Deconstructing Ravi Zacharias (Part 2)

Photo Credit: waynemah via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: waynemah via Compfight cc

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Without God, there is no moral framework.

This seems to be Ravi Zacharias’s key point in his talk, Why I Am Not An Atheist. To illustrate this, he relates an incident from the early days in his career. He was giving a talk at the University of Nottingham when a student stood up and declared, “There cannot be a god because there’s too much evil in this world.”

So Ravi replies. “Wait a minute, when you say there’s evil, aren’t you assuming there’s such a thing as good?”

The student says “Yes.”

Ravi then says, “When you say there’s such a thing as good, there’s such a thing as a moral law on the basis of which you can differentiate good and evil?”

The student hesitates at this, but is later forced to acquiesce and acknowledge a moral law.

Ravi then continues with, “But if you assume a moral law, you must posit a moral lawgiver, but that’s whom you’re trying to disprove and not prove. But if there’s no moral lawgiver, there’s no moral law. If there’s no moral law, there’s no good. If there’s no good, there’s no evil. What is your question?”

This shuts the student up and delights the audience to whom Ravi is relating the story as they acknowledge his clever reply with cheers and applause.

This is what is called the Moral Argument (or at least one version of it) and it is often used by Christian apologists as some sort of trump card to point out that atheists/agnostics (who are mostly naturalists), have no business talking about morality, or good and evil — because these are not supposed to exist for them, or do so only in a relative fashion. Since there is no objective moral law giver, good and evil become merely opinions and one is just as good as the other. We are like animals, “following the dance of our DNA,” as they like to quote famous atheist and biologist, Richard Dawkins.

My main contention with this sort of argument is that while it is indeed possible to argue philosophically that there MUST be an objective moral law-giver, this law-giver has not seen fit to definitively reveal to humans what these objective laws are. We are still left to fend for ourselves and discover and argue about what these supposed objective laws are — thus rendering them virtually relative.

Note that the moral argument is generic and may be used by almost any sort of theist as long he believes in a god that is basically good and just. So a Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, and so on may use the same argument and still come out at odds with each other — as is the case in reality.

My friend Gelo used an argument from a game of chess. Both theist and atheist sees a chessboard with the pieces intact. They have no idea what the rules are so they make it up along the way. The difference is that the theist believes that there is a definitive rule-book somewhere for playing the game while the atheist believes that they can just make things up as they go along. But my point is that that neither rule-book nor rule-maker can be found in a way that is objectively verifiable. And until we are able to do so, then we are then bound by the rules we make up by ourselves and neither of us know any better.

Still the theist may contend that there is nothing stopping the atheist from breaking or changing the rules because he doesn’t believe there are objective rules anyway. E.g. “I’m tired of moving the knight in an L-shape so I’ll make it move in an S-shape now.” Yet I would argue that the theist can do the same thing with this sort of reasoning, “After praying and fasting about it, I believe the Lord has revealed to me that knights should not move in an L-shape but in an S-shape. I obey God rather than men, so I’m moving my knight in an S-shape whether you agree or not.” And we’re left with the same sticky situation.

So while I may grant the theist a philosophical victory in this case, it is of no practical use in reality because morality is still VIRTUALLY relative. Just look at the different ways different nations handle issues like divorce, abortion, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, and so on. If there were an objective right or wrong to these issues we don’t know it, and we can’t test it nor verify it as objectively true (at least, not in the same way that we can verify that the acceleration due to gravity is approximately 9.8 meters per second squared).

Of course, Christians would contend that the Bible IS the objective rule-book I’m looking for, but the only people who would agree with that would probably be Christians, so that doesn’t sound very objective to me. I have issues with the Bible which I outlined in two past articles called Illusions of Biblical Inerrancy and A Second Look At Biblical Inerrancy so you can Google those if you’re interested. (See also Cherry-Picked Abominations) For now, let it suffice to say that I find it highly suspect that the supposed objective guide for morality would deem it fit to lay down rules against eating crabs and shrimp (Leviticus 11), yet say nothing in objection to human slavery.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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15 thoughts on “Deconstructing Ravi Zacharias (Part 2)”

  1. Hi Amiel,

    No, I don’t. And if you ask why — it’s because I don’t believe in the concept of sin anymore. Certainly, we do things that are inhuman, or that hurt others, but I don’t call those things “sin” anymore since “sin” is a religious construct.

  2. Hi Andy,

    I get it that you do not call inhumane acts/thoughts as “sin”. What do you call/name it then?

  3. Hi Brother Andy,

    I’m glad that you admit to be a doer of inhumane acts. Everyone is. It is our nature as humans.

    I believe that when you truly know the God of the Bible. You will be in awe. You will worship Him & submit to Him. I urge you to get to know the Lord. Talk to him through prayer.

    Isn’t it ironic that you submit yourself to an imperfect/corrupt government?

  4. Hi Amiel,

    Just “Andy” is sufficient. I don’t believe I know you personally nor you me so let’s just drop the pretentious “brother.”

    1) I know what your little game is — trying to get me to “admit” that I am a sinner even when I have just told you that I don’t believe in the concept of “sin.” One is said to commit sin when one commits an act that is against God’s law or when one does something to offend God. Since I don’t think there is such a thing as God’s law nor do I think it is possible to offend God (even if I believe there is one), then the word “sin” has no meaning for me. I talked about acts that hurt others meaning other human beings or other living things. Those are not sin. They are hurtful acts, or offensive acts, but always directed to other humans or sometimes, animals, but not to God.

