Another religious post? I’m on the verge of being an atheist bully here aren’t I? Well, suffice to say I just like poking holes in incorrect logic and it has nothing to do with my own beliefs (which are not really atheist anyway).
So I’m sure many of you have heard of the “absolute morality” argument posed by theists. In fact, it’s almost inevitably brought up by any professional debate (many of which you can watch on Youtube – it’s fun listening to how people construct logical arguments). The crux of the argument is that without (a) god(s), we cannot have absolute morality. The arguments leads on to say atheists have no absolute morals because they cannot know that their morals are “absolute” without god telling them that it is. Therefore, the existence of absolute morality (such as an aversion to murder) is proof of god’s existence.
Again, I don’t wish to insult any of my theistic friends, but this argument is absolute codswallop. Unfortunately, I always get the feeling that other debaters fail to properly dismantle this “argument” (maybe because Youtube comments usually lack intelligent input). So I’m going to lay it out, step by step. Again, this is mainly directed towards Christianity – as it is the largest religion and thus the one I pay attention to most.
Let’s approach this as if a theist has proposed absolute morality as evidence of god. I will proceed to do something I love – flipping an argument back on somebody with logical principles. Let’s begin:
Without (a) god(s) there can be no absolute morality.
1. Then are you accusing all atheists of being immoral?
Yes – Then you are “playing god” by judging someone, which is god’s job. “James 4:12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you–who are you to judge your neighbour?“. If you attempt to argue against the negative implications of playing god (which most Christian ethicists are in agreement on as a sinful thing), then you must re-examine a whole range of other issues such as euthanasia and abortion, as well as accepting the fact that you are in direct defiance of the bible (including the verse I included above, as well as others).
Further, you are not only at odds with your own holy scripture and beliefs, you would be objectively immoral for being arrogant enough to claim superiority over another human being based on their beliefs. You cannot say “yes, all atheists are immoral” because that’s tantamount to saying “I, playing the role of god, judge all atheists to be inferior people”.
No – This is your only acceptable answer due to your own theistic beliefs.
But – Atheists are only moral because god gave them morality, regardless of whether or not they believe in god. That’s one possible argument, but here’s why it’s wrong. First, if atheists are moral then atheism is not a sin, which means the rejection of god’s existence is not wrong, which suggests that it is correct or that god doesn’t give a damn. Both are quite likely, but that would raise questions about the validity of religious organisations and holy scriptures, which implicitly and explicitly say otherwise.
Further, all of that is moot anyway because this argument is circular reasoning (a logical fallacy in case you guys forgot). The purpose of bringing up absolute morality is to prove the existence of god. God has not yet been proven so you cannot say that god gave atheists morals yet. You can only accept that atheists either have or do not have morals. If, at the end of this debate, you prove the existence of absolute morality, then you can say you have proven god’s existence (based on this argument – which is not comprehensive), and then after that you can say that god gave atheists morals, which returns you to the first problem I proposed in this paragraph.
But – Atheists have no basis for objective morality. They cannot know that a moral is objective without the existence of god. This is the most common route taken. If you watch atheist-religious debates, you’ll often hear the argument follow down this path. If you’ve paid attention to the previous steps, you’ll realise that the reason why (or part of the reason) this argument always turns to this option is because the above options are not viable. No theist can answer any of the above alternatives without breaching their own belief system, as well as that of society and of logic.
Here’s where the fun begins. If atheists are moral but they reject the existence of god, that means that they do not get their morality from god/religion. Again, you cannot argue that they already have morality from god because that takes you back up to circular reasoning. This is tantamount to saying that atheists are intrinsically moral. That means that atheists act morally for the sake of being moral, and not for anything else. However, theists believe that their morality is given to them by god, therefore it is in fact morality given by authority (which, by the way, is not objective). By now, some of you may already see what I’m getting at – but let’s not spoil the surprise.
One of Sam Harris’s examples come to mind, though he used this example to prove a different point. Imagine a classroom scenario. If the teacher tells a child to hit the child next to him, the teacher – as the authority figure – is giving the child an authoritarian imperative. This act would not be immoral in a classroom scenario (yes, the teacher would get in trouble, blah blah – think of a closed system or this example will just get bigger and bigger, but still end in the same result). As the act is not immoral and has come from an authority (if it helps, think of the teacher as a pseudo-god), the theistic child will go ahead and beat up his classmate. The atheist, however, would not. Why? Because the atheist’s morality is not dependant on authoritarian edict. It is intrinsic, as I have said.
Morality can only be morality if it is done for the goodness of its own sake, not because it was given by an authority figure. Therefore, atheists are more moral than theists. The fact that – as the theist puts it – “atheists have no basis for objective morality” is in fact evidence of the atheist’s superior morality. If you want to argue otherwise, you go back to point number one, which will lead you back down to here.
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That argument is what I think of as a “logical trap”, in which you force your “opponent” down a path that results in a conclusion suiting your own argument. There are, however, much shorter ways of debunking the whole “where did morality come from” thing.
If you remember Occam’s Razor and Rationalism, you’ll know that god – as the highest possible level of complexity and inexplicableness – is always the last option. Logically, if you have any other explanation, it will be more likely than the existence of god which cannot be explained at all. Fortunately, science not only has explanations, it has very likely ones.
The first I’ll point out is from Richard Dawkins. Morality is evolutionary. That is a fact. It is the reason why moral paradigms have changed over time – even amongst religious peoples. We no longer oppress women as much, nor do we put down the disabled or mentally retarded. Torture and execution are no longer as commonplace, nor is homosexuality as strongly opposed. But most of all, think of this: if murder was not immoral, do you think we, as a species, would have ever come to inhabit large cities? No, that would be stupid. If morality was not part of the evolutionary process, our species would not exist in its current state. Natural selection weeds out the unproductive traits. Even past religions that included human sacrifice were weeded out due to the evolutionary stupidity of such actions – their followers could not propagate because their populations were limited by human sacrifice, and eventually they died out.
The second is one that appeals more to reason than any specific science. Do you really think that if tomorrow we proved that the bible was fraudulent, theists around the world would start killing everyone they see? And if any theists are reading this – do you think that if your own beliefs were disproven, you would revert into an out-of-control sinner? If you do, I feel sorry for you. Your identity and morality should not be that fragile.
As usual, I hope this post hasn’t offended anyone religious. The goal was really just to demonstrate logic at work.