Tag Archives: Atheism

How do leading atheists understand morality on atheism?

Here are descriptions of morality, as understood by atheists:

The idea of political or legal obligation is clear enough… Similarly, the idea of an obligation higher than this, referred to as moral obligation, is clear enough, provided reference to some lawgiver higher…than those of the state is understood. In other words, our moral obligations can…be understood as those that are imposed by God…. But what if this higher-than-human lawgiver is no longer taken into account? Does the concept of moral obligation…still make sense? …The concept of moral obligation [is] unintelligible apart from the idea of God. The words remain but their meaning is gone. (Richard Taylor, Ethics, Faith, and Reason (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, 1985), p. 83-84)

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).

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)
http://www.simonyi.ox.ac.uk/dawkins/WorldOfDawkins-archive/Dawkins/Work/Articles/1995-05-10nomercy.shtml

The late atheist philosopher J. L. Mackie said that moral properties are “queer” given naturalism “if there are objective values, they make the existence of a god more probable than it would have been without them. Thus we have a defensible argument from morality to the existence of a god.” Agnostic Paul Draper observes, “A moral world is very probable on theism.”

If you want to learn about these issues at a deeper level, there is also a good paper by Bill Craig on the problem of rationally-grounding prescriptive morality here. My previous posts on this blog on this topic are here and here. The first one is about whether atheists can use a made-up standard to judge God for his perceived moral failures, the second one is on whether meaningful morality is rational on atheism.

Can atheists on the Richard Dawkins forum justify morality on atheism?

Check out this thread where I am debating atheists on whether moral rules, moral choices, moral accountability, human dignity, human rights, and ultimate significance of moral actions are rationally grounded on the atheist worldview.Warning, the thread contains swearing!

Here is the original starting post for the thread:

I noticed that a tension between two positions taken by certain atheists. First, they say that morality is an illusion fobbed on us by our genes. Second, they say that the God of the Bible is immoral, or that the Christian church is immoral.

I have a question about this, and maybe you can help me to understand the apparent contradiction. If moral behavior evolved over time, then it seems to me that it varies by time and place. This means that the standards we have today in the place where we live now are not really better or worse than at any other time and any other place. The evolved moral standards are just arbitrary conventions.

If this is true, then in what sense can atheists consistently press the problem of evil, the immoral behavior of God, and the immorality of Christian church in history?

Here is what I have come up with so far:
1. The atheist is expressing his personal preferences (I wouldn’t do it that way)
2. The atheist is using the arbitrary standard of his time and place to judge God and the church (we in this time and place wouldn’t do it that way)

Here is one of their comments, which I thought was about as good as an atheist can do on atheism:

The morality we all appeal to when we make moral judgments is at least 90% the result of the social conditioning we have all received. Where that conditioning contains a strong religious component (most places throughout history), religious values will have a high place. In the modern West, the religious component is weaker, and we now condemn slavery, crusades, inquisitions, and wars between Catholics and Protestants, all of which were once firmly believed to be sanctified by God. (There is a whole thread on this subject just now under “Faith and Religion” above. So far only the person who started the thread and I have posted on it.)

The other 10% consists of personal views arrived at by reflective people on the kind of world they’d like to live in. That portion of it is personal preference. It differs from a personal preference for chocolate over broccoli in only two ways: (1) Its object involves the behavior of other people and their interactions rather than that of the individual alone; (2) when two people have different preferences, they cannot both have their way, and so they are in conflict.

If you want to learn about these issues at a deeper level, there is also a good paper by Bill Craig on the problem of rationally-grounding prescriptive morality here. My previous posts on this blog on this topic are here and here. The first post is about whether atheists can use a made-up standard to judge God for his perceived moral failures, the second one is on whether meaningful morality is rational on atheism.

Richard Dawkins cites German professor as authority on historical Jesus

Well, if this doesn’t show the sad state of affairs in the world of militant activist atheism, I don’t know what does.

