Why There Is No Such Thing as a Good Atheist

You clicked on this post for one of two reasons.  You’re either hoping that I’m right or you know that I’m wrong.  For those of you who are eager to pierce me with your whit and crush my pre-modern mind, allow me to issue a challenge.  I contend that any response you make will only prove my case.  Like encountering a hustler on the streets of Vegas, the deck is stacked and the odds are not in your favor. Before our love fest continues, allow me to define an important term, worldview.

A worldview is your view of everything inside (and possibly outside) the universe:  truth, religion, beauty, war, morality and Nickleback—everything. Everybody has one.  While it is true that there is no definitive atheistic worldview, all atheists share the same fundamental beliefs as core to their personal worldviews.  While some want to state atheism simply as a disbelief in the existence of a god, there really is more to it.  Every expression of atheism necessitates at least 3 additional affirmations.

  1. The universe is purely material.  It is strictly natural and there is no such thing as the supernatural, i.e. god or spiritual forces.
  2. The universe is knowable.  It is observable, able to be understood and governed strictly by the laws of physics.
  3. The universe is impersonal.  It does not a have consciousness nor will, neither is it guided by a consciousness or will.

Denial of any one of those 3 affirmations will strike a mortal blow to atheism.  Anything and everything that happens in such a universe is meaningless.  A tree falls.  A young girl is rescued from sexual slavery.  A dog barks.  A man is killed for not espousing the national religion.  These are all actions that can be known and explained, but never given any meaning or value.

A good atheist, that is a consistent atheist, recognizes this dilemma.  His only reasonable conclusion is to reject objective meaning and morality.  Thus, calling him good in the moral sense is nonsensical.  There is no morally good atheist because there really is no objective morality.  At best, morality is the mass delusion shared by humanity, protecting us from the cold sting of despair.

For those of you who think you’re about to light up this supposed straw man and raze me to the ground, consider the following:

“Modern science directly implies that there … is no ultimate meaning for humans.”[1]    William Provine

“The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. … DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.”[2]  Richard Dawkins

“No species, ours included, possesses a purpose beyond the imperatives created by its genetic history’.[3]            Edward O. Wilson

Based on the non-negotiable premises of atheism these are the only logical conclusions.  But I’ve never met an atheist who’s managed to live this way.  All the atheists I’ve known personally and from afar live as if there is objective meaning and morality.  How is this explained?  In a Hail Mary like attempt to reconcile the inescapability of objective morality and their assurances of atheism, 2 possible answers are launched.

1.  Morality is the result of socio-biological evolution.  This is a two-pronged attempt at justifying moral claims.  First, a sense of morality evolved to ensure human survival.  Much like an eye or tooth it is necessary for the human race to continue.  If this were true, for any claim to be moral it would have to serve the practical purpose of advancing the human race.   So, compassion for the dying would be immoral and killing mentally handicapped children would be moral.  Perhaps the most moral action would be men raping many women and forcing them to birth more children. Morality in this view can only mean those actions that are helpful to make more fit humans.  It does nothing to help us grapple with the truth that it’s always wrong to torture diseased children or rape women.

Second, morality was developed to ensure the success of societies, which are necessary for human survival and thriving.  Like the rules of a board game, morality is contrived to bring us together for productivity and happiness.  If this were true, there is nothing to which we can appeal when we find the behavior of other societies repugnant and reprehensible.  Because morality is the construct of a social group it cannot extend farther than a society’s borders nor endure longer than a society’s existence.

Furthermore, within our own society, the most immoral are not merely the ones who transgress our code, but the ones who intend to change it.  This would make those fighting for marriage equality the most immoral, that is until they become the majority and institute change.  Then, I suppose they become moral and traditionalist become immoral.  But it’s the math that determines rightness or wrongness of a side, not the content of any belief or argument.

So this view of morality does nothing to provide a reasonable answer for why it would be objectively wrong to torture diseased children, rape women or kill those who don’t affirm a national religion.  It only provides a motivation for continuing the delusion of objective morality.

2.  Morality is logical.  Atheists who take this route start in a position of checkmate without realizing it.  First, the temptation is to pervert this conversation into a debate about whether atheists can be moral.  Of course they can.  That is not the question.  The question is how we make sense of moral claims if we play by the rules that atheism demands.

Morality may be logical, but logic does not equate to morality.  The only way to make a logical moral argument is to presuppose morality and meaning to start with.   Try making a logical argument that slavery is wrong without presupposing morality.  It is impossible.  A woman wrote to me with her attempt at doing just that.  Her claim was that slavery is logically wrong because it diminishes other human beings.  The problem is that that argument presupposes human dignity.  In the strict framework of atheism outlined above, what reason is there to ever assume human dignity?

All logical arguments for morality assume that human thriving, happiness and dignity are superior to contrary views.  The strict framework of atheism does not allow for those starting points.  So any person arguing for 1 or 2 would not be a good atheist.  That is, he lives in contradiction to the mandates of his worldview.

Conclusion

Intelligent people ask serious questions.  Serious questions deserve serious answers.  There are few questions more serious than the one I’m asking.  How do we explain objective meaning and morality that we know are true?  If a worldview can’t answer this question it doesn’t deserve you.

One sign that your worldview may be a crutch is that it has to appeal to an answer outside itself—becoming self-contradictory, unable to reasonably account for the question.  Any atheist who recognizes objective meaning and morality defies the atheism which he contends is true.

If your worldview can’t makes sense of the things that make most sense to you (like objective morality)—it’s not worth your allegiance.  This new reality may launch you onto a journey of reluctant discovery.  Whoever you are. Wherever you are.  Whatever you believe.  You deserve a foundation that is strong enough to carry the values that carry you.


[1] William Provine, ‘Evolution and the Foundation of Ethics,’ MBL Science 3 (1988), 28.
[2]  Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden (New York 1995), 133.
[3] Edward O. Wilson, On Human Nature (Cambridge, Mass. 1978), 2.

About Rick Henderson

Happy husband. Proud father. Friend of Jesus Christ and desperate to introduce him to others. View all posts by Rick Henderson

49 responses to “Why There Is No Such Thing as a Good Atheist

  • Rhys on Atheism (@RhysOnAtheism)

    First, I completely take issue with your basic assertions.

    1: “The universe is purely material.”
    Atheism does not assert this. Atheism doesn’t necessarily assert anything, short of lacking belief in god. A subset of atheism can assert that there is no god, or nothing beyond the natural/material, but that’s not an assertion necessary to atheism, nor is it based on any evidence.

    2. “The universe is scientific.”
    Again, atheism does not assert this. It is not a foundation of atheism. As an atheist, I fully accept that there may be things that science can’t handle, but without an objective way of dealing with information, we go with what we have, what we know, and what works.

    3. “The universe is impersonal.”
    Same thing. This has nothing to do with atheism. It is generally a view that atheists have, along with the others, because there is no evidence to the contrary. However, that doesn’t make it a core of atheism.

    You are strongly conflating atheism with other philosophies. An open mind which requires evidence before accepting things as true will say these things, but that is due to acceptance of the scientific method, and requiring evidence before accepting things as correct.

    • Nic Laughter

      If your thought process only goes as far as, “I don’t believe in god,” and ceases after that, without even a hint of thought of what the universe IS made of, if it is, in fact, scientific, or if it has any personal attributes, I would argue that you don’t know much about atheism in the first place.

      Your entire argument is based on the disillusionment that there must be SOME atheist out there who has no musing on science and philosophy beyond decided disbelief in a god. In truth, I think you realize that you know atheism is a contradiction unto itself, you just don’t want to admit it yet.

      • Anonymous

        No, you’re conflating two different things. This is because someone who believes in God can still accept that the universe is scientific (unless God can freely manipulate gravity to his wishes, which has never been demonstrated, the laws of physics do govern the universe), that the universe is impersonal (since most people believe God is outside the universe, it can still be impersonal), and that the universe is material (since God supposedly lives outside the universe and its laws, it is made up of material things). These things are not necessary in order for someone to be an atheist, and someone who is a theist doesn’t necessarily reject these things. Science and atheism are not the same thing, because theists also accept science.

      • Rhys on Atheism (@RhysOnAtheism)

        That’s not how far my thought process goes, as I clearly stated. It’s just important that the atheist thought process goes no further than that.

        Logic is the tool we use to discover best moral values, but it’s completely independent of atheism(aside from the connection between logic leading to atheism).

  • Robert Fulton

    What about Good Agnostic

    • Rick Henderson

      You have a similar an possibily bigger problem. Agnosticism provides no basis for any objective morality. Furthermore, agnosticism provides no help with deciding between contradictory moral imperatives.

      Perhaps most importantly, how can a person be agnostic and convinced of absolutes like meaning and objective morality?

  • Richard

    No such thing as a good atheist? What malarkey! And that bigoted, hate-generating comment blatantly flies in the face of all reason and proof! Just more scare tactics to frighten the superstitious into kow-towing to made-up-by-man religious dogma. What? There are NO good Christians, NO good Buddhists, NO good Islamists, NO good Seventh-Day Adventists, NO good Mormons, NO good Jehovah’s Witnesses, NO good Hindus? Such ignorance is outrageous.

