Are skepticism and atheism basically the same thing? This was one of the questions raised in a thought-provoking article looking at the modern skeptical movement: 'What is happening to skepticism?', written by Martin Bridgstock, and which appeared in the latest NZ Skeptic. Bridgstock noted the general decline of religion in the West, even though evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity is increasing, and wondered 'how skeptics should view the steadily increasing number of atheists and other non believers in developed countries'? Following informal polling he conducted at skeptical conferences held in Australia and NZ, Bridgstock reckons that around 90% of those skeptics also called themselves atheists, and he thus sees 'a big overlap between the two movements'. Therefore one argument is that atheists and skeptics should join forces against religion, since, 'Logically, if a person looks at the evidence for religious belief and finds it inadequate, is this not a skeptical process, and therefore are not skepticism and atheism the same?'
To counter this argument he notes that many people claiming to be atheists are not skeptics, and conversely there are skeptics who hold religious beliefs. We know many people who are atheists who have reached this stance basically on a gut feeling, similar to the 'argument' used by many religious people: 'Well, there has to be something out there to have created all this.' For many nonbelievers, their 'argument' is just as flaky: 'Well, gods throwing lightning bolts and a man walking on water and rising from the dead all sounds rather silly'. They're right of course, it is silly, but they'll admit that they know next to nothing about religion, next to nothing about science, and are not familiar with any of the arguments for atheism. They have taken a stance, but they can't strongly support it.
Likewise there are skeptics who giggle at belief in ghosts, astrology, alien abductions and homeopathy, and who can support their disbelief with reason and scientific evidence, and yet at the same time they believe in gods, demons and souls. They either refuse to apply skeptical thinking to religious claims, or they fool themselves into believing that there are strong reasons for rejecting ghosts, but not gods.
When someone says they're a skeptic, it tells you nothing explicit about their belief in gods. You might assume that they could well be an atheist, but you can't be sure. Skepticism tells you nothing about someone's actual beliefs, only that they profess to apply critical thinking to various claims. For example, currently there are many skeptics who accept claims of human-influenced climate change, and some skeptics who don't. You can't tell, although you might make an educated guess, on how a skeptic might view various claims. Atheism is different. We can be absolutely sure how an atheist feels about gods — they don't exist. We have no idea on how an atheist views ghosts, alien abductions or Bigfoot, but we can be utterly confident on their disbelief in gods, unlike skeptics.
Our view is that skepticism and atheism are definitely not the same thing. You can follow one and not the other. That said, anyone that is serious about skepticism or atheism, that researches religious claims and considers arguments for and against, will gravitate towards atheism if they were merely skeptical, and will be more confident if they were investigating their atheistic stance.
We see skepticism as the journey, whereas atheism is the destination. Skepticism is a process, a way of thinking — critical thinking — and is combined with science, evidence and reason to reach a conclusion. Atheism is the correct conclusion reached on skeptically investigating religion, it's the answer, it's not the process of reaching that conclusion.
You can be both a skeptic and an atheist, like us, but skepticism and atheism do not mean the same thing. They definitely go together, the first leads to the latter in our view, but not everyone adopts both.
Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 24 Mar, 2012 ~
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Comment by John, 25 Mar, 2012
Nice Blog John! Here are some comments about this posting:
You are right; atheism is the logic end-result of skepticism. But... only if the person can overcome an enormous number of personal challenges. Obviously, they need the education and knowledge to understand the issues, but they also have to fight many social and psychological battles. Most people just can't win those battles, and choose to stay religious.
They have family and friends who are faithful, and will risk alienating all of them if the abandon God. They were raised to believe in God since childhood. It is so ingrained in their nature that doubting god or desiring to be atheist is a very scary notion. In many parts of our country, particularly the Bible belt, Utah, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, you must be a member of the local church to be a part of the community. An atheist's kids aren't allowed to play with others or attend many of the schools. For a skeptic living there, it would take a lot of courage to go down the path to atheism.
It is a rare believer who isn't a skeptic. In public, they say they are firm believers and have a strong faith. But my experience is with most believers, if you sit down and start talking about THEIR faith, they quickly will bring up a host of doubts. Understanding people's faith is a hobby of mine, so I always listen to people's explanation of why they believe and try to talk about their faith. I've learned a lot, and do think, most are skeptics.
I took the skeptic's journey, and did end up Atheist. I very clearly remember days long past where I just could not understand why the rest of the world was not Baptist. It took me over 10 years to be comfortable saying I was atheist. There is a lot to this transformation. Being a skeptic is one step, but the even bigger challenge is the emotional and psychological leaps that must occur. To help people make this leap, I compiled my research into a book Why Adam and Eve Created God. It is at www.wecreatedgod.com.
We need a lot more religious education and religious freedom before the skeptics will be comfortable abandoning their faith. I hope to help with this. Enjoy.
Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 26 Mar, 2012
Thanks for your comments John, and we agree. It is certainly not easy to throw aside a strongly held religious belief on discovering it's most likely false, especially if you live in a religious community. Luckily in NZ we don't have a Bible Belt, but even here we do have the odd isolated fundamental religious community and denominations that place a certain isolation on their members. That said, in social situations in NZ it's just as acceptable to say you're an atheist as to say you're a believer. But it seems that religious belief, indoctrinated as it is from childhood, is apparently one of the most difficult beliefs to reject, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. You've obviously made some excellent arguments as to why we should reject belief with your book and website.
I'd agree that most believers are all skeptical about some or much of their religion, although they often refuse to admit it. Education, critical thinking and most importantly, a desire for the truth, is required before the religious skeptic will abandon their faith. Many realise this I believe, but aren't willing to surrender the comfort of their belief or community, and thus focus their skepticism on ghosts and the Loch Ness monster instead.
Comment by Joe, 17 Apr, 2012
Hi John, nice article there thanks. I was thinking about skepticism, and I can only conclude that it is a very healthy approach to gaining knowledge.
I don't really like to label myself or others, but I know I probably fit under this category if I had to, and enjoy the quality of skepticism in others.
I like everything that I believe to be well supported with evidence, but also there are just some things that have no solid evidence, such as God, the origins of the universe, meaning of existence.
Having a good degree of skepticism going over all the books, articles, discussions on subjects, makes for a well rounded opinion, as you can never be sure of any sources accuracy. Or even your own perception of things mentally or physically.
As the other poster states, a lot of theists are skeptical. You really have to be, as there is a lot of religious dogma that needs to be waded through, and a whole new level of understanding to get to grips with. As well as the various flavours of theism.
Be skeptical, search for the truth! It's out there apparently. Fox Mulder said so!
Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 18 Apr, 2012
We agree Joe, skepticism — questioning all claims — is the way to gain knowledge, as opposed to simply gaining beliefs.
We also agree that there many things that we have no solid evidence for, especially God, but also the existence of aliens, for example. However, as for the origin of the universe and the meaning of existence, these things are a little different. If by origin of the universe you mean the big bang theory, then there is considerable evidence that the observable universe began some 13 billion years ago, and no other alternative theory that comes anywhere close. If by origin you mean what 'caused' the big bang, then yes, there is no good evidence supporting any particular theory, eg quantum fluctuations or multiverse or some god. However there is good evidence that suggests it is highly unlikely to be any god.
It's the same with the meaning of existence. From both scientific and philosophical perspectives, there is solid evidence that humans are just biological organisms that arose naturally because of evolution, essentially no different from cats or bacteria. We simply are, we are not here for some purpose designated by some divine being. We are not playing scripted roles in some supernatural drama. To suggest that our existence has meaning implies that some independent intelligence has stamped us with its idea of meaning, of purpose. We humans have many things in our lives that exist for a reason, that have a purpose, that have a meaning stamped on their existence, but that is only because we have designed these things for a particular purpose. For example, cars and dairy cows have, in human terms, a meaning of existence: to serve humans. Christians for example believe that humans were designed and built to serve and worship God, and that this is our meaning of existence. We believe that the meaning of existence only has meaning if one believes one is a deliberate creation designed and brought into existence by some intelligent being. There is solid evidence that suggests this is not the case.
Of course this is not to say that we can not give meaning to our lives, but this meaning, the things we strive for, the things that make our lives worth living, are things that each individual must decide for themselves. The meaning of our lives is what we decide it to be. We aren't told, as Christians are, as to what we are here for, we can choose for ourselves what it is that will give our lives meaning.
We think it's wonderful that we have this freedom to chose, whereas the religious apparently feel lost, and cry out, Please Master, what are my instructions, what do you want me to do, how can I please thee? They seek the reason for their existence, seemingly feeling that without a given purpose their life will be worthless. It will only be worthless if, rather than seeking to lead a good life on their own volition, they instead blindly seek, like gold at the end of a rainbow, a mirage from our distant, primitive past.
You agree that 'a lot of theists are skeptical', which is good since 'there is a lot of religious dogma that needs to be waded through... As well as the various flavours of theism'. This skepticism from theists raises an important question, one that often annoys them. How can they apply their skepticism towards the religions of the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Aztec etc and existing religions such as Islam and Hinduism and immediately recognise the innumerable flaws in them, and yet change the god's name from Zeus to Jehovah and suddenly their skepticism fails them. They'll confidently refer to science and history and logic to clearly explain why thousands of religions are obviously false, and yet they stumble and fall when faced with identical flaws in their own religion. And it can't be argued that only Christians have this handicap, Muslims and Jews for example, can tell you exactly why Christianity is false, but are oblivious to the arguments of others towards their own religion. It appears that the religious are only capable of skepticism towards beliefs other than their own.
We atheists treat all religions equally, with no preferences, and find them all lacking. Can you Joe provide any good reasons why the claims of ancient Jews are any more believable than the claims of the Romans, Egyptians and Greeks that lived at the same time?
Comment by Joe, 29 Apr, 2012
Hi John, thanks for your reply, and sorry for the late response.
The big questions you talk about, are ultimately the most important I think, at least for me anyway, in creating a worldview. Questions such as, why is there something rather than nothing, the origins of the universe, and lastly why we exist.
We really do not know these answers, and we will probably never know before our time is up. I have a deep love of astronomy and cosmology, and this gives a good perspective on existence, and it is infuriating knowing that however well we can develop technology and science, we can still only speculate, on the origins of the universe.
Philosophy can make sense of where our knowledge tails off, and looking into existentialism (if you want to call it philosophy) paints a rather absurd existence for us. We know we exist but, still cannot fathom any reason, meaning or purpose from it. Nietzsche my favourite atheist, takes it rather well, and embraces the absurdity of it all. It's a rather discomforting thing to realise your own existence, and most people tend to not want to think too much about it. Nevertheless it is quite inescapable, and no answers or meaning for existence are universally true, in a naturalistic sense.
So in being skeptical and searching for ultimate truth, you quickly realise on the universal scale there is none. "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference." Dawkins points this out only too well.
So you say that we are to just make up our own minds as to what meaning we want to give to our existence. This is obviously very subjective in nature, and follows on that there is no real universal meaning, and we need to create an illusion of meaning to keep our existence bearable. Otherwise face the absurdity and anxiety of existence in a naturalistic worldview.
Most religions with a universe creator deity, do not need create the illusion of meaning to deal with existence, as a creator of the universe imparts meaning and purpose to our existence. So being told we have meaning, rather than creating your own illusion is where the difference is there. Yes it's nice to have freedom to create your own meaning, but it still is not universally true. But having a deity who imparts meaning is reassuring and true, as long as the deity exists. So the existence of a deity or not can still explain a great deal about our own existence. So the question still remains does God exist or not?
Treating all religions equally can be very problematic for atheism. Likewise if theists treated all atheists equally, you would not like to be tarred with other peoples brushes. So not all theists or religions are alike, same as I would agree that not all atheists or atheist groups are alike. Just people and ideology are very different!
But to answer your question on why are some Gods more believable than others, is pretty straightforward, for me at least. A God who would explain answers to the above 'big' questions would be more believable than a God who was made of spaghetti or controlled the moon. So a universe creating God would answer these questions, and maybe only one is needed, and a God who would have a reason to put life in the created universe to be able to see, learn, and appreciate it.
So the argument for a God will always be there, as to what God or what religion, is up to people to determine for themselves, if they want some kind of answer to their existence. Skepticism is useful at this stage!
Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 01 May, 2012
Hi Joe. Sorry about the length of my reply, but I think we both agree that neither of us is going to be swayed by a couple of glib comments, and you are seeking a discussion on atheism.
I don't see how positing a god solves any of the big questions that you mentioned, such as 'why is there something rather than nothing, the origins of the universe, and lastly why we exist'. All you've done is move the mystery back a step. The big questions are now, 'why is there a god rather than nothing, the origins of this god, and lastly why this god exists'. Many religious people answer that god has always existed, but this is only wishful thinking, and answers nothing. If we're going to say something has existed forever, then it makes more sense to simply stop at the universe. If you can't comprehend how the universe could have existed forever, then you surely must have the same problem with god, only astronomically greater. By that I mean, think of the big bang as originating from a vacuum or even an infinite expanse of energetic hydrogen gas. Whatever, this natural origin was mind-blowingly simple, it wasn't alive, it wasn't intelligent, it had no plans to create humans and iPhones. The religious seemingly can't grasp how something so simple and unthinking could exist forever, and yet they have no problem insisting that a living, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving god, the most complex thing that has and could ever exist has existed forever. Simple inanimate energy and matter couldn't exist forever, but complex, intelligent life could. Yeah right. And forever means that this god has existed in a situation where he was alone up until he created the universe and life, which on forever terms, was merely a minute fraction of a nanosecond ago. Which raises another big question, what was he doing for all that time, and why the sudden desire to create a universe? Were we his first, or merely the first that he was happy with, like his failures with the Garden of Eden and Noah's Ark?
We agree that we may never know the origin of the universe, but this is no reason to pretend that we already have the answer, and call that origin god. To us this smacks of the recent psychological need for everyone to have 'closure', and rather than admit ignorance, people feel comforted by deluding themselves that our origin has been solved. I don't lose any sleep at night by not knowing what might have caused the big bang (or a million other things for that matter). As they say, false knowledge is more dangerous than ignorance.
You say that 'it is infuriating knowing that however well we can develop technology and science, we can still only speculate, on the origins of the universe'. I hope you'd agree that modern scientists know astronomically more about the universe than what desert nomads did thousands of years ago. And yet Christians don't merely 'speculate' on the origin of the universe, they insist they know exactly. Science has proven itself immensely successful in explaining the universe, and debunked untold religious claims in the process, and yet the religious still see it as inferior to what was written in their holy books thousands of years ago. Scientists can only speculate, but the religious can tell us what really happened? How can you put more trust in ancient books full of untold errors than in science? Is our modern society and knowledge due to science or religion?
On the meaning of life you say that 'We know we exist but, still cannot fathom any reason, meaning or purpose from it'. Again you are asking why we exist, which implies that some intelligent creator has put us here for a purpose that we must discern. This is putting the cart before the horse. First you need to prove that life has been deliberately and artificially created, only then can you ask the question, for what purpose?
You say that philosophy 'paints a rather absurd existence for us'. My dictionary defines 'absurd' as 'The condition or state in which human beings exist in a meaningless, irrational universe wherein people's lives have no purpose or meaning... the view that there is no order or value in human life or in the universe'. You go on to say that we atheists 'need to create an illusion of meaning to keep our existence bearable. Otherwise face the absurdity and anxiety of existence in a naturalistic worldview'. We think you misunderstand what absurd means and what your Richard Dawkins' quote was saying. Humans do indeed exist in a universe that was not designed and as such our existence has no meaning or purpose placed on us by the universe. The universe puts no value on our survival, and almost the entire universe is extremely hostile to life. We can only survive on a small part of the planet; leave it and we die. The universe doesn't care about us. If designed, it obviously wasn't designed for us. What 'absurd' and Dawkins mean is that the universe itself doesn't imprint meaning on our lives. When 'absurd' talks of values and Dawkins of evil, they are not saying that human life can have no values, they are merely saying that the universe doesn't provide it. You are suffering from a typical Christian delusion, akin to 'atheists can't be moral without god', by suggesting that atheists 'need to create an illusion of meaning to keep our existence bearable'. The suggestion that if neither god nor the universe provides us with meaning, then we must create an illusion otherwise life is unbearable is utterly false. I do not need an illusion to love my family and friends, to help others, to enjoy good books, movies and food, to be curious about the world and to see beauty in a sunset, music or a painting. We can easily give value to our lives, and while the universe didn't design us to be moral, we have evolved naturally to a stage where we can understand what it means to be moral. Unlike tigers and sharks, we can adopt a moral code, encouraging us to help others and trying not to do harm. Likewise evolution has given us intelligence and emotions that let us interact with the world and other humans in a way that does place immense value on our lives and the lives of others. We doubt that you will find many atheists willing to throw their lives away because they feel they have no real value. Atheist lives are not some facade, some mask worn to hide the fact that our lives are meaningless and that we really have nothing to live for. Atheists want to live and enjoy their lives as much as any Christian. More so in fact, since atheists know that this is the only life we get and so we better make the most of it, unlike Christians who believe they are merely treading water until they can move on to their next life of eternal bliss.
Even if for some the realisation that the universe doesn't care about us is discomforting, this is no reason to create a comforting religion that pretends that while the universe doesn't care, its creator does. This is a sign of defeat. Scientists investigate the working of the universe because of curiosity, whereas the religious seem to be in search of a protector. Contrary to your implication, it is the religious that are desperate for something transcendent to give their lives value. Life, love, beauty and the natural universe in all its majesty are seemingly insufficient. Not so for atheists.
Along the same lines you state that 'no answers or meaning for existence are universally true, in a naturalistic sense'. You're talking at cross-purposes here, since a meaning for existence can't exist in a natural world. A meaning for existence implies a creator, which means a supernatural world. Again, only the religious are seeking a meaning to make their lives purposeful, atheists can find plenty in a natural world to give our lives value.
You also claim that on 'being skeptical and searching for ultimate truth, you quickly realise on the universal scale there is none'. We disagree. Again you seem to imply that 'ultimate truth' is some sort of code word for god-given truth. That's not what scientists or atheists are looking for. There is an ultimate truth, although we may never discover it, along the lines of Event X caused the big bang and the universe as we know it.
We had to giggle when we read your following comment: 'Most religions with a universe creator deity, do not need create the illusion of meaning to deal with existence... ' We would argue, as would you bar one, that all religions are nothing but illusions. They were all invented solely to allow the religious to deal with the meaning of existence, of life and the universe. As I've said, atheists don't create an illusion to deal with an unbearable existence, the religious do. While we each do construct our own philosophy of what life and the universe is all about, we do it by drawing on the knowledge and arguments of science, history and philosophy as well as an innate knowledge of how we should treat others.
We believe it's misleading to say that the non-religious that follow a scientific and evidence based worldview are adopting an illusion, which by definition is 'an erroneous perception of reality'. A scientific worldview is the only worldview that is shared, to various degrees, by every culture, country and religion on the planet. There is no Muslim algebra or Asian physics. This is because it's the only worldview that has evidential support, and no one that has used antibiotics, watched a rover explore Mars, flown in a 747 or used a cell phone could argue that it was all an illusion. Likewise, from a moral viewpoint, no one that has argued for the abolition of slavery, for the equality of the sexes or not to kill witches, none of which the Bible does by the way, would accept that they are pushing an illusion.
You note that, 'Yes it's nice to have freedom to create your own meaning, but it still is not universally true'. You're correct that our ethical arguments, that slavery is wrong for example, is not universally true, and it never can be unless a creator god has decreed it so. Unlike scientific and historic constants like the speed of light or the creator of Star Trek, which have one and only one correct answer, there is no single objective answer to moral questions. But again, until it can be shown that there is a creator god that decreed what morals we must follow (and again the god that you lean towards does not oppose slavery), then we are getting ahead of ourselves. The meaning or purpose of our existence is immaterial until we answer the question you mentioned, 'does God exist or not?' As an analogy, we would be silly to waste time debating whether Santa Claus had any children until we were both convinced that Santa actually existed.
I don't quite agree that 'Treating all religions equally can be very problematic for atheism' or that 'not all atheists or atheist groups are alike', although I can guess where you're coming from. In a strict sense all atheists are identical — they have no belief in gods — and all religions can be dismissed for the same reasons — there is no evidence of or need for gods. Of course the details differ widely among religions, however the basic arguments for atheism apply to all religions. While people that argue against Christianity, for example, can often be completely lost when meeting a deist, no matter the religion, the supernatural and gods all fail for the same reasons. Likewise atheists and atheist groups differ when you look at their arguments and knowledge and attitudes, but their differing personalities and debating skills are describing them as individuals. At their core all true atheists are the same, they have no belief in gods. All atheists are alike in this sense, but the individuals that hold atheistic views are not. This can't be said about the religious, since they don't have a core belief that they all agree on, eg some say one god, some say many gods and some have no gods per se, just supernatural forces.
We asked if you could provide any good reasons why the claims of ancient Jews are any more believable than the claims of the Romans, Egyptians and Greeks that lived at the same time. You replied that a 'universe creating God' that answered all our big questions would be worth believing in. However you neglected to mention which god you were referring to. The gods of the ancient Romans, Egyptians and Greeks (not to mention the Babylonians, Aztec and Vikings etc.) all claimed to answer the big questions about life, the universe and everything, but you don't find them believable. The ancient Jewish god is the Biblical god that likewise attempted to answer the big questions, yet you don't believe in the Jewish religion either. Neither do you believe in the Islamic god who likewise claims to answer the big questions. So it appears that the simple act of a god answering the big questions is not sufficient for belief.
You've said you are a Christian, so we have to assume that you're leaning towards the Christian god. But if you agree that it was actually the Jewish god that provided answers to the big questions, and not the Christian one, then why aren't you Jewish?
The Jews and Muslims, and no doubt the Romans, Egyptians and Greeks, followed their religions because they all believed that their god(s) answered the big questions. No religion is embraced by a civilisation because it tackles all the little questions. Contrary to popular belief, Christians don't have a patent on a universe-creating god that gives out answers, and Jews, Muslims and Hindus could all say that their religion is believable because it answers the big questions. We feel your answer could be used by a follower of any religion, and therefore provides no reason why one religion is superior to another. Furthermore, you are expressing a desire; you're not revealing a fact. You're saying that a god that told us the answers would be great, you're not demonstrating that a specific god has actually told us the answers.
Another reason you offer for belief, is for 'a God who would have a reason to put life in the created universe to be able to see, learn, and appreciate it'. Again you fail to mention which god deserves our gratitude, but we'll again assume it's the Jewish one that was appropriated by the Christians. But is this claimed purpose — to see, learn, and appreciate the universe — true?
For nearly all of human history man has not been able to see much of the universe, or even his own continent, let alone his own planet. Nor over this huge expanse of history did he learn much about his world or the universe or the life in it. For much of history mankind has lived in ignorance. Only in the last century or so has man finally been able to look into deep space or the deep oceans, and with telescopes and microscopes discovered the very distant and the very small. Humans have a potential life span of around 120 years, and yet for thousands of years the life expectancy was around 25 years, so most humans that have ever lived have died young failing to fully appreciate the world and what it offered. They saw little, learnt little and appreciated little. If a god created the universe for them, then he failed to give them the tools, knowledge and opportunity to enjoy it. Even today in our modern world there are untold numbers struggling to survive and have no time or energy to wonder what happened before the big bang or what quarks are made of. As we've said, if a god exists and he designed the universe, it obviously wasn't designed for us. If it was intended for our benefit, then it was an abject failure, although judging by some of god's unforseen failures in the Old Testament, one could use this failure to make a weak argument for god's involvement.
Let's reiterate that Christianity is based on the answers a Jewish tribal god gave to his chosen people. The big questions you mentioned as being answered by this god, ie the creation of life, the universe and commandments to live our life by, were all provided in the Old Testament, the part of the Bible that even most Christians now agree are nothing but myth. The universe, the earth and life wasn't created over six days a few thousand years ago. Man was not formed from dust and woman from a rib. They did not coexist peacefully with dinosaurs, nor did a global flood delivered by an angry god slaughter nearly all life. The earth does not rest on pillars, snow and hail are not kept in storerooms, and the sea is not held back by doors. Stars do not fall to earth and the sun does not stop in the sky. Bats are not birds, and the mathematical constant pi is not equal to three. And yet these and many other falsehoods are the answers that god gave to the big questions.
We agree completely that we should gravitate to worldviews that answer the big questions. But we emphasise that they must CORRECTLY answer the big questions, with rational arguments and direct evidence. Simply wishing to answer the big questions and then providing answers that are blatantly false is not something any sane, rational person should embrace. You claim that 'a universe creating God would answer these questions'. We would say such a god COULD answer these questions, rather than would, and it is very obvious that if he does exist, he HASN'T answered these questions. In fact if the answers in the Bible are his explanations as is claimed, then he's deliberately hiding the real answers from us. The scientific worldview, which has enormous evidential support, is in complete contrast with the Old Testament worldview as spelt out by god, which has no evidential support. A creator god could indeed tell us the real answers, but it's quite clear that no such god has attempted this. Of course Christians (and Jews and Muslims) disagree. Yet it's no good just saying that a creator god could tell us the answers, or has told us the answers if we could only interpret them properly. You need to show where a specific god has told us — clearly — the correct answers.
You finished by claiming that 'the argument for a God will always be there... if they want some kind of answer to their existence'. We would say that the desire for a God will always be there. You haven't provided an argument. Furthermore we would argue that an explanation for our existence can be reached without resorting to a god.
You've said you've examined and rejected the atheist, agnostic and deist positions, and are now a Christian getting into apologetics. You've gone beyond believing a creator god exists, you believe a specific creator god that cares for us exists. Thus you're not interested in showing some uncaring deist god might exist, you believe you have reasons to argue that the god of the Christian Bible exists, since Christian apologetics is 'concerned with defending or proving the truth of Christian doctrines'.
But we shouldn't put words into your mouth, so please tell us what you mean — precisely — when you say you believe in a creator god that has answered the big questions and given your life meaning. You mentioned the question: 'does God exist or not?' We need to know what god you are thinking about, so we don't waste time debating a god that neither of us believe in.
