Chapter 2: Morality

14 March 2006

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In this chapter, Krueger tries to defend two separate positions; that theism (particularly Christian theism) fails to establish a good moral code and that atheism does not suffer from the same failure. However, Krueger’s arguments for each are rather weak.

The first argument Krueger brings to the fore is none other than “Euthyphro’s dilemma”, which is a famous historical argument. The dilemma asks this question: Is something good because God commands it or does God command something because it is good? The problem here is that either alternative is bad for the theist. If the theist supposes that God commands things because they are good, then that means that there is a moral standard apart from God. However, if something is good only because God commands it, then God’s commands become arbitrary.

Most Christian theists have responded to this dilemma by claiming that God is simply intrinsically good- it is His nature to be good. According to J.P. Moreland:

“Morality does not come from an arbitrary act of God’s will or from some reason or property outside of God. Morality is grounded in God’s nature. Some things are right because a good, loving God commands them. So God’s laws are not arbitrary or based on something outside himself. Rather, they are based on something inside his own being, namely, his own moral attributes.” 1

It seems as though morality must start somewhere, and the best possible place for it to start from is an eternal, timeless, immaterial Creator who is intrinsically good.

Next, Krueger begins a lengthy critique of biblical morality. Firstly, he claims that “most supposedly ethical principles are not advocated for strictly moral considerations” [30] However, this is perhaps quite overstated, for the only example he mentions are the Beatitudes. He complains that the Beatitudes are a “system of scheming” for self-interest. This is not obviously so, for one need not assume that Christ expects us to follow the Beatitudes only for selfish concerns. Nevertheless, even if He did, the Beatitudes are a relatively small part of a relatively large Bible, and there are certainly many Biblical commandments that are not undergirded by selfish motivations.

Krueger then argues that the Bible contains many unspecified principles. The arguments here however, are very weak. He claims that principle of “loving thy neighbor as thyself” is somehow “vague.” I simply do not see any such fault. It is obvious that this principle is merely advocating that one treat others with love, respect, and dignity. Krueger makes the ridiculous argument:

“What of someone who is suicidal? Such a person loves himself or herself in such a way as to believe that death is preferable to life. Murder would be allowed in the case of such a person, since he or she would be loving others as that person loves himself or herself, but that is absurd. The principle is just too vague” [31]

First of all, it is not as though the commandment to love thy neighbor as thyself is the only moral commandment in the Bible. As such, it should not be expected to cover every case. But, even if it was, this “counter-example” is preposterous. Obviously, common sense must be used when interpreting moral principles. One could invent fanciful “what-ifs” to every moral clause, but that does not prove that the clause is vague- it merely proves that common sense is lacking. (Try to imagine a moral principle that could not be overturned by some extraordinary case. It may well be impossible.)

Moreover, even if it was supposedly “vague”, how does that make it an ineffective moral statement? The overriding message is that one should love others. This is a positive moral statement whether or not it is extremely specified. The vast majority of thinkers recognize the principal as a good moral guide, Krueger’s skepticism notwithstanding.

Krueger then applies this same “reasoning” to the golden rule, found in the Bible:

“And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise” (Luke 6:31)

He argues that the rule is so ambiguous that one could easily imagine numerous scenarios in which it could lead to inappropriate, destructive, or evil behavior. However, as with the previous principle, there is no reason to assume that this verse must apply to all cases. And once again, common sense must be used when interpreting moral principles. I would be interested in seeing what sort of “non-vague” moral principle Krueger could propose in order to replace the highly respected and obviously relevant golden rule.

Krueger’s next complaint is the following:

“The bible has no advice about many modern problems. There is no direct reference to the issues of abortion, contraception, the distribution of limited supplies of organs from organ donors (who should get preference?), pollution, deforestation, overpopulation, corporate raiding, euthanasia, the right to privacy, patents, copyrights, and many other complex areas. If the bible is supposed to be used as the guide to moral conduct, it is woefully inadequate.” [33]

Well, firstly, the Bible needn’t necessarily be thought of as the all-inclusive guide to moral living. It isn’t “Living a Moral Life for Dummies”. Rather, the Bible gives enough commands and guidance to lead anyone to a moral life. Persons expecting to be held by the hand and specifically told what is right and wrong in every instance may be disappointed, but it is not the bible’s responsibility to cover every instance and moral issue, nor is it its intention.

