Sunday, June 21, 2009

A quote from Richard Wurmbrand's Tortured For Christ

This is quoted in William Lane Craig's "The Indispensability of Theological Meta-Ethical Foundations for Morality," to which I link.

The cruelty of atheism is hard to believe when man has no faith in the reward of good or the punishment of evil. There is no reason to be human. There is no restraint from the depths of evil which is in man. The Communist torturers often said, 'There is no God, no hereafter, no punishment for evil. We can do what we wish.' I have heard one torturer even say, 'I thank God, in whom I don't believe, that I have lived to this hour when I can express all the evil in my heart.' He expressed it in unbelievable brutality and torture inflected on prisoners.8

Admittedly, persons with that kind of power over others often mistreat them, because they can. But does atheism, or just the failure to recognize God, remove a barrier to human depravity for those who are put in that kind of a power situation.

I realize that we don't have a controlled experiment here.


philip m said...

I think there are objective moral values without God. The existence of simply another mind who is perfect seems to do very little to how actions will turn out.

But I think God is a huge factor for two things. He does make us more acutely aware of moral values, by encapsulating them all, and he does motivate us to behave well. Knowing about God does make us more sensitive to the deeper side of reality in which we recognize how our actions affect other people. And we realize that following God is probably the best way to go, and all else will just lead to our destruction.

And I think that's what we see here. This man has simply no motivation at all to not do what he is inclined to do. He also doesn't have reason to think that things will not be as well for him as a person who is angry and bitter towards people. So God makes morality "objective" just by making moral reality much more forced upon the human psyche.

unkle e said...

We need to be careful here. Many evil things have been done ostensibly in the name of God. Yes, the atheistic regimes of the 20th century committed more, but a victim of the Inquisition or the colonial invasions of North and South America, Australia, and elsewhere might report similar incidents to those reported by Wurmbrand.

I think evil people will always justify their evil - atheists in the way Wurmbrand noted, theists by saying they were operating to serve God (the ends justify the means). Neither follows logically from the beliefs. It may be true that the difficulty of establishing objective ethics from naturalism makes their behaviour worse, but like you say "we don't have a controlled experiment here".

I think both sides might exercise some humility and not a little repentance, rather than finger pointing. Who was it who said "Let the one without sin be the first to throw a stone."?

Steven Carr said...

Don't these atheists comprehend that God will step in to save His children from their cruelties?

Just today there was a Story about how God saved one of His Bibles from destruction on 11/09/2001

Admittedly thousands of people died, but 'The Word of God was not to be destroyed'

And yet there are atheists who think that no god will rescue people from their tortures, just as there was no God who saved people from the tortures of the Inquistion.

They will be saying there is no Mr. Incredible next!

Of course, Christian believers would never waterboard other people, because they know their god will punish them.

Steven Carr said...

All those aborted babies are going to Heaven, aren't they?

If Christians actually believed that, they would queue up to praise abortionists.

There are Christians who really do believe in an afterlife.

Paul Copan writes 'What then of the children? Death would be a mercy, as they would be ushered into the presence of God and spared the corrupting influences of a morally decadent culture.'

Which Christians would argue with logic like that, from top Christian philosophers?

The Uncredible Hallq said...

Does that quote strike anyone else as a bit over the top? Like something from a Chick tract. Is there any independent evidence that Soviet agents were saying things like that?

But on the logic of the argument here: it only makes sense if you assume, from the outset, that our actions should only be guided by what we are punished or rewarded for. Do you believe that, Vic?

Anonymous said...

Isn't this just a case of the fallacy of anecdotal evidence or hasty generalization?

mattghg said...

But on the logic of the argument here: it only makes sense if you assume, from the outset, that our actions should only be guided by what we are punished or rewarded for.

No, all it assumes is that, in fact, people very often are only guided by what they are punished or rewarded for. Don't you believe that, Hal?

J said...

But does atheism, or just the failure to recognize God, remove a barrier to human depravity for those who are put in that kind of a power situation.

Let's take a reading on the Moral-o-meter.

