Countering the atheist who believes that human free will and a divine being cannot exist in the same intellectual universe

When I was young, I was an atheist, in that I didn’t believe in anything at all.  As I’ve grown older, however, I find that I cannot sustain a belief in nothing.  Interestingly, my belief that there is some intelligent or design force out there that is infinitely greater than we are marches hand-in-hand with my belief in evolution and the Big Bang theory.  I don’t doubt the verity of those two theories.  I do believe, however, that they do not end the discussion of our and the Earth’s origins.  Instead, they just begin it.

Hubble image of a dying star in the Eskimo Nebula

The real sticking point for me is the Big Bang.  Perhaps it’s because I have a simple mind, but I cannot believe that everything came from nothing.  My understanding of the world tells me that there must have been something before the Big Bang.  When I say this to people who are committed to science in lieu of (instead of in addition to) religion, they tell me that “There was probably another universe that collapsed and then, when it compressed itself completely into impossible density, it exploded in the Big Bang.”

Okay.  Fine.  I’ll buy that collapsed universe, unsustainable density, big explosion theory you’re selling.  But tell me this:  where did the prior universe come from?  It seems to me that we can play this “universe to Big Bang to universe to Big Bang” game forever, but that playing the game still doesn’t answer the question about where it all began.

For me, the “where it all began” leads to a something that must be infinitely greater and bigger than all the universes put together, or a single universe that keeps collapsing and being reborn.  And of course, once you start answering the origin question by positing “an intelligent being,” suddenly you’re a theist.  And once you’re a theist you automatically start trying to define for yourself your vision of this divine being.

I certainly don’t believe that there is a divine being who monitors our every move and controls our destiny right down to the last blink and handshake.  Indeed, I’ve never even been able to believe in the anthropogenic God whom Michelangelo painted in the Sistine Chapel or whom William Blake imagined:

Face of God Sistine Chapel

William Blake's Creator

Nor have I been able to believe in the invisible God whose voice spoke to Abraham, Moses, and others in the Bible:

Moses and the burning bush

What do I believe then?  Well, I don’t actually envision a God.  Instead, I see his/its/her acts.  They are creative acts:  the universe, the template (although not the final plan) for all life, and the breath or divine spark that animates us and makes us greater than the water and chemicals that can be distilled from our bodies.

William Blake's soul hovering over body

I am absolutely certain that each of us is truly greater than the sum of his (or her) chemical parts.  I knew this when my Dad died and his essence vanished, leaving only his body behind.  I couldn’t then and can’t now accept that the intangibles that made up Daddy vanished into nothingness.  To the extent that they were intangible — his wit, his intelligence, his charm, his temper — I felt then, and believe now, that they morphed into a different type of “intangibleness” (for want of a better word).  Things don’t vanish.  They decay or change.  The body decays; the spirit changes.

My Divinity, to the extent I assign attributes to this Divinity, is the clockmaker so many thinkers envisioned during the Enlightenment.  My Divinity got things started, inserted free will (including the freedom to engage in good acts or bad) and then stepped away.  Maybe we are an experiment, or a play thing, or an art work, or part of a much greater purpose that we are incapable of seeing or understanding.  Our inability to comprehend the purpose behind our existence doesn’t negate that purpose.  And to the extent that I am vaguely able to glimpse something greater than myself, I have elevated myself above the cow in the field or even my sweet dog sleeping comfortably on her bed as I type.  These animals exist, but I, imbued with that Divine spark, think.

As is so often the case with my long ruminations, I’m leading up to a take-down of a rather primitive atheist article I found in the New York Times.  The writer, Susan Jacoby, dismisses a God that micromanages life on earth and, even worse, a God that allows evil.  From that dismissal, Jacoby automatically assumes that only the opposite can be true — namely, that there is no God.

This line of thought, which is too simplistic even to be a proper syllogism, is silly.  As I’ve stated above, it is perfectly possible to believe that we exist for a reason — and that good and evil are an integral part of that existence — and, further, to believe that a Being greater than ourselves started our existence.

