Can atheists condemn slavery as immoral? Do atheists believe that slavery is wrong?

Note: For a Christian response to the complaint that the Bible doesn’t condemn slavery, see this article and this article for slavery in the Old Testament, and this article for slavery in the New Testament. These are all by Christian philosopher Paul Copan. You can watch a lecture with Paul Copan on the slavery challenge here, and buy a book where he answers the challenge in more detail. There is also a good debate on whether the Bible condones slavery here, featuring David Instone-Brewer and Robert Price. My post is not a formal logical essay on this issue, it is more that I am outraged that atheists, who cannot even rationally ground objective morality, insist on criticizing the morality of the Bible. I think that atheists who are serious about finding the truth about these issues should check out those links, if they are interested in getting to the truth of these matters.

In other posts, I’ve argued that without an objective moral standard of what is right and wrong, any judgments about right and wrong are just individual opinions. So, when an atheist says slavery is wrong, what he really means is that he thinks slavery is wrong for him, in the same way that he thinks that,say, that chocolate ice cream is right for him. He isn’t saying what is wrong objectively, because on atheism there are no objective moral rules or duties. He is speaking for himself: “I wouldn’t own a slave, just like I wouldn’t eat broccoli – because it’s yucky!”. But he has no rational argument against other people owning slaves in other times and places, because their justification for owning slaves is the same as his justification for not owning slaves : personal preference.

So do atheists oppose slavery? Do they believe in an objective human right to liberty? Well, there are no objective human rights of any kind on atheism. Human beings are just accidents in an accidental universe, and collections of atoms do not mysteriously accrue “rights”. There is no natural right to liberty on atheism. Now consider abortion, which is arguably very similar to slavery. Most atheists do favor abortion in this time and place. Like slavery, abortion declares an entire class of weaker people as non-persons in order to justify preserving their own happiness and prosperity by means of violence. That’s exactly what slavery does, except abortion is worse than slavery, because you actually kill the person you are declaring as a non-person instead of just imprisoning them.

So how many atheists have this pro-abortion view that it is OK to declare unborn children  as non-persons so they can kill them?

Well, according to Gallup, the “non-religious” are the group most likely to support abortion. In fact, 68% favor legalized abortion, compared to only 19% who oppose it.

Take a look at the Gallup poll data from 2012:

Atheists are OK with the strong killing the weak
Most atheists are OK with the strong killing the weak

The Gallup numbers might actually be low, because “No religion” might include people who are spiritual, but not religious. But what about atheists alone?

As a group, atheists tend to be among the most radical supporters of legalized abortion. The Secular Census of 2012 found that 97% of atheists vote for abortion. There are almost no pro-life atheists. Why is it that atheists look at unborn children and think it’s OK to kill them? Well, let’s see what atheists scholars think about morality, and we’ll find out why they think abortion is OK.

Atheist scholars think morality is nonsense

Atheist William Provine says atheists have no free will, no moral accountability and no moral significance:

Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear — and these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.

Source: http://www.arn.org/docs/orpages/or161/161main.htm

Atheists Michael Ruse says atheists have no objective moral standards:

The position of the modern evolutionist is that humans have an awareness of morality because such an awareness of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate when someone says, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless, such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, . . . and any deeper meaning is illusory.(Michael Ruse, “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,” in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262-269).

Atheist Richard Dawkins says atheists have no objective moral standards:

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, or any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference… DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music. (Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (1995))

Let’s take a closer look at Richard Dawkins.

Richard Dawkins and morality

Here’s how far Dawkins takes his view that there is no evil and no good:

Richard Dawkins explains morality on atheism
Richard Dawkins explains morality on atheism

But wait! He goes even further than mere abortion:

So, looking at Dawkins, what kind of ethic can you get from Darwinism and atheism? Survival of the fittest. The strong kill the weak.

Richard Dawkins even advocates for adultery.

Now atheists may feign morality in order to get along with other people in a society that is still anchored in Judeo-Christian values, but they tend to vote for liberal social policies, and they oppose political action by those who still hold to objective morality. So what they are working toward, generally, is less and less influence in politics by those who favor objective human rights, objective moral values and objective moral duties. 

So do atheists oppose slavery, or don’t they?

I actually don’t think that atheists think slavery is morally wrong, although they might personally not want to own slaves in this time and place because slavery is illegal – thanks to Judeo-Christian values. But in other areas, like abortion, we can see that atheists are willing to use violence against the weak to augment their happiness and prosperity. Unborn babies are weak, like slaves. Atheists are willing to kill the weak unborn babies who stop them from pursuing pleasure and prosperity. I don’t see how they would have any objections to enslaving other people if they had the strength to do so. In fact, unjust imprisonment and forced labor are happening in atheistic North Korea right now.

But do you know who does oppose slavery enough to do something about it?

