that today is moral relativism and post-modernism as the cracked egg from which failed cultures are born.

Such a tilt of freedom in the direction of evil has come about gradually but it was evidently born primarily out of a humanistic and benevolent concept according to which there is no evil inherent to human nature; the world belongs to mankind and all the defects of life are caused by wrong social systems which must be corrected.

(Solzhenitsyn, “A World Split Apart,” 1978)

Without a firm concept of identity and a clear understanding of and belief in concepts of right and wrong, good and evil and the ability to resolve similar dichotomies our society will fall to more absolutist ideas. We will fall because we lack the moral willpower to resist.

And yet — no weapons, no matter how powerful, can help the West until it overcomes its loss of willpower. In a state of psychological weakness, weapons become a burden for the capitulating side. To defend oneself, one must also be ready to die; there is little such readiness in a society raised in the cult of material well-being. Nothing is left, then, but concessions, attempts to gain time and betrayal…

[…..]

It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one’s life journey may become an experience of moral growth; so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it. It is imperative to review the table of widespread human values. Its present incorrectness is astounding.

A society which is based on the letter of the law and never reaches any higher is taking very scarce advantage of the high level of human possibilities. The letter of the law is too cold and formal to have a beneficial influence on society. Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relations, there is an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man’s noblest impulses.

And it will be simply impossible to stand through the trials of this threatening century with only the support of a legalistic structure.

(Solzhenitsyn, “A World Split Apart,” 1978)

“I freed Germany from the stupid and degrading fallacies of conscience and morality…. We will train young people before whom the world will tremble. I want young people capable of violence — imperious, relentless and cruel.”

Hitler, from a plaque hung on the wall at Auschwitz; in Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God (Nashville, TN: W Publising Group, 1994), 23.

Moral Equivocations of the Left: Westboro Baptists vs ISIS/ISIL

This story was originally brought to my attention via Gateway Pundit:


No MORE war on Iraq! Chicago says NO! Emergency action in protest right now. The protest was sponsored by the communist World Can’t Wait organization.

The protest was organized to counter-protest the Christians protesting against ISIS genocide.

Despite the genocide of Yazidis in Iraq the left carried “Hands off Iraq” signs….


Gay Patriot comments on their blog that “These people obviously inhabit some alternative reality where genocide is okay as long as Mohammedans are committing it and Obama staunchly supports Israel.” Truly an alternate reality. 

And I asked on my FaceBook why the left always supports murderous regimes of a genocidal magnitude, mentioning Stalin, Hitler, Moa, and others. (Or, alternatively, lionize those leftists who support such genocidal movements.) To which I got this moral equivalency from a Democrat in the comment section on my FB:

✦ Reminds me of that ultra conservative “church” that “always” shows up at military funerals… From Kansas I think. They manage to add misery to misery. Why hasn’t someone “taken out” those idiots?

A few things I wish to mention in slightly more depth here than I did to my friend. One from a previous post where there are photos of Fred Phelps, the head of the Westboro Baptists — whom my friend was referencing — with the Clinton’s as well as Al and Tipper Gore. Why? This is why:

The other day I was listening to the Michael Medved and I heard something I didn’t know that I think is very important for the general public to be aware of as they stand around the water cooler and discuss current events. A recent event one being the 8-to-1 decision in favor of the hate group/cult Fred Phelps is leader of, the Westboro Baptists. The information I was unaware of was that he ran for office five times – each time as a Democrat.

Another point worth making is that left leaning individuals, like the Phelps, are continuing the proud Democratic tradition of misinterpreting the Scripture.

My other point I made but will make here a bit more in-depth, is about the Left’s ability to morally equate two subjects not related. (My friend wasn’t trying to do it specifically I think, but other’s I have met [Democrats] do. That is, place the Westboro Baptists on equal footing with murderers — or — an ideology that is violent.) Let us look at some ISIS/ISIL activities, most of the people killed by them are non-Sunni Muslims:

ISIS v Westboro

Last time I checked, the Westboro “Baptists,” as nuts as they are, have not: killed people of opposing beliefs, raped them, enslaved women as concubines, sodomized their victims, committed genocide, and the like. But this distinction requires critical thinking, and this type of thinking is not found in people who regularly equate their political foes to the following: sexist, intolerant, xenophobic, homophobic, Islamophobic, racist, bigoted (S.I.X.H.I.R.B.)

But it is easier to win an argument by merely labeling people rather than engaging the issue. Never noting as the following liberal professor, that, such thinking hurts the capability of those engaging in this labeling to hurt their own ability to communicate effectively:

Video Description:

A liberal professor interviewed in Indoctrinate U explains that protecting and teaching from one ideological viewpoint insulates students who are liberal to properly defend and coherently explain their views in the real world — outside the classroom. This excerpt is taken from two parts, Part 1 is here, and Part 2 is here

A Marine Capt., Timothy Kudo, Obfuscates Ethics/Just War as Well As Moral and Biblical Categories ~ Dennis Prager

Video Description:

Of course higher education and the legacy media play a damning role in this Marines fallacious thinking. But ultimately the onus is on him to look into this matter. I wish it were before the article, but better late than never, let us hope. Capt. Kudo’s article can be found here:  — no “kudos” for him however.

For more clear thinking like this from Dennis Prager… I invite you to visit: http://www.dennisprager.com/

Do Materialistic Enlightened Views Best Explain Moral Absolutes?

