The Raving Theist

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God Squad Review CVLIII

February 6, 2006 | 19 Comments

“If there is no God, are morals and ethics still a good thing?” asks a Squad reader. The response is the usual jumble of non-sequiturs and contradictions:

The brief answer is no. To quote Dostoevsky in “The Brothers Karamazov”: “If there is no God, all things are permitted.” Now it is true that there are many moral atheists and many corrupt theists. However, it’s our view that moral atheists have some inner idea of absolute truth, which is the functional equivalent of a belief in God’s moral law. Otherwise, depending only on one’s personal point of view, Hitler and Mother Teresa could be considered morally equivalent. The point of ethics is that something must be universal to be true.

“Thou shalt not murder” must be morally correct for all, not just for anyone who decides it is true because of some personal intuition. Why murdering innocent people is morally wrong, if it is not wrong because God says it is wrong, depends solely on the ability of unaided human reason to set and defend the absolute truth of moral claims.

I’ve discussed the difficulties of God command theology here and elsewhere, in particular how the Euthyphro dilemma renders God irrelevant to any ethical system. The Squad’s answer doesn’t begin to resolve the difficulties.

The presumed significance of the Dostoevsky quote (which the Squad doesn’t bother to explain or apply to its subsequent analysis) is that people could get away with anything because there’s no divine enforcer to dole out punishments and rewards at the end of time. However, that would not make morality and ethics a bad thing; it would make them all the more necessary to avoid injustice in this life. Furthermore, a general belief in the existence of a justice-dispensing God doesn’t tell us what is right or wrong or what puts us in heaven or hell. Even when the rules are spelled out in some holy book, the interpretations vary, and in any event we reject as insane and immoral many of the very clear dictates set forth in the Bible, the Qu’ran and other scriptures. The directives within and between those books often conflict, with thousands of God willing thousands of different thing, so a claim of absolute moral truth is obviously quite independent of a claim for God.

As the Squad well knows, and has acknowledged time and again, the absolute truths of Judaism and Christianity sharply conflict over the morality of rejecting Jesus as the savior. If “something must be universal to be true,” as they assert, theological claims like the divinity of Christ are plainly false because they are hardly universal. Moreover, there is no general religious consensus on any debated moral issue. And even simple principles, such as “it’s immoral to pillage and murder because you are angry about a cartoon,” are disputed by serious religious scholars. If they Squad believes that there is One True God whose dictates supply the absolute moral truths, they should identify Him and His beliefs instead of embracing their usual “many paths up the mountain” approach.

The Squad’s identification of the concept absolute truth as a “functional equivalent” of God-belief defeats their argument. If it’s functional, it works. If it’s equivalent, it works just as well. But nothing about it necessarily implies the existence of a conscious, all-powerful and all-knowing being supervising or punishing our behavior. There are functional equivalents for that role, too — human laws, human punishments and societal stigmas.

I concur that the murder of innocent people is a bad thing, universally bad under any moral system. But it is condoned in countless instances in the Bible and celebrated at Passover, which commemorates the slaughter of first-born Egyptian babies. So I reject it as wrong not “because God says it is wrong” — if the God of the Bible is the True One — but because all of human experience counts against baby-killing regardless of what Anybody says.

Finally, the Squad’s contempt for “unaided human reason” undercuts every single argument they make. If unaided human reason is incapable of correctly judging the morality of conduct, it is equally incapable of determining whether there is a God dictating such judgments. If it cannot alone conceive of a perfect moral system, it cannot alone conceive of the perfect being that devised the system. To argue that God aids us in understanding both morality and Him is not an adequate answer; apart from being question-begging, it fails to address why with God’s perfect aid we all don’t all share the same perfect concept Him and morality.

Comments

19 Responses to “God Squad Review CVLIII”

  1. jahrta
    February 6th, 2006 @ 12:24 pm

    I wonder what would happen if you wrote an open letter to the squad challenging them to a debate? Methinks that you should be called to the stand in that upcoming Italian trial so that you can properly drive the nails into the coffin of stupidity and superstition.

    It’s long overdue, and who better to pose the case against god than a lawyer?

  2. Mookie
    February 6th, 2006 @ 12:29 pm

    Gods are not needed for morality. Empathy and reason are two very good tools for designing a moral code. I will not kill people because I myself do not want to be killed. Seems like the only thing gods do is give folks an excuse to kill each other, in their god’s name.