    • Rick Henderson

      Richard,

      Just so yo know you are arguing against something you made up in your mind, not this article. As a matter of fact I said that atheists are moral. The fact that they live like and believe that there is objective morality makes them inconsistent atheists.

      The only consistent atheist is the one who denies objective morality. Since good is a delusion, it would make no sense to call that person good.

      You said that my article flies in the face of all reason and proof. I offered a number of proofs and a reasonable argument. I’d love to see you challenge or refute the merits of this article. What exactly is wrong other than the fact that you are having an emotional reaction to it?

      I would love a serious response to this very serious question: How do we make sense of objective morality in a meaningless universe?

      I hope you will respond.

      • Anonymous

        You do realize that the claims you make against atheists are based on presuppositions right? All atheists don’t accept these, because supernatural claims are not necessarily rejected by atheists, since all that’s required is the rejection of gods. An atheist can believe in an afterlife, for example, because a god is not necessarily required for one (look at Buddhism)

        1) The universe is purely material. — All the evidence we have points to this, because personal testimonials about experiences that they have had, experiences that they can’t demonstrate to other people, that they claim to be supernatural are not relevant since it’s hearsay. Why study the supernatural in science when it hasn’t been demonstrated that there is any supernatural stuff to investigate in the first place?

        2) The universe is scientific. — Nobody in science say the entire universe is knowable, at least nobody who understands the extent of the universe. What we know about the laws of physics (which is just what we call the way the universe operates) has been tested and verified to exist or work in other parts of the universe that we’ve been able to test. Why work with different ideas of how the universe works if we have no evidence that the universe works any other way? Can God change the laws of physics? Can God change gravity? If God can do these things why study/research physics at all?

        3) The universe is impersonal. — Unless you’re equating God and the universe there’s no evidence that the universe is personal or that it has to be personal. Any definition of any god I’ve ever heard states that God exists outside the universe, so why should the universe be personal? Where’s the evidence of a personal universe? You also make 2 claims: “the universe itself has no will” and “the universe has no consciousness working behind it and controlling it.” Which one do you want to work from? You need to make your argument more clear if you want somebody to actually understand you.

        You also claim “objective morality” must exist in order for anybody to make any argument for morality in any way, but you don’t actually explain what “objective morality” actually is. You need to have a working definition of “objective morality” in order to make such claims, but you don’t give any indication of what your views are on it, you just attempt to poke holes in other arguments because it doesn’t fit into your conception of it. Why accept your personal view of “objective morality?”

      • Dale Jack

        Actually I’ll respond. This line of reasoning reminds me of nothing so much as anti-religious types who insist that all religious people must be literalist, 7 day and 6,000 year creationists or they aren’t real christians. The same line of reasoning that says that the whole moral code of scripture is garbage without creationism and the existence of a god. In short, It is a straw man.

        You have no idea what my values are, and it’s not for you to dictate who I am, or how I identify myself.

        I thought until part way into that you setting up a friendly joke. I couldn’t believe you are serious.

        Einstein had an interesting response to atheists who wanted to use his name. I suggest there’s some wisdom in there for anyone making assumptions about other people:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_views_of_Albert_Einstein

      • Dale Jack

        As for your definition, an atheist is one who does not believe in a deity. Nothing more. Nothing less. These questions of morality are irrelevant.

        Would you say Buddhists or other non-theist faiths have no morality?
        For that matter, how can you claim there is an absolute morality? Among theists – even among Christians – I’d be hard pressed to find any true moral absolutes.

  • Scott Burdick

    I agree that without a supreme being telling us what we must do there is no absolute standard of morality, but that doesn’t mean there is no hope for creating a moral society without a god. It simply means we must come up with our own morality as thinking beings that have evolved an innate sense of fairness and the capacity to empathize with our fellow creatures. I find this as important an endeavor as any scientific or artistic achievement and one that will either save us or doom us as a species depending on our success. The proclaimed contradiction of atheists in regard to morality is straw-man nonsense since most atheists admit that morality is man-made and not some absolute (though there are few exceptions.) But just because it is something we create, doesn’t doom it to failure or irrelevance.

    The wish that some imaginary being will do this for us is nothing but laziness. Furthermore, the various religious attempts at creating a “god-given” morality that cannot be questioned or altered by mere humans have been filled with “immorality” (if you use the Golden Rule standard, which is pre-dates Christianity and in is common to many religions and “gods.” The immorality of religious rules is a clue that they are actually anything but divine. The morality of Yahweh approved of slavery, ordered genocide, the suppression of woman, and countless other atrocities.

    When you surrender all moral decisions to “god” you have actually surrendered to a human who has convinced you that there is such a being, in whose name you are speaking (since there is no such being.) This leaves the religious leader free to exploit the follower — sometimes to get them to act morally, but other times to commit atrocities, suicide bombings, etc. It is all up to the whim of the human leader. Notice how many people in my various films have said they would kill woman and children and even their own child if ordered to by god. Religion is not actually about morality, then, but about following orders. If god orders it, no matter what “it” is, by definition it is the right thing to do. Therefore, religious morality is as arbitrary and self-serving as non-religious.

    Whether you like it or not, morality is a concept, not a physical or divine law. The problem with morality of a “god” is that it ends the discussion. If god orders death to infidels, or that homosexuals should be stoned to death, you simply must follow orders. But when you realize that these rules are, in truth, just as man-made as any laws, then one can have a thoughtful discussion.

    Many people tell me that they think religion is necessary, even if there is no god, because people would simply not act morally if they didn’t believe in a god who would punish people if they acted “moral.” I suppose I, as an atheist, simply have more faith in people than the religious, since I notice that so many “moral” advances in human society such as the ending of slavery, woman’s rights, freedom of speech, etc. were not achieved in this country due to a divine commandment, but by people (often in direct contradiction of religious “morality.”) Yes, there are many evil laws created by humans, but I still have more faith in humans in the long run than in imaginary beings created by a few con-artists to advance society and the man-made concept and practice of morality.

    • Rick Henderson

      Scott,

      Thank you for conceding that this article is correct. I really appreciate it. Your concession was apparent when you wrote,

      “The proclaimed contradiction of atheists in regard to morality is straw-man nonsense since most atheists admit that morality is man-made and not some absolute (though there are few exceptions.) ‘

      I’d love to know what your exceptions are. Curiously, you call this straw man. How familiar are you with that term? I haven’t misrepresented atheism. I gave 2 options:

      1. An atheist is consistent recognizes there are no moral absolutes, which you concede. This means calling him good in the moral sense is non sense.

      2. An atheist who affirms objective moral absolutes is in contradiction to the mandates of atheism. He is not good in the consistent sense.

      So where is the straw man?

      Since you affirm that there are no moral absolutes, what do you do with your sense of moral outrage at oppression, genocide, child torture etc.

      In your view, a priest raping young boys isn’t objectively wrong. That action just contradicts the agreed upon rules of a society. But can’t be wrong in the objective sense.

      One society committing genocide against another is neither theoretically wrong nor practically wrong in your view. If the genocide committing society is acting in harmony with it’s belief all is good.

      On your view we can’t call any offensive society wrong. We have no basis to say that early Americans were wrong to oppress Native Americans and Africans. This is a peculiar position to take.

      Are you sure that you’re comfortable with this?

      • Nohm

        Hi Rick,

        Two things with your response (which appears to be a bit snarky to me):

        1. Considering that in your reply to Charles (below), you wrote “I do think you’ve put some words in my mouth”, it seems a bit hypocritical to claim “Thank you for conceding that this article is correct”, when I don’t see Scott Burdick as doing any such thing. We can at least agree that Scott did not write anything resembling “Rick, I concede that this article is correct”, right?

        2. You wrote, “mandates of atheism”, and then in the next paragraph wrote “So where is the straw man?” Any time you write “rules of atheism” or “mandates of atheism”, you’re guaranteed to be arguing against a straw man, since there are no such “rules or mandates” of atheism. All “atheism” means is that I’m not a theist. Any more that you try to get from the word is not going to be agreed upon by all atheists.

        Lastly, and I meant to ask this in my comment below, but just to be clear, do you agree that there is a considerable difference between the terms “absolute morality” and “objective morality”? Because I (an atheist) believe that the latter exists, but not the former.

  • Charles Chambers

    That article is not correct. Lots of prominent Atheists believe in objective morality. And besides, just because truth makes some uncomfortable doesn’t make it any less true.

    Besides, consequential ethicism (that is causing the least harm) is far superior to divine morality. We can arrive at moral truths, but if Bible God is our source of morality, one era it’s OK to sacrifice your kids and another it’s not. One era it’s OK to own and beat slaves and another it’s not. Why is it OK to slaughter all the first born of Egypt? That’s what divine morality leaves you with. In the end, it’s our own secular reasoning that decides what to follow in the bible and what to discard.

