Tag Archives: Pleasure

Are evolution and empathy a rational foundation for prescriptive morality?

This article is from Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason. He is answering the question of whether observations of social behaviors in animals is an adequate ground for a robust prescriptive moral standard. (The “Wright” mentioned in the quote is Robert Wright)


When morality is reduced to patterns of behavior chosen by natural selection for its survival value, then morality is not explained; it’s denied. Wright admits as much. Regarding the conscience he says:

The conscience doesn’t make us feel bad the way hunger feels bad, or good the way sex feels good. It makes us feel as if we have done something that’s wrong or something that’s right. Guilty or not guilty. It is amazing that a process as amoral and crassly pragmatic as natural selection could design a mental organ that makes us feel as if we’re in touch with higher truth. Truly a shameless ploy.[11] [emphasis mine]

Evolutionists like Wright are ultimately forced to admit that what we think is a “higher truth” of morality turns out to be a “shameless ploy” of nature, a description of animal behavior conditioned by the environment for survival. We’ve given that conduct a label, they argue. We call it morality. But there is no real right and wrong.

Does Bongo, the chimp, actually exhibit genuine moral behavior? Does he understand the difference between right and wrong? Does he make principled choices to do what’s right? Is he worthy of blame and punishment for doing wrong? Of course not, Wright says. Bongo merely does in a primitive way what humans do in a more sophisticated way. We respond according to our genetic conditioning, a program “designed” by millions of years of evolution.

The evolutionary approach is not an explanation of morality; it’s a denial of morality. It explains why we think moral truths exist when, in fact, they don’t.

Do observations of patterns of behavior in different societies and different times create any moral obligation in individuals to conform to those arbitrary patterns of behavior?

Koukl continues:

This observation uncovers the most serious objection to the idea that evolution is adequate to explain morality. There is one question that can never be answered by any evolutionary assessment of ethics. The question is this: Why ought I be moral tomorrow?

One of the distinctives of morality is its “oughtness,” its moral incumbency. Assessments of mere behavior, however, are descriptive only. Since morality is essentially prescriptive–telling what should be the case, as opposed to what is the case–and since all evolutionary assessments of moral behavior are descriptive, then evolution cannot account for the most important thing that needs to be explained: morality’s “oughtness.”

The question that really needs to be answered is: “Why shouldn’t the chimp (or a human, for that matter) be selfish?” The evolutionary answer might be that when we’re selfish, we hurt the group. That answer, though, presumes another moral value: We ought to be concerned about the welfare of the group. Why should that concern us? Answer: If the group doesn’t survive, then the species doesn’t survive. But why should I care about the survival of the species?

Here’s the problem. All of these responses meant to explain morality ultimately depend on some prior moral notion to hold them together. It’s going to be hard to explain, on an evolutionary view of things why I should not be selfish, or steal, or rape, or even kill tomorrow without smuggling morality into the answer.

The evolutionary explanation disembowels morality, reducing it to mere descriptions of conduct. The best the Darwinist explanation can do–if it succeeds at all–is explain past behavior. It cannot inform future behavior. The essence of morality, though, is not description, but prescription.

Evolution may be an explanation for the existence of conduct we choose to call moral, but it gives no explanation why I should obey any moral rules in the future. If one countered that we have a moral obligation to evolve, then the game would be up, because if we have moral obligations prior to evolution, then evolution itself can’t be their source.

What atheists mean by morality is this: accidental patterns of social behavior designed to promote group cohesion. The behaviors are accidental and they are basically the same as group food preferences, clothing preferences and traffic law preferences. They are MADE UP. Any member of the group who is sufficiently powerful can do as he pleases, because there is no real moral obligation – just customs and conventions. And the only reason not to do what you like is because you might get caught. That’s “monkey morality”. And that’s what atheists mean by morality.

And this is where this evolutionary morality leads atheists like Steven Pinker.


One of the hippest intellectuals around recently argued in polite company that it’s difficult to defend laws against killing a baby. But he hardly drew a yawn.

