…But Corrupted (Part 1 – like orcs of Middle-earth)

In my last post I looked at the biblical foundation for how we should see ourselves and others – that we are made in the image of God. But the Bible develops further on this foundation. The Psalms are a collection of sacred songs and poems used by the Old Testament Hebrews in their worship. Psalm 14 was written by King David ca 1000 B.C. and records the state-of-affairs from God’s point of view.

The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)

The phrase ‘become corrupt’ is used to describe the entire human race. Since it is something we have ‘become’ the corruption is in reference to that initial state of being in the ‘image of God’. This passage says that the corruption demonstrates itself in a determined independence from God (‘all’ have ‘turned aside’ from ‘seeking God’) and also in not doing ‘good’.

Corrupted – Thinking Elves and Orcs

Orcs were hideous in so many ways. But they were simply corrupt descendants of elves

To better understand this think of the orcs of Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings as an illustration. Orcs are hideous creatures in appearance, conduct, and in their treatment of the earth. Yet orcs are descended from elves that had become corrupted by Sauron. When you see the stately majesty, harmony and relationship with nature that elves had (think of Legolas and the elves of Lothlorien) and realize that the depraved orcs were once elves who have ‘become corrupt’ you will

The elves were noble and majestic

get a sense of what is said here about people. God intended elves but what he found was orcs.

This fits exactly with what we noted as a universal tendency among all people in Session Two – that no one lives according to their moral grammar of right and wrong. So here we arrive at a perspective that is very instructive: The biblical starting point of people as sentient, personal, and moral, but then also corrupt, fits with what we observe about ourselves. It is shrewdly spot-on in its assessment of people, recognizing an intrinsic moral nature within us that can easily be overlooked since our actions never actually match what this nature demands of us – because of this corruption. The biblical shoe fits the human foot. However, it raises an obvious question: why did God make us this way – with a moral grammar and yet corrupted from it? As Christopher Hitchens complains:

“… If god really wanted people to be free of such thoughts [i.e., corrupt ones], he should have taken more care to invent a different species.”  Christopher Hitchens.  2007.  God is not great: How religion spoils everything.  p. 100

But this is where in his haste to vent on the Bible that he misses something very important. The Bible does not say that God made us this way, but that something terrible has happened since the initial creation to bring about this difficult state-of-affairs. An important event happened in human history subsequent to our creation. The first humans defied God, as recorded in Genesis, and in their defiance they changed and were corrupted.

The Fall of Mankind

This landmark event in human history is often called The Fall. And we can perhaps understand it better if we think through what Adam faced in his relationship with God when he was created. To give us some further insight we turn to a mid-8th century BC, Old Testament prophet Hosea. As he recounts in his book, his wife had repeatedly cheated on him and run off in a string of affairs. In the midst of his pain and betrayal God commanded him to go and find his wife, reconcile with her, and win her back. Then this episode is used as a picture to show how, in God’s eyes, the Israelites at that time were like the cheating spouse, but God, like Hosea, was willing to reconcile if they would only come clean and come back to Him. In that plea comes a comparison to Adam:

“O Israel and Judah, what should I do with you?” asks the LORD.  “For your love vanishes like the morning mist and disappears like dew in the sunlight. … I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices.  I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings. But like Adam, you broke my covenant and betrayed my trust. (Hosea 6:4-7)

In other words, what the Israelites of Hosea’s day were doing was continuing what Adam, the first man, had started. There had been an agreement between God and Adam, similar to a marital contract of faithfulness, and Adam violated it. The book of Genesis records that Adam ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. There had been a covenant or agreement between God and Adam that he would not eat from that tree – all others were available for him. It was not that there was anything special in the tree itself, but its presence gave Adam a free choice as to whether to remain faithful to God or not. Adam had been created as a sentient person, who was both made and placed into friendship with God at the same moment. Adam had no choice regarding his creation, but God gave him the opportunity to choose concerning his friendship with God, and this choice was centered on the command not to eat from that one tree. Just like the choice to stand is not real if sitting is impossible, the friendship and trust of Adam to God had to be given in the context of a viable alternative, and thus Adam was given a choice as to whether he would remain faithful in his agreement to God or not. We look more closely at this account – and how & in what way we ‘miss the mark’ in the next post.

