Home > Religion > Why do people think this makes sense?

Why do people think this makes sense?

Michael Gerson pontificates in the WaPo about atheists:

So the dilemma is this: How do we choose between good and bad instincts? Theism, for several millennia, has given one answer: We should cultivate the better angels of our nature because the God we love and respect requires it. While many of us fall tragically short, the ideal remains.

Atheism provides no answer to this dilemma. It cannot reply: “Obey your evolutionary instincts” because those instincts are conflicted. “Respect your brain chemistry” or “follow your mental wiring” don’t seem very compelling either. It would be perfectly rational for someone to respond: “To hell with my wiring and your socialization, I’m going to do whatever I please.” C.S. Lewis put the argument this way: “When all that says ‘it is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains.”

It is a little amusing to see people longing for the comfort of cosmic totalitarianism, but that’s not really what I think is funny.

Some argue that a careful determination of our long-term interests — a fear of bad consequences — will constrain our selfishness. But this is particularly absurd. Some people are very good at the self-centered exploitation of others. Many get away with it their whole lives. By exercising the will to power, they are maximizing one element of their human nature. In a purely material universe, what possible moral basis could exist to condemn them? Atheists can be good people; they just have no objective way to judge the conduct of those who are not.

This bugs the crap out of me. What objective basis does Gerson have? In his opinion, there’s a god who will punish those who disobey certain laws. What are these laws? Gerson again has an opinion about where they come from, which has almost no objective evidence behind it. How does Gerson know a god exists? At best, philosophical arguments with gaping holes in them. In fact, both opinions are probably based on faith, which is a particularly ungrounded and subjective opinion. This is an objective way to judge other people? It’s a completely absurd way to judge other people.

Plus, why is this god worthy of having his standard be the one by which we must judge other people? Because he created us and can punish us? My parents created me and I’m not required to live by their moral standards. The government can punish me, but I am not required to accept their laws as moral. If you obey a god because you think he wants you to, how can you judge anyone who thinks differently? You only have your subjective opinions to ground your beliefs. This is better than atheism? It’s an absurd lie.

We all have the exact same method of judging other people: our opinions. The best we can do is ground them in the most objective and practical manner possible. It’s not going to be perfect and it’s not going to be like proving a mathematical theorem. We can and will be wrong, so we must have a little humility about the process. Anyone thinking they have more is living in a dream world.

Categories: Religion
  1. colby natale
    July 14, 2007 at 9:14 pm

    To some extent, this is an oversimplification; but I judge murder wrong when others do it yet I have no objective reason for doing so. So, where does that opinion come from?

    You still miss the point that religious people feel they do know where their laws come from; God. They also believe they know what those laws are because of the internal sense of right and wrong they feel. That isn’t a sufficient explanation for you, and I am fine with that; however, none of that covers the Athiests inability to explain where those feelings (moral compass, if you will) come from. Even if you have a compelling explanation that we believe murder is wrong to preserve the species or allow us to construct social groups; there is no proof you are any more correct in that than the Christian who says we feel it because God wants us to.

  2. July 14, 2007 at 11:39 pm

    You still miss the point that religious people feel they do know where their laws come from; God. They also believe they know what those laws are because of the internal sense of right and wrong they feel. That isn’t a sufficient explanation for you, and I am fine with that; however, none of that covers the Athiests inability to explain where those feelings (moral compass, if you will) come from. Even if you have a compelling explanation that we believe murder is wrong to preserve the species or allow us to construct social groups; there is no proof you are any more correct in that than the Christian who says we feel it because God wants us to.

    I’m sort of at a loss to understand why you made this comment. The entire post was attacking those who think they have an objective source of morality that comes from a god, while atheists have nothing but subjective opinion. You then point out that religious people feel there are moral laws from God. Well, no shit; I just said so. There was nothing in the post stating that my explanation of where morality comes from is better than anyone else’s. That wasn’t the point I was making. My point was fairly close to your last sentence: there’s no proof that any moral opinion has any sort of purely objective basis. They’re all opinions. I think my opinion is better and I can make an argument for it, but that’s a different subject entirely.

  3. July 15, 2007 at 12:51 pm

    In God Delusion Dawkins does a fairly credible job of giving an evolutionary basis for goodness, and for religion too, which he posits is a byproduct of the need for young children to obey parents without question when young. (Most religions icons are mother/father images.)

    Anyway, moral codes must have existed before religion, as people predate religion, and, in fact, invented it. Whatever source religion draws on for its moral code had to have been there first.

  4. July 15, 2007 at 2:44 pm

    I agree, but the counterpoint (from a liberal religious perspective) to that would be that a god infused us with an innate morality and a sense of him and that was developed into religion.

  5. July 16, 2007 at 6:21 am

    Well that’s one of those things that cannot be disproven or proven … how does one counter that argument? Is not! Is! Is not!

    Good to meet you yesterday, to put a face on this great blog.

    MT

  6. July 16, 2007 at 10:58 pm

    True enough. I look at it like this: we have mountains of evidence for evolution. We have laws of physics. I’m going to go with those over some extraordinary magical event until there’s some extraordinary evidence to back it up.

    It was nice meeting you, too. It’s always fun meeting the people I’ve read and argued with online.

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