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Is Atheism Morally Bankrupt?

07 June 2013, 15:03

Are there any objective moral values if atheism is true? Atheist philosophers Michael Ruse and Edward Wilson’s don't think so. They assert that morality is an evolutionary illusion... [1].

These atheist thinkers affirm that even though atheists can live good moral lives that they are unable to justify why something is good or bad.

If Ruse is right then the atheistic world view that there is no God is one with horrific anti-moral implications.  If one fully realizes the implications then the New Atheist movement has no motivation of its existence, no purpose, no reason to spread its unbelief. The atheist church in London or atheists arguments on this forum becomes purposeless.  The atheist "realization" that "God does not exist" should be kept in silent horror by atheists in secret "enlightened clubs". Why spread the news that could lead mankind on a horrific road of moral relativism?

But, the atheist may say, I don't need to read some religious book to know the difference between right and wrong.  Here lies a miss-understanding.  The Christian does not think that one need to "read in a book to know what is right and wrong", neither that Christianity has the authority over right and wrong.  No.  Empathy, sympathy, love, common sense morality - these laws are intuitive realities for both the believer and non-believer.  In Paul's letter to the Romans he stated:  “When the Gentiles ... do instinctively what the law requires…they show that what the law requires is written on their hearts” (2:14–15).

However, to Know or Believe that something is right or wrong is quite different from being able (this is critical) to Justify that such a thing is right or wrong.  (Think about how critical it is to assert Justifications for “objective moral values” when reading the rest of this article).

"We can get to the heart of the atheist’s dilemma with a graphic but true example. Some years ago serial killer Ted Bundy, who confessed to over thirty murders, was interviewed about his gruesome activities.  Consider the frightening words to his victim as he describes them:

Then I learned that all moral judgments are “value judgments,” that all value judgments are subjective, and that none can be proved to be either “right” or “wrong”….  I discovered that to become truly free, truly unfettered, I had to become truly uninhibited.  And I quickly discovered that the greatest obstacle to my freedom, the greatest block and limitation to it, consists in the insupportable value judgment "that I was bound to respect the rights of others".  I asked myself, who were these “others”?  Other human beings, with human rights?  Why is it more wrong to kill a human animal than any other animal, a pig or a sheep or a steer?  Is your life more to you than a hog’s life to a hog?  Why should I be willing to sacrifice my pleasure more for the one than for the other?  Surely, you would not, in this age of scientific enlightenment, declare that God or nature has marked some pleasures as “moral” or “good” and others as “immoral” or “bad”?  In any case, let me assure you, my dear young lady, that there is absolutely no comparison between the pleasure I might take in eating ham and the pleasure I anticipate in raping and murdering you.  That is the honest conclusion to which my education has led me – after the most conscientious examination of my spontaneous and uninhibited self." [2]

We all know Bundy is wrong.  But why is he wrong though?  With what moral argument can we respond to Bundy?

Some atheists hold that we walk to our own drumbeat and should merely use our common sense.  We should use common sense to decide for our self what is morally right and wrong.  Moral values might be "subjective" or "relative", but “personal” common sense will direct us just fine.  This is called the "personal moral relativist" view.

"But on this view, what could one say to Bundy?  Not much other than “I don’t like what you believe; it offends me how you brutalize women.”  For the personal relativist however, who really cares (other than you) that you are offended by someone else’s actions?  On this view ... when my morality clashes with yours, there is no final arbiter other than perhaps that the stronger of us forces the other to agree.  But this kind of Nietzschean “might makes right” ethic has horrific consequences, and one need only be reminded of the Nazi reign of terror to see it in full bloom.  This is one reason why thoughtful atheists, such as Christopher Hitchens, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and others don’t go there." [3]

Other atheists hold that moral values are culturally grounded.  We must follow the guidelines of what is consider good or bad in society.  This is the "cultural moral relativist" view.

"Most thoughtful atheists don’t tread here either, and this is one reason why:  If right and wrong are cultural inventions, then it would always be wrong for someone within that culture to speak out against them.  If culture defines right and wrong, then who are you to challenge it?  For example, to speak out against slavery in Great Britain in the seventeenth century would have been morally wrong, for it was culturally acceptable.  But surely it was a morally good thing for William Wilberforce and others to strive against the prevailing currents of their time and place to abolish the slave trade."[3]  So what moral argument would the cultural moral relativist give against the current slave trade in Mauritania for instance?