    • Rick Henderson

      Charles,

      Thanks for your reply, but I do think you’ve put some words in my mouth. Yes, I know atheists personally who believe in objective morality. I don’t say that atheists don’t believe in objective morality. I say belief in it is in opposition to the atheism. The problem is that that belief in objective morality can not be reasonable explained from the confines of atheism.

      The only way for you or anyone to build a logical/reasonable argument is to start with a particular moral truth as a given. You have done so, “Causing the least harm.”

      Before building a case from that, how do you demonstrate or prove that is true or binding for people who disregard it? That axiom is true because…..? Where does the moral authority come from for anyone to impose that on others?

      What makes that right? What is it that makes wrong the long list of major historical figures who believed otherwise? We are looking for an answer that is explainable from the rules demanded by atheism.

      • Nohm

        Hi Rick,

        You wrote, “That axiom is true because…..?”

        Because a society in which that is not an axiom wouldn’t last long enough for us to know much about it.

        That’s objective morality; that which doesn’t work, (literally) dies off.

        It’s not an issue of “moral authority”, it’s an issue of “those who disregard it end up in a dead society.”

        Lastly, there is no such thing as “the rules demanded by atheism”. You might think that there are, but I don’t know of any atheists (myself included) who do. Therefore, maybe your understanding of atheists is incorrect.

        Be well.

      • Nohm

        To further clarify, if an argument contains premises that are incorrect, it is far too easy to get a conclusion that is wildly incorrect.

        For example, “Rick Henderson hates atheists…” as a premise, which I assume is incorrect, would lead to a wide variety of incorrect conclusions, such as “therefore, he gleefully writes anti-atheist propaganda articles which he knows are lies.”

      • Rick Henderson

        Nohm,

        Here are some societies that did not accept your axiom. Please let me know if you’ve never heard of them:
        -Rome
        -Assyria
        -Sparta
        -The Vikings
        -Communist China
        -Cambodia
        -Vietnam
        -USSR
        I’ll stop there.

        You are exactly right. Any argument that contains false premises will lead to wildly incorrect conclusions. Thank you for trusting that I don’t hate atheists. I do not.

        Most importantly, it may be true that a society who espouses, “Cause the least harm” may last longer and thrive over others. This is an observation, not a moral imperative. What gives any of us the authority to impose that on any other?

        A person who eats well and exercises may live longer and better than a person who doesn’t, but I don’t see how that would make him more moral than a couch potato.

        You’ve done a great job of articulating a Socio-biological framework for ethics. But in the end, these ethics are not bound in any objective moral truth.

        There is on old saying in philosphy, “You can’t get an OUGHT from an IS.

      • Nohm

        Hi Rick,

        You wrote:

        “Here are some societies that did not accept your axiom. Please let me know if you’ve never heard of them:
        -Rome
        -Assyria
        -Sparta
        -The Vikings
        -Communist China
        -Cambodia
        -Vietnam
        -USSR”

        And exactly how well are those societies doing now? Have you ran into any Spartans recently?

        ” This is an observation, not a moral imperative.”

        That’s exactly my point. I never brought up “moral imperative”.

        “What gives any of us the authority to impose that on any other?”

        It’s not about “authority”; I think that’s a projection on your part. It’s about *agreement* within a society.

        ” But in the end, these ethics are not bound in any objective moral truth.”

        I disagree; the objective moral truth is “what leads to a society’s demise is wrong”.

        “There is on old saying in philosphy, “You can’t get an OUGHT from an IS.”

        I completely agree. I’m not arguing for the “ought”, I’m arguing for the “is”.

        The problem here, as I see it, is that you appear to see morality as being given by an authority, and I don’t see an authority as being needed. I see the society making an agreement.

      • Rick Henderson

        Nohm,

        Thank you for agreeing with my article. You’ve opted for the option that there is no objective morality. That is certainly fine for you to do. It is, after all, consistent with the necessary implications of atheism.

        Please let me know if I’m misreading you. I’m saying this because you wrote morality is “about agreement within a society.”

        I find it kind of funny that those who which to correct me only end up arguing for exactly what I articulated in the post. Morality is like the rules of a board game. It is contrived to bring us together for human survival and thriving.

        It is, then, not objective, nor bound to any authority. That being the case, all moral claims are opinions built upon opinions. That is all.

        It is assumed that we should work together for what is mutually beneficial. Though, we should be clear hear, no one is bound by any authority to do so. So, if one or a group decides to adopt a different view, they would not be wrong.

        Such a group could engage in oppression and violence. This society may not endure as long as others, but they are not objectively wrong.

        In this view, we can turn to survivors of systematic and injustice and confidently say, “What was done to you was unjust. It was unjust because that society could not endure if they continued to oppress.”

        Such a sentiment may not give them comfort. But, hey. Truth can hurt.

      • HiEv

        That’s hilarious, Nohm.

        You note that societies which don’t follow that axiom don’t do well, and Rick gives you a list of societies he says didn’t follow that axiom… and none of them did well.

        He couldn’t have proved your point better if he tried.

      • Nohm

        Rick wrote:

        “Thank you for agreeing with my article. You’ve opted for the option that there is no objective morality.”

        Again, as someone who elsewhere in these comments mentioned that someone was putting words in his mouth, it appears that you don’t have much of a problem doing the same to me, which seems to be hypocritical.

        The reason I asked the questions I asked in my very first comment in this thread (all the way down near the bottom) is because I was curious if you were trying to have a conversation, or trying to dictate something.

        Given your recent snarky responses, it appears to me that you are not willing to have an honest conversation.

        Therefore, I ask again, as someone who claims to be “desperate to share Jesus with others”, do you *really* think this is a way to successfully do that? By insulting people and then replying with snark when they try to engage you in a conversation? Basically, by being a jerk?

        There’s a saying about “you’ll know them by their fruits”, and while your actions don’t increase or decrease my atheism, it does make me think that you’re not really looking to have a conversation here.

        And so, with that, I dust off my feet to try to find someone willing to have an actual honest conversation about these issues, and not just wallow in their ignorance (like your common misunderstanding about evolution, which I was going to bring up later).

        Lastly, you wrote, “I find it kind of funny…”. If so, then maybe the problem is with you. Instead of giving me the benefit of the doubt that I might have misspoke, or not fully explained my point of view, you do this jerky thing where you act as if you won something. Besides annoying people, what is the gain there?

  • Edwin

    Rick Henderson,

    Your article definitely has many people confused. It would seem to me that they are not paying attention to the specific claim at hand. While you claim there is no such thing as a “Good Atheist” they argue that there are Atheists who follow the moral rules generally set by out society.

    I digress to my own argument. While I would like to say you are simply wrong, I can not. You are correct, there is no such thing as a “Good Atheist”. Luckily as humans we have the tendency to make societies which contain societal norms. This allows people in our societies to have set morals without any religious affiliation. So while person A may not be a “Good Atheist”, person A may be an Atheist who fits societies moral standards.

    In your conclusions I do however have a objection. You state that Atheism is a world view. I do not believe many would classify Atheism as a world view. It is simply a idea that describes a person with no affiliation to religion that may or may not contain a basis for a world view. Also Atheism isn’t something I have sworn allegiance to or believe in, it is simply something others use to describe me. I don’t contend that Atheism is true I am simply atheist. When it comes to world view I personally find your statement a bit ironic “If your world view can’t makes sense of the things that make most sense to you (like objective morality)”. What about a person like myself who bases his world view on objective morality. A world view like this does not affect the fact that I am atheist. I just base my world view off of what makes the most sense to me, objective morality.

    So I hope I have given you some food for thought. I would also like to thank you for making such an interesting point, I think the world needs more people who think logically religious or not.

    Sincerely,
    An atheist who is good relative to the objective morality of our society

    P.S. A reply would be much appreciated, I want to see what you think.

    • Rick Henderson

      Edwin,

      First, I appreciate both the tone and thoughtfulness of your reply. It was refreshing. You have given me some for food for thought and I’m happy to reply.

      I’d like to clarify an area where a number readers have taken issue. A common response has been, “Atheism is not a worldview.” If I may quote myself, in the article I wrote:

      “While it is true that there is no definitive atheistic worldview, all atheists share the same fundamental beliefs as core to their personal worldviews.”

      Everyone has a worldview, even atheists. There are 3 assertions that I outlined as fundamental to any atheistic worldview. I still contend that if any one of them is removed, any atheistic worldview will collapse. At the very least, we will not have sufficient reason to affirm atheism.

      1. If the universe is not purely material (natural), then we are conceding the existence of things beyond the natural. That is by definition supernatural. If there is a supernatural reality atheism is not true. This is not offered as a proof of Christian theism.

      2. If the universe is not knowable and governed by the laws of physics, we have no confidence in asserting atheism. That would allow for unknown and unexplained forces, i.e. the supernatural or a god. This allows room for agnosticism, but not atheism.