Steven Pinker, an MIT psychology professor and best-selling author, presented his argument in a 2 November 1997 New York Times Magazine article entitled Why They Kill Their Newborns. The article attempted to shed light on the “prom mom” phenomenon of recent headlines. Pinker maintains that giving birth and then discarding the newborn in the trash is (of all things) best explained as an indirect result of species-preserving evolutionary adaptations. On this basis, Pinker eventually concludes, “The baby killers turn out to be not moral monsters but nice, normal (and sometimes religious) young women.”

That’s atheist morality.

Or you can read about atheist Peter Singer instead.


In 1993, ethicist Peter Singer shocked many Americans by suggesting that no newborn should be considered a person until 30 days after birth and that the attending physician should kill some disabled babies on the spot. Five years later, his appointment as Decamp Professor of Bio-Ethics at Princeton University ignited a firestorm of controversy, though his ideas about abortion and infanticide were hardly new. In 1979 he wrote, “Human babies are not born self-aware, or capable of grasping that they exist over time. They are not persons”; therefore, “the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee.”

That’s atheist morality.

When a person says “I’m an atheist”, what they mean is “Every person can decide for themselves if murdering babies is right for them, and if a society decides that murdering babies is their evolved behavior, then it’s right for them – morality is what people decide it is”. In a time and place where slavery is acceptable, atheists would own slaves. In a time and place where killing your offspring is acceptable, atheists will kill their offspring. In a time and place where killing Jews is acceptable, atheists will kill Jews. They have no external standard of morality, other than the behaviors they observe in the people around them. And they only ape those behaviors to avoid losing social prestige. In their hearts they know that these behaviors are just arbitrary conventions, like driving on the right side of the road. This is what they believe.

Evolutionary ethics is an oxymoron. What atheist mean when they talk about morality is that there is no morality. What they want to talk about is why humans have feelings of obligation to do this or that. If you ask them whether there is anything humans ought to do, independent of feelings and instincts and social conventions, the answer is NO. And feelings are so easily dismissed when they go against self-interest, for atheists. They explain morality away, so that they can jettison moral feelings when they go against their self-interest. “I only feel bad when I kill my child because of genetic programming and social conditioning, but there isn’t anything really wrong with killing my child”. That’s atheist morality.

When an atheist condemns something, he is expressing a personal preference against that thing. And on his atheistic view, the denial of his preference is as warranted as the affirmation of his preference. He may not like rape, so he says “rape is wrong”. But on his own view, the person who says “rape is right” is as warranted in his personal opinion as the atheist is. They think that all talk about what people ought to do is basically opinions of individuals and groups. Slavery isn’t objectively wrong, it’s either “the way we do things in this time and place” or it’s “not the way we do things in this time and place”. It’s all about feelings, on atheism. If it feels good, do it. Just don’t get caught, because then you’ll feel bad. That’s the level of morality that atheists rise to because there is really nothing right or wrong objectively, on their view.

The great moral accomplishment of atheist morality in the last 150 years has been to murder 100 million people. And this is not counting the 40+ million deaths caused by abortion in the US alone, or the 20 million deaths caused by environmentalist alarmism. It also doesn’t count the millions of broken homes caused by the sexual revolution, or the social costs of fatherlessness.

William Lane Craig on Sam Harris’ attempt to ground morality with science

William Lane Craig is going to be debating atheist Sam Harris in April, so I thought that I would link to a couple of resources in which Craig assesses Harris’ views. Harris thinks that you can use science to discover an objective morality. Does his view make sense?

Here’s an audio clip from Youtube:

And in this MP3 file, Craig assesses Harris’ attempt to grounded morality on naturalism.


