Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Is the atheist world-view de-moralizing?

You don't  have to believe in God in order to behave.  However, you might not have a very strong rebuttal to a rational challenge to the whole business of being moral. It's question I have been wrestling with. When people believed in polytheistic gods they took the world to be not, at bottom, a moral place, and they accepted modes of behavior that we would today consider totally unacceptable. Things like infanticide, prostitution, and exploiting slaves and young boys for sex was considered OK if you were in the position to do it. Monotheistic religion, in particular Christianity, changed all that. Although Christians have struggled with this message, the idea was that Christ died for everyone, so everyone deserved a measure of respect, regardless of class status, age, or sex. Even in the gay marriage debate the idea of everyone being treated equally is paramount, but my reading of history tells me that the basis for it comes through monotheistic religion.
If you go to atheism,  you have a universe that is no more a moral universe than the polytheistic universe, yet many atheists believe in a lot of moral ideas that come through the Judeo-Christian tradition. But lots of people look at those moral ideas and say that they work, and we should stick with them. (Nietzsche, however, thought this was atheists not facing the logic of their own position). People can be completely unethical and die happy and if atheism is true, they rot in the same grave as a saint. You may feel too sympathetic to others to become a total jerk, or it may be to your social advantage not to be a jerk, but  I don't think these factors work for everybody. If society goes atheist as a whole, will we be de-moralized? Will we, as a people, gradually lose our moral sensitivity? I realize that the simple connection between morality and religion doesn't  hold, but the sense that the universe, in the last analysis, is moral, that virtue and happiness meet up in the end, is a moral driver in both Western and Eastern civilization. If it goes down, I truly believe morality will suffer, maybe not immediately, but in the end. 

33 comments:

Legion of Logic said...

You can be "moral" without God if you define it as behavior conforming to what a majority of a given culture prefers. But you cannot have the sort of morality that justifies condemnation of behavior you don't like, particularly if it occurs in a non-Western culture.

John Moore said...

Morality only pertains to living beings. The universe isn't the kind of thing that can be moral or immoral.

Now if your question is whether the universe allows for living beings to thrive, then yes, it does. But the thriving is something that living beings do, not something they passively receive from the universe.

Morality is about thriving.

Legion of Logic said...

Morality is about thriving.

So killing a noisy neighbor when I'm trying to sleep is moral since it improves my health? Stealing so I don't stress over money is moral?

Seems to me that under your definition of morality, which equates behavior with the presence of oxygen to breathe, the most moral system an individual could cultivate would be to do whatever it takes to maximize his own happiness while preaching to the rest of the world that everyone should treat others as they want to be treated. That certainly would maximize his thriving.

Joe Hinman said...


How modern thinking about God Went wrong

This is a ground breaking book. I would not be surprised to learn that it was ignored for the most part. I read part of it in the 90s and forgot all about until recently when my old professor form Perkins, William S. Babcock, recommended it for something things I am studying at present. This book brought back for me some of my former quests as a beginning and pre seminarian and observations I made by then, late 80s and wanted to make good on and was side tracked from. This book is ground breaking and deserves to be seen as the seminal literary event in theology for that 90s. I'm sure it wasn't seen that way by the theological community.

Metacrock's blog

Joe Hinman said...

John Moore where do you get the idea that morality is about thriving? who says?

One Brow said...

Things like infanticide, prostitution, and exploiting slaves and young boys for sex was considered OK if you were in the position to do it. Monotheistic religion, in particular Christianity, changed all that. Although Christians have struggled with this message, the idea was that Christ died for everyone, so everyone deserved a measure of respect, regardless of class status, age, or sex.

I'm going to disagree with this premise. Christians have been fine with slavery for most of their existence. Prostitution has not been incompatible with Christianity (and to mention prostitution as the same type of moral issue as infanticide and rape seems pretty offensive). Many forms of Buddhism give this type of respect to all people. Some forms of Hinduism extend respect to all forms of animals. Atheists run the gamut, from self-centered jerks to selfless givers.

Hal said...

Is this the purpose of God? To be used like a tool to support one's moral positions?

Starhopper said...

Taking Scripture seriously (as I do), I am not overly pessimistic about the death of morality in an atheistic society. Paul tells us, "When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts." (Romans 2:14-15, my emphasis) Atheists cannot refuse this gift. It is part and parcel of their inmost being. God has inscribed His law on our very nature.