Dinesh D’Souza explains:

Slavery was mostly eradicated from Western civilization–then called Christendom–between the fourth and the tenth century. The Greco-Roman institution of slavery gave way to serfdom. Now serfdom has its problems but at least the serf is not a “human tool” and cannot be bought and sold like property. So slavery was ended twice in Western civilization, first in the medieval era and then again in the modern era.

In the American South, Christianity proved to be the solace of the oppressed. As historian Eugene Genovese documents in Roll, Jordan, Roll, when black slaves sought to find dignity during the dark night of slavery, they didn’t turn to Marcus Aurelius or David Hume; they turned to the Bible. When they sought hope and inspiration for liberation, they found it not in Voltaire or D’Holbach but in the Book of Exodus.

The anti-slavery movements led by Wilberforce in England and abolitionists in America were dominated by Christians. These believers reasoned that since we are all created equal in the eyes of God, no one has the right to rule another without consent. This is the moral basis not only of anti-slavery but also of democracy.

And, in fact, you can see Christians pushing the culture hard against abortion today, just as we did with slavery. Defending the weak is what we do. Meanwhile, most atheists think that an unborn child has as much of a right to legal protection as a cockroach.

61 thoughts on “Can atheists condemn slavery as immoral? Do atheists believe that slavery is wrong?”

    1. This is a fascinating response! On what do you base this moral opinion?

      In your linked post on Fairness, for example, you say:

      “Theists are very good at pointing out that atheists can’t ground their morality because they can’t objectively justify the value of a human being. ”

      This is almost correct. Atheism’s inability to justify the value of a human being is a consequence of its inability to justify the value of anything metaphysical. This is a rather intractable problem for atheists, and all their attempts to deal with it merely add scaffolding to the facade.

      I mean, if you were the only person in all of existence to hold that humans have intrinsic metaphysical value, or that fairness–as defined by you–is of value, what on naturalism would make it right, what would make it True?

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    2. The problem is… what if somebody disagrees with you? What if somebody doesn’t like another race for some reason, or holds a utilitarian philosophy that says we should enslave 10% of the population for the benefit of the other 90%, which would produce more prosperity and leisure for more people and thus would be a greater good? Why would those people be wrong and you right? You say human life has value, but… why? And if another person disagrees that human life has any intrinsic value (and there are many who do), why is their opinion not as valid as yours?

      As an atheist, you are simply stuck. You can believe what you want, but like Wintery Knight said, absent and outside, objective standard, it all comes down to your personal preference. You might have an idea of what “fairness” means but another person may have a completely different idea of what that means, one that involves slavery. Ultimately in an atheistic world, nobody is any more right or wrong than anybody else, and the strongman decides what will go and what will not, period.

      Your position is so untenable that even Dawkins cannot hold it consistently. Dawkins once pointed to the abolition of slavery as an example of our “moral improvement” over the centuries. But outside an objective standard, you can’t have moral “improvement’ at all, only moral CHANGE over time. What you see as an improvement would have been seen differently by those in that time and may yet again by others in the future.

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    3. Fairness? Value?

      Glad to hear that you “don’t have much difficulty” with belief in such lofty, intangible concepts that can’t be empirically proven to be real.

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  1. What gets fascinating is that when laws are written that consider a miscarriage due to violence toward a women, ‘murder’. It’s as if the woman wanting the baby means it’s a person, but only if the baby is wanted. For God so loved the world. For humans so loved bits and pieces, rejecting the rest.

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  2. When Richard Dawkins was asked, “Ultimately, your belief that rape is wrong is as arbitrary as the fact that we’ve evolved five fingers rather than six.” he responded with “You could say that, yes.”

    At the 6:00 mark in this interview.

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    1. Sir, you are much mistaken – the quote in question happens at 6:05 exactly.

      Click the link and listen:
      http://www.brianauten.com/Apologetics/Dawkins-Brierley.mp3

      This is pretty standard atheism, from an atheist leader.

      Remember what Dawkins said:

      “In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”

      From “River out of Eden”, p. 133.

      That’s all you have, objectively speaking. Anything else an atheist says is personal preference, and the only goal they can have for expressing personal preferences is their own happiness.

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      1. You keep talking about personal preferences as if those are random whims, but they’re not. All people have the same core desire that can never change. That is the basis for morality.

        Christians might say the core desire was bestowed on us by God, and others might say the core desire evolved in us naturally. Either way, it’s perfectly rational to have a consequentialist morality. Christians don’t need to oppose the idea.

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        1. I’ve read that rapists and violent criminals tend to have fewer tandem repeats in their testosterone binding motifs. Under atheism, they’re just following the genetic programming evolution produced in them–just as we are. Therefore there’s no objective way to say we’re right and they’re wrong. Unless there is a programmer who can clarify the true intent of the programming, versus what is an aberration.

          Here’s the study:

          http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18365230

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        2. All people have the same core desire that can never change.

          What is your empirical evidence for this statement, and what is that “same core desire”?

