I think I can prove to you that there is a God.
This has nothing to do with Heaven or Hell or Jesus (not right now, at least–Maybe later. Or earlier), so if you get freaked out by those things, you can relax for a minute. This isn’t an attempt to convert anyone to any religion…. This is just a simple matter of right and wrong, and right and wrong is not limited to one religious tradition. There is something greater than us out there–something that can’t be seen or measured, but we can all feel it and “know” it’s there–even though many people deny its existence. I realize that a lot of you don’t need any proof, but there are also a lot of people out there who carelessly toss around the word “Atheist,” and I don’t think you’ve really thought things through. Which is weird, because most people who would characterize themselves as an Atheist would probably also characterize themselves as being very rational. Lucky for them, I LOVE people who value rationality–Especially when I get to be the one to show them how irrational they are being.
Let’s not pretend: I’m not writing this for purely altruistic reasons…. I used to date a girl who smoked (I know, right? She tricked me–I started liking her before I knew). I really wanted her to stop smoking. I gave her all kinds of (what I thought were) great reasons to quit (“It stinks.” “It’s expensive.” “It will make you wrinkly.” “It stinks.” “It’s terrible for you.” “You’re going to quit someday–why not now?” “If not for you, do it for me!” Did I mention “It stinks?”), but she kept on smoking, much to my chagrin. Then one day, a friend who was basically my mentor said to a group of people, “If you smoke, you should quit.” Of course THIS is the thing that got her to quit smoking…. I was insecure, and I was about as PISSED as I could be. I learned something about myself that day: It really wasn’t that I wanted the best for her. I wanted to be the one who convinced her what was best for her. There’s a big difference–One is loving, and the other is selfish. Anyway, I’ve grown up
a lot some since then, but forgive me if part of the reason I’m writing this is because I get off a bit on changing peoples’ minds.
So, I’m far from the first one to use this reasoning (C.S. Lewis, Kant and John Henry Newman have all made similar cases, to name a few), but here it is: Morality exists. There are things that everybody (other than a random sociopath here and there) knows are right, and other things that are known to be wrong. We might not always make the right decision, but most of the time we know (or at least have a sense) which one is right (or at least better) without ever having to be told. And if this higher moral law exists, then reason tells us there has to be something greater than us (AKA a “higher power”) to put those objective moral truths in place.
Now, some people think that morality is just the result of some sort of herding instinct that has been passed down–That we instinctively know moral truths because natural selection picked those of us who think that helping each other is the right thing to do. But here’s the thing: Many people avoid acting immorally even when it would be to their advantage to do so. And flip that around–Our conscience urges us to act morally even when it looks like it could get us hurt…. And self-sacrifice is not a very likely attribute to get passed down through the generations, right? Others might claim that morality is purely subjective–That what is right for one might be wrong for another–and sometimes this is true. For some, killing a cow for a meal is repugnant and even evil, but others see this action as a necessary means to provide the world with a ribeye steak–the sweetest cut of meat known to man. Going topless on a French beach might be just fine, while going topless in Destin will surely be viewed as immoral or “wrong” (thinking of all of the hits my blog will get now from people Googling “topless in Destin.”). But there are some things that we all know (as much as we can know anything) are morally right or morally wrong. I witnessed one of these clear moral truths the other night in my kids’ bedroom….
First, know this: My son loves his pillow. He loves it like a junkie loves a pillow. That’s full of crack. Anyway, I heard giggling late at night long after the kids should have been asleep. When I went in to quiet them down, I found my boy in bed with his sister. We sometimes let this go if it’s quiet, but if they’re noisy? Nope. When I told him he needed to get back in his own bed, he screamed, “YOU’RE THE WORST DAD IN THE WHOLE WORLD!” and tried to kick me as I put him in the top bunk. As a result, he lost his pillow (a very serious consequence). He was…. I think “distraught” is too mild a term. Things finally settled down, but when I went in to check them before I went to bed, I noticed that the boy had somehow gotten his hands on a pillow. And that his older sister was missing hers (queue Dramatic Chipmunk music).
One of two things happened here. One was clearly morally wrong, and the other was about as morally right as things get. Either my son waited until his sister was asleep and pilfered her pillow, or my sweet daughter saw that the boy was inconsolable and sacrificed her own comfort to crying brother (I suppose there is a third option that is in a morally gray area where he bought her pillow using whatever currency elementary school students use and made her a deal she couldn’t refuse…. But you get the idea). One action was wrong in any culture at any time, and the other action was an act of selflessness and love that anyone would recognize as being morally right. Or, for lack of a better term, “Good.” Good and bad, right and wrong, love and hate–These things are bigger than us. They are a laws we are bound to at least acknowledge (though we are free to ignore) that are “written on our hearts.” And something, maybe even someONE, did the writing.