Now, yes. There do exist psychopaths and mentally ill criminals who have (or at the least, show) no remorse for their crimes. But their very existence actually confirms what Paul wrote, just as a bent stick can only be understood to be "bent" by referencing a straight stick. Otherwise, the word "bent" has no meaning.

Starhopper said...

For another, more pessimistic, point of view, here is Jewish philosopher Will Herbert on this subject:

"The attempt made in recent decades by secularist thinkers to disengage the moral principles of western civilization from their scripturally based religious context, in the assurance that they could live a life of their own as "humanistic" ethics, has resulted in our "cut flower culture." Cut flowers retain their original beauty and fragrance, but only so long as they retain the vitality that they have drawn from their now-severed roots; after that is exhausted, they wither and die. So with freedom, brotherhood, justice, and personal dignity — the values that form the moral foundation of our civilization. Without the life-giving power of the faith out of which they have sprung, they possess neither meaning nor vitality."
(taken from Judaism and Modern Man)

John Moore said...

Joe Hinman asked where I get the idea that morality is about thriving. This is obvious.

Just ask yourself: Why do you follow moral rules? Because you expect it's in your own best interest. Or do you think you follow rules merely because they are rules? Or because somebody said you should? That's naive.

Why do you obey God? Why do you worship God? Sure, at one level you just have to, because he's God, but on the other hand, if it were not in your own interest to worship God, you certainly would not.

----

Actually, it's impossible for you to do something intentionally that you think is against your own best interest. Go ahead - try it.

a) Some things you do intentionally end up really hurting you in the long run. That just means you were wrong in your intention.

b) Some things you do are totally unpremeditated, like a knee-jerk spasm. These acts can really hurt you, but they are not intentional.

Starhopper said...

"Actually, it's impossible for you to do something intentionally that you think is against your own best interest. Go ahead - try it."

Really? How about this:

You're standing on the sidewalk and you see a little child walk out in front of a truck. You leap out in front of the truck yourself, pushing the child out of its way. The child survives, but you yourself are struck and killed. How is that in "your own best interest"?

John Moore said...

a) Perhaps you recognize that you share over 99% of your genes with that child, and that your best interest isn't just an individualist matter but is a community matter.

b) Or perhaps your saving the child was a mere impulse, and if you stopped to consider rationally, you would have decided not to do it.

c) Or perhaps you figured there was a good chance you could save the child without being killed yourself.

Most likely it's some combination of these things.

Starhopper said...

OK then. Instead of a hypothetical, how about the case of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, who in the Auschwitz death camp, voluntarily offered himself as a substitution for another prisoner condemned by the nazis to die a most horrible death by starvation and thirst, as retribution for a prisoner having escaped?

a) Kolbe offered up his life for a complete stranger.
b) It was no impulse, but an active witness to Christ's love.
c) There was no chance of surviving the starvation cell.

In fact, it was a combination of these things.

Legion of Logic said...

Looks to me like the only reason it is "impossible" is because it is defined in such a way that it can't even theoretically exist. When counterexamples are dismissed as the product of unfalsifiable subconscious processes, it's pretty safe to dismiss the dismissal.

People do things against their own interest all the time, primarily to help others. Not because of a, b, or c, but because they believe it to be the right thing to do. You don't even have to believe in God for that to apply.

John Moore said...

The point is that morality is about thriving. In other words, morality is goal-oriented. You do things in order to get some kind of good results.

You're right that it couldn't be any other way. No matter what you do, if you are acting intentionally, you will be trying to do whatever you are trying to do.

If you want to know whether an act is moral or not, just look at the consequences. An act is moral - relative to the intended goal - if it helps the actor achieve that goal. Objective morality means acting in ways that help you achieve the ultimate goal of all humanity.

Thinking of morality as goal-oriented helps clear up a lot of confusion. For example:

a) You wouldn't need to worry about the universe being moral. That's just incoherent.

b) You'd realize that moral rules can't be absolute, because no moral rule is always the best strategy for every situation.

c) You wouldn't obey moral rules because some authority told you to, but because you see that those rules are the best way to achieve the goal.

Legion of Logic said...

If you want to know whether an act is moral or not, just look at the consequences. An act is moral - relative to the intended goal - if it helps the actor achieve that goal

So using a spoon to eat soup is moral, while using a fork is immoral? And here I'd always scoffed at the idea of "proper" table manners.