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  3. Okay, we’re talking about two different interviews. Having clicked on the link you provided I take your point about what Dawkins is saying.

    In the ‘about’ section on my blog I make the point that Dawkins and many other atheists are crap philosophers. Dawkins is a great scientist, but this strength becomes a weakness when he has to give a non-scientific answer to a question. He always wants to give an answer to moral questions that somehow link back to evolution or biology, but I don’t think this is correct at all.

    With reference to his quote about rape, I would say that the belief that rape is wrong is not arbitrary because it stands to reason. After all, any budding rapist would have to make a very strong claim as to why he is superior in rights to his victim, which I don’t believe he can do. After all, he is a human being and so is she.

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        1. You mean like organisms with human DNA (“humans”) which still exist within their mothers? Pretty sure their rights are exploited. Oh wait, they have no rights, per the atheist. Except maybe if their mother wants them. Then, maybe killing them by forcing a miscarriage is murder. But only if they’re wanted (else she refuses to press charges). On the atheist’s view, after all, rights are not intrinsic (they’re just fictions).

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          1. I’m actually having the same conversation with WorldGoneCrazy (see below). I will put to you the same question I put to them: Is a zygote a human being?

            Judging by your post I guess your answer might be “yes, because a zygote contains human DNA.” My pre-emptive answer to that would be that every cell in the human body contains human DNA, but presumably you wouldn’t wish to claim that every cell in your body is actually a human being, or has the same rights as a human being. If it did, you’d be committing the moral equivalent of genocide every time you got sunburnt and killed some skin cells.

            Claiming that something which contains human DNA is the same thing as a human being seems a lot like claiming that the design drawings for a house are the same as the house itself.

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          2. The easy answer is to discuss potential. Someone who is brain-dead has no potential and thus can be removed from life support. A skin cell has no potential for future consciousness. A fertilized egg, does.

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          3. There seems to be some debate on the meaning of ‘person’. Since the discussion seems to be about biology I will use the term ‘human’ in the scientific sense (homo sapien sapien) rather than personhood to avoid confusion. A zygote is a human being but its DNA is distinct from its mother’s DNA and is scientifically unique. It also starts a development process that requires nutrients from its environment (although that environment is inside the mother’s womb) but is separate from the mother’s development. That process starts at fertilization and continues into adulthood. We can arbitrarily ascribe personhood at some point in that development by looking at things like heartbeat and brain activity but a human being is the entirety of that unique DNA from fertilization. When you destroy a portion of that human being (say through amputation or biopsy) you are not killing that human being as long as the rest continues to survive in a functional way. By putting an end to the entire living being (in the case of a zygote through abortion) you are effectively killing a unique living human being. We can make a moral (rather than a scientific) distinction by calling a zygote a pre- human and removing any rights by setting arbitrary levels of dependency or development before someone is considered human but this is as I said earlier debating personhood. Personhood is a moral distinction not a scientific distinction. If morality is relativistic then any arbitrary condition can be made for personhood (and the right to live) this includes race, religion, age, gender, social standing, income, etc… Once you start down that path everyone is free to determine their own conditions for personhood.

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          4. All of this horribly OT subthread just proves the inability of atheism or naturalistic epistemology to ground moral values. For, even if you all DO manage to agree on one basis for determining whether abortion on demand is moral, the naturalistic argument begs the question, “and is THAT good and if so why or on what basis is it so?”

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          5. “My pre-emptive answer to that would be that every cell in the human body contains human DNA, but presumably you wouldn’t wish to claim that every cell in your body is actually a human being, or has the same rights as a human being.”

            There is a lot more to being a human individual than having human DNA. Having human DNA is just one of the criteria.

            There is an objective, scientific difference between a cell or group of cells and an individual. An individual grows itself and works to further its own goals and well-being. An individual cell that is part of a body works for the well-being and purposes of the larger body, even at its own expense. That’s the difference in a nutshell, though it’s a bit more complex than that.

            With that in mind, it is scientific fact that a human zygote is a separate human individual, not a part of the mother’s body. A zygote, embryo, or fetus isn’t part of a body (like a skin cell or blood cell), but a full human being with a body of his own. Fertilization produces a separate human individual who is not and has never been a part of anyone else’s body.

            Thus, abortion is not removal of just a bit of tissue (like having a tumor removed) or a choice of the mother concerning her own body. Abortion is the purposeful killing of a human individual who simply happens to be young and helpless.

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          6. This seems quite similar to my ‘potential’ comment:

            The easy answer is to discuss potential. Someone who is brain-dead has no potential and thus can be removed from life support. A skin cell has no potential for future consciousness. A fertilized egg, does.

            Potential of what kind? Well, potential to become an individual (your contribution!). :-)

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          7. I think your point about something having the potential to become a human life is a valid one. Some atheists use it to justify an anti-abortion stance themselves.