Jacoby next contends that her limited, binary view, provides comfort to the bereaved.  You see, in the face of evil, any evil, Believers can only conclude that God has abandoned or punished them, both of which are deeply depressing thoughts.  However, if one shakes off the shackles of faith, one can just believe that Bad Things Happen — although why random evil is supposed to be comforting, I don’t really understand.  Here’s Jacoby’s ultimate point, in her own words:

It is a positive blessing, not a negation of belief, to be free of what is known as the theodicy problem. Human “free will” is Western monotheism’s answer to the question of why God does not use his power to prevent the slaughter of innocents, and many people throughout history (some murdered as heretics) have not been able to let God off the hook in that fashion.

The atheist is free to concentrate on the fate of this world — whether that means visiting a friend in a hospital or advocating for tougher gun control laws — without trying to square things with an unseen overlord in the next. Atheists do not want to deny religious believers the comfort of their faith. We do want our fellow citizens to respect our deeply held conviction that the absence of an afterlife lends a greater, not a lesser, moral importance to our actions on earth.

[snip]

Today’s secularists must do more than mount defensive campaigns proclaiming that we can be “good without God.” Atheists must stand up instead of calling themselves freethinkers, agnostics, secular humanists or “spiritual, but not religious.” The last phrase, translated from the psychobabble, can mean just about anything — that the speaker is an atheist who fears social disapproval or a fence-sitter who wants the theoretical benefits of faith, including hope of eternal life, without the obligations of actually practicing a religion. Atheists may also be secular humanists and freethinkers — I answer to all three — but avoidance of identification with atheism confines us to a closet that encourages us to fade or be pushed into the background when tragedy strikes.

We must speak up as atheists in order to take responsibility for whatever it is humans are responsible for — including violence in our streets and schools. We need to demonstrate that atheism is rooted in empathy as well as intellect. And although atheism is not a religion, we need community-based outreach programs so that our activists will be as recognizable to their neighbors as the clergy.

As I understand it, Jacoby’s thesis is, essentially, that atheists must band together to deny God and then to go on to the streets to fight crime.  I can just see their superhero now:

Atheist crime fighter

I applaud anyone who wants to make the world a better place, no matter what motivates them.  I do, however, reserve greater applause for those who do so through conservative principles such as individual responsibility, the free market, and traditional morality, since I think they’ll be more effective in achieving their goals.  I also fear those navel-gazers who, abandoning traditional religious principles, start thinking that the world would be a better place if we got rid of Jews or Blacks or Asians or anyone interfering with the navel-gazer’s world view.

What I don’t applaud is someone whose thinking is so blinkered that she cannot envision the possibility that a Divine Creator, in addition to giving us life (or at least getting the ball rolling on life), also endowed us with free will. I’ll admit that free will doesn’t automatically mean there is a God.  Contrary to Jacoby’s limited worldview, though, free will’s existence doesn’t automatically negate a divine being’s existence.

I guess my bottom line is that I’m always suspicious when people engage in this type of simplistic binary thinking. My feeling is that, if they’re that crude and unsophisticated about big issues, it’s very likely that their thinking about the smaller ones that affect our daily lives will be equally limited and defective.

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments

  1. Wolf Howling says

    Danny:  I concur.
     
    Book:  A few related thoughts, first on the interaction between religion and science.  If you will recall, a few years ago, the Pope embraced the Big Bang Theory, saying that science explains the how, religion explains the why.  The Catholic Church has come a long way since Galileo.  At any rate, I recently watched the movie based on Dan Brown’s book, Angels and Demons, that was based on an interesting but utter canard – that the search for the “God particle” – the Higgs Boson – would lead to a crisis of faith among the religious if it was found by scientists.  The funny part, the Higgs Boson was not the God particle, it was the God Damn particle, as originally named by Higgs, because he theorized it was there but couldn’t find it.  It got renamed the God particle by Higgs’s publisher.  Something with scientific but not religious import was changed to something of potentially great anti-religious significance for the ignorant by a simple change of terms.
     
