Atheism, Christianity and Morality

Okay, there are several arguments I am damned tired of having to argue over and over and over. The issue of atheist morality is one of them. If you have not yet read an atheist response to this question, or if you are truly interested in how an atheist responds to it then check out the following links.

I believe morality is a social construct, and yet I'm a still a good person.

Scroll down on our FAQ sheet to Atheism, Christianity and Morality, and take special note of this link.

Please read these posts before commenting on morality any more...please.

27 comments:

Joe Staub said...

What are the other issues you are damn tired of?

John W. Loftus said...

Heh heh. Well if I mention them then we'll have an argument now won't we? Two of them have virtually died out here at DC but they were issues I dealt with every single day for the span of months each. [Okay, okay: The issue of whether we were ever Christians in the first place (see FAQ sheet), and presuppositionalist apologetics (although I realize I just posted something about it)].

Since I have links to these kinds of things in our FAQ sheet I don't hear about them much any more for the most part, and I want to keep it that way. But on the issue of atheist morality it doesn't ever seem to die out even with the FAQ sheet links. What am I missing? Why is it that what I said doesn't at least help to bridge the gap of misunderstanding between us? I don't expect for Christians to agree with me, but I don't see how they cannot at least understand my view about it after having read those links.

Joe Staub said...

You have no argument from me on these items. However, I think the greater issue, if you are focused on Christianity, is the reliability of the Gospels. In other words, are the Gospels reliable enough to give us an accurate historical record of the events claimed to have occured. Especially, of course, the resurreciton of Jesus. To me, I think theories about whether or not miracles can occur is irrelevant. Did it or did it not happen as it was recorded? I think this is the hot button issue in the culture today.

SE said...

Trying explaining it to the Christians at Reppert's blog. Any time I, or any other atheist, makes the case for morality without God, they just keeping repeating the mantra that atheism equals nihilism and if you don't agree with them, they say you're "intellectually dishonest" and a "pretend atheist".

I'm tired of wasting my time over there.

Kel said...

I've found this as well. The notion that religion gives morality is one that has to die. Though if they want to prove that morality needs God, they can take the Bear Challenge I made.

Deist Dan said...

Since only religious people have morality, how shall we decide whose to use? Fight some wars like the religious ae used to?

Which bible morality? The old testament morality....the jesus morality...or the paul morality?

How about islamic sharia morality, or Hindu morality? Witches and Voodoo priests have their own morality also.

What makes christians think they are the only religion with a moral code, or that their's is somehow more superior or absolutely true?

Christians have no argument here, religious freedom, freedom of speech, democracy, representative republic, and due process came not from the bible.

As Kelly from the rational response squad said to Ray Comfort on their nightline debate..(paraphrasing)....morality no more comes from god than democrary comes from captain america. Boy did Comfort and Kirk Cameron get humiliated in that debate.

Jeff said...

John, you're just tired of arguing about this because you're selfish and immoral! You atheists are all the same, why don't you go out and just kill babies?!

/s

Eric said...

"Any time I, or any other atheist, makes the case for morality without God"

Se, could you give me a summary of the case you advocate? All I ask is that you clarify your premises and conclusions.

Eric said...

Kel, your 'Bear Challenge' does no work whatsoever because you've approached it with the supposition that 'protecting one's young' is moral.

Here's what I mean: there are plenty of 'hardwired' acts that you *wouldn't* consider moral if human beings performed them (think of the female praying mantis devouring the male after mating); hence, it follows that the mere fact that X is hardwired cannot justify the notion that it's moral.

In short, you decided before you chose the specifics of your challenge that 'protecting your young' is moral, and you didn't choose this merely because it's 'hardwired.'

Kel said...

Eric I agree it's hard-wired, and in that is my point. That such behaviour has evolved in us as well as other species, and thus if you take God out of the picture it changes nothing. We are moral creatures, we have moral instincts. And as such if we are programmed to behave in a certain way, then those who don't will be seen as immoral.

The point was not whether a particular behaviour is moral, rather that a particular behaviour exists without the need of divine mandate. Society wouldn't fall into chaos if people stopped believing, after all our ancestors survived millions of years as social creatures before religion came about.

J.L. Hinman said...

you are a good person because you have Christian memories, and because you have a moral law God put inside you. There are good people in other cultures and other religions too. But they are not good because goodness is a natural byproduct of evolution.

Jut telling us that you are good (and I know you are) is not proof as to why you are good. Now tell me how nature can make you good when nature is neutral and not charged with moral motions?

I would love to see you confront the higher realities of meta ethics. What makes for "good." How do you derive an "ought" form what is?

