The Secular Attack on Christianity/Program 5

By: Dr. Paul Kurtz, Dr. Norman Geisler; ©1986
How could anybody challenge me to perform something self-sacrificing, ever, if I believe that I am the product of chance, plus time, plus the impersonal, and I got here by accident, and all that there is is my existence? Why should I care about anything else? Plus Questions and Answers from the Audience Segment 1



Ankerberg: Welcome. We’re talking about Secular Humanism. My guests tonight are Dr. Paul Kurtz, the man who drafted the Humanist Manifesto II and A Secular Humanist Declaration. He’s also the editor of the main secular humanist magazine in America entitled Free Inquiry, and he’s Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Also, Dr. Norman Geisler, a Christian scholar, who is a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and the author of many books on philosophy and theology.
We’re getting down to questions from the audience, but I’d like to start you off on one that we haven’t approached anywhere before, and that is the fact that if you do leave out God, as the Humanist Manifesto suggests that modern man ought to do, it seems like you have a real tough problem motivating anybody. And I know you’ve written a book on that, but let me see if I can outline it here. And that is that to motivate people, for example, let me just give you one of the things that you say in the Manifesto II. You say, “The commitment to all humankind is the highest commitment of which we are capable.” But the question is, what’s the motivation for a person to commit himself to “all of mankind,” when this is true – since “a person’s life in this world [according to the secular humanist philosophy] is his basic tangible value? Any action which threatens or does not advance this possession would seem to be irrational.” Why should I ever set any moral obligation above the ends that serve my own self-interests? How could anybody challenge me to perform something self-sacrificing, ever, if I believe that I am the product of chance, plus time, plus the impersonal, and I got here by accident, and all that there is is my existence? Why should I care about anything else, Paul?
Kurtz: Well, I teach moral philosophy at the University. This is the basic question of Western ethics. Humanism is the oldest intellectual tradition in Western civilization. It goes back to the Greeks and the Romans through the Renaissance, up to the development of modern science to the present. And one of the basic themes is this question of “moral obligation.” And the great philosophers from Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Kant, John Stuart Mill, down to the present have raised that question over and over again. I think life is meaningful; that it’s full of adventure and goals and plans; that human beings can lead a significant life here and now and be concerned with human justice, the world community, and other fellow men and women on this planet without necessarily believing in God. So it’s a mistake to think that only those people who believe a certain religion are moral, when indeed the whole history of the West and other civilizations indicates that other people have had other moral purposes and achieved a good life.
Ankerberg: I understand where you’re coming from. I don’t believe it, but I understand it. Let me see how you would argue, then, with somebody who would take the opposite position. The French Philosopher, Julien Offray de LaMettrie, put it this way: “Let us conclude boldly then,” – you know, using that we are an accident here, chance plus time, plus the impersonal, and “Voila!” here we are! – “Let us conclude boldly [under that kind of a system] that man is a machine. And that in the whole universe there is but a single substance with various modifications.” Now, if man is a machine who is here by accident, there was no intelligence that got him here; there was no reason for him to be here, he just got here. He is as valuable, as one of the Supreme Court justices said, “There is no difference between a man, a baboon, and a rock, and a drop of water because they all got here the same way. And there’s no reason for them to get here except by accident, they all showed up.” So, now, how do you motivate that person?
Kurtz: I don’t know the Supreme Court justice who said that, but you must really be quoting him out of context. But I do find that human beings are different than rocks and baboons. We’ve created human civilization. We believe in the arts. We believe in creating a good society where we are motivated by science and literature, by shared experience, by the moral decencies. It’s not necessarily true that the only people who are moral and fulfill the good life are the people who accept a specific religious point of view. I think life is very meaningful, and the plan and project of man is to create the good life. It’s an adventure. It’s full of joy. And many millions of people have found the same thing.
Ankerberg: Here is what Oliver Wendell Holmes actually said – Supreme Court justice from 1902 to 1932: “I see no reason for attributing to man a significant difference in kind from that which belongs to a baboon or a grain of sand. I believe that our personality is a cosmic ganglion – just as when certain rays meet and cross there is white light at the meeting point. That is all.”
Kurtz: Well, human personality; yes, I believe it is cherished; it’s precious. I believe in human individuality and creativity. And men and women have dreamed and believed in this throughout the whole history of humankind.
Ankerberg: Okay.
Kurtz: And they have built cities, and they’ve climbed mountains, and they’ve explored the universe. And they’ve developed poetry and art and music. What’s the problem? I mean, that’s all part of the adventure of living – without worrying about salvation, about the afterlife, or without only preparing for what’s going to happen after you die. Live here and now; that’s the secular morality. Live here and now and create the good life.
Ankerberg: So, man doesn’t need God at all. There’s really no need that he has for God.