    I take issue with the author’s assertion that atheism isn’t a religion.  It most certainly is, though rather than a deity separate and apart, it simply places man at the top of the heavens.  Indeed, I think it fair to say that no group of people seem more determined to convert the masses and drive competing religions from the public square than atheists, at least in our country.  At any rate, for many atheists,  with no deity to define right and wrong, the government becomes the ultimate arbiter of good and evil, the moral and the immoral.  That didn’t work out so well in the 20th century.  But it is a path we are rushing towards headlong.
     
    I can’t help but thinking that we are moving, two steps forward, 1.9999999 steps backward, to a divine future  that free will is incredibly brutal and harsh, but that it allows us to learn.  I see ue as unrefined iron in the divine forge at this point.
     
       

  2. Wolf Howling says

    Oh, and Book, I take issue with your assertion that man is above dog because we “think.”  I have a young female lab who is possessed of an intelligence so clever and evil (or at least vastly overly playful) that I have more than once checked her body for the 666 mark.  True, she may never actually compose a magnum opus on the computer, but in her case, I think it only because she lacks opposable thumbs., God help humanity if she ever evolves.  

  3. Charles Martel says

    Wolf Howling, regarding your lab, LOL!
     
    Book, the huge hole through which arguments against atheism are able to fly is very simple: On what basis do atheists assert the existence of right and wrong, good and evil, truth and falsehood? In the utterly random and meaningless universe they posit, how can such notions have an objective existence? Even more vexing: How does an entirely pointless universe evolve a creature (humans) who crave meaning and spend their lives looking for it? Are we supposed to take seriously a being who demands meaning from the chaotic, directionless events that led to it?

  4. jj says

    Oh, come on.  On what basis do atheists assert the existence of right and wrong, etc., etc?  Are you required to believe in a god to spot the difference between right and wrong?  I don’t think so.  Even in an utterly random and meaningless universe, two plus two does not equal seven and using infant’s heads for baseballs is wrong – truths that even atheists recognize.  I don’t quite buy that people who don’t believe in a god have no concept of right and wrong, or a moral sense.  Plenty of atheists have, I suspect, been quite moral and very clear on right and wrong, truth and falsehood, etc.  Right and wrong in most situations are pretty plain, and so is moral behavior – worship isn’t necessary to see them.
     
    I would (and do) posit that the lab probably doesn’t believe in God either – but does most definitely have a clear concept of right and wrong behavior in his own context.  (Obviously the lab does not perform late-term abortions, or habitually exceed the speed limit: those are not his context.)  My own dogs seem to me to spend very little time in contemplation of the Infinite, (or maybe that’s what they spend all their time doing: dogs are often mysterious and it’s hard to tell), but they have a well-developed sense of right and wrong.  More often than not they’re moral, and even generous.  Indeed, as has been the basis of many a tale and real-life experience, dogs are often better people than all-too-many people.  Don’t know where they stand on God, but I doubt they believe.   It isn’t necessary for them to know right from wrong, good from evil, or true from false.  It isn’t necessary for people to know either.

  5. Danny Lemieux says

    A belief in a Judeo-Christian God comes along with a recognition of right and wrong as absolutes (I won’t speak for other religions in this context). The paradox of these moral absolutes is that they render life more difficult, self-denying and restraining, not less so (via G.K. Chesterton). Life would be much less complicated if we didn’t have to struggle with our moral qualms, after all. 
    For an atheist, however, there is no such absolute (if you believe otherwise, then tell me why) and right and wrong is relative (to cultural values, social mores, personal desires, whatever), because an atheist cannot tell you why something is fundamentally right or wrong, although they can interpret why it is useful in a material sense. You can live by all kinds of values, but if they are not grounded in moral absolutes, they are known as “ethics”. Confucianism, for example, is not a moral code but an ethical code that has withstood the test of time. It provides rigid codes of behavior for the “good of society”, but it cannot tell you why it is morally right or wrong.
    The question that I like to pose to atheists is, “Why is murder is wrong?”. I’ve never gotten any answer that did not ultimately distill down to an appeal to a transcendental moral absolute that begs the question of…from whence did that transcendental moral absolute derive?
    Both religion and atheism rely on faith, because they can not “prove” their underlying premises within the confines of our 3-1/2 dimensional existence. Agnosticism lies in between. I, personally, am religious. However, I recognize that (most) agnostics are seekers and travelers that try to keep an open mind and I am very respectful of that. I used to be a seeker, myself. Then, one day, I simply ran out of questions.