In the Image of God

In the last few posts I looked at ‘signs’ in some landmark passages from the Old Testament that allude to Jesus.  I did so primarily because they are clues that point to a Divine Mind revealing Himself through these remarkable allusions. But they are also clues to help us understand ourselves.  And to continue with that I want to consider implications of what the Bible says about the origins of mankind.  Using the Bible to understand our beginnings is considered the height of folly in many modern circles.  However, at the very least, an open-minded recognition of the bankruptcy of ‘scientific’ evolutionary theories shown here, and the recently confirmed genetic fact of interbreeding between homo sapiens and neanderthals – predicted from the Biblical narrative – should allow anyone, believer and unbeliever alike, to have the freedom to consider what the Bible says about our beginnings, and to think about what it means.

So, in this spirit of considering, I want to chart an understanding of what the Bible teaches about us by looking at a passage from the creation account.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)

“In the Image of God”

Now what does it mean that mankind was created ‘in the image of God’?  It does not mean that God is a physical being with two arms, a head, etc.  Rather at a deeper level it is saying that basic characteristics of people are derived from similar characteristics of God.  So for example, both God (in the Bible) and people (from observation) have intellect, emotions and will.  In the Bible God is sometimes portrayed as sad, hurt, angry or joyful – the same range of emotions that we humans experience.   We make choices and decisions on a daily basis.  God similarly in the Bible is described as making choices and coming to decisions.  Our ability to reason and think abstractly comes from God.  We have the capacities of intellect, emotion and will because God has them and we are made in his image.

At a more fundamental level when we consider these aspects of ourselves we see that we are sentient beings, self-aware and conscious of ‘I’ and ‘you’.  We are not impersonal ‘its’.  We are like this because God is this way.  In this fundamental perspective, the God of the Bible is not portrayed as a pantheistic impersonality as understood in Eastern religions, or like the ‘Force’ in Star Wars.  And because we are made in His image, neither are we.

Why we are Aesthetic

We also appreciate art and drama.  Consider how we so naturally appreciate and even need beauty.  This goes beyond just visual beauty to include music and literature.  Think about how important music is to us – even how natural it is for us to dance.  Music so enriches our lives.  We love good stories, whether in novels or plays, or more commonly today, in movies.  Stories have heroes, villains, drama, and the great stories sear these heroes, villains and drama into our imaginations.  It is so natural for us to use and appreciate art in its many forms to entertain, reinvigorate and rejuvenate ourselves because God is an Artist and we are in his image.  It is a question worth asking.  Why are we so innately aesthetic, whether in art, drama, music, dance, or literature?  Daniel Dennett, an outspoken atheist and an authority on understanding cognitive processes, answers from a materialistic perspective:

“But most of this research still takes music for granted.  It seldom asks:  Why does music exist?  There is a short answer, and it is true, so far as it goes: it exists because we love it and hence we keep bringing more of it into existence.  But why do we love it?  Because we find that it is beautiful.  But why is it beautiful to us?  This is a perfectly good biological question, but it does not yet have a good answer.”[1]

Why indeed if everything about us as humans must be explained based solely on survival fitness and differential reproductive rates is art, in all its forms, so important to us?  Dennett, probably the world’s leading thinker on this question from the materialistic evolutionary perspective, tells us that we just do not know.  From the Biblical perspective it is because God is artistic and aesthetic.  He made things beautiful and enjoys beauty.  We, made in His image, are the same.

Why we are Moral

In addition, being ‘made in God’s image’ explains the innate moral grammar or Tao we looked at in Session Two.  Because we are made in God’s image and morality is intrinsic to His nature, like a compass aligned to magnetic North, our alignment to ‘fair’, ‘good’, ‘right’ is because this is the way He is.  It is not just religious people who are made in this way – everyone is.  Not recognizing this can give rise to misunderstandings.  Take for example this challenge from Sam Harris.

“If you are right to believe that religious faith offers the only real basis for morality, then atheists should be less moral than believers.”[2]

Harris is dead wrong here.  Biblically speaking, our sense of morality comes from being made in God’s image, not from being religious.  And that is why atheists, like all the rest of us, have this moral sense and can act morally.  The difficulty with atheism is to account for this objective basis of our morality –  but all of us have it hard-wired into us (as Dawkins says) because we are in His image.  Dawkins’ speculations about the cause of our innate morality from a materialistic perspective are less than compelling.  Being made in God’s moral image is a far simpler and straightforward explanation.

