Bomb-building vs. the biblical foundation
24 December 2004, reposted and updated 2–3 December 2006
A critic of the article How to build a bomb in the public school system argued that a biblical foundation was unnecessary for ethics. Jonathan Sarfati’s response explains how Christian foundations underpin the prosperity and science of the West, and contrasts these with the atrocities of atheistic regimes. This needs to be revisited especially with the increasingly shrill atheistic attacks on Christianity in general and on Christian freedoms, pushing moral boundaries, and even a leading atheistic evolutionist saying that Hitler’s ideas should be reconsidered. Then the response explains the real problem for atheists trying to build an ethical system.
Our argument is not that atheists cannot live ‘good’ lives, but that there is no objective basis for their goodness if we are just rearranged pond scum.
How to build a bomb. You wrote that in order to create an explosive child all that was required was to educate that child to believe that we evolved from animals, life is an accident and that there are no absolutes.
That belief system which is indoctrinated into kids provides the perfect basis for this.
Well, I and many, many other people like me believe exactly those things, reaching our conclusions through trial and error and by asking questions of ourselves and the world we live in and not shying away from the answers whatever they appeared to be or mean. In doing so we feel we have a wider more stable foundation with which to tackle the problems of today’s MODERN society and MODERN man’s need for a combination of tangible truth and spiritual peace, two quarters in which the ancient indoctrination of organized religion has consistently failed to provide.
- The rule of law, which binds all people, recognizing a higher source of the law. The alternative is rule by despots.
- Equality of all people under the law, neither favoring the rich nor the poor (Job 34:19).
- Property rights, presupposed in the command against theft (Exodus 20:15). Without them, the capital cannot be used as capital for investment loans, and there is no protection for what people have earned by productive work. Indeed, Hernando de Soto’s book The Mystery of Capital shows that if private property in poor countries were freed up from statist ownership, this would provide 90 times more wealth than all the foreign aid to all Third World countries over the past three decades.
All these are biblical principles, and it is no accident that the most prosperous countries have adopted them, and that the poorest countries fail. Even now, prosperous countries in the west are still benefiting from these Christian-based foundations laid down in their past.
Conversely, atheism has been tried as a basis for life in many countries in the 20th century. The results have been some of the biggest bloodbaths of all time under communist despots above the law, e.g., Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. For example, the Inquisition killed 2000 people in three centuries; Stalin killed that many before breakfast. Neither could atheistic economies remotely compete with the West—e.g., it didn’t take long for the USA to outstrip the USSR in the space race when they put their minds to it.
In short I am, to you, a walking time bomb. I am, in actual fact, a diligent, hardworking, caring, stable, compassionate, intelligent, kind, thoughtful and considerate individual
And nice to your mother too, I’ve heard.
(as are many, many of my likeminded friends all around the world) we manage to live the lives your religion postulates without the need for the pomp and scripture, the fear and hatred and the presence of any kind of omnipresent deity to keep us in check. I wondered how you would explain this?
I don’t have any justification [for distinguishing good and bad] any more than I have when I distinguish between blue and yellow. — Bertrand Russell, atheist
Nothing to explain. The article explained that evolution provides the basis for the bomb-building, not that everyone would act consistently on this basis. We know that many atheists borrow a moral code from outside their belief system, since that can’t provide any. The rabid misotheist Richard Dawkins even claimed that he was a passionate Darwinist as to how we got here, but a passionate anti-Darwinist when it came to morality.
Rather, our argument is not that atheists cannot live ‘good’ lives, but that there is no objective basis for their goodness if we are just rearranged pond scum. Christian philosopher and apologist Dr William Lane Craig explained the Christian moral argument for God in The Indispensability of Theological Meta-Ethical Foundations for Morality:
It would, indeed, be arrogant and ignorant to claim that people cannot be good without belief in God. But that was not the question. The question was: can we be good without God? When we ask that question, we are posing in a provocative way the meta-ethical question of the objectivity of moral values. Are the values we hold dear and guide our lives by mere social conventions akin to driving on the left versus right side of the road or mere expressions of personal preference akin to having a taste for certain foods or not? Or are they valid independently of our apprehension of them, and if so, what is their foundation? Moreover, if morality is just a human convention, then why should we act morally, especially when it conflicts with self-interest? Or are we in some way held accountable for our moral decisions and actions? …
Now it is important that we remain clear in understanding the issue before us. The question is not: Must we believe in God in order to live moral lives? There is no reason to think that atheists and theists alike may not live what we normally characterize as good and decent lives. Similarly, the question is not: Can we formulate a system of ethics without reference to God? If the non-theist grants that human beings do have objective value, then there is no reason to think that he cannot work out a system of ethics with which the theist would also largely agree. Or again, the question is not: Can we recognize the existence of objective moral values without reference to God? The theist will typically maintain that a person need not believe in God in order to recognize, say, that we should love our children. Rather, as humanist philosopher Paul Kurtz puts it, “The central question about moral and ethical principles concerns this ontological foundation. If they are neither derived from God nor anchored in some transcendent ground, are they purely ephemeral?”