  • Harris opposes ground moral values and moral duties on a theistic worldview
  • Harris thinks that the factual statements made by science can ground moral values and moral duties
  • Harris thinks that these findings of science lead to an objective morality
  • Harris’ view is that what is “good” is what contributes to “human well-being”
  • Human happiness and flourishing is “good” and human unhappiness and decline is “evil”
  • Craig agrees that science can show what factors contribute to human flourishing
  • On atheism, there is no reason to select the fourishing of human beings as “good”
  • Craig asks: why say that human well-being and flourishing is a moral good?
  • there are non-moral uses of the word “good” and moral uses of the word “good”
  • the moral sense of “good” refers to the “good life” and what we ought to do to be good
  • Harris equivocates between different uses of the word good
  • in chess, there are good moves and bad moves with respect to winning the game – but that’s not moral good
  • similarly, someone who cleans your yard can do a good job or a bad job – but that’s not moral good
  • what is the explanation, on atheism, for human flourishing having the moral dimension of being “good”?
  • how does Harris deal with the fact-value divide? (the fallacy of deriving an ought from an is)
  • how does Harris leap from facts about brains to the moral property of “goodness”?
  • what scientific experiments does Harris propose to show that human flourishing is the “good”?
  • is Harris’ view just utilitarianism? (the view that the good is whatever makes the most number of people happy)
  • can Harris ground human rights like the right to life on his view?
  • Can human rights be overridden if it makes lots of people happy, on Harris’ view?
  • does Harris’ view lead to eugenics? how could Harris oppose the elimination of the weak or undesirables?

I think the question that Sam Harris has to answer is this: on atheism, why should a person limit their own pursuit of happiness when they can be more happy by being selfish and spurning the “flourishing of humans”? Why should any individual atheist care about the flourishing of humans when self-sacrificial actions to improve the flourishing of others diminishes his own happiness?

You can hear even more about Harris’ views from New Zealand philosopher Glenn Peoples.

Responding to an atheistic commenter on the moral argument

Here’s Joey’s original comment:

I am unconvinced by the argument that we can only have morality when there is a god, especially the christian god.

1. Moral principles have existed long before the christian or jewish god has ‘declared’ it in the bible. Look at the writings of Confucius for example.

2. As an atheist my sense of morality is based on empathy, compassion, psychology, science and logic. It is a human (and dare I say evolved) trait to want to empathise – and when I see suffering I want it stopped because it makes me feel bad. I look at science and psychology and see how we are all extremely similar to each other in our make up, and should therefore logically be treated the same by each other. And I look towards how I would want to be treated in such a situation as well – because I do not want to be defrauded, I would want to protect other people being defrauded because after all, why should I get preferential treatment if we are all equally human? There are so many basis for morality!

3. I personally find it a little odd that christians feel they are more moral because they can say that god tells them to be moral. Which would you rather prefer – someone to say to you “I love you because I do and you are amazing”, or “I love you because god tells me to”? Who would you rather be friends with, someone who says “I am not going to kill you because I find it repulsive to the core of my being”, or “I am not going to kill you because I believe god tells me not to, even though you deserve to die because of your sin”

4. That leads me to my fourth point. Morality which is solely based on god has a loophole – which is this: everything god says is wrong is wrong, unless god commands otherwise. I say this specifically because whilst as an atheist I can unashamedly say that I believe the invasion and conquest of another country and the slaughtering of all that nation’s men, women and children is morally repulsive. Christians do not have that luxury, because their moral god commanded them to do exactly that in the bible and said it was ok. Or what about this morality: David and Bathsheba sins by committing adultery and murder. Rather than punishing them for it, god punishes the little baby of theirs by killing him. Or how the bible justifies slavery. Or how the bible commands women to obey their husband but not vice versa. Justice? I would not want to place my trust on that kind of morality.

Micah’s response:


“1. Moral principles have existed long before the christian or jewish god has ‘declared’ it in the bible. Look at the writings of Confucius for example.”

(For the sake of this post, I’m going to be framing responses by way of the Moral Argument)

The moral argument entails that it is God Himself that grounds morality, not the writings of the Bible. Taking into account even the writings of Confucius, those statements still need to be grounded by God Himself. He is the bar of morality by which we can measure such statements to be moral or virtuous or good. The argument does not even entail that we need to believe in God or that only the Bible has virtues in its text in all religious literature. The argument does not single out Christianity.

