Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Are atheists as moral as believers?

No, according to this site.

18 comments:

unkleE said...

That's hardly a fair list. It's a christian version of morality. Atheists (and some christians) might emphasise different things - sexism, gay rights, anti-war, personal freedom, forcing religion on others, environmentalism, care for the poor, welcoming refugees, wealth inequality, interfering in other countries, non-violence, domestic violence, etc. It would be fairer if first the author outlined different ideas on morality and made a balanced list.

Victor Reppert said...

I think this is always difficult when comparing these things. Believers and Christians disagree about what is moral. Many atheists think there is nothing wrong with pornography, so the fact that atheists view it more than Christians shouldn't be too surprising.

John Moore said...

When will Christians stop assuming that atheism means moral relativism? That's simply wrong. The linked page says that "the absence of an absolute moral foundation probably leads to moral drifting over time," but atheists actually have an absolute moral foundation. So this argument misses badly.

planks length said...

but atheists actually have an absolute moral foundation

And upon what is this "absolute" moral foundation founded?

John Moore said...

Do you mean you have no idea? Don't you even want to make a guess?

Let's first just talk about what "absolute" means in this context. I think a moral foundation can be called absolute if it is unchanging, applies to all people, and still exists regardless of whether people know about it.

On the other hand, I think every moral foundation depends on people existing in the first place. If no people existed, then morality also would not exist. So in that sense, we might say this morality is not absolute.

How are we doing so far?

Joe Hinman said...

John "but atheists actually have an absolute moral foundation. So this argument misses badly."

Some do, by no means do all, depends, Moral relativism is pretty popular.

Joe Hinman said...

--Do you mean you have no idea? Don't you even want to make a guess?

==UUhhhhmm morality? There are several ways I can see you might go whit that, One would be fine feelings or culture I see those as relativistic. Or you could do moral realism, but I see that merely "pouring ought sauce on it" as a friend of mine said.

John Moore said...

The thing all people strive for is evolutionary survival. Always have and always will. It's not that people "ought" to pursue survival, but it's just that they inevitably do. The pursuit of survival is the source of good and bad.

Certainly there are different ways to pursue evolutionary survival, different strategies for achieving the ultimate goal. These strategies can change depending on time and circumstances, but the ultimate goal always remains the same for everyone.

investigativeapologetics said...

John Moore said:

The thing all people strive for is evolutionary survival. Always have and always will. It's not that people "ought" to pursue survival, but it's just that they inevitably do. The pursuit of survival is the source of good and bad. Certainly there are different ways to pursue evolutionary survival, different strategies for achieving the ultimate goal. These strategies can change depending on time and circumstances, but the ultimate goal always remains the same for everyone.

Now I am not unsympathetic to your view, I really am not—and as a hint as to why not, note that the first command, which was good, which God gave humans was to be fruitful and multiple, which certainly enhances evolutionary survival—but the fact is that your above statement, at least on its face, is patently false. Consider that suicides, especially teenage suicides, certainly don’t strive for evolutionary survival in any meaningful sense. Monks and life-long celibates certainly don’t strive for evolutionary survival. And if you try to make excuses for such people, your claim that you have an “absolute” ethic becomes rather ad hoc. And so your “absolute” atheistic ethic is indeed crumbling rather quickly.

Furthermore, if the pursuit of evolutionary survival is our good, then you must contend with the fact that an arguably excellent way to pursue evolutionary survival is to have a massive family, and/or pursue polygamy, and/or cheat on your wife as often (but covertly) as possible, and/or even be a covert serial rapist. In essence, the best way to pursue evolutionary survival is to act like a sociopath while convincing everyone else not to do the same. And yet calling such behaviour moral is absurd on its face. So no, your absolute atheistic evolutionary foundation is rather weak.

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investigativeapologetics said...

I might humorously add that even if our ethic is evolutionary in nature as John Moore contends, then unbelievers are still less moral than believers given that believers have more children--and hence spread their genes and survive in an evolutionary sense--much more than secular unbelievers. And so believers are more moral than unbelievers...even on an evolutionary ethic.

John Moore said...

You're just taking too narrow a view. As I said, there are many different strategies for pursuing evolutionary survival. Having lots of kids is one strategy, and another strategy is to have just a few kids and invest all your effort in raising them. As we see, people around the world are pursuing both strategies.

It's true there are various ways of living that don't seem to promote the individual's genetic survival. You mentioned suicide and monks, and some other examples are homosexuality, abortion, and people who simply choose to be childless. I don't want to "make excuses," as you say, but I think such things can all be explained within the evolutionary context.

Just to consider the example of suicide, we first need to distinguish between two types of suicide: One is like self-sacrifice in order to achieve something, and another kind of suicide is just a blind and almost involuntary act of desperation. The first kind of suicide is a form of goal-pursuit, so it's clearly a way to pursue evolutionary survival (at the expense of individual survival). The second kind of suicide is perhaps like a mental disease, or it's like giving up the struggle when there are no practical options left.

