Do Atheists’ Actions Have Any Connection To Their Beliefs?

Richard Dawkins recently said in a FOX news interview,

What I do think is that there is some logical connection between believing in God and doing some, sometimes, evil things, but there’s no logical connection between them [Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot] being atheists and doing evil things. It’s just incidentally true that, say, Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin happened to be atheists, but that wasn’t what drove them. What drove them was a political ideology. It had nothing to do with atheism.

I think he’s suggesting that evil behavior has nothing to do with atheism; that is, evil behavior in general has nothing to do with atheism. It seems that it must follow that even good behavior could have nothing to do with atheism, for it would take an enormously skewed vision of human psychology to suppose that atheism could affect behavior toward the good but never toward the bad.

Yet it almost does seem as if Dawkins is saying that, in a way; or at least it mirrors his suggestion that belief in God can cause evildoing. Notice that he gives no time to the thought that believing in God can lead a person to do good. He displays that same skewed psychology thereby, although applied to a different set of persons and beliefs.

It is of course absolute empirical rubbish to suppose that Christians have done no good for the world on account of their belief in God, or even to doubt that Christianity has on the whole made the world a better place. There are exceptions, obviously, some of them quite notorious and tragic, where Christians have done what should never be done; but Dawkins embarrasses his own empiricism by insisting only on religion’s potential for evil, never recognizing the good Christians have done.

Still, for the moment I’m more interested in his claim that atheism had no influence on these tyrants’ actions. He seems to think that belief in God is behaviorally potent (it can affect behavior) while atheism is behaviorally impotent. That’s oddly asymmetrical.

It’s odd in other ways besides: for he is saying that what Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao did as dictators had nothing at all to do with their beliefs about the ultimate nature of reality. That’s right, folks, or at least so says Dawkins: what you consider true in your deepest heart of hearts need not have any connection with your behavior.

He is wrong, and obviously so. It is a tragic thing that has happened to his man, for his eyes are darkened in daylight. I grieve for him.

Image Credit(s): Okras.

Comments

  1. Techne

    I think I agree somewhat with Dawkins here.

    People often blame the atrocities of Communism on atheism, I used to think that way. My opinion has changed somewhat and to me this now seems nonsensical.

    Atheism is not anything more than a lack of belief in God or gods. Atheism is not an ideology and there is no common ideology among atheists. The only thing that is common among atheists is a disbelief in God or gods.

    The way I see it, atheism, on its own, is not a cause of anything. No act, neither good, nor evil can be blamed on atheism. The acts of people lie, in part, with the ideologies they hold. The followers of a specific ideology tend to have a specific effect on the world.

    Atheists tend to have different ideologies. Some are conservative, some are liberal, some are Libertarian etc. Like any other human being, an atheist has an effect on the world, however, it is not due to their atheism but whatever ideology they have. This much should be obvious.

    Take for example Brevik, the Norwegian terrorist. He calls himself a Christian, he said he is “first and foremost a man of logic,” calls himself “economically liberal” and said “it is essential that science take an undisputed precedence over biblical teachings” and he is a fan of Darwinism. No doubt scientists, Darwinists, logicians, economic liberals, scientists and Christians do not want him on their side becase of his acts. The ideology that best describes him is an ethnic nationalist and here we can, in part, find a cause for his acts. That and the fact that he is a crazy nut.

    I think, and this is just my opinion, if we are to be intellectually honest about this, we need to accept that no act whatsoever can in principle be blamed on atheism on its own. It is pretty useless. Atheism on its own won’t have any effect on the world. On its own it is pretty useless and quite frankly about as an important viewpoint as not collecting stamps. Nothing positive or constructive can ever, in principle, come from being JUST an atheist.

    Sure, one can argue there are many ideologies or beliefs that are more compatible with atheism say for example “mete-ethical moral relativism” or “Communism” or “nihilism” or “materialism” or “empirical scientism” etc. And it may even be true that it is more likely that atheists will tend to be “mete-ethical moral relativists” or “Communists” or “nihilists” or “materialists” etc.

    To argue against atheism is useless since it is useless on its own. Arguing against ideologies that are illogical and irrational to me seems like a more fruitful endeavour.

    Just my 2c.

  2. G. Rodrigues

    Great post. Two comments:

    1. Recently, I heard a debate between Mr. Dawkins and John Lennox. What stroke me the most was that Mr. Dawkins kept repeating his mantra that the arguments for theism are little more than appeals to emotion, while at the same time *his* own arguments are little more than appeals to motion. This so grated on my nerves that I could not force myself to listen to the debate to the very end.

    2. There is an asymmetry in Christian’s actions and atheists’s actions. Let us take for example, the paedophilia scandal in the Catholic church. The majority of the cases happened in the 1960’s and the 1970’s. We may judge that the way the Catholic Church authorities handled the issue was less than stellar, but is there any doubt that those actions are vehemently condemned by all Christians, Catholic or not? That Christianity vehemently condemns such practices?

    On what grounds does atheism, qua atheism, condemn as wrong Stalin, Pol Pot or Mao Zedong’s actions? Atheism does not have the resources for that, so Mr. Dawkins has, like a parasite, to live off the scraps of Christian morality that he deems worth preserving.

  3. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Techne, I want to point you to several truths that make your position hard to understand.

    First, you are wrong to say that atheism is not a belief. Granted it is not a single, unitary belief; it is still a description of a fairly well circumscribed range of beliefs. I know, I know, people insist over and over again that atheism is not a belief. I don’t know whether to feel frustrated over this repeated error or to laugh at it. More significantly, I don’t know whether people have really fooled themselves into thinking it’s true, or whether it’s a rhetorical ploy.

    Consider how carelessly and indiscriminately the New Atheists speak of “religion.” If “religion” can be regarded a belief, with all the huge, huge variations in religious beliefs around the world, then atheism can be a belief; for its range of variation is far, far, less than that.

    Second, the New Atheists are inconsistent on the motivating effects of beliefs concerning the afterlife. Elsewhere they say that it is radical Muslims’ belief in Paradise that motivates some of them to strap on large bombs and kill many, including themselves. I submit to you that Stalin’s, Mao’s, and Pol Pot’s actions were very greatly conditioned by their belief that there was no ultimate accountability, nothing to fear after death. Atheism may not have driven their behaviors in that sense, but it certainly permitted it, as O’Reilly kept saying.

    Third, atheism’s neutrality is deadening. It is a rejection of the belief that reality at its core is good, just, loving, and right. Strip virtues like that away from your understanding of reality, and your motivation to align yourself with them is deflated like a tire with a nail in it. That’s not to say atheists cannot practice those virtues, but it is to say that they do so (according to their belief set) against reality rather than in alignment with it.

    Fourth, you say,

    Like any other human being, an atheist has an effect on the world, however, it is not due to their atheism but whatever ideology they have. This much should be obvious.

    Their ideologies, my friend, are atheist ideologies, and they all share certain things in common (see the above link). This much should be obvious.

    Fifth, you say,

    We need to accept that no act whatsoever can in principle be blamed on atheism on its own.

    Really? What about the act of speech that says, “I do not believe there is any God or god”? You are disproved on that point quite easily. Is that trivial? Perhaps, but it shows you have not thought it through fully, at least.

    But I think you have misconstrued the Christian’s position here. O’Reilly said it often enough; you should have heard it, I think. Atheism per se need not be a motivating factor to do evil. There are plenty such motivating factors within each of us without it: greed, anger, hatred, the need to dominate, and so on. What atheism uniquely does is to remove any thought of accountability for acting out those motivations. So suppose you are right that atheism is neutral. A car in neutral might not go anywhere—unless it’s on a hill with its wheels pointing downward.

    Sixth, you say,

    On its own it is pretty useless and quite frankly about as an important viewpoint as not collecting stamps. Nothing positive or constructive can ever, in principle, come from being JUST an atheist.

    The not-collecting-stamps analogy is commonly trotted out with atheism-is-not-a-belief. But not-collecting-stamps is not an attitude regarding the ultimate nature of reality. The analogy doesn’t stick. Its envelope shall forthwith be returned as undeliverable.

    To argue against atheism is useless since it is useless on its own. Arguing against ideologies that are illogical and irrational to me seems like a more fruitful endeavour.

    Atheism is illogical and irrational, no matter what ideologies it carries with it.

    I have no idea what point you’re trying to make with Breivik. I’m sure that’s my failing, so maybe you could help me with it.