Nevertheless, it is entirely uncertain as to whether or not the Bible really has nothing to say on the subjects mentioned. It may be true that there is no direct reference to the issue, but many Christians would argue (effectively, I think) that stances can be made with issues such as abortion and euthanasia using biblical thinking alone.

In any case, why exactly would Krueger expect the Bible to contain direct moral teachings on issues that were not present in the time period in which the Bible was written? Would it have made sense for Jesus to preach obscure copyright laws to the confused masses? If Krueger thinks that Jesus should have done so simply to appease modern people, then he is expecting too much. More than likely, God simply wants us to exercise our own common sense in order to come up with solutions to today’s problems.

Does the Bible Contain Unethical Moral Principles?

Krueger raises a number of supposedly unethical principles taught in the Bible. However, his research in these areas seems consistently shallow. He first takes issue with Matthew 5:39-

“But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on they right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

He claims that this verse implies that people should allow evil to reign unchecked. However, according to Holding:

“Resist not evil” is a well-known Jewish proverb (Ps. 37:1, 8; Prov. 24:19) and actually means, do not compete with evildoers by trying to outdo them in terms of getting back at them…The “slap on the cheek” is a type of personal insult, so that the command to turn the other cheek is essentially a command not to start trading insults, but take the higher ground and turn away from the exchange. It is not, as many Skeptics have supposed, a license to allow yourself to get beat up.” 2

Next, Krueger brings up the topic of slavery. He mentions some of the apparently pro-slavery verses in the Bible. However, Krueger fails to take into account the fact that the type of “slavery” advocated in the Bible is actually a form of indentured servitude. For this topic I will refer to an extensive article by Glenn Miller. 3 I will again refer to Miller on the issue of Jesus’ supposed racism. 4

Krueger next brings up the issue of warfare condoned in the Bible, but once again I must reference a much more in-depth source for answers to his concerns. 5, 6

Next Krueger mentions verses in which God warns people that they will become cannibals if they are disobedient. He claims that God is punishing them by making them become cannibals, but it is clear that he is merely warning them of what will happen if they are disobedient (in other words, there are consequences of the people ignoring God’s “advice”). God is being very fair by giving the people warning of the consequences of their actions- there is nothing more He should be expected to do (nor is He really able to do, short of interfering with free will). In fact, most moral theorists would recognize warning others of bad consequences is actually a good thing to do.

Krueger complains that the Bible states we should obey all governing authorities. But surely this does not need to mean that we must always obey all governing authorities. It is simply a good general principle to follow. The same is true of almost all moral commandments and principles, and Krueger is simply repeating the mistakes he made previously.

Krueger next cites God supposedly ordaining kidnap and rape, but the passages cited do not actually demonstrate that God encourages or allows rape of the Midianite women, and in fact evidence points far away from such a conclusion. 7 Krueger is simply jumping to conclusions here, but such is not surprising, since non-Christians have a habit of citing such verses without analyzing context. He then mentions supposed sexism in the Bible. For his complaints here, I refer to another extremely extensive piece by Miller. 8

Krueger claims that there are “many more” verses in the Bible that show moral corruption, but he has given us no indication that he has looked into the issues closely enough, and thus no reason to assume that the supposed “other verses” are any different then the ones he provides.

Supposed Contradictions in Biblical Ethics

Krueger’s next objection to the Bible’s morality is that it supposedly contains contradictory assertions.

1.) Should we love our enemies?

Krueger claims that Jesus contradicts the Biblical principle of loving your enemies:

“Those who are against him are his enemies. Thus, he should love those who are against him. But he did not. Jesus made it clear that those who were not his followers would be sent to hell…..That’s not doing good to one who hates you.” [40]

Krueger is mistaken for a few reasons- firstly, Christ did not “send” people to hell, hell is the natural destination for those that do not follow God. To insinuate that Jesus is wrathfully sending people to hell because they don’t like Him is a complete misrepresentation. Secondly, Christ did love them because He desired their salvation. Moreover, Christ proved his love in spades when he suffered intense pain, humiliation, and degradation in order to offer salvation.

Also, according to Krueger: “Many examples in the bible suggest that one ought to slaughter those who are not on god’s side.” [41] He is speaking of the incidents in which God ordered war. But it is ridiculous to suppose that “loving your enemy” means that you must always avoid war. War is sometimes inevitable- take the example of World War II. Were we not showing “love” to the German enemies when we “slaughtered” them? Does Krueger expect us to avoid all wars for the sake of showing love? I doubt that I am alone in thinking that such a policy would bring more harm than good. It is an unfortunate reality that war is sometimes a necessary, even merciful, act.

