Portrait of an Intellectually Honest Atheist

Dinesh D’Souza, author of What’s So Great About Christianity, has written an interesting article in Christianity Today about bioethicist Peter Singer and particularly Singer’s honest embrace of the ethical implications of atheism. Here are the final paragraphs:

Singer resolutely takes up a Nietzschean call for a “transvaluation of values,” with a full awareness of the radical implications. He argues that we are not creations of God but rather mere Darwinian primates. We exist on an unbroken continuum with animals. Christianity, he says, arbitrarily separated man and animal, placing human life on a pedestal and consigning the animals to the status of tools for human well-being. Now, Singer says, we must remove Homo sapiens from this privileged position and restore the natural order. This translates into more rights for animals and less special treatment for human beings. There is a grim consistency in Singer’s call to extend rights to the apes while removing traditional protections for unwanted children, people with mental disabilities, and the noncontributing elderly.

Some of Singer’s critics have called him a Nazi and compared his proposals to Hitler’s schemes for eliminating those perceived as unwanted and unfit. A careful reading of his work, however, shows that Singer is no Hitler. He doesn’t want state-sponsored killings. Rather, he wants the decision to kill to be made by private individuals like you and me. Instead of government-conducted genocide, Singer favors free-market homicide.

Why haven’t the atheists embraced Peter Singer? I suspect it is because they fear that his unpalatable views will discredit the cause of atheism. What they haven’t considered, however, is whether Singer, virtually alone among their numbers, is uncompromisingly working out the implications of living in a truly secular society, one completely purged of Christian and transcendental foundations. In Singer, we may be witnessing someone both horrifying and yet somehow refreshing: an intellectually honest atheist.

Source: JT

28 replies
  1. Dr. Johnson C Philip
    Dr. Johnson C Philip says:

    Thanks Jason for this information.

    Embracing a philosophy is totally different from openly accepting the implications of that philosophy. There have only been few people who have ever accepted the implications of their acceptance of atheism, evolution, theistic evolution, and similar philosophies.

    The third paragraph in your quote above should be reread by every thinker — I mean, thinker of any and every persuasion!

    Greetings from India

    Johnson C. Philip

  2. Mike
    Mike says:

    I haven’t really heard of Peter Singer before, but from a couple of lectures I just watched of his and what I’ve read, he sounds like a complete moron.

    He argues that we are not creations of God but rather mere Darwinian primates. We exist on an unbroken continuum with animals… Now, Singer says, we must remove Homo sapiens from this privileged position and restore the natural order. This translates into more rights for animals and less special treatment for human beings.

    I’m not sure whether this is what Singer actually believes, or whether it’s D’Souza’s spin on it (from what I’ve read it sounds accurate) but it’s plain wrong. If we are going to be “an intellectually honest atheist” (whatever that may mean) and if we are to take the weird assertion that all atheists accept evolution, then not only are humans on a continuum with animals, but we are with plants also. Which leads us to a very difficult position when dealing with what is and is not ethical to eat. Singer draws an entirely selfish and arbitrary line: suffering. He basically says “suffering is bad therefore if something looks like it’s suffering whilst we kill it, then we shouldn’t eat it”.

    There is no objective reason to draw the line at suffering. Why not say that all life should deserve to live and therefore we should eat nothing? Because that in itself presents a problem, if all life deserves to live then all life deserves to eat to preserve it’s life. So we, like Singer, are forced to make an arbitrary decision on what we should and should not eat. He chose suffering as his criteria, others choose taste, some choose cost. These are all “intellectually honest” positions to hold given the assumptions we made above.

    Now if we are simply talking about atheists and ignore any absurd presuppositions about what particular scientific theories they accept or reject, then the issue becomes even more complex because atheism is just a lack of a belief in god. This comes about many different ways and so atheists as a group are not really a group but rather a very vague cross section of society – this means that some have really wacky beliefs, others have no beliefs, some have sensible beliefs and others call their beliefs philosophical/political viewpoints.

    If we are to create some sort of caricature of what an “intellectually honest atheist” would look like (assuming by this we mean internally consistent beliefs) then we have to realise that not having a belief in god is a very tiny part of who they actually are and therefore cannot be used to extrapolate what further beliefs are consistent or inconsistent.

    Why haven’t the atheists embraced Peter Singer? I suspect it is because they fear that his unpalatable views will discredit the cause of atheism.

    Why haven’t atheists embraced Singer? Ignoring the fact he’s a raving loony, the simple answer is that although Singer and other atheists may share the lack of a belief in god, they don’t share the more important beliefs that they actually use to govern their lives. And what is “the cause of atheism” anyway? Are they plotting together with the “underground Jew nation”, just biding their time until they unleash their plans for world domination?

    -Mike.

  3. Rob
    Rob says:

    Singer is hardly a loony. His books are sold in mainstream bookshops and he is the leading ethicist of some type alive today and a significant figure in the animal right movement. He is also a Jew whose parents escaped the holocaust I think.

  4. Mike
    Mike says:

    Hi Rob,

    I don’t quite understand how your points could suggest that Singer is not crazy.

    His books are sold in mainstream bookshops

    I don’t think being able to write books and get them sold has any relevance to a person’s state of mind. Look at Antony Flew, he’s still releasing top selling books whilst suffering some form of dementia.

    he is the leading ethicist of some type alive today

    If this is true then maybe I’ve only read poor sites that inaccurately describe his position. If it’s anything similar to the way D’Souza presented it though, he surely failed Logic 101.

    a significant figure in the animal right movement.

    This has no relevance, and if anything it could even support my contention that he’s a loony. See: PETA – they’re a significant figure in the animal rights movement and they’re absolutely nuts.

    He is also a Jew whose parents escaped the holocaust I think.

    Again, interesting bit of background, but I don’t see the relevance?

    Thanks,
    Mike.

  5. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    It is worth reading the linked article for more confirmation of Singers view. (Or grab one of his books) I am really surprised that you haven’t heard of him Mike. He is quite prominent.

    I will tell you what I found weird … seeing Rob defend Singer, and Mike rebut. No offence intended to either of you. From the limited information I have gleaned out of the posts, I would have thought it would be the reverse of that. Goes to show you how wrong I can be.

    Singer is an atheistic-naturalistic-morality man. He simply does what the paradigm allows him to do: Invent morality. He uses logic (based on what he observes in evolution++) and his understanding of a materialistic reality, to invent his morality – his right and wrong. But what makes Singer really “intellectually honest”, is that he admits people do not need to follow what he says, because we can all make up what we want. He just has suggestions. And thus, you too can have a different standard and still be correct … because it is your standard. That is (horrifically) consistent with his worldview.

    And I think you pointed out the same thing Mike. Atheists can have all sorts of different beliefs: wacky, sensible or no belief. What makes any of them “right”? In respect to morality, how would you call a different belief wacky, other then sitting in your own self-righteous belief and casting stones? Yet, they too sit in their own self-righteous belief with their stones. So while the beliefs can widely vary among atheists, the premise is exactly the same for all of them. The “intellectually honest” ones can be seen to be the ones who admits this and decide that other people can have their own standard. Even if it is a horrific standard!

    Sure, theists can have varying beliefs as well. The consistent part for all of them is that they have a valid basis to believe that what is given as “right and wrong” applies to everyone.

    But all of this should be crystal clear when matter is the life-creator, when there is no supernatural influence, when matter has to account for everything (I believe that would blanket all atheists), morality is invented by people. If so, everyone really is free to do whatever he or she wants. A five-fingered person can not be more “right” than a four-fingered person can. Matter does not provide a universal morality. It is only that inconvenient idea of a non-matter, intelligent, reason-based, singular, interested-in-our-lives, creator who can provide us with a non-negotiable, singular standard that applies to everyone. As you would expect from a metaphysical being, it is also a non-matter standard, which has varying implementations within our materialistic world. Love the creator and love your neighbour.

    It is not hard to see that real morality is a part of, and sourced in, God. God is good. From that fixed position, you could claim that Singer is wrong. Otherwise, you are left with nothing more than the pot and kettle.

    evolution++ is now my term for “from goo to you via the zoo”
    supernatural – used here to mean what is outside of the natural world
    metaphysical – same meaning as supernatural (Variety is important :-)

  6. Rob
    Rob says:

    Jonathan, I’m not sure how you managed to exegete that I defend Singer??? I advocate giving a fair hearing to all and am open to being convinced by the other side, whichever side that is.

    Singer is no fool. Personally I have little respect for atheists who pretend that atheism is warm and fuzzy, just as I have little respect for Christians who compromise their beliefs. Atheism is dire, especially in the hands of sinful people.

    With that in mind, I think Singer should be respected for his honesty and not trying to hide the implications of atheism as Dawkins et al. do. No, Singer is a real atheist who actually knows how to, as you say Jonathan, think within his paradigm.

    As an aside, quite honestly, I am shocked, repeatedly, by atheists that insist that they are moral. Are they really so shallow that they cannot see that objective morality does not even make sense with an atheistic worldview.

    If I am wrong about this, then someone please correct me!!!

    I also think that Singer is wrestling with some very difficult ethical issues such as babies born badly disfigured and pulling the plug on people in a seemingly permanent vegetative state.

    I have an MP3 somewhere where Singer was interviewed in NZ about this stuff which I could send if you are really interested.

    So to clarify — I totally oppose Singer’s worldview. But I respect him for his honesty and consistency.

  7. Rob
    Rob says:

    This is from the D’Souza article too:

    Singer writes, “My colleague Helga Kuhse and I suggest that a period of 28 days after birth might be allowed before an infant is accepted as having the same right to life as others.” Singer argues that even pigs, chickens, and fish have more signs of consciousness and rationality—and, consequently, a greater claim to rights—than do fetuses, newborn infants, and people with mental disabilities. “Rats are indisputably more aware of their surroundings, and more able to respond in purposeful and complex ways to things they like or dislike, than a fetus at 10- or even 32-weeks gestation. … The calf, the pig, and the much-derided chicken come out well ahead of the fetus at any stage of pregnancy.”

  8. Mike
    Mike says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    Here we go again eh, hopefully we can keep our comments to a more reasonable length this time, but I doubt it.. :P

    It is worth reading the linked article for more confirmation of Singers view. (Or grab one of his books) I am really surprised that you haven’t heard of him Mike. He is quite prominent.