In Chapter 3 of “The God Delusion”, Dawkins cites a professor of German, G. A. Wells, as an authority on the historical claim that Jesus did not exist.

“It is even possible to mount a serious, though not widely supported, historical case that Jesus never lived at all, as has been done by, among others Professor G. A. Wells of the University of London in a number of books, including Did Jesus Exist? Although Jesus probably existed.” – Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, p.122

Now, there is not one single person in the universe who has a Ph.D in history would take this view in peer-reviewed published work. Not one. Yet Dawkins cites a professor of German to make his case. If this were handed in as part of university assignment, Dawkins would get a big red “F” for FAIL from me.

Rev. Philip Brown comments on Wells’ credibility on historical matters here:

What Dawkins fails to mention is that Professor G. A. Wells from the university of London is NOT a professor of History, Religion, Theology, Philosophy, Literature, or even Anthropology; all subjects that we would be expect him to be an expert in? No! G. A. Wells is the Emeritus Professor of German at Birkbeck, University of London. While Wells does hold a degree in Philosophy his field is in language. Why does Dawkins mention that Wells is a professor and indeed one at the university of London, but fail to mention that Wells is a professor in a field that has noting to do with expertise in assessing validity of historical figures?

Unbelievable. Here is a list of the virtually indisputable facts about Jesus, from respected, skeptical, non-Christian scholars like Norman Perrin and E. P. Sanders. That is how serious people do scholarship. But maybe militant activist atheism is not about scholarship at all.

Here is N.T. Wright’s list from the same page. N.T. Wright taught on the historical Jesus at Oxford, Cambridge, McGill (Canada) and Duke. That is what we call historical scholarship.

– Born in 4 B.C.E.
– Grew up in Nazareth in Galilee
– Spoke Aramaic, Hebrew, and probably Greek.
– Was initially associated with John the Baptist, but emerged as a public figure in his own right around 28 C.E.
– Summoned people to repent.
– Used parables to announce the reign of Israel’s god.
– Conducted itinerant ministry throughout villages of Galilee.
– Effected remarkable cures, including exorcisms, as enactments of his message.
– Shared in table fellowship with a socioculturally diverse group.
– Called a close group of disciples and gave twelve of them a special status.
– Performed a dramatic action in the temple.
– Incurred the wrath of some elements in Judaism, especially among the high priestly establishment.
– Was handed over by this powerful Jewish element to the Romans to be crucified as an insurrectionist.
– Was reported by his followers to have been raised from the dead.

Resources to respond to the proposal that Jesus never existed are here.

First report from William Lane Craig’s Quebec speaking tour

William Lane Craig completed his tour in Quebec, Canada on 2/13/09. One of the Quebecois students named Martin wrote to Dr. Craig, challenging him on many aspects of his presentation. Quebec is widely regarded as the most secular and progressive of the Canadian provinces, so I was delighted to hear from this student, but I don’t think Dr. Craig spent enough time replying to him, so I will help.

First, if you need a refresher on Craig’s standard 20 minute opening speech, look here (opening speech from the Craig-Pigliucci debate, audio from the Craig-Stenger debate, video from the Craig-Dacey debate). Bill usually argues for God from the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe for permitting life of any kind, objective moral values, the resurrection of Jesus as a historically-testable miracle claim, and the immediate personal experience of God.

The student Martin starts off by complaining that atheism is an adequate foundation for rational moral behavior. He writes:

…you know as well as I do that any thinking person, atheist or no, understands why rape isn’t acceptable in modern society. Being an atheist isn’t being a hedonist, and I feel that it’s pathetic I need to remind you of this.

Notice that Martin links the moral rules to the time and place in which he lives. Rape isn’t really wrong for all times and places, it’s wrong for us in this society in this time.

First of all, on atheism morality is an illusion. In an accidental universe, the only morality that exists is when societies make them up. In that sense, morality is similar to the fashion of clothing – it is purely convention. It varies by time and place. It is completely arbitrary. Let me explain some of the problems with briefly here, but a longer treatment is here.