Kurtz: Well, I think God is invented in the image of man. If lions had a god, they would be lion-like in character. Some people apparently think that they need religious belief; they need God. I don’t. I think I can lead the good life without that myth.
Ankerberg: Dr. Geisler, do you agree with that?
Geisler: Well, I agree with Paul that you can be moral without being religious, and you can be moral without believing in God. The problem is, you can’t justify being moral. Let me illustrate that. Many humanists have many wonderful values, including Paul. They’re for tolerance, they’re for freedom, they’re for peace in the world. They’re against Hitler, they’re against the Holocaust. They have many wonderful values. So they believe in moral prescriptions. The problem is, how can you have an absolute moral prescription, or even an ultimate moral prescription, anything worthy of committing yourself to as a religion – as many humanists believe it is – if you don’t have an ultimate moral prescriber? You don’t have laws without legislators and prescriptions without prescribers. And yet, the very same humanists who really make an ultimate commitment to these moral principles don’t believe there is an ultimate prescriber to make the moral principles possible. So they can believe in them without there being a God, but they can’t justify believing in them without there being a God.
Kurtz: On the contrary….
Ankerberg: You’re saying that they’re illogical, at that point, then. Irrational.
Geisler: Yes.
Kurtz: Well, Norman, you know the philosophers have debated this point for 2500 years and they disagree with you on that point. They talk about the autonomy of ethics. Ethics grows out of human experience. There is a development of moral awareness, moral appreciation, a moral conscience. You can test moral judgments by their consequences in human life. I mean, there is such a thing as moral wisdom and moral growth. I don’t see where you have to bring in some outside force to support this.
Ankerberg: Didn’t G. E. Moore in The Naturalistic Fallacy prove that just what you’re saying isn’t possible to come up with an ultimate?
Kurtz: Well, I don’t know that you need an ultimate. I wouldn’t say that ethics is derived from an ultimate principle. I do think that there are moral principles that I believe in. They’re general principles and they grow out of human experience and human life. And they can be justified in the context of life.
Ankerberg: Then if you don’t have an ultimate, if you don’t have an absolute, how would you argue with Hitler who said, “What we really need to do is get rid of five million Jews.”
Kurtz: Well, I think, of course, that Hitler was wrong and I’m against genocide…
Ankerberg: But on what basis, Paul, if there are no absolutes?
Kurtz: Because of the horrible consequences of cruelty and terror and murder of innocent human beings. One doesn’t need absolutes to oppose that.
Ankerberg: But Marquis de Sade took the evolutionary theory and said, “If the strongest survive, then I’ll go around and beat women.” So there we got Sadism out of that. And he was absolutely logical, according to your philosophy. Why was he wrong?
Kurtz: He wasn’t logical. No, not at all. Of course I reject that. But, you know, in the name of God men and women have created infamies and they’ve performed every kind of cruelty. If you believe in the Fatherhood of God, as the Mohammedans, you can believe in polygamy. They believe in the Fatherhood of God. Or the Mormons believed in the Fatherhood of God and believed in polygamy.
Ankerberg: I can see their motivation. They’re wrong in their belief, but I can see their motivation, having an ultimate reference point. But I don’t see any reference point for what you’re saying.
Kurtz: Look. But the thing is, you take the religious point of view. You can take the religious point of view and people deduce exactly opposite principles. Christians believe in abortion and they’re against abortion in the name of God. They believe in divorce and they’re against divorce. Morality, it seems to me, is the data of human experience that should be examined in its own terms without presupposing these assumptions.
Ankerberg: Okay, Norman, you just got done with a great research project on the area of abortion. Let’s speak and use that as an example. Some Christians agree and disagree. What would you say?
Geisler: Well, here’s a good example. I think if a humanist were truly humanist, he’d be pro-life. Because we know medically, life begins at conception. There’s no medical doubt about the fact that a fertilized ovum is a 100 percent genetic human being. Its sex is determined. There’s no doubt about the fact that the babies that are being killed today – with fingerprints, heartbeat, blood type, fully functioning – are human beings. And I think the humanists someday are going to sit around in smoke-filled rooms and say to themselves, “We shouldn’t have let those Evangelicals grab that pro-life thing. We’re humanists. We’re for human life. And yet we’re only for it after it begins at birth, not after it begins at conception.” I think the travesty. Hitler only killed six million Jews, we’ve killed 18 million unborn human beings in America in the last 13 years. I think humanists ought to all repent and get on the pro-life side. Like Bernard Nathanson, who is a Jewish atheist, did and wrote a book, Aborting America, after he had personally killed 60,000 of them. He got de-humanized because that moral principles finally got through to him. A moral absolute came through to him, and he said, “This is morally wrong.”