So if the structure of a moral law exists, it makes sense that a moral entity/being would exist to hold up that structure up. However, the fact that this makes sense is only of value to a person if that person values things making sense…. This is getting a little too philosophical. The point is this: We all recognize right and wrong in The Case of the Pilfered Pillow (or “The Pillow Case,” as I also like to call it), even if we might disagree on the “rightness” or “wrongness” of other situational analogies. The moral choice is not clear in every decision, but sometimes it is clear, and those clear situations are Arrows that point to God. Had my son taken my daughter’s pillow, it would have been wrong–Just as certainly as everything in me knew that my daughter did something very right when she explained that she gave the boy her pillow “because he was sad, and I wanted to make him feel better.” This is the knowledge of God, even though some might try to deny it.
And… BOOM! I just heard a bunch of atheist’s brains explode…
I can’t type much as I’m four days post-op with surgery on both hands and/or wrists.
Refutation: cultural relativism
Will explain further when each key stroke doesn’t make me want to cry.
Phew, someone else said it: cultural relativism.
“One action was wrong in any culture at any time, and the other action was an act of selflessness and love that anyone would recognize as being morally right.”
Yeah… Boeskool, I dig your blog, but, naw, it ain’t like that.
I think most people where I am from (which is probably pretty similar to the place you’re from) would agree that setting your wife on fire because she refused to cook dinner for you because you’re drunk is morally wrong “all the time, everywhere”. But alas, there are people in other places and other times who, while they may agree that the loss of human life is unfortunate, it is a natural outcome of a wife failing to fulfill her duties to her husband. This is an extreme example, but I think it’s a good one, as it goes to show that even something that seems so abhorrently morally repugnant as setting someone on fire could potentially be justified by some people in certain situations, times, and places. This is the essence of cultural relativism.
That being said…f*ck cultural relativism. It doesn’t get us anywhere. Cultural relativists often subscribe to the idea that we are not agents in the creation and change of culture, which is rubbish. We’re not merely the mechanisms of culture, but we can (and should– oops, that’s relative) change it. People often term this the “culture vs human rights” conflict.
Anyhow… Well, I live in Cambodia. And I can tell you quite simply that what is patently “good/moral” or “wrong/immoral” in places like where you and I are from simply just don’t translate at times here. And vice versa. A more down-to-earth example is this: you probably touch your kids’ heads a lot, parents just do that. This would get a lot of nasty looks in Cambodia. Or, when you’re laying around the living room floor watching movies with your friends and family you might step over someone to get to the bathroom; extremely repugnant to Cambodian morality. These are just examples that I am intimate with, but of course there are countless more examples over time and which vary by place.
Anyway, I don’t know how your argument, while it is a nice argument, proves the existence of the Christian god. It sorta kinda proves the existence of the human conscience, though, so, I’ll take it.
So a few things: Yeah. It doesn’t prove the Christian God, but our conscience proves (or, at the very least, provides evidence of) the existence of a higher moral law.
And yeah, moral “rights” and “wrongs” and not absolutes across all cultures, but there are some things that are the same no matter where you are. Can you imagine a culture or place that would value the pillow stealing over the pillow sacrifice? It is in stark contrast to the “survival of the fittest” that we see evidence of so many other places in nature…. Why would that be?
And lastly, cultural relativism is an argument that kills itself. We are dealing in the realm of “things that make sense,” and it someone is starting from a place of “The only absolute is that there are no absolutes,” well…. That just doesn’t make any sense. Not in a rational discussion, certainly. That would be like me trying to discover the Truth with a person who is operating out of a place of “There is no such thing as truth.” What sense does that make?
So yeah, feel free flip cultural relativism the bird, but do it because it is an argument that impugns itself–not just because it lacks utility.
Can I imagine that? Well, I know you’re not going to like this, but I don’t have to imagine it; I’ve seen it. And not just with pillows. Not only can a Cambodian boy freely take what he wants from his sister, whether or not she’s younger or older, but she ought not complain about it, either. (Hence why I included the extreme example of the setting-wife-on-fire incident; it’s not hard to imagine very simple, everyday items of “misplaced” ethics when people freaking set other people on fire and think it’s okay.)
I think you’re not trying very hard to make sense of the idea that there are no absolutes. I’m not saying that I agree or disagree with this position, but I have seen and urgently believed both perspectives. This is called worldview. I mean, there are plenty who would take what you’re saying, or the very idea of morality, and call it illogical, irrational. Does that automatically make them right? Doubtful. But you saying it doesn’t automatically make you right, either. You haven’t shown how it’s irrational. I just don’t see how cultural relativism impugns itself. It makes a lotta gal-dern sense, unfortunately, but it says nothing about “and this is the way it should be”, so I think we can pick up from there. That is to say, “great, values are relative, but culture is subject to change, and we are agents of change, so we can change cultural values.” The question is, should we? I’m partial to not setting people on fire, among other things, so I tend towards yes. (I don’t think, by the way, that all cultural relativists (or moral relativists) would necessarily agree with the proposition that “the only absolute is that there are no absolutes”.)
