Archive | May, 2013

Foundations for Atheist Morality: The Law of Nature Part III

31 May

In last week’s installment of “Foundations for Atheist Morality”, we started to take a look at some of the practical moral dilemmas which arise when we use nature as a model for a universal code of conduct.  We looked at how this model affects our view of birth control and abortion and concluded with two questions concerning the moral propriety of both rape and homosexuality.  This week, we will address the latter two topics (rape and homosexuality) in greater depth.

Before we do however, we must emphasize again that atheism comes in many forms and that atheists, themselves, can vary widely in both their beliefs and their defense of them.  The view which we are examining here is only one of many.  Our purpose is not to “debunk” atheism, but rather to demonstrate that when logically examined, this particular support for a moral lifestyle leads to conclusions which even those atheists who support the view are likely to find repugnant.

Let us begin with the question of whether rape must also be accepted as a laudable act, since there are instances in nature in which the male of the species is seen to force himself upon the female of the species.  While at first blush, this may seem to be the case, I believe that an argument can be made that a difference does exist between a male forcing himself upon a woman for the purpose of sexual gratification and a male forcing himself upon a woman for the purpose of reproduction.  Since rape is (with few exceptions) performed with the former intent, i.e., that of gratification, it would seem that it remains morally reprehensible regardless of whether natural law is accepted or rejected.

What about homosexuality?  While instances of homosexual behavior have been witnessed in nature, it is important to note that by and large this is not the norm.  Natural selection tends towards the preservation of the species and members of the species who engage in acts which do not promote such reproduction are left to their natural end.

Under such circumstances, the need for us as humans to take an interest in preserving the lives of those who engage in or suffer consequences from any sexual act (heterosexual or homosexual) becomes questionable.  Indeed, to attempt to alleviate the suffering and eventual decay or death which result from diseases such as AIDS or other STD’s simply doesn’t make sense if nature is to be allowed to take its natural course.  Indeed, apathy would seem to be morally obligatory in such circumstances.

But if we are to allow nature to simply “take its course”, selecting the strong and eliminating the weak, where does this leave us in regard to other “weak” segments of human society?  And do we have any right to intervene to help or preserve the lives of the elderly or the handicapped?  It would seem that if natural law as it is played out in the animal kingdom is to be our guide, the answer would be “no”… yet even many atheists agree that a strong argument can be made that the presence of the physically or mentally weak does help to strengthen and preserve our society.

We’ll take a closer look at this issue next week, but for now, feel free to share your thoughts on the subject in the comment box below!

Evergreens

29 May

Read: 1 Peter 4:12-19

“How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season…”

Psalm 1:1-3a NASB

Watering plants is innately relaxing.  Now imagine that you’re blessed enough to have the job I found myself with: four hours a day watering all the plants for a local nursery.

Of course, not every plant needed to be watered every day.  Some of them (particularly the trees) could go a couple of days without any trouble.  There were, however, a few which would readily have taken water twice a day.  These were the evergreens.

If you’ve ever tried to raise an evergreen, you know that it is an exceptionally needy plant.  If they don’t get enough nutrients, their waxy green needles turn a brittle brown.  If they don’t get enough sunlight, their waxy green needles turn a brittle brown.  If they don’t get enough water, their waxy green needles turn a brittle brown.

If, however, you provide your evergreen with all of these ingredients, it will stay a vibrant green or blue even through the hardest winter freeze, the strongest winds, or the deepest floods.

What’s my point?  As Christians, we often encounter difficulties and find ourselves asking why we aren’t weathering them any better than our unsaved friends.  We know that in Christ we are “ever green”, but we just aren’t capable of demonstrating that level of resilience… and wonder what went wrong. 

The truth is that, much like evergreens, if we get the proper care and nourishment through Bible reading, prayer, and fellowship with other believers, we show forth God’s glory even in the toughest circumstances.  But if we don’t… watch out!  If you want to withstand the storm, you have to take time to prepare for it.

Challenge:  Are you spending enough time with God?  Your willingness to do so now can make a big difference in your ability to face life’s challenges in the future.  Take the time, this week, to carefully examine your spiritual practices and make adjustments where necessary!

Foundations for Atheist Morality: The Law of Nature Part II

24 May

Last week in “Foundations for Atheist Morality”, we discussed several ways in which animal society resembles human interaction and why, for some, this seems to support the view that a universal law can exist without necessitating a universal lawgiver.  This week, we’ll take a closer look at specific instances in which what is generally considered “moral” behavior amongst human societies may not be moral at all if nature is to be our guide.   Once again, it is important to recognize that atheists, like those who believe in a divine being (or beings) do not all subscribe to a single set of beliefs.  The view we are addressing here is merely one of many presented by morally upstanding atheists to ground their views of right and wrong.

