Timothy Keller: Dishonest Reasons for God (Chapter 9)

I began my critique of Keller’s The Reason for God with an exposé of everything up through Chapter 1, then 2, 3 through 5, 6, 7, and 8. Here I will cover Chapter 9. Next will be 10 through 12. And I’ll close with one more post on the rest of the book, Chapters 13 and 14.

This chapter? Morality and human rights. Yep.

The Problem

Today, Keller’s argument is that atheists can’t explain where morality and rights come from. Of course, this is a fallacy. Maybe morals and rights are indeed totally arbitrary and made up; that’s not evidence for God, in fact it’s evidence against Keller’s God. Because he never presents any evidence that morals and rights aren’t just made up. And all the evidence there is, strongly argues they are all made up. But there is more to this that Keller simply ignores. Principally: why we made up the morals and rights we have, and condemned others; and how their evolution over time can be described as in fact progress, even though, just like all technologies, it’s all made up.

This time I’m chalking it up to ignorance rather than dishonesty. Keller shows no signs of actually studying any moral philosophy. And his grasp of the neuroscience and psychology of morality is worse than hack, and horribly out of date. He may simply be the dupe of ignorant creationists on this one. But if so, then a dupe he is. The following corrects him.

Still, Keller isn’t entirely honest. He leads with an anecdote about his querying nonbelievers about their moral views (p. 144):

I asked them to tell me about something they felt was really, really wrong. The woman immediately spoke out against practices that marginalized women. I said I agreed with her fully since I was a Christian.

Apparently Keller has never read his own Bible. It was in fact the New Testament that introduced a moral commandment to marginalize women:

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. (1 Timothy 2:11-15)

So says Sacred Scripture. These are the words of the Great and Glorious Saint Paul, Apostle of Christ. Well, okay, it’s a forgery. Paul never said that. But Keller still reveres it as the inspired word of God. It’s the frickin Bible, after all. Surely God would never put a misogynistic forgery into his Holy Book! Except he did.

But anyway. I am having a hard time believing Keller actually doesn’t know about this verse. So he’s not only lying to his readers by never, ever mentioning it—and here even asserting, effectively, that it doesn’t exist—but he lied to the couple he was conversing with (assuming that ever happened; in my experience, the anecdotes of Christian apologists tend to be dubious).

So Keller has a problem. How can he say morals and rights come from the Bible, when the Bible condemns morals and rights? Indeed, in the New Testament, it even outright bans the rights of women! Notably, the Bible never once ever mentions human rights. Rights are an alien concept to the characters of Moses and Jesus, and in the Epistles are unemployed even by Paul. Rights were in fact invented by the Greeks. Pagans. In case you forgot. But more on that later.

The present question is, since human rights didn’t come from the Bible, and thus didn’t come from Keller’s God, where did they come from then? Why do we value them?

The Bible (and thus Keller’s God) actually condemns almost all human rights: for example, the OT bans freedom of speech and freedom of religion (both, explicitly, under pain of death), and legalizes chattel slavery, including mass rape (otherwise known as sex slavery); and as we just saw, the NT outright bans women’s rights (and pretty much condemns freedom of thought & sexual expression, too; as well as self-defense, and a bunch of other weirdness). Democracy is never even mentioned as a thing. Most of the Bible’s morals are atrocious, and have been rejected and abandoned by all modern civilizations (the Bill of Rights alone outlaws half the Ten Commandments).

Oh. Did I mention Keller never tells his readers any of this? Keller never tells his readers any of this.

Where Do Human Rights Come From?

“If there is no God as you believe, and everyone has just evolved from animals,” Keller asks, “why would it be wrong to trample on someone’s rights?” (p. 144). This is the same stock Christian ignorance on display that I’m sure you’ve encountered ad nauseam. How do you think an educated Greek would answer this question? After all, they invented this thing called a “right.” Yes. “Rights” are never mentioned in the Bible. Ever. Pagans made them up. Then we had to kill tens of thousands of Christians to get them back.

But back to the pagans…

Basically, they’d answer roughly like this:

-:-

Greek: “Rights are instituted and enforced by the polity, and thus by law. So it would only be ‘wrong’ to violate a right in the sense that we’ll haul you into court and prosecute you if you do. And where that can’t actually happen, rights simply don’t exist. Period. End of story.”

Keller: “But, why? Why should anyone enforce such a law?”