  6. roylofquist says

    “Big bang” cosmology and neo-Darwinism are functionally religions. Both are founded on assumptions and ideas that have subsequently been shown to be mistaken. They have also built establishments that zealously attack apostates.
     
    Neo-Darwinism was formulated prior to the discovery of the nature of DNA and the development of Information Theory. A lucid, scholarly explanation these subjects can be found here:
     
    http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/filesDB-download.php?command=download&id=1026
     
    It is rough going for the uninformed but the development of the arguments is persuasive.
     
    Big bang cosmology evolved from the mistaken assumptions that gravity is the dominant force in the cosmos and that there is no aether.
     
    As to gravity I refer you to http://electric-cosmos.org/indexOLD.htm
     
    The second assumption, no aether, posited a true vacuum. This is not the case.
     
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vacuum_energy
     
    You will find very few peer reviewed treatise on these subjects. That is because peer review is totally controlled by the “churches”. A sure way to be cast into the darkness by the scientific and academic establishments is to broach these subjects.

  7. Danny Lemieux says

    The Big Bang Theory was developed by a Belgian Catholic priest and physicist, George LeMaitre.
    According to Israeli physicist, molecular biologist and Orthodox Jew Gerald Schroeder, the sequence of the universe’s creation, cooling and condensation after the Big Bang closely mirrors the metaphorical descriptions outlined in Genesis (“Let there be light”).
    Amazing how insightful those poor, ignorant Jewish goatherds and shepherds were way back then, don’t you think? Of course, it could just all be coincidence.
    http://www.amazon.com/Hidden-Face-God-Science-Ultimate/dp/0743203259
     

  8. BrianE says

    Does the athiest believe in free will. I thought they held all human thought was deterministic based on brain chemistry. 
    iIt’s Christians who hold free will as part of the non-material nature of man.
    Dogs do what dogs do since they exist as the athiest believes man does. Dogs can’t be evil. Man certainly can.

  9. jj says

    Very broad statements, Danny.  Very broad.  I don’t know why Mark Twain, Bertrand Russell, George Carlin and Christopher Hitchens (to name a sample) didn’t kill people and rob banks- it certainly would have been easier than anything they did do – but I’ll assume it was because they supposed it would be wrong.  Don’t know how they arrived at that, lost souls that they were, but somehow they did.  Atheists are, one must assume, capable of observation, and it’s just as plain to them as it is to anyone else that driving the car into a tree at high speed would be wrong.  Often enough the fact that that they do not believe in an afterlife of either reward or sorrow compels them to be as well behaved and moral as they can be right here, because here is all there is in their rather unsystematic system.
     
    Hammurabi – while probably not an atheist – had no concept of or interest in a Judeo-Christian god, but he was pretty clear on right and wrong anyway.  So have been plenty of others throughout history, who had no recourse to the benefits conferred by a Judeo-Christian god in knowing right from wrong.  To make of that knowledge an exclusive secret conferred by Judaism or Christianity is a little, well… broad.  Plenty of pagans seemed to have pretty good morals, and a set of absolute absolutes.  It as been said that probably the best Christian who ever lived was the pagan emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus.  he lived in a world of absolutes, and it was a world that revolved around him.  (He also pretty effectively screws up the old “power corrupts, absolute power…” etc.  Apparently not, at least in his case.)
     