  4. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    There is yet another class of reply that I wanted to make separately from the above, Techne. I tried to make those earlier responses universal in the sense that they require no religious belief to accept them. There is another factor that I believe is more important yet, however.

    Atheism is not morally neutral, for it violates the first several of the Ten Commandments and the Greatest Commandment, to love God with all of our beings. It is an active rejection of our loving, just, and holy creator. It is the spiritual equivalent of a-motherism, the denial of one’s mother; and specifically analogous to a-motherism toward a mother who is actively present, loving, sacrificing, nurturing, caring, providing, guiding, directing, sometimes correcting, always doing what will build one into growth as a maximally mature and alive adult. Is a-motherism in that situation morally neutral? Of course not. It’s hateful. Is atheism morally neutral, given who God is and what he does for us? Absolutely not.

    And considering that God is the source and supplier of all that is loving and good, is atheism likely to be morally neutral in its horizontal (human-to-human) effects? That’s a little tougher to decide, for God supplies moral truth to everyone, including those who disbelieve; but those who intentionally cut them off from relationship with him are likely to have a harder time gaining access to his best in that respect.

  5. Mike Anthony

    “Atheism is not anything more than a lack of belief in God or gods. Atheism is not an ideology and there is no common ideology among atheists. The only thing that is common among atheists is a disbelief in God or gods. ”

    Thats a complete fabrication of what atheism is. Every atheists I have ever met equally holds to the idea that all that is real or matters is physical. Materialism no matter how it is defined is a core belie of atheism. To claim that such an idea does not affect all other beliefs including political ideologies is babbling nonsense from Dawkins. The good thing in the last year or so with Dawkins is that he has been consistently demonstrating that any idea of him being a deep thinker or even logically consistent is bankrupt.

    If Christianity can be accused of mothering the Crusades atheists just have to live with the inescapable logic that their position DOES have a part to play in the murderous regimes of past atheists. In order for a christian to murder they have to IGNORE the commands of the Lord to love their enemies and turn the other cheek. Despite hand waving and illogical objections there is nothing in the atheist worldview that necessitates that killing another human being if it meets a goal is wrong anymore than a Lion might attack another Lion for dominance of the lair. New Atheists like Harris will beg that such a prohibition extends to atheists including Stalin but there is no logical reason why another atheist – such as Stalin himself – might disagree.

  6. toddes

    @Techne,

    Brevik in his manifesto states:

    “If you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God then you are a religious Christian. Myself and many more like me do not necessarily have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God. We do however believe in Christianity as a cultural, social, identity and moral platform. This makes us Christian.”

    Just because an individual describes himself in a certain way does not mean that he represents that group or the teachings of that group.

  7. BillT

    Dawkins is right. However, the point he is right about is irrelevant. The affect of atheism is not that adherence to it makes people do evil things. The affect of atheism is that it doesn’t prevent people from doing evil things. Dawkins says “What drove them was a political ideology.” That’s true. But what was lacking in them that allowed them to choose a political ideology that included the subjugation of an entire population and the murder of tens of millions of people. Atheism didn’t inspire the evil, atheism left them morally bankrupt. That moral bankruptcy left them free to choose to become the truly evil people they became and greatest mass murders in history. “Without God all things are permitted”

  8. SteveK

    Atheism is not anything more than a lack of belief in God or gods.

    If this is how you want to argue your case, then the rebuttal to you and to Dawkins is: Theists aren’t responsible for doing evil because Theism is not anything more than the belief in a God or gods.

  9. Post
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  10. Holopupenko

    Techne:

    I’m sorry, but you don’t know what you’re talking about. I studied Marxism and Russian philosophy under some of the best teachers in the world as part of a Masters program in Soviet Studies at Harvard. And, I lived in worked in the former Soviet Union for around 13 years. I’ve visited numerous mass grave sites, and I’ve even seen (and photographed) the bodies of victims being exhumed from two such sites in Ukraine. There is a direct connection between atheism and evil, and it can be shown theologically, philosophically and empirically based on their own writings. Try these on for size:

    “Communism begins where atheism begins…” (Karl Marx)

    “The first requisite for the happiness of the people is the abolition of religion” (Karl Marx)

    “I wish to avenge myself against the One who rules above.” (Karl Marx)

    “The hellish vapors rise and fill the brain, till I go mad and my heart is utterly changed. See this sword? The prince of darkness sold it to me.” (Karl Marx)

    “With disdain I will throw my gauntlet full in the fact of the world and see the collapse of this pygmy giant. Then will I wander god-like and victorious through the ruins of the world. And giving my words an active force, I will feel equal to the Creator.” (Karl Marx)

    “Karl Marx is a monster possessed by ten thousand devils.” (Frederick Engels)

    Karl Marx “had the devil’s view of the world and the devil’s malignity. Sometimes he seemed to know that he was accomplishing the works of evil.” (Robert Payne, a friend of Karl Marx)

    “Atheism is the natural and inseparable part of Communism.” (attributed to Vladimir I. Lenin)

    “Our program necessarily includes the propaganda of atheism.” (V.I. Lenin)

    “There are no morals in politics; there is only expedience. A scoundrel may be of use to us just because he is a scoundrel.” (V.I. Lenin)

    “We do not fight against believers and not even clergymen. WE FIGHT AGAINST GOD to snatch believers from Him.” (Vechernaia Moskva, a Soviet newspaper)

    “Let us drive out the Capitalists from the earth, and God from Heaven!” (early Soviet slogan)

    “With an iron fist we will drive mankind to happiness!” (Soviet slogan)

    “Hatred is an element of the struggle, a relentless hatred of the enemy transforming him into an effective, violent and selective, cold blooded killing machine. A people without hatred cannot vanquish a brutal enemy.” (Che Guevare)

    The official journal of the Soviet Academy of Pedagogical Sciences published a government directive Atheistic Education in the School as a resource on how to separate God from human society. The opening paragraph is revealing: “The Soviet school, as an instrument for the Communist education of the rising generation, can, as a matter of principle, take up no other attitude towards religion than one of irreconcilable opposition; for Communist education has as its philosophical basis Marxism, and Marxism is irreconcilably hostile to religion. ‘Marxism is materialism,’ says V. I. Lenin; ‘as such, it is as relentlessly hostile to religion as the materialism of the Encyclopedaists of the eighteenth century or the materialism of Feuerbach.’” Another excerpt reads: “‘Religion’,” Marx said, “is nourished not on heaven but on earth, and with the annihilation of that perverted reality, of which capitalism is the theory, religion will perish of its own accord.’”

    “The World has never before known a godlessness as organized, militarized and tenaciously malevolent as that preached by Marxism. Within the philosophical system of Marx and Lenin and at the heart of their psychology, HATRED OF GOD is the principle driving force, more fundamental than all their political and economic pretensions. Militant atheism is not merely incidental or marginal to Communist policy; it is not a side effect, but the central pivot. To achieve its diabolical ends, Communism needs to control a population devoid of religious and national feeling, and this entails a destruction of faith and nationhood. Communists proclaim both of these objectives openly, and just as openly put them into practice.” (Alexander Solzhenitsyn)

    From an undergraduate Soviet textbook from 1975 entitled The Foundations of Scientific Atheism that was required reading for an obligatory course if a student hoped to get into graduate school. The first two paragraphs read as follows… and it goes downhill from there:
    The primary task of the course “Foundations of Scientific Atheism” is to assist young people to develop a scientifically atheistic worldview, and to understand the deceit of religion and its criminal injunctions. In support of this goal the course “Foundations of Scientific Atheism” will familiarize the participant one the one hand with the religious worldview and expose its deceit and its antiscientific nature, while on the other hand it will show the nature and content of atheism, is consistencies and how it arose, its truly humanitarian directivity, and the bases for its historical stages of development.

    (2) The following excerpt is from the “Freedom of Religion” section of Wikipedia’s article “Human Rights in the Soviet Union”:
    The Soviet Union was an officially atheistic state. The stated goal was control, suppression, and, ultimately, the elimination of religious beliefs. Atheism was propagated through schools, communist organizations, and the media. The The Society of the Godless was created. All religious movements were either prosecuted or controlled by the state and KGB. Somewhere between 80 to 90% of the general population were Russian Orthodox. Tens of thousands of churches were closed. Laymen, priests and Bishops were executed. Religious activities could and were prosecuted under article 58. Untold millions lost their lives for their religious convictions. The persecution of religions faith under the Soviet Union was the largest in history.

