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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Secularism's Ongoing Debt to Christianity

In his recent post in the online journal American Thinker called “Secularism Ongoing Debt to Christianity,” Secular Atheist and author John D. Steinrucken made quite a surprising admission. One only need to read the title of the article to see that what followed was a drastic departure from the normal anti-religious rhetoric coming from more prominent Atheists and Secularists. And what a change indeed. Rather than claiming that “religion poisons everything,” Steinrucken actually asserts that religion, more specifically the Judeo-Christian conviction, actually is the efficient cause for the wide-spread liberty and freedom that secularism has enjoyed in the West since its inception. Not only does he assert that Secularism was fostered in what could loosely be called “Christendom”, but actually that the fate of Western Secularism is intertwined with the survival of the Judeo-Christian worldview in the West as well. As goes the latter, so goes the former as it were.

What is most striking about his article is the forthright admission of the inability of Secularism to ground any kind of moral standard. This has been a topic of interest on RL for quite some time now, and on this, Steinrucken seems to be on the side of the faithful. Score one for the home team. Now, before all my fellow theists get too elated, Steinrucken is not making the case that such morals are REAL, only that the BELIEF in objective morals, such as can only be grounded by religious convictions about the justice of God, objective truth, and the real and universal value of human persons, is pivotal to the survival of a free Western society.

To that end he says, “Those who doubt the effect of religion on morality should seriously ask the question: Just what are the immutable moral laws of secularism? Be prepared to answer, if you are honest, that such laws simply do not exist! The best answer we can ever hear from secularists to this question is a hodgepodge of strained relativist talk of situational ethics. They can cite no overriding authority other than that of fashion. For the great majority in the West, it is the Judeo-Christian tradition which offers a template assuring a life of inner peace toward the world at large -- a peace which translates to a workable liberal society. ”

Well put. Later he even goes so far as to say, “Secularism has never offered the people a practical substitute for religion.” He briefly alludes to the failed attempt at Secular utopias that ended up causing some of the worst crimes against humanity ever perpetrated in the history of mankind. Those secular attempts for utopia, “when actually put to the test, have not merely come to naught. Attempts during those two centuries to put into practice utopian visions have caused huge sufferings. “ Sadly, we have no want of examples that affirm his statement – Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China, Hitler’s Germany, Hoxha’s Albania, Castro’s Cuba, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, and on and on. It is no small thing that the most secular century has been, hands down, the bloodiest century in human history – a fulfillment of Nietzsche’s dark prediction that the death of belief God would mark the beginning of the most violent era in human history. People would replace their faith in God with faith in the state – “barbaric nationalistic brotherhoods” as he called them.

We get a sense that Steinrucken has read Nietzsche and has imagined the same fate. What most people don’t know is that Nietzsche did not only make a prediction about the 20th century, but also the 21st - and it doesn’t get any better. Nietzsche saw that the 20th century would at the very least have some residual moral sentiment left over from the 19th century and such a sentiment would curb the barbarism. The 21st century however would have no such sentiment. He predicted a “total eclipse of values.” If it was so easy for the Secular Utopias to marginalize, then criminalize, then euthanize vast swaths of their citizens even with residual values, how much more easy will it be to do so when values are entirely passé? However, where Nietzsche saw the inevitable, Steinrucken desires to avoid such a societal collapse.

Here again I must remind my fellow theists not to get too excited. Steinrucken is not advocating for some widespread conversion to faith. His point is that it is in the secularists’ best interest to see to it that the moral grounding found in the Judeo-Christian tradition is preserved. This is because should secularism do away with that foundation, and then one day find itself in disfavor and itself under the thumb of some radical ideologue hell-bent on purging society of the godless and the infidel, the secularist will have no one to defend them because no one will be left to decry the real injustice of it all.

I will end where he ends, “It is not critical that they themselves believe, only that they should publicly hold in high esteem the institutions of Christianity and Judaism, and to respect those who do believe and to encourage and to give leeway to those who, in truth, will be foremost in the trenches defending us against those who would have us all bow down to a different and unaccommodating faith.”

Article found at:


  1. It seems to me that, no matter how many times secularism puts forward solid, realistic, and reliable views on morality, theism and accomodationalist Atheists will continue ignoring it.

