XFiles Friday: Design and morality

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 8 )

Last time, we only made it as far as the first page of Chapter 8, in which Geisler and Turek congratulate themselves for having contrived a “discovery” of God’s existence based on the mistaken assumption that the universe must have a cause. Turning the page, we find that the authors continue in the same vein.

From the Teleological Argument we know that God is:

  1. Supremely intelligent, since he designed life and the universe with such incredible complexity and precision.
  2. Purposeful, since he designed the many forms of life to live in this specific and ordered environment

Let’s stop there and have a look at these arguments in a real-world context.

Geisler and Turek present these conclusions as though they were being somehow drawn from the evidence presented, but in fact the conclusions are being injected into the argument by the assumptions they make as part of their premises.

For example, consider the idea of “design.” What does it mean? Design is simply an ordinary process of cause and effect, with the addition of a “purpose.” What is a purpose? Purpose means that some agent or agents imagine a certain outcome, and desire that outcome. In other words, these are purely subjective, mental/emotional phenomena. “Design,” therefore, is a process that involves an outward process of cause and effect, plus an inward, mental process of imagination and desire.

As far as the external, observable manifestations are concerned, therefore, design is a process of cause and effect, and nature is also a process of cause and effect. The factors that make cause and effect into design—i.e. the imagination and the desire—are not observable. We see the cause and effect; we can only assume the existence of the imagination and purpose.

The observable evidence can show us a process of cause and effect, but it cannot show us the mental state of some unobservable Designer. That part of the equation, that essential step linking the evidence with the design conclusion, must be supplied by the will and imagination of the observer. It is, in short, the primitive superstition of animism, the belief that mystifying natural forces must be under the control of one or more intelligent spirits. Intelligent Design advocates assume that design is required because they don’t understand the process of cause and effect that led to what we can observe, which means they don’t really even have the “cause-and” part of cause and effect. ID is a superstitious attribution, not a scientific explanation.

And speaking of “one or more intelligent spirits,” Geisler and Turek also betray their bias when they declare that the teleological argument shows that God (singular) is purposeful, because when we look at life on earth, we find that their “purposes” (if we can call it that) are conflicting. The predator is “designed” to catch the prey. The prey is “designed” to escape the predator. Germs and viruses are “designed” to cause disease. Immune systems are “designed” to prevent disease. And so on.

If Geisler and Turek were really interested in drawing logical conclusions based on the evidence, instead of picking only the aspects that support their predetermined conclusion, they would have to conclude that the teleological argument shows us that there are many gods, whose purposes are contrary to one another. Naturally, Geisler and Turek have answers to this objection, as they will discuss shortly, but the point is they’re still cherry-picking the conclusions they want to reach, without regard for the conclusions actually suggested by the evidence they’re putting forward. Their argument “from the evidence” is simply a sham.

Let’s move on:

From the Moral Argument we know that God is:

Absolutely morally pure (He is the unchangeable standard of morality by which all actions are measured. This standard includes infinite justice and infinite love).

Just like in their main discussion of The Moral Argument, they slip in extra, unrelated ideas, like “unchangeable standard” and “infinite justice and love,” as though these were somehow derived from their argument. But these ideas are simply dogmas. Geisler and Turek succeeded in demonstrating that a moral standard exists (because it does exist, based on how we feel about the consequences), but having reached a successful conclusion, they very dishonestly attach to that proof a number of other ideas that have nothing at all to do with the previous evidence and which they have not proven.

Not only that but, as we saw before, different populations and subcultures can have different ideas of what “The Moral Law” actually says. Some people think polygamy is immoral. Others (as we’ve read in the news recently) think it’s not immoral at all, even with “wives” barely into their teens. “Snitching” is right in some subcultures, and wrong in others. As with the teleological argument, you could very easily draw the conclusion that there are many gods, one for each slightly different Moral Law that people intuitively sense.

These things we’ve mentioned before, but I just want to look at the last part of that statement, where God is praised as possessing “infinite justice and infinite love.” This is one of the more superstitious aspects of religions like Christianity, and sometimes one of the sillier ones as well. Religion is a social phenomenon, an institution designed to obtain favors from a powerful Friend in return for holding Him/Her/It/Them in high esteem. It is, in other words, a system for obtaining benefits and protections which you have not earned and do not deserve, in exchange for offering praise and flattery to a deity who presumably is susceptible to that sort of influence.

Believers don’t just hope for divine approval in return for praising God. Public expressions of flattery and worship also serve to enhance the believer’s social standing amongst his or her fellow believers. The more extravagant your praise of God, the more spiritual you are, and thus the stronger your faith and your status in the group. It sometimes leads to silly excesses, like the references above to “infinite justice” and “infinite love.”

Think about it: justice demands the same penalties for the same offenses, regardless of how much or how little you love the offender. Pursuing perfect justice means putting limits on how much you can express your love in some cases—if you show mercy, as love desires, then strictly speaking you are not being perfectly just.

Geisler and Turek, however, claim not just perfect justice, but infinite justice, which is a nonsensical concept. You could, I suppose, provide “infinite” justice by infinitely imposing fair penalties for an infinite number of offenses. But that’s not what Christianity teaches. At some point, the sinning is supposed to stop, which necessarily puts an end to justice, because where there is no offense, there can be no penalty for offending.

Nor is it “infinite justice” to eternally punish people for finite offenses. Indeed, that’s rather a case of infinite INjustice, since it is unjust for the punishment to exceed the crime. But none of that really matters to believers. What matters is praising God, and if “justice” is good, and “love” is good, then God ought to be flattered that you claim He as infinite amounts of each. Meaning doesn’t matter, as long as you feel like you’re winning brownie points with Someone Important.

We’re deep into a Christian worldview at this point, with all the bias and distortion that implies. Next time we’ll look at how Geisler and Turek “discover” that theism can only refer to the Christian God.

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