Greek: “Because if they want their rights defended, they have to defend the rights of their fellow citizens. It’s a basic contract: if you neglect our rights, we’ll neglect yours. And when that happens, everyone is screwed. That’s why we created rights; because things sucked until we invented them. When we get them, everything is so much better. Those of us who remember that, don’t want to go back to when they didn’t exist. So if we get to choose, we choose that. Societies that neglect rights, always, objectively, suck. Relative to socitieties that protect them, anyway.”

Keller: “But what stops you from just violating rights and trying to get away with it?”

Greek: “The people we hire to prevent that. Hence, government, courts, police. If those didn’t exist, rights wouldn’t either. Which, by the way, kind of proves rights don’t come from any gods. They’ve never done jack shit to create or enforce them. They never even mentioned them.”

Keller: “I just don’t get it. It’s all so arbitrary.”

Greek: “No it’s not. Those rights that, when enforced, make a better world for everyone, are objectively good, because they make the world a better place on every measure everyone cares about: ceteris paribus, there ends up being less poverty, less violence, less crime, less fear, less risk of being ruined by disaster or misfortune, the economy booms, lifespans improve; our security and prosperity is secured, which is what everyone really wants.”

Keller: “But why is it ‘objectively good’ for there to be less poverty, less violence, less crime, less fear, less risk of being ruined, and having a booming economy and a longer lifespan?”

Greek: “Are you serious?”

Keller: “Yes.”

Greek: “Would you prefer a world with more poverty, more violence, more crime, more fear, more risk of being ruined, with a shittier economy and briefer lives?”

Keller: “No. But what if someone does?”

Greek: “We outvote them. If they persist, we jail them. If they persist, we kill them.”

Keller: “Isn’t that just mob rule?”

Greek: “You mean rule by the people, of the people, for the people? As says that document you claim you Christians invented?”

Keller: “Um…I guess, yeah, ‘mob’ is just a synonym for ‘people’.”

Greek: “The people get the world they vote for. So if the majority votes for a shitty world, they get fucked by a shitty world. And yeah. That’s actually exactly what happens. Gods never do shit to change that. So maybe we shouldn’t vote for shitty worlds.”

Keller: “But I just can’t believe rights are made up. How can that be?”

Greek: “Same way farming is made up, writing is made up, wagons and spears and canteens are made up, governments are made up, civilization itself is made up. Because it’s useful. And no one else was around to help us, so we had to make shit up to help ourselves.”

Keller: “Wait, maybe you are confused. I don’t mean all rights, like the right to collect social security under certain conditions, simply because a polity voted that to be the case. I mean ‘human’ rights, true cosmic metaphysically awesome rights, the ‘inalienable’ rights even the Founders said were bestowed by a Creator.”

Greek: “They were lying. People had to do that back then. To give legitimacy to what they were doing, everyone claimed God said it. But he didn’t. There are no rights in the Bible, and no God has ever instituted or defended any.”

Keller: “But still, there’s a difference, between, say, a right to social security, and a right to free speech!”

Greek: “It’s true there are two kinds of rights. There are rights that might more properly be described as privileges: a polity decides to award certain privileges to its citizens, because it can afford to. Then there are rights that are essential to the happiness of all people competent to exercise them—such that, a polity that votes against those, always makes the world worse for everyone. A government that does not protect those rights, is a scourge upon its citizens. Whereas a society that merely can’t afford to give its citizens various other rights, rights that would only make that society better than one without them, is just pathetic and impoverished (or stupid and selfish). But in both cases, it is an objective fact of the world whether enacting and enforcing a right creates a better world or a worse one.”

Keller: “But who decides what’s better or worse?”

Greek: “Everyone. Because apart from the insane, everyone actually does agree what’s better or worse: ‘a world in which I and everyone I care about is happier or more satisfied is better’. They only disagree on what will realize one sort of world or the other. But that’s simply a factual question of cause and effect. What works and what doesn’t, toward any agreed-upon end, is an objective truth of the world, an inevitable, accidental, empirical fact of its physical structure. The agreed-upon end, meanwhile, is simply what humans want: to be happier and more satisfied with themselves and their lives.”

Keller: “But everyone is a selfish hateful foolish sinner! That would never work!”

Greek: “Funny. That’s exactly what happens. People are selfish and stupid. No God fixes that or helps anyone out with that problem. We always have to fix it ourselves. That’s how we know we made rights up, and that no God ever thought of them or cares about them.”