This leads to the next view as put forth by evolutionary ethicist and atheist philosopher of science Michael Ruse and his colleague Edward Wilson in support of Dawkins’ “selfish gene” hypotheses.  Here is how they describe it:

"Morality, or more strictly our belief in morality, is merely an adaptation put in place to further our reproductive ends. ..., ethics as we understand it is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate. It is without external grounding. Ethics is produced by evolution but is not justified by it ..."

Morality, on this view, is something most of us believe in, follow, and practice, even though it doesn’t exist in reality; it’s just an illusion foisted on us via evolution so that we don’t kill ourselves off as a species.

On [Ruse's] worldview, we are merely evolved brutes whose very existence is derived from the naturalistic laws of evolution, including random mutation and survival of the fittest in which the strong survive and the weak die off (and sometimes the strong kill off the weak in their struggle for survival).

Is it any wonder that the atheistic regimes of Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, and Pol Pot— devoid as they were of any significant Christian influence— were responsible for the mass murder of over 100 million people in their quest for dominance, more lives destroyed than in all of the religious wars in the history of the human race? These regimes were not discordant with an atheistic basis of morality; they were consistent with it.” [3]

So if atheism is true, what moral argument could be used against Bundy, slavery and the genocidal dictators?  What grounds the atheists’ moral positions? What makes their moral views more than mere hunches, inklings, or subjective opinions?"

You see, there seem to be three moral realities, though the atheist can only assert the first of these three realities:

1. Socio-biological morality - inherent in all of us and Subjective

2. A sense of Objective morality - inherent in all of us, but still Subjective

3. Universal Objective Morality - outside of us and Objective

"As C. S. Lewis argued so well, there must be a universal moral law, or else moral disagreements would make no sense.  But a universal moral law requires a universal Moral Law Giver— an objective grounding for that moral law.  None of these atheistic accounts provides us with one. No atheistic account has ever provided one. We can put the atheist’s problem concisely:

1. If moral notions such as good and evil exist objectively, then there must be an objective foundation for their existence.

2. Atheism offers no objective basis for the existence of moral notions such as good and evil.

3. Therefore, for the atheist, moral notions such as good and evil must not objectively exist.”[3]

To put it in another way: True "Objective Moral Laws” are not personal, cultural, socio-biological, or illusory, they are universal objective realities that are metaphysically grounded in a Universal Moral Law Giver.  The theist asserts that the Universal Moral Law Giver must be God - who or what else could it be?  The atheists assert there is no God, therefore "Objective Moral Laws”, (even if he believes in them) cannot exist for the atheist.

It therefore follows that the atheistic outlook is a morally bankrupt one.  It is a horrific anti-moral outlook.  Should atheism become a world-wide phenomenon, it would leave nothing in the way of preventing future Ted Bundys, Mao Zedongs, Joseph Stalins, Vladimir Lenins, and Pol Pots.  Neither would they be able to say anything against the crusades, Christian witch hunts, suicide bombers or other religious atrocities. Theists and atheists alike can therefore be thankful for the current world wide decline in atheism! [4]

The "atheist truth" should therefore be kept a secret.  Confined to secret organizations that protects its horrific "secret insights" that "God does not exist" from a mostly believing mankind.  Hidden at least until it finds the true foundation for the objective moral values that most philosophers assert, yet unable to explain.  When it finds it, it could join the believer to tell those mistaking individuals mentioned above:  "What you are doing, my brother, is objectively wrong.  It is an objectively moral duty to love your neighbour and even to love your enemy.  Why?  Because that is the universal objective moral law.  How do we know that?  It was put onto all mankind’s heart by the Universal Moral Law Giver.  We will all face Him one day to explain our actions.  You say you don’t hear that inner voice?  Don’t despair; it is only because you have been ignoring it for so long.  You can get it back.  Read the New Testament, open your life to Jesus and accept his gift of salvation, attend church, talk to Christian believers.  The Holy Spirit will regenerate you with time..."

Many quotes in this article were from an article by Chad Meister in the Christian Research Journal namely “Atheists and the Quest for Objective Morality” found here

[1] As stated by the atheist philosopher Michael Ruse, "Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics," in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262-269.

[2] A statement by Ted Bundy, paraphrased and rewritten by Harry V. Jaffa, Homosexuality and the National Law (Claremont Institute of the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy, 1990), 3–4.

[3] From “Atheists and the Quest for Objective Morality” – an article by Chad Meister in the Christian Research Journal, volume33, number 2(2010).

[4] Status of Global Mission, 2013, in the Context of AD 1800–2025

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