God and morality are two separate issues

Elton Wong

You know you’re in trouble as a columnist when the letters to the editor make for better reading than anything you write. Be this as it may, the opinion page is intended to stimulate discussion, and discussion is never a bad thing.

The current debate around homosexuality and Biblical authority is a good example. However, some letters have a tendency to cloud the issue rather than clarify it. Appealing to the Bible, any religious text or idea is not a valid method for arguing a point when the text or idea itself is not justified.

At the personal level, there are many reasons people view a text as absolutely correct. However, all these justifications can be classified into two categories and dealt with accordingly. The truth of a book may be defended by reasons either internal to the text or external to it.

When people use internal reasons to justify a text as truth, they appeal to the text itself. The Bible, for example, is sometimes defended as the absolute word of God because the Bible itself claims to be the absolute word of God.

The problem is that this internal reasoning is inescapably circular. When a text claims to represent the truth, how do you know that this claim is itself true?

By way of illustration: Suppose you are walking to class one morning and you run into a man. He says to you, “My name is Raul, and everything I say is absolutely true.” Then, Raul proceeds to speak at length on a variety of subjects. Should you believe what he says?

Well, it’d probably be a good idea to think critically about what the guy says before believing him. In any case, you obviously shouldn’t believe him just because he claims to speak the truth. This holds true for all persons and books that purport to hold the truth.

What then about reasons external to the text? Many people believe in the Bible because they find it to be the most reasonable explanation for the biggest questions in life.

These people do not believe the Bible merely because the Bible claims to be true. Rather, they have studied the problem, weighed the alternatives and come to the conclusion that the Bible is the best choice.

This process of thinking, reasoning and searching is the basis for all “deep” knowledge. However, the fact that a person holds the Bible in high esteem does not in any way privilege that person’s opinions. The Christian person, for example, has arrived at Christianity by the same process used by Hindus, Muslims, Daoists and atheists. It is this process that is important, not the end result.

A Muslim cannot appeal to the “authority” of the Koran, he or she can only say “this is what I believe based on my own reasoning process.” Quoting from any text is no better than stating an original argument because any proposition must be evaluated using the same criterion of reasonableness. Therefore, there is no authority other than reason.

If Einstein said something stupid, then it would still be stupid. If the Backstreet Boys include on their next album an insightful spoken word piece about chaos theory and its implications on a supposedly deterministic universe, they deserve to be taken seriously.

If the book of Leviticus says something silly like tattoos are evil or homosexuality is wrong, it should be realized that the Bible is incorrect on these points because they are unreasonable.

Then again, what if Leviticus is actually correct? If God is truly all-powerful, couldn’t he define what is right and wrong? Should we really apply our “reason” to what God has set forth? Wouldn’t that be incredibly arrogant?

Well, ignoring the uncertainty in ascribing the Bible to God (if he or she actually exists), this is a question that was dealt with as early as Socrates. There are two possibilities with respect to God and morality. Either God accepts morality because it is right and true, or God defines the very fabric of right and wrong using his will.

Let us first examine the latter. Suppose that homosexuality is morally wrong precisely because and only because God says it is. If this is the case, then it would be silly for us to praise God for being good. Obviously, God is good if he gets to define what good is!

Under this system, God becomes nothing more than a supremely powerful despot, able to rule at a whim and bend truth to his will. In the Bible, God himself says that he is jealous.

Are we to believe that God is never wrong, even when he exhibits behavior that we look down upon in people? This is not a flattering image of God.

Therefore, we must realize that morality exists apart from God (whatever God, if any, there is). God cannot change the facts of right and wrong, no matter how powerful he or she is.

Therefore, any argument that equates God and morality is not a valid one. Every argument against homosexuality that I’ve heard uses this equation.

We move closer to the truth when we realize that this prejudice is unjustified.

Elton Wong is a junior in biology from Ames.