The above is tongue in cheek, admittedly, but I don't see that as a workable definition for morality. You change right and wrong to practical and impractical, and you've pretty well destroyed the concept entirely.

Joe Hinman said...


Blogger John Moore said...
Joe Hinman asked where I get the idea that morality is about thriving. This is obvious.

Just ask yourself: Why do you follow moral rules? Because you expect it's in your own best interest. Or do you think you follow rules merely because they are rules? Or because somebody said you should? That's naive.

No John you are ignorant, you need to study ethics at the graduate level. you are merely imposing you own assumption the question with no valid reason. It i just as logical that one might say I follow rules because it's right as to say becasue it;s in my interest.

Why do you obey God? Why do you worship God? Sure, at one level you just have to, because he's God, but on the other hand, if it were not in your own interest to worship God, you certainly would not.

O that just stinks of Ayn Rand, you call me Naive! Look That assumes that morality is entirely of human invention, in that God is also.Otherwise why I follow God has nothing whatever to do with why morality is right

----

Joe Hinman said...


Blogger Legion of Logic said...
If you want to know whether an act is moral or not, just look at the consequences. An act is moral - relative to the intended goal - if it helps the actor achieve that goal

So using a spoon to eat soup is moral, while using a fork is immoral? And here I'd always scoffed at the idea of "proper" table manners.

The above is tongue in cheek, admittedly, but I don't see that as a workable definition for morality. You change right and wrong to practical and impractical, and you've pretty well destroyed the concept entirely.

December 19, 2018 11:58 PM

that is teleological ethics it is of the two major divisions of ethics and it is respectable. But Not the view I hold to.

Joe Hinman said...

John Please read this essay, it forms the basis of a chapter in my forth coming book,

Ethical Natualism and Value Systems: The Illusion of Moral Landscape part 1

part 2

In this section part 2 I deal with Harris's ethical system that is most like this theological ethics were discussing

Ethical Natualism and Value Systems: The Illusion of Moral Landscape part 3

John Moore
Thinking of morality as goal-oriented helps clear up a lot of confusion. For example:

a) You wouldn't need to worry about the universe being moral. That's just incoherent.

read my chapter three links above you will see it is quite the contrary, teleological ethics is incoherent an deontology makes perfect sense, Professors in graduate school have least respect for teleoloical ethics

b) You'd realize that moral rules can't be absolute, because no moral rule is always the best strategy for every situation.

Moral rules are inherenlty absolute,but they don't necessarily have to be apologized absolutely because that';s not necessarily how one deals with absolutes,

c) You wouldn't obey moral rules because some authority told you to, but because you see that those rules are the best way to achieve the goal.

That;s right, WE don't obey God because he said to, Being God we know he's right, he knows more than we do, but that is not basis of religious ethics,just saying God said X so do X.

One Brow said...

John Moore said...
The point is that morality is about thriving. In other words, morality is goal-oriented. You do things in order to get some kind of good results.

You're right that it couldn't be any other way. No matter what you do, if you are acting intentionally, you will be trying to do whatever you are trying to do.


We always act to bring the world closer to what we desire the world to be. The harder part is finding a reason to justify them morally. Being social creatures, most of us are born/raised with a sense of fairness and cooperation that informs what we consider to be moral.

Hugo Pelland said...

Some people believe in God and always do what they think is morally, others dont, and it's the same for any religion and non-religious people alike. What religious people do differently though is that some become even more selfless, while others become more horrible.

Hence, believe in god(s) seem not to matter much. It's logic and reason that made humanity progressed.

Moreover, whether there is a god is even more irrelevant as it is the case, right now, that there is a god, or not, yet nobody can agree on what that god would want us to do, so we are all on our own.

Joe Hinman said...

Hence, believe in god(s) seem not to matter much. It's logic and reason that made humanity progressed.

when I used to research a lot of stuff about atheist psychology for atheist watch I found studies that i think exploitation the phenomena of some religious people being like Gandhi or MLK and others Being like Reagan or worse.John Calvin. It has nothing to do with using logic and it is connected to the reason why some atheists have that real big hate on for religious people. Both phenomena are limited to ones self image and it's link the image of God. The negative religious type hates himself because he sees God as a negative force, overly critical, unyielding authoritarian, the studies indicate the self image drives the God image. The positive religious person sees God the opposite as loving.