On atheism, there is no non-physical soul, and no free will. There are therefore no moral choices nor is there moral responsibility. On atheism moral behavior is ultimately futile, as humans are all going to die individually and collectively in the heat death of the universe: it does not matter if you are moral or not, on atheism. On atheism, there is no standard by which to judge individual moral progress, or the evil in other cultures, such as widow-burning or slavery.

When an atheist speaks about morality, is isn’t talking about the way humans everywhere ought to be, he is talking about social conventions. When an atheist acts morally, he is simply imitating the fashions of the people around him – either to please himself by feeling moral, or to please other people. If they can escape the social consequences, it would be irrational for them to do the right them if it gives them no pleasure.

By the way, it’s not just me who says this. Richard Taylor, an atheist who once debated against William Lane Craig, says this:

The idea of political or legal obligation is clear enough… Similarly, the idea of an obligation higher than this, referred to as moral obligation, is clear enough, provided reference to some lawgiver higher…than those of the state is understood. In other words, our moral obligations can…be understood as those that are imposed by God…. But what if this higher-than-human lawgiver is no longer taken into account? Does the concept of moral obligation…still make sense? …The concept of moral obligation [is] unintelligible apart from the idea of God. The words remain but their meaning is gone. (Richard Taylor, Ethics, Faith, and Reason (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, 1985), p. 83-84)

Next, Martin argues that the anthropic principle is an adequate refutation of the fine-tuning of the physical constants of the universe for life. The anthropic principle is the idea that the presence of intelligent life causes the constants to be fine-tuned 14 billion years ago. He writes:

Impressing a room full of vaguely interested people with figures about the extremely rare conditions that allow life to exist is all well and good – handwaving away the entire anthropic principle with a single bad analogy is not.

Regarding Martin’s claim about fine-tuning being explained by the anthropic principle, let me say this. First, the fine-tuning is real. If you change the constants of physics in the big bang, the universe will not support life of any kind. Consider another Martin, Martin Rees, an atheist and the British Astronomer Royal. In his book “Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape The Universe”, he discusses 6 finely-tuned numbers.

Rees writes here:

These six numbers constitute a ‘recipe’ for a universe. Moreover, the outcome is sensitive to their values: if any one of them were to be ‘untuned’, there would be no stars and no life. Is this tuning just a brute fact, a coincidence? Or is it the providence of a benign Creator?

It is impossible for humans, who just appeared relatively recently, to have any causal impact on the selection of these physical constants 14 billion years ago. I discuss two known responses to the fine-tuning problem, (unobservable multiverse and non-existent observer), here.

Is prescriptive morality rationally grounded on atheism?

In this post I am going to review a series of 7 posts over at Tough Questions Answered on the topic of whether evolution explains morality. The series critically analyzes two variants of godless morality, based on evolution: 1) optimistic humanism and 2) immanent purpose. Let’s start with part 1.

On optimistic humanism, moral values are not objective – that is, they do not exist for all times and places, independent of what humans believe. Instead, they are just arbitrary customs that emerge differently in different cultures, depending on the time and place. So, by good, optimistic humanists mean “what is in fashion here and now” and by bad, they mean “what is not in fashion here and now”.

On atheism, moral impulses are just the carry-overs from the need to cooperate in order to survive. Now, suppose we ask the question “Why should I following these arbitrary customs that limit my pleasure, if I can escape punishment?” TQA writes:

Why should a person be moral?  According to optimistic humanism, it is because leading a moral life will give you personal satisfaction.  Proponents of this view offer several ways of defining personal satisfaction.  Atheistic philosopher Kai Nielsen says that “there can be purposes in life even if there is no purpose to life.”   He speaks of each individual developing a life plan that may include career goals and social goals.  Meaning can be found in “things like love, friendship, caring, knowledge, self-respect, pleasure in life.”

