Atheists Agree: Truth Is a Moral Issue

Biblical Worldview

by on ; last featured October 14, 2016
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Even atheists admit that people who err about origins aren’t necessarily “ignorant, stupid, or insane.” There is a fourth option—and God’s Word would agree with them.

Our most prominent global-village atheist, Richard Dawkins, said a few years ago, “If you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid, or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).”1

That’s us creationists. And despite his coy demurrals, his subsequent public statements suggest that he is all too ready to consider us not just stupid but wicked.

I’ll let Dawkins’ four adjectives structure my article, but I’ll reveal my main point up front: I actually agree with Dawkins on something very important, the idea that knowledge is a moral issue.

Ignorance

First let me take up the charge of ignorance. My field is New Testament studies, not science. I admit, therefore, to being comparatively scientifically ignorant—though I wonder how much I differ in that respect from most believers in evolution. Along with the great majority of Westerners, my formal science training ended the last day of high school (or perhaps a few weeks before . . . ). I hold to scientific postulates that were handed to me, just as they were handed to most people, from trusted authorities.

It is, in Dawkins’ view and my own, immoral to deny the truth.

I do have a liberal-arts graduate level of knowledge of the Copernican revolution, and I’ve read a few science books along the way. But it would be impossible for me to “prove” via formal scientific methodology any of the fundamental tenets about the natural world I accept, such as the reality of the force of gravity and of the earth’s revolution around the sun.

Likewise, I have a basic understanding of the mechanics of evolution. I’m aware that it is not exactly a new idea. Darwinism has undergone this or that revision but has, in the main, swept the biological field. Like most readers of this magazine, I know about the Galápagos finches and the HMS Beagle. I’ve read about gene mutation and natural selection. I’ve also examined in some detail the olive branch proffered to me by evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould, the idea of Non-Overlapping Magisteria.

There surely is much I don’t know in every field of human endeavor, but concerning evolution, at least, I can’t plead ignorance.

Stupid

But stupidity? How can I deny this charge without sounding self-congratulatory and arrogant—something a Christian like me considers immoral? I don’t think I’m stupid. I have enough intellectual facility, at least, to write prose my mother admires. Since “stupid” is only a pejorative form of “ignorant,” I won’t say more.

Insane

As for insanity, I’m reminded of C. S. Lewis’ classic, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. When little Lucy comes back through the cloak closet in which she’d hidden for only a few moments, telling tales of a wintry land with talking animals, her older siblings are concerned precisely for her sanity. Highly logical Professor Kirke tells them, “One has only to look at her and talk to her to see that she is not mad.”2 So, well, do I sound crazy?

Wicked

Dawkins has left us with only one option: I (along with countless other apparently sane, educated young-earth creationists) am “wicked.” This charge, which he says he’d rather not consider, grants that important point about knowledge that I mentioned earlier, namely that knowledge is a moral issue. It is, in Dawkins’ view and my own, immoral to deny the truth, especially when you have adequate access to that truth and sufficient intelligence and opportunity to process it.3

Dawkins’ view accords well with the Bible. King Solomon, the Bible’s only recorded naturalist, says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). The wisest man in the Bible (1 Kings 3:12) says you can’t really know anything in all its right relations until you lay one fundamental building block. At your heart’s deepest level there must lie a fear of the one true God.

So we’re left with what liberal Enlightenment secularism fears most. One of my favorite epistemologists (students of knowledge), Stanley Fish, calls it “the irreducibility of difference.”4 We’re left with dueling authorities.

Authority #1:

The God of the Bible says that you can’t really or truly know anything unless you are rightly related to Him. The Bible calls people who don’t fear the Lord “the wicked” (Psalm 36:1).

Authority #2:

Most Western scientists affirm that “the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry.”5 Dawkins calls those who don’t accept this overwhelming evidence “the wicked.”

Evidence

At this point, Dawkins is sure to claim that authority has nothing to do with it. He believes he is even-handed, objective, and consummately neutral, simply pointing to the evidence—notwithstanding creationist conspiracy theories.

It may surprise some readers that I know how he feels. I know what it’s like to play whack-a-mole with a conspiracy theorist. You patiently and cogently answer some nonsensical argument he offers, only to see him pop out of another hole spouting more of the same. Every counterargument you make becomes, in his twisted world, an unassailable proof of his position. I can understand why the scientific in-crowd feels this way about me.

Yet I would say to my dear secularist, evolutionist, materialist (or deist), mainstream, well-educated Western friends: to put it a bit indelicately, that is the way I feel about you. I admit that you might appear to have me on my heels with regard to some important questions, such as the question of starlight and time.6 I do not have a fully satisfactory way of reconciling the biblical account with our ability to see supernovae that, by our best lights, happened millions of light-years away. I even feel your pain when “the Bible says so” only sounds like a non-answer.

Yet I get something worse than a non-answer when I ask evolutionists which turtle the big bang is standing on.7 One obviously intelligent person told me on the question-and-answer website Quora, “Asking what happened before the big bang is like asking, ‘What’s north of the north pole?’” A search of Quora reveals that many intelligent, educated people find this argument compelling; it’s popularly attributed to Stephen Hawking himself.

