Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Atheist: Ethics of Thought

This post is my dilemma with the atheistic ethics of thought. Richard Carrier, (link to article in previous post) attempts to present whåt the atheist stands for (or ought to). I will be dealing with several points he makes.

Atheist: Contrary to theological polemic, it is not absurd to say you stand for doubt.

Response: It is quite absurd to say that you stand for doubt. The very statement is self-defeating, because you are using certainty to stand for uncertainty. Are you certain you stand for doubt?

: It is beyond dispute that whenever there is any outstanding disagreement about any matter of fact, which is not resolved when everyone looks and observes the same things, then the methods of science and logic must be brought to bear to decide the question.

Response: I agree. But we need to think of all methods of science and logic. Typically one believes that turning to science means everything is suddenly in the realm of fact and reason. This is dangerous, because there are many theories, such as macroevolution and natural selection, that have no proof. So, when turning to science, we cannot assume that the only conclusions we will arrive at are unbiased.

Atheist: The values that play the most important role in any person's life are those which stem from the meaning they have found in their lives. It is the standard rhetoric of the religious that only god gives life meaning, but to really believe this one must first believe that human life, thought, happiness, even love, are all in themselves worthless and void of meaning. I think any atheist would agree this is absurd. Even if I were the accidental byproduct of a giant rubber tire machine, the mere fact that I live and know that I live would give my life meaning at once.

Response: There is a difference between relative meaning, and ultimate meaning. When Jesus Christ died and was ressurected, He proved that every part of our existance is infused with meaning. God created us, gave us freewill, and then offered us salvation. As the psalmist says, we are fearfully and wonderfully made. In the figure of Christ, a meaning exists that transcends our circumstances and time.

The meaning Carrier refers to is relative. This relative "meaning" is loosely shaped by one's concept of value, for it is really our goals, hopes, and desires that create it. Being an accidental biproduct of a tire is not too far removed from the evolutionary position. Finding meaning in just being, is not really finding meaning, but inventing it to suit oneself... outside of God, meaning is only an idea based on one's desires.

Carrier: The ultimate meaning of life is to live it.

Response: Then why waste time doubting everything? If you're "just living", then all that matters is what you believe.

Carrier: Everything else we pursue is for some other reason, but we seek happiness for no other reason than to be happy. And though the preacher loves to attack the hedonism which he thinks this entails, in actual fact his own religion is based on the very same principle. For all the goals of religion are sought for some other reason, except the ultimate goal of eternal happiness. For when a preacher says "worship god" and the congregation asks why, and continues to ask the why of every answer he gives, he can only end the interrogation by answering with the same ultimate answer: "because it will make you happy.

Response: My question for Carrier, and anyone who believes the same: Have you reached your ultimate goal of happiness? Is it not ironic that people who spend their energy trying to be happy are the most unhappy? He is wrong about the ultimate reason followers of Christ worship God. It is not to find happiness, but to fulfill our purpose. Inherent in this is joy. (See previous post)

Atheist: [Atheists] seek moral truth not in rules, which are merely man-made expedients devised for those cases when one must act without thinking. They seek it in broader principles. No matter what language or what philosophy an atheist uses when he outlines his moral beliefs, every atheist I have known has always fallen back upon the one concept echoed worldwide, and taught by religious and secular leaders throughout all time: the famous "Golden Rule."

Response: The Christian does not seek moral truth in rules, either, but in Christ, who changes our desires. The problem is not with what we do, but it is in what we want to do. It's fine to say you follow "do unto others as you would have others do unto you," but if someone hurts you, what do you want to do? If you are having a bad day, do you want to be nice to others?

Christ was nailed to a cross, after being beaten, and says "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Remember that it is not enough to change our actions. Our hearts must change... and we cannot change them ourselves.

Summary: This statement-response dialogue I have pieced together is designed to shed some light on the problems in atheism. I recognize that all atheist may not sympathize with Richard Carrier's arguments. I only used his writings (which came to my attention on a post on Memoirs of an Exchristian), because he is the first atheist I have read who attempts to create a stand for atheism... and, in that, I appreciate his work. I find it is much easier to articulate what you are against then what you are for.

Please comment on any of these points; I only ask that you clearly state the view you support, even as you deconstruct the opposing view.

Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free ... I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8: 31-36)


Cori said...

I've really appreciated this series of posts in response to Richard Carrier. In this last one I especially appreciate what you say regarding science, logic, reason, fact etc. One of the more prominent on-going discussions between Kevin and I has been around science. My argument is that science as a method is as biased a 'tool' for understanding the world as say, religion. The method of logic and reason is neither universal nor timeless. Although logic and reason are very useful they are not infallible (spelling?!).

I realise I'm using reason, logic and the scientific method interchangibly here ... But all three form a package that became particularly prominent (as far as I understand it) during the Enlightenment, particularly in Europe. I haven't explored this much, but I have the feeling that Eastern philosophy developed according to very different foundations than those of western philosophy (founded on enlightenment principles of logic and reason). We need to be careful of pointing at one thing as being biased and subjective (for example, religion) and in the same breath claiming that another is unbiased and objective (for example, science)). As far as I can tell, very little is unbiased and objective and the sooner we realise the subjectivity of our position the more honest we can be.

Alongside this, I don't see why subjectivity is seen as less than objectivity. What someone has experienced for themselves somehow seems more real to me than a list of so-called facts. What's our preoccupation with objectivity and facts, anyway? Why is it not that which is most personal which is also most admired and respected?

wflooter480 said...

Funny. It seems as though you are using reason and logic to diminish one's predisposition towards reason and logic.

Our beliefs and emotions may not inherently be logical nor reasonable and certainly not scientific, but when faced opposition we use those very same methods to defend those said beliefs, emotions, etc...til kingdom come (sorry, the pun WAS intended, and I'm a little embarassed about it (; )

tichius said...

Thanks for your insight Cori! I certainly agree, and it gets terribly confusing. I find myself often making the mistake of thinking I can somehow understand it all rationally, then God shows me (repeatedly) that this is not our goal. How comforting!

This addresses your point, Wflooter, because it is not that we use logic to disprove logic. We are using logic to recognize that there is Someone who has a greater Logic and greater Reason than we have.

And we do not need to rationally understand everything in order for it to be true.

Thank you both for your comments!

Ed said...

This is why I stopped debating with religious types. There is such a divide in the beliefs of the atheist and the religous that true debate is impossible. Both sides preach to the choir and nothing will ever be proven on this matter.

Dar said...

I would like to direct you to a blog called The Atheist Ethicist.
Alonzo Fyfe is extremely articulate in his daily articles. Beyond thought provoking, his posts are eye-openers. You may also find him at:


Lui said...

"This is dangerous, because there are many theories, such as macroevolution and natural selection, that have no proof. "

What would count as "proof"? (Science isn't about proving things, by the way. Nothing can be absolutely proven, but some things have been bolstered to such an extent by masses of physcial evidence that they are regarded as facts, and no one seriously doubts them, even though they have the POTENTIAL to be revised; ie. there are things that, if true, would nullify or seriously undermine our confidence in the theory) If you mean "overwhelming evidence", then you're plainly wrong. THAT evolution happens is quite undeniable now. The evidence from genetics, the fossil record, comparative anatomy, and biogeography are all highly convergent upon one another and are what we would expect to be the case if evolution were true. There is no longer any serious scientific dispute that evolution happens, only over how it happens.