Keller: “But that’s awful! Shouldn’t we then at least convince people God endorsed rights, so as to trick everyone into being good?”

Greek: “Point to any century in history when that actually worked.”

Keller: (crickets)

Greek: “Yeah. Right.”

Keller: “But why have rights ever worked then?”

Greek: “Those wise enough to realize that everyone wants the same thing (their own personal satisfaction with themselves and their lives), also realize that that requires taking into account how your pursuit of happiness affects others, and vice versa; and consequently, how others will react, if you start getting in their way, and how you’ll have to react if others start getting in your way; and also, consequently, what you have to do, when someone is so insane they don’t even want those things, nor for anyone else to have them. Ultimately, with the sane, you have to work out a compromise. With the insane, you have to jail, exile, or kill them. And those are always, as an inevitable objective fact of the world, the only options available. Hence my point: there are clearly no gods to help us. But once you’ve gotten some kind of handle on the lunatic problem, and then realize you need to compromise with your remaining neighbors to build a contract the following of which will make the world better for you all, there will always, as an objective fact of the world, be some compromise that is indeed best for everyone, a best possible outcome for all parties concerned, when their interests conflict. Every possible universe, will have some such contract constructable, as an inevitable, unavoidable fact of the physics of that world. So we look for that. It takes time. We build slowly, learn from our mistakes, face obstacles. That’s why we aren’t there yet, but gradually do get better at it.”

Keller: “Okay. Sure. Whatever. But come on. Look, what I’m worried about, are people who want not the best possible outcome for everyone, but the best possible outcome for themselves. In other words, people who want to ‘cheat’ and get more rights and privileges and benefits, than the people they trample on to get them.”

Greek: “That is indeed a problem. Look at world history. But notice no gods do anything about it. No one’s gods even gave us the advice ‘hey, rights would solve your problem; you should enforce some of those’. Looks like, indeed, there is only one force in the universe that can do anything about that: us. We had to think them up. On our own. We had to enforce them. On our own. All to solve the problem of the shitty world we end up in otherwise. Hence, progress in history is always a story of just how successful people are (or aren’t) at securing their rights, against those who would take them away. And no one helps them. It’s just humans. Rights are invented by humans, defended by humans, and taken away by humans.”

Keller: “That sucks!”

Greek: “Yeah. It does. That’s why we don’t believe your stupid god exists.”

-:-

So goes the conversation.

All the evidence, and I mean all of it, confirms that rights are human inventions, indeed they were invented fairly late in the history of humanity, and spread only because they were popular, and not without a lot of resistance, and often they get implanted only by violent rebellion, and still to this day are a long way from being fully realized, even in the supposedly Greatest Nation on Earth.

That doesn’t sound like human rights have God’s back to me. Even the abolition of slavery, and thus the expanding of rights to black people in the American South, required killing a shit-fuck-ton of Christians fighting under the banner of God to keep their slaves. After all, their God told them they could. And He never did a take-backsies on that—not even when Jesus supposedly revised the deal. Slavery, never came up.

The fact that never once did any god ever invent rights or tell us about them or command us to create and enforce them, nor ever create and enforce them themselves, is just one more reason why we conclude there isn’t any god. That we’ve always been on our own on this one, is proof positive we’re just on our own.

Sorry, Dr. Keller. Them’s just the way things are. (I’ve discussed some of this already in my review of Chapter 1.)

For the theory behind all this, see Sense and Goodness without God (index, “rights”).

We Are Moral Animals

That’s the story of rights. The true story of rights. The “they came from God” thing does not comport with the evidence. At all.

If God existed, history would have proceeded entirely differently. That it didn’t, proves God doesn’t exist. Like everything else, when we put the evidence back in, that the Christian apologist left out, we get exactly the opposite conclusion than the one they are selling.

What about morality? That seems different, doesn’t it? We don’t legislate morality (per se); we’re just supposed to agree that some things are right to do and others are wrong. But why? Keller’s Bible says it’s immoral, positively wrong, for a woman to teach or have authority over a man or even speak to the public. Why should we heed that? Rather than make fun of it as the stupidest, most pathetic manchild thing ever? What makes a moral system that repudiates that (and hence repudiates the Bible) better than a moral system that adheres to that (and hence enforces the Biblical condemnation of women to inferior status)? Keller doesn’t have an answer for that. His solution kind of screws itself on that one.

