Codswallop on the Web has an article titled, “Can we be good without god?”
To the atheist, this question need not even be answered since we have no gods yet we’re “good.” Sure, there are “bad” atheists. Arguably fewer than there are “bad” theists, but then atheists don’t walk the Earth with an imagined “get out of jail free card” like those deluded by cults of Christianity do. We don’t assume that whatever we do, we can always just ask for forgiveness from an unseen and imaginary agent and all will be well.
For the atheist, this life is it. This is all there is and there’s no promised afterlife to strive for. And, for the atheist, any required forgiveness must be solicited from those whose lives were affected by our decisions. Therefore, we’re careful to live our lives as if though they were special and that we, alone, are responsible for who we are or what heights we can acheive.
Morality is the product of human experience and observation; ethics are not dependent upon religious superstition -though I will acknowledge that religious superstition can provide ethical and moral guidelines, but this is not because they were put there by any gods.
To demonstrate this, one need only note that the Judeo-Christian gods (there *are* more than one) are relatively new in human history. Cultures, both extant and extinct, exist that have gods that differ greatly from the Christian gods, yet these cultures have established moral and ethical guidelines. Indeed, there are universal commonalities between cultures of varied and often conflicting supernatural deities. In no culture, for instance, does it appear to be moral or ethical to murder one’s parents in order to assume their wealth.
Christians who make the argument Codswallop on the Web makes do so from an ignorant and undereducated perspective. From their ill-informed and irrational conclusion:
Morality is real precisely because God is real. As our Creator, He is the transcendent authority—the law-giver who gets to tell us what we ‘ought’ or ‘ought not’ to do.
The first sentence, of course, affirms the consequent, stating that morality is true because god is true. It also implies that without a god, there can be no morality, which is clearly hasn’t been shown to be the case. Such fallacious mistakes are common among those that seek to confirm only the conclusions they’ve already arrived at, remaining unwilling to open their minds to other alternatives. In addition, the ignorance of such arguments is further demonstrated by the second statement above since, if true, our society would embrace atrocities such as stoning adulteresses and victims of adultery, slavery, and the notion that it is better to offer up a daughter for rape than to permit a gang rape of a stranger. The god from whom ignorant and unquestioning Christians today believe their morality is derived has no problem with genocide (Joshua 6:20-21), yet few can be found in modern Western society that are willing to approve of the mass killings in Darfour. Then again, there’s little being done to stop these actions by Western society, dominated in the U.S. by Christian cults.
Moreover, I’ve little use for the morality of a god that approves of the pretty girls from the enemy for sex and forced marriage and, if she no longer “delights” me, I can simply let her free (
Deuteronomy 21:10-13). This after the pathetic and immoral god in question permitted me to slay all the males of my enemy and plunder not only the females (the young ones) but the livestock and whatever else I wanted. In the eyes of such a god I can be a thief, a murderer, a rapist, a slaver, and an asshole -but I can still have “everlasting life” as long as I “believe.” Codswallop.
So, when the poor, ignorant individual who wrote this article on Codswallop on the Web concludes that “atheists are in dire straits,” the rational mind is left to, therefore, conclude that apologists for Christian cults and their adherents are to be pittied. What a sad existence they have where they don’t see the glory and wonder in reality, chosing instead to bask in delusion and fantasy throughout their entire lives. Can such a person truly ever be free?
Okay, perhaps “stalker” is a little harsh, since it isn’t as though he’s followed me around from site to site on the internet. He’s stayed in the Employee of 1800Flowers.com thread, getting his attention fix there. His last comment was deleted, since it started off calling his host a “dunce” and a “cluck.” Sorry, pal, but you’re my guest and, as such, you don’t get to be an asshole. If you want to repost the comment like you have more sense, be my guest. Please.
But his prior comment, less obnoxious and “assholish” is worth posting. Perhaps others might like to respond to his questions about “what have atheists done for the world.”
Dear ylooshi, I suggested you google Vitz’s book, not read it. You can glean enough from that. As for your pretense to be scientific, why don’t you googel Stanly Jaki’s books. It’s just a click of the mouse. He is both a scientist and a priest. He demonstrates that the same guys who articulated Transubstantiation also invented western science.
