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Monday, June 18, 2012

Atheism and Morality/Ethics

I've got one or two posts about ethics and atheism, either in the body of the post or in the comments. You can look here. And here. (The post at that second link rambles a bit, not real happy with it.)

I basically hold that if you are an atheist, a real true atheist, then you cannot hold that there is such a thing as an objective moral order. Now, laws are a moral code, a system of ethics on the scale of a nation. Laws and other ethical systems are based on an objective moral order, a sense of "justice" that is above the law and against which we know if a law is a good law or a bad law. If there is no God, however, there is no such thing as an objective reality called "justice," but only what individuals decide for themselves.

I also hold that if an atheist asserts there is such a thing as an objective moral order, then his thinking is polluted by religiosity, having grown up in a society whose laws and sense of justice is formed by religious philosophy. A real atheist has to purify his mind and get down to brass tacks: The only thing he is, is a material body, and the only ethical system that matters is the one he chooses for himself. Things might be illegal, but immoral or unethical -- that only he can decide. Therefore, he becomes the supreme arbiter and judge of what is ethical, and law gets its authority only from the power to coerce obedience, not from any kind of objective justice to which it conforms.

But there is another way to go for such ethical atheists. Admit the fact that you believe in something higher than yourself that is not merely the source of "justice" but is in fact Justice Itself, Morality Itself, Reason Itself, Good Itself, Cooperation Itself. That is, deep down, if you believe there is an objective moral order, you really do believe in God.

Check out this final post in the atheist portal a Patheos, a renowned young atheist who went to Yale named Leah Libresco. She's way smarter and better educated than I am on the atheist-ethics thing. And she walked that walk from atheism. To Catholicism. From abject falsehood...to the objective truth.

What she realized is that the middle ground is bogus. Atheism cannot work with ethics. She thought it through. And decided that Morality (another name for God, if you think about it) exists.

Welcome, Leah!

H/T to the Anchoress.


  1. Well, let's come at it from a different direction. If you want to win at chess, and given the basic rules if chess, is it an objective fact that sacrificing your queen for a pawn early in the game is a bad strategy?

    That seems a pretty straightforward yes-or-no question. (I'd also accept answers in the form of "Yes, but..." or "No, but...". :) )

    1. It sounds like a good way to lose to me.

      But strategy and ethics are not the same. "Bad" strategy does not mean morally evil or unethical strategy, but rather one ill suited to the goal.

      Given that a particular goal is deemed worthy to attain, strategy pertains to the means to attain the goal. The goal in question may or may not be ethical (in which case strategy is irrelevant to the morality of the action). A good strategy, one well suited to attain a good goal, may or may not be ethical. A good goal and good strategy may still result in an unethical action, depending on circumstances, which again are not dependent on the strategy.

      Playing chess and wanting to win at it are not moral choices in themselves.

      In moral choices, whether or not there is a God will affect whether or not a given strategy makes sense or not. Taking a bullet for a stranger is a horrible strategy if all there is is material, earthly life because there is no God. Even if some atheists would sacrifice themselves, it doesn't mean that letting someone else die so that you can live is unethical. Indeed, any criticism of the act (dishonorable, cowardly, etc) is simply opinion.

      So, if you want to win at chess, but losing would somehow save someone's life (or something), then losing your queen early sounds like a plan.

  2. Do you want to continue this here or at the previous thread?

  3. Perhaps it would be better to converse in email: authenticbioethics@gmail.com. I would like to be able to post the conversation, however, and expect that you would want to help ensure accuracy and professionalism, etc.

    1. I'll email you, and sure, you can post the conversation. So long as I can post comments, context, and so forth as a comment or something. :)