"It is wrong, always, everywhere, and for everyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence" (W. K.
PVolume Five, Number One Winter 1994
No Morality Without the Bible?
Of all the arguments that fundamentalists resort to in
their defense of the Bible, none is more ridiculous than their
claim that the Bible is necessary for people to know how to
live moral lives. They arrive at this conclusion through a
series of assumptions. Their first assumption is that God
exists, and onto this assumption, they pile another one:
morality (and they even make it an absolute morality)
emanates from the nature of God. Then, of course, they
assume that their God, in verbally inspiring the Bible,
revealed absolute morality to mankind. Hence, man must
rely on the Bible to know what is moral and immoral. They
envision life without the Bible as a moral chaos reminiscent
of ancient Israel before the time of its kings when "everyone
did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25).
The whole superstructure of this argument is built
upon another assumption that is incredibly cynical on the
part of a group that delights in condemning the pessimism
of philosophies that question the existence of God. This
assumption is that man is incapable of making moral deci-
sions without divine guidance. In other words, man must
have God's help or else he just can't determine for sure
what is right and what is wrong.
Were it not for the seriousness of fundamentalist
attempts to impose this belief on society in general, it would
be too ridiculous to deserve comment. We have used human
intelligence to cure diseases, split the atom, and invent a
technology that has us reaching for the stars, yet Christian
fundamentalists would have us believe that we are too
stupid to discover that lying, stealing, and killing are
harmful enough to the general welfare to be considered
morally wrong. That view of life is about as pessimistic as
any that can be imagined, infinitely more pessimistic than
the mental action of a skeptic who questions the existence of
an afterlife for which he can see no verifiable evidence.
This foundation belief of Bible fundamentalism is of
course erroneous. It is even contradicted by the Bible itself.
In Romans 2:14, the Apostle Paul said that the Gentiles,
who had not received the law [of Moses] or, in other words,
a revelation from God, had nevertheless sometimes done
"by nature the things of the law" and were therefore "a law
unto themselves." If this doesn't mean that Paul believed
that the Gentiles who had no divine revelation had discov-
ered morality on their own, then pray tell what does it
mean? So even if the existence of the biblical god could
undeniably be proven, how could bibliolaters, in the face of
this statement from their much revered apostle to the Gen-
tiles, justify their claim that man must have direct guidance
from God in order to live morally?
The fact is that no one can prove the existence of God.
Volumes have been written on the subject, but no theist has
yet advanced an argument for God's existence that has not
been adequately answered. Anyone who doubts this should
read the information available on the subject, and a good
place to begin would be with George H. Smith's Atheism:
the Case Against God. In this book, one will find logical
refutations of all the major theistic arguments.
What this means is that the fundamentalist claim that
there can be no morality without a god to reveal it to us is
just an empty shell. It begins with an unprovable assump-
tion and ends with a conclusion that even the Bible contra-
dicts. What kind of argument is that?
The fallacy of the argument is obvious from its flagrant
appeal to wishful thinking. It is certainly appealing to think
that we will live in another world after we die in this one,
and so wishful thinkers spend their lives believing in reli-
gions that offer them the hope of gods and saviors who
promise them eternal life in a great beyond. Few of these
wishful thinkers ever bother to subject their otherworldly
beliefs to rational examination. They want it, so they
assume that they will get it just on the basis of their wanting
it. Nothing could be more irrational than belief based on a
premise no more substantial than this, yet this is exactly
how many theists reason. "I want it, and so I know that I
will get it."
If there is no God, fundamentalists are fond of saying,
then there can be no standard of objective or absolute
morality. Well, so what? What kind of argument is that?
If there isn't, then there just isn't. What the fundamental-
ists are really saying is that it would certainly be nice if
everything on the subject of morality was already decided
for us and neatly laid out in categories of black and white.
This is right, and this is wrong, period, end of the discus-
sion. But if it isn't that way, then it just isn't that way, and
no amount of wishful thinking or praying or hoping will
ever change the fact that it isn't that way. We (mankind)
are just in the world on our own and will have to get by the
best that we can.
The thought of that terrifies most theists, but it should-
n't. God wasn't much help to us in discovering how to cure
or prevent smallpox, diphtheria, typhoid, whooping cough,
polio, measles, and dozens of other diseases. We had to do
it on our own. God wasn't much help to us in making the
scientific discoveries that led to the technology that now
makes life so comfortable for us. We had to do it on our
own. So if we did all these things without God, surely we
can make the moral discoveries that are necessary for socie-
ty to function in an orderly, beneficial way.
To the fundamentalists, of course, this is all outrageous
heresy. The Bible is the inspired, inerrant word of God. It
just is, and no amount of rational argumentation will
remove them from their fantasy world in which everything
is either black or white. There is one thing, however, that
they cannot do. They cannot open their Bibles and demon-
strate just how anyone can know what absolute morality is.
They will say that the Bible provides us with a guide to
absolute morality, but they can't show us exactly what
absolute morality is.
Is it, for example, morally right for blood to be trans-
fused from one person to another? Most religions permit it,
but the Jehovah's Witnesses argue that biblical principles
properly understood condemn it. Who is right? When the
Bible was being written, the technology for transfusing
blood didn't exist, so the Bible did not directly address this
problem. The same is true of numerous other technologies
now available to us. The transplantation (see Morality, p.
16) of body organs (including even cross-species
transplants), artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization,
surrogate motherhood, genetic mapping, gene
splicing--these are all technologies that were developed after
the Bible was written, so what is the "correct" moral posi-
tion to take on these issues? Through processes of in vitro
fertilization and embryo transplantations, a woman in South
Dakota gave birth to her own grandchildren. Was it moral-
ly right for her to do this? What does the Bible say? Well,
of course, the Bible doesn't say anything about this or any
of the other technological procedures mentioned above. If
we asked a hundred theologians to take their Bibles and
resolve the moral dilemmas posed by these technologies, we
would find ourselves hopelessly trapped in a maze of confu-
sion when all of their answers were in.
Last summer, when the story about the Lakeberg twins
first appeared in the newspapers, the article was clipped
and mailed to several fundamentalist preachers known to
believe in absolute morality. An accompanying letter asked
them to explain what the Bible had to say about the dilem-
ma that the parents of those twins were facing. The twins
were joined at the chest and shared a common heart.
Surgery would mean that one of the twins would have to
die, and subsequently this was the decision that the parents
made. The absolute moralists who received that letter were
asked to state what their god of absolute morality has re-
vealed to us in this matter.
Not a one of these preachers has yet answered that
letter. Their silence shouts the inconsistency of their posi-
tion. The Bible gives us a guide to absolute morality, so
they say, yet they cannot tell us what absolute morality has
to say about the difficult moral dilemmas that we must
confront in our modern society.
Elsewhere in this issue, a debate on biblical morality
begins. Before it is over, maybe Lindell Mitchell, the
spokesman for the fundamentalist position, will try to
explain to us how the Bible can be an absolute moral guide
in problems that didn't even exist in biblical times. If he
doesn't attempt to explain it, some of us just may suspect
that he isn't nearly as sure of his position as he would like
us to believe.