World Religions

Perhaps you've never heard of The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement but unlike what people might initially assume from their name, they claim not to be a suicide cult. Well, they don't exactly deny it, rather they skirt the question as asked on their website. (The website certainly seems serious, and even if it is actually intended as parody or less-than-serious, which I doubt, it will still be useful to analyze.)

Essentially, the group espouses that because they say that human beings have overpopulated the earth and are causing it irreparable harm, the human race should voluntarily stop breeding, and eventually end its own existence, ostensibly for the well-being of our planet.

While I am committed to environmentally sound living principles, nonetheless I would ordinarily dismiss such a site as some sort of crackpot environmentalist nonsense. However, since the site makes an attempt to be intelligently written (although quite patronizing in tone) I thought I'd offer a few questions regarding the basis for their argument.

Most notably, on what basis are they concluding that the environmental viability of the Earth is more important than the continued existence of human beings? This seems to be a moral conclusion: The environmental health of the Earth is more important than the human race. This is not stated as a subjective opinion, like the authors happen to like the Earth better than human beings, rather it is (implicitly) claimed as being an objective fact but never proved or explained why we should accept it. Certain facts are stated (such as that 40,000 people die every day from starvation, or that many animal species are becoming extinct) however while I would agree that these are disturbing truths, how do we move from the fact that many are dying to the assertion that all should die?

That word "should" is important: It implies moral responsibility. Why SHOULD we (that is, why do we have a moral responsibility to) care if, for example, the endangered wizzletit moth [fictitious creature for the sake of example] becomes extinct? In the FAQ area of their site, someone poses a similar question:

"I read through your stuff and I realize that you are an intelligent person and not just some internet crackpot so this is surprising. Why should I care about the environment and animal concerns over human needs and wants?"
My perspective is more Earth-centered, so the answer to this question is obvious to me. However, even with a human-centered perspective, we should care about other life because, whether we realize it or not, we are dependent on them for our survival. By reducing biodiversity as we are doing, we are sawing off the limb we stand on.

This response skirts the question by merely restating their particular stance. It is not, to me at least, "obvious" why an Earth-centered perspective would be superior to a human-centered perspective. On what basis could we come to this conclusion?

If the Argument from Morality is correct, objective morality is grounded in God. (Link is to some writing on the subject by Christian philosopher John DePoe.) The argument goes something like this:

  1. There is a universal moral law.
  2. If there is a universal moral law, then there must be a universal moral lawgiver.
  3. Therefore,

  4. There must be God.

Conversely, if there is no God, then it would seem that there is no universal moral law. Michael Onfray, an atheist author with whom I have much disagreement, nevertheless agrees that without God we are free to replace current moral values with our own, whatever those morals may be. Arguments to the effect that evolution explains morality are flawed.

What has compelled the author of VHEMT to create their website and propagate their beliefs? Unlike a certain page on that site (which lists reasons people claim to want to have children and then purports to give you the "real" reason they do so) I won't speculate, and will simply assume that they believe their ideas to be true. But if there is an element of guilt to what is happening to the planet, perhaps people feel guilty because we ARE guilty? The proper response, it seems to me, to the fact that a particular thing causes a problem is not necessarily to attempt to destroy (whether immediately or by a painful suffocation process) that thing, but rather to redeem that thing and have it be used for good, rather than evil. Of course, I base my opinion not by standing in mid-air on what is "obvious" but rather on the firm foundation that God exists and by the moral precepts that follow from that.

Further reading:

  • Animals Are Only Human – "These ideas are the product of a sick human being, ladies and gentlemen. I don't mean mentally sick. I mean morally sick, socially sick, spiritually diseased."
  • Relativists & Sociopaths – What if there are no moral absolutes?

