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30 January, 2010

The Problem of Sin

One of the most used arguments theists have for the existence of God is that morality is a code that could only have come from a higher being. "Every law has a law giver," they say. The argument is that if humans were like any other animal species, descended from a common ancestor of apes, there is nothing stopping us from killing and eating each other, stealing from each other and generally spreading chaos throughout the world. (Obviously, one could argue easily that we do spread chaos, but I would argue this isn't our animal nature, but a product of stress put on by culture and society, but that's for another post).

The problem with this argument is three-fold. First, animals within species groups hardly cannibalize each other. Next, there is no evidence that atheists commit more crimes than believers. In fact, the very opposite could be true. The third problem is that in order to accept this argument, one must also accept the premise that human beings are naturally bad and "sinful." All these can be easily refuted by simple common sense.

Wolf packs are wonderful things (and no, I'm not quoting Allen from "The Hangover"). My Human Services professor used to tell the class that if we were greeted by our family every day the way that wolf packs greet their families when they return from hunting or scouting, we would all be much happier people. There is a reason why wolf packs are often used as symbols of unity or loyalty or even the names of sports teams. Wolves serve no God, have no religion and go to no church. And yet they do not murder each other in cold blood or eat each other. In fact, I'm no biologist, but I'm sure one would be hard pressed to find many species that cannibalize members of their own groups.

When people say things like, "People are not mere animals, otherwise we'd all be eating each other," they are making no point and simply showing their ignorance of human behavior and animal behavior. Obviously, animals hunt and eat other animals of different species, but we do the same. There is no evidence that a lack of religion causes any kind of lawlessness or chaos. This brings us to the next point.

There are people who argue that without divine moral codes, people are pretty much screwed. And yet, there are so many people who do horrible things who believe in the very same religious moral authority that theists insist came directly from God and plenty of people who do not believe in God and yet lead wonderful moral and compassionate lives. In fact, in nations with higher numbers of atheism, the chance of that nation going to war with another seems to be reduced in some studies. Imagine that. But theists simply can't believe that this is true. They write this off in the condescending, "Well, those people have God, they just don't know it," or even worse, "Those religious people doing those crimes aren't truly saved, they just thought they were." In that case, why even make the distinction? Why even give God credit?

The last problem with this argument on morality is that in order to believe it one must accept the assumption that man is full of sin and evil from the day he is born. The idea that humans could create a moral code through defining what is best for the whole of the group or through social and cultural customs is so absurd to them because human beings are inherently bad. Even their Bible goes so far as to say that a human being is so bad that no matter how good they are to each other-they could be the nicest, most giving and loving person in the world who never took anything from anyone-they are still so repulsive and sinful to God that they can't even see him without going through his Son, even though it was God who created man in the first place. This is the very same Creation that he killed with fire and flood and even threatens to destroy again someday. This is the Creation whose sins and uncleanliness are so horrible that God can't even touch it. And yet he loves humans so much? Mixed message much?

I heard it said that when Jesus was dying on the cross and he said, "My God, why have you forsaken me?" he wasn't just some crazy man that thought he was God's son and realized at that moment that he obviously wasn't going to be pulled from the cross, he was actually unclean to God and finally felt what it was like to be a dirty, filthy human being and not be able to touch God. The very center of the religion isn't about being saved by Jesus. It's about being disgusting to God. That is why is it so impossible for believers to consider that our laws and codes, morals and ethics could have risen out of a need to walk safely amongst each other for the benefit of our species. I would argue that religion can be one avenue to learn those laws and codes, but it is not necessary for their creation.

These problems could be discussed further, but I think this brief overview is enough for this blog. Anyway, I'd like to hear what the readers have to say about these arguments and what their impressions of human behavior are, good or bad. Feel free to comment below, but if it gets out of hand, I will moderate comments.

1 comment:

  1. I think it's pretty clear that morality is a social construct, not a law. In fact, "law" (in the since it's used in this post) refers to something extant outside of a human scope, like Newton's Law of Motion or Ohm's Law. Anything human-created, as morality almost certainly is, should really not even be called a law.

    Most religious people do refer to the law of morality, but they almost certainly can offer no evidence of such a law existing outside of human scope. Some animals eat their own young. This would certainly not be called a moral act, but no one thinks animals immoral.

    More importantly, morality should be seen for what it appears to be: a chance conciliation of like tendencies across social groups. Just as Evolution and the related but misnamed Natural Selection operate, morality is governed by a natural tendency towards efficiency, seen across the universe in all walks of scientific endeavor from chemistry to biology to physics. Individuals are more efficient not only working for the good of themselves but also for the good of the group; thus, certain tacit understandings (what one might call moral rules) develop in societies.