If God Is Not?

I found this while tag surfing:

If God is not, then there is no accountability in our universe, no ultimate day of justice. The atheistic regimes who have done unimaginable things to other human beings in an attempt to create a secular (without God) utopia will never be brought to justice. If God is not, genocide is permissable. There is not, nor will there ever be cosmic justice.

If God is not, then you are not important. One person may do to another person as they wish. There is no sense of innate, moral value, no ascribed value. If God is not, abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia are permissable. If God is not, life is not sacred. If God is not, there are no ultimate moral values to guide how I treat someone else. (Source)

It goes on like this for several melodramatic paragraphs, but I want to briefly elaborate on two ideas contained in the above quote: firstly, that there ‘must’ be some greater cosmic purpose to human life, and secondly, that our default way of being is to act in completely amoral self-interest.

The first paragraph reveals an extremely common ‘argument from consequence’ that a lot of theists fall for, but whose absurdities can be easily revealed:

  1. If God does not exist, there will never be any ‘cosmic justice’.
  2. That would be bad.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

That wasn’t a parody; that’s actually all the argument (if you could call it that) says. (I’m sure someone reading this will immediately think of the phrase ‘G.E. Moore shift’, but it wouldn’t work here either – think about it.) I’m fully willing to accept the first premise, that God’s non-existance would mean that horribly evil people are capable of ultimately getting away with their crimes. I’ll even accept the second premise, although it could be argued against. What I don’t accept is the conclusion, and for a very good reason: even if the truth is sad, it is still the truth. It is entirely possible that the universe really is an uncaring, amoral collection of matter in which our lives will pass in the blink of an eye before disappearing into meaningless oblivion. That idea frightens a lot of people for some reason, but that doesn’t mean that it’s incapable of being true. You cannot just claim that your assertion is true because things would really really suck if it isn’t.

This kind of mindset also sometimes gives rise to the idea that atheists revel in believing the kinds of things I just described, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I don’t particularly like the idea of a ‘judgement day’, but I’d also be extremely relieved to discover that some sort of (favourable) afterlife also exists. I don’t believe what I do because it makes me feel good, I believe what I do because I genuinely think it’s true. But if you are someone who thinks that the Universe is here ‘for us’ or that there’s some force for ‘cosmic justice’ at work, let me ask you something: where is it? Where in the vastness of the universe do you detect the slightest hint of concern for our well-being or moral choices?

Another, curiously celebrated feature of monotheism is tha idea that humans are naturally evil and can only be redeemed by religious belief. It’s not overly difficult to see where this kind of thinking came from, but my own experiences certainly contradict it. In the post I linked to above, the author suggests that without God he would react to hearing his child being beaten on the street by indifferently reading his newspaper. This is bullshit. In a situation like that, nobody reacts based on whether they believe in God or whether they subscribe to Kantian ethics or any other philosophical or religious worldview. I’m not going to pretend to know what exactly gives us basic moral impulses, but it’s not belief in God. There are theists who have committed atrocious acts of child abuse, sometimes in the name of the God they believe in, and there are atheists who have dedicated their lives to protecting vulnerable children – whether a person believes in an omnipotent deity is not the deciding factor in what they’ll do if their child is being beaten.

(Incidentally, I’ve just looked at the comment page for that post and the author is a bit of a nut. Still, nothing I’ve quoted here is especially unusual among theists.)

Advertisements

21 Responses to “If God Is Not?”


  1. 1 shamelesslyatheist January 24, 2009 at 12:02 am

    Yeah, I left a few comments on that blog that offered nothing more than sophistry. Certainly nothing of substance was presented. A bit of a nut is an apt description.

  2. 2 followeroftheway1 January 24, 2009 at 12:45 am

    I must say that I am relieved to read that you don’t profess to believe that Godless universe would have ultimate justice. That’s refreshing.

  3. 3 augustine January 24, 2009 at 1:02 am

    …well, how would it? ‘Justice’ is a human concept, not a ‘cosmic’ or universal one. It has no meaning except in the context of humanity. (Or, I guess, other potential intelligent species, but let’s leave that one until we find some…)

  4. 4 Return of Tofu January 25, 2009 at 8:32 am

    Joey is indeed nuts. He makes a big show of “reaching out to atheists” to “understand their worldview” but ultimately he reveals that he thinks every atheist is an immoral liar.

  5. 5 Matt January 25, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    Great post. A few things to also consider in this argument:

    Just because there is no ‘cosmic justice’ does not mean that people don’t have an inate sense of right and wrong. The book ‘The Science of Good and Evil’ discusses this topic at length. One does not need morality defined by Christianity to know right and wrong.

    There were many cultures that existed long before The Bible was written which understood this and many cultures existing today that don’t prescribe to Christianity that have a strong sense of right and wrong. It is such a egocentric worldview to believe that “my god” is the only way that others can understand morality.