O RLY?Over at his blog Fides Quaerens Intellectum Christian philosopher Johnny-Dee writes:

I think the objection goes like this: It is wrong for you to believe that your belief is true because it implies those who adhere to other religious beliefs are wrong. This objection is rife with problems in validity and soundness, but I’d like to ignore all of that for now. Consider what the objector is suggesting: Christians should have a belief that they do not think is true. [Full post]

Sometimes when a person expresses offense when Christians claim that Christianity is true (not just "true for me" but absolutely and objectively true for everyone) they may indeed object because they hold to an incorrect and inappropriate conception of tolerance, as I've commented on previously (see Tolerance and Stating Facts != Hating). But more often they are objecting because of a similar but subtly different reason, namely that they are making what I'll call a category error regarding religious truth claims.

Baskin Robbins Ice CreamWhen some people express offense that a Christian believes Christianity to be really true, they are conceiving of Christianity as being in the realm of personal (relative) opinion rather than objective truth. That is, they see choice of religion as being like choosing your favorite ice cream flavor: A person isn't "wrong" because they prefer vanilla over chocolate. So too, the erroneous argument goes, a person isn't "wrong" because they prefer Baha'i over Christianity. Greg Koukl talks about this using the ice cream / insulin analogy:

There is significant confusion on this point. Americans think of God, religion, and morals like ice cream and not like insulin. They choose religious views according to tastes, according to what they prefer rather than according to what's true. [Full post]

Of course, this raises the question of whether choice of religious belief is really like choosing our favorite ice cream flavor. Hmmm, after adding the picture above I really crave ice cream … Ahem. Like I noted in my article Aren't there many different paths to God? for From Today On (also posted here):

If someone is dying and needs medicine, you need to give them what will heal them, not what they like best. In the same way, Jesus gives us what we need, and ultimately what is best for us. There are many different paths, but they don’t all eventually lead to the top of the same mountain. Some veer off to the left and the right; others climb entirely different mountains! And if God is real, truth about God is not like ice cream; it’s like medicine, and only what is true can heal.

Further reading: Three Tough Questions and Their Answers by philosopher Michael Horner, including "Aren't all religions the same?"

Here's a video where Greg Koukl and Deepak Chopra discuss the meaning of faith. Click the link to see the streaming video. (6:22 long)

Chopra seems to love saying what people want to hear rather than saying things that actually make sense. Is sin merely ignorance as Dr Chopra says? That seems ridiculous. Certainly if a person truly isn't aware that what they are doing is immoral then we cannot blame them for what they are doing. But that is not what sin is. Sin is when people do things they know are wrong … and if we are honest with ourselves we know that we sin all the time.

On the topic of sin, Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron encourage an evangelism style that confronts people with the Ten Commandments. They ask people if they've broken the Ten Commandments, and then when people inevitably admit that yes, of course they have, then therefore they are "sinners" in need of forgiveness. While true in a sense, a non-Christian could easily simply deny the Ten Commandments and their argument falls apart. After all if a person doesn't believe the Bible is the word of God, why should they give credence to the Ten Commandments? However, IMHO it's totally unnecessary to bring the Ten Commandments into the argument, and it works just as well without even mentioning them. Here's why:

Regardless of whether a person is Christian or not, everyone has their own moral standards; aka their moral conscience, or moral rules. And whether a person accepts God's moral rules or not, every person must admit that they have broken THEIR OWN moral rules.

The question then becomes: Who do you think has higher standards when it comes to morals … you or God? If you say God has higher standards, then we're in a heap of trouble, because we've already admitted that even by our own standards we don't measure up, so that means we fall WAY short of God's own standards, whatever they may be. If someone were foolish enough to claim that we have higher standards than God, then they would be claiming that we have greater (more just, more accurate) moral standards than the God who is the source of all moral standards, which is absurd.

Greg makes a great comment near the end of the video regarding "guilt", which is also made in an article on Greg's website:

Folks, we don't get rid of guilt through denial . We get rid of guilt through forgiveness. And that forgiveness can only come from the One whom we have offended. The One who gave the law in the first place. (Read Greg's full article here.)

Further reading:

Do all religious paths lead to God? Greg Koukl says no, and I agree with him. Here he responds to the idea that all religions are basically the same and in a sense "all roads lead to Rome":

Click to view the streaming video: »» (more…)

« Previous PageNext Page »