  3. Thorngod
    February 6th, 2006 @ 12:31 pm

    What the moral absolutist is apparently unable or unwilling to ask himself is, On what basis does God separate those things that are good from those that are evil. Is it by divine whim? If moral determinations are predicated on the welfare of human beings, it would seem that we could do at least as good a job on our own as god has done by blessing us with a myriad devisive religions and their conflicting absolutes

  4. apav
    February 6th, 2006 @ 3:21 pm

    Does the concept of moral absolute present a problem for Xian diest? If causing pain and suffering to humans is immoral (as in an moral absolute), isn’t the Xian god guilty of immoral behavior in the extreme? I haven’t seen this take on the “problem on evil” arguement discussed. It seems to me the arguement that we cannot understand the intricacies of god’s ways is an arguement for “ends justifying the means” and if it applies to a god then why not to human behavior?

  5. snap crafter
    February 6th, 2006 @ 3:49 pm

    I personally don’t see a difference between Hitler and M. Teresa. I’m sure people throughout history have thought them both admiral.

  6. APav
    February 6th, 2006 @ 3:51 pm

    OK, I’m aware of one way of addressing the problem about the immoral behavior of a god, and that is the denial that god is “good” as in the sense that we undersand moral behavior: http://www.philosophyofreligion.info/isgodgood.html .

    This is still classes with the general understanding of the Xian god.

  7. Mister Swill
    February 6th, 2006 @ 6:25 pm

    If morality must be absolute to be meaningful then there is no meaningful morality (unless there’s something I don’t know about morality being woven into the fabric of the Universe).

    If meaningful morality can be based on spoken or unspoken agreements between large groups of people which are in turn based on their deeply held feelings about what is “good” and “bad,” then yes, meaningful morality can exist.

  8. Choobus
    February 6th, 2006 @ 11:34 pm

    Snap: Hitler is the one with the mustache, mother Theresa is the one with the hairy palms.

  9. musashi
    February 7th, 2006 @ 3:26 pm

    There is no universal ‘moral’ truth. All morals are rooted in objectionability, as long as the majority object to being murdered then murder will always be wrong. As long as the majority object to being victims of rape, violence, theivery, discrimination, etc, then those transgressions will always be wrong and punishable by society as well. Society determines morality, societies change thus morality changes. History has shown this to be true time and time again. So it stands to reason that morals would still exist even if there were no imaginary being to scare you into acting in a manner that just so happens to be acceptable to society.

  10. tarkovsky
    February 8th, 2006 @ 9:31 am

    There is no universal morality. But the human race shares a mammalian biological infrastructure, that which cannot be denied. Out of this biology comes pain.

    Pain has always driven our morals. We abhor physical pain and would rather enjoy pleasant physical experiences (sleep, food, sex, television, etc)

    Moral variations exist due to geo-political-historical circumstances called “cultures”.

    Any other type of explanation for morality outside of this basic pain-avoiding cultural community experience is missing the point.

  11. mark adams
    February 8th, 2006 @ 11:32 am

    Of course murder is immoral – it is defined as an immoral act of killing. The moral debate exists over what form of killing constitutes murder (e.g. killing in war, killing a person about to commit murder, abortion, the death sentence etc..).

    I would argue we do have a ‘default’ moral code set by evolutionary factors (if we did not then I doubt we would not have survived as a societal species). That similar rules exist in the animal kingdom would surely tell a divine command theorist that animals too, have found god. These basic rules are subject to interpretation by ‘common consent’ (and would have to be for humanity to adapt to a changing environment), this being reached through local interactions with other participants. One consequence of this is that different interpretations can be reached by different sections of society, although without total separation the two sections will continue to influence one another.

  12. musashi
    February 8th, 2006 @ 1:24 pm

    me: “There is no universal ‘moral’ truth.”
    tarkovsky: “There is no universal morality”

    Same thing.

    Of course murder is immoral – it is defined as an immoral act of killing. The moral debate exists over what form of killing constitutes murder (e.g. killing in war, killing a person about to commit murder, abortion, the death sentence etc..).

    And still, that moral debate is based off of one’s tendency to either object to the reason for killing or not to object. Some view the death penalty as a necessary part of our justice system, others do not (read: object).

    I would argue we do have a ‘default’ moral code set by evolutionary factors (if we did not then I doubt we would not have survived as a societal species).

    If so then it would have more to do with survival and it would definitely not be universal or the same for everyone because different people have different environmental conditions that dictate what they must do to survive. I would say that morals are part of a bigger ‘package’ that contains things like religion, culture, etc who’s only purpose is to hold the social group together, thus playing an important role in group survival.
    This could explain why religion is so much of a ‘strength in numbers’ game.

