The End of Reason

I have purchased and begun to read Ravi Zacharias’ new book The End of Reason. It is a fascinating study, and a strongly worded one at that, against the new atheism and the ideology it promotes. I would like to write more about this as I finish the book, a 128-page letter in response to Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation. For now, here are two examples of where the atheistic worldview breaks down.

First in the issue of morality: The atheist has no absolute point of reference to claim anything is right or wrong. Sam Harris claims to believe in morality, but never answers the question of where morality comes from. If it comes from within oneself, my morality may contradict yours, and we still have no answers. Relative morality is not morality at all, merely preference.

Stemming from this point, the example is given of a woman who called in to a radio show Zacharias was a guest on accusing him of putting up all this fight merely to rid women of the “right” to an abortion. He answered her by asking her why she believes (as Harris does) that God choosing to end the lives of some while saving others makes him immoral, while she sees her choice of ending the life in her womb as a moral right. You cannot hold God up to a different standard than you yourself believe in. Harris even went so far as to state in his first book that in some instances a person’s belief system is a justification to kill them (implying of course that Christians may be killed for morally acceptable reasons). Yet he shakes his fist at God for allowing atrocities such as Auschwitz.

There are many more contradictions along the way as well. What it boils down to is this: While the new atheists claim to have a rational worldview while anyone who believes in God is irrational, in reality it is the atheistic worldview that breaks down in the end. As Zacharias puts it, “The Bible outlives its pallbearers.”

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15 Responses to The End of Reason

  1. Relative morality is not morality at all, merely preference.

    I argue this.

    Two people can run using two different techniques – but they both agree upon what it means to run.

    In the same way, to people can live using two different sets of morals – but they can both agree upon what it means to be moral.

    The atheist has no absolute point of reference to claim anything is right or wrong.

    The point of reference for agreeing upon what it means to run is based on the innate human ability to move around.

    The point of reference for agreeing upon what it means to be moral is based on the innate human ability to be compassionate.

  2. And where do you get the idea that to be moral is to be compassionate? What is your point of reference? The problem is people don’t agree on what it means to be moral. We may agree that it’s wrong to kill, but we’ll disagree on what constitutes killing. We need an absolute to determine what is morally right and wrong. Otherwise all we get is subjective opinion.

  3. And where do you get the idea that to be moral is to be compassionate?

    Because compassion is the source of the motivation to be moral in the first place.

    My turn to ask a question.

    Is living a moral life a means to an end, or is it an end in itself?

    If living a moral life is a means to an end, what is the end?

    If living a moral life is an end in itself, what’s so special about it?

    Note that I’m not asking this to be difficult. It’s just that you’re the first person to be this dismissive of the my concept that compassion can act as as the foundation of a universal and innate system of morality. I’m genuinely curious to know your answer whichever two of the above three questions are relevant to your worldview.

  4. Robert says:

    The theist, let alone the Christian, has never been able to provide an absolute standard of morality. In fact, if one claims that God told them to kill someone, who is to say for certain that He did not? When you boil it down, the theist has no rational basis for ascribing evil to anything. Consider the following logical demonstration:

    P1: God created everything that exists.
    P2: Evil exists.
    C: God created evil.

    The conclusion can only be denied by denying one of the premises. If the conclusion is accepted, then one must give up the notion that God is omnibenevolent. This is but one illustration of the irrationality of the Christian worldview.

  5. Jeremy says:

    “Because compassion is the source of the motivation to be moral in the first place.”

    According to…? You see you must differentiate between (1) morality and (2) that which constitutes morality. We all agree, for whatever reason, that we ought to act a certain way. We disagree, however, on which way we ought to act, and none of us act in the manner we believe on ought to act. Now what is compassion, and how shall we come to a consensus of compassion? Compassion according to our ‘innate human ability’? The ability that is necessarily… Relative? If God doesn’t exist? The West found it appalling that a culture would practice the burning of windows–Indian culture had no problem with it. The West is acting according to their morals and Indian culture was acting according to their morals. Each was acting in an acceptable manner according to their own moral standard. Even to the point of ‘compassion’ completely contradiction? Were they both acting according to their ‘innate human ability’? Of course, and both viewed themselves as correct. If we’re to take the word of atheism, living in a world without God, then we are all correct, because there really is no such thing as correct… Or right, or wrong.

    “P1: God created everything that exists.
    P2: Evil exists.
    C: God created evil.”

    Premiss two is what I’ll deny, and for one [major] reason; this isn’t the world God created. Now of course we’re speaking of Christianity, which means one must have an understanding of the doctrine of the fall and the subsequent entrance of sin in the world. Sin, simply, the disobedience of God. And what of evil? I’ll reiterate what you’ve probably heard many times; a possibility of free agency; not a necessary one, mind you, but one nonetheless. Not a creation of God, it is the rejection of God. Right; the free will inherent to Christianity? If one cannot act in disobedience, one is not really ‘free’?

