What Will Atheism Bring?
Audio Recording for those that don’t have the time: (always keeping you unfortunate ones in ma mind)
This is a Response Article to the following post on The Gospel Coalition.
Modern Atheism has a problem. At least according to a Professor of Psychology at Toronto University, named Jordan…australia.thegospelcoalition.org
The “Secular Psychologist” article is talking about the notoriously controversial intellectual Jordan Peterson and his remarks on Atheism. I like Dr. Peterson a lot. Therefore, when I saw this article I thought I should write a response article, why not. I have written about him in the past saying that he is “the master of life advice”. But even this master mind is capable of error. So am I. This is not to say that I am not. People are meant to disagree with one another. It is a beautiful privilege. Through disagreement we may reach the truth.
In this article Akos Balogh tries to prove that even secular intellects can see that to have objective morality is ultimately impossible without being a Christian that has a moral law giver that provides the objective moral law. I find articles like this all the time. I would like to argue that it is wrong to assume that and that the argument should die altogether.
Let me explain the argument briefly and give an ulterior suggestion.
Ravi Zacharias and the Moral Law-Giver
Ravi Zacharias, the Christian Apologist, explains it well.
If there’s evil, then there’s good.
If there’s good, then there’s a moral law.
If there’s a moral law, then there must be a moral law giver.
If there’s no moral law giver, then there there’s no moral law
If there’s no moral law, then there’s no good.
If there’s no good, then there’s no evil
If there’s no evil. What was your question?
Why do I have to assume a moral law giver? Everytime that question is raised it is either raised by a person or about a person. Therefore, it’s premise is that there is value to the person. But naturalism does not provide value to person-hood. — Ravi Zacharias
There is a lot I disagree with here. And Ravi probably expects me to disagree. Naturalism does not lead to moral chaos and it also does not lead to nihilism. How would I be able to argue this? If this was the case you’d be able to clearly observe that Christians have a better reason to be moral than Atheists. But that is not the case.
You see what I did there? I did not say that you’d be able to see that Christians are better than Atheists. Christians typically divert to the argument that there can be sin present in their lives.
Why then, if Christians have a reason to be moral are they not more moral than Atheists? I thought that only they can have a moral law since they are the only ones that have a moral law giver (to paraphrase Ravi Zacharias).Why are Atheists good then?
Altruism has evolved in humans very early on, we are not designed to be mean to each other. I have talked more about this in a number of articles on my blog, I think that this one does the job best:
“People say we need religion when what they really mean is we need police” (H. L. Mencken).medium.com
But if you want to look at other sources that I have written that touch on morality, feel free:
The Moral Argument for God:medium.com
It is not certain that God does not exist. It is assumed that he does not exist. I rather propagate ambiguity and…medium.com
The points in the article on The Gospel Coalition’s website are a little bit different. They are outlined, summarized, and dissected below. After that, I have rephrased my already mentioned remarks trying to suggest that there is an alternative to Christianity other than nihilism, chaos, and “rational evil”.
- Atheists Believe That Doing Evil is Irrational. And Doing Good is Rational.
- Selfish Behavior is Rational
- Acts of Virtue Can Be Irrational
- If Doing Evil Can Be Rational, and Doing Good Can Be Irrational, Then Human Reason Alone Can’t Tell Us Right From Wrong.
- The Western View Of Morality and Human Equality Did Not Arise Through Human Reason Alone
1) Atheists Believe That Doing Evil is Irrational. And Doing Good is Rational.
Yes. I agree.
2) When Selfish Behavior is Rational
What is irrational about me getting exactly what I want from every one of you whenever I want it at every possible second?…There’s nothing irrational about it. It’s pure naked self-interest. — Jordan Peterson
The problem with this Dr. Peterson is that there is a difference between instant gratification and prolonged gratification. I am sure Dr. Peterson recognizes this. In this context he may be saying this out of pure emotional reasons, who knows. Maybe he was having a particularly selfish day. Sometimes I say things that I don’t actually mean or I don’t have time to explain sufficiently. And I do understand that I am just looking at one sentence and responding to it solely, so I could in the end be misunderstanding him. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt here.
Either way there is everything irrational about being someone that gets what he wants every time he wants it. You can’t be trusted, you misuse the group you are involved in, you lose companions because of self-interest, on and on I can go. This is not how relationships work. Naked self-interest of this sort does not work purely from an empirical stand point. Monkeys tend to act very selflessly at times harming themselves severely or even starving themselves for the sake of their fellow kin. Should we also point to them as having a superior moral law-giver?