Photo: The Bertrand Russell Archives
An idea of the problem for atheists was illustrated in the famous radio debate between the Jesuit philosopher and historian of philosophy Frederick Copleston and the anti-Christian mathematical logician Bertrand Russell (www.bringyou.to/apologetics/p20.htm):
Bertrand Russell [BR]: You see, I feel that some things are good and that other things are bad. I love the things that are good, that I think are good, and I hate the things that I think are bad. I don’t say that these things are good because they participate in the Divine goodness.
Frederick Copleston [FC]: Yes, but what’s your justification for distinguishing between good and bad or how do you view the distinction between them?
BR: I don’t have any justification any more than I have when I distinguish between blue and yellow. What is my justification for distinguishing between blue and yellow? I can see they are different.
FC: Well, that is an excellent justification, I agree. You distinguish blue and yellow by seeing them, so you distinguish good and bad by what faculty?
BR: By my feelings.
As Christian apologist Dr Ravi Zacharias said in The Atheists Challenge, if Copleston weren’t such a gentleman, he might have asked, “in some cultures they love their neighbors; in others they eat them, both on the basis of feeling. Do you have any preference?”
If you imagined that God was the father and we were his children, would you not be able to agree that a parents proudest, although bitter sweet, moment is when they realise that their job as parent is done and that the child is ready to venture forth alone and unprotected. A parents job is never truly done, but at that moment the father lets his child go to explore and learn alone. And it’s at that point, for perhaps the first time in his life that the child turns back and truly views his father with understanding and gratitude. In that understanding the cycle is complete. Would it not be fair to say that as children under the wing of God that we could perhaps attempt to venture out alone now. To thank ‘God’ for the guidance he gave us over the centuries but acknowledge now as we wave goodbye from the doorstep that the truth, albeit sad truth, is that we simply don’t need him anymore.
On what grounds do you derive what ought to be from what is? Science can at best only tell what people actually do. Science may indicate that if a 20 kg weight is dropped from a height of 100 metres on someone’s head, it would probably kill him; morality decides that this is murder and therefore wrong.
This is a blatant category mistake. A human father is equal in nature to his children, while God the Father is infinitely superior by nature, as our Creator. His Fatherhood to believers is only one aspect of the relationship. God is also rulemaker, Savior and Judge.
Couldn’t we part ways and move on as children, grow up and find independence and strength through our own actions and not through fear under the eyes of a master or parent. Couldn’t we place the idea of God safely where we will remember it and its lessons and move on in unity as adults? To me and many like me, stubbornly persisting to live at home with our parents beyond a certain age is in truth detrimental to our growth.
This oversimplifies our relationship with God to be merely like a child’s relationship to his earthly father. Since this is a false premise, the argument crumbles.
God has been a good friend, but to quote Kipling, “Its time to put away childish toys.”
This is disingenuous, since you don’t believe God exists at all, so it’s not logical to believe he has any attributes at all, let alone being a good friend. First you have to show why atheism is true (and it is an active belief system), not simply assert it by facile fallacious comparisons.
Lets stop removing responsibility for our actions onto a, and lets be honest, intangible outside source
Let’s be honest—one has no excuse for disbelief because of what God has made (Romans 1:20), and He has also given tangible proof by raising Jesus from the dead (Acts 17:31). It is not enough to display airs of superiority; these arguments must be addressed.
Also, no one in any published CMI article has tried to shift responsibility for our actions onto anyone. Quite the opposite in fact—see ‘Evolution made me do it!’ and My genes made me do it! ‘Infidelity genes’ discovered?
and face up to the responsibility for our actions and deeds ourselves without retribution and without reward.
Why should we? On what grounds do you derive what ought to be from what is? Science can at best only tell what people actually do. Science may indicate that if a 20 kg weight is dropped from a height of 100 metres on someone’s head, it would probably kill him; morality decides that this is murder and therefore wrong. Yet your statement says we ought to do something, e.g., face up to responsibilities, without showing where this ‘ought’ comes from.
I do it. Many others do it. It’s time to move on. We’ve had a 2000 year Childhood, that’s enough.
Actually the childishness of man rejecting God is much older than 2000 years—it goes back to Eden, “did God really say …”. It’s time to move back to the wisdom of the all-knowing Creator.
Jonathan Sarfati, Ph.D.
“God help us!”
God bless you for teaching the truth! People wonder why the numbers are dropping in Churches and it is for the very reason you spoke of: leaders don't believe/teach the Bible! So many times I have naively shared some truth from the Bible and a leader would tell me what they read from a "book". God help us! So many people come to me, crying out, saying there is no place to go to Church. Bless you for being brave to teach the truth from the Word of God!