Tuesday, October 13, 2015

On Christopher Columbus and Moral Law

I read an interesting article yesterday at VOX regarding some of the horrors of Christopher Columbus, who indeed is not the kind of person whom we should be celebrating. We simply all have the elementary school glossed-over picture of who he was, when in fact we know he was much worse.  (Granted, "In Fourteen-Hundred and Ninety-Two, Columbus kidnapped, enslaved, tortured, and raped" doesn't work well for a fifth-grade assembly.)

I for one fully agree with pointing out that Columbus is one of history's great villains. Not only was he just an immoral person (as shown in the article), but he wrongly gets credit for a major blunder. The common story tells that Columbus knew the world was round while everyone else thought it was flat, but that is demonstrably untrue. Everyone knew it was round--Columbus just thought (wrongly) it was half the size that it was. Spain was foolish to finance him, because he was wrong! If it weren't for the dumb luck of running into a continent he didn't know even existed, then Columbus would be a dead footnote in history, a fool who drowned his crew, a cautionary tale about ignoring scientists. Instead, he got lucky and landed but even then wrongly thought he was in India, hence the naming of Native Americans, "Indians."

So I don't disagree with the villification of Columbus--he deserves it.

What I find fascinating is how few of those doing the villifying think through the implications of their statements.

Many people are very willing to point out that rape, slavery, and the like are wrong--even though Columbus and his men at the time would say that it was fine.

Let's play the game of Five Whys, shall we? This is something we do in engineering and quality management sometimes, to ask "why" five times until we get to the true root of the issue.

You say Columbus should not be celebrated.

1. Why?

Because the things he did were evil.

2. Why do you say they were evil?

Because it is wrong to victimize people (steal, rape, enslave).

3. Why is that wrong? They didn't think so.

(This is where atheists start to get nervous and stop answering.)

Because this violates a universal right of human nature--it is universally wrong, regardless of your opinion.

4. Why is something universally wrong?

You don't even get to the fifth "why" before you run into the problem for naturalists.

In order for something to be morally, universally wrong, then there must be a moral, universal Right. There must be something which is external to human nature but to which all humans intuitively accept as objectively, universally right at all times and in all scenarios.

If you are an atheist/naturalist, then you are in a problem at this point. The closest you can get is to say that evolution has tricked our minds to think some things are morally universal, but in actuality there is nothing outside of our own evolutionary biology. In other words...the only "right" is survival. This survival instinct tricks us into thinking some harmful things are morally wrong. But they aren't actually wrong, they just feel that way. Neitzsche understood this well, even if it is a dirty secret most naturalists don't like to admit.

When you read that article about Columbus, you are forced to make one of two decisions:

1.  It is actually, morally wrong no matter how he was raised.  Therefore:  There is a universal, trans-human moral code which is given to us outside of our physical biological nature, and trumps our own experience. We can say that he was wrong and evil, and now we must explain where we got that moral code from. (Spoiler alert: God.)

2. Columbus wasn't actually wrong, he was just doing actions that most of us agree aren't helpful for the race's overall survival. He wasn't being pragmatic and helping our species.

So make your choice. Was it wrong or not? If wrong, you inevitably are going to find yourself with a Moral Law. Thinking on that will eventually lead you to a Lawmaker. Further reflection will show that you yourself fail to uphold that Law. Further reflection will lead you to the understanding that if life after death is real, you need to find a path to make amends and gain forgiveness for violating that Law. After further reflection, I will see you in church on Sunday. :-)


  1. Wowza. You need a mic drop meme for this post!

  2. Wowza. You need a mic drop meme for this post!

  3. It can be argued that Columbus and his sponsors thought they were helping one section of humanity to thrive at the expense of others whom they may not have considered really "human." That is certainly the argument of those who believed in eugenics. But farmers and ranchers know that the most vital strains of crops and animals are the hybrids; "pure-bred" strains may look good laid out in lines, charts and trees, but you get lots of nasty, unhealthy recessive traits after a while. That alone is an argument against racism and for a vibrant mix of people and cultures. (Some of my most enjoyable, Spiritually enlightening worship experiences have been in churches full of people of color.)

    But then one must fairly ask the question, "Why is it good for a race of beings to be plentiful and healthy?", bringing things right back to where you left them, Pastor... :)