      3. If the universe has a consciousness or will, we are affirming pantheism, so atheism is defeated. If the universe is guided by a consciousness or will, we are asserting some kind of theism or polytheism, so atheism is defeated.

      You would be right to point out that there are many nuanced positions within the term atheism. Some may disagree with me painting all atheists with the same brush. But if the brush is wide enough, I believe I can. Just like there are necessary implications for all theists, not all theists believe the same things.

      I do believe it is disingenuous to define atheism simply as a lack of belief in a god. Ideas and dis/beliefs like yours are serious. They come with implications. The 3 assertions referenced above are necessary implications of atheism.

      Certainly someone can disagree with them and still be a committed atheist. The point is that they would be a logically inconsistent atheist.

      In the conclusion I wrote,

      “If your worldview can’t makes sense of the things that make most sense to you (like objective morality)—it’s not worth your allegiance.”

      Again, this is not an affirmation that there is one particular atheistic worldview. I’m simply stating that if objective morality makes sense to you, but your worldview doesn’t make sense of that belief, your worldview (whatever it is) doesn’t deserve you.

      This next sentence will run the risk of being insulting. I hope you can trust that I write it respectfully and hesitantly. A person can live out a worldview that doesn’t make sense of reality. It can be logically inconsistent and self-refuting, and all the while the person holding it is unaware. If you are right, I am describing myself. If I am right, I am describing you.

      I hope I’ve offered sufficient clarity so that you are free to answer the question posed in the article. What is the basis for belief in objective morality?

      I look forward to reading your reply.

      • Nohm

        Hi Rick,

        The problem as I see it is that you use words like “allegiance”; I hope you understand that my atheism is not even close to be as important to me as your theism is to you.

      • Anonymous

        As Nohm pointed out, there is no doctrine, dogma, allegiances, rules, commands, or anything else related to atheism. The stuff you discuss about the universe and the natural world is something you should address with scientists, not atheists. You also state “all atheists” as if every single atheist believes the same thing, even if it’s just the things you listed, which is not the case. Some atheists CAN be solipsists or nihilist, basically meaning they only believe in their own mind/self for the former, or nothing at all for the latter. Atheists don’t have to accept the list you made, so your argument is already faulty on that point.

      • Rick Henderson

        Anonymous,

        You write as if there are no implications to atheism, regardless of whichever nuanced form of atheism is adopted.

        If an idea or dis/belief has absolutely no implications then it would be meaningless. Do you really believe there are no implications of atheism?

        You accuse me of treating all atheists the same. I don’t think I’m guilty of that. In fact I wrote, “there is no definitive atheistic worldview.” Yes, you are right atheist CAN be solipsists or nihilists…

        Yes atheists CAN believe or espouse anything in the same way a football player can step out of bounds. No, atheists CAN NOT believe or espouse anything he wants and be a consistent atheists. I think I understand the desire to state atheism simply as a disbelief. But I also think it is disingenuous.

        Atheism is a serious idea and it does have implications.

        1. If the universe is not purely material (natural), then we are conceding the existence of things beyond the natural. That is by definition supernatural. If there is a supernatural reality atheism is not true. This is not offered as a proof of Christian theism.

        2. If the universe is not knowable and governed by the laws of physics, we have no confidence in asserting atheism. That would allow for unknown and unexplained forces, i.e. the supernatural or a god. This allows room for agnosticism, but not atheism.

        3. If the universe has a consciousness or will, we are affirming pantheism, so atheism is defeated. If the universe is guided by a consciousness or will, we are asserting some kind of theism or polytheism, so atheism is defeated.

        These are the necessary implications of atheism in all its nuanced forms. These are the boundaries in which any atheist’s personal worldview much function.

        Appealing to anything outside of these boundaries would contradict and even defy any form of atheism.

      • Nohm

        Hi Rick,

        Don’t you find it a bit bizarre that you, a non-atheist, is telling atheists what their “boundaries” and such are?

        Are you able to consider that you might be wrong about those things? I haven’t touched on them yet, but I could nitpick those to death.

      • Anonymous

        1) For this you completely changed the wording from what you stated in the article, that is a dishonest tactic to back someone into a corner. Supernatural DOES NOT mean a god has to exist, neither does a god have to exist for any afterlife to exist. Atheism can still exist even if the supernatural exists. Supernatural, as far as I’ve been able to research, is a label placed on things we don’t have an explanation for. Lightning used to be “supernatural” but we now know it isn’t. Atheism doesn’t exclude supernatural, most of the time, just god claims.

        2) You don’t assert atheism, because atheism is not a claim, it’s a disbelief of a claim or claims. Every scientists who studies the universe knows we don’t know everything, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept that any gods exist in places we don’t know yet. As atheists we accept the words “I don’t know” and will gladly accept things that are backed by evidence, which God is not.

        3) There’s no evidence the universe is guided or has any consciousness behind it, why believe an assertion that makes that claim? Where’s the evidence for the claim? Just because science doesn’t explain EVERYTHING about the universe it doesn’t mean claims of a god should be believed or accepted. I accept some concepts of God are possible, some are not, but until there’s evidence of such a thing existing I will not believe claims about it.

        I do find it curious that it’s always the theists who define what atheism is and what atheists can accept. Shouldn’t the individual atheist define what they mean when they use the term to describe themselves? Shouldn’t individual atheists determine what they accept as true and believable? I’m pretty sure Christians, for example, would be pretty cross if Muslims or Hindus were to go around describing what a Christian is or what they should accept.

        The qualities that determine who is a Christian vary by individual, you can see this by all the people who claim others are “true Christians.” And another will group will call that first group “not true Christians.” Can all of you please get your story straight? Atheism has no doctrine so there’s no way to not be a “true atheist,” except for believing in a god, then you’re not. Everything else is negotiable, debatable, and up for grabs in terms of what atheists believe.

  • Aaron Davis

    You seem to be focusing on the lack of any logical starting points for an atheist’s moral code. We can start with the premise that all sapient human beings possess consciousness and the ability to sense the world around them. We do not know of anything beyond this one life, nor is there any way one could reliably find out if one existed or not without entirely eliminating their ability to relay this knowledge to others. In their lifetime, people are capable of experiencing positive or negative emotions. It would seem apparent that the best course of action is that which does not deprive any individual of the freedom to live their life as they wish, lest those individuals deprive others (including you and me) of those same freedoms, and of course notwithstanding situations where someone living their life as they wish means depriving others of this freedom. To summarize:

    1. We do not know what lies beyond our current life, if anything lies beyond. It could be a god that says “You denied my existence, now I shall punish you!” before sending you to hell, it could be a god that says “I gave you a rational brain, and you used it to not jump to the conclusion that I exist. Well done.” before admitting you to heaven, or it could be an eternal pitch blackness where our perception of time and reality simply ceases to exist. Therefore, any action based on an afterlife is irrational, since it would be guesswork against impossible odds. From this, we only are sure of having our own life.
    2. Every sapient individual is a conscious individual, capable of making choices and experiencing the world around them, including the results of the actions of others. We react with positive or negative emotions to these experiences.
    3. It is in the best interests of individuals to not be deprived of the ability to enjoy their life, or to have actions taken against them which harm them which are done with knowledge that they will be harmed and that an alternative course of action is available that results in less harm.
    4. A mutually shared interest can be seen in ensuring that nobody is unjustly deprived of their ability to enjoy their life (“unjustly” defined as a course of action being taken when an alternative, better course of action is available and this is known to the one depriving a person of their ability to enjoy life). This provides all parties with some security towards them being able to enjoy their lives.

    From these premises (which I would be glad to further justify, if you feel they are in need of further justification), a young girl being rescued from sexual slavery has meaning to every individual since it reaffirms others’ willingness to do the same for other individuals – their willingness to protect others’ abilities to enjoy their life. Someone being killed for blasphemy, on the other hand, represents a failure of the system to protect these natural rights, since someone was deprived of their life for taking a neutral course of action – it demands action to prevent further atrocities of this sort in order to re-establish this sense of security.

    I do wish to hear your criticism of this stance, and any additional scenarios you can think of which could potentially prove problematic for my stance. However, as a closing thought, which do you think is better: for someone to have a moral aversion to an action because they are told that it is bad, or because they understand that it harms others?

    • Rick Henderson

      Aaron,

      Thanks for your reply. For what it’s worth, I found your presentation intellectually stimulating and emotionally compelling. I was able to agree with just about everything you wrote until I got to 3 and 4. You wrote:

      3. It is in the best interests of individuals to not be deprived of the ability to enjoy their life, or to have actions taken against them which harm them which are done with knowledge that they will be harmed and that an alternative course of action is available that results in less harm.

      4. A mutually shared interest can be seen in ensuring that nobody is unjustly deprived of their ability to enjoy their life (“unjustly” defined as a course of action being taken when an alternative, better course of action is available and this is known to the one depriving a person of their ability to enjoy life). This provides all parties with some security towards them being able to enjoy their lives.”

      Even if something is agreed to be in the best interest of any or all individuals, why am I or you bound to honor that? That is the fundamental question.