    Lenin: “Every religious idea, every idea of god, even flirting with the idea of God, is unutterable vileness,… vileness of the most dangerous kind, ‘contagion’ of the most abominable kind. Millions of filthy deeds, acts of violence, and physical contagions are far less dangerous than the subtle, spiritual idea of a God decked out in the smartest ‘ideological’ costumes.’”

    Lenin on 11 August 1918: “1. Hang (hang without fail so the people see) no fewer than one hundred known kulaks, rich men, bloodsuckers. 2. Publish their names. 3. Take from them all the grain. 4. Designate hostages—as per yesterday’s telegram. Do it in such a way that for hundreds of versts [one verst is about one kilometer] around, people will see, tremble, know, shout: they are strangling and will strangle to death the bloodsucker kulaks… P.S. Find… truly hard people.”

    Lenin: “The greater the number or representatives of the reactionary clergy and reactionary bourgeoisie we succeed in executing the better,” he wrote to his assistants, and he wanted to be kept informed on how many clergy had been killed each day. In a 1918 directive demanding more executions, Lenin insisted that they be carried out in a way that would strike terror among the populace (quoted above): “Do it in such a way that for hundreds of versts around the people will see, tremble, know, shout.”

    A 1922 letter to the Politburo sets forth Lenin’s view of the campaign against the church: “For us this moment is not only exceptionally favorable but generally the only moment when we can, with ninety-nine out of a hundred chances of total success, smash the enemy and secure for ourselves and indispensable position for many decades to come. It is precisely now and only now, when in the starving regions people are eating human flesh, and hundreds if not thousands of corpses are littering the roads, that we can (and therefore must) carry out the confiscation of church valuable with the most savage and merciless energy, not stopping [short of] crushing any resistance… We must, come what may, carry out the confiscation of church valuable in the most decisive and rapid manner, so as to secure for ourselves a fund of several hundred million gold rubles… One wise writer on matters of statecraft [Machiavelli, The Prince, Chapter eight] rightly said that if it is necessary to resort to certain brutalities for the sake of realizing a certain political goal, they must be carried out in the most energetic fashion and in the briefest time because the masses will not tolerate prolonged application of brutality… Therefore, I come to the categorical conclusion that precisely at this moment we must give battle to the… clergy in the most decisive and merciless manner and crush its resistance with such brutality that it will not forget it for decades to come.”

    Lenin: “Freedom is a bourgeois prejudice. We repudiate all morality which proceeds from supernatural ideas or ideas which are outside the class conception. In our opinion, morality is entirely subordinate to the interests of the class war. Everything is moral which is necessary for the annihilation of the old exploiting order and for uniting the proletariat. Our morality consists solely in close discipline and conscious warfare against the exploiters.”

    Power that is secularized and cut free of civilizing traditions is not limited by moral and religious scruples. V. I. Lenin made this clear when he defined the meaning of his dictatorship as “unlimited power, resting directly on force, not limited by anything.”

    Stalin, 1924: “To put it briefly: the dictatorship of the proletariat is the domination by the proletariat over the bourgeoisie, untrammeled by the law and based on violence and enjoying the sympathy and support of the toiling and exploited masses.”

    “Without mercy, without sparing, we will kill our enemies in scores of hundreds, let them be thousands, let them drown themselves in their own blood… let there be floods of blood of the bourgeois.” (Red Army Newspaper proclamation, September 1918 from George Leggett “The Cheka: Lenin’s Political Police.”)

    “Proletariat coercion, in all its forms, from executions to forced labor, is, paradoxical as it may sound, the method of molding humanity out of the human material of the capitalist period.” (Nikolai Bukharin)

    The Extraordinary Commission is neither an investigating commission nor a tribunal. It is an organ of struggle, acting on the home front of a civil war. It does not judge the enemy: it strikes him… We are not carrying out war against individuals. We are exterminating the bourgeoisie as a class. We are not looking for evidence or witnesses to reveal deeds or words against the Soviet power. The first question we ask is—to what class does he belong, what are his origins, upbringing, education or profession? These questions define the fate of the accused. This is the essence of the Red Terror. (M.Y. Latsis, senior official in the “All-Russian Extraordinary Commission” better know as the “CHEKA”, or Soviet political police as quoted in Harrison Salisbury’s Black Night, White Snow: Russia’s Revolutions, 1905-1917.)

    Hard towards himself, he must be hard towards others also. All the tender and effeminate emotions of kinship, friendship, love, gratitude, and even honor must be stifled in him by a cold and single-minded passion for the revolutionary cause. There exists for him only one delight, one consolation, one reward and one gratification—the success of the revolution. Night and day he must have but one thought, one aim—merciless destruction. In cold-blooded and tireless pursuit of this aim, he must be prepared both to die himself and to destroy with his own hands everything that stands in the way of its achievement. (Sergei Nechayev, Catechism of a Revolutionary)

  11. Holopupenko

    Techne:

    Consider also the following hypocrisy on Dawkins’ part. He’s well known for the following quote:

    “In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. [quoting Darwin]: ‘The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.'”

    And yet he employs the term “evil” with abandon… especially when he can broad-brushingly apply it to persons of faith.

    Get it straight: Atheism IS evil.

  12. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    If atheism doesn’t drive behavior, then just what is it that’s driving Dawkins to cast his commitment to empiricism aside, to ignore the obvious, and to embarrass himself with such patent falsehoods as he has become accustomed to spouting?

  13. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    (Techne, I doubt this applies to you, so please don’t take it as directed toward you. I’m speaking about the New Atheists and their supporters.)

    When atheists insist that atheism does not drive behavior; and then they campaign for atheism, ridicule religion and religious believers in the name of atheism, seek to change laws in favor of their atheistic positions, recommend the extermination of religion, and practice falsehoods like Dawkins’s in support of atheism; they prove that their atheism drives their behavior and that their premise is completely false, disingenuous, and useless for anything but rhetorical cover from being implicated in atheists’ atrocities.

  14. JAD

    Dawkins has said that Charles Darwin made it possible “to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” Obviously Darwin is a hero to Dawkins. So why is Darwin buried in Westminister Abbey? Considering his utter contempt for religion you’d think that Dawkins and his British atheist friends would be leading a movement to have Darwin exhumed and reburied at a “proper” shrine dedicated to humanism, reason and atheism. At least you’d expect Dawkins to be upset by Darwin’s burial place.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Genius_of_Charles_Darwin

    My point is that Dawkins is hypocrite whose views about religion and atheism are not grounded in reason. If it is logically fallacious to associate atheism, or atheists in general, to the action of a few evil atheists (I believe it is) the same holds true for Christianity or any other religion.

  15. SteveK

    Logically speaking, if a belief drives behavior then that driver MUST go away when the belief goes away. It’s possible for the behavior to remain, but the driver will be different because the original belief has changed.

  16. JAD

    Techne:

    Atheism is not anything more than a lack of belief in God or gods. Atheism is not an ideology and there is no common ideology among atheists. The only thing that is common among atheists is a disbelief in God or gods.

    I have to agree with Techne here– at least agree that that is what atheism SHOULD BE. The hypocrisy of Dawkins and the other so called “new atheists” is that they have turned non-belief into belief, into a kind of quasi-pseudo religion that competes with other religions.

    Personally I have always found the writings of some existential atheists to be more consistent with atheism as it should be.

    Of course atheism itself is absurd because it is based on some unprovable assumptions that have to be accepted by faith.

  17. Brap Gronk

    “Of course atheism itself is absurd because it is based on some unprovable assumptions that have to be accepted by faith.”

    Other than answering the question “Is there a God?” with “no,” what questions must be answered with something other than “I don’t know” in order to be an atheist?

  18. Crude

    Some scattered comments.

    I think I may be able to see the direction techne was going in with his comment, but I think there are difficulties. Maybe a good way of thinking about it is to turn it around: Can “theism”, in and of itself, be viewed of as a motivator of any good or evil acts as Dawkins suggests? And by that I mean the mirror definition of what techne proposes for atheism: The belief in the existence of any God or gods. Think deism, but with even fewer commitments – no claims about whether there’s one god or many, no claims about their being good or evil, no claims of revelation, etc. Simply ‘sure, some god probably exists’.

    That seems to illustrate that Dawkins is wrong about there being a ‘logical connection’ (What would that even mean?) between theism and evil acts, or even acts at all. You can produce a basic ‘theism’ that is every bit as watered down as the kind of ‘atheism’ techne proposed, and thus innocent of any crimes (or any successes for that matter.)