Then you could offer a reason why this god's existence should be accepted. Remember that every religious person claims that their god is the real god, so quotes from holy books are worthless, and cancel each other out. We need some independent evidence that tales written by one ancient society (eg the Hebrews) actually happened, but similar tales written by other more advanced societies around the same time were all just myths. Is there any good evidence that the Hebrews really met a god, and everyone else just pretended they did?
We're not interested in debating whether Jesus walked on water until we think it's even remotely plausible that the god he believed in actually existed. We need to walk before we run. So what might cause us to question our atheism?
Comment by Joe, 02 May, 2012
Hi John, thanks for the reply. I think we may need to set couple of objectives, as you have mentioned numerous topics of discussion, and have made numerous comments on Christianity, and a few other religions.
I think if we stick to the concept of God, without going into religions, it would be less confusing and I wouldn't have to defend all religions and God at the same time. As I'm certainly not an expert on all religion. I certainly wouldn't make an argument against all types of unbelievers, that would be time consuming. So I'm happy to talk God, but if you insist I be specific about which God, I'm happy to talk about Christianity. Doing both at the same time is very confusing, as they are completely different subjects to deal with.
Some subjects I would like to find out about are, how atheists construct meaning, purpose and value of life, or propose to. Also how would you define what is good and bad or right an wrong in a naturalistic worldview.
So hopefully we can set up some subjects, before I delve into the wealth of argument you put forward. I can argue it all, but it would be very confusing in this type of format. But if it suits the purpose of your website, I'm happy to go ahead. I'm learning alot already, thankyou.
Let me know what you would like to discuss, and I look forward to it!
Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 04 May, 2012
We agree Joe, our mentioning numerous topics of discussion can be confusing. We will quickly touch on this point. The topics you raised are not called the big questions for nothing, and as such they easily splinter off into many other fields of knowledge, evoking new arguments, highlighting new evidence and raising new concerns.
We've struck many Christians who get frustrated and annoyed when atheists mention that non-Christian gods, eg the ancient Egyptians, had creator gods too, or that other religions have moral codes. Many want the debate to have an either/or answer. They don't see it as a contest between atheism and one of thousands of possible religions, it's solely between atheism and their specific interpretation of what they see as the only true religion. They admit that the rest are fairy tales and they find it insulting that we should place fairy tales in the same sphere as their faith. We do not mention other religions to insult believers, we mention them to highlight their similarity, and ask that if there are a thousand gods to chose from, why should we chose their one? We are not trying to confuse, we believe that tackling these wider implications is essential to reaching the truth. The fact is that numerous topics all focus on the debate between atheism and religion. We could simplify it by simply saying — you're wrong, we're right — but we doubt if you'll find that convincing.
But moving on, you asked a specific question so we will focus on that, although be warned that other topics may be raised in our attempt to answer it. You wondered how 'how atheists construct meaning, purpose and value of life' and how we would 'define what is good and bad or right an wrong in a naturalistic worldview'. We see both these topics as an ethical discussion.
We are surprised that you don't already know the answer to these questions. I've asked several Christians on them insisting that morals come from their God: How would you behave if you lost your faith? Would you steal and stop respecting your parents? None could, or would admit, to understanding my question. We raise this because you've told us that belief-wise you've gone 'from agnostic, to atheism, to deism and theism. I think I've been round the block to find the truth'. So for a period of some time you have lived life as an agnostic, an atheist and a deist, none of which prescribe any meaning or purpose to life or morals to live by. So in all seriousness, we must ask you, did you spend this time raping and pillaging? Did you commit any crimes, assault anyone, steal anything, abuse your family and friends and generally behave like an antisocial misfit, a psychopath, a real bastard? If not, why not? From an ethical perspective, my guess is that during this period you behaved pretty much as you've behaved since embracing religion. Only you can answer the question: Why didn't you become a criminal psychopath when you flirted with atheism or deism? Did you know what was right and wrong, good and bad, during this period, or did you truly become amoral? During this period did your life lose all meaning, all value? Did you stop going to work, did you lose the desire to plan for your future, lose the enjoyment in social relationships, good movies and good food? Did you contemplate suicide because of the futility of it all? Again, we suspect you did not.
So again, the question is, why could you, when you spent time as an atheist, continue to find meaning and value in your life and recognise what was right and wrong? And yet when you became a Christian you are now dumbfounded as to how atheists can either stop ourselves from going on murderous rampages or blowing our brains out to end it all.
The truth is, we believe, that both atheist and religious believer receive the meaning of life and knowledge of right and wrong from the same sources. That is, from society, from family and friends, from authorities and from our own mind. Not from a god.
Christians would argue that their society is a Christian society, founded on Christian morals and values. Likewise their family and friends are guided by this Christian society, and at its root is the authority that proclaims a moral code and the meaning of life. This authority, the Christian God, flows through society, family and friends and instructs all Christians, giving them purpose and a moral code. And yet the morals that most Christians follow today are very different from what they were a thousand years ago, and different still to those set out in the Old Testament. What Christian today would kill a witch, own a slave or treat his wife as a chattel? Christians maintain that their knowledge of right and wrong come from the Bible, as set down by their God. But how many of the 613 commandments found in the Bible do Christians follow? The majority can't even keep all of the famous Ten Commandments, or even list them. Few respect the Sabbath, which is Saturday, not Sunday. None refuse to eat shellfish or wear clothes made of a cotton and nylon mix. None kill their children for talking back to them. Thankfully most modern Christians do NOT take their morals, of what is right and wrong, from the Bible. Apart from the odd fundamentalist Christian that still does follow the letter of Bible law, persecuting homosexuals and treating his wife as a sex slave, the majority of Christians, contrary to what they claim, follow not their God but a secular justice system and their own sense of right and wrong.
As atheists we are also guided by society, which includes philosophical guidelines on how to lead a good life and how to treat others and do no harm. We are guided by family and friends sharing similar ethical values. Authorities, such as democratic governments and the secular justice system, as well as philosophers, scientists and historians also influence us. And last but not least we receive moral guidance from our own minds. Atheists, and let's be honest here, Christians as well, know innately whether it is right or wrong to torture a baby, rape a woman, kill a foreigner, or steal a neighbour's car. That any religious person would argue that they only know these things are wrong because their holy book told them, would make them a dangerous and despicable person, capable of untold horror if they ever come to doubt their Bible. To ask an atheist how they can know what is right and wrong, good and bad, is to essentially admit that you yourself have no idea, that you are simply doing what you're told. That if you lost your faith in God then you would see nothing wrong in rape and pillage. You're saying that you only know what is right and wrong because God told you, that without God whispering in your ear you have no idea what to do, whether you should cuddle a baby or dash it against the rocks. I am truly fearful of Christians that really believe God is the source of morality, and that profess utter ignorance without it.
Most of the world's civilisations throughout history have lived by a moral code devised by man not gods. Certainly all have claimed that their moral code came from gods, but we both know that they were either lying or deluded. Logically only one society can lay claim to the one true creator god that delivered the ultimate truth, and the rest, the great majority, devised their own moral code and meaning of life.
For the sake of argument, let's assume that the Jewish God exists and did pass on a moral code and meaning of life to the tribe of Hebrews. Everyone else on the planet, before and after this, from the Babylonians and Egyptians to the Indians, Chinese and Aztec knew nothing of this god and, since there can be only one creator god, they went ahead and constructed their own morals. Some of which you and I would agree with, others we wouldn't. We can assume humans have loved their family, friends and neighbours throughout history, and discouraged murder, rape, assault, theft, dishonesty etc. Sure there have been monsters, individuals who committed heinous acts, but no less in the Bible itself. Our point is that the great majority of human societies have devised moral codes without recourse to gods. It is quite obvious that humans are perfectly capable of deciding what is right and wrong, good and bad, without the need of gods. Christians can't understand how they did this, seemingly admitting that they are at a loss to know what is right and wrong without someone telling them.
Let's remember that impressive civilisations existed before the rise of the Hebrews, and even though they were ignorant of the Jewish God, they managed to devise morals, laws and a civil society. People knew it was wrong to murder and rape and steal long before the Jews thought of writing it down. Which just proves that humans have the capacity to determine what is ethical. Of course this is not to say that everyone acted ethically, those in power knew they were harming people but also knew no one could stop them.
As an atheist, where do I get my moral code from? In recent years, reading up on ethics and philosophy has supported my ideas of what is right and wrong. However as a child and youth I still had what might be called a moral intuition of what was right and wrong, and I knew when people were being harmed. I didn't have a religious upbringing, and yet I didn't need a god to tell me not to torture kittens. I don't believe any normal person does.
We can also list powerful atheists that are doing great good in the world and also powerful Christians that are buggering little boys along with fanatical Muslims blowing up women and children in markets. Rather than ask how atheists can lead a good life without god, perhaps we should ask how the religious can lead such evil lives with god's knowledge?
Of course people might argue that I grew up immersed in a Christian society and was unknowingly falling back on Christian morals. But is this true or is it actually Christians that are falling back onto humanistic morals? Are the morals that modern Christians subscribe to the original God given commandments, or are they far removed from what their God intended? Let's remember that Christians (and Muslims) purloined their moral code from the Hebrews, and are detailed in the Old Testament. We can all read for ourselves what their God deemed moral behaviour. And yet what modern Christian still kills witches, atheists and homosexuals, or even laments that secular law now prohibits them from attempting this? What modern Christian gets a rabbi to bite off part of their infant son's penis? What modern Christian owns slaves? Christians have, over the centuries, elected to reject much of what was set down in their God's moral code. They did this not because their God changed his mind (this is impossible), but because as humans they saw that these moral commandments were unjust and causing great harm. Humans slowly realised that they had the capacity to think for themselves, and in doing so realised that much of their religious moral code was harmful to others. Of course Christians may now argue that Jesus gave them permission to disobey much of what God told the Hebrews. But this is false, since Jesus, if the Bible is to be believed, quite clearly said:
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." MT 5:17-20
Neither Jesus nor any of his disciples would recognise modern Christians as following his teaching. For a start they aren't Jewish and don't follow the law handed down by God. Christians are deluding themselves into believing they are following God's commandments, when nothing could be further from the truth. They are following a humanistic philosophy that has rejected God's barbaric, unjust and/or silly commandments, but they continue to falsely say that their moral code comes from the Bible. You may say we have diverted the topic from atheists and morals to Christians, but our purpose is to show that most everyone, bar fundamentalists, are living a moral code that comes directly from the human mind. Christians have long ago left behind the moral code that can be found in the Bible, and, whether they realise it or not, have decided that they will have the final word on whether they will own slaves or circumcise their son. Most everyone on the planet knows what is right and wrong without recourse to some holy book. And they also know that if they did take their holy books literally, as Christians running the Crusades and inquisitions did, that they would have to do horrible things, and their naturalistic mind tells them that this can't be right.
Our argument is that it is not just atheists that must decide for themselves what is right and wrong, the religious have also discovered that to lead a good life and do no harm to others, they must reject much of what their God originally proclaimed was moral. The difference is that the religious, after rejecting or modifying their god-given moral code, try and pretend that they're still working with the original.
Christians are seriously mistaken if they insist it is only wrong to kill because the Hebrew god, who incidentally was a mass murderer, says it is. He personally, or through intermediaries, killed on a grand scale, and wrote his justifications for slaughter into his moral code, whereas our moral code, built up over centuries by mere humans, simply states that anything which harms others is wrong. Whether or not a god exists, surely we don't need him to tell us that?
As atheists we get our moral compass and zest for life from the same place you do, the grey matter between our ears.
For an excellent article on morality by philosopher Elizabeth Anderson, we'd recommend you read: 'If God Is Dead, Is Everything Permitted?'
Comment by Joe, 10 May, 2012
Hi John, I've been trying to find the time to make a detailed response, but I've been very busy so here's a quick reply to your main points.
On the subject of morality, you have only really given a very vague explanation of where atheism gets it moral bearings from. This being society, friends and family, authorities and our own mind. In saying this you have blanketed a lot of issues.
Firstly, from family, friends, society and authority. Do you adopt whatever morality suits you to fit in or benefit you in whatever way? From authority, do you have a choice? The problem here is anything can go. If I were living in a rain forest with a tribe of cannibals, would cannibalism be regarded as good? Or the raiding, pillaging and raping to terrorise rival tribes be considered the right thing to do? If a visitor came to stay would they have to adopt these morals to fit in? So who's to say that anything is wrong if the crowd is of the same morality?
Also if morality comes from just authority, what choice do you have if you are given a moral law? Here you are contradicting yourself with religion, as that would also be considered an authority in some instances.
I can agree with you that morality only comes from ourselves individually. I am of the philosophy that truth comes from the individual and not from the crowd. But still that leaves us with anything can go.
You argue that if morality comes from God then without God, I should be evil. I'm still scratching my head on that one. I think this may be due to you thinking that all morality for Christianity comes from God. That is a very narrow view of morality from a Christian perspective. Firstly, without God people are not evil, such as yourself I hope. But people find God and become Christians, this does not give them a better ethical status. I haven't changed my morality since I was an atheist. But I do have a moral law, which suits my own morality. Such as I would never ever have wanted to kill someone before, and now I believe there is no instance whatsoever when I would do this. Not just because I think it is wrong, but because I believe it is objectively wrong to kill another human, in any instance. This moral law of course comes from God. (but I know you think this is contradictory, but that is another big subject to get our teeth into) But something to think about is Jesus in the New Testament, and his opinion on violence and killing.
So to argue that Christians get their morality from God or the Bible is very weak. I would more likely say that moral law or absolutes are given from the Bible. Such as does the Bible say anything about the ethical considerations of buying cheaper products from abroad and not supporting our own economy. Or the ethical considerations in medical practice or government finance. These are all issues which we are capable of making moral decisions on, but you would think that Christians might be incapable, if they only have morality from God. Subjective morality we all have, and we have the wonderful ability to know individually what is good or bad, right or wrong, but still completely go against what we individually know. For the sheer fun of it, if need be. That's what makes humans special!
You have surprisingly not mentioned objective morality at all. I have had mixed response from atheists on this matter, most denying it exists, as that would support a God. But some more liberal atheists who follow Sam Harris, agree that objective morality does exist. My position is that they do, and things such as murder or rape, cannot be justified as being good, or right under any circumstance. But I would like to hear your opinion on objective morality also.
One amusing thing I have noted whenever asking the question about where do atheists get their morality from, is the answer always has to include God and the Bible. No one has ever answered me without contrasting objections to Christianity. To illustrate this I did a word count on your previous reply on certain words. You used Christianity 37 times, God 38 times, Bible 18 times and atheist 16 times. All this to explain where atheists get there morality from.
Your account of Jesus not abolishing the old law is a bit out of context of what he was saying, but it suits your argument well. You are right I'm not Jewish, and not one of the Israelites either. So the old law does not apply. If you take Jesus words as you quoted them, what was the point of Jesus if nothing changed? Jesus was saying his purpose was to fulfil prophecy not to abolish law. How could he fulfil prophecy if he abolished the law he was to follow! But that's off topic anyway.
Looking at the NZ Humanist website is an abundance of moral codes. Supposedly from a worldview in which there is no objective morality for the majority. So where do these come from? From the crowd? Or the freedom of being an atheist outside of organised belief systems? I must admit I do find humanism an extremely contradictory off shoot of atheism. I don't think Nietzsche would recognise 'new' atheism or humanism at all these days either!
So apart from a your views on Christianity, you and I hold that our morality comes ultimately from ourselves. I would also argue that objective morality exists, and that we cannot change or reason against these morals. Otherwise we are able to define what is good or bad, or right and wrong for ourselves. I would also argue against your opinion that authority dictates our morality, or maybe even society, as we are individual beings, with our own capability of reason.
Look forward to hearing form you.
Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 12 May, 2012
Hi Joe. First a minor point, but you spoke of 'where atheism gets it moral bearings from'. Atheism per se makes no claim to a moral code. Atheists must look outside atheism for their morals. If an atheist is judged by others to have good, bad or indifferent morals, these morals have no connection to atheism. Atheism can not take the credit or the blame for an atheist's morality, any more than an electrician can claim his electrical knowledge guides his morals.
As to our morals, you ask if we 'adopt whatever morality suits you to fit in or benefit you in whatever way?', and 'who's to say that anything is wrong if the crowd is of the same morality?'
First I think we need to explain the difference between morals and ethics, as we see it. These terms are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference. Morals are the standards and values an individual or society have adopted as leading to good and correct behaviour. Ethics on the other hand is the study of these morals. It's an examination using reason to determine if these 'morals' really do result in good and correct behaviour, or are they just rules made up by some authority. As we've said, years ago slave owners were seen to be acting morally, now they are considered immoral. The statement: 'It is morally correct to own slaves', doesn't indicate whether this statement is true or false. Christians, for example, simply insisted that their God told them it was OK. It was secular ethics that convinced people, even some Christians, that owning slaves was immoral. Every religion will have 'morals' that they promote that do lead to good behaviour, and yet every religion also has many 'morals' that are ethically immoral. Every religion has morals that can not be supported by reason or evidence, and that do harm rather than good. These 'morals' are promoted not because they have been found to be valid, but simply because they are believed to be commanded by an imaginary god. A moral that can not be justified by ethical examination is not a truly good moral, it is simply a command by an authority. And while we have to obey laws, the fact that we have to obey them does not necessarily make them morally correct laws. Think of racial segregation in the US last century. Legally they had to be obeyed, but ethically they were eventually exposed as being immoral and overturned. Christians can call the commandments they find in the Bible morals if they wish, but only ethics will reveal the good from the bad.
We can't speak for other atheists, but our morality comes from philosophical considerations, and is based on simple goals such as doing no harm to others, or to quote Sam Harris: 'To live wisely and ethically is to follow a path that maximises both our own well-being and the well-being of others'. When you speak of your tribe of cannibals, we would ask if their morality, their intentions and behaviours towards others did them harm? Obviously we would all agree, even the cannibals, that their actions harmed their neighbours, the difference is that we would argue that ethically they are behaving immorally, that they are doing something very wrong, and we wouldn't adopt or even approve of their morality. Even though we don't have god-given morals to guide us, we personally do have an ethical philosophy to guide us. While we could of course do anything we wished, good or bad (as can the religious), our desire to do no harm dictates our behaviour.
You said that you disagreed with our 'opinion that authority dictates our morality'. We obviously expressed this poorly. We don't believe authorities dictate our morality. We didn't say we blindly adopt our morals from family, friends, society and authority, we said we are guided and influenced by these sources. We consider their arguments for ethical behaviour, and if they match ours or improve on ours then we will adopt them, otherwise we will reject them. That is one of the reasons we aren't religious, because many religious morals are in our view unethical. If god did exist, we would belong to the underground resistance. You ask: 'if morality comes from just authority, what choice do you have if you are given a moral law?' We suppose you could argue that laws against murder and rape are moral laws as well as criminal laws, which we have to obey regardless. However in a democracy we get to chose what these moral/criminal laws are, and as we noted regarding slavery above, we've moved from religious morality dictating our laws to ethical concerns informing our laws. While we may for a time have to conform to unjust laws from authority, we are slowly creating a truly ethical authority. Homosexuality is no longer illegal for example, women can vote and Jews can enter parliament. God is the only authority that dictates morality with no chance of appeal. Democratic, secular authorities on the other hand are designed to reflect the changing morality of its citizens.
Note that we also list authorities as philosophers, scientists and historians. Here we mean experts in a specific field that can influence our ethical stance. We don't mean authoritarian as in unquestioning obedience.
Regarding our talk of authorities, you say that 'you are contradicting yourself with religion, as that would also be considered an authority in some instances'. We would argue that religion is an authority in ALL instances, or at least wants to be. Our point was that atheists and the religious BOTH receive the meaning of life and knowledge of right and wrong from the same sources. That is, from society, from family and friends, from authorities and from our own mind. Neither atheist nor believer gets their morals from a god. The religious get their morals from a religious society, from religious family and friends, from religious authorities - priests, ministers, rabbis, imams etc — and from their own mind. The only difference is that the religious believe that behind these sources is the original source of the morals they embrace. While I listen to the views of my atheist father, a Christian listens to those of his Christian father. I listen to the views of a philosopher and a Christian listens to a priest. In all cases people are influencing other people as to what morals they should follow, and contrary to religious belief, no gods are involved.
You say that 'I can agree with you that morality only comes from ourselves individually. I am of the philosophy that truth comes from the individual and not from the crowd. But still that leaves us with anything can go'.
We disagree. You can only argue that anything is permissible if your philosophy first INSISTS that anything is permissible. You are also assuming that I'm following YOUR philosophy that INSISTS that anything is permissible. We don't believe that truth necessarily comes from the individual. It comes from examining different moral claims, whether they come from an individual or a crowd, and deciding whether they are ethical. Our view is that a philosophy that insists that anything is permissible is definitely not ethical, since it allows us to harm others. You have devised a philosophy that you find amoral, and have then decreed that this is the same philosophy that atheists embrace. Christians believe that if they lost their faith in God then this is the philosophy that they would be forced to adopt, and can't grasp that atheists have discovered that there are other ethical philosophies to live by. While atheists could indeed adopt your immoral anything is permissible philosophy, the reason that atheists aren't psychopaths and a problem in society is that atheists don't think like Christians. To us it's not either/or, either we follow god-given laws or we do anything we want. Atheists have discovered that ethics give other options on how to lead a good life.
You go on to claim that we 'argue that if morality comes from God then without God, I should be evil'. No, no, no. We argue that this is the case that Christians make. As your Bible says: 'The fool says in his heart, "There is no God". They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.' This is the whole point of this specific question of yours, how can atheists be moral without God? Christians, when speaking of morality, never imply that ignorance of God-given morals would lead atheists to lead exemplary lives, instead we're repeatedly told, as you say, anything goes. The suggestion is that there would be nothing to stop us committing criminal acts, with the clear implication that we obviously would. If we're not expected to do good things, then that really only leaves bad things. The religious apparently never worry that atheists might have superior morals without god, or even morals equal to theirs, it's all about atheists lacking morality. Normally Christians don't call us immoral to our face, but this is only politeness. It's obvious that Christians are fearful of what harm we may cause, and actively seek to lead us out of darkness. Of course some religious people do agree that atheists can be moral, but this destroys their belief that morals are god-given, and creates a paradox for them.
You actually criticise us for 'thinking that all morality for Christianity comes from God. That is a very narrow view of morality from a Christian perspective', adding that for us 'to argue that Christians get their morality from God or the Bible is very weak'. Might we again remind you that it is Christians that repeatedly and loudly tell us that God is the source of all morals. No Christian that we're aware of us refers their fellow Christians to the Koran for certain moral answers, to Immanuel Kant for others, and admits ignorance on others.
You then seem to contradict yourself by saying that 'I would more likely say that moral law or absolutes are given from the Bible', which confuses us a little. You go on to note that Bible doesn't 'say anything about the ethical considerations of buying cheaper products from abroad and not supporting our own economy. Or the ethical considerations in medical practice or government finance'. This is because the many moral commandments that the Bible does contain were written thousands of years ago by a primitive Bronze Age tribe to specifically reflect their view of the universe and their society at that time. They didn't comment on the ethics of buying cheap Nike shoes from Taiwan for the same reason they didn't mention the ethics of embryonic stem cell research or keeping penguins in zoos: they were ignorant of them. However the Bible does contain 613 commandments that did relate to their time and place, nearly all of which Christians now ignore. The Bible went out of its way to dictate how life was to be lived, such as who you could have sex with and when, how many slaves you could own, what clothes you could wear, what food you could eat, when you should pray and where, what sacrifices you should make, when women are unclean, who had to cover or uncover their heads in church, whether women could speak in church, when to kill children, how to kill homosexuals, witches and rape victims, which days you were allowed to work, whether your money should go to God or government etc. Christians today don't feel the Bible dictates much of their daily life only because they have rejected much of what it commands, but let's not deny that as it was written it was most definitely intended to tell people how to lead a proper life. And it most definitely dealt with medical practices, government practices and trading with foreigners. That it is now woefully out of date regarding ethical considerations is a fault of its human authors.
But as we tried to explain, Christians have realised it's outdated and have long ago rejected the Biblical commandants and have fallen back on their own ethical considerations. It's not because the Bible doesn't provide moral answers, it does, but because Christians no longer believe those answers are ethical. For example the Bible supports slavery, and not even Jesus spoke against it. You're quite right that we have the 'wonderful ability to know individually what is good or bad, right or wrong'. What we don't understand is why you and other Christians acknowledge this, but still keep pushing the Bible towards us. A perfect example comes from you, where you state that you personally have decided that it is wrong to kill another human, but then you apparently decide that it wasn't your decision after all, stating that 'This moral law of course comes from God'. You're right, we are confused. And telling us to ruminate on Jesus and his opinion on violence and killing doesn't help at all. Are you thinking of where Jesus said 'Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword', or where he attacked the moneylenders in the temple, or perhaps where Jesus tells us to execute those that don't accept him as king?
This comment of yours we also find confusing: 'But people find God and become Christians, this does not give them a better ethical status. I haven't changed my morality since I was an atheist'. This suggests that you believe Christians and atheists have the same ethics, and that people on becoming Christians don't advance their ethical views. If Christians acknowledge that their morality hasn't come from the Bible and is really no different to that of non-Christians, shouldn't it be blatantly obvious to them how atheists view moral issues? If this is a typical Christian view, why do Christians, including you, worry so much about the morality of non-Christians? It's like a Christian wondering about how atheists put on their trousers.
You mentioned objective morality and atheist Sam Harris. By complete coincidence I have just started reading his latest book, 'The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values'. I don't believe that objective morality does exist, although once I've finished his book I may have changed my mind. I agree with his arguments so far. However I don't think morals such as a prohibition on killing are woven into the fabric of the universe, whether humans exist or not, as the typical religious view holds. Without humans this specific moral would be meaningless. After all, no one thinks morals should apply to tigers or sharks.