  6. 6 augustine January 25, 2009 at 5:10 pm

    I suppose a Christian (or Muslim or Jew or Buddhist or what have you…) would respond by saying that a sense of right and wrong is not the same thing as the sense of right and wrong – in other words, only the Bible is ‘correct’. Of course, that kind of argument only makes sense if you’re already a Christian…

  7. 7 Eric Kemp January 26, 2009 at 1:16 am

    Augustine

    “It is entirely possible that the universe really is an uncaring, amoral collection of matter in which our lives will pass in the blink of an eye before disappearing into meaningless oblivion.”

    Quick question: If you really live in the universe you ascribe to, the uncaring, amoral collection of matter, then where do you get your sense of morality? No really, think about it. How would you even know what is morally right or wrong? How did you decide? Why do you hold other’s moral decisions against them if all they did is decide differently than you did?

    You might respond to this question with something like:

    “This is bullshit. In a situation like that, nobody reacts based on whether they believe in God or whether they subscribe to Kantian ethics or any other philosophical or religious worldview. I’m not going to pretend to know what exactly gives us basic moral impulses, but it’s not belief in God.”

    But that’s exactly the point, everyone acts like there is an objective moral standard. But why? If there isn’t one, where did we get the foolish idea that something like this exists? Isn’t the human construct of an objective moral standard unexplanable in a “uncaring, amoral universe”?

    Also, you say you don’t know where your basic moral implulses come from, but you know it’s not God. Come again? If you don’t know what it IS, how can you claim to know what it’s NOT? More importantly, how did you come by the knowledge that God did not give you your sense of morality?

  8. 8 augustine January 26, 2009 at 10:41 am

    I said that it isn’t belief in God, not that it isn’t God.

    But that’s exactly the point, everyone acts like there is an objective moral standard. But why? If there isn’t one, where did we get the foolish idea that something like this exists? Isn’t the human construct of an objective moral standard unexplainable in a “uncaring, amoral universe”?

    You know, this kind of reasoning wasn’t very convincing when Descartes tried it, and it still isn’t very convincing now. Are you honestly telling me that the concept of an objective moral standard is wholly inexplicable without theism? We mistake our own subjective opinions for ‘the truth’ all the time – in trivial matters as well as important ones. I don’t see any reason why morality should be any different.

  9. 9 shamelesslyatheist January 26, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    “Isn’t the human construct of an objective moral standard unexplanable in a “uncaring, amoral universe”?”

    Not in the least. Our species, along with many other mammalian species, evolved with a social survival strategy. In order to do so, it was necessary that rules of behavior develop in order to maintain group cohesiveness. These rules are based on reciprocity – helping other members of the group in times of need with the expectation that this will be returned. This model predicts that we should be able to observe such behavior in other social species. Indeed we do. Vampire bats will feed hungry group members at their own expense and if the favor is not returned they will not again share with those individuals. Pretty much every behavior is represented in species closely related to us, right down to politics.

    Good overviews on the subject can be found in Franz de Waal’s Your Inner Ape and Marc Hauser’s Moral Minds.

  10. 10 Eric Kemp January 26, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    Augustine

    “I said that it isn’t belief in God, not that it isn’t God.”

    Then it is a strawman of the Christian argument. Christianity doesn’t state that people act moral because of a belief in God, it’s that people have a sense of morality because it was given to them by God, wether they believe in Him or not. But I’m already tackling this with the other point.

    “Are you honestly telling me that the concept of an objective moral standard is wholly inexplicable without theism?”

    Restating my question with a hint of sarcasm in order to attempt to make my assertion ridiculous is not an argument.

    “We mistake our own subjective opinions for ‘the truth’ all the time – in trivial matters as well as important ones. I don’t see any reason why morality should be any different.”

    The definition of “the truth” is not a subjective opinion. It’s either a subjective opinion or “the truth”, you cannot equate the two. Saying “Well, it’s the truth to me” is an oxymoron.

    But your problem is worse than that. If morality is merely a subjective opinion, then why do you feel you can tell other people to not murder? What’s the difference between someone else’s subjective opinion to murder and your subjective opinion to not murder? Why do you get to punish him for his?

    Are you trying to say that there are no objective moral laws? No objective, absolute truth?

  11. 11 Eric Kemp January 26, 2009 at 10:56 pm

    Shamelessly Atheist

    I know that you think these “group cohesiveness strategies” is an answer to morality but it’s not. Here’s the problem. Who decides what is “cohesive”? No really, who decides what is “good”? What criteria do “they” use, who are “they” and who gave “them” the authority to decide for the entirety of humanity?

  12. 12 augustine January 26, 2009 at 11:11 pm

    Are you trying to say that there are no objective moral laws? No objective, absolute truth?

    No – you’re making a common mistake. Although I’d perhaps object to the word ‘absolute’, saying that there are no objective moral laws is not the same thing as embracing total relativism. Just because I don’t believe in objective moral truths does not mean that I must also reject the possibility of such truths in, say, mathematics or logic.