    Is the view that we ought to be good "just because" and other wishy-washy variants alive and well in the Secular Community? Unfortunately, yes it is. As an ardent Atheist and member of the Secular Movement, I readily admit that this plague of relativism has yet to be ended.

    However, is it just to characterize all Secularists as only moral relativists? No, not at all. To do so is no more intellectually sound than for an Atheist to say that all Christians are heartless reactionaries who would rather see a woman die than permit her to have an abortion. Neither is an honest appraisal of the "other side's" beliefs.

    So what sort solid, objective morality do Atheists like myself advocate? For my part (and many others I have talked to) it is not based only on what is "in vogue" with current moral trends. Rather, we simply ask ourselves "What conditions has our species evolved to flourish in?" Once we have sussed out what these conditions are (or at least have a good grasp of what they are) we can start prescribing behavior on the sound foundations of what is legitimately best for us based on our innate human nature. At that point, prescribing moral conduct is no more unnatural or bizarre than prescribing a proper diet based on our understanding of what nutrients human bodies need.

    What does such a system look like? Again, I am no expert, merely a humble student. However, I think it painfully obvious that the fundamental drive for human beings is a sense of abiding happiness (contentment, joy, peace, call it what you will). That being the case, there are two components one needs in their life to have a higher chance of attaining such a goal; they are compassion and integrity.

    Compassion will allow you to flourish in your relationships with others. An empathetic, personal individual is much more likely to have close friendships, a healthy relationship with a good significant other, and good interactions with others in their community. Given that human beings are obviously social animals, these things are a part of our healthy lives. Indeed, studies have observed that people whither and suffer without decent human interactions, and compassion is a key component in those interactions.

    As for integrity, it will allow you to "sleep at night," so to speak. We are social agents with a capacity for empathy (except for genuine sociopaths). That being the case, even if we manage to "get away with it" when committing some crime or betrayal, we will still be there observing ourselves and our psyche will suffer because of our own hypocrisy. In the end, to shorten a lengthy argument, we simply are happier if we are "right in our own eyes" as well as "right in the eyes of others," so to speak. Integrity allows us to be happy with ourselves even when no one else is around.

    Put these two together and you have a compassionate person with a strong sense of integrity for themselves and a genuine concern for others. People such as this will naturally tend towards liberal societies with the sorts of social institutions and respect for human value that is so often (and I think wrongly) attributed by people such as yourself and Steinrucken to monotheistic faiths.

  2. Some possible objections:

    "But Brandon, even those people who think there are concrete naturalist reasons to be moral still simply have to choose to be moral. It's still just a choice, and thus subjective."

    What's the point here? Even if we were to all know there was a God, and even if it were the God of the Bible, there would still have to be a choice to follow his commands. We could still choose to just ignore him and do what we want regardless of the threat of hell. Indeed, many Biblical characters seemed to have taken just such an attitude. So, just because we know there is an all powerful arbiter of morality hovering above us demanding that we play by the rules he installed, we still have to make the *choice* to obey anyway and avert the punishment. It's no less subjective in that regard.

  3. Some possible objections, continued...

    "But Brandon, you still didn't say what exactly constitutes right and wrong."

    Nor do I have to, given that morality stems from compassion and integrity. Still, for the sake of being overly specific, I will. At the point when we are moral because we care about others *and* care about ourselves, we act in ways to minimize their suffering and minimize our suffering while simultaneously maximizing their happiness and our own.

    Is this just dressed up utilitarianism? No, I don't think so. We can still make moral judgments that go against the grain of society if we deduce that society is being immoral towards human beings. It might go this way:
    1. I care about other people and their happiness.
    2. Homosexuals are people who can feel happiness.
    3. I want them to be happy.
    4. Society seems to want them to not marry.
    5. There is no rational reason or scientifically based data that indicates it would be harmful for homosexuals to marry each other.
    6. It seems that most of society just "thinks it is icky."
    7. There is no reason to think that the "it's icky" line of reasoning is innate since not all cultures have shared in it.

    Therefore: I should support same-sex marriage and oppose marriage bans because homosexuals deserve to be happy and there is no rational reason to stop them from achieving their happiness.

    As far as integrity goes, anything that violates our integrity is rendered wrong. Lying, cheating, stealing, adultery, etc.

    As you can see, while one could make a whole long list of precise moral prescriptions, it isn't necessary for just defending the idea that morality is natural on a simple site like this. Books are good places for such elaboration.