In order to further explore this view, we must begin by proposing that the trending purpose of nature is to preserve individual species in a viable form.  That is to say that while individuals within a given group have a distinct tendency towards self-preservation, the overall “goal” of inanimate and undirected nature is to ensure that entire groups of living organisms (rather than individuals within those groups) will not merely survive, but also thrive. If an action promotes the welfare of such communities it ought to be viewed as morally praiseworthy.  Any action which does not must be viewed as morally despicable.

That a morality of this sort would have a clear impact on our views of everything from birth control and euthanasia to homosexuality and the treatment of the physically and mentally impaired should be evident.  And that it precludes mindful intervention in the “natural” results of any state of being is also evident.

Let’s begin by looking at the issue of birth control. If the purpose of a species is to preserve itself, then to intentionally intervene with the natural reproductive cycle becomes morally questionable.  Indeed, it becomes the prerogative of all humans to seek out the opportunity to reproduce.

If nature is to be our guide, this may be done either through monogamous relationships (as in the case of swans and other animals known to mate for life) or through a series of spurious engagements.  In all cases, the woman has no right to attempt to prevent becoming impregnated either through abstinence from such acts at times in which pregnancy could result or through the consumption of chemical inhibitors (though she may retain the right to refuse a given mate for a variety of other reasons).  Nor does her suitor have the right to attempt to prevent pregnancy through similar means either natural or mechanical.  (Whether it becomes acceptable to engage in intercourse for any purpose other than that of reproduction does become a valid question at this point.)  Should pregnancy result from the sexual act, it is important to recognize that it may not be intentionally terminated at any point: even when the woman’s life is in jeopardy.  The resulting life or death(s) must be seen as (for lack of a better expression) “the will of nature” and accepted as a moral good.

Where does this leave us concerning acts of rape and homosexuality?  We will address both of these issues next week but in the meantime, feel free to share your own thoughts on the subject in the comment box below!

The Rummage Sale

22 May

Read: Matthew 25:14-30

“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

James 1:17 NASB

A quick look around the nursery was sufficient to see that we had too much plant material on hand.  The season was nearing an end and, without enough room to plant the remaining trees and shrubs on our own lot or to successfully over winter them in the greenhouse, we had no choice but to begin marking down the product.

We placed each discounted plant in an area of the nursery marked with red tape, their new prices or the percentage discount prominently displayed on each one.  Many of the plants saw discounts far beyond half off (you’ve heard that saying: “If it ain’t half off, it ain’t on sale”).  It was not ideal, but we felt that we had little choice… and our customers did enjoy the newfound treasures!

I saw plenty of these healthy, but dilapidated-looking pieces of greenery come through the check stands with their $40 price tags crossed out and $5 scrawled in its place.  Anyone who knew what the nursery had originally paid for these plants would have been impressed by such discounts… but even this was insufficient to please a few rare customers.

I was working this “rummage sale” area one afternoon when a lady approached me.  “I want to speak to a manager about getting a discount on these.  They look a bit ragged.”

I quickly explained that it was for this very reason that they had already been marked down, but to no avail.  After failing to reach the manager about the possibility of an even deeper discount, I suggested that we speak with the assistant manager.

“I already talked to her,” my customer replied.  “She said no, so I want to talk with the manager.”

Sadly, when this could not be arranged, she left the store… without the plant in question.  It was an amazing price, but apparently, not amazing enough.

Unfortunately, oft times we as Christians behave in a similar manner.  Seeing the good gifts that God has already given us, the great deal offered at His expense, we seek even more.  While there is nothing wrong with doing so, we must keep in mind that what God has already offered is of phenomenal quality… even when it doesn’t come in the type of packages we expect!

To reject His gifts on the grounds that they aren’t exactly what we would have chosen for ourselves is foolish.  Instead, we must seek to take advantage of all that He offers us… and turn it again to His service!

Challenge:  Don’t let what you wish you had keep you from accepting God’s best for you.  Remember that all good things are a demonstration of His love and can be used in His service… even if they aren’t exactly what we’d hoped for!

Pro-Life Training

20 May

Defending the unborn requires commitment, passion, and a willingness to educate both yourself and others about the issues.  Over the last few weeks, we’ve looked at some great resources for information concerning the abortion debate… but information is only valuable if you use it well.  That’s why, this week, we’re featuring Pro-Life Training, a site designed to offer structured training to those interested in defending and preserving life.

Check out their FREE, online pro-life apologetics course where, in eight sessions, you’ll learn how to present a solid case for the value of all human life, discuss who gets to make the rules concerning the treatment of human life, and engage others in the defense of that life.  Check out the list of suggested reading to get even more from the course!

If you don’t have the time to commit, then The Five Minute Pro-Lifer is for you.  This series of helpful and informative articles is designed to strengthen your conviction and educate you to effectively present that conviction to others.   Watch as others debate abortion, then learn to present your own defense in five minutes or less!

Don’t like reading?  Check out the event page where you’ll find a list of upcoming presentations or visit the audio library where you can listen to previous presentations at your own convenience!

Take your time to carefully explore these resources and you’ll be competent and capable when the time comes for you to defend the sanctity of life!

