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Feedback archiveFeedback 2012

Atheism—no objective morality?

Published: 18 August 2012 (GMT+10)

Atheists often conflate the notion that atheism is amoral (because it provides no justification for objective morality) with the accusation that atheists are immoral. In this exchange Dr Don Batten responds to an atheist who falls for this confusion at first, but then attempts to offer an atheistic ground for objective morality.

Composite of images from stock.xchng

Without God morality is nothing more than chemicals fizzing around in our heads.

Without God morality is nothing more than chemicals fizzing around in our heads.

Lee H. from the United Kingdom writes:

Without the existence of a god, there are plenty of things that would still matter, to a person and to a society. Arguably, that could indeed be the situation that we’re in right now. Religious faith and purposeful values are not mutually exclusive.

If people somehow knew that there really was no such thing as a god, then I expect there would still be plenty of things that matter, like family and friends, community, honesty, etc., just as there are in communities without religion today.

With or without the existence of a god, people can and do still make up their own rules. I agree that atheism seems unlikely to be the direct source of anyone’s civilized behaviour. However, there are plenty of other sources of civilized behaviour that have nothing to do with imaginary beings. Arguably, theism might be the direct source for many people’s bad behaviour.

The objective moral standards that are common to all people are naturally common to all atheists too. Atheists tend to value most of the same things that theists value. Christianity does not have a monopoly on ethical judgments and good behaviour. It never has and probably never will.

Atheists could potentially be more morally virtuous than Christians, or followers of any religion, because their behaviour is not influenced by such ridiculous ideas as “it’s written down, so do it” or “the silent invisible thing said do it, so do it” or “everyone else here is doing it, so do it”.

Don Batten responds:

Please note (again!): nowhere have we said that atheists can have no sense of morality or meaning and purpose in life. But what we are saying is that in their materialistic worldview, there is no logical basis for objective morality or ultimate meaning and purpose. Atheists who actually think about these things realize it, for example, Dr Will Provine—that evolutionary materialism (and there is hardly any other game in town for atheists) means no objective meaning, morals or purpose. I cited Aldous Huxley who sought a philosophy of meaninglessness by abandoning Christianity.

There are just no ‘oughts’ in physics and chemistry. What is, is, that’s all.

How can a materialist derive moral principles and purpose to our existence from mere energy and matter? There are just no ‘oughts’ in physics and chemistry. What is, is, that’s all.

Lee. H responded again:

There is a logical basis for morals, meaning and purpose without requiring the existence of a god. For all people, morality and purpose are developed through nature and nurture. For Christians and athetists alike, this may involve being prescribed behaviour by a trusted community.

The mere energy and matter of which you speak leads to wonderful biological constructs such as the human brain and social networks, through which our ideas about how to behave naturally emerge. I doubt that any atheist refers to a book to justify the righteousness of their behaviour, but instead looks to their environment and their social senses, which are provided to them by their material brain and every day general experience. Atheists may behave identically to a Christian in all of the respects that matter to a person and a society without the delay of a Sunday sermon. It clearly cannot ultimately matter to any person or society if they don’t believe in a Christian god, if they can be similarly kind, whether justified by your criteria or not.

If you would care to compare the actions of the human species with other social animals, you would observe many rules of behaviour that appear integral to the mutual benefit of the group, which are not revealed to them by any kind of religious education. It is not too much of a stretch of the imagination to see humans as an animal that has developed its own peculiar set of social rules.

It seems patronizing in the least to assert that a person’s sense of morality cannot be “logically” justified without reference to the notion of a god. Your idea of atheists lacking and requiring a logical basis for their kindness, as if Christianity can somehow supply that, is absurd. Atheists may point squarely at the social and personal benefits of being good in order to justify their actions (if they ever needed to), which is often through an understanding of the reason for such behaviour. In comparison, many theists evidently assume that something is good merely because they have been told that it is so. If any group is on shaky ground when it comes to justifying their actions, it is those pointing to a silent invisible authority that is indistinguishable from an imaginary being.

I worry that anybody that requires an organised religion to dictate to them how they should behave is in danger of using numerous logical fallacies to justify all sorts of evil acts. Instead, I would hope that all people instead source their morality from something more reliable. Even if a person cannot explain scientifically, or even spiritually, why they ought to do good, this does not detract from the value of their actions. Atheists do not need to prove how energy and matter can logically support their behaviour, good or bad. Instead, I think the burden is on the theists to explain how the out-of-date speculations of a small group of superstitious ghost worshipers can possibly be a more reliable authority on good behaviour than their own common sense, for goodness sake.

DB:

Dear Lee,

I don’t think you have added anything to what you have already said, which was answered.

At the risk of sounding tedious:

“Please note (again!): nowhere have we said that atheists can have no sense of morality or meaning and purpose in life. But what we are saying is that in their materialistic worldview, there is no logical basis for objective morality or ultimate meaning and purpose.”

What you have said here is basically, ‘moral values are whatever people make up and agree upon’. How is that a “logical basis for objective morality”?

Sincerely,

Don Batten

LH:

Hi Don,

Needless to say, I’m not satisfied with your answers, and I don’t think you’ve properly considered my answers either, so the feeling is mutual. Nevertheless, I’m happy to continue.

You seem to respect the tool of logic, so I’ll try to answer your most recent question quite directly, using logic.

To begin with, I must point out that just because something has a logical basis, that does not mean that it is necessarily true. Logic is more concerned with the validity of reasoning and the nature of arguments than with the truth values themselves. For example, I could construct a logical argument for the moon being made of cheese, but that would not necessarily prove that the moon was indeed made of cheese. Here’s a perfectly “logical” argument for the moon being made of cheese:

Premise 1: Every object in the sky is made of cheese.
Premise 2: The moon is an object in the sky.
Therefore: The moon is made of cheese.

