Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Can Atheists Believe in Objective Morality?

My previous post was for the mere purpose of commenting on a few of Richard Dawkins' points in a recent debate of his which was published. Some of the comments I made really lit a fuse under some atheist passer bys who proceeded calling me all sorts of fun names as you can read for yourself by clicking on the link above. While, if those atheists are followers of Richard Dawkins they should be fully aware of the terminology I'm using and what is meant when a Christian (or any theist) talks about objective morality. Mr. Dawkins especially should know and either a) he doesn't or b) he hasn't put much thought into the subject since he indirectly claims to believe in it.

But for the sake of the atheists in from the previous thread and for anyone else who might be interested, I thought it would be helpful to post a second thread which added some clarification to my statements. I asked an agnostic friend to read the thread and get his take on it for an objective reaction. He shared a simimlar dissagreement with my statement as did the atheists so here is our conversation over instant message where I further clarified myself (used with his permission).

Agnostic :: : I mean I dont agree with you, but the only way I could express that would be to agree with them, so I probably just wont post

Agnostic :: : I just feel like you are distorting the words to make the term seem worse than it is

TheGodFearinFiddler :: : what term

Agnostic :: : right and wrong

TheGodFearinFiddler :: : what do u mean

Agnostic :: : I understand your point, I know that, if there isn't a god to believe in, then there isn't a definitive right and wrong, therefore you aren't allowed to label anything wrong

TheGodFearinFiddler :: : well you can label things wrong thats fine
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : but just understand its subjective
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : not objective
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : so you might have osmehting you think is wrong
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : but I might not think is wrong
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : to each his own
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : if there is no God

Agnostic :: : like religion

TheGodFearinFiddler :: : well each religion has its own objective morality
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : deciding which religion is true is an entirely different discussion

Agnostic :: : the point I had typed out was this
Agnostic :: : Say there is a refugee tribe of people who have never had outside contact. They would more than likely create a god to worship, with rules to live by and a strict guideline of right and wrong. This is no different. Say they did all of this except create the god to worship, is this impossible? They would be atheists, because they didn't claim a religion although I think atheism is a religion which contradicts itself but were still able to create an objective morality.

TheGodFearinFiddler :: : i totally agree
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : and i believe that happens
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : just because you dont believe in God doesnt mean that you dont believe in a moral code
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : im just saying if you state 'there is no god' then you are also stating ''if i can steal and get away with it, thats fine"

Agnostic :: : the problem with this argument is you are saying all religion vs atheists, and the atheists are just targeting christianity.

TheGodFearinFiddler :: : thats all atheists ever target

Agnostic :: : so you are saying, if you have a conscience then you believe in a god whether you think you do or not

TheGodFearinFiddler :: : no
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : evolution can also make an explanation for conscience
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : im saying.. a true atheist cannot say anything is TRULY wrong

Agnostic :: : see, I guess I only believe in subjective morality

TheGodFearinFiddler :: : i could take a child, and beat them to death
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : and well... none of us really like that
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : but the atheist cannot say its wrong

Agnostic :: : because, even in the different denominations of christianity have different right and wrongs

TheGodFearinFiddler :: : the atheist can only say 'thats not good for the survival or our species.. and it makes me feel bad when you do that'
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : whereas a theist can say "you've broken the moral code of God

Agnostic :: : ok if a group of atheists say , are banished to an island and create laws, that isn't the same thing?

TheGodFearinFiddler :: : no its different
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : because their laws only deal with each other
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : and how they interact
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : and their own personal benefit

Agnostic :: : that is the same with christianity

TheGodFearinFiddler :: : well its true that the golden rule is the hinge of Christian morality
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : but there are also other sins
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : like lust
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : that doesnt hurt anyone

Agnostic :: : compared to other religions

TheGodFearinFiddler :: : but yet it is prohibited
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : or if you secretly hate your neighbor and want him dead you are guilty of a sin according to Christianity
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : that is the objective morality that im talking about

Agnostic :: : no, you are saying, what makes those , peoples rules different are because nobody but them have to follow the rules, but that is the same with religion,

TheGodFearinFiddler :: : no the difference is that these people only answer to themselves
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : and morality as taught by theism is that you answer to a higher power
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : thats what makes it right & wrong
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : remember we're not arguing if thats true or not

Agnostic :: : yeah, I know, I am just saying, I cant figure out the differnce between gods and presidents

TheGodFearinFiddler :: : there is no difference

Agnostic :: : ok so in a way, the gevernment is a religion in it's own
Agnostic :: : government

