Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Atheistic Morality 1

I linked to Mr./Ms. ChooseDoubt from another antitheist website where I had some interaction (well, it was more like the antitheist asking questions and me answering them and then me asking questions and him refusing to answer them) a while ago. I decided to take a look at what ChooseDoubt was cooking up, and I discovered that he (I’ll just go w/ “he” unless corrected) had just been fired from his job for being an atheist. He was understandably upset and angry at his boss. I decided to ask a few questions about the situation and probe his understanding of the basis for ethics and morality (throughout the course of our discussion, unless someone takes exception, I’ll use those two terms interchangeably). This led to ChooseDoubt’s proposing that we take our discussion to a slightly wider forum than the combox of one post, which was a fine idea.

Just for the purposes of identifying ChooseDoubt, his Profile states the following:

People die for it. People kill for it. They ignore fact to support it. They champion ignorance to defend it. And worst of all they teach their children to do the same. Faith is a disease; a dysfunction of the mind and of society as a whole. Faith is a dangerous irrationality that has cost millions of lives and will cost millions more. In a world in which we hear so much about respecting others beliefs this blog is a stand against that idiocy. Faith deserves no respect. Faith deserves to be cured.

Just so you know where he’s coming from. He is a self-described atheist.

Just so you know a bit more about what he thinks about theism:

I’ve said many times that theism is irresponsible and my own sacking is a simple example of why that is true. When people have beliefs that are in no way bound to reality through any requirement for coherence or evidence then they tend to make unreasonable decisions.

I, OTOH, am a pretty conservative, fairly Calvinistic Evangelical Christian. Yeah, that’s a lot of labels. No, it’s not my fault. "Biblical Christian" also works 100%, but it's not as useful in today's day and age for identification purposes.

So, the question before us starts w/ his firing and ends at a Big Question

I think my evaluation of CD’s position is summed up thusly: “That is, the value judgment begins and ends w/ you, and his begins and ends w/ him.”

I will be taking the atheistic worldview onto myself and then testing what CD is saying about these moral statements. Are his statements consistent w/ his worldview? So far, the answer is no. Where morality begins and ends w/ the individual w/ no higher absolute authority to give the law (as it were), then that’s where morality begins and ends. CD might (or at minimum, other atheists I know would and have) claim that morality is a construct of society, but that simply backs the problem up one step while incurring a new problem. Who says that society is the basis of morality? You? Why should I accept your authority for that? Society says so? Why should I accept "society's" word for that? For that matter, where and when did "society" decree the same?

For a second and slightly less important point, I’ll go ahead and infer from others of CD’s statements that he holds to Darwinian evolution as held by much of modern science and invite him to correct me if I’m wrong. This is related to the question before us. In his view, man is nothing more or less than an animal, a biological machine, who has evolved to a state where he can think better than other animals. Our thinking processes, too, have evolved and become complex and skilled. However, an evolutionary paradigm gives no structure of morality, no oughtness to life. It simply IS. Thus, his boss was acting according to the coalescing of the firing of his neurons and chemical reactions in his brain to his personal situation, which thus caused him to exercise his "judgment" (which is, again, nothing more or less than the modern evolution of neurological chemical reactions) to fire CD. Kind of like what happens to a can of root beer when you shake it up and then open it. CD was naturally deselected. CD of course, objects to this, much the way an oak tree would object to an infestation of mistletoe. That is, he can fight (b/c it was disadvantageous to him) but must back down in the face of superior force.

I am proud to present the Christian worldview as a much more reasonable and fitting (not to mention existentially satisfying) alternative to the atheistic one. On Christianity, the omnipotent and omniscient Creator of the Universe, Jesus, gives directives so that we His creations might know firmly what is right and what is wrong. He gives them out of love so that we might be like Him, the best and brightest being, so that we can be the most fulfilled, useful, and purposeful people we can be. Maybe best of all, when we protest against injustice, like “that’s not fair!” or “you’re wrong to do that!” we are not being inconsistent. If we have indeed been acted against in a way that violates God’s law, then we are both consistent AND correct to say “that’s not fair.” And there is a way to tell the difference, on Christianity.