As you can see, a logical argument can also be an absurdly misguided one. Obviously it is the premises here that you want to worry about more than the logical validity. However, I suppose logic can help to demonstrate whether an argument is valid, in the sense that the conclusion is consistent with the premises, etc. Maybe if I humour you, you might indulge me by taking the time to understand what I’m saying, instead of being so blinkered.

I gather that you’re asking me to demonstrate that “the moral values that people make up and agree upon” is “an objective morality” on the basis of some kind of logic. Sure, I’ll try to do that for you. I’ll try to use deductive reasoning, since that’s less open to criticism. I guess it will help if I avoid using any formal logical language.

I suspect this isn’t what you want to hear. Well, it isn’t really want I wanted to discuss with you either, but hey, it’s your call.

To begin with, I’ll unfortunately have to start by stating defining all the various terms. This will probably seem tedious but seems necessary in order to construct a logical case from scratch. These definitions are sourced from Wikipedia and Wiktionary. Feel free to argue for your own definitions. Unfortunately, many arguments seem to result in semantic debates, probably because people naturally make different assumptions about the meanings of words, especially with regards to their scope and context.

Please note, again, that I don’t think this is the right way to resolve our differences. I could ask you to provide a “logical basis” for theism and we’d still be left arguing about assumptions.

Anyway…

Definition A: In this context, something is objective if it is “mind-independent”, i.e., its truth values are not met by the judgment of a conscious entity or subject.

Definition B: In this context, a morality is a differentiation of intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are good (or right) and those that are bad (or wrong).

Combined definition AB: In this context, an objective morality is a differentiation of intentions, decisions and actions between those that are good (or right) and those that are bad (or wrong), the judgment of which is not determined by a conscious entity or subject.

Definition C: In this context, something is moral if it is concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior and the goodness or badness of human character.

Definition D: In this context, a value is either a personal or cultural value.

Combined definition CD: In this context, a moral value is a personal or cultural value that is concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior and the goodness or badness of human character.

Definition E: A relative value is subjective, depending on individual and cultural views, and is therefore synonymous with personal and cultural value.

Combined definition CDE: In this context, a moral value is subjective, depending on individual and cultural views.

Definition F: In this context, something is subjective if it is formed, as in opinions, based upon a person’s feelings or intuition, not upon observation or reasoning; coming more from within the observer than from observations of the external environment. Or, something that results from or pertains to personal mindsets or experience, arising from perceptive mental conditions within the brain and not necessarily from external stimuli.

Combined definition CDEF: In this context, moral values are formed, as in opinions, based upon a person’s feelings or intuition, not upon observation or reasoning; coming more from within the observer than from observations of the external environment. Or, something that results from or pertains to personal mindsets or experience, arising from perceptive mental conditions within the brain and not necessarily from external stimuli.

Definition P: In this context, something is made up when it is invented or fabricated.

Definition Q: In this context, something is agreed upon when several parties share a view or opinion.

Definition H: In this context, a conscious entity is an entity that is aware of its own existence or aware of its own awareness.

Definition I: In this context, a subject is a being that has subjective experiences, subjective consciousness or a relationship with another entity.

Definition J: In this context, a party is a person or group of persons that compose a single entity which can be identified as one for the purposes of the law.

Now for some assumptions… Feel free to question these.

Assumption K: Several parties (as a collective entity) (Definition J) is not a conscious entity (Definition H) because it is not aware of its own existence or awareness, and it is not a subject (Definition I) because it is not a being in its own right. Therefore, the agreement (Definition Q) of several parties (Definition J) can only be objective (Definition A). This should be intuitively recognisable from the notion of democratic elections and juries to the questioning of criminals about their alibis, etc. Similarly, the agreement of several parties (as one entity) can only be objective for the same reasons. Call that assumption K2. Both are merely illustrative.

Assumption L: The moral values of people (as a collective entity) (Definition CD) is not a conscious entity (Definition H) because it is not aware of its own existence or awareness, and it is not a subject (Definition I) because it is not a being in its own right. Therefore, the moral values of people (as a collective entity) (Definition CD) can only be objective (Definition A). I expect you might disagree with me on this one, but you called for logic, not evidence. I think it’s a reasonable assumption.

Assumption M: The moral values of people (as a collective entity) (Definition CD) are personal or cultural values that are concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior and the goodness or badness of human character, which is a differentiation of intentions, decisions and actions between those that are good (or right) and those that are bad (or wrong), i.e. a morality (Definition A).

Assumption N: The moral values of people (as a collective entity) (Definition CD) are both objective (Assumption L) and a morality (Assumption M). Therefore the moral values of people (as a collective entity) (Definition CD) is an objective morality (Definition AB).

Assumption O: The moral values that people make up and agree upon is a subset of the moral values of people (as a collective entity). Therefore any deductions that are true of the moral values of people (as a collective entity) are true of the moral values that people make up and agree upon.

In conclusion, it follows logically from the given definitions and a few basic assumptions (which might not have necessarily been so reasonable) that the moral values (Definition CD) that people make up and agree upon is an objective morality (Definition AB).

In any case, it’s a moot point. You should really be asking yourself whether there really is such a thing as a god and whether everything else you believe about that particular figment of your imagination is true as well. I mean…. seriously? Come on. It’s just disappointing to know that so many people believe such absolute nonsense. Why? Why? Tell me. I really don’t understand. To me, the idea has always seemed so absurd and ridiculous, as though someone could just tell a few stories about this thing, but conveniently none of it was testable, and then expect people to believe it. Are theists all just completely gullible or can’t they tell fact from fiction? You’re talking about things that aren’t there. It’s just crazy. Or maybe like a child, believing in fairies or something… Well, I gather you have the right to believe what you want, as long as it isn’t hurting anyone. I gather religion does keep all these fanatics under some control, like a drug, and does seem to push them in generally the right direction of being nice to each other. Then again, it does seem dangerous to perhaps base decisions on something so hypothetical. A bit like getting all your financial advice from a cartoon character.