“It is a human (and dare I say evolved) trait to want to empathise”

To say that morality is a trait that you evolve means that morality is just something used to propagate the species. It’s not actually “good” in the end, just that specific interests or requirements are met in such a way as to preserve the species called “homo sapiens” and continue to pass on genes.

Beyond that, what if we rewound the clock and let evolution play out again? We may have had a different set of moral rules where, say, rape is virtuous.

Or try thinking of it this way: if aliens (who are personal and rational like ourselves) who evolved in some other star system came to Earth and started killing and raping people, would you try to appeal to your human morality? Why? These aliens have just evolved to have these morals, so you can’t say rape is wrong or planet take-over is wrong because you’d just be selfishly appealing to human morality (which again, would be for the sake of survival anyway). And to argue that we humans have the better morality than the aliens simply begs the question.

“and when I see suffering I want it stopped because it makes me feel bad.”

There are a lot of things that make us feel bad, but that isn’t an indicator of what is right and what is wrong. The soldier who nobly smothers a grenade with his body to save his comrades has that sense of dread and self-preservation about him, but to act against his feelings and his flight-or-fight responses, we can say, is a good moral sacrifice.

Or to put it another way, it makes me feel bad when my girlfriend cheated on me, therefore it seems to me clear that beating her would be the right course of action. Hey, she cheated, not me. She broke the relationship, not me. She made me feel bad!

“I look at science and psychology and see how we are all extremely similar to each other in our make up, and should therefore logically be treated the same by each other.”

I really don’t understand how it follows logically that since we’re similar, we should treat each other the same way. If you look at the business executives that sit comfortably in their lap of luxury with no worry of recourse, they don’t have to follow the golden rule. They use and abuse others and make shady deals and cut corners, all within reasonable bounds to preserve their company and their name, and live off their profits and not have to worry about the poor soul across the street that struggles to make ends meet for his family. To say that he ought to help others and not be selfish would again seriously beg the question as to what grounds morality.

In a cold, bleak universe where there is no God, and evolution reigns supreme, we’re no different than a pack of flies. We’re just a more complex collection of molecules with our brains wired for survival, self-preservation, and gene-propagation. I don’t see any reason on the atheist view to live for others or to even live a virtuous life.

And on top of that, you have the problem of the fact that morality is abstract. There is no “morality-thing” that we attend to, it’s an abstract rule or concept. Why then should we follow one set of abstract rules (i.e. – don’t steal, be charitable) and not another set (i.e. – just make sure you don’t get caught; don’t help the weak; live for yourself)? If you say that we need to follow whatever our genes say, then what of conflicting matters such as “I shouldn’t kill him” vs “I can easily get away with it and pin the blame on this other guy”? Which genes should we follow? The apparently selfish ones or the apparently virtuous ones?

“And I look towards how I would want to be treated in such a situation as well – because I do not want to be defrauded”

So morality basically comes down to mutual deceit. You don’t kill me, and I don’t kill you. That really doesn’t explain a host of moral actions, moral situations, moral vices, immoral people, etc. Especially the heroic virtue of sacrifice.

And would your statement work in reverse as well? If I gave you $20 out of my own wallet because I knew you were jobless and needed a meal to eat for lunch, would I then have moral permission to demand that you need to pay me back? I mean, I gave something up, and to be FAIR, that other person should pay me back too. Besides, I could’ve used that $20 for a “better” purpose relating to MY self-preservation and MY survival (or my family’s survival).

“I personally find it a little odd that christians feel they are more moral because they can say that god tells them to be moral.”

No, we are not more moral, you completely misrepresent Christian teachings. None of us are moral. None. No one. We are not good enough to meet God’s standards. We can only come to God as holy and righteous because people who place their faith in Christ are covered by Jesus’ righteousness. His holiness is imputed to our account; a free gift.

