Spark: Atheist Morality

This is a beautiful story from a favorite blogger, discussing why she gives money to beggars on the street. To religionists who say that morality may only come from the Divine, I give you this story. Love for fellow man need not be based in religion. This is a simple story that affected one person’s life in a manner that will affect many others.


  1. I’m not sure why it is but atheists seem truly incapable of grasping two concepts.

    The first is,
    – It’s not that everything that exists has a cause, it’s Everything that BEGINS to exist has a cause.

    – It’s not that only Christians have morality, or only the Bible has morality or even that morality only comes from the Divine, it’s If there is no God, there cannot be an OBJECTIVE morality.

    Without an objective morality whereby some things are right or wrong regardless of whether we agree with it or not, then right truly does belong to those who have the might. For example, The Germans killing millions of Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals was wrong even though they believe that their very survival depended on getting rid of these people. The social conditioning made people believe this to be the right thing to do, but it was not the right thing to do.

  2. I love Dooce, and this brought a tear to my eye when I read it. The “Random Acts of Kindness” thing–before it became a vapid catchphrase–is something that I try to do whenever possible.

    It does come around, too. For many years, my dad has carried a stack of 3×5 cards in his glove compartment. Whenever he stops to help a motorist in trouble, he signs his name on a card and tells them that to repay him they have to stop for somebody else in trouble, sign their name, and pass along the card with the same instructions.

    When I was about 10, we blew a tire on the highway. A motorist stopped to help my dad change the tire, then handed him one of his own cards with 17 names signed on it. (That one was taken out of circulation; my dad framed it.)

    Kinda restores one’s faith in one’s fellow man.

  3. makarios: if we’re going to argue Aquinas, I have to ask: what evidence is there that the universe began to exist? if you site the big bang, what existed to bang? why does god not need a creator but the universe does? The reason we’re “incapable of grasping” this is because there is never any good reason to differentiate that which exists from that which was created.

    and as to objective morality, anyone who has travelled abroad cannot help but understand that morality is not absolute. Might (or in the case of the US, plurality) makes right. It may not be nice to admit, but it’s true. If “God” (regardless of which god you mean) is the sole legislator of morality, why are those laws so often disregarded by even those who claim to espouse them (see this for a good list of things we agree are wrong today but which were right in Biblical times). Thirdly, if morality is objective, why does God disagree so heavily with himself (we can look at biblical inconsistencies, but let’s look broader): why do not the Koran, Old Testament, and New Testament have the same (exact same) “objective” morals? If biblical objective morality is distinct from koranic or Judaic objective morality, how any any of them be said to be “objective”?

    Cobwebs: that is amazing! I always feel bad when I pass a motorist. I do it less now that I have school (which is less sympathetic to lateness) than when I had a job—I would often stop for people. Sometimes all someone needs is a cellphone call.

  4. Makarios,

    I think most agnostics and atheists would argue that when you look at all religions, all cultures, you very, very quickly see that objective morality is absolutely impossible.

    But, it is relatively easy to come up with a moral philosophy that needs not be based in any religion or some sort of god-figure, and that is relatively objective.

    You have the right to do whatever you want so long as you don’t harm someone else, or infringe on their right to do the same.

    That is what I consider true morality at its most simple.

    I, as a gay man have the right to be treated the same as a heterosexual. I have the right to marry, to inherit, to adopt children, to conceive children if I so desire, etc. Any Christian has the right to BELIEVE that, for example, homosexual actions are not condoned of their god, and to even say that they believe that. They do not have the right to keep me from my rights, though, just as I don’t have the right to keep them from theirs, just because we have different subjective moralities.

    We do not need an objective God to tell us that the holocaust was wrong, and evil. In fact, if would be very sad if that were true.

    No as a world society, we can say that those actions were morally wrong because they were harmful to the extreme, and those who perpetrated it infringed massively on others’ rights. Any atheist would be able to come to that conclusion without God or Allah or Jehovah or Thor or Zeus telling them that.

  5. Look, first of all, I didn’t say anything about “absolute” morality. That is not the same as objective morality.

    The argument that I’m using is:
    . Without the existence of God, objective morality does not exist.

    . We know when people treat us badly, or when we see things like discrimination against homosexuals, or millions of Jews being killed that objective morality does indeed exist.

    . Therefore God exists

    I know, I know, that seems a huge stretch for you. Let me explain further.

    Some people say that objective moral values and duties don’t need to have their grounding in God. Rather, they just exist. eg. we don’t need God to tell us that was the Nazi’s did was wrong. Well, someone should have told that society and its leaders, because they thought that it was exactly the right thing to do. My argument is that atheists have no basis upon which to tell them that it was wrong. For example, moral values “just exist” what does that mean? What does it mean to say that Justice just exists? It is clear what is meant when it is said that a person is just; but it is bewildering when it is said that in the absence of any people, Justice itself exists. Moral values are not mere abstractions or part of someone’s shopping list of how the world should work. Atheists seems to lack any adequate foundation in reality for moral values but just leave them floating around waiting for an individual to pluck this one or that one out of the air as needed in the moment. But atheists also say that there are right and wrong ways of being. How can that be said? For example, let’s say that mercy, justice, love, patience and the like just exist. How does that result in any moral obligations for me? Why would I have a moral duty to be merciful? Who, or what lays such an obligation on me? Why should I rebel against a God telling me that I must be kind but not rebel against you or society telling me that same thing? If I have the power, or belong to a group with enough power I’ll just tell you to take a hike.

    Or say, Greed, Hatred, and Selfishness also presumably exist as abstract objects. Why am I obligated to align my life with one set of these abstractly existing object rather than any other?

    Theism, by contrast, provides a plausible basis for moral duty. Certainly we have a sense of morality, but in atheism that sense is an illusion wrought by socio-biological conditioning. Actually the socio-biological claim might be construed as evidence that objective morals exist. Because our moral beliefs have been selected by evolution, not for their truth, but for their survival value, we can have no confidence in the deliverances of our moral experience. Eg. Stoning someone for adultery.

    The question is NOT: Must we believe in God in order to live moral lives? Obviously not.

    The question is NOT: Can we recognise the existence of objective moral values without reference to God. Obviously we can and in fact the Bible says that these values are imprinted on our hearts.

    The point is this. God is necessary that there might BE objective moral goods and duties, NOT that we might discern the moral goods and duties that there are.

    If we are to hold to the natural selection continuum then we are forced into saying that rape is wrong in the human animal, even though the physical activity that counts as rape among the human animal goes on all the time in the rest of the animal kingdom. The same acts that count as murder and theft when done by one human animal to another occur constantly between members of other animal species – without any moral significance whatsoever. This is surely strange and cries out for explanation.

    Now, if I understand the atheist or evolutionary stance correctly, the claim is made that since our moral beliefs have been instilled through socio-biological pressures, objective moral values and duties do not exist. Such reasoning is fallacious, since a belief could be true regardless of how it came to be held. As well, if God exists, then objective moral values and duties exist regardless of how conditioned we may be by the evolutionary process. Now, I believe you are referring Plato’s dialogue Euthyphro – Either something is good because God wills it or else God wills something because it is good. If it is good just because God wills it, then what is good becomes arbitrary. God could have willed that hatred and jealousy be good, and then we should have been obligated to hate and envy one another. But that seems implausible; at least some moral goods seem to be necessary. But if we say instead that God wills something because it is good, then whether something is good or bad is independent of God. In that case, it seems that moral value exists independently of God, which undermines premise (1) of the moral argument. If God were not to exist, then objective moral values and duties would exist anyway.
    The Euthyphro Dilemma can thus be construed as an argument for Atheistic Moral Platonism. That is why I phrased the moral argument within the context of what a just and loving God commands or condemns.

