If you walk around Washington, D.C., on a regular basis, youre likely to see some rather peculiar posters. But you wont see any more peculiar than the ads put out by the American Humanist Association. Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness sake, say the signs, in Christmas-colored red and green. Sounds great, doesnt it? Just be good for goodness sake. You dont need some Big Man in the Sky telling you what to do. You can be a wonderful person simply by doing the right thing. Theres only one problem: without God, there can be no moral choice. Without God, there is no capacity for free will.
Thats because a Godless world is a soulless world. Virtually all faiths hold that God endows human beings with the unique ability to choose their actions -- the ability to transcend biology and environment in order to do good. Transcending biology and our environment requires a higher power -- a spark of the supernatural. As philosopher Rene Descartes, put it, Although I possess a body with which I am very intimately conjoined [my soul] is entirely and absolutely distinct from my body and can exist without it.
Gilbert Pyle, the atheistic philosopher, derogatorily labeled the idea of soul/body dualism, the ghost in the machine. Nonetheless, our entire legal and moral system is based on the ghost in the machine -- the presupposition that we can choose to do otherwise. We can only condemn or praise individuals if they are responsible for their actions. We dont jail squirrels for garden theft or dogs for assaulting cats -- they arent responsible for their actions. But we routinely lock up kleptomaniacs and violent felons.
It's not only our criminal justice system that presupposes a Creator. Its our entire notion of freedom and equality. We hold these truths to be self-evident, wrote Thomas Jefferson, supposed atheist, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Human equality must spring from a Creator, because the presence of a soul is all that makes man human and equal. Biology suggests inherent inequality -- who would call Arnold Schwarzenegger and Stephen Hawking equal in any way? Biology suggests the sort of Hegelian social Darwinism embraced by totalitarian dictators, not the principles of equality articulated by the Founding Fathers.
Without a soul, freedom too is impossible -- we are all slaves to our biology. According to atheists, human beings are intensely complex machines. Our actions are determined by our genetics and our environment. According to atheists, if we could somehow determine all the constituent material parts of the universe, we would be able to predict all human action, down to the exact moment at which Vice President-elect Joe Biden will pick his nose. Freedom is generically defined as the power to determine action without restraint (Random House). But if action without restraint is impossible, how can we fight for freedom?
If there is no God, there is no freedom to choose. If there is no freedom to choose, there is no good or evil. There is merely action and inaction. There is no way to be good for goodness sake -- that would require an act of voluntary will far beyond human capacity. Atheists simply gloss over this point. The American Humanist Association states on its website, whybelieveinagod.org, We can have ethics and values based on our built-in drives toward a moral life. Without a soul, this is wishful thinking of the highest order. Since when does biology dictate a moral drive? If it did, wouldnt man always get more rather than less moral -- wouldnt history be a long upward climb? What about the murderers, rapists, child molesters and genocidal dictators? Are they all ignoring that built-in drive toward a moral life?
Atheism may work for individuals. There are moral atheists and there are immoral religious people. But as a system of thought, atheism cannot be the basis for any functional state. If we wish to protect freedom and equality, we must understand the value of recognizing God. We must recognize the flame of divinity -- free will -- He implanted within each of us.
Shapiro's argument is a common one but ignores the fact that free will is a difficult concept for Christians too. Why does God allow freewill if he knows that it will in some cases lead to perdition? More importantly, however, irreligious people are usually quite moral. Very few Australians are religious but standards of behaviour are little different from the USA -- a much more religious country.
So how come Australia is a civil, prosperous and pleasant place to live? It is because Australians DO have a widely agreed-on moral code -- but it is not a Christian one. It originates from the values of the English working class of yesteryear and can perhaps be conveniently summed up (in its original Australian slang) as the following five "Commandments":
* Thou shalt not dob in thy mates
* Thou shalt not bung on an act.
* Thou shalt not be a tall poppy
* Thou shalt give everyone a fair go
* Thou shalt be fair dinkum
Translating these into standard English yields APPROXIMATELY the following:
* You must not incriminate your friends to the boss, the police or anyone else. Loyalty to your associates is all-important.
* You must not be ostentatious or pretend to be what you are not.
* You must treat others as your equals. If you are seen as being better than others in anything but sport you will be made to suffer for it.
* You must be fair and permissive in your treatment of others.
* You must not be insincere or dishonest.
From Hammurabi onwards, most moral codes have had much in common and the Australian and Christian moral codes do also have things in common but the Australian moral code is not preached in churches. It is simply traditional and widely heartfelt. I have looked recently at why moral codes tend to be similar from society to society. In brief, there are some inborn moral instincts. Such instincts are necessary for social life to exist.
So: Apologies to American churchgoers but people CAN be moral and decent without someone either putting the fear of God into them or inspiring them with the love of Christ.
Final note about religion in Australia: When asked at census time most Australians do put down some religion for themselves. Note, however, that in the last census we had over 5% of the population describe themselves as Methodists -- a denomination that has not existed in Australia for many years. The Methodists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists combined to form the "Uniting" church a quarter of a century ago. In other words, for the vast majority of Australians, Christianity is a token thing.
So, as with the Australian population at large, lots of Australian conservatives are NOT religious. I am one of them.
Posted by John Ray. For a daily critique of Leftist activities, see DISSECTING LEFTISM. For a daily survey of Australian politics, see AUSTRALIAN POLITICS Also, don't forget your daily roundup of pro-environment but anti-Greenie news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH . Email me (John Ray) here