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Can Atheism Explain Objective Moral Values?


Stand to Reason blogger Brett Kunkle makes a good point about atheism and moral values. Namely, atheists can have good moral values. But knowing moral values, and offering a basis for presupposing moral values, are two different things.

For example, Christopher Hitchens loves to offer a challenge to theists. I heard him challenge Mark Roberts in a radio debate hosted by Hugh Hewitt, sometimes called The Great God Debate.

You have to name a moral action taken or a moral statement uttered by a person of faith that could not be taken or uttered by a non-believer. I have yet to find anyone who can answer me that.

~ Christopher Hitchens

While I have seen this challenge adequately answered, the challenge itself misses a basic point. This challenge proves something the Christian theist already agrees with (Romans 2:14,15). Atheists know what good means and atheists can do good things. They can't not know what good is. The knowledge of right and wrong is written on the heart.


Comments:

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I particularly dislike the term 'Objective Morality'. Morality is by itself innately subjective. Wrong from the start of the title.
**OUR** morals??!?!? You're two-for-two, GJA, because I'm confused again. Every Christian I know would much prefer a different set of morals - one where my particular sins aren't sins. And one in which there are no conflicts with friends and colleagues (like, say, homosexuality). So we know full well there are multiple sets of morals. And the presence of even one example of a universal moral absolute (such as, say, rape or child abuse) would prove the existence of an arbitrator. Are you claiming that even rape and child abuse are only immoral due to society's momentary disapproval? And I'm not talking "possible", but actual society. And Warren Jeffs is, um,... in jail.
GJA--Indeed, many Christians owned slaves and even justified the practice with select scriptural passages removed from their proper context. But the truth is a powerful thing. William Wilberforce, convicted by the clear teachings of scripture as well as the words and actions of Jesus, pierced the conscience of a whole society about the evils of slavery. Martin Luther King appealed to the same Standard in his fight for civil rights. So like I said before; Christians can go wrong, and badly so. But at least they have a corrective to set them straight. All an atheist can do is appeal to whatever social ethic happens to be in vogue at the time, or coerce...I mean persuade others to his way of thinking.
You have to name a moral action taken or a moral statement uttered by a person of faith that could not be taken or uttered by a non-believer. I have yet to find anyone who can answer me that. ~ Christopher Hitchens "Thou shalt not make unto thyself any graven image."
does the existence of disagreement prove that in fact that there is no right position. Besides disagreements are usually about application and priority not principle. The justification for slavery given is usually that it is for some reason not really cruelty, not that cruelty is permissible.
…or that the Ultimate Arbitrator knew what He was talking about when, commenting on us, He said, “although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice [wickedness] are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:32).
GJA, Not much to object to in that. Have enjoyed the opportunity to dialog with you. I see it more as Christian morality vs all else, instead of theist vs. atheist; personally I'd probably choose to take my chances with an American atheist over a Wahhabi Muslim. What you refer to a trap is only a trap if we are wrong. If God exists it is logical to believe there is transcendent right and wrong. If He has revealed Himself either in word (Bible), conscience, or nature, then we may have a shot at knowing "ultimate" morality. It is also reasonable to believe He wants us to know the difference between right and wrong and would provide some means to that end. Beyond that point, though, traps do indeed abound. The correct interpretation of Scripture is a challenging problem, resulting in, as you well know, much disagreement.
Let me be clear I don't think atheist are more moral, but I don't think theists are either. Thanks to all for making my point so emphatically. Don't fall into the trap that thinking your morality is THEE morality. Everyone I know thinks slavery is bad, but there were millions (theists and atheists} that owned slaves in the 1800's thinking it was perfectly moral. The Islamic world is theist (unless there are two Gods) according to the above slavery is moral there; certainly mistreatment of women (by my view, not theirs) is. There could be a society where child molestation, Warren Jeffs society for example. There is disagreement on what is moral, and stark differences even among the most religious persons. All this seems to emphasis there is no ultimate abitrator
godjeeringatheist wrote: "the priests were immoral" and in the next paragraph wrote: "But again, societal influences are what form morals." So I'm a bit confused. Are you saying that under the right societal influences, what the priests did would not be immoral anymore?
GJA, You make it sound so simple, morals being formed by "societal influences." Please tell me where you're looking, because I don't see a consensus anywhere. Murder is bad, except when it's "justified" by whomever, including lots of atheists. Slavery is bad, except historically it's been more the rule than the exception, is still practiced in the Islamic world, applied to most citizens of former communist states, and can fairly be compared to the caste system in India (which is certainly not theist). Stealing is bad, except when done by the state to fund social programs or weapons (whichever you're against). There is no moral consensus. Everywhere I look, I see continuing conflict and disagreement over morality: Abortion. Environment. Taxation. Business practices. Divorce. Sex outside of marriage. To just blame disagreement over these issues on theists would be to demonstrate woeful ignorance of world culture and human psychology. Take all the theists out of the world, and NAMBLA would still be right here with the rest of you left behinders. Despite the trite aphorism so often parroted, all legislation is morality. And in this country, there happens to be a notable lack of agreement. Please do tell us, where is this consensus? Is St. Obama going to raise his staff and bring us all together in harmony? Oh, never mind - he's not an atheist. On the other hand.....Christians do believe that the law of God is written in men's hearts in a nonbinding sort of way. We affirm the fact there is some universal sense of right and wrong, which would enable even atheists to have morals, whether they acknowledge the source or not.
