Religion & Morality (or: Dead While They Live) (Hodge)

Systematic Theology, 3 Volumes   -     By: Charles Hodge

Jesus said the first and greatest commandment is this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mt. 22:37 NET). This commandment is echoed in the OT and in the NT. When discussing this great commandment, Charles Hodge related it to religion, morality, and Romans 1:18ff. I’ve put his comments on this below, although it’s longer than my usual post. However, it’s pretty easy to read and very insightful. I’ve edited the layout slightly:

The preëminence of this commandment is further evident from the fact that religion, or the duty we owe to God, is the foundation of morality. Without the former, the latter cannot exist.

This is plain,
(1.) From the nature of the case. Morality is the conformity of an agent’s character and conduct to the moral law. But the moral law is the revealed will of God. If there be no God, there is no moral law; and if a man does not acknowledge or recognize God, there is no higher law than his own reason to which he can feel any obligation to be conformed.
(2.) It is a principle of our nature that if a man disregard a higher obligation, he will not be controlled by a lower. This principle was recognized by our Lord when He said, “He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much; and he that is unjust in the least, is unjust also in much.” (Luke 16:10.) This involves the converse: He that is unfaithful in much, is unfaithful in that which is least.
(3.) It is the testimony of experience that where religion has lost its hold on the minds of the people, there the moral law is trampled under foot. The criminal and dangerous class in every community consists of those who have no fear of God before their eyes.
(4.) It is the secret conviction of every man that his duty to God is his highest duty, as is evinced by the fact that the charge of atheism is one from which the human soul instinctively recoils. It is felt to be a charge of the utter degradation, or of the deadness of all that is highest and noblest in the nature of man.
(5.) The most decisive and solemn evidence of this truth, however, is to be found in the revealed purpose of God to forsake those who forsake Him; to give up to the unconstrained control of their evil passions, those who cast off their allegiance to Him. The Apostle says of the heathen world that it was “Because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful, … God gave them up unto vile affections.” (Rom. 1:21, 26.) And again in ver. 28, “As they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful.” Such are the natural, the actual, the inevitable, and the judicially ordained effects of men’s refusing to retain God in their knowledge.

Notwithstanding all this we see multitudes of men of whom it may be said that God is not in all their thoughts. They never think of Him. They do not recognize his providence. They do not refer to his will as a rule of conduct. They do not feel their responsibility to Him for what they think or do. They do not worship Him; nor thank Him for their mercies. They are without God in the world. Yet they think well of themselves. They are not aware of the dreadful guilt involved in thus forgetting God, in habitually failing to discharge the first and highest duty that rests on rational creatures. Self-respect or regard to public opinion often renders such men decorous in their lives. But they are really dead while they live; and they have no security against the powers of darkness.

It is painful also to see that scientific men and philosophers so often endeavour to invalidate the arguments for the existence of God, and advance opinions inconsistent with Theism; arguing, as they in many cases do, to prove either that there is no evidence of the existence of any power in the universe other than of physical force, or that no knowledge, consciousness, or voluntary action can be predicated of an infinite Being. This is done in apparent unconsciousness that they are undermining the foundations of all religion and morality; or that they are exhibiting a state of mind which the Scriptures pronounce worthy of reprobation.

 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 279–281.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Charles Darwin’s “Horrid Doubt” (Sickler)

God on the Brain: What Cognitive Science Does (and Does Not) Tell Us about Faith, Human Nature, and the Divine - Sickler, Brad - 9781433564437

One very strong argument against naturalistic evolution goes like this: if we evolved from a tiny inorganic molecule, how can we trust our own minds? How can non-cognitive, non-rational matter evolve into cognitive, rational matter? And if that is the case, why should I trust my own thoughts and reasoning? Bradley Sickler discussed this dilemma in a helpful way in his book, God on The Brain:

If naturalistic evolution is right, we have no reason to believe that any of our cognitive faculties or processes moves us closer to truth – and any argument that they would do so must depend on assuming that they are already reliable and that the arguments they lead us to endorse are trustworthy. It assumes that what we judge as solid reasoning is really solid, but it leaves us no resources for judging the weak from the strong. Even Charles Darwin noticed this with his ‘horrid doubt’ when he said: ‘But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?’

C. S. Lewis made a similar observation on how a materialistic, naturalistic evolutionary account of human origins undermines reason: ‘Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms in my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It’s like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can’t trust my own thinking, of course I can’t trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.’

Bradley Sickler, God on the Brain, p. 168-169.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Problem of Evil in Atheism (Groothuis)

Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith by [Groothuis, Douglas] In chapter 25 of Christian Apologetics, Douglas Groothuis discusses the problem of evil from a Christian perspective.  In this chapter he gives five unsatisfactory answers to evil.  The first one is atheism.  I thought this was quite helpful:

Given the surfeit of evil, atheism advances itself as intellectually and morally superior to Christianity (and any religion).  Atheism is not burdened with attempts to explain evil in relation to God. Evil just exists in a godless world. The problem vanishes.

But it does not so vanish, for two main reasons.  First, in order to speak of the problem of evil, a person must believe that objective evil exists. To justify this claim, the person needs to adequately explain the existence and nature of evil.  In order for objective evil to exist, objective goodness must exist as well, and good must exist in a more fundamental way.  This is because evil is a corruption or twisting of the good.  Evil does not exist in and of itself….  Evil is the rust on the iron or the hole in the roof.  While a person or an event may be truly evil (the evil is not illusory), that evil could not have existed without an antecedent and original good.