Kurtz: Norman, on this point there are liberal Christians and liberal Jews and liberal Catholics, indeed, who don’t agree with you on abortion and do not believe that the women should not have freedom of choice. My point is simply that even if you believe in God, there are differences of opinion in the moral domain, and believe in conviction that a human personality does not begin until later. Now, I don’t think that abortion should be resorted to as a method of birth control. I think it ought to be a reflective decision of a woman. On the other hand, I wouldn’t deny her the right of free choice at some point after reflective process.
Geisler: But, Paul, you base your beliefs as a humanist on scientific evidence. It’s not a matter of religious belief. I’m not concerned about their religious belief. The scientific facts are that they’re human from the point of conception. So, I don’t think somebody’s religious belief should be imposed upon these innocent human beings. They have a right to their belief, but they don’t have a right to kill innocent human beings.
Kurtz: I thought that you were arguing against abortion on religious ground. You’re not doing it independent of religion.
Geisler: I’m arguing on moral, on factual grounds. Science…
Kurtz: Okay. I don’t disagree….
Geisler: Scientifically, it’s a human being.
Kurtz: That’s my point. That you can argue moral questions independent of religion. There’s an autonomy of moral decision-making.
Geisler: I admitted that.
Kurtz: I didn’t think John did. But in regard to abortion, Norman, on this point, I think that what you have at conception is a fetus or a conceptus, and not a living human being or not a human personality which develops.
Geisler: The “personality” is a philosophical, religious term about which people debate. There is no debate about the fact of being a 100 percent genetically human being; and we’ve got to stick with the scientific facts.
Kurtz: Well, you know, but then you get into these great moral tragedies. What would you do if a woman is raped? Would you then say in the first week after the conception that there ought not to be an abortion?
Geisler: Ask Ethel Waters about that. Her mother was raped.
Kurtz: Well, what would you say about that?
Geisler: I would say that rape is a terrible crime, but we ought to punish the guilty rapist, not the innocent baby.
Kurtz: But then what do you do… not have… say in the first week you would compel this woman to give birth? On what basis can you do that? I mean, this is an invasion of her body and it seems to me a woman has a right of freedom of choice. And you can make a moral case that a woman ought to be permitted to have an abortion under such conditions.
Geisler: A woman has a right of freedom of choice, but she does not have the right to freely kill another innocent human being. And it is a scientific fact that it is another innocent human being in her womb and she doesn’t have the right to kill it.
Kurtz: Well, it’s not an innocent human being, it’s a fetus. It’s a fetus.
Geisler: It’s a medical, genetic scientific fact that it is human…
Kurtz: And it’s not innocent, because…
Geisler: Well, did it sin? You don’t believe in the original sin, do you?
Kurtz: No. But, surely, the fetus has invaded her body. It’s not entirely innocent. If someone came here and plugged into you, you see, and so you are going to stay in this position for nine months…. It has invaded her.
Geisler: What you’re saying is she has a right to kill it because it’s getting her food from her. Then any mother after the baby is born has the right to kill it because it is still getting the food from her.
Kurtz: In a democratic, free, open, pluralistic society, these are arguable questions. And it’s very difficult to say at what point does the fetus become a human being with rights.
Geisler: No it’s not difficult at all. There was a subcommittee hearing recently in Washington and virtually every scientist that came there, including the famous world geneticist, LeJeune from France, said that “life begins at conception.” That’s not what they’re debating about.
Kurtz: But we’re not talking about life. Something begins at conception.
Geisler: We’re talking about human life.
Kurtz: It’s a conceptus or a fetus, but there is a developmental process. Now, I agree that later in the pregnancy I would not have an abortion unless the life of the mother is in danger. And a woman ought to have an abortion early, let’s say in the first trimester, or the second trimester.
Geisler: But it’s no more human later. There is no new genetic information added after the point of conception.
Kurtz: There is a developmental process.
Geisler: There is no new genetic information added.
Kurtz: Well, but the fetus grows as it is nourished by the mother.
Geisler: Well, you grow after you are born. Can we kill people because they’re small?
Kurtz: Okay. Of course, you know, you can argue… well, but a fetus is not a person, that’s the point.
Geisler: Now wait a minute. A “person,” as defined by what?
Kurtz: The fetus is a “potential” person. It’s as if you would argue that one ought not to practice contraception because the sperm or the egg is a potential person in the same sense.
Geisler: Who said a fetus is not a person? Philosophers and theologians? I’m not talking about religion and philosophy…
Kurtz: “Personality” develops later.
Geisler: …I’m talking about cold, hard, scientific facts – that you like as a humanist.
Kurtz: It’s not cold, hard, scientific facts. On this point, a moral attitude is applied to the developmental process.
Geisler: It’s not a question of moral attitude. I think if we took a survey, Paul, wouldn’t you agree that 98 to 99 percent of the country would answer this question in the affirmative: “Do you believe it’s wrong to kill an innocent human being?” Right? Wouldn’t you say 98 percent of the country would say that it’s wrong to kill an innocent human being?