    The main gist that I would like for others to walk away with is that under naturalistic morality, we start with the question of "What helps human beings flourish?" and when we find that it is morality built on integrity and compassion, we then can start sussing out what sorts of things uphold those two principles and what violates them.

  4. Possible exceptions continued...

    "But Brandon, what about all those horrible secular societies that were mentioned in the blog?"

    Those types of claims ("Atheism leads to X terrible society of the past) are, I'm willing to say, pure straw men.

    Secular Humanism and Metephysical Naturalism (the two primary streams of thought I'm seeing emerge within the New Atheist Movement and Secular Movement) are adamantly opposed to one thing that both religious traditions and fascist societies share in common: dogma.

    The unifying factor in those societies that led to atrocities was not the absences of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (who himself was a mass murderer back in the days of the Old Testament). The common unifying theme was dogmatic following of a leader or type of leader (such as a communist party or a set of dogmatic ideals). The unquestioning, unthinking, immutable loyalty to leaders and dogmas of these countries did away with critical thinking and moral objections; everything was subsumed to the will of the leader, the party, or the dogma. Just add a supernatural component to that and you've got a religion...but I digress, that's another topic for another day.

    The main point is this; those societies were terrible because they suppressed critical, rational, moral thinking and demanded total loyalty to a leader or ideal. They formed cults that were secular only because they lacked a god or afterlife.

    The Secular Movement is separate from just "secular" just like Christianity is separate from just "theism". The tenets of the Secularist Movement (critical thinking, morality towards all, rationality, and logic) all lead people away from leadership cults and state-worship dogmas which lead to the horrible societies mentioned earlier.

  5. I feel it worth mentioning that democracy, which is truly what allows us freedom, not Christianity (whom has a vast history in the past of doing some pretty crappy things as well when not held in check)was founded in Ancient Athens (where they worshiped the Classic Greek Gods).

  6. Brandon,

    Thank you for your insightful and well thought out response to the article. Rather than go through and respond paragraph by paragraph (which I may if I at some point feel the need to circle back on some issue), I will simply present an objection that I do not think you addressed. You seem familiar with some of the theistic objections to your position (though I am not sure I would make any of them since I think they are all invalid for much of the reasons you stated) but you left out some of the more substantial ones.

    I should also like to begin by stating that by objective I mean that moral facts/values exists independent of any person’s/people’s beliefs about them. So X is moral regardless of if anyone believes it to be or not. I mean it in the same way that I think any empirical description of reality is objective. I do not think that the tree outside my window is green and leafy because I believe it to be. Epistemology should never be the basis of ontology.

    I also am relieved to see that you reject nihilistic and relativistic moral theories as obviously false. So can we agree that if a moral theory can been shown to logically lead to moral nihilism or relativism that it is obviously false? I would think from your statements that you would agree. So I will here try and show that even while in theory your reject them, the logical conclusion of your position actually leads precisely to those positions and thus is obviously false.

    Now, in your response you made the comparison between what is morally good with what we might call practically good, such as a good diet. That is, it is what is practical and leads to something like human flourishing. Here is my question, where do moral values and moral obligations come from?

    Now you may have thought you answered that but I think, as I will try and show, you simply snuck them in through the backdoor.

    Imagine that you are right that what we label “moral goodness” is really something like “that which brings about human flourishing.” This leads to several problems.

    Why should we think that human flourishing is more important than dog flourishing or mosuquito flourishing? If there is no innate moral value in what it is to be human, that is, if we just arbitrarily assign value to humans because well, we are humans, then on what basis do we object to things like Dredd Scott, Nazism, Eugenics, etc. that simply draw the line arbitrarily somewhere else? So that only X-Humans possess value while Y-Humans do not.

    Next we could also wonder on what basis we would even say that morality is not entirely illusory such that the atheist is basically in the position of saying “we know there is no such thing as real moral values or duties… but we must live as if there are for the good of society.” So we could easily imagine that human society could have evolved such that rape was by and far the most effective and efficient means of replication or even that it was something like 1000x more likely to impregnate than consensual sex. In this case would rape still be wrong?

  7. I have a hunch you would have to bite the bullet and say that if that was the evolutionary end game then yes, rape in that world would be the moral thing to do because it leads to the highest human flourishing.