    There’s a complication. The definition given was that atheism is “lack of belief in God or gods”. First is the problem the definition doesn’t add up – the empty package of Excitemint Sours on my desk “lacks belief in God or gods”, but no, it’s not an atheist. More than that, what does that make the person who does not merely lack belief, but positively believes God does not exist? Something other than an atheist? Clearly that can’t be right – I think anyone who would suggest that the guy who merely “lacks belief in God/gods” is an atheist, but the guy who believes God does not exist is something other than an atheist, is just off into the land of unintentional comedy.

    I’m being briefer than I’d like to be here – busy day – but I think that’s where Dawkins makes the most fatal, and obviously fatal, move. Saying “atheism didn’t motivate them, but (political) ideology did” ignores the fact that positive atheistic claims can be part of an ideology. Hence, state atheism.

    Though I’d love to see Dawkins make either or both of two claims: One, that political ideologies, groups, or policies (such as state atheism above) are promoted and enforced by people whose atheism is merely incidentally true. Second, that while he believes atheism has never been a motivating factor for evil (he never denies that atheism was a motivating factor for good as near as I can tell), the belief that atheism should be spread, and/or that belief in God must be reduced, has a very bloody track record.

    (Finally, I’ll point out the usual problem with Dawkins using words like ‘good’ and ‘evil’, given what they’d describe on his worldview.)

  19. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Brap Gronk,

    The one who asserts “there is no God” necessarily asserts that “there is none of that which God is thought to provide for the world.” That includes the intentional designed creation of a good world, the creation of humans in God’s image, a final direction for each person’s life and for history as a whole, an enduring and eternal (past and future) meaning to words like love, beauty, goodness, purpose. These are not “I don’t know” positions; they are entailed by atheism.

    Generally speaking, atheists in the West also affirm ontological materialism or naturalism in some form. The New Atheists and their followers certainly take that stance. Therefore to affirm atheism after the manner of New Atheism is necessarily to assert that nothing exists but matter, energy, and their lawlike and chance interactions. Some also hold to the existence of abstracta. It is to deny freedom of agent decision-making, for all that occurs is determined according to natural law or chance; it is to have extreme difficulty affirming consciousness as anything but an illusion; it is to deny justice and goodness as essential features of reality; it is to deny ontological import to good and bad, whether in the moral or aesthetic sense; it is to deny ultimate accountability and ultimate justice; it is to regard humanness as nothing enduringly special or unique, but rather as a point on a continuum, a snapshot in evolutionary time; it is to regard every religion whatsoever as myth; it is to have no generally satisfying (in either the intellectual or emotional sense) explanation of humanness. These are not “I don’t know” positions, either.

    Would you care to hear more? For that was only a beginning.

  20. bigbird

    “The way I see it, atheism, on its own, is not a cause of anything. ”

    I wonder if this is proclaimed at the Global Atheist Convention? What motivated people to set up such a convention other than their atheism?

    If atheism can motivate people to establish a convention like this, why can’t it motivate people to do other things?

  21. JAD

    JAD: “Of course atheism itself is absurd because it is based on some unprovable assumptions that have to be accepted by faith.”

    Brap Gronk: Other than answering the question “Is there a God?” with “no,” what questions must be answered with something other than “I don’t know” in order to be an atheist?

    What caused the universe? If we accept Big-Bang cosmology, which new atheists like Dawkins do, then that is a relevant question for those kinds of atheists. The Big-Bang implies that something that transcends space and time is what caused the universe. Theists believe that this something was an eternally existing intelligence. Atheists, on the other hand, reject apriori the possibility of such a being and argue that there might be other universes. However, empirical science has not detected any other universes and no one, at the present, seems to even know how they could be detected. So, such explanations must be believed using some kind of faith.

    Of course, if faith is required to be an atheist, then the whole atheist conceit that their thinking is based on reason only is rendered null and void. Frankly for that reason alone I could never become an atheist.

  22. Brap Gronk

    “What caused the universe? If we accept Big-Bang cosmology, which new atheists like Dawkins do, then that is a relevant question for those kinds of atheists.”

    If someone who doesn’t believe in God says he doesn’t know what caused the universe, what label would you give him if “atheist” is not appropriate?

  23. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    You’re right, Brap Gronk: it’s not required of atheists that they be able to answer that question. It’s certainly relevant, but the inability to answer it does not make one not an atheist.

    Now, what about the other several questions that we’ve said atheists need to be able to answer with something other than “I don’t know” to be an atheist?

  24. Post
    Author
  25. JAD

    Brap Gronk:

    If someone who doesn’t believe in God says he doesn’t know what caused the universe, what label would you give him if “atheist” is not appropriate?

    “[I]f ‘atheist’ is not appropriate” I would call such a person an agnostic. However, this thread about Richard Dawkins who does make claims about the origin of the universe and life etc.

  26. BillT

    Brap Gronk seems to be like a lot of the atheists who pay a visit here. People who think that all atheism is, is denying the existence of God. People who think that there are no implications connected to that denial. People who really haven’t thought out the ramifications of their own worldview or worse even realized that they have a worldview and what it entails.

    Brap, why is there something instead of nothing? Why am I here? Why shouldn’t I cheat on my wife? Why shouldn’t I steal from my brother? Why shouldn’t I, like Mao, murder 75,000,000 people? Why shouldn’t I torture children for my personal pleasure.? What is evil? What is good? Is “I don’t know?” a good enough answer for you to all of these questions. I hope not.

  27. d

    On what grounds does atheism, qua atheism, condemn as wrong Stalin, Pol Pot or Mao Zedong’s actions? Atheism does not have the resources for that, so Mr. Dawkins has, like a parasite, to live off the scraps of Christian morality that he deems worth preserving.

    Well, gee, while I seem to get chastized around here for not knowing enough, but perhaps a cursory glance at any book, article, blog, or anything – about non-theist morality – would help you answer this quesiton. The majority of academic moral philosophers out there are moral realists – and atheists. And I assure you, most of them are quite amused and rather puzzled by the incesant theist sabre rattling that an atheist can’t possibly justify morality.

    But then again, atheism, by itself, doesnt say anything about morals – just like theism, by itself, doesnt say anythig about morals. Perhaps naturalism, secularism, or some other -ism might have something more to say for you.

  28. BillT

    “…most of them are quite amused and rather puzzled by the incesant theist sabre rattling that an atheist can’t possibly justify morality.”

    Perhaps you could explain to us just how they do that.

  29. JAD

    d:

    The majority of academic moral philosophers out there are moral realists – and atheists. And I assure you, most of them are quite amused and rather puzzled by the incesant theist sabre rattling that an atheist can’t possibly justify morality.

    This is a fallacious argument.

    Argumentum ad Verecundiam
    Appeal to Authority, Argument from Authority
    http://www.fallacyfiles.org/authorit.html

    Ad Populum
    Appeal to Popularity
    http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/appeal-to-popularity.html

  30. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    BillT, I hope you don’t mind if I repeat some of your questions and ask d to answer them.

    What is evil? What is good? (Your other moral questions fall under those two so I’ll pass them by.)

    Why is there something rather than nothing? Why am I here?

  31. Brap Gronk

    “Brap, why is there something instead of nothing?”

    I don’t know.

    “Why am I here?”

    Because your parents procreated and you haven’t died yet. If you ask why your parents are or were here, and go back along your family tree long enough, we’ll eventually get to abiogenesis, and I don’t know how that occurred.

    “Why shouldn’t I . . . ”

    My answer to all the “Why shouldn’t I” questions is that you wouldn’t be following the Golden Rule. If you then ask why you should follow the Golden Rule, I’ll gladly admit that it’s just my opinion that you should follow it (because I can’t envision any negative implications if everyone followed it), then I’d honestly be interested to hear your reasons why you shouldn’t follow it (if you think you shouldn’t). I do know it’s pointless to argue for objective morality based on atheism.

    “What is evil? What is good?”

    Here’s something I just came up with to define good and evil, so it probably needs some refinement. I’m sure theists won’t like it.

    The terms “good” and “evil” are terms for opposite sides of the spectrum of all possible actions arranged in order based on our desire for those actions to occur. Actions we do desire to occur are on the side labelled “good,” and actions we do not desire to occur are on the side labelled “evil.” There is also a range in the middle which I’ll call “indifferent.” (The evil actions at the extreme end of the spectrum, furthest from the indifferent range, are often used as an argument for the existence of objective morality.) The actual order of actions will vary somewhat from person to person, as will the size and location of the “indifferent” range.

