CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Introduction

In doing a bit of research on an unrelated subject, I came across an essay by Richard Carrier entitled Does the Christian Theism Advocated by J.P. Moreland Provide a Better Reason to be Moral than Secular Humanism? In this essay, Carrier claims that he refutes J.P. Moreland's position that Christianity provides a strong moral foundation for being moral -- a foundation that Moreland asserts atheism lacks.

Now, I found this essay to be interesting because I think that the moral argument for the existence of God is a pretty strong argument. I think that the argument that atheism has no foundational basis for morality is also quite compelling.

Now, before I am accused of saying something I haven't said, let me clarify: I am not saying that atheists cannot act morally. In fact, I have met some very moral atheists in my life. But there is a difference between acting moral and having a firm foundational philosophical basis for doing so.

Critiquing the Atheist Viewpoint

Atheists, as near as I can tell, believe that it is very noble to treat people morally and with respect (unless they are Christians which, in the eyes of many atheists, seems to be grounds for being extremely ill-mannered). But the question that arises is, in light of the Darwinian or Neo-Darwinian viewpoints regarding humanity, why should a person act morally towards another? After all, if human beings are merely the result of a combination of time and chance, there is no inherent value in another human life. Human life is simply the result of the processes of nature, and there is no difference between a human being and a cockroach in the greater scheme of the universe. If I can stamp out an unwanted cockroach without moral implications, why can't I kill another human being without concern for the moral implications?

Obviously, atheists don't believe human life is worthless -- they place value on human life. But that's different from having a philosophical system which holds that human life is, in and of itself, valuable regardless of what value I, as the observer, place on it. In other words, while someone could choose to assign value to human life, in atheistic thought there appears to be nothing foundational in their worldview to suppose that such value exists independently of the assignment of value by the atheist. Further, if the universe is the result of time and chance and there is no meaning behind it all, there appears to be no foundational basis for supposing that it is morally necessary to assign value to other human beings. In other words, if a person should choose to not assign value to another human being's life, then that is they are not violating some deeper universal morality in declining to assign such value.

As Moreland points out in his book, when an atheist (or humanist, the term used by Moreland) claims that human life has value, that value is not objective, but subjective.

When optimistic humanists say that life has meaning they do not mean that objective values or an objective point to life exists. Rather, they mean that life can be subjectively satisfying if we create values and live life for them. Why should I be moral? Because it will give me personal satisfaction to be moral.

It is not clear what it means to "create" values. What metaethical theory is involved here? Perhaps the optimistic humanist means that we should act as if real irreducible values exist. But this would merely be to live one's life in a self-induced delusion on the humanist's own views, so if this is what he means, then satisfaction comes from living a lie. Life would be a placebo effect.

Moreland, J.P., Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity (Baker Books: 1987), p. 121.

I think this is well-reasoned. The idea that value exists because we place value on something is a different sort of animal than the Christian view that human beings have value because they have been endowed by their creator with value. If value exists only because humans place value on other humans, then there is no reason to say that those who don't place such value on humanity are acting wrongly in any significant way. It is merely that they have chosen not to place value on humanity and it seems that there is no reason to claim that that decision is somehow morally deficient. In other words, if human life has value only because it is our decision to place that value in human beings and there is no inherent value in humanity, then on what basis can we say that others who don't choose to place value in humanity are acting immorally? To require them to do so would certainly seem to be of the same genre as "legislating morality" which the secularist in our society seem to find so utterly offensive.

Let me repeat: Do atheists act morally? Of course most of them do! It may even be true that more atheists than Christians act morally, but I am not addressing that issue in this post. However, simply acting morally does not mean that they have any strong philosophical foundation for doing so. To insist that people act morally, in an atheistic worldview, seems to be unwarranted on the most basic philosophical level.

Next time, I will set out Carrier's objection to what Moreland says, but unlike Carrier, I will try to provide context for what Moreland says based on Moreland's own words.

33 comments:

I'm not a philosopher, so I may be missing some of the terminology here.

But I think the reason you treat people well is that you want to live in a world where people treat each other well.

It's the reason you don't run red lights. Not just that you don't want to get killed. It's that you don't want to get caught and punished by society at large, AND that you probably don't want OTHER people to run red lights either, because it makes it safer for you. It doesn't mean God came up with the traffic laws, or that people who don't believe that God came up with traffic laws are somehow "traffic relativists" and it's all loosey-goosey.

It's a social contract. It's a social contract that says, "if you want to live in a world where your rights are respected, respect others in turn."

I do hold a philosophical system which holds that human life is valuable, in and of itself. I kind of don't understand why you don't think I do. Humans are important because humans need each other to survive. We are a social species. We cannot survive alone as individuals. So to get along, we have social agreements. We need help, and love, and care and commitment to survive. So promoting that helps everyone.



You wrote:

" In other words, if a person should choose to not assign value to another human being's life, then that is they are not violating some deeper universal morality in declining to assign such value. "

Yes they are. They are violating the social morality as defined by the society at large. They're probably also acting against a lot of social instincts, but still misanthropes nevertheless exist. If they act on that, society will punish them, isolate them, exile them or perhaps kill them.

"Humans are important because humans need each other to survive"

The problem with this philosophy is that it puts value only upon humans that can actively contribute to society. What about the humans that don't (or can't) contribute? Accordingly, old people in nursing homes would be considered unimportant.

"if you want to live in a world where your rights are respected, respect others in turn."

Who decides what those "rights" are? What if your "rights" interfere with my "rights"? Whose rights trump the other's?

Godan wrote: "The problem with this philosophy is that it puts value only upon humans that can actively contribute to society. What about the humans that don't (or can't) contribute? Accordingly, old people in nursing homes would be considered unimportant."

No, because the social contract extends to all members of society, not just the active contributors (whatever that means.)

It includes children, the infirm and old people.

In other words, I'll protect your grandmother because I want to live in a society where grandmothers are protected, because I have grandmothers that I love, and someday I'll also (hopefully) be a grandparent and will want that protection myself.

Beyond grandparents, I'm a human being, and I cannot tell what state of being I will be in tomorrow. I may be a prisoner wrongly accused. I may be infirm. I may be a person of different spiritual beliefs than the majority, etc. This informs my morality and instructs me to protect well the rights of others. It may be me or someone I love walking in those shoes tomorrow.

I am driven by my duty to protect and care and serve others. Love and respect are paramount, for it is that which protects me and my loved ones as well.

I'm glad for this thread. My goal here is to help people here understand atheists. I think this will be a great thread to try and build bridges.

Sorry, I missed a question, Godan: "Who decides what those "rights" are? What if your "rights" interfere with my "rights"? Whose rights trump the other's?"

That's why we have a dialogue as a society. We do not live in a dictatorship, thankfully. We live in a democracy. In a dictatorship, Kim Jung Il decides what those rights are and which rights trump the others.

In a democracy we have a national dialogue and we do the messy, confusing business of trying to make a society that works for as many people as we can. Democracy isn't perfect, but it's better than anything else I can think of.

Humans are important because humans need each other to survive. We are a social species. We cannot survive alone as individuals.

Who cares if humans survive? Like BK said, if humans are just the result of time and chance, what difference does it make whether they survive or not?

"Who cares if humans survive?"

Well, humans of course.

"Like BK said, if humans are just the result of time and chance, what difference does it make whether they survive or not?"

Setting aside whether or not we are just the result of time and chance (I disagree with that), the difference is I am a human. So if humans don't survive, that includes me and everyone I love.


I'm trying to make sense of your comment, Zok.

Do many Christians assume that atheists are this morally deficient, that our morality doesn't protect the infirm and the elderly, and that we somehow have no reason for humans to survive?

I think I need to step back a second and say forthrightly and hopefully soundly, I believe in the inherant worth and dignity of all people. I believe in freedom and responsibility. Justice and openness. Equality and cooperation. Charity and compassion. Love and respect for all humane views, even views which differ from mine.

I'm not that different from any of you.

zok:
"Who cares if humans survive?"

Bruce:
Well, humans of course.


But why? What difference would it make if the entire human race was wiped out tomorrow, or if humans never existed to begin with? Or to take a less extreme example: What difference does it make if certain humans are treated poorly? BK wrote:

"Further, if the universe is the result of time and chance and there is no meaning behind it all, there appears to be no foundational basis for supposing that it is morally necessary to assign value to other human beings. In other words, if a person should choose to not assign value to another human being's life, then that is they are not violating some deeper universal morality in declining to assign such value."

You responded by saying:

Yes they are. They are violating the social morality as defined by the society at large.

But what if a society chooses not to assign another human being's life with value? Dalits in India, for example, are considered as having no more value than dogs. For example, they're not allowed to draw water from the village well -- they have to wait by the well until an upper caste member is willing to give them some water. If someone happens to notice them and give them water, great. If not, no big deal. They're typically views as nothing more than dogs scrouncing for food. In a recent instance some dalit men were punished by having acid poured on them for fishing in a lake they weren't allowed to fish in. This, of course, is but one of a vast number of examples/circumstances throughout history, everything from slavery to child sacrifice. But since these actions aren't in violation of the social morality as defined by these societies, it shouldn't make any difference whether or not they're treated this way. These societies at large have agreed that certain people have little value and can be mistreated, and if no objective values exist, these things are perfectly acceptable.

Do many Christians assume that atheists are this morally deficient, that our morality doesn't protect the infirm and the elderly, and that we somehow have no reason for humans to survive?

I can't speak for other Christians but I certainly don't believe that atheists lack morals. I don't believe BK believes this either since he writes: "Do atheists act morally? Of course most of them do! It may even be true that more atheists than Christians act morally, but I am not addressing that issue in this post." I concur. The point is simply that these morals are subjective. If someone chooses not to assign a person, or a group of people, value, at least in societies where this is agreed upon at large, then it’s perfectly acceptable since objective morals don’t exist. As BK explains: "they are not violating some deeper universal morality in declining to assign such value."

'But that's different from having a philosophical system which holds that human life is, in and of itself, valuable regardless of what value I, as the observer, place on it.'

Why did God let 250,000 values disappear on 26/12/2006 when He could have saved each and every one of them?

Exodus 32

27 Then he said to them, "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.' " 28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. 29 Then Moses said, "You have been set apart to the LORD today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day."

What value did the LORD place on the lives of people who did not worship him?

BK's argument is that if something has no inherent value, then there is nothing morally wrong with destroying something of no inherent value.

