Friday, November 11, 2016

Atheism and morality

There is nothing about  agnosticism or even atheism that prevents people from adopting moral values and following them. However atheism does make it more difficult to hold that there are certain moral values which are the right values, as opposed to others which are not the right values. On religious views, there are correct moral values, whether people follow them or not. If one person says one should be generous and another says we should always be selfish, it makes sense to say that someone is mistaken. On the other hand, without God, it is harder to argue that one side of that dispute is right and the other is not.


John B. Moore said...

Who says one should "always" do one thing or another? That's absurd. It's like the man with a hammer who thinks we should always hit things. Moral rules are tools. Use the best tool for the job at hand.

jdhuey said...

"...which are the right values, as opposed to others which are not the right values."

As a Secular Humanist, I would not argue that values are right/wrong but, rather, that values should be judged as better/worse, helpful/harmful, and good/bad.

Unknown said...

>>Use the best tool for the job at hand.

But that's exactly the point! How do you know what the "best tool" is? That assumes a standard by which those tools can be judged.

The same goes for jdhuey's remarks. To know what is better and what is worse, you have to have a standard. To know what is helpful and what is harmful, you must have a purpose. To know what is good, you must have a standard.

If there is no objective standard, then it doesn't matter what you propose... the standard you choose is just your own opinion.

Rasmus Møller said...

You secular humanists, what exactly do you intend to accomplish by switching labels from right/wrong to the other proposed alternatives?

Unless there is an original "Should" i.e. teleology, all alternative labels are equally empty.

How can you even pretend not to see that?

jdhuey said...

"Right/wrong" is a binary categorical label. "Better/worse" is a gradient. Often the best one can do is still "wrong" and often the standard "right" choice is not the best.
The world is not black and white, it is shades of gray - sometimes even color.

Callum said...

I was never terribly impressed by the moral argument for the existence of God. However, when looking at the debates, it was always entertaining to see atheists squirm and sweat some moral system.

Scientism can he asserted for most debates about God, but when it comes to morality theres an implied acceptance that the theist is at least half right.

Anonymous said...

@John Moore: The ideology you're expressing is utilitarianism. On what grounds do you "know" that utilitarianism is the best "ism"? It leaves wide open the question of what the "job" _ought_ to be. It also assumes that "the end justifies the means," but that simply isn't the case. Nazi doctors experimented viciously on Jewish prisoners; most of us would agree that medical knowledge is a laudable goal - so does that make such human experimentation "right"? Of course not.

@Callum: You said, "I was never terribly impressed by the moral argument for the existence of God." Well, you should be, because without God there's no basis for morals. I assume you have some morals; but you have zero foundation for them if there's no God. Intuitively you simply _know_ that some things are right, and some things are wrong. But how did you come by that intuitive knowledge? The only possible explanation is God.

Besides, deep down each of us knows God exists.

B. Prokop said...

I don't care at all for language such as "Intuitively you simply _know_ that some things are right, and some things are wrong." That's way too close to the Mormon "burning inside" that you're supposed to feel when reading their book. I'd much rather express what I think you meant as "Logic and reason compel us to come to certain conclusions, among them being 'morality requires an external objective observer in order to exist'. To deny this is to deny logic and reason."

"The only possible explanation is God."

You need to amend that to read "The only possible explanation consistent with reason is God." There are of course many alternative explanations, but none of them stand up under reasonable scrutiny.

B. Prokop said...

And when discussing this topic, believers need to always remember that we're talking about atheism, and not atheists. Atheists can be as "moral" as any Christian. All too often, they are even more so. This should come as no surprise. People are frequently better than their professed beliefs. Never forget that the man who saved the lives of thousands of innocent civilians during the brutal Japanese "Rape of Nanking" was a Nazi (John Rabe). And St. Paul himself tells us that God's Law is written in the heart of every person - atheists too.

grodrigues said...

@B. Prokop:

"Atheists can be as "moral" as any Christian. All too often, they are even more so. This should come as no surprise."

Since if God exists, worshipping Him is a moral duty for any rational being, it follows that no, atheists cannot be as moral as any Christian. You might object that the conditional has a premise an atheist rejects, but that is precisely my point: the content of the moral duties is not independent of other, logically prior beliefs. That being so, the correct claim you want to make is that Atheists can fulfill the moral duties as well as Christians, insofar as they agree with Christians on what those duties are. But this does not have the same zing, now does it? John Moore, in the first comment in this thread, said there are no oughts or "shoulds", and that moral rules are simply "tools", presumably to achieve the ends he thinks more proper. This founders on an egregious misunderstanding of what moral duties are, but at any rate, it follows that he will cheat, lie, be intellectually dishonest, etc., in this very thread and in discussion with others, if it furthers his agenda, whatever that may be. If in his economic calculus the risks are greater than the pay off, he will not do it, if they are, he will. Keep this in mind as a sobering check when thinking about how moral atheists can be.

Crude said...

Yep. Avowed atheists are only as moral as Christians when you A) radically redefine what Christians mean by moral and/or B) are ignorant of the stats we have.

John B. Moore said...

In case you guys want more information about evolutionary consequentialist morality, you can visit The Brights website, where they've recently added new content:

Crude said...

The Brights

Ahhh sheeeit they're still using that name ahahaha