“Which would you rather prefer – someone to say to you “I love you because I do and you are amazing”, or “I love you because god tells me to”?”

If someone were to say the latter, then they wouldn’t be following God’s commands at all. Jesus said to love our neighbors as yourself, not “love your neighbors because I said so” This is such a gross misrepresentation and a false dichotomy of Christian virtue that a simple remedy of actually reading the New Testament would be a show stopper.

We Christians are called to seek those who are not in Christ because we have the urge to share the good news and help save those and have compassion because God had compassion for us, willing to not let any perish. God’s forgiveness is open to EVERY SINGLE PERSON ON THE PLANET, and to refuse forgiveness pretty much means to refuse being saved. The phrase often goes, “God doesn’t send people to Hell, people send themselves quite fine on their own”

Of course, if you want to insist on the position that God has given us some sort of, “love me or die” ultimatum, then you’re going to need to explain the biblical data where God selflessly gives His Son as the perfect sacrifice to cover all sins for all people, and that all we need to do on our part is to place our trust in Christ; no rituals required. You also would need to explain away the verses that say that God does not delight in the death of the wicked, or that He calls “judgment” His “strange work”. Or the verses where He pleads to Israel to turn back from their wicked ways and cries out, “Why will you die O Israel?”

If you only focus on the verses about God’s judgment and wrath (which are expressions of His perfect Justice) and block out the verses about His sacrifices, His patience, His love, and His urgings to turn back, His compassion, etc. then you are not being truthful to the whole data set, and so your position holds no water.

“everything god says is wrong is wrong, unless god commands otherwise.”

Again, you misrepresent the Christian position. God’s commandments are an expression of His morality and goodness, but His NATURE is the bar of justice and morality and goodness. Let us be clear on this, it is His nature, not His commands, that things are deemed right and wrong. This is not a “God said so, therefore, it’s right”. It’s a, “God is so, therefore, it is right”.

…And I’m not even going to get into the Old Testament because I could write 30+ pages on why you have a bad grasp on the culture of Israel and the Ancient Near East. I suppose I could copy and paste my thesis on “Does the Old Testament Sanction Slavery?”, but it’s roughly 10-11 pages, and this post is already long enough. Suffice to say here, at least in regards to slavery, no, slavery in the Bible and the Ancient Near East is NOTHING similar to the slavery that occurred in America because it didn’t involve forced labor, it didn’t involve outside field work for the most part, slaves/bond-servants had incredibly good health insurance, bond-servants were paid, God tells Israel to treat their servants with compassion and reminds them of their time as slaves in Egypt, slaves can rescind their contracts at any time, slaves can own property including land, slaves can choose to stay with their master if they wanted to when the contract expired, slaves could learn a trade and after their contract ended, their master was mandated to send them off with a monetary-gift, etc. Yeah, not looking like Colonial America at all.

My response:

1. Either moral principles are 1) one person’s opinions, 2) conventions of a group of people existing in a certain time and place, or 3) objective prescriptions of how humans ought to act for all times and places. Non-theistic systems of ethics are necessarily 1 or 2 – they are just individual or collection opinions that refer to nothing objectively. The universe is an accident on atheism, and there is no way we ought to be. So there is no morality on atheism. Just words that people either accept or reject.

2. What you just said there is that what you think people ought to do is based on your subjective feelings and opinions. You like apple pie and I like blueberry pie. You think I ought to like apple pie. But there is no objective truth on the matter – you just have preferences, on atheism. You have opinions. But that is not morality, it is just personal tastes and preferences that you invented arbitrarily for yourself. That’s not morality, that’s personal preferences. And when an atheist understands the laws or values of a culture, he understands that they are arbitrary conventions that vary by time and place and not really rooted in any objective standard of how we ought to be.

