“Atheism Can’t Ground Objective Morality”?
Specifically, the law stipulates what should happen if a slave-owner strikes his slave: if the slave dies immediately (“under his hand”), then the slave-owner is to “be avenged”, but “if the slave survives a day or two, [the slave owner] is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money.” No matter how one seeks to interpret this, one thing is certain: the biblical code is positively affirming the premise that an individual can be a piece of property belonging to another. (There goes the concept of individual rights in toto.)
On the other hand, in the case of the biblical code regulating slavery, it’s even better if you beat your slave and he “survives a day or two.” If your slave dies at the scene of your beating, too bad or you. But, if he crawls off into a corner someplace and dies the next day, well, you simply lose you money, but otherwise all is peachy.
Now by referring to such a law as “controversial,” Hays acknowledges that there may be, to put it mildly, some contention in accepting such a law into practice. Indeed, no doubt many critics of Christianity have pointed to this law as an example of biblical morality’s fundamental incongruence with the idea of individual rights and personal liberty. But since it is affirmed in the bible as coming from “the Lord,” it must be vindicated somehow, even though the practice of slavery has been abolished in civilized societies.
The abolishment of slavery in the Enlightened West is a major achievement in the progress towards civilized culture. But it’s hard to see how one could credit Christianity with this achievement. Indeed, slavery was not abolished while Christianity enjoyed its reign from the fall of the Roman Empire to the Age of Reason. And even today we have the likes of Dustin Segers on record gleefully proclaiming that “slavery is biblical.” Specifically, and in context, Segers wrote:
As to slavery, i believe you are correct: slavery is perfectly biblical--always has been, always will be until Christ comes again and sets up a society that is free of all work, hardship, suffering, and servitude of any kind."
Yes, slavery is biblical and I'd agree with my BLACK friend TreyFrog. OT/NT believers owned slaves and were slaves, the Mosaic law legislated slavery and and the NT gives principles of ownership re: slaves, slaves were instructed to submit to their masters in the OT & NT, both freedom and slavery could be considered a blessing, and some form of slavery will continue till the end of time. Slavery is considered to be neither "here nor there" by the Apostle Paul and is a recognized social institution in the NT. What is condemned as sin in the OT, and especially in the NT is the mistreatment of slaves. I've written a fairly detailed paper on biblical slavery demonstrating that it was not considered sin in either the OT or NT eras yet I also demonstrate that it would be sin to practice it in the modern USA. More later if you're interested. [sic]
And indeed, Segers is entirely correct that the practice of slavery is sanctioned by the biblical legal code. Consider this tell-all passage from Leviticus:
Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God. Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly. (Lev. 25:42-46)
Given grievous shortcomings such as this as well as the examples of faith in action (such as Abraham indifferently going along with the command to prepare his own son as a burnt offering and the Christian god standing idly by as its own child is being tortured and executed), it should strike any conscientious thinker as outrageously dubious when Christian apologists attempt to defend Christianity as though it were somehow morally superior to other worldviews (such as when they claim that their religious “morality” is objective in nature). And yet, apologists are continually doing just this as though their worldview actually did have something of value to offer on the topic of morality.
Whenever we respond to unbelievers who attack OT ethics, we must constantly remind them that atheism has no basis for human rights. Atheism can't ground objective morality.
To this atheists around the world can safely say: So what?Notice that Hays says *atheism* - as opposed to atheists - “has no basis for human rights” and “can’t ground objective morality.” This is significant. If it’s not clear why, keep reading.
But back to Hays’ announcement about *atheism* not having any basis for human rights or not being able to “ground objective morality.” Seriously, what is so earth-shaking about this? The same could be said about calculus, architecture, and computer science. Does anyone think that music theory provides us with a “basis for human rights” or “grounds objective morality”? I kinda doubt it. And no one should. But we don’t throw these things out as though it were some failing of sorts.