2.) Is it immoral to call someone else an insulting name?

Krueger mentions Bible verses in which Christ insults other persons, and contrasts that with verses that say that one should not call their brother a fool. But, as Holding points out, the Bible is only saying that one should not be unnecessarily harsh to a fellow believer, in the cases of Jesus’ insults, he was simply “calling a spade a spade”. 9

3.) Is lying immoral?

Krueger tries to demonstrate examples of Christ lying, but his examples are faulty. His first complaint, about teaching openly or in secret, misunderstands the context of the passages involved. 10 His example of Christ “lying” about going up to a feast misunderstands the cultural customs and was not even a lie at all. 11 Krueger’s last example of Jesus “lying” relies on a false assumption that Acts 2:31 states that Christ was in Hell. Thus, all three examples provided by Krueger are far off the mark.

Krueger then brings up passages in which God supposedly uses deception and lies, and for that issue I will again refer to Miller. 12

4. Should we honor our parents?

The last supposed contradiction that Krueger brings up is the issue of honoring parents. He claims that Luke 14:26 (“If anyone comes to me ad does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters- yes, even his own life- he cannot be my disciple”) goes against the commandment to honor one’s father and mother. However, the language used in this verse is simply hyperbolic (exaggerated), and was an extremely common literary practice in ancient times. 13

Can Atheism Provide a Foundation for Ethics?

Krueger discusses three popular ethical theories, and claims that any one of the three can overturn the claim that there can be no objective ethics without God. But Krueger is missing the main issue. Surely it would not be too difficult to find a few secular theories of ethics with supposedly “objective” principles. But the issue that must be dealt with is the ultimate foundation of morality. Why, on the view of atheism, should one be moral? Who can decide what is right and wrong? (Even of the examples Krueger provides; how would one be able to objectively decide which theory is correct? Should it be majority vote? Surely that would be insufficient to establish truth.)

In fact, it seems to me that atheism implies that human beings have little worth anyways. For, if there is nothing but physical reality, then humans are really just a complex concoction of chemicals. How can there be objective morality when humans are nothing more than a mass of complicated chemical reactions? (See HERE for more on this.)

But why be moral, on an atheistic view? Is it wise to be moral? Sometimes, but not always. Is it advantageous to be moral? Not all the time. Is it in our best interest to be moral? Certainly not always. But if human lives are objectively no more important than animal lives (which they should be, on the atheistic view, because there is no “soul” or “mind” to distinguish between the two) then it only makes sense that we should act in our own best interest, according to the principles of natural selection. 14

Conclusion:

Even if Krueger is correct about his critique of theistic ethics, it seems to me that he does not even address, let alone resolve, the most important issues of the debate. Thus, it seems like atheism is on a very weak foundation, unlike theism. Furthermore, Krueger’s critique of Biblical ethics is misguided at best, for most of his claims do not hold up after a bit of further reflection.


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NOTES:

1. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, p 129 See book review.

2. Holding, Brains and Eggs, found at http://www.tektonics.org/JPH_BAE.html#lk627

3. Miller, Does God Condone Slavery in the Bible?, found at http://www.christian-thinktank.com/qnoslave.html

4. Miller, Why was Jesus so mean and insulting to the Canaanite woman?, found at http://www.christian-thinktank.com/qcrude.html

5. Miller, How Could God Order the Massacre of the Canaanites?, found at http://www.christian-thinktank.com/qamorite.html

6. Miller, Shouldn’t the Butchering of the Amelekite Children be Considered War Crimes?, found at http://www.christian-thinktank.com/rbutcher1.html

7. Miller, What about God’s Cruelty against the Midianites?, found at http://www.christian-thinktank.com/midian.html

8. Miller, Women in the Heart of God, found at http://www.christian-thinktank.com/femalex.html

9. Holding, I Pity the Fools, Part 2, found at http://www.tektonics.org/lp/namecallfool.html

10. Holding, Can You Keep a Secret?, found at http://www.tektonics.org/qt/secretteach.html

11. Holding, Liar, Liar, Tunic on Fire, found at http://www.tektonics.org/af/didjesuslie.html

12. Miller, How can God not Lie and Still Deceive the Wicked?, found at http://www.christian-thinktank.com/godlies.html

13. Holding, I Hate Skeptics, found at http://www.tektonics.org/gk/jesussayshate.html

14. Craig, The Indispensability of the Meta-Ethical Foundations for Morality, found at http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/meta-eth.html




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