Actually, I will grant that the moral assumptions of theism, or ju-xtianity in particular might prevent some people in positions in power from engaging in stalinistic liquidation. Theism did not prevent the nazi leaders, however, from attempting to implement the 3rd Reich. Hitler, and most nazi officers and SS men were catholics, or lapsed catholic (tho' a few protestants, like Goering).

Theism did not prevent the muslim Ottoman turks from engaging in the armenian genocide, either, or the paki bloodbath of 70-71. In terms of historical kill count, I'd say the theists (xtian, muslim, jew) are definitely contenders with the non-theists (Stalin, Mao, Pol pot). Time will tell who goes on to............Victory.

Victor Reppert said...

Hallq: The question I posed was whether, given a situation of power over other people where the ordinary social motives for being moral are absent, does a belief in divine rewards and punishments serve as a deterrent to evil?

This would be just one piece of the puzzle concerning the evaluation of the moral impact of religious belief versus the lack of it. However, it does cause problems for people, such as Dawkins, who are arguing for the moral superiority of atheism. It may have some limited value as an argument for the moral superiority of theism, but there is a lot more to look at than just this one issue.

Gregory said...

Dostoevsky's fictional account of this predicament, found in the Karamazov Brothers, is illustrative of Craig's point.

I think there are two types of "moral arguments for God". One is based upon the ubiquity of "moral codes"....Lewis' concept of a moral "Tao"....which, also loosely formed the basis of his argument for God's existence in "Mere Chrisianity". It suggest that the permeation of, and agreement among, moral codes is a reason for believing that there is a moral Lawgiver.

The other would be something akin to Dostoevsky's argument in his Karamazov Bros. novel. It would be a consequentialist/pragmatic, or more commonly "existentialist", type of argument. It basically questions whether it's rationally justifiable to be "moral" in a nihilistic universe. Since the atheist claims that the universe has no relationship to some Platonic realm that grounds moral intuitions in the idealized "form of the Good", nor in some monotheistic-type God, then "morality" is simply the random, a-telelogical output of blind material processes over a long stretch of time. So, the concepts of "axiology" are "meaningless" from an ontological and physical standpoint....that's what A.J. Ayer tried to prove.

A person may choose to behave in certain "ways", but those "ways" are neither "good" nor "evil"....they are, simply, just "ways". Therefore, is it really possible to navigate life on the assumption that there really aren't any meta-biological, ethical norms?

Answer: yes....but it wouldn't be called an "ethical" would just be a "life".

What's might make more sense, practically speaking, to be a socio-pathic person, uninhibited by social conventions and customs. Just ask your local cutthroat businessman or CEO...they can confirm that for you!!

Gregory said...

After thought:

Thomas Morris' "Making Sense of It All" takes a similar approach. I highly recommend this book as a good primer on Pascal's "Penses".

Edward T. Babinski said...

The rise of communism was of a particular day and age, as was the rise of the inquisition, witch hunts, Protestant-Catholic wars, and colonialistic impulses of both Protestant and Catholics abroad. I say this to put matters in perspective.

Russia has never been a peacenik nation, the Czars wanted to conquer Turkey and move on to the Middle East, and European nations joined together to fight against Russia (a fellow Christian nation) in the Crimean war, joining the Muslim Turks to fight against belligerent Russian invading armies. That was in the late 1800s.

Russian communism, the revolution, succeeded among a nation of the poorest serfs and at a time when European nations were industrializing quickly, leaving Russia behind. Communism in Russia succeeded only after western Christian nations were in the final year of using the finest weaponry on earth to invade and destroy each other, the final year of World War 1. That's when the communist revolution succeeded.

Chinese communism succeeded among a nation of poor peasant farmers at the end of another World War, WW2, and only after imperial Emperor worshipping Japan had already decimated China. (Western powers had also been raping China for centuries previously, even forcing opium on China) China herself had suffered famines and poverty.

That's where communism succeeded and took root, at those times and places.

It should also be said that communism as an all powerful political ideology is not one that all atheists adopt, or need to.
Read the book, The God That Failed that includes testimonies of atheists who left communism after finding out all that happened in Russia under Stalin.

Vic is also right that people who are given total control over others do grow to embrace their jobs as torturers.