    I read through the entire article and I’ll admit that I got most of my impression of what he’s about from that primarily as I was under the impression that D’Souza is a respected philosopher. I think I’ve heard his name mentioned before but I knew nothing of him prior to this topic; I’m not big on ethical philosophers and most of the animal rights activists just plain scare me.

    Singer is an atheistic-naturalistic-morality man. He simply does what the paradigm allows him to do: Invent morality. He uses logic (based on what he observes in evolution++) and his understanding of a materialistic reality, to invent his morality – his right and wrong. But what makes Singer really “intellectually honest”, is that he admits people do not need to follow what he says, because we can all make up what we want. He just has suggestions. And thus, you too can have a different standard and still be correct … because it is your standard. That is (horrifically) consistent with his worldview.

    If he is suggesting that ethics are relativistic then I gain more respect for his position, however his personal morals still seem to be misguided. Using evolution as basis for morality is illogical, and from what I’ve read I’m pretty sure he’s committing the naturalistic fallacy there – the idea that what is natural is good so if it happens in nature we shouldn’t change that.

    The non-theist is faced with the reality of morality – that is, it’s a human construct, but that doesn’t mean it’s entirely subjective and meaningless. Humans (and other animals) have evolved through the use of reciprocity and the protection of extended kin because this is the most efficient way to live. So although there are some finer points of ethics that are somewhat fluid, there are fairly static laws of group nature – such as don’t kill, don’t steal etc. These are “built in” to our genetic code as well as becoming a mutually agreed upon social contract – so although our ethics may not be ‘universal’ and ‘absolute’, that is the very reason WHY they are superior to theistic morals BECAUSE they change with the times. Theistic morals struggle because they can’t change with the times easily even though they have to, what was accepted in the times of Jesus would never be accepted by modern day christians. Take for example racial equality; up until very recently the bible was used as direct proof that it is moral to own a slave but thanks to the social contract of humanity this idea had to be changed or they’d risk losing credibility.

    And I think you pointed out the same thing Mike. Atheists can have all sorts of different beliefs: wacky, sensible or no belief. What makes any of them “right”? In respect to morality, how would you call a different belief wacky, other then sitting in your own self-righteous belief and casting stones? Yet, they too sit in their own self-righteous belief with their stones. So while the beliefs can widely vary among atheists, the premise is exactly the same for all of them. The “intellectually honest” ones can be seen to be the ones who admits this and decide that other people can have their own standard. Even if it is a horrific standard!

    My point about the myriad of beliefs atheists can hold was to point out that atheists can have absolute morality also, they aren’t confined to a relativistic framework. Some atheists accept the gaia hypothesis – that the earth is a biological organism and everything on it should be working together to create a stable and working ecosystem – this idea presents very absolute laws of morality.

    Sure, theists can have varying beliefs as well. The consistent part for all of them is that they have a valid basis to believe that what is given as “right and wrong” applies to everyone.

    I don’t quite understand how this is a good thing. So even though different religions have different morals, and even differing morals between sects, this is okay as long as each of them believes that their morals are absolutely correct and apply to everyone? I think this is how wars start isn’t it?

    I think the problem when looking at morals from an absolute point of view, is that people fail to realise that their own morals are relativistic. Christianity in particular – you start out with the OT which has an incredibly long list of stupid laws which were commanded by god, but then morality changes in the NT. Your morality is subject to the whims of god and god may be described as ‘good’ but some of his morality in the OT is questionable at best. And this isn’t even considering sects of christianity that attempt to blend the laws of both the OT and NT whilst leaving out what they do not like, creating weird inconsistent morals. Such as viewing all people as equal, yet homosexuals are sinners etc.

    It is only that inconvenient idea of a non-matter, intelligent, reason-based, singular, interested-in-our-lives, creator who can provide us with a non-negotiable, singular standard that applies to everyone. As you would expect from a metaphysical being, it is also a non-matter standard, which has varying implementations within our materialistic world. Love the creator and love your neighbour.

    This would be great yes, but we have no way of objectively determining which god is the correct one (assuming the existence of one), so we’re left with subjective measures of “feeling god” or “conversing with god” etc, which are usually accepted as evidence by theists but everyone seems to experience a different god. And so even if we were able to figure out which one is correct, we’re then faced with the problem of the inaccessibility of god – that is, as god is beyond our scope of understanding, we have absolutely no way of knowing what he deems to be right or wrong. We can look at what has been left behind such as the holy books, but these are so inconsistent and subjective that even followers of the same religion can’t decide how each paragraph is meant to be interpreted leading to a number of different sects.

    (As a sidenote, maybe you can help me with something that always bugged me. If god is all powerful and all knowing, why wasn’t he able to create the bible without it being ambiguous in parts? I mean, why couldn’t it have been written in such a way that every single person who read it understood its exact meaning? I’m sure the answer is probably something such as it became less perfect when it was transcribed by man, but I’ve always been curious as to what the general christian opinion of this was.)

    My personal view is that we don’t know everything about the universe. It may turn out that in some ultimate cosmic joke “good” means to devour babies whole, I don’t know. So all I can do is try to create my own ethical system that aligns with everybody else and accept that this can change as new situations arise. We use our society as a sounding board for what is acceptable and what is not, and if people fail to subscribe to the social contract then they are denied access to societal privileges.

    This system may seem flawed as it fails to define a universal right and wrong, but it’s power is that it can adapt to new situations such as racial equality, gender equality, condom use, and many more situations that religions have eventually had to concede ground to or risk losing followers. From my perspective, the only truly moral religious people I’ve met have been “pick & choosers” as opposed to literalists but this has always confused me as I figured the literal word of god would have been more ethical than the non-literal?

    It is not hard to see that real morality is a part of, and sourced in, God. God is good. From that fixed position, you could claim that Singer is wrong. Otherwise, you are left with nothing more than the pot and kettle.

    This is assuming that god is real (which I’m sure that you believe is a truth) but this means that every other religion that believes their morality is sourced in their god and is absolute, are simply creating their own moral systems like atheists do. And although you won’t want to admit it, it’s possible that your god isn’t real and that the moral system you follow is simply a human construct as well, but with the added disadvantage of being unable to change with time.

    Those are just my thoughts anyway, sorry if I’ve said anything that’s offended you, I tried to be as careful as possible.

    Thanks,
    Mike.

  9. Mike
    Mike says:

    Hi Rob,

    Singer is no fool. Personally I have little respect for atheists who pretend that atheism is warm and fuzzy, just as I have little respect for Christians who compromise their beliefs. Atheism is dire, especially in the hands of sinful people.

    I know that this was directed at a general audience, but I hope that my dislike for Singer wasn’t interpreted as me thinking that his views damage the “warm fuzzy” nature of atheism. My dislike for him is purely the internally inconsistent nature of his logic, manipulated (either purposely or accidentally) to achieve his preconceived conclusions.

    Why is atheism dire?

    With that in mind, I think Singer should be respected for his honesty and not trying to hide the implications of atheism as Dawkins et al. do. No, Singer is a real atheist who actually knows how to, as you say Jonathan, think within his paradigm.

    I argued against this point in my first post but I’ll repeat it. Yes, Singer is arguing within his paradigm but his paradigm is not atheism. Atheism may be part of his paradigm, but there are also a number of other factors and beliefs which have led him to his conclusions. All atheists have different beliefs, to argue that Singer is an honest atheist simply because he comes to some obviously horrific conclusions about ethics is simply dishonest. It would be similar to me heralding a fundamentalist terrorist and saying “all intellectually honest theists should blow up buildings if they truly believed” etc. A statement like that would clearly highlight the fact that I was either truly ignorant about religion or, worse still, misrepresenting that side for selfish purposes.

    As an aside, quite honestly, I am shocked, repeatedly, by atheists that insist that they are moral. Are they really so shallow that they cannot see that objective morality does not even make sense with an atheistic worldview.

    It depends on how you define morality. If you define it as agreeing with you, then yes, atheists are terribly immoral. But on the flip side, I’m atheist and at least I don’t go around judging strangers… isn’t that one of those commandment thingys?

    Atheists may struggle identifying some sort of objective morality, but that does not mean morality cannot be created using objective measures.

    I also think that Singer is wrestling with some very difficult ethical issues such as babies born badly disfigured and pulling the plug on people in a seemingly permanent vegetative state.

    Everybody should struggle with these ethical issues. In the times of the bible it was very easy to say “Thou shalt not kill” instead of “Thou shalt not discontinue life even though all bodily systems have shut down and if there is a soul it’s surely passed on by now”.

    I live my life trying to do the best for myself whilst trying not to trouble other people. I treat everyone with respect even if they disrespect me, I don’t murder, cheat or steal. I never click my pen over and over again in a quiet room full of people, or blow bubbles with chewing gum and pop them (I know those aren’t sins, but honestly, they should be). If you think I’m immoral because I don’t know whether absolute morals exist or what they are, then I’d appreciate you telling me what more I can do to be moral.

    Thanks,
    Mike.

  10. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    Hi Rob. I followed the link on your name to form my assumptions. I fully agree with everything you have said, by the way. Didn’t mean to personally attack you. Was trying to subtly highlight how a Christian with a definite basis for a concrete ‘right and wrong’ and absolute standard, did not condemn a person like Singer, who has abhorrent conclusions for what is permissible. Contrast that with an Atheist who has a somewhat unsubstantiated basis, yet very readily mounts a personal attack: ‘complete moron’ ‘raving loony’.

    Hi Mike. Thanks for the reply. The previous paragraph was to help people consider different paradigms and resulting actions of those paradigms. Not to put you down personally. It is a revealing thing that the most liberally positioned people are often the most condemning.

    Thanks too for putting an effort in to phrase carefully. You have not put me down, or at least I do not take any offense.

    Mike wrote (#8):
    Using evolution as basis for morality is illogical, and from what I’ve read I’m pretty sure he’s committing the naturalistic fallacy there – the idea that what is natural is good so if it happens in nature we shouldn’t change that.

    Mike wrote (#8):
    These are “built in” to our genetic code as well as becoming a mutually agreed upon social contract – so although our ethics may not be ‘universal’ and ‘absolute’, that is the very reason WHY they are superior to theistic morals BECAUSE they change with the times.