    People do what they do for, mostly, their own reasons.  Roseanne Barr is an obnoxious non-believer; Bertrand Russell and Carl Sagan were pretty quiet, reserved and thoughtful ones.  Russell and Sagan got through their lives without killing anybody, and Barr, while annoying, has shown no signs of being likely to, either.  Russell was a profoundly moral man.  I suspect they all had many absolutes with which they dealt – am quite certain in fact that Russell did: I’ve read him doing so.  Sagan regretted that he couldn’t find room in the universe for a god, there was nothing immoral about either him or his belief, and nothing unthoughtful about it.
     
    Broad statements.

  10. Simplemind says

    Charlie the hammer nails it. (pun intended)
    Why do we ask why at all? 
    This is school.  You get tested every day.  At times it sucks and is hard and is even pointless (like calculus is for most people). 
    Lot of people get hung up on why a loving God allows evil. 1) We are all free to chose and thus, those around us are free to choose to do evil.   2) What about natural disasters and cancer etc.?  We are biased into thinking this existence is the most important thing, it is everything to us now.  In the end, it is nothing more than a dream. The pain, the sadness, the fear will pass away when you do. (Much like the memory of gym class after graduation.)  However, suffering teaches better than joy. Its just a fact a human nature, which  some would say itself is a product of original sin.  No one gets through this life without getting tested, not the richest, most famous most talented person ever.  My Heavens, the son of God was crucified. Ergo IT IS  A TEST for everyone.
    Accept that and you simply have to do the best you can with what you’ve got.  You may not be the captain of the football team, but you may be the chair of the AV club it thats your thing. 
    Some people chose to drop out of school. Atheists reject the notion of the tester, and see no meaning in the test.  Dropouts they are indeed.
    So do your best. Recognize the temptation to drop out.  You will have some “subjects” that are tough for you everyone does.
      

  11. says

    Maybe what you’re describing, jj, when you name specific atheists is herd immunity, not of the viral type, but of the spiritual type.

    Think of it this way.  When we immunize people, they all get immunized to some extent, some more than others.  Some people don’t get immunized at all, but they benefit from the herd around them.  To the extent there are outbreaks, they appear quickly and vanish with minimal effect — even for those who aren’t vaccinated and for those who were vaccinated, but whose immune systems didn’t fully respond.

    Things start to change for the worse when the number of un-vaccinated people increases.  It’s much more likely that those who are not vaccinated will succumb to an epidemic, because the herd is no longer sufficiently immune to repel the disease.  Even worse (in a way), those who were vaccinated, but whose immune systems responded only partially will also fall ill.

    In a generally Judeo-Christian society, even those who profess atheism get the moral benefits of the spiritually vaccinated herd.  They don’t have to profess religion to have absorbed its basic moral tenets.  That would explain Mark Twain, Bertrand Russell, and the many other great thinkers who denied God but professed traditional morality.

    The problems begin when we lose that spiritual herd immunity.  Those who never partook of the Judeo-Christian vaccination in the first place, have no herd to provide them with the spiritual protection we’ve so long assumed as a part of our culture.  Not only do they deny traditional morality, but the morality is so weak that it doesn’t rub off on them, allowing them a rather safe form of denial.

    This theory holds true regardless of the prevailing norm:  Hindu, Confucian, Hammurabian, etc.  As long as the majority of the people subscribe to an ethical norm, the minority who deny that norm will nevertheless feel its influence.  When too many people become deniers, though, we revert to a form of moral and spiritual savagery.

  12. lee says

    Read the Book of Job. (And be aware that the “prologue” and “epilogue” were written by someone else, at a different period.) It is a fascinating look at faith in the context of when bad things happen. It’s an amazing work, in general, but then to take into consideration also that it was written six to eight THOUSAND years ago…

  13. Wolf Howling says

    I was just about to respond to JJ when I read Book’s response.  She hits the nail on the head.  JJ, your arguments could not be more lacking in historical support. 
     
    There are no moral absolutes absent religion.  As Dostoyevsky wrote in “The Brothers Karamazov,” “[i]f God is dead, all is permitted,” Right and wrong becomes simply whatever we define it to be.  The historical examples of this are abundant and beyond argument.  
     