Here Hays commits a fallacy identified by Anton Thorn as the allegation of the neglected onus. According to Thorn, this fallacy
constitutes an illegitimate attempt to discredit a position by asserting a charge that such a position does not sufficiently deal with an issue that does not legitimately belong to it.
Given this, atheism has no more onus to provide a basis for human rights or “ground objective morality” than do either geometric proofs or sonata form. We do not expect atheism to give us a “basis for human rights” or “ground objective morality” any more than we expect a-mermaidism or a-ghostism to do either, and for precisely the same reasons. A lack of a belief in something – especially something imaginary – does not constitute a worldview and thus cannot be held to the expectations that a worldview proper must live up to.
And let’s face it: we can (and must) say the same thing about theism: theism is no basis for objective morality. A moral code is objective only if it is uncompromisingly based on facts relevant to man’s need for values, facts which we discover by means of reason (not faith in invisible magic beings which we can only imagine), and if it consistently coheres to the principle of the primacy of existence, which is the fundamental basis of the very concept of objectivity.
But theism constitutes a radical departure from the whole realm of facts by seeking an imaginary substitute: the will of an invisible magic being whose unconstrained say-so governs all reality and determines what men should and should not do. Also, since theism affirms that reality conforms to the dictates of a supernatural (i.e., imaginary) consciousness, no objectivity whatsoever is possible in the context of theism given its starting point in metaphysical subjectivism. As Van Til put it, “the starting point, the method, and the conclusion are always involved in one another” (The Defense of the Faith, 3rd ed., p. 101).
For Christianity, the starting point is the primacy of consciousness: the assumption that some form of consciousness is the source of everything else that exists, that everything in reality conforms to its dictates, that whatever is and whatever happens, is and happens because the ruling consciousness wishes it so. As Van Til puts it elsewhere, “God controls whatsoever comes to pass” (Ibid., p. 160). As the believer’s ultimate starting point, the primacy of consciousness infects his entire methodology, including the very essence of his epistemology, where faith in revelations, belief in primitive storybooks, even dreams serve as substitutes for reason as man’s cognitive means of knowledge. And it is clear that the primacy of consciousness is also their conclusion, as when they try to argue for the existence of the god they concoct in their imaginations. And just as Hays himself puts it, “an imagined Jesus is just an imaginary Jesus,” so too is an imagined god just an imaginary god. And we should not lose sight of the fact that the epistemology of a worldview whose fundamental metaphysical premise essentially boils down to “wishing makes it so,” cannot in any way outrun the overt subjective implications of its foundations.
So the claim that the so-called “moral” codes found in the bible are somehow “objective” can only tell us that the one making such a claim has no objective understanding of objectivity.
Moreover, look at what Christianity in fact teaches. Many of its “moral requirements” are expressly contrary to man’s values. In Luke 14:26, for example, Christianity sets the following as a condition for being a follower of Christ:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.
those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
Also, as we saw above on the topic of slavery and the bible’s sanction of this rights-negating practice, the biblical worldview is no basis for the concept of individual rights. Even worse, the concept of individual rights is entirely incompatible with a worldview which condones slavery and allows men to treat others as property. One will find no defense of the concept of individual rights in the bible because the biblical worldview simply does not allow for the concept of individual rights. All human beings, according to the biblical worldview, are servants of some sort, either to a god or to a devil, but in each case to something that is accessible to the human mind only by means of imagination. The biblical worldview does not view men as free individuals. Not even close!
Some years ago, Christian apologist Robert Turkel (who was writing under the pseudonym “J.P. Holding”) published a response to Anton Thorn’s “Christian Questionnaire.” I have a copy of Turkel’s interaction in my files, but I cannot locate it anywhere on the web now; Turkel seems to have removed it from his present site. But what Turkel offers in response to Thorn is instructive. Two of the questions in Thorn’s Questionnaire ask the following:
According to your belief in Christianity, does man have the right to live for his own sake? Yes or no? Please cite references to support your answer.