3) When Acts of Virtue are Irrational
Was it rational or irrational for a non-Jew in Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II to risk his or her life to hide a Jew? We all know that this was moral greatness of the highest order. But was it rational?
Not really. You can’t get much more rational than self-preservation. Moreover, in all the studies I have read of non-Jewish rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust — and I have read many — I have never read of any rescuers who said that they did what they did because it was the reasonable or rational thing to do. Not one. — Dennis Prager
Prager’s view on morality however is entirely misleading and incorrect. To point to him as an authority on this is unfortunate and almost, one could say, ignorant. Dave Rubin does a fabulous job of exposing it:
It needs to be said that philosophers from schools of philosophy branching from Epicurus, Socrates, and even Confucian philosophy would all teach that the self is non-existent. They would argue that saving another person is entirely rational, because there is no difference between them and you. In saving yourself, you are actually just saving something that is identical to the next person. There is no difference apart from the sense of consciousness. Atheism doesn’t necessarily teach self-preservation at all costs.
In many cases, philosophers have died for the sake of knowledge and science. Why would they not be able to extend that to being able to die for the sake of saving a Jew during the Second World War? Think about the amount of hurricanes and earthquakes in the last year. Imagine how much time, energy, & resources were given to the victims of these natural calamities from secular citizens. Many secular journalists have given their lives in the Middle East to provide the truth to the regular people, many secular investors, such as Bill Gates or Tony Robbins, give millions of dollars to citizens of third world countries to end world poverty.
4) If Doing Evil Can Be Rational, and Doing Good Can Be Irrational, Then Human Reason Alone Can’t Tell Us Right From Wrong.
And so, contrary to popular Atheist views, human reason alone won’t be able to guide individuals or society to work out what is right, and what is wrong.
So if it wasn’t reason alone that gave us the western view of human rights, human equality, and human dignity, then where did such a view of humanity come from?
In sum, if the benefits of doing something illegal/immoral outweigh the risks of being caught, why not do it? It’s a rational calculation.
The misconception here is that “human reason alone” gives us “human rights, human equality, and human dignity”. I don’t understand where Alos Bakogh is getting this from. Evolution gives us the reasons for human rights, as is pointed out brilliantly both by Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. And I have elaborated on this point in my blog post, If There is No God, Why Be Good?, which you can find at the top of this article.
5) The Western View Of Morality and Human Equality Did Not Arise Through Human Reason Alone
[T]he proposition that underlies western culture, is that there’s a transcendent morality… the ethic that drives our culture is predicated on the idea of God.’ — Jordan Peterson
Christianity was to introduce the notion that humanity was fundamentally identical, that men were equal in dignity — an unprecedented idea at the time, and one to which our world owes its entire democratic inheritance.’ — Luc Ferry
I would not be so quick to determine that (as the author borrows from Luc Ferry) that the idea of self-worth is entirely borrowed from Christianity. Besides, to look to Luc Ferry as a point of reference just because he is a secular philosopher seems biased and done just for the sake of proving a point. So what that Luc Ferry says that? Does that mean that he is right just for agreeing with you?
Jordan Peterson has at another point said that he is an atheist because the case for Atheism is stronger than the case for Christianity. Peter Watson (historian, author of The Age of Atheists) would also suggest that Atheism has a case for morality. So would moral philosophers such as Peter Singer and Robert Wright. Not to mention already introduced intellectuals, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. Anthony Gottlieb says the same in his book The Dream of Reason, saying that we owe almost all our democratic influence from philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato.
Also, as was stressed earlier, reason is not the tool for determining evil and good. Not every atheist would agree with Peterson on that point.
As great it is to point to a source of authority I don’t think that it’s enough to prove a point. In this case it’s easy to suggest altruism in early species that explain why we can determine good and evil, it’s what has evolved over the centuries. Sam Harris has written a lovely book on How Science Can Determine Human Values, explaining this point of view. I do recommend it if we are to understand this better. I have summarized some of it’s key points in the blog post below:
I appreciate the article, it was very well written. And might I say, I enjoyed it. But it seems that the conclusions are founded on what individual people agreeing with his worldview say. I am guilty of this very often as well, don’t get me wrong. But I try to include as much information on the topic and research as possible, trying to make it as factual as it could be. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did.
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