Thursday, May 19, 2011

Why Do Atheists Care Whether or Not God is Moral?

A favorite tactic of atheists is to call attention to the "immoral" commands of God in the Old Testament to destroy entire nations and to impose capital punishment for seemingly victimless crimes. Appealing to some vague, universal moral law (one they can't account for in their worldview), they say, "Murder is wrong, so God is wrong for ordering the murder of innocent men, women, and children."

Of course, their concept of morality leaves no room for the consideration that, as the Creator of the universe, God has every right to do as he pleases with his creation. There is no room for the possibility that he is within his rights as Divine Judge and Law-Giver to punish sinful creatures who break his laws. Those "victims" of God's wrath the atheists deem "innocent" aren't innocent at all in the eyes of an infinitely holy and just God.

And yet atheists can't seem to resist condemning God for behaving in an immoral manner. The idea, I suppose, is to shame Christians into seeing their own hypocrisy reflected in the God they worship.

What I find interesting is just how much time and effort atheists spend criticizing the God of the Bible. You don't see Christians wasting their time condemning Zeus for his violent temper and his extramarital affairs. Why, then, do atheists care at all about the immoral actions of a God they believe doesn't exist?


Mike said...

excellent points

Rev. said...

Money quote: "You don't see Christians wasting their time condemning Zeus for his violent temper and his extramarital affairs." Definitely going to use that in future discussions. Great post!

Fernando Ospina said...

What prevents god from dictating that torturing babies for fun is a morally good act? If there is a reason for him dictating that such an action is wrong, then that would separate morality from god. Also, I don't know about you, but I don't need someone to tell me that torturing babies is wrong. Most people can figure that out on their own, and if people can figure out what's right or Wong on their own, why would you even need god to dictate morality?

Lee Shelton said...

Fernando, what is your standard for determining right from wrong? What makes something wrong? Are you arguing in favor of universal truth and morality?

Here's the bottom line: If there is no God, then everyone would be free to determine what is right in his or her own eyes. There would be no right or wrong. Without God, no one could say with any conviction whatsoever that torturing babies is wrong. Atoms are atoms in a purely material world, be they in the form of a baby or a head of cabbage.

Fernando Ospina said...

Ah, I see. You're subscribing to the naturalistic fallacy (look that one up). You're assuming that morality can only be derived from physical components of material things. Well, they can't be. You cannot derive an 'ought' from an 'is'. Just because something is a certain way does not imply that one ought to behave a certain way. There is a distinction between facts and values. Things are not right or wrong because atoms dictate it. They are right or wrong because they hold some value to human beings. God is important to you because you experience some sort of value, punishment or reward, not from the mere fact that he exists. Take away all value derived by by humans from the existence of god, and what motivation would anyone have to even care whether he existed or not?

So, if you're looking for some vague universal principle detached from the existence of human beings, I can't give you one, because I don't believe there is one. If you're genuinely interested in understanding why someone is able to believe in morality without the existence of god, then I can say that it comes to values (not atoms because an atom has no value unless someone is capable of valuing it): human suffering is a bad thing and human flourishing is a good thing. Humanism, which I subscribe to, is about humans (and other beings capable of experiencing suffering), not intangible ideas (universal principles) that float around in space and decide whether we're good or bad. Such an idea would be as ridiculous as you make it sound.

I don't know if you're actually curious about understanding other people and why they think the way they do or if you find it more important to win an argument over the Internet. One of those options is a waste of time for the both of us. I appreciate hearing your perspective though.

Lee Shelton said...

What are "values" according to someone who doesn't believe in a higher moral law? Are they not left up to each individual? You think torturing babies is wrong. why is it wrong? If you can't answer that, then you have no grounds to make any moral judgment on the issue. If someone is rewarded by a particular behavior, no matter how reprehensible it may be, then maybe that particular behavior is "right" for that person.

Believe it or not, I am interested in what atheists think when it comes to moral issues, but I have yet to run into one who is able to remain consistent with his or her own worldview.

Fernando Ospina said...

I get the impression that you feel threatened by a world that does not have strict and unbending rules dictated by some authority that provide absolute certainty about the functioning of the world. You've laid out a false dilemma in which the only options are divine command or complete nihilism. Those are not the only options.