    Pick your favorite communist butcher of the 20th century.  Let’s take Stalin and Lenin.  Both, like all socialists, were absolute opponents of Judaism and Christianity because those religions taught a morality that transcended government.  Once in power, they outlawed those religions, destroyed the Churches and imprisoned the priests.  Under Stalin, the highest moral good became support of the government and complete submission to its will.  Tens of millions of people under Soviet domination were executed or otherwise murdered by forced starvation because of that change in morality.
     
    Or for that matter, ponder what would happen if the radical greens were ever to take power. Many of them advocate for reinterpreting right and wrong, redefining those concepts away from the context of humanity and the individual and onto the green’s interpretation of what is best for Gaia.  More than a few have advocated things such as forced sterilization, population control and changes to our way of life that would kill off hundreds of millions simply because we would no longer have the capacity to support current population levels.  I suspect they would make Stalin look like a saint if ever given the power to impose their will.      
     
    I have heard many like JJ then make the reverse argument that religion is hypocritical, and indeed, has provided the motivating force for countless evils.  Christopher Hitchens often brought up slavery in such arguments noting that slavery enjoyed the support of Christians and Jews, and even appears in the bible.  True enough – slavery indeed was the primary economic model for mankind throughout much of history.  It certainly was in the Roman empire, at the time of Jesus, and it remained so until the 1600’s, when something began to happen to change it.
     
    Do recall that the bedrock foundation of Christian and Jewish teaching has always been, to paraphrase, to love your brother as yourself.  It is an aspirational goal that represents societal perfection.  We have come a long way in the thousands of years towards that goal, but we are so very, very far from it still.  Nonetheless, it was that animating spirit that eventually led Christians to contest slavery, with the movement against it beginning in the 1600’s.  It was Christian moral arguments against slavery that led to its outlaw in Britain, and ultimately, in the U.S. and throughout the western world.
     
    There was no moral proscription against slavery outside of the Judeo-Christian ethic.  Had Christians not intervened, it is quite possible that slavery would still be openly carried on throughout the world today.  And indeed, in Islam, it is still accepted practice and advocated, with the only restraint being economic feasibility              
     
    At any rate, the history of Christianity is inextricably intertwined with the history of the rise of Western Civilization – Judeo Christian aspirational morality, founded on the bedrock of a deity, is what defines Western Civilizaiton.  That didn’t change until the birth of socialism in the crucible of the French Revolution, when at least one famously advocated for the hanging of the last priest with the bowels of the last king.  And thus has the left warred on religion and morality based thereon ever since.  God help us if they win out in our nation. 
     

  14. Wolf Howling says

    JJ;  As to my labs, I don’t doubt that they never contemplate a divine being in the heavens.  For them, their owners are their immediate Gods, since we provide all of their necessities and we teach them “right and wrong.”  
     
    That said, to look at this in reverse,  JJ, I find them to be a gift from God.  They brighten my day – every day.  While the female is an evil genuis, her brother, a giant of a lab, is the world’s biggest and most comic teddy bear.  Both have much to teach about enjoying every single moment and, indeed, forgiveness, for they bear no ill for a single wrong.  They are perfect examples of how, if you treat others well, then you reap even more in return.      

  15. jj says

    Bookworm – sure: the societal norm is the norm.  If it doesn’t include killing and looting as good things then killing and looting will be comparatively rare.  Most people, regardless of what they do or don’t believe, will conform.  If nothing else it just makes life easier.  The smart ones recognize that friction is waste energy, and decide not to go there.  I suppose ‘herd immunity’ is not at all a bad descriptor for that.
     