    Mike wrote (#8):
    My point about the myriad of beliefs atheists can hold was to point out that atheists can have absolute morality also, they aren’t confined to a relativistic framework

    Could you clear this up for us? It appears to be very contradictory. Particularly that using evolution as a basis is illogical, yet it is built into our genetic code. And, that the ethics are not absolute (for making them up is superior), but then, atheists can have absolute morality.

    You are giving a practical demonstration of what I said. You can make up whatever you want. People are right in whatever they decide. My relative morals are absolutely correct!

    I thought I was fairly clear before but you appear to have missed the concept, so let me say it again. We (Christians) agree that morality is totally relative if sourced in a materialistic origin. Thus we find that a real morality-giver exists external to the matter-based universe. The moral idea of what is ‘good’ exists outside of matter but can be implemented in our physical universe. The OT laws are an implementation of this ‘good’ for the particular time. The NT directives are an implementation in a new time. Note that the absolute stands apart from the implementation, unchanging.

    A good analogy is via road rules. They are based on the ‘spirit of the law’ that the roads must be safe. This is implemented in some places with a speed limit of 50 and in other places with a speed limit of 80. If the limit on the road outside of my house changes from 70 to 60, it is a rule change. But the spirit of safety is exactly the same, unchanging. A population build-up being the trigger for the rule change.

    The non-material morality of loving God and loving your neighbour, the spirit, has never changed and never will.

    The only other option is to do what you have done and claim that morality is not absolute, that it is not objective. And it appears that you immediately contradict the statement by claiming the OT laws are stupid. If morality is relative like you want to say, the OT laws are fine. You contradict the claim when you call Singer wrong. If morality is relative and can change as you say, Singer too can be correct. To plumb the depths, you cannot really say anything at all about morality. It is an illusion.

    Mike wrote (#8):
    I think the problem when looking at morals from an absolute point of view, is that people fail to realise that their own morals are relativistic. Christianity in particular – you start out with the OT which has an incredibly long list of stupid laws which were commanded by god, but then morality changes in the NT. Your morality is subject to the whims of god and god may be described as ‘good’ but some of his morality in the OT is questionable at best. And this isn’t even considering sects of Christianity that attempt to blend the laws of both the OT and NT whilst leaving out what they do not like, creating weird inconsistent morals. Such as viewing all people as equal, yet homosexuals are sinners etc.

    If all morals are relativistic like you say, then I too am correct. You have just allowed me to be correct. I hope the nonsense of relative morality is clear. The only way to look at morality is from an absolute point of view. It is not worth looking otherwise.

    The OT laws are not stupid. They are amazingly advanced for the time. A good study is to examine each law and its purpose within the cultural context that it existed.

    Morality does not change in the NT. The implementation has. Remember that we concluded the only real, objective morality must be non-material.

    Morality is not subject to the ‘whim of God’. It is the whim of God. Or more clearly, it is purely a part of God. God is good. God does not do ‘good’. He is good. Claiming that the implementation of morality is the morality, seems to be confusing you.

    And it is not at all inconsistent to say that “all people are equal” and “homosexuals are sinners”. The only logical, possible reconciliation, is that all people are sinners. I am sure you must have heard that before. Perfect consistency.

    I am just a lay person and there would be far better people in these haunts to address this issue from a theological perspective. I have done the best I know how.

  11. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    Oh Mike. This was not meant to be directed at you:

    It is a revealing thing that the most liberally positioned people are often the most condemning.

    I think you have a fairly respectful view of other people. I was trying to make a generic comment not specifically related to you, but about other very aggressive people I have met. I should have put the sentence in the previous paragraph to avoid any implications. Sorry for that failure.

  12. Mike
    Mike says:

    Hi Rob,

    Could you clear this up for us? It appears to be very contradictory. Particularly that using evolution as a basis is illogical, yet it is built into our genetic code. And, that the ethics are not absolute (for making them up is superior), but then, atheists can have absolute morality.

    Sure, it looks contradictory but that’s simply my failure at explaining.. Creating a system of morality based on evolution BECAUSE it is natural, is a flawed way of thinking. It’s natural to live your life completely naked but it’s not the best way to live.

    With the genetic code, I was implying that we implicitly know what is successful and what is unsuccessful in terms of living in societal life. Through years of culling we have reached a stage where the majority of the population understand inherently that killing is bad, stealing is bad etc. Practically all social animals in fact, have generated this Golden Rule – the very thing that most of the bible and other religious texts took their ideas of morality from – do unto others as you’d have them do unto you. So what I was trying to say is that we have these basic guidelines of what is the most successful for a society as a whole BUT we shouldn’t limit ourselves to these guidelines because they are simply crude survival techniques, not directions on how to run a contemporary civilization.

    I can’t personally see how ethics can be absolute, and a lot of atheists agree, but a lot of atheists also believe that there is an absolute morality. Belief in god is not necessary for belief in absolute morality. I thought my gaia example was accurate in that those atheists believe that our morality is determined by completely natural processes, yet is absolute in nature. If this is a poor example, please let me know where my thinking has gone wrong.

    You are giving a practical demonstration of what I said. You can make up whatever you want. People are right in whatever they decide. My relative morals are absolutely correct!

    Morals are relativistic in regards to context, yes, but there are objective ways of mutually agreeing upon morals. That is, public consensus combined with our natural understanding of how best to interact with others. Just because morals are relative doesn’t mean that everybody is right. Humans are an insignificant speck of dust on the outer rim of the universe, absolute morality is meaningless. The universe doesn’t care if one human kills another. But we do, because we’ve evolved that way. That’s why we created morality, and it changes because we do – as individuals, as a culture. Morality is not an individual thing, it’s a collective process.

    The non-material morality of loving God and loving your neighbour, the spirit, has never changed and never will.

    I understand what you’re getting at, but I can’t reconcile an all loving god with the OT god.. Such as when the bald man commanded god to get two bears to rip apart a group of children because they called him bald.. You could argue that maybe I can’t fully grasp the concept of universal love because I’m viewing love from my own morality, so killing children may seem immoral to me but really it was for their own good, or something?

    The only other option is to do what you have done and claim that morality is not absolute, that it is not objective. And it appears that you immediately contradict the statement by claiming the OT laws are stupid. If morality is relative like you want to say, the OT laws are fine. You contradict the claim when you call Singer wrong. If morality is relative and can change as you say, Singer too can be correct. To plumb the depths, you cannot really say anything at all about morality. It is an illusion.

    If the OT laws were created by man, then yes I’d be wrong in claiming they are stupid because the laws were based on a primitive form of morality and due to my relative stance it would be wrong to judge them from modern morality. However, since the OT laws are meant to have been created by a god who is the embodiment of absolute morality, then the laws are stupid – even if you take into account that the message behind the laws are the same, despite differing implementation. This is because even though morality is relative, it is not all inclusive; that is, as I’ve said, there are objective ways of measuring what are the best ways to deal with situations ethically.

    To use your analogy, it would be like road rules with the spirit of the road is to be safe. Our modern day way of increasing safety is to create more technologies to protect the occupants of the car – air bags etc. The OT rules of the road, would be to place a massive spike in front of all the occupants, so that if they crash they impale themselves. Both ways increase safety on the road (as the people with spikes are firstly less likely to drive dangerously, and secondly, most dangerous drivers will be dead) and so you could argue that the spirit of the road “safety” has remained constant throughout. However, this OT road rule is stupid, especially if you consider that the one who created the rule was all knowing, and so even though he could think up every conceivable way to increase safety on the road, that was his solution.

    Claiming that the implementation of morality is the morality, seems to be confusing you.

    I think this is where we’re just always going to differ. I just personally cannot reconcile the idea of “love thy neighbour”, with “if you’re son is a drunkard, then drag him out into the street and gather the people to stone him to death”. Sure, the morality may have been the same throughout, but condoning major exceptions to your morality must have serious consequences regarding the validity of absolute morality.

    And it is not at all inconsistent to say that “all people are equal” and “homosexuals are sinners”. The only logical, possible reconciliation, is that all people are sinners. I am sure you must have heard that before. Perfect consistency.

    Okay sure, but many use the “homosexuals are sinners” as a way of implying they are lower than themselves. If all people are truly equal, then religion should have no problem with people marrying whomever they love, even if that person is the same sex, bothsex, or if it’s many people. (Assuming it’s consensual that is).

    I wasn’t offended by your earlier statement, I figured it wasn’t aimed at me or even if it was I would have assumed there was no malicious intent.

    Thanks,
    Mike.

  13. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    Hi Mike,

    I appreciate the time you invest in this place. A quick one before we continue, do you distinguish between the words ‘ethical’ and ‘moral’? Or are they basically the same, both having the meaning of ‘pertaining to right and wrong conduct’.

    For example

    Mike wrote:
    I can’t personally see how ethics can be absolute, and a lot of atheists agree, but a lot of atheists also believe that there is an absolute morality.

    Are you meaning different things by the two variants or, as I would take it, talking about the one thing but using different words?

    Cheers

  14. Mike
    Mike says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    Yeah this place is interesting, I just hope to provide a different viewpoint that will hopefully at least be considered. It seems today that a lot of religious people are quick to dismiss atheists and to view them as horrible, scary people. I like to think that I damage this idea somewhat..

    Are you meaning different things by the two variants or, as I would take it, talking about the one thing but using different words?

    Yes you’re right, I was using them interchangeably. I usually use “morals” to refer to religious right and wrongs, and “ethics” to refer to secular ideas of right and wrong, but yeah in this discussion I’ve used them for the same purpose.

    (As far as I’m aware they refer to the same thing? But I’ll try to stick to one or the other from now to reduce the confusion. Thanks for pointing it out).

    -Mike.

  15. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    Hey Mike, you do damage the idea that atheists are horrible, scary people. Though I do not think it is a widely held idea to begin with. A person may need to be restricted to a religious cult to develop such an idea as most of us work and interact with the real world and meet atheists all the time. I have plenty of amiable atheist friends. There seems to be a very verbally-aggressive group of on-line of atheist, and you certainly counter that claim.

    I use the words ‘ethical’ and ‘moral’ interchangeably as well. Just wanted to know how you were treating them. If we both follow the same conventions, we are bound to be clearer in our understanding. There may be a case that ‘ethical’ is more profession related and ‘moral’ is socially related, but I believe them to mean the same thing about an identification of what is right and what is wrong. We appear to be on the same page here.