    But if that is the case, that we have one world where rape is immoral and one where it is moral, then what can we conclude is the determining moral factor? I have a hunch you would say that the context is the determining factor. That is, that world X itself, where rape is immoral, is the determining factor. But this reveals a problem. Morality then no longer resides in the act (the act of rape itself becomes entirely indeterminate) but in the cultural view of the act to which they believe to lead to the highest flourishing.

    Now that we have that in place we can see that implied by this is that human flourishing IS good and thus moral goodness IS innate in certain actions. Thus the statement would be true, “the act of seeking human flourishing is good” where the predicate “is good” describes the act “seeking human flourishing.” But now we have reached a reductio ad absurdum: that morality is not innate in actions and that certain actions, namely anything that promotes human flourishing, are innately good. So one must be false. Either actions are amoral and have no innate moral values and thus we cannot even say that whatever promotes human flourishing is moral, or actions are innately good independent of their outcomes or peoples beliefs about them, in which case naturalistic and utilitarian moral theories would be false. I simply take it that it is more obvious that moral facts exists (that rape is immoral because of what rape IS) than any premise that could be promoted to the contrary. So that any argument that denies the objectivity of objective moral values is drastically LESS obvious than the existence of objective moral values.

    Now you may say, “but it is empirically verifiable in our world that rape does not lead to human flourishing and thus it is immoral.” And there is the rub. Since the act is not the moral determining factor but is rather the result of it, you have snuck in the back door what results you will call good and what results you will call bad. Because each result is itself going to be arbitrary. So think of the chain of questions:

    Why is rape wrong? Because it does not lead to human flourishing.
    Why is it wrong to not lead to human flourishing? Because human flourishing is good.
    Why is human flourishing good? …

    No matter what answer you give, you will always be perpetually pushed back to arbitrarily call something good with no basis to determine that good other than utility. But utility is not inherently moral/immoral.

  8. In fact we can imagine all kinds of things that we call moral (courage, self-sacrifice, care for the sick and elderly, etc) that do not lead to higher levels of human flourishing, if at all, and may in fact lead to reduced human flourishing. And we can think of things that could easily lead to human flourishing (greed, excess of power, deceit, etc) but that we consider immoral.

    So again think of Nazis. If the Nazis define human flourishing as the expansion and domination of the Arian race (the true human race they say) such that their genocide and eugenics programs lead to higher levels of “true human” flourishing, then on what basis do you call their system immoral and yours moral?

    Because they cause pain? Well you are sneaking in that causing pain is immoral.

    Because they murder innocent humans? Well you are sneaking in an arbitrary notion of what a human right is and that murdering innocent humans is actually immoral. (Again because you are sneaking in that improving human flourishing actually IS good.)

    Finally we can ask what the basis of moral duties could possibly be. It might be a fact that rape is wrong, but why would that impose any kind of moral duty upon me? A healthy diet is “good” but I am under no obligation to carry out a healthy diet. But telling the truth is good and I have a moral duty to tell the truth. Whence the obligation? Simply because my human peers tell me to? Is morality nothing but the illusion of a social contract? What if I don’t care about peer pressure?

    I think all naturalistic theories of morality simply run afoul of the fact/value distinction and cannot account for the existence of the realm of objective moral values and ultimately logically lead to subjectivism and nihilism.

  9. Tara, I recommend reading the article again. It is not arguing what political atmosphere is required for the free exercise of liberty, but rather the social climate that historically brought about even our moral concept about human values, liberty, and social ethics. I recommend reading Steinrucken's article and then mine.

