Imagine how great people would be if they unshackled themselves from religion? Would we suddenly become more loving?; tolerant?; smarter?; moral? Jeff Schewitzer, with resound, answers yes to all of these questions. In his book, Beyond Cosmic Dice: Moral Life in a Random World, Schweitzer argues for a “natural ethic”, a morality freed from religious tyranny and dogma. He lays out an argument starting with humanity and how it came to be (Part 1). After establishing exactly what humans are, he tackles the origin of Religion and its place in anthropology (Part 2). After a study on religion, he lays forth his natural ethic, an ethic that argues: “since humans have the choice to be moral; they have the responsibility to be moral.”
The book starts with Galileo’s issue with the Church…which illustrates the first of Schweitzer’s issues: his definition of the church. The author assumes Christianity’s official position to be that of the Pope’s. The Pope does some good things, but he doesn’t speak for all of Christianity, nor does he provide the most logical and informed response to issues. Secondly, Schweitzer paints the Church as a roadblock to advancements in science and technology, which is only a half-truth. To begin with it, where Schweitzer is wrong, to study science (creation) was to study the Creator, so science, really has much to thank Christians for the development and creation of many fields of study. Where he is correct, is Christianity’s inability to respond intellectually to the advancements of science. Take for example the Ham/Nye debate. Nye was extolling a philosophy…where as Ham was arguing the Bible. Nye looked like a genius, Ham looked like a goat. When abortion is discussed, Christianity needs to respond with more than Psalm139.
The book starts with a definition of humanity. According to Schweitzer, Human beings are (1) alive; (2) a product of evolution; (3) different from animals. The problem is that he is unable to (1) draw a line between living and non-living creatures. Despite attempts at classification living things by: autonomy; reproduction; stability, change and evolution; resistance to entropy; conversion of matter and energy; metabolism; excretion; movement; autopoiesis; homeostasis; complexity; organization; growth and development; respiration; responsiveness; and information. With each of these definitions, there are exceptions to each rule. Life and non-life, according to Schweitzer is ambiguous, contained on a spectrum, with no defining line, meaning we are all connected. (2) Evolution is a proven fact. Schweitzer understands the Miller-Urey experiment as a proof of spontaneous generation. Though the Miller-Urey methodology is flawed, and considered by many to be in conclusive, Schweitzer holds it up as a building block for his evolutionary argument. Alongside Miller-Urey, he holds up the research on ribozymes, which can duplicate the genetic material already present. When ribozymes duplicated RNA and DNA, then Darwinian evolution took over. So we are the product of animals. (3) How different we are from animals is hard to tell. Where does the line get drawn. Schweitzer mocks Genesis 1.28 as a definition of man. So he argues against every distinguishing feature that philosophy and science has found: Brain development; intelligence; self-consciousness; self-awarness; empathy; tool use; language; music; culture; laughter; observational-learning; farming; social organization; mathematics; a soul; and advanced technology. Schweitzer points out from the animal kingdom how all of these are not exclusive to humanity. So…there is nothing different between us and animals!
Section 2 entertains the connection between morality and religion. Beginning this section, Schweitzer draws upon the works of Edwin Tylor, E.O. Wilson, and David Hume as they tried to explain the evolutionary origins of religion, as it started with primitive spiritism, to polytheism, and finally into monotheism. During his summary of the birth of religious thought, he states the remedy to such superstition: “As gods are the child of ignorance, knowledge is a lethal potion strong enough to kill the most powerful force.” As knowledge increases our need for God decreases. The second chapter of this section is his tour through history of all the atrocities and “gullibility” of religious belief. From Jim Jones to David Karesh, none are too crazy to be mentioned as the product of religion. This comes from a poor job of church history done by Schwietzer. The final chapter of this section is a frontal attack on the morality of God. Up to this point he summarized religion and morality that was based in it. Now he challenges the goodness of God posing three options on harmonizing God’s foreknowledge with the suffering on this planet: (1) God knew and did nothing; (2) God knew and couldn’t do anything; (3) God didn’t know. (sidenote Mr. Swietzer, when making a central claim arguing against the existence of God, proofread: God does not “exit?” or “exist?”). Schwieitzer, I believe, has made a logical mistake. He has not considered that God desires that there be no suffering, but He refuses to impinge upon human free will. We humans have made this mess of suffering because of our sin and disobedience.
In the final section of the book, Schweitzer begins with a tour of ethical theories that have been proposed throughout history. Beginning with moral sense theory (humans naturally and with out reason know right from wrong) to Rationalism (humans can reason right and wrong); Egoism (self-interest determines right and wrong) to Kant (the principle of the act determines right and wrong) or utilitarianism (the consequence of the act determines right and wrong). Schwietzer moves on to the tenants of his natural ethic as being arising out of human nature as a relativistic ethic with existential underpinnings (life has no meaning/purpose/or design). Before purposing his “natural ethic” he first must dismantle moral behavior from a religious base. It is fairly simple to see why Christianity fails as a moral theory in his eyes: BECAUSE HE MESSES UP THE GOSPEL.
“moral behavior is desirable as a ticket to heave and as a means of avoiding the agony of eternal damnation.” (167)
Behavior is never our ticket into heaven, a relationship with Jesus Christ is. Morality, in the Christian view, is based out of our relationship to Jesus. We serve because he first served us…we love because he first served us…etc. Chapter 8 claims incongruities in the Bible, anti-feminism statements, endorsements of slaver, incest, rape, polygamy, violence, murder, and hatred of homosexuality.
“Whether the literal word of God, some form of allegory or a type of metaphor, the Bible offers no credible advice on daily life and how to live our lives well. The Bible is not a viable source document for moral teachings.” (172)
Here is where Schwietzers “Natural ethic” is expounded…are you ready? We are moral because we have evolved to the point that we can choose to be good and therefore have the obligation to be good. Only by rejecting God (an immoral being anyway) and casting aside the Bible (errorful and without credible advice) can we as humans truly progress our society. The final 2 chapters flesh out his theory in the popular world and how this ethic is lived out.
It was a very interesting read even though this book had no annotated bibliography our sources listed. No source citations or documentation. As a non-fiction piece of work, there seemed to be a lot of emotionalism that came through each page and his historical studies needed to be more solid. This book was written at an accessible level, which scares me. Science is bringing their theories to the populace at a quicker rate than Christianity is answering. The theory behind this book seems quite flawed, but should it fall upon someone who has rejected God as a moral law-giver, to use C.S. Lewis’s term, I could see how this theory is one to be embraced.