Consider what I wrote in answer to a similar question, “Why shouldn’t we rape women?” Most of us don’t rape women simply because we don’t want to. But setting that aside…suppose someone isn’t a sociopath (and thus isn’t clinically insane), but is just really confused about the whole rape thing, maybe because of some fucked up authority that told him it was okay. Like the Bible. What is the reason they are wrong to think that’s a good idea? What are they missing?

Information. When people act in ways that are actually immoral but think they are acting morally, it’s because their conclusions, what they think is true, are derived from assumptions or beliefs that are false. When they admit what is actually factually true about the world—in other words when they abandon, and no longer reason from, false beliefs or ignorance—their conclusions change about what’s right and proper to do. These facts of the world include facts about how people feel and what they want and don’t want, and how human minds work, and everything else about persons; not just facts of the world outside of them. But also facts about themselves. And others.

And given what we know so far, it appears that everyone who isn’t insane, will agree on what’s right and proper, once they are divested of their ignorance and false beliefs—once they are reaching conclusions about what they themselves think is right and proper, from only true facts of the world; and not just merely some true facts, but all the true facts of the world pertinent to their conclusion. (See my peer reviewed paper on this very point in The End of Christianity.)

Like rights, morals are also invented. But like every other human invention (from the wheel to the plough, from language to medicine, from law codes to mathematics), there are better and worse morals, because enacting any moral system has objectively factual effects on the agent’s psychology and on the social system they live in (and thus again back upon the agent enacting those morals). Morality, like medicine and language and democracy, is a tool. A tool for navigating the world better, particularly the social world; a tool for making the world we live in better, which effect we inevitably also enjoy the benefits of, and a tool for making us feel better about ourselves, which effect is essential to making life even worth living in the first place.

The fact that we had to invent morals, and did a lousy job for millennia and had to keep tinkering to invent better ones over time, and the reasons why we did that, all demonstrate the non-existence of Keller’s God. So does the fact that his God’s morals are shitty, and now universally condemned by all decent people. God did not abolish slavery. We did. God damned women’s rights. We gave them back. And so it goes.

This demonstrates morality comes from humans, and is a product of our evolved social-animal empathy, and our evolved self-awareness and social-system intelligence. That no God gave us a good system of morals, that we had to take thousands and thousands of years to come to any decent system on our own (and still are probably not all the way there yet), is what we should expect if morals are human tools, and not divine commandments. Hence, the evidence of morality, is evidence against God. Not the other way around.

Indeed, Keller’s theory of the origins of morality is bogus. It doesn’t stand up to sense, logic, or facts.

Keller asks stupid questions like, “Why did the couple insist that human beings had to be different from animals, so that they were not allowed to act as was natural to the rest of the animal world?” (p. 144-45) That’s like asking a meerkat why it stands guard-duty trusting its companions will harvest food for it to eat. Or why dolphins go out of their way to help each other. Both would answer (if sentient enough to grasp the question), “Dude, I am acting natural to the animal world.”

Humans are animals. We don’t really act contrary to our animal nature. Our cooperative prosocial behavior is our animal nature. Our application of intelligence to enact social and political contracts to our mutual beneit, is acting exactly in accordance with what nature did to us. It’s not ultimately unnatural; it’s an inevitable expression and outcome of our very animal nature. Just as every animal’s nature differs from every other, so does ours differ, especially in those ways we evolved differently: to rely on problem-solving, cooperation, and moderated independence; to extensively alter our environment, more than merely adapt to it. (See Sense and Goodness without God V.1.2.2.)

So Keller isn’t making any sense when he says we have to act “against” our animal nature to do any of those things. Doing those things is our animal nature. It’s what makes us different from other animals.

Morality as Technology

I’ve covered some of this already in my review of Chapters 3-to-5. What Keller confusedly is thinking about is actually just called stupidity. And our being able to correct for it with intelligence. The same intelligence nature gave us, the use of which is natural to us as the animals we are.

Violence and theft and cheating are also our animal nature, one could say. And Keller’s worried about that. But our animal nature was also to just lick our wounds; not stitch them up and apply antibiotics. Our animal nature was to just suffer nearsightedness; not invent glasses and contact lenses. Our animal nature was to operate in small communal foraging and hunting collectives; not massively complex civilizations with forensic scientists and law courts. Just as we were given by nature the ability to problem-solve remarkably well, and an innate prosociality that motivates cooperation toward common goals, and this led us to invent numerous unexpected advantages, like democracy, science, and civilization (and I mean unexpected, in that they were not selected for biologically; they are the accidental byproduct of other abilities that were, as I already discussed last month).