Harris views morality as relating 'to the intentions and behaviours that affect the well-being of conscious creatures', and that it 'can be linked directly to facts about the happiness and suffering of conscious creatures'. We agree, and see this as just another way of saying that we should endeavour not to harm others, and if we can, perhaps even increase the well-being of others. If one agrees that it is moral or ethical to increase happiness and decrease suffering, then from there it is quite easy to decide what is good and bad, right and wrong, in many cases. Thus one can argue that it is an objective moral truth that it is wrong to kill or rape in any and all human cultures. But first one has to agree that morality is about doing no harm. If however, as many religious people argue, morality is about following the commandments of a god, regardless of what they are and even if they cause obvious harm, then morality is simply about obedience. It is not a moral truth, about happiness and suffering, it is simply an order from an authority that we must obey. When Islamists obey the Koranic command to slaughter infidels wherever they find them or when Abraham agreed to God's demand that he sacrifice his son Isaac, they believed they were doing good deeds, doing the right thing, even though they were doing great harm to others and themselves. If as you believe Joe, that it is wrong to kill under any circumstance, then Muslims, Jews and Christians throughout history and even today are utterly ignorant of this objective moral truth. To believe in this objective moral truth, you must believe not in some God but in the notion: do no harm. Once you accept this it is easy to argue that killing is wrong. But to make it an objective moral truth everyone must first get rid of conflicting moral claims from holy books and agree that the basis of morality is the well-being of humans, as decided by humans.
You wonder why atheists answering questions from Christians on morality always mention God and the Bible. Only when talking with Christians do we mention these things, if we were talking to a Muslim it would be Allah and the Koran. And when atheists talk amongst ouselves about some ethical problem, trust us when we say that God never comes up in our conversation. Let's again remember that Christians only raise this topic because they can't understand how atheists can be moral without the God of the Bible. Christians implicitly or explicitly let us know that they believe that the source of true morality rests with them.
We're not criticising their attitude, we likewise believe that our ethical philosophy is superior. After all that is why we follow it. To support an inferior ethical philosophy would be silly. Nor are we prepared to be conciliatory and say that atheists and Christians follow alternative philosophies that provide ethically equal outcomes, since they obviously don't. We all know that Christians are disbelieving that secular morals could stack up against their morals, and thus it is inevitable that God and the Bible must be mentioned to make this comparison. Part of our argument and reasoning for accepting secular ethics is based on the examination and failure of religious ethics, the morality code that the world has followed for much of history, so God and the Bible can not be divorced from the discussion.
We could, and normally do, ignore God talk, but we don't just want to convince Christians that atheists have, somehow, found a way of being moral without God. This would simply allow Christians to falsely believe that there are now two alternative worldviews in which people can behave morally, a Christian one and an atheistic one. We feel it is not only important to explain why the ethical philosophy that we support is rational and humane, but also to explain why the morals of God and the Bible as followed by Christians are flawed, false and often barbaric and unjust. Just as Christians believe it's their duty to spread the word of God, the ethics that we follow insist that we do no harm to others, and allowing the religious to continue believing in a falsehood is harmful to their intellectual freedom. It behooves us to at least make an attempt to lift the veil.
You asked what was the point of Jesus if he didn't want the Hebrew laws to change. You confuse the mission of Jesus, which was to get the Hebrews back on track and obeying their own laws, and the mission of the man that actually created Christianity, Paul. Let's remember that Jesus had no interest in anyone but the Hebrews, and actually forbade his disciples from preaching to non-Jews. It was Paul, years later, that invented a new Jesus with a new mission that the original Jesus wouldn't have recognised. But being dead he couldn't complain.
You say you find humanism contradictory, which we don't understand. Certainly it contradicts religious beliefs, but humanism in itself is pretty simple. Basically it says that humans are on their own in the scheme of things, that there are no gods to make the rules as to how we should behave. Thus it's up to humans to decide how we should treat each other. Most humanists thus resort to secular ethics to live their lives. Most believe exactly as we have been describing: do no harm to others, help others, increase happiness and decrease suffering etc. How is this contradictory? You don't find humanists that are debating over whether it is right to kill or rape or steal.
In conclusion you stated that 'you and I hold that our morality comes ultimately from ourselves'. We assume that you're implying that we can both reach the same moral truths, not that your morality is good and that ours is evil. So again you insist that you can develop your own moral code, but your entire reply suggests that you're still confused as to how atheists and humanists can do the same. How can you not understand our morality, if it's the same and from the same source as yours? Somehow we suspect that you still think that your belief in God gives you some advantage that we can't tap into. If not, then what advantage does a belief in God and the Bible offer from an ethical perspective? How are we harming ourselves or others by not believing? If you and I can both develop the same morality, from within, what need of God?
Let's forget about other atheists for the moment. We can explain our ethical views on the likes of murder, rape, theft, homosexuality, masturbation, abortion, circumcision, racism, divorce, food prohibitions, respect of parents, sexual equality etc etc. Forget how other atheists might arrive at their morality, we can tell you that we discovered secular ethical philosophy that argues that the way to lead a good life is to do no harm to others. You now know exactly how one group of atheists can find morality without recourse to gods. You've implied that you believe we are moral, and that our morals are little different to yours. So again, what need for God?
Unlike in the past, your typical Christian today looks to science to explain the universe, and now says that the job of religion is merely to tell us how we should live. And yet you claim that becoming a Christian gives you no advantage over non-Christians in ethics. So if the Bible doesn't explain why things happen or how we should live, what use is it?
For us atheists to doubt our ethical stance, you need to explain why it's flawed or at least inferior to some religious moral code.
Comment by Joe, 13 May, 2012
Hello John, I like your opening get out clause for atheism, not claiming a moral code. Nice dodge, but does it work the other way that religions do not get their morality from a book or God, but merely laws? So religion is not responsible if people break the moral laws or not. It is the individual.
When were slave owners ever seen to be acting morally. If you are using the slavery argument in the OT then, you must admit the the laws set were for the better treatment of slaves. However it is easy to make an emotional argument about slavery, considering we only think about the African slave trade. This was brought to an end not only by secularists but theists as well. However was slavery the same thing in the OT, as it was during the African slave trade, or even as it is now. Human society created slavery, that is a fact. I'm surprised you bring that argument up with an ex atheist, I know these arguments and I used these old arguments too. But why is slavery considered bad in a naturalistic worldview is more the question? You seem against it, I take it if slaves are taken without there will. But what about debt slaves, soldiers, contracts, mortgages. Would your naturalistic worldview throw somebody onto the street to starve, or execute or imprison them because they owed you?
I think you will like Sam Harris's book on morality. I very much liked his short book on lying, which cried out objective morality to me, so I was keen to see what he said in his moral landscape book. However it makes sense, but is still fundamentally flawed from the start. You have to assume it is objectively right for humans to flourish in the first place, so that we strive for positive well being. But in a naturalistic worldview, this is not true. It is no more objectively true for humans to flourish, as it is for water to run down hill.
"Might we again remind you that it is Christians that repeatedly and loudly tell us that God is the source of all morals." Well if God exists, and created us he knows all good and bad. That means the other Christian's statement would be true in that sense. But as you know Christianity a little, you would also know that we are created with free will, to choose. We (us) do not have to blindly follow God's will, otherwise you would be a Christian too. So I'm arguing that without God morality is just subjective and not universally true. Harris argues for objective morality, but really a limited version just for human well being.
Do you still think cannibalism is good in a cannibalistic society?
I'm thinking you grasped my comments on the OT laws, even though you say I contradict myself, but you do not say why. You like to call them morals but they are moral laws. Like I explained about murder. From my Christian perspective, there is no good reason to murder. But I would imagine as an atheist, you could come up with many reasons to kill people, such as war, execution, self defence, or more increasingly common euthanasia. But my take on it there is no reason to kill someone for any of those reasons. That is the moral law I take from Christianity, and I think it is ultimately true. I do not believe anyone has the right to take away life, and life is the important thing taught in the Bible, and life is the most important thing we have.
I do not want to get drawn into an atheist vs christian discussion on the OT, as I've been there on both sides and done the hard work. You will not convince me I'm a Jew, and should go back to OT law. Like you said Jesus and Paul have done the stuff for us non Jews.
You stated, "you believe Christians and atheists have the same ethics, and that people on becoming Christians don't advance their ethical views." Exactly, I think you should not be confused, but you are understanding that we all have subjective morality. The only thing that changes on becoming a Christian like I stated before is that such issues as murder become objectively wrong in all instances. As a Christian I can no longer justify killing someone, as I could with atheism. I have fought this issue intensely with my experiences in the armed forces, so I don't just take these morals academically.
"Christians only raise this topic because they can't understand how atheists can be moral without the God of the Bible." Yes I do find it amusing how atheists cannot truly be as free as they are with morality, when their worldview clearly is that morality is purely subjective. I've only met a handful of atheists who truly believe this, and say it is a worrying and absurd, and no comfort at all. I respect this worldview in atheism, as it is the only honest way to look at existence without God. It is liberating but at the same time totally wide open to all possibility, where good and evil are pure subjectivisms.
I think that you as an atheist tend to think that Christians say atheists are morally bad, when they ask about your morality. The question really is how can you determine what is universally good or bad. I wouldn't argue for one second that atheists are morally bad. Like I said before we all have the same morality, but with God some morals are objective.
But not ones about Nikes made in Asia. Which I highly commend you for making into an argument against the Bible, for God's short sightedness not to put it in at 614th commandment. :) You know your trade as an anti theist very well indeed!
You state, "You say you find humanism contradictory, which we don't understand." Well because Humanism is riddled with morality issues, which are made up by some Humanist leaders, which others (maybe atheist humanists) blindly follow. There is not real truth to these moral issues of humanism. No more than for Caninism, or for Bovinism. In a universe which doesn't give a hoot if humans exist or not! According to your worldview. That is why it is laughable, and not so simple at all, but quite dogmatic. You also say Humanism contradicts religious belief, which is completely nonsensical. There are many Religious Humanist groups. But these do make sense, from a Christian perspective, as the universe was created with humans in mind. So for you to say humanism contradicts religious belief, is like saying buses contradict trains in public transportation.
"Unlike in the past, your typical Christian today looks to science to explain the universe". Atheists look to science as well to tell them about the universe, no points there for claiming science, which is quite neutral. I think religion and science have always been in the business of the truth.
"we can tell you that we discovered secular ethical philosophy that argues that the way to lead a good life is to do no harm to others." You really do not need special atheistic ethics to tell you this. But what if someone is going to kill your family, steal your food, or you want to put someone out of their misery. Are you going to harm them then? Probably as subjective morality does nothing to tell you not to harm, as long as authoritative law is on your side, and society does not think you wrong. So ethically in atheism doing harm is ok.
"For us atheists to doubt our ethical stance, you need to explain why it's flawed or at least inferior to some religious moral code." I wouldn't ever make you doubt your ethical stance, quite the opposite, you should feel the freedom of being capable of doing whatever suits you without worrying about good and bad, or right and wrong. You have this wonderful gift of freedom to choose.
Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 15 May, 2012
Hi Joe. Well, where do we start to answer your queries? There are no quick answers.
That atheism makes no claim to morals is not a dodge, but an objective fact that many find difficult to grasp. Let's say you don't believe that leprechauns exist. Would you consider it rational for me to continually quiz you on how your non-belief in leprechauns allows you to tell right from wrong? You would rightly answer, What does morality have to do with my non-belief in leprechauns? You would say that you do have a moral code, and it comes from the Bible. Your Biblical moral code and your view of leprechauns are completely separate issues. Likewise our moral code, derived from philosophy, and our view of gods (atheism) are completely separate issues. Connecting our morals to atheism is no different to us connecting your morals to leprechauns.
Does this argument also work for the religious, can it be claimed that they don't get their moral code from God and the Bible? No, obviously not. Atheism offers no answers bar one: there are no gods. Religions and their holy books on the other hand exist solely to provide a myriad of answers, on the origin of life, the universe and everything, and pertinent to this discussion, on how to behave to please God.
My dictionary defines morals as: 'Rules or habits of conduct, especially of sexual conduct, with reference to standards of right and wrong', and morality as: 'A system of ideas of right and wrong conduct: religious morality; Christian morality'.
There is no doubt that the Bible lists rules of conduct, especially of sexual conduct, with reference to standards of right and wrong. For example: 'You shall not covet your neighbour's wife, If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable; They must be put to death, The person with an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, `Unclean! Unclean!', The pig is also unclean... You are not to eat their meat or touch their carcasses. A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death, Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight, If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death. Keep all my decrees and laws and follow them. I am the LORD'.
You ask, are these morals or simply laws? They are both; rules of conduct, so therefore morals, and rules that the rule-giver demands be obeyed, so therefore laws. Religion is not responsible if a believer breaks these laws, just as the justice system is not responsible if I cheat on my taxes, it is the individuals choice as you say. But the religious know that they are expected to follow the Biblical rules, just as I know I'm supposed to obey secular laws. Atheists have no responsibility to follow atheistic laws, since there are none. However the religious cannot argue that their Bible contains no rules of conduct, no moral code, no moral laws.
You ask, 'When were slave owners ever seen to be acting morally?' Since religious slave owners were obeying rules of conduct set out in the Bible, they would by definition have believed themselves to be acting morally. They would and did argue that the Bible supported slave ownership. Not even Jesus spoke out against slavery, so why would any slave owner think he was acting immorally? That the rules detailed how to treat slaves 'fairly' is no comment on their ethical truth as seen by modern secular eyes. If the Bible said that priests were not allowed to rape choirboys more than once a month, and never on their birthday, would this make it more acceptable, like slavery? Embarrassingly, although God gives us a long list of who we must not have sex with, he makes no mention of children. And yes, slavery in the OT was the same as any slavery you might name. A human being was denied their liberty and was seen as a commodity. What does it matter that the Hebrews may have treated slaves slightly better than the Egyptians? Would you accept servitude if I said I would put a wide-screen TV in your cell?
You ask why slavery is bad in the natural world. For most of the natural world we don't believe it is. Some species of ants and termites have slaves, and we don't condemn them. To most every species on the planet the world is not only amoral, talk of morality for them is meaningless. Only humans, on becoming self-conscious, can see the world in terms of right and wrong, moral and immoral. We are a special case in the natural world, and if we didn't exist morality wouldn't exist. Yes, humans are just animals that can, and do, kill and rape, but our mind allows us to understand how our actions affect the well-being of others. We have developed empathy, and from this we have developed moral codes. Of course individuals, both atheists and believers, have throughout history had the choice whether to follow a moral code. But there is no denying that, unlike other species, humans do have a moral code, and that it is generated in the human mind. The evidence of this is that cultures ignorant of God still have decent moral codes.
You keep hinting that atheists and our naturalistic worldview is an immoral worldview. You seem to be using the religious anti-evolution argument that if evolution is true then the world revolves around the survival of the fittest, that a species will kill, rape and steal to stay on top. Kill or be killed. Again you are implying that atheists are tied to the natural world in a way that prevents us from developing a moral code. You seem to labour under the delusion that since animals like tigers can't be moral, and since we insist that humans are animals too, then how could we be moral if tigers can't? Although we've clearly said that slavery is wrong, you still say we only 'seem' to be against slavery, you're not convinced that we truly are. Even after clearly stating that cannibals 'are doing something very wrong, and we wouldn't adopt or even approve of their morality', you again ask us: 'Do you still think cannibalism is good in a cannibalistic society?' Even after saying that our aim is to do no harm to others, you ask if we would execute or imprison people that owed us money, again implying that atheists are naturally quite evil, or at least amoral. Need we say, it seems we do, that we think that executing someone over a debt is doing them great harm. Also we don't see how the likes of soldiers, contracts and mortgages can be likened to slavery. No one is forced to take a mortgage. Of course some people do renege on mortgages and contracts, and thus harm those that they made promises to, and steps have to be taken to rectify these broken promises, and perhaps even mete out punishment. But, unlike Biblical punishments, we believe punishments, if unavoidable, must match the crime. Executing someone over a debt is not part of our ethics. Yes, in extreme circumstances we might imprison someone for deliberating creating huge debts and continually refusing to pay, since their actions are harming others. Yes you could argue that we are now harming them by taking away their liberty, but this is where morality becomes tricky. We have to look at the greater good for society, where the majority are protected from those that want to harm them, even it means inflicting a level of harm on people that mistreat others. Otherwise anarchy rules and the world truly does become the amoral world that Christians fear.
You keep insisting that you're not implying that atheists are immoral, and yet you come up with this observation: 'From my Christian perspective, there is no good reason to murder. I would imagine as an atheist, you could come up with many reasons to kill people'. You mention war, execution, self-defence and euthanasia, and yet none of these are murder. There is a major difference, both legally and morally. But you're right in one sense, there are special occasions where I would kill as a last resort, such as self-defence, defence of my family and in war, where the result of my inaction would be my own death, the death of an innocent loved one or of a fellow human being that sought my protection.
You on the other hand say that 'I do not believe anyone has the right to take away life', and so evidently you would not stop someone killing your family. Yet by your inaction you are letting them take away lives, effectively giving them the right to kill. Isn't there a conflict there? Could you really tell your wife, children and family that if some big murderous thug broke into your house and was going to rape them all and then kill them, and you were convinced that only his death could stop this happening, you would just sit there and watch your loved ones suffer? Observing your wimpyness, he even gives you his shotgun to hold as he rapes your daughter after having just raped and murdered your wife. You would do nothing? And you suspect us of being immoral or at least amoral. You really believe that letting the innocent die at the hands of someone evil is correct conduct, the right thing to do? We must add that to the list of reasons we're not Christians.
From a Biblical perspective, how can you say there is no good reason to murder? The Bible is chock full of God murdering people, are you saying God had no good reason to commit these untold murders? Do you believe that God himself has failed to live up to his own objective morality? Or doesn't he have to fellow his own morals? Do as I say, not as I do. And please don't say that all the mass killings by God happened in the OT and Christians don't follow that part of the Bible. God is God, splitting his story into two books doesn't alter what he did in his early days. 'Star Wars' fans easily understand that Darth Vader, although seen at different ages in consecutive movie sequels, is still they same character and that his actions in one movie carry over to the other movies. Christians however struggle with this concept when it comes to the God found in the OT and the God found in the NT. It is obvious in God's view that there are many good reasons to murder people, such as arrogance, power, xenophobia, greed, lust, ignorance, envy, jealousy, disobedience etc. Hell, if Christianity is to be believed, God even had his own son murdered.
We told you that our morality was to do no harm to others, so you ask: 'But what if someone is going to kill your family, steal your food, or you want to put someone out of their misery. Are you going to harm them then?' You really are struggling with this aren't you? Of course 'do no harm' is a simplistic explanation, but it's a starting point. Sometimes it will mean to minimise or balance harm when some level of harm can't be prevented. You harm people when you perform lifesaving surgery, but you must look at the benefits as well. You still think we would kill others on the simplest provocation. If someone was going to kill my family and the police wasn't an option, then yes, I would do what was necessary to save my family. As a last resort I would kill a murderer in defence of innocent lives, but if saving lives simply meant disabling him I would do that first, or if driving away saved my family then that is what I would do instead. As the law states, one can use necessary force to stop someone, but not more than is needed. And obviously this will surprise you, but we would never resort to physically harming someone over the theft of food. I know what you're thinking, but why not, there's that crowbar on the counter, why not whack him over the head? We don't think that minor theft warrants violence, since someone's physical well-being is not being threatened. We would simply call the police. As for killing an ill person, no I would not put them out of their misery, as much as I might like to in circumstances of terrible suffering and begging. We might ask you if you would stop suffering by euthanasia, not of a human but of a loved family pet? Strangely the law states that we must prevent an animal's suffering, without it's consent, but we're prevented from ending a human's suffering, even if they beg us. God evidently likes humans to suffer. We are definitely supporters of euthanasia, but until the law is changed, fear not, we are not wandering the halls of rest homes knocking off the elderly.
For all these scenarios you again imply that the evil atheist will likely kill. When you asked us, 'Are you going to harm them', you answered for us: 'Probably as subjective morality does nothing to tell you not to harm'. All this after we've told you several times that our subjective morality tells us NOT to harm others. You claim that 'ethically in atheism doing harm is ok'. Again, atheism has nothing to do with ethics. We do not and can not look to atheism to see what we should do. We've told you that our ethics, not our atheist ethics since they don't exist, are all about minimising harm, not doing harm. Of course you might argue that by stopping a rapist harm his victim I'm still harming someone; the rapist. I have stopped him from fulfilling his intentions and taken away his pleasure, and his later prison sentence further harms him by taking away his liberty. But again, this is how society and our ethics work. I did not set out to harm the rapist, he brought harm upon himself by attempting to harm someone else. Punishments for harming others naturally harms the culprits, the ethical consideration is whether this harm matches the crime. As a Christian you should be perfectly familiar with this, as the Bible is full of the punishments that God will dish out for various crimes. We would say that many Biblical punishments are unjust, but the concept remains, in an ethical society those that harm others will receive harmful punishments as deterrents. To act otherwise is to invite the breakdown of civilised society. The silly Christian notion that if someone stabs you in the back then you should turn around and let him stab you in the chest would never work. Likewise the Biblical advice that if someone steals your TV, then give him your iPhone as well, this would never create a lawful society. Moral advice that not even Christians follow.
We did not say that re the OT laws Jesus has 'done the stuff for us non-Jews'. We said just the opposite, that Jesus insisted that the OT laws must not be changed or ignored, that he had no interest in anyone but the Hebrews, and actually forbade his disciples from preaching to non-Jews. Regarding the OT laws, remember that God himself said: 'See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it'. DT 12:32 Jesus understood this commandment, but Paul did not, nor do Christians.
You went on to say that 'I do not want to get drawn into an atheist vs christian discussion on the OT, as I've been there on both sides and done the hard work. You will not convince me I'm a Jew, and should go back to OT law'. We're not trying to convince you that you're a Jew, that's not how atheists work. We're highlighting the hypocrisy that Christians project, claiming that it's all about the Word of God, but then they reject the OT, the very book that contains the Word of God, in favour of the NT, a smaller book where God doesn't even make an appearance. The annoying fact for Christians is that the embarrassing OT is the foundation of their religion. They want to destroy it, and slowly are, but they realise that if you destroy the foundation then the entire edifice crumbles. Perhaps when we are finished with morality you can enlighten us as to the arguments for atheism that you eventually rejected.
But moving on. You agree that 'Christians and atheists have the same ethics, and that people on becoming Christians don't advance their ethical views', but argue that Christians have objective ethics as opposed to an atheist's subjective ethics. You say that you're 'arguing that without God morality is just subjective and not universally true'. But why does it matter? If we all decide not to murder and rape, why does it matter if it's universally true or not? Is it about morals, about humans behaving correctly, or is it just a ploy to bring us to God?
Let's imagine that at a quiz evening one team firmly believes that Paris is the capital of France, but they agree that this is a subjective belief, they have no evidence on hand that it is an objective fact. Another team thinks the same way, however they cheat and consult Google and prove to themselves that it is indeed an objective fact. But in the big picture, what's the difference, they both firmly believe that Paris is the capital of France, they're both right and both get a point. That one answer was subjective and the other objective made no difference. Let's now imagine 1000 atheists that all insist that murder is wrong, and say that this is a subjective moral. Then we have 1000 Christians that also insist that murder is wrong, and say that while they first thought that this belief was a subjective moral, they now believe on finding God that it is an objective moral. But again what's the real difference, at the end of the day both atheists and Christians condemn murder as wrong. The Christian belief that this moral is objectively true adds nothing to the way both atheists and Christians act in real life. As you seem to view it Joe, if a Christian was to lose his belief that murder was objectively wrong, as you did for a while when you flirted with atheism, he would still believe it was subjectively wrong. Either way, subjective or objective, everyone believes murder is wrong. So there is nothing to gain from becoming a Christian if an atheist's subjective morals are achieving the same result as a Christian's objective morals. Two paths to the same destination. Or let's go down a third path. You've said that 'if God exists, and created us he knows all good and bad'. So if simply following the basic objective morals of the God of Abraham is all that is important, and you've said that it was God that created these laws, not Jesus, then it would be just as appropriate to follow Islam or Judaism as Christianity. Muslims or Jews could argue exactly as you do that they have knowledge of the universally true morals from God, unlike atheists who merely have subjective copies of the same morals. Do you believe that Muslims and Jews are morally equal to Christians, or are you now going to throw some element beyond God-given universally true morals into the mix?
It's also obvious that objective morals are not necessarily more powerful than subjective morals. Atheists with subjective morals can stop themselves from killing, while the religious with objective morals can kill, rape and steal (We'll provide a long list if requested.) Being in possession of objective morals rather than mere subjective morals doesn't guarantee a better society. And regarding murder, how do you explain that every culture, most of which had never heard of your God, independently reached this conclusion that murder was wrong. They didn't need a god to tell them, why did the Hebrews?
But what are these objective morals that you speak of, the universal truths that God created? You've mentioned the injunction against killing, but what are the others? Even the one against killing seems as if it was just meant as a suggestion in good times, since God is continually telling his followers to stone this person or that person or to smite this tribe or that tribe. So please point us to where God changes his mind and commands that ALL killing, even in self-defence or war, is forbidden. Furthermore, most of the commandments in the Bible which are obviously meant as morals are rejected by Christians. They can't be the objective morals, so why did God include them, and where does he clearly rescind them? Christians seem to have Bibles that have an appendix explaining what bits to believe and which to reject, but none of our Bibles do. Do you have to be a believer with a secret handshake to get this guide to the Bible?
You go on to say that 'I do find it amusing how atheists cannot truly be as free as they are with morality, when their worldview clearly is that morality is purely subjective'. You claim that atheists are 'totally wide open to all possibility, where good and evil are pure subjectivism's'. Again you're suspicious of atheists, wondering why, if we have free will, if we can choose what is right and wrong, why don't we choose to be evil? To kill, rape and steal to gain a better life. Without God and knowledge of objective morals, what could be stopping us? Again, what stopped you when you were an atheist? We can't speak for you, but what stops us is our mind. We don't like any harm being done to us, and we realise that others feel the same way. Furthermore we undergo emotional harm if we do cause others to suffer. We also realise that for us and society to prosper this moral code of human behaviour is the one most likely to work. We could individually decide to run amok, but the intelligent among us realise that the eventual outcome for us individually would be bad. The best option is to help and cooperate, not to chase selfish desires that harm others and will eventually come back to haunt us.