Moreover, whether there is a god is even more irrelevant as it is the case, right now, that there is a god, or not, yet nobody can agree on what that god would want us to do, so we are all on our own.

but so what? It;s an individual relationship with God one has to form one's own relationship with God that's why there are Christian existentialists,

here is a blog piece using that researchbtw

Starhopper said...

Here is one of the most profound statements I have ever read on the relationship of Christianity and morality:

"Could not all of Catholic moral theology be wonderfully energized if the moral life were seen as the necessary continuation and application of the liturgical life? [...] Should not the Mystery of Christ be the dynamic fire at the center of the Christian's moral life rather than an appeal to the "natural law" of the Stoics? Without this centrality of the religious mystery, our reading of the Gospel will inevitably lapse into a bloodless moralism and the reduction of the social sciences. Instead of catching the fire of Christ's self-oblation to the Father in union with mankind, we will spend our lives mbling pious sentiments like "We must work for a better world" and "The marginal must look out for one another." It is [rather] the full, efficacious, divinely instituted Mystery of Christ that we must continually seek in the Gospel, that we may enter into it and that it may transform our being.
(Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word, page 37)

Starhopper said...

Aaaurgh! Typo. Should have written "we will spend our lives mumbling" - not "mbling".

bmiller said...

@Starhopper,

I agree.

Philosophy and science while interesting and perhaps undeniable intellectually do not move people to action. We are more than machines processing information.

David Brightly said...

What is the sense in which Christian monotheism makes the universe ‘at bottom’ a ‘moral place’? Can’t we can say that the universe is a moral one because there are creatures in it that experience moral sentiments, just as the universe is coloured because there are creatures in it that experience colour vision? The coming of Christ did not change human nature, though it certainly engendered a great shift in the ‘moral climate’ of the West, and we should ask ourselves how this came about. But this is a hard question in human psychology. How much, for example, does it depend on the promise that the universe supports some kind of ultimate justice or fairness? The strange thing about this idea is that it seems to vitiate what we think of as an essentially moral component of our behaviour. For acting to achieve ultimate happiness or to avoid ultimate punishment is surely self-seeking.

Are we gradually losing our moral sensitivity as the West (well, Europe at any rate) becomes post-Christianised? In some areas perhaps our moral sensitivity has coarsened. Elsewhere the winds of moral climate change are blowing into previously undisturbed corners. But we should not assume that a social phenomenon acts in the public good merely because it draws upon the moral sentiments.

Hal said...

bmiller,
Philosophy and science while interesting and perhaps undeniable intellectually do not move people to action.

True that the passions are needed for moving people into action. But surely we also need our intellect to guide those passions, don't we?


We are more than machines processing information.

Yes we are.:-)

Starhopper said...

True that the passions are needed for moving people into action. But surely we also need our intellect to guide those passions, don't we?

In a sermon preached on the Feast of the Epiphany (a.k.a., the Adoration of the Magi), Pope Benedict XVI pointed out that "the chief priests and scribes of the people" in Jerusalem were able to inform Herod of all the prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah, but despite their ability to direct the Wise Men to Bethlehem, they did nothing to go there themselves. They had all the wisdom of their faith but none of the passion, which ironically 3 pagans from a foreign land possessed.

A perfect example of passion being guided by intellect. Intellect by itself goes nowhere. Passion by itself doesn't know where to go.

bmiller said...

Hal,

Yes we are.:-)

Thought you'd like that ;-)

Joe Hinman said...

My Christmas musings on Metacrock's .blog

Joe Hinman said...

Hugo: "yet nobody can agree on what that god would want us to do, so we are all on our own."

we are on our own anyway. God because God wont guide us, because we have to be honest with God in the heart and seek his guidance within our individual relationship with Him.no one else can do it for us.This is just good old Christian existentialism. Like Pete Seeger sang "you got to walk that lysosomes valley, you got to walk it by your self,no one else can do it for you"

Starhopper said...

"nobody can agree on what that god would want us to do, so we are all on our own"

Hmm.. I recall that C.S. Lewis (this is a blog about C.S. Lewis, isn't it?) wrote an entire book, The Abolition of Man, refuting that very statement. Did a good job of doing so, too. Find a copy and read it. Minus the endnotes, it's only 81 pages long.

Joe Hinman said...

C.S. Lewis (this is a blog about C.S. Lewis, isn't it?) wrote an entire book, The Abolition of Man,...

My favorite Lewis expository work. His argumentation skills really shine in that book.