            I’m personally not in favour because I believe that having the potential to be a human being doesn’t give something the same rights as an actual human being, but I agree that it’s not a straightforward, clear-cut case.

            The only thing I would wish to say at this point is that hopefully you can see why those in favour of abortion have a reasonable view, based on the difference between a human being and something with the potential to be one. You may justifiably disagree with this, but it’s clear that the pro-choice position isn’t based on some bizarre notion of the strong always having to rule over the weak.

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          8. I do appreciate that you can see my position—my use of the term ‘potential’ was actually new as of this thread, although I don’t claim global originality, just originality as far as I remember, not being an expert on this stuff.

            That being said, I’m afraid I don’t see you making a valid distinction. Someone in a coma is of unknown potential: maybe he/she will wake up, maybe he/she never will. It certainly seems to be the case that he/she isn’t currently fearing death, so it doesn’t seem like pulling that plug would harm him/her. So is the choice of whether to pull the plug merely made upon some scientific estimate plus whether or not anyone is fighting for his/her life?

            Suppose I have the power to terminate pregnancies at my whim, just by looking at women in the right way. Do you really want to say that utilizing that ability would not be ‘murder’, if I use it on women who don’t even know they’re pregnant yet? I get that there is something between ‘murder’ and ‘nothing’—like physical assault—but would you agree it is not ‘murder’, until whatever that “not a straightforward, clear-cut case” happens to dictate The Line is?

            An abortion is either self-defense, or the strong ruling over the weak. I can see no other alternative. The question is merely whether ‘the weak’ are considered people, or things. (I’m reminded of 1748 Man a Machine—a product of the ‘Enlightenment’.) That’s been the pattern throughout history. In America, a slave was 3/5 of a person. Aristotle had his concept of ‘natural slavery’.

            People have rights. Things, or machines, do not—they can be ‘turned off’, and turned off forever.

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          9. The problem with using the term “potential” is that pro-aborts use the term all the time to justify abortion. Their argument is that an unborn child is only a “potential human” and not actual human, and thus abortion isn’t killing a human being. That is simply false.

            Speaking of the unborn as a potential life or a potential baby or a potential person totally undermines the pro-life position. There isn’t anything “potential” about an unborn child’s humanity. Every unborn child is an ACTUAL human being from fertilization onward. And abortion doesn’t end a potential life, it ends an ACTUAL life.

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          10. The point is that an unborn child isn’t a potential human. He’s an actual human. Having potential doesn’t grant rights. Being a human does. We have to make the right argument if we are to succeed.

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          11. potential human

            I did not use this term, and fairly intentionally so. I said “potential for future consciousness” and “potential to become an individual”. The former applies to someone in a coma, but not to someone (a body?) who/which is brain-dead. I still may not have a valid formulation, but what you’re attacking is, as far as I can see, not what I’m presenting.

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          12. “Potential individual” is just as incorrect as “potential human.” An unborn child is already an individual.
            An unborn child does have potential to become an adult. Use that, if you will. But it isn’t the potential of a person that makes the difference. It’s the actuality. It’s the nature of a living human being to have the right to life.
            I would also argue that the “potential for future consciousness” in a coma patient is NOT what makes them worthy of life or protection. It’s their existence as a living human being that makes them worthy of protecting and makes their life have value. Consciousness or potential for consciousness is irrelevant.

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          13. labreuer – to come back to your point about potential, a zygote has potential to be a human being; someone in a coma IS a human being, albeit perhaps not with much potential. There are two uses of the word ‘potential’ at play here.

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          14. I’m afraid I never said “potential human”. I said “potential for future consciousness”. I also said “potential to become an individual”, in the sense that the self is socially constructed. When you are asleep, you have the potential for future consciousness. A person in a coma has potential for future consciousness. A brain-dead person does not. A zygote does.

            You see, it just seems to me that you are arbitrarily defining ‘human being’. On the contrary, I don’t think I’m arbitrarily defining ‘consciousness’, nor ‘individual’. The latter might need some help; there’s a lot behind the building-up of identity, as Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Self makes clear.

            It might be helpful to return to Kant, and note how he built his ethics not on whether you are a human (that’s species-ism), but whether you have the capability for rationality. This lets us respect artificial intelligences and aliens, with absolutely zero quibbling about “human being”. It is also properly fuzzy, as a three-month-old doesn’t have much actual rationality, but plenty of potential rationality.

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          15. This is an excellent point, Labreuer. I had one pro-abort tell me that it was OK to kill babies in the womb because they were not conscious. I asked him if that meant that it was OK to kill him while he was sleeping. He replied that I was “over thinking” this. :-)

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          16. I’m arbitrarily defining “human being”?!!!! On the contrary, I am using objective, scientific criteria that can be verified by DNA tests and well-established biology. You, on the other hand, have a nebulous idea of a socially-constructive “self” or ability to become one which somehow makes a person valuable.

