Friday, December 19, 2008

Is Atheism Morally Bankrupt?

Ben Shapiro says that atheism is morally bankrupt in the article below. I add some comments at the foot of the article
If you walk around Washington, D.C., on a regular basis, youre likely to see some rather peculiar posters. But you wont see any more peculiar than the ads put out by the American Humanist Association. Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness sake, say the signs, in Christmas-colored red and green. Sounds great, doesnt it? Just be good for goodness sake. You dont need some Big Man in the Sky telling you what to do. You can be a wonderful person simply by doing the right thing. Theres only one problem: without God, there can be no moral choice. Without God, there is no capacity for free will.

Thats because a Godless world is a soulless world. Virtually all faiths hold that God endows human beings with the unique ability to choose their actions -- the ability to transcend biology and environment in order to do good. Transcending biology and our environment requires a higher power -- a spark of the supernatural. As philosopher Rene Descartes, put it, Although I possess a body with which I am very intimately conjoined [my soul] is entirely and absolutely distinct from my body and can exist without it.

Gilbert Pyle, the atheistic philosopher, derogatorily labeled the idea of soul/body dualism, the ghost in the machine. Nonetheless, our entire legal and moral system is based on the ghost in the machine -- the presupposition that we can choose to do otherwise. We can only condemn or praise individuals if they are responsible for their actions. We dont jail squirrels for garden theft or dogs for assaulting cats -- they arent responsible for their actions. But we routinely lock up kleptomaniacs and violent felons.

It's not only our criminal justice system that presupposes a Creator. Its our entire notion of freedom and equality. We hold these truths to be self-evident, wrote Thomas Jefferson, supposed atheist, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Human equality must spring from a Creator, because the presence of a soul is all that makes man human and equal. Biology suggests inherent inequality -- who would call Arnold Schwarzenegger and Stephen Hawking equal in any way? Biology suggests the sort of Hegelian social Darwinism embraced by totalitarian dictators, not the principles of equality articulated by the Founding Fathers.

Without a soul, freedom too is impossible -- we are all slaves to our biology. According to atheists, human beings are intensely complex machines. Our actions are determined by our genetics and our environment. According to atheists, if we could somehow determine all the constituent material parts of the universe, we would be able to predict all human action, down to the exact moment at which Vice President-elect Joe Biden will pick his nose. Freedom is generically defined as the power to determine action without restraint (Random House). But if action without restraint is impossible, how can we fight for freedom?

If there is no God, there is no freedom to choose. If there is no freedom to choose, there is no good or evil. There is merely action and inaction. There is no way to be good for goodness sake -- that would require an act of voluntary will far beyond human capacity. Atheists simply gloss over this point. The American Humanist Association states on its website,, We can have ethics and values based on our built-in drives toward a moral life. Without a soul, this is wishful thinking of the highest order. Since when does biology dictate a moral drive? If it did, wouldnt man always get more rather than less moral -- wouldnt history be a long upward climb? What about the murderers, rapists, child molesters and genocidal dictators? Are they all ignoring that built-in drive toward a moral life?

Atheism may work for individuals. There are moral atheists and there are immoral religious people. But as a system of thought, atheism cannot be the basis for any functional state. If we wish to protect freedom and equality, we must understand the value of recognizing God. We must recognize the flame of divinity -- free will -- He implanted within each of us.


Shapiro's argument is a common one but ignores the fact that free will is a difficult concept for Christians too. Why does God allow freewill if he knows that it will in some cases lead to perdition? More importantly, however, irreligious people are usually quite moral. Very few Australians are religious but standards of behaviour are little different from the USA -- a much more religious country.

So how come Australia is a civil, prosperous and pleasant place to live? It is because Australians DO have a widely agreed-on moral code -- but it is not a Christian one. It originates from the values of the English working class of yesteryear and can perhaps be conveniently summed up (in its original Australian slang) as the following five "Commandments":

* Thou shalt not dob in thy mates
* Thou shalt not bung on an act.
* Thou shalt not be a tall poppy
* Thou shalt give everyone a fair go
* Thou shalt be fair dinkum

Translating these into standard English yields APPROXIMATELY the following:

* You must not incriminate your friends to the boss, the police or anyone else. Loyalty to your associates is all-important.