  10. So at first I thought I would respond to several points you made that I disagreed with, however that was taking an enormous amount of time and I was starting to feel bad about making you wait so long for a response. Also, the response was beginning to get far too large, so I decided to compact it down a bit and summarize just a few main disagreements I have with what I think you were trying to say.
    First and foremost, you seem (to me) to be making a form of the "you can't get an 'ought' from an 'is'" argument. At least, that's what I get from your argumentation that merely proving that humanity flourishes (and by that I mean enjoys happiness) under some parameters doesn't constitute a reason to pursue those parameters. You indicate that one can just keep asking "Why care about that?" with regards to naturalistic postulations about why one should be more, such as "To make others happy."
    I think this argument, if it is indeed what you were getting at in so many words, is deeply and irredeemably flawed. A simple imagining of God being an undeniable fact easily illustrates why his proven existence would do absolutely nothing to make morality more grounded than it is in naturalism. Imagine, for a moment, that God is an absolutely proven fact as obvious to everyone as the sun. Now, this God decrees that all people have an inherent worth and he instructs us to honor that worth by loving and caring about each other. That situation (an observable, proven god demanding that we love and respect each other) would constitute the nature of things, and "the nature of things" is just another way of saying what "is." Ergo, God explicitly telling us about moral worth and moral obligations would just be God describing a certain situation in the world; an "is." By the "you can't get an 'ought' from an 'is'" logic, it would naturally follow that no one would be bound to care what God said on the matter. After all, his cosmic decrees would be nothing more than "is" and would tell us nothing about "ought."
    Even if we were talking about God designing us with moral intuitions, such as caring for others, that would still just be the way things are; an "is." There would be no difference from you asking why I should care about morality if it just naturally evolved within me to me asking why you should care about morality just because a god placed the idea inside you.
    Now, to be honest, I think mere common sense saves us from barring ourselves from deriving an ought from an is. Think about it; whenever you get hungry, it is merely a state of things; an "is." You then think to yourself "Hmm, I'm hungry. I ought to eat to abate this hunger," and, in so doing, avoid miserably starving to death. There you have it. An ought derived from an is, quite easily. The same thing happens when we think we ought to make love, defend ourselves, voice our opinions, or spend time with loved ones. Those are all cases of our brains taking in data about the state of things around us (and the state of things within us) and deciding to pursue an action based on those situations

  11. Ergo, whenever someone realizes (as, thanks to science, our species is starting to realize) that human beings flourish (and again, I mean are made happy) within certain parameters of interactions and behaviors, someone is then totally justified in reasoning "Because I would flourish in that sort of world, I should therefore pursue that sort of world." How does this apply to morality? Easily! One need only do a survey of the great work out there confirming that human beings are happier and healthier when they enjoy strong, healthy relationships with other human beings that include empathy for their fellow humans and integrity for themselves. With that simple (and, I would argue, intuitive) bit of insight, plenty of moral obligations appear; we should be kind, caring, respectful, loving, and generous with other human beings and maintain a high level of integrity in our private lives as well. This would promote happiness in others (which we would want because of our empathy for them) and happiness for ourselves (which we would want because of our own basic self interest). Thus we have moral obligations arising solely from reason based on our natural parameters.

  12. You also made quite a bit to do about the subject of rape. Now, obviously, I agree; rape is an immoral evil and a horrible crime. You suggest, however, that naturalism provides a theoretical framework for justifying rape: "What if we evolved so that rape was good?" Well, let's think about this for a moment.
    Rape is usually defined the forced act of sex with another human being. It carries with it connotations of deprivation of free will, a perversion of true love-making, brutality and violence, dehumanization, and mindless cruelty. I would agree; it is all those horrible things and more.
    However, what if our species had evolved so that forced copulation were the only way for us to reproduce? I will provide a brief little metaphor first...
    Imagine putting a man in a room filled with CO2 and leaving him there. He would slowly, painfully suffocate and die, and you would have been responsible for his brutal murder. You'd be labeled a monster, and rightfully so. However, we think this way now because a room full of nothing but CO2 is a deathtrap as far as we're concerned. But what if our species had evolved to breath CO2? Well, in that sort of world, being placed in a room filled with CO2 isn't bad at all. In fact, it's no different than when we help someone outside in our world to get them a breath of fresh air; it's something they need and appreciate. Still, it seems an odd thought to us Oxygen breathers since a room full of CO2 would kill us!
    Now, what if our species had evolved so that forceful sex was our only way of producing children? Well, since natural selection for sex would favor those who partook more often, it would favor those who were okay with forced sex. Our species would look at forced sex the way we currently look at proper sex; a natural act. In whatever weird world where humans would have evolved to thrive with forced sex, "rape" as we know it (an evil) wouldn't exist, just like a world full of CO2 breathers would not classify being placed in a room filled with CO2 as an evil.
    Now, you may balk at that. You may say "How horrible! His theory of morals defends rape!" However, (if you really do think that) I encourage you to not think so simplistically. I am not defending rape; I think it is an evil precisely because our species has evolved to see it as an evil. I am merely saying that, however unpalatable we might find it, it does not mean it is theoretically impossible to imagine a world where our ideas of right and wrong don't exist due to different parameters

