Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Atheism makes us moral idiots

Tom Gilson blogs at Thinking Christian where he makes a case for the faith and then responds to those who choose to comment. Many of those who do are non-believers: agnostics and self-identified atheists whose arguments he willingly engages. Recently he has been arguing that if there are moral laws there must be a law-giver. A prior argument, of course, has to do with whether there are in fact moral laws that transcend individual or cultural preference. If it is just a matter of preference — no real enduring universal moral standards — then morality loses all meaning. Gilson responds to an unusually frank atheist:
.... Shane, like many atheists before him, makes himself the arbiter of right and wrong:
I can understand that the Nazis thought they were doing the right thing. I can also think that their actions were wrong because they are not things I would do. I do this from the comfort of the future, in a different country of course, and who knows what things would have been like if I was a German soldier during World War II.
Had he been a Nazi soldier during World War II, he would have perhaps thought he was doing nothing wrong. If so, then I can’t help but wonder who could have told him otherwise? I can only wonder what it means to be wrong, if the standard is one man’s opinion? By making himself his own standard, he undercuts the whole idea of a standard. Or maybe (it’s unclear to me) he’s making future human opinion the standard.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen this kind of thing expressed here. An earlier commenter named Paul agreed, when I pressed him on something he had previously written, that as an atheist, “I give up the right to say that in their times and places, slavery, suttee, and child sacrifice were wrong.” ....

If there is no transcendent moral standard, there is no moral knowledge, because there is nothing to be known. There is no right or wrong, except for each person’s opinion; and each person’s opinion in that case is indistinguishable from “I favor that kind of action” or “I don’t think highly of that other kind of action.” This is not morality, it’s aesthetics. If it is a culture-wide view rather than an individual’s view, then it is “we” rather than “I,” but the same still holds: it’s still aesthetics.

Or, possibly, right and wrong become shorthand for, “Do more of that,” vs. “Stop doing that.” That, too is not morality. It’s the exercise of power, or at least the attempt to do so.

Aesthetics is not morality. The practice of power is not morality. The language of morality may be there but the reality is stripped away. And if there is no morality, how could there be moral knowledge? ....

Yet every child knows there’s such a thing as right and wrong. You and I knew it as early as six months old. It takes “growing up” into atheism to discover that we can’t know right from wrong after all. .... [more]
Note: Today Gilson somewhat revised what he posted yesterday. The portions quoted above are now from today's version and the links now go there too.