    Since our moral duties are grounded in the divine commands, they are not independent of God.

    Neither are God’s commands arbitrary, for they are the necessary expression of His just and loving nature.

    God is essentially compassionate, fair, kind, impartial and so forth, and His commandments are reflections of His own character. God’s character is definitive of moral goodness; it serves as the paradigm of moral goodness. Thus, the morally good/bad is determined by reference to God’s nature; the morally right/wrong is determined by reference to his will.

    The divine will or commands come into play as a source of moral obligation, not moral value. As necessary expressions of his nature, God’s commands are not arbitrary, and so we need not trouble ourselves about counterfactuals with impossible antecedents like “If God were to command child abuse . . .” On the customary understanding, counterfactuals with impossible antecedents have no non-vacuous truth value. Even if we reject the customary semantics and allow that some counterfactuals with impossible antecedents may be non-vacuously true or false, how are we to assess the truth value of a statement with an antecedent like this? It’s like wondering whether, if there were a round square, its area would equal the square of one of its sides. And what would it matter how one answered, since what is imagined is logically incoherent? I don’t see that the divine command theorist is committed to the non-vacuous truth of the counterfactual in question or that anything of significance hangs on his thinking it to be non-vacuously true of false.

    If you should ask, as you think you are, “Why pick God’s nature as definitive of the Good?” the answer is that God, by definition, is the greatest conceivable being, and a being which is the paradigm of goodness is greater than one which merely exemplifies goodness. Unless we are nihilists, we have to recognize some ultimate standard of value, and God is the least arbitrary stopping point.

    Remember, we are not talking about moral absolutes. We are talking about objective morality. An action can be objectively wrong without its being absolutely wrong. Killing another person might be objectively wrong without it being absolutely wrong. It would be wrong for me to kill you, but it would not be wrong for a police officer to kill me in order to stop me from killing you. Nevertheless, each set of circumstances will contain its own set of objectively right and wrong things to do. The moral argument is interested in objectivity, not absoluteness.

    On the one hand, people have been taught that moral relativism is true, that moral values and duties are culturally and even personally relative and that you have no right to judge another. On the other hand, they’re steeped in political correctness and the values it entails. While we give lip service to relativism, we don’t really believe it nor do we live that way.
    The Nazi’s rounding up homosexuals and putting them into concentration camps is ok with you? Racial discrimination was ok as long as it was socially and culturally important? Stoning women for adultery? Inquisitions?, Priests abusing boys?

    If you are to avoid the argument’s conclusion, then you must deny one of the premises.

    As far as what caused the cause, this isn’t a difficult problem. Matter simply cannot exist from eternity. Yet something caused the beginning of the universe. So it had to be something outside of the universe itself. Just pretend that you haven’t come to any hard and fast conclusions on this, yet, and allow yourself to think like you have an open mind. That’s no a put-down. I mean, really try to do it. Just follow the logic without a priori rejecting the supernatural.

    Because of clear scientific (observable, repeatable, verifiable) evidence, we know that:
    . Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

    Because of clear scientific (observable, repeatable, verifiable) evidence, we know that:
    . The universe began to exist.

    Because those premises are true and coherent we can know that the following conclusion is also true: The universe has a cause.

    Because of clear scientific (observable, repeatable, verifiable) evidence, we know that:
    . Matter and energy cannot precede themselves or preexist themselves either physically or chronologically.

    The reason that no event can precede itself is because “Coming Into Being” is an essential and objective feature of time. Time did not exist prior to the Big Bang.

    Because of clear scientific (observable, repeatable, verifiable) evidence, we know that:
    . Matter and energy do not have the ability to create themselves or bring themselves into existence from nothing or ex nihilo.

    Because of clear scientific (observable, repeatable, verifiable) evidence, we know that:
    . Matter and energy cannot exist from infinity past.

    Therefore, whatever brought matter, energy, space, time and the laws of physics into existence had to have existed outside of these entities.

    Because of clear scientific (observable, repeatable, verifiable) evidence, we know that:
    . Anything that exists has an explanation of it’s existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
    . If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is external to as well as transcendent to the universe. That is because:
    Existing outside of time, the Cause is infinite or Eternal,

    Existing outside of matter, the Cause is immaterial or Spiritual,

    Existing as the Cause of time and energy, space, matter and the laws of physics, the Cause is immeasurably more powerful than the mathematically precise universe and its exquisitely Finely Tuned constants and quantities.

    The cause cannot be “scientific” because neither matter nor the laws of physics existed prior to the Singularity.

    Therefore the cause is not scientific but Personal.

    The transcendent Cause of the universe is therefore on the order of a Mind. It’s omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent.

    That Cause, at least in the West is described as God.

    Because of clear scientific (observable, repeatable, verifiable) evidence, we know that:
    . The universe exists.
    . Therefore, the universe has an explanation of its existence.

    Because the above premises are true and coherent, the following conclusion must also be true: The explanation of the existence of the universe is God

    . If atheism is true, then the universe has no explanation of its existence. This in fact is what atheists would have us believe as literally over a dozen theories have come and gone in a vain attempt to rule out God as the Cause of a beginning universe.

    . If there IS an explanation of the universe’s existence, then atheism is not true.

    . Most atheists would admit that the universe does indeed have a beginning.

    . Hence, most atheists are implicitly committed to God being the explanation of why the universe exists.

    Because of clear scientific (observable, repeatable, verifiable) evidence, we know that: .The universe cannot be infinite. That is because: The Second Law of Thermodynamics rules out the possibility of the universe existing from infinity past. As well, Background radiation, Levels of entropy and the Expanding universe confirm the truth of the 2nd Law.

    Because of clear scientific (observable, repeatable, verifiable) evidence, we know that:
    . It is physically impossible to have an Actual Infinite Number of Things or Events preceding our today.

    . A beginningless Series of events in time entails an actual infinite number of things.

    . Therefore, a beginningless Series of events in time that leads to the beginning of our universe cannot exist.

    Because of clear scientific (observable, repeatable, verifiable) evidence, we know that:
    . We can’t get to our point in time by forming an actual infinite Collection of things by adding one member after another.

    . A series of events in time is a collection formed by adding one member after another

    . A collection formed by adding one member after another cannot be an actual infinite.

    Because the above premises are true and coherent, the following conclusion must also be true: A collection of events in time cannot be actually infinite – therefore the universe cannot be infinite. Therefore the universe had to have a beginning and a Cause.

    The fact is, the infinite is nowhere to be found in reality. It neither exists in nature nor provides a legitimate basis for rational thought. The role that remains for the infinite to play is solely that of an idea or a concept.

    Sorry this was so long. It’s just that

  6. Wow, what a mess.

    Makarios, you need to educate yourself about the philosophy of ethics and morality, and about what proponents of non-religious morality really believe. As it is, you are arguing against a straw man. Unfortunately, you still lost the debate because your argument is so poor.

    You fail to provide clear definitions for any of your terms (e.g. “objective morality” or “God”); you confuse your intermediary conclusions with your hypotheses (e.g., why “God” must possess the attributes you describe him as having); you fail to support any of your claims; and you mistake obfuscation and appeals to authority (“Because of clear scientific (observable, repeatable, verifiable) evidence…”) with rational argument.

    The 2,000+ words you disgorged here may be a laundry list of what you wish were true, or what you hope is true, or what you fervently believe is true. But it is not an argument for any kind of coherent position.

