Atheism and the Morality of the Godless

In the previous post, we considered the cosmological argument (that the Big Bang theory is an affirmation of a God) and a teleological argument (that the highly improbable fine-tuning of the universe proves the existence of intelligent creation). We saw that the cosmological argument is nothing more than an admission of our ignorance, although it may be presented in any number of fancy forms (such as the cause of the universe is an uncaused cause, which is God, for instance). The teleological argument comes from a potentially wilful distortion of the anthropic principle. The next one that Dr. Craig puts forward is the origin of morality, which has no grounding if you assume that atheism is true.

3. Moral Argument: Dr. Craig argues that in the absence of God, there is no objective morality, no absolute sense of right and wrong. But we do have a sense of what is right and what is wrong, objectively, and this sense must have come from a higher moral authority, namely God.

Note that Dr. Craig is not arguing or implying that those with faith are better or more moral people while atheists are immoral. Instead, he is only saying that we all have an objective sense of what is right and wrong, and that comes from God. Ergo, there is a God.

I think he is mistaken in his premise about objective morality. There is no such thing, at least nothing that stands the test of time. A mere two hundred years ago in the West, slavery was a moral thing to do. If you read Mark Twain’s books carefully, you will see how Huckleberry Finn grapples with his troubled conscience that he helped a run away slave. It is not just a question of it being illegal, it was in fact immoral at that time. Having traveled and lived all over the world, I know that morality is also parochial. What is moral in India is human rights violation in America, and what is the norm in France is patently immoral in India.

Although some crimes or sins are committed with the knowledge of their wrongness, most are committed with a clear conscience and a firm conviction of their rightness. I cannot imagine that the perpetrators of the Final Solution, for instance, thought it was an immoral and ungodly thing to do, and went and did it any way. I would think that to their mind, they were performing an objectively moral, if unpleasant, act. To some of them at least, they were in fact carrying out God’s work.

I think there are other indications that objective and innate morality is a myth. Otherwise, why would we need the ten commandments to live by? Why would there be evil? The question of evil is usually raised by atheists as a logical argument against the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent and kind God. And the response from the believers is roughly the same as in the cosmological argument – who are we to presume to fathom God’s intentions?

Listening to Dr. Craig in other debates on the origins of morality, it seems to me that he is merely presenting the current sense of western morality as something objective, and of divine origin. It sounds right or objective only to his western audience at this point in time. In order to understand, truly understand, other yardsticks of morality, you have be born and brought up in another culture. Otherwise, one would never be able to see why forcibly liberating a muslim woman from the tyranny of the veil is an action akin to stripping a western woman in public, as Arundhati Roy put it.

I think the only way to understand objective morality is as a genetic phenomenon, in the light of evolutionary biology. The theist debaters like D’Souza poke fun at this view and obfuscate the issue by confusing the hardwired self-replication instructions encoded in the genes and their higher level expressions in our intentions, aspirations and actions. We, as human beings, do not want to kill all children other than our own in order to propagate our genes. But our genes do have the instructions to ensure the its propagation. So Sophie’s Choice wouldn’t have been much of a choice at all if one of the children was not her own.

4. Resurrection of Jesus: Dr. Craig says that some historians have established the resurrection as a historic fact. Against such an assertion of blind faith, I don’t want to argue directly because it is not possible to. All I want to do is to repeat something I said earlier — certain things are called supernatural because they do not exist or happen in nature. If God created nature to obey natural physical laws, and then chose to break the laws whenever it was convenient or appropriate to perform a miracle or show off, one can at least accuse that God of inconsistency if not non-existence. In any case, this argument is merely a recantation of scripture, and cannot be taken seriously.

I wanted to get to Dr. Craig’s last argument (immediate experience of God) in this post, but I think I will save it for the next one because it has more potency that it first appears.

Photo by jurvetson cc