Morality is just like democracy or science or mathematics or eyeglasses: it’s a thing we invented that makes things better for us, because natural selection is not so intelligent as to have hit upon it naturally. It hit upon naturally some moral sentiments (like our empathy, our sensitivity to equity, and so on), that drove quasi-moral behaviors (just as they do in apes and some other animals), because those behaviors gave a survival advantage to the individuals who could thus enjoy the benefit of living in the communities those behaviors effected. But “morality” in Keller’s sense is a more logically thought-out, experience-based, tooled-up system of behaviors (and beneficent virtues and malevolent vices), than was installed in us naturally.

That’s why it took us thousands of years to develop the moral system we have today, through eons of trial and error. We clearly did not evolve that system naturally; it was not designed into us biologically. (Nor is it present in the Bible; we have abandoned almost all of its primitive and barbaric ethics.) But the capacities that made it possible to develop better moral systems on our own, were selected into us by nature. And the survival advantages afforded by the tools we thus invented, are even more extraordinary, than the more primitive underlying moral psychology nature imbued us with. This is the difference between genetic evolution, and memetic (or “cultural”) evolution: the one is inefficient, unintelligent, and extremely time consuming; the other is extremely rapid, intelligence-driven, and efficient. (See Sense and Goodness without God V.1.2.3.)

Keller doesn’t get any of this. Because he’s never studied any of it. He is ignorant of the anthropology of moral systems. He is ignorant of the neuroscience of moral reasoning. He is ignorant of the philosophy of morality and its long, interesting history of improving over time. Keller is weirdly surprised that we don’t act like savages when it comes to moral reasoning. Yet he doesn’t stop to ask that same question when it comes to driving cars, wearing glasses, or performing open heart surgery. Unlike savages, we build concrete rivers and send men to the moon in spaceships. Keller somehow doesn’t stop to think that maybe the reason we “don’t act like savages” in the moral field, is the exact same reason we don’t act like savages anymore in any other field of human endeavor. Yet the reasons are the same.

Thanks to the faculties nature gave us for different reasons, we can now see better, what blind nature could not. Hence we even police other animals’ behavior: we train animals to be more cooperative and less violent; we leash and corral them; we put down violent ones. We just don’t expect them to comprehend and thus obey abstract cooperation pacts, because they lack the cognitive ability to. Whereas we have that ability. So we associate with anyone who exercises that social pact, and categorize as our enemy anyone who doesn’t. We evolved the ability to care about and be capable of creating behavioral systems that increase cooperative behavior, and thus increase it’s benefits to everyone, well beyond what nature alone could stumble upon.

Instead, “I have a radical thesis,” Keller says, “I think people in our culture know unavoidably that there is a God, but they are repressing what they know” (pp. 145-46). But there just is no evidence of that; and all the evidence there is, is against it. The Bible approves slavery and condemns women’s rights. Who reversed that? God? Nope. Us. Keller can’t say the Bible came from the same God as our idea to condemn the Bible! So evidently we are not suppressing anything. We are waking up.

The truth is, we were naturally (not intelligently) selected to be social animals who depend on prosocial cooperation to live (and thus enjoy the benefits of societies). And it is for that reason that we all want to live in a just and honest and caring world. Because other worlds suck. And it’s for that very reason that we want to be this way ourselves, and find ways to teach others to wake up to this very same realization, and help each other find mutually beneficial ways to achieve it.

We learned to despise slavery, because of our evolved empathy…combined with the effect of our evolved intelligence eventually overcoming the false beliefs and authorities that sustained slavery (like Keller’s Bible). We learned to value women’s rights, because of our evolved empathy…combined with the effect of our evolved intelligence eventually overcoming the false beliefs and authorities that suppressed women’s rights (like Keller’s Bible). We did that. Not God. The fact that God didn’t do jack to bring this about—in fact, according to Keller’s Bible, He even sustained the savageries that we eventually realized were abhorrent to our empathy—is why we just don’t believe that God exists anymore. It was a primitive superstition, a product of cultural stupidity. It’s time to move on.

Just read every chapter in Christianity Is Not Great. Nothing more hardly need be said.