  13. However, even more fundamentally, before you balk at that, consider what I am really saying. I'm saying "If the parameters were totally different, action X wouldn't be evil." Any Theist who says that God dictates reality and dictates what's moral has to look at disgusting stories from the Bible, like the story of Abraham and Isaac, and say the same thing. Normally, we'd consider it horrible for parents to even remotely think of killing their children. However, Theists seem to cut Abraham a lot of slack because "God told him to do it, so it was automatically morally good," because God, supposedly, can do no wrong. (Note: it is irrelevant that God wound up stopping Abraham and the whole thing was a test. The simple fact that Abraham was willing to kill his son to please God is atrocious regardless of the surprise ending.)
    Now, this is just another case of saying "If the parameters were totally different, action X wouldn't be evil." The only thing that is changing is the "what" that's altering the moral parameters. For me, it is blind, thoughtless evolution. For Theists, it is God. Either way, you have something that can change parameters to make certain actions moral at certain times, so there really is no ground for Theists to gain on this issue.

  14. Also, you said something that I found to be a severe misconstruing of naturalism and humanism. You suggested that a naturalist and humanist (such as myself) would have no real grounds for opposing horrible things like the Holocaust or other discriminations. You argued that since we humanists are "arbitrarily" drawing the line at caring about human flourishing, why not just arbitrarily draw it somewhere else and focus only on certain humans flourishing.
    The answer is simple, and natural. We have evolved to be closer in emotional bonds with humans; specifically, our family and friends. However, our ability to empathize allows our emotional bond to go beyond our immediate social network. We can project our common humanity onto humans around the worlds and care about them. And, to be honest, I see no reason that our empathy should stop with humans; a core underpinning of my moral outlook is the evil in uselessly inflicting suffering on sentient beings. Dogs, cats, horses, octopi, apes, monkeys, etc. are sentient. Not as sentient as us, but certainly able to realize when they are in misery. Mosquitoes? Mosquitoes lack the nervous system required to produce what we know as pain, let alone an awareness of misery. In the end, they aren't much different from little robots; they're just organic material instead of metal and plastic, but I digress.
    The point is a nuanced understanding of naturalistic morality carries with it the idea that all indefensible imposition of suffering is an evil. Do we still hunt animals or kill livestock to feed ourselves? Yes, but there is an important rational reason: to feed ourselves. If we were in a position as a species to become totally herbivorous and still feed every mouth and provide all needed nutrition, then morally I would say we are compelled to do so.
    There is no rational reason to employ racist ideologies. Science, and sheer common sense in interacting with others, shows again and again that there is no fundamental difference between races. Ergo, horrors like the Holocaust are not only emotionally reprehensible, but intellectually reprehensible; the worst of both worlds, so to speak. Racism can only persist where ideology trumps both reason and science. In fact, all sorts of evil things and horrible ideas can persist where ideology trumps reason and science. Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia, Pol Pot's Cambodia...all cases where deeply flawed ideologies and personality cults were placed above reason, rationality, and science. It is feverish devotion to flawed human beings and flawed ideologies that paves the way to large scale evils, not the mere epistemological assumption that the ontological nature of things is that they are non-supernaturally created or driven.
    That's all for now. Looking forward to hearing back from you. This is both enjoyable and meaningful.

  15. I will respond in full shortly. But before I do I would like to hear your response to this:

    "We evolved the ability to perceive the material/natural world. Therefore the material/natural world is ontologically subjective because we can show how we evolved the ability to perceive and form differing beliefs about it."

    Why is it that you believe that statement is false (I assume/hope you do) but you do not think the following logically equivalent statement about morality is not false? Can you explain how describing how we evolved to perceive/believe X means X is subjective in itself? (We can even use this same formula to show that you should also believe that even logic itself is subjective)

    "We evolved the ability to perceive the moral world. Therefore the moral world is ontologically subjective because we can show how we evolved the ability to perceive and form differing beliefs about it."