By the way, according to Wikipedia, “The subject—object problem, a longstanding philosophical issue, is concerned with the analysis of human experience, and of what within experience is subjective and what is objective.”—So even the distinction between the subjective and the objective is not so obvious, in case you wanted to pursue that wild goose.

Now that I’ve given you what you asked for, at least consider the rest of what I’m saying.

If you still want to focus on logic, here are some criticisms. Primarily, you are attempting at a “straw man” attack on atheists, i.e. you’re trying to make atheists look foolish by asserting that atheism has no logical basis. It would be similar to me saying that theism is not based on reason, so theists must all be unreasonable. Even if were true that atheism or theism had no logical basis, which might indeed be the case for many people, e.g. “It just makes sense to me.”, then that would not prove that the conclusion itself was necessarily false. That logical fallacy is known as the “argument from fallacy”. I’m just trying to educate you here because you’re making illogical arguments.

If you want to argue constructively with anyone, I suggest you focus on the assumptions that people are making. Let’s start by looking at all the assumptions atheists make and compare them to the known, testable certainties. Then let’s compare all the assumptions theists make, and then compared to the known, testable certainties. You’ll find that theists are making a lot more assertions than atheists, claiming all sorts of things that they don’t know to be true. If you want to argue that theists can indeed be certain about the existence of a god, then I’ll need to ask you many more questions about how you arrived at that conclusion. I’m ready when you are! If you want to argue that we cannot really be certain of anything, then I agree and give you this answer:

“To explain a mystery, one might try to fill in all the blanks. Some guesses might turn out to be wrong, while other attempts carry on being neither proven nor disproven. One might never know the true answer. Indeed, the answer might be unknowable. But one thing’s for sure: The more you know for sure, the less you have to guess. So if you’re ever compelled to solve a mystery, you should seek the explanation with the most certainty and the least assumption.”

By that reasoning, the scientific method looks like a reliable approach to learning. Also, with respect to the god hypothesis, atheism looks like the guess with the least assumptions.

Kind regards,

Lee

DB:

Hi Lee,

There was no need for the lecture on logic, apparently because I said, “there is no logical basis for objective morality or ultimate meaning and purpose”, where I used ‘logical’ in the common sense of “Characterized by clear, sound reasoning” (dictionary), rather than in the formal logic sense. I know the difference between valid and sound arguments in formal logic. With your interest in formal logic, you might find this interesting: Loving God with all your mind: logic and creation

If a tribe of people in Papua decide that it is moral to kill and eat other people (as they have done in the past), then the same behaviour is now ‘moral’?

I think I have distilled your long, involved argument down to its essence:

If an individual thinks something is moral/immoral, that is not objective (that is, it is subjective).

However, if a group of people think something is moral/immoral, then it is now an objective moral standard.

This all depends on your raft of stipulative definitions/assumptions.

So, let’s test this materialistic basis for moral absolutes with a real world scenario:

If one person thinks it is OK to eat other people (e.g. Jeffrey Dahmer), then that is just his subjective opinion.

However, if a tribe of people in Papua decide that it is moral to kill and eat other people (as they have done in the past), then the same behaviour is now ‘moral’?

Hmmm … an objective moral standard?

Apologies if I have misunderstood, but you did not make it easy.

You also finish by saying that “the scientific method looks like a reliable approach to learning.” But you have not arrived at any basis for objective morality using the scientific method! Furthermore, the ‘scientific method’ is not capable of investigating the origin of everything because there are no repeatable experiments possible (see ‘It’s not science).

As for atheism needing less assumptions than theism (actually, I am not just about theism but Christianity, a particular version of theism) and probabilities, etc., you are showing your pre-existing bias (axiomatic assumptions) here, I think. For a different perspective of how reasonable materialistic assumptions are, see: Familiarity breeds … respect? The materialistic view contradicts the most established principal of reason and rationality (and science), that of cause and effect. No one has ever seen anything begin to exist without a sufficient cause, yet materialists believe that the greatest beginning of all, the universe, had no cause (see: Who created God? and Physicists: The universe had a beginning). That would have to be the most improbable event possible, scientifically speaking. And then I could mention the origin of life; another fantastically improbable beginning with no sufficient cause. It takes a lot of ‘faith’ to be a materialist.

Kind regards,

Don

PS. I just came across this, an independent source that backs up what I have said, that evolution (‘science’) provides no basis for objective morality and in fact undermines it: Consternation over Ben Carson, Evolution, and Morality.

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Readers’ comments
Jesse M., United States, 11 August 2012

Another example of how objective morality is not decided by the majority is that Hitler was able to deceive a majority of Germans into thinking that his genocide was a moral thing, but most people in the world, myself included, would say that what Hitler did was pure evil.

Mark A., United Kingdom, 14 August 2012

The term "objective morality" seems paradoxical - "objective" means "independent of the mind", but morality requires evaluation by minds.

How would one go about demonstrating the existence of these "objective morals", anyway?

Don Batten responds

According to Dictionary.com, objective (adj.) means:

"not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased", it does not mean "independent of the mind".

Mark A., United Kingdom, 15 August 2012

Chambers Dictionary, 9th Edition lists "exterior to the mind" among the definitions of "objective", but my objection stands given your own defintion - how can something be shown to be moral (or immoral) without appealing to feelings, interpretations or prejudice? What are the "facts" that determine morality?

Don Batten responds

There are many issues of morality, as given by God, that are very clear and not really open to subjective interpretation. For example:

Leviticus 18:23 You must not have sexual intercourse with any animal to become defiled with it, and a woman must not stand before an animal to have sexual intercourse with it; it is a perversion.

