“God: The Failed Hypothesis” Review: Do Our Values Come From God?

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters, where we are diving into the ocean of truth! We’ve been going through some books of Victor Stenger lately. Right now, we’re on “God: The Failed Hypothesis.” Tonight, we get to discuss the topic of morality, one of my favorites!

The chapter is titled “Do Our Values Come From God?” In a sense, I’m going to agree with Stenger. No. Our values don’t often come from God. Values is a more subjective term. I value many things that I ought not to value, I value some things more than I ought to value them, I value some things less than I ought to value them, and I don’t value some things that I ought to value. We’re all in that boat. Values refers to our subjective stance on the world outside of us. Of course, I value something because I perceive it as a good, but that is very different from it being good in itself.

However, if you ask “Does our morality come from God?” then I will answer “Yes.” By our morality, I do not mean American morality or Western morality, but the objective moral law that we all submit under, even if we don’t know every in and out of it. We all know that some actions are good and some are not.

Stenger first looks at public data and says that the Federal Bureau of Prisons says that Christians make up 80% of the prison population

Now I will grant this for the sake of argument, but I see a number of problems anyway with such a statistic. To begin with, the number of Christians is vastly more than the number of atheists in America. It makes sense that in a general look at the population, there would be more Christians.

Second, we are not told here about the religious lives of these Christians. Are they ones that are devoted to their faith or are they Christians in the sense that they grew up in a church and would just if they had to choose a religion to identify themselves with, would choose Christian?

And third, and probably most important, how many of these became Christians while in prison? I did at one time work for a ministry that interacted with prisoners and I found that a number of prisoners come to Christ after they come to prison, as they have often hit rock bottom and are willing to put their faith in Christ.

Finally however, this would not say anything about the truth of objective moral laws being based on God. Stenger could easily win the battle here and lose the war. It could prove a lot of Christians are hypocrites. Very well. (To some extent, we all are) What does that have to say about the source of the objective moral law? If we found that 80% of accountants cheated on tax forms, would we conclude the problem was with the tax laws?

Stenger next goes to common standards and says that preachers tell us that morals can only come from one source, and that’s God. He then goes on to say “The data, however, indicate that the majority of human beings from all cultures and all religions or no religion agree on a common set of moral standards.”

I’m sorry. Is that actually supposed to address the argument? In fact, there is a great source that agrees with Stenger’s argument. It’s called “The Bible!” Here’s what Paul said in Romans 2:

14(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)

So thank you Stenger for agreeing with the Bible! No one is saying you have to be aware of God in order to know the moral law. It is being said instead that morality comes from Him even if one does not know of Him. How we know the moral law does not say anything about the source of the moral law. We expect people to have agreement on general revelation. It’s special revelation that we have exception on.

Stenger tells us that stealing and lying were seen as virtues, then the results to society would be terrible. I agree. He tells us that this knowledge does not require divine revelation. I also agree. The problem for Stenger is he thinks he’s making a point, but he isn’t because he doesn’t know the side he’s arguing against. This is especially evident when he says “The only precepts unique to religion are those telling us not to question their dogma.”

No source is listed for this. Let’s see what Scripture says. Why were the Bereans in Acts 17 considered more noble than others?

11Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

What about 1 Thessalonians 5:21?

21Test everything. Hold on to the good.

And Proverbs 1? Why was Proverbs put together?

1 The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
2 for attaining wisdom and discipline;
for understanding words of insight;

3 for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life,
doing what is right and just and fair;

4 for giving prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the young-

5 let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance-

6 for understanding proverbs and parables,
the sayings and riddles of the wise.

7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

No Stenger. My religion tells me in fact to examine everything and think critically. I have no problem with questions. In fact, I don’t have a problem with people who question Christianity. I have a problem with people who don’t question it.

Stenger also says that when Christians decide what is right and wrong. They go to the Bible. Well that’s true Stenger, but we are not saying morality comes from the Bible. We are saying moral statements are found in the Bible. It would be like saying that mathematical truths come from Math textbooks. They can be FOUND in those books, but those books are not the source of the truths. The truths exist independently of the books. A lot of it comes from sound moral philosophy.

Stenger in looking specifically at the Bible however says that many killings were performed under God’s orders. He says the only way that can be squared with the sixth commandment is to say assume that the command must be restricted, such as don’t kill within your own tribe instead of applying it to all of humanity.

Or we could try the other route which two minutes of research would have given and said that killing and murder are two different things. Murder is an act of hatred. It is also the taking of life where there exists no right to take that life. Killing is often restricted to just war, self-defense, and capital punishment.

Stenger moves on to the second commandment and asks how many believers realize they are breaking that commandment when they take a photograph or draw a picture.