….Secular Humanism is expressly atheistic.  Any atheistic worldview will find it impossible to account for anything that is a non-material reality because of its commitment to what is called materialism.  Materialism, or the conviction that matter is all that exists, is a nonnegotiable component of any atheistic worldview.  In contrast to a Christian worldview, which espouses a supernatural philosophy, humanism is committed to a natural one.  This leaves the Secular Humanist relegated to natural explanations for the existence of logic, reason, information, and even ethics.  For the humanist, ethics are simply the natural product of the inclinations of humans – the result of chemical processes in the brain.  This means that law is ultimately something that people have brought forth from the natural inclinations of their collective will.

Is that the only explanation for the existence of morality and ultimately law itself?  Has law come from random electrical impulses of the brain?

No.  The Christian worldview has tremendous explanatory power when dealing in the arena of ethics, morals and ultimately law.  Christians believe that our ethical standards reflect the very nature of God revealed in creation and the Bible.  For the Christian the matter of good law versus bad law is resolved in how God created the world to function and what He revealed in Scripture to be right and wrong.

First let’s consider what is called Natural Law.

According to Dr. J. Budziszewski, Natural Law is, “that which we cannot, not know.”  Man is given the ability to recognize what is right and wrong from God Himself.  We have the innate ability to perceive that murder, torture, cruelty, thievery and such are immoral and ultimately wrong.  This ability is affirmed in the words of Romans 2:15, “the work of the law written on their hearts.”

I remember a story that Greg Koukl tells regarding a college student who was being taught that objective morals don’t really exist.  The student came to him for advice and Koukl recommended that the student “steal her stereo.”  Of course, it is a funny story, but it illustrates a certain truth.  Even those who do not “believe” in an objective moral standard will appeal to some standard when an injustice is dealt to them.  The truth is, people really do believe in moral standards and this becomes evident when they are wronged themselves.  Furthermore, a person who actually doesn’t believe in an objective moral standards and then acts in accord with his beliefs can be said to be a menace to society not being governed by an ethical standard beyond his own desires.  This is the basis for sociopathic behavior.

…(read more)…

My Son’s second Philosophy 101 Paper:
Free Willin’

Society As the Whole (Excerpted from the book, Relativism: Feet Planted Firmly In Mid-Air)

If Society, the will of all or the will of the majority [society says], is the final measure of morality, then all its judgements are moral by definition. Such a concept is an oxymoron – a contradiction in terms. An attorney once called a radio talk show with a challenge. “When are you going to accept the fact that abortion is the law of the land?” she asked. “You may not like it, but it’s the law.” Her point was simple. The Supreme Court has spoken, so there is nothing left to discuss. Since there is no higher law, there are no further grounds for rebuttal. This lawyer’s tacit acceptance of conventionalism suffers because it confuses what is right with what is legal.

When reflecting on any law, it seems sensible to ask, “it’s legal, but is it moral?  It’s law , but is the law good; is it just?” There appears to be a difference between what a person has the liberty to do under the law and what a person should do. Conventionalism renders this distinction meaningless. There is no “majority of one” to take the higher moral ground. As Pojman puts it, “Truth is with the crowd and error with the individual” (much like Rousseau). This is tyranny of the majority.

When any human court is the highest authority, then morality is reduced to mere power – either power of the government or power of the majority. If the courts and laws define what is moral, then neither laws nor governments can ever be immoral, even in principle.

Another absurd consequence follows from the society says line of thought. This view makes it impossible to reform the morals of a society. There are actually two problems here; the first is called the reformer’s dilemma. Moral reformers typically judge society from the inside. They challenge their culture’s standard of behavior and then campaign for change. But when morality is defined by the present society’s standard, then challenging the standard would be an act of immorality. Social reformers would be made moral outcasts precisely because they oppose the status quo.

Corrie ten Boom and other “righteous gentiles” risked their own lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. William Wilberforce sought the abolition of slavery in the late eighteenth century in the United Kingdom. Martin Luther King Jr. fought for civil rights in the United States in the 50’s and 60’s. in Germany during World War II, Martin Niemoller and Dietrich Bonhoeffer challenged Christians to oppose Hitler.

We count these people as moral heroes precisely because they had the courage to fight for freedom. According to Society Says thought, however, they are the worst kind of moral criminals because they challenged the moral consensus of their own society. This view faces another difficulty with moral improvement of society. If society’s laws and cultural values are the ultimate standards of behavior, then the notion of moral improvement on a legal or cultural level is nonsense. A social code can never be improved; it can only be changed.

Think of what it means to improve something. Improvement means an increase in excellence by raising to a better quality or condition. How do we know if we have increased the quality of something? Only by noting that some change has brought it closer to an external standard of improvement. A bowler improves when she raises her average closer to 300, the perfect game. A baseball pitcher increases his skill by decreasing the number of batters he allows on base. If he strikes out every batter, he’s attained perfection. In either case, an outside standard is used as the measure of improvement.

To improve a society’s moral code means that the society changes its laws and values to more closely approximate an external moral ideal. If no such standard exists, if cultural values are the highest possible law, then there is no way for those standards to be better than what they are at any given moment. They can only be different. A society can abolish apartheid in favor of equality. It can adopt policies of habeas corpus protecting citizens against unjustified imprisonment; it can guarantee freedom of speech and the press. But according to this view, no one could ever claim that these are moral improvements but only that society changed its tastes. There is no moral ideal to emulate. Moral change is possible, but not moral improvement. Improvement means getting better, and there’s nothing better – in this view – than any society’s current assessment of morality. And moral reformers actually turn out to be unethical.