      Why does a Hutu have to honor a Tutsi’s best interest? Why should a Khan have honored the best interests of Greeks? Why should any Communist regime honor the best interest of any dissenter? Why should any fundamentalist religious state honor the best interest of the non believer?

      In short, you well articulated argument simply assumes a moral starting point. You assume that we are obligated to justice. Why?

      We are still looking for the basis of that objective moral claim. Assuming it and then arguing for it doesn’t prove it. I doubt you would accept my argument if all I did was quote holy book passages to you. That would be an example of assuming it as true and then using it as evidence.

      I look forward to your reply.

      • Aaron Davis

        In short, there is nothing binding you to honor any mutually-shared interest – even with a god, it is still assumed that everyone has free will. You can still perform whatever immoral actions you please. For theists, it is their god who will punish them for their actions. Atheists have to give people reasons to not perform actions that are harmful to others, which means punishing people when they intentionally harm others.

        As for the basis of the moral claim, it should not be under much dispute that it is in any person’s best interests to be able to exercise control over their own life, since this leaves the decision of how to lead one’s life (or to end it) to themselves, which is most likely to result in a desirable outcome for the individual. I’m simply stating that the best way to pursue this goal is by not doing unto others what you wouldn’t want done to you. If everyone were to follow this principle, everyone would have any mutually shared interests protected.

        There will, of course, be people who do not follow this. However, if someone will not stand up for the rights of others, what reason would anyone have to defend them? Of course, any resolution could work here – we could defend what we agree upon as someone’s rights as an act of mercy or simple altruism, or we could just not defend them, since they wouldn’t defend us, either. Of course, if we want to pursue security, we would want to be the one to extend mercy. We would do this since doing otherwise would result in an impasse where neither side has a reason to uphold the rights of others. In some situations, such as the Prisoner’s Dilemma, the best solution requires that both parties make a decision that is irrational or which would seem at first to be against their own best interests. However, if we operate on what is the best interests of all parties involved, even when it involves taking risks or making sacrifices, we can somewhat expect others to do the same for us.

  • Jonas

    Not sure I understand your point. Morality, like any concept, is a human invention. You could replace the word “morality” with “honor” and you still couldn’t give an example of why something is honorable without presupposing that honor exists. Being a mental construct, it exists simply because we imagine it to exist, and define certain actions as “moral” and others as “immoral”. You can’t show how an action coincided with your label for that action without the presumption that said label exists.

  • Nohm

    Hi Rick,

    Before I give a full response to your post/article, I have a few questions first. I apologize if some of these questions sound like I’m not giving you the benefit of the doubt (and I’m trying to give you the benefit of the doubt), but I’m very confused by the tone of your post/article.

    1. Is your post/article supposed to be serious, snarky, funny, making fun of atheists, derogatory, or something else?

    2. If your post/article was supposed to be serious, did you research any of these issues before posting it?

    3. If your post/article was supposed to be snarky or derogatory, is that really a successful way to introduce Jesus to other people?

    4. Who is the intended demographic of this post/article? Is it atheists, Christians, both, neither?

    One last point, and I’ll save my other points for when you’re able to reply to my questions:

    Atheism is not a worldview. For example, I hope you agree with me that there are atheists who are nihilists. I hope you can also agree with me that there are atheists who are secular humanists. Would you say that a secular humanist atheist and a nihilistic atheist share the same worldview? From my experience, I would say “no, they don’t”, because “nihilism” and “secular humanism” don’t mix well, and the two shape a person’s worldview far more than just “atheism”.

    Additionally, I can point to my dad’s side of the family; they’re almost all atheists, but they’re also pro-life, pro-traditional-marriage conservatives. Would you claim that they have the same worldview as a pro-choice, pro-gay-marriage liberal atheists?

    The word “atheist” describes what I am *not*; it doesn’t describe what I *am*.

    I look forward to your replies to my above questions, and then I’ll reply back.

    Be well.

  • Nick

    Hi Rick,

    I find your article very interesting, and your points logically collude quite successfully, however I wouldn’t be much of a thinker if I didn’t play the advocate and try to pick some holes.

    Firstly, I just wanted to ask if your issue is really with atheist morality or relativism. I agree that it is very difficult to believe in an objective moral code without God or similar deities. However, it is still possible: it could easily be argued that the idea of a Godless conscience creates an objective morality which many stray away from (as many would stray from their own consciences).

    However, my main issue with your argument is that, when you argue against a socio-biological moral code, you seem to ignore history. Religion and spiritual ritual have been such a fundamental part of human thought and social progress over the last 40,000 years that Freud believed that God was an inescapable part of the human brain. Since then, the majority of the world’s population has considered itself religious. The most basic tenants of nearly any religion are – to a degree – a set of moral statements that create a moral code. Looking at the influence of Western religion on our culture, it is not difficult to see how, socially and biologically, people in the contemporary Western world will live by what appears to be a very similar, seemingly objective, morality. So it is because of religion that this objectivity has been planted in our brains; we can choose to stray from it, just as our culture dictates courtesy and yet we can choose to be rude. That doesn’t necessarily make the objective morality a truly objective morality in the sense of a supernatural, governing force, but rather a herd instinct created by the outburst of religious moral doctrines.

    Courtesy is an interesting analogy for morality to highlight my point. Why are we courteous? You might argue that courtesy is kindness, and that by the objective morality you argue towards, kindness is a key tenant. However, this simply isn’t true: one can be courteous and yet immoral (Hannibal Lecter springs to mind…) Why else, then, would we as a culture be courteous if not to progress comfortably through society and social encounters? Our ancestors were the first to be polite, and since then manners have hit a boom. Is there an objective courtesy, because we all seem to shake hands and say our “thank you”s and “please”s?

    I would also like to bring to your attention others views on morality that are relativist, yet can still allow us to dictate a kind of moral code. Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote in his posthumous “Philosophical Investigations” of language games. For him, language was grouped like ‘family’, and we as communities play language games with each other which one cannot enter into unless they too play the game. Wittgenstein believed you couldn’t argue with a believer unless you too chose to believe; his key philosophy was the insistence that language defines our own personal, individual world above metaphysics (though he abandoned the lack of the metaphysical world in his final notes). Therefore, in a very anti-realist sense, if you accept language games then you accept that moral codes objectively exist for each individual on a socially-subjective level; for one who believes that killing is wrong, they are right to believe so, and yet the same goes for someone who believes killing is right. This doesn’t mean we can’t try to engage others in our own language game and introduce them to our ‘community’ of morality. If you believe that killing is wrong, but someone else believes it to be right, then you are within your right to engage them with your language game and attempt to draw them to your level of thought.

    It’s refreshing to see a Pastor who can create a solid philosophical argument from morality; very often it descends into scripture (the same goes for many atheists, except their scripture usually includes Dawkins or Harris, whom I have no patience for). I hope you can find the time to offer a rebuttal.

    Thanks,
    Nick

  • M J Slee

    Sentience… As an atheist myself, the universe has no intrinsic purpose or meaning on its own. A sentience gives it meaning, at least to the sentience itself. I live my own life, and make my own meaning for that life, as does every other person alive, as did every other person who lived, and as will every other person who will live. I look to the stars, to the universe, and I know it will all continue on it’s clockwork with or without me, but I give it my own purpose. In my world-view, sentience creates the only meaning the universe will ever have, to destroy such sentience is to destroy meaning itself, as meaning would never even be considered in the first place without sentience. As such, each and every single sentience is more important than the entire rest of the universe. Every sentient being should be cherished, not thrown away or harmed unnecessarily, for the purpose I create for the universe is no more important than any other being’s purpose, every meaning is equal, and equally important.

    Maybe one day, sentience will cease to exist in this universe, but even so, it will always have existed in the history of this universe, every sentient being that was, giving the universe it’s own meaning. The universe will eventually die, but it will have had meaning.

  • HiEv

    “You clicked on this post for one of two reasons. You’re either hoping that I’m right or you know that I’m wrong.”

    Actually, I was merely curious to see how you justified insulting a whole group of people like that.

    “Every expression of atheism necessitates at least 3 additional affirmations.”

    False. Implicit atheists are atheists who have never heard of gods and thus have no concept of, therefore no belief in, gods. Primary example: all babies are implicit atheists.

    So, your argument ends up being that there are no good babies.

    Baby hater! ;-P

    • Rick Henderson

      HiEv,

      I have not doubts that you are smart and likely a good person. Still, you have misunderstood the argument.

      Your example of babies was funny, but off the mark. I have not written that all atheist agree with those 3 statements. I wrote that any expression of atheism necessitates at least 3 additional affirmations.

      An atheist can chose not to agree, but that would necessarily result in contradictions. I’ll outline these for you, again.

      1. If the universe is not purely material (natural), then we are conceding the existence of things beyond the natural. That is by definition supernatural. If there is a supernatural reality atheism is not true. This is not offered as a proof of Christian theism.