If BK would like to give me the dollar bills from his wallet, I can demonstrate that to be false. I will destroy something of no inherent value in itself, and I will have destroyed nothing of any value. How can he object to me destroying something of no value

Unless BK thinks his money has an objective value, given to it by God......


Does BK have any pets? Does he think they have more inherent value than a cockroach? BK would have no qualms about stamping on cockroaches, but does he think God values dogs more than cockroaches?

Zok, I still don't understand this point:

You wrote

"Who cares if humans survive?"

I wrote
"Well, humans of course."

You answered "But why?"


I just can't make sense of that question. Why should humans care if we survive or not? Because we care. We like living, we don't like dying. I don't understand what's strange about that.

"What difference would it make if the entire human race was wiped out tomorrow, or if humans never existed to begin with?"

Well, then I'd have really wasted my time here tonight typing this instead of making love to my wife! If humans never existed to begin with? How can I even answer that?

If humans didn't exist, then we wouldn't be asking these questions.

I don't know if this helps, but can I say I'm happy to be alive? I enjoy it. I think it's good that we exist, okay? Beyond that, I can't really give you much more without more clarification. Sorry.



You wrote:

"These societies at large have agreed that certain people have little value and can be mistreated, and if no objective values exist, these things are perfectly acceptable."

I assume you are contrasting that with "objective" religious values. But it is a religious value which causes this mistreatment in India. A religious value is not inherantly better or objective just because religious people believe it to have come from God(s).

Mistreatment of people is not a humanist value, so obviously I'm against it.

The fact that someone in another country believes differently means that it is my moral duty to attempt to peacefully persuade people there that humanism points to a better way. Nothing changes from bad to better by magic, and yes, there are backward places in the world where people are treated poorly. There are people in America who cry out for justice and compassion and assistance. Humanism doesn't excuse us of our moral responsibility to equality and justice, rather it DEMANDS it of us. Majority social norms change. They change all the time. I am absolutely not arguing that the majority always points to the highest virtue, or the greatest equality in justice. It often misses the mark, sometimes horribly.

But if you find that a greater calling is that you think that the current morality doesn't properly care for people, it is your duty to add your voice and peacefully work for change. It is a call for persuasion. It is a call of duty and love and sometimes sacrifice.

What I'm trying to get at is that we have different roles to play. As an individual, my moral role is to add my voice to the conversation, and push it in a direction of the highest morality I can. As an individual, your moral role is the same, and you push it in the same direction from your point of view. Since the world is not a dictatorship, we may disagree. And that's okay. We can change society. And that's good! Society might not like what I have to say. Martin Luther King was killed because of what he had to say. So sometimes change takes sacrifice.

Morality is a social contract, but that doesn't mean we have to shut up and take what the current society has. Rather, we cannot be complacent, for there are people everywhere who yearn for a better life.

Morality should be driven by compassion, enlightened by imagination and empathy, and evaluated by study.


"The point is simply that these morals are subjective. If someone chooses not to assign a person, or a group of people, value, at least in societies where this is agreed upon at large, then it’s perfectly acceptable since objective morals don’t exist."

No, because unless you ship people off to live on an asteroid, they're still part of society. By "society" I don't mean a subset of people in one part of the world. I mean all human beings everywhere. We are all part of the big human society. As long as we can interact, we have shared moral obligations.

I don't have a very strong impression of which morals actually do constitute a religious "objective morality." I know Christians on all sides of almost every issue in public debate today. It changes depending on who you ask and what their beliefs are. People pick and choose which beliefs to keep and which ones to discard. Whole sections of Biblical laws are not currently followed. Then there is the question of "proper interpretation of scripture." Who is the proper interpreter? Which sect has the proper interpretation? Which religion is the correct one, and how do they settle disagreements between their religion and those other religions?


My point of view is, I think people's understanding of God always tends to agree with whatever they believe is right and wrong.

Ask an angry person what God is like, and the picture you'll get is that He's very angry at the world. Ask a happy person what God is like, and you'll hear how God is benevolent and loving. Ask a conservative, and he's pretty sure God is mad at the Democrats right now. Ask a liberal and they know in their heart of hearts that God can't stand the way the country is being run.

God always seems to agree with whoever's doing the preaching. Is that really objective?


I think we're the same. I say all people have an inherant worth and dignity. You might agree that all people have an inherant worth and dignity, and you believe in a God who agrees with you.

I'm glad that you have a personal experience with faith. I do not share your experience. But just because I do not share your experience it doesn't mean I have an untethered morality. My morality is tethered to my parents' values, to my society's and to my conscience. Probably just like yours. It can wander from there, but not far. When it wanders, it moves toward justice, equality, love, fairness, commitment, duty, honor, sacrifice, compassion and a search for truth. Probably just like yours.

That is nothing to be ashamed of, or fearful of, or dismissive of. I think it shows a strength that we share, Christians and humanists alike.

Bruce,

So, we meet again, eh? A few thoughts:

First, its interesting that you are trying to defend the idea that there is some philosophical warrant for being moral towards others from an atheist worldview -- even Carrier acknowledges that there isn't such a basis (as we shall see).

Second, the idea that we need each other to survive has not been the rule of civilization for many centuries. A look at history shows that most of humanity has hated each other and been willing to go to war against each other at the drop of a hat. Thus, I would argue that society, throughout history, has not been in any sort of agreement with the principle you espouse. If you lived in a society where they were seeking to kill the neighboring countries/kingdoms would you believe there was a rational warrant to act morally towards other human beings generally?

Third, I don't know if you are a moral person since I don't know you, but I assume that you are. I have stressed repeatedly that this post isn't about whether you act morally or not, but is about whether an atheist (which I suppose you to be) has a rational warrant for acting morally. I claim that they don't, and while I think that you have made a good stab at answering it, I don't think you have succeeded because your argument depends upon social norms that you suggest exist but which I don't think history shows do exist.

Fourth, I think that you are missing a major point in your argument that humans care that humans survive. The question is why? In the Darwinistic view of the universe, the only one I care about surviving and perhaps propagating is me. If everyone else but me and my family drops dead tomorrow, I may be inconvenienced, but I certainly won't be harmed by it, so what reason do I have for caring if other people survive? I mean, even today, if the Hebollahs and the Israelis wipe each other out, it really won't impact my life half a world away. Why should I care as a moral matter?

Oh, and just for the record, humanism doesn't demand anything of anyone. Humanism doesn't have any demands outside of the humans who hold the view because humanism isn't an entity.

I don't know if this helps, but can I say I'm happy to be alive? I enjoy it. I think it's good that we exist, okay? Beyond that, I can't really give you much more without more clarification. Sorry.

No, I totally understand what you’re saying. I held this attitude as well before I was Christian -- I enjoyed living and of course I didn’t want to die. But even though I enjoyed living, and even though I didn’t want to die, it would have made no ultimate difference if I did die. Of course at the time I didn’t understand this, and my reaction would have been the same as yours. But it’s like in those movies where a villain is about to shoot an innocent person. The innocent guy pleads, "I don’t want to die!" The villain, pointing a gun at the victim, simply replies: "We all have to die sometime..." It’s a cheesy example and we see the villain as an evil *#!%, but he’s actually right. We may enjoy living, but without God our lives really have no ultimate purpose. We’re all going to die sometime, and it ultimately makes no difference whether it happens today or in fifty years, or whether it’s by murder or old age.

zok:
"These societies at large have agreed that certain people have little value and can be mistreated, and if no objective values exist, these things are perfectly acceptable."

Bruce:
I assume you are contrasting that with "objective" religious values. But it is a religious value which causes this mistreatment in India. A religious value is not inherantly better or objective just because religious people believe it to have come from God(s).


I agree. If a religious person believes a value comes from God but in reality it doesn’t, then you’re right: it’s not any better or objective. It’s no better than humanist values and vice versa. My point is that if God exists, then objective values exist. If God does not exist, all values are subjective, and no culture or person’s values are ultimately right or wrong, better or worse.

[You go on to explain humanist values which I won’t address since it’s irrelevant to the conversation. My point, again, was never that humanists don’t have values, or that they’re are lacking.]

No, because unless you ship people off to live on an asteroid, they're still part of society. By "society" I don't mean a subset of people in one part of the world. I mean all human beings everywhere. We are all part of the big human society. As long as we can interact, we have shared moral obligations.

But this wasn’t the case throughout history. Many past societies were isolated and did not interact with others. So since morality is subjective, and these societies were secluded, there should be no problem that they agreed that things such as child sacrifice, cannibalism and widow burning were acceptable. Other societies which did interact with one another agreed that things we now view as immoral were perfectly acceptable; and again, since values are subjective, no one can say they were wrong for what they did. It may sound harsh but it’s the logical and consistent outcome of a universe with no objective values.

You went on to point out that different people interpret the Bible differently, that people’s view of God reflects their personal views and so on. This is all nice, but it’s irrelevant to the topic. The point is simply that if God exists, then objective values exist, whatever they may be. Figuring out what these values are, and whether or not they’re contained within Christianity, is a different topic.

If God doesn’t exist, on the other hand, then, once again, all values are subjective and equal. Person A says that hurting people is wrong while person B says that hurting people isn’t wrong because [fill in the blank]. If no objective values exist, what makes person A right and Person B wrong? Nothing; both views are subjective and equal. In fact there is no such thing as "right" and "wrong," "good" and "bad" in the first place; there just "is." You can label certain actions as "moral" or "immoral," "right" or "wrong," or whatever, but that doesn’t make them so; they’re simply subjective labels which change from person to person and culture to culture. And when someone holds values contrary to yours -- labeling certain actions contrary to how you label them -- that doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Indeed they’re just as valid.

I say all people have an inherant worth and dignity.

What evidence/arguments do you have to support this?

But just because I do not share your experience it doesn't mean I have an untethered morality.

No worries; as BK and I keep pointing out, that’s not our view.

'The point is simply that if God exists, then objective values exist, whatever they may be.'

Is it objectively wrong to allow abortion to exist?

Why does God allow abortion to exist?

"We may enjoy living, but without God our lives really have no ultimate purpose. We’re all going to die sometime, and it ultimately makes no difference whether it happens today or in fifty years, or whether it’s by murder or old age."