    2) I think before you open your mouth again, you should spend some time reading my early works because then you will find out that the reason I’m here is because of my quest to “truly know the God of the Bible.”

    3) I don’t really see the relevance/significance of the last question. But to answer your question, I submit to an imperfect and corrupt government because it’s the only one I know and I work as best I can to create awareness on how to change for the better. The irony is actually not on me but on you — because aren’t you submitting to the same imperfect and corrupt government?

  5. Hi Andy,

    1.) I wanted to know if you were humble enough to admit that you are not perfect. And you were. (no trickery here)
    2.) I should have used the word “FIND”. Because I know you are seeking Him.
    3.) Because you said that you do not submit to the Bible because you find the Bible to be erroneous/imperfect. Yet you are willing to submit to the government.

    Yes, I submit to the government. But foremost to God.

  6. “this law-giver has not seen fit to definitively reveal to humans what these objective laws are.”
    So, if your chess board came with rules, and you read these rules, but you don’t believe those are the real rules, are those still the rules because the rule giver didn’t definitively real the rules to you?
    Could it be that your search for the God of the Bible does not line up with what you think it should?

  7. Your counterexample is not congruent with reality. If a chessboard came with rules, why would there be a reason for me not to believe those rules, seeing as they came bundled with the game itself?

    To give a parallel example to yours, if babies came with instruction manuals attached to them at birth, then I would agree that people should follow the manual. But they’re not, and yet we use OTHER man-made manuals to determine what we should do with the baby (like cutting off their foreskin at such and such a time) and how we should raise it.

    Re: Could it be that your search for the God of the Bible does not line up with what you think it should?

    I think you misunderstand what my search is all about. I am not searching for the God of the Bible. I am searching for the truth. I know those two may be one and the same for you, but not to me.

    (I also want to say that whenever I use CAPS, it is for emphasis and not as an expression of anger — I just need to have this disclaimer here because someone else I had a discussion with thought I was getting angry when I typed this way.)

  8. I think we came with rules. I think most things are pretty obvious to most people most of the time. If you ask most people, they will tell you that they know murder is wrong. I think that is a rule that our Creator instilled in us. So why do people murder? Almost always for selfish reasons. I think i saw on an earlier post that you have at least one child. I child knows when they have done something wrong or are doing something wrong. You can see it in their body language, in the tone of their voice. Even before they have been “given” that rule. Where does it come from?

  9. Again, I don’t think your example is not quite accurate. A child DOESN’T know when it does something wrong — it has instead been CONDITIONED. We begin conditioning kids the moment they enter the world. So when they are that age when you say “you can see it in their body language, in the tone of their voice,” that is already the product of conditioning. They already have a ton of experiences to draw from — what makes daddy smile? what makes mommy mad? and so on.

    I believe the mind can also infer from the rules that are already in place, and then deduce what else could be allowed/forbidden? But the rules themselves come from the conditioning of the parents or whoever the caregivers are — conditioning that has long existed before they could articulate the rules.

    If a child is raised by a father who has a sadistic penchant for killing and torturing birds found in the garden, and he teaches the child how to hunt, catch and kill these birds…and he applauds the child whenever he is successful and shows he is truly happy…the child will grow up to believe that it’s ok to kill birds…especially if this is all done privately between the two of them for a few years…meaning there are no other adults to tell him that it’s wrong or what a ghastly thing he’s doing.

    That’s why for me, the major consideration in a person’s behavior is conditioning, rather than an internal set of rules.

    But then you’ll say why does everyone think murder is wrong? Well, that’s part of conditioning as well…because people know that when they say they’re ok with murder (in some cases), there will be social consequences. There are numerous examples of people who don’t think twice about murder (when it was in the “right” circumstances)…you could kill others during war, for example, and not be considered a murderer…so it all depends now on how you define this word called “murder.”

  10. I also believe we can be conditioned to think and believe in certain ways. The murder of the birds is an excellent example of that. But the first time the child sees that, I think the child knows it is wrong. In my son’s earliest years, i did not say to him that it was wrong to lie. The first lie he told me was the first time we discussed it. There was no conditioning. And it was obvious he was lying.

    I have read of assassins who, towards the end of their life, finally admit they were wrong. Many people, especially towards the end of their life, have epiphanies about what they did wrong in their life. Like an earlier response, i have made a habit of looking at the last chapter of peoples lives and comparing it to earlier. It has helped my have a longer perspective.

  11. When I talk about conditioning, it is not simply active conditioning. It includes passive conditioning — the environment itself around which the child grows — the character and disposition of the parents, their socio-economic status, the “atmosphere” of the home, and so on. All of these have an effect on how the child grows up. Your son may have thought it was wrong to lie simply because his experience of you and your wife was that you were always telling the truth (as far as he is concerned).

    Now imagine a child growing up in a different environment where the parents swear all the time, are roughshod and untidy. When he is around 2 and learning to talk, he imitates his parents and says “fuck you,” and his parents just laugh and pat him on the head. Assuming that the child doesn’t go out of the house and doesn’t experience other people, he will grow up thinking that’s the norm.

    //I have made a habit of looking at the last chapter of peoples lives and comparing it to earlier.//

    Well, yes, that’s one way to gather data about how people think. My point in crying “confirmation bias” is, WHOSE last chapters do you read about — is it only those that agree with your viewpoint? You feel good, of course, reading about atheists who turn around at the end, and feel it is right. But do you think about why people like Hitchens never make that deathbed confession, and are even strongly opposed to the idea of eternal life? Do you consider that viewpoint as well?

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