  7. oh! I do love a good philosophical argument! I’ve been starved recently. Please feel free to pick mine apart, makarios, as I shall pick yours:

    It is generally accepted that “absolute”, “objective”, and “universal” morality are interchangeable terms. This is because if something is “objectively” right (or wrong) it is “absolutely” right, especially given common parlance. However, we shall use “objective” morality for this discussion.

    Most atheists would disagree with the first condition of your argument, that objective morality exists only because of God. Atheistic objective moralists (like Craig) have a different reason for objective morality—you are correct in stating that it is often evolution. We shall get to that.

    Your second condition is accepted by moral objectivists but I’m still not sure I buy it. I know too many people whose morality allows at the very least the first premise (“discrimination against homosexuals”) and certainly there exist both Holocaust deniers and Holocaust sympathizers. Of course I believe that they are idiots, just as they believe that I am an idiot for holding the opposite belief. Your second condition, therefore, fails, at least for moral relativists.

    Your argument’s conclusion is unproven, based, as it is, on at least one failed condition (and possibly on two).

    The argument for evolutionary morality (that we believe that some things are morally good or morally bad because we have evolved to think that way) is (generally, I’m not an expert in this area, and anyway am not sure where I stand on it) this: not killing people of your tribe is good for the tribe as a whole; charity to other members of your tribe encourages charity from your tribe when you need it; “morality” evolved as a general course of actions necessary to living in a tribe. Studies have been done showing that these basic principles are followed by “primitive” human tribes as well as animal tribes among social animals. [And, lest Sean catch me, I am defining “tribe” as a basic unit of society: generally larger than one family but composed of family groups.]

    This argument can probably be pointed to as the most atheistic argument for morality. It makes no appeals to any deity. It also comes up with the same “objective” morals that most religions espouse, namely killing within the tribe is wrong and you should be “nice” to others within your tribe.

    Your argument of God as policeman is one of the major points of contention with atheists. I’m of course paraphrasing your argument that there is no moral duty to be merciful, only God telling you that you should be. If you’re being good because someone is watching, then your goodness means nothing. If you’re being good because you’re afraid of Hell, likewise your goodness means nothing. [This argument can, of course be discussed in greater length, but since your argument in this area was basically non-substantive, I see no reason for my rebuttal to be.]

    Theism does indeed provide a plausible basis for moral duty. You will have no arguments from atheists for that statement. We will argue that it is not the best basis, or that it is a flawed basis. But a basis it certainly is.

    You indicate that your argument is not that we must believe in God to be moral, it is that God exists because we are moral. An interesting distinction—you agree that the existence of moral atheists disproves the first half of that. My discussion above discussing a non-theistic root of morality disproves the second.

    Regarding rape & theft in the animal kingdom: it is certainly true that both exist. However, it is interesting to note the tribal lines that are drawn. Theft from a non-tribe member is much better looked upon than theft from a tribe member; just as it is in the Bible. Now, either God saw fit to write morality on the hearts of beasts as well as men or there is a social necessity to some kinds of morality. There is also some evidence that rape is a [moral] good in some animals ensuring, as it does, diversity in parents. Even evolutionary morality may be relative…

    I’m not sure what you mean by this:

    Such reasoning is fallacious, since a belief could be true regardless of how it came to be held.

    Of course it is true that an argument may be true regardless of its premises, but I’m not sure how this helps your argument that God is necessary for morality (or that the existence of morality proves the existence of God).

    I’m also not sure who you think brought up Euthyphro, but it is an entertaining thought experiment. Here is where your need to define God comes in. I have been using God above to mean “a Christian (previously Judaic) God who exists without equal, sits in judgment of all humanity, created the universe, and is thought to be good in all His works”. I believe that this is how you, too, define God, which is why I have used it as such.

    However, for Plato and Euthyphro, there were many gods and not all of them could be assumed to be good. Additionally, most of the gods who did the creating were dead at this point. It was therefore an extremely important point to discover whether moral goods were good dependent or independent of the gods (should Hades depose Zeus, would right suddenly be wrong?). You misunderstand the impact of this factor on their discussion and instead focus on the nature of your god to prove that morality proves your god’s existence, stating that morals

    are the necessary expression of His just and loving nature.

    This is a circular argument, none of whose conditions or conclusions are accepted by most atheists. You’ll have to do better than that to convince us.

    Your “definition” of God is itself in need of argument. While we might accept that, “for the purposes of the following argument, let us assume that God” and then follow with your definition. However, if you want to convince us that morality proves your god’s existence, you will need to argue what evidence you have for any of your god’s attributes. If God is proven by morality, we can know nothing more than that God exists (and likes morality). We cannot assume that God is moral Himself, that God created the universe, that God killed himself and wants us to eat him weekly. These are jumps in logic from the (as previously demonstrated) failed argument that morality is proof of God’s existence.

    The need for an ultimate standard of value is firstly only necessary for moral objectivists. Aristotle has put forth a much less “arbitrary stopping point” than God—I shall refer you to him, as he is far more eloquent than I shall ever be.

    Your paragraph attempting to distinguish “moral absolutes” from “objective morality” (which need no distinguishment, as they are the same) is the classic argument for moral relativism. It goes like this: “killing” is a morally neutral act. If I kill a person for no good reason, it is morally bad. If I kill a person while I am acting as an officer of the law, to protect someone else from being killed, it is morally good. Thus, the morality of an action depends upon the circumstances surrounding the act. On this, then, we can agree.

    I have actually found that most moral teachings, whether in the home, in the place of worship, in the school, or in the university generally teach moral objectivism. Where people gain education in moral relativism is in real life: interacting with people of diverse backgrounds on a daily basis. People who are sheltered to the point that they only ever associate within their own tribe (often a religious tribe, but it need not be) never gain a real-world education in moral relativism. Political correctness, as much as it might be difficult to admit, is necessitated by a pluralistic society. If I am to have a chance, as a woman, to have my voice heard, political correctness is necessary. If Craig is to have the chance to marry the love of his life & start a family, political correctness is necessary. We run into this problem because our tribe has expanded to encompass the whole of humanity. You can see the morality of a small tribe by who it discriminates against: women, racial minorities, and sexual minorities. As our tribe got bigger and bigger, conflicts arose—see: the Nazi’s treatment of everyone outside their tribe.

    I’m not sure what argument’s conclusion I am avoiding, but I believe that I’ve denied most of your premises.

    Contrary to your assumptions of my assumptions, I’m not rejecting the supernatural before I hear your arguments. However, I do not see the proof of the supernatural in your arguments. You argue against matter’s eternal existence (despite the Law of Conservation, which we shall get to), but argue for God’s eternal existence. In what *ahem* material ways is God different from matter such that God’s existence is different from matter’s existence. You cannot simply say, “nothing can be created without a creator” and then say “except God” without discussing how and why God stands as the sole exception to all rules.

    The Law of Conservation (of Matter and of Energy) states that matter cannot be created or destroyed. This is proven daily as people, plants, and animals die, decompose, and become part of the dirt underneath us. This can be proven with some delving into scientific matters by the birth, life cycle, and death of stars. I am not a scientist, but it seems clear to me that what I observe daily may well apply cosmically as well—that the universe was not created but is subject to the Law of Conservation, as are all other things I have ever encountered. This may seem simple, but ever since I discovered the Law of Conservation, all the pieces fell into place for this argument. Sometimes simple is good.

    Your “scientific” arguments that “whatever begins to exist has a cause” confuses me. I’ve never seen anything that “began to exist”; as discussed above, everything I interact with daily has existed for as long as I can conceive—and will exist similarly. But again, taking your premise as valid, I would like to know how God factors into this: why does God not need a cause or, alternately, how is God different from the universe such that God did not begin to exist.

