Friday, April 27, 2007

Atheism and Morality

In my non-trendy way, I'm finally finding out about the discussion that was caused by this post by Dinesh D'Souza:

The atheist writer Richard Dawkins has observed that according to the findings of modern science, the universe has all the properties of a system that is utterly devoid of meaning. The main characteristic of the universe is pitiless indifference. Dawkins further argues that we human beings are simply agglomerations of molecules, assembled into functional units over millennia of natural selection, and as for the soul--well, that's an illusion!

To no one's surprise, Dawkins has not been invited to speak to the grieving Virginia Tech community. What this tells me is that if it's difficult to know where God is when bad things happen, it is even more difficult for atheism to deal with the problem of evil. The reason is that in a purely materialist universe, immaterial things like good and evil and souls simply do not exist. For scientific atheists like Dawkins, Cho's shooting of all those people can be understood in this way--molecules acting upon molecules.

He wrote a followup after receiving the responses to his first post:

Of course atheists have feelings and there were undoubtedly atheists among the mourners at Virginia Tech. But the Richard Dawkins philosophy--that we live in a meaningless world where there is no good and no evil--whatever its intellectual merit, seems arid and unconsoling when human beings are really hurting.

Forgetting about the "do atheists have feelings?" question, I'd like to concentrate on "do atheists have morals?" Not that D'Souza explicitly said this, but his double quote of Richard Dawkins seems to imply that atheists by definition are without moral standards (amoral, rather than immoral).

Mark Vuletic has addressed this:

What would a conclusive disproof of the existence of God do to my moral stature? Considering that I don't believe in God to begin with, the answer is that a disproof of the existence of God would not cause me to change my moral views at all. But I think I can speak for most atheists when I say that cheating on one's spouse or abandoning one's children is not morally acceptable....

A good atheist parent probably looks after her children because she loves them - love itself gives her every reason to not abandon them....

[A]theism is not a complete worldview - it is simply a stance on whether or not any gods exist. As such, I concede that atheism as such is consistent with any set of moral propositions, be they good or evil....

[A]theism (as such) carries with it no particular moral stance, and therefore atheism (as such) cannot have any moral foundation whatsoever.

So, if atheism (as such) has no moral foundation, then where do atheists get there morals? Paul argues that morals exist whether he have God's Word or not:

Romans 1:18-20, 5:13-14 (New International Version)
New International Version (NIV)
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

13for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. 14Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.

In other words, right and wrong are revealed to all by "what has been made," and people suffer for doing wrong, even if they have not received the Mosaic law. Thus Vuletic's "love" for his children is assumed to be indicative of this natural revelation of good and evil.

And it is possible for atheists to adopt some moral system. I have previously discussed (in terms of inerrancy) the Humanist Manifesto II, which clearly advances a particular moral view.

Using technology wisely, we can control our environment, conquer poverty, markedly reduce disease, extend our life-span, significantly modify our behavior, alter the course of human evolution and cultural development, unlock vast new powers, and provide humankind with unparalleled opportunity for achieving an abundant and meaningful life.

The future is, however, filled with dangers. In learning to apply the scientific method to nature and human life, we have opened the door to ecological damage, over-population, dehumanizing institutions, totalitarian repression, and nuclear and bio-chemical disaster.

After a reading of the Humanist Manifesto II, you can see what is defined as good and what is defined as evil. Even when stating that ethics is autonomous and situational, certain truths tend to emerge from this belief system.

We affirm that moral values derive their source from human experience. Ethics is autonomous and situational needing no theological or ideological sanction. Ethics stems from human need and interest. To deny this distorts the whole basis of life. Human life has meaning because we create and develop our futures. Happiness and the creative realization of human needs and desires, individually and in shared enjoyment, are continuous themes of humanism. We strive for the good life, here and now. The goal is to pursue life's enrichment despite debasing forces of vulgarization, commercialization, and dehumanization.

Of course, many atheists do not subscribe to the Humanist Manifesto II, and could theoretically subscribe to any moral system that they desire.

Yet I am forced to admit that we Christians can do the same thing - note that for hundreds of years, there were Christians who believed that slavery was morally good, others who believed that slavery was morally evil, and others who probably didn't care.

And, consider that, if that evil massacre had not occurred, then the following glorious death would not have occurred either:

Professor Librescu lived a full life after he found freedom; he did the work he loved; and he died saving his students from a horrible death.
What a glorious life!
What a glorious death!
We should rejoice and celebrate his life.

There are so many cases of good resulting from evil (most notably Christ's resurrection, resulting from Christ's death) that one should be very dubious in making "morality" your god. Immorality sometimes leads to good, and morality in and of itself does not necessarily lead to good.


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