You may not think so, but I disagree. My ultimate purpose is to care for my child, and make the world a better place for her and all the children to follow me. If I die tomorrow, there are negative consequences that survive me. I am not so self-centered to think that merely by my oblivion these problems disappear with me.

"My point is that if God exists, then objective values exist."

I don't agree. If God exists, He may or may not have values. He may or may not be aware of us. He may be no longer in existence. There may be multiple Gods. There are an infinite number of possible definitions of God that do not include human moral values. Now you believe that your God gave you some objective moral values. That's nice, and a personal belief negated by all the other religions and sects with conflicting revelation. But unless we have a tool to tell a true theological belief from a false one, God has not communicated these values in a way that will allow us to differentiate them from merely subjective values. We, as humans, cannot elevate one set of values over another merely because of religious authority if they conflict with our consciences. Which is why slavery is condoned in the Bible, but not in the modern world.

"So since morality is subjective, and these societies were secluded, there should be no problem that they agreed that things such as child sacrifice, cannibalism and widow burning were acceptable. "

Since morals are a social construct, these things existed. Can I say we're more advanced now? Can I say that ethical standards have progressed? Science has progressed. Farming has progressed. Medicine has progressed. And yes, morality has progressed. Which is why we don't stone to death willful children.

I'll say it again, just because majority society says something doesn't mean as a humanist you shut up and take it. It is just the opposite. You have an obligation to change things for the better. In your depiction of a world where child sacrifice reigns, you are assuming that no individual will ever come up and challenge that. That's manifestly not the case. Individual conscience REQUIRES it. Morality is a social construct, to be sure, but it is driven by conscience, enlightened by imagination and empathy and should be evaluated by study.

"If no objective values exist, what makes person A right and Person B wrong? Nothing; both views are subjective and equal."

No, both views are not subjective and equal. One idea can bring misery, hunger, death and fear. The other can bring happiness, prosperity, life and peace. The second is better. If you do not agree that the second is better, then you're in the extreme minority, and may have some deep psychological problems.

I wrote:
"I say all people have an inherant worth and dignity."
You replied:
"What evidence/arguments do you have to support this?"

Axiomatic. It was a moral declaration, driven by my conscience and empathy.


No worries; as BK and I keep pointing out, that’s not our view.

Thanks. I feel like your understanding of me relies very heavily on my ability to argue effectively. I wish it were not the case. Something tells me I wasn't built to be a philosopher and phrase it all in legalese lest I be caught in a contradiction. I hope you'll allow me the fact that I don't necessarily have this all sorted out in a legalistic way.

To go back to earlier in your post:

The innocent guy pleads, "I don’t want to die!" The villain, pointing a gun at the victim, simply replies: "We all have to die sometime..."

I think that the amount of time matters. I think the things you do matter. I think that if you are a good person, you have only a limited number of good works you can do in the time you're here. So cutting that short is a tragedy. Both for the person with the passion for life, and for the society which needs the work many good hands.

Yes, we all have to die sometime. But how tragic is the life cut short. How tragic is the life unlived.

I'm not sure, but I get the impression that you are falling into the trap that I call "Comparing to the imaginary infinity". It's something I have seen quite a bit. Sorry if this misrepresents your view, but let me take a stab:

I think you might be comparing your expected infinite spiritual lifespan with mine, and saying, jeez, if you're going to die anyway, what's the difference between one day or 40 years early?

Well, if I have an expected lifespan of 80 years, then that's half my life. To take all I have in the world, and take away half of it, that's huge.

Now for you, if you believe you live forever in some spiritual way, 1 day or 40 years is one year out of infinity. Your lifespan hasn't been diminished at all. You assume that my those additional years of my life are worthless because they are finite, and compared to infinity, two finite values are nearly identical.



And that's the fallacy of the "Comparison to the imaginary infinity."

Either I have an absolute morality, or I have no morality.
Either I live forever, or life means nothing.
Either God gives me an ultimate purpose, or I have no purpose.

To take this into non-theological realms, to point out the mistake:

Either I have all the money in the world, or I am broke.
Either everyone in the world is my friend, or I am friendless.
Either I am the father of all children, or I have no children.

Again, if this mis-states your position in any way, I withdraw it, because it would not be fair to characterize your thinking.

But I think it is quite easy to imagine an infinity weighing down your side of the argument for you, and then judge my pittance and find it wanting. Be assured, I do not measure it that way. So it is internally consistent with my philosophy for me to mourn a life cut short by tragedy. On the other hand, it would be internally inconsistent to believe in a finite lifespan AND think that long or short makes a vanishingly small difference.

It makes a HUGE difference. Which is why as an atheist, I am a humanist. I think we only get one brief shot, so we have to value life all the more. In my worldview, there is no "kill them all, God knows His own" divine "adjuster" fixing our moral shortcomings by punishing the wicked we fail to punish, and rewarding the good we fail to help.

It is URGENT that we help everyone we can, because God can't make it all right later.

"Oh, and just for the record, humanism doesn't demand anything of anyone. Humanism doesn't have any demands outside of the humans who hold the view because humanism isn't an entity."



I didn't mean literally humanism standing up and saying something. I mean it figuritively like "honesty demands I speak up."

Why the legalese around here? I'm just trying to have a conversation, and perhaps contribute to a positive Christian atheist dialogue here.

Sometimes I think I'm an unwilling participant in a game of "gotcha!"

BK wrote: "First, its interesting that you are trying to defend the idea that there is some philosophical warrant for being moral towards others from an atheist worldview -- even Carrier acknowledges that there isn't such a basis"

First, I don't know who this Carrier chap is. I've never heard of him before your post. If your characterization is accurate, he sounds like a sociopath.

"Second, the idea that we need each other to survive has not been the rule of civilization for many centuries."

Yeah, I think people were stupid about that in the past. We've progressed.

"If you lived in a society where they were seeking to kill the neighboring countries/kingdoms would you believe there was a rational warrant to act morally towards other human beings generally?"

Well, I DO live in a country which seems to think it can invade other countries pre-emptively and kill innocent civilians (duely minimized as much as possible of course) in a path toward a promoted goal of peace through war. Nevertheless I disagree with that policy. I DO believe there is a rational warrant to act morally towards other human beings generally. So my existence proves it's possible to swim in a different direction than the rest of the school of fish. If I can get enough other fish to swim with me, we may change the direction of the entire school.

I claim that they don't, and while I think that you have made a good stab at answering it, I don't think you have succeeded because your argument depends upon social norms that you suggest exist but which I don't think history shows do exist.

History doesn't show that social norms exist? I don't get your point here. Yes, social norms exist. It's our duty to make them better, if we have compassion, empathy, imaginations and an ability to tell a positive outcome from a negative one, we have all the tools we need to start.

BTW, I do appreciate you seperating this discussion from attacking anyone's personal morality. I see that as a very positive sign of good faith.

"The question is why? In the Darwinistic view of the universe, the only one I care about surviving and perhaps propagating is me."

That's not an accurate description of Darwinism. That WOULD be accurate if you were talking about non-social creatures like bacteria. But as social creatures, we create large social groups that ensure better survival for everyone.

Think of a herd of water buffalo on the plains. Okay, now a cheetah comes. Is it every buffalo for himself? Just parents protecting just their own little ones? Nope. The herd makes a big circle, little ones to the center. Why would they do that? Instinct. For social creatures, there's safety in numbers.



"If everyone else but me and my family drops dead tomorrow, I may be inconvenienced, but I certainly won't be harmed by it, so what reason do I have for caring if other people survive?"

Really? You have no love for your fellow man? No compassion? No empathy? You won't be harmed emotionally? Because I sure as hell would. I'd never be able to get over it. I'd be a shell of the man I am today. I would probably cry for three or four years solid before I finally died of utter despair.

(Hint, it's because we're social creatures, upset that too much and we become broken shells of people, like post-tramatic-stress victims.)

But let's look purely utilitarian at this prospect:

How would you and your family survive? You'd have to get your own food, make your own tools, hunt, fish and be your own doctor. No fair using tools left behind, because then you're still living off of the aid of other people.

Life would be pretty dangerous for you. What happens when you encounter a bear? Or a rattlesnake. Without people, the world's a dangerous place. Can you make a knife that can ward off a bear? Can you protect your family from a mountain lion without a gun? Can you protect them from pnumonia?

Which is why we're social creatures. We need each other to survive. We have since before we walked upright. It's ingrained in us. Every fiber of our being says "take care not to make an enemy out of someone, you may find you need his help tomorrow."

"I mean, even today, if the Hebollahs and the Israelis wipe each other out, it really won't impact my life half a world away. Why should I care as a moral matter?"

Because injustice anywhere threatens justice everywhere. Because their children smile and laugh and cry like my children. Because tomorrow it may be me needing help, or someone I love. Because violence begets violence, and hate begets hate, and war begets war and before you know it it will reach our doorstep unless and until enough people like us take a moral stand and say, "no more! Enough!" War never ends until people want peace.

BK wrote: "First, its interesting that you are trying to defend the idea that there is some philosophical warrant for being moral towards others from an atheist worldview -- even Carrier acknowledges that there isn't such a basis"

Can you cite a quote where he acknowleges this? I can't seem to find it. Rather I find plenty where he says that there is plenty reason to be moral towards others from an atheist worldview. He talks about working together for the common good based on a desire for justice and compassion. He talks about a natural hatred for those who lie, cheat, steal.

He talks about this being inborn and learned.

I don't understand how he could be arguing for it and saying at the same time that there's no basis for it.

BK,

I think you have to add the case that positive, provable statements have primary value in this viewpoint. Those statements which most closely capture scientifically-tested relations being the highest validity.

So, that there is no value in the scheme of the universe is true. This is part of the big, scary world from which theism arguably retreats. One thing that bruce also fails to note is that there is no "progress" in this view as well. So, one simply cannot make moral progress outside of a certain context. Since, no one context is necessary for atheism, then atheism is entirely independent of value systems.

Now the worldview of an athiest can be anything, but one would suggest that atheistic contexts are not entirely equal. Atheists like to picture the idea that they have complete freedom to construct worldviews beyond the simple lack of God's existence. But, they cannot argue that all such systems are equal. If they do they are arguing that, as long as there is a realization of no God, one value system is equal in validity to its complement. Then they are truly saying that there is no decidable system for values.

Also meaningless for an atheist is this context: There is no God, so let's just make stuff up. Again, there is a primacy on provable positive statements that is inherent in the advocacy of atheism. "Let's realize there is no God and kill each other over statements about god(s), anyway", is allowed by the total freedom that atheism purports, but has a negative value in advocacy of such a system.

