The outspoken atheist of today argues that morality can be grounded by science. Religion is not only unnecessary, he contends, it’s downright “bad” for us. And Christianity, dominant all these centuries in the West, is clearly in the cross-hairs of this “modern” view.
Searching the internet not long ago, I ran across this conversation between well-known atheist, and author, Sam Harris and Jon Stewart, host of the Daily Show. Harris argued that “the God of Abraham gets slavery wrong, and slavery is probably the easiest moral question we’ve ever had to face and if this book was written by an omniscient deity who is the true source of moral wisdom in this universe, it should at least get the question of whether it’s right to own people and treat them like farm equipment right. It doesn’t get that question right. The God of Abraham clearly expects us to keep slaves.” Strong words, and a stinging indictment, with a rhetorical flourish matched only by the stunning ignorance of the position he takes.
Let’s take a closer look. Harris rightly concludes that slavery is a moral evil, but in so doing, he is borrowing from the capital of the worldview he is attacking. Christianity makes positive claims about morality, about human behavior and about moral good and evil. But Harris has rejected that view, seeking to substitute in its place a worldview in which there is no God. With no God, the only explanation for what we find when we look around us is “evolution,” a process of change over vast periods of time operating randomly through natural selection. In other words, we see species adapting to meet changing conditions. Some individuals within a species are better at adapting than others. They are stronger, swifter, smarter, or in some way superior, so they begin to gain a competitive advantage. Over time, these advantages multiply. The strong become stronger, and more dominant, while the weak either die out or seek some accommodation. What is the natural consequence of this: one group will eventually dominate another, because by this natural process they have developed abilities and strengths not shared by the majority. Whether it is size, physical strength or mental abilities, it is obvious that over time the strong will have the ability to dominate the weak, resulting eventually in, you guessed it, slavery. But the ultimate expression of this process goes beyond slavery, as the Nazi experiment showed us. It inevitably ends in genocide.
Harris “god” of “science” and rational thought can provide no solution, no way out of this result. If there is no God, no source of good to whom we are ultimately accountable, why shouldn’t the strong dominate the weak and force them to work without recompense? What is “irrational” about organizing others to do your bidding, if you’re smart enough and strong enough to enforce your will? Because such behavior offends your sensibilities? But such feelings are a source of weakness, and nature abhors weakness. Because you “should” treat others the way you want to be treated? “Should” implies a duty to someone else, but if the strong get to set the rules, why should they agree that they “should” do anything they don’t want to do? After all, the lion doesn’t justify its actions when it devours its prey. The leader of the wolf pack doesn’t feel guilt when it dominates those around it. Why, then, in Harris’ worldview, should human beings be any different?
Christianity, by contrast, makes better sense of what we see around us, and our intuitive sense – that even Harris shares – that there is something very wrong with it. Man was made for something much better than this, but through his act of rebellion, he has been separated from God. His mind is darkened and thinking himself wise, he is often quite foolish, rejecting those things of God. Yet, Christianity teaches that we all bear the imago dei, the image of God, and in that sense, we are all “created equal and endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.” Our founders understood this, and they grounded this experiment in self-governance on a proper worldview.
Does God “expect us to keep slaves,” as Harris claims? Yes, I think he does, but not in the sense that Harris probably meant. God doesn’t want us to enslave others – there is simply no way we can love our neighbor as ourselves consistent with such treatment. The New Testament makes that point unmistakably. But he does expect it, in the sense that he knows it will happen. That man, in his fallen state, is capable of great evil, is no surprise to God.
So fallen man, left to his own devices, practices slavery as one of the many manifestations of his darkened heart. And how did slavery end, in those places where it has been outlawed? Through the efforts of committed Christians, like William Wilberforce in England, and the Northern Abolitionists in the U.S. Applying a Biblical worldview created the impetus for that change, and for so much more, like the many charitable organizations founded by Christians. Is it any wonder that hospitals and other philanthropic organizations are so commonly named for Christian saints?
No, Mr. Harris, you won’t arrive at the just society you want by modeling humanity after the animal kingdom. There is a better way, but you won’t find it in a lab book.
Posted by Al Serrato