    Mike wrote (#8):
    Some atheists accept the gaia hypothesis – that the earth is a biological organism and everything on it should be working together to create a stable and working ecosystem – this idea presents very absolute laws of morality.

    Mike wrote (#12):
    I can’t personally see how ethics can be absolute, and a lot of atheists agree, but a lot of atheists also believe that there is an absolute morality. Belief in god is not necessary for belief in absolute morality. I thought my gaia example was accurate in that those atheists believe that our morality is determined by completely natural processes, yet is absolute in nature. If this is a poor example, please let me know where my thinking has gone wrong.

    This is interesting. I had not heard of the term ‘gaia’ hypothesis before, but it seems very close, if not identical, to your basis. If I can understand you correctly, you seem to be saying that morality is totally and fully based on two things 1) survival and 2) socially agreed rules. Maybe the gaia version differs by only selecting number 1) survival as their basis and not adding socially agreed rules. That may be how they call it absolute, by taking away the relative nature of socially agreed rules. Would I be correct in this thinking? Have I understood your basis correctly?

  16. Mike
    Mike says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    Hey Mike, you do damage the idea that atheists are horrible, scary people. Though I do not think it is a widely held idea to begin with. A person may need to be restricted to a religious cult to develop such an idea as most of us work and interact with the real world and meet atheists all the time. I have plenty of amiable atheist friends. There seems to be a very verbally-aggressive group of on-line of atheist, and you certainly counter that claim.

    Hmm.. I think there is a general feeling, at least when it is directed at atheists, that we are immoral and so even if we seem like nice people, during conversations I get the feeling that theists think I could ‘snap’ at any moment and go steal their car or something. And when they do meet a moral atheist, they seem to view it as a deviation from the norm.

    Yes, the internet is full of verbally-aggressive people from all walks of life. I don’t think it’d be an exaggeration to say that a large majority of internet forum users are unnecessarily aggressive.

    This is interesting. I had not heard of the term ‘gaia’ hypothesis before, but it seems very close, if not identical, to your basis. If I can understand you correctly, you seem to be saying that morality is totally and fully based on two things 1) survival and 2) socially agreed rules. Maybe the gaia version differs by only selecting number 1) survival as their basis and not adding socially agreed rules. That may be how they call it absolute, by taking away the relative nature of socially agreed rules. Would I be correct in this thinking? Have I understood your basis correctly?

    Yes, I think the way you presented it seems like a fairly accurate summary of my positions with points 1 and 2. I would maybe change 1) to “efficient survival” as someone could survive by themselves and not be a part of a group, however, I think groups make life easier for individuals. And also, a group could potentially survive with lots of killing and thieving taking place, but not a very cohesive or efficient group.

    I think the gaia hypothesis would be similar to how theists view morality – the earth is essentially their god-of sorts and living in harmony with the ecosystem is the only way to live. So the laws of how to live, morality etc, are determined by what’s best for the earth and all the living creatures within that – is this not absolute morality?

    There are probably many other examples but I’m struggling to think of them. I just want to implant the idea that just because atheists don’t have a belief in god, it doesn’t mean they can’t believe in absolute morality. Suppose we are just part of Hegel’s dialectic, all part of the same being just going through a series of conflicts and resolutions until we form the absolute. Even though it can be argued that Hegel’s notion of the absolute is god, atheists could argue something similar and claim that it is just a natural process and the gathering of universal “energy” or somesuch. Ideas like that could lead to a notion of absolute morality?

    I don’t actually believe in absolute morality so I’m having a bit of trouble arguing for it… I’m just trying to present the idea that it’s possible for atheists to have absolute morality, even if my examples aren’t the best..

    -Mike.

  17. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    Mike wrote (#16):
    So the laws of how to live, morality etc, are determined by what’s best for the earth and all the living creatures within that – is this not absolute morality?

    Hi again Mike. Thanks for clarifying you view. It is true that you can not effectively argue for something you do not believe and I do not expect you to undertake such a troublesome task.

    If morality is doing what is ‘right’, then you can not get it from nature without first deciding which part of nature is ‘right’. Example being that it is first decided to be right to do what is best for all of the earth and all the living creatures within it. You first must make a relative decision that some aspect of nature is ‘right’. If nature is the movement of atoms, and nature had a starting point, then morality is just a subsequent invented concept brought into the dancing atoms. It can only be relative. You really need something external to the whole show, which sets the required standard. “This is what you ought to do. It is right.” You could call that thing anything you want, but does it not fit the definition of a god? Nonetheless, it matters little for we both, at least, already seem to agree that natural causes can only give us a relative morality.

    Mike wrote (#16):
    Yes, I think the way you presented it seems like a fairly accurate summary of my positions with points 1 and 2. I would maybe change 1) to “efficient survival” as someone could survive by themselves and not be a part of a group, however, I think groups make life easier for individuals.

    I think I might be starting to understand your position. Though, there is a very interesting thing that happens here. To decide on what is right, you first decide on what is right. That is, have you not selected a clear presupposition that ‘efficient survival’ and ’socially agreed rules’ are ‘right’? It does not appear to be a simple case that these things show us what is right. It is that they are first assumed to be ‘right’. From there, further conclusions can be drawn and negotiated about what is right and what is wrong. This would be relative morality. Do we happen to agree on this?

  18. Johnson
    Johnson says:

    Here is some background info on Peter Singer that you all might love to see.

    He is not a nobody as some have tried to project him here.

    Peter Singer is a bioethics professor at Princeton University, an atheist, and a promoter of utilitarian ethics. He has attempted to build an ethical system based completely on his atheist world view, and it includes the following values.

    * Humans have no more value than animals; sometimes they have less value
    * Abortion allowed in all nine months of pregnancy
    * Infanticide
    * Euthanasia of unproductive members of society: the elderly and disabled

    These values are frightening.

    http://geochristian.wordpress.com/2009/03/19/the-abyss-of-atheism/

    Here is an atheist who is honest about the implications of his atheistic philosophy. God be praised for such open and honest atheists. How I wish that we had more of his kind, assuming with sadness that some thinking people would like to become atheists.

    Johnson C. Philip

  19. Mike
    Mike says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    If morality is doing what is ‘right’, then you can not get it from nature without first deciding which part of nature is ‘right’. Example being that it is first decided to be right to do what is best for all of the earth and all the living creatures within it. You first must make a relative decision that some aspect of nature is ‘right’.

    Well I think they believe that every living organism is a part of the earth, and so all their actions are in line with what is necessary for the earth to thrive. So it’s about what’s best for the ecosystem as a whole. This obviously could lead to some pretty poor ethical decisions I guess, such as leaving some people to die so that other life can live in a particular place but they still have an absolute morality. (Luckily I think they’re all hippies so they just believe in “love everything”).

    In this scenario there was no agreed upon rules, just what is.

    I should point out that I think I’ve strayed a far way from what the gaia hypothesis actually is and says, and most of what I’m saying is just an extension of a possible form of morality within their system.

    If nature is the movement of atoms, and nature had a starting point, then morality is just a subsequent invented concept brought into the dancing atoms. It can only be relative. You really need something external to the whole show, which sets the required standard. …Nonetheless, it matters little for we both, at least, already seem to agree that natural causes can only give us a relative morality.

    I think nature is usually defined as the observable physical world, and science defines it as anything which is orderly/consistent and produces measurable effects. There’s nothing really that makes it necessary for us to believe that “nature” had a starting point. There is evidence in support of the beginning of our current universe, but beyond that we don’t know (and likely probably never will). But evidence and science seems to be irrelevant when it comes to beliefs, so some people could just believe that nature is eternal and so the morals within that system are absolute.

    Because morals are essentially specific forms of the golden rule there’s nothing that I’m aware of that would stop us from arguing that the golden rule is a universal constant – like gravity etc. Evidence in support of this could be the numbers of different animals which have all developed altruistic tendencies through convergent evolution.

    I personally think morality is relative, but I don’t see why a naturalistic viewpoint couldn’t argue for an absolute morality using something similar to what I just outlined.

    “This is what you ought to do. It is right.” You could call that thing anything you want, but does it not fit the definition of a god?

    I think this is why people really need to start actually defining what god is because at the moment it seems to be some vague notion of a being “outside” of what we observe. We could call it god, sure. But if we start fitting definitions to things after-the-fact, then that’s not very useful. If our definition of god is the traditional omni-god, then no I don’t think your outline above could be considered god. However, it could possibly be a pantheistic god.. I’m not sure, I just think people need to actually define god in some way because one day we might discover an alien that’s evolved, somehow, to exist outside of time and space – qualities we could attribute to a god, and then we’d start worshipping our evil alien overlords… Maybe the scientologists know something we don’t?

    I think I might be starting to understand your position. Though, there is a very interesting thing that happens here. To decide on what is right, you first decide on what is right. That is, have you not selected a clear presupposition that ‘efficient survival’ and ’socially agreed rules’ are ‘right’? It does not appear to be a simple case that these things show us what is right. It is that they are first assumed to be ‘right’. From there, further conclusions can be drawn and negotiated about what is right and what is wrong. This would be relative morality. Do we happen to agree on this?

    I’m a bit short on time at the moment but I just quoted this bit so I’ll hopefully remember to come back to it when I can.

    Thanks,
    Mike.

  20. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    @ Johnson

    It is good to hear from you again Johnson.

    The (what we would call) extreme parts of Singers conclusions are not what he majors in promoting. He normally argues for helping people, like the poor in third world countries, among many other ‘altruistic’ tendencies. Though the refreshingly honest aspect of the guy is that he is honest enough to follow logic over emotion, and most unusually, honest enough to admit that people do not need to do what he says, for morality is relative and we make it up. Thanks for the extra info.

    @ Mike

    Hi Mike. A couple of points for you.

    Mike wrote (#19):
    In this scenario there was no agreed upon rules, just what is.

    That is the other option. If you decide that choosing a particular aspect to be ‘right’, is not valid, you could have a premises that whatever is, is fine! The whole shebang is ‘right’ … because it is. But this is even worse, for it does not lead to any sort of morality. If “everything” is the source, then “anything” is permissible. Again, you are left with whatever you want. You can kill organisms competing for the same resources. (Survival of the fittest) Enslave others to work for you. (Ants do this) Help other if you want. (Altruistic examples) By making everything that happens ‘right’, You do not get an absolute morality. You actually do not get any morality at all.

    Mike wrote (#19):
    Because morals are essentially specific forms of the golden rule there’s nothing that I’m aware of that would stop us from arguing that the golden rule is a universal constant – like gravity etc. Evidence in support of this could be the numbers of different animals which have all developed altruistic tendencies through convergent evolution.

    Selecting the golden rule, is selecting only one observed attribute and calling that ‘right’. This is using a moral judgement. There is nothing that would stop another person from ‘selecting’ slavery, murder or rape as their ‘right’. For these too are ‘developed’ tendencies. If the golden rule is a universal constant like gravity, then all known actions must conform to it, like all matter follows the law of gravity. It is easily shown that the golden rule does not meet this standard. It is falsifiable. Thus it cannot be a universal constant. If something can “develop”, or “emerge”, it does not have grounds for being a moral absolute.

    Mike wrote (#19):
    I personally think morality is relative,

    Good. I agree that this is all you could possibly, logically think given the premise that you choose.

    Mike wrote (#19):
    but I don’t see why a naturalistic viewpoint couldn’t argue for an absolute morality using something similar to what I just outlined.

    I hope I have adequately explained why.

    Mike wrote (#19):
    I think this is why people really need to start actually defining what god is because at the moment it seems to be some vague notion of a being “outside” of what we observe.

    From only looking at morality, you only get a vague notion of God. You get a glimpse of the character of a metaphysical being. That is all. It is quite fuzzy at this point. You need more information from a different place. But we are not going in this direction. It is diversion for us at present as this is a conclusion that is based on recognising the existence of an absolute morality. If we do not recognise absolute morality, there is no point going in this direction.

    Mike wrote (#19):
    I’m a bit short on time at the moment but I just quoted this bit so I’ll hopefully remember to come back to it when I can.

    That would be great. For this is what I am most interested in. I wonder if you recognise that you have first used a moral judgement to select characteristics in nature and life (‘efficient survival’ and ’socially agreed rules’), that are then subsequently used as the basis to form your relative morality?

    I am taking my daughter to a tennis tournament for five days and do not expect to able to converse during that time, Internet blackout. You have plenty of time to contemplate, if life and willingness allow you such pleasures. If you still want to discuss this, I will be back next week. Thanks again Mike for being so polite, courteous and willing to supply ideas. Even if we do not totally agree, it is good to be able to listen and understand each other. I am learning. Bless ya.

  21. Mike
    Mike says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    I’m going to try to get back to that last point at the bottom of this comment but I’ll just reply to your latest post first.

    That is the other option. If you decide that choosing a particular aspect to be ‘right’, is not valid, you could have a premises that whatever is, is fine! The whole shebang is ‘right’ … because it is. But this is even worse, for it does not lead to any sort of morality. If “everything” is the source, then “anything” is permissible. Again, you are left with whatever you want. You can kill organisms competing for the same resources. (Survival of the fittest) Enslave others to work for you. (Ants do this) Help other if you want. (Altruistic examples) By making everything that happens ‘right’, You do not get an absolute morality. You actually do not get any morality at all.

    Maybe my example has fallen apart with all the additions I made to it, but I was trying to suggest that people in this scenario could either act in accordance with what’s helpful towards the earth or what is not. So there are very clear instructions on what you should and shouldn’t do. And as for your last sentence, I happen to agree that it’s not a pretty picture of morality but it is morality. Morality is a system which describes right and wrong – “right” in this scenario may be owning slaves. As terrible as it sounds to us, it is still a system of morality.

    The same could even be said of religious morality. If what god commands is good because its a part of his nature, then surely it follows that god could command some horrible things which you would have to concede are moral. Such as if god commanded to kill (which some religious people have heard him say to them) then a religious extremist who kills cannot be seen as immoral by you as he was commanded by god. And then if you try to claim that god would never command someone to kill because “goodness” is a necessary trait of what god is, then to make the statement “god would not command killing because killing is bad and god is good”, then is that not a moral judgement? One that uses some standard external to god?

    Selecting the golden rule, is selecting only one observed attribute and calling that ‘right’. This is using a moral judgement. There is nothing that would stop another person from ‘selecting’ slavery, murder or rape as their ‘right’. For these too are ‘developed’ tendencies.

    But people don’t “select” the golden rule, it’s an inherent part of our nature.

    If the golden rule is a universal constant like gravity, then all known actions must conform to it, like all matter follows the law of gravity. It is easily shown that the golden rule does not meet this standard. It is falsifiable. Thus it cannot be a universal constant. If something can “develop”, or “emerge”, it does not have grounds for being a moral absolute.

    All actions must be affected by it, yes, but I don’t think all actions must necessarily be determined by it. For example, with gravity (for simplicity sake) we can say that gravity should pull the apple to the ground, and if we look and see the apple not falling to the ground but instead remaining stationary in the air you could argue that this shows gravity is not a constant. However, the situation may be that the apple is tied to a tree, therefore we can only measure the effect that gravity has on the apple by some indirect measure, rather than observing its behavior act in accordance with the law.

    I think this analogy can be applied to whatever counterexample you have to the concept of universal constant version of the golden rule. If you were assuming that since some people do kill and steal etc then they mustn’t be affected by the golden rule, is erroneous. It simply means they have overridden it by the use of some other force (perhaps they had to steal to feed their family or something) – this other force is the equivalent to the rope on the tree. The person however feels the effects of the golden rule and these can be measured indirectly, effects such as guilt or remorse, which demonstrate the golden rule’s influence.

    Good. I agree that this is all you could possibly, logically think given the premise that you choose.

    To be honest, I’m now coming around to the idea of absolute morality. Since you pointed out earlier that certain implementations of acts of morality do not equal morality itself, then I think that what I was viewing as fluid morality throughout the ages was simply an imperfect application of the golden rule. I’ll need to think about this some more.

    From only looking at morality, you only get a vague notion of God. You get a glimpse of the character of a metaphysical being. That is all. It is quite fuzzy at this point. You need more information from a different place. But we are not going in this direction. It is diversion for us at present as this is a conclusion that is based on recognising the existence of an absolute morality. If we do not recognise absolute morality, there is no point going in this direction.

    That’s fair enough, our comments do tend to stray a bit…

    I wonder if you recognise that you have first used a moral judgement to select characteristics in nature and life (‘efficient survival’ and ’socially agreed rules’), that are then subsequently used as the basis to form your relative morality?

    This will be my attempt at answering the section I didn’t have time to comment on earlier, so hopefully it covers what you’re asking.

    I agree that someone would need to use moral judgement to select characteristics in nature to form relative morality, but this is assuming that morality is a separate concept from efficient survival and socially agreed rules. All of those concepts are intertwined because morality can only exist within group structures and so the term morality becomes meaningless when not looking at efficient survival and socially agreed rules.

    I am taking my daughter to a tennis tournament for five days and do not expect to able to converse during that time, Internet blackout. You have plenty of time to contemplate, if life and willingness allow you such pleasures. If you still want to discuss this, I will be back next week. Thanks again Mike for being so polite, courteous and willing to supply ideas. Even if we do not totally agree, it is good to be able to listen and understand each other. I am learning. Bless ya.

    Good luck for your daughter’s tennis tournament, I hope the weather stays nice for you guys. I wish I did have time to properly go through your comments and answer with well thought out reasoning but my time is pretty limited so whenever I’m here posting it means I’m neglecting some other work I’m meant to be doing which is why my comments sometimes seem a bit disjointed.

    And I agree that it has been good exchanging ideas with you without any sniping or insults that tend to be a part of discussions like this. I think we do seem to agree on most things, just a couple of the finer points we’re still working out but yeah I am still learning as well..

    Thanks,
    Mike.

  22. Mike
    Mike says:

    Hi Johnson,

    Here is an atheist who is honest about the implications of his atheistic philosophy. God be praised for such open and honest atheists. How I wish that we had more of his kind, assuming with sadness that some thinking people would like to become atheists.

    I just want to point out again that theists need to be careful in attributing certain beliefs or ways of thinking due to someone’s atheist stance. As I explained above, the only commonality between atheists is a lack of a belief in god. The natural extension of this is that atheists are so diverse as a group you can’t claim that something is an “atheistic philosophy” or an “atheistic cause”. They are philosophies held by atheists, or causes forwarded by atheists. This is because there are no fundamental principles in being atheist that necessarily entail a belief in Singer’s agenda (or any other system developed by an atheist).

    I hope I’ve made this clear.

    For atheists it’s an absurd distinction to make, as not having a belief in god is not usually an important aspect of their lives and has no real implication on how they live it or what they believe. It is exactly the same as dividing up the world into “people with moustaches” and “people without”. “People without” all share a commonality, that of a naked face, but to try to make assumptions about what they as a group MUST believe as a result of not having a moustache, is illogical.

    Thanks,
    Mike.

  23. Johnson
    Johnson says:

    @Mike

    Dear Mike,

    thanks for your comment !

    You said

    This is because there are no fundamental principles in being atheist that necessarily entail a belief in Singer’s agenda (or any other system developed by an atheist).

    Yes, I know that there is a wide range among atheists and that not all of them believe in what Sanger believes. If you would look back at my statement, it is

    Here is an atheist who is honest about the implications of his atheistic philosophy.

    I did not say ” the implications of atheistic philosophy”, but rather ” the implications of his atheistic philosophy”. This is to recognize that each person’s atheistic belief leads to a different set implications, some perhaps being some and some definitely uncommon.

    I am sure you will notice that most of my writing contain nuanced rather than broad labelling.

    with greetings from India

    Johnson C. Philip

  24. Mike
    Mike says:

    Hi Johnson,

    I’m glad you addressed my comment because I understood the meaning behind your sentence structure but I still disagree.

    I think the misunderstanding is viewing atheism as a kind of belief system, something that is on par with religion so on the surface is appears natural to speak of someone’s “atheistic philosophy” or “atheistic morality” in the same way you speak of “christian philosophy” or “christian science”. However, the reason this structure works for religion is because it adds something new to the word it precedes – that is, “philosophy” now becomes a search for knowledge using the framework set down in the bible, and “science” becomes interpreting the data from the assumption that god created it all.

    But this doesn’t work with the term atheism simply because it is the lack of a belief. You can describe someone as an atheist with a philosophy, and if that’s what you meant by “atheistic philosophy” then I apologise, however the term “atheistic” in this sense is superfluous and irrelevant to the topic. It would have been more accurate and more thought provoking to label his philosophy as what it is – utilitarian, because it has nothing specifically to do with atheism.

    If you did in fact mean “atheistic philosophy” in the sense that Singer has based his philosophy around the premise that he currently lacks a belief in god, then that’s just flawed. Why not suggest that his philosophy is an “a-fairyist philosophy” or an “a-invisible-pink-unicorn-ist philosophy”? There are many things he lacks a belief in and there’s no valid reason why anyone would need to include any of them as they are irrelevant to his philosophy.

    Thanks for replying though, this is a subject that particularly frustrates me when reading theist AND even sometimes atheist literature as it seems to be a common mistake. Not that my frustration is directed at you personally, it just seems to be a natural way of thinking about atheism which leads to its misapplication in descriptions.

    -Mike.

  25. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    Hi again. Back from my little sojourn. Mike, butting in on your exchange with Johnson. :-)

    Mike wrote (#24):
    however the term “atheistic” in this sense is superfluous and irrelevant to the topic. It would have been more accurate and more thought provoking to label his philosophy as what it is – utilitarian, because it has nothing specifically to do with atheism.

    If you did in fact mean “atheistic philosophy” in the sense that Singer has based his philosophy around the premise that he currently lacks a belief in god, then that’s just flawed. Why not suggest that his philosophy is an “a-fairyist philosophy” or an “a-invisible-pink-unicorn-ist philosophy”?

    This is an interesting one and I have to agree with Johnson that “atheistic philosophy” is quite necessary as a distinction from theistic philosophy, and it is not at all superfluous. The reason being that God is the only viable source for absolute morality. (By using the word God here, I only mean the existence of an eternal, metaphysical mind) Thus categorising the theist and non-theist into distinct groups of absolute morality and relative morality. There is a huge difference between a “theistic” and an “atheistic” philosophy, not only in the area of morality, but also in purpose and meaning. The two terms offer a lot of information about the substance of the particular philosophies for each group, despite any further internal varying differences within the particular group.

    If the term “afairyist” and whatnot else you wanted to propose had anything to offer, you could certainly use them as clarifying distinctions. I do not think it reasonable to claim that these imaginary concepts are on a par with theism when investigating their validity. Of course, we all already know that atheists claim God is just as imaginary as fairies. It is the primary tenant of, and distinction of, atheism. But this is not relevant here. When investigating which position is true, it is not good form to just assert that your definition is true and then require agreement. The discussion was on morality and the distinction between an atheistic obtained morality and a theistic obtained morality. There is a distinct difference between the two. The philosophy Singer holds has everything to do with atheism. He recognises only natural causes, which clearly leads him to relative morality and the construction of what he thinks beneficial along with the acknowledgment that in being relative, you do not need to follow what he says.

    We appear to be missing the point when we turn it into a debate on the labelling of philosophies. The discussion should have remained on the underlying issue of whether absolute morality can come from nature or not. Do we need God to provide an absolute morality? I think we do. My reasoning is that you need intelligence before you can have morality. If intelligence arose from the natural then morality also arose. If our intelligence invents what is right and wrong, then it can only ever be relative. It is dependent on whatever we decide. If we reduce morality to merely the functional operation of the universe, we lose everything that morality is. It is nonsense to say that since gravity pulls objects together the attraction of objects is therefore “right”. It is neither right nor wrong. It just is how things work. The idea of efficient survival falls into this same category for me.

    Morality is not a physical law. It is a metaphysical law that requires us to act in a particular way. Quite often, it is contrary to what we want to do and what our desires lead us to do. The only way to get an absolute morality is to have an absolute intelligence. That is, you need a mind that did not arise. That was not created. That is eternal. And that is why I maintain that only God provides an absolute morality.

    The most interesting and fruitful thing would be for someone to explain how to get an absolute morality from nature. Many philosophical atheists would be greatly impressed if this could be done.

  26. Mike
    Mike says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    Welcome back, I hope you had a good time.

    I understand what you mean from the theistic philosophy point of view, I guess when you view everything with regards to the existence of god it seems only natural to categorise things as theist or atheist. It just seemed a little odd to me since “atheistic philosophy” is such a huge category.. it’s like biculturalism here in New Zealand, there are Maoris and non-Maoris. While it may make sense as a Maori to view things this way, I’ve always found it a little odd..

    I accept your point that it refers to Absolute morality vs Relative morality, but surely it’d be easier just to distinguish it as such? I know my arguments for an atheistic absolute morality weren’t superb but it’s possible that one may come along, or on the other hand, there must be theistic philosophies that refer to relative morality. I still disagree with the definition, but I accept your points.

    If the term “afairyist” and whatnot else you wanted to propose had anything to offer, you could certainly use them as clarifying distinctions. I do not think it reasonable to claim that these imaginary concepts are on a par with theism when investigating their validity. Of course, we all already know that atheists claim God is just as imaginary as fairies. It is the primary tenant of, and distinction of, atheism. But this is not relevant here.

    My point wasn’t that “god is as imaginary as fairies” but rather that some people believe that fairies exist and they may build a moral philosophy around how fairies dictate how we should live our lives – in this case, wouldn’t it seem odd to you to categorise Singer’s philosophy as “afairyist”, simply because it doesn’t make reference to fairies? Even though some atheists will contend that god is as imaginary as fairies, I think it’s incorrect to say that it’s a central tenant of atheism, simply because some atheists believe in fairies.

    Do we need God to provide an absolute morality? I think we do. My reasoning is that you need intelligence before you can have morality. If intelligence arose from the natural then morality also arose. If our intelligence invents what is right and wrong, then it can only ever be relative. It is dependent on whatever we decide.

    The only way to get an absolute morality is to have an absolute intelligence. That is, you need a mind that did not arise. That was not created. That is eternal. And that is why I maintain that only God provides an absolute morality.

    Your argument hinges on whether morality needs intelligence. What leads you to that idea? If nature was “intelligent” in the sense that it set out the universe in such a way that there was a clear right and wrong, would you accept this as an atheistic absolute morality or would you try to argue that nature is a god?

    Morality is not a physical law. It is a metaphysical law that requires us to act in a particular way. Quite often, it is contrary to what we want to do and what our desires lead us to do.

    How can we differentiate between physical law and metaphysical law? If we were to assume that morality is similar to a form of self control, I could present you with equations that predict how we’ll respond in any given self control situation. If morality is something slightly different, we could just adjust the equation. So, if all livings things seem to follow this mathematical equation does this make it a physical law, or a metaphysical law? This is the problem, even if I could present you an airtight equation, you can just suggest that it’s there because of god’s metaphysical requirements.

    Thanks,
    Mike.

  27. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    Thanks for the warm welcome Mike. I appreciate that.

    Mike wrote (#26): I understand what you mean from the theistic philosophy point of view, I guess when you view everything with regards to the existence of god it seems only natural to categorise things as theist or atheist

    Good summery Mike, even if at first it appears grossly understated. You seem to almost understand that when you meet God and find the only non-relative source of love, goodness, justice, meaning and purpose, then it can be no surprise that his existence is the defining aspect of everything. Also, when you realise that we are all accountable to God, and this physical body holds our spirit, which lives long after the mechanics of our chemical pathways are stopped, then a clear boundary of the views entailed by only natural and metaphysical (meaning spiritual or supernatural) also exists. This appears to me to be somewhat of a more significant categorisation than the example of “Maoris and non-Maoris”. Having said this, I do understand your worldview and the position you are in which leads you to an unwillingness to use the theistic and atheistic categorisations

    Mike wrote (#26):I accept your point that it refers to Absolute morality vs Relative morality, but surely it’d be easier just to distinguish it as such? I know my arguments for an atheistic absolute morality weren’t superb but it’s possible that one may come along, or on the other hand, there must be theistic philosophies that refer to relative morality. I still disagree with the definition, but I accept your points.

    Yes, there are spiritual/religious philosophies that have relative morality. I trust you noticed that I previously claimed absolute morality requires a singular, creator, self-existent mind (ie God). This allows for a single good, a single right, and an absolute morality. If there were multiple equivalent-in-stature, spiritual, god-type beings, morality again becomes relative to the one whom you may want to follow. If you start with a single god and then attribute “everything” as actually being that god, you find that you can again choose any aspect you want and follow that bent while still claiming to follow god. Hinduism is a good example. This is another way to get relative morality from a theistic point of view, (and exactly the same technique as what I see atheists doing with nature). By making morality sourced in “everything” we end up reducing it to nothing.

    The possibility of theistic philosophies having relative morality does nothing to the argument for absolute morality originating from a single, self-existent, eternal, absolute mind. It also does not add any weight at all to the idea that atheism may be able to provide an absolute morality.

    A helpful analogy might be to look at parents, single parents and no parents. Sometimes my kids come to me and get one answer and they go to my wife and get another, then they choose the one that they like. When I get mad at them because they did not do as I directed, they point at my wife, “Mum said we could!” With a single parent, the kid only gets one answer. With no parents (for example, homeless kids scraping to survive), the child decides to do whatever they want. The first example is relative authority, the second is absolute authority and the third is again relative as you get to make up whatever you want. The first is multiple gods. The second a single God. The third is no god or an “everything” god.

    Currently, I do not see your argument for an atheistic absolute morality having any substance. If the definition of morality you hold entails morality originating in development, evolution or negotiation, it is clearly relative. If you are talking about how the universe operates, you are identifying physical laws, not moral ones.

    Mike wrote (#26):My point wasn’t that “god is as imaginary as fairies” but rather [1] that some people believe that fairies exist and they may build a moral philosophy around how fairies dictate how we should live our lives – in this case, wouldn’t it seem odd to you to categorise Singer’s philosophy as “afairyist”, simply because it doesn’t make reference to fairies? [2] Even though some atheists will contend that god is as imaginary as fairies, I think it’s incorrect to say that it’s a central tenant of atheism, simply because some atheists believe in fairies. [indexing mine]

    I think there are a couple of red herrings here, so let us get them out of the way. The first is on the categorisations of philosophies and the second on the tenets of atheism.