  13. Pascal's Wager
    February 9th, 2006 @ 1:55 am

    Even though I rarely agree with RA, I am consistently drawn back to his blog for the sake of interest. First, RA states: “If unaided human reason is incapable of correctly judging the morality of conduct, it is equally incapable of determining whether there is a God dictating such judgments. If it cannot alone conceive of a perfect moral system, it cannot alone conceive of the perfect being that devised the system.”
    By the incapability of humans to even correctly judge the morality of conduct, doesn’t it appear that a logical derivation then for humans, is to seek the need for direction from something greater than ourselves? Just because in and of themselves, humankind may not be able to determine morality, does not deter from the fact that they are cognitively capable of seeing the need for guided direction from a higher being- God. Secondly, it appears that RA is caught in the confounding concept that an all-knowing God doesn’t follow human logic- in regards to murder, “baby-killing”, morality, etc. Part of this is due to the fact that humans have and always will have a finite knowledge and understanding. We know very little in relation to what potentially there is to know. A plausible answer to the reason why all humanity does not share in the same concept of God might be, just as there is morality, there is also immorality. With ying, there is yang. With good, comes evil. Evil did not just appear in our universe or within the paradigm in which we exist. Evil is not simply a feeling, but a force within our existence as humans. Evil is against absolutely everything that is good andallowed to intervene in the lives of humans. If it were not allowed, it would have ceased to exist. A good God is going to be the target of evil. As much confusion, and misunderstanding that can be integrated into human reasoning, the less likely it will appear that a God actually exists. So far, evil appears to be rather successful in making God appear incompetent. But, that does not deter from the fact, that he may in fact, exist. God wants a relationship built on faith, yes, the simple-minded, crutch based concept of faith. Where there is no proof, pull out the faith card scenario, is actually what I am talking about. God’s existence is not determined by humanity believing in him or not. Just as my existence is not determined by an ant or gnat believing in me. God’s attributes are not lessened simply due to the fact that finite humanity is searching for a way to authenticate the existence, or lack thereof, of him. He will go on existing long after each of us has become dust. We will though, through death, have an opportunity to experience the evidence that will either support or not support each of our personal hypotheses regarding God’s existence. Exciting or scary- you make the call.

  14. Pascal's Wager
    February 9th, 2006 @ 1:55 am

    Even though I rarely agree with RA, I am consistently drawn back to his blog for the sake of interest. First, RA states: “If unaided human reason is incapable of correctly judging the morality of conduct, it is equally incapable of determining whether there is a God dictating such judgments. If it cannot alone conceive of a perfect moral system, it cannot alone conceive of the perfect being that devised the system.”
    By the incapability of humans to even correctly judge the morality of conduct, doesn’t it appear that a logical derivation then for humans, is to seek the need for direction from something greater than ourselves? Just because in and of themselves, humankind may not be able to determine morality, does not deter from the fact that they are cognitively capable of seeing the need for guided direction from a higher being- God. Secondly, it appears that RA is caught in the confounding concept that an all-knowing God doesn’t follow human logic- in regards to murder, “baby-killing”, morality, etc. Part of this is due to the fact that humans have and always will have a finite knowledge and understanding. We know very little in relation to what potentially there is to know. A plausible answer to the reason why all humanity does not share in the same concept of God might be, just as there is morality, there is also immorality. With ying, there is yang. With good, comes evil. Evil did not just appear in our universe or within the paradigm in which we exist. Evil is not simply a feeling, but a force within our existence as humans. Evil is against absolutely everything that is good andallowed to intervene in the lives of humans. If it were not allowed, it would have ceased to exist. A good God is going to be the target of evil. As much confusion, and misunderstanding that can be integrated into human reasoning, the less likely it will appear that a God actually exists. So far, evil appears to be rather successful in making God appear incompetent. But, that does not deter from the fact, that he may in fact, exist. God wants a relationship built on faith, yes, the simple-minded, crutch based concept of faith. Where there is no proof, pull out the faith card scenario, is actually what I am talking about. God’s existence is not determined by humanity believing in him or not. Just as my existence is not determined by an ant or gnat believing in me. God’s attributes are not lessened simply due to the fact that finite humanity is searching for a way to authenticate the existence, or lack thereof, of him. He will go on existing long after each of us has become dust. We will though, through death, have an opportunity to experience the evidence that will either support or not support each of our personal hypotheses regarding God’s existence. Exciting or scary- you make the call.