* You must not be ostentatious or pretend to be what you are not.

* You must treat others as your equals. If you are seen as being better than others in anything but sport you will be made to suffer for it.

* You must be fair and permissive in your treatment of others.

* You must not be insincere or dishonest.

From Hammurabi onwards, most moral codes have had much in common and the Australian and Christian moral codes do also have things in common but the Australian moral code is not preached in churches. It is simply traditional and widely heartfelt. I have looked recently at why moral codes tend to be similar from society to society. In brief, there are some inborn moral instincts. Such instincts are necessary for social life to exist.

So: Apologies to American churchgoers but people CAN be moral and decent without someone either putting the fear of God into them or inspiring them with the love of Christ.

Final note about religion in Australia: When asked at census time most Australians do put down some religion for themselves. Note, however, that in the last census we had over 5% of the population describe themselves as Methodists -- a denomination that has not existed in Australia for many years. The Methodists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists combined to form the "Uniting" church a quarter of a century ago. In other words, for the vast majority of Australians, Christianity is a token thing.

So, as with the Australian population at large, lots of Australian conservatives are NOT religious. I am one of them.



The Left-Side Of The Blogosphere Reacts To Barack Obama Choosing Rick Warren To Do His Inaugural Invocation : "Although Rick Warren takes his Christian beliefs seriously, he has always come across as a centrist politically. In other words, he can fairly be called "religious," but he's not really a member of the "religious right." Since that's the case and since Barack Obama has spent much of his adult life surrounded by ultra-left wing, pseudo-Christian wackadoodles like Jeremiah Wright and Michael Pfleger, Warren seems to be a sensible choice to do his inaugural invocation. However, Obama's selection of Warren is flipping out the left side of the blogosphere, which is generally appalled by people who hold mainstream Christian beliefs. Enjoy the reaction, folks!

Ga. woman jailed over head scarf : "A Muslim woman arrested for refusing to take off her head scarf at a courthouse security checkpoint said Wednesday that she felt her human and civil rights were violated. A judge ordered Lisa Valentine, 40, to serve 10 days in jail for contempt of court, said police in Douglasville, a city of about 20,000 people on Atlanta's west suburban outskirts. Valentine violated a court policy that prohibits people from wearing any headgear in court, police said after they arrested her Tuesday."

Postponing reality: "Some of us were raised to believe that reality is inescapable. But that just shows how far behind the times we are. Today, reality is optional. At the very least, it can be postponed. Kids in school are not learning? Not a problem. Just promote them on to the next grade anyway. Call it `compassion,' so as not to hurt their 'self-esteem.' Can't meet college admissions standards after they graduate from high school? Denounce those standards as just arbitrary barriers to favor the privileged, and demand that exceptions be made. . The current bailout extravaganza is applying the postponement of reality democratically - to the rich as well as the poor, to the irresponsible as well as to the responsible, to the inefficient as well as to the efficient. It is a triumph of the non-judgmental philosophy that we have heard so much about in high-toned circles."

You live in a socialist nation: "The good news is that socialism still sounds bad to us - we don't want to think of ourselves as socialists. The bad news is that we don't know what socialism means. We think it always means more centralized control than what we currently have, no matter what we currently have. A socialist government is one that owns or manages parts of the economy. That's it. A government-run post office is socialist. A government-run train service is socialist. A government bailout of banks is socialist. And so on."

Missing Xmas commercialism : "For decades editorialists, pundits, and other commentators have implored us all to stop all this commercialism during Christmas holidays. The holidays have become too commercial! People just focus on purchasing goodies instead of on the spirituality of Christmas. And so on and so forth the relentless blather went on and on, year after year, even in the midst of the reports on how good or bad have been holiday retails sales. This hypocrisy could be hidden from the consciousness of a great many people for a good while but now it is no longer possible to disguise it. Fact is, what is most missing from Christmas this year is, yes, the healthy commercialism that has been part of it over the last several decades."


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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


1 comment:

ΛΕΟΝΙΔΑΣ said...

If you profess atheism you are in fact adhering to a religious belief. Neither atheists nor theists "know" of the existence of a supreme being: they quite simply "believe". Those of us who accept the possibility of either the existence or non existence of God are properly known as agnostic. As for "morality", it is simply the most convenient and efficient basis historically for a successful society.