    One who speaks of the irrationality of the Christian world view has not rationally examined the worldview Christianity presents… Nor have they examined their own.

  6. Ubiquitous: I’ll be answering your question in my next post.

    Robert and Jeremy: I will be answering you in the following post.

    Thank you all for your comments.

  7. Looking forward to it. 😀

  8. Jeremy: Oops… I missed your post regarding my comment…. I’m actually just winding up at work now. I’ll follow you up when I get home. Didn’t mean to look like I’m ignoring you, sorry. ^_^

  9. Jeremy: Compassion, in the sense I am using it, is not a relative term – it’s as universal to the human condition as happiness and suffering, for the very specific reason that it is intrinsically linked to happiness and suffering.

    To witness human suffering and have that suffering echoed within, and to respond to that suffering as seriously as if it was our own – this is compassion. It’s an intrinsic to humanity – and also many other animals – as suffering. It is not to be confused with pity, masochistic generosity or reciprocal altruism – although these things are not without their redeeming qualities. Compassion of this sort is distinct from these things. It’s the ability to react to the percieved suffering of others exactly as if it was our own.

    I’ve recieved compassion from animals. One particular case was a family pet – our dog, Jessica. When I was younger I used to annoy Jessica to no end – she couldn’t wait to get rid of me or avoid me. But I can distinctly remember to this day coming home from school one day in a sulk – I can’t remember what about – and throwing myself down on the bedroom floor. Jessica came in, lay down beside me, and licked at my ears. She was offering me comfort in my suffering.

    Even a dog can show compassion.

    There are strong naturalistic explanations for compassion of this sort. I’ll give more details if you wish, but I assume for the moment that this is not your intent, so I’ll omit them for brevity’s sake.

    You say that to an atheist living in a world without God, anything goes. This shows nothing less than a profound misunderstanding about the naturalistic worldview. It is as if had said to you: Under the absolute rule of God, even Herod would have been justified in murdering all the firstborn children of Bethlehem if only God had commanded him to do it.

    Under the naturalistic worldview, there is still the will to health, vitality, life, joy, and – yes – power. It just so happens that to live a life of compassion – true and genuine compassion – is the most empowering kind of life a person can live.

    Naturalistic morality can be derived in this way – from reason applied to the reality of nature – and it is even so that different kinds of personalities may well require different kinds of morality to live well. This is not a concern.

    What is of concern is those who would willingly abuse such a system, but for that too we have the answer of legal law. But note that legal law is not moral law, and legal law itself can be devised based on the kinds of legal law that support the health, vitality, joy and compassion of those who are to be subject to it. It is not an unalterable, and it is not a moral law – it is a legal law devised for the sake of morality. These are two different things.

    What else can stop the most horrifying and sadistic excesses of extremist literalist religious fundamentalism if not a devotion to compassion, health, and happiness for all?

    Even as I read what you have written, I can see the web you weave – you have set against me the standard response to the absolute moral relativist. But consider your rejection carefully!

    If we are to take an absolute and unchanging moral law, which absolute and unchanging moral law are we to take? The Christian? The Islamic? Even within Christianity and Islam, there is a dissagreement of what the exact set of morals really are.

    How are we to distinguish between these laws? Each makes claims to perfection. How do we tell?

    It is through investigation that we can tell – and should honest, evidence-based investigation lead us away from the tyranny of absolute morality, then so be it!

    I speak to you not of absolute relative morality – nor do I speak to you of absolute objective morality. Either way is a foolishness of extremes. The only correct way is the middle way, the harmony of the subjective and the objective. Each fits the other like a box and its lid. To ignore one out of preference to the other is foolishness, and will lead down a road towards suffering and the worst in human nature.

    *ahem*

    I’ll get down off my soapbox, now. Damn… I really got my stride going, there. It just sort of poured out. Even if you disagree – and I presume you do – at the very least, you’ve got to admit that it has a nice flow to it. 😛

  10. Robert says:

    Hi Jeremy,

    If this world wasn’t created by God, then who or what created it?

    Your views on evil are incoherent. First, you deny it exists, then say it’s the rejection of God.

    I think the Christian worldview is irrational because:

    1) Much of it is based on demonstrably false claims (our origins, for example)
    2) The world does not work in a manner Christian theology says it should
    3) The Christian worldview has been constantly revised, which is inconsistent with its claim of having divine origins.

  11. Jeremy F. says:

    If this world wasn’t created by God, then who or what created it

    god created a paradise with Adam and Eve but they betrayed god by taken upon sin from Satan thus Satan inherited the world making the world a corrupt creation of god and it wasn’t until Christ died for humanity was true redemption possible. If you make an argument for the morality of god you must remeber there is the devil in our theology

  12. Jeremy F. says:

    P1: God created everything that exists.
    P2: Evil exists.
    C: God created evil.

    god created sentient beings and free will. These beings were the angels and greatest of them was Lucifer who rebelled thus creating evil/sin
    so god didn’t create evil Satan did

  13. If this world wasn’t created by God, then who or what created it[?]

    This is an interesting point, and I’d like to beg your indulgence in my response. It’s very easy for a theist and an atheist to just trade barbs on this question ad nauseam, amounting to “Yes he did”/”No he didn’t” and getting nowhere.