You say that when you or other Christians ask about our morality, you're not suggesting for one second that we are immoral. We're sorry, but when you question someone's morality, when you claim that your morality is well worth changing to, you appear to be doing exactly that. When Christians visit our homes uninvited, we never get the impression that they might be interested in converting to our morality code. If you insist we are equal to you in morality, then why are we having this discussion, with neither of us have anything to gain. Why are you curious about our morals if you believe they are essentially the same as yours? Your statements continually return to this query: I can see why I am moral, but I can't understand how you can be.
You ask how we can determine what is universally good or bad, that is, the objective morals created by God. What does this mean? Since atheists don't believe in God, this question is meaningless. If humans ceased to exist then morality would cease to exist. Morals, as in codes of correct conduct for humans to happily coexist, didn't exist before humans existed. They are a creation of the human mind. They aren't a universal truth existing regardless of our existence. You will reply that God existed before humans and morality existed with him. But of course this brings up that philosophical argument that throws a spanner in the divine works. If, as you claim, murder for example, is an objective moral, a universal truth, then that means by definition that murder is wrong whether God exists or not. It is universal, and not dependent on his existence. Like us, if God exists he has no choice as to whether murder is right or wrong. As you say, it is a universal truth and not something that God or us gets to subjectively decide over. There is no need to thank God, the moral was here along. If on the other hand it is indeed God that decreed that murder is wrong, then God has just made a subjective decision. You ask us how we know what is right and wrong, so you must also ask how does God know what is right and wrong. If God is simply consulting some universal moral truth that he had nothing to do with, then again, like us God has no choice. He is superfluous, forget God and go straight to the universal truth. However if God himself is deciding that murder is wrong, then how do we know he is right? Surely not simply because he says so? If God had said rape was good rather than bad, would this have made rape good in your eyes? An atheist would say that rape was wrong even if God said it was good, but a Christian would have to side with God. And please don't say God would never make obviously immoral claims like this. God tells us to stone to death disobedient children, witches and homosexuals. These used to be objective morals alongside murder and rape. It seems modern subjective morals can easily trump ancient objective ones.
If morals are truly objective universal truths, then God is irrelevant. If on the other hand God simply made up morals then they are purely subjective, with no objective reality. And let's remember that most of the morals that God made up, that were all once seen as objective universal truths, have been rejected by atheist and Christian alike. When God demanded a father kill his son Isaac, the subservient father voiced no protest. You question the morality of atheists, we wonder how many Christians today might still acquiesce to such an immoral request. But of course their argument would be that since God demanded it, it couldn't be immoral. Could it?
Atheists don't believe in barbaric and unjust God-given morals and so do the best with what we have, deriving ethics from reason. They may be subjective, they're not written into the fabric of the universe, but they work. The fact that most every culture on Earth, most ignorant of the God of Abraham, has come up with the same injunctions against murder, rape, theft etc, proves that the human mind is perfectly capable of devising a moral code that improves the general well-being of humans. If there is a God, we don't need him. We're fine without his advice, in fact his commands to 'Kill the infidels' and 'Kill the witches' have not been at all helpful.
You're right that humanism is riddled with morality issues, but then so is life in general. This doesn't make it contradictory. Their answers to these morality issues are generally the same, eg no to murder and rape. You say that our view that humanism contradicts religious belief 'is completely nonsensical. There are many Religious Humanist groups'. A religious humanist, like a Christian atheist, is an oxymoron in our view. For a humanist to claim that humans are the central focus is at the same time to deny that God is the central focus. What religion happily pushes God into a backroom and concentrates on human desires? Certainly not Christianity, Islam or Judaism. While some humanists may not concern themselves with arguments about God's existence as atheists do, we doubt if you would find many that would agree with religious claims, ie God created the Universe and made humans to worship and obey him.
When we said that Christians today look to science to explain the universe, we meant that contrary to their historical view, most Christians now agree that the science of the Bible is wrong, that much of its history is wrong, and that most of its morals are wrong, so why should we have any confidence in the few morals that are left? Now Christians say the Bible, meaning the NT, is simply a book detailing how we should live, it provides our moral code. And yet contrary to those Christians that fight to have their Ten Commandments hanging in classrooms and courthouses, you argue that atheists don't need God to be moral: 'I said before we all have the same morality'. You apparently agree that we don't need the Bible to be moral, just as we don't need the Bible to explain the universe. So what use is it? Just as it has outlived its usefulness as a science textbook, its usefulness as an ethics textbook has also past.
You believe that 'religion and science have always been in the business of the truth'. They may have always been in the search of the truth, but when a thousand religions all come to a different answer to what the truth actually is, and these are all different to that found by science, you should quickly realise that a thousand books that claim to have reached the truth MUST be mistaken. Furthermore, when you realise that only science supports its claims with evidence and that every religion bar none relies on faith, ignorance and primitive superstition, then it should be obvious on which endeavour to place our trust. Science has without doubt described our true place in the universe. Religions claim to have had the truth revealed to them thousands of years ago, but unlike those from science, they are false claims, they make no contribution to modern knowledge, and many seem to exist today solely to bugger little boys or blow up infidels. If science informs our knowledge of the universe and ours minds inform our morals, what advantage is there in reading the Bible, especially when we're told by Christians themselves that a great deal of it is not to be believed, eg. the OT?
When we asked you to critique our ethical stance, you replied: 'I wouldn't ever make you doubt your ethical stance, quite the opposite, you should feel the freedom of being capable of doing whatever suits you without worrying about good and bad, or right and wrong. You have this wonderful gift of freedom to choose'. Again hinting that atheists don't worry about what is good and bad, or right and wrong. We should just do what we feel like and damn the consequences to others. This view also smacks of moral relativism, which we believe is utterly bogus. As you'll know, it's the belief that morals can change between cultures, and just because rape or incest is wrong in our culture, it doesn't mean it's also wrong in our neighbour's culture. There is no universal morality, morals are relative to culture. You obviously don't believe this, but then you say we're free to pick our own morals.
Since you believe in objective morality, that there is right and wrong behaviour, then you should care deeply what ethical stance we take. We would, and are, challenging your moral code, we do care if you are doing wrong and harming people. Even if Christians are only harming other Christians or Muslims harming only other Muslims, we do care. Perhaps this is another difference between our ethics and yours.
You said that humans 'have this wonderful gift of freedom to choose', and also claimed that 'we are created with free will, to choose. We (us) do not have to blindly follow God's will'. We've always thought that this is just a crock. To claim that we have free will and the freedom to choose is nonsense. Of course technically we can choose to follow and believe in God, or not, but it's not by any stretch of the imagination the free choice that is implied. We're told that between a choice of two doors, one door will lead to unimaginable bliss and eternal life, while the second door leads to unimaginable suffering and eternal torment. If Christians believe that these doors really do lead to these futures, how can any sane Christian believe that they truly have free choice?
Free means: 'not affected or restricted by a given condition or circumstance, costs nothing, unobstructed, not subject to external restraint'. And yet your choices are clearly affected by conditions, one inflicts enormous costs, and the simple phrase 'free choice' obstructs what is really at stake. Let's imagine I say to a friend that I'm getting rid of two pot plants, and that they can have one and another friend the other one. They are free to choose whichever pot plant they want, and I honestly don't care which they choose. Furthermore they know that they will not be punished or rewarded if they pick one plant over the other. I then leave, saying no more. This is a truly free choice, I haven't influenced their decision in any way. If God was giving away his pot plants, he would say, 'Pick the big one and I will kill your dog. Pick the small one and I'll shout you a trip to Hawaii. But hey, it's a free choice, pick whichever you want. You have free will after all'. Which one would you pick?
That Christians think that their God is really giving them a free choice is quite sad. For atheists, that a god would tell his creation that he had free will and could freely do as he wished, and then visited eternal torment on him for doing just that, this is the sign of a monster and a liar.
OK, to recap. What we'd like to know about Christian morals is:
Are they objective morals/universal truths, that is, woven into the natural universe, or are they subjective morals, that is, morals thought up by God? (If God created the universe and embedded morals into his universe, then morals are still subjective, since he still thought them up.)
What exactly do these morals proclaim, where can they be found in the Bible, and how can we know which Biblical pseudo-morals we can safely ignore?
What advantage is there in objective morals that are identical to subjective morals? For example, objective moral: 'Do not rape', versus subjective moral: 'Do not rape'. What does it matter which you believe?
You say that there are objective morals/universal truths created by God. How do you know this, what evidence is there for this? Without good evidence, surely this is just your view (or the view of Christians), which actually makes these morals subjective?
Comment by Joe, 16 May, 2012
Hello John, this is getting to be a very informative for me thanks. I would like to point out the flaws in your arguments on morality and atheism.
Lets get this straight first. I'm not at all saying atheists are immoral. They are no more immoral than anyone else on this planet. That's that. The question I posed was where do atheists get there morals from, not atheists are immoral. We have covered that we all share the same source of our subjective morals. This is what all humans have in common, I think you agree.
Ok you went very far off course with you leprachaun comments, which is basically a Russel's teapot argument in a different form. But your's really does not make sense regarding morality. Morality has nothing to do with belief at all. I think you tried to fit in another atheist argument from the santa claus, pink unicorn, teapot , fairy genre, which doesn't work on this subject. You again assumed I get my morals from the Bible, which I explained earlier that I do not. You then say that ethics has nothing to do with your atheism. Well it shouldn't at all, that is a very bizarre view. How can the academic study of ethics, actually shape your morality? That's like saying the study of biology shapes my body. I think you leprachauns led you a bit astray on that one maybe :)
Your dictionary definition of morals is also rather dubious. I think you picked up the noun definition of somebody with 'loose morals'. That is not actually what we are talking about. But nice try to bring in an 'new' atheistic argument from the Old Testament on sexual conduct. Like I said previously, those laws are not in practice today for Christians, they were for the Israelites. I would rather not be going over and over Old Testament law. This is a completely different subject, and one that is lovingly misunderstood on purpose by the new atheist movement.
Do you have any evidence of the type of slavery talked about in the Old Testament, or are you assuming it is like the African slave trade. You never made a comment of the actual definition of slavery, and the types of slavery that is talked about. You also fail to see the the Biblical laws on slavery were all for the benefit of the slaves. Not for any mistreatment but for the right treatment of people in service to others. Again another lovingly misunderstood on purpose subject by the 'new' atheist movement. I've heard this alot even as an atheist, and also been very skeptical of these Old Testament laws myself.
You also admit that there is nothing wrong with slavery under a naturalistic worldview, as ants have slaves. So therefore you can only make a subjective opinion of the morality of slavery. You have not said why slavery is wrong at all. You have skirted around this issue after bringing it up, but fail to say why it is wrong! What kind of standard are you basing the wrongness of slavery on? The only standard you state are ants.
"You keep hinting that atheists and our naturalistic worldview is an immoral worldview." That is maybe your misinterpretation again. How can I say atheism is immoral if I believe that only subjective morality exists for atheism. Therefore there is no universal right and wrong for atheism. I'm not hinting at anything, I'm saying atheists are far from immoral actually.
I'm not an anti-atheist, as you are an anti-theist. I just do not accept anything to be true for atheism. I do not play golf, but I do not sit around and form groups with other non golfers and plan to ridicule their sport, and tell them how silly sport is. I just would not have the time for that or energy for that. I feel atheists are just non-golfers too. (but I do know some who play golf, but you understand me I hope)
"..you ask if we would execute or imprison people that owed us money, again implying that atheists are naturally quite evil, or at least amoral." Again as before NO. That is not my argument. I'm asking what would your atheist alternative be for someone who owed you money? You brought this up with slavery from the Old Testament, so what is the option for you if someone owes you. You can use the legal system, or use them to work for you? This was my response to your slavery argument.
"Also we don't see how the likes of soldiers, contracts and mortgages can be likened to slavery. No one is forced to take a mortgage." These people are bound to repay or give service. This is what the slavery in the Old Testament was. People who owed, who gave service to pay debts, same as today, but without the legal system of today. That is why God gave the law to protect these people. You forget we have a legal system to deal with these moral matters for you. But how would YOU act with someone who owed you money or service, who couldnt pay?
I know its hard for atheist's to swallow and see reason on this subject, especially as atheism is fundamentally against religion these days. There is so much dogmatic response from atheism on these matters, that the truth is somewhat neglected. But again back on subject. You have shown no evidence to suggest to me that slavery is wrong from an atheist perspective. It was your argument too.
"You keep insisting that you're not implying that atheists are immoral, and yet you come up with this observation: 'From my Christian perspective, there is no good reason to murder. I would imagine as an atheist, you could come up with many reasons to kill people'." Again you make this flawed reasoning from my argument. I state I know it's wrong to kill, you agree that you can kill. There is the difference. Where or when did I say you were morally wrong to kill? I listed the reason's atheists give for justify killing people. Simple.
You then go on to say how could I watch someone rape and kill my family. Very interesting situation you give. But yep, I'm convinced that killing is wrong. I would feel very sorry for someone who wanted to inflict that level of terror and pain on people, they would have to be very disturbed and without good morals. But they do not deserve death by anyone elses hands. But your story is a bit far fetched. If I had the gun, I'd use it probably but not to kill. My emotions would probably get the better of me, but killing is not an option. I shudder to think why anyone would think I or anyone would be wimpy in that situation.
"You really believe that letting the innocent die at the hands of someone evil is correct conduct, the right thing to do?" What have you done to stop any of the atrocities happening in this world as an atheist? I as an atheist went to war to stop this happening, but now I feel the only solution is to totally abstain from violence and killing. Even if it comes to you, responding in violence is the weakest option, responding in love for humanity is the hard and right way for me. That is what Christianity has taught me, and there are very brave Christians who have died by execution for following this ideal. They were not cowards, but the bravest people I know of.
On that subject, I've heard people say they are staunch atheist's and they admire people who have died upholding their atheist beliefs? I found that a very odd statement from a local atheist I know. But would dying for atheism be a good thing for an atheist? I really scratch my head on that one, as I see it actually achieves nothing.
"We told you that our morality was to do no harm to others, so you ask: 'But what if someone is going to kill your family, steal your food, or you want to put someone out of their misery. Are you going to harm them then?' You really are struggling with this aren't you?" No I'm not struggling at all as you just read. I think you just basically did not tell the truth. You just gave a starting point. So be a bit clearer on your 'statements' on atheist morality. I gave you a solid 'I will not kill'. You gave me a weak 'we will do no harm' but we still kill people.
How contradictory are those statements you made. This is why I asked the initial question where do atheists get there morals from? You have proved beyond a doubt that it's all subjective. One minute you can say 'do no harm', the next you justify killing as ok. It is you who is struggling to give a clear explanation. I've told you more about my morals, than you have about anything to do with atheism, apart from 'do no harm', which you admit is simplistic!
You still dodged around my question of 'Is cannibalism good in a cannibalistic society?' You said you wouldn't, but you never said if it's good in a cannibalistic society? Are you missing the meaning of my questioning, or avoiding answering it properly?
One thing I would like to clear up, is you keep answering as 'we'. I'm not sure who 'we' is? Are you representing all atheism, or just your website, or a group of atheists? For the record I only answer for myself, and have no affiliation with any groups religious or not. (I do not go to church)
You go on to talk about pointing out the hypocrisy of Christianity, but I'm pretty solid on it thanks. I've come from a skeptical scientific background of non-belief, to belief, and I've answered all the questions you pose for myself. My point is to actually show the hypocrisy of the 'new' atheist movement. I've met such a range of them, some who believe in alien UFO visitors, to atheist witches, to ones who want to round up and destroy all theists. The only thing they all have in common is a militant hate for religion. But there are the nicer more intelligent atheists who do actually not hate religion. They are atheist's as they do not believe in a deity.
Your quiz on Paris argument is a bit flawed and illogical. You do not say why some believe Paris is the subjective capital. They may believe that Lyon is the rightful capital city. But your argument is basically flawed because you are confusing MORALS with FACTS. All moral decisions involve choices, which can both be right or wrong, good or bad. A fact is either right or wrong. A bit of philosphy 101.
So you argument does not translate to Christian vs atheism on morality of murder, as you are back to a moral decison making situation, not a factual truth finding situation.
You also argue that atheists say murder is wrong. But is that an objective statement you are making? You also confuse my take on murder and killing. Maybe I should have been clearer for you. I now think because of my belief that all killing is murder. Before as an atheist, I knew murder was wrong, but killing was ok. Maybe more so because of law, and the right to kill in certain situations. This did not sit well me me at all. So I did not go from believing murder is ok to believing murder is bad. That is rather weak reasoning, or lack of understanding.
"You've said that 'if God exists, and created us he knows all good and bad'." Again you have taken my statement out of context. I was explaining why Christians might say morality comes from God. Because if God exists then he created everything. Not only did he create our physical universe, he would have created our morals too. Good and bad.
You are still stuck on why some people choose different religions. Well its pretty much the same as why they choose different morality. We are free to choose. I can throw that question right back at you it works both ways. Why are you the type of atheist you are? What evidence or truth is there for the 'type' of atheist your are? Please remember I'm asking not why you are an atheist, but why you are the 'denomination' of atheist you are. There are so many types of atheism, not forgetting all the subset's of beliefs such as humanism, naturalism, nihilism. Why is one truer or more correct than the other?
My answer for you about other religions is that I am tolerant of them. I see no reason to think they are wrong, they may be right, I may be wrong. But as far as I know I've made the correct true choice for myself. As I said before Truth comes from the individual, not from the crowd.
"Again you're suspicious of atheists, wondering why, if we have free will, if we can choose what is right and wrong, why don't we choose to be evil?" There goes your dogmatic atheist response again. You used the 'we' again, I'm not sure who 'we' is. But are you saying there are no evil atheists out there? Or are you agreeing with me that there are good and bad people out there.
I'm not sure if you are sincerely answering my questions or just using this opportunity to have an attack on religion. If you believe as most 'new' atheists do that it is your duty to attack religion at every opportunity, then that is ok, that is your belief. But I would prefer some straight answers on atheism. There are plenty of dogmatic 'new' atheists out there who are religiously attacking religion, without much thought. Don't have to go far to have a talk about fairies, unicorns or santa with them. But I hope you like me would rather avoid these types.
"You ask how we can determine what is universally good or bad, that is, the objective morals created by God. What does this mean? Since atheists don't believe in God, this question is meaningless." Again this does not have to be God, I'm not sure if you finished Harris' book on objective morality without God. So you can still answer this question if you wish.
Your view on objective morality is a very flawed, how can 'ancient' objective morality be trumped by modern subjective morals? This just shows a lack of understanding of the whole morality issue. The whole argument I was making and Harris is that objective morals are, to put it simply, 'objective'. They are true no matter if everyone else believes something else.
Maybe we should speak on another subject, as apart from poor attempts to debunk Christian morality, I'm only learning and confirming what I already knew about atheism and morality. That atheists have a very hard time dealing with moral relativism. Which goes against what they like to 'believe' atheism is. I wouldn't have enough faith to be an atheist again to be honest!
To answer your questions.
1. Are they objective morals/universal truths, that is, woven into the natural universe, or are they subjective morals, that is, morals thought up by God?
Both objective and subjective. We have covered this already.
2. What exactly do these morals proclaim, where can they be found in the Bible, and how can we know which Biblical pseudo-morals we can safely ignore?
They are found throughout the Bible. You can choose to adopt or ignore whichever laws you please. But the Old Testament laws only apply if you are a Jew, or if you are an ancient Israelite coming out of Egypt. It is quite specific if you have read it.
3. What advantage is there in objective morals that are identical to subjective morals? For example, objective moral: 'Do not rape', versus subjective moral: 'Do not rape'. What does it matter which you believe?
So you are saying rape is subjective and there are instances when you can justify raping someone? I think you may want to reword that question. But back to your original confusion on this subject. Do not confuse facts with morals. That is a very cunning but illogical and flawed atheist form of argument.
4. You say that there are objective morals/universal truths created by God. How do you know this, what evidence is there for this? Without good evidence, surely this is just your view (or the view of Christians), which actually makes these morals subjective?
From the previous question. Can rape be justified as good under any circumstance you can think of? Unless you can justify it, I argue that is is objectively wrong. Which is a good argument for God. But some atheists are also arguing objective morals exist too. So it is not a purely religious view at all. It is actually a philosophical one.
Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 19 May, 2012
Hi Joe, thanks for your comments. You've given me pause for thought. You could be right and we may have reached an impasse with regard to this topic, but I shall make another attempt to explain my view of morality. My reply is lengthy, and I was going to omit several answers, but then you'd wonder why I didn't respond to your questions or points. You seem genuinely interested as to how an atheist might think, in which case I'm hoping you'll read my observations. You probably won't agree, but at least you'll better grasp my worldview.
Firstly, I say 'we' because our website is made up of a group of friends, and we're all atheists. To keep it clear, from now on I will simply say 'I'. Obviously 'we' couldn't represent all atheism, since I have no idea what other atheists think regarding morality (or science, art, rugby etc).
Regarding atheism, since you didn't get my leprechauns analogy, then let's try this one, since I think it's important that the religious grasp that atheism does not, and can not, inform my morals. So, rather than asking where atheists get their morals from, let's assume a religious person asks a similar question: Where do atheists get their science from, that is, their knowledge of how the universe works? As an atheist I personally get my science from scientists and their research, although others might get it from other sources, like science-fiction movies and Dr Who evidently. I don't get my science from atheism. Atheism has nothing to say about science. Likewise I get my history from historians, not atheism. Atheism is absolutely worthless for those seeking scientific insights. Atheists must look OUTSIDE atheism for science, for history, for cooking hints and for ethics. You can ask how an atheist learns to paint, but even after identifying him as an atheist you can't suggest that atheism has anything to do with painting. Now, getting back to atheism and morals, you ask where an atheist gets his morals from and for the same reason as for science, you can't claim that atheism has anything to do with morals. And yet you keep suggesting that atheism and morals are linked: you've asked 'where atheism gets it moral bearings from' and stated that 'ethically in atheism doing harm is ok'. If my morals are good, bad or indifferent, you can't say that atheism created them, anymore than you could say that my understanding of DNA is derived from my atheism.
This is why your request that I 'be a bit clearer on your 'statements' on atheist morality' is flawed. You can inquire as to MY morality, but not my 'atheist' morality. To that end I've told you that I, not as an atheist but as a human being, would kill people in self-defence, defence of others and in war. You gave 'a solid 'I will not kill'. OK, I'll give a solid 'I will not murder'. I've said one of my starting points for morality is to do no intentional harm to people. You say this doesn't make sense, as how could it allow me to kill in self-defence? But I think we both realise that this is a simplistic description, a mere starting point for my morality. Just as when you say you won't kill under any circumstances, I suspect you're excluding most things that are living and can be killed, like animals, plants, bacteria etc.
You ask what I've 'done to stop any of the atrocities happening in this world as an atheist?' Well I'm not going to cruise the world's dark spots as some masked avenger killing murderers and rapists if that's what you mean. But I fully support the likes of the UN using military action to prevent atrocities. As an atheist I can also try and convince people that many things promoted by religion are harmful and in some cases are causing great suffering and/or loss of life. Things such as religious wars, religious intolerance, clerical sexual abuse of children, male and female genital mutilation, persecution of homosexuals and women, the Catholic ban on condoms in Aids ravaged countries, the terrorising of children with tales of demons and Hell, and the dumbing down of society with stories of gods creating humans as playthings. But if a killer attacks my family or even a stranger in my presence, as a last resort I would kill him. I would only have prevented one atrocity, but it would at least be one I am prepared to prevent. I have free will and the free choice to help one person. Should I help the murderer and rapist fulfil his evil desires by my inaction, or should I help an innocent person escape unspeakable suffering and death. Either way, one person will have their intentions denied, should it be the killer or the innocent child? Unlike you, I would immediately and without guilt choose to help the innocent. But then I'm not a Christian.
You've again raised cannibalism, asking, 'You still dodged around my question of 'Is cannibalism good in a cannibalistic society?'... Are you missing the meaning of my questioning, or avoiding answering it properly?'. Ok, for a third time: 'we would argue that ethically they are behaving immorally, that they are doing something very wrong, and we wouldn't adopt or even approve of their morality'. I'm not sure how you can construe this reply to mean that I think cannibalism could still be good in a cannibalistic society. I've said it is immoral, very wrong and that I wouldn't approve of it. If I lived in this cannibalistic society, trust me when I say that being eaten would not be a highlight of my day. Nor would I find pleasure in killing and eating others, especially knowing that I might be next. Regardless of what my cannibal neighbour thought, I think it's WRONG, WRONG, WRONG.
I understand that you want to know where atheists get their morals from, and my view is, from our minds. I've said that I listen to family, friends, society and authorities such as philosophers. Then my mind weighs up their advice and arguments and I then decide what I think is the right thing to do in various circumstances. I believe everyone does this, atheist and believer. Of course everyone reaches different conclusions, with the religious placing more weight on the authority of their holy books than I would, but everyone, including you, reaches their own decisions. Your mind is telling you what path you should follow, just as mine is. You apparently agree, saying that 'we all share the same source of our subjective morals. This is what all humans have in common'. You say that you understand the source of our morals (and yours), but then ask, what is the source of morals for atheists? This question is not asking whether atheists know right from wrong, since you assert that atheists 'are no more immoral than anyone else on this planet'. So, you claim to know both the source of our morals and the strength of our morality, so I'm at a loss to know what your question is really asking.
You mentioned Philosophy 101, suggesting that you are familiar with basic secular philosophy. I'm not saying you agree with it, merely that you are familiar with the ethical discussions. So you should understand exactly when I say that philosophy guides my morality. You should know how the 'do no harm' argument plays out. Of course you may then ask, but where does Philosophy 101 come from then? It comes from the human mind, and yes, it is subjective. Philosophers are not reading from rules found written into the fabric of the universe.
You go on to ask, 'How can the academic study of ethics, actually shape your morality? That's like saying the study of biology shapes my body'. Much of our childhood is spent in the academic study of ethics, and parents and society hope that this study shapes our morality. That is, we are taught from the moment we can understand, as to what is right and wrong and how we should behave and treat others. Religious people are encouraged to continually study their holy books and learn from the numerous moral lessons that they contain. If study were not needed to shape our morality then holy books and their parables would be worthless, as would Sunday Schools, Bible in Schools, Bible classes and theological colleges etc. In the same way the study of secular ethics can without doubt shape our morality. So I guess you'd be against the ethics classes that some schools in Australia are introducing for those kids that don't want to attend the religious Bible classes? I can certainly say that the study of ethics has greatly shaped my morality and my view of important issues such as abortion, embryonic stem cell research, homosexuality, cloning, aliens etc.