There is not much room here for "appealing to feelings, interpretations or prejudice".

On the other hand there are more complex or subtle matters that require personal judgment; no one is denying that. But that does not mean that there are no objective (from outside) moral standards, as given by God, that provide the basis for making those moral decisions. For example, "You shall not murder" (Exodus 20:11). God gave Moses instructions as to what this means in different situations that might not be obvious; making a distinction between murder and manslaughter, for example (as does our legal system, which was founded on biblical principles).

Is abortion murder? The Bible gives the principles by which we can see that it is: Human life Q&A.

We might be confronted with a new moral question, such as embryonic stem cells, but again the Bible gives the principles by which we can decide with confidence (see articles on the Q&A page linked above).

Amongst Bible-believing Christians (the adjective should be an unecessary) there is a high degree of unanimity even about moral issues where the Bible gives no specific instructions, precisely because there are objective moral standards given by God that provide the basis for making such decisions.

Chandrasekaran M., United Kingdom, 18 August 2012

Atheism is based on faith that there is almost no God. Atheism has hijacked science to present its belief as scientific faith which is that almighty all most nothing (the singularity) created all cosmos and everything in it via big-bang(s). This is an ‘objective’ statement because majority of scientific community, validated by never failing ‘objective’ peer review, upholds this view.

Because evolution is ‘scientific’ faith, its followers exhort their influence to change democratic (‘objective’) government and laws to preach ‘scientific’ faith especially in educational institutions.

A. R., United Kingdom, 18 August 2012

Oh dear, can I just say that Lee's spiel felt painfully patronising and condescending. It appears that Lee thinks all Christians somehow have their brains extracted and become gullible, credulous fools who believe in fairy stories :o( Maybe our brains have been replaced with that cheese from the moon :o)

The idea that we all just blindly follow some old book by some non-existent being that we are all scared of shows a complete lack of understanding of the relationship the Christian has with God. The Bible gives us moral principles which flow from the very nature of God Himself. As Christians, our consciences should be awakened, and our brains engaged to think through and work out in practice what those moral principles mean in every day life. Much of the moral teaching in the Bible is already embedded in the human conscience, of atheists as well as theists. Yes, we all choose to subvert our consciences at times and go against what we know to be right. But that doesn't change the fact that deep down, we know most of the time if we are doing something wrong.

If we are just bags of chemicals and our thoughts are just random electrochemical impulses, where does conscience come from?

In assumption K, granted, "several parties" is not a single conscious entity, but it is a group of individual conscious entities, each of whom is responsible for his/her own actions. How exactly does that make the group objective? Does that mean ANY group? How about the Nazi party, or the Gang of Four in Maoist China which produced the horrific repression of the Cultural revolution, or maybe the Soviet Communist Party at the time of the Stalinist purges? Were they objective arbiters of right and wrong?

Richard Weikart comments, "He [Hitler] believed that the Aryans had the most advanced morality, as they were allegedly more loyal, honest, diligent, etc. On the other hand, he deemed Jews biologically immoral, since he blamed them for being lazy, mendacious, sexually lascivious, greedy, etc. Thus, by ridding the world of the Jews and replacing them with Aryans, Hitler in his own perverted view thought he was improving the world by banishing immorality and increasing morality". And his party, and many ordinary German people (thankfully not all) agreed with him that the final solution was a good idea, so they made it their policy, with nightmarish consequences. So because a large group affirmed this vile idea, does that make it objectively right? And how large does the group have to be for its moral deliberations to be objective? Two? Ten? A thousand?

With regard to democracy somehow being the Great and Good means of determining morality, we should note that several dictators were originally democratically elected (how about Robert Mugabe for a start?)

It sounds as though the atheist has to go consulting his group to get moral reasoning (but Lee mocks theists for reading the Bible or listening to sermons).

How, in Lee's moral scenario, do you get one good individual who goes against the crowd to courageously do something to, say, rescue some poor victim that the crowd is beating up? Surely, if the individual cannot deal in objective moral absolutes, as Lee seems to be suggesting, this shouldn't happen. Shouldn't the individual just shut up and join in with the crowd? I shudder to think. How often has it taken the courage of a lone whistleblower to expose the corruption of an organisation? Lee, are you really suggesting that atheists should be like moral sheep, following the say-so of the in-crowd? The majority can be wrong. The jury in Assumption K could get their deliberations wrong and send an innocent person to prison (or set free a guilty person).

Lee says "moral values are formed, as in opinions, based upon a person’s feelings or intuition, not upon observation or reasoning". For all the length of his post, Lee doesn't really explain how one decides what is right or wrong. Does he have some criteria in mind, or is it, as he seems to be saying, just about feelings, social interactions and our environment? Crumbs, then, surely I could justify all sorts of things on the basis of feelings. I may feel that I want to beat someone over the head in frustration, but my conscience and a little reasoning (that thing that Lee seems to suggest in "Combined definition CDEF" doesn't play a part in moral value formation (really?) tell me that I shouldn't do it. No need to consult the group. I don't even have to read the Bible for guidance - I just know it's wrong, feelings or not.

Lee, with the greatest respect, I would not want to live in the moral environment you posit. It sounds scarily like a recipe for moral anarchy and the Tyranny of the Majority. You could easily justify persecution, hate and victimisation on the say so of "The Group". And every group did what was right in its own eyes...

Lee accuses Don of attacking an atheistic straw man, but Lee is attacking a theistic straw man. Frankly, Lee, if Christianity was even remotely like the caricature that you describe, there's no way I would be a Christian...

Don Batten responds

This is a rather long comment to publish (perhaps we should have a word limit on comments?), but does present some good thoughts, I think.

Alf C., United States, 18 August 2012

Don, you were very patient. Lee totally lost me at "cheese". Seriously?