    However, you shouldn’t take this to mean that I totally deny a realist theory of ethics – I’m simply not acquainted with them well enough yet to say with much certainty which idea is correct. Regardless, I tend to take a fairly cynical view of morality, believing that most people only act ‘good’ either because it doesn’t inconvenience them too much or because they don’t think they’ll get away with the alternative. I also get the impression that even many moral philosophers believe what they do so that they can rationally justify their highly irrational (that is, stemming from a non-rational source) moral opinions.

    If I come to you and say that I’m about to kill someone, and you tell me not to do so, in what sense do you feel that your objection would sway me? Since I’m an atheist, no Biblical or theistic argument is going to be in the slightest bit convincing. With those put aside, you have two choices: give up and admit that your moral code is useless except when trying to change the minds of other theists, or attempt to convince me without invoking religion. (Keep in mind that whether you feel your religious objection is valid is, in this instance,beside the point – you’re trying to tell me not to do something rather than trying to justify your own actions.)
    So, what do you do?

  13. 13 augustine January 26, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    Eric,

    In Shamelesslyatheist’s example, there is no ‘person’ who decides what is best for group cohesiveness. I would have thought that would be obvious – any process of adaptation for survival is an emergent phenomenon, rather than something dictated from the top-down. Your objection doesn’t really make any sense.

  14. 14 Eric Kemp January 27, 2009 at 2:53 am

    Augustine

    A quick one in regards to Shamelessatheist:

    My point is that saying morality is “emergent” is begging the question. Where is it emerging from? Why has the entire animal kingdom, many groups evolving completely separately from eachother, and millions of years apart “emerged” the same basic moral laws? How is such a thing possible?

    Also, I was under the impression that, in evolutionary theory, genetics decided everything. That is, every behavior and trait that evolved, evolved because of a change in genetics. Are you saying that morality is genetic?

  15. 15 augustine January 27, 2009 at 10:56 am

    Some evolutionary psychologists might say that it is, but I’m dubious of a lot of what’s coming out of that field. However, I will point out one other mistake you’ve made:

    My point is that saying morality is “emergent” is begging the question. Where is it emerging from? Why has the entire animal kingdom, many groups evolving completely separately from eachother, and millions of years apart “emerged” the same basic moral laws? How is such a thing possible?

    The entire animal kingdom has done no such thing. The reason why this argument is used in the first place is because similar ‘moral’ behavior to ours is found in animals which are closely related to us – in particular, other primates. Very different animals (octopuses, fish, other non-mammals) don’t display the same kinds of behavior.

  16. 16 Eric Kemp January 27, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    Augustine

    Ok, I’ll ask you again, where did morality emerge from?

  17. 17 shamelesslyatheist January 29, 2009 at 12:02 am

    More than half of human behavior is genetic. That does not mean that there is a gene ‘for’ anything. That’s a myth that the popular media created. What follows is a gravely oversimplified description (those who know about evo devo, please forgive me…) The structures in our brains (and everywhere else in our bodies, for that matter) develop through what are called transcription factors, genes that act like switches turning other genes on and off. Changes in the timing of transcription factors produce changes in brain structure. Brain development is also sensitive to its environment – how brain cells interact with each other during development also affects overall structure. Essentially, changes in structure (which also determines function, i.e., how we think) which caused behavior increasing the chances of survival were favored and transferred to the next generation. Over a great deal of time, morality based on reciprocity developed. At first this would be very simple, you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours. As generations (and species) pass, this gets more and more sophisticated.

    As augustine has pointed out (and I have elsewhere), moral behavior is observable in many mammalian species that have adopted a social survival strategy. This is a prediction of evolution and is testable hypothesis (see Frans de Waals’ “Your Inner Ape” to see moral behavior observed in other primates).

    That we are separated from other primate species by millions of years is irrelevant. Amniotes came about some 200 million years ago, and we are separated from amphibians and reptiles, yet (along with them) we are all still amniotes. We only see such a survival strategy in mammals and in the same way that mammals are all amniotes because of a common ancestral first amniote, mammalian species descending from a common ancestral first ‘moral’ species have the same basic moral machinery embedded.

  18. 18 Eric Kemp January 29, 2009 at 3:32 am

    shamelesslyatheist

    So Morality emerged/evolved from nothing?

  19. 19 augustine January 29, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    Eric,

    What does that question actually mean? I must have missed something in shamelesslyatheist’s post, because I don’t see how that even makes sense.

  20. 20 Eric Kemp February 1, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    Shamelesslyatheist used alot of speculative scientific jargon to basically attempt to explain how morality “just happened to happen”. So my question is wether or not you and shamelesslyatheist believe that morality came from nothing. As in, there was no morality, and then because of genetic mutations and Natural Selection, there was morality. Do I have that right?

  21. 21 augustine February 1, 2009 at 6:46 pm

    ‘Speculative scientific jargon’ is a good cover term for ‘words I don’t understand’.

    Yes, morality came from nothing in the same sense that politics or art or hobbies came from nothing – all of those things are contingent upon the existence of creatures capable of performing certain actions and thinking in certain ways.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s





%d bloggers like this: