GOD – THE LAW GIVER ? Part II – Moral Laws
Readers will recall Part I of the above article on Physical Laws. It was published in CCV on 16th October 2021 https://almayasabdam.com/god-the-law-giver-part-i-physical-laws/.
In Part II (the concluding part) on Moral Laws, Shri Joseph Mani is at his mind-boggling best in his treatise on Moral Laws. The depth of his knowledge and reference material are razor-sharp and simply astounding. Isaac Gomes, Associate Editor.
In the previous article we looked at Physical Laws and if God is their creator. In this article we shall examine the argument that God is the author of Moral Laws.
Everyone accepts that there are laws, like “Thou shall not kill”, which all human beings are expected to follow. Where do these moral laws come from, who gave these moral laws? Science cannot comment on these ethical principles. These are beyond the purview of science.
Before we come to the source or giver of moral laws, let us examine:
Whether Science Can Comment on Moral Principles
Every ethical principle is based on some facts and facts are very much within the purview of science; science can examine whether the alleged facts on which moral principles are based are in fact true. Facts can also be tested by other facts and by logic.
Take the example of abortion: Many people maintain that abortion is immoral. It is said that this is a moral principle and science cannot comment on it. But this moral principle is based on the “fact” that a human being is endowed with an eternal soul from the moment of conception itself and hence killing an embryo is the same as killing a human being. Though different religions hold different views about the time when the soul enters man, Christians claim that the soul is present from the moment of conception. Doctor Francis Collins was the Director of the Human Genome Project. He started as an agnostic, but later became a strong Christian believer. In his book The Language of God – A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief Doctor Collins gives two reasons to show that the soul, even if it exists, is not present at the time of conception. The first is the case of identical twins who develop from a single egg fertilized by a single sperm making a single embryo. Later the single embryo comes apart resulting in two distinct embryos with identical DNA sequences. This splitting does not happen at the moment of conception, it happens between day two and day six after conception. If there was a soul in the original single embryo, what happens to that soul when the embryo splits? No theologian will argue that one of the identical twins lack soul or that the twins share a single soul or that a single soul got divided into two souls. Doctor Collins concludes “In these cases, therefore, the insistence that the spiritual nature of a person is uniquely defined at the very moment of conception encounters a difficulty.” The second argument he cites is the case of in vitro fertilization (IVF). In IVF a large number of embryos are produced, but only one or maximum two are inserted into the prospective mother’s uterus. The rest are frozen and kept for some time, but ultimately all but a few are destroyed. Even the most dogmatic anti-abortionists at best look the other way about the destruction of such a large number of living, “soul-carrying” human embryos in the process of IVF.
So science can comment on moral principles or at least on the facts on which moral principles are based.
Moral Laws as Proof of the Existence of God
Arguments for the existence of God from moral laws were advanced by Thomas Aquinas, Immanuel Kant and C. S Lewis (Mere Christianity) among others.
The argument that Moral Laws prove the existence of God is based on the following premises:
- Moral Laws Are Instinctual and Innate, Hence Not Man-made
Jesus said “Love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you.” There are people who actually extend altruism to those who do them harm. When we do such selfless sacrifice it makes us happy. One experiment found that even six-month old babies show altruism and co-operative behavior. This kind of selfless love at great cost to oneself and with no expectation of reciprocity has no survival or reproductive value. If evolution cannot explain such behaviour, then it must come from an inner voice in humans which commands us to behave this way. Such a command can only come from a Higher Power.
But researchers have given evolutionary reasons for values which we consider God-given. For example: Kindness, Gentleness, Nurturance, Justice, Respect for the Rights of Others, Patriotism, Self-sacrifice for the Group, Leadership, Followership, Respect for Authority – all these had survival value for our mammalian ancestors. Social harmony required that generosity and helping others should be rewarded and that those who benefited from such generosity but did not contribute their share – the free riders – should be punished.
No one can deny that there is much suffering in this world. Believers claim that a lot of the suffering is caused by humans and not by God and God cannot stop it without interfering with man’s free will. But if God has instilled in all humans a moral law and humans are innately bound by these God-given laws, why do humans inflict such cruelty and violence on their fellows, often deliberately and on innocents? When man does something good, believers attribute it to God and His laws, but his badness is attributed to his own evil nature.
Also, does our experience of everyday life show that all human beings or even the vast majority are innately altruistic, helpful and generous or that the “selfish gene” – each one for himself – is more the norm? Our experience is that most people are good some of the time, some people are good most of the time, but no people are good or bad all of the time. Does it not mean there are no innate moral laws which all human beings obey? If so, could these laws have come from God at all?
- Moral Laws Are Objective and Absolute, Not Subjective and Relative
If morality is “objective” and “absolute”, then this morality has to come from somewhere and God appears to be the natural source of morality.
Is morality absolute or relative? History shows that moral rules are human creations and like all human creations are valued differently by different people. Music is a human creation. Different people have different tastes in music. One group prefers classical music to rock and consider Mozart superior to Presley. These preferences are in people’s judgments, not found in nature. In Hammurabi’s Babylon children were property of parents with no rights of their own, women were less valuable than men and slaves had practically no value. Even today there are patriarchal societies which consider male dominance and male privileges morally honourable – think of the Taliban rules and the Indian government’s acceptance of marital rape. Neither Mozart nor males are inherently superior, but only because a particular group judges them to be so. All human actions are not morally equal to all groups any more than all human music is aesthetically equal to all groups. Each group makes its own hierarchy of moral good and bad. The problem arises when one group declare themselves the arbiter of what is moral and immoral and condemn those who differ from their standard. It is this absolutist character which makes cults, religions and nations dangerous to individual freedom and human harmony. A non-religious cult like Ayn Rand’s Objectivism had the same dogmatism about the superiority of one’s own values.
- Moral Laws Are Universal and Are Valid for All Times
Moral rules are accepted in all societies and at all times. Murder was unacceptable in all societies and throughout human history. Such universal laws could not have been made by any particular group of men or at any particular time. Hence these laws were instilled in man by God.
Are moral laws universal? Islam allows polygamy, which is forbidden in Christianity. In some tribal communities polyandry is acceptable, in most others it is immoral. In Afghanistan girls cannot study with boys, in most other countries co-education is encouraged.
Have moral laws remained the same over time? Sati was not only allowed but enforced by religion till the nineteenth century, today it is illegal. Not only The Old Testament (Leviticus 25: 44-46, Exodus 21: 20-21) but also The New Testament (Ephesians 6: 5, Colossians 3: 22, 1 Thimothy 6: 1, Titus 2: 9, 1 Peter 2: 18) condoned slavery, today we don’t. The God-inspired Old Testament liberally meted out death for adultery, homosexuality, lying about virginity, breaking the Sabbath, cursing your parents and more. In medieval Europe eating meat on Friday was punished by death. Today we would consider many of these murder.
The Scriptures are considered the Word of God. What about morality in the Scriptures compared to what decent persons would consider morally right today?
According to the Koran, men are in charge of women because Allah has so decreed and because men spend money for women’s maintenance. So if women misbehave men are justified in beating them up (Q’ran 4: 34). Today such men would be booked for domestic violence. Even murder was not only acceptable but enjoined. According to Hadith anyone who leaves Islam is to be put to death (Hadith 17). The old Testament mandated not only murder but genocide of non-Jews (Deuteronomy 20: 16-17). Christians for centuries murdered heretics, witches and infidels in the name of their God. Why shouldn’t they? Jesus was the most tolerant and compassionate religious preacher. But even he said “Now as for those enemies of mine who did not want me as their king, bring them here and slay them before me”, though he said this in a parable (Luke 19: 27). Murdering those whose faith was different from yours was perfectly acceptable. It you did not kill them, God will punish them by sending them to hell to suffer eternal torture (John 3: 18, 2 Thessalonians 1: 6-10). So if the world were to end today, according to the Bible, about 66%, according to the Koran, about 75% and according to the Torah about 99.8% of all human beings will be sent to eternal torture by a loving Father simply because they did not acknowledge Jesus as the only true God or Mohammed as the only true prophet or Jews as the only Chosen People, even those who had no chance of hearing about Jesus, Mohammed or Moses. Should we accept that this kind of morality came from God or that it came from the men who wrote these books who were limited by the morality of their times which is very different from our morality?