Foundations for Atheist Morality: The Law of Nature Part I

17 May

Atheism, like the belief in a deity (or deities), comes in many different forms.  Not all atheists have arrived at their beliefs through similar means or share the same understanding of those beliefs.  Indeed, oft times, the views of individual atheists or disparate groups of atheists are as far removed from one another as Hinduism is from Islam or Shamanism from Christianity.  Addressing every argument used as a foundation for atheist morality is well beyond the scope of this blog.  As a result, we have elected to limit ourselves to addressing two common defenses utilized by morally upstanding atheists to defend their moral views.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve taken the time to consider the fallacy of claiming that morality ought to be determined relative to individual societies.  We’ve looked at the difficulties (and atrocities) which often result from using social groups to determine the appropriate ethic for everyone as well as the dilemmas faced by those who would enforce such accepted norms.  It is clear that there is no solid foundation for morality within the will of the masses… or even the will of an individual.

That said, a second moral “foundation” commonly put forward by atheists is that of nature, i.e., that objective morality does exist and is innate in all living things.  Such a view permits those who hold that there is no ultimate lawgiver to affirm that there is still an ultimate law by which all living beings are bound.

That this view is consistent with a more scientific approach to life is undoubted.  After all, it does go a long way towards explaining why so many cultures have such similar moral views and why the social interactions of human and animal societies often look so much alike.  Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a closer look at this particular point of view and why, even with its strengths, it still fails the test of providing a solid universal grounding for morality.

If you’ve taken the time to read books like Jane Goodall’s Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey, you’re likely already familiar with at least a few of the arguments in favor of an objective morality inherent in nature (though this argument is not the primary or even secondary purpose of the Goodall’s tome).  In her spiritual biography, she shares about her work with chimpanzees and many of the sometimes striking resemblances between ape society and human cultures.  Perhaps most prominent among these similarities is the way in which family groups interact with one another.  After a quick (and enjoyable) read, I admit that it is quite tempting to believe that there is a kinship which binds all living creatures together in a way that promotes our communal good.

A closer look, however, shows something far different from this heartening perspective.  Indeed, Alfred Lord Tennyson’s description of “nature red in tooth and claw” comes much closer to the point: emphasizing the tendency of the natural world to “select the fittest” and preserve only the strongest of any species.  Even the chimpanzees have a violent streak, ripping apart and eating those who challenge the authority of the dominant male or are too weak to contribute to the community’s social structure.

Where does this leave an ethic of generosity and selfless compassion?  Perhaps much farther from innate morality than we might hope.  Indeed, it would seem that one of the oddities within nature (despite the sometimes human-like behaviors demonstrated by the animal kingdom) is that survival takes precedence over the communal good… and that self-centered (or, on occasion, species-centered) motivation, leads to acts which, for the moral atheist would be considered despicable.

What would our society look like if “natural law” were to prevail?  We’ll take a look at a few examples next week.  For now, feel free to share your own thoughts on why you feel that natural law is or isn’t a good basis for morality in the comment box below!

Ask the Mechanic

15 May

Read: Hebrews 4:13-16

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.”

Hebrews 4:15 NIV

 

Working retail affords you the opportunity to meet all sorts of people.  Some of them are entertaining, encouraging, and just plain fun to be around.  Others, however, have a unique ability to talk down to nearly everyone.  And for some reason, our service center mechanic seemed to attract more than her fair share of these.

While the “you’re-a-woman-and-can’t-possibly-know-enough-to-fix-my-lawnmower” attitude offended her, there was very little she could do about it.  Instead, each time she found herself confronted by such a customer, she would refer them to her manager.

After attentively listening to the customer’s description of their problem, he would explain that he didn’t know how to mend the merchandise in question… but if they wanted to talk to someone who did, they could ask his mechanic.  One way or another, they always ended up back at the service center, looking her in the eye.

 The truth was that though these customers felt that it was impossible for a female mechanic to have any real mechanical knowledge, she was a good deal more qualified than she may have at first appeared.  She had been working on engines since childhood, had taken each vendor’s repair course, and had been certified and recertified to work on the merchandise which we sold.  Our customers could not have been in better hands.

Unfortunately, as Christians, our attitudes aren’t often that far removed from those of these customers.  While we teach that God is all-knowing, we sometimes behave as though His position beyond the borders of our universe prevents Him from truly understanding and sympathizing with our human struggles.  How wonderful it is to be reminded that He cares so much for us that He took on our flesh and experienced these trials and tribulations just as we do!  Being the Creator of all things as well as having experienced life in human skin, He is duly qualified to deal with all of our problems!

Challenge:  Commit to reading the entire book of John.  As you do, think carefully about the human aspects of Christ’s life: the labor of a carpenter, the sore muscles He must have experienced after a long day on the road, His feelings upon being abandoned by His friends.  Make a list of all the ways in which the Master’s life and yours are similar.  You may be surprised at just how much He can sympathize with your situation!

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