            How do you tell whether someone has potential? How can you tell if they are going to have a socially-constructed self? Do you have a time-machine or crystal ball? If they don’t have that potential (say, they are severely mentally retarded), does that mean it’s okay to kill them? And how do you know that brain dead people don’t have potential to resume consciousness? There have been several cases of people being declared brain dead and subsequently recovering. Your criterion has some serious ethical and logical problems.

            As for the charge of “species-ism,” I never said that ONLY humans had inalienable rights or shouldn’t be killed. I merely said that ALL humans have such rights. That doesn’t rule out the possibility of there being non-human persons. But my position is that all humans are persons and should be legally protected.

            In case you haven’t figured out what a human is, it’s any living member of the human species. That’s very objective, direct, and clear. No metaphysical ideas about what constitutes a self or unverifiable criteria like consciousness or “potential” required.

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          17. Lindsay, I was not responding to you, but to AtheismExplained. I would thank you to not intentionally and sloppily misrepresent what I have said in order to make it feel good to dismiss it. It’s as if you somehow think I am pro-abortion; this makes it seem like you haven’t really read what I’ve said and tried to understand it, but are instead shooting form the hip. Please, take a breather, and then go back and see what I’ve said.

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        2. AtheismExplained it may clear up much of this if you explain how you define someone as human. You don’t seem to be using a scientific definition of human or one based on consistent properties. If we are only human when we gain some properties do we then cease to be human when we lose them? How do you ground your idea of human as more correct than the scientific definitions already used?

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          1. “If we are only human when we gain some properties do we then cease to be human when we lose them?” Any definition of human being is going to have to rest on properties that human beings have which other animals don’t. I think everyone ought to agree on this, regardless of their views on other things, because how else can you differentiate yourself from your dog other than by listing properties that you have which it doesn’t (and vice versa).

            Listing properties is a difficult thing. For example, I might want to start by saying that human beings have two arms and two legs. This seems obvious, and in a sense it is true, but of course we wouldn’t want to say that someone born with less than two arms and two legs (or who lost them while alive) is not a human. On the other hand, we do recognise that when people are born with less than two arms and two legs something has gone ‘wrong’ (though that does sound rather disrespectful).

            So what is it that makes us human? Without having put an awful lot of thought into it (so feel free to disagree!) I quite like the idea that the most important thing that defines us is our brains. I’m not a scientist, so I can’t go into the details, but I think that whatever it is in their structure that makes our brains different to those of other animals is crucial to what makes us ‘us’. You can see that this is linked closely to the idea of consciousness but is slightly broader, because I wouldn’t want to say that a baby who is born unconscious and never gains consciousness is not human.

            Long story short – brain development is a good starting point for what makes us human. I would be totally against carrying out abortions of children at 9 months or 8 months because they have reached a level of development where they have functioning brains (and other organs) which give them the properties of being human. However, I wouldn’t be against someone taking a morning-after pill to terminate a pregnancy after a day or two since a zygote does not have a brain or any other functioning organs.

            Needless to say, my position means that I ought to take a great interest in where during pregnancy the line ought to be drawn. That’s a very tough question to answer, but I think it’s right that we see life as not beginning from the vey moment of conception.

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          2. Long story short – brain development is a good starting point for what makes us human. I would be totally against carrying out abortions of children at 9 months or 8 months because they have reached a level of development where they have functioning brains (and other organs) which give them the properties of being human. However, I wouldn’t be against someone taking a morning-after pill to terminate a pregnancy after a day or two since a zygote does not have a brain or any other functioning organs.

            How do you deal with:

                 (1) coma patients
                 (2) brain-dead patients

            ? You have simply shoved the onus of the definition onto ‘functioning’ in “functioning brains”. I would like to see how you can avoid turning “functioning brains” into “having the potential of a functioning brain”. And yet, zygotes have that, just like coma patients do. Zygotes are dependent on their mothers, just like coma patients are dependent on nurses and doctors. Surely we would not want to let all the people who would take care of a coma patient suddenly exercise their rights to go do something else, such that the coma patient dies?

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          3. Actually I’m not a scientist either but I can view what biologists consider human (Homo Sapiens Sapiens). That has to do with the DNA and how it’s expressed in making an organism. This would be the same in determining any species. When archeologists dig up bones they try to determine what it came from. A skull or teeth from a human are considered human remains (We don’t stop being human even after death). If we were to find a zygote preserved in amber or frozen they would also try to determine the species. There isn’t much wiggle room for what is scientifically human. DNA comparison is enough to determine species even when comparing the different hominids.

            Brain development is an arbitrary way to unscientifically determine if someone is human but then the right to live isn’t a scientific issue. Science can help us determine morality by providing information but it doesn’t dictate morality. Our brains continue to develop into our teen years and beyond. http://spock.fcs.uga.edu/ext/bbb/brainTimeline.php. Morality based on our needs and wants determines our rights from a humanistic perspective and that perspective is by its nature subjective. Often it’s more guided by our feelings than science. If the human brain evolved (from a naturalistic perspective) slightly differently our perspective on human rights may have been very different. If we want to determine rights objectively then we need to go beyond human experience.