Could you flesh out what you mean by “batshit crazy”. Is that a scientific term? Also, since atheists like you are parasites, holes in the donut, could you list some contributions your ilk have made to the world in the area of science, art, music, literature etc.? How many hospitals and orphanages they have built? I mean, what good are you anyway? What purpose do your icky little lives have? Why do you even bother to crawl out of bed in the morning? In 500 years, where will you be? Who even cares? What difference is it to you what we Catholics believe? C’mon son,vent. Get it all out. Let the healing begin. I am here for you. One more thing; did you say Myers is a “patriot”?!?! Like Jefferson and Franklin? Oh my goddess! you are wild
A look at Google reveals that Vitz was obsessed with demeaning atheism and never made an attempt to empirically test his assertion that atheists were the product of poor fathers. Indeed, Vitz appears to have thought that anyone that didn’t believe in the Judeo-Christian god was an atheist. Not only that, but just <i>believing</i> in this god wasn’t enough, one had to meet certain qualifications, such as regular church attendance or was to be considered an “atheist” in Vitz’s mind. He even went so far as to conclude that he was an atheist since he didn’t attend church, even though he believed in the Judeo-Christian god.
As for Stanley Jaki, I don’t think I need to Google his name, I’m somewhat familiar with the name. If memory serves correct he was (perhaps is) a physicist and argued that the metaphysics and superstitions of the catholic cult made science possible. This argument is easy to dismiss since so much about the Catholic versions of scientific understanding was wrong in medieval times. Moreover, other cultures such as the Vedic, Islamic, and Chinese had an edge up on things like mathematics and astronomy, and chemistry long before Europeans.
By “batshit crazy,” I mean the belief that the body and blood of a long-dead and alleged Messiah, that may or may not have even existed to begin with, replaces a cracker. Such an extraordinary claim has not even a modicum of evidence to support it, nor should one expect such magic and paranormal processes to exist since they don’t appear to anywhere in nature.
But it is this kind of ignorance that truly informs your bigotry: ” I mean, what good are you anyway? What purpose do your icky little lives have? Why do you even bother to crawl out of bed in the morning? In 500 years, where will you be? Who even cares?”
Such arguments by the superstitious have been refuted as fallacious time and time again, so I’ll defer to them. Suffice it to say that atheists have plenty to “crawl out of bed” for and if the only thing that inspires one crawl out of bed is the belief in gods and adhering to the superstitions that go with them, then one is pathetic indeed.
But you also ask of the contributions of atheists to society, which also shows your ignorance. Perhaps you should take your own advice with regard to “Google” and educate yourself as atheists have provided many, many contributions to society and not insignificantly either.
I hope you don’t mind the hyperlinks in your own quote. Don’t forget to click “etc.”
Those above are off the top of my head as are: Aldous Huxley, Isaac Asimov, Andrew Carnegie, Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, Frank Zappa, Frank Lloyd Wright, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, Jackson Pollack, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Ethan Allen, Albert Einstein, Ayn Rand, Bertrand Russell, Hellen Keller, George Bernard Shaw, Susan B. Anthony, Gloria Steinam, Gene Roddenberry, Kurt Vonegut, Frank Crick, James Watson, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, James Joyce, John Lennon, Sir Alfred Hitchcock, Sir Richard Burton, Oscar Wilde, and the list goes on, and on, and on….
I had the pleasure of discussing morality and atheism with a commenter who I would assume is a Christian although his/her actual beliefs haven’t been specifically discussed. In responding to the second of two posts the commenter left, I realized that I rambled on far longer than a general comment, so I thought I’d go ahead and repost it as a separate post of its own.
In this post, you’ll see me discuss the capacity for Morality (big “M” ) among humans, giving rise to the cultural establishment of moral (little “m” ) codes. I make an analogy to the human capacity for Language (big “L” ) which gives rise to the cultural establishment of languages (little “l” ). I don’t know if this analogy holds -I haven’t really thought it through- and I’m not arguing that the capacities of Morality and Language are part of the same genetic mechanism or have the shared origins.
I’ll begin with Robin Leboe’s comment today and follow with my response, both of which can be found in the Myths of Atheism: HIlter/Stalin/Pol Pot were evil because of atheism thread.
Leaving aside the definition of atheism for the moment, the properties of atheism can be examined regardless of how it’s defined. For instance, one attribute of atheism I’m sure we can agree on is the lack of a transcendent source for an objective moral law.
If there is no transcendant being then any truly objective principles under girding existence are illusory. Your reference to evil in the post above hangs in a vacuum. Any attempt to codify right and wrong takes a leap into another realm i.e Platonic ideals.
Right and wrong are simply not an inherent property of ‘being without gods’ and morals are relegated to utilitarian, pragmatic, subjective or emotive trappings. A function of culture at best or the opinion of an individual at worst. Neitsche was very honest in driving home this point when writing of the ‘death of God’.
It is this lack of ultimate moral arbitration that people often point to when they speak of the atrocities advanced by cultures who have, by your definition, disavowed themselves of a belief in God.
