The Memorial Union lecture hall was packed full of UW Madison students who came to hear a Veritas Forum discussion between Dr. John Lennox and Dr. Larry Shapiro on: Is there is truth beyond science? Lennox is an Oxford Mathematician who has written several books on the justification of the Christian faith and is an international speaker on the subject. Shapiro is a UW Madison Philosophy Professor, and he has written on atheistic views that dismiss anything miraculous or supernatural. Both men were respectful of each other’s opposing views, and with wit and candor, discussed whether there can be truth beyond science. Lennox, obviously, whole-heartedly embraces truth beyond empiricism (the scientific method of knowledge), and Shapiro, of course, does not.

 

As if he felt the need to defend the atheistic worldview from negative impressions, Shapiro said he’s a very “nice guy,” and that, overall, atheists are good people. Lennox agreed. To go even further, Lennox did not defend the Christian who can be rude, judgmental, and hypocritical at times. Lennox said he’s met plenty of atheists who are much nicer than some Christians. (I think that admission took Shapiro by surprise.) Shapiro, on the other hand, suffers from what many of us suffer from—pride. He doesn’t see himself as a sinner, like Lennox admits. Matter of fact, Shapiro said he thought that a neighborhood full of atheists would be the safest place to live.

Would Shapiro say that in a neighborhood run by Mao Ze-Dong, China’s communist dictator in the 1950s & 1960s, who had up to 78,000,000 people murdered? I could mention Russia’s Stalin, Cambodia’s Pol Pot, or Kim II Sung of North Korea (all purported atheists), but that’s too many numbers to type.[1]  I realize that these dictators are horrific examples of atheists, but there is a lesson to be learned from history: if man is the captain of his own soul, then he ultimately sets the rules, and those rules can be brutal.

Shapiro went on to say that he believes in objective moral truth, in the necessity of right and wrong, and the ability to know the difference. Lennox believes this, too, but stated his belief lies in a Moral Lawgiver, the One humanity owes the ability to reason. To what does Shapiro credit his instinct for right and wrong? When pressed for an answer, Shapiro had none. He argued that philosophers have been trying to determine the grounding for what is right or wrong since the time of Plato. So, Shapiro believes in objective moral truth, but he does not know where to place this objectivity.

Shapiro stated that he did not see how believing in God could help us understand objective morality. He thinks that the theist has the same problem as the atheist does in determining what makes a thing right or wrong. Lennox heartily disagreed.

Dr. Shapiro sits to the left of Dr. Lennox

“If God does not exist, everything is permissible,” Lennox responded by quoting Fyodor Dostoevsky, who wrote this statement in The Brothers Karamazov (1880). Lennox said that if we are simply programmed by our DNA, how can we blame someone for a wrongdoing if it’s based on chemical responses to stimuli? If we are just made up of selfish genes, what then is the principle on which we could punish anyone? If we embrace the purely scientific viewpoint of morality, the conclusion would be that we can’t help ourselves because we’re programmed by evolution to behave a certain way. At the end of that evolutionary trail, one must ask if free will could even exist? How can a human being, simply responding to chemical stimuli from programmed DNA, have any intentionality or foresight, for that matter? When thoroughly examined, the atheistic worldview on morality ends up with no basis for right or wrong.

“There is no connection to the existence of God and right and wrong, as far as I can see,” Shapiro said. He did not see how God can guarantee that certain things are right or certain things are wrong. Has Shapiro not read the Ten Commandments? God gave us the basic rules of morality, and if we were to follow those rules, society would be in better shape. Do you remember all ten? Here they are, in case you need a refresher:

Ten Commandments

  1. You shall have no other gods before Me (otherwise we tend to worship stuff like money)
  2. You shall make no idols (God is invisible – he won’t be put ‘in a test-tube’)
  3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain (it’s a respect issue)
  4. Keep the Sabbath day holy (take time rest, knowing God is in control of time)
  5. Honor your father and your mother (honoring is also a respect issue*)
  6. You shall not murder (an obvious command)
  7. You shall not commit adultery (if we obeyed this one, there would be no STDS, unwanted pregnancies, or heartbreaks from cheaters)
  8. You shall not steal (another obvious command)
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (don’t lie!)
  10. You shall not covet (this could lead to bad behavior: refer to number 8)

When Jesus came, he simplified morality by summing up the Ten Commandments into two laws: love God with all your being, and love your neighbor as yourself. These two laws encapsulate morality. Loving God means obeying him—reading the New Testament is how one figures that out. Then, one needs to do what it says, by loving people along the way. (To clarify what love really means, read 1 Corinthians 13.[2])

So, Shapiro is incorrect. We can know the foundation of what is right and wrong because God told us in His Word. Oh, but atheists love to quote some of the harsher verses in the Old Testament as reason to question the morality of God. This is due to ignorance on what ancient history encompassed. Skeptics don’t see the bigger picture of how God was working His will among free beings to establish the nation of Israel as the seed-bearer of Christ, who ultimately would save the world. Therefore, we need great theologians and Bible teachers to help us to dispel the terrible slander that non-believers do when misquoting the Bible with little to no understanding of the culture in which it was written.

What was most disturbing about this discussion, however, was Shapiro’s statement that since he sees faith in God as unjustified, he also thinks that people of faith should not have influence in the culture at large. This is not just an anti-evangelizing stance. Shapiro questioned if people of faith should even be able to vote! How is that moral? In Shapiro’s worldview, perhaps only the atheist should have the freedom to vote. (Refer earlier to what I mentioned about atheist dictators, and how these types of ideas can develop into strangleholds on people; the very antithesis of morality.) And this is a philosophy instructor at the UW Madison, wielding his influence on students who will be the leaders of the future. This is why we must combat ideas like Shapiro’s because some ideas can have godawful consequences.

At the end of the evening, I was left wanting to hear more of Shapiro’s and Lennox’s thoughts on if science is the only truth-teller. The conversation, instead, focused mostly on the roots of morality. I did find it ironic that Shapiro pointed the finger at Christians for believing that God created the universe with no scientific proof, and yet he stated a belief in objective moral truth on that same basis—with no scientific proof. I’ve made my point.

 

[1] Read more at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/publiccatholic/2013/03/atheist-governments-of-the-20th-century-the-death-toll-of-godless-goodness/#5y7BvtWLu0RokBRG.99

[2] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+13

 

* In general terms, children are to obey their parents, but that relationship changes when the child grows up. Honoring is respecting a parent, recognizing that role in one’s life. This is difficult to do when a parent acts immoral.