A still small voice

Doubt versus faith: which wins?

Douglas Adams’ last book was The Salmon of Doubt. Publishly posthumously, it contains bits and pieces of his writing, including letters, addresses, a chunk of a partly finished book … and even a sample of his writing at age 12! Adams, of course, wrote the excellent and amusing Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, among other things.

Included in The Salmon of Doubt are his vigorous defenses of atheism and evolution. That struck me as unfortunate, to say the least. Mostly because Adams died before finishing this book, and he no longer has a chance to change his opinions.

But also because one of his reasons for atheism was morality. In a talk he gave almost extemporaneously, Adams declared that morality is contingent. In other words, relative, not absolute.

Actually, I think morality is one of the strongest proofs of God’s existence. Why? Simple.

Rather than morality varying extensively across cultures and continents, the basics of morality are actually pretty universal: prohibitions against murder, theft, and so on. (Of course, the prohibitions are often ignored by individuals and groups in cultures … but still, the culture as a whole agrees that the rule is valid).

But here’s the deal: if there is no God, there can be no absolute morality. There can be some relative, local, constructed morality, but there can be no ultimate standard of what is right and what is wrong.

Law requires a law-giver.

But at bottom, even those who are agnostic or atheistic do not believe that morality is relative. They may say so – and often do. But they know that morality is absolute. And you can demonstrate to them that they know it … even when they’d prefer not to admit it.

Here’s one way.

It’s the question: is rape wrong? Almost everyone will acknowledge that it is. And the knowledge that it is wrong is so strong, so right-feeling that I have never met a person who, confronted, maintains that this is just a local, relative, contingent feeling. Rather, there’s an immutable law of the universe in operation.

Moral law, to be sure, but law nevertheless.

Another is to simply hit someone in the face. (Or, to be more polite, to say: what if I hit you in the face? Would that be OK, morally?) Even people who are well-schooled in the relativistic social sciences are very hard-pressed to take a smack in the face with equanimity. And again, the feeling is not just one of anger or revenge, but a very real sense of a basic law of morality (fairness) being broken.

That people universally believe in the existence of external moral law is strong evidence for a law-giver. And that law-giver is God.