We could discuss lots of examples and scenarios, and it would be an interesting discussion as long as people don't take too narrow a view of the concept of evolutionary survival, and as long as people actually want to explore the concept instead of dismissing it out of hand.

B. Prokop said...

"as long as people don't take too narrow a view of the concept"

There is the simultaneous danger of defining a term so broadly that it is either meaningless or impossible to refute, due to its being so mushy. Arguing against it would be like punching a cloud.

Jezu ufam tobie!

John Moore said...

That's true, but evolutionary survival is a pretty concrete term. We're actually alive, after all, and not dead. We really want to stay alive. We can't live forever individually, so we want our descendants to live forever. I hope this isn't too mushy a definition.

Victor Reppert said...

I don't know if I strive for evolutionary survival at all. I'm not going to pass on my genes (my daughters are from my wife's previous marriage), and I was not at all upset to find out that we weren't going to have children ourselves.

B. Prokop said...

John,

You pretty much started this conversation by saying "The thing all people strive for is evolutionary survival. Always have and always will. It's not that people "ought" to pursue survival, but it's just that they inevitably do." (my emphasis) But then, we discuss numerous examples of exceptions to all those "always" and "all". And you label that as taking "too narrow a view". Now if you intend to argue that as a species we tend to act in ways to ensure our survival (although with our corporate non-response to various environmental threats, I'm not so sure even that's true), you might get less of an argument here, but you explicitly equated this genetic survival instinct with an "absolute moral foundation". If it's absolute, there can be no exceptions.

Jezu ufam tobie!

John Moore said...

Yes, it's as a species. On the other hand, a species is nothing more than a collection of individuals, and the species only strives for survival insofar as each individual strives for the species survival.

I have to clarify my ideas because it's true that the concept of species survival can be interpreted in lots of different ways. Maybe we could just talk about genes, and that's pretty concrete. It's handy because people share most genes with all their fellow people and not just their own children or close relations. Victor's daughters are still very closely related to him compared to individuals of other species such as chimps or dogs.

The genetic survival instinct is the absolute measure of good and bad because anything you do that tends to promote human flourishing will be good - insofar as it does in fact promote human flourishing. Anything you do that tends to lead toward human extinction (even in some infinitesimal way) is bad. I don't think there are any exceptions to this.

investigativeapologetics said...

Maybe we could just talk about genes, and that's pretty concrete. It's handy because people share most genes with all their fellow people and not just their own children or close relations. Victor's daughters are still very closely related to him compared to individuals of other species such as chimps or dogs.

The genetic survival instinct is the absolute measure of good and bad because anything you do that tends to promote human flourishing will be good - insofar as it does in fact promote human flourishing. Anything you do that tends to lead toward human extinction (even in some infinitesimal way) is bad. I don't think there are any exceptions to this.


Ha…I wrote a paper arguing this very same thing. I called it “Neo-Darwinism and the Culture of Life: How to Develop a Non-Religious Case for the Culture of Life.” However, here is the rub that I discovered and which I am sure John Moore will recoil at. His statement…

The genetic survival instinct is the absolute measure of good and bad because anything you do that tends to promote human flourishing will be good - insofar as it does in fact promote human flourishing. Anything you do that tends to lead toward human extinction (even in some infinitesimal way) is bad.

…means that his idea completely supports a “conservative, pro-life” view of ethics. Consider:

- Abortion: It reduces human genetic flourishing because it kills off a human being with its own genetic code. Ergo, abortion is always bad given that there are always ways in which a baby can be born and yet a mother assisted as well (such as adoption), and so, on this ethic, abortion is always bad for it destroys genes that could exist.
- Homosexual acts: Since homosexual acts (especially male ones) increase the risk of STDs and also expend energy on non-reproductive sex, energy which could be spend on reproductive sex that increases one’s evolutionary survival, homosexual acts are therefore bad because they lead to human extinction, even if only in an infinitesimal way.
- Contraception: Same as homosexual acts. Therefore bad.
- Secularism: Bad, at least compared to being religious, for the religious have more children and give more to charity than the secular, and so the religious help more “genes” this way.
- Life-long monogamous marriage with no chance of an easy divorce: Best for the raising of children and a stable society, ergo, increases genetic flourishing and is therefore a good.

Anyway, you get the idea. The point is: If we are seriously going to consider the maximization of genetic flourishing as the ultimate good, then a lot of “progressive” causes will suddenly become rather bad. And what an interesting outcome that is: that a Darwinian “ethic” supports conservative Christian morality. Its almost as if the being who first told us to be “fruitful and multiple” also knew what he was talking about with all those other commandments that he gave us, for they sure seem to help us be fruitful and multiple.

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Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

1. In general, I think it's very difficult to justify statistically valid conclusions on this topic one way or the other.

2. Somewhat related to the topic of this post, I have been very impressed by this site, which tries very hard to be objective about what the author calls "necrometrics."