  16. Brandon: I am surprised and amazed at your level of reasoning. I think the difference between you and many atheists(including myself) is that we often fail to express the reasons behind our morality. The truth is that morality is a built in evolutionary trait required by social animals (as you have mentioned before). Social animals evolved to depend on each other, which means that there has to be certain levels of selfishness and altruism. Each organism must ensure its own survival first and then that of the collective, because the collective increases chances of personal survival. Morality is really not a subject of decision. There is no line that gets drawn for each person on what moral values should be, except if they subscribe to religion.

    My argument is that the grey areas and contradictions in religious texts allow believers to follow some moral imperitives, but discard others. Religious fundamentalists will murder abortion doctors, but the mothers who choose to abort her child is not stoned to death. This moral ambiguity is what allows religious fundamentalists to draw arbitrary and cruel moral boundaries.

    Atheism however does not confuse morality with belief in a moral doctrine. For Tyler to claim that atheism was the cause of the cruel regimes of the past was both wrong and intellectually dishonest. You pointed out the common pattern in these regimes correctly.Dogma is the cause.

  17. Religious interpretations of morality have caused numerous cruelties throughout history including witch burning, wars and mutilation of children's genitalia. Not to mention the deliberate attacks on scientific advancement in the name of religion. For these reasons it is unfair and dishonest to claim religion as the cornerstone of morality, especially by attempting to demonize atheism.

    As for the case of rape. Some animals do engage in forced sex for evolutionary reasons. The courtship is often violent and sometimes deadly. This is most probably (I am no expert) a method to ensure that females mate only with the strongest males who can endure and overpower them.

    In social animals such violence is mpractical from a survival perspective. The collective is needed for increased chances of survival and so it is bad to harm a member of the group. The imaginary scenario that Tyler uses as an example is simpply absurd, because in such a situation human social relationships would be radically different, and all moral conclusions that we draw out of this imaginary scenario with our own built in moral intuition would be incorrect. It is furthermore a rather nasty tactic to use the imaginary justification of a deplorable act as an argument. He further loads up his arguments against yours by claiming that you "sneak things through the back door" . Tyler also tries to argue against natural moral intuition, which supports the common theistic presumption that morality cannot exist without religion.

    Tara was correct about liberty and democracy. The vast majority of people are naturally endowed with innate moral intuition. Democratic society was a move away from the skewed moral views of tyrants.

    Religion did not bring about a climate for moral growth in society. Religion had the opposite effect. Even in some countries today women have no rights and homosexuals are tortured and murdered in the name of religion. Religion becomes the justification of injustice and hatred. It is easier for society to commit atrocities if god says it's okay.

    Studies have shown that people can commit horrific acts simply because are following orders. Religious morality is all about following orders. The conclusion we can draw is that people who accept moral doctrine accept that it is right and true, no matter how deplorable the doctrine may be.

    Survival and morality go hand in hand. The primary priorities of a healthy social animal with regards to morals is actually related to how genetically close we are to our fellow man. We love our siblings more than our neighbours. We love our children more than our siblings etc. Our sympathetic feelings, guilt, love for ourselves and fear of repercussions drive our innate moral machinery. There is no need for moral doctrine for us to succeed in making a moral society.

  18. To be honest I have been hesitant to get into discussions of morality lately. This is not because I feel unsure of my position or even that robustly challenged by skeptics, but rather that the issue is so complex and so replete with presuppositions, assumptions and misunderstandings of positions (I am constantly correcting skeptics on what most theists even MEAN by their moral arguments), that the discussions almost always end in a quagmire of confusion. They become 400 posts long, saturated with repetitive comments and themes and almost no movement is ever made.

    I would also like you, before you respond, to do two things for me. The first is the read my previous posts that deal directly with these issues. They are not super long but I think help give the context for how I will respond to this post. Once you read those and feel that you understand the basic position that I will be arguing from, let me know and I will begin responding to your comments here. Does that sound fair?

    Here are the links to those articles:

    This is a book review I did of David McAfee’s book Disproving Christianity. You can read the whole thing if you would like, but the pertinent section is found on pages 8-11.

    This is an article on wrote dealing with the Euthyphro Dilemma:

    This was an essay I wrote (still awaiting publication) on the impact that sin and grace actually have on our ability to think:

    Finally I think this short video is also a good illustration of my major objection to any subjectivist view of morality.

  19. I love the "look how far you have come because of the tolerance of judeo-christian" line.

    Why do we have to come far at all? Why is it a privilege to be able to think for yourself and not believe in god?