J.L. Hinman said...

here is my answer to the Lot of you (no pun) on atheist watch

Eric said...

"We are moral creatures, we have moral instincts."

What makes you call the instinct to protect your young 'moral' and the instinct to protect yourself (in such a situation) merely an instinct? How do you differentiate moral, amoral and immoral instincts? All have the same source on your worldview, so where do you draw the conceptual resources to distinguish them?

The 'hardwired' argument either proves too much (by requiring you to concede that obviously immoral acts are moral, since they originate in the same way as moral instincts), or proves nothing at all (since it doesn't allow us to make any sense of our moral experiences).

Kel said...

As John said in the first post, morality is a social construct. What we define as a moral or immoral act is defined by the society we are in. Beyond that, the word morality is meaningless. I'm not arguing that we are completely hard-wired, but there are aspects to our behaviour that is. You'd be hard pressed to argue that it's not immoral to neglect an infant, and it would be grossly immoral to not protect an infant. From that we have a societal means of calling a particular behaviour moral (or it's opposite immoral)

The bear challenge was meant to show one thing - that behaviour is not a product of creation. We don't need God to tell us to be good or bad, as a lot of our behaviour in this respect is automatic. Through the study of evolution, through applied game theory, we can show that particular behaviours permiate and a lot of these are what we could consider moral.

For instance, we see reciprocal altruistic behaviour in vampire bats, where bats will share blood with bats who are unsuccessful but will shun those who don't give back to the community. We see an innate sense of fairness in dogs (search new scientists), and even mechanisms for monogamy among voles. We see the protection of young, individuals sacrificing themselves for the good of the colony. Chimpanzees exhibit consolation behaviour towards the loser of a fight - a display of genuine empathy.

Yet a lot of these things are what we consider moral aspects of our behaviour, and they exist throughout the animal kingdom. A lot of these behaviours are 100% instinct, there's no choice or higher power to it. The bear example was to illustrate but one of those behavioural outcomes, albeit an extreme one, in order to get the point across.


In short, our behaviour and morality can be explained through evolutionary forces, and given the fragment of our history that religion has been the source of morality, that to take that away won't make people go out and kill each other on the streets.

Steven Carr said...

HINMAN
you are a good person because you have Christian memories, and because you have a moral law God put inside you.

CARR
If God writes the moral law on our hearts, does he do so in invisible ink?

Most Christians could not tell you the 10 Commandments.

As a point of fact, society tells us what are anti-social acts.

Humanity decides what is inhumane.

As for 'Christian' memories, Christians are people too, and atheists are entitled to get good ideas from any source.

If the first person to think of abolishing slavery was Christian and British, are only Christian Britons allowed to say that abolishing slavery is good?

Lee Randolph said...

here's a link to good article various aspects of research into morality
Morality is a category of acts of self-interest

And Joe, I'm working on deriving some metrics for the trustworthiness of the Bible using IDQ. There is a whole field of research for deriving the criteria for quality and trustworthy data.

There is a even a windows application that lets a business assess its information quality and then use principles of IDQ to remediate problems.

Its featured in the book "journey to data quality".

Gandolf said...

I find it a little strange that people some how find it easy to believe humans can some how likely fathom such deep matters such as many different supposed god/s etc.

Yet they question how morals of humans might have ever been able to come to exist.

Many say yes but how come so many different nationalities all came up with many of much the same morals etc.

I think to myself well hello ! we are all still humans are we not?, and can use the same trial and error processes to help us decide by use of experience.So many morals seem to me to be made of logic,why then would we expect any different than many/most humans coming to much the same conclusions

If i was still a faith believer believing those who lose faith end up in some hell, maybe i might still fear daring to think any other way than whats written in a faith book .Or fear questioning what somebody else has told me to think.

J. K. Jones said...

When are aethiests going to figure out that the argument depends (!) on you being moral. You are moral. You, for the most part, lead moral lives as compared to many Christians.

But you have no coherent reason to be moral. You cannot justify the fine, upstanding lives you live in that you have no basis for morality (or any other abstract, universal law for that matter.)

You live according to what you know to be true: universal moral principles exist. You know it in your heart.

Christians do have a coherent reason to find certian moral concepts to be universal. God gave them to us all. It's not a demonstrative proof, but it is a reasonalbe argumnet against your position.

J. K. Jones said...

This is a note to help me subscribe to comments. I have no idea why my iPhone never seems to give me the option of doing that the first time.

Gandolf said...