    For the first part [1], “Yes indeed Mike! It would seem odd to me to categorise Singer’s philosophy as ‘afairyist’.” But the oddness for me comes about for two reasons; the main being the imaginary nature of fairies and the secondary, the absence of any significant fairy-obtained categorisation like absolute morality and relative morality. Thus you may see how I followed this line of thought forward and could only find it an odd thing to categorise Singer’s philosophy as atheistic, if theism itself were imaginary. So, if you want to convince me that it is strange to call Singers philosophy “atheistic”, you are left with the problem of convincing me that God is not real. But this is our very base difference. You say that no gods exist and hence every conclusion you make must fit that paradigm. As such, I do not find your particular claim of ‘oddness’ strange, as long as you are the one who makes it. Indeed, I would expect you to do this very thing. But it is a strange thing that you would think that I should agree with you. I can only find your argument valid as long as we both agree that all gods are imaginary. But we do not agree on this.

    As for Singers moral philosophy, categorising it as “atheistic” is entirely relevant. For here we do have a self-confessed atheist inventing a moral code. But far more relevant to the case in point, this particular atheist builds his moral code based on one of the many options available for atheism, naturalism. Finally, and most importantly, he is also clear headed enough to admit that morality obtained in this manner can not be absolute. The morality he encourages us to follow is relative and we are not exactly required to follow it, or behave in the manner that it prescribes for us. This is the very distinction of every atheistic morality; it can only be relative. That is why we are calling Singer the honest atheist. As a Christian I am agreeing with Singer when he claims morality is relative. I am certainly not agreeing that morality is relative, for I strongly believe that there is a real, absolute standard. I am agreeing that the only morality atheism allows is relative morality. For atheism outright denies the only possible source of absolute morality.

    It does not actually matter what Singers moral philosophy makes reference to. It could be anything from among the enormous varieties of “atheistic philosophies”. It could be entirely altruistic. It could be coldly competitive and exclusive like Hitler’s evolution-based requirements. It could be from imaginary fairies that fly around and whisper to us. That it does not reference God means nothing at all. What matters is that without God, all moral philosophies are relative. That is the point, and that is what this discussion has been launched from. On this, the theists and a number of atheists (like Singer) do agree. Without God, morality is relative.

    That some atheists claim to have an absolute morality does not in fact mean that they do. The validity of their claim must come from their explanation. We can certainly find traits that we like in nature and claim that this provides morality. But what else have we done other than to first make a moral judgement to select the traits that we want as “good” or “right”. Why should I follow what you pick? And if I can chose different attributes that I want, where is the “absolute”.

    On the second part [2], your strict claim that it is incorrect to say, “the central tenet of atheism is that God is as imaginary as fairies” is true. Maybe my point was lost by using a comparison that I thought should enhance it. Fair enough, the strict definition of atheism is the denial of the existence of any gods. This is the defining characteristic. “There is no god!” – that is atheism. I do believe it fine to paraphrase this as “the central tenet of atheism is that God, god or gods are all imaginary”. As you noted, there are a number of atheists who do compare God to “fairies” or “invisible unicorns”, in order to make this very clear. I personally think it fair enough for them to do so, as I understand what they mean. Maybe this is because I do not use strictly scientific procedures to make points. I have no issue at all if you want to tell atheists to stop comparing God to fairies (or pink unicorns or FSM etc).

    Mike wrote (#26):Your argument hinges on whether morality needs intelligence. What leads you to that idea? If nature was “intelligent” in the sense that it set out the universe in such a way that there was a clear right and wrong, would you accept this as an atheistic absolute morality or would you try to argue that nature is a god?

    To the point that my argument hinges on morality needing intelligence, “Yes it does”. How can it be otherwise? This appears to me to be entirely self-evident. How can you make a moral choice, if you cannot choose? How can there be morality for robots? They will do exactly as programmed. However complicated they get, however hidden from our view are the millions of weighted computations, however complex their reactions may appear, the base is purely deterministic and there is no choice. Why would anything they do be called morally wrong? They may be called defective or irritating or troublesome (and notice how these judgements are all relative to what my desire may be), but they cannot be morally wrong. Are we anything more than chemical robots? The theist says, “Yes we are!”

    My argument does not only depend on us needing intelligence; it requires an intelligent God outside of nature. (Christians call this “outside of matter” presence, spirit) And it further requires that we also have a ‘spiritual’ presence. If we take Gods existence and then define humans as only matter based beings, there may well be an absolute morality but I do not think it could apply to people.

    I thought you knew this when you spelled out your morality as sourced in “efficient survival” and “socially agreed rules”. The first criterion appears entirely circulatory as you have picked an attribute in nature that you like and called it “right”. You have used a pre-existing moral standard (from somewhere unknown) to first decide that “efficient survival” is right. The second part of your definition directly implies intelligence, I took “socially agreed” to mean a consensus obtained from discussion or debating. This has a prerequisite of intelligence. But anything decided in this manner is clearly relative. There is no basis for absolute morality here. There may be a small chance that you are trying to claim “socially agreed rules” does not need intelligence? Maybe ants are an example, socially active animals that work together for the benefit of the whole. They do not have intelligence. They do not negotiate a code to live by. And how can they have any right or wrong? Would it be morally wrong if an ant went off and did its own thing? Is it “morally right” for an ant to simply do what it has been programmed to do?

    We need intelligence because we decide on what is ‘right’, above our natural instincts. If we purely followed instincts with no ability to reason, the strongest instinct would determine the action and it could not be called morally right or wrong. It is just how things function. Water freezes into a crystal structure that takes up more physical space than its liquid form. Is it right? If it acted like other liquid-solid transformations and took up less space, is it now wrong? It would make physical life virtually impossible, but you could not call it wrong. Is it ‘wrong’ for the female spider to procreate, then eat the male? Would it then be morally ‘right’ if the female did not eat the male? Is a polar bear morally wrong to devour its young? A male primate that forces itself upon a less-than-willing female primate is not considered to have broken any moral code. That they follow their instincts is all that they do and we do not hold it against them. If all we have are instincts then how can we be held responsible for following them? Intelligence is a key component of morality for it allows us to overrule instinct.

    If you continue to say that right comes from efficient survival, I naturally want to know what made “efficient survival” right in the first place? As I pointed out before, even efficient survival and socially agreed rules break the very basis of what I know to be absolutely “morally right”. Genocide, euthanasia and infanticide can certainly fit into the criteria that you gave for deciding on what is morally right.

    I currently find the second question impossible to answer. No, I would not try to argue that nature is a god. I am at a loss to understand what you mean by “intelligent” when you use the word in such a manner. Are you trying to say that the universe can think? Or are you saying that the physical properties identifiable in the universe can be called “right”? Like the gravitational constant is right and if it were anything else, it would be wrong. The only thing that I can see you doing here, is first arbitrarily claiming that the universe can show us right and wrong, and from this concluding that an atheistic absolute morality is possible! No, I do not see how the universe can possibly set out a clear moral standard for us (without us first using another pre-existing moral standard to identify what the universe is “saying is right”), and so I do not accept this as providing an atheistic absolute morality. It would be up to someone who claims that this can happen to first explain how it can happen.

    Mike wrote (#26):How can we differentiate between physical law and metaphysical law? If we were to assume that morality is similar to a form of self control, I could present you with equations that predict how we’ll respond in any given self control situation. If morality is something slightly different, we could just adjust the equation. So, if all livings things seem to follow this mathematical equation does this make it a physical law, or a metaphysical law? This is the problem, even if I could present you an airtight equation, you can just suggest that it’s there because of god’s metaphysical requirements.

    Can you differentiate between a physical law like gravity, a property of the universe and a moral law like “I ought not punch my neighbour in the face”? Physical laws dictate how the universe operates and they cannot be broken. Moral laws are requirements on how we should behave and can clearly be broken. I call moral laws “metaphysical” in order to illustrate that they cannot originate from nature. Your equations may well predict how instincts direct behaviour, but aren’t you merely describing behaviour? You are not identifying the existence of a moral standard sitting above us and judging some of our actions as morally wrong and others as morally right.

    If the standard is from us, then there is nothing that makes it absolute. We change.

    It seems that we may be holding different ideas on “right and wrong”, or at least the lines might be getting blurred somewhat. May I direct you to a clearer exploration of the subject? I think it has been very well analysed by
    C.S.Lewis- http://www.philosophyforlife.com/mc01.htm.

    Chapter 2 explains how morality is different from natural instinct
    Chapter 3 explains the difference between physical laws and moral laws
    Chapter 4 differentiates the atheistic view from the religious view

    It is the best freely available analysis that I know about. The language is fifty years old, but it is self-explanatory. It will also give you a very good understanding of the Christian view. Which would be of much use if you wanted to convince a theist that absolute morality could come from nature or simply talk in a manner that Christians can relate to.

    Cheers buddy! I have taken so long to reply because I have been ridiculously busy and I did not want to give a quick and inadequate response. Sorry for the long-winded response. The best thing you could actually do for this thread (and the world) is to describe how to get an absolute atheistic morality. It would probably be good to start bouncing your ideas off your atheist friends for plenty of them are more than happy with relative morality. I have read their books and had many a conversation where the claim was made that relative morality is superior because it can change. The stupidity of that does not appear to register to the people who make that claim. This is not really morality at all.

  28. Mike
    Mike says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    No need to apologise for the delay in replying, we all have lives that tend to get in the way of interesting discussions.

    This appears to me to be somewhat of a more significant categorisation than the example of “Maoris and non-Maoris”. …The possibility of theistic philosophies having relative morality does nothing to the argument for absolute morality originating from a single, self-existent, eternal, absolute mind. It also does not add any weight at all to the idea that atheism may be able to provide an absolute morality.

    I should first apologise for the unstructured nature of my last post, I went off on so many different directions that I seem to have made it very difficult for you to understand what my actual arguments were..

    My point with the theistic relative morality wasn’t intended to be a way to prove absolute morality, rather it was an attempt to show the arbitrariness of the “atheistic philosophy” label. Because theistic morality can be both relative and absolute, and if we were to (for argument’s sake) entertain the idea that a possible absolute form of atheist morality could come about, then the label “atheistic philosophy” simply refers to the fact that it doesn’t include god. The arbitrariness of this is not god itself, but because then every single notion/theory/idea that does not explicitly state god in its workings will become an “atheistic idea”. This would dilute the term and make it pretty much meaningless UNLESS the philosophy is specifically about the existence or non-existence of god. It adds no information to what Singer’s philosophy is actually about, it would make more sense to label it a “relative morality philosophy” instead.