You reckon that my 'dictionary definition of morals is also rather dubious... That is not actually what we are talking about.' As you didn't offer your dictionary definition of morals, I'm forced to defend my stance by giving some more dictionary definitions:
Most people think of morals as 'principles or rules of right or good conduct', so I'm not sure what you mean if this is not what you're talking about. Isn't the moral 'Thou shalt not kill' a rule of good conduct? But then it gets confusing. Regarding OT morals laws, you state that 'those laws are not in practice today for Christians'. But the Ten Commandments are all OT laws, and other Christians argue vociferously that they are the basis of their morality. You appear to be subjectively picking the morals you like and subjectively rejecting those that you don't. You and other Christians may fully understand what allows you to pick and choose from the OT laws, but I don't. You are curious as to how I arrive at my morals, and I'm equally curious as to how Christians arrive at theirs. Especially when most can't even agree amongst themselves, eg some embracing homosexuals, others reviling them. You asked further on which 'denomination' of atheist I am, so which flavour of Christian are you speaking for?
1. Of or concerned with the judgment of the goodness or badness of human action and character
2. Teaching or exhibiting goodness or correctness of character and behavior
3. Conforming to standards of what is right or just in behavior; virtuous
moral, ethical, virtuous, righteous. These adjectives mean in accord with principles or rules of right or good conduct.
1. a. A set of principles of right conduct. b. A theory or a system of moral values.
2. The study of the general nature of morals and of the specific moral choices to be made by a person; moral philosophy.
3. The rules or standards governing the conduct of a person or the members of a profession: medical ethics.
When I quizzed you as to what the true Christian morals were, since they're evidently not what the OT originally claimed, you simply replied: 'They are found throughout the Bible. You can choose to adopt or ignore whichever laws you please'. Why do you say morals 'are found throughout the Bible' when you want me to exclude the OT laws? You say the Bible 'is quite specific if you have read it', but if this were true then why are there hundreds of Christian denominations who all disagree as to the correct reading of the Bible? If Christians can't agree, even killing each other over interpretations, how can non-Christians hope to reach a correct interpretation? Christians tell me to read the Bible, and yet when I do and ask about a specific Bible passage, they all reply, 'You're not supposed to read that part. We stopped believing that long ago. Just read the good bits about love'. When I ask them about Eve and a talking snake with a smirk I can't contain, they smile and say it was just a myth for primitive people, but when I inquire likewise about a man walking on water, they turn serious and say that bit is perfectly true. How am I to tell what to believe in the Bible, this is what no one will reveal to me with any clarity?
And for the record, I'm not anti-theist, I'm anti-delusion. I don't have anything personally against religious people. Many of my friends are, unfortunately, religious. It's their false beliefs that I rail against. While I do question and challenge religion, as you are doing with atheism, I do it because religion harms people. It gives people a false worldview, misleading them as to how the universe and life really works. It leads them to terrorise children with stories of demons and eternal torture. It causes them to reject lifesaving medical interventions such as embryonic stem cells and abortion, not just for themselves, but for everyone. On extreme levels it provokes followers to persecute women, homosexuals and those of other sects, hide priests that rape children, kill abortion doctors and blow up infidels. I can see no value in religion, it has given the world nothing but misery and has made no contribution to our knowledge of the universe. Religion is primitive superstition and deserves to be exposed as such. I wouldn't bother challenging religion if religion didn't keep pushing its false beliefs in my face. The other day it was Christian evangelists that knocked on my door, not atheists or non-golfers. It is different religious sects killing each other in Iraq and Afghanistan, not atheists. It was Christians attacking each other in Northern Ireland, and Muslims attacking Christians in many African countries and South East Asia, with Hindus thrown into the mix in India, and Buddhists in Sri Lanka. It's Christians that have been revealed to have been sexually, physically and emotionally abusing children for years and Christians trying to cover it up. It was Christians that tried to stop me watching an episode of South Park and tried to get The Da Vinci Code and the Monty Python Life of Brian movies banned. Atheists speak out because the religious keep speaking out. If religion stopped bothering us, atheists would be out of a job, as unnecessary as your non-golfers. Religions have had a free voice for centuries, and are now shocked to find that there now exists an opposing team. Religions find themselves on a losing streak, and believe that the only way to regain control is not to beat the opposing team with superior evidence and arguments, but to plead that atheists and scientists stop playing.
You note that 'atheism is fundamentally against religion these days'. Actually atheism has ALWAYS been against religion. It's built into the definition. Without gods and religion atheism wouldn't exist. There is no other role atheism can perform except to challenge religion. Also I'm not sure you really understand atheism if you think it requires faith to accept. Religious people believe on faith, I hold my views based on evidence and reasoned argument.
You say that you want to 'show the hypocrisy of the 'new' atheist movement. I've met such a range of them, some who believe in alien UFO visitors, to atheist witches, to ones who want to round up and destroy all theists'. For a start, atheism has nothing to do with aliens, which of course are quite possible unlike gods. I'm sure there are atheists who are interested in stamp collecting and politics, but their atheism is meaningless in this context. Likewise there will be atheists who believe in silly things, like witchcraft or homeopathy; this just shows that atheism doesn't tell people how to think or behave, and thus all atheists are different with different interests and morals. And yes there are some atheists who want to destroy the religious, because in recent years the public face of religion has been priests buggering little boys and suicide bombers blowing up infidels. You say that the only thing all these different atheists 'have in common is a militant hate for religion'. I disagree, while those angry at the religious for committing atrocities often hate religion, atheists that believe in aliens or witches normally just ignore religion. You claim that 'there are the nicer more intelligent atheists who do actually not hate religion'. I suspect that you like these particular atheists only because they don't point out problems with religion. The 'new' atheist movement that the religious are so annoyed with aren't really any different to the 'old' atheist movement, in that they don't really advance any new arguments for atheism. The only difference is that 'new' atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Victor J. Stenger and the late Christopher Hitchens, are publicly talking about their view and openly presenting their arguments, just as the religious have done for centuries. The religious seem annoyed and frustrated that they no longer have the playground to themselves, and that they have to start defending their claims. You appear to be saying that you like atheists that keep their views to themselves. And generally they do, you don't get atheists knocking on your door in the weekends.
You also claim that people have died upholding their atheist beliefs. I'm assuming you mean they were executed for being atheists. Who might they be? I can think of many dissenters that the church killed over the years, but they really died for criticising the church, not for arguing for atheism, and few would have even called themselves atheists. Historically people were killed for differing religious beliefs, not atheist beliefs. You ask 'would dying for atheism be a good thing for an atheist? I really scratch my head on that one, as I see it actually achieves nothing'. Firstly, I know of no rational atheist that would die for atheism. I certainly wouldn't. But look at it another way. If they did, they would be dying for their belief, upholding their conviction, convinced that it was worth dying for. In your previous paragraph you claimed that 'very brave Christians who have died by execution for following this ideal. They were not cowards, but the bravest people I know of'. And yet if an atheist was to die for following his ideal, you think it's rather silly, futile and worthless. Brave Christians, silly atheists. Isn't this a little hypocritical?
You ask, 'Why are you the type of atheist you are? What evidence or truth is there for the 'type' of atheist your are?' I am what is often called an 'explicit' or 'strong' atheist, in that unlike an 'implicit' or 'weak' atheist who simply has no belief in gods, I go further and say gods don't actually exist. The most concise reason for taking this stance is that I can see no evidence of gods or need for gods. Rather than evidence or truth being found for gods, the fact that there is no good evidence that gods exist indicates that they don't. If gods created the universe and life and are continually interfering in its operation then we should be tripping over evidence of this. We're not. Also in the past people felt that gods must exist because they could think of no alternative explanation of how the universe and life could arise. Gods were needed to explain everything from lightning to mental illness. Thanks mostly to science we no longer need gods to explain these things, just as we no longer need gremlins to explain why our car keys go missing. There is essentially only one type of atheism: no belief in gods. My stance is different to that of a baby who has no belief in gods only in the sense that I can defend my stance. Comparing a weak atheist to a strong atheist is like comparing a Christian in the pews to the priest delivering the sermon. They both have the same common belief, but one knows far more than the other about their belief. As for humanism, naturalism, nihilism etc, they're not atheism. Saying atheism and naturalism are different names for essentially the same thing is no different to saying that Christianity and Islam are essentially the same thing.
I'm a little confused as to why you believe I'm 'still stuck on why some people choose different religions. Well its pretty much the same as why they choose different morality. We are free to choose'. People almost never choose their religion, they are given it as children. Choice doesn't enter into it. The only time choice arises is when they consider rejecting their faith later in life. Have you never wondered why pretty much everyone in the Middle East chooses Islam, or why most Indians choose Hinduism, or why most Israelis are Jewish, or Americans Christians? Do you really believe they are all examining several different religions and yet nearly everyone in the country, bar a few foreigners, picks the same one? Don't you think that's a little fishy? Especially when nobody in a single country can decide on the same political party or type of car to drive. If people were truly free to choose their religion, when they were mature and educated, then I think you'd find that religion would pretty much disappear within a couple of generations.
You argue that ' atheists have a very hard time dealing with moral relativism. Which goes against what they like to 'believe' atheism is. I wouldn't have enough faith to be an atheist again to be honest!' I don't have a hard time dealing with moral relativism, I think it's nonsense, and immoral. Unlike moral relativists, I believe the likes of slavery, cannibalism and witch burning is wrong, and it is wrong for all humans in all places, in all cultures, in all religions and at all times. You could say it is universal in that I believe it applies everywhere, even objective if you wish, but this belief has originated in a human mind, so it is technically subjective. I am perfectly willing to say that any religion or culture or individual that argues that slavery, cannibalism and witch burning might be right in some place or time is WRONG. Moral relativism is wrong.
In answer to your query, 'I'm not sure if you are sincerely answering my questions or just using this opportunity to have an attack on religion', it's both. My answers are sincere and honest, but at times they may not be clear and you should feel free to ask me to rephrase them. But I'm also an atheist and so naturally my answers will criticise and challenge religious claims. For example if I say that I believe Jesus didn't exist, it's not to offend Christians, it's to explain why I don't follow Jesus. Likewise when atheists mention fairies, Santa, spaghetti monsters, pink unicorns and tea pots around Mars in our arguments, its generally because we honestly see these comparisons with gods and demons as valid. Are we correct in thinking this way? I believe so, but rather than debate these arguments, the religious simply demand that they aren't to be used as comparisons. But if the religious won't or can't convincingly argue why a fairy or Santa comparison is a flawed argument, and instead just dismiss it as childish, provocative or insulting, then they are really admitting defeat. I could respond the same way when Christians talk about a man living in a fish for 3 days or rising from the dead: 'Well, if you're not going to be serious I might as well leave'.
My point is that Christians and atheists each believe that their arguments make sense, and no matter how silly the other side views them, it's up to each to make their argument and the other to listen and not to simply dismiss them out of hand as childishly provocative. Just as Christians are annoyed with Santa references, I get frustrated when Christians claim that atheism is a religion and that science is based on faith. However I don't believe they say this simply to annoy me, most really believe it. But it's up to me to explain the flaw in the claim, just as it's up to Christians to explain the flaw they see in Santa comparisons. Maybe the Santa comparison is a flawed argument, but then why don't Christians immediately shoot us down with the reason why, so that we would be showing our ignorance by using it again in the future? And let's remember, in this forum you have an equal opportunity to 'attack' or expose flaws in atheism as I do to religion.
Let's now move to discuss your view of objective morals (or universal truths) and subjective morals. In answer to a question, you replied that Christian morals are both objective and subjective. But they can't be both. If God thought up morals then they are subjective, since they come from a mind, even if it is God's mind. If God simply found morals in a natural universe that he didn't create, then they are objective since he didn't think them up. If God thought up morals and then added them to the universe that he created then they are still subjective, since they still came from his mind. Most Christians maintain that God thought up his own morals and forced them onto his newly created universe, but none can answer how God knew the difference between right and wrong in the first place. You keep asking me where I got my morals from, why aren't you asking God the same question?
When you assert that 'I state I know it's wrong to kill', you're making a subjective claim but asserting that it's an objective moral. It's your mind telling you that it's wrong to kill, therefore it's subjective. You can't even prove that you really believe this, I have to take your word for it. There is no objective evidence that you truly believe this, and worst still, no objective evidence that your claim is actually an objective moral, a universal truth. A religious believer simply claiming that certain morals are objective is just wishful thinking. Would you automatically believe a Hindu who claimed, like you, that his gods had written certain morals into the universe? Perhaps that cows are sacred? Of course not. Without real evidence, and holy books don't count, you wouldn't take a Hindu's claim of universal truths seriously. Why should I treat your claim any differently?
You claim that we 'also argue that atheists say murder is wrong. But is that an objective statement you are making?' No, I don't argue that 'atheists say murder is wrong'. Atheism doesn't offer a moral code like religion so I have no claim on what other atheists think about murder. Most probably do say murder is wrong, but I can't claim this anymore than I could argue that atheists say cricket is exciting to watch. I, as a human, say murder is wrong. It is not an objective statement. It is a subjective claim that originated in my mind. As is your present belief that all killing is wrong. I assume you're not just some puppet parroting claims fed to you by some religious person, and therefore it was your mind that considered the morality of killing and then changed its stance. Your mind reached this new view of killing, so your new stance or revised moral is entirely subjective. Just like mine. The only difference is that you might go on to claim that you've found that the Bible says that the subjective view you've reached is actually the correct one and an objective one. But this is no better an argument than me claiming that the Harry Potter books support my stance, that while murder is wrong, killing under certain conditions can be justified. Although I'm not sure if you would use the Bible as support since you've clearly said your morals haven't come from God: 'You again assumed I get my morals from the Bible, which I explained earlier that I do not'. So where did your new moral that ALL killing is wrong come from? I'm not asking if the Bible can be used to support your newfound moral, just where you first discovered it? On second thought, I would like to know where the Bible supports it as well, since the God of the Bible seems willing to kill on the flimsiest of reasons.
Regarding a statement I made, you ask, 'how can 'ancient' objective morality be trumped by modern subjective morals?' I meant that ancient moral codes such as slavery and burning witches were seen as objective morality provided by God. If these were truly objective morals, then they must STILL be objective morals. And yet Christians have devised modern subjective morals that say slavery and witch burning is now immoral. These modern subjective morals have somehow cancelled the ancient objective morals. You will no doubt argue that this is because these 'objective' morals were never objective in the first place. But my point is that followers of God, for thousands of years, thought that they were objective, just as you still think some morals are objective, just not the ones they followed though. Of course subjective morals could never trump truly objective morals, and the fact that subjective morals now rule regarding slavery and witches proves that ancient people were mistaken about what they saw as objective morals from God. My argument is that all these 'objective morals' that the religious have supported over the centuries are being slowly rejected and replaced with new subjective morals, showing that they were never objective morals or universal truths in the first place.
I'm wondering how you could think my command 'Do not rape' suggests that this might still mean I think 'there are instances when you can justify raping someone'? I meant that if you hold the objective moral: 'Do not rape' and I hold the subjective moral: 'Do not rape', what does it matter which of us a woman in a skimpy outfit meets in a dark alley? We both believe it is wrong to rape so the woman is safe from attack from either of us. What does it matter to her that you believe your moral is objective and I only have a subjective moral? Why should she care between objective and subjective as long as we both think rape is wrong and let her pass safely?
One of my questions to you was: 'You say that there are objective morals/universal truths created by God. How do you know this, what evidence is there for this?'
You reply was to ask me this, 'Can rape be justified as good under any circumstance you can think of? Unless you can justify it, I argue that it is objectively wrong. Which is a good argument for God'. I personally can't see any good coming from rape, and view it as wrong. However, while I disagree vehemently with rapists, I can see how rapists could and do view rape as good. They get to exhibit power over their victims, which brings them immense satisfaction evidently, they get to enjoy sexual pleasure, they experience multiple sexual partners, they save money on prostitutes and real relationships etc. So a rapist could justify rape as good, at least for him. So by your logic, rape is not objectively wrong. Wrong for me, but not for him. Your premise that no one can justify rape as good is false. Egro, it does not prove the existence of objective morals and thus it is not a good argument for God.
I think it can also be argued that for every act that you and I both consider wrong, not just rape, but murder, theft, fraud etc, we could find many people that would find some benefit in committing these acts, after all this is why they do them. Robin Hood believed it was right to steal from the rich, some Christians believe it is right to kill abortion doctors and homosexuals and to withhold condoms from HIV/Aids sufferers, some South Africans believe it is right to 'necklace' informants to death and many Muslims believe it's right to kill apostates, Thus there is no act that you could claim that everyone agrees is wrong, so no act can be claimed as an objective moral, one that must have come about through God. The argument fails.
Furthermore, I can't see how, just because we might all agree that rape is wrong (even though we obviously don't), that it 's impossible that we couldn't have all reached this conclusion on our own? (Just as you apparently reached your 'Do not kill' stance without God.) Your argument seems to be that rape is only wrong because God made it wrong everywhere and for everyone, he made it an objective moral or universal truth. I know rape is wrong, I don't need God to write it down for me. All my friends and family know rape is wrong. If we extend this logic, believing that all humans think as I do, knowing intuitively and subjectively that rape is wrong, then why did God need to make it an objective moral? Isn't that overkill? Also, as mentioned, not everyone agrees that rape is wrong, so if 'rape is wrong' is an objective moral created by God, what useful purpose does it serve in the real world that rapists and their victims live in? It's obviously doing nothing to stop rapes, and everyone bar a few Christians is oblivious to its very existence. Even those Christian rapists (eg Catholic priests) that are aware that rape is objectively immoral, not just subjectively immoral, carry on regardless. The difference between objective and subjective seems to have no effect on people, not even Christians. Like the human appendix and male nipples, objective morals seem to be useless. Even if God did create objective morals, they apparently serve no purpose. It's no good saying that it's God's moral law, and like secular laws we have the duty to obey it (and free will to ignore it), because the great majority that now live and have lived in the past are not and were not even aware of it's existence. I'm aware of my subjective moral against rape, but I know of no objective moral against rape, and your God has made no attempt to enlighten me.
And even if this was a good argument for the existence of God, which it obviously isn't, which god is it arguing for, Zeus, Odin, Ra or Jehovah? Every religion could use your argument to 'prove' their particular god existed, which highlights another fatal flaw.
Right, onto slavery. You say that I 'never made a comment of the actual definition of slavery, and the types of slavery that is talked about'. I did say that 'slavery in the OT was the same as any slavery you might name. A human being was denied their liberty and was seen as a commodity'. To me it seems immoral that you would quibble over 'types' of slavery, implying that some types are OK. For the record, my dictionary definition of slavery is: 'The state of one bound in servitude as the property of a slaveholder or household. Synonyms: servitude, bondage, slavery. These nouns signify a state of subjugation to an owner or a master.' I do not agree with one human owning another human, even if the owner is kind and provides his slave with lodging and free health care. Humans should not be viewed as pets or cars that can be bought and sold, no matter how well they are cared for. That is my moral stance.
You go on to claim that I 'also admit that there is nothing wrong with slavery under a naturalistic worldview, as ants have slaves'. No, I said that there is nothing wrong with slavery from an ant's point of view, since they are incapable of reason. I said humans are a special case in the natural world, and for us, and us alone, slavery is definitely wrong, since we have the mental ability to understand our actions and their affects on others. You again insist that 'You have not said why slavery is wrong at all. You have skirted around this issue after bringing it up, but fail to say why it is wrong! What kind of standard are you basing the wrongness of slavery on?' Again, I have said why I think it is wrong, slavery denies a human their liberty. I would not wish to be owned by someone, and I believe other humans feel the same way. I believe taking away this freedom is wrong. The standard I'm basing my morality on is the belief, reached in my own mind, that all humans have the right to freedom. I am not referring to some external standard such as your God's objective morals. Maybe my morals are wrong, but so be it. I will have to live with my decision.
You ask what I'd do if someone failed to pay a debt. Yes of course I would use the legal system. If this failed then, like those who lost money in failed finance companies, I would have to live with the loss. I'm surprised that you again hint that as an atheist I might resort to taking them as a slave until I felt they had repaid their debt. These are not Old Testament times and I do not have an OT mentality.
I think you're being a little naive or defensive in believing that slavery in the Old Testament was no different to a modern mortgage or contract. Owning a human being like someone today would own a horse is light years apart. Most slaves would have been captured in war, nothing to do with debt. New slaves would have been born to slave parents. Why does a father's debt transfer to innocent children? Some slaves came about when a father sold his children to satisfy his creditor. Would you sell a child to buy the latest iPhone? Also the Hebrews treated foreign slaves differently to Hebrew slaves, releasing the Hebrews after seven years, but not the foreigners. Why would this be if it were a simple repaying of debt? Because Hebrews saw foreigners as inferior and not deserving of equal treatment. Let me ask you this, if I said I was going to send you back in time to experience life in OT times for five years, and I said you can either be a Hebrew slave owner or a slave, which would you choose? I find it difficult to believe that you would want to be a slave.
Frankly I can't see why you're defending this barbaric state of affairs, suggesting that OT slavery was little different to the burden of a mortgage today. Is it just an attempt to show a barbaric god in a more flattering light? You state that God allowed slavery back then and benevolently gave laws to protect them. I'm hoping that you would agree that our modern democratic legal system is better than the OT slavery system. If you do agree, why didn't God simply give them our man-made laws rather than the divine slavery laws? Why wait thousands of years before hinting that there was a better way other than slavery? And please don't say it wouldn't be that easy. We're talking of God here, an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving being. He could create life and a universe but couldn't think of an alternative to slavery?
You insist that I 'have shown no evidence to suggest to me that slavery is wrong from an atheist perspective'. Again you are claiming that atheists have a moral perspective that somehow results from their atheism. I've explained that every atheist could have a different view on morals, just as we could all have different political views, and in fact do. You can't ask what the atheist stance on slavery is, it's meaningless. It's like me asking what the best ice cream flavour is from a Christian perspective? You can ask what MY stance is, and yes I am an atheist, but I'm also a male, a heterosexual and a fan of South Park. But my atheism, my gender, my sexuality and my TV favourites do not inform my view of slavery.
That said, as to evidence that I could offer that slavery is wrong in my view, I could offer personal experience. Judging by everyone I've ever known, I suspect I could interview everyone on the planet and ask them if they would wish to be a slave, to give up their freedom, probably forever. I'm sure that that they would all answer no, as would I. Even asking real slaves and slave owners would elicit the same answer, no to being a slave. Since no one wants to be a slave, then surely we can assume from this that it would be wrong to force people into slavery. Since no one wants to be a slave, how can it be a good thing if they suddenly found themselves to be one? It can't be good, so therefore it's wrong to support slavery in any guise, in any culture, at any time. Of course you may argue that the subjective view of billions of people only translates into a subjective moral, and that's not evidence that slavery is objectively wrong. True, but if the entire human population of Earth thinks it's wrong, and I can understand and accept their reasoning, then that's good enough for me. Bullocks to universal truth.
You go on to ask, 'Where or when did I say you were morally wrong to kill?' This confuses me. You reckon that it is objectively wrong to kill, and yet you now suggest that it's not morally wrong for ME to kill. If there is indeed an objective moral code against killing as you claim, then regardless of whether I think it is wrong or not, then surely you should be arguing that it is morally wrong for me to kill? All politeness aside, you should be calling me immoral if my actions would go against your moral code and your God's objective moral code. This is a debate. You are a Christian and I'm an atheist. Our views on gods are diametrically opposed. We both know that. We can disagree while still being considerate, inoffensive and amicable. I'll start. Gods don't exist, and I think that many things done by religious people over the centuries are immoral in my view. I'm assuming that you're not now thinking, 'Well I'd assumed you believed that, but I'm surprised and perhaps a little offended that you expressed it'.
I'm perplexed that regarding other religions you say that you 'see no reason to think they are wrong, they may be right, I may be wrong'. I can see countless reasons why religions in addition to Christianity are wrong. And yet you can't find one reason? What about Islam saying that Jesus was just a man and didn't rise from the cross? You don't think that's wrong? What about the ancient Egyptians claiming that their gods created the universe, not the Hebrew one? That's not wrong either? What about Muslims saying that apostates must be killed? Still not wrong? You actually imply that they can't be wrong because 'As I said before Truth comes from the individual, not from the crowd'. So if a Muslim individual believes it's right to kill an apostate or infidel, then that must be the Truth? But if a Muslim's truth contradicts a Christian's truth which both contradict my truth, how does this make sense? There can't be three truths. As I've said we have many reasons that convince us that every religion is wrong with regard to both their scientific and historical view of the universe and their moral code. I can 'understand' why you support Christianity, but not why you refuse to say that other religions are wrong. Tolerance is not about offering false support, but of not persecuting. There is a difference between saying you think a religion is mistaken in their beliefs and in burning down their places of worship. I don't understand Christians who insist that their religion is true, but won't say Islam or Judaism or Buddhism is false. How can they not be false if Christianity is true? In past centuries no Christian would lack such confidence in his chosen faith. I can say that some religion might be right, and my atheism stance might be wrong, but at the same time I will confidently say that I sincerely believe that they are all wrong, and I believe I can see innumerable reasons why.
I'm going to finish with a dilemma that all religions face, and fail to answer. It's of the fairies, unicorns and Santa genre that you and all Christians hate. However it contains none of the named fantasy beings, but the Greek God Zeus. I do this not to annoy you, but because it expresses a genuine problem, one that every religion needs to address and not just dismiss as childish. I mention morality, but it applies equally to the creation of the universe, the creation of life and claimed events throughout history.
Let's say a Greek friend claims his morality originates from the Greek God Zeus who handed down a moral code to his people in ancient times from Mt Olympus, and these were written down by the likes of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Furthermore, he claims these morals are objective universal truths set down by the gods. Christians, and you also, would no doubt reply that this is just silly. There is no good evidence that these gods exist or that they created our morals. It's quite obvious that the ancient Greeks merely devised their own set of morals. These morals came from the human mind and they are subjective. Many of these ancient Greek morals may compare well with our modern view of morality, but they came from man not gods. And I would agree completely with this dismissal of our morals coming from Greek gods.
But let's now compare that story with another. A Christian claims that his morality originates from the Hebrew God Jehovah who handed down a moral code to his people in ancient times from Mt Sinai, and these were written down by the likes of Moses, David and Luke. Furthermore, he claims these morals are objective universal truths set down by this God. This is where I come in, taking your place as the reasoned observer. So I now reply that this is just silly. There is no good evidence that this god exists or that he created our morals. It's quite obvious that the ancient Hebrews merely devised their own set of morals. These morals came from the human mind and they are subjective. A few of these ancient Hebrew morals may compare well with our modern view of morality, but they came from man not gods. But unlike the Greek morals, this Christian, and you, won't agree with my dismissal of our morals coming from a Hebrew God.
So why does the Hebrew claim make sense and not the Greek one? I could tell a similar story with a hundred different gods from different cultures and you and I both would dismiss every one of them as obvious myths. Why should I believe that the Hebrew story is somehow different? Even after centuries of trying, this is what the followers of the God of Abraham have consistently failed to do. Without good evidence your claims are no different and no more believable than those of my Greek friend. And let's remember that all around the world religious people are indeed making the same claims as you are, only they are replacing your God with theirs. Just as you don't believe them, they don't believe you. And I don't believe any of you.
I know Christians say that belief eventually just comes down to faith, which according to my dictionary is 'The theological virtue defined as the secure belief in God and a trusting acceptance of God's will. A belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence, and may exist even contrary to the evidence'. Or another definition that is more concise: 'Faith is belief without, or in spite of, reason'. However I could never be persuaded to accept a moral code simply on faith.
Having written all this, I'm now more convinced that you and I might have to agree to disagree on where our morals come from. You've said nothing to sway me, and no doubt I've said nothing to shake your convictions. That said, I suspect our morals are very close in most day to day situations, it's just their source that we quibble over. Neither of us go to church and neither of us would mug old ladies.
So perhaps you have another query as to why I've rejected gods? By all means comment on anything I've written above, or broach another topic. Your choice. Also you might be interested in this recent post from a fellow Christian asking why I'm obsessed by religion since I think it's such a silly subject, and why I want to destroy it.
Comment by Joe, 27 May, 2012
Hello John. I liked your last response, as it's given me plenty of insight to your type of atheism, and I'd like to point out some of the inconsistencies and offer you a challenge.
But firstly to go through your response. Your view on morality as an atheist is very important, as you are quite outspoken on your website, so you do seem to be representative of atheism, and therefore your morality should broadly reflect other atheist's morality. In the western world anyway.
Your analogy again of 'where do atheists get their science from is flawed'. Science gives facts, morality does not deal with facts, it deals with choices of good/bad and right/wrong. Science only comes from one place. A better analogy you might have tried would have been 'where do atheists get their bread from?' Pac n Save or Countdown? This is also a non moral issue though.
The issues we deal with in ethics are such as 'is it good to be a doctor?' Yes would be regarded as morally correct. But it might be wrong for me to be a doctor, as I faint when I see blood, or I do not have a caring bone in my body. The issues do not result in right or wrong answers, as we are free to choose either choice. Ethics just tried to inform us of how we go about reasoning on these choices.
So you haven't given me any real answers as an atheist, but I guess that might be because you view this subject as God vs atheism, when its an academic argument, not a biblical or theistic one. So if you do not know much about ethics, please do not keep turning it into an atheistic argument.
Your answer on 'is cannibalism good in a cannibalistic society?' demonstrates your lack of understanding too. I wasn't really after what you personally thought of cannibalism, but wanted to know your view on is it ok for the cannibals to regard cannibalism as morally right. If you were to say no, then you would be in a position of denying a society their moral freedom. So you may want to rethink your answer again.
You also gave no evidence of your personal distaste for cannibalism. I wasn't after a that answer, but you gave me thought as to why you would think it wrong as an atheist. You can answer this too if you please. Also if all your family and friends were cannibals, would you adopt cannibalism to fit in, if it was morally acceptable, or would you go against the group morals and be a non-cannibal.
You deny that atheism helps you define your morals, well that is blatantly untrue. You demonstrate that now you find it morally ok to challenge theists and ridicule their beliefs. That is atheism shaping your morality, as saying it is the morally right thing to do. Your worldview of atheism plays a huge role in the decisions you make regarding right and wrong.
You demonstrate this superbly when you actually say Christians are immoral because of past atrocities. So with your worldview of atheism, you are actually an unabashed moralist. This huge contradiction is very well demonstrated by your comments, which is something I was wanting to find out.
Your comments regarding academic philosophy shaping your morality is illogical, and requires circular reasoning. Ethics helps us understand the processes of making a moral choice. Such as in utilitarianism proposing the greater good. For instance, would you kill your own child if it were to save the lives of ten strangers! These are the studies I was expecting you to defend atheism with. Not with comments like 'do no harm'. Which I need to pick up on.
Why is your moral ideal of 'do no harm' true? Do you have any evidence that makes this universally true. If so, why do so many people do harm? How do you justify this as being true, when human history demonstrates clearly that this is false. You are also morally obliged 'to do harm' in certain circumstances. So you have demonstrated beautifully another huge atheist contradiction!
Another misunderstanding and huge blooper you make is when you call all Christians, including myself (I take it) as immoral. You were also confused why I did not call you immoral for justifying murder. Well the simple answer is no you are NOT immoral, because as far as I know you have not committed murder, so you are NOT immoral, and that's why I have not called you immoral. When you murder someone and justify it for whatever reason, then I have the right to think you of as immoral. Not before.
You are clearly demonstrating blind faith that all Christians are immoral based on your opinion of other theists moral actions. Huge amount of blind faith required here on your part. But your blind faith does not end there either!!
You also claim to be a strong atheist and an anti-delusionist. This made my day! Hooray!! You are the first atheist I have met who has the guts to admit that they know God does not exist, and in the same breath assert that all theists are delusional. You are a true knight of faith as Kierkegaard would say.
So on this issue, you can guess that I will be needing some evidence for your strong atheism, such as scientific evidence of the non-existence of God, or good philosophical argument to say God is impossible. But this is another topic entirely.
But strangely I'm more interested in your view that all theists are delusional. You claim you have friends who are 'unfortunately' religious. So you admit also that your friends are 'unfortunately' delusional. What a nice friend you are!
Now if you truly believe that all your religious friends and all theists are mentally ill with delusions, what do you do about it? I see you create a website to ridicule their mental illness, and do nothing to help them. A delusion is defined as:
"belief that is firmly maintained in spite of incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary." Free Medical Dictionary.
Ok you might say this sounds like religion. So say you are correct that all theists are delusional. You have demonstrated a complete lack of decency in helping the afflicted of society. You choose ridicule them instead of helping them with a mental health issue. I would call that irresponsible on your part. But of course do you really believe this?
If you truly believe all theists are mentally ill, you have a huge burden of proof on you shoulders, and you offer no evidence to support your belief. Yet again another huge mountain of blind faith required to believe that all theists are delusional. That's two huge mountains of blind faith already you show you have, and you haven't even demonstrated God does not exist yet.
But here's my challenge to you. As I believe that Christianity is not a delusion, I would offer myself to you for scientific analysis, to find out if I am delusional with my belief. I shall demonstrate my faith that you are incorrect, by offering to undergo any psychiatric or psycho analysis examination at your expense with whatever professional you deem appropriate. I will show you who has a silly belief :)
I liked your cartoon by the way. There is an element of truth to it, but I'm not sure why militant atheists are portrayed as lonely alcoholics. Sorry the irony was too much.
I would like to rap up the morality issue, and move on to another subject. But not before I just point out something quite shocking you say about atheist morality. You actually found that rape can be morally justified as good. I'm a bit overwhelmed with that, I hope because it's your lack of understanding on the issue. But you are the only person I know of who has justified rape as ok from a rapists perspective. You say you think it is wrong, but can understand that a rapist would think it as good. You have blatantly forgot about the victim who would not think it was good whether the rapist did or not. Which never makes it good under any circumstance.
But you have shown that with an atheist worldview, anything can be regarded as good subjectively. Which is the complete madness of a naturalistic worldview, whereby anything can go. So while I hope you understand that rape is objectively wrong, you also understand the danger of a naturalistic worldview in subjective morality only.
To answer your Greek God question, is again very simple as you show the lack of understanding again of the objective morality issue.
Let me try to explain the argument for you simply, as I might have jumped the gun and assumed you knew this already. If objective morals exist, then God exists. If objective morals do not exist then God does not exist. Pretty simple one eh!
So you also need to understand that morals laws from a God are different from objective morals. If a God from whatever religion you choose gives a law, that does not make it objective. If a God says you shall go to chapel on Tuesdays, that is not an objective moral. It is not even a moral issue.
Sam Harris would argue objective morals exist, but he thinks they are natural, which is pretty flawed pseudoscience, but he agrees they do exist. His version of objective morality is to counter the argument for these objective morals coming from a God.
So your argument is very uninformed and weak. It does not matter what laws, or morals come from whatever God or worldview you choose. The argument is for the objective morals. Some of which we haven't discovered yet, but as humanity progresses we will find more. I think murder, rape and lying are obvious ones. Sam Harris would also agree on lying being objectively wrong. There is never a good time to lie to anyone.
I have demonstrated your huge amount of blind faith on two accounts, that you believe all theists are immoral, and that all theists are delusional. This is far more blind faith than is required to believe in any kind of God, even your spaghetti monster.
I have also demonstrated that you are wrong on both accounts of theists immorality and delusional mental illness, as it is clear to demonstrate you to be wrong scientifically on all accounts. I also offer the challenge to you to, to demonstrate your false beliefs.
It would be nice to next challenge you on your Strong atheism, as we could move into a more scientific realm, which is something I enjoy the most.
PS Do you also believe that all babies are atheists?
Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 03 Jun, 2012
Hi Joe, thanks for your reply. Always interesting to see how the other side thinks.
You believe that I 'do seem to be representative of atheism, and therefore [my] morality should broadly reflect other atheist's morality'.
Again, my morality is not representative of atheism, although it may be representative of many who are atheists. There is a difference. Atheists are individuals that all think differently, vote differently, have different tastes in music, art and food. There is no Ten Commandments of Atheism as there is for those that follow Christianity, Judaism or Islam. I can accurately say that all good Christians should love their neighbours, that all good Muslims should pray five times a day and that all good Jews should avoid pork. But what can you say that a good atheist should do, something that is true for all atheists? Absolutely nothing. There are no atheist commandments stating that atheists shall not kill, shall not steal, shall not eat chocolate, shall not sleep with blondes in miniskirts or conversely must believe in the big bang and evolution, must read philosophy and must enjoy science fiction movies. If the majority of atheists don't commit murder, do believe in evolution and do enjoy Star Trek its because they choose to on their own volition, not because the tenets of their worldview instructs them to do so, as it does for the religious. I can tell you some of the beliefs of a devout Christian or Muslim with certainty because they are claiming to follow a written code that we all have access to, but you can't do the same for an atheist beyond guessing, since there is no code for atheists. I can be the most evil and selfish person on the planet and still be an atheist, and conversely I can be the most benevolent and altruistic person on the planet and still be an atheist, and anything in between. I can believe in psychics and ESP and think evolution is false and yet still be an atheist. Every atheist has a mind of their own and can do anything they want, good, bad or indifferent. We are not following some atheist rule book as you seem to believe. If we are generally morally good, it's often because we can see the wisdom in the 'Golden Rule': treat others as you would like to be treated (and you will know that this idea existed long before Jesus repeated it). We're usually good because we can see the advantages of being good, not because we're toeing some invisible line so that we don't get kicked out of the atheist club.
I keep telling you that my morality is not derived from some atheistic code, but you claim that I can only view morality as 'God vs atheism'. I've told you that my morality is guided by philosophy and ethics, not atheism, but then you plead: 'So if you do not know much about ethics, please do not keep turning it into an atheistic argument'. It's you that keeps turning it into an atheistic argument by continually insisting that my morality comes from atheism. It doesn't matter whether I truly understand ethics or not, the fact is that I believe that studying ethics has influenced my morality. I don't see how you can claim that the study of philosophy and ethics couldn't have shaped my morality, especially when you go on to state that 'Ethics helps us understand the processes of making a moral choice'. Exactly, I reach a decision as to what is right or wrong, and studying ethics then helps me understand whether I've made the right choice. It either provides a rationale for my decision, or shows me where my thinking was flawed, either way my morality is advanced. You talk about utilitarianism or killing your own child if it were to save the lives of ten strangers, and say you expected me to use these ethical studies to defend atheism. How could ethical studies defend atheism? Certainly some ethical studies could show many religious morals are wrong, and that secular ethics are preferable, but they don't defend atheism. Of course some philosophical studies do defend the belief that gods don't exist, but ethics are concerned with behaviour, not the existence of gods.
You claimed that my analogy of ''where do atheists get their science from is flawed', implying that my morality still remains within atheism, unlike science which is distinct from atheism. You say my analogy was flawed because 'Science gives facts, morality does not deal with facts... ', but it was an analogy, it doesn't have to talk about values as opposed to facts. The mention of science was to explain that knowledge, be it science, history or morals, comes from sources outside of atheism. We know that the religious get their information from their holy books and those interested in science get their information from science books, likewise history from history books, so please tell me what source book it is that atheists refer to for their morality. And don't list books by atheists, eg The God Delusion, or philosophy books, I want to know what source book or scroll or stone tablet it is that atheist philosophers and authors are referring to so they can then repeat this moral code in their books. If an atheist's morality is not coming from his mind, nor from Philosophy 101 or science, but from something you simply refer to as ATHEISM, please point me to where I can read this moral code for myself, rather than getting it second-hand from atheists such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.
You again ask about my view of cannibalism, stating that 'Your answer on 'is cannibalism good in a cannibalistic society?' demonstrates your lack of understanding too. I wasn't really after what you personally thought of cannibalism, but wanted to know your view on is it ok for the cannibals to regard cannibalism as morally right. If you were to say no, then you would be in a position of denying a society their moral freedom. So you may want to rethink your answer again'.
Do you understand what moral relativism is? I've said that 'Unlike moral relativists, I believe... cannibalism... is wrong, and it is wrong for all humans in all places, in all cultures, in all religions and at all times... I am perfectly willing to say that any religion or culture or individual that argues that... cannibalism... might be right in some place or time is WRONG. Moral relativism is wrong'.
I have no power to deny a society its moral freedom, but I certainly have the intellectual freedom to condemn the morality of a society if I see fit. If I suddenly found myself the governor or ruler of a cannibal society, then cannibalism would be immediately outlawed. I don't need to rethink my answer. To give a modern example, Muslims in their society believe it's good and right to murder apostates. If I could, I would deny them this moral freedom. I don't need to rethink that answer either. Obviously you are happy with Muslims killing apostates, as long as they believe it's the right thing to do, since you state that to think otherwise would be 'denying a society their moral freedom'.
You also noted that 'You also gave no evidence of your personal distaste for cannibalism... as to why you would think it wrong as an atheist. You can answer this too if you please'. I don't think it's 'wrong as an atheist', I think it's wrong as a decent human being, atheism doesn't come into it. You really are struggling to see me as anything but an atheist. Whether I was an atheist, a witch, a Christian, a Muslim or a Hindu, I would like to think that as a caring human being I would still see cannibalism as wrong. I can produce no evidence that I have a 'personal distaste for cannibalism', it is simply a mental state of my mind. You will have to accept my word. Utilising reason and empathy I conclude that cannibalism is wrong and abhorrent because it requires killing innocent people. Perhaps I'm mistaken, but since my morality comes from my mind, and my mind controls my actions, this is the morality I'm stuck with.
You go on to ask, 'if all your family and friends were cannibals, would you adopt cannibalism to fit in, if it was morally acceptable, or would you go against the group morals and be a non-cannibal'.
I can only guess what an imaginary person such as this might do. However, if I was brainwashed from birth to believe that cannibalism was right, the way the religious were brainwashed to believe slavery and witch burning was right, then I may have gone along with the group. Or after seeing friends and family eaten, I may have concluded that cannibalism was wrong and have gone against group morals. Let's remember that we have real historical examples of real cannibal societies that have changed their view and have come to believe that cannibalism was wrong, just as real Christians went against group morals and stopped believing slavery and witch burning was morally acceptable. This shows that people can change their morals because they are subjective and not objective. If they so choose they can change their morals into something they believe is better.
And in my real life I'm going against group morals by rejecting belief in gods and by not persecuting 'abominable' homosexuals or 'evil' abortion doctors. So I know I'm perfectly capable of going against majority views, and so I might well have challenged my imaginary cannibal family. And you tell me that you've changed your morals from believing that just murder was wrong to ALL killing is wrong. Like me, you're going against group morals, so we've both shown that we're not prepared to just fit it.
In your comments you said: 'You deny that atheism helps you define your morals, well that is blatantly untrue. You demonstrate that now you find it morally ok to challenge theists and ridicule their beliefs. That is atheism shaping your morality, as saying it is the morally right thing to do. Your worldview of atheism plays a huge role in the decisions you make regarding right and wrong'.
I think I understand the gist of that paragraph, and perhaps your fixation on atheism. Christianity obviously plays a huge role in the decisions Christians make regarding right and wrong, and so Christians assume, since atheists don't follow any religion, it must be Atheism that takes the place of religion for them. After all, many Christians mistakenly claim that atheism is actually a religion. You're correct in one sense that being an atheist does affect some of my decisions. I think that there are no gods, so I quickly realised that looking to religion for the answers regarding morality or origins was a waste of time. Unlike the religious, who find comfort and direction in their holy books, my atheism does indeed force me to look elsewhere for answers. You're quite right that if I weren't an atheist many of the decisions I've made in my life would have been completely different. If I were a devout Christian I would never have had premarital sex, visited nude beaches in Europe, believed wholeheartedly in science, accepted homosexuals as friends, stayed in bed on Sundays, supported abortion, embryonic stem cell research and the arrest of the pope. If I were a devout Muslim I would never have drunk alcohol, gambled, remained uncircumcised or enjoyed the company of women in bikinis. I may even have murdered fellow Muslims, non-believers and even my own rebellious daughter by now. If I were a devout Jew I would never have enjoyed bacon and eggs, admired marble statues of naked goddesses and I may well have moved to Israel and now be living in fear of a Palestinian suicide bomber.
So you're definitely right that decisions made because I'm an atheist have given a certain structure to my life. They've made it much more interesting, enjoyable, varied, enlightened, fulfilling and richer than it would have been if I were a devout religious believer of some stripe.
And my atheism certainly gives me the freedom to challenge religious views, since I no longer have the fear that some god is going to strike me down with lightning or punish me for all eternity for blasphemy, but my atheism per se doesn't define or shape my morals. It merely sets me free to search outside religious dogma for answers as to how I should behave, looking to philosophy and ethics, and for answers as to how the world and life arose, looking to science. And it should ALWAYS be morally OK to challenge theists, whether one is an atheist or a believer. Look at that the disgusting crimes the pope and his priests are getting away with simply because their religious followers think it wrong to challenge them.
But again, atheism is not shaping my morality, it's not saying that challenging and ridiculing theists 'is the morally right thing to do'. There is nothing in atheism that states that atheists must challenge and/or ridicule religion, and in fact almost none do. Unlike religious dogma that often does dictate how followers must react to non-believers, hence the reason Christian evangelists go door to door and not atheists, or that sees Muslims marching through our streets with placards reading 'Butcher the infidel', and not atheists. You're right in the fact that my being an atheist does play a huge role in my morality. My disbelief in morality from God forces me to look outside the Holy Book of God for a moral code that I can live by. But I do not and can not consult the Holy Book of Atheism, since no such book exists.
You ask: 'Why is your moral ideal of 'do no harm' true? Do you have any evidence that makes this universally true. If so, why do so many people do harm? How do you justify this as being true, when human history demonstrates clearly that this is false'.
You are confusing my morals with yours. Only you are insisting that there are objective morals or universal truths. I've never said that my morals are universally true. My unique set of morals exist in one place only, my mind. I've said that the closest representation of my moral code can be found in secular ethics, which likewise don't claim to be universal truths in your god-like sense. It is of course nearly universally true that humans share many of the same desires and emotions, such as wanting to be healthy, pain free, happy and to experience love and a long, slavery-free life. I view anything that deliberately robs innocent people of these things as harming them. I believe many people worldwide are adopting this moral view, and many have always adopted this view, but it is not a universal truth that they are compelled to obey. They follow it because they want to, because it makes them feel good when others feel good. But human nature being what it is, imperfect (or badly designed if we want to bring gods into it), some people will always behave badly and selfishly and will care nothing about the suffering of others. We can sit by, as you would, and let evil people murder our loved ones, or we can take a course of action that prevents these immoral acts. Sometimes this action necessitates a level of harm on the perpetrators to prevent these acts, but not acting would cause far more harm. You of course understand the idea of the greater good. Again, this is not a universal truth, but simply one I try to live by. You know that my simplistic wish to 'do no harm' is not a strict black and white command. As your 'is it good to be a doctor?' example and your answer showed, you understand that there often aren't simple answers to ethical questions. So I'm not sure why you're trying to suggest that my 'do no harm' phrase means literally that in every case. Remember that it is you that have made claim to utterly rigid moral commandments, not me, eg, it is utterly wrong to kill under any circumstances.
I do not believe in your objective morals. I am not claiming that a 'do no harm' moral is universally true, existing as an objective moral that would stop people harming each other. As you point out, obviously no such objective moral exists. But your argument also proves, if your logic is correct, that your claimed objective moral — do not kill under any circumstance — doesn't exist either, since as you point out, 'human history demonstrates clearly that this is false'. History is awash with people (and even gods evidently) killing others wantonly.
You evidently believe 'Another misunderstanding and huge blooper you make is when you call all Christians, including myself (I take it) as immoral'. You say that I claim 'Christians are immoral because of past atrocities' and that I'm 'clearly demonstrating blind faith that all Christians are immoral based on your opinion of other theists moral actions. Huge amount of blind faith required here on your part'.
I don't believe I have ever described 'all Christians... as immoral'. I've said that Christians who committed past atrocities are immoral, and Christians that are presently committing atrocities, such those killing abortion doctors and priests raping children, are immoral. You are assuming wrongly that because I condemn individual Christians who have committed atrocities then I am condemning all Christians. You have no justification to make this erroneous leap. The only blind faith required was for you to invent this false argument.
I can only judge a Christian's morality on how they behave. Although you can't grasp how I generate or source my moral code, you agree that I do have one of sorts. And using this moral code, I do consider how everyone else, be they Christian, Muslim, agnostic, deist or fellow atheist, behaves in their relationships with others. You call me an 'unabashed moralist', which can mean someone 'who follows a system of moral principles', or someone 'who is unduly concerned with the morals of others'. The first is definitely true, and the second partially true. I am only concerned with the morals of others if I find that they might harm me, my family and friends, or innocent members of society. For example, being a non-believer I am concerned with Islamic morals that tell them to kill non-believers wherever they find them. Likewise I am concerned with Christian morals that tell them to persecute my homosexual friends or to withhold lifesaving medical treatment from their children. I find it difficult to have a system of moral principles and not to apply them. So yes, I am a moralist, and I'm going to have to live with this apparent character flaw.
I've also said that many passages in the Bible that are usually claimed by Christians to be moral laws from God are immoral. Christians IF they elected to blindly follow these laws, eg to persecute homosexuals and atheists, would be immoral, but I know many do not, so not all are immoral. As you say, we can only personally judge someone immoral based on whether their actions or intentions break our own moral code. Consequently I find your assertion that you would stand by as your wife and family was raped and murdered as immoral, since I see your willingness to place a killer's desires above your families' desires as wrong. If I met a Muslim who said he would happily kill an apostate (whether he actually has or not), then I would deem him immoral, since he goes against my moral code. In the same sense I break your moral code by saying killing in certain circumstances is permissible. Thus if you truly believe in your moral code, that it is a universal truth, then I must be immoral. If you don't find me immoral on this stance, then you're not all that serious about your moral against killing.
If I met a person who believed that husbands raping their reluctant wives was OK, even though they would never do it themselves, I would think them immoral. Attitudes can be immoral as well as actual actions. If someone were planning on raping a hitchhiker as soon as they built up the courage, and you knew their intention, would you describe them as a moral person? They must be by your logic since they haven't yet raped anyone. I can't see how you know that I am willing to commit immoral acts (in your view) and yet you are still willing to recommend me as of upstanding moral character.
Moving on, you joyously exclaim: 'This made my day! Hooray!! You are the first atheist I have met who has the guts to admit that they know God does not exist, and in the same breath assert that all theists are delusional'.
As I've said, I seek the truth, and I'm more than happy to share it with others.
I say that God does not exist with the same conviction that you no doubt say he does exist. I'm always amazed that Christians think it arrogant or audacious or presumptuous or simply childish, and of course unprovable, to say that God doesn't exist. And yet if asked, they would just as quickly and confidently claim that Santa Claus doesn't exist, that Zeus, Osiris and thousands of other gods don't exist, and would reassuringly tell their children that vampires and zombies don't exist. So yes, for the same reasons that I say that Zeus and leprechauns don't exist — that there is no evidence of their existence or need for their existence — I can likewise confidently claim that God doesn't exist either. Certainly there is no irrefutable proof that God doesn't exist, but there also is no irrefutable proof that fairies don't exist, but that doesn't stop us from disbelieving in fairies. Or I hope you won't refuse to deny the existence of fairies? Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sincerely believed fairies existed, so you'd be in good company if you do.
But are you honestly going to try and tell me that you would never say trolls or fairies or gremlins don't exist? And I've met people who, because they opt for this argument, are forced to take this ridiculous stance. If you can casually say, without scientific proof, that gremlins don't exist, and would think me childish if I then exclaimed: 'This made my day! Hooray!!', then why is it arrogant or unreasonable for me to say gods don't exist? Whether you'll admit it or not, I'm sure you say in your own mind that gods such as Zeus, Osiris and Maui don't exist, no ifs or buts. You MUST deny their existence categorically, since if you don't you're admitting that the Christian god is only one of thousands of possible gods that might exist. You'd be saying that you'd like the Christian god to be real, but you're not absolutely sure. If you are sure that the Christian god is the one real god, you MUST also be saying that no other gods exist. You are confidently claiming that thousands of gods don't exist. As others have observed, an atheist is simply adding one more god to your very, very long list of fictional gods. You don't believe in, let's say, 3,000 gods. Therefore I don't believe in 3,001 gods. As a strong atheist, why am I arrogant or incorrect to merely add one more god to your list of gods that don't exist?
