Thanks again for all the replies. I can tell there's a lot of passion for this subject! I must admit, I was reminded at times of the (probably apocryphal) story about the preacher who had scribbled on the margins of his sermon "Argument weak. Yell here." There's certainly a lot of passion - but less engagement than I hoped with the questions I posed.
Here's my big question, once again. I'll even put it in bigger font and bold the relevant word so it's clear what I'm asking.Given atheism, what basis is there for morality? Given atheism, why ought we to behave morally?
Let me do what I did last time: I'll reply to the common themes that appeared among the posts, without necessarily doing a line-by-line rebuttal.Well, why do theists have it any better? What difference does a god make?
... What is the relevance of a god to morality? Can you break that down into a coherent argument for anyone?
Why, given theism, is it good to help people? The Bible is filled to the tippy-tippy-top with examples of Yahweh giving commands to massacre whole populations of people down to the last terrified infant, and stories in which he does the deed himself.
I can't really speak for all theists that believe in any old god. For Christians, though, Jesus explicitly told us to help people:https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+22%3A34-39&version=ESV
and that they are made in the very image and likeness of God, and so are intrinsically valuablehttps://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+1:27
Your understanding of Christianity seems to be that anything mentioned in the Bible that anyone does is somehow biblically approved of in all situations. Joshua killed a whole bunch of Caananites that one time so it must be OK to kill whole people groups. Moses killed a bunch of people so it's doubly OK. Jonah was swallowed by a big fish so it must be good to get swallowed by fishes. Noah got drunk and slept with his daughters so that must be a good thing too. Samson was a womanizer so that must be what we're supposed to do. David was an adulterer, and then murdered to cover it up. Isiah preached naked. Rahab was a prostitute. Peter denied Christ. If this is the case, if you really think that's what Christianity is about, then full stop. You literally don't know the first thing about Christianity:
Christianity is about the historical fact that because Jesus Christ loves us, he came to earth, died to forgive us of our sins, and then rose again so that we could live in God's presence.
Full stop. The Bible is that story. It's not the a collection of vignettes that we should at all times emulate. That would be ridiculous.
But here's the thing: even if I were to grant your absurd premise that the Bible wholeheartedly endorses killing entire people groups
, given atheism,
why is that so bad? Picture Joshua, sword raised, a helpless pregnant woman about to meet her bloody end. Should he really pause to think to himself "y'know, in 3,000 years or so in the future, there's going to be this internet forum of people who strongly disapprove of my actions. Why, some of them will even put their objections in the bold tag! I should really rethink this whole Caananite slaughter thing!" Given atheism,
why was Joshua so wrong to kill all those people? What'd he do that was so bad? He was just following his own personal morality, the same as I do, the same as you do, the same as we all do. On what basis is what he did wrong?
This is why it's so critical to come up with a system of morality on the atheistic worldview for your moral arguments to hold any water. If you don't, you can come up with one, then you're just like the aforementioned preacher: long on style and passion, but without a logical argument to back it up.You must be a terrible person if it's only your belief in God that holds you back from doing all sorts of terrible things!
If it is really true that Biblical commands from the Lord are the only thing that keep you from running around raping, brutalizing, and murdering people at will, close this tab in your browser immediately. Do not return to this site or to any other atheist or non-Christian site. Go directly to your nearest church, get on your knees and pray to Yahweh to continue to make you be a nice person. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.00. Do not ever enter any other discussion of the basis of morality as long as the threat of divine punishment is the only thing holding you back from being a monster. Then, as soon as possible, visit a psychiatrist and explain your situation to them. Get. Help. Yahweh will roast your ass in Hell for eternity if you don't!
If the above disclaimer applies to you, stop reading now. You're not ready to enter a discussion and debate about morality. You're still at the "If you're bad, Daddy will spank you" stage, so you're not able to handle the concept of being moral if Daddy (Cosmic or otherwise) won't show up to deliver the whuppin'.
If this is actually what you think and feel, then STOP. Right now. Back away from your computer, look up the number for a psychiatrist, and call them, right now. GET. HELP. Because this is not an issue of Christianity vs. atheism, but of your mental health and the safety of the people in your life. Your brain is missing a vital function, and you're a time-bomb ready to go off the moment you doubt the faith behind your moral rules, or hear a voice in your head you think is Yahweh's, telling you to drown your kids. GET. HELP. NOW.