Nielsen says that ethics is make-em-up-as-you-go, on atheism. You choose what you like, based on pleasure. That is why today people have given up on the hard virtues, like chastity, sobriety, marital fidelity, charity, self-sacrifice and devotion to children’s well-being. Instead, morality has been reduced to recycling, environmentalism, yoga, vegetarianism, animal rights, socialist tax policies, and anti-war protests.

As prominent atheist Michael Ruse says:

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).

Next, part 2 notes that optimistic humanists are not able to judge the evolved morality of other times and places. Their morality was right for them, just like our morality is right for us – it is all arbitrary on atheism. Widow-burning in India isn’t really wrong on atheism, it’s just different from what we believe in our time and place. In their time and place, it’s right for them.

Atheist Michael Ruse says this about widow-burning:

“Obviously, such a practice is totally alien to Western customs and morality. In fact, we think that widow sacrifice is totally immoral. Clearly there is nothing particularly objective about this morality, nor is it something one would expect to find the inevitable product of natural selection.” (Michael Ruse, “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,” in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262-269).

In part 3, TQA writes that moral choices and moral responsibility are impossible on atheism. On atheism, you are a computer made out of meat, and all of your outputs are fully determined by your genetic programming and sensory input.

TQA notes that:

Morality seems to require humans to possess a robust form of free will that allows them to make moral choices.  We often praise good moral acts and condemn bad moral acts as if the people we are judging have some control over their actions.  If there is no free will, then moral choices are completely determined by the laws of chemistry and physics, and it makes no sense to praise or criticize anyone because they are acting according to deterministic physical laws.

I would add this quote from Richard Dawkins:

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. (Source)

In part 4, TQA writes that atheists cannot judge other people, or even God, because their atheistic morality is totally subjective and arbitrary. TQA cites the January-February 2005 edition of Humanist magazine, in which former American ambassador Carl Coon writes:

[Ethical] principles constitute a structure of interlocking behavioral guidelines that have been growing organically since our ancestors first became human, if not earlier.  These standards and principles didn’t descend to us from on high as some revealed truth from an intelligent being greater than ourselves.  We worked them out through a long and arduous evolutionary process marked by many wrong turns and much social discord.  Indeed, the structure is still imperfect and we continue trying to make improvements.

Then TQA exposes how all of this language is logically self-contradictory:

…notice the words he employs to describe morality: wrong turns, discord, imperfect, and improvements.  All of these words indicate that morality, over time, has been moving in a direction from worse to better, from bad to good, from imperfect to perfect.  But how is it possible for the ambassador to judge the morality of the distant past if all morals are relative?  How can he say that morality has taken “wrong turns”?  How do we know ethics are improving over time if no two time periods can be compared?

TQA goes on to define the immanent purpose view, (our survival is objectively good), in part 5. They critique it in part 6 and part 7. Here are some of their responses to this view:

  • no explanation of the origin of the value of human survival
  • evolution doesn’t justify compassion on the weak and unfit
  • no reason why individuals should conform their behavior to past observed behavior

Below are five good debates in which atheists try to answer the question: “on atheism, why is it rational for me to to do the right thing, especially when I feel less pleasure, and when I will not be punished if I do the wrong thing?”. There is no reason to be moral on atheism. And that is why atheism killed 100 million people in the 20th century alone. Atheists who do act morally are acting inconsistently and irrationally.

Douglas Wilson vs. Christopher Hitchens

William Lane Craig vs. Kai Nielsen

William Lane Craig vs Richard Taylor

William Lane Craig vs. Paul Kurtz (audio, video1, video2, video3, video4, video5, video6, video7)

William Lane Craig vs. Louise Antony (audio1, audio2, video1, video2)

These debate links are courtesy of ChristianJR4, who really needs to start his own blog! And there is also a good paper by Bill Craig on the problem of rationally-grounding prescriptive morality here.