      2. If the universe is not knowable and governed by the laws of physics, we have no confidence in asserting atheism. That would allow for unknown and unexplained forces, i.e. the supernatural or a god. This allows room for agnosticism, but not atheism.

      3. If the universe has a consciousness or will, we are affirming pantheism, so atheism is defeated. If the universe is guided by a consciousness or will, we are asserting some kind of theism or polytheism, so atheism is defeated.

      You can certainly chose to refuse these. But you have no way to refute them.

      • HiEv

        I don’t need to refute them to others, they’re a joke and anyone who is the least bit educated knows it. Your article is an insult to atheists, by insisting that they can’t be good, and an insult to theists, by expecting that they’d be dumb enough to fall for your weak claims if you repeat them enough times.

        My original response to your article was a joke because your article is a joke. I demonstrated that you were wrong, and you didn’t even refute my point, you just did what you did with every comment so far: deny, deny, deny, and when that fails, shift the argument.

        Your point 1 is BS because there are Buddhists, Jains, Hindus, and other religious groups that can believe in the supernatural and also be atheists at the same time. Please, check a dictionary, “supernatural” doesn’t equal “God”, so don’t pretend it does.

        Point 2 is BS because the universe doesn’t have to be knowable or “scientific” for one to be an atheist, nor does one have to believe it is to be an atheist; one only needs to have an insufficient amount of evidence to convince them deities exist. Even solipsists can be atheists.

        And as for point 3, do I really need to point out that all you’ve done is restate the definition of atheism in a really obtuse way? Yeah, atheists can’t believe a conscious universe, A.K.A. ** GOD **, exists. Yeah, you really caught us there. (eyeroll) That’s not an “additional affirmation”, it’s the same dang thing.

        There is no contradiction with atheism at all if you don’t affirm points 1 or 2. And it’s not an argument to merely assert that there *is* a contradiction by stating things like, “If there is a supernatural reality atheism is not true,” when that’s your premise. You aren’t proving anything by saying that, you’re just begging the question by restating the premise as evidence that the premise is true. Empty circular logic is a sadly lame argument.

        Honestly, all you’ve really done on points one and two is insist certain positions are equal to theism by claiming that accepting the opposite means accepting the supernatural, which equals accepting gods, when that last bit is not necessarily the case. One can believe all sorts of supernatural claims without also believing in a god. If you can’t see how that’s possible, that’s just a limitation of *your* imagination. Others are not equally restrained.

        I’ll state that again for you: acceptance of some of the supernatural does not necessitate a belief in a god, goddess, or gods. There are plenty of different supernatural things to believe in besides gods, and you can believe some of them without having to believe in all of them. Get it?

        Your third point is “atheists can’t be pantheists” to which I respond, “No duh, Captain Obvious.” Atheists can’t be deists either. That’s not an “additional” anything, that’s simply part of the definition of the word “atheist”.

        There, I addressed your paper thin points. Happy?

        Now, care to actually address my point about how implicit atheists *also* prove your argument wrong?

  • Steve

    Fairly standard illogical drivel. Smug nonsense and a completely pedestrian argument that has been slapped down over and over and over again.

    Your third point is ABSOLUTELY a straw man. You choose to (incorrectly) define what you see as an absolute rule, then attack it.
    Furthermore you are simply playing with semantics instead of making actual points of relevance.

    Long before your made up, bullshit christianity, people had worked out that survival can be made easier boiled down to one premise: Don’t be a dick to each other.
    Every religion comes along and takes this and calls it their own idea and then accuses anyone else of not being moral or good.
    I love how you mention slavery… Your “good book” supports slavery, doesn’t it? It also supports rape. It supports killing in horrific, disgusting, evil ways.
    You want to talk about morals? Your entire faith is built on the most awful of “historical” events. Notice the massive disconnect between what your “good book” says and what we consider good today?
    “Morality” or “Good”, are both subjective concepts, evolving with society as we evolve and develop.
    “Goodness” does not exist *because* of your religion, it exists in *spite of it*.
    This is why we abolished slavery. This is why we abolished apartheid. This is why gays will soon be able to marry.
    Your bullshit book has no relevance in the real world.

    Morality and empathy are found in people, not in your myths.

  • Dale Jack

    I think I might have figured this out. From reading your thesis it seemed to me you just can’t conceive of a moral world outside your belief system – and that you just didn’t understand much about atheism (and a number of faiths, as well).
    As several of us have said above, questions of morality have no direct connection to whether one believes in the existence of a god or a supernatural realm – it only seems so when your morality depends on someone holding a big stick to hit you when you don’t adhere to your code.
    Correct me if I misread, but you seem to come back to this point that morality depends on some hierarchical authority.
    Two points: How can you even use the term morality to refer to something based on obeying orders, punishment and reward?
    Secondly, I’d say your master spent a good part of his career giving people’s heads a shake when it came to blind adherence to the law. And the greatest commandment that has any real relevance on this plane (one echoed universally by faiths, secular codes, and philosophies – is to treat others as yourself. Thing is, it is a commandment only in the most wooden sense; what it really is is an an appeal to empathy, the true foundation of morality, and one which requires no authority.

  • Chiefy

    Sorry, brother Rick, you are wrong. Your central point seems to be that “atheists” can’t be “good” because they can have no basis for objective morality. The unspoken assumption is that for morality to be objective it has to come from outside of mankind, from God. From the point of view of a theist, divinely ordained morality is objective. From the point of view of an atheist, such morality originates in human imagination or emotion, and is thus subjective.

    We might better define “objective” as that which is not influenced by personal feelings or opinions. An objective morality can be determined by a general consensus of human society, that which reasonable, undeluded adults can agree on. Morality is not the construct of one group; ultimately it is the construct of a consensus of humanity. As our collective thinking has become less clouded by superstition over time, our societies have become generally more better behaved. We no longer condone slavery. Most people understand that honor killing and ritual genital mutilation are wrong. Meaning and values are not granted to us by a spiritual supreme being; they are generated by our nature and our growth as communal beings.

  • Robert

    Rick – you stated, “If there is a supernatural reality atheism is not true.”

    That is an absolutely false statement.

    There are many atheists who believe in psychic phenomenon, ghosts, etc. The belief in supernatural realities does not in any way shape or form equal the belief in a deity.

    I don’t see how or where you make that logical leap.
    You simply seem to assert it.

    Please explain.

  • richardjacton

    Atheism as a world view:
    The article characterizes atheism as a worldview, which it could be but I don’t personally know any atheists who start with atheism. To elaborate they do not begin with there is no god, the universe is material, scientifically intelligible and impersonal; they start at a position of skepticism. what if anything can i find out about the world by looking at it. atheists do not presuppose but rather observe theses so called ‘affirmations of atheism’.
    – The universes appears to be intelligible in so far as attempts thus far made to understand it have made progress.
    – The universe is material in so far as their has as yet to be anything which can reliably be observed to be supernatural or require supernatural intervention which is not explicable by natural means, and in each historical case where supernatural explanations have been invoked they have been replaced by naturalistic ones which better explain and predict observation.
    – There is no compelling evidence of a consciousness or will guiding or making up the universe, so postulating one is superfluous as it only complicates the picture whilst adding no explanatory value.

    If some aspect of the universe appeared to be unintelligible perhaps fundamentally so. perhaps an absolutely accurate model of reality might be demonstrated mathematically to be impossible to contain within our universe due to physical constrains on data storage or processing. this would not undermine the utility and explanatory power of previously developed models. our theories of gravity and quantum mechanics famously seem irreconcilable, in a sense we already know they are not completely true as they stand but they still provide excellent models of observed reality.

    If events inexplicable by current scientific models, which contradicted supposedly established scientific theories occurred regularly and it proved impossible to develop scientific models to explain such phenomena – in short if the universe did not seem intelligible ‘supernatural explanations’ would be all we had to model the world. alternately if there was good evidence to suggest systematic intervention in the world as we observe it from some external intelligence governed by it own independent set of ‘rules’ such external influence could be considered supernatural or subsumed into the natural – explicable but under a differing set of rules.

    The problem is if you define natural as that which is explicable and can be modeled by science. any logical universe deities or no becomes natural only chaotic unmodelable universes are contain supernatural things. in other word the supernatural becomes natural as soon as it becomes consistent, until it becomes consistent you can say anything reliable about it.

    If the universe were demonstrably some form of conscious entity or was guided in some why by one firstly such as consciousness is not necessarily god as defined by any particular religion? it could just as easily be some other alien intelligence. if evidence for such as consciousness existed rational and scientifically minded ‘atheists’ would acknowledge its existence and seek to understand it

    Atheism (in roughly the form of there is insufficient evidence to render the existence of a deity of sufficiently high probability that I need to concern myself with it) is a conclusion arrived at by observation of the world and not a presuppositional lens through which all else is viewed.

    Definition of terms:
    Some ill defined term often muddy the waters discussions on the topic of morality. objective and meaning are the chief concerns here. I would invite the author to define those terms as he uses them in the article.