If you're being honest, that this is the view you would adopt if you didn't believe in Yahweh anymore, i.e., that you think this is actually the rational approach to morality if it weren't for a supernatural miracle, then you're missing your mirror neurons (or for some other reason have difficulty employing empathy and modeling other minds). If this is the case, then it's not possible to discuss ethical theories with you any more than it's possible to talk with a blind person about whether or not today's sunset is more beautiful than yesterday's.
^That above is pretty much another example on why some Christians' views on morality disturb me—not just because some say that anything's good if God tells them to do it (even if it's torture, killing, etc.), but this is the other side of it that disturbs me—people saying that without God, morality is useless, so there's no reason to treat anyone with kindness if you don't believe in God (not seeming to realize that there are quite a few people who grow up in atheist households and they have a sense of morality and turn out alright), or saying that people are only special or worth anything if God gives them meaning.
Hmm, no, that's not enough. Let me try this one.
Tempting though it is to just put a silly picture there and leave it as a perfectly adequate rebuttal to such a spurious argument, let me spend a few sentences discussing this.
No, people who don't believe in God, or people who leave Christianity after believing, do not suddenly turn into monsters. Yes, atheists can have a sense of morality - in fact, the moral argument depends on it. Now, if you were being consistent with your worldview, you would not have that same sense of morality. But you are not consistent.
Think of it in terms of corn dogs. I believe in God, and so I believe that if God didn't exist then neither would corn dogs. But of course
I acknowledge that atheists also believe in corn dogs. I don't really think they have a rational explanation of why they exist or why they are so tasty, but I nonetheless acknowledge that you believe in corn dogs. It's not my belief in God that lets me enjoy corn dogs, it's God creating corn dogs that lets me enjoy corn dogs.
When you attack Christians by saying that if it weren't for our belief in God that we wouldn't believe in morality, it may indeed score you rhetorical points. However, it also exposes the fact that you are missing the whole point of the argument, and thus cannot offer an effective rebuttal.Of course atheists can give an accounting of morality! It's the Golden Rule! No, wait, it's reciprocal! No, actually, I think I read somewhere about mirror neurons, it's those! No, it's Utilitarian! No, it just naturally evolved out of self preservation!
So what basis does an atheist have for morality? Let's say you're walking down a dark street at night, and you see a person coming toward you in the shadows. More than likely, you can come up with a rather complete list of things you hope that person will not do to you because they would result in your death, cause you pain or other sorts of harm, or otherwise result in an unpleasant experience--all without having to consult the Bible. You're not going to stop in your tracks and start flipping through Deuteronomy thinking, "Does it say anywhere in here that they shouldn't shove me against the wall and inject me with heroin so that I'll become addicted and have to buy more from them later? What about just taking my money? Jesus said 'Give to anyone who asks,' so it'd be OK if they mug me, right?"
You can probably even think of some things you'd prefer the other person do, like say "Good evening" and go on past. Behold, the secret of morality: from that other person's perspective, you are the looming figure approaching in the shadows. You already know how you would like to be treated in this situation, so all you have to do is: reciprocate. Say "Good evening" and walk on past. Most of the time, and in most ordinary circumstances, you can specify how you'd like to be treated, and how you would not like to be treated. Other people can do the same. Treat other people how they would like to be treated, expect the same of them, and you and they can work out a pretty solid basis for a moral order together.
You might say, "But what if somebody says they want other people to treat them as a king or dictator, to give them all their wealth, obey their orders without question, and be objects for their use?" Is this person willing to respond in kind? In other words, are they able to define "how I would like others to treat me" in a way that they willing to reciprocate, in their treatment of other people?
Notice how morality is reciprocal. That's why the concept of morality and justice has been represented by a balanced set of scales for thousands of years before Christianity existed (e.g. in Egyptian judgment scenes where the heart of the deceased is weighed against the Feather of Ma'at). Immorality happens when a person attempts to reject the reciprocal nature of morality. "I expect those [black people/indigenous people/women/people who believe another religion/people who have different folk dances and styles of dress than I do/etc.] to treat me right, but I can do whatever I like to them." Or, "these [black people/indigenous people/women/people who believe another religion/people who have different folk dances and styles of dress than I do/etc.] don't really count as people, so I can do whatever I like to them, but I count as a person and expect to be treated right." But of course those people will reciprocate if given half the chance, so that person has no right to be shocked--shocked! when they show up with torches and AK-47's one day.
Do you at all recognize the difference between these three clumps of carbon:
1) Soot buildup in an engine. The soot is incapable of feeling joy and suffering.
2) Diamonds. The diamond is incapable of feeling joy and suffering.
3) A bipedal mammal. The mammal is capable of feeling joy and suffering.