Conclusion

More evidence of the human invention of morality lies in the plasticity of moral sentiments. Bible-adhering slavers and sexists felt just as righteously sure in their moral feelings, as the people who abhorred slavery and sexism. Thus, Keller cannot appeal to moral intuition as evidence for his God or any kind of moral design. Because moral intuition is completely moldable by belief systems and enculturation. And thus it differs in everyone according to how they were taught. The Israelites were taught slavery was morally right. And their moral feelings went along with it. The Christians were taught women’s rights were abhorrent. And their moral feelings went along with it. That proves “moral intuition” does not come from any God. It exhibits no universal truth. Just the happenstance of whatever system got installed in childhood; systems invented by ignorant men.

Which means it is not only foolish, but outright dangerous, to believe, as Keller does, that one’s socially invented moral feelings come from an infallible alien spirit lord in outer space. Anyone who believes that, can never escape a system of false beliefs. And they will thus feel righteous in whatever awful thing they do. They will never slough off ignorance or false beliefs, so as to discover how the world actually works, and what their actions and choices actually do to themselves and others. Moral growth becomes impossible.

Admitting moral systems are invented, solves this problem. It allows us to test and vet any system for its actual consequences to ourselves and the world, and make improvements when the system doesn’t work so well as we want. It allows us to admit some moral of the past (including in the Bible) was wrong after all, and ought to be replaced, if our goal is a better world. It was precisely that, that allowed us to realize slavery was awful and that women should have the same rights as men. Because the world is better that way. For all of us.

But, Keller asks, how would compassion evolve? Because, like claws or thumbs, it’s useful. How would a desire to be a good social cooperator, useful to one’s peers, evolve? Because it was useful. How would a self-judgment mechanism—a conscience—evolve in a social species that depends on social self-regulation for survival? Because it was useful. What we evolved is imperfect, like all blindly evolved things. Our skulls aren’t that great at protecting our brains; so we invented helmets. Our fists and teeth aren’t that great at taking down a stag or a tiger; so we invented spears. Our individual judgment is often flawed, so we invented collective judgment mechanisms, and the checks and balances of governments and courts. Our ability to solve problems, though good enough to be a singular benefit to our survival, is likewise still imperfect; so we used it to invent even better skills at that…like science, logic, and mathematics.

Keller tries to deny all this, by citing, once again, outdated science that has long since been refuted. All current science of the evolution of altruism and cooperativeness and prosociality disagrees with Keller now. But you can check that for yourself. Hell, Google will better educate you than he will. Wikipedia is already more informed than Keller. But that may be just Keller’s ignorance and gullibility again. Those of us who actually know things, know everything I just said. And it destroys everything Keller wants to claim.

Rights, like moralities, were also invented, because of observing the bad effects of rightsless regimes. The founding fathers wrote the constitution not because God revealed they should. In fact it abolishes most of the morality of the Bible. They wrote it because they no longer wanted to live in the awful conditions of a rightsless world; and they found millions of people who likewise agreed. They then had to fight and die and risk life and limb to bring it about. No god did it for them. Nor ever recommended it be done. No god even conceived of it, not in all the hundred thousand plus previous years of human existence. That does not look like a world with a god in it it. It looks like a world without a god in it.

Keller asks why anyone would want to expand rights to women in other cultures if rights are just made up. But that’s like asking why we’d want to spread language or medicine or engineering to other cultures, even though those are made up, too. The fact is, oppressed women are objectively suffering; the invented tool of rights alleviates that suffering; so as long as women in that culture (and the men who care about them) want to have their suffering alleviated, then their own culture carries the rationale for changing itself. Just as for medicine as an invented and imported tool. Cultures can decide whether to suffer miserably, or adopt the new technology that alleviates that suffering. Since all humans evolved to want to escape suffering, all humans have an innate motivation to adopt foreign technologies that do so. Rights are just such a technology. And that’s just all there is to it.

Rights still often have to be created by force, against abundant enemies. Their principle enemy being stupidity. But why people would want to live in a better world, and sometimes decide it’s worth risking their life to try for one, requires no divine explanation. It’s what all life has always done for billions of years. And from a perspective of intelligent understanding, as we are now capable of, it makes perfect sense. It’s obvious the world is better with rights, than without them. That’s why Keller claims to like them so much. But we are the only intelligence that appears to ever have thought of that. And it took a bloody long time.

Which is indeed just what we expect, if we are the only intelligence in town. But it’s completely inexplicable, if there were any gods around who gave a damn.

