One of the more popular ideas promoted by theism is that without god atheists can have no sense of morality and by promoting that some actions are moral while others are immoral we are somehow, in essence, pointing towards a higher power. Bam, atheism is defeated and god reigns supreme… Not so fast though because this argument is actually just plain awful.
First and foremost is that it once again confuses what the word atheist means, which is “a lack of belief in a god or gods.” Anything else falls outside the domain of atheism. So an atheist can be logical or illogical, they can be incredibly smart or incredibly dumb. As I often say, just because you answer the easiest question on the quiz, it doesn’t mean you are a straight A student.
Now the theist will claim that we are promoting some standard to atheism that theism doesn’t also enjoy but this is not the case. A theist can be a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim, or any other number of religions. Theism simply means that they have a belief in a god or gods. Anything else falls into another category. So if you are a Christian, you are a theist and you follow the Christian faith. A Muslim is a theist that follows the Islamic faith. The word theist does not in any way connote anything outside of the simple fact that they believe in some form of god.
Secondly, this argument starts with the premise that morals must come from a higher authority and that this higher authority must in the end be god. Affirming the Consequent is a logical fallacy that can be explained in the following example.
When I am drunk I make bad decisions.
Yesterday I made a bad decision.
Therefore yesterday I must have been drunk.
Or in regards to the current blog…
Morals come from a higher power.
A god is an example of a higher power.
Therefore morals must come from god.
The reason this is a fallacy is because it attempts to prove its stance by working the premises to fit the stance. It is doing nothing more than injecting ones own beliefs into their argument and rejecting any argument that goes against that persons beliefs. This argument is used because it is convenient and because it sounds good if you don’t think too much about it.
Lastly, many theists like to look at the world in black and white and appeal to the idea of absolute morality. In other words that some things are accepted as moral and immoral by the entirety of the human race and so they must come from some source outside of the human race. This attempts to separate humanity from morality and act as if it is a separate entity unto itself. Without the higher power we could never understand morality and so we would all live in a world of absolute chaos.
We can all agree that morals exist, I’d like to believe that I am a fairly moral person. I don’t murder, I don’t rape, I don’t steal, and as best as I can I try not to do anything that would cause harm to another person. The difference being that most atheists, not all mind you but most, come from the perspective of relative morality. What this means is that our morals change over time as we progress or regress as a species. I believe that our morals evolved in such a way to promote the success of the species and allow us to use the least amount of energy possible. If you don’t have to worry about your neighbor trying to murder you, you can stop worrying about murdering your neighbor and get down to more of that sweet sweet procreative bedroom booty.
Some simple examples of to promote the moral relativist ideas are, in no specific order:
1.) Abolition of Slavery
2.) Womens Rights
3.) Civil Rights
4.) Gay rights
5.) Changing views on the death penalty
6.) Medical and Recreational Marijuana
7.) Greater concern over humanitarian efforts
8.) In many countries Universal Healthcare
9.) The right to die / Living Wills
10.) Technological advancement has changed our ideas of friendship, intimacy, and freedom.
11.) Etc, Etc, Etc…
From a government standpoint the entire bill of rights comes from the moral relativist perspective in that our forefathers set up a government based around inherent rights that the vast majority of humans had never before viewed as inherent. Free speech, free press, the right to assembly and many other things that we enjoy on a daily basis were at one point unthinkable and immoral. The right to question a figure in authority actually runs counter to biblical morality…
“1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” – Romans 13:1-4
It seems obvious to me that our morality has changed greatly over the years and I would like to promote that not only do I live according to relative morality but that every theist alive today is also a moral relativist and submits to no higher power in regards to their faith. How can I say this? The reason being is that one can only be a relativist and still view the bible as a book of spiritual authority.
In the old testament god condones:
- Slavery (Including Sex slavery of foreign women who had not known a man.)
- Forcing a woman to have an abortion due to adultery
- and a whole plethora of things that any sane man today would condemn.
So how is it that people still view these scriptures as good and holy. Ask almost any Christian and they will tell you that those rules and stipulations were for a different time and culture. God set up rules for the Jews specifically to follow and today Christians are not obligated to follow any of these archaic stipulation because Christ set them free from the law. So they will state with a straight face that gods morality is absolute but that Christ came to earth and removed the need for humans to follow much of what that authority once stipulated. This is in fact the very definition of moral relativism, what was good and ok for one culture is now seen as barbaric and disgusting by the people today.
To bring it to a more recent issue, the idea of gay rights. Thirty years ago the vast majority of Americans viewed homosexuality as immoral. Sixty years ago homosexuals could still be arrested and thrown in asylums simply due to the fact that they were gay. Our ideas changed over the last few decades and we began to realize that homosexuals were no different from the rest of humanity they just had a different sexual preference. Today the vast majority of people are supportive of gay rights and even many Christian denominations allow homosexuals to become members and even some allow homosexual ministers. Some Christians would say that this is a sign of the times and that we will all end up in hell for our rampant immoral beliefs but in reality it is just another example of how morals can change over time.
Lastly I’d like to point out that the proponents of absolute morality actually have very different beliefs from one another and thus negate the idea of absolute morality. When I was a minister of the Pentecostal faith we would, to some degree, accept that it was possible for someone to be a Christian outside of the Pentecostal church but that they were wrong in much of their moral stances. Drinking was seen as a sin by the members of my denomination and yet many other denominations see no issue with drinking. Our denomination views smoking as a sin and yet many of the men in my denomination saw no issue with chewing tobacco, unbelievably due to the fact that it simply didn’t involve fire.( Fire obviously being the devils domain)
So when a person appeals to a higher authority they are actually appealing to their specific denominations god and to be even more specific their own interpretation of god. I have a couple of tattoos, I got these tattoos while I was still a minister and my particular denomination believed that tattoos were sinful and evil. I decided to get a tattoo because my version of god didn’t have a problem with tattoos, mainly due to the fact that I was raised in a time period when tattoos were no longer viewed in a negative way and therefore my own morality never included an issue with tattoos. My god didn’t have a problem with tattoos but many of the people in my own congregations viewed tattoos as something that god would send people to hell for. We all had our own personal version of god in our mind that allowed us to do the things we wanted to and denied us only those things that we really had no interest in.
When it comes right down to it, the only thing that we can be absolutely certain about is that we are all relativists. Every generation has its own set of do’s and don’ts, with things coming into and out of favor. My parents were told that bowling and roller skating were evil, but they grew up when these were cool and so they had no problem with them. I had tattoos and piercings but viewed other things as sinful that my own children never had an issue with. Life evolves and so do our morals.
And if your only response to this is what about Hitler and Stalin….they were power-hungry dicks and assholes who used the same authority that the church held in years past to do their own immoral deeds. Power corrupts and absolute power creates dicks and assholes.