Does the Bible offer any doctrine in support of man’s individual rights? Yes or no? Please cite references to support your answer.
The questions, like many from modern individualists, are misplaced. The idea of individual rights is a byproduct of modern individualism, a way of thinking that has only emerged in the last hundred or so years (with the Industrian Revolution) and only in Western nations. The ancients, and most of the world today, does not speak of "individual rights" but of group obligations. Thus there is no "right" to do anything. This is not in the Bible itself since it is a given in their cultural background, but those who are interested may wish to refer particularly to Malina and Neyrey's book Portraits of Paul: An Archaeology of Ancient Personality. As a matter of course we expect critics to not be bigoted and dismiss other cultures as "backwards" etc. based on this difference.
But notice how Turkel rationalizes the bible’s failure to present and defend the concept of individual rights: it’s “a given” of the “cultural background” of the “ancients” – i.e., of the primitives who produced writings such as those we find in the bible – that individuals have “no ‘right’ to do anything.” That man has no rights is just “a given.” On this view, a man has no right to think, no right to act, no right to pursue values, no right to defend himself and his family, no right to love, “no ‘right’ to do anything.” A man may be forced to work, but he has no right to the product of his labor. Without individual rights, there is no such thing as property rights (thus the bible’s own premise that a slave is the slave-owner’s property commits the fallacy of the stolen concept). But Christians today enjoy property rights because they live in a culture far removed from the culture of “the ancients” who never developed the concept of individual rights in the first place.
Also notice Turkel’s multicultural bent in all this, a relativistic stance needed to excuse the biblical worldview and the culture from which it sprang of its offensive nature to civilization based on individual rights. We are not to turn our nose, as it were, to the views of the biblical primitives because their culture was primitive. Even though the culture overshadowing the bible’s so-called “moral” code is backwards, we are not to hold this against what they proclaim. On the contrary, we are to sacrifice what we have learned and secured by means of reason to an irrational worldview. Why? Because Turkel says so.
Turkel is correct, unfortunately, when he mentions that “most of the world today… does not speak of ‘individual rights’, but of group obligations.” Indeed, it seems that fewer and fewer voices are even making a passing mention of the concept of individual rights. And it’s certainly true that the authors of the bible speak pretty much exclusively of “group obligations,” giving the concept of individual rights a complete miss altogether. They do not present any rational case for the notion of “group obligations,” a notion which is essentially collectivistic in nature and thus as at home within Christianity as it is within Communism. Instead of defending the notion of “group obligations,” it is taken for granted since it is just “a given in their cultural background.” The notions of “group obligations,” self-sacrifice, self-suppression, and self-denial were also “a given” in the “cultural background” of the Soviets.
See, Christianity and Communism really are kissin’ cousins.
Only when thinkers moved away from theism were they free to adopt reason as their philosophical guide, and only as thinkers adopted reason as their philosophical guide were they able to take the concept of individual rights seriously. (E.g., America’s founders were primarily deists or at any rate influenced by and sympathetic with notions which had gained wide currency among deists.)
But here’s the real clincher: I am an atheist (which only tells you that I do not hold to any form of god-belief), and I’m also an Objectivist. So while atheism (like geometry, metallurgy, diatonic theory, etc.) do not give us any basis for individual rights and objective morality, Objectivism does.
What Hays needs to do is present an argument concluding that no philosophy or worldview that is non-theistic can identify the proper basis for individual rights and/or “ground” objective morality. But this would put him in the position of arguing for a universal negative, a notoriously dubious task. Even worse, such an undertaking would be doomed to failure from the outset since only a rational worldview can have any hope of meeting such expectations, and this would eliminate all forms of mysticism, including Christianity, from the very outset. In essence, Hays would have to borrow from a worldview in order to argue against one of its chief contributions to the arena of human civilization.
by Dawson Bethrick