This discussion harks back to our argument for God from the existence of morality, where we argued for the existence of objective moral goods.  These goods eliminate both relativism/nihilism and pantheistic monism, since neither can rationally support the existence of objective moral goodness.  Neither is objective moral goodness a brute fact in a godless world.  Objective moral goodness, therefore, is best explained by the character of a Creator God who made the universe good and gave us the capacity to recognize the good as such, even now in our fallen state. (…)

Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, p. 617-618.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54002

The Blind Faith of Naturalism (Colson)

Growing up, I remember overhearing Chuck Colson’s “Breakpoint” from my mom’s kitchen radio.  Sometimes I would stop and listen.  I grew to appreciate his commentary, even though I didn’t always agree with all of it.  Here’s part of a previously unpublished memo of Colson’s from around 10 or 15 years ago:

It never ceases to amaze me that people are willing to bet their lives on naturalism; not only is it self-refuting, but to believe it is an act of supreme hubris.  I say supreme hubris because naturalism is the assumption that the only thing that can be known is that which you see and can validate with one of your five senses.  So what the naturalist is really saying is, if I can’t prove it’s true, then it can’t be true.  If I can’t, by physical observation, conclude something is real, then it can’t be real.

Of course, there are all kinds of things in life that we cannot see or apprehend with our senses that are nonetheless true, love being one of the most obvious.  The principle that allows an airplane to fly, the lift created by air traveling more slowly under the wings than over the wings, is a visible principle, but you can’t see the air actually moving.  It is measurable, of course, but still a certain amount of faith is involved in knowing anything.

Later Colson notes how naturalism is self-refuting because a naturalist presupposes that everything came about by chance, by evolution.  The naturalist says that reasonable, intelligent, and rational human beings evolved by chance mutations and evolutionary principles.  How can one prove this by physically observable facts?  Here’s Colson:

…To come to that conclusion, you’re relying on a brain and a thinking process that evolved by chance.  If it has evolved by chance, you have no idea whether it’s reliable.  Attempt to prove to me that an organ that evolved by chance is going to be reliable to always give you the right answer to any particular question.  Or prove to me that this organ has the capacity of knowledge, which is distinguishing what is real from what isn’t.  The answer, of course, is that you can never get there.

The naturalist is proceeding in blind faith.  He is defying what is self-evident, both in nature and the creation and in terms of our moral inclination.  He is, as C. S. Lewis said, like a man trying to lift himself up by grabbing himself by the collar and raising his hands.  He won’t get off the ground, but he will very likely strangle himself.

The naturalist is in the position of assuming that he knows everything he needs to know, and that everything that can be known is accessible to him through his senses.  It takes an extraordinary leap of faith to arrive at that conclusion.  But once you do, you have nothing.  You are defying the evidence.

Chuck Colson, My Final Word, p. 226-227.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Robin Hood, History, and Neo-Atheists (Copan)

Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God Some people have “issues” with aspects of the Old Testament.  In the OT you find stories of stoning, incest, polygamy, bloody warfare, and so forth.  Neo-atheists try to make hay out of these OT stories and argue that God is immoral, unjust, blood-thirsty, hateful, and sexist (etc. etc.).  What do Christians do in light of such accusations?  Paul Copan gives some helps for Christians in his book Is God a Moral Monster?  I’ve mentioned this book here before, so I won’t give all the details again.  But I do want to quote a section that I’ve highlighted more than once, a section where Copan assess the anti-Christian arguments of many Neo-atheists.  I’ll summarize the first and third point, and spend a bit more time on the second point:

First, for all their emphasis on cool-headed, scientific rationality, Neo-atheists express themselves not just passionately but angrily. …Michael Novak, author of the thought-provoking book ‘No One Sees God,’ comments about the Neo-atheists’ writings that there’s ‘an odd defensiveness about all these books – as though they were a sign not of victory but desperation.”

Second, the Neo-atheists’ arguments against God are surprisingly flimsy, often resembling the simplistic village atheist far more than the credentialed academician.  The Neo-atheists are often profoundly ignorant of what they criticize, and they typically receive the greatest laughs and cheers from the philosophically and theologically challenged.  True, they effectively utilize a combination of emotion and verbal rhetoric, but they aren’t known for logically carrying thoughts through from beginning to end. …I’ve observed that while these men do have expertise in certain fields…, they turn out to be fairly disappointing when arguing against God’s existence or Christian doctrine.  And a quick check of Dawkins’ documentation reveals a lot more time spent on Google than at Oxford University’s Bodleian Library.

“…Rodney Stark puts it this way: ‘To expect to learn anything about important theological problems from Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett is like expecting to learn about medieval history from someone who had only read ‘Robin Hood.””

Third, the New Atheists aren’t willing to own up to atrocities committed in the name of atheism by Stalin, Pol Pot, or Mao Zedong, yet they expect Christians to own up to all the barbarous acts performed in Jesus’ name.  …I think the reason it’s difficult, if not impossible, for New Atheists to acknowledge immorality in the name of atheism is because it would take much wind out of their sails when criticizing religion.”

I appreciate these three points – and I recommend reading them in full.  They’re found in the first chapter of Is God a Moral Monster? by Paul Copan.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015