I received a comment in response to my last post from someone who says he is an atheist who believes in absolutes and went on to define absolute good and making oneself happy, often by making others happy. My response is to ask where one gets an absolute truth if they do not believe in God but hold to a naturalistic worldview. Who defines that happiness is the ultimate goal of man?
The following is a passage from Ravi Zacharias’ The Real Face of Atheism. This is a book I have greatly appreciated as I’ve gone through it (and am now nearing the conclusion). The section is entitled A Definitive Diagnosis.
‘The Christian answer is a strong counterperspective to naturalism – and rightly so, for it challenges human beings in their claim to absolute autonomy. As G.K. Chesterton observed, “We do now want a religion that is right where we are right. What we want is a religion that is right where we are wrong.”
The atheist makes two very serious mistakes in his starting point for moral discussion: first, what morality is, and second, what purpose morality serves. He asserts that he can, by the power of unaided reason, arrive at the nature of morality and at a satisfactory moral law. So natural is the capacity of the mind, says Kant in his Groundwork on Ethics, that a person can turn away from a direct encounter with Christ, and, independent of Christ’s influence, be able to reason through to the right conclusions. In The Sovereignty of Good, Iris Murdoch has a perfect response to this Kantian belief:
How recognizable, how familiar to us, is the man so beautifully portrayed in the Groundwork, who confronted even with Christ turns away to consider the judgment of his own conscience and to hear the voice of his own reason… This man is with us still, free, independent, lovely, powerful, rational, responsible, brave, the hero of so many novels and books of moral philosophy. The ‘raison d’etre’ [‘reason to be’] of this attractive but misleading creature is not far to seek. He is the offspring of the age of science, confidently rational, and yet increasingly aware of his alienation from the material universe which his discoveries reveal… his alienation is without cure… It is not such a long step from Kant to Nietzsche to existentialism, and the Anglo-Saxon ethical doctrines which is some ways closely resemble it… In fact, Kant’s man had already received a glorious incarnation nearly a century earlier in the work of Milton: his proper name is Lucifer.
To be precise, this man is not post-scientific or incarnated for the first time in Milton’s work. In fact, we meet him in the Garden of Eden, where he arrogated to himself the godlike characteristic of defining good and evil, and doing so apart from God. This reality is at the heart of the Christian argument for morality. It asserts not only the inevitable sense of alienation within any belief that places man as the measure of all things; it also defines what it means to be immoral. The word is “pride,” “hubris” – an autonomy that will its independence from God. Knowledge and education in the hands of one who claims no higher accountability or authority than one’s own individuality is power in the hands of a fool. The English poet Alexander Pope said:
Of all the causes which conspire to blind
Man’s erring judgment, and misguided mind;
What the weak head with strongest bias rules; –
Is pride, the never-failing vice of fools.
The French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) was only half right when he said, during his voyage to England and Ireland:
The French want no one to be their superior. The English want inferiors. The French man constantly raises his eyes above him with anxiety. The English man lowers his beneath him with satisfaction. On either side it is pride, but understood in a different way.
The problem is not with the French or the English. It is with all mankind. None of us likes authority. It all began in the first days of creation, when the first man and woman refused to allow God to be God, and wanted to be God themselves. Thus, sin entered the world through the rejection of God and the choice for autonomy and self-will. Men and women became the authors of their own moral law, and murder showed itself in the first family, followed by the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The fall was a fact, and is a fact. All of the vociferous arguments from Huxley and others will never quench the fire of rebellion that rages in the heart of humanity. Malcolm Muggeridge has astutely observed that the depravity of man is at once the most unpopular of all dogmas, but the most empirically verifiable. Humankind has denied God, and in that vertical rebellion begins our lostness. Society is not jeopardized as much as individuals themselves.’
(Zacharias, Ravi. The Real Face of Atheism. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004. 129-131).