3. Atheism has no objective moral standard because the universe, and humans, are ACCIDENTS, on atheism. There is no designer that prescribes behavior for humans on atheism. On theism, there is a designer who creates the universe and prescribes standards of behavior that are OUTSIDE opinions and preferences. You are talking about what you like and don’t like, and I am talking about what is objectively right and wrong. What you like and don’t like is based on your feelings, but on theism, right and wrong are based on the character of the person who creates the universe and is in a position to decide how free creatures ought to choose.

4. As an atheist, every opinion you have on what other people can do is AS WARRANTED as some other opinion of the opposite. The warrant for a belief on your view is in your feelings and maybe in the arbitrary customs of the people group where you find yourself in this time and place – which is no better or worse morality than any other time or place, but only different. You think that slavery is right or wrong based on opinions. You think that genocide is right or wrong based on opinions. You think that rape is right or wrong based on opinions. You think that murder is right or wrong based on opinions. And your opinion on moral questions is AS WARRANTED, on atheism, as the opposite opinion – because there is no objective standard, only your personal opinions and the fashions of your culture in this time and place. There is nothing more to morality on YOUR view than feelings and opinions and conventions. If you think that murder is wrong as an atheist, then what you mean is that your opinion is that murder is wrong, and that someone else who thinks that murder is right is AS WARRANTED IN FORMING THAT VIEW AS YOU ARE IN FORMING YOURS. Both opinions are rooted in the same ontological ground – FEELINGS.

Let me show you what atheists actually think about morality:

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)

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: Richard Dawkins)

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).

Atheism is the complete ANTI-MORALITY point of view.

If you don’t have a rational basis for acting morally, then you will only do it when you want to feel happy, and avoid feeling unhappy. You’ll do it if you feel like it, if people are watching, etc. But you won’t do the right thing if it gets in the way of your selfishness.

For a really good debate on whether morality is real on Christianity and/or atheism, listen to this debate with Glenn Peoples against Cambridge philosopher Arif Ahmed.

If you would like to hear another good debate on whether Christianity and/or atheism can ground some of these requirements, then click here. This one features Sean McDowell.

And here’s a debate that I did with one of our best atheist commenters, Moo.

More about atheistic concepts of morality

Some debates on God and morality

Can there be moral accountability if there is no life after death?

William Lane Craig answers a question.

You need moral accountability for morality to be rational, otherwise the only reason for being moral would be to have happy feelings and to avoid unhappy feelings – which is not prescriptive morality at all, but just self-interest. But that is only one of the things that you need for a person to have a rational basis for acting morally.

Here’s the full list:

1) Objective moral values

There needs to be a way to distinguish what is good from what is bad. For example, the moral standard might specify that being kind to children is good, but torturing them for fun is bad. If the standard is purely subjective, then people could believe anything and each person would be justified in doing right in their own eyes. Even a “social contract” is just based on people’s opinions. So we need a standard that applies regardless of what people’s individual and collective opinions are.

2) Objective moral duties

Moral duties (moral obligations) refer to the actions that are obligatory based on the moral values defined in 1). Suppose we spot you 1) as an atheist. Why are you obligated to do the good thing, rather than the bad thing? To whom is this obligation owed? Why is rational for you to limit your actions based upon this obligation when it is against your self-interest? Why let other people’s expectations decide what is good for you, especially if you can avoid the consequences of their disapproval?

3) Moral accountability

Suppose we spot you 1) and 2) as an atheist. What difference does it make to you if you just go ahead and disregard your moral obligations to whomever? Is there any reward or punishment for your choice to do right or do wrong? What’s in it for you?

4) Free will

In order for agents to make free moral choices, they must be able to act or abstain from acting by exercising their free will. If there is no free will, then moral choices are impossible. If there are no moral choices, then no one can be held responsible for anything they do. If there is no moral responsibility, then there can be no praise and blame. But then it becomes impossible to praise any action as good or evil.