    But it’s also a fact that there has been more than one society for whom sacrificing first-born children was not out of the norm.  Were they bad guys?  By our lights – which are the only lights we have – the answer is yes.  By their lights, and their demonstrable success, the answer becomes trickier.  They survived, and contributed to the overall survival of the human race – something not always at all certain until, in geological time, not very long ago.  Plenty of pockets of humanity started up only to flicker out: Planet Earth did not care.  And, as usual, no comment from the Throne, either.  Eventually they quit sacrificing babies, realizing it was somewhat counter-productive to knock off the coming generation when your goal is eventual survival.  It has been said, (though I forget by who), that early Man’s greatest contribution was accidental survival.  They, themselves, probably wouldn’t have said it was accidental: from their perspective they worked at it all the time.  Getting through the day alive was, for the first couple of million years, a full-time job.  When you spend 16 hours a day trying to get something to eat, you don’t have time or energy to speculate much about the nature of the universe; God; whether you’re a liberal or conservative; or whether you like the venison medium-rare or to the well-done side of medium.  When you got a deer you didn’t sweat the small stuff: you cut it up and ate it however it came.
     
    In the three million year history of the race, the Judeo-Christian god’s been a player for about five minutes.  Most of morality was set long before he arrived on the scene.  Plenty of other, earlier, gods contributed to it as much or more.  The ‘herd immunization’ idea was spread through a lot of different herds, most of whom never heard of him.  Lots and lots of gods, demanding lots and lots of different forms of obeisance, and plenty who demanded nothing in particular.  Lots of people who believed in pantheons; lots who didn’t particularly believe in much of anything.  The latter were just as moral – for their times – as the former.  I suspect it was generated from within, from the general disposition of the herd, if you like; but it was their disposition.  It wasn’t from outside themselves.
     
     
     
     

  16. jj says

    Wolf – right and wrong is always whatever we define it to be.  We may say it’s an absolute, but that’s because we think that way: even the absolutes have changed many times in human history.  ‘Normal’ is anything 90% of the people do.  Always has been.

  17. Wolf Howling says

    JJ –  Take a look at your arguments.  Your initial argument was that morality is normative, irrespective of religion.  Now you are arguing the opposite, that morality can be anything we want it to be, there being no norm.  Moreover, you dispense out of hand with the specific historic example I cited as well as the thought experiment regarding life under a green autocracy.
     
    As to a moral absolute – that is one where there rewards or penalties after life in respect of those absolutes.  Atheists by definition can have no moral absolutes.      
        
     
     

  18. says

    Would anyone here consider the Dalai Lama as immoral, unethical, and lacking in the knowledge of right and wrong? If not him, how about any Buddhist? Buddhists have no gods; it’s a totally godless religion that teaches there is no god.
     
    Are Taoists immoral, unethical, and lacking in the knowledge of right and wrong? Like Buddhism, there are no gods in Taoism, none, not one, gods don’t exist. Are Taoists evil and worthy of distrust and derision because they’re atheists?
     
    How ’bout all the animists and wiccans for whom there may be many gods, no single supreme god, or just the spirit of mother earth? Are they all immoral, unethical, and lacking in the knowledge of right and wrong?
     
    What I’m reading here about Atheist, Christian Atheists specifically, is ‘they don’t believe in MY god, so they are immoral, unethical, and lacking in the knowledge of right and wrong.’ How many of those here believe in the existence and supremacy of al’Lah – the God – of Islam? If not, doesn’t that make you an atheist of the Muslim god? If yuo don’t subscribe to the multiplicity of the gods of Hindus, doesn’t that make you atheists of the Hindu gods? Would it not be true that anyone who believes their god is the true god and not the other guys god be an atheist to the other guys religion? Would that not make everyone an atheist?
     
    Religious leaders don’t describe any of the atheist religions I’ve referenced above as atheist. Rather, they are called Nontheist and no one condemns them for being immoral, unethical, and lacking in the knowledge of right and wrong. Why are Atheists – Christian Atheists specifically and i’ll wager singularly – called out for criticism, morally questioned, and accused of not knowing the basics of living in civilized society – the knowledge of right and wrong? That knowledge is one factor used to determine if some criminal suspects can stand trial, the determination whether the suspect knows right and wrong, thus, sanity, is a bedrock for trial or hospitalization? If Atheist are immoral, unethical, and lacking in the knowledge of right and wrong, isn’t that the same as saying Atheists are insane? If Muslims declare they do not believe in al’Lah, he is praised by Christians. Why? Is that person not an Atheist and a bad person? Or, does that only apply to Atheists who don’t submit to Yahweh or any name the Judeo-Christian god goes by.
     