On the other hand, atrocities committed by religious zealots can clearly be seen to be in opposition to the moral law they espouse. The teachings of Christ leave no interpretive room whatever for the inquisition or crusades. Many societies and institutions have been hijacked by lunatics, both theist and atheist. As it is often said, it’s not a good idea to judge a philosophy (or faith) by its adherents.
Thanks for the cordial discussion and taking time to respond to my previous reply.
I’m willing to take the transcendent source point further and say that you can insert “for anything” after “transcendent source.”
Transcendent refers to that which is “beyond comprehension” or “independent of the material universe.” I, of course, see no good reason to believe such a definition is needed since there is no evidence of anything existing “beyond the material universe.” In addition, I see no reason (and history bears this out) that this material universe can at least be potentially comprehended. I concede that I know very little of the universe and will likely learn only a fraction more when compared with the potential things that can be known, but I refuse to accept that there is anything unknowable about the universe or that anything exists beyond the knowable universe. Gods, magic, ghosts, and hobgoblins included.
But that’s me. If anyone knows otherwise and can demonstrate that knowledge, however, I’m open to revising my position.
Moving on to your other points, the very argument that morality is “divinely established” is an argument that isn’t sound nor is it cogent. That’s because the premises fail. If the conclusion is “God establishes morality,” then the premises followed by the conclusion must be:
- humans have not the capacity for morality without God;
- only God can provide morality;
- morality exists in humanity;
- thus God exists and establishes morality.
The premises fail for several reasons. The actual god in question is not identified. There are thousands upon thousands of extant and extinct religious cults in human history through present day, most with pantheons of gods. Yet, morality has flourished throughout human history. Were humans prior to the very recent cults of Judeo-Christian doctrine immoral? Hardly. We have a very detailed and accurate account of moral behavior in ancient societies. Indeed, our own democratic-republic form of government is based largely on one such pantheistic, but moral, society.
Further, there are countless similarities cross-culturally that exhibit very similar moral behaviors that are independent of a single religious superstition. For instance: in no extant or extinct culture that I’m aware of is it morally acceptable to murder one’s parents in order to take their property.
Very clearly, the preceding two paragraphs show that morality is a human endeavor and not a divine one and, therefore, humans provide their own morality, much in the same way we provide our own language. Language (big “L” ) is a human endeavor. We establish individual languages (little “l” ) based on the capacity for Language. Perhaps the human establishment of morality is a function of the capacity for Morality (big “M” ) [incidentally, I’m hypothesizing here more than arguing a position in order to show that divinity need not be the answer when one is ignorant of an explanation].
The only premise in the divine establishment of morality argument that is valid is that humans have morality. If morality is established by humanity (since it exists cross-culturally, independent of religious doctrine, and prior to modern concepts of God, then it clearly is), then humans have the capacity for morality without gods and gods are not necessary to provide morality.
The very evidence for the existence of morality and zero evidence for the existence of God invalidates nearly completely the argument that morality is established by God. There is, of course, the slim chance that a hidden god has created morality -but this begs the question and provides not a single bit of cogency to the argument. After all, how would one know he/she was praying to the right god if that god is hidden?
I won’t pretend to know why humans have a capacity for Morality any more than I know why they have a capacity for Language or Music. There is much about cognitive science that is unknown (though advances in the last decade are tremendous!), but I certainly see no logical or rational reason to settle on a god-explanation simply because I don’t have an answer. Thankfully, there have been enough rationally minded people in the history of scientific discovery who have sought answers beyond the god-explanation for lightning, weather, crop failure, disease, etc
Thank you again for taking the opportunity to post on an atheist blog and participating in discussion. I realize that many of the blogs and forums in the “atheosphere” are rather harsh and hostile to Christian and theist posters. I also realize that my own casual use of terms like cult, superstition, and the like are likely to be taken as offensive to the believer and religious adherent, but is an honest position and opinion that I hold and not intended to be solely pejorative.
In his encyclical released on Friday, Pope Benedict states atheism is responsible for some of the “greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice” in history .
Did Pope Ratzinger skip the new-pope class that explains the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades?
This is a common myth that arises during debates with theists or in theistic arguments as in books or articles, particularly with Christian theists. The argument goes something like, “of course atheism is bad for the world, just look at what Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot did in the name of atheism .”
On the cuff of it, the argument is one which is post hoc ergo propter hoc, that is to say, it’s a false cause fallacy. More subtly, the argument is also an ad hominem, since the theist that argues this point is attempting to discredit his atheist opponents. The theist is safe in making his claim that atheism leads to evil since he has plausible deniability since, ostensibly, he’s only making an argument against atheism. However, this only holds true if the claim itself is true. As a simple argument form, it would be:
If atheism leads to evil, it cannot be true.
Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot were atheists.
Atheism cannot be true.
However, as you can see, there are some problems with the argument as a modus ponens. The conclusion does not follow from the premises, and this is why:
1) There is no reason why truth cannot lead to evil.
2) Premise #2 is really a complex premise that contains one or more sub premises. It assumes factually that these three personalities were indeed atheists, that they were indeed evil, and that their evil was informed by their atheism. Even if the first two of these sub premises were agreed upon, and it seems reasonable to do so, there is no reason to believe that their atheism informed their evil actions. In fact, there is ample evidence to suggest that at least two of the three personalities were significantly influenced by religion, specifically Christianity, early in their lives.
3) Since premises 1 and 2 do not hold up, the conclusion cannot follow from the premises.
As an ad hominem argument, the Hitler/Stalin/Pot argument is typically a tu quoque, or “you too,” made in response to the claim that religion is responsible for the deaths of millions through the inquisition, Crusades, genocides, New World invasion, etc.
Never has a causal effect been demonstrated by any historian (much less a theist in a debate) between atheism and the actions of, say, Stalin. Stalin ordered the deaths of thousands because he deemed them a threat to his government –a government that was dogmatic and powerful. Indeed, on could easily argue that Stalin’s position was that he “replaced” God and inserted himself as the national deity with statues and portraits in all public (and many private) lands and buildings. Those that carried out his death warrants did so because they believed in Stalin –because they “worshiped” him.
There are no gulags or concentration camps in recorded history that were designed to fulfill a “lack of belief” in something, which is what atheism is. None were constructed to destroy lives out of reason or rational thought, which is what informs the atheistic conclusion.
For another post that gives a very good treatment of yet another Myth of Atheism, see Vjack’s Atheism Does NOT Require Faith, which posted just yesterday as I was writing this. These are the sorts of things I’m glad to see Atheists write about and, perhaps, I’ll put together a set of links for reference to these and other Myths of Atheism posted here and elsewhere in the near future. I’ve some good ideas for the “Pages” feature that comes with WordPress, so keep checking back.
 Catholic News (11 Jan 2008). Hope encyclical rejects atheism.
 D’Souza, Dinesh (2007). What’s So Great About Christianity?: Chicago: Regenery Press, p 221. “the indisputable fact is that all the religions of the world put together have in three hundred years not managed to kill anywhere near the number of people killed in the name of atheism in the past few decades […] Atheism, not religion, is responsible for the worst mass murders of history.”
On December 6, O’Reilly interviewed Lori Lipman Brown, the former Nevada state senator and currently the director and lobbyist for the Secular Coalition for America. This was in the wake of the Mitt Romney’s speech on “why my Mormon faith isn’t a problem.”
Brown’s interaction with O’Reilly was very good and I think she did a decent job holding her own and representing the rational perspective. She took umbrage with Romney’s statement that American’s believe in God, pointing out that he completely ignored 30 million plus non-religious (secularist, atheist, and agnostic) Americans.O’Reilly made the usual ass of himself by creating the ad hominem arguments against those that don’t accept his superstitions by referring to them as “whining” several times.
Predictably, O’Reilly makes the usual nutjob claims about the U.S. being founded on belief in God, etc., to which Brown successfully counters by pointing out that the United States is not ruled by the Declaration of Independence but, rather, the Constitution, a document which specifically omits talk religious and god-talk by design since those that wanted a secular nation won that argument then.
She also puts him in his place with the “incessant whining” ad hominem by pointing out that 30 million people were excluded and Romney is running for an office that represents all Americans.
I get irked by the idiots on the airwaves and in print that go on and on about how there’s a “war on Christmas” as if there exists some secret Cabal of atheists seeking to destroy Christianity. That’s just stupid. We’re not secret! Some of us have made the best seller list (Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, Harris, Sagan, et al).
Joking aside, they aren’t fighting the war on irrationalism through Christmas. I’ve yet to see a single one of the rationalists mentioned above come out against Christmas. I’m sure they don’t send out religious Christmas cards or put nativity scenes in their front yards, but I’d be willing to bet each of them enjoys the holidays for what they are: a time to reflect on family, friends, and community; a time for giving to others and planning for the new year to come.
So what’s this so-called “war on Christmas” then? It’s a lie. Pure and simple. The religious are always very good at inventing out-right lies or finding themselves deluded into believing the lies of others (that’s why they’re called “religious”) and the “war on Christmas” is one of these lies.