  15. Pascal's Wager
    February 9th, 2006 @ 1:55 am

    Even though I rarely agree with RA, I am consistently drawn back to his blog for the sake of interest. First, RA states: “If unaided human reason is incapable of correctly judging the morality of conduct, it is equally incapable of determining whether there is a God dictating such judgments. If it cannot alone conceive of a perfect moral system, it cannot alone conceive of the perfect being that devised the system.”
    By the incapability of humans to even correctly judge the morality of conduct, doesn’t it appear that a logical derivation then for humans, is to seek the need for direction from something greater than ourselves? Just because in and of themselves, humankind may not be able to determine morality, does not deter from the fact that they are cognitively capable of seeing the need for guided direction from a higher being- God. Secondly, it appears that RA is caught in the confounding concept that an all-knowing God doesn’t follow human logic- in regards to murder, “baby-killing”, morality, etc. Part of this is due to the fact that humans have and always will have a finite knowledge and understanding. We know very little in relation to what potentially there is to know. A plausible answer to the reason why all humanity does not share in the same concept of God might be, just as there is morality, there is also immorality. With ying, there is yang. With good, comes evil. Evil did not just appear in our universe or within the paradigm in which we exist. Evil is not simply a feeling, but a force within our existence as humans. Evil is against absolutely everything that is good andallowed to intervene in the lives of humans. If it were not allowed, it would have ceased to exist. A good God is going to be the target of evil. As much confusion, and misunderstanding that can be integrated into human reasoning, the less likely it will appear that a God actually exists. So far, evil appears to be rather successful in making God appear incompetent. But, that does not deter from the fact, that he may in fact, exist. God wants a relationship built on faith, yes, the simple-minded, crutch based concept of faith. Where there is no proof, pull out the faith card scenario, is actually what I am talking about. God’s existence is not determined by humanity believing in him or not. Just as my existence is not determined by an ant or gnat believing in me. God’s attributes are not lessened simply due to the fact that finite humanity is searching for a way to authenticate the existence, or lack thereof, of him. He will go on existing long after each of us has become dust. We will though, through death, have an opportunity to experience the evidence that will either support or not support each of our personal hypotheses regarding God’s existence. Exciting or scary- you make the call.

  16. Thorngod
    February 9th, 2006 @ 5:15 pm

    P’sW– Evil indeed “did not just appear in our universe….” In respect of living things, it is an unavoidable effect, an effect of the inhospitable nature of the universe. There is no “Evil” entity as such. He or It is not required. But if you are able to thwart abortions here and elsewhere, and pump out more and more “souls” onto our overladen earth, we can count on a great increase in evil entertainments. As for “an ant or gnat believing in” you, if they possessed our science they would have no problem detecting human existence, but would have the same problems we have with gods, and as many insane religions to contend with. And as to the question with which you began, a cursory survey of human history will reveal that morality always becomes more humane as humans trust more to reason and become less bound by the dogmatic fetters of primitive superstition.

  17. tarkovsky
    February 10th, 2006 @ 1:52 pm

    “I would argue we do have a ‘default’ moral code set by evolutionary factors (if we did not then I doubt we would not have survived as a societal species).”

    If so then it would have more to do with survival and it would definitely not be universal or the same for everyone because different people have different environmental conditions that dictate what they must do to survive. I would say that morals are part of a bigger ‘package’ that contains things like religion, culture, etc who’s only purpose is to hold the social group together, thus playing an important role in group survival.
    This could explain why religion is so much of a ‘strength in numbers’ game.

    And as to the question with which you began, a cursory survey of human history will reveal that morality always becomes more humane as humans trust more to reason and become less bound by the dogmatic fetters of primitive superstition.

    Hear hear. Of course morality (along with culture and religion) is the human community’s survival strategy. The middle-east has evolved to embrace Islam, Asia has embraced buddhism, and so on because these beliefs enhanced these regions’ survival ability.

    And I would contend that in a pre-electric era (say before the invention of airplanes and internet poorn) “culture” is a geographical necessity BUT in this age of globalization, local traditions and cultures are being seriously challenged. Things are changing, ideas are moving around.

    We won’t stop until the whole world goes atheist. ;-)

  18. David Kingston
    February 11th, 2006 @ 8:50 pm

    You are all very lost. It is plain that all of you are suppressing the truth in your ungodliness (Rom 1:18). In fact I am surprised that this blog does not applaud perversions such as homosexuality. I will pray for you that God might lead you to repentance.

    David Kingston
    dkingston@vt.edu

  19. jahrta
    February 14th, 2006 @ 10:57 am

    Dear David Kingston

    “Do you do anal?” (Choob, 6:9)

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