5) Ultimate significance

Finally, beyond the concept of reward and punishment in 3), we can also ask the question “what does it matter?”. Suppose you do live a good life and you get a reward: 1000 chocolate sundaes. And when you’ve finished eating them, you die for real and that’s the end. In other words, the reward is satisfying, but not really meaningful, ultimately. It’s hard to see how moral actions can be meaningful, ultimately, unless their consequences last on into the future.

If you don’t have a rational basis for acting morally, then you will only do it when you want to feel happy, and avoid feeling unhappy. You’ll do it if you feel like it, if people are watching, etc. But you won’t do the right thing if it gets in the way of your selfishness.

For a really good debate on whether morality is real on Christianity and/or atheism, listen to this debate with Glenn Peoples against Cambridge philosopher Arif Ahmed.

If you would like to hear another good debate on whether Christianity and/or atheism can ground some of these requirements, then click here. This one features Sean McDowell.

And here’s a debate that I did with one of our best atheist commenters, Moo.

More about atheistic concepts of morality

Some debates on God and morality

Tangling with an atheist commenter on the grounding of morality

An atheist named Moo went after commenter Mary in the comments to this post. So I decided to step in.

Moo wrote this:

Marriage is not about God. I am personally married, with 3 children and do not believe in the existence of a personal deity. You need to broaden your view of the world as most of the world does not believe the same as you do. Tolerance is a virtue that too many people underestimate. Your views of the topic should have any impact on the lives of people and their right to marry. This is an arrogant position as you assume that you have some moral authority.

Then I wrote this:

Are you tolerant of Mary’s view? Does Mary have a right to vote for policies like traditional marriage? Why is it “intolerant” when Mary thinks she’s right, and yet not “intolerant” when you think you’re right? Is Mary wrong? If you think so, then why aren’t you “intolerant”, according to your definition of intolerance? Where does this moral obligation to be tolerant come from, on atheism? To whom is the duty owed?

More important, let’s cut to the chase. My view is that atheists cannot ground morality rationally. If you disagree, you tell me where moral rules come from on your view, what is the means of existence of moral rules and moral obligations, and why should humans treat moral obligations as meaningful and prescriptive when it goes against their self-interest. Where does the free will necessary for moral choices come from? Why should an atheist sacrifice their live to save someone else – e.g. – by hiding Jews in Nazi Germany? Why is it rational, on atheism? Why is it rational for an atheist to do anything other than to pursue pleasure in this life? What else is there other than pleasure in an accidental universe than can be the motive for action?

Atheism is the negation of meaningful morality. (That’s my contention – it’s the denial of morality)

The statement “I am an atheist” is equivalent to saying “Morality is illusory”. Dawkins should have called his book “The Morality Delusion”, because morality is a delusion if atheism is true.

Then Moo wrote this:

Yes, I am tolerant of Mary’s views when they do not infringe on the rights of others. If Mary believes that her marriage requires a commitment to god then this is fine. Nobody other than her immediate family are impacted. A gay couple, atheist couple, whatever couple should not be impacted or offended.

As for morals, you have made a common mistake of tightly coupling these with faith. Morals have been around longer that religion, is evident (to a lesser extent) in the animal kingdom.

You seem to be implying that religious people are more moral than agnostic. Is that right? There is no need going into the evolutionary reasons for morals as i am sure that you will dispute the credibility of the scientist and science. Something for another debate ;-)

Then I wrote this:

What do you mean by the word tolerate? Please define tolerance and explain why supporting traditional procreative marriage is intolerant but supporting the re-definition of marriage to include any arrangement between any number of people, animals and anything else is tolerant. Why is Mary intolerant because she holds to a different definition than you do, but you’re tolerant and you hold to a different definition (“anything goes”) than she does?

I need you to answer my questions about morality, or I will assume that you think morality is illusory and there is no such thing as right or wrong. And no such thing as human rights. If that is true, then I will delete every comment you make that mentions morality or human rights. Either ground morality and human rights in your worldview or stop using moral language. Answer the questions. Ground the notion of morality or stop asserting how Mary ought to be.Ground the notion of rights on atheism or stop telling Mary that her ideas of morality violate other people’s rights.