            Almost anyone recognizes that humans have special rights above other animals. To the Christian those special rights have to do with us being created in the image of God rather than brain chemistry or development. An atheist or agnostic humanist can view those same basic rights without them being objectively grounded but they cannot prove that those rights are any better than those of other atheists and agnostics. I can understand why someone who doesn’t believe that we are created in the image of God wouldn’t see a zygote or any other stage of human development prior to conscience brain function as not having rights. What I don’t understand is when people insist that she (until about 10 weeks all fetuses are female) isn’t human. If she isn’t human than what species is she?

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          4. The foundation for the brain, spinal cord, and nervous system is laid between days 18-21. Again, there are no zygote abortions in the 57 million. Can we get those 57 million back?!? I’m praying that you will flip from being a arbitrary pro-abort to a consistent pro-lifer now.

            Even I became pro-life while still a committed atheist / anti-Christian – 13 years before becoming a Christian, when I saw the basic lack of logic in establishing arbitrary boundaries for a biological development process that exhibited no arbitrariness. You can do this, AE: become one of the 3% of atheists who accepts medical science. No one is asking you to become a Christian – yet. :-)

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          5. labreur – Once a person has gained the qualities that make them a human being then these cannot be taken away. At some point during a pregnancy the developing embryo becomes a human being and at that point it’s crossed the threshold of life so that no matter what happens to it in the future (brain death, falling into a coma etc.) it doesn’t lose the tag of ‘human being’. The point about a zygote in the early stages of development is that it hasn’t crossed the threshold yet and therefore hasn’t gained the inalienable rights of a human being. This is what separates it from coma patients etc.

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          6. Once a person has gained the qualities that make them a human being then these cannot be taken away.

            So it’s wrong to pull the plug on braindead people?

            At some point during a pregnancy the developing embryo becomes a human being

            You’ve yet to show me a plausible way to enforce both this idea, and the idea that we oughtn’t pull the plug on long-term coma (but not braindead) patients. Unless, as I said above, you think it’s wrong to pull the plug on braindead people. So I’ll wait for your answer on that before I continue.

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    1. “After all, any budding rapist would have to make a very strong claim as to why he is superior in rights to his victim, which I don’t believe he can do. After all, he is a human being and so is she.” The rapist is superior because he is stronger. Just like the relationship between the abortionist and the baby in an abortion. This is where atheistic naturalism leads one anyway. (In both cases, there are two human beings involved.) The rapist has made his choice to rape. You are one of the 97% of atheists who are pro-choice, right? What’s all this talk about “rights” on the atheism view?

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      1. If the rapist believes that his strength makes him superior to his victim, then logically he must also hold that anyone who is physically stronger than him has the right to rape him. It’s not too hard to see where his logic’s going to fall down.

        Immanuel Kant and John Rawls (among others) have formulated the golden rule in ways that are compelling for atheists. Logically, we must believe in it just as much as any theist.

        The idea that atheists must hold to some Darwinian view that the strong must always devour the weak in order to advance the species is totally unjustified. Evolution may have got us to where we are, but if we use it as the basis of our moral judgments we end up in the logical contradiction that the rapist finds himself in.

        As for abortion, I think you’re right to say that a greater proportion of atheists than Christians do believe in it. But to say that the atheist view is simply based on the idea that the strong must always devour the weak is simply wrong. After all, every foetus is weaker than every adult human being, so if the strong should always devour the weak then we ought to kill all our babies. And since we were babies once, too, we probably ought to kill ourselves as well. Such reasoning is plainly ridiculous.

        The position of those in favour of abortion is not that they want to dominate the weak, but that the foetus in the womb does not count as a human being before it develops to a certain stage. You may think this argument is a poor one, but at least you can appreciate it’s not made by monsters.

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        1. If the fetus in the womb is a human being (and she is – 100% scientifically proven!), then, yes, the pro-abort IS a monster. Killing a human being for convenience or selfishness is a monstrosity. The only reason you don’t “count” her as a human being is because she is weaker and less-developed, just as a 2 year old is, compared to an adult. And also because you can’t objectively ground “right” or “wrong” on atheism.

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          1. Well, no right-minded atheist would disagree with your statement that killing a human being for convenience or selfishness is indeed a monstrosity.

            The point is very much whether we describe what’s in the mother’s womb as a human being. After a certain period of gestation, even pro-choice campaigners have to admit that a foetus counts as a human being. Once it has a nervous system, a heartbeat, a functioning brain and so on you can’t justify killing it any more than you can justify killing a small child.

            But before the foetus gets to that stage, it must undergo a process of growth that begins from the division of cells right after the fertilisation of the egg. So let me re-phrase the question at the end of my last post – is a zygote a human being?