  32. G. Rodrigues

    @d:

    You say:

    And I assure you, most of them are quite amused and rather puzzled by the incesant theist sabre rattling that an atheist can’t possibly justify morality.

    But then again, atheism, by itself, doesnt say anything about morals – just like theism, by itself, doesnt say anythig about morals.

    So in the first quote, atheists can justify morality, in the second, atheism, by itself, has nothing to say about morality. The two sentences put together only make sense, if it is not atheism qua atheism that is doing the justification. Now the part of my post that you quoted starts with “atheism, qua atheism”, so while we may disagree on what atheism qua atheism can and cannot do, despite your little outburst, you are actually agreeing with my conclusion.

    And for the record, I stand by what I said: Mr. Dawkins is a philosophical parasite. He abhors Christianity and yet his moral categories are Christian through and through. Mr. Dawkins simply does not understand the hole he has dug for himself and if I were to converse with him (not exactly a happy prospect), I would advise him to read Nietzsche so as to shatter his naive, groundless moral optimism.

    I join BillT and Tom Gilson in their questions. I happen to know a little bit about the general moral stances in the atheist camp, but my knowledge is far from exhaustive so maybe you can enlighten us on how atheist moral realists (which you, as a self-avowed determinist and consequentialist are not) justify their beliefs.

  33. Victoria

    @d
    Re Post #29

    You said,

    But then again, atheism, by itself, doesnt say anything about morals – just like theism, by itself, doesnt say anythig about morals. Perhaps naturalism, secularism, or some other -ism might have something more to say for you.

    What?! Huh??!!
    Theism, and Biblical Christian Theism in particular, has a lot to say about morals and morality. Have you never even cracked the cover of a Bible?
    Have you never heard of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-18) in the Old Testament, or Matthew 22:34-40 and Galatians 5:13-26 in the New Testament, to refer to just three examples?

    Christian Theism gives us a foundation for morality, for both the origin and definition of good (God’s immutable character) and evil (anything contrary to God’s character, came from rebellion against God’s rightful sovereign authority over His creation). More than that, it offers us God’s solution to our pernicious tendencies to sin- namely the redeeming work of the LORD Jesus Christ.

    Why don’t you actually take the time to learn something about Christianity before you make such patently absurd statements?

  34. BillT

    “I do know it’s pointless to argue for objective morality based on atheism.”

    Then it’s ok for me to torture children for my personal pleasure? That is, as long as I put torturing children for my personal pleasure on the end of my spectrum based on my desire for that action to occur. So athiesm isn’t just saying God doesn’t exist. Athiesm allows for the torturing of children based on my personal preference to do so. Correct?

  35. Holopupenko

    I seem to get chastized around here for not knowing enough

    The “not knowing enough” is a given, but it’s not the major reason you’re criticized, it’s that you don’t know how to reason… perhaps because you decry reason itself, i.e., even the fallacies you employ are the least of your problems.

  36. JAD

    Here is Dawkins view of good and evil.

    Basil Fawlty, British television’s hotelier from hell created by the immortal John Cleese, was at the end of his tether when his car broke down and wouldn’t start. He gave it fair warning, counted to three, gave it one more chance, and then acted. “Right! I warned you. You’ve had this coming to you!” He got out of the car, seized a tree branch and set about thrashing the car within an inch of its life. Of course we laugh at his irrationality. Instead of beating the car, we would investigate the problem. Is the carburettor flooded? Are the sparking plugs or distributor points damp? Has it simply run out of gas? Why do we not react in the same way to a defective man: a murderer, say, or a rapist? Why don’t we laugh at a judge who punishes a criminal… Isn’t the murderer or the rapist just a machine with a defective component? Or a defective upbringing? Defective education? Defective genes?

    …But doesn’t a truly scientific, mechanistic view of the nervous system make nonsense of the very idea of responsibility, whether diminished or not? Any crime, however heinous, is in principle to be blamed on antecedent conditions acting through the accused’s physiology, heredity and environment. Don’t judicial hearings to decide questions of blame or diminished responsibility make as little sense for a faulty man as for a Fawlty car?

    Why is it that we humans find it almost impossible to accept such conclusions? Why do we vent such visceral hatred on child murderers, or on thuggish vandals, when we should simply regard them as faulty units that need fixing or replacing? Presumably because mental constructs like blame and responsibility, indeed evil and good, are built into our brains by millennia of Darwinian evolution. Assigning blame and responsibility is an aspect of the useful fiction of intentional agents that we construct in our brains as a means of short-cutting a truer analysis of what is going on in the world in which we have to live.
    http://www.edge.org/q2006/q06_9.html#dawkins

    Why does Dawkins vent such visceral hatred on religion, and religious people, if there is no such thing as evil? Isn’t religion an evolutionary adaptation that has been built into our genes? Dawkins rhetoric about religion is not only inconsistent with his stated world view, but it’s irrational.

  37. G. Rodrigues

    @Brap Gronk:

    I do know it’s pointless to argue for objective morality based on atheism.

    To continue BillT’s comment, I happen to agree with you, I just think you really do not understand the consequences of what you are saying. If there is no objective wrong or right there is no action that in itself can be qualified as wrong or right. Good and evil are subjective terms; the best we can do as a society is to agree on some shared goods and the preferred ways to achieved them — which is exactly what you do in the rest of your post. Of course, this is just a version of utilitarianism and we all know that utilitarianism is really just a mask for power struggles: might makes it right. The majority of German society agreed that the Jews were sub-humans, guilty of numerous crimes and the major reason for all the evils of the world. Were the Nazi Germans right? There is no “right” or “wrong”, or to speak more properly the Nazis, with the consent, explicit or not, of the German society, defined their actions as right, as useful, as highly desirable. Ah, the power of words. What about the innocent Jews? Tough luck, survival of the fittest and all that. And innocent? Everybody is guilty until proven otherwise and in case of doubt, shoot them, the well-being of society depends on it. Gather them all in cattle trains and off to the gas chambers. And with well engineered trains, they do not even have to make a stop in the gas chambers and can trot directly to the cremating owens. Now, you may feel the compulsion to fight the Nazis and defend their victims, maybe gather some army and invade them, wage war on them, etc. That is all fine and dandy. You may even beat on your chest and congratulate yourself on how noble you are. Just remember, it is all an illusion, for there is no good or evil, right or wrong, outside of group definitions. You yourself said so.

  38. JAD

    Here is the clip to which Dawkins (see comment #38) is referring: Basil Fawlty beating his car.

  39. Victoria

    @Brap

    Here’s something I just came up with to define good and evil, so it probably needs some refinement. I’m sure theists won’t like it.

    The terms “good” and “evil” are terms for opposite sides of the spectrum of all possible actions arranged in order based on our desire for those actions to occur. Actions we do desire to occur are on the side labelled “good,” and actions we do not desire to occur are on the side labelled “evil.” There is also a range in the middle which I’ll call “indifferent.” (The evil actions at the extreme end of the spectrum, furthest from the indifferent range, are often used as an argument for the existence of objective morality.) The actual order of actions will vary somewhat from person to person, as will the size and location of the “indifferent” range.

    So everyone does what is right in his/her own eyes (Judges 21:25)? That book describes one of the bleakest periods in Israel’s history; one that was repeated during the time of the divided kingdoms (after Solomon’s son Rehoboam took the throne), right up to the time of the Babylonian exile.

    Your ‘definition’ is not at all new, and not at all wise; but what else can we expect from atheism? This is the same lie that Satan tricked Eve with in Eden – the lie that she should be able to decide what is right and wrong. You should read Romans 1:18-3:1 (as well as the rest of the letter). You should then compare that with the sad story of human history when a culture rejects the one true God (The Creator) and embraces that lie.

  40. SteveK

    Dawkins: It had nothing to do with atheism.
    Christ: It had everything to do with sin.

  41. JAD

    From the OP:

    It is of course absolute empirical rubbish to suppose that Christians have done no good for the world on account of their belief in God, or even to doubt that Christianity has on the whole made the world a better place.

    The whole modern conception of human rights can be traced back to the teachings of Jesus who clearly taught the equality of man. For example, the parable of “The Good Samaritan” by implication argues against ethnocentricity. Jews and Samaritans hated each other. Jesus’ teaching that God expected that they help one another out of love was absolutely revolutionary. This is reinforced by the so called Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) where Jesus commands his disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations.” It is further reinforced by the teachings of the apostle Paul who writes in Galatians 3:26-28 that “ in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith… 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

    The modern concept of human rights could not exist without these ideas which in the ancient world were unique to Christianity. I am not arguing that this alone proves Christianity is true. I am arguing that it proves that Dawkins is wrong and doesn‘t know what he is talking about.