Then Anon wrote this: (he’s smarter than I am, so he gets to the point faster)

Again, what is your view of the kind of relationship promoted by the like of NAMBLA?

Then I asked Moo to answer the question Anon asked:

Can you give Anon a direct answer on NAMBLA. Moral or immoral? And don’t forget to answer my questions about how you ground moral values, moral duties, free will, moral accountability, motivation for self-sacrifical morality, and ultimate significance of moral decisions. I want this all explained within the worldview of atheism. How does that all work on atheism?

Where do “rights” come from on atheism. Name a right and explain to me how it exists in reality. Where does it come from, on atheism? If you can’t ground it, then what do you mean by using the word?

Concepts like rights and morality and free will have no being in atheism. They don’t exist objectively. They’re not rationally grounded by an accidental, purely material, universe. You think you are referring to something real, but you won’t be able to explain those concepts. They are theistic concepts.

Then Mary wrote this:

Moo, on what basis do you say that impacting the rights of others (e.g. children) is immoral?

Then Moo wrote this:

The largest basis would be my upbringing. The values that were instilled in me by my parents, life experience, such as travelling extensively and living in other countries with a variety of cultural norms. I think that this is true for most people no matter what their beliefs are. You might want to acquaint yourself with “The Evolution of Morality” by Richard Joyce as it describes that the morals/values that we have are not contrary to other evolutionary factors. They are not a negative, in fact they are the things that have allows the human species to populate this world and flourish more than any other creature.

The specific issue I have with NAMBLA and generally people who could be deemed as “predators” is that they are impacting on the lives of others without their consent. There is a grey area around “what is the age of consent”, however I do not have firm position on that as I would have to do more personal research if this was of interest.

And I wrote this:

1) If the moral standards are valid depending on “how I was raised” then in what sense is racism wrong if that’s how the racist was raised. Or, to put it more bluntly, isn’t it true that on your view NOTHING is right or wrong, people are just fed a bunch of customs depending on the culture of the time and place they were born into – which is ARBITRARY. And on atheism, morality is just ARBITRARY CUSTOMS, like driving on the left or right side of the road. “How I was raised”.

2) Why is the population of this world by humans good, on your view? What makes humans so special, on your view, compared to any other creature who should “populate the world”? Explain where humans get their objective moral value compared to trees and snakes and maggots. And make sure that when you pick your criteria, that it isn’t just your opinion. It has to be objective – i.e. real.

3) Why is it wrong to impact the lives of others without their consent, objectively? Is that just your opinion? Is it how you were raised? How about the opinions of another atheist, like STALIN, who killed 100 million innocent people because it was his opinion and how he was raised. Why are you right and why is he wrong, on atheism?

And this is why I believe atheists think that morality is illusory on atheism. If they act nice, it’s because they are “aping” Christian morals that dominate the culture in this time and place. To find out what atheists are really like, go to North Korea and other communist nations, and look at what goes on there. That’s atheist morality. Nothing is really wrong or right – it’s just how you were raised. And that’s why Christians like William Wilberforce tried to stop slavery while atheists today kill unborn children and advocate for same-sex marriage to avoid being inconvenienced in the pursuit of sexual pleasure. They only think they think is “wrong” is that you’re making them feel bad for their selfish hedonism.

There is no self-sacrificial morality on atheism – just selfish hedonism. They are trying to have a good time before they die and to avoid feeling bad about their immoral actions. And that’s why they go along with any evil rather than fight it – because there is no right and wrong objectively on atheism. They want to use the force of law to stop you from making them feel bad as they redefine marriage in a way that denies children either a mother or a father. That’s atheist “morality”. Seek pleasure, and to hell with children’s right to life and children’s right to a mother AND a father. All that matters to atheists is that the strong are happy – who cares about the weak. It’s survival of the fittest – that’s atheist morality.

More about atheistic concepts of morality

Some debates on God and morality