Ian H., Australia, 18 August 2012

Any atheist who attempts to build a theory of morality on the basis of atheism starts with the idea of a cosmic impersonalism. This means everything - including morality - "exists" as some kind of impersonal abstraction, and these abstractions require the application of the human mind to "make sense" out of them. Whichever way they try to build any theory of morality, it can at best be only the opinion of each human mind, irrespective of whether it is called subjective or objective. This makes morality relative to each person. In which case, each person's view merely cancels out every other person's view of morality - anarchism. The historical "solution" to a person-relative theory of morality is to have the political order bring some kind of unity into the situation by imposition of the particular person-relative morals of those in authority. This is why atheism and totalitarianism, together with socialism, are conjoined triplets. They cannot be separated.

Jack M., United Kingdom, 18 August 2012

Hi Don,

For once I agree with you: I don't think atheism allows for objective morality. Just like Christianity, it has a plethora of subjective moralities over which humans come to an accommodation by various peaceful and non-peaceful means.

However, your discussion does seem predicated on the assumption that God does give us an objective morality. But to assert that you first have to answer Plato's Euthyphro Dilemma. Is (for example) murder wrong because God says it is wrong, or does God say it is wrong because it is wrong?

I've read Jonathan Sarfati's article on CMI 'What is Good?', and it comes up with the former. It's wrong because God says it's wrong. Doesn't this make Christian goodness rather arbitrary?

All best,

Jack.

Don Batten responds

I'm glad we agree on something! :-)

However, you mis-state what Jonathan Sarfati said about the origin of morals. In the article you mention, he wrote, "God indeed commands things which are good, but the reason they are good is because they reflect God’s own nature. So the goodness does not come ultimately from God’s commandments, but from His nature, which then results in good commandments." This is called "Divine Nature Theory" and gives morals a solid objective basis.

Dr Sarfati's article also cites how Euthyphro's Dilemma is a headache for those atheists who want to believe that they can have objective morals (it's worth reading).

So, atheism is not "just like Christianity in having a plethora of subjective moralities ...". As Peter Hitchens, former atheist and now Christian, said recently on a BBC program (5 Minutes with ...), an atheist is free to fiddle with any concept of morality to make it fit their own whims, whereas a Christian is not free to do that (wtte). Christian moral failures are highlighted by atheists precisely because they have failed an objective moral standard. However, what moral standard of atheism did Stalin transgress?

Andrew E., Australia, 18 August 2012

With regard to his closing statement, the only assumption or guess that matters is: God exists, yes or no - it's a very precise binary condition. If God doesn't exist, Christianity completely collapses (a point Lee doesn't seem to gasp) - there really is no point to anything (and if there is one, it's whatever you want it to be). If God (or gods) exists, one might argue about which religious movement got it right, but the fact remains the atheist is wrong. So there's really only one assumption, if true, that matters for both atheist and theist (for they can't both be right).

Jeff D., Canada, 18 August 2012

Thank you for this. Of course it is all very simple: Without an absolute standard for morality everyone decides for themselves what is right and wrong. But who are they do decide, and who are they to decide for me? If we are simply evolved protoplasm we are all on the same "ground" of value and authority and therefore no one can claim superiority of in the area of morality and dictate to anyone else. After all, in this case of there being no absolute standard, everyone is simply following their own 'evolutionary pathway' and evolution is based on the idea that the strong survive. In this case there can be nothing immoral about anyone's actions. H. Lee must accept this as an atheistic materialist because it logically follows all the presuppositions of his belief system. End of argument.

Michael S., United Kingdom, 18 August 2012

Lee H, I agree that atheists still act morally, some of them are very nice. I think the problem is that "morality" is just a term used in order to diverge from the real problem which is, SIN. Sin is a much deeper problem than morality, which is just the surface. Many of us before our conversion to Christ were moral like you, according to a tenuous human standard. It's only under conviction of the Holy Spirit, that we have painfully had to let go of sins our flesh enjoyed such as LUST, there are certain "freedoms" as you would probably define them, which have had to be cut-off from us.

The caricature of our belief is an old one, but it is prevailent amongst many atheists which in a way is a good thing because it shows how they are ignorant of the life of God, and therefore incorrect in their conclusions about it.

Katrina E., United States, 18 August 2012

I have to say, i'm getting sick and tired of the assertion that Biblical Theism isn't testable. That may be true of the more genaric theism Lee kept referring to, but the God revealed in the Bible has profound implications for how the world works. The scientific method so often cited as the pinnacle of objectivity is itself a derivative of Biblical theology; that atheists take so many of its component predictions as axioms is an inadvertant ringing endorsement. I have more respect for those who keep scouring the Bible for percieved contradictions, even when they produce obvious non-examples, because they at least acknowledge its testability.

Timothy C., United States, 18 August 2012

It takes circular reasoning to establish proof of a moral foundation being correct, however...

I think that the belief that we were created by a rational Creator who made our senses reliable is far more rational than the belief that we were the product of some cosmic accident. Why should we trust our senses (or event utilize them for gaining knowledge) if they were merely the product of a cosmic accident?

Colin M., Australia, 18 August 2012

I thought I'd focus on another elephant in the room: Laws of Logic. How does Lee account for the laws of logic? They are descriptive, not prescriptive. They are universal, invariant, abstract entities. How does Lee account for them in a materialist worldview? He has to borrow from the Christian worldview to try and disprove it. So, merely by 'showing up' with this argument he defeats himself! ;)

Norman P., United Kingdom, 18 August 2012

Perhaps it is now time for a little scriptural reasoning on the subject. The ability of humans to form a moral code is inbuilt. Therefore both the atheist and the theist (of whatever variety) have an inbuilt capacity to form a moral code within which to conduct themselves. Atheism posits that this is random and evolved (and by extension evolving.) They claim that the "good" decisions are driven by a selfish reproductive imperative, and also that the opposite "bad" decisions are driven by the same imperative, hmmm. They seem to win however we act, evolution has it covered. Except that we as individuals have an abhorrence for some of the destructive evil behaviors that we see too much of in the daily news roundup.