You suggest that my claiming no gods exist and then calling theists delusional is in itself a major delusion on my part. How can this be? Using my previous numbers, it's evidently perfectly sane and rational for you to maintain that 3,000 gods don't exist, and yet I'm suddenly delusional because I maintain that 3,001 gods don't exist, just one more than you? The difference between 3,000 gods and 3,001 gods is just one god. And if we take some Hindu views into account, there are a million gods, not just a few thousand. Our views are so close that if I'm delusional, then we both are.
But I don't believe I'm delusional, and even though you're just one god out of a million away from my position, I still believe you and all god believers are delusional. I have no idea how many gods man has invented over the millennia, and I don't need to know, since I believe they are all fictional. If someone mentions an Aztec god I've never heard of I don't have to reconsider my stance, since ALL gods means ALL gods, even ones I've never heard of. Believers on the other hand, if they're intellectually honest, cannot take this dismissive stance. On hearing of a god they were unaware of believers must take its possible existence seriously. After all they believe in one or more gods, they 'know' that gods are possible, so, unlike an atheist, they have no good reason to immediately dismiss this new god. If their god exists, why might another god not exist? But of course no Christian, Jew or Muslim thinks this way. They all cry: 'Look, it's very simple. My God can exist and does exist, but yours can't. Thinking that other gods can exist is just silly.
So Joe, are you a 'strong' theist? Do you have the guts to admit that you know God DOES exist, knowing that this puts you in precisely the same 'predicament' as you view my stance, or to avoid this embarrassing admission, are you going to say you're not sure whether your God really exists? You may answer that you don't have definitive proof, but nevertheless you are extremely confident that the available evidence does support your belief. But in reality this is the exact argument that atheists use, it is only the religious that try and present the atheist stance as arrogant and unreasonable.
Like me, I doubt if you are uncertain over God's existence, otherwise you'd be an agnostic. I doubt if you simply believe some unknown god most likely exists, otherwise you'd be a deist. You apparently believe the Christian god exists, since you always mention God, not god or gods. You've also told me that you're getting into Christian apologetics, which means actively arguing that God and Jesus are real. On the world stage of religions and gods you have narrowed your focus and committed yourself to belief in one god invented by a Bronze Age tribe thousands of years ago. Are you willing to tell me whether he exists or not, or is this commitment you've made in your life based on doubt?
Now onto whether all theists are delusional. You give a definition of delusion as: 'belief that is firmly maintained in spite of incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary'. You go on to say that, 'Ok you might say this sounds like religion'. I do indeed say that, and let's examine why.
The religious have believed that human sacrifices were needed to ensure the sun rose each day, that a god existed with the head of a jackal and the body of a man, that a god turned into a swan and raped a young woman, that gods threw lightning bolts from mountains, and that dead heroes resided in a hall controlled by a god called Odin. Some believe that a god created the universe in six days, that humans were formed from dust or ribs and conversed with a talking snake, and that this angry god flooded the entire world just to kill a few people in the Middle East that were being immoral. Some also believe that a man who was born of a virgin could walk on water, turn water into wine, raise the dead and that he sent innocent pigs possessed by demons into the sea to drown.
Regarding all these religious beliefs and thousands of others, the secular world does indeed have 'incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence' to show that these claims were bogus, and yet millions still continue to maintain their belief in the face of this evidence. This is textbook delusion. And furthermore you would agree with me 100% that many of the examples I gave above are delusions, all except the ones that applied to your particular religion. Pick a hundred religions and they're all delusional except for your one. And this applies whether you are Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu or Scientologist.
The clear fact is that the majority of the world's population would agree that Christians (or Muslims or Jews etc) are deluded in their beliefs. Without fail they can all see why other religions are clearly deluded, their good sense only fails them when they open their own holy books.
If someone has a worldview that is diametrically opposed to mine, which is based on science, reason and evidence, and I believe their beliefs are clearly based on superstition and fantasy, then what else could they be but delusions? If I didn't see them as delusions, then this would be to admit that they have some validity, that maybe God did create light before he created the Sun and that maybe Eve did talk to a snake, and the snake talked back. When I think of people who claim to see leprechauns and trolls and fairies, I call them deluded, as I'm sure you would, and I see gods as no different to fairies, so anyone who believes in gods is just as deluded as someone who believes in fairies.
If a friend of yours sincerely believed in pink unicorns, an animal you believed was pure fantasy, wouldn't you think them delusional? Of course you would. Likewise I believe gods are pure fantasy, so anyone that claims to believe in them are in my opinion delusional. I'm not saying this to be insulting, just rational and honest. For me to realise that you believe in imaginary beings and for me not to then think of you as delusional would be irrational.
If you don't think of me as delusional, that my belief in a naturalistic universe and atheism isn't delusional, then you are admitting that my belief is true. But of course you don't believe it is true, and you'll no doubt argue that there is incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence showing this. Thus by the definition you provided, my belief, as you see it, is a delusion. I've already noted that I don't understand how many modern religious people can honestly believe that their worldview is the correct one, and yet refuse to say that people that believe completely differently are wrong. If you are right them I am wrong. If my worldview is wrong and there is good evidence to this effect then I am delusional. You may not be prepared to call me delusional to my face, just as I don't call my religious friends delusional fools to their face, but let's not pretend that this isn't the reality.
There is no 'huge mountain of blind faith required to believe that all theists are delusional'. If atheism is correct, and I believe it is, then all theists are by definition delusional, just as if the Earth is a sphere, then all members of the Flat Earth Society are delusional. And from your perspective, believing that there is a god means all atheists must be delusional. How can atheists in your view be mistaken, ie deluded in our belief, and not be delusional? So there is no question that one of us is delusional, and I think you should accept this fact. The fact the science and its extremely successful evidence based description of the universe is advancing almost exponentially, while religion is embarrassingly retreating into myth, suggests, unfortunately for theists, that it is they that are delusional.
I would argue that there is 'incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence' that the universe is naturalistic, and at the very least no proof or evidence that it was created and is maintained by a supernatural being who is hiding from us. And not just hiding, but actively falsifying evidence to make it appear that he doesn't exist. The books that promoted a divine creation, eg Genesis, have all been shown by science to be wrong. Everything that was once seen as the work of the gods, eg sunrises, lightning, reproduction, different species, 'natural' disasters, mental illness etc, has now been explained as natural processes sans gods. While there are still things left to explain, there is no suggestion that gods are required. Thus to maintain a belief, contrary to the evidence, that an unseen god is still pulling the strings and that naturalistic explanations are just a falsehood cunningly and covertly maintained by this god is to maintain a delusion.
Thus it requires no great effort, let alone blind faith, to demonstrate that the religious are delusional. You would use the same argument against the ancient Egyptians or Maya, explaining that there is no evidence to support their religious claims of creation, and unfortunately for Christianity, the same reasoning dooms it as well.
I don't deliberately ridicule believers, as I know laughing at their beliefs only makes them more resolute. Of course asking about talking snakes and storehouses for snow may sound like topics evoking ridicule, but let's remember that these are claims made by the religious, not nonsense made up by atheists. If the religious feel embarrassed when these topics are raised, and feel they are being ridiculed, then they need to question why their god has put them in this position. After all, he told them to tell us of these things in the first place, and so unfortunately perceived ridicule from atheists is sometimes unavoidable. As the saying goes, 'People who don't like their beliefs being laughed at shouldn't have such funny beliefs'.
You ask what I do about my delusional friends. I do the same thing that you're attempting to do to me, I rationally and calmly try to point out the errors in their thinking. And not one has become more religious after discussing religion with me, most becoming more skeptical of religious claims and some even becoming atheists. I've even had people knocking on my door as confident evangelists and leaving as worried doubters. So that's how I help them, by showing them the universe as it really is. I don't see myself as 'irresponsible' or feel that I demonstrate 'a complete lack of decency' by standing up for my beliefs and trying to get people, including my religious friends, to see the light. And to that end I have, as you say, created a website to promote the naturalistic worldview that I believe in. How are you helping your non-believing friends and an increasingly non-believing society?
You surprise me with your comments regarding my view of rape, noting that 'You say you think it is wrong, but can understand that a rapist would think it as good. You have blatantly forgot about the victim who would not think it was good whether the rapist did or not. Which never makes it good under any circumstance'.
I quite clearly said that I don't see rape as good, only that the rapist might well do. Do you really believe that a rapist sees nothing of benefit in raping his victim, or that he cares that his victim feels differently? If a rapist truly thought it was the wrong thing to do and that he would be worse off by raping, he would never rape. Do you really believe that I might be justifying his action just because he thinks its good? This is moral relativism that I've clearly said I disagree with. Just because I can understand why Hitler killed Jews doesn't mean I agree with his actions. There is a major difference between empathy, the ability to understand how another mind might feel, and sympathy, the sharing of the feelings of another.
Your argument is also flawed in that it damages one of your moral stances. I don't know what rapists think, but I do know what you think regarding killing. You believe it is the ultimate good to not to kill anyone, regardless of the circumstances. You've agreed that you would refuse to kill a murderer to stop them slaughtering your family. So I can now repeat your argument: 'You have blatantly forgot about the victim who would not think it was good to be murdered even though you think it is good not to interfere. Which never makes it good under any circumstance'. Your argument is that if your family — the victims — would not think your inaction was good even thought you did, then your inaction is actually wrong. And I agree, if the victims are suffering, they are being wronged, even though you think you are doing good. You've insisted that I consider the rape victim, and base my action on their feelings, so why do you refuse to do that in the case of murder? If morals should be based on the good of the victim, then your 'no killing regardless of the circumstances' can't be supported.
You also say that I've 'shown that with an atheist worldview, anything can be regarded as good subjectively. Which is the complete madness of a naturalistic worldview, whereby anything can go'.
But without gods, a naturalistic worldview is what we're left with, thus humans have to decide ourselves what is right and what is wrong. Yes, 'anything can go', but this doesn't mean that anarchy and rampant criminality results. Non-Christians are not running amok, we have made moral and legal laws to guide us in producing an advanced civilisation. Just because I could kill and rape and deem these actions good if I wished, or as you say — 'anything can be regarded as good subjectively' — doesn't mean I will call them good. Christians just can't understand what's holding me back, why I don't deem murder and rape good and kill my competitors and rape my cute neighbour. Unbelievably in their view, I can somehow behave well with regard to my family, friends and neighbours without access to a list of rights and wrongs from God. 'Amazing', they say, 'we're obviously missing something here as regards morality and atheists'. Yes you are.
And while 'anything can go', let's remember that applies equally to your god worldview as well. Remember free will? Obviously in this reality, whichever of us is right, 'anything can go'. Murder, rape, genocide and fraud still happen, and still happened when we were a Christian run world. Even if there is a universal truth, life on Earth is playing out as if there isn't. And if history and our prison populations are any guide, the religious are living by the 'anything can go' ideal in astronomically larger proportions than are atheists.
OK, moving on to Zeus and Jehovah. You reply that 'To answer your Greek God question, is again very simple as you show the lack of understanding again of the objective morality issue'. You claim that 'If objective morals exist, then God exists. If objective morals do not exist then God does not exist. Pretty simple one eh!'
But you haven't answered my question at all. I asked you, 'So why does the Hebrew claim make sense and not the Greek one?' You haven't in any way shown that the Greek claim is invalid, as they could use your answer by only changing the name of the god, replying as you did that:
'If objective morals exist, then Zeus exists. If objective morals do not exist then Zeus does not exist. Pretty simple one eh!'
If this argument doesn't prove the existence of Zeus, and I'm sure you'll say it doesn't, then how can you believe it proves the existence of your God? If it fails for Zeus it also fails for your God.
Another big problem with this argument is the phrase 'If objective morals exist...'. You can't base an argument on a premise that you can't show is true, or that we don't both already accept is true. The conclusion can only be true if the premise is true, and in this you're just guessing. This is what we're debating remember. Let me give you an example:
'If alien life exists in the Andromeda Galaxy, then God exists. If alien life does not exist in the Andromeda Galaxy then God does not exist. Pretty simple one eh!'
This argument is the same as yours but it's obviously nonsense. We're deciding on God's existence by pretending that we have already proven the existence of alien life. But of course there is another major flaw with this argument, which can be shown by another small change:
'If DNA exists, then God exists. If DNA does not exist then God does not exist. Pretty simple one eh!'
Of course we'll both agree that DNA really does exist, but it still doesn't prove God exists since we haven't proved that DNA and God are connected, in that one causes the other. But let's not stop there, your logic is actually reversed for the purpose that you intended.
You said that 'If objective morals exist, then God exists. If objective morals do not exist then God does not exist. Pretty simple one eh!' These statements have objective morals creating God, not God creating objective morals. You've said that objective morals must exist for God to exist, if no morals then no God. Objective morals are necessary for God to exist, so logically morals create God. God is no longer the creator that he is claimed to be, he is simply created, just like the universe and life. A truly all-powerful god could exist without objective morals, but you insist your God can't. Your logic implies that you should be worshipping objective morals, not God, who is no more in control than us humans. He is at the mercy of objective morals, if we show that objective morals don't exist, then thanks to your argument he also disappears in a puff of mystical smoke. Not much of a god.
And let's remember that the argument that you previously provided for the existence of objective morals failed. I still have no reason to believe that objective morals exist, or if they do, that they were created by any god, let alone your God. You need to try again with an argument that proves objective morals actually exist. You then need to prove that these objective morals must have been created by a god. Then you need to show that this god is actually your god, and not the Muslim god or a Hindu god for example.
Regarding these objective morals, you say that I 'need to understand that morals laws from a God are different from objective morals. If a God from whatever religion you choose gives a law, that does not make it objective'. OK, I choose Christianity, so that means that any moral law given by the Christian God doesn't make them objective morals. Finally a point we agree on. So if objective morals or universal truths are not coming from whatever religion I might choose, that is, not coming from a god, where are they coming from? You've apparently broken the connection between God and objective morals, implying that any moral laws coming from God are merely subjective, but this makes a nonsense of your argument: 'If objective morals exist, then God exists... Pretty simple one eh!'
You go on to explain that 'If a God says you shall go to chapel on Tuesdays, that is not an objective moral. It is not even a moral issue'. I would argue that what God tells people to do, dictating how they should behave, eg go to chapel on Tuesdays, is a moral issue, and religions have throughout history put great faith in what their God said, and in this case going to chapel on Tuesdays would have been seen as good behaviour, and staying home watching TV would have been seen as bad behaviour.
I've asked you what these objective morals are, and also how we are to differentiate between morals laws in the Bible, eg 'Thou shalt not steal' and 'Thou shalt not eat shellfish', and you haven't responded, apart from saying it is utterly wrong to kill under any circumstances. However this objective moral appears nowhere in the Bible and is obviously in no way supported by the Christian God. So if this objective moral has no connection to God or his moral laws, which you imply must be subjective, where do objective morals come from, where can we find a list of them, and why do you keep mentioning objective morals and God in the same breath?
You go on to claim that 'It does not matter what laws, or morals come from whatever God or worldview you choose. The argument is for the objective morals. Some of which we haven't discovered yet, but as humanity progresses we will find more. I think murder, rape and lying are obvious ones'.
Here you appear be again saying that objective morals have nothing to do with gods, since it doesn't matter what god you believe in, or even if you believe in none. But if 'the argument is for the objective morals', why are you an apologist for Christianity? As for your objective morals, you 'think murder, rape and lying are obvious ones'. Don't you mean killing rather than murder? And what are the other objective morals that you know of, the less obvious ones? If they're so important why aren't you sharing them? And what about the ones we haven't yet found, are we going to discover them in a new particle accelerator, hidden on the moon like in '2001: A Space Odyssey' or in a university ethics class? You make no suggestion that we're going to find them within Christianity, and in fact mention the progress of humanity, which makes me think of humanistic and secular sources. And I believe morality will improve for humanity as a whole, not so much that we will discover new morals but that secular ethics will become more widespread and benefit greater numbers.
As an example of your objective morals you confidently state that 'There is never a good time to lie to anyone'. Of course there is. What about when your wife or girlfriend asks 'Do I look fat in this dress?', or when one of your children asks, 'Daddy, am I your favourite child?' What about when telling the truth will only cause harm and suffering and achieve nothing positive? Let's image an elderly couple is involved in a car accident. The wife is knocked unconscious and goes into a coma for two weeks and the husband is killed, but not outright. His arm is severed and he is trapped in the car fully conscious and in terrible pain. As rescue workers are extracting his wife the car catches alight and the husband is then burned alive. After recovering from her coma and learning that her husband died in the accident, the elderly wife asks if he suffered before he died. She is obviously suffering greatly over the loss of her husband and is terribly distressed already, so would you tell her the truth and detail exactly how her husband suffered, mentioning his arm being severed and then the screams as he burnt to death? Perhaps even show her some photos? Or would you lie and say he didn't suffer, he died on impact? How would it be a good thing to force this elderly women to live her remaining years haunted by the memory of her beloved husband's horrific death, as if his very death wouldn't be painful enough?
Like your view on killing, I know you'll reply that your objective morals will prevent you from lying even in cases like this, but again, if these are your objective morals, they're a moral code I want nothing to do with. This is where my subjective morality allows me to make decisions on a case by case basis, that recognises that there isn't always a black or white answer, and that simplistic objective morals set in concrete could never create a caring and just society.
In a PS you asked, 'Do you also believe that all babies are atheists?'. Yes, in the simplest sense of the term babies are atheists since they have no belief in gods. They are without belief, which is what atheist really means. Since you're familiar with the meaning of 'strong' atheists like me, you'll know they are called 'weak' atheists. Of course I'm the type of atheist that most Christians think of. Someone who not only has no belief in gods, but someone who is willing to say that gods don't exist. Let me give an analogy. When I was a child I didn't believe that rape was wrong. I didn't believe it was right either, nor was I indifferent. This is because I didn't know what rape was, or even what sex was. I had no belief in rape. It took adults to teach me about sex and rape, and only then did I develop the belief that rape was wrong. It was the same with gods. I had no knowledge of gods or original sin or a six-day creation until adults taught me these things. I was initially without a belief in gods — I was technically an atheist — and only once my mind was filled with god talk was I in a position to consciously decide to remain an atheist or become a theist. I became a theist, but then once I had learnt how to read and think for myself, I saw my error and packed God away with my little bunny slippers.
You also state that I 'haven't even demonstrated God does not exist yet'. And why should I? The onus is on you to demonstrate his existence, not for me to prove his non-existence. There are thousands of gods, potentially requiring thousands of separate disproofs from me. You haven't defined what you mean by 'God', or even said exactly which one you're referring to. The only logical, economical, just and sensible way is for the religious believer to provide one proof, not for me to provide an infinite number. And it would be an infinite number, since the religious argument would never end. Even if I debunked every god known, the religiously inclined could still claim, 'Then it's obviously one that we haven't thought of yet. There's a god out there somewhere. Prove that god doesn't exist'.
We've already commented on this point here: Why we can't prove God, but since most religious people still keep asking us to prove that God doesn't exist, we will give another analogy:
Imagine if I tried to claim a major Lotto prize without presenting the winning ticket. Lotto representatives would insist that I first prove that I have this ticket, prove that it actually exists. Would I be taken seriously if I replied, 'No. You prove that the ticket doesn't exist'. Of course not. Obviously sane people and rational societies don't work this way. The default position is that most people are not in possession of major winning tickets. Until we receive good evidence to the contrary we can all safely assume that people without winning tickets in their hands have no such tickets. To convince us otherwise, winners need to front up with good evidence that the winning ticket exists and is in their possession. Lotto representatives would never pay out on the silly notion that they can't prove that I don't have the winning ticket hidden away somewhere. The onus is on the person making a claim to prove their case, not the other way around.
It's the same with gods. We both accept that the universe exists, but you believe an extra thing, that in addition to the universe there also exists a god. You believe in one more thing than I do. I believe in the universe, you believe in the universe plus a god. Thus the onus is on you support this extra belief.
So let's move on from morality. You've said that 'I will be needing some evidence for your strong atheism, such as scientific evidence of the non-existence of God, or good philosophical argument to say God is impossible'. As I've said, the simplest, quickest and most rational approach to settle this question of the existence of gods, would be for you to provide the evidence and arguments you have for this god that you speak of. But several people have written to our website challenging our atheistic view, and not one has thought it worthwhile to produce evidence that their god really exists. After thousands of years of searching by believers, I thus conclude none exists.
But is your request for evidence reasonable? You and I both dismiss fairies and gremlins and Zeus and Apollo because there is no evidence of or need for these beings. We don't worry about collecting scientific evidence of their non-existence or good philosophical arguments to say they're impossible. Then we have Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, leprechauns, trolls, unicorns, dragons, wizards and untold other characters featured in our history. No sane, educated person wastes their time producing scientific evidence and philosophical arguments to demonstrate their non-existence. And no one would think it reasonable if a believer in leprechauns demanded we produce such evidence and until we do, we should assume that they do exist. The believer in leprechauns produces no evidence that they do exist, he simply demands that we produce evidence that they don't exist. I wouldn't accept this obligation, and I doubt if you would either, but this is exactly the stance you and many other religious people take regarding your god character. Rather than simply proving that your ancient character from myths and legends really exists, you withhold your evidence (if any exists), and insist instead that non-believers prove that he doesn't exist.
Why is this stance legitimate for your god (and only your god) but not for fairies, leprechauns and fairies? Can you answer this? I say only your god because I doubt you have produced the requisite evidence to prove the non-existence of Hindu gods or the Muslim god for example, and have no intention of doing so.
I'm not saying that there isn't good scientific evidence and philosophical arguments to demonstrate the non-existence of gods and all those other fantasy beings, but why does the responsibility to produce evidence suddenly swap from believers to non-believers when your god becomes the topic? I'm sure if a Scientologist tried to convince you that his religion was true, you would ask him for evidence to support his claims, and would walk away shaking your head if he simply demanded that you prove that Scientology's galactic leader Xenu didn't exist. Am I right?
But I guess you producing evidence of your god is not going to happen. So before I could provide any arguments against, you'll have to define your god exactly. I'll need to know what god I'm arguing against, since arguments differ between a Christian God and a deist god for example. And I'd prefer you didn't just describe some vague deist god, since neither of us believe in that type of god and therefore nothing is gained in debunking a god that you already believe is bogus. It would be like spending a week explaining that Donald Duck isn't real to someone that already knows that, what would be the point?
You've said you're a Christian that's into apologetics, so I'd expect a list of attributes that match what Christianity calls God. For example, this is Christian theorist Richard Swinburne's definition of the Christian god: 'A person without a body (ie a spirit), present everywhere, the creator and sustainer of the universe, able to do everything (ie omnipotent), knowing all things, perfectly good, a source of moral obligation, immutable, eternal, a necessary being, holy, and worthy of worship'. Since you're a Christian, I'd probably expect you to list all of those attributes. There's no sense in me offering an argument against an all-knowing god if you then say that your god isn't all-knowing, just very intelligent. If you dismiss some or add others, you perhaps need to explain why your vision of the Christian God differs from mainstream Christianity, and why and how your changes can be supported. I've already said that we atheists have great difficulty understanding which parts of the Bible we should believe and which we shouldn't, so you need to be clear as to which God of the Bible you're believing in. Again, I don't want to quote some OT passage just for you to say that Christians no longer believe those claims.
As I've said, instead of insisting that atheists, skeptics, philosophers and scientists do all the work, the religious could end the war between science and religion tomorrow by simply presenting their proof and evidence that their particular god really does exist. But they don't, they weakly reply, 'You prove that the god that I'm thinking of doesn't exist somewhere'.
As you know, there are untold books arguing against the existence of gods, so it's impossible for me to detail all the scientific, philosophical and historical arguments. What popular arguments for atheism (scientific or philosophical) do you feel are wanting or fail miserably? Pick one and I'll give my view, and then we can move on to another.
Comment by Joe, 05 Jun, 2012
Hi John, I'm very surprised at how atheist's think, I was not expecting so much dogma, and so little evidence. Which is surprising for a worldview based on evidence and reason. I'll keep this response short as I have a hard time following and responding to all the anti religious/delusional rantings of your atheist club.
I think I've kicked the butt out of morality with you. I can only understand that you think that all morality is subjective. Yet you do not show much subjective morality, you seem happy to follow the herd of new atheists. I was hoping for more detailed discussion on ethics, but I only get more anti religion, not alot of ethics unfortunately.
Your fixation with God and Christianity is applaudable for a new atheist. I cannot help but feel that you have been hurt in the past and feel alot of anger towards religion. This is because your rantings are very unjustified, with little evidence, and huge leaps of blind faith.
I challenged your position that God does not exist, and you state "And why should I? The onus is on you to demonstrate his existence, not for me to prove his non-existence."
You obviously have a very weak position if you cannot justify your belief that God does not exist, but use a burden of proof argument to shift it back on me. That is very cowardly, and as I suspected you cannot back up your claim that God does not exist. I thought finally I had met a real atheist. But alas you seem to have lied about your true worldview. But you also justified lying as being ok. Sam Harris would disagree with you, and he is one of your atheist leaders.
So do you believe a God could exist or not. You already made a good argument for Zeus!! I think you are realising your poor position.
Are you taking me up on my challenge to see if I'm delusional? I would suspect we would have more success proving you delusional with your obsession that all theists are delusional. Quite ironic.
Another funny thing you state is that all babies are atheists. This is the most absurd argument, and I cannot believe you have fallen for it. Most educated atheists run away from this argument, and it was just a test of your atheist abilities when I asked this of you. It comes down to three points:
Firstly you claim atheism is a lack of belief, a disbelief or knowledge God does not exit. You claim Knowledge God does not exist, but do not have evidence or are too scared to give your evidence.