Why are we so Relational

Thus Biblically, the starting point to understanding ourselves is to recognize that we are made in God’s image.  Because of this, as we gain insight into either God (through what is revealed about him in the Bible) or people (through observation and reflection) we can also gain insight into the other.  So, for example, it is not hard to notice the prominence  we place on relationships.  It is OK to see a good movie, but it is a much better experience to see it with a friend.  We naturally seek out friends to share experiences with.  Meaningful friendships and family relationships are key to our sense of well-being.  Conversely, loneliness and/or fractured family relationships and breakdowns in friendships stress us.  We are not neutral and unmoved by the state of relationships we have with others.  Now, if we are in God’s image, then we would expect to find this same relational tilt with God, and in fact we do.  The Bible says that “God is Love…” (1 John 4:8).  Much is written in the Bible about the importance that God places on our love for him and for others – they are in fact called by Jesus the two most important commands in the Bible.  When you think about it, Love must be relational since to function it requires a person who loves (the lover) and a person who is the object of this love – the beloved.

Thus we should think of God as a lover.  If we only think of Him as the ‘Prime Mover’, the ‘First Cause’, the ‘Omniscient Deity’ or perhaps as the ‘Benevolent Being’ we are not thinking of the Biblical God – rather we have made up a god in our minds.  Though He is these, He is also portrayed as almost recklessly passionate in relationship.  He does not ‘have’ love.  He ‘is’ love.  The two most prominent Biblical metaphors of God’s relationship with people are that of a father to his children and a husband to his wife.  Those are not dispassionately philosophical ‘first cause’ analogies but those of the deepest and most intimate of human relationships.

So here is the foundation we have laid so far.  People are made in God’s image comprised of mind, emotions and will.  We are sentient and self-aware.  We are moral beings with our ‘Moral grammar’ giving us an innate orientation of ‘right’ and ‘fair’, and what is not.  We have instinctive capacity to develop and appreciate beauty, drama, art and story in all its forms.  And we will innately and naturally seek out and develop relationships and friendships with others.  We are all this because God is all this and we are made in God’s image.  All these deductions are at least consistent with what we observe about ourselves as we laid this foundation.  We continue in the next post to look at some difficulties.


[1] Daniel Dennett.  Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.  p. 43

[2] Sam Harris. 2005. Letter to a Christian Nation p.38-39

Richard Dawkins and our Moral Tao – Part 2

In my previous post I looked at how Richard Dawkins argues that experimental evidence shows that we have a universal moral grammar hardwired into our brains.  At simple face value this is easily explained as a result of a moral agent doing the hardwiring of our brains.  But this is a metaphysical explanation, and not being able to accept such an explanation because of his materialistic worldview, Richard Dawkins instead attributes our moral grammar (or Tao as per the post on it) to natural selection.  In his view, emerging humans in the distant past actually did have subjective and random morality but the process of selection across all peoples over time has weeded out all other moral alignments so that only this current one remains.  Our Tao today is just due to the selective advantages that this Tao had over other past ones.  Thus (in his view) it appears to us today to be an absolute Tao (both in terms of how it operates in us, and that people all share a similar Tao) but in the emerging primitive tribes there were some Taos that extolled lying, greed, cheating, dishonesty, cowardice etc. as virtues but these were selected out because these tribal societies could not compete with those who had the Tao that we have today.

Dawkins:  Natural Selection as the cause of our Moral Tao

Dawkins puts forward explanations of why our modern Tao rather than other ‘selfish’ ones have greater survival value and thus would be selected for.   Let’s read his explanation:

“We now have four good Darwinian reasons for individuals to be altruistic, generous or ‘moral’ towards each other.  First, there is the special case of genetic kinship [a gene that programs individual organisms to favour or be ‘moral’ to related kin].  Second, there is reciprocation: the repayment of favours given, and the giving of favours in ‘anticipation’ of payback [‘You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’].  Following on from this there is, third, the Darwinian benefit of acquiring a reputation for generosity and kindness.  And fourth, if Zahavi is right, there is the particular additional benefit of conspicuous generosity as a way of buying unfakeably authentic advertising”[1]