    The rest of your “scientific” arguments are similarly confusing. I don’t know what you mean by “energy cannot precede” itself. Surely we have all observed potential energy (a glass on a countertop) and kinetic energy (the glass falling to the floor). Similarly, the glass which sat upon the countertop “created” the shards of glass now littering the floor—but the matter of the shards of glass was not created by gravity.

    If everything that exists has an explanation, what is the explanation of God? Morality? Once again, a circular argument: if God created the universe and humanity is part of the universe and humanity’s morality proves God’s existence, the argument just goes round and round. So, back to your argument: everything that exists has an explanation. As discussed, the universe might well have an explanation “in the necessity of its own nature”—that is, not external to it, by your definitions. Since matter nor energy can be created or destroyed, and the universe is comprised of matter and energy, the universe was neither created nor will be destroyed. (Black holes at CERN notwithstanding.)

    When you argue for a cause for the universe that exists outside the universe, we get into shaky territory. You demand a cause that exists outside of time, matter, energy, space, and the laws of physics; in short, a cause outside of reality. Assuming for the moment that a cause outside of reality can even exist, how can this cause have any affect on reality? I, for example, exist outside of Nebraska. I would need to enter Nebraska in some way to have an affect upon it (either by proxy: mailing something; or actually: by going to Nebraska). How, then, does something that exists outside reality affect reality?

    Going back to the argument, something that exists outside of reality is by definition not real. Something that is not real may well be useful for the sake of argument (as our Greek gods above) or be assumed by all and sundry so that other arguments may exist (like i, the mathematical construct). But it still exists only in our imagination/argument. Which category does God fall into?

    If this cause is described in the West as God, we assume that in the East, North, and South, it is described as something else. If the arguments you put forth only work in the West, we assume that logic is relative. Of course, I have shown above that your arguments do not work here in the West, so we may still have objective illogic, if not logic.

    Your “Because” should be “If”: that is, “If the above premises are true and coherent […then] God.”

    Perhaps an atheist who believes in the beginning of the universe would like to put forth an argument. It’s getting late, I’ve been going on for a while, and while I know they exist, I am not one of them. Let us then accept your argument as true, that there exist atheists schooled in elementary logic who believe that the universe has a beginning. Their existence disproves your argument, though their arguments might do a better job.

    Once again, I refer you from the Second Law of Thermodynamics to the Laws of Conservation discussed above. I don’t know anything about background radiation or how the 2nd Law might possibly apply to the universe. Rather than refuting your arguments, then, I will simply ask you to state them.

    I look forward to your (don’t worry if it’s lengthy) reply.

    Also—to anyone who has better or different arguments than I, please chime in. Please note, that while I assumed from his discussion that Craig was a moral objectivist, I do not pretend to assume that he is an evolutionary moralist. Evolutionary morality is simply one discussion of morality that does not make appeals to a deity.

  8. I am indeed a evolutionary moralist, but am unsure as to exactly what “moral objectivism” is.

    I usually characterise myself as a relative evolutionary moral relativist.

    In other words, I would say that morality is relative, that morality comes from evolution, (both biological and social) not a god-figure, and that I am mostly a moral relativist but not totally, as I believe in a couple moral absolutes – the main one being my definition of morality above – every human has the right to do as they wish, so long as they harm no one else, nor infringe on another’s rights.

    In fact, it might be most accurate to say I’m a a type of evolutionary moral pluralist.

    Did you catch all that?

  9. “Moral objectivism” is the same as “moral absolutism”. It’s a difficult linguistic turn of phrase but necessary until makarios agrees that they are the same.

    I know virtually nothing about Nietzsche & have never read him. I should explore it—I realize it’s a major lack in my philosophical education.

  10. That’s what I thought. No, I’m not a moral absolutist, except with my one definition of basic conduct. Anything that fits in that can be moral, in my opinion, and will be relative to the culture it is viewed from. Which is why I’m neither an absolutist nor a relativist, but a relative absolutist, or a pluralist.

    And yeah, Nietzsche is pretty awesome. He had some awesome thoughts, and while I don’t agree with him on a lot of things (there is probably no in the entire world I agree with in entirety), his thoughts have a lot of merit. Plus, he is one of the most influential philosophers of the past 300 years for sure.

  11. Ya, that was a mess. I shouldn’t have been trying to listen to the ball game and supervise my kids and write down my thoughts at the same time. Because this is print and because I USE caps on to emphasise my words, I just want to say that this is not in anger. I just have REALLY important stuff to say 🙂

    “I’m not sure how this helps your argument that God is necessary for morality (or that the existence of morality proves the existence of God).”

    AAAAAAAAAAH!!!!! I’m not saying that! Folks, this is how this whole thing got started. Are you just joking? No, really, was that a joke? My very first statements have nothing to do with the existence of one’s morality, it has to do with the existence of OBJECTIVE morality, a standard for morality, an ultimate basis for morality – for that to exist – the existence of God or something outside of us IS necessary, in fact it’s necessary to have a Necessary being in which objective morality finds it’s source. That was a joke right? Am I talking to people who are just playing with me?

    As far as the definition of which God I’m talking about, I have never, ever heard, or seen any atheist spend one flake of h/her life trying to refute the existence of Zeus of Thor etc. Until I run into one of those people (like that will happen), you can assume I mean God as He is described in the Bible and demonstrated in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

    I explained the difference in MY definition of objective and absolute in the example of it being objectively wrong to kill when it’s me killing you but it is not absolutely wrong to kill if it’s a police officer killing me in order to stop me from killing you. Objective means that it is always, in all places, in all times wrong to take the life of another person simply because it feels good or because it suites my personal needs. That is not arbitrary or relative to the situation, nor is “not killing someone” absolute. The police officer is the one whose decision to kill is relative or selective to the situation. I am governed by an objective duty and value to not kill you. Although I am thinking about it 🙂

    The proof of an objective moral duty is not based on whether you or I believe it or obey it. An objective moral value or duty “IS” regardless of what you or I think. However it is easiest to distinguish its presence or reality when someone breaks that objective moral duty in h/her treatment of us.

    Let me use one more example, “All Things Being Equal,” if, just as you were about to sit down I take your seat on the bus, you don’t have to spend even one second wondering if in my tribe it was an ok thing to do. You know at a fundamental level that what I did was wrong.

    When you speak of what’s best for the tribe, you are of course thinking of what’s best for YOUR tribe. But, as you pointed out if it’s big enough, your tribe is going to have tribes within tribes and their values and morals may be diametrically opposed to your values and morals. Yet, at least according to the evolution of morals, they are just as right as you are. They, after all may be born, grow up and die completely within their tribe and know nothing and care less of how their values interfer with your values.

    You didn’t actually paraphrase my argument as much as change it. “You indicate that your argument is not that we must believe in God to be moral, it is that God exists because we are moral.”

    Whoa! If that’s what I said, it sure isn’t what I meant. I think I said:

    The question is NOT: Must we believe in God in order to live moral lives? Obviously not.
    The question is NOT: Can we recognise the existence of objective moral values without reference to God. Obviously we can. Again, we become clearly aware of them when we are wronged by others.
    The point is this. God is necessary that there might BE objective moral goods and duties, NOT that we might discern the moral goods and duties that there are.

    Look, to keep this from getting too long, let me simplify it – or complicate it as the case may be.

    Just as there can’t be an infinite regress of causes for the existence of matter, and because matter itself cannot be infinite, (and we certainly can’t logically state that “matter” can “stand as the sole exception to all the rules (laws of physics)” although it sure sounds like that’s what you are suggesting) therefore we have an infinite or eternal cause that is external to nature or matter (the law of conservation applies to what takes place within the universe, NOT what happened before time, space, matter and energy came into being), so it is that we cannot have an infinite regress of explanations for this or that OBJECTIVE moral duty; “objective” meaning that it is necessary, it is not open to change depending on the circumstances. The reason that “objective” morals (like taking someone’s seat) are not abstract and therefore relative to the situation is because they originate in a Being who is in Himself honest and fair. Therefore honesty and fairness are non negotiable.