If, as you suggest, the source of morality derives from nothing higher than society, which morals should prevail? In some societies, people care widows; in others, they throw them on their husband's funeral pyre. However personally distasteful one may find the latter, without a transcendent benchmark, he is impotent do condemn it; after all, it is the practice that a particular society deems not only moral, but good.
An earlier post compared the Catholic "sex scandals" (euphemism for crime spree) to the genocide of Hitler and Stalin. I think this is going too far; the priests were immoral, but not in the league of mass murder. I denounce and reject this characterization. But again, societal influences are what form morals. I think all people (believers and nonbelievers) can be moral or immoral depending on their society and how they align with it. Theists take attempt to take the high ground by saying their moral views are the word of God.The result is: Moral theists are that way because of God. Moral atheists (and others who may just have a different view) are unlikely to exist, but will go to hell regardless. Immoral atheists are that way because they are atheists. And immoral theists are that way because??? the devil made me do it???
Here's the thing. When the Church does bad stuff, like the Catholic clergy sex scandals, it does so in complete disregard for the moral foundations of its worldview: the teachings of Jesus. In contrast, when atheists introduced the gulag, gas ovens, and "re-education" centers to the civilized world, they were merely taking their worldview to its logical conclusions.
Always useful to change the subject when you don't have a case, but I'm cool with that. Send your kids to public schools instead, "where the physical sexual abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests" according to research by Dr. Charol Shakeshaft of Hofstra University. http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1094835/posts The Catholic church let immorality run unchecked among the priesthood, and deserves to be criticized.
We already ran an experiment that is more telling. We sent children to the Catholic church.
"This is easy." Sure, fella. It's very easy to make snap judgments when you have no knowledge of history, human nature, psychology or science. At least the loudmouths like Dawkins and Hitchens make some feeble attempt to learn history, enough to cherry pick the selective evidence that fits their predetermined conclusion. Let's have some real fun. Put your metaphorical money where your mouth is. How about getting 1000 atheists to volunteer to go off to some tropical island and see what kind of utopia they can create. I see "Lord of the Flies" part II. Prove me wrong. The problem with you atheists is not your skepticism, but your lack of it. Chew on that one awhile. The problem with my fellow Christians is that we get too wrapped up with atheists, who are so miniscule in number, when the more pressing problem of our society, indeed all humanity, is not its unbelief but its willingness to believe anything. And I am forced to concede that many Christians are just as guilty. According to a CNN poll 10 years ago, 80% of Americans believe the US government is actively suppressing evidence of prior alien visitation. Hello, Houston. We have a problem.
GJA, you did get one thing right. It IS unbelievable. The bible even says as much: Long ago the prophet Habakkuk said, “Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days-- you would not believe if you were told.” (Habakkuk 1:4) And right after His resurrection, Jesus “showed the disciples His hands and His feet. And … they could not believe for joy.” (Luke 24:40-41) I agree, it’s unbelievable, it’s too good to be true. Why do you think Christians are so joyful? It’s not because we’ve managed to convince ourselves to believe a lie. It’s because the evidence that it’s true is overwhelming.
This is easy. Morals stem from society. Society is made up of all sorts of organizations (government, churches, ACLU, unions, companies) that influence a society's moral views. I included religion in the above because it is the same as any other organization. Religion is no more connected to a special source of moral judgment than any other organization, it just thinks so because of its belief in the unbelievable.
First off- if people believe there is a god and refuse to worship him they aren't atheists. Atheists are people who do not believe in god. If they believe in god they aren't atheists- they are angry (insert religion name here). I was refering to consistancy. It is also worth noting your reasoning is flawed- people still don't have immortal life- they just get an afterlife. However since the afterlife existed before Jesus came to Earth he didn't grant people that gift- just entrance to heaven. But that misses the point I made- taking something that is infinite isn't immoral- after all it isn't like it will run out. I'm not saying you are immoral I am saying you are inconsistant- you don't base your ethics on your religious belief (although that is how you justify them), but on secular principles. That is one of the problem with religions- fundamentalists think the way I just outlined. Obviously you aren't aware of the fact that few atheists have atheist as their source of idenity. The picked on (aka murdered, discriminated... picked on is such a neutral word) is an attempt to get people to realize that many people are hostie to nonbelief. Than I have an infinite number of beliefs- after all I don't believe in an infinite number of gods. Neither do you for that matter. The fact is the term atheism is a lack of belief (god)- the only reason you can even come close to calling it a belief is that atheists have to explicitly state it in our theistic cuture. Last time I checked beliefs were facts- the belief may be right or wrong, but it is a fact that a person holds them. Someone correct this if it is unclear. "Senses are the only valid source of knowledge." I believe it would be better to say they are the only valid source of knowledge about the external world. Abstractions are constructs built to explain things in the external world that are assembled in our brains.
Skinner: This is what Dictionary.com says 1. something believed; an opinion or conviction: a belief that the earth is flat. 2. confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof: a statement unworthy of belief. 3. confidence; faith; trust: a child's belief in his parents. 4. a religious tenet or tenets; religious creed or faith: the Christian belief. Atheism certainly is an opinion, Skinner. Therefore it is a belief. Will you quit making yourself humpty dumpty and saying words mean what you mean them to mean. As for Positivism, that is the belief that the senses are the only valid source of knowledge. And a good many modern Atheists say essentially that. If that is true then there is no such thing as abstraction, no such thing as morality and no such thing as Atheism.
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