What makes them think that directions on a sphere are a good analogy to the creation of the universe? And what scientific principle permits them to exclude the most important event in the universe’s history from its most basic law (without which science as we know it would be impossible): namely, effects always come from causes?8

The north pole argument doesn’t sound like a scientific description of nature; it sounds like a religious appeal to the supernatural. It’s a non-answer. It sounds like Terence McKenna’s tongue-in-cheek description of modern secular science: “Give us one free miracle and we’ll explain the rest.”9 They are flipping open an alternate Bible. I just don’t have enough faith to join that religion.

I’m all for science. But there is no agreed-upon definition of science that can solve all disagreements. Science is not a neutral arbiter, as Stanley Fish would say, “that sits above the fray, monitoring its progress and keeping the combatants honest.” Science is, instead, “an object of contest.”10 Which authority gets to determine what counts as science? Will it be God, or not-god?

Back to Wickedness

Whereas I’m willing to admit to being a non-expert who is uncertain about the correct scientific answer to some important questions (though qualified Christians have proposed various answers), most lay evolutionists I encounter seem self-assured in a faith they refuse to see as a faith. But I won’t call them ignorant, stupid, or insane.

That leaves one option, according to Dawkins: wickedness. Why would so many educated, apparently rational people refuse to face up to the inherent weaknesses in their materialist cosmology? Why are they so willing to speak as if the big bang is a settled result of modern scientific research when the big bang model is built on such an inherent flaw?

I’ll let an evolutionist answer that question. Brian Clegg, Cambridge-educated science writer, spoke to Time magazine about the big bang a few years back. He asked,

Why did it happen at all? There is no sensible answer for the Big Bang unless you move over into the religious side and say, “Well, it began because God began it.” That’s why quite a lot of scientists are nervous about the Big Bang. They quite prefer having something that doesn’t require somebody sort of poking a finger in and saying, “Now it’s starting.”11

I’m not a member of the scientific community, so I cannot comment from experience why some scientists might or might not want to leave room for God. But I am a student of the Bible. I have always found it very interesting that the Apostle Paul spoke with clarity and precision on the issues raised in this article. Paul used moral terminology (italicized below) to describe those who reject the evidence of creation:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools. (Romans 1:18–22)

It is wicked to suppress the truth when we who are made in God’s image have sufficient intelligence and opportunity to process it. Paul reveals that we all have those things, and so he joins Richard Dawkins and me in seeing truth as a moral issue.

I say this not triumphantly but compassionately, from sinful human to sinful human. The Bible says all scientists know deep in their hearts that there is a Creator of eternal power.

What is wickedness anyway, in an atheistic, materialist worldview? It’s an arrangement of atoms—perhaps a mugger’s fist hitting your skull—that you don’t happen to prefer. But your preferences are only another atom-arrangement, this time inside your skull.

You know this argument doesn’t work. You know that morality is really real; and, more important, God says it is real. There is a right and there is a wrong, and the triune God ultimately defines both. Some things are true and others are false. Majority rule does not determine truth, but again, God does. Truth is not plastic, differing radically among cultures. Truth is moral. It is right, and falsehoods are wrong.

Scientists do a great deal of good in this world. But the scientific model of materialistic evolution is—I’m compelled to say it—wicked.

Atheists on Morality

“Achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life.”
Ayn Rand (1905–1982), Russian-born American novelist who founded objectivism

“The greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation.”
Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832), British philosopher who founded modern utilitarianism

“No species, ours included, possesses a purpose beyond the imperatives created by its genetic history.”
Edward O. Wilson (1929–), American biologist, father of sociobiology

“Outside human desires there is no moral standard.”
Bertrand Russell (1872–1970), British logician who helped found analytic philosophy

“Morality is a collective illusion, genetic in origin, that makes us good cooperators.”
Michael Ruse (1940–), British philosopher of science

“Modern science directly implies that there . . . is no ultimate meaning for humans.”
William Provine (1942–2015), American historian of science, leading opponent of Intelligent Design

Dr. Mark L. Ward Jr. received his PhD in New Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University Seminary in 2012. He writes and edits Bible curriculum materials for 7th–12th grade students and aids in promoting the Christian worldview-shaping vision of the Bible Integration Department at BJU Press.

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Footnotes

  1. Richard Dawkins, “Book Review of Donald Johanson and Maitland Edey’s Blueprints.” The New York Times, April 9, 1989. Section 7, 34.
  2. C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2008), 48.
  3. 3 John Frame calls this “ethical knowledge.” Doctrine of the Christian Life (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2008) 361ff.
  4. Stanley Fish, There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech, and It’s a Good Thing, Too (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 16, 206.
  5. http://ncse.com/taking-action/project-steve
  6. 6 For a summary of the latest thinking on starlight, see Danny Faulkner and Bodie Hodge, “What about Distant Starlight Models?” New Answers Book 4, Ken Ham, ed., Master Books (Green Forest, Arkansas, 2013), 255–264.
  7. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turtles_all_the_way_down
  8. They do have an answer: they call the big bang a “singularity”—in other words, a non-religious miracle (see Terence McKenna’s quotation in the next paragraph).
  9. Chris Twomey, “Words with the Sham Man,” The Eye, July 7, 1994.
  10. Stanley Fish, The Trouble with Principle (Cambridge: Harvard, 2001), 16.
  11. M. J. Stephey, “What Came Before the Big Bang?” Time, August 13, 2009.

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