Eugene Berman, The Good Samaritan (1930). The Samaritan, a clear out-group representative from the perspective of Jesus’ audience, was plenty good. What Jesus didn’t know is that it was “evolution and secular reasoning,” and not God, that made him good. Turns out that’s what made Jesus good too. Image source: Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum
I am teaching a four-part class on science and religion on Sunday mornings at my church. This piece is written with the class in mind and serves to further illustrate an issue we will be talking about on Sunday: The God of the gaps. Hope y’all like it.
I have an online friend. His name is Arni. He knows a lot about theology and has a sharp sense of humor and saves me a lot of time by dredging up first-class blog fodder I would never have found on my own. This week he posted about a blog called Charitable Atheism. Thanks, Arni.
Charitable Atheism is not just friendly; it’s charitable. It actually is. Run by a fellow named Chuck O’Connor, it’s an atheist site that takes religion seriously but still disagrees with it. What a beautiful thing. So many atheist sites seem content to merely mock religion, but not CA. We here at psnt.net are grateful to O’Connor for his blog.
Just a couple of days ago he pointed out an article published at USA Today by Jerry Coyne. The article is all about how atheists can be good without God. I have posted some thoughts on this point elsewhere, but for now I would like to highlight an assumption of Coyne’s — and, perhaps, of O’Connor’s — that animates his entire perspective. That assumption is: If it is possible to understand human altruism from a biological point of view, then the biological point of view must be both necessary and sufficient.
I am writing about this because it’s another God-of-the-gaps thing (see my last post): Human goodness is due to God or it’s due to biology. If a certain — IMO weak — understanding of God can’t explain morality, then it must be evolution.
Coyne starts off by saying that morality does not come from God, because (1) religious ethical points of view have changed over time (at least on their surfaces), and (2) the Bible (for Christians) is decidedly immoral in many places. These seem to constitute his overall argument. I can’t get too bothered about either. The first point seems irrelevant to his conclusion that God has nothing to do with morality; it also appears to me to be based in a rather mechanistic view of God’s relation with humanity. The second point seems entirely off the mark unless one buys into some kind of biblical inerrancy. It also relies on a rather blocky command-driven, as opposed to narrative-driven, reading of scripture.
In any case, Coyne says that morality is extrabiblical:
There is something else — some other source of morality — that supersedes biblical commands. When religious people pick and choose their morality from Scripture, they clearly do so based on extrareligious notions of what’s moral.
Fine. I don’t really have a problem with that, so long as we’re talking about a kind of just-play-nice-and-be-fair morality that everyone pretty much agrees on: Help people up when they fall, do good for those who are in need, don’t cheat, etc. Everything-I-needed-to-know-I-learned-in-kindergarten kind of stuff. Don’t get me wrong. It would be wonderful if everyone acted on these principles. But that’s not Christian morality.
Yes, morality in this broadly-understood sense is extrabiblical. But so is God. So still I don’t see the trouble.
Coyne goes on:
So where does morality come from, if not from God? Two places: evolution and secular reasoning. [We need not] be afraid that a morality based on our genes and our brains is somehow inferior to one handed down from above.
Now if his assessments of God and the Bible were persuasive, I might give him some credit. But that’s beside my point, which is that the basic mentality that dominates Coyne’s piece — morality comes from God or it comes from evolution — is a prime example of the God of the gaps fallacy.