  42. JAD

    Here is quote from a noted secular philosopher, Jürgen Habermas, about the influence of Jewish-Christian thought on the modern concept of human rights.

    “Universalistic egalitarianism, from which sprang the ideals of freedom and a collective life in solidarity, the autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of continual critical appropriation and reinterpretation. To this day, there is no alternative to it. And in light of the current challenges of a postnational constellation, we continue to draw on the substance of this heritage. Everything else is just idle postmodern talk.” (Jürgen Habermas – “Time of Transitions”, Polity Press, 2006, pp. 150-151, translation of an interview from 1999).
    http://habermas-rawls.blogspot.com/2009/06/misquote-about-habermas-and.html

    According to Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Jürgen Habermas currently ranks as one of the most influential philosophers in the world.”
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/habermas/

  43. Holopupenko

    JAD:

    Christ most manifestly did NOT teach the “equality of man.” He taught equality of dignity and worth and hence equally loved as created in His image. If you want “equality of man,” then please refer to any modern-age political philosophy. Take Marxism, for example, in which everyone is forced to be equal, with the result that no one is equal and dignity is a non-starter.

    The U.S. Constitution is brilliant in this respect (although far from perfect, and which must be read with a good dose of the Federalist Papers): there are no “rights” granted for “stuff” but there are rights instituted as originating in God–rights that were never nor could they ever be “held” by a government to “give” in the first place.

    If any government thought it had the power to “grant” LIFE, it could just as easily take it away in an arbitrary fashion when convenient (ask Terri Schiavo or those aborted). If any government thought it had the power to “grant” LIBERTY, it could just as easily take it away in an arbitrary fashion when convenient (ask those now being forced to take out health insurance or those not permitted to home school their own, etc). If any government thought it had the power to define and “grant” happiness, it could just as easily change that definition rather than permitting well-formed individuals to PURSUE HAPPINESS.

    Any secular government will be happy to “grant” equality… But then some will be more equal than others.

  44. JAD

    Are all men created in the image of God? Are all men capable of sin? Were the Jews better than the Samaritans? Were the rich better than the poor? Were masters better than their servants? How would Jesus have answered these questions?

    Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    There is a difference between equality of opportunity, and equality of outcome. Marxism and socialism want to guarantee an equality of outcome.

  45. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Holopupenko, I suggest you watch your levels of vehemence and leave room for charity of interpretation. Your phrasing, “most manifestly did NOT,” seems pretty stern to me. I think JAD meant the same thing you did by “equality of man” (equal in moral, relational, and spiritual worth and in dignity), and that he just didn’t specify it as carefully. I would have thought so even before seeing his last comment. I know you’ve seen the horribly destructive effects of Communist “equalizing” up close, so you’re bound to be more sensitive to it than most, but that doesn’t mean you and JAD were in disagreement on the basic point here.

  46. Holopupenko

    Tom:

    With all due respect, you’re incorrect regarding any “vehemence” directed at JAD. If anything, JAD’s response, while largely correct, reflects the problem of interpretation of the word “equal” (which you correctly noted). Nonetheless, I stick by my words. “Made equal” is very different from “created equal”: the first word in either case rules the day… and the “interpretation.”

  47. JAD

    I don’t wish to get side tracked with a discussion on equalitarianism. I will say that I think that the far political left has co-opted and perverted the concept of human rights and equality. I do not share the views of the far left. Indeed I think the far left’s agenda actually does more to undermine rather than advance human rights.

    Continuing my comments on the OP, Tom wrote:

    I think he’s suggesting that evil behavior has nothing to do with atheism; that is, evil behavior in general has nothing to do with atheism. It seems that it must follow that even good behavior could have nothing to do with atheism, for it would take an enormously skewed vision of human psychology to suppose that atheism might affect only good behavior and not evil.

    That raises an interesting question: What empirical evidence is there to show that atheists have done any genuine good for the world on account of their “beliefs”? (Or, should we say non-beleifs?)

    As I pointed out above, the ancient Judeo-Christian ethic is foundational to the western concept of human rights. What contributions have atheists made? Off the top of my head I can’t think of any.

  48. G. Rodrigues

    @JAD:

    Are all the atheists at a convention? 12 hours and counting and no one has tried to answer my question (see comment #50). Is it that difficult?

    My impression is that at present, a typical atheist comment on this blog is like a badly botched mafia hit: they appear out of nowhere, shoot their machine guns, miss every target, are hit back, are badly wounded, run away.

    Whether this is a good sign or not, I do not know.

  49. JAD

    @G. Rodrigues

    I have experienced this non-response before from atheists. I used to ask how atheism would personally make my life better. More recently I have been asking questions related to ethics, morals and human rights.

    If I get a response at all it’s usually a pretty weak hand waving response like, d @29, who writes ”The majority of academic moral philosophers out there are moral realists – and atheists. And I assure you, most of them are quite amused and rather puzzled by the incesant theist sabre rattling that an atheist can’t possibly justify morality.”

    Notice that d doesn’t explain how an atheist actually does justify or ground an objective morality. He doesn’t even give us the name of a specific atheist academic who can do this. Then of course there are other atheists, like Nietzche, who argue that there is no, nor can there be, objective ground for morality. Which version of atheism is correct? Inquiring minds would like to know.

  50. Victoria

    @JAD

    Which version of atheism is correct? Inquiring minds would like to know.

    None of them 🙂

  51. JAD

    Here is a conversion story. But it’s a not a story of the conversion of an atheist to a belief in God or vice-versa but the conversion of atheist Joel Marks (professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of New Haven) from a moral realist to a moral nihilist.

    I had thought I was a secularist because I conceived of right and wrong as standing on their own two feet, without prop or crutch from God. We should do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, period. But this was a God too. It was the Godless God of secular morality, which commanded without commander – whose ways were thus even more mysterious than the God I did not believe in, who at least had the intelligible motive of rewarding us for doing what He wanted…

    One interesting discovery has been that there are fewer practical differences between moralism and amoralism than might have been expected. It seems to me that what could broadly be called desire has been the moving force of humanity, no matter how we might have window-dressed it with moral talk. By desire I do not mean sexual craving, or even only selfish wanting. I use the term generally to refer to whatever motivates us, which ranges from selfishness to altruism and everything in between and at right angles. Mother Theresa was acting as much from desire as was the Marquis de Sade. But the sort of desire that now concerns me most is what we would want if we were absolutely convinced that there is no such thing as moral right and wrong. I think the most likely answer is: pretty much the same as what we want now.
    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/21/confessions-of-an-ex-moralist/

    In other words, Marks has come to beleive that in a Godless universe there is, not only no foundation for morality but, no good or evil, right or wrong and therefore NO such thing as morality. But how does one defend human rights in world where the very basis for human rights doesn’t even exist? How does one create a civilized modern society without such a foundation?

    Notice it is only atheists that have this problem trying to find a foundation for morality and ethics.

  52. BillT

    JAD

    At least he is being honest. This is what Nietzsche believed and what any honest athiest certainly should believe. Marks though is still fudging when he says this, “…what we would want if we were absolutely convinced that there is no such thing as moral right and wrong. I think the most likely answer is: pretty much the same as what we want now.”

    He must have missed Stalin and Mao and Ted Bundy.

  53. JAD

    I just listened again to the W.L. Craig vs. Louise Antony debate. In the debate Antony, an atheist philospher who is also a moral realist or objectivist, admits that many of her fellow atheists, like Michael Ruse and Ricard Dawkins, agree with Craig that without God there is no basis or ground for moral values.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgNktVnTca0

    It appears then that atheists have quite a number of different views: realism/objectism, relativism, subjectivism and nihilism to name a few. The truth is that despite what Antony believes, atheists are unable to use their “superior” reasoning abilities to resolve some very important moral questions. And these people want to be in charge?

  54. GWA

    Jeez, all this blather, and for what? Because the religious have a need to be religious? The religious want a simple explanation for the world. When things don’t go as planned its because of a lack of worship or religiosity. So fine, go be religious.
    I’m going to simplify this for everyone. What Dawkins and Techne were trying to say was that its highly probable that evil exists and really has nothing to do with ANY ideology, belief in God or lack thereof.
    If you as a Christian can accept THAT don’t you think it would be a huge weight off your religious shoulders? You know, to know that maybe when a priest molests a child or when a church leader commits adultery it hasn’t a thing to do with God and its just going to happen from time to time?
    Bah! probably not, then you’d have to concede a lot of other Christian dogma also.