Information is passed genetically from one generation to another by a mechanism as yet unexplained, I.E. Monarch butterfly and Cuckoo migratory imperatives. Paul at Romans 2: 14-16 says: "For whenever people of the nations that do not have law do by nature the things of the law, these people, although not having law, are a law to themselves. 15 They are the very ones who demonstrate the matter of the law to be written in their hearts, while their conscience is bearing witness with them and, between their own thoughts, they are being accused or even excused. 16 This will be in the day when God through Christ Jesus judges the secret things of mankind, according to the good news I declare."

The expression "Written in their Hearts" indicates that the Creator designed the perfect man Adam with an intuitive understanding of God's perfect standards. Adam had the responsibility to have perfect children who would similarly have a perfectly intuitive grasp of the moral compass implanted in their created parents. Atheists have this remnant of inherited conscience and so do deists, Whereas the Christian by paying attention to the inherited conscience that has been trained by studying and applying God's "law" as expressed in the commands and principles, good and bad examples contained in the Bible will make decisions that are morally sound. NO MATTER WHAT THE SURROUNDING MORAL CLIMATE MAY BE.

Morality is a code, a code is information, information is the product of an intelligence. However, all codes are subject to The law of Entropy and the declining moral standards that this world exhibits is proof of this. The Bible, because it contains the thoughts of God, is our shield against this Entropy and thus a fantastic gift from a loving personal Creator who has our best interests at heart.

Atheists are all the poorer for not having this anchor in their lives and are doomed to make the same mistakes over and over again.

Dave C., United States, 18 August 2012

It is interesting and somewhat telling that it took Mr. Don so few words to make his point as compared to Mr.Lee's extensive and exhausting rants.

I believe that most atheists try to ignore the fact that creationists have effectively answered the morality question because they know how true it is. They try their best to avoid it. One can explain again and again 'till blue faces rule, but it seems atheists fail to be able to grasp it or they are just plain trying to avoid the truth in the explanation.

We pray that soon the scales may fall from their eyes that they may see.

Alice P., United States, 19 August 2012

My answer to the atheist argument of natural morality is that there can be no proof that mankind would be moral without God. There has never been a time when men did not believe in God; they did not always believe in the God of Abraham; but, they had gods. In order to prove that men would form communities and behave morally without God's influence, it is necessary that there be a testing ground that has no basis for comparison with communities who know God. Besides, even though atheist do not accept it, the Holy Spirit affects man's behavior even if he does not believe it. It ought to cause some to wonder how most societies who know not our God practice all manner of immoral behavior.

Jack C., Australia, 19 August 2012

Objective morality that applies equally to everyone (ie, only one version) can only be possible if there is an objective moral giver, that is God. If there is no God then anyone can have their own version of objective morality that can differ from anyone else. In other words, it become a matter of opinion, therefore anything goes, hence chaos. One person can say murder is bad while another can say it's not under his/her version of objective morality. I prefer to believe there is only one true version of objective morality, hence there must be a God.

Don Batten responds

If it is a matter of opinion, it is subjective, not objective.

Scott S., New Zealand, 19 August 2012

Lees version of life, atheism based on evolutionary materialism, has conveniently ignored the "survival of the fittest" as a reason for his arrival at this point in time. His theory of a group of people getting together to come up with a set of values, seems rather unlikely, even laughable, given they would surely all be thinking, "I better eat him and his kids before he eats me and mine"

Don Batten responds

Yes, evolutionists have a lot of trouble getting any genetic basis for altruism to get established in a population because any individual with such a trait would be 'unfit to survive' amongst its fellows who were not disadvantaged by such a gene.

Jim M., Japan, 19 August 2012

Lee says morality and purpose are developed through nurture and nature which may involve being prescribed by some trusted community.

But how do we determine who/what is a trusted community? What standards do we use?

What if two different communities come up with different answers to the same problem?

For example, one community says that abortion is wrong and one says it is right. How do we decide?

Is it then right for the one community and wrong for the people in the other community?

What meaning does right and wrong have in this context anyway?

Why should anyone follow the "rules" of his community if he disagrees with them?

Lee: “If you would care to compare the actions of the human species with other social animals, you would observe many rules of behaviour that appear integral to the mutual benefit of the group, which are not revealed to them by any kind of religious education. It is not too much of a stretch of the imagination to see humans as an animal that has developed its own peculiar set of social rules.”

What Lee fails to understand here is that God has written His laws on every human heart. We have a God given built in conscience that helps to explain why most people think that murder is wrong. So, Lee attributes it to rules that have evolved in a group, but in reality, they could be revealed to us by God, having been written on our hearts. Romans 2:14-17.

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

We are made in God’s image and have the capability of conceiving of and even discerning right and wrong. Animals do not. They have no conscience. They just act on instinct, but humans can act outside of and even in opposition to our instincts if we so choose. Animal instinct and human moral codes are very different.

David G., Australia, 19 August 2012

As I read the comments, a replay of the London Olympics closing ceremony was concluding on my TV, with John Lennon's song 'Imagine'; "...imagine there's no heaven" which, from an eastern world view, makes the rest of the song nonsensical; but from an atheist world view as well: 'no heaven' could be shorthand for no [divisive?] Christianity; the dominant theism of Lennon's cultural context; again, the rest of the song becomes meaningless. Piles of matter do not have 'value' and any protest from atheists has to explain how some particular arrangments of matter have attributes (moral sense, or moral value) that are not a general predicate of matter per se. Thus, we don't say that atheists aren't moral, but just that their morality is inexplicable from within their worldview; threatening the viability of that world view seeing it cannot explain a most important part of the life experience of atheists!