So an atheists insistence on definitional atheism is simply not all there is to a conversation with atheists. There is an operational or an advocate atheism which in fact does bear

But as well, opponents here include attributive ideas in their solutions. One states a positive: we need each other to survive. But then he includes people who really don't help survival, and then says that we attribute that to them as a participant. Fine, we can do that--arbitrarily--but it does not correspond to positive statements. Made so far. "We need each other to survive" is a gloss over the details of acts of survival and acts of helping survive. So unless someone's value corresponds to that act, I can hardly see that as a basis of their value.

Theists never said you can't come up with an arbitrary morality. So, arbitrarily extending definitions to people who may not apply (and don't have a suitable substitute) does nothing to make the system less necessary, especially given the noncommittal nature of base atheism.

Christian Philosopher...
I think this is where you're going to have to help me and excuse my lack of formal philosophy training.

I'm having a really hard time parsing your arguments.

I THINK what you're saying is that atheism doesn't have a value system per se. It merely says that there is no God.

Which is something that I've noticed as well. Religions generally have supernatural claims AND value systems tied together.

To simply say there is no God, that's not a value system, it's merely an assertion (or in my case, a lack of being persuaded by the various supernatural assertions of the religious.)

Which is why I think value systems are useful and important for atheists. I pick humanism, because it seems to suit me best so far, and it meshes best with my understanding of human nature and social dynamics.

You wrote:

Fine, we can do that--arbitrarily--but it does not correspond to positive statements. Made so far. "We need each other to survive" is a gloss over the details of acts of survival and acts of helping survive. So unless someone's value corresponds to that act, I can hardly see that as a basis of their value.

I am not sure what you mean. I think I was attempting to be clear that cold utilitarianism ISN'T moral. I am speaking broadly "we" need "others" to survive. I am attempting to explain that we are a social animal, not that we are a mercinary animal, picking and choosing only those who provide direct physical survival benefit at the present time.

Didn't I make that clear above, when speaking about grandparents, and how our loved ones may be walking in those shoes one day?


Anyway, If I've misread you, I'll appreciate any help you can provide. My brain doesn't seem suited for some of this deeper philosophical stuff.

If there's something I've missed, I'll be happy to address it, or in more depth. I may not have noticed it myself, so I'll be glad of the point-out!

BK,

for what it's worth, I think you've done well here.

I've asked my students this question many times, and while there are 'good' answers: the social contract (which ultimately exists to further personal security/happiness and in our country, the accumulation of wealth); innate human empathy (which not all of us possess equally); the persistence of our species...the fact is, if someone truly derives happiness from killing others, seizing assets material or human, though I'd never do it or recommend it (most 'great' rulers in history got great this way) I see no philosophical ground why they can not do so. When the owl eats the mouse, it does so because it is being true to its nature, increasing its happiness and insuring its survival. But by what standard do I judge Napoleon or Ceasar or Alexander (or Bush) immoral or moral? What gives humans intrinsinc value when some are clearly stronger or smarter than others? If I can beat up a smaller kid and take his tinkertoys what makes me philosophically wrong?

There are a thousand possible answers, but I've heard none philosophically definite. If an individual wants to violate the social contract, not participate in the greater good but pursue instead individual power or destructive appetites, and that person has the strength to do so without being censured (fined or imprisoned) what again is my philosophical ground for opposing his action?

Frankly, apart from a Creator, I don't have one. I would oppose such action, perhaps at the risk of my own life if my family was involved (the force of the family bond is of course very great for most) but if one monkey is stronger than another monkey, than many other monkeys...well, we better gang up and lock the monkey in a monkey cage.

I know Socrates' answer, and it is perhaps the best non-spiritual answer, but then Plato had to take the leap off the material map in his search for universals. For many moral action would be a self-evident truth: we all live and feel better this way. Most do, in fact. But not all.

Also, Bruce is quite right (and I appreciate your open tone here Bruce): God could be non-moral, amoral, even sadistic and immoral! I think of Zeus, the God of Rape. I know a student who worships Pan and she understands this idea very closely: Pan, for her, is far from the sum of all perfections and is certainly not sacrifically moral. But the Christian God depends on the gospel portrayal of Jesus, of what his early followers said about him and God (and continue to say). This is by no means a complete answer, nor am I suggesting the gospel-Jesus is unequivocal or simple, but it seems a beginning.

As to why God allows death each day I don't know. Why God proscibes it in the OT, well, that is one of the reasons I'm no longer a fundamentalist. I don't believe everything I read.

Best to all.

zok:
"We may enjoy living, but without God our lives really have no ultimate purpose. We’re all going to die sometime, and it ultimately makes no difference whether it happens today or in fifty years, or whether it’s by murder or old age."

Bruce:
You may not think so, but I disagree. My ultimate purpose is to care for my child, and make the world a better place for her and all the children to follow me.


That’s not an ultimate purpose, though. Our ultimate purpose lies in the reason we were put here. But without God we weren’t put here for any particular reason so we have no ultimate purpose for living; we’re just a cosmic accident. Now in no way am I denying that we can give ourselves meaning and purpose, as you yourself have done (and just about everyone else, I’m sure) -- to marry, reproduce, get rich, achieve a high social status, make the world a better place (or not), or what have you -- but this is not ultimate purpose, it’s just purpose we give ourselves based on our own feelings. And in the end it will have made no ultimate difference -- the human race will cease to exist and even the universe itself will eventually die. Our only ultimate purpose, really, then is to die. And actually, we can’t even say that’s our ultimate purpose because we weren’t consciously put here for that reason. We were put here for no reason or purpose, thus our lives have no ultimate reason or purpose.

zok:
"My point is that if God exists, then objective values exist."

Bruce:
I don't agree.


Ok I’m not going to pursue this argument since my central point is the subjective nature of morality without God. Besides, discussing God's character would be a very lengthy discussion on its own and I really don’t want to go off on unnecessary tangents.

zok:
"So since morality is subjective, and these societies were secluded, there should be no problem that they agreed that things such as child sacrifice, cannibalism and widow burning were acceptable. "

Bruce:
Since morals are a social construct, these things existed. Can I say we're more advanced now?


Yes, but morality is still subjective -- there is no external, fixed source of morals, as you point out. Without God morality still comes from within, and thus morality changes depending on the person, culture and/or time. Heck, who knows, in 2,000 years maybe nearly all people will say, "Man those 21st century barbarians believed in abortion. How immoral. We sure have advanced since then."

I'll say it again, just because majority society says something doesn't mean as a humanist you shut up and take it. ... In your depiction of a world where child sacrifice reigns, you are assuming that no individual will ever come up and challenge that.

I never argued or assumed either of these, and since this isn’t relevant to whether morality is subjective, I’ll leave it at that.

zok:
"If no objective values exist, what makes person A right and Person B wrong? Nothing; both views are subjective and equal."

Bruce:
No, both views are not subjective and equal. One idea can bring misery, hunger, death and fear. The other can bring happiness, prosperity, life and peace. The second is better.


Something is subjective if it originates from within. Just because one approach results in "happiness, prosperity, life and peace," while the other results in "misery, hunger, death and fear" doesn’t mean they’re not subjective. Both approaches still come from within, not an external, fixed source of morality (in which case they would be "objective"). And things that are subjective are relative from person to person. In the case of morality, two different people can view the same things and come to contradictory conclusions as to whether it’s good or bad. Without an external source of morality no set of values is better than another. You can label "misery, hunger, death and fear" as bad, but that’s only your opinion based on your feelings/conscience/whatever. Others can say that they’re good if it benefits them, and there’s nothing that makes you right and them wrong. Now of course the natural reaction of many is to deny this, but again, without God morality is subjective, changing from person to person; and when something’s subjective there’s no such thing as "right," "wrong," "good," "bad," or even "better" or "worse." Our conscience -- something you appeal to -- may lead many to argue against it, but without God our conscience isn’t objectively "good" or "bad," either, and doesn’t make other things objectively "right" or "wrong"; conscience is just chemical reactions and electrical impulses, nothing more.

Now you can argue that you want you want to act in a way which brings about "happiness, prosperity, life and peace" because those things are very enjoyable, so you want to experience them and you want others to experience them. Likewise, you can argue that you want to act in a way which avoids "misery, hunger, death and fear" because they’re extremely unpleasant feelings, to say the least. Thus you don’t want to experience them and you don’t want others to experience them. But you can’t label the former as "good" or "better" and the latter "bad" or "worse" in any moral sense of the word.

zok:
"What evidence/arguments do you have to support this?"

Bruce:
Axiomatic. It was a moral declaration, driven by my conscience and empathy.


Heh, many have no hesitation in asserting that people suck, "it’s all about me," other people don't matter, or have less value, and the like. This isn't uncommon, and to them this is what’s self-evident. I don't think it's a good idea to argue for the existence of God based on conscience and feelings and I don't think arguing for the existence of objective morals can be done this way either -- it simply comes down to one person’s feelings versus another’s...And there are many people who lack the conscience you describe, so their conscience doesn’t "require" them to do anything. Also see the comments I just made above regarding conscience.

Thanks. I feel like your understanding of me relies very heavily on my ability to argue effectively.

Actually I think it has more to do with the fact that for most of my life I wasn’t Christian and held the view of morality that you hold now; so I fully understand it. But I know what you mean about not being built to be a philosopher. I’ve studied philosophy very little (as in like, a few chapters of a book which were related to specific topics) and I think my head would explode if I tried to study it formally.

I think you might be comparing your expected infinite spiritual lifespan with mine, and saying, jeez, if you're going to die anyway, what's the difference between one day or 40 years early?

Actually I'm approaching it from the standpoint that God doesn't exist, and that life ends at the grave, in which case, as the author of Ecclesiastes says: "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless." (I'm not basing my argument on this passage, by the way; it just came to mind. But from what I understand it does reflect the view of contemporary philosophical thinking on this topic). I do understand your position, though, since I once held it. It reminds me of an old hardcore song that I used to like that said: "You only live once, so do it right!"

Putting off grading summer essays...

Zok points out something we know is very ancient: humans (generally) crave larger purpose. This can attach itself to the state, where aggressive instinct can be channelled into killing others or self-sacrifice for the country; into religion; into another ideology like environmentalism or marxism or republicanism (whatever that is); into loyalty to a corporation; better, into philanthropy; or perhaps into more narrow pursuits like accumulating individual wealth or sexual pleasure or conquest. Those last two feel powerful, and most humans ultimately feel powerless.

In the modern world, most of us derive what meaning we can have in this life from personal relationships with those we care for and from the pleasures of living...security, travel, eating well and being entertained, also our work. This may not have always been so for as many as it is now. Certainly the close couple and loving parenting of/intimacy with the children were not always as important as they are now. Work, for many, was and still is survival.

Yet, no matter how well we structure our lives, we get sick, we die, we lose others we love; we let ourselves and our loved ones down all the time. We have a conscience; we can't keep it. We like to live and think and feel: we can't hold onto that either. Of course this could just be the way of things, a human puzzle with no finally satisfying answer. For an atheist, it is the way of things. As a friend of mine has written, 'if God exists, he's a solipsist,' someone who never crawls out of his hiding place. Echoes of that idea are all over, in Robert Frost of all places, in Bertrand Russell, etc. Either there is no God or he's not coming through for humankind in our predicament.

The Christian argues that God did 'come through.' And that while we will still suffer and die, somehow, as the fourth gospel says, we will live even though we die. I admit this is either the greatest wish-fulfillment fantasy or most profound truth humankind can know. It surely seems an idea worth ardent investigation.

Finally, I like the quote from Ecc.: that is a feeling all of us have some time or other (and isn't a sense of meaning in part a feeling). If one looks closely at human experience, at least for me, I come up with the same conclusion: vanity. And I feel anger, even a sense of betrayal at the unfairness of my own mortality and suffering. Not all face this existential crisis in God's absence, but some do, and I at least am one. Heck, I face it while believing in him, but the stronger my faith, the less I feel it. For Christianity doesn't suddenly make human life a pleasure-world without random suffering; it doesn't remove us from the deep well of the human condition. But it does promise that someone is waiting for us, that we will go to him or he to us, that our final end is not oblivion but a Person. It gives us a message from our true Father: love one another and help the hurting. To me, that's very strong meaning.

Humans have looked for meaning many places; modern humans rightly analyze and critique these meaning-systems, from military conquest for the state to the different world relgions. And we've found, at least I've found, many lacking. But so far, not all.

Did anybody catch Carr's interjections in this? That was great for comedic relief... Comedic because he somehow didn't understand that the subject was not how God could do something morally or immorally or what excactly God was or was not doing, but how without a Universal to give value and meaning to particulars like human life, one cannot make a moral judgement that has an inherent value outside of the individual making the judgment. Today's humanitarianism is just as right and good according to today's social contract as barbaric slavery was right and good yesterday according to yesterday's social contract. An athiest cannot say any differently without being inconsistant. Perhaps if it is repeated enough times what this post is NOT about and what it IS about, Carr will get the picture... But I hope not, because I enjoy seeing him not having a clue as to what is actually being discussed...

I'm starting to understand what this argument is about. I started to post about how atheists DO have a mechanism and a logically valid set of reasons for moral behavior.

I have shown this.

Now I think the subject of the conversation has drifted to "objective" morality versus "subjective". And to that I have a simple rebuttal.

Religious claims of an objective morality are illusion.

In fact, the most immoral acts perpetrated by mankind are often in the service of a religious ideology.

Witness September the 11th, the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem witch trials. Witness the condemnation AND the support for slavery in the Bible itself.


I have no desire to make a negative post about religion. It is not what I have come here for, and to pursue this line of discussion would be counter to my desire to build bridges here.

So I'll leave it at this, I believe religious claims of an objective morality are illusory, because God and scripture always agree with whoever's doing the preaching. Religious morality always claims that the believers have the backing of God, for whatever morality they believe in.

Bruce,

"Now I think the subject of the conversation has drifted to "objective" morality versus "subjective"."

So do you admit in this argument that morality is in the eye of the beholder? One person could hold A set of morals and another could hold B set of morals and either is just as valid? Are you saying there is no objective base for morality? I think that is what this post is arguing. How would you respond to my questions?

"Religious claims of an objective morality are illusion."

I think this answered some of my questions above. You believe that objective morality is an illusion. I commend you for at least being philosophically consistent with your agnosticism or "soft atheism". What makes your set of morals more valid than someone elses, which could vary? What is more moral about looking out for humanity as a whole rather than just your family and loved ones or even just yourself?

"Witness September the 11th, the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem witch trials. Witness the condemnation AND the support for slavery in the Bible itself."

Like a recent blogger said, what makes slavery immoral if other societies in history saw it as fine?

Notice I haven't given any viewpoint I have on any of these issues or questions, I'm merely just asking questions.

This is somewhat unrelated and not a response to what you were saying, but an interesting article on history and Christianity. http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/james_hannam/dismissed.html

Hi Lurchling,

"So do you admit in this argument that morality is in the eye of the beholder?"

Not necessarily. What I mean by it is that I understand the definition of "objective morality" as being discussed here as "morality coming from a non-human source." Since atheists don't believe in laws from a non-human source, we cannot compete, as it were, provided that is the definition of "objective" that we are discussing.

"One person could hold A set of morals and another could hold B set of morals and either is just as valid? "

I have said before, and I'll say again, they are not equally valid. Moral set A can bring misery, hunger, death and fear. B can bring happiness, prosperity, life and peace. B is better.

We have reason, intellect, observation skills to be able to evaluate the results of multiple moral ideas. As we progress as a society, we do better when we are able to discuss these things, calmly, rationally and with a minimum of "my beliefs in the invisible say that x group is cursed by ancient disrespect toward Noah, or is working off sin, or bad Karma" or whatever.

The belief in the invisible puts moral outcomes and weight beyond the veil of death, and therefore out of the sphere of rational observation. Focussing morality on observable outcomes is more objective than focussing them on invisible faith beliefs, which vary far more widely... ranging toward infinite consequences for finite moral failures. This is the infinite invisible thumb of God on the scale of moral questions. If true, it always should outweigh objective reality. But are all religious beliefs true?

What makes your set of morals more valid than someone elses, which could vary?
Evidence has convinced me that my morals provide for the greatest common good, based on reason and observation. If they do not provide for the greatest common good, I am open for rational civil discussion to hear what empirically observed evidence you can provide that shows me that your idea provides better for the greatest common good.

My core morality is that each person is of tremendous individual worth, and they should all be afforded equality in opportunity, and should only be deprived of liberty when they are a threat to the common good.

If you have a better idea than that, I'm all ears.

Now if we drill down a level of detail, and we want to talk about how each variable in that is weighed or applied, we can do that as well, and I'll again be all ears. But my ears are open to evidence that can be objectively evaluated. Let's say on the criminal death penalty. We can drill down a level and have a discussion, a rational discussion, about the various pro's and con's of the death penalty in America. The evidence may or may not show that it works as a deterrant to further crime. The evidence may or may not show that it may or may not have a deterrant effect if it were practiced differently. The evidence may or may not show that innocent people are unjustly executed. But you and I can have a discussion on those terms and I may change my mind.

Now if you add a theological belief to the discussion, then we cannot have a rational evaluation of the cause and effect of the public policy. We have made it a less objective discussion, for the objective data about crime and deterrance have a strange invisible all-powerful bedfellow who jostles for primacy in the discussion.

Like a recent blogger said, what makes slavery immoral if other societies in history saw it as fine?

Social norms don't excuse stupid ideas. Slavery is immoral because there are better ideas. Slavery leads to misery, hunger, death and fear. Equality leads to happiness, prosperity, life and peace. Majority American society just needed to learn that. People needed their eyes open to the world of slavery, and they needed to engage their consciences. Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Autobiography of a Slave by Frederick Douglass put white readers into the body and lives of slaves, and once they saw the world from those eyes, the world changed.

Douglass' and Stowe's books punctured the lie that black people weren't people, or shouldn't be allowed sympathy. Thereafter it became plain that they couldn't be the walled-off other, not part of human society. Americans read those books, and had sympathy, and our instinct for compassion found purchase.



What's the difference between a moral and an immoral idea? Consequences. Social norms define what we subjectively call "morality." But beneath that, there is an immutable bedrock. That bedrock judges us all, and not in the invisible hereafter. That bedrock is called "consequence."


(Preface all of this with "as I see it." I have no desire to speak my opinions ahead of anyone else on this.)


Lurchling, I appreciate your questions. They very much help me to think deeper on this subject.

Zok made some further points that I have not yet addressed:

"Our ultimate purpose lies in the reason we were put here. But without God we weren’t put here for any particular reason so we have no ultimate purpose for living; we’re just a cosmic accident. "

Just because I don't know the purpose of the universe doesn't mean the universe has no purpose, or that I have no purpose in the universe or beyond.

But again, you have a faith belief that you have a supernatural purpose and measure it against my meager purpose of raising my child (PUNY HUMANS!). You say I can't have an ultimate purpose, and then you define "ultimate purpose" as one given by God. Well, yes. It's kind of core that if you're an atheist, not only do you not believe in a God, you also don't believe in a divine purpose. But from my point of view, some theists waste their lives pouring into the religious writings of ancients instead of actually living and breathing and making the world better for the children yet to come. So whose life is more pointless? That's just my idea versus your idea. But you're just beating me over the head with the God Rod to say that I have no ultimate purpose and you do. I'll hit you with the Atheist Cudgel and say "you've wasted your life, too" and we'll be even, one to one, with unsupportable assertions.

Now you can argue that you want you want to act in a way which brings about "happiness, prosperity, life and peace" because those things are very enjoyable, so you want to experience them and you want others to experience them. Likewise, you can argue that you want to act in a way which avoids "misery, hunger, death and fear" because they’re extremely unpleasant feelings, to say the least. Thus you don’t want to experience them and you don’t want others to experience them. But you can’t label the former as "good" or "better" and the latter "bad" or "worse" in any moral sense of the word.

We natually hate misery, hunger, death and fear. If we didn't, we wouldn't have evolved as a species. This is the objective source of morality.
If we come to embrace misery, hunger, death and fear, we will cease to exist as a species. This is the objective judge of morality.

There is a reason I, and everyone else wants to avoid the bad. It's not about things being enjoyable, and I want everyone to be happy for enjoyment's sake. (Well, I might, personally, but it's not what my morality is based on.)

That reason is Consequence. Survival.

Morality is a survival skill.

Fascinatingly, so is immorality. But immorality rewards the few, and morality rewards the many. I'm much more likely (numerically) to be part of the many, so I find it to my best interests to be moral. I also cannot be immoral without risking severe emotional damage, so I tend to avoid it.

Bruce,
That's interesting. You have this all thought through, and I'm glad that you have found the morals that best suit you. After all, as you said(more or less), your morality comes from your own judgements. Am I mistaken?

What's unfortunate about society is society is made up of people, and many people tend to think differently on certain moral issues than another.

"I'm much more likely (numerically) to be part of the many, so I find it to my best interests to be moral."

Are you admitting that morality is based on self-interest? I'm not sure if this is exactly what you are saying. If morality is based on self-interest, then obviously many people can have competing interests which might cause a difference in moral opinion. Why would it be immoral if someone did not place as high a value on human life as you do? I mean, if it didn't suit their own interest or affect their survival that is.

Several experiments have been done which show that high SES family groups tend to have higher darwinian fitness (having children who have children) and of course, quality of life. If these (A)family's gave up their resources and wealth and gave it to another (B)family, this might increase the amount of misery, hunger, death and fear that this (A)family group experiences. Of course, the other (B)family group obtaining these resources would experience less of these. If giving away some of (A)familys wealth causes suffering to them and not giving away wealth will cause more suffering for (B), what is more moral?

Things are not so black and white that one thing causes happiness for all and another causes suffering for all. (B) Family would probably think it would be moral of family (A) to give them some of their resources, (A)Family would probably think it would be more moral to use those resources to support their own family and survival.


"What's the difference between a moral and an immoral idea? Consequences. Social norms define what we subjectively call "morality." But beneath that, there is an immutable bedrock."

What happens if something in your eyes is immoral and it happens, but no bad consequences came upon those who participated in this immoral act? Do you think this situation is impossible? If someone can do something without there being consequences, why should they find it immoral, even if it fits someone elses mold of immorality?

"But immorality rewards the few, and morality rewards the many."

Do you know if slavery caused economic gain or happiness and survival for more people than it caused suffering? I don't.

If something causes happiness and reduces misery for a minority group, but not for the majority, why shouldn't the minority group see it as moral that it is protecting its own survival and self-interest? If we all die and the minority group continues on, well, our species isnt wiped out, we haven't ceased to exist. Our survival is still maintained. The minority group could have a chance of ceasing to exist if it always looks out for the interests of the majority and not itself, so why find helping the majority moral? Do you think this situation is impossible?

"If we come to embrace misery, hunger, death and fear, we will cease to exist as a species."

Unless only the few suffer while the majority prosper, right? We wouldn't cease to exist then, would we? Would that make the condition of society moral?


Just some more questions, I haven't really said anything about my stance. You have some interesting thoughts to add, so feel free to express them. I'm glad that you and I can speak like this without going overboard somewhat like our first discussion.

"But you're just beating me over the head with the God Rod to say that I have no ultimate purpose and you do."

I don't think he said your life has no ultimate purpose. I think he said that if there is no God, none of us have an ultimate(!!!!! mwuahahahaha!!!) purpose. I'm sure if there is a personal God zok would think all our lives probably have a divine ultimate meaning.

For someone who is not sure if there is a God or not, you certainly can come off as cynical about it. I know you don't want to come in here blasting away insults. You are a moral person. I do think sometimes the language you use to describe peoples beliefs can be mocking.

"Equality leads to happiness, prosperity, life and peace."

Except to those who want more than someone else, or want what someone else has but that (B)person doesnt want to give that thing up. Its in some peoples self-interest to protect their survival and level of happiness, so having more than some others or taking something from others would be in their own self-interest and if there would be no consequences (those (B)people don't fight the taking of their item or come back for it), why should it be immoral?

"some theists waste their lives pouring into the religious writings of ancients"

What if something important lies within those writings? What if there could be something that could cause change in someone's life or the state of society? What if truth could lie in those writings? Mmmm, whatever, I guess not.

I'm interested in knowing what your opinions on the issues I brought up are.

Hi Lurchling..

First an apology for not responding sooner. To tell you the truth, I've had a hard time coming back to this site. I see it as very negative sometimes, and really feel overwhelmed at the sheer number of arguments against atheist morality by some posters that I cannot possibly address. Anyway, in good faith, I'll do my best to answer your questions.


"After all, as you said(more or less), your morality comes from your own judgements. Am I mistaken?"

I don't think so. I think it comes from society, my parents teaching, my wife's tut-tutting, my self-image, my intellect, my role-models, my emotions, my philosophy, my friends...

"If morality is based on self-interest, then obviously many people can have competing interests which might cause a difference in moral opinion."

I think that is the case. I think this is a fact that many people base their morality on self-interest. Here we must seperate what I believe to be a fact, and the notion that I may be advocating FOR something to be the case. If I were a god, I might have the power to change this. But I am not, and so I am forced to come to grips with reality. The very existence of morality at the societal level confers a survival benefit, and so there is some self-interest to it. But that doesn't mean we cannot be moral seperate from personal self-interest. It behooved Pat Tillman none to be killed in Afghanistan. But he believed that there was a greater good he died to protect. He was acting on what he believed to be moral seperate from personal self-interest. Police officers, fire-fighters, rescue workers, soldiers, etc, act on what they believe to be moral seperate from personal self-interest. They put their lives on the line to protect others.

"Things are not so black and white that one thing causes happiness for all and another causes suffering for all."

No, but some things can provide happiness for more and decrease suffering for more. The world has never been perfect in our lifetimes, and it may never be in our forseeable future. But it can be made better.

In your model of the two families, you preclude the third option. That family A and family B might gain sympathy for each other, and work it out together. If you exclude love and sympathy, you miss out on a fundamental part of the human condition, and a powerful driving force.



"What happens if something in your eyes is immoral and it happens, but no bad consequences came upon those who participated in this immoral act?"

Consequence doesn't catch all bad deeds. Such is the failure of living in an imperfect world. But if this happens too much, the good people stand up and say "no more!" They hire more cops. They build more jails. They write more laws. They stand against harm. It is our moral duty to catch and punish wrongdoers.

If someone can do something without there being consequences, why should they find it immoral, even if it fits someone elses mold of immorality?

Every action has consequences. We cannot force everyone to change their morality. But we can lock them up and stop them from harming others. It is our moral duty to make sure that there are negative consequences for moral wrongs.

If something causes happiness and reduces misery for a minority group, but not for the majority, why shouldn't the minority group see it as moral that it is protecting its own survival and self-interest?

They do. They very often do. Again, you seem to be confusing what I believe to be the factual case of the world with a position I am advocating. I am not advocating that the world SHOULD work this way. I'm saying it does work this way, and we should CHANGE that! Why SHOULDN'T they think it's moral to protect their self-interest? Well, they need to learn that we need to all get along on this planet or else. They need to know that their kids will be marching off to war and may die in battle against the other side unless they learn to live together. They need to love their children more than they hate that other tribe.


"Unless only the few suffer while the majority prosper, right? We wouldn't cease to exist then, would we? Would that make the condition of society moral?"

Moral under whose definition? Not under mine. I obviously don't advocate that. Neither do you, I think. "Absolute morality" I think probably never will be achieved. But we can keep trying. We can keep trying to eliminate suffering. We should attempt to eliminate suffering, and while there is suffering we cannot say that we have achieved "morality." But we can use morality as a tool to alleviate suffering.


"For someone who is not sure if there is a God or not, you certainly can come off as cynical about it. I know you don't want to come in here blasting away insults. You are a moral person. I do think sometimes the language you use to describe peoples beliefs can be mocking. "

To tell you the truth, I'm trying as hard as I can. I again apologize for everywhere I come up short. I have been very strained attempting to respond civilly to these threads, and the negativity beats down on me. I don' t think I come across as cynical. I notice that other than Troy, I'm the only one in this entire thread arguing for "love," "charity," "compassion," "sympathy" etc.

It is I who feel this thread has become cynical in places seperate from my comments and Troy's. Why not a discussion of love? Why not compassion? Why not sympathy? Do Christians presume that atheists have none of these? Do they presume that love and compassion and sympathy are weak or worthless or only for the religious?

"Its in some peoples self-interest to protect their survival and level of happiness, so having more than some others or taking something from others would be in their own self-interest and if there would be no consequences (those (B)people don't fight the taking of their item or come back for it), why should it be immoral? "


I guess I'm just not making myself clear. I guess this is hard. I think I've tried to explain this 10 different ways in this thread. Let's try again.

Let me seperate the word "Morality". Let's seperate it into two terms. One, we will call "social norms" That's morality as defined by the society at large. The other I'll call "ideal morality". Ideal Morality doesn't mean "majority rules." This is hard to grasp, when the majority sets the social norms.

The point I make is this: The majority can be wrong. The majority can hold a view of social norms that conflict with ideal morality. It is up to individuals to change that, and show a better way. What is better? What is "ideal morality?" Ideal morality is morality which is consistent with compassion, empathy and minimizing and alleviating suffering. Ideal morality increases peace by increasing justice.

How do we know if an idea gets us closer to Ideal Morality? We look at the results. We look at the consequences. Is the society better off now than it was with respect to racial equality, for instance.



"some theists waste their lives pouring into the religious writings of ancients"

What if something important lies within those writings? What if there could be something that could cause change in someone's life or the state of society? What if truth could lie in those writings? Mmmm, whatever, I guess not.

See, this is exactly why this discussion has been so hard for me. Zok can say that in his opinion the atheist worldview supplies no ultimate meaning, but if I say that in the atheist worldview, some theists might be missing their meaning as well.. I get pummeled for that. I tried to couch it in language that was friendly and did not take offense and hopefully wouldn't give offense, but only illustrate that it was an empty assertion on his part that he was condemning me with. I tried to use a light touch and a friendly tone to say "this is why I feel that this criticism isn't logically sound."

I find it very hard, and I've failed at times... perhaps I have failed completely... to present my morality, respond to attacks, respond to criticisms, questions, comparisons to theism, while keeping things on a positive tone.

I am really frankly amazed at the utter lack of discussion of love, compassion, sympathy, etc in this discussion. One poster even said he could get along in life with his family with minor inconveniences should the rest of the human race be wiped out. Frankly, I find that a STUNNING statement. The utter failure to address the crippling emotional reaction that anyone would have to that event just flat out floors me.