-:-

Next I’ll discuss Keller’s Chapters 10-12 (that link will go live in a few days), which is a bunch of nonsense about sin, and how all your problems can be solved by ancient blood magic.

3 comments

  1. Justin Legault August 14, 2017, 8:09 am

    Great read!

    You are absolutely correct when you’re mentioning how scary in a way “divine command theory” is. It literally takes away any accountability one has for committing evil deeds, because if god says its good, it is good by definition.

    WLC uses this cringe worthy argument all the time. When Moses was told to kill all the Midianites, or Joshua to kill all the Amalekites, or Elijah to kill the prophets of Baal. Those according to Craig are morally justified under divine command theory.

    Now any crime can be justified if “god” says so. Many believers that do good, don’t necessarily do it from the heart. many do it because of the incentives of the theological dichotomy of Reward vs Punishment. If im good i’ll get rewarded, so ill be nice. While non believers do good because they are good people. Im not saying all believers think this way, however, I’ve encountered a number of them to reasonably conclude that the incentives do play a big role. Many believers do good because they are good people. My question would be, would majority of them “be” good if their wasn’t a fear of eternal punishment/reward in heaven?

    I often hear the OT slavery was normal back then. It was a different kind of slavery not like today. When Exodus 21 explicitly mentions how and why you should enslave someone and gives you specific instructions to do so.

    When I point out the immorality in the OT and NT. I always get this response “You may have read the Bible, but you don’t understand it” or “Only born again Christians can truly understand the Bible and word of god”
    Obviously fallacious!

    I also get answers like “We can’t judge what is moral or immoral in gods eyes” “We are fallible humans, god is infallible, he’s too complex to understand”

    What’s an answer to that? Firstly, I know they are assuming that their specific god of their specific denomination exists so they are already asserting without meeting the burden of proof. Moreover, if humans are fallible how did they determine what and who god is if he’s “too complex to understand”?
    They usually say as aforementioned that only believers can truly see. Which is a fallacy that can also be used against them by any religion.

    Thanks,

    Justin

    Reply
    1. Right. Those are just dismissive rationalization. They have no coherent value. And you are right, this can be shown by showing how they would defend every religion; therefore they can defend none. If person A understands x and person B doesn’t, A should be able to explain x to B. If they can’t, then either A doesn’t really understand x, or B lacks the requisite skills to grasp what’s being said, in which case A should be able to show which skills B lacks that are causing the problem, and precisely how it’s causing the problem, and if A can’t do that, then A cannot claim to know B lacks any requisite skills.

      As to the nick slavery argument, no, they are confusing the law for Israelites and the law for foreigners: non-Israelites were subject to full chattel slavery the same as or worse than the slavery practiced in all cultures around them. Only Israelites were excused, except from limited period indentured servitude. This is the same as all systems of the era, citizens were exempt from being enslaved and noncitizens were not. There is nothing remarkable at all about the Biblical system. Which is how we know it didn’t come from gods. Any more than the sun god gave Hammurabi his code, despite it explicitly saying so.

      As to who would be good without religion: religion has to be replaced with an evidence-based system of rational habituation in empathy (learning the skill to see things from other people’s perspective and take that into account in one’s deciding), self-reflection (what sort of person do you want to be, in order to think well of yourself), and social contract theory.

      Reply
      1. Justin Legault August 14, 2017, 1:51 pm

        Yeah I’ve noticed the same thing regarding the confusion with the law between Israelite’s and foreigners. Which, even the law for foreigners is immoral, I can tell they are only trying to minimize the immorality of slavery in the OT as to say “Wasn’t that bad”. I feel it’s irreconcilable if it’s supposed to come from an omni-benevolent god.

        Even when they fail to defend any immoral act in the OT they claim it’s the OLD law and Jesus changed all that.

        Which I find odd, because didn’t Jesus say he didn’t come to abolish the old law but to fulfill it (Matt 5:17)?

        Also, didn’t Jesus say you can beat your slaves and something about ‘as long as he doesn’t die within 3 days’? (Correct me if I am wrong).

        I don’t recall anything Jesus said that he was against slavery, but knew it was happening and didn’t seem to have a problem with it, especially with comments like noted above.

        p.s I am looking forward to your talk in Toronto! And your rebuttals to Josh Sommer! (Which I think you will do after your big Canadian tour!)

        Reply

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