J. K. Jones said..." When are aethiests going to figure out that the argument depends (!) on you being moral. You are moral. You, for the most part, lead moral lives as compared to many Christians.

But you have no coherent reason to be moral. You cannot justify the fine, upstanding lives you live in that you have no basis for morality (or any other abstract, universal law for that matter.)

You live according to what you know to be true: universal moral principles exist. You know it in your heart.

Christians do have a coherent reason to find certian moral concepts to be universal. God gave them to us all. It's not a demonstrative proof, but it is a reasonalbe argumnet against your position."

Hmmmm well maybe if i was hell bent on believing that the magic woo theories of faith were the only options available,i might be left scratching my head wondering why folks might have been able to reason and come to the conclusion that the world was round in stead of flat too.

Hell no its just not feasible that different nations of people might all be able to use experience like a kind of scientific study to mostly all finally conclude quite comparably for instance that if people throw stones at people more often than not they will likely throw them back at you also.And so decide oh heck!my golly gosh!bingo its best to "treat other people like you would have them treat you"etc.

No noooo ! humans dont have a mind to think for themselves hell no!that wouldnt be coherent at all would it,we must need gods to decide these things.

:) hallelujah Mr Jones

Philip R Kreyche said...

But you have no coherent reason to be moral.

Yes I do. I behave morally (that is, by modern American moral standards) because it's in my best interests. If I behave in a way that is out of synch with the rest of society, that can result in ostracization, ridicule, insults, attacks, or prison.

I look forward to you explaining why this is not a good reason to be moral.

Kel said...

But you have no coherent reason to be moral. You cannot justify the fine, upstanding lives you live in that you have no basis for morality
"A man's ethical behaviour should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death." - Albert Einstein

Grimmy said...

Take the Serial Killer Challenge.

You wake up, totally immobilized. You have been kidnapped by a rational Darwinist, who sees you as competition for resources, and will kill you, as he has many others. He thinks he is smart enough to avoid capture.

He recognizes that social contracts do not apply to him, as long as he can get away with it. He is smarter and more rational than the rest of us, and above all laws.

However, being fair-minded, he gives you a day to talk him out of it.

What do you say?

I've thrown this challenge out on "find your own light" forums. Invariably, the answers degenerate to "I kill him" after about an hour.

I believe that there are many virtuous atheists, just as there are many terrible theists. But how do you convince a non-virtuous atheist to be otherwise?

Steven Carr said...

GRIMMI
He is smarter and more rational than the rest of us, and above all laws.

CARR
I think Grimmi is claiming that God is smarter and more rational than the rest of us, and so it is not murder when his alleged god kills people.

As for the challenge, I simply repeat what Christian apologists say.

Plantinga comes in excellently here.

I tell this serial killer that logically there might very well be an unknown reason why his killing me leads to a greater good.

Kel said...

It's really hard to take anyone seriously who uses the word Darwinist in anything but the concept of accepting evolution. For all the good that guy did, for his gentle and loving personality - his name just keeps being used as an insult. Used by creationists as a straw-man to attack atheists, used by anyone complaining about an ideology with "social darwinism" (which has so many different meanings, that the word is useless as a definition.

There are always going to be people in this world who do bad things, remember though that the people who flew the planes into 9/11 were convinced they were doing the right thing in the eyes of God. You aren't going to rationalise with a serial killer theist or otherwise, it's nothing more than a straw-man argument to suggest that the lack of belief is a problem in that situation.

J. K. Jones said...

If morals are a social construct within a given society, to what does someone within his own society appeal if he/she wants to improve that society's morals?

What does Willberforce appeal to in his fight against slavery? What does King Jr. appeal to in order to end prejudice?

If society decides what is good and evil, no one within a given society can improve his own society's morals.

Kel said...

J.K. Jones - see ethics. Talk of consequences, talk of deontology, talk of the golden rule. Improvement implies having a standard to achieve, when there is no such thing.

Say for slavery. One could argue that slavery is incompatible with the principles set out through the foundations of the land. They could argue that it violates the golden rule - that those who are holding slaves would not suffer the same tragedy. The foundations by which morality is justified could be argued against. But it must be recognised that appealing to an absolute only gets you so far. Indeed it was the moral absolutes of the holy books and their followers that enabled the practice for so long.

Just remember that everyone within a society changes that society in part. Society is not a top-down construct, it's built of people interacting together. As such codes of conduct are established in order for that society to be cohesive. Individuals matter and any one person can change the moral zeitgeist for the future significantly. It doesn't take a Jesus to do this, though he was certainly one that did. Did Jesus change society for the better? And if so, just what standard do you hold that to?