TheGodFearinFiddler :: : maybe
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : im just saying that, God is the one in power (in theory)

Agnostic :: : well it is atheist's religion

TheGodFearinFiddler :: : agree or disagree , if He's real then His opinions are the ones that count

Agnostic :: : yeah, you are saying that for the laws to mean something, somebody has to enforce them

TheGodFearinFiddler :: : right
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : cuz i can tell you its illegal to wear tshirts ever again
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : but if I say that to you
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : you dont care
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : because , you're not worried about any enforcement
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : so whether I say it or not
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : its just the same if i didnt say it

Agnostic :: : yeah, and if you dont follow or believe in the enforcer, then you have no ability to say anything is right or wrong

TheGodFearinFiddler :: : right
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : thats all im saying
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : is that atheism believes that there is no enforcer

Agnostic :: : so it's a technical definition battle

TheGodFearinFiddler :: : therefore, there arent any TRUE moral laws
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : if i get away with it on earth, I got away with it for good
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : but Christianity promises that all wrongs will be made right and all rights will be rewarded

Agnostic :: : oh

TheGodFearinFiddler :: : so the serial killer who gets away is in luck if atheism is true
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : he had his cake and ate it too if thats the case
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : but if God is real he's in trouble

Agnostic :: : that would of been funny if you would of said a cannibal

TheGodFearinFiddler :: : haha

Agnostic :: : see I thought you were saying, it is impossible for atheists to create and uphold right and wrong

TheGodFearinFiddler :: : no
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : i guess thats what those guys think im saying too

Agnostic :: : I think that is the impression they got too
Agnostic :: : heh

TheGodFearinFiddler :: : i guess we'll see tomorrow when flossie gives me more reasons why im an idiot
TheGodFearinFiddler :: : hehe

Agnostic :: : but you are an idiot
Agnostic :: : dont you know that it is completely possible for an atheist to treat others like he would want to be treated?

TheGodFearinFiddler :: : haha

Agnostic :: : dang it sucks I didn't understand you earlier, I had some good points in there, but there are irrelevant now

TheGodFearinFiddler :: : hehehe

Agnostic :: : damn
Agnostic :: : dude you should put our whole conversation in a post
Agnostic :: : to explain what you meant

TheGodFearinFiddler :: : not a bad idea


Anonymous said...

Do you really mean to tell me the only reason you try to be good is to gain God's approval and reward, or to avoid his disapproval and punishment? That's not morality, that's just sucking up, apple-polishing, looking over your shoulder at the great surveillance camera in the sky, or the still small wiretap inside your head, monitoring your every move, even your every base thought. As Einstein said, 'If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.'

Read Michael Schermer's The Science of Good and Evil. If you agree that, in the absence of God, you would 'commit rape, robbery and murder', you reveal yourself as an immoral person. If on the other hand you admit that you would continue to be a good person even when not under divine surveillance, you have undermined your belief that God is necessary for us to be good.

You seem an intelligent bloke. Go figure.

Mike said...

Did you not read any of that, the reason it was posted was so the atheists might quit using the "we believe in the golden rule too". The whole idea isn't that you cant state that anything is wrong. Not you cant do good without a god. Without rules to break no matter what you do, you aren't doing anything wrong, you might not agree with what is being done, but it would simply be your opinion. Kind of like religion. The is no law that says you have to believe in a god. Therefore it is impossible for you to say it is totally wrong to do it. You might believe the person is wrong but it would only be opinoin.

Like I said in another comment. Atheists always seem to know what they want to say, and say it even if it doesn't apply to what is being talked about.

Dave Gudeman said...

I don't agree that it is impossible for an athiest to believe in objective morality, but it is certainly inconsistent for a physicalist to believe in objective morality, and most modern western athiests are physicalists.

Physicalists believe that there is nothing but the physical, material world, physical properties and physical events. Objective morality is clearly not physical because the physical world doesn't have right and wrong, only is and is not. It is impossible to get from "this is the way things are" to "this is the way things should be".

Anonymous said...

Mike - if you're saying right and wrong are a moral human construct, then yes, absolutely.

Adding in a God and saying "he gave us the rules" doesn't change that.

NotMyOpinion30 said...

"Do you really mean to tell me the only reason you try to be good is to gain God's approval and reward, or to avoid his disapproval and punishment?"

Actually, that is the type of attitude Christians are supposed to avoid. The fear of the punishments of the judgement are always in the back of our minds, but they should not be our sole motivation for following God's commandments.

I'd like to also point out that when we sin, we are separating ourselves from God. It is a conscious effort on our part. We see the right way, and we choose the wrong, thereby turning our back on the grace given us that helps us to do good (good of course being following God's commandments). So, in a sense, we are punishing ourselves. We choose to imprison ourselves in sin.

Another thing I'd like to mention is that, yes, God is just. Throughout history He has shown that He rewards those who, through His grace, make the effort to separate themselves from worldly things and follow Him and He allows those who choose not to follow Him to continue in their self-inflicted captivity, in hopes that they will be humbled and return to Him... like the prodigal son.

It is by no means by "self-earned" merits on this earth that we make it into Heaven. Only works performed through faith for the glory of God for the Christian are truly meritous in God's eyes. Because one would be seeking to please Him in a sincere manner, God will look upon the act with joy, as a father would when his child has done something good that he had tried so hard to teach him to do. That is why Christ told us to pray to God the Father as "Father". Though God is perfectly just, He is also perfectly merciful. It is only by His mercy that anyone makes it into Heaven. Catholics do not believe that they have a sure shot at Heaven, we only pray for the grace to aid us in trying our best to detach ourselves from our sinfulness and come into glory with Him. We receive grace in the Sacraments and when we actively and sincerely seek it. Once again, Christians should (though not all do) believe that it is only by God's mercy that we make it into Heaven, for if it were purely by justice... forget it, we'd all be toast. Even the saints would say that about themselves if they were here on earth today.

We do not believe that the good we do, if we do any good at all, is done by our own hands, for good can come only from God our Creator. So believing that the good works that are done by us merit rewards from God is inconsistent with the humility required to understand that we are paralyzed without Him. If one does works believing that they are buying property in Heaven without giving glory where glory is due, to God, then he is doing good works for the sake of doing good works and for vanity's sake. It is up to God to judge his heart on the matter. If one does a good work and boasts about it to others, God states that he has received his rewards... the pats on the back from himself and others, if they aren't put off by his boastfulness and vanity first.

The good works done by Christians must be done humbly and in silence. Their lives must be aligned with the Gospel teaching. There should never be any sucking up, for sucking up is an act of pride (the foundation of all sin), self-love, and vanity; an act done by someone who thinks they deserve more than what they actually do or rates themselves at a worth that they are nowhere near.

Fear of hell can be a good thing to start a Christian on a spiritual journey, though it is imperfect. Only by the love of God can one receive the graces to attain virtue. The love of God and neighbor should be the true motive, not fear of hell.

When Catholics confess their sins, if they do so out of the fear of hell, they are making an imperfect act of contrition. First, the sins, if mortal, may not be completely absolved; penance on earth or in Purgatory must be done in order to acheive complete absolution. If they do so because they are sorry for offending the unutterable goodness of the Lord and because they want to repent of those sinful acts, if they approach with a "broken spirit" and a "contrite heart", if they are sorry for the sins that nailed our Lord to the cross, then that is an act of perfect contrition. That is how we are called to be, however difficult.

So, no, God, being the Creator of the universe, surely wouldn't be duped by one who is merely sucking up for strictly their own benefit. That is precisely the type of vain thinking that God wants to help us eradicate. The goal of Christianity for the Christian is to completely transform the person, to make him a light to others, to bring him into communion with Christ God, and to eventually bring him to Heaven to see God face to face, not where there will be an eternal party or a mansion with nice things waiting, but to give praise to the Lord for all eternity as the angels and saints do now.

That is something that is difficult to comprehend, especially when most of us cannot even come close to giving the Lord praise in our everyday life. It is impossible to understand it from a worldly perspective, for it can only be understood through faith, and then only after much work has been done by God on the person.

I hope you get a chance to read this, Anonymous. I'm not sure if you will actually care or not. I just wanted to hopefully clarify one of the major misperceptions of Christian life (especially Catholic life). I don't know if I did a good job or not.

I know you are atheist and that you probably don't really care about the Christian life, I was just trying to avoid having you think something that is incorrect about Christianity.

Anonymous said...

in regards to mikes post:

so, if i say "there are tiny dinosaurs dancing on my nose" you cant tell me I'm wrong? only that in your opinion i don't?

what is the golden rule atheists BELIEVE too?

As an atheist, i hear a lot of absurd notions about atheists coming from the religious.

Avery Martin

Tim A. Troutman said...

I happen to know him personally. Mike is an agnostic who leans more towards atheism than theism. He's definitely not religious.

All the same I'm sure you do hear a lot of absurd things from religious people. We religious people hear a lot of absurd things from atheists too.