  55. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    GWA, you have repeated my point for me. You say that you believe that the practice of evil is unrelated to one’s core beliefs. I find this very, very strange. And for what? Not because I “need to be religious.” My belief in God is for other reasons. It is very strange because it’s obviously wrong to think that beliefs don’t affect behavior.

  56. Nelson

    Okay. Let’s see if we can make this simple for theist to understand.

    Atheism is NOT an ideology or a religion. Atheism has gives no direction about good or evil. Those concepts are irrelevant to the stance of being an atheist. That being said, here is the problem with theism. Although many atheists will subscribe to the same things, does not mean it’s a doctrine. As in Islam, the Judeo-Christian bible does give you not only rules of morality (which fyi are nothing more than the morality of the people that wrote the bible), but it gives direction on who to raise up against. How to respond to things that go contrary to the Xian doctrine.

    The problem here ( and I will use Xianity because I am American) is that you are trying to put theism and atheism on equal footing for comparison. You can not. Theism has it’s roots in humanity way before scientific study ever existed the way it does today. In a world of superstitions and scientific ignorance, yes the bible was a good way to dictate the way one should live. It is a product of it’s society.

    I will agree with many on this site. Atheism does not lend to either good or evil. One can not say, “I am good because I am an atheist.” or “I am evil, etc…” As an atheist you are welcome to adopt whatever moral belief you find acceptable. Does it matter where it really comes from? Do you think that atheist in Muslim communities do not hold social norms as part of their moral make up? That would be very naive.

    Can you see the difference? No dogma or doctrine that tells you how or what to believe vs a system of beliefs that does indeed tell you how to behave. Good and evil (according to modern definition ;))

    Now as a Xian, you may argue, “those individuals that partook in those atrocities are not “real” Xians.” This may be true in your eyes, but not in theirs. As far as they were concerned, during the crusades, witch burnings, etc., they were indeed doing the lords work and considered themselves Xians.

    You all have to get it into your skulls. There is NO ABSOLUTE MORALITY! I didn’t say no absolutes, I said no absolute morality. I know all the old arguments. “The old testament is no longer binding, yadda yadda yadda.” But it is a great example of the amorpheous nature of morality. Things that were acceptable 200 yrs ago are not now. Things that were considered lords work 2000 yrs ago, many would find disgusting and offensive.

    And yes I will have spelling and grammar errors. I’m in a rush. Please forgive me. Oh and yes. I am an atheist

  57. G. Rodrigues

    @Nelson:

    Okay. Let’s see if we can make this simple for theist to understand.

    Thanks for your consideration for us poor theists.

    That being said, here is the problem with theism. Although many atheists will subscribe to the same things, does not mean it’s a doctrine. As in Islam, the Judeo-Christian bible does give you not only rules of morality (which fyi are nothing more than the morality of the people that wrote the bible), but it gives direction on who to raise up against. How to respond to things that go contrary to the Xian doctrine.

    I will assume that by Xian you mean Christian — that is, I have to replace X by Christ. Do you have some superstitious fear of using the proper name? Difficulty spelling it? Carpal tunnel syndrome?

    Could you also inform us what you mean by the Bible teaching Christians how to respond to “things that go contrary to the Christian doctrine”? Do you mean Jesus’ injunction of turning the other cheek? Of not seeking revenge? To the one that asks your outer garment give him also your inner garment? To love our enemies as God in the Heavens does because He is the Holiest of Holies and so every Christian must be Holy as He is?

    The problem here ( and I will use Xianity because I am American) is that you are trying to put theism and atheism on equal footing for comparison. You can not. Theism has it’s roots in humanity way before scientific study ever existed the way it does today. In a world of superstitions and scientific ignorance, yes the bible was a good way to dictate the way one should live. It is a product of it’s society.

    Ah, I understand you. There were no atheists in those terrible dark ages of superstition and ignorance. When the Psalmist wrote that the fool saith in his heart “There is no God”, the fool was the Psalmist because there were no atheists then. Atheism is not a cultural product of society. It is arrived at by sheer dint of the power of reason, by casting off old superstitions and embracing scientific enlightenment (and in your case, also by writing Christ as X). Really simple indeed as advertised in your first sentence. Nothing like a *good* cultural, historical lesson.

    Atheism does not lend to either good or evil. One can not say, “I am good because I am an atheist.” or “I am evil, etc…” As an atheist you are welcome to adopt whatever moral belief you find acceptable. Does it matter where it really comes from? Do you think that atheist in Muslim communities do not hold social norms as part of their moral make up? That would be very naive.

    May I suggest that you are conflating morality with moral behavior? They are two different things, and in the present context it is a difference that makes a difference.

    It is also very telling to see you write that an atheist is free to accept *any* moral behavior as long as he finds it personally acceptable. Like a chameleon, he will accept the mores of its society and adopt it so as to blend in. This means for example, that if we had witch burnings today as a common practice an atheist would be free to participate. Myself I prefer fireworks, but a good bonfire is also a nice spectacle — the screamings can get annoying though — maybe gag the witch?

    Now as a Xian, you may argue, “those individuals that partook in those atrocities are not “real” Xians.” This may be true in your eyes, but not in theirs. As far as they were concerned, during the crusades, witch burnings, etc., they were indeed doing the lords work and considered themselves Xians.

    Ah the Atheist Reader’s Digest version of the crusades. The greatest murderers in History were self-avowed atheists like Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao Zedong. The scale of their killings makes the crusades, witch huntings and the inquisition *all* taken together look like a school picnic. So if the crusades are to be blamed on Christianity, I guess we can assume that the crimes of Stalin, Pol Pot and their merry gang can be imputed on atheism because they were real atheists acting out their ideas. Is that what you are saying?

    There is NO ABSOLUTE MORALITY! I didn’t say no absolutes, I said no absolute morality. I know all the old arguments. “The old testament is no longer binding, yadda yadda yadda.” But it is a great example of the amorpheous nature of morality. Things that were acceptable 200 yrs ago are not now. Things that were considered lords work 2000 yrs ago, many would find disgusting and offensive.

    It is clear that you know all the “old arguments”; your erudition gives the whole game away. But just out of curiosity, if there is no absolute morality, what gives you the right to judge some actions as “atrocities”, “disgusting” and “offensive”? And what do you mean that some things are no longer acceptable? It was a consensus that was formed collectively, by fiat, but without any correspondence to some objective reality? Or when you use words like “disgusting” and “offensive” you are just expressing a personal opinion and nothing more?

    And yes I will have spelling and grammar errors. I’m in a rush. Please forgive me. Oh and yes. I am an atheist

    No need to point out the obvious (both with respect to atheism and to the spelling and grammar).

  58. SteveK

    Nelson,

    As an atheist you are welcome to adopt whatever moral belief you find acceptable.

    Are Christian’s welcome to do the same – adopt moral beliefs according to Christian theology, which they find not only acceptable but truthful, or do these rules only apply to atheists?

    Does it matter where it really comes from?

    How about if it comes from a God that you lack belief in? If that bothers you, then it does matter.

  59. Nelson

    @ Steven
    1. They have already done that. Were is the stoning people? What happened to slavery?

    2. Since I don’t assume nor have any proof a God exists Steven, the Bible is a book written by man for me. If i agree with another mans sayings the I agree. That in no way affects my atheistic stance.

  60. Nelson

    @ Rodriguez,

    1. As your read, I was in a rush. Hence the use of the short version. But thank you for your snide and sarcastic attitude as well as your concern for my wrists. You are indeed sir the example of christ like. Now. Contrary to Xian teaching (which is really a form of Judaism. Yeshua was Jewish and observed Jewish law), would include OT as well as NT. Oh I dunno, things like idolatry, bearing false witness, destroying gays, heathens, children, etc.

    2. Good cultural lesson that you obviously need. Did it occur to you senior rod, that unbeliever was not necessarily an athirst. Non believers (yes for the times interchangeable with unbeliever) is any one not of the Jewish faith. Its still used ththat way by Muslims and jews today. Also your talking about a theocracy were death was the punishment for heathens. Did atheist exist? I’m sure. But they werent vocal about it.