    Just because someone, let’s make it a Christian although I’ve observed far more discrimination against homosexuals by the non religious than the religious, but just because some Christian has discriminated against homosexuals doesn’t mean that it was, is or ever will be ok to do that.

    Just because the Roman Catholic Church protected abusive priests, it doesn’t mean that it was, is or ever will be ok to do that. Hmm, where was I going with this. Oh yes. Objective morality, as I am using the term, means that the buck stops with God otherwise all were talking about is selective or relative morality; otherwise all we’re talking about if preference, opinion and likes/dislikes.

    I don’t have a problem with that. If that’s how most of the people in a democracy want to run the country or even their lives, then so be it. That’s how life should work. I’m just saying, don’t call it “objective” morality. It’s simply the morality we live by. No more. No less.

    I’m not saying you shouldn’t live the way you want to live. Go crazy! Knock yourselves out and all the rest of the sayings. I’m just saying that if the morals to which you adhere are “right” today, but they might be wrong in 50 or 100 years, then they are in fact not morals with an objective base, and if you want morals with an objective base then that base will in fact be God because you can’t go any further back than that.

    Like I said:
    . A belief could be true regardless of how it came to be held. and
    . If God exists, then objective moral values and duties exist regardless of how conditioned we may be by the evolutionary process.

    The answer to “Why pick God’s nature as definitive of the Good?” is that God, by definition, is the greatest conceivable being (according to the philosophical / metaphysical argument), and a Being which is the paradigm of goodness is greater than one which merely exemplifies goodness. Unless we are nihilists, we have to recognize some ultimate standard of value, and God is the least arbitrary stopping point.

    Good grief I can talk a lot.

    If you already know how to explain away a beginning of the universe without an external cause, I suggest that you call Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose and the like because they are working their butts off tying to prove exactly that. I guess they haven’t read your posts. That was a cheap shot – sorry.

    Again, is this a joke? I never said, “If everything that exists has an explanation, what is the explanation of God”

    I said, everything that BEGINS to exist has an explanation of its cause. The universe began to exist. Science tells us this. There was NOTHING prior to the Big Bang. The universe wasn’t some little egg of matter that then exploded for no particular reason. And that’s why I said in my first response, it seems impossible for atheists to “get” the implications of what science is telling us.

    “That, xJane, was beautiful. Brava.”

    So Craig, are you going to aline yourself with comments that contradict the findings of science? This seems pretty strange for me as a Christian defending the findings of science against an atheist.

    For xJane to say that the universe did not have a beginning puts her in an infinitesimal minority that still holds to the steady state theory, a theory that was blown out of the water with the discovery of background radiation, entropy levels, the rapidly expanding universe, the 2nd Law etc. I mean that theory was left in the dust several decades ago. “Beautiful xJane?” I just find this really weird. But whatever. Good luck on your journey. I’m moving on.

  12. You seem to think that your definition of God is obvious and you seem to think it is silly to have to explain it. It is not. Everyone has a different definition of God, and yours is actually still not very specific at all. The problem with saying “God as he is described in the Bible…and demonstrated in the person of Jesus of Nazareth” is that every single church and denomination has a different definition of what that means, very often vastly different, they have different motivations ascribed to God for creation, they have varying degrees of anthropomorphisation of their god-figure, (Mormons are probably best at that), varying degrees of everything, really.

    To an atheist or many agnostics it makes as much sense to believe in Jehovah/Allah/Elohim/Jesus/the Holy Ghost as it does to believe in Zeus/Wotan/Jupiter, or Brahman, Buddha, Xenu, etc., which is why I mentioned other god-figures. If you think your god exists, then why don’t these other ones exist? You not only have to prove the existence of your god, but the non-existence of these other gods for your belief system to be rational.

    The point is this. God is necessary that there might BE objective moral goods and duties,

    I disagree, but even if that were so, i.e. that in order to have an objective/universal/absolute moral, you have to have an (apparently Judeo-Christian) god, you’ve still not really explained WHY we need objective/universal/absolute morals or one specific moral code that is absolute. xJane and I have explained in different ways why having an absolute moral system doesn’t fit with reality, and why it doesn’t work. As non-believers in an afterlife (that has yet to be proven to the slightest degree), all we have is this life, the experiences between birth and death to base our observations and our SCIENCE on. The science of morality is explainable through evolution that has coded in our bioligy and our social structures the usefulness of morality for our species’ survival. It is not so that we may, after we die, get rewarded by god(s)/God/Jesus/Allah or so s/he/it won’t punish us, burn us, destroy us, etc. That is not why humans have morality, and you have not shown us any logical reason why we ought to abandon the demonstrable existance of evolutionary morality for your absolute deistic morality that apparently only god(s)/God/Jesus/Allah really fully knows about, and so how are we supposed to act in accordance with rules we don’t even know? You don’t seem to realise that your “objective” Godly morals are very different from those of many other Christians, and that things you probably think are moral, are immoral to others. You yourself are evidence of the plurality of moral systems, and the non-objectiveness of ANY of them.

    The reason that “objective” morals (like taking someone’s seat) are not abstract and therefore relative to the situation is because they originate in a Being who is in Himself honest and fair. Therefore honesty and fairness are non negotiable.

    Just by stating something doesn’t make it so. You give no evidence for your claims, and in this forum, on this website, that is a must.

    Just because someone, let’s make it a Christian although I’ve observed far more discrimination against homosexuals by the non religious than the religious, but just because some Christian has discriminated against homosexuals doesn’t mean that it was, is or ever will be ok to do that.

    HAVE you now? Really? What a fascinating statement. I find it (obviously) very, very hard to believe that.

    Of course it is not ok to do that. No one is saying it is, though many, many believers in religion (mostly monotheistic varieties) DO believe it is OK and Moral and Godly to discriminate against homosexuals, including, and often especially, the spiritual leaders of those religions and denominations. Homophobia is incredibly rampant in monotheistic religion, and while a few denominations have repudiated it, the vast majority have NOT. In fact, the only ones I’m aware of (and correct me if I’m wrong) would be liberal Protestant denominations, or other liberal churches that grew out of Protestantism (UUism for example).

    I’m not saying you shouldn’t live the way you want to live. Go crazy! Knock yourselves out and all the rest of the sayings. I’m just saying that if the morals to which you adhere are “right” today, but they might be wrong in 50 or 100 years, then they are in fact not morals with an objective base, and if you want morals with an objective base then that base will in fact be God because you can’t go any further back than that.

    But WHY is it a problem if they’re not objective morals? And why, oh why do you simply think we’ll accept your assumption that “you can’t go any further back than [God]?” You’ve in no way demonstrated effectively that God
    1) created the universe
    2) the he preceded it
    3) that it is necessary to even believe that

    There was NOTHING prior to the Big Bang.

    Then what banged? Is this truly a scientific fact, or even assumption? I think not.

    So Craig, are you going to aline [sic] yourself with comments that contradict the findings of science? This seems pretty strange for me as a Christian defending the findings of science against an atheist.