Stenger is apparently unaware that great workers of art were commissioned to do work for the Ark of the Covenant and the Temple of the Lord. No Christian has a problem with that. The only time your camera is a problem is if you take a picture of something and bow down and worship that picture. If you’re not doing that, you’re okay.

What about slavery? Slavery was a staple in the society at the time and was akin to our job agency. Jesus did not speak out against it because His message was about spiritual salvation and not political salvation. His teachings would however lead to the establishment of a society that would eventually abandon slavery, as they did with Clovis II. For more on the issue of slavery, I recommend this.

Stenger also says the church taught oppression of women. His prooftext? It’s from Ephesians 5:

22Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.

When I told my wife I was oppressing her and cited the text Stenger used, she just laughed.

Did Stenger look at what the passage said for the men?

25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

So as a husband, what am I to do?

I am to LOVE my wife. (Hint Stenger. If I am truly loving her, I won’t do anything she won’t mind submitting to and I won’t use submission as a bludgeon.)

How? As Christ loved the church. How did he love the church? He was willing to die for the church and indeed did.

I am also responsible for the holiness of my wife. If she is falling into sin, I am somehow responsible. If she has unholy attitudes, I am somehow responsible. Granted, she has her own role, but the Word says I am the spiritual leader of my family. I’m not only responsible for my spiritual well-being but hers as well.

I am also to present her to the throne. That’s right. I don’t have to give an account to God of just how I did in my own life. I am to give an account of my family and how well I did.

And finally, my love again is to be compared to the love of my own body. When I look at that, that is a serious call and I am very much daunted by it because I honestly see how fall I far short.

By the way Stenger, my wife believes in biblical submission and she knows I do not use submission as a bludgeon. I can’t think of anything I’ve done in fact that she’s had trouble submitting to.

Stenger also wants to bring up biblical atrocities, saying that Jesus said he didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword. This is the problem with Stenger being a wooden literalist. The sword was not a literal sword. It was saying his message was divisive and people would divide in families based on how they responded to Him.

There is one issue worth looking at. Stenger says “Of course, no one of conscience today would think it moral to kill everyone captured in battle, saving only the virgin girls for their own pleasure.”

Stenger refers to Numbers 31. Some problems.

First off, the Midianites had seduced Israel earlier in Numbers 25 and come from a great distance in order to do it. They literally went out of their way. This was judgment on a people whose only purpose in doing what they did was to lead Israel astray from their God.

Second, this was also not a total annihilation. In fact, the Midianites were still around in the time of the Judges to war against Gideon.

Third however, nowhere does the text speak of the women being captured as sex slaves. The virgins were spared because they obviously weren’t responsible for seducing the Israelites seeing as they hadn’t had sex. How was it known they were virgins? Because virgins wore special garments back then to identify themselves.

For an in-depth treatment, I recommend this .

Stenger’s explanation of morality is to look to natural morality. What does he say?

Vampire bats share food. Apes and monkeys comfort members of their group who are upset and work together to get food. Dolphins push sick members of a pod to the surface to get air. Whales will put themselves in harm’s way to help a wounded member of their group. Elephants try their best to save injured members of their families.

I’m not going to dispute any of this. However, notice some traits Stenger left out? Cats, for instance, can eat their own young. Would Stenger like us to adopt this practice as well? Animals will also urinate in public places and eat their own waste. Would Stenger like us to adopt this?

It is fascinating that Stenger is suggesting we look to the animals for examples of morality. If he says they come from our common humanity, which he does, then why point to animals?

Also Stenger, what makes us all common in our humanity?

Stenger says we have taught ourselves right and wrong. Hold on to that for now. I wish to comment on it at the end.

Stenger refers to the fourth way of Aquinas which says “There must be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection, and this we call God.”

Now let’s bring that point about teaching ourselves right and wrong. Aquinas is not giving the traditional moral argument. He’s not talking about goodness. He’s talking about perfections, that is, grades of being. There must be one who is pure being who embodies what it means to be. For him, goodness, truth, and beauty were identical with being. As far as you are, you are good, true, and beautiful.

Morality then is based on what IS good in itself first and then the proper response to that goodness in relation to how it stands in the chain of goodness.

I support this simple idea. Let’s take this position.

“It is wrong to torture babies for fun.”

Now I want to examine the truth-content of this claim. It is either true, false, or nonsensical. How could it be nonsensical? It would be if a term was not understood.

If there is no objective morality, it is nonsensical because wrong really has no meaning. If there is however, the statement is either true or false. If you say “It is wrong!” you are appealing to an objective morality since wrong has meaning. If you say “It is not wrong!” you are doing the same since wrong also has meaning. (You also need to seek counseling.)

These are moral truths and we either create these truths or discover them. If we create them, then like any other rules we create, such as rules of a game, we can change them. If we discover them, they exist independently of us.

Truths exist in a mind.

Which mind would you say they exist in Stenger?

We shall continue tomorrow.

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