Melki H., Indonesia, 19 August 2012

If I wasn't a Christian I would follow some wrong principles out there, like its ok to gossip around, to commit vengeance, to disrespect the poor, to pay minimum amounts of money to help needy people (Matt. 25:31-46).

Reynold H., Canada, 19 August 2012

Sorry but when it comes to "subjective morality", it is theists who take the cake, not atheists.

You people have no problem with your god ordering the deaths of pregnant women and babies but when a doctor does it nowadays {ie. abortion} you people all of a sudden say that it's wrong.

Why? The only difference is in who is doing the deed. That is the very definition of "subjective". If something was "objectively" wrong, then it would be wrong no matter who did it, a doctor or god.

Ironically, at the end of the article, you said this:

"PS. I just came across this, an independent source that backs up what I have said, that evolution (‘science’) provides no basis for objective morality and in fact undermines it: Consternation over Ben Carson, Evolution, and Morality."

In reality, it's your alleged god's behavior as portrayed in your own bible that shoots down the idea of objective morality!

Even more amusing, is that this is nothing but an "Argument from consequences of belief" fallacy in the first place! Whether atheism does or does not give a set of "objective moral code" has nothing to do with whether it's actually the correct view or not.

Just an emotional manipulating game you're doing. [website deleted as per feedback rules]

Don Batten responds

"The only difference is in who is doing the deed."

Hmmm... and there is no difference between God, the creator of the everything, including life (and us) and man, who is a creature made by God? It is a huge difference! God has the right to take life; man does not.

God can take life when it is a matter of dealing with sin, for example. There is a corporate aspect to things that is inescapable. If you live in Canada and the Canadian government decides to go to war, then you are at war, like it or not. You might even be an innocent casualty of that war. Likewise when God's judgment falls on a nation it falls on everyone.

We should all heed the warnings provided that God's judgment will eventually fall on all who continue to rebel against their Creator.

God has clearly decreed that taking human life for our own convenience is sin. Abortion is clearly such a sin. There is nothing subjective about the principle; killing an inocent baby in its mother's womb. See Human life Q&A

You accuse me of "Argument from consequences of belief" fallacy, but nowhere did I say or imply that because evolutionism provides no basis for objective morality that therefore evolution is false. Even Richard Dawkins agrees that evolution provides no basis for morality, but he still believes in evolution.

"Just an emotional manipulating game you're doing". Your comments sound very emotional. :-)

Mark M., United States, 19 August 2012

I was struck by the amount of "sourcing" in Lee H.'s argument from the Wiki Zone...not the best resource. And the discussion brings up a question...theism's early days seem obvious...What ancient genius invented Atheism?

Michael M., United States, 19 August 2012

I have always been amazed that the evolutionist affirms things are getting increasingly better and complex, yet there is not one known physical system that isn't running down. That said I would recommend an automobile [because I work on them] be compared to morality. You can use whatever chemicals or parts you wish, and drive on any surface you desire, but be assured that the engineers designed the car to work within highly refined specifications. To use in a manner inconsistent with the manufactures intent is the definition of abuse. I would bet that Lee doesn't plan on going against manufacturer recommendations for his car. And I pray that he sees the Creator 'logically' has the right to define the proper usage of the thing He created.

Titus U., United States, 19 August 2012

Lee never did truly answer what his basis for morality was. He logically concludes "that the moral values that people make up and agree upon is an objective morality." Granted. But the problem here is that the morals that he speaks of are "made up." So the dilemma is still, what kind of morals can be rationally derived from his atheistic worldview? For myself, holding a Christian worldview, my ultimate standard is God the Creator, who tells me not to murder, lie, or steal (Exodus 20:13, 15, 16), and to love my neighbor as myself (Mark 12:31), just to name a few. However, these ideas cannot be logically derived from an atheistic worldview. They can only be taken on arbitrarily, and to be arbitrary is to be irrational. Therefore, if Lee would like consider his worldview and his morals rational, he must logically derive his morals from his atheistic worldview. If this can be done, only then will he have a rational basis for his morals. Until then, they will simply be arbitrarily (and irrationally) "made up."

Don Batten responds

Is arbitrary necessarily irrational? "Made up" can still be rational, but such is subjective, not objective, even if agreed to by 'the crowd', the point of my response.

Bruce B., United Kingdom, 19 August 2012

This highly interesting discussion seems to derive from the atheistic, humanist, evolutionist way of making an argument so complex that it becomes almost impossible to follow and still keep sight of the original premise. In H. Lee's case it seems to boil down to atheism = good,Christianity = bad. The writer then attempts to justify this proposition with some rather specious arguments. Jesus said 'I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.'Paul, in Philippians 4:8 says, ' Whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things.' Christianity is simple, straight-forward, reasonable, logical, lovely and utterly compelling. Why would anyone choose the heartless, hopeless tenets of atheism instead?

P. B., Korea, Republic of, 19 August 2012

That may be worldly logic, but it is defiantly not Christian logic. The bible commands us to test everything. Biblical logic would go something like this.

premise 1: everything in the sky is made of cheese (true/false)

2: I can plainly and repeatedly see, and measure that that this is not so therefore any argument based on my premise is going to be false and the premise must be flawed.

Same could be said of the argument that another atheist tried to use about Isoclines triangles.

Whereas C.S. Lewis logical argument to the deity of Christ goes something like

Premise 1: Christ claimed to be God, this is backed up by the multiple manuscripts written close to the time when he was on Earth.

Premise 2: This claim is either true or false.

If false, He (and all his followers) must have been truly insane (or demonically possessed) But we can see by their writings and the life of Christ that this is not so.

