A Reflective Christian

All for God’s Kingdom

God and Morality

Here is a typical interchange that might occur being an atheist and a theist.

Atheist: I do not believe in God.

Theist: I believe that God exists. If you do not believe God exists, then you cannot believe in morality.

Atheist: I belive in morality. I believe in doing what is best for others.

In this classic (albeit very generalized) conversation, what has occured is that the two people have spoken right past each other. The term morality is being used in slightly different ways here, and the variance in the definitions is not doubt rooted in each person’s beliefs.

Morality, at its most basic sense, is a set of beliefs about what we think should happen or should not happen. We might want to define it even further and say that morality is a system of beliefs about right and wrong that individuals operate under. For the atheist, this is the more accurate definition of their usage of “morality.” They believe that are things they should do and there are things they should not do. Furthermore, they might even obey them out of reverence to the society they live within.

What the theist would see is that there is no “universal law” of morality under the atheistic belief, as if there was some code that was as engrained into the universe as the physical principles the universe operates under. Morality for many atheists is seen at the societal level, whereas for theists is it on the level of the universe. The atheist, then, doesn’t appeal to some untestable laws (the difference between principles of morality and physics), and it is formed at the level that morality is primarily concerned about, people. Many theists want there to be some ethical system that is “above” humanity, not at the level of humanity. In doing so, theists unwittingly make morality foreign to the human plight.

But a way the theist in this conversation can become percieved to be stronger is if he accepts that morality can be believed, irregardless, but the enforcement of morality is not universal. Away with the arguing that atheists doesn’t believe in morality! Many do.  Instead, the divergence should come down to the question of whether a certain morality will win out and be observed in the future or not. In other words, the fundamental question as to whether the universe (and all the things and people in it) is guided by something more than itself or whether it is guided by itself.

For the atheist it is not. Therefore, such a person can not trust that their own view of morality will be enforced, encouraged, and practiced. In order for that person to have hope, it must believe that there is a entity that has the strength to enforce and the knowledge to persuade that shares their own morality. This is part of what a society is, in that it has various restraints, knowledge, and rewards that it uses to maintain acceptance and obedience to a certain morality.

But it is also at this very point where there is no real solution. Societies change their morality, based upon their own actions (individuals and groups will tend to justify ther actions, even if it would be otherwise unjustified) and the situations that they face. And since a society must have the strength to enforce those who would break their ethical codes, there would have to be the increasing of strength in the case their might be people who would disobey the behavioral code, if not try to enforce their own. So as it behooves a society to do this, it also affects their ethical views.

However, first off the morality system has changed. But secondly, the fundamental question is whether a society’s morality will reap power by being exlusive, in which case their ethics are no longer for others, but merely for themselves as a group. To make efforts to be inclusive may bring in more people and increase ones capabilities, but it also divests it in bringing in others and maintaining order within society. But the larger a group gets, the more likely a new person will merely be redundant, whether it be knowledge, skills, etc. As such, there becomes diminishing returns for an inclusive society, to the point that to include more people is actually harmful for the society. So there is an effective limit as to how powerful a particular society can become. So there is little hope for enough strength to be obtained to enforce a morality universally.

The next step might be to encourage and persuade others groups to endorse to same moral view, perhaps by saying that this is more beneficial for both groups that resisting one another. However, as that becomes the case, there is naturally less and less of a need to have enough strength to maintain and enforce behavioral codes. But in that vacuum, another group becomes capable of obtaining enough strength to maintaining their own behavioral code. And for them, it will benefit them more to resist the other groups than to join with them, since the costs are reduced in less resistance. In other words, the inevitable result of peace is war.

So in the end, the atheist can not reasonably hope at all that their behavioral code is to be enforced universally, becuase morality changes, groups can only obtain so much power and knowledge, and peace makes things ripe for an alternative view to come into play.

The theist, on the other hand, can logically hope that it will happen; that the wrongs will be righted, the world will become just, and everyone will become happy. Why? Because they believe in an unchanging, omnipotent, omniscient God, individually capable of doing what society can not.

That leads me to a question which I will address in a future post. Is it probable or not that human thought on its own developing through history could develop such a concept of God that alleviates all those concerns at the same time?

February 16, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Atheism is anti-intellectualism

If one thinks about it, there are two likely ways for the notion of atheism to develop in a logically “justifiable” way (it is important to understand that I am not referring conscious atheism, but simply a lack of belief, whether it is a conscious rejection or not):

1) That with a total lack of abstraction and with no outside influence, a person would never entertain the idea of god or gods

2) As one becomes increasingly abstract, one would move towards the idea of a singular ‘god’, but it is perhaps better defined a singular unifying force. In our culture and our understanding of the universe, it becomes natural to unite this singular impersonal unifying force with the universe itself (almost an “atheistic pantheism”).

So imagine an infinitely dumb person in this world who is not taught anything by anyone. They would never come to believe in a god or gods. The alternate route of supposed intellectualism, the one that unites the unifying force with the impersonal universe, leads to the same lack of belief. The infinitely dumb person is justified because they can not possibly see the idea of the existance of a god, so it is “justified” not to believe. On the other hand, one can justifiy the atheism of the latter person.

But in the end, “intellectual atheism” comes full circle to what the infinitely dumb person believes. Isn’t all “intellectual atheism” saying then is that the infinitely dumb person is in fact smart enough to never accept the notion of God? But for the smarter person who develops the idea of a personal God or gods (doesn’t take it all the way abstraction wise), isn’t he dumber than the infinitely dumb person?

While one might distinguish the first person as an unconscious atheist and the second person as potentially as a conscious atheist, the second person must rely upon the abstraction of the concept of god to even develop to even begin to develop conscious atheism. In the end, all “intellectual atheism” is doing is in fact arguing that the usage of the intellect to develop the idea of god (since, for the atheist, it could not have occured by revelation or otherwise their atheism is in error) is wrong. While atheists chide people for believing in God for being superstitious and ignorant, atheists in fact are the most anti-intellectual of them all. This does not make them wrong in their atheism, but “intellectual atheism” is simply a critique of a particular usage of the intellect. Many uses of the intellect are in error in fact.

All this is to say that theists (and their variants of deists, pantheists, and panentheists) are in fact the more intellectual in their beliefs. It could be wrong, but their belief requires more actual usage of the intellect than atheism does. “Intellectual atheism” for all is usage of the intellect, is basically saying to use the intellect in regards to belief about God is wrong (or at best, unjustified).

To add, one might argue that atheism could develop from a person who rejects a currently held belief on the lack of evidential grounds. But this is a round about way of doing the same thing as the infinitely dumb person. This person simply rejects any evidential grounds, and so effectively renders themselves like the infinitely dumb person when it comes to the discussion of the concept of god.

February 16, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 15 Comments