If I were to base my entire understanding of Christianity by some of this thread, I would think it a religion that places little emphasis on the power of love to change hearts and minds. I would think it operates by the cold equations of Pascal's Wager and calculated obedience to a set of laws and promises in the pursuit of --not a better life for all mankind-- but fealty as an end unto itself.

I have tremendous love and admiration for Christians and Christianity. My dear, dear beloved family includes many people who find their spritual home in Christ. I do not think, nor do I advocate a societal scrapping or condemnation of religion in general or Christianity specifically. I find that Christian morality is AT LEAST as well established and fruitful for positive change in the world as my own.

Nor do I think that everyone should agree with me. I am not here to win anyone over to atheism, or convert them. I think such an idea is hubristic and actually impossible. I do not believe that any "conversions" ever occur by outside argument. I believe each person is solely in control of his or her own beliefs.

It follows that I don't believe that the whole world will or should ever be atheists. I don't believe that the whole world will or should ever be Humanists. I don't believe that the whole world ever or SHOULD ever hold the same philosophy, because that will mean we will stop striving for a better life and a better understanding of our place in it.


I'm just here, as best as I can, for as long as I can take it, trying to promote two-way understanding, two-way respect and two-way love and compassion for atheists and Christians.

Some here may dislike me or what I say. I'll do my best to take that away and try to learn more. I think love and respect are the key here, and with all that's going on in the world I'll keep trying for that.

I have been taking part for the last few months, in a wonderful positive two-way dialogue between athiests and Christians that has fostered understanding, respect and quite a lot of helpful insight. Click my name at the top of my post to find that ongoing discussion. That discussion has changed my entire way of thinking about faith, belief, morality, community, compassion and understanding.

It has given me tremendous hope. It's in the spirit of that that I've attempted to reach out here, to see if I could try and plant some of those seeds elsewhere. I may fail for a time, but I'm filled with optimism that someone will succeed even if I fail. I've seen the possibility of positive outreach, and even though I don't always live up to that, and I apologize once again for every time I do, I am trying the best I know how.


Take care.

-Bruce

Howdy Bruce,

“But that doesn't mean we cannot be moral separate from personal self-interest.”

“Police officers, fire-fighters, rescue workers, soldiers, etc, act on what they believe to be moral separate from personal self-interest. They put their lives on the line to protect others.”

I’m glad you are clarifying that these people are doing what THEY believe is moral, but in an atheistic view, what is the foundation for this ideal morality separate from subjective, self-interest morality? Didn’t you say yourself that objective morality is an illusion? Do you believe atheism provides an objective morality to follow? I think you already said no.

As a blogger made clear above, people can place value on things and give them subjective meaning, but if there is no God or force in existence that put us all here for an (ultimate) objective purpose, then we do not have an objective purpose or value (sorry about the redundant sentence). As one of the posts above explains, how are we any more meaningful than a cockroach? Unless you have a way in which the atheistic worldview can supply an ultimate meaning that is, not a personal meaning. I think zok already showed that without us being put here for a reason all other “meanings” are just ones we give ourselves to make the things we do seem important.

I know you do not know if we are here for an objective purpose or not, or if there is a God or not, but how can a devout atheist be sure that an objective morality which includes human life being valuable exists while not being sure that human life has any ultimate objective value? Even Carrier doesn’t argue for an objective basis for morality. What reason do we have for loving humanity or think them deserving of love and good treatment, besides a personal reason created from ones own thoughts or self-interests?

You place value on all human life, but if human life does not have an objective value beyond what we give to it, how can it be objectively moral to treat any life, human or non-human, as objectively important? There is no basis except one’s own personal subjective view, just as you have implied yourself.

If we speak of consequences, slave-owners went periods of time without consequences for owning slaves. Owning slaves gave some people the resources and money to support and raise their families and contributed to the economy at large. I agree slavery is immoral, but obviously if there were no societal consequences for owning slaves in certain periods, then at that time it should not have been considered immoral under the consequence definition of morality. I don’t know of course, but if slavery was beneficial for more people than not, then under your majority vs. minority morality, slavery at the time could have passed the test. Slave-owners owned slaves out of their own self-interests and experienced for long periods of time no societal consequences. The human race was not jeopardized by the slave-trade and indeed probably helped the survival of quite a few people who would have used the slave-trade to their benefit. Based on self-interest and consequence definitions of morality, slavery at the time passed the test.

If you do not think my slavery example is valid, please feel free to show me how. I did kind of think of it right on the spot, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there might be some loophole in there. I do realize it doesn’t line up with your ideal morality scenario, more on that below.

“In your model of the two families, you preclude the third option. That family A and family B might gain sympathy for each other, and work it out together. If you exclude love and sympathy, you miss out on a fundamental part of the human condition, and a powerful driving force.”

Whatever amount of resources family A gives to family B has the potential of limiting family A’s quality of life and Darwinian fitness. Based on self-interest and Darwinian fitness, keeping resources for themselves should be more moral to them. In your view of morals, sharing and sympathizing with family B is more moral, but why? You should say something like ‘Because all human life is important and should be helped, protected and not neglected and that is moral’, but why is human life important beyond the subjective meaning you attach to it?

“Do Christians presume that atheists have none of these? Do they presume that love and compassion and sympathy are weak or worthless or only for the religious?”

Of course I don’t presume either of these. I’m sure many religious people would agree with me. Hopefully those without religion would agree with me also. I know on the first thread we had together a while back I let my temper and tone get the best of me, and I apologize, but for all our other chats I don’t think I had a threatening or hostile tone. I mean, I’m allowed to disagree and also not be hostile at the same time, right? I actually find I agree with and enjoy some of your comments. Here though I do not know what firm basis there is for this atheistic ideal morality you speak of. Is it objective morality or not? What is the basis of this ideal morality?

“What is "ideal morality??” Ideal morality is morality which is consistent with compassion, empathy and minimizing and alleviating suffering. Ideal morality increases peace by increasing justice.”

Why is being consistent with these moral? And for whom does ideal morality provide compassion if there are so many different needs and competing interests in the world? Something rarely benefits everyone. I know you don’t think ideal morality in your definition can be fully achieved (I think that is what you said), but why is being consistent with C and E and minimizing S moral?

“I'm saying it does work this way, and we should CHANGE that! Why SHOULDN'T they think it's moral to protect their self-interest? Well, they need to learn that we need to all get along on this planet or else. They need to know that their kids will be marching off to war and may die in battle against the other side unless they learn to live together. They need to love their children more than they hate that other tribe.”

So morality is about survival again, is this what this is implying? Is morality for survival part of your ideal morality? Why is survival of our species, in an atheistic worldview, moral, purposeful, meaningful, or necessary – objectively?

“*Doing something to help others is moral. -Why? *Because it potentially helps our own interests and helps with the survival of our species. -Why is that morally good? *Because our lives and everyone else’s lives matter and should be helped. -How is it that everyone’s lives matter? *Because I think they matter. -Well without us being put here for some ultimate purpose by a deity, we are just a mix of time and chance and weren’t meant to be here, weren’t meant to do anything while we are here, and won’t matter when we are gone. *Well I think the things I do are meaningful. –You can go ahead and think so, but in the grand scheme of things we meant nothing, unless an objective meaning for all can be presented. *Raising my kids matters. – To you, but they are accidents, so were you, and one meaningless life giving meaning to other meaningless lives do not make any of them meaningful outside of their own subjective little worldviews. Morality is just as subjective as the meaning each person subjectively gives to themselves and one another, because morality is based on the personal value one gives to oneself and others. Without an objective purpose to life, there is nothing right or wrong about what we do or even about us being here.”

This wasn’t meant to insult; it’s just where my line of thought leads me when seeing the cold series of thoughts if atheism were true. For atheism to be able to create an objective morality, it must first give an objective meaning to everyone’s lives and their quality of life. Giving a subjective meaning to life can only brew a subjective morality. I have not seen an atheistic materialistic worldview give a viable objective purpose to life. I do not see where in your comments you provided one.


As for the end of your comment, I respect the aims which you have set for yourself and your apparent respect for Christianity. I myself have groups of friends who are Christians, but I’d say the three closest female friends outside of my family in my life are an agnostic, a spiritual atheist, and a general monotheist with many objections to Christianity. I find it a very fulfilling experience sharing and debating worldviews with these people. I definitely don’t want them to be forced to believe in things they don’t. That would be immoral.

This blog is about apologetics and sometimes it tries to deal with strait up logic, history, and Christian evidences. As I always said, I find that there is suitable evidence to believe there is truth in Christianity. One way those sitting on the fence will decide what to believe is if they are shown the arguments and use of evidence by both sides. Sometimes those presentations and arguments can come off as cold, which is unfortunate. Sometimes it is necessary though to just stick to the arguments. It is true though that any belief system should try and show love for others, even amongst debate. I’m pretty sure all sides fail at that from time to time.

I do not dislike you or what you said, as I have mentioned before, but I am allowed to disagree with and question your stances. I’m sure you and I would get along fine outside an atheist/agnostic – Christian debate. Even during them, I feel we have been fine with our tones and I think there are even humorous times during them. Would this be an abrupt end to a post?

Lurchling

Hi Lurchling.... let me attempt some thoughts here.

but in an atheistic view, what is the foundation for this ideal morality separate from subjective, self-interest morality?

Ideal morality as I am attempting to define it, is some idealized perfect-- no war, no famine, no fear, increased knowlege, understanding etc. Personal ideas of morality are subjective, but we can compare that to the ideal by testing whether a moral choice provides for a better or worse outcome for the greatest possible good while minimizing the bad.

"As one of the posts above explains, how are we any more meaningful than a cockroach? Unless you have a way in which the atheistic worldview can supply an ultimate meaning that is, not a personal meaning. I think zok already showed that without us being put here for a reason all other “meanings” are just ones we give ourselves to make the things we do seem important."

And an atheist would say that you believe in an ultimate meaning bestowed upon you from God to make your life seem important. I don't see how that's germain to the discussion. As I said before it's an empty assertion both ways.

How are we more meaningful than a cockroach? Well, we AREN'T cockroaches. Therefore we assign ourselves more meaning than we assign cockroaches. Cockroaches are important to cockroaches. People are important to people. Do you need to feel more important than that, and you imagine God grants you super-importance greater than what your fellow humans can bestow? Whether you feel that need or not, it has no bearing on my life. I believe I should feel more humble, not more important. As Mother Theresa said, "We can do no great things, only small things with great love."