When U.S. soldiers tortured prisoners as in Abu Graib (many of whose photos have continued to be banned from public viewing even by the Obama administration), I bet most if not all of them were Christians, certainly at least nominally so, believers in God and Jesus, the trinity, maybe even some creationist Christians. Evangelical Christianity is big in the armed forces. But being given total control over others has been proven to lead to excesses. That's behavioral science 101. See books like The Lucifer Effect.

On the other hand also see books like The Moral Mind, that reflects I'd say, the general moral consequences of living in a relatively well educated and well fed and provided for society with plenty of interesting things to enrich the mental environment, instead of having to bully others or pic on others.

Edward T. Babinski said...


I wouldn't want to be an evangelizing Anabaptist during the Reformation, when both Catholics and Protestants were exiling and/or torturing and executing them for trying to spread their views.

I wouldn't want to be Servetus in Calvin's Geneva.

I wouldn't want to be a Muslim living in Jerusalem during the Crusades when King Richard and his crew came over the hill.

I wouldn't want to be accused of witchcraft in Salem, Mass. during the Colonial era.

I wouldn't want to be given small pox infected blankets or hunted down by Protestant Colonists in the early Americas who claimed God had given them the land and that if the natives did not convert they ought to be exterminated like the Canaanites.

A lot of Western Civilization consisted of people never daring to say anthing "negative" about "God" the Bible or various theological doctrines and dogmas.

Then came the printing press where authors could explain their questions and doubts and differing religious views ANONYMOUSLY, without risk of exile, torture or execution.

Gregory said...

E. Babinski:

Lets's take the Mosaic injunction on "stoning to death" for certain crimes. On the face of it, it seems cruel and unjust. But consider this:

The Israelites, at that time, were desert nomads in search of some "promised land". If there should arise among them a rapist, a pedophile, a murderer, a religious dissident, etc., how should they have dealt with that?

Should they have continued to be victimized and plagued by these type of social parasites? How should they have handled something that radically lowers group morale in an already difficult circumstance (i.e. surviving the Sinai desert)? Should they have simply bound the offenders and left them to die in the heat of the sun? Or should they have spent all their time and resources building a prison, which would obligate them to watch and care for the offender, rather than pursue their intended objective?

Or, let's take your example. What should Israel have done regarding foreign aggressors? Was Israel supposed to build large scale concentration camps to house all their enemies? Was that even a feasible option?

Also, what was the foreign policy of Israel's enemies? Were they basically benign victims of unilateral warmongering?

It seems to me that you have either a very biased, or a very naive, outlook on history and anthropology.

You want to cast doubts and dispersion upon every person with whom you disagree....but will give every benefit of the doubt to those with whom you agree, or those whom help to illustrate and promote your own particular agenda.

What I find even more interesting is the absence of any objective reason, from a skeptics point of view, for thinking that the Crusades were bad....or why Calvin should be condemned at all?

I mean, weren't those events simply part and parcel of the "laws of nature" and "evolutionary" development? What can't you, as a skeptic, simply accept the old dictum:

"Nature's law...'Tis red in tooth and claw"

and quit being a baby about the way the universe has directed human development and behavior?

How is negating God's existence going to solve any of that....except, perhaps, that denying God's existence completely dissolves all moral objectivity, and, hence, the unpleasntness of all past historical events?

But then there wouldn't be a "reason" to disbelieve in God to begin with.

Edward T. Babinski said...

I was at a meeting of skeptics and/or agnostics/atheists the other night and also attended the SkeptTrack at Dragon Con last year, and we weren't torturing anybody.

I bet people at churches would reply the same way, admitting there were no Savonarolas in their congregations.

Heck, it's America, a 21st century melting pot (just look at the varied restaurants in your town), not a country filled with over-heated angry ethnic enclaves at perpetual physical war with one another.

It's not like we're going to reinstitute the apocalyptic language and expectations of the German Third Reich versus the Stalinist communist empire.

Nor reinstitute the Inquisition and Colonialism and Witch Hunts and religious wars of Europe.

Nor reinstitute the era of Muslim invasions and Christian counter invasions.