Monday, November 20, 2006

What Is Bad About Atheism

I saved this article some time ago and it's now stale and moldy but I still want to talk about it so skip this post if you are not interested in finding out why atheism would make all of us into rapists and murderers and thieves.

The article is a Godly Man's list of reasons about what is wrong with atheism, and a major one of these reasons is this:

An atheist must also suppress all notions of morality. He is not able to declare any quality to be morally superior to another. Such admissions require an absolute standard of goodness and duty. Without this, there is no basis for an atheist to declare peace better than war or love better than hate. These are simply alternative choices without moral superiority. The atheist is stuck believing that morality has no claim on you or anyone else.

In fact, the atheist must conclude that evil is an illusion. For there to be evil, there must also be some real, objective standard of right and wrong. But if the physical universe is all there is, there can be no such standard (How could arrangements of matter and energy make judgments about good and evil true?). So, there are no real evils, just violations of human customs or conventions. How hard it would be to think of murderers as merely having bad manners.

An atheist is a "he" and he is a moral relativist of the extreme kind. It's hard not to suspect that the writer feels tempted by all those evil things he could embrace if only there was no fear of eternal fire in consequence. This is what I have a lot of trouble with, the view of some Christianists that we would all go out and engage in some serious crime-enjoyment if the fear of punishment was removed from us. Hell. It's what keeps people on the straight and narrow.

What a dismal view of the human beings these guys have and what an odd view it is when combined with the idea that some divinity created these miserable human beings evil on purpose, just to watch them writhe in agony trying to stay moral against all their instincts. Such a god looks to me like a sadist god, one who would invent hell just for the kicks.

A long time ago I took a course on philosophy when the topic was exactly the universality of morals and ethics. The professor mentioned three possibilities in these views, ranging from ethics and morals always being tribe-specific and not criticizable by outsiders to, at the other end, a concept of eternal and unchanging morals and ethics common to all humans. The intermediate position was one where the specific form rules and laws took might vary by tribe but where it was also possible to see a more basic shared rule in operation. There was nothing in this conversation about gods making up the eternal and unchanging morals and ethics, if one was to adopt that approach. The Buddhists have a fairly expansive list of moral rules, yet many Buddhists are atheists or at least not bothered by the question whether the world was created by a divine power or not. But the Buddhists do have a punishment system in operation, their view of hell, perhaps, and that is rebirth into this valley of tears.

This suggests to me that it is not the existence or nonexistence of a monitoring god that matters in this discussion but the question of punishment, and the writer of the initial piece I quoted appears to think that the punishment must be eternal to outweigh the delicious temptations of sin. An atheist does not believe in an eternal punishment. Does that make "him" free to roll in sin?

What if we regard our deeds in a more immediate context, by thinking about the hell that we create right here, on earth, by acts that hurt others? Couldn't that be sufficient to keep an atheist moral and ethical? Or the little insistent voice of conscience inside us? That can be a truly annoying guardian of ethics and morality, and it doesn't really matter if it was inserted in us by divine powers or by our evolutionary past or the spaghetti monster.