In other words, according to Dawkins, there are four reasons why natural selection could cause the Moral grammar or Tao that we have today.  First because this Tao allowed us to better cooperate with kin, and close kin would carry more or less the same genes and this cooperation allowed this gene expression to be selected for.  Secondly, again within a group of emerging humans, our current Tao increased a symbiotic cooperation of helping and being helped (‘you scratch my back and I will scratch yours’) and thus increased survival.  Third, with enough cooperation in the group there would then be a reputation for generosity and the reputation, in and of itself, would enhance survivability and thus selection.  Finally, again within a group, extraordinary generosity would be a sign of dominance, and since they could afford to pay for this generosity they would have higher fitness.

None of these reasons that Dawkins gives are moral reasons, they are solely utilitarian and survival-based.  If these are the reasons that brought about our current Tao it would only prove that morals are indeed ‘an illusion’ (as Provine calls them in Session Two).  They only exist and are ‘moral’ because they selected for certain survival traits.

Dawkins:  Why Biblical Morality is Deficient

Unfortunately for Dawkins, we know from the rest of his book that he himself does not believe his own reasons.  For these reasons to be even conceivably plausible they must operate within a social and kin-based group where individuals can help their blood relatives, gain reputation, help each other out, and be conspicuously generous.  Now just a few pages further on in his book Dawkins attacks Biblical morality and Jesus’ maxim to ‘love thy neighbour’.  The point of his attack is to show that these moral teachings were ‘only’ meant to apply solely within Jewish society.  Referring to Hartung who wrote about this he says:

“Hartung clearly shows that ‘Thou shalt not kill’ was never intended to mean what we now think it means.  It meant, very specifically, that thou shalt not kill Jews.  And all those commandments that make reference to ‘thy neighbour’ are equally exclusive.  ‘Neighbour’ means fellow Jew. …  For me, this demonstrated that our morals, whether we are religious or not, come from another source; and that source, whatever it is, is available to all of us, regardless of religion or lack of it”[2]

Dawkins: Contradicting himself

OK.  But he just argued that supposedly our morality was forged because people were within a blood-related social ‘in-group’ which favoured the selection of ‘altruistic’ genes in that society, and hence favoured that society.  The Jews of the Bible precisely formed such a blood-related social in-group.  If he really believed that selection in such a group brought about what we now know as ‘morality’ then he would be showcasing the Jewish Old Testament as proof positive of this process.  But he does the opposite – saying their morality was deficient.  So he gives us a deeper insight into our Tao by criticizing Biblical morality as fake or deficient precisely because (he thinks) in their case it was only to be applied among kin and not universally.  He makes us ask, in effect, “Which is a better morality – one where I am good only to my blood relative, or where I am good to all people?” And we instinctively agree with him that an ‘in-group’ morality is in fact deficient, that it does not measure with our Tao.  But he cannot have it both ways.  Kin-based natural selection cannot both be the cause that forged our moral Tao while this same Tao tells us that kin-based morals are deficient or immoral.  He really believes morals are ‘good’ when they are universal, and we agree with him on this point.  But this contradicts his Darwinian speculations about their ‘in-group’ basis.  In his zeal to discredit the Bible, to show its deficiency, he helps us see that our Tao cannot have such an ‘in-group’ root.

Our Moral Tao – from where?

Thus we are left with his statement that ‘our morals … come from another source…’.  Now Dawkins is absolutely correct in saying that since all people have a similar Moral Tao (this universal moral grammar) that religion is not the source.  The cause is deeper than religion.  And that is why we have a moral Tao whether we are religious or not.  And since natural selection is not the cause of our morals we are once again back to ultimate metaphysical causes – the Moral Lawgiver – who hardwired this into us regardless of our culture, our religion, or our lack of religion.

Biblical view of Morals

So what is this other source?  The Biblical explanation is that we were originally made in the image of God – giving us our moral Tao – but then mankind had a fall into corruption, so that we cannot grasp in practice the morals that we can glimpse.  The Biblical view shrewdly captures the essence of our morality, and from the beginning of its narrative unfolds the Divine Plan to restore us from our condition.


[1] The God Delusion.  P.219-220

[2] The God Delusion p.254-255