    The argument from first causes is an interesting one. All the argument really states is that there must have been a first cause. The need for a first cause itself doesn’t, in and of itself, provide evidence that the first cause was God.

    Also note that the need for a first cause is an argueable point as well, but I’m accepting it or the sake of this argument.

    So here’s the interesting thing. If we accept that the infinite regress of causality needs to be terminated in a prime mover, what is so special about the prime mover that it doesn’t need to itself have a cause?

    There are a very large number of very in-depth theistic answers to this question. The most common is like this:

    1. Causality is a temporal phenomenon.
    2. God is atemporal – He exists outside of time.
    3. From 1 and 2, God is not subject to causation.

    However, there is an interesting response to this.

    1. Causality is a temporal phenomenon.
    2. The root of the ‘singularity’ of the Big Bang is in the atemporal void.
    3. The atemporal void is atemporal – it exists outside of time.
    4. From 1, 2, and 3, the root of the ‘singularity’ of the Big Bang is not subject to causation.

    The theistic response to this is normally that this stance on the ‘atemporal void’ is as much a faith as is the postulation of God – but this is simply not true. The concept of the atemporal void as the prime mover is a much simpler, much more probable, and much less straining on one’s credulity than the concept of God as the prime mover.

    The other response is to say ‘But how could the atemporal void create the singularity of the Big Bang?’, and there’s a few interesting responses that could be made to this. There are responses to this – re-stating that the atemproal void is exempt from the usual a priori assumption of cause and effect is the easiest (but possibly least satisfying) explanation. There’s also pseudo-scientific explanations such as the participatory anthropic principle and it’s variants. There’s an argument to be made that, from the atemporal void’s point of view, the singularity of the big bang may just as well be a speck as much as it seems like a monumental storage of energy from our point of view, since from the start of the atemporal void there’s nothing to balance the singurlarity against. There is also a philosophical argument to be made that the atemporal void, by existing, gives rise to the natural numbers via set theory, providing the philosophical basis for a priori, mathematical logic and that the interplay between those nubmers – through a series of logic that even I don’t pretend to comprehend in its entirety – is what gave rise to what we, very mistakenly, perceive to be the ‘reality’ of nature (which would explain why mathematics can only be ‘proven’ by using mathematcis and why nature appears to obey mathematical laws right down to its most fundamental level). There are also, very likely, even more ideas on the subject of ‘something’ arising from the ‘nothing’ of the atemporal void that I don’t know about. Just as it is very likely that there are ideas about what the prime mover might be or have been without that prime mover being the atemporal void or God, of which I am also ignorant.

    Now, I’m not staking my opinion on any of these philosophical ideas about how the atemporal void could give rise to the Big Bange. I’m not even staking my opinion on the fact that the prime mover was the atemporal void and not something else. I’m not even staking my opinion on the neccesity of a prime mover at all – it’s an idea of which I’m highly skeptical. Officially, I’m torn between the idea that there was a prime mover and idea that nature is somehow eternal – I’m not sure which to accept.

    However, one thing I do know is that even if we accept that there must have been a prime mover, there are many possible options to consider aside from God. None of these ideas can be absolutely proven, and because of this there is no concrete reason, beyond personal preferance, to believe the idea that the prime mover was God above any of the others. The best we can do is look to the evidence, and try to make our best guess about what the prime mover (if there is such a thing) actually was.

    And to my mind, the Universe as we know it looks very much like a universe that wasn’t designed intelligently at all. Just look at wasps. So whatever the prime mover (if there is such a thing) may have been, I accept that the physical evidence shows very strongly that it wasn’t God.

    Now, this in and of itself doesn’t disprove God. But it does establish that Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover is in no way a proof of God either.

    Note: I’ve used the word ‘singularity’ to refer to the initial state of the Big Bang Theory of cosmology… This is misleading. The word singularity has some very precise meanings and I beg your forgiveness for my rather sloppy misuse of it, on the grounds that its a convienience only.

  14. I’m glad that the discussion on this post has continued. Please accept my apologies for taking so long to answer in the promised posts. I have had an extremely busy month – being gone for a week, having my parents in town for a week, resuming my college education, as well as my usual marriage and motherhood responsibilities. Thanks for your patience. I will be posting my answers in the next couple days.

  15. atheist says:

    What an extremely narrow-minded post (though not surprising). Where do you think you have any authority to claim what you do? Such comments as “The atheist has no absolute point of reference to claim anything is right or wrong.”
    How do you feel you have any knowledge of this, being as you are an extremely Christian conservative?
    An atheist’s sense of morals comes from how they want to treat people, and how they want to be treated in return. None of those are based at all in religion. From where did people’s moral behaviour come before the dawn of the Christian era if you are claiming your religion is the means through which moral behaviour is learned?

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