Secondly, if atheism is a disbelief, you are absurd in saying babies are atheists, as how can they disbelieve in something they know nothing of. Do you disbelieve my car is the most economical one available today on the market? (I hope you understand what I'm getting at) So on this account babies cannot be atheists, if they have no knowledge of what they ought to believe or disbelieve.
Thirdly, if you believe atheism is just a lack of belief, yes you can call all babies atheists. But you can also call my dog and cat atheists too. Maybe my pot plants and the worm in my garden. The one thing this shows is that NO intelligence, reason, understanding or knowledge is required to be an atheist. I know this to be very true funnily enough.
You go figure this silly belief of yours.
So I would like to challenge you again on your claim that God does not exist. I will make it easy on you, as you can choose to disprove any God you choose. You are fixated with many Gods, so you should find one that you can prove does not exist.
You have claimed knowledge that God does not exist, so I would like to see you justify it, and not throw the burden of knowledge back on me. I'm more than willing to justify my belief in God with evidence. But I'm waiting to see you do yours first. As you are the first atheist to say this to me. I really hope you are genuine with what you have said. I haven't heard an atheist give evidence that God does not exist, and I'm very keen to here your evidence. I hope it's scientific or philosophical evidence too.
Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 07 Jun, 2012
Hi Joe, sorry for the delay in replying, but since Christians have had 2,000 years to show God exists and we're still waiting, and since Jesus told his disciples he would return within a decade or so, and you're still waiting, I didn't think you'd mind waiting a couple of days while I consulted my sacred atheist scrolls.
You start by claiming, 'I think I've kicked the butt out of morality with you. I can only understand that you think that all morality is subjective'.
Finally you are (but only tentatively) beginning to grasp that I might firmly believe that all morality is subjective. I've said that over and over again, that only you believe in objective morals and universal truths. Surely this is what this discussion has been about, you claim objective, I argue for subjective? You've made no ground on showing that morals are objective, let alone were created by a god, let alone by your god. Then just when it seems we might be making progress, you go on to say, 'Yet you do not show much subjective morality, you seem happy to follow the herd of new atheists'. I've never said I get my morality from new atheists. How many times do I have to say this? I DO NOT get my morality from atheists or atheism! But even if I did ape the behaviour of the new atheists, this would still be subjective. My mind would consider their arguments and I would choose to live by some or all of the moral codes that their minds had subjectively devised. My morals would still be subjective since they now exist in my mind, they're personal to me, they don't exist as objective morals woven into the fabric of the universe by some god as you claim. Can you not understand that the fact that I can choose, I can decide what herd to follow, means that I am a free agent, that I'm being subjective, that my mind is influencing my decisions, that I'm not unconsciously inhaling objective morals as I do oxygen?
I laughed out loud when I read this: 'I cannot help but feel that you have been hurt in the past and feel alot of anger towards religion'. I never expected that old Christian chestnut from you, but I guess all straws have to be clutched at. The argument that it's not that I really believe God doesn't exist, it's just that I hate God and am in denial. Do you suspect that I'm one those many faceless victims that was viciously raped as a child by one of your moral Christians on a weekend camp for Jesus? Yes I am extremely angry over these despicable crimes and many, many, many other deplorable acts committed by religious believers, but I can honestly say that I've never been hurt, except intellectually, by religion. I have a faculty that you seem unable to fully grasp, called empathy. I can visualise these crimes, and be angered by them, without having actually experienced them. To know that enormous numbers have suffered needlessly at the hands of religion has been sufficient for me to feel outrage. And contrary to your claims, my knowledge of these crimes stretching throughout history is based on very strong evidence, acknowledged even by the church, and no blind faith is required.
Lest you think that my comment that I've been intellectually hurt by religion has caused me to deny gods, by this I mean that as a child my realisation of what reality truly is was hindered by religious lies. Thankfully for me, unlike most people, this fog soon lifted with no discernible ill effects, but I can't help but wonder if even this brief delusion hasn't impacted on my intellectual growth. We all know childhood indoctrination occurs at the most important time for brain development, so even if it doesn't take, who knows what damage it might have done.
You note that my 'fixation with God and Christianity is applaudable for a new atheist'. I mention Christianity only because I'm surrounded by Christians, and not Muslims or Scientologists, and because you're a Christian apologist. As I've said, you're just as much an atheist as I am when it comes to Zeus and Osiris and Shiva, so what is to be gained by me debunking these gods, you would consider it a waste of time. The only things we disagree on are claims concerning the god of Christianity. Do you think if I lived in a Muslim country I would be concerned with Christianity? Having done just that, I can tell you for a fact I would not.
You challenged my use of the 'Burden of proof' argument, calling me cowardly to mention it, but you will know that it is one of the most important rules in arguments. I never said I couldn't justify my belief that gods don't exist, I merely pointed out that in a sane and rational world the onus is on those making a claim to produce their evidence. Only in the sphere of religion do people refuse to act rationally. To point that flaw out is not cowardly.
You go on to say, 'I thought finally I had met a real atheist. But alas you seem to have lied about your true worldview'. You really are struggling to grasp what atheism is all about. To be an atheist you don't have to be able to prove gods don't exist. If you are without a belief in gods, you are a real atheist. Scientific or philosophical arguments don't come into it. First you say I'm a believer in denial, now you say I'm lying, and claim that I've 'justified lying as being ok'. You've also said I've justified killing my fellow humans, then cannibalism, their rape, and now lying. You Christians really are keen to paint atheists as evil aren't you? And how can you say Sam Harris would disagree with me, insisting that lying, even little white lies, are not acceptable? You've read his book 'The Moral Landscape' in which he's said that his daughter is the most beautiful little girl in the world, even though he knows this is not true. In other words, a lie.
As an aside, you've mentioned two Sam Harris books so I expect you've read his books an atheism, such as 'The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason' and 'Letter to a Christian Nation'. If you haven't read the second book, you can go to our page of recommended books on atheism, click on the book title and download a free PDF. If interested you can also download free PDFs of 'The Atheist Debater's Handbook' by B C Johnson and 'The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God' by Carl Sagan. There is also a PDF excerpt from 'The Six Ways of Atheism: New Logical Disproofs of the Existence of God' by Geoffrey Berg. One of the disproof examples I later provide is from this, although I would recommend you read the entire book to fully comprehend his powerful arguments.
You ask, 'So do you believe a God could exist or not. You already made a good argument for Zeus!!' Yes, a god could exist, just as Bertrand Russell's orbiting teapot could, but I don't believe any god does exist. And unlike the teapot, I don't believe the Christian God, because of his generally claimed attributes, ever could exist. And how can you seriously believe I've made a good argument for Zeus to exist, I was explaining how your argument was flawed on several levels.
As for me paying for you to undergo 'psychiatric or psycho analysis examination' to confirm your delusion, you can't seriously believe I would waste good money on something that like that? If you did, my case is already proven, you're deluded. In fact I have little confidence in psychiatrists, so you're going to have to bear that cost yourself. Let me know how that goes.
You asked if I thought babies were atheists, and I said yes, in a weak sense. You spoke of 'strong' atheists, so I assumed you knew what weak and strong meant. Obviously not, since you now go on to say that by claiming 'atheism is a disbelief, you are absurd in saying babies are atheists'. You said you had 'a hard time following' my comments, which is apparent since I never said that weak atheism was a 'disbelief', I said they are without belief. There is a major difference. You eventually seem to get the meaning of weak atheism though, when you say that 'if you believe atheism is just a lack of belief, yes you can call all babies atheists. But you can also call my dog and cat atheists too'. Finally we agree, babies are atheists, and yes maybe even cats and dogs, but not pot plants. Since we're talking about conscious belief, it seems logical to only include things that can potentially hold beliefs. And I infer from your comments that you were a 'weak' atheist, since you claim I'm 'the first atheist I have met who has the guts to admit that they know God does not exist'. So in the past you were exhibiting the belief that 'atheism is just a lack of belief'. It wasn't about 'disbelief or knowledge God does not exit'. It thus it appears you were an atheist because of disinterest or apathy rather than it being a reasoned stance. And you obviously aren't a parent. Babies may have no knowledge, but they have plenty of intelligence. Intelligence is not something you gain by eating your greens or reading your holy book. And I have no idea why you say 'Most educated atheists run away from this argument'. You either use my argument, or yours: 'how can they disbelieve in something they know nothing of'. Why would they run from this argument? Dismiss it as frivolous and not worth mentioning perhaps, but why run?
But on to your main point: 'So I would like to challenge you again on your claim that God does not exist. I will make it easy on you, as you can choose to disprove any God you choose'.
Typically though, you've again twisted what I've said and imply claims that I've never made. True, I've said that 'I say that God does not exist with the same conviction that you no doubt say he does exist', but I haven't said that I could 'disprove any God'. In fact I've said that 'Certainly there is no irrefutable proof that God doesn't exist'. I've also said several times that 'all religions can be dismissed for the same reasons — there is no evidence of or need for gods'. This is why most atheists are atheists: overwhelming evidence can be produced for a natural universe, and no evidence can be produced for gods. Gods, like fairies and trolls, are superfluous. We can't prove fairies and trolls don't exist, but there is no good reason why we should think they do, the same applies to gods. We can simply ignore thoughts of fairies and trolls while doing science and investigating the universe, and for the same reason science ignores gods. Science doesn't go out of its way to disprove gods, it simply ignores them as you ignore fairies and trolls. It's called reason.
Yes, Christians think that their god is hiding somewhere outside the universe, watching over us and occasionally interfering in our affairs, but then Christians also once thought that witches were the cause of crop failures. But again, evidence of a naturalistic universe has shown these beliefs to be mistaken. Christians may think that since scientists and philosophers don't have rock solid disproofs of their god then this suggests that he might exist, but no more than it might suggest that fairies and trolls exist too.
And yes, you can argue that if I can't produce 100% rock solid evidence that your god doesn't exist, then he might still exist somewhere. But this is a childish argument, in that you can use it to support any silly belief. A child could argue that since I can't produce 100% rock solid evidence that the Tooth Fairy doesn't exist (and I can't), then she might actually exist. We both know that scientific claims are not 100% rock solid evidence for anything, They are claims of increasing certainty, but never 100%. Whatever scientific claim we might have apparent certainly in could be overturned tomorrow, and so the religious could always claim that science could be wrong. Even when science produces evidence debunking religious claims, such as man not living with dinosaurs, some Christians and Muslims have claimed that god deliberately falsified the fossil record to fool scientists. So if an interfering god with a mysterious agenda is claimed to exist, we can never trust science since he can manipulate the data. This means that Christians will never feel compelled to accept scientific or philosophic arguments, since he may be hardening our intellect as he did to the Pharaoh's heart in Exodus.
You've said that you're very interested in cosmology, and I assume you believe much of what cosmologists are claiming, and yet you'll accept that much could change in the coming years. For example they were surprised to find that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, and that perhaps only around 5% of the universe is made of ordinary matter, the rest being dark energy and dark matter. Thus you are provisionally willing to accept worldviews that are nowhere near 100% certain. As weak as some of their theories are, you're seemingly prepared to accept that much of what they claim is probably a true description of the universe. While cosmologists can't prove their claims 100% you're still prepared to side with them, most of who are probably atheists, rather than with the Young Earth Creationists, who, like you, are Christians. You've opted to support the side that doesn't claim to have absolute proof or anywhere near it, not the side that claims to have absolute proof. How can you justify your support of cosmology and yet suggest my atheism stance is not justified without absolute proof?
Again, I say there are no gods simply because there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest there is. The naturalistic approach to the universe and reality answers our queries exceptionally well and actually make sense. Furthermore all religious claims that can be examined have been shown to be nothing but myths and falsehoods. There is no reason to waste time and resources trying to prove things that don't exist really don't exist. I know you don't do this in your life, I guarantee you have no proof that Zeus doesn't exist, and so it is irrational to insist that I do it anyway, just to please you. You are only trying to hide Christianity's abject failure to prove your god does exist by keeping atheists talking about and worrying about disproofs, as if we cared.
What abject failures am I referring to? For 2,000 years Christians have attempted to produce proofs of God's existence, and while some arguments stood for some time, all have failed in modern times, thanks mainly to science and philosophy. For example, all the following classical arguments have failed:
The Cosmological Argument
The Ontological Argument
The Teleological Argument
The Argument from Scripture or Authority
The Argument from Miracles
The Argument from Personal Experiences
The Argument from Morality
The Argument from Benefit
Furthermore, the following arguments all argue successfully for atheism:
The Burden of Proof Argument
The Incoherence or Contradiction of Religious Language
The Problem of Evil
The Sociological or Statistical Argument
The Argument from Divine Hiddenness
The failure of any religion to produce one good argument or piece of evidence that their god's exist, even though they have put unbelievable time and resources into the attempt, is just more evidence that no gods actually exist, and just one more reason that I can confidently say there are no gods.
But I know you won't be happy until I provide a 'proof' that some god, any god, doesn't exist. I fail to see the purpose in this, since I expect you won't accept the argument, or won't understand it, or will accept it but will then claim that it only proves a god that neither of us believes in doesn't exist, so we will have achieved nothing. I can only guess that you believe it is impossible to prove categorically that ANY god, no matter how silly, doesn't exist. And this is true. For example, we can't prove categorically that you and I even exist, we could both just be part of some dream that an alien is having.
But anyway, you've said, 'you can choose to disprove any God you choose', so let's start.
The Christian Young Creationist God created the universe some 10,000 years ago.
However there is clear evidence that the universe has existed for 13.7 billion years.
Therefore belief in the Christian Young Creationist God is false and he doesn't exist.
Even if a god does exist that created the universe 13.7 billion years ago, he's not the Christian Young Creationist God. That god doesn't exist.
The Christian God of the Bible designed and created human life on the sixth day of creation, from dust or alternatively from a human rib.
However there is clear evidence that life evolved by natural selection, over a period of nearly 4 billion years, and humans evolved from a primate ancestor only a million or so years ago. Humans were not designed nor did we pop fully formed from dust or a rib.
Therefore belief in the Christian God is false and he doesn't exist.
Even if a god does exist that created the process of evolution 4 billion years ago, he's not the Christian God of the Bible. That god doesn't exist.
The Christian God is all-powerful, there's nothing he can't do.
The Christian God couldn't defeat an enemy because they had iron chariots (JDG 1:19).
Therefore the Christian God isn't all-powerful, and thus the all-powerful Christian God doesn't exist.
The Christian God is all-knowing.
And I could provide many more arguments that prove that belief in an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, omnipresent, unchanging etc god is false and demonstrate that a god with all these attributes couldn't exist.
The Christian God didn't know that Adam and Eve would sin, didn't know that people's actions would cause him to slaughter most everyone in the flood of Noah, didn't know that Satan would rebel, didn't know that he would break his first covenant with the Jews (the Old Testament) and strike a new one with the gentiles (the New Testament), etc etc.
Therefore the Christian God is not all-knowing, and thus the all-knowing Christian God doesn't exist.
Life must have been created by a Creator God since it is far too complicated to have arisen naturally or to have existed forever.
God is astronomically more complex than life.
Therefore God, being far, far more complex than life, is also far too complicated to have arisen naturally or to have existed forever.
Thus God does not exist.
The Abrahamic God is eternal, this means he has existed for an infinite time.
Therefore an infinite time must past before he creates the universe.
Since an infinite time has not yet passed, God has not yet created his universe.
But this universe does already exist, so it wasn't created by God.
Thus this universe-creating god doesn't exist.
God could easily have arranged things so that everyone would believe that he exists.
God wants humans to believe that he exists.
Therefore God must have arranged things so that everyone would believe that he exists.
Many humans do not believe that God exists.
Therefore God has not arranged things so that everyone believes that he exists.
Therefore, God does not exist.
(The Argument from Divine Hiddenness or The Argument from Silence)
The Christian Creationist God is an all-merciful God.
There is clear evidence of things happening to humans that show no hint of mercy, as this quote from David Attenborough shows:
"When Creationists talk about God creating every individual species as a separate act, they always instance hummingbirds, or orchids, sunflowers and beautiful things. But I tend to think instead of a parasitic worm that is boring through the eye of a boy sitting on the bank of a river in West Africa, [a worm] that's going to make him blind. And [I ask them], 'Are you telling me that the God you believe in, who you also say is an all-merciful God, who cares for each one of us individually, are you saying that God created this worm that can live in no other way than in an innocent child's eyeball? Because that doesn't seem to me to coincide with a God who's full of mercy'."
Therefore the Christian God isn't all-merciful, and thus the all-merciful Christian God doesn't exist.
God if he exists must be omnipotent, supremely good and our ultimate creator.
And one of the most powerful arguments against an omnipotent and all-good god is the Problem of Evil:
Therefore an existent God (being supremely good and competent) would have created the best possible world (if he created anything).
As the world is inconsistent (between ages and people) it cannot all be the best possible world.
Therefore as the world is not the best possible world, God cannot exist.
(The 'This Is Not The Best Possible World' Argument)
"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
So Joe, have these arguments achieved anything? I suspect not. However, whether you think these arguments have some validity or not, the fact remains that my essential argument for being an atheist — that all religions can be dismissed since there's simply is no evidence of or need for gods — does not rest on a categorical proof that no god exists. Just as you accept cosmology, without absolute proof, because it appears to make sense over everything else (including the Biblical account), I accept atheism for the same reason. It makes sense over alternative theories.
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?"
Epicurus (Greek philosopher, BC 341-270)
Comment by Joe, 08 Jun, 2012
Hi John, thanks for the detailed reply again.
I'd really love to point out all the flaws in your argument against God and for atheism. But this format is rather useless for it, as again you've made alot of arguments in one post.
You've basically said all the arguments for theism are false, and all the ones for atheism are true.
I'm not quite sure how you got to this stage of reasoning, but it makes me doubt that you are being sincere.
You have also failed miserably on morality, as you still think I was arguing that all morals are objective. This shows how clearly you do not even understand what I was arguing about in the first place. Your dogmatic atheist auto-argue mode, made you miss the point, and my position on morality entirely. But lets leave that now, but thanks for trying.
You have also showed either lack of faith, or cowardice in not accepting my challenge to prove I'm not deluded, against your belief that I am. You had an opportunity to show how non-silly your beliefs are, but you cowered out with a financial excuse. Which proves to me your beliefs are not based on evidence, just blind faith and dogmatism. My challenge is still there for you to accept, to justify your worldview against theists. But now I do know you will not stand up for atheism if it involves money from your pocket. Maybe if I turn out to be deluded, I will foot the bill, but if not you can pay the psychiatrist. (oh and again you deny science by stating you have no faith in science and medicine)
So you have gone from BLIND faith, to LACK of REAL faith. Not a good show, but don't worry Dawkins is the same, he runs and makes excuses too. He will still be proud of you though.
You also state that you are just hate God. Again, a nonsensical comment for an atheist. Why hate something you believe does not exist. I do not believe in santa claus, but I do not hate him, even if I'm against the concept of Christmas, and commercialism and seasonal gluttony and greed. (door is wide open there for you to make a link to Christianity and make a weak argument that Christians are greedy and fat) But I hope you have better arguments for me to deal with, rather than slanderous ones.
So if we are to carry on here, lets start with you showing how the cosmological argument is flawed. I love cosmology and astronomy, so I will enjoy this one.
If you want to go to a more live format, I'm more than willing. But we can slowly plod on here, if it suits your atheist website and followers/team.
Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 09 Jun, 2012
So what happened Joe? You've said, 'I'm still waiting on evidence for your knowledge that God does not exist'. And yet when I give you not one but 10 disproofs, you make no mention of them, you don't even flippantly dismiss them, let alone explain why they aren't valid. You simply say, 'I'd really love to point out all the flaws in your argument against God and for atheism. But... ' I love the way Christians just ignore embarrassing facts and quickly change the subject, you going back to morality, claiming, 'you do not even understand what I was arguing about in the first place'. If you've presented a vague morality argument, and you have, refusing to list your objective morals or explain how they differ form Biblical morals, then that's something you need to deal with.
Still ignoring the disproofs, you then again raise your desire for me to pay so you can visit a psychiatrist, saying that I've 'cowered out with a financial excuse'. Jeez, what a childish argument, as if the existence of gods has anything to do with your mental state. So I'm a coward because I won't throw money at you? If you still think I'm going to fork out hundreds and possibly thousands of dollars so that you, a complete stranger that believes in invisible beings, can have untold sessions with a psychiatrist, then as I said, you really are deluded. What a pathetic argument, especially since it's quite obvious that even if a gaggle of psychiatrists all said you were deluded, you still wouldn't believe them, would you?
And you try and support your argument with a complete falsehood: 'oh and again you deny science by stating you have no faith in science and medicine'. Because I said that 'I have little confidence in psychiatrists', you do the typical Christian debater thing and grab this specific statement and change it into something else, saying that I 'deny science' and that I 'have no faith in science and medicine'. If you can only give the appearance of winning a point by twisting what I say, then only in your mind have you succeeded. Again, perhaps you really should consider a psychiatric assessment.
I thought you said that there was never any excuse to misrepresent the truth, and yet you then follow up with another untruth: 'You also state that you... just hate God. Again, a nonsensical comment for an atheist'. I've never said I hate your God, where do you get this nonsense from? I've said I'm extremely angry over the despicable crimes and many, many, many other deplorable acts committed by believers in gods, I'm angry at god's followers, not their imaginary gods. Please try and keep up.
You talk about 'a weak argument that Christians are greedy and fat', and then say that you hope I 'have better arguments for me to deal with, rather than slanderous ones', implying that I've made comments about Christians being greedy and fat, when that was you. This is not a respectable tactic.
You finish by saying, 'if we are to carry on here, lets start with you showing how the cosmological argument is flawed. I love cosmology and astronomy, so I will enjoy this one'.
OK, if I'm going to attempt that, then you need to first do two things.
- Explain to me what you believe the cosmological argument actually is. I know of at least three different arguments. It's no good me giving my version of the cosmological argument and then debunking it, as you will simply say that I've worded it in such a way as to make it appear flawed (the straw man argument).
- Explain to me what your perception of god is. You've asked me what I thought your perception was, now it's time for you to actually stand up to your convictions. I'm interested in attributes such as: a person, a spirit, omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, all-good, interested in humans, creator of every existing thing other than himself, immutable, a necessary being, a source of morality, eternal, worthy of worship, perfect etc.
I need to know how you view your god to see if he has any relationship with the cosmological argument that you offer. If your god's attributes and the cosmological argument don't match up, then whether the cosmological argument is flawed or not has no relevance to your stance as a Christian. I'm not interested in proving to you that Zeus doesn't exist. If our debate doesn't focus on your Christianity claims and my atheism claims then we achieve nothing, and we only waste time discussing gods that neither of us believe in.
Comment by Joe, 10 Jun, 2012
Hi John, just to illustrate how difficult it is to argue with emotionally motivated atheists, here is an example of how contradictory you are being.
"The argument that it's not that I really believe God doesn't exist, it's just that I hate God and am in denial."
Then you go on to say:
From post 18.
"I've never said I hate your God, where do you get this nonsense from?"
I think you see my problem. You have also agreed earlier that lying is justifiably good morally. So I take you subjective morality has decided it's ok to tell lies about your view on God.
From post 20.
Like I said your arguments against God are not evidence, they are just lack of understanding. They wouldnt stand in any court or debate, or even be taken seriously. Basic theological misunderstandings.
If you can commit to being honest I will happily carry on discussing with you, but as you bring too much emotion and dogma, its pointless trying to discuss things with you. I hope you agree you are a little contradictory sometimes. Hope we can move on.
Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 11 Jun, 2012
Regarding your claim that I hate God, and that I'm a liar, you say, 'I think you see my problem'. I do indeed, and your problem is that you've misread what I've written. Perhaps I wasn't as clear as I thought. You said, 'I cannot help but feel that you have been hurt in the past and feel alot of anger towards religion'. When Christians have uttered this type of claim in the past they have always meant that I do actually believe in God, even though I refuse to openly admit it, and that the true reason that I rail against religion is not because I believe God doesn't exist, but because I'm been hurt by religion, eg raped by a priest. (And please don't parrot this phrase back to me: 'I do actually believe in God, even though I refuse to openly admit it'). I said that the Christian argument is 'that it's not that I really believe God doesn't exist, it's just that I hate God and am in denial'. I'm saying that it is Christians who are insisting that I hate God, not me. It's like how a child badly abused by his father might leave home and thereafter refuse to acknowledge his father's existence. When asked by others about his father, in anger he might shout, 'I have no father', even though he doesn't mean this literally. And this is what some Christians have accused me of, of knowing that God does exist, but because of my perceived anger towards him, I shout 'There is no God'. This belief is false, I have not been hurt by religion, and I say there is no god because this is what I truly believe. As you correctly say, it makes no sense to hate something that doesn't exist. I repeat, I am an atheist, I thought you knew that.
And furthermore, to correct another of your falsehoods, I have never said that 'lying is justifiably good morally'. You seem intent on twisting everything I say to try and prove your points. For example, if I had said sex outside marriage was acceptable in my view, you'd probably, without justification, insist that I've said sex with animals is justifiably good morally. You are convincing no one but yourself.
You claim that my 'arguments against God are not evidence, they are just lack of understanding. They wouldnt stand in any court or debate, or even be taken seriously. Basic theological misunderstandings'.
Firstly, I agree that my arguments wouldn't stand in any court, the judge would throw them out, since as I've said, in the real world arguments rest on the notion of the burden of proof. Can you imagine court cases where lawyers were arguing that gods or fairies or leprechauns don't exist? Our courts are struggling to hear cases now, imagine if they had to work their way through all the world's imaginary beings? The onus is on those making a claim to proof their case, not those that don't believe in something. And you're correct that Christians failing to grasp this is a basic theological misunderstanding.
Secondly, yet again you refuse to reveal what is wrong with my arguments. At least you're consistent I suppose. How am I supposed to doubt my views if you won't say why they're wrong? I gave you 10 disproofs at your request, and you've made no mention of them, besides saying that they're not evidence. You claim to understand why they are flawed, so please explain. Surely you don't think that keeping these things to yourself will do anything to sway my confidence? Nor will your silence be reassuring for Christians that might be reading our debate and waiting for you to front up with arguments or evidence or... something, anything.
So, now that you know that I'm not lying, can we move on? Are you going to produce your cosmological argument and definition of God?