If true you need to follow what he said.

Here we can see the superiority of Christian logic over the logic inherited from the Greeks!

Don Batten responds

A complete version of CS Lewis' argument can be found in Dr Sarfati's article on logic: Loving God with all your mind (search for trilemma).

Jack M., United Kingdom, 20 August 2012

Sorry to be a pest, but I'm writing about a completely different issue from before.

I notice in your response to Scott S you claim that individuals would disadvantaged by genes for altruism.

I have to say I'm surprised and shocked that someone who opposes the ideas of evolution has so little understanding of how evolution is supposed to operate.

The simple answer to you objection is that although an individual who behaves altruistically may not survive while his fellows do, those fellows are likely to be closely related to him, and therefore to share that gene, so the gene itself survives.

Consider a somewhat simplistic example of two brothers in some kind of peril. Chased by a pack of wolves, say. If both run then both will be caught and will die. If one has a fluke gene for altruism then he will fight off the wolves while his brother escapes. Thus the gene perishes. That's your scenario.

But if both carry the gene then they will come to some decision as to who will stay and who will run (perhaps randomly, perhaps on the basis of other genes, for example those that determine who is the better runner). In that scenario only one individual survives, but the gene survives. (Strictly speaking the allele survives.) The alternative allele, for non-altruism, was lost in the scenario when both brothers died.

There are so many publications around now, both popular and technical, that discuss these matters that I'm surprised you are unaware of the mechanisms postulated.

The most famous, of course, is The Selfish Gene. The title confuses and it might better be called How the Selfish Gene Can Lead to the Altruistic Individual.

I'd be surprised if you haven't read it, but if you have you evidently haven't understood it. I appreciate the nature your problem: you cannot believe in anything related to evolution because anything you believe must agree with a 6500 year old universe - and we all know that evolution takes longer than that.

But I'd urge you to reread Dawkins' book not as account of what happened, but of what might happen if DNA based organism were given millions of years to do their stuff. Whilst that would in no way deny the Bible (which I don't think says evolution couldn't' happen, just that it didn't) and would put you in a much better place to comment on theories of how altruism can develop.

Don Batten responds

Jack,

I suggest that you do your homework before accusing us of being ignorant of the arguments for kin selection, etc. You agreed that you had checked creation.com for an answer to your objection, which you clearly had not done. Please check the following:

Altruism and 'kin selection'.

The 'Just-so' story telling of Dawkins might seem to explain how a gene for altruism might persist in a population (of say social ants), but not how it arises and gets fixed in a population. Futhermore, it does not explain altruism towards strangers (the Good Samaritan).

‘Just-so’ stories of sex and family life.

None other than Francis Collins, who headed up the Human Genome Project, argued that kin selection does not explain altuism in complex organisms such as humans (Harmony and discord).

And check out this specific type of altruism, known as apoptosis, which is a huge problem for evolution: The non-evolution of apoptosis.

This review has an interesting discussion of altruism also: Darwinian foundation of modern ethics.

Dawkins' 'selfish gene' idea is widely regarded as simplistic by such influential evolutionists as Richard Lewontin and the late Stephen Jay Gould.

Vinson H., United States, 20 August 2012

I think the answer to Bruce B.'s question is summed up rather well in John 10:26-27.

"(26) But ye believe not because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. (27) My sheep mear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:"

Also, I John 4:6.

"We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error."

And one more for good measure, Psalms 14:1.

"The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God."

Jack M., United Kingdom, 31 August 2012

Don,

Really; accusing Dawkins, or anyone, of 'Just So Stories'!

The Bible covers the creation of the entirety of flora and fauna (humans aside) on the earth, of DNA, RNA, proteins, eukaryotic cells an enough biology to fill millions of text books in - what? - six verses.

If that's not a just so story, I don't know what is.

That doesn't mean it's wrong of course, just that it's a headline. Same goes for evolutionary theory. Once again, it's pots and kettles.

Don Batten responds

Jack,

Since you have changed the subject with a red herring, I will take that as an admission that you were wrong about selfish genes explaining the origin of altruism (and my ignorance of Dawkins' 'wisdom').

The examples I provided of evolutionary 'just so' stories showed obvious contradictions. They are clearly not testable and therefore not science; in fact, they are self-refuting. The statements of what happened at creation in the Bible don't claim to be testable science, but rather history. However, unlike the evolutionary 'just so' stories I provided, the statements are not contradictory or self-refuting.

Sean V., Australia, 25 January 2013

I recently had a long and involved discussion on the nature and origin of morality with friends. I haven't got it all sorted but am thinking that it can be confusing to some people when a Christian says he/she believes in "objective" morals because the one they say decreed those morals is a person himself. So in a way morals are not "objective" because they are subject to the personality of God. Maybe it's good to clarify that we mean there are "objective" morals for created man because we have a creator God. They are built into God's creation. But even then, God is a spiritual person (as well as much more) and the morals come from him. Is God's judgment of the world going to be based on objective moral values or on his very own character?

Don Batten responds

I think you will find this helpful: What is good?

Sean V., Australia, 26 January 2013

Thanks Don! That article is excellent. But if our God, the God described in the Bible never changes then the first horn of the Euthyphro Dilemma isn't a problem for us. Whatever our God "likes" or thinks is "good" is never actually going to be arbitrary. The second horn is then irrelevant because our God doesn't like something "for its goodness". The reason I say this is because the Bible's depiction of God, the way it communicates Him to us, is as a spirit and a person (albeit with the attributes that separate him from us as God). What reason is there for his wrath if "good" isn't intricately connected to His personality? If it isn't connected to what he likes? Talk of "objective" morality soon starts to feel very cold but the God of the Bible is not described like that. It's like philosophy in this area quickly gets too big for its boots and forgets how God has revealed Himself to us in Scripture.

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