There is an entire field dedicated to the study of morality without god that has been the subject of study for thousands of years. One of the first important writings regarding the idea of morality with or without god is Platos Euthyphro. That writing outlines the dilemma clearly. Are things good because god says so, or Are things good in themselves?
Now, suppose god Had to decide before he created the universe whether torturing babies for fun was a good thing or not. What reason would he have to decide one way or the other? From what you're saying, there would be no reason. It would just be a matter of flipping a coin. God would not have any motivation to choose one over the other. I would find that strange if god had no reason whatsoever to chose one option over the other. Being that god (if he actually exists) did make a decision, what motivated him to make that decision?

If you happen to have figured out with complete certainty what people have beed debating for thousands of years, then good for you. You should probably go down in history for this blog post. I suspect though, that there are more complex issues that your theory of morality ignores. Otherwise, how could there continue to exist phd programs all around the world in the study of morality and ethics if all it comes down to is "Because god said so"?

Lee Shelton said...

I can say torturing babies (before birth and after) is wrong because I believe every human being is created in the image of God, and to damage or destroy someone bearing that image is a sin against the One who created that person. You can say torturing babies is wrong, but you cannot explain why it's wrong. If you're going to declare that a particular behavior is wrong, you must provide a reason why that behavior is wrong when there is no ultimate divine justice for those who engage that behavior.

Fernando Ospina said...

So something is morally wrong if it's a sinful act? That's a tautology.

Ignoring the fact that you just made a circular argument, I could probably attempt to keep your premises. What reason does god have to care whether you destroy the things in his image or even the things not on his image? You never tried to answer my question as to why god would choose one alternative over another when he was creating the universe. He could have decided that destroying anything, in his image or not, is sinful. Or he could have decided that destroying anything was not sinful at all. You're relying heavily on the naturalistic fallacy (not sure if you've bothered looking it up or not) still. What reason would god have to care whether something in his image was destroyed or not if, in the end, he could decide whatever he wanted and still be satisfied?

And, again, it sounds like you're asking me to provide some explanation of morality that has some magical properties that tell everyone what they should or shouldn't do. You're asking me to invent some concept that does exactly what you seem to think god does without the existence of god. That wouldn't make any sense. The furthest I would be able to take it is to the level of humanity. You want to know why being tortured for fun is wrong. The reason is because it hurts and it's a miserable experience for any ANY human being to go through. I dislike pain and misery and it's probably safe to assume that other human beings, who have a similar biological construction as me, probably experience torture in the same way. I don't need some invisible being to tell me that you would experience being tortured for fun as a bad experience. In order for suffering to exist, there has to exist the experience of suffering. Most human beings don't need a book to come to the conclusion that suffering is bad.

Finally, I'm still getting that you feel threatened, even afraid or the idea that you could exist in a world in which there is no all-powerful being around to make sure that good triumphs over evil. That's a reasonable thing to be worried about. It sounds like you need a concept of 'ultimate divine justice' to feel reassured that the world isn't gonna suddenly turn into 'The Lord of the Flies'. Depending on where you are in the world, the world can be chaotic with a lot of death, while in other places people are just fine. I don't need any reassurance of some divine justice and I exist very happily. I'm guessing that you would probably experience despair and fear if this reassurance ceased to exist. Such an experience makes sense with your worldview. There are many reasons to believe many things about the world. You say that you are interested in understanding how people think. Well, there are many coherent points of view about how the world functions. Your lack of knowledge about those worldviews is a deficit in your knowledge, not a deficit in good arguments existing. I'll probably never be able to convince you of anything you're not willing to go and figure out on your own. And it's super easy to question other's beliefs and try to prove them wrong. It's another, more difficult, thing to do the same with one's own beliefs. Either way, you will live your life the way that you wanna live it and believe what you want to believe regardless of how I, or anyone else see things.

I appreciate your perspective and I thank you for the good conversation.


Puritan Lad said...


What is wrong with Lee's tautology? He is defining sin to be that which is morally wrong. Your failure to proved an alternative definition doesn't make his wrong.

And Lee is not using a naturalistic fallacy, he is appealing to the Divine Command theory. In fact, it is you are blatantly using the naturalistic fallacy when decrying the torture of babies because it is "bad experience". You would do well to interact with his actual arguments.

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