    Having said this, I do understand your worldview and the position you are in which leads you to an unwillingness to use the theistic and atheistic categorisations.

    I don’t know what my worldview is so I don’t know whether this is a compliment or not?.. It’s not an unwillingness to use the theistic and atheistic categorisations, in some situations they are highly applicable, but in this case I just disagree with their usage as I find the nature of god to be irrelevant when considering Singer’s philosophy. For example, someone could argue the exact same points as Singer but be a theist, whose god designed the world to work in that way, then Singer’s philosophy would be a theistic one.

    Currently, I do not see your argument for an atheistic absolute morality having any substance. If the definition of morality you hold entails morality originating in development, evolution or negotiation, it is clearly relative. If you are talking about how the universe operates, you are identifying physical laws, not moral ones.

    Sure, I toyed with the idea of a possible atheistic absolute morality above but I don’t hold any real weight to my thoughts either. Currently, I find relative morality the most convincing. But I don’t have access to all the evidence, so I remain open to the possibility of an absolute morality.

    For the first part [1], “Yes indeed Mike! It would seem odd to me to categorise Singer’s philosophy as ‘afairyist’.” But the oddness for me comes about for two reasons; the main being the imaginary nature of fairies and the secondary, the absence of any significant fairy-obtained categorisation like absolute morality and relative morality. Thus you may see how I followed this line of thought forward and could only find it an odd thing to categorise Singer’s philosophy as atheistic, if theism itself were imaginary. So, if you want to convince me that it is strange to call Singers philosophy “atheistic”, you are left with the problem of convincing me that God is not real.

    Oh man, I can’t believe I wrote “tenants” instead of “tenets”.. *slaps forehead*

    Anyway.. your reply here is reasonable, except for your very first inference in which you unquestionably assert and from which you build the rest of your comment on. You assume fairies are imaginary. In this situation, you have taken my role (atheist) as you are the “afairyist”, and I (theist) have become the fairyist – in this hypothetical example. You firstly claim that it would be odd to categorise his theory as “afairyist” because some people find fairies to be imaginary, would you accept this argument if someone suggested it is odd to call Singer’s theory “atheistic” because some people find gods to be imaginary? Secondly you point out that there is no dominant “fairyist/afairyist” distinctions in moral theory – which is essentially my criticism of the “theist/atheist” philosophy descriptions used above. As a theistic philosophy can refer to either relative or absolute morality, and an atheistic philosophy will most likely refer to a relative morality, there is no point in making the distinction as an “atheistic philosophy” can be completely identical to a relative theistic philosophy.

    I also do not need to prove that god is not real, I could just simply suggest that fairies are real. You just need to believe in them before you can see them, troublesome little scamps they are.

    …It could be coldly competitive and exclusive like Hitler’s evolution-based requirements…

    As a side note… Hitler took his ideas of mass murder from ‘artificial selection’ – the idea of breeding traits you like until the entire population exhibits these traits. Interestingly, what Hitler actually did was go AGAINST evolution by removing variation of genes from the population. This has nothing to do the current discussion of course, but in case you ever see anyone arguing that the theory of evolution killed the Jews, just point out that it was in fact every farmer who ever existed in the past few thousand year who are actually responsible.

    But this is our very base difference. You say that no gods exist and hence every conclusion you make must fit that paradigm. As such, I do not find your particular claim of ‘oddness’ strange, as long as you are the one who makes it. Indeed, I would expect you to do this very thing. But it is a strange thing that you would think that I should agree with you. I can only find your argument valid as long as we both agree that all gods are imaginary. But we do not agree on this.

    Fair enough, the strict definition of atheism is the denial of the existence of any gods. This is the defining characteristic. “There is no god!” – that is atheism. I do believe it fine to paraphrase this as “the central tenet of atheism is that God, god or gods are all imaginary”.

    This is a common misconception of atheism, one that is frequently promoted by many of the popular creationists like Ray Comfort etc. Atheism, by it’s very definition, is “the lack of a belief in god”. Note that this is different from “belief that god doesn’t exist”. Even though the latter definition does fall under the umbrella of atheism in that all of that group are atheists, it is not true that all atheists are part of that group (and from my experience, it’s actually a very small group that explicitly believe that god doesn’t exist). I currently lack a belief in god, but if one day a giant golden man came down from the clouds and said, “Hey, remember that time you were really sad. but then you randomly found an unwanted, brand new, shiny red bicycle? Yeah? Well, that was me, kiddo”. Then I’d most likely become a theist.

    I haven’t found any evidence to convince me that god exists. Obviously I haven’t found any evidence that he doesn’t, because that would be logically impossible, but from all I’ve learnt so far the universe can be explained without invoking god. This does not mean god cannot exist, and it also does not mean people should not believe in god. It simply means that I can’t personally find a way to accept the concept of god without simultaneously accepting all other possible concepts without evidence that have ever existed in the universe.

    (I should also make a note here as a counter to a possible reply – agnosticism is not an intermediate point. (A)gnosticism deals with certainty or possibility of knowledge, and as such, agnosticism is a label that can equally be applied to both theist or atheist – i.e., there exists in the world: agnostic atheists, gnostic atheists, agnostic theists and gnostic theists).

    My point wasn’t that gods are just as imaginary as fairies, my point was that some people find gods imaginary and some people find fairies imaginary. I understand that you are probably offended by the use of fairies as a comparison to god, but equally, some fairyists would find a comparison to god equally offending.

    If you continue to say that right comes from efficient survival, I naturally want to know what made “efficient survival” right in the first place? As I pointed out before, even efficient survival and socially agreed rules break the very basis of what I know to be absolutely “morally right”. Genocide, euthanasia and infanticide can certainly fit into the criteria that you gave for deciding on what is morally right.

    I wasn’t suggesting that efficient survival is right, I was pointing out that morality developed as a way of keeping social cohesion, and thus, surviving. The advantages of being able to cooperate with your neighbour are so great that they far outweigh most immediate desires to kill or steal etc. I think any society that endorses genocide and infanticide would soon crumble under social conflict. (Euthanasia I feel is not wrong, under the right conditions). I wasn’t trying to suggest that efficient survival could be used a model to base morality on, I was simply pointing out that efficient survival is impossible without morality, and morality is impossible without the efficient survival of groups.

    I currently find the second question impossible to answer. No, I would not try to argue that nature is a god. I am at a loss to understand what you mean by “intelligent” when you use the word in such a manner. Are you trying to say that the universe can think? Or are you saying that the physical properties identifiable in the universe can be called “right”? Like the gravitational constant is right and if it were anything else, it would be wrong. The only thing that I can see you doing here, is first arbitrarily claiming that the universe can show us right and wrong, and from this concluding that an atheistic absolute morality is possible! No, I do not see how the universe can possibly set out a clear moral standard for us (without us first using another pre-existing moral standard to identify what the universe is “saying is right”), and so I do not accept this as providing an atheistic absolute morality. It would be up to someone who claims that this can happen to first explain how it can happen.

    I was posing it as a hypothetical question, but it wasn’t too important.

    Can you differentiate between a physical law like gravity, a property of the universe and a moral law like “I ought not punch my neighbour in the face”? Physical laws dictate how the universe operates and they cannot be broken. Moral laws are requirements on how we should behave and can clearly be broken. I call moral laws “metaphysical” in order to illustrate that they cannot originate from nature. Your equations may well predict how instincts direct behaviour, but aren’t you merely describing behaviour? You are not identifying the existence of a moral standard sitting above us and judging some of our actions as morally wrong and others as morally right.

    All a physical law does is describe the behavior of a physical entity. Laws in the sciences refer to mathematical equations, not laws that are unbreakable. All I was suggesting is that there are a number of laws that describes human behavior in much the same way there are laws that describe the movement of particles. My point being that if moral behavior were to be described in this way, then how would we be able to tell the difference between a physical law and a metaphysical one?

    It seems that we may be holding different ideas on “right and wrong”, or at least the lines might be getting blurred somewhat. May I direct you to a clearer exploration of the subject? I think it has been very well analysed by
    C.S.Lewis- http://www.philosophyforlife.com/mc01.htm.

    Chapter 2 explains how morality is different from natural instinct
    Chapter 3 explains the difference between physical laws and moral laws
    Chapter 4 differentiates the atheistic view from the religious view

    Unfortunately I don’t have any free time to read through this page even though I very much want to. I literally have a pile of papers I need to read through that are obscuring the view to my monitor, as well as piles of books and other papers carpeting my floor… I will, however, save it to my bookmarks and promise that I will read it at some point.

    It is the best freely available analysis that I know about. The language is fifty years old, but it is self-explanatory. It will also give you a very good understanding of the Christian view. Which would be of much use if you wanted to convince a theist that absolute morality could come from nature or simply talk in a manner that Christians can relate to.

    Thank you again for the link, but I do feel I need to point out that I understand the christian view intimately. I’ve spent a large portion of my life as one. And again for emphasis, I currently hold a relative view of morality, however, I cannot say with conviction that it is impossible that an atheistic absolute morality will ever be conceived.

    Cheers buddy! I have taken so long to reply because I have been ridiculously busy and I did not want to give a quick and inadequate response. Sorry for the long-winded response. The best thing you could actually do for this thread (and the world) is to describe how to get an absolute atheistic morality. It would probably be good to start bouncing your ideas off your atheist friends for plenty of them are more than happy with relative morality.

    Again, don’t worry about the delay and especially don’t worry about the long-windedness, I’m definitely not in a position to judge someone for that.. As interesting as the concept of an atheistic absolute morality is, I unfortunately don’t have the time to nut out any possible philosophies on the subject, and as far as I’m aware I don’t have any atheist friends.. None that are interested enough to have a conversation on the subject at least.

    I have read their books and had many a conversation where the claim was made that relative morality is superior because it can change. The stupidity of that does not appear to register to the people who make that claim. This is not really morality at all.

    I think the point is that what is right and wrong will inevitably change over differing situations and times, that’s why all systems that rely on absolute morality have either crumbled or been forced to use some fancy footwork to reword the rather “unfashionable” morals. Relative morality may not be the best moral theory on paper, but in the real world, it’s the only one that can work.

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