So does the existence of Moral Laws prove the existence of God?
A FEW OTHER ISSUES ABOUT MORALITY
- While considering the validity of the moral arguments, the question can be asked whether those who believe in God and religion are, on an average, better human beings – more understanding, more tolerant, more helpful and more ethical in financial dealings than atheists or rationalists. There is no empirical evidence of this. Atheists are no more or less moral in their conduct than their religious counterparts. The work of altruistic organizations like UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders is not necessarily because of their belief in God.
- If you ask a believer or preacher to explain God, he would probably tell you something like “God is that Supreme Power that created and maintains this vast universe and everything in it. He is Eternal, Omnipresent, Incomprehensible and Unknowable. Can humans with their puny intelligence aspire to know God’s mysterious ways?” Yet these same preachers claim that they know every detail of what God thinks about fashion, food, sex and politics. There is the Unknowable Supreme Intelligence which caused the Bing Bang and there is the stern Law-Giver who gets into a rage if women don’t cover their heads in public. The link between the two is supposed to be the Holy Books. The Creator of space and time who supposedly wrote the Bible, the Quran, the Vedas and the Book of Mormon didn’t tell us in these books that E=MC2 or that the proton is 1,837 times heavier than the electron. Apart from arcane temple rituals, it is said that somewhere in the pages of these Books God has told us that He would be very angry if women wear short skirts, two men have sex with each other, teenagers watch porn or masturbate, adults drink alcohol or couples divorce. Like the magician who deftly substitutes one card for another, believers smoothly transition from the God who gave the law of Gravity to the God who gave the law of Bikinis.
- About 2,500 years ago, Plato raised the question known as Euthyphro’s Dilemma: Are moral actions good in themselves or are they good because God decreed them to be so? Is murder bad and charity good inherently or are they so because God said so? If they are not inherently bad or good and are so only because someone said so, then they are arbitrary and can be changed tomorrow. We are expected to be honest and truthful in our interactions with others. Is it so because that is the foundation of trust and absolutely necessary for healthy human relations or only because there is a celestial CCTV monitoring us? If moral and ethical principals are inherently good and necessary for the smooth functioning of human society, then it doesn’t matter whether there is a God who mandated them. Doctor Francis Collins and the Dalai Lama (Beyond Religion) and many others are of the opinion that God is not necessary for ethical conduct. If on the other hand actions are right or wrong only because someone said so, then they are like traffic rules, arbitrary and only legally binding, but not morally binding.
The moral of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan is that your behaviour is more important than your religious affiliation. Morality doesn’t mean following God’s commands. Morality means reducing human suffering. The kind of comforts and explanations that believers offer to a suffering person, like “God works in mysterious ways “, “It is God’s will” and “God has special reason for calling her to Himself at a young age” are banal and actually cruel. We are social animals. We can never be happy without the love, friendship and community of others and these require being sensitive to the suffering of others. To do this we don’t have to believe in any story or myth. If visiting a temple, mosque or church makes you more tolerant, inclusive and sensitive to others and you experience harmony with others, it’s wonderful, though you can experience all of these without such visits. But if your temple, mosque or church tells you that you are one of the few of God’s favourites, that you are one of the specially Chosen Ones or that you are the only light of the world, then avoid these places like the corona virus.