    3. Ahhh rod. Sorry for the readers digest version. I assumed you were educated enough that I didnt need to go into details for you. It wont happen again. Sorry. The point you missed, maybe because you were too busy pointing fingers and testing your vocabulary, was this: Stalin and those you mentioned, did not raise an “atheist flag” during their atrocities, which I am a little concerned that you can jest about it. Its not like pot Said, “I strike you down in the name of atheism and all that is true. ” on the other had, although the Crusades one can say was partly political, yes people killed in the name of God. I find it funny that you have to draw these lines to connect Marx, Stalin, atheism and communism to make your point (which is weak at best), yet all one needs to do is open a history book to see corrupt things done in the name of religion. 500 yrs ago slavery was okay and Xians used the bible to prove it. Its a play on words and you know it rod. Stalin and Pol Pot just happenes to be atheist that commuted crimes. That does not make the reasons for their crimes atheism. Just like I am a military member that happens to be Latino. Not a Latino military member.

    4. What’s telling about my statement? You know morality is not absolute. What gives me the right to say what is wrong? I have chosen to live in this society amongst my peers. This society has found that certain codes of conduct have to be put into place for us to co exist. Civilians don’t agree with military policy. But as a civilian military member, I choose live by the rules of the UCMJ and the orders of those above me because I and others like me have deemed it worthwhile and just. As a collective. If your moral standard is divinely inspired, and God is unchanging and has set the standard, why are you not doing those things the Bible commands you to. Not just the NT Rodriguez, but the whole Bible? Remember, one dot or tittle of the law shall be done away with, until heaven and earth come to pass – Yeshua.
    So which is it Rodriguez? Are you a man of God or a lukewarm Christian that will be spit out? Shall I bring the rocks?

    Rod, you tried to be snide and verbose in your comments. Mostly to cover up the fact that you did not have much to really say. I thank you for being the poster child for moderate Christianity. Lo haces bien.

  61. Nelson

    @rod

    I responded via smartphone. So yes there are misspelled words. Oh and before you go there. No the phone isn’t smarter than me. Lol

  62. G. Rodrigues

    @Nelson:

    I usually do not care about how people spell my name, but for you I will make an exception: it is Rodrigues with an s, not the Spanish version Rodriguez.

    But thank you for your snide and sarcastic attitude as well as your concern for my wrists. You are indeed sir the example of christ like.

    The typical atheist Gnu gambit. Comes blazing, smug and arrogant, offering his critiques of what amounts to be a caricature of Christianity that in no way corresponds to reality, and then if his bluff is called and fire is fought with fire he will whine about how un-Christian like his opponents are. Grow up.

    Now. Contrary to Xian teaching (which is really a form of Judaism. Yeshua was Jewish and observed Jewish law), would include OT as well as NT. Oh I dunno, things like idolatry, bearing false witness, destroying gays, heathens, children, etc.

    If you want to attack Christianity you have to attack what Christianity defends not the fabrications of your mind or what you think Christians should believe based on your biased and hasty readings of the Bible. Idolatry and bearing false witness are sins. There *never* was a commandment for a wholesale destruction of “heathen and children”; it is true that there are stories in the OT of complete destruction of cities, but the whole thing is much more complicated. If you want to learn about it, instead of clinging to your ignorant emotional hang-ups, I suggest Paul Copan’s “Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God”

    One more crucial detail: the Old Testament is to be read in light of the life, teachings and death of Jesus Christ. The Mosaic law is no longer in effect. And no, this is not some modern invention of Christians as Jesus Christ, the Apostles and St. Paul affirmed it. That apparently you miss this important detail speaks volumes about your knowledge of Christianity.

    Did it occur to you senior rod, that unbeliever was not necessarily an athirst. Non believers (yes for the times interchangeable with unbeliever) is any one not of the Jewish faith. Its still used ththat way by Muslims and jews today. Also your talking about a theocracy were death was the punishment for heathens. Did atheist exist? I’m sure. But they werent vocal about it.

    I would assume that someone in the military would have learned to address people with proper respect. I am not senior rod, I am G. Rodrigues. You do not have to address me by name, but if you do, we are not on such familiar terms that you are free to spell it anyway you want.

    How do you know they were not vocal? And if they were not vocal about atheism, how do you know they were atheists in the first place? Do you have historical documents to prove it or is this one more example of an unfounded assertion? But these questions are minor: your vision is skewered and biased, based on nothing more than an animus against Christianity.

    The point you missed, maybe because you were too busy pointing fingers and testing your vocabulary, was this: Stalin and those you mentioned, did not raise an “atheist flag” during their atrocities, which I am a little concerned that you can jest about it. Its not like pot Said, “I strike you down in the name of atheism and all that is true. ” on the other had, although the Crusades one can say was partly political, yes people killed in the name of God.

    So the vast destruction of churches and church property, the imprisonment and killing of religious people (nuns, priests, missionaries, etc.), the forced atheistic indoctrination, etc. were not made in the name of atheism? Go read a book of history.

    On the other hand the atrocities committed by Christians, as long as they were proclaimed to be done in the “name of God” then of course, it is to be blamed on Christianity. Your double standard is clear — but I will say more about this below.

    I find it funny that you have to draw these lines to connect Marx, Stalin, atheism and communism to make your point (which is weak at best), yet all one needs to do is open a history book to see corrupt things done in the name of religion. 500 yrs ago slavery was okay and Xians used the bible to prove it. Its a play on words and you know it rod. Stalin and Pol Pot just happenes to be atheist that commuted crimes. That does not make the reasons for their crimes atheism. Just like I am a military member that happens to be Latino. Not a Latino military member.

    You are ignorant of history, and this is an understatement. First, Stalin and Pol Pot were not just atheists who happened to commit crimes, but they *did * commit crimes in the *name* of their atheism. Second, if it is true that some Christians did uphold slavery and used the Bible to defend it, it is also true that it was mostly Christians, not atheists, not unbelievers, that got the movement to abolish slavery rolling and they did it in the name of Christianity. A casual perusing of the debates of the time, would show you how much the abolition movement has imbibed the Christian moral categories.

    And talking about funny, Christianity has the intellectual and moral resources to judge and condemn as *sins* the atrocities committed say, in the crusades, or slavery. It is funny that atheism does not have the resources to condemn any atrocities whatsoever like slavery. The best you can do is to employ a double standard and try to skirt responsability — you yourself admit as much, that atheism has nothing to say about good and evil. And to keep the joke going, it is really funny how atheists will help themselves of the moral categories of the same doctrine they reject and spit upon. Nature abhors a vacuum and a Gnu atheist will help himself with what is nearest at hand.

    What’s telling about my statement? You know morality is not absolute.

    No, I do not know that because I do believe that morality is a matter of objective fact and can be discovered, at least in part, by natural reason alone.

    What gives me the right to say what is wrong? I have chosen to live in this society amongst my peers. This society has found that certain codes of conduct have to be put into place for us to co exist.

    So the basis for your judgment of atrocities (say for example, the ones committed during the crusades) is because our society has some codes of conduct that were enacted for the peaceful coexistence. Even if I bought your story (which I do not, as it is plainly false) my question still remains: if these codes of conduct are just enacted on utilitarian grounds why do you call the crusades an atrocity? The society in which the crusades were begun thought this a worthy enterprise (and I should remind you that the major aim of the crusades was to secure the pilgrim’s route to Jerusalem and take the holy city back from the Muslims). If as you say, there is no objective morality, what gives you the right to condemn the crusades when, the people at the time, following *your* criterion, just did what they thought best?

    If your moral standard is divinely inspired, and God is unchanging and has set the standard, why are you not doing those things the Bible commands you to. Not just the NT Rodriguez, but the whole Bible?

    I have already addressed this above, but let us get one thing straight; you do not have the authority to tell me what I should do or not do. I do not care one whit about your pedestrian readings of the Bible or the opinions of an atheist about what Christians should do or should not do. You know nothing of these things and it is for the Church and its members, not you, to decide with the guidance of the Holy Spirit what is to be done or not. Just like I am not here telling you what you as an atheist should do, I appreciate it if you would do the same.

    Rod, you tried to be snide and verbose in your comments. Mostly to cover up the fact that you did not have much to really say. I thank you for being the poster child for moderate Christianity. Lo haces bien.

    Always happy to oblige. Dear Nelson, there are reasonable atheists (and agnostics and non-Christians and…) with which it is possible to maintain a fruitful discussion. Sadly, you Sir, do not seem to be one of them.

  63. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Nelson, your disregard for G. Rodrigues’s reasonable request for civility earns you banning from this site. The discussion policy is posted in clear view above the combox. Those who comment here agree to abide by it.

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