Unfortunately, I do flip CR the bird because it lacks utility– not to say I am a utilitarianist. I just happen to believe that it is not beneficial to living things to have more or less arbitrary rules about what’s okay and what’s not. Especially when most of “what’s okay” is based on people’s self-interest. Now there’s objective for you. But these are simply my beliefs. I don’t know if they’re the best, or even “good”, but there they are.
I’m not saying that there is no objective Truth. I don’t know if there is or not, but I certainly don’t believe that a Christian god is funneling it to us through the holy spirit or whatever. Those might be nice metaphors for reality, but that doesn’t make them the Truth.
I like your blog, Boeskool. Lots of food for thought.
Maybe, she was sick of hearing him cry about it and that was the solution. Like when your kids are wingeing and whining and you don’t want to reward them for their behavior but it gets to the point when you give them what they are crying for to shut them up. A selfish decision but so be it.
Yeah, that could have been it. Maybe she traded him her pillow for his birthright. Maybe the boy coerced his sister into giving him her pillow, or else he would tell me about her hidden pile of boogers that she keeps under her bed. There are other options, but the point is that it exhibits a deeper “right” and “wrong” that is in all of us.
Even if she did give it up out of annoyance instead of out of compassion, it still proves my point: One is better than the other. Why is that?
“Why is that?” That we just don’t want to be annoyed. Marriage is fraught with such examples of self-sacrifice at the altar of not being annoyed. So is parenthood. Such truisms are more about pragmatism than anything deeper about “right” and/or “wrong.” Yep, I’m cynical.
“but we can all feel it and “know” it’s there–even though many people deny its existence. ”
Oh, the old “everyone is a believer” gambit. It has one little flaw: It’s a lie. Perhaps it’s also “just” wishful thinking on your side (“I can’t be wrong, so everyone who disagrees must be in denial!”), but the effect is the same.
“There are things that everybody (other than a random sociopath here and there) knows are right, and other things that are known to be wrong.”
This is what we rational people call a “claim”. You have to prove it. You cannot use one unproven claim to support another.
Argument failed. Have fun.
That’s all we’re working with here is “unproven claims,” AM. What would it take to “prove” to you that everyone (or near to it) would view sacrificially and compassionately giving up your pillow and comfort to ease someone else’s suffering as a morally good action? Or at the very least a better reaction than others (better translating into a moral hierarchy and evidence of a higher moral law)? And, for that matter, what would it take to disprove such a claim?
Given the example I provided, do you believe one to be “better” or closer to a morally right decision?
Also, as a rational person, I’m sure you are already aware that you made a number of unproven claims in your critique of my post. Proving your disapproval of something is every bit as important as proving a belief (as is defining what is meant by the word “prove”). Unless you want to rely on “It’s a lie”s and “Argument failed”s….
Well, a nice study would be quite ok. Make it a few thousand people, don’t forget to include all the other cultures that ever existed and it will be quite nice. Of course, then you should somehow be able to get from that to “killing is morally good” – because billions of people were killed by other people (and not just by some psychopaths), And of course, using an unproven claim is just the first reason why your argument fails – but if you don’t even see that, I have no motivation going through more complex problems with you.
And there’s no need to disprove anything. .You claim something, you prove it. End of story. Trying to shift the burden around is pretty lazy. I don*t claim that there isn’t a form of basic morality encoded in our genome, for example – I just say, IF you claim there is, you have to prove it. Until then I have no reason to assume there is (or that there isn’t, of course). You argument fails – but of course, this doesn’t prove that the opposite is true.
It’s pretty obvious that you make the typical religious mistake. You have a result you want and then you try to prove it. That’s not how science works. Science takes the facts and sees, where they lead. It’s not “Ok, there MUST be an god, so how can we prove it?”.
I’ll see that, and I’ll raise you a “I’m rubber and you’re glue.”
You got me all wrong, Atomic Mutant. <– (First time those words have ever been written in that order) That's not what I'm doing. You should read some of my other stuff.
I am writing a completely awesome other post right now (that you are going to LOVE!), so I can't explain why you're wrong right now, but I'll try to get to it soon. Let me just say that I might not be like every other "religious" person you have dealt with…. Either way–Thanks for reading. : )
I would argue that the presence of morality produced a need for the creation of “God”. Man (people) couldn’t/can’t accept that morality simply exists naturally, so a divine creator is generated to justify morality’s existence (not that this is the only reason for the creation of God or the many deities that came before). However, I’ve never understood why Christians feel the need to prove anything. Isn’t that why it’s called faith? Christians can attempt to influence and convince non-Christians to convert to Christianity, but they will never be able to prove the existence of God (in the scientific sense). Yet, this doesn’t subtract from God’s power, at least not to believers.
So, do I believe that Christians’ “knowing” is proof of God? Hardly. But I am willing to accept that it’s enough proof for them, and I’m cool with that.