    The problem with the use of objective in these conversations is this. I can arbitrarily say red is bad and blue is good as measured by their wavelength(low =good, High=bad), having thus defined the standard i can then objectively say that green is better than yellow because it has a wavelength closer to blue that yellow does. whilst the parameters are arbitrary once defined it becomes possible to make objective statements about the system. The authors observation is essentially that we cannot objectively define our parameters, to an extent I would agree in so far as human suffering does not matter to the universe at large. However it does matter to other humans and me. I make this case: I am human and capable of suffering, it is in the nature of humans not to want to suffer – this is objectively true. I am also capable of empathy thus I am capable of vicariously experiencing some of the suffering of others. Therefore social constructs which which minimize human suffering are preferable to all humans. (leaving aside for a moment the complications of masochists and sociopaths). This allows the definition of a lower bound, as Sam Harris put it Worst possible misery for everyone, from which one can begin to make objective statements about the position of a society relative to this ground state.

    Morality is important only in so far as it applies to other conscious entities as it governs our behavior towards them if I do not think it likely that the universe is conscious or guided by a consciousness I do not consider a disconnect between the universe at large and a moral system to be a problem.

    meaning has a very elusive definition in this conversation. does something have to matter to the universe or to god or just to you, the people in our inner circles or the species as a whole for something to be meaningful? from my experience of how people define it, it is a multi-tiered thing. most religious people I know seem only to acknowledge meaning if it matters to some eternal deity. personally I find the concept essentially irrelevant because it is so ill-defined.

    Socio-biological evolution of morality:
    There are biological explanations of ‘moral’ behavior this explains why we behave as we do and does not provide justification for an ethical framework. on this the author seems to agree however he begins by superfluously and inaccurately criticizing the ability of evolutionary science to explain moral behavior demonstrating a lack of understanding of the application of game theory to behavioral biology. It is for evolutionary reasons that many humans are convinced that ‘objective’ moral truths exist. Our strong predilection to believe this does not make it true (I can expand on this if needed). In the sense of objective that i suspect the author means (having some comic significance) there is no reason to think that such an objective moral system exists, as there is no reason to believe that any deities exist. never the less it is possible to construct a rational ethical system (as outlined above).

    Atheist can be Good by a rationally justifiable definition thereof.

  • COEXISTential

    In response to Rick Henderson, and quoting him to make my responses clearer:

    “A worldview is your view of everything inside (and possibly outside) the universe: truth, religion, beauty, war, morality and Nickleback—everything.”

    Well, strictly speaking a worldview is one’s view of the world, not the universe. One’s view of the universe is epistemology and ontology. If you include truth, beauty and morality we’re then also getting into aesthetics and ethics… Also, it’s spelt ‘Nickelback.’

    “While some want to state atheism simply as a disbelief in the existence of a god, there really is more to it.”

    Only by inference. The word atheist, as I’m sure you know, Pastor Rick, is made up of the prefix ‘a-,’ meaning ‘without,’ and ‘theos,’ meaning ‘god.’ A lack of belief in any god does imply some other things, but it doesn’t state them. Because you’ve focused on ‘atheism’ and not ‘agnosticism’, we’re only talking about belief, not knowledge. Which is interesting, because most atheists are agnostic (no claim to knowledge), but any theist who is claiming knowledge is either lying or deluded. Please, do not take offense, I’m not saying that experience of God or the Holy Spirit doesn’t underpin your belief, I’m just pointing out that, just as eyewitness testimony is the least dependable of testimonies, so personal experience is the most open to bias, misunderstanding and mistake.

    “1. The universe is purely material. It is strictly natural and there is no such thing as the supernatural, i.e. god or spiritual forces.”

    It’s a curiosity of our language, the English language, that which has only ever existed under the auspices of Christianity, that we refer to things that we implicitly believe to be the case, that which we believe to be most important, with a root word. Modifications to that root are achieved with prefixes and suffixes, and imply a modification of the norm. We have the word ‘ruthless,’ for example, where the root-word ‘ruth’ has fallen into obsolescence, but we know that because ‘ruthless’ means ‘having no compassion or pity’ that ‘ruth’ must mean ‘compassion or pity.’ It’s a shame that the word ‘ruth’ has fallen into disuse. The words ‘physics’ and ‘natural,’ however, have not. They have meanings that we all implicitly take to be the case. It is ‘metaphysics’ and ‘supernatural’ that extend these words beyond their intended meaning and into the realm of thinking about thinking without reference to sensibility.

    “2. The universe is scientific. It is observable, knowable and governed strictly by the laws of physics.”

    Indeed. See above, with regard to physics vs. metaphysics.

    “3. The universe is impersonal. It does not a have consciousness nor will, neither is it guided by a consciousness or will.”

    Indeed, and even Christians have to come to terms with this. Describing great good fortune as ‘God’s will’, and great misfortune as ‘The Lord works in mysterious ways.’ Does putting a face on it make it any more personal? Really? Given the grossly solipsistic nature of such thinking, it I also a million miles from the humility that your Bible demands.

    “Anything and everything that happens in such a universe is meaningless.”

    The universe IS meaningless. Just because YOU believe in a God, and use that to make the universe meaningful doesn’t stop the universe from being meaningless, but it does mean that you have managed to create meaning in a meaningless universe. We atheists just chose to create our meaning in different ways.

    “A tree falls. A young girl is rescued from sexual slavery. A dog barks. A man is killed for not espousing the national religion. These are all actions that can be known and explained, but never given any meaning or value.”
    Meaning is purely interpretation. Interpretation is personal, by definition. We are all persons. Ipso facto, everything has meaning, or not, as we see fit.

    “A tree falls.”
    Meaningless, unless it happens to fall on your car, or on the mother bear of a cub you then rescue. Then it has meaning.

    “A young girl is rescued from sexual slavery.“
    If you’ll pardon the tasteless pun, this is pregnant with meaning. A young girl has had her body-autonomy returned to her. As a fellow human nothing has more meaning. How do you, as a Christian, reconcile this belief that the lack of a jealous God changes that fact?

    “A dog barks.”
    That’s a curious incident, isn’t it? And if the dog barks due to your house being broken into? Meaning.

    “A man is killed for not espousing the national religion.”

    A sad comment on the divisiveness of religion… one of which you’re espousing.

    “A good atheist, that is a consistent atheist, recognizes this dilemma.”

    I’ve known many a Christian to be unhappy at being told by an atheist (i.e. me) what makes a good Christian. Like when I point out that failing to follow the teachings of Christ makes the word ‘Christian’ meaningless. I suppose I should take consolation in you allowing the words ‘good’ and ’atheist’ to appear in the same sentence

    “His only reasonable conclusion is to reject objective meaning and morality.”

    False dichotomies.
    Objective meaning is that which exists independently of us, but without us there’s no-one to give it meaning. Unless you allow for extra-terrestrials, in which case they’ll give it their meaning… which is still not objective, because then it’s their subjective meaning. You COULD (and indeed I would) argue that there IS an objective reality for us to discover, and it will be some combination of all of our perceptions.
    Objective morality on the other hand, is an absurdity. Morality is, by definition, ‘duty, obligation and principles of conduct’ which speaks of behaviour between one human and another, and as such is subjective. The only claim to moral objectivity is the de facto objective morality predicated on the fact that we humans are more similar than we are different.

    “Thus, calling him good in the moral sense is nonsensical.”

    You had to ruin it, didn’t you?

    “There is no morally good atheist because there really is no objective morality.”

    Yet theocracies are collapsing under their own weight, the US included (given the Conservative Christian hand in the recent shutdown and the massive impact this had on the poorest in the US, this is hard to ignore). The most secular nations regularly lead the standard of living polls and studies (e.g. Inglehart, Foa, Peterson & Welzel, 2008 . Paul, 2009 , and even Forbes( ) placing the US (the most religious Western Nation) 11th behind Norway, Switzerland, Canada, Sweden, New Zealand, Denmark, Australia, Finland, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg (the most secular Western Nations). Let’s be explicit, the US fares poorly because they trail behind the rest of industrialised nations in homicide, incarceration, juvenile (not just infant) and adult mortality (lifespans are actually shortening in parts of the Bible belt), gonorrhea, syphilis, abortion, teen pregnancy, divorce, income disparity, poverty, long work hours, and resource exploitation, they only lead in being the most religious.

    “At best, morality is the mass delusion shared by humanity, protecting us from the cold sting of despair.”

    Indeed, which is why we should all be clinging to it for dear life rather than using it as a yardstick by which to beat each other. The moral hypocrisy of the US being the self appointed world’s police when their own house is in such disarray (as outline above) should be pause for thought, at the very least.

    “For those of you who think you’re about to light up this supposed straw man and raze me to the ground, consider the following”

    Indeed, it is a strawman, and in quoting the scientists that you do, you make the same mistake that Sam Harris made in ‘The Moral Landscape’ – science tells us what to value, not how to value it. The how is a product of honest interpersonal communication.

    “Based on the non-negotiable premises of atheism these are the only logical conclusions.”

    Please pardon me if I offend your sensibilities with this answer: Bull shit!