Their main argument is that secular society (whoever that is) is out to destroy their superstitions by not including the world “Christmas” in everything from adverts to greeting cards. They object to “secular” representations of Christmas by retailers, private citizens, employers, governments, etc., regardless of the fact that there are several holidays celebrated by several cultures during the same period of months.
So, not only are these relatively few Christians liars, but they’re greedy and selfish as well. You see, they (like all extremists) perceive their own cult as the right one and all others as the wrong one. They believe that the United States was founded on Christian theology and not a nation with the purpose of providing religious freedom. Religious freedom to extremists is fine as long as you hold to their opinions on what religion is the right one.
Some of the Christian extremists that claim there is a “war” on Christmas go on to claim that secular society (whoever that is) is taking the “Christ” out of Christmas. But they really have it wrong. These extremists seek to take the “mass” out of Christmas. It really is about mass after all. Indeed, there were a whole series of masses that begin at November 1 through the New Year. Which brings to mind another of their silly complaints: that secular society (whoever that is) has started celebrating the “Holiday season” at Halloween, marketing to consumers Christmas trees, ornaments, lights, gifts, music, etc. While retailers are all too happy to cash in on the willingness to buy that this “secular society” has established, it really isn’t the retail industry that set this date.
November 1 was originally Hallowmas. Hallows translates to “saints” and it was All Saints Day, a feast that commemorated the deaths of Christian martyrs. There was even a Michaelmas, which celebrated St. Michael’s defeat over Satan, and it occurred on September 28. So, one could argue that we don’t celebrate the holiday season early enough. Please don’t tell my wife. It’s all I can do to keep her from putting the tree up before Thanksgiving. And there are a host of other masses and celebrations that roll on through the winter. Most of these replaced pagan celebrations that are of similar nature (what better way to convert followers of other superstitions than to demonstrate that your own superstitions include their beliefs?) such as Samhain, which coincided with the Christian Halloween (Hallowmas), but celebrated the end of the harvest season. It doesn’t take a lot of thought to see how the two celebrations have merged to create the modern Halloween: a Christian preoccupation with death and spirits and the pumpkins, corn stalks, hay rides, and apple treats. I am, of course, describing New World interpretations since pumpkins and corn didn’t exist on the British Isles until the settling of the New World.
But what of the argument that Christmas was originally a religious celebration and that’s what it should be? To that I say balderdash. If this were true, it would be dominated by Christian iconography only. True, there are nativity scenes, angelic tree toppers, and other things that simply don’t come to my secular mind (Hey! Maybe I’m that secular society!), but the most iconic images of Christmas are the evergreen tree, the Yule log, snowflakes, holly, mistletoe, snowmen, icicles, children playing, elves, and Coca Cola. Sure, Santa Clause is derived from Saint Nicholas of Myra, who was renowned for his generosity and gift giving. But before the introduction of Christianity to the Germanic people, there existed Wodan and a tradition of placing straw-filled boots or shoes next to the hearth before bed on Yule. The straw was for Wodan’s (a.k.a. Odin) stead to eat. In exchange for their kindness, Wodan replaced the straw in the children’s footwear with small gifts or candy. Did I mention that Wodan’s horse, Sleipnir could fly? Again, there isn’t much imagination required to make the leap from Wodan and a flying horse filling footwear by the fireplace to Santa Clause and flying reindeer doing the same.
Christian extremists that whine and cry about this so-called war on Christmas are nuts! There is no war on Christmas. There is a consumer society that enjoys the holiday season and happily calls it Christmas. I have no problem saying Merry Christmas to anyone. I have no religious superstitions and do not mean it in any way to carry a religious message. Christmas is no longer a religious holiday except in the minds of the superstitious. Perhaps the amount of superstition one has is proportional to the amount of religious significance Christmas carries. I have several friends that are only moderately religious and they only moderately decorate with religious decorations. I think I’ve noticed an angel on a tree topper.
Christmas is a cultural holiday, not a religious one. If it’s important to you to celebrate a religious significance to the holidays, there is no one stopping you. You are free to imbibe in whatever superstitious rituals and beliefs you wish. Having said that, I think I’ve revealed the real reason that religious extremists are bitching so much about the non-existent “war on Christmas:” they want you to believe their nonsense as well. They aren’t satisfied being deluded by themselves, they don’t want others to abandon their delusions in favor of something that isn’t superstitious and silly.
Incidentally, while shopping in Wal-mart recently (now there’s something to be embarrassed about), my daughter pointed to a nativity scene for sale and said, “look, a barn… that’s nasty.” You know what? She was right. Nativity scenes are ugly. Maybe that’s why people prefer the “secular” icons like snowflakes, holly, and mistletoe. And evergreens just smell better than an un-mucked stall.