You are right - just because the third clump of carbon is capable of joy and suffering does not make it somehow magically special in some kind of universal, transcendent sense. But it is clearly different than the clumps of carbon described in 1 and 2. That difference is important. That difference is the 'why' you're asking me about.
Do you not see a difference between those three clumps of carbon? I mean, I know that we, as limited human beings with imperfect communication skills, can use the same label (e.g. 'clump of carbon') to describe these three things, but does that mean there are no differences? Surely not.
But yeah... um... a beings ability to feel pain and remember things DOES matter in terms of causing harm, because you can't "cause harm" to a non-thinking jelly bean. If this freak thinks atheists can easily chew on a jelly bean or just as easily cook up a puppy or a baby, he's insane. And again, it goes back to believers saying, "IF this stuff doesn't matter for eternity, it doesn't matter at all! If you'd die anyway, I could just kill you, what's the difference? But I have morality from YahWeh so I won't."
What they fail to consider is that even without a god, morality - fundamentally, how we treat others - would still come into being. Because when something becomes capable of recognizing that other things in its environment are the same as it, it will naturally extend its concerns and desires to those other things, because to fail to do so potentially risks is own existence. Even the most brutish caveman could recognize that if he attempted to kill another caveman, the other caveman would attempt to kill him right back, because the other caveman would not want to be killed. And while this often resulted in inventive ways to kill other cavemen without giving warning, it also resulted in cavemen agreeing not to kill each other and that they would help defend each other if they were attacked. Such agreements made them a much tougher proposition than a single caveman, if only because they could cover each other's backs and sleep in shifts. What is that if not morality? And yet, it did not need to come from a god. It did not need to come from anything save only the ability to model the behavior of others.
For that matter, it probably was already a thing before humans ever existed, because we clearly aren't the only animals capable of basic morality. Whether it's sharing food or living and hunting in groups, all of those count as forms of morality. In other words, you don't even have to be human to be moral, although it's easier for us to develop morality past these basic precepts because of our capacity for more abstract thought.
That's a whole lot of not answering the question.
I mean, these are all great theories. Morality is reciprocal; or it's basically because we ought not cause entities that are capable of feeling pain, pain; or it just evolved out of a sense of self preservation. That's all fine... but: why?
we harm other people who can feel pain? Why should
we behave reciprocally? Why should
we continue the caveman tradition of working together? Again, I have no doubt that each of you individually behave according to your own moral frameworks. But I'm asking (and asking and asking) you to give an account, given atheism, of why you feel an obligation to do so. Look again at those bolded should's and shouldn'ts above. You clearly feel that the universe ought be a certain way and not another. Why? What is it that is true about the world that makes you feel you have a duty to not harm pain-feeling entities, or behave as you would have others treat you, or work together to ensure the propagation of the species? What is it specifically that's so wrong about Licorice-Jelly-Bean guy's thoughts on morality? Sure, his theory of morality will result in people being killed (as pointed out when jaimehlers 'blew my argument out of the water.') But according to Licorice-Jelly-Bean guy, such a result is utterly orthogonal to true
morality, which is measured by how many licorice jelly beans are produced. What is the true fact about the universe that makes this wrong? Why, given atheism, are people more important than jelly beans?
Do try hard to give an answer next time, or I'll be in serious danger of concluding that I'm winning the argument.
...To [DrTerrapin], if morality isn't imposed from the top - from a morality-giver - then anything goes, and there is no basis for arguing that one is better than another. But this is nothing more than the same category mistake a lot of theists make regarding their theism and morality.
Yes. This. I do argue that morality must be imposed from a morality giver. A law implies a law giver. Morality is, at it's heart, authoritative.
I suspect I'll get a lot of replies on this. Some will say that this shows an inability of Christians (or at least this Christian) to think for himself, an inflexibility or inability or unwillingness to define my own morality, a childish reliance on a 'cosmic sky daddy' instead of a bold and piercing look into the future. Before you do though, consider this: though I suspect an authoritative morality leaves a bad taste in your mouth, it is at least a
morality. Atheism (unless and until someone can answer the question) can provide no
nah, he was here today. As usual, we have a Christian who is sure that he has the answers, and then when shown the failure of his arguments, he lurks around. I wonder if he's praying extra hard for his god to give him a zinger of an answer.
Sure, I was here. And no, there was no praying for a 'zinger.' And no, I'm actually pretty confident I don't have all the answers.
I was actually just waiting to see if anyone would take an honest stab at answering the original question. Maybe next time.