"You place value on all human life, but if human life does not have an objective value beyond what we give to it, how can it be objectively moral to treat any life, human or non-human, as objectively important? There is no basis except one’s own personal subjective view, just as you have implied yourself. "

You seem so hung up on something being objective. "Objective to whom?" would be my question. If you think moral laws exist seperate from human behavior, well, I just can't go there. I'd just respond with a "well, okay, prove it." Show me the lightning bolt inscribing on the stone tablet and I'll agree that that law didn't come from a man with a chisel.


"If we speak of consequences, slave-owners went periods of time without consequences for owning slaves."

I think I am patiently answering this question. I've answered it before, I'll try again. There WERE consequences. Perhaps positive for slave owners and negative for slaves. Since the human race as a whole includes the slaves, there were net negative consequences to humanity by the practice of slavery. It increased suffering in the world. There's a better way. So the moral thing to do was to eliminate slavery. And lo and behold it had the consequence of decreasing human suffering. Thus we can judge the decision to eliminate slavery was a morally positive decision, just as abolitionists predicted.

Just because some slaveowners "got away with it" doesn't mean they weren't risking total social ruin by promoting slavery. America almost totally imploded because of it. America paid a terrible, terrible price in the bloodiest war in our nation's history. America survived by the skin of her teeth because of the social discord slavery had sewn.


Once again: **Majority rule does not excuse immoral behavior on the part of the majority.***
*** The existence of unpunished evil does not excuse evil. ****

I know you don’t think ideal morality in your definition can be fully achieved (I think that is what you said), but why is being consistent with C and E and minimizing S moral?

Morality is the means, Compassion and Empathy are tools, and minimizing suffering is the goal. Why is it "moral"? Well, I'll call it a desireable outcome that morality is designed to bring about. The goal of all morality is minimizing suffering, death, fear, hunger, want, etc and maximizing love, peace and life -- would you agree?

Or is morality an end unto itself for you? And then we have the age old paradox: is something moral because God desires it, or does God desire it because it is moral? If it is the former then God is morally arbitrary and there is no objective morality. If it's the latter then God is morally irrelevant -- and objective morality exists without invoking God. That paradox cannot be argued out of without invoking circularity.

By holding "morality" as an end unto itself it becomes a completely empty concept. One cannot evaluate morality unto itself. An act can only be judged as more or less moral than another by its consequences. Wonderfully and luckily for us, it can be determined to have a positive consequence objectively(!) -- that is by people who didn't make the moral decision that is being judged in the first place. I check your math, you check mine. -- I check your morality, you check mine. Voila, a social contract!

We can judge outcomes fairly and agree on outcomes provided all observers agree with the basic axiom that on the whole, taken on average, as a primary concept, positive life needs outcomes are better than negative life needs outcomes. Those actions more likely to bring about positives are objectively better than those actions more likely to bring about negatives. I believe our biological and social heritage has provided us with sufficient safety in numbers that this will remain the case for the forseeable future. If it doesn't, and we start producing genetic misanthropes, I am sure that these misanthropes will change the face of religion in this world and re-interpret scripture to support their predelection. I see religion as offering no safe-haven in that event, because as we all know, interpretation of scripture is extremely malleable.


"Whatever amount of resources family A gives to family B has the potential of limiting family A’s quality of life and Darwinian fitness. Based on self-interest and Darwinian fitness, keeping resources for themselves should be more moral to them."

I think you misunderstand your Darwin.

The reason this characterization isn't correct is that we are social animals. The reason is that next week A's house can get wiped away by a flood and will need the help of B. Good thing they're friends and helped each other before, now they can reciprocate. The tables turn in life, and often, quite often, every day in fact, we NEED other people. Emotionally. Physically. Socially. Etc.

We are social animals. We survive as a community or we die as a community.

If every family was an island, and self-sufficient non-social beings like mosquitoes... then yes: "every family for himself!" But non-social beings need no morality. Morality is a construct. A partially biological, partially cultural, partially individual, partially intellectual, partially emotional construct that causes us to often help others. It says: "Be careful of the toes you step on today, they may belong to the ass you may have to kiss tomorrow." But it ALSO says "A friend in need is a friend indeed."


"but why is human life important beyond the subjective meaning you attach to it? " Because I'm human. Listen, this isn't a purely random choice like choosing a favorite color or a favorite ice-cream flavor. Human life is important because every single person I love is human. It's not a subjective meaning. It's a core meaning based on being human. I am human. As a human I am hard-wired to bond to and love humans.

"Why is survival of our species, in an atheistic worldview, moral, purposeful, meaningful, or necessary – objectively? "

If biologically-driven morality can be said to have a goal, it is survival. If humanistic morality can be said to have a goal it's survival in a world where peace, justice, love, compassion etc are maximized for the most number of people, and fear, hunger, violence etc are minimized.

If you don't believe these are worthwhile goals, you are not a person for whom moral arguments are likely to work anyway.

'Why is survival meaningful or purposeful-- objectively?' Well, humans are important to humans. My life has meaning. All of my loved ones have meaning and purpose in their lives. You keep throwing that word around... 'objectively' as if you think that without a God smiling down and saying "good job, Bruce," that my life is lesser. Well, a world with God is a bigger world than a world without one. But that doesn't mean there IS one. A world where God has a God above Him is even BIGGER! Without God's God, then God has no objective purpose. Ever think of that one? ;-)


"Giving a subjective meaning to life can only brew a subjective morality. I have not seen an atheistic materialistic worldview give a viable objective purpose to life. I do not see where in your comments you provided one."

I don't see where any particular religion does either. I do see where some religious worldviews provide false "objective purpose". Without a way to objectively determine a false religious belief from a true one, one cannot say that religion provides an objective moral compass. If Osama and crew can fly an airplane into a building believing they have an "objective purpose in life", I cannot see how it can be ACTUALLY objective. Not to use a tu quoque fallacy, but rather to say that religion and atheism, you and me, both of us, share the same DESIRE for an objective purpose... but that doesn't mean we actually have or can discern our objective purpose from a mistaken purpose or from purposefulness using the tool of faith.

So not believing in an "objective" purpose for my life, I TAKE MORAL RESPONSIBILITY for my own actions. Sink or swim, live or die, make friends or enemies... that's up to me. If my life is judged purposeless when I'm gone, well, that was my own dogged fault.

I do not dislike you or what you said, as I have mentioned before, but I am allowed to disagree with and question your stances. I’m sure you and I would get along fine outside an atheist/agnostic – Christian debate. Even during them, I feel we have been fine with our tones and I think there are even humorous times during them. Would this be an abrupt end to a post?

Absolutely not. I appreciate those kind words, and the charitable tone. At the same time, I just wanted to explain my absense and explain it honestly. As I said, I'm taking part in another conversation at the same time, Christians and atheists, and to tell the truth, that environment is more to my liking. I think your tone personally is more along the lines of that tone there in the other discussion.

What I'm just saying is that this is a hard site to visit with a comparitive Eden over there. ;-)

All by way of explaining my absense. But also my presence here. It is hard, and I don't hope to accomplish much here. But maybe some small things.

Bruce,
I haven't argued at all about religious views on an objective meaning to life. I won't go off into tangents here. I also will get off the specifics and get to the main point.

"Morality is the means, Compassion and Empathy are tools, and minimizing suffering is the goal. Why is it "moral"? Well, I'll call it a desireable outcome that morality is designed to bring about. The goal of all morality is minimizing suffering, death, fear, hunger, want, etc and maximizing love, peace and life -- would you agree?"

You didnt really answer the question. You can't answer how objective morality exists, or your basis for thinking something is evil because it all hinges on your desparate attempt to give it all some meaning when in atheism there can't be meaning. I think your answer to this again is that minimizing such and increasing such helps our survival and quality of life. Back to the problem with this. A real meaning, which you seem to admit there could possibly be none in the atheistic worldview, is required to make any of this objectively moral.


The point still stands that in atheism, no meaning to life (outside of personal preference and subjective meaning) can be found.

I find your morality noble. But I think you seem to admit that morality is subjective, and in the atheistic worldview an objective meaning to life is an illusion.

Your ideal morality is subjective until you can find a basis for why life has an objective meaning and should objectively be treated as important and purposeful. Stating your biological and survival basis for morality does not somehow give our existence on this planet any real purpose. Giving each other some personal purpose does not make our existence meaningful in itself.
We werent put here for a reason, we werent meant to be here, and whatever we do won't effect anything in the long run. Nothing lasts forever, not even the universe, and once were gone, what purpose would we have served, and what ultimate good would we have left on the universe, which would also serve no purpose? We all just happen to be here and thats it.

We have to give each other meaning, but I still haven't seen why our existence in an atheistic worldview is meaningful or purposeful enough to necessitate giving each other meaning....except to try and make our actions and relationships seem meaningful...in vain.

It still hasn't been answered why it would be immoral to not put value on human life in the atheistic worldview, except some "ideal" morality for survival and a more cushy existence - which in that worldview is an accident and serves no real purpose in itself anyway, so it cannot be ultimately immoral anyways to do so, because good and bad can't have a philosophical foundation in atheism.

If you think you've found a valid ultimate meaning to life which would be a cause for believing in an ultimate morality, then I think you'd be the first atheist/agnostic to find one.

We survived in groups that protected itself and fought with other groups during pre-civilization over resources and territory. In a way, we still do the very same thing today. Other primates do the very same thing. We did not survive by looking out for all humans, but ingroups looking out for themselves. Dispersing the same amount of resources for a larger number of people leaves more people with less. If a smaller group keeps the resources, each member gets more. I'm well aware the survival benefits of living in groups, but even group animals fight for survival with other groups of the same species. Another example is meerkats.

I had a lot of redundant ideas in here because I'm scrambling to pick up a friend. I apologize, and I assure you I just want to debate, not have bitter tones like you suggest I have. I am unconvinced of the basis of morality in materialism and atheism. A valid one has not been proposed yet. I am sorry if you think I was hostile. I apologize, I'm just disagreeing with you. Not really though. You seem (SEEM) to admit that there is no objective purpose to life in atheism and there is no objective morality in atheism.

Your ideal morality has no more basis than someone elses morality because a true value to life is assigned subjectively by each person.

Lurchling.

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