    You are not, not, NOT, using science accurately to prove your point. You’re misrepresenting facts, and are making wild leaps to conclusions that are quite ridiculous, and are not understanding basic points about the scientific principles you’re invoking.

    xJane did not say the universe did not have a beginning. She stated that the conservation of matter/energy points to nothing being created or destroyed, just change of form. The big bang theory posits that “Extrapolation of the expansion of the universe backwards in time using general relativity yields an infinite density and temperature at a finite time in the past.” I.e. that at some finite in the past, the big bang occured and the universe as we know it started to exist in its current form, but it did NOT appear out of no where, but rather, (taken from wikipedia),

    The earliest phases of the Big Bang are subject to much speculation. In the most common models, the universe was filled homogeneously and isotropically with an incredibly high energy density, huge temperatures and pressures, and was very rapidly expanding and cooling. Approximately 10−35 seconds into the expansion, a phase transition caused a cosmic inflation, during which the universe grew exponentially. After inflation stopped, the universe consisted of a quark-gluon plasma, as well as all other elementary particles. Temperatures were so high that the random motions of particles were at relativistic speeds, and particle-antiparticle pairs of all kinds were being continuously created and destroyed in collisions. At some point an unknown reaction called baryogenesis violated the conservation of baryon number, leading to a very small excess of quarks and leptons over antiquarks and anti-leptons—of the order of 1 part in 30 million. This resulted in the predominance of matter over antimatter in the present universe.

    This does not require a God to have been wading around in that pre-Big bang energy/matter and have snapped his fingers to generate the big bang which created our universe.

    I am absolutely, positively NOT aligning myself with comments that contradict science. You are not understanding what science has deducted about the beginnings of our universe, and xJane is absolutely aligned in her arguments with what science has discovered about the universe.

    The universe began to exist. Science tells us this.

    Yes it does

    …There was NOTHING prior to the Big Bang.

    Science does NOT tell us that. You obviously do NOT understand the big bang theory at all. That statement defies pretty much ALL science.

    … The universe wasn’t some little egg of matter that then exploded for no particular reason.

    What do you mean by “reason”?

    And yes, her explanation and argument was actually beautiful. I find logic and reason beautiful. Weird as that may be.

    P.S. Making a “cheap shot”, then drawing attention to it, and leaving it in your comment, thinking perhaps that you saying that you realise it is a “cheap shot” makes it less immature is, well rather silly.

  13. I need to make a couple amendments.
    I realised that I wasn’t clear in talking about the beginning of the universe and made a couple statements that could easily be construed in such a way that would make it seem that I didn’t understand the big bang theory. (And I don’t fully)

    Anyways, one explanation of why the big bang happened and what, if anything, existed before the instant of the big bang is explicable through quantum physics. (Not god).

    A good explanation is given here.

    Which is one theory. Another is that our universe was born out of another previous one(s), and that ours will in turn give birth to yet another (maybe).


  14. makarios: I’m distressed by your constant rewording of your arguments as though that will change them or make them stronger. You started by saying

    . Without the existence of God, objective morality does not exist.
    [argument about the existence of objective morality]
    . Therefore God exists

    then you say

    AAAAAAAAAAH!!!!! I’m not saying that!

    Obviously, my response and refutation of your argument was not a joke. Even practical jokers don’t spend that kind of time and energy making jokes that may not be even recognized as jokes. And yet again, I have to call “circular” on your logic: the existence of God is necessary for the existence of objective morality which is necessary for the existence of God. In any case, we (both Craig & I) have already disproven the existence of objective morality. But neither of us is so unschooled in logic to assume that this disproves the existence of God. So we are left with no (stated) proof for the existence of God.

    Your definition of God and your assumption of its obviousness is quite humorous—as much as I would love to take it apart, Craig has already done quite an awesome job. Suffice it to say that even if we remove Zeus from the equation, we are still left with quite enough gods (even just among Americans—or Christian Americans) that we require a definition. But thank you for defining your term (if only partially).

    Your discussion of killing & police killing completely misunderstands the definitions of both “objective” and “absolute”. Once again, however, we will continue with your definition of “objective morality” as being the matter at issue.

    it is easiest to distinguish […objective morality’s] presence or reality when someone breaks that objective moral duty in h/her [sic] treatment of us.

    I would submit that all that is evident in that situation is the difference of moral opinion. If I see someone beating their slave, I will of course have a gut reaction that it is morally wrong (both to own a slave and to beat it). However, the person doing the beating does not believe either of these. No proof that slave beating is either objectively right or wrong is proven by the situation. All that is proven is a difference of morality—moral relativism or moral pluralism, depending.

    My point about the tribes is this: when people exist in an insular community (say, the Byzantine Empire), people who exist outside that community (say, Jews and Muslims living in Jerusalem) are not part of the “tribe” and so morality does not apply to them. This is proven by the vicious slaughter by the first group of the second. Now that we exist in such a place (Earth) that our “tribe” extends to all people, only those insular groups who survive have any sense of objective morality left. And this is evidenced in their treatment of people outside of the tribe (atheists, homosexuals, feminists, Muslims). This is when moral plurality comes into play (I like that phrase, Craig), since a tribe so large and made up of so many subtribes cannot exist (peacefully—it will soon destroy itself internally) if it insists upon objective morality.

    You didn’t actually paraphrase my argument as much as change it. “You indicate that your argument is not that we must believe in God to be moral, it is that God exists because we are moral.”

    Whoa! If that’s what I said, it sure isn’t what I meant.

    and yet you did actually say, as I quoted above,

    . Without the existence of God, objective morality does not exist.
    [argument about the existence of objective morality]
    . Therefore God exists

    Your argument, from what I can tell, is essentially this, that objective morality can be proven without appeal to God but that “God is necessary that there might BE objective moral goods and duties”. But again, we have disproved your assumption that objective morality exists.

    more discrimination against homosexuals by the non religious than the religious

    I would also have to side with Craig on this, but I’m working from personal experience and not hard studies. Most often, insular tribes that continue to exist despite a pluralistic society’s best efforts to include them are religiously based. And again, this is evident in their “objective” morality that homosexuals, witches, and uppity women should be metaphorically stoned.

    If the moral buck stops with God, we come back to Euthyphro. Even if we take as a given that God exists and exists as you have defined Him, how are we assured that He might not change His mind tomorrow & that which is currently objectively good will not become objectively bad? If God is the only reason for objective morality, but we have no proof that God exists (and proof that objective morality does not), we [atheists] are left with no morality at all—an argument that we hear quite often, and which prompted me to post this story in the first place. But we have already shown that morality can exist without God—no buck stoppage necessary.

    don’t call it “objective” morality. It’s simply the morality we live by

    This is, in fact, what we have been saying—that objective morality does not exist and that all we have are the numerous (relative) moralities that make up this quilt of pluralism that we live in.

    One of the wonderful things about being a moral relativist is that you can change your mind when it comes to morality. I will fully admit that I used to be in the gay-bashing (Catholic) tribe. Now, a conversation about a suit brought because an employee was discovered to have “bisexual tendencies” makes me physically ill. Now, a bigot espousing his brand of bigotry and attempting to make it law makes me enraged. I learned—and now I live my life by a different (and, I would submit, better) moral code. Of course I think my moral code is better—otherwise I would not adopt it as my moral code. But I am open to discussion about why I might want to change it.

    Aquinas again! yay 🙂 My issue with this argument (the greatest possible being) is that it can be used to prove all manner of invisible things. While I might like to experience tea from the Celestial Teapot just once in my life, and you might like to prove that your God exists, some might use that very same argument as proof for their own god (be He Allah, Zeus, or *gasp* a goddess, or *bigger gasp* an Invisible Pink Unicorn). Yes, it would be even better for the Greatest Possible Being® to exist than for him not to exist, but that does not prove his existence. It merely proves that it would be better if his existence was true. You have supplied us with no need to assume that the Greatest Possible Being® ought to exist, that he ought to be male (is that part of the “greatest” or part of the “being”?), that he ought to have participated in celestial deflowering to be born as a human (is that part of “greatest”?), or that he ought to have killed himself (especially when his worthy followers are denied that particular act). Even if we take as a given that a Greatest Possible Being should exist, and then accept Aquinas’ “proof” that it does, we know nothing about this Being but that it is Greatest! From there, we have an extreme leap of faith to be able to apply the mere existence of the GPB to morality, ancient texts, or current cultic practices.