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          2. labreuer: Just redefine “human being” to exclude those you wish to murder, exploit, and/or oppress. Who says one definition is better than another?

            AtheismExplained: You can define a human being how you like, but you’ll be hard-pressed to make a scientific case for calling the people you wish to exploit “non-humans.”

            AtheismExplained: The point is very much whether we describe what’s in the mother’s womb as a human being.

            So, let’s see if someone is trying to “make a scientific case”:

            AtheismExplained: After a certain period of gestation, even pro-choice campaigners have to admit that a foetus counts as a human being. Once it has a nervous system, a heartbeat, a functioning brain and so on you can’t justify killing it any more than you can justify killing a small child.

            You’ve done exactly what you said I’d be hard-pressed to do: “make a scientific case for calling people you wish to exploit “non-humans.”” Answer? Those that science says don’t have some random bits that have been philosophically defined as required to be called “a human being”.

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          3. The human zygote is a genetically distinct human individual, whose inherited features differ from his mothers roughly 50% of the time. All medical textbooks and peer-reviewed publications agree on this. After all, if a zygote in a human womb is not a human, what is she? The burden of proof goes to you.

            More importantly, there is not a single case of a “zygote abortion” in the records of the 57 million aborted human beings in America since Roe v. Wade. Every recorded abortion stops a beating human heart (this forms between 18 and 21 days after conception), so we can set aside the diversionary tactic regarding zygotes, and deal with The Pill and Plan B cases later. 18-21 days is long before most pregnancies are detected and even longer before abortions occur (abortionists like to be able to get a good inventory of severed arms and legs before performing abortions). In any case, zygote abortions are not recorded, because they are not known.

            At this point, the atheists and other pro-aborts (as I once was) have the blood of all of the recorded 57 million human beings aborted on their hands. (Yes, I believe the number is much higher due to abortifacients, but, hey, isn’t 57 million enough?) So, are the 97% of atheists (who are pro-aborts) planted firmly on the side of a holocaust (moral monstrosity) that is about 10 times greater than what Hitler did to the Jews, or not?

            (As a final note: a beating human heart is not what makes us human. I was merely using this as a conservative illustration. Everything that makes us distinctly human is present at conception.)

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          4. Well, whether you believe I’ve contradicted myself here really stands or falls on whether you think that someone can make a reasonable scientific case for a zygote not counting as a human being. Your answer to the post above seems to suggest that you agree that human beings and zygotes are two different things, though the latter has the potential to turn into the former.

            To use the oldest moral cliché in the book, a Nazi concentration camp guard would have a tough time trying to justify scientifically why his Jewish prisoners were not human, though of course the Third Reich tried very hard to do just that.

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          5. To use the oldest moral cliché in the book, a Nazi concentration camp guard would have a tough time trying to justify scientifically why his Jewish prisoners were not human, though of course the Third Reich tried very hard to do just that.

            I just don’t understand your use of ‘scientifically’—science is value-free, except perhaps for what is strictly required to do science, like some minimal amount honesty, etc. Note that some dishonesty will still let science move forward, and even today, graduate students (to my knowledge) aren’t really credited for helping contribute to Nobel Prize-winning work. Lots of crap can go on and science still march forward.

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          6. All I’m saying is that it would seem that one could make a solid scientific case for a Jewish person to be considered as much of a human being as his Nazi captor; while also holding that a zygote is NOT a human being.

            You could conceivably accuse me of playing fast and loose with my definition of ‘human being’ here if you wish, but I think my point is fairly clear.

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          7. That’s fine, AE. But there are no “zygote abortions” included in the 57 million. Where do you stand on the 57 million? If you are OK with them because they were not fully developed when aborted, then please have the intellectual honesty to admit that the pro-abort who told me (seriously!) that “children are the property of their parents, who should be able to ‘abort’ them up to age 18” is on perfectly solid ground, under atheism.

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          8. All I’m saying is that it would seem that one could make a solid scientific case for a Jewish person to be considered as much of a human being as his Nazi captor; while also holding that a zygote is NOT a human being.

            All you’re doing is saying that racism is intolerable and scientifically unarguable, but that ageism or born-ism is.

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  4. Slavery is a function of greed.
    The bible is pretty clear about the love of money.

    It’s also pretty clear about theft. And slavery is the theft of a person’s labor.

    On the other hand, it was a famous ATHEIST who explained that selfish DNA is how the Darwinian, Ubermensch, law of the jungle operates – that life is short and we really should “stop worrying” about God and start living.
    (…like there’s no tomorrow.)

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  5. Doesn’t this jive with their form of moral argumentation, though? They essentially try to manipulate your emotional responses by emphasizing stories that breed empathy for their “ethical” position, whether their position is more in line with traditional moral beliefs or not. They then try to shame their opponents into acceptance. This could work for any moral position under the right circumstances.