    “All the atheists I’ve known personally and from afar live as if there is objective meaning and morality. How is this explained?”

    As mentioned above, “The only claim to moral objectivity is the de facto objective morality predicated on the fact that we humans are more similar than we are different.” As such, despite our differences, more unites us than separates us, on almost any metric you care to choose.

    “In a Hail Mary like attempt to reconcile the inescapability of objective morality and their assurances of atheism, 2 possible answers are launched.”

    Sorry, but your assertion of the “inescapability of objective morality” is dismissed with the same level of evidence as it was asserted. Atheism at least is assured by the fact that of the (as many as) 28,000,000 gods that man has ever dreamt up, we disbelieve in 100% of them – monotheism is a rounding error of 0.000036%. No? OK, which of the 41,000 (Pew Forum ) Christian denominations are correct? Some of them say that belief in any other denomination is punishable by hellfire. Are they right? How do you know? Now that is a Hail Mary and then some.

    “1. Morality is the result of socio-biological evolution.”

    Correct. Dogs, elephants, and chimpanzees exhibit moral behaviour (De Waal, 2013 ), and so do we, for the most part.

    “So, compassion for the dying would be immoral and killing mentally handicapped children would be moral.”

    Interesting that ‘compassion’ only turns up 41 times in the Bible, but ‘kill’, ‘killed’, and ‘killing’ appears 198 times . Also, ‘destroy’ appears 261 times, and ‘destruction’ 94 times. It speaks poorly of your one’s if they believe that they need to feel that they’re being watched in order to behave. Do I have to bring up the endemic use of porn in the Bible belt, the relative lack of atheists in US prisons, etc., etc., etc.?

    “Perhaps the most moral action would be men raping many women and forcing them to birth more children. Morality in this view can only mean those actions that are helpful to make more fit humans. It does nothing to help us grapple with the truth that it’s always wrong to torture diseased children or rape women.”

    If we had pre-frontal cortexes the size of chimpanzees or dolphins, then yes, maybe some this might be plausible… but even then, I doubt it. As we have moved beyond the first level moral reasoning you’re talking about (indeed, some of your examples don’t even make it up to the level of morality, let alone second order moral reasoning).
    Let’s use your example to show how wrong you are. A woman birthing a large number of children is against her self interest as she won’t be able to raise them to the point where they can fend for themselves without putting them all at risk at least some of the time. As you said “actions that are helpful to make more fit humans,” as such, women’s education must be apriority, and an emotionally traumatised rape victim is not likely to be a fit mother. Also, when do I point out that it is religious families that tend to be largest, and secular families that tend to err on the side of not unduly burdening the planet?

    “Like the rules of a board game, morality is contrived to bring us together for productivity and happiness. If this were true, there is nothing to which we can appeal when we find the behavior of other societies repugnant and reprehensible. Because morality is the construct of a social group it cannot extend farther than a society’s borders nor endure longer than a society’s existence.”

    Oh, really? What about the successful societies scale or the happiest countries polls cited earlier? The societies may make the rules, but the individuals that live in those societies are the barometers. We are more a like than we are different – significant differences in lifestyle require justification.
    Eskimo: ‘If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?’ Priest: ‘No, not if you did not know.’ Eskimo: ‘Then why did you tell me?’ (Annie Dillard)

    “Furthermore, within our own society, the most immoral are not merely the ones who transgress our code, but the ones who intend to change it. This would make those fighting for marriage equality the most immoral, that is until they become the majority and institute change.”

    No. By humanist standards, which most atheist tend towards as it is natutralistic morality, something is only immoral if it causes harm or transgresses fairness. A consensual act between consenting adults causes no-one harm, or only causes consensual harm, as such, it is the choice of the individuals engaging in the act/relationship as to whether they partake. As such, people standing up for this are moral, people standing against it are immoral. End of.

    “Then, I suppose they become moral and traditionalist become immoral.”
    Nope, religious traditionalists are immoral, but humanist traditionalists are not, as illustrated above.

    “But it’s the math that determines rightness or wrongness of a side, not the content of any belief or argument.”

    No. As illustrated above, you’re approaching the mathematics of morality incorrectly. The content breaks down to harm or fairness, and then numbers of people affected. It’s actually (mostly) that simple.

    “So this view of morality does nothing to provide a reasonable answer for why it would be objectively wrong to torture diseased children, rape women or kill those who don’t affirm a national religion.”

    In all three cases: harm and fairness. A child, diseased or not, can still be harmed, and the fact of disease does not change the calculus in a discussion about fairness. Rape does harm, and body-autonomy is a way of judging fairness – her body, her choice. Killing someone for an idea, no matter how absurd, is always wrong, because it harms the individual who needs educating away from their bad ideas. If they are beyond education, or their ideas so heinous, then the state is harmed by sinking down to their level.

    “It only provides a motivation for continuing the delusion of objective morality.”

    The religious delusion of objective morality. Atheists don’t believe in objective morality, according to your own definitions, earlier in your piece.

    “2. Morality is logical.”

    Morality is logical, but most human thinking on this mater is post hoc reasoning, but moral decisions are almost invariably made in the heat of the moment using our internal pre-conscious calculators, aka emotions. This is the stuff of morality and thics debates, not the stuff of daily moral decision-making in the real world.

    “All logical arguments for morality assume that human thriving, happiness and dignity are superior to contrary views.”

    That’s mostly accurate, though I can certainly see how the moves to have chimps, bonobos and dolphins included as conscious creatures who are also moral beings might have some weight.

    “The strict framework of atheism does not allow for those starting points.”

    Strictly speaking atheism has nothing to say on the matter. Atheism is just the lack of belief in a god.

    “So any person arguing for 1 or 2 would not be a good atheist. That is, he lives in contradiction to the mandates of his worldview.”

    Incorrect, both because of the misunderstanding of what atheism is, versus what atheism implies, and because of the arguments supplied to both 1 & 2.

    “Intelligent people ask serious questions. Serious questions deserve serious answers. There are few questions more serious than the one I’m asking. How do we explain objective meaning and morality that we know are true? If a worldview can’t answer this question it doesn’t deserve you.”

    Agreed. Atheism isn’t a worldview, it is a position on a single question.

    “One sign that your worldview may be a crutch is that it has to appeal to an answer outside itself—becoming self-contradictory, unable to reasonably account for the question. Any atheist who recognizes objective meaning and morality defies the atheism which he contends is true.”

    Indeed. Religions requires articles of faith, and a personal morality to cherry-pick the best bits. Why not skip the unnecessary step and engage in moral philosophy without recourse to ancient books?

    “If your worldview can’t makes sense of the things that make most sense to you (like objective morality)—it’s not worth your allegiance. This new reality may launch you onto a journey of reluctant discovery. Whoever you are. Wherever you are. Whatever you believe. You deserve a foundation that is strong enough to carry the values that carry you.”

    Indeed, and as no rational Westerner believes in genocide, slavery, the beating of their children, or the subordination of women the Bible is, as you say, not worth your allegiance.

    Can you be sure you know which way is up when you read the Bible?:
    2 Samuel 24:1 And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.
    1 Chronicles 21:1 And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.

  • Walking Grace

    No matter what theology or education you have it can not replace the power , revelation , and discernment from the Holy Spirit. I am not condemning unlike the articles you write about all other pastors”false doctrine” . Last I checked no one has it 100% correct! Stop being so religious, legalistic, and denying the leading of the Holy Spirit. Just because you may not have had the same revelation as someone else doesn’t make them a “false teacher” . It means that you may not have had those revelations. Frankly, it could be your condemning unbelieving Spirit that may have hindering you from seeing it. And by the wat, Rick, just because someone believes in the goodness of God and sees the blessings manifest doesn’t mean it’s not true! Romans 4:2 states, it is the goodness of God that draws all men to repentance not your religious doctrine. Maybe as in Jesus’s day, it is your unbelief. If you don’t believe in the blessings, healing, and prosperity of God then you will not see it manifest in your life.
    Stop denying the power and bad mouthing other brothers and sisters working in the Kingdom that actually believe in the entire great commission.
    Like it or not there is only one way to heaven and they will be there too!
    Mark 7:13
    King James Version (KJV)
    13 Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.

    2 Timothy 3:4-7
    English Standard Version (ESV)
    4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 6 For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, 7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.

    Jesus replied, “The truth is, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives new life from heaven.”

    John 3:5-6

    “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world at large cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you do, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.

    “But when the Father sends the Counselor as my representative — and by the Counselor I mean the Holy Spirit — he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I myself have told you.”

    John 14:16-17, 26

    “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not be presenting his own ideas; he will be telling you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. He will bring me glory by revealing to you whatever he receives from me. All that the Father has is mine; this is what I mean when I say that the Spirit will reveal to you whatever he receives from me.”

  • The World of Jesus Freak » Blog Archive » 1405 – Linki na dziś (30.12)

    […] Dlaczego nie ma czegoś takiego jak dobry ateista Po angielsku. […]

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