Kurtz: Yes, of course. But the question, the definition is whether the fetus is an innocent human being.
Geisler: That’s right. Let me finish. Then there is only one question really left, and that’s a factual question: “Is a fertilized ovum a human being?” And when 23 chromosomes from a male sperm unite with 23 chromosomes from a female ovum, it is a scientific fact that that 46 chromosomes is a human being.
Kurtz: It’s “potential.”
Geisler: It’s not “potential.” It’s a human life with “great potential.” It is not a “potential” life.
Kurtz: Well, it is not fully developed as a potential human being.
Geisler: Neither is a four-year-old fully developed.
Kurtz: You could argue against birth control, as many devout Catholics have, because either the sperm or an egg are potential human beings.
Geisler: We’re not talking about birth control.
Kurtz: They use the same argument, that therefore this is a “sin” to do that. So, at what point do you split the developmental process and say, “Does human personality begin or does not begin?”
Geisler: We’re not talking about human personality. That’s what philosophers argue about.
Kurtz: In any case, it seems to me women have rights and men should not simply impose their standards on women and say…
Geisler: I agree! I agree.
Kurtz: … “You must carry this fetus to term, no matter what: even if it’s a product of rape; even if it’s a deformed fetus as testing can reveal; even if your life is at stake.”
Geisler: But, Paul, when you’re talking about imposing your moral standard on someone else, and your religious beliefs, that unborn, innocent human being is having someone else impose their standards on them in not allowing them to live. I think that’s immoral.
Kurtz: Well, but it’s an open question. There are many people who disagree with you that that is an innocent human being. It’s just your definition. You’re imposing your definition.
Ankerberg: Alright, let me jump in here. And that is that in Roe vs. Wade – I want to pull a point out in what you’re talking about here – abortion was legalized because the state saw no reason to protect the life of the unborn. They redefined “personhood” there. They didn’t look at the scientific evidence.
Kurtz: That’s not true, John. The Supreme Court said that people will disagree theologically and metaphysically about when human life or human personality begins, and therefore it ought to be a right of individual conscience.
Ankerberg: The Court says the state has no interest or right to protect it.
Kurtz: They said that because honest people disagree on this point; therefore the individual ought to decide whether or not she wants to have an abortion or not have an abortion.
Ankerberg: No. No. No. They said, “Because it’s not of sufficient value to the state.” And what I want to draw out of this, Paul…
Kurtz: The state said it should not intervene….
Ankerberg: …is the fact that when you have a “Secular State,” like you’re talking about, with your values that do not have any absolutes, that we get caught in this kind of thing that “personhood” can be defined just like it was in Hitler’s time. And that when you have relative values and you have no absolute, you have no God over the law, the Supreme Court can take a check among themselves and say, “This is what we’re going to decide.” There is no standard.
Kurtz: Well, I think that what the Supreme Court was arguing for was the principle of freedom of conscience and liberty of conscience.
Ankerberg: All 50 states had already passed the law forbidding it.
Kurtz: And it recognized that in our democratic society people will disagree. And it therefore afforded to women the right of freedom of choice to those who wish an abortion.
Ankerberg: All 50 states had already passed the law forbidding it. And it was only by an injunction of the Supreme Court on their “highly thrones” up there that decided that the whole United States was wrong.
Geisler: What Paul is saying is right. The Supreme Court said, “The right of privacy comes over the right of life.” And that’s absolutely absurd. You don’t have the right privately to kill children in your basement. If it’s a human being, the right of privacy never takes precedence over the right to life.
Kurtz: The right of privacy is the right of a woman over her own body.
Geisler: But a fetus is not part of her body. A fetus could be male, she’s female; has its own blood type; has its own brainwave from 40 days on. You take a black embryo and transplant into a white womb, and that woman will have a black baby. It’s not part of her body. It’s an individual human being of its own. And the last time the Supreme Court said “somebody wasn’t a person” was in 1857 when they said blacks weren’t persons. And it took 11 years to reverse that. It’s time we reverse this tragedy.
Kurtz: The Supreme Court neither affirmed nor denied whether or not a fetus was a person. They said this was an open question….
Geisler: That’s wrong, Paul.
Kurtz: What it did affirm was the defense of women against the efforts…
Geisler: All you have to do is read it. You obviously haven’t read Roe vs. Wade.
Kurtz: I have read it very carefully. It was in defense of women against the effort by men or the state to impose pregnancy. It was a defense of reproduction freedom.
Geisler: I ask anybody out there to go to your library and get Roe vs. Wade and read it, and you’ll see that what he said is wrong. The Supreme Court said, “You are not a person before you are born.”


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