    And once again, while not a nihilist, I reject your demand that I “recognize some ultimate standard of value”. I don’t see anything nihilistic about this position, but would be interested in hearing arguments about (a) why it is nihilistic and (b) why that’s bad.

    I would be absolutely honored should Stephen Hawking visit, comment, or even just lurk on this blog. But I doubt that anything said here is of any interest to him. And yes, he is currently working on many things of scientific import that I could not hope to understand. I’m sure you’re much more versed in quantum mechanics than I shall ever be. But Craig has, again, done a wonderful job of proving that the “accepted” version of the Big Bang does not call for sudden existence from non-existence. It actually assumes an infinite timeline, speculates on what happened before the Bang, and produces additional evidence that “before the Bang” might indeed have been infinite.

    You did indeed say that everything that begins to exist must have a cause—but you did not give me any evidence of anything that began to exist. I have experienced occasional moments where I might agree that an assignment I did not do had not existed before class, when I might have done it—but it is often the case that it did exist, and my belief that it spontaneously appeared does not jibe with the rest of my experience here on Earth. I did not “begin to exist”. We can start with my father’s breakfast, which prexisted, was digested, and hung out in his testicles for a while, but even that is an arbitrary starting point. Perhaps my Grandmother’s menses and the point in time that her eggs developed. I would like an example of something that “began to exist”. Until then, we can only discuss causes and effects, which I believe we have done quite satisfactorily as it applies to the arguments at hand.

    I have not heard of the Steady State theory, but Wikipedia’s first line indicates that it stands as an alternative to the Big Bang. I have seen evidence of infinity, I have studied physics long enough to understand the Law of Conservation. I have enough of an understanding of science that the Big Bang seems to me the most plausible theory of the beginning of what we know as the universe—but that doesn’t mean that there was nothing before that. Something had to have banged. Just as the beginning of me has a date that I can pinpoint (and celebrate) yet there existed things before I did.

    You are in a forum where argumentation can be art & where the fun is not in the proving someone wrong or right but participating in the dialogue. I do hope that you have not truly “mov[ed] on” and that you will join in the discussion in other posts.

  15. I had almost as much fun reading your rebuttal as I had writing mine.

    Argumentation surely is art. And that is why it is beautiful.

  16. xJane – hey thanks for writing about this – I’ve always loved hearing how the atheist crowd understands morality mainly because I’m unfamiliar with it and want to learn.

    I wish I could have posted some of my own comments, but then again, I think I’ve come to the honest belief that I can never have this kind of discussion because I will never have the ability to come up with the Socratic definition of terms we can all agree on up front with someone outside my worldview. I will always be misunderstood and I will never get my argument straight.

    I do enjoy a good argument on both sides of a tough topic nonetheless. If no one minds, I would like to link to this discussion for others to read.

    What is most important, I think, is that you remained civil thought the whole thing, as did makarios (for all that I read of his writing). I think that is why I enjoy coming here and reading what you and John write.

    Please understand that while it is fun to bash Christians, some of us really are crazy about you two (you and John) personally and are rooting for you, and really do enjoy hearing good reasons for why you think the way you do. When you debate like you did in this post, it is pure joy to hear what you have to say. Humble, smart thinkers sharpen each other – especially when you disagree. I’m glad you asked makarios to keep coming back and reading – its good to have opposing opinions on some issue as long as everyone remains civil. The readers get more out of it.

    Take care!

  17. Jonathan! I’ve been missing you ’round these parts. I don’t usually demand definition of terms but when it comes to bald assertions that are clearly not in the realm that atheists accept (like, “God exists”), I find that it helps both parties to back up a step to find a place they can both stand.

    I’m quite impressed that such a small post sparked such lengthy conversations (wish I could pull that off when I intend to…) but I’m glad it did.

    Assumption of good will on both sides is paramount to keeping these kinds of things civil (even when such assumptions are unwarranted). I’m a firm believer of engaging trolls (not to imply makarios was one).

    I’d love to have more input to this conversation. One of the major arguments I’ve heard from (family) theists is that atheists can’t possibly be moral. I think it’s an area that both sides could stand to explore (if they can stand to be in the same [virtual] room).

    I’m sorry if we bash Christians too much—I know for me there’s a lot of bottled up bashing from Christians that I’m still getting out of my system. And I think it’s important to have a safe space to do it. That said, I like that we’re more moderate here than, say, Pharyngula. I’m even more sorry if that’s the reason you’ve been gone for so long. I do hope that makarios comes back and sparks more discussion. I intended this post as food for thought, rather than food for debate, but I’m glad it turned into what it has.

    Link away, Jonathan, I’m looking forward to new commenters!

  18. xJane – No- I’ve not been offended, I’ve just been way too busy . 🙂 I can well understand your point that their are a LOT of jerk Christians – I have been on the bad side of that many, many times, and in many ways am a kindred spirit in that regard. I have also done my share of Christian bashing on my own website out of the same intense frustration.

    I thought you might be interested to know in your arguments with Christians that the Bible says that atheists (and every human being) do have a moral code and are moral – it is part of their conscience. What the makeup of our conscience is — that is an element worthy of discussion.

  19. Romans 2:14-15:
    “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.”

    Not wanting to get into any discussion about Paul’s entire argument here, my basic point is:

    Gentiles = everyone, atheist or otherwise, me being a gentile.

    My guess on what Paul is saying in this short passage:
    We all have a conscious that accuses or defends our actions. According to this, (and if you are Christian), you will have to walk away with the truth that the spirit behind the Old Testament law is put into everyone’s conscience.

    Where our conscience comes from, either from evolved social morality based on tribal survival, or from God depends entirely on your worldview and cannot be argued across it. This whole subject and different people’s take on it has always been fascinating to me. Since I am a video gamer, I love to see this played out in the Knights of the Old Republic I and II and in D&D games (both video and board). It really tests to see how you understand your morality- either from the evolutionary angle or the God one. 🙂

    Talking about morality and video games, I think with our society becoming more virtual, it is interesting to see how people behave when they can be whoever they want to be…

  20. Thanks for responding. It is interesting to see how people behave when they can be anonymous, or when they think there are no consequences.

  21. Michael T.

    Ah, where to begin …..

    I am deeply “religious.” I am a Buddhist.

    I believe that everything that exists is sacred. But I don’t believe in “god.” Buddhists are non-theists.

    A common Buddhist saying – part of the core of Buddhism – is “All beings, one body.” (Christians often – mistakenly – call that pantheism. They also call it heresy or blasphemy – I forget which, because I really do not care – those terms have no meaning to me ;>)

    Buddhists talk about “monkey mind” – roughly the “self”, or left, analytical brain – and “big mind” – total identification with everything that exists and has existed, from the beginning of space-time to the end of space time.

    And before. And after. Non-verbal, non-analytical, right brain perception of unity.

    That is founded on compassion.

    Buddhists don’t believe in sin. They do, however, make choices. Right action, right livlihood. But there is no dualism, no good vs. evil that so defines the perceived righteousness – amd sometimes arrogance – of Christions.

    I have a degree in Philosposy. But I don’t have a clue what Christians are talking about in most of their proofs. There are so many, many assumptions buried – and in plain site on the surface – in their worldview that have no correleation to how I see the world.