    There is a distinct lack of rational moral argumentation, and to the extent there is some, it is wholly divorced from their materialist worldview. Asserting human value in the absence of a soul is merely a survival instinct that helps tribal cohesion against the forces of nature. Nowadays, one could argue, it’s an obsolete feature of our evolutionary programming. In fact, people have argued that successfully in the past. One can protest that he believes in human dignity all he wants, but there is no grounding for it in any objective materialist reality, and may very well be a flaw that is holding back our Great Leap Forward into the next rung of cosmic evolution.

    Of course, one could just reject the whole materialist canard and embrace the Moral Argument, God, and all that other stuff that is oh so yesterday.

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  6. While I agree that morals and values are hard to objectively justify as an atheist, I take issue at your implication that your Christian religion provides any more objective a justification.

    The Bible and other works of Christian philosophy do indeed provide a strong moral framework against slavery, against abortion, against murder, etc. Yet, there exists an enormous population of humans who worship the same god as you, interpreted through a different prophet, who have no qualms whatsoever about large scale rape, murder, killing of children, and other horrendous acts. Under Islamic law, a woman who has the nerve to get raped is stoned to death for dishonoring her family, and this is justified with scripture as well. The Norse pantheon didn’t seem to have anything against killing. The Egyptian pantheon certainly didn’t frown upon slave labor. Would Christianity support the live sacrifice of Aztec captives to the sun god? I’m no theologian, but I’m sure you could go through the historical faiths and identify many practices they supported that Christianity declares to be evil and unjust.

    Can you objectively, empirically prove that Christianity is truth and Islam is a lie? Of course not. If there was objective, empirical proof of Christianity I’d be a Christian.

    If you reject an atheistic determination of morality based on the freedom of individuals to accept or reject a certain philosophy, then you must also reject a religious determination of the same for the same reason.

    As an atheist, the only tool you need to be a moral person is the Golden Rule. It’s as close to an objective moral grounding as I’ve found.

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    1. First of all, though this is not the main line of argument here, I do want to point out that though Allah is a monotheistic conception of Deity, it is not “the same God” as that in Christianity, not by a long way. There are several very important differences, among them the Trinitarian nature of the Christian God, which produces several stark philosophical differences to a non-Trinitarian God. Also, Allah is not all-loving, you can never really know him personally. and you have to “earn” your way to him by your works, and even then he may decide arbitrarily to deny you entry to paradise on his own whim, so you are never assured of salvation. All these attributes, and others, produce a quite different conception of God than that of the God of Christianity.

      As to the rest of your statement here, I’m afraid you’re missing the point. The point is not that Christians find their morality in the Bible and that’s how we know what is right and wrong, the point is that outside of a transcendent moral lawgiver the very concepts of “good” and “bad” or “right” and “wrong”, whatever they are in practice, are completely meaningless. They simply don’t, and in fact cannot, exist. One simply cannot, on atheism, even speak of such terms in a universal, objective way, because they are meaningless. There are no “oughts” in a materialist universe, there is only “is”. You can have your own things you decide are good and bad for yourself, but you have no grounds to say something like the Golden Rule is objectively moral at all, and no argument against somebody who disagrees with you on the grounds that treating others as yourself is foolish and superior people (in their minds) should treat others in whatever fashion gives them the most pleasure. How can you say they are wrong and you are right? There is no arbiter, and no standard. There are only molecules in motion and no value for any one thing over another thing other than personal preference.

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    2. Here’s my plea to atheists: please stop borrowing my morality without permission :-^! Of course an atheist can live by the Golden Rule! That’s not the point. Rather, it’s that atheism cannot ground the Golden Rule, or any such rule. Nevertheless, I am flattered that an atheist would think so highly of it!

      And just because people disagree on what is moral does not affect the argument, any more than disagreement over the nature of gravity affects the nature of gravity.

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  7. I think the only intellectually honest atheism is nihilism. That doesn’t lead to particularly pleasant thoughts or results for oneself, but I don’t see how anyone could conclude otherwise.

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  8. Often when talking with atheists they will claim that there is an evolution to morality. I think this view is fully consistent with the biblical view of morality as long as the progression is directed rather than random.
    Biblical morality is defined by Mark 12:30-31 (“YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.’ The second is this, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”). Biblical morality is a God directed and focused attitude that we use to show love and respect to both God and other people. As cultural conditions and needs change so do our moral responsibilities. The biblical standard of morality we find in Leviticus and Deuteronomy are expressions of those 2 commandments for the culture of early Israel and some of it may or may not fit today’s culture.
    Most people I have personally discussed morality with agree that loving your neighbor as yourself is and will probably always be morally relevant regardless of culture. You cannot rape, abuse servants (including slaves or indentured servants), murder and a host of other crimes to people you actually love as yourself. An atheist either has to find a better moral standard than this or agree that the bible contains a higher moral standard. That atheist also has to show that they can follow that moral standard and that it flows from an atheistic worldview otherwise they don’t have a basis to criticize biblical morality.

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