Best of all, though we have these directives, though we don’t always agree on these directives, and though we often do not follow them, Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross to take on Himself these sins and to offer His purity to all those who will believe in Him and love Him as Savior and as Lord. He does this b/c of His great love and generosity.

I invite CD’s response to what I’ve said here, specifically in relation to my evaluation of his position. Typically, ‘opening statements’ in debate are the most widespread and encompass a breadth of topics, whereas the interactions and statements later in the debate become more focused as the debaters bear down on areas of disagreement. I will attempt to keep my responses readably brief and think we can count on CD to do the same. We are both self-described verbose writers, but hopefully we won't bore our readers too much. If either of us does, it's our own fault, I guess. Finally, many thanks to CD for his willingness not only to interact on this topic but also to have done so in a very conciliatory tone so far. My goals will be to tear his position apart and to do so in the least provocative and insulting way possible.

For the purposes of keeping which posts come when, we will add numbers to the titles of our posts. Thus, CD's response to this post will be "_________ 2". I will post his offerings on my blog and he will do the same for mine, so a reader can catch the entirety of the interaction on either blog.


Lucian said...

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... JUST what I was ABOUT to say, man! ...

Lucian said...

Hey, Brho, :)

Did You BTW mention to the kind gentleman that atheism IS LIKEWISE a faith for which MANY have killed ALSO. (20,000,000 martyrs, and that only in XXth century Russia, if I'm not mistakin'..).

Lucian said...

It simply IS.

... just like God (the "I AM", the "O ON", the Tetragram) ... so what's Your point?

Rhology said...

atheism IS LIKEWISE a faith for which MANY have killed ALSO. (20,000,000 martyrs, and that only in XXth century Russia, if I'm not mistakin'..).

Well, it's certainly a good point, but not one that I'd bring up in order to argue that atheistic morality is simply based on personal preference and nothing more. I *would* be quick to remind anyone of that fact who tried to say "Inquisition, Crusades, Salem witch trials!" Hopefully our friend ChooseDoubt won't be so simple-minded.

It simply IS... So what's your point?

I'm referring to the distinction between IS and OUGHT. In a naturalistic worldview, there is no great OUGHT. The only OUGHT is inside of the person, and as such varies from person to person. Hopefully that helps to clarify.

I would add that the arguments I'll be using in this interaction might differ fairly significantly from what an EO-dox would use, b/c they're highly presuppositional, Calvinistic. Stay tuned - you might learn sumpin'. ;-)

Lenoxus said...

Got here by Googling something about "atheism" and "oughtness" — glad to see the great conversation in action…

All I can do is echo Lucian's point: "just like God." Why exactly must oughtness become "isness" in order to exist? That seems kind of nihilist to me, preventing oughtness from existing on its own, without the need for enforcement by the universe. Apparently, the existence of other beings — something nearly all atheists (and people in general) agree to be real — isn't a good enough reason for "oughtness". No, that takes an afterlife an an all-powerful God. I'm saddened to think that's how anyone feels about ethics.

Even then, it seems to me, ethics would not somehow "emerge" from the isness. So God is all-powerful and will send you to Heaven or Hell. How does this make good and bad acts good or bad? Where's the isness? Nowhere. Granted, ideas like those are certainly useful. By having things like laws and social mores, moral behavior is much more likely to occur. But if you take those things away, the significance of morality doesn't vanish with them. It doesn't descend from the power of a god, it is the god.

Might evolution be the "source" of our morality? Sure, in the same way that parents are the "source" of children. But children can outdo parents. Did evolution hammer a pretty weird and generally amoral combination of instincts into humankind? Sure! Does that mean we can't value our altruism regardless? Of course not! That's the beauty of this world, its unlimitedness.