Internet Goosing the Antithesis

Friday, July 20, 2007

What Can't Atheists Answer?

Michael Gerson, erstwhile speechwriter for George W. Bush (and coiner of the term, "Axis of Evil") has a vexing question about morality that he thinks atheists can't answer. As an evangelical Christian, he might be excused for not having read much about morality without gods, but that doesn't stop him from making false assumptions about it.

Like most Christians, Gerson assumes that since the only real source of morality is the Christian god, those without a belief in such a deity can't be expected to defend their moral behavior. Although he freely admits that atheists can be staunchly moral individuals (he cites Christopher Hitchens as one example, provided you haven't taken issue with his arguments), he claims that while theists are able to answer the question of why the good should be sought (God tells us to do so), atheists have no answer for this question.

But there is a problem. Gerson paints Christians as saintly, obedient followers of their god's decree, but in an ironic twist, he fails to realize the obvious motivation for such obedience- the very pursuit of self-interest that he uses to accuse atheists of moral superficiality. As Richard Carrier points out, Christians are not exempt from this carrot either- whatever justification a Christian gives for following the edict of his god will fall under this same category. Most Christians will admit that the fundamental reason for obedience to the divine will of Yahweh is because of the promise of heaven/threat of hell dichotomy that is at the root of their theology. If that's the case, then they're no moral paragons- they either want a juicy reward (less likely) or are desperate to avoid a painful torturous end (more likely). Of course, you could always test their true fiber and ask them what they would do if they found out that Yahweh's salvation plan was secretly switched, and they would only go to heaven if they disbelieved in him. Those who say they would continue to accept Christ regardless if it meant torture are still betraying their self-interest, because clearly their highest value is that of adherence to truth at any cost. So, instead of the atheist being unable to answer questions about his own morality, we find that it is the Christian who can't provide an explanation why he claims to be following orders from his god, but is clearly acting on his own self-interest (which is presumably ignoble, given the fact that he accuses atheists of doing so).

Now, Gerson is wise enough to recognize at the end of his article that both atheists and theists recognize an innate sense of value and morality, but his explanation for this is backwards. It is the atheist whose recognition of the importance of morality is placed in its proper context- that of using rational investigation of the world around us to determine and fulfill our moral values. The Christian may ultimately act in accordance with secular moral principles, but unfortunately he's doomed to a life of moral hypocrisy, pushed by his superstitions and fellow believers into trying to second-guess the edicts of a non-existent entity, while at the same time attempting to retrofit his own values onto those of a vapid and violent deity.

At the end of the day, the Christian is like the runaway Pinocchio, dancing onstage while Stromboli pulls the strings- he could dance even better by himself, if he only had the courage to cut them.

via Kill the Afterlife

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At 7/20/2007 7:23 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

Um, he works for one of the biggest criminal organizations in the world, and he dares to challenge US about morality? What the hell is wrong with these people?

At 7/20/2007 11:10 PM, Blogger Bob Kowalski declaimed...

Christians believe their morality is based on belief in God. To judge from the arguments Christians use to argue for God as a necessary component, you would think that Christians as a group behave better than us poor misguided atheists and unbelievers.

Does belief in God, baptism of the Spirit, and make it more likely that a Christian will in fact be far, far more likely to engage in moral behavior and shun immorality?

Christians don't seem to be any more moral or immoral than anybody else. Unless of course, morality is strictly limited to meaning well, regardless of the consequences of one's actions. Then moral behavior reduces to providing the socially appropriate justification for one's actions.

For more see Addendum to Yesterday's Post, or Why Religion-Based Politics must end as a Politics of Exclusion and Hate on my blog.

At 7/21/2007 6:20 PM, Blogger Aaron Kinney declaimed...


Excellent! You absolutely nailed it my man. I updated my own blog post to include a link to this essay of yours :)


You are totally right, but you gotta understand it in context. As Zach noted, these morons have it all completely backwards. So they really do think that they are doing the moral thing. It actually reminds me of those backwards-ass Imams who advocate suicide bombing as a means to "morally fix" the "immoral" behavior of a woman dancing naked for money. It is precisely a system where they believe that force, and mental and physical slavery are moral, while self-responsibility, self-determination, and the sovereignty of the individual are all evil and presumably lead to chaos.

At 7/21/2007 11:13 PM, Blogger breakerslion declaimed...

Of course they have it all backwards, but you underestimate them if you call them morons. The whole religion thing is about selling "backwards" to the unsuspecting, gullible, and trusting. Down is up, dead is alive, wrong is right, and aggression is defense. It's all about control, and the Strombolis of the world demand the ability to pull any string they please. This is why you can refute this "atheists lack foundation for morality" argument as many times as you please. The little puppets will walk their spastic walk up the street and mouth the same recording all over again.



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