    Buddhism says – there is suffering. It acknowledges the fact. Christianity immediately inserts a premise – a desire – and creates a quandry with elaborate explications that make no sense to me :”If god is good, how is it possible that there is evil in the world”, or “Why do bad things happen to good people”, etc.

    I you go back to St Thomas Aquinas, for example, he posited that the soul was the cause of certain animation in humans. But the same actuon in dogs was not caused by the soul, because – of course – dogs don’t have a soul (to talk about poorly defined terms to begin with … ;>)

    With genetics, we see that we are so closely related, that unless you posit some “super added” hocus pocus mystery ingredient “The Soul” – Occoms Razor insists that the simplest explanation – same basic DNA and physiology – is the best explanation.

    So we come to the monumental conclusion, after a few steps — get ready for this – that dogs feel pain! Oh my gosh, earth shattering! (babies too FWIW; we just “concluded” trhat officially a few years ago! ) How obvious, really if you don’t interject unnecessaruy concepts to “preserve” human superiority.?

    I would also point out that the “physical rules” of the “universe” as we supposedly know them – however we define them – don’t necessarily apply during events such as the big bang.

    The correct quantum mechanical “rules” for an almost infinite density object – a black hole the size of the head of a pin – that contains all of t he matter in our universe are quite poorly understood/defined.

    I’ll leave you with a few quotes from current Buddhsit teachers that touch on metaphysisc and morality. No attrempted definition of absolute, etc termss.

    The first is from Thich Nhat Hanh, who was nominatesd for the Nobel Peace Prize by Dr Martin Luther King:


    INTERBEING – by Thich Nhat Hanh
    in his book, “Peace is Every Step”

    “If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. “Interbeing” is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix “inter-“ with the verb “to be,” we have a new verb, inter-be.

    If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. Without sunshine, the forest cannot grow. In fact, nothing can grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look, we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see wheat. We know the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. The logger’s father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way, we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.

    Looking even more deeply, we can see ourselves in this sheet of paper too. This is not difficult to see, because when we look at a sheet of paper, it is part of our perception. Your mind is in here and mine is also. So we can say that everything is in here with this sheet of paper. We cannot point out one thing that is not here – time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything co-exists with this sheet of paper. That is why I think the word inter-be should be in the dictionary. “To be” is to inter-be. We cannot just be by ourselves alone. We have to inter-be with every other thing. This sheet of paper is, because everything else is.

    Suppose we try to return one of the elements to its source. Suppose we return the sunshine to the sun. Do you think that this sheet of paper will be possible? No, without sunshine nothing can be. And if we return the logger to his mother, then we have no sheet of paper either. The fact is that this sheet of paper is made up lonely of “non-paper” elements. And if we return these non-paper elements to their sources, then there can be no paper at all. Without non-paper elements, like mind, logger, sunshine and so on, there will be no paper. As thin as this sheet of paper is, it contains everything in the universe in it.”



    By Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh (From the book Interbeing)

    1 Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth.

    2 Do not think the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth. Avoid being narrow minded and bound to present views.

    Learn and practice nonattachment from views in order to be open to receive others’ viewpoints. Truth is found in life and not merely in conceptual knowledge. Be ready to learn throughout your entire life and to observe reality in yourself and in the world at all times.

    3 Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education. However, through compassionate dialogue, help others renounce fanaticism and narrow-mindedness.

    4 Do not avoid suffering or close your eyes before suffering. Do not lose awareness of the existence of suffering in the life of the world. Find ways to be with those who are suffering, including personal contact, visits, images and sounds. By such means, awaken yourself and others to the reality of suffering in the world.

    5 Do not accumulate wealth while millions are hungry. Do not take as the aim of your life fame, profit, wealth, or sensual pleasure. Live simply and share time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need.

    6 Do not maintain anger or hatred. Learn to penetrate and transform them when they are still seeds in your consciousness. As soon as they arise, turn your attention to your breath in order to see and understand the nature of your hatred.


    From the Dalai Lama:

    Compassion and the Individual
    Tenzin Gyatso; The Fourteenth Dalai Lama

    The purpose of life

    ONE GREAT QUESTION underlies our experience, whether we think about it consciously or not: What is the purpose of life? I have considered this question and would like to share my thoughts in the hope that they may be of direct, practical benefit to those who read them.

    I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. From the moment of birth, every human being wants happiness and does not want suffering. Neither social conditioning nor education nor ideology affect this. From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment.

    I don’t know whether the universe, with its countless galaxies, stars and planets, has a deeper meaning or not, but at the very least, it is clear that we humans who live on this earth face the task of making a happy life for ourselves. Therefore, it is important to discover what will bring about the greatest degree of happiness.

    How to achieve happiness

    For a start, it is possible to divide every kind of happiness and suffering into two main categories: mental and physical. Of the two, it is the mind that exerts the greatest influence on most of us. Unless we are either gravely ill or deprived of basic necessities, our physical condition plays a secondary role in life. If the body is content, we virtually ignore it. The mind, however, registers every event, no matter how small. Hence we should devote our most serious efforts to bringing about mental peace.

    From my own limited experience I have found that the greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion.

    The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own sense of well-being becomes. Cultivating a close, warm-hearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease. This helps remove whatever fears or insecurities we may have and gives us the strength to cope with any obstacles we encounter. It is the ultimate source of success in life.

    As long as we live in this world we are bound to encounter problems. If, at such times, we lose hope and become discouraged, we diminish our ability to face difficulties. If, on the other hand, we remember that it is not just ourselves but every one who has to undergo suffering, this more realistic perspective will increase our determination and capacity to overcome troubles. Indeed, with this attitude, each new obstacle can be seen as yet another valuable opportunity to improve our mind!

    Thus we can strive gradually to become more compassionate, that is we can develop both genuine sympathy for others’ suffering and the will to help remove their pain. As a result, our own serenity and inner strength will increase.

    Our need for love

    Ultimately, the reason why love and compassion bring the greatest happiness is simply that our nature cherishes them above all else. The need for love lies at the very foundation of human existence. It results from the profound interdependence we all share with one another. However capable and skillful an individual may be, left alone, he or she will not survive. However vigorous and independent one may feel during the most prosperous periods of life, when one is sick or very young or very old, one must depend on the support of others.

    Inter-dependence, of course, is a fundamental law of nature. Not only higher forms of life but also many of the smallest insects are social beings who, without any religion, law or education, survive by mutual cooperation based on an innate recognition of their interconnectedness. The most subtle level of material phenomena is also governed by interdependence. All phenomena from the planet we inhabit to the oceans, clouds, forests and flowers that surround us, arise in dependence upon subtle patterns of energy. Without their proper interaction, they dissolve and decay.

    It is because our own human existence is so dependent on the help of others that our need for love lies at the very foundation of our existence. Therefore we need a genuine sense of responsibility and a sincere concern for the welfare of others.

    We have to consider what we human beings really are. We are not like machine-made objects. If we are merely mechanical entities, then machines themselves could alleviate all of our sufferings and fulfill our needs.

    However, since we are not solely material creatures, it is a mistake to place all our hopes for happiness on external development alone. Instead, we should consider our origins and nature to discover what we require.

    Leaving aside the complex question of the creation and evolution of our universe, we can at least agree that each of us is the product of our own parents. In general, our conception took place not just in the context of sexual desire but from our parents’ decision to have a child. Such decisions are founded on responsibility and altruism – the parents compassionate commitment to care of their child until it is able to take care of itself. Thus, from the very moment of our conception, our parents’ love is directly in our creation. ………………..


    This is also a wonderful article: “Hope for the Future.”

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