Monday, April 27, 2015

Crude on whether atheists are as moral as theists


One 'trick' I'm particularly tired of is this: "Atheists are just as moral as theists, so you theists better say this if you want any dialogue with atheists." Except A) Who wants dialogue with atheists, particularly New Atheists who are bound by politics more than anything? And B) On what grounds do I say atheists are as moral as theists? My stock reply is, oh, so atheists are typically against abortion, gay marriage, premarital sex, and other things I view as immoral? And that usually seems to shut down that move, if only for that particular moment. 

This raises an interesting issue-when you compare atheists and theists morally, how can this be done when the parties don't agree on what morality amounts to.


Crude said...

I will admit, my first thoughts on reading this was 'Exactly! I've said the exact same thing. Who IS this guy?'

Then I read the title.

B. Prokop said...

Good point, Crude. It's difficult to carry on a dialog when the two sides have differing definitions for the same terms. Another good example is the word faith. Using Boghossian's idiosyncratic understanding of what the word means, I'd have to agree with him that faith is stupid. But (and this is a huge "but"), Boghossian hasn't a clue as to what the word actually means. I went through all that HERE, so there's no need to repeat myself.

And I totally agree with Crude about morality. There are just too many rock-bottom fundamentally different understandings about what the word entails for Christians and atheists to carry on a coherent dialog on the subject. For instance:

Christians honor freedom of expression. Atheists regard any deviation from political correctness to be "hatred" and "bigotry".

Christians believe that murder is murder. Atheists think it's all a matter of who you regard as being human. They find it easy to simply define the act out of existence.

Christians understand what the term marriage means. Atheists believe you can define it whatever way you wish. No wait, I take that back!!! You're only allowed to define it their way. If you have any other definition, then you're a hater and a bigot.

Christians believe it is objectively immoral to "take the Name of the Lord in vain". Atheists believe it is their duty to mock and ridicule the sacred ("sky pixie", anyone? or "flying spaghetti monster"?)

I could go on, but from the above it is clear that the two partners in any dialog will first have to recognize that they're not speaking the same language.

Jezu ufam tobie!

Crude said...

I separate atheists from the Cult of Gnu, and both from agnostics and the irreligious. I also think it's possible for an atheist or irreligious person to be moral, with some obvious exceptions - there's that whole 'violating the commandments regarding God' thing. But that's a possibility in an ideal versus the reality of averages.

B. Prokop said...

I've posted this in previous conversations, but it's worth repeating. Of course an atheist can wish to be "moral", and even make an honest attempt to be so.* Paul says as much: "When [unbelievers] who have not the law do by nature what the law requires ... they show that what the law requires is written on their hearts." (Romans 2:14) And so does John, when he calls Jesus "the true light that enlightens every man" (John 1:9) - not "every believer" or "every Christian" but "every man" without qualification.

And then there's that pesky little matter of The Greatest Commandment . "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." A little hard to do that, if you don't even acknowledge His existence.

* No one, of course, can actually be moral without sanctifying and actual grace. That goes for everyone - believers and non-believers alike.

Jezu ufam tobie!

Anonymous said...

And it's not just disagreeing over what particulars are moral or not; or even the common attempt at sleight-of-hand ("morality [as theists mean it] doesn't exist, so let's take this other thing and just call it 'morality' instead"). This line typically comes up when someone argues that morality is impossible without God, and moral atheists are supposed to be a counter-argument. Let's see how that works:

1) It's impossible to be moral without God.
2) But atheists are moral.
3) Therefore, God exists.

Hm. So either they're equivocating on the meaning of "morality", or else they're actually supplying evidence that God exists. Funny how rarely that gets pointed out.

B. Prokop said...

Mr. Green,

I love it!

I would love to use it myself, but the problem is it only works as a declaration, and not so much as an argument. Any graduate of Logic 101 would tell you that there's a bit of circular reasoning in that syllogism, in that premise 1 is rather question begging. It's kind of like William Lane Craig's famous example:

1) Either God exists, or the moon is made of green cheese.
2) The moon is not made of green cheese.
3) Therefore, God exists.

Now don't get me wrong! I actually agree with both the premises and the conclusion of your delightful syllogism, and would gladly defend the veracity of all three statements. But it's still a hilarious non-argument. (Just as my own posting was in no way an argument - it was simply me stating my position.)

Now if your posting was intended as humor, then ignore everything I've just written!

Jezu ufam tobie!

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop: Oh, quite right — it's just a jab at people who somehow think that premise (2) somehow refutes (1) all by itself, like some sort of reductio ad absurdum. Of course, what they presumably are thinking is something like: (1) morality is impossible without believing in God, but (2) atheists don't believe in God and yet are moral. But of course, (1) is not the real claim; that would be like claiming, "Gravity wouldn't exist if God didn't create it, therefore believing in God is necessary to fall down." Belief isn't the point, it's how morality can be grounded in the first place... which gets us back to the question of what morality really is.