    In this universe, there is right and wrong, good and evil, Minneapolis and St. Paul, bread and butter, but none require a god to exist or for anyone to like or dislike. You want a god, fine, no skin off my nose. There is no god, that’s fine by me. Why is it anyone’s concern but mine?

  19. Charles Martel says

    “In this universe, there is right and wrong, good and evil, Minneapolis and St. Paul, bread and butter.”
     
    Not quite sure about the logic of that statement. The two cities and the foods I can see as objective physical entities. But right and wrong and good and evil? Where are they located? What is their source? Is there some form of carpenter, or cow, or farmer specific to their creation?

  20. jhstuart says

    These are difficult topics that are easily dismissed by the intellectually lazy or worse, in the case of origin of life, ascribed to forces that Darwin described as an “undirected process”.
    Until recently, my interests (and knowledge) were directed elsewhere until my son-in-law wanted to have a discussion about Darwin. I was not comfortable with my limited data base.
    Thus began some carefully selected research which led me to resources that went far beyond my religious doctrine. Two of the most notable references were Signature In The Cell (DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design) by Stephen Meyer and the Science of God (The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical  Wisdom) by Gerald Schroeder.
    As someone with a technical background the scientific evidence is compelling that our existence is not accidental.
     

  21. says

    Something many anti-theists (as rightly pointed out, the term ‘atheist’ has varying definitions depending on who uses it; some Buddhists are theists in that they deify Buddha, others are atheist in that they maintain the original form of Buddhism) might need to bear in mind:
    The argument is NOT that without God, atheists cannot be moral. The argument is that unless you have a transcendent, external SOURCE/REFERENCE of morality (i.e. God), the very term ‘morality’ has no real basis and no real meaning. Which, if logically held in consistency with all other viewpoints, is perfectly alright – but most of the time, it isn’t held logically.
    How does that actually work? Simple. Judaeo-Christian morality is God-centric; God is the source of morality, as His very nature is moral and He demands it from His creation (namely, us). Islamic morality is similar: Allah dictates it, and you submit. Dualists (such as Zoroastrians) believe that both good and evil stem from external sources (rather than evil as the mere absence/negation of good).
    The problem is, if there is no reference for morality other than the universe/nature/mankind, then morality is NOT absolute, only relative. And if you want to claim that, then you have to be consistent. If morality is relative (i.e. dependent on an evolutionary parameter, or a cultural parameter, or a majority parameter rather than being good or evil throughout space/time), then you have no basis for saying that anything is evil. Including paedophilia, murder, genocide, lassiez-faire capitalism, gender role inequality, racial slavery, child pornography, bestiality, I could go on and on and on. At most, you can say it’s culturally backward, evolutionarily inefficient, not-so-popular, maybe even stupid. But evil? Nope, can’t use that word.
    But very few anti-theists will claim that. Religion is evil, claims Hitchens. Sez who? Is sex with children bad? Sez who? People who bomb abortion clinics are wrong. Sez who? The Holocaust was an evil act (and Adolf Hitler an evil man). Sez who?
    To put in perspective. The Roman Empire had a good innings of well over a thousand years, and it was a society based on patriarchal principles and slavery, not to mention the death penalty. The Chinese civilisation had an even better innings of over 2,000 years, and it was based on the above, as well as polygamy, feudal warlords, imperialism and a non-scientific approach to education. The USA and all other Western empires of the Modern Era, in contrast, can point to less than 300 years (in most cases, less than 200 years) of existence. One might argue that Chinese and Roman values are ‘better’ when measured against all the parameters most atheists want to use to measure morality.
     
    tl;dr: You cannot say something is absolutely good or evil without an absolute yardstick. Certainly, you cannot say we’re wrong in believing in a religion. Or that religion is evil. Or that forcing people to believe in a particular religion is evil. Or that we were created with inalienable rights, and depriving us of our rights without due process is evil. Sez who?

Leave a Reply