Post Author: Bill Pratt
In the previous post, I explained atheist Dan Barker’s argument in a debate he had with Christian Matt Slick. If you don’t remember what I said, please go back and quickly remind yourself, as this post won’t make sense otherwise. Below I pick up where I left off.
What I don’t understand is how Barker jumped from telling us that morality consists of natural inclinations produced by a blind, purposeless, process of evolution (that is solely interested in how we reproduce) to a moral duty of doing less harm. Barker has committed the classic faux pas of moving from an is to an ought. He tells us what morality is – a natural inclination toward behaviors that promote human survival – and from there tells us that we ought to do whatever causes less harm. But where does this duty come from?
If I am a person who is naturally inclined to lie about what atheists say in debates, why should I attempt to fight this inclination? After all, maybe evolution needs some liars in the gene pool. I am just playing my role in the survival of the species. If Barker were to say to me, “Lying about what atheists say causes harm, so you shouldn’t do it,” I would say, “What duty do I have to follow Barker’s personal opinion about morality?” What authority does he have to legislate my behavior? If he answers that he is summarizing what Nature already is telling me, then I would want to know what duty I have to follow the commands of a mindless, purposeless, blind process?
Please notice that I have not even questioned Barker’s maxim of do less harm. I am just assuming for this argument that he has correctly summarized our natural inclinations. His maxim actually represents a utilitarian calculus which presents several major problems that philosophers have called attention to, but his idea of doing less harm can’t even get off the ground until he has provided a rational reason to accept it. Many atheists seem to completely miss this point. Atheists are able to rattle off dozens of moral theories which claim to summarize our natural moral inclinations. But the question is why should anyone follow their theories? What rational reason is there to let their moral theories dictate moral commands to anyone?
Dan Barker is a self-appointed ambassador for the periodic chart of elements (Nature). The elements have spoken and Dan is translating for us. But it’s even more bizarre than that. Not only do non-intelligent and non-personal atoms have no authority to legislate, but they legislate contradictory things. After all, the same Nature that produced Mother Theresa produced Hitler. They both followed their natural inclinations, so how can I ever say which one was right and which was wrong? Nature may need both of them for the species to survive so that it would actually be immoral to stop Hitler from doing what he was naturally inclined to do.
Barker’s world ultimately has no legitimate source for moral authority. He could never tell us who is giving moral commands that has the legitimate authority to do so. Based on his moral philosophy, I do not know why I should rationally be moral.