Monday, August 15, 2011

Tim, The Christian, Asks The Atheists: On What Do You Base Your Morality

Andrew, in your last post, I think you make a fallacious argument, namely, you say that atheism makes you a better person.  Atheism cannot make you a better person, or at least a more moral person. We can both go back and forth and point at people who claim to be in our camp who are evil.  In my last post, I pointed to Stalin (yes, I incorrectly labelled it Lenin) as someone who did horrible things in the name of atheism.  And you pointed out Harold Camping, whom I readily agree did evil in the name of Christianity.  The point is that you cannot dismiss the truth of Christianity based on the evil that is done in its name because even if someone claims to be a Christian it does not mean that they are practicing their alleged faith correctly. In the same way, I cannot dismiss atheism because Stalin committed mass murder.

What I do not understand, and what I ask you atheists is, "on what basis do you adhere to a moral code?"  In my mind, if a person is an atheist, there is no basis for ethics or a moral code.   

Atheists attempt to dismiss Christianity by saying that its moral code is skewed.  I take issue with that, but that is not the point.  The point is that Christianity has the basis for a moral code -- a basis which calls us to love each other, to be unselfish, etc.  Why should the atheist be unselfish?  Because it benefits mankind?  So what if it benefits mankind?  If I am an atheist, why should I do anything ethical?  For example, if I am an atheist and I can get away with cheating on my taxes, there is nothing in atheism which tells me not to do that.  Also, the morals espoused by Christianity, and the Ten Commandments in particular, are the basis for most legal systems in the Western world.

Whether or not you like the moral code of Christianity, the Christian has a moral code. Whether the Christian follows that moral code all the time, is a completely different matter. In fact, we Christians tend to admit that we fail to follow the moral code all the time, thus our need for a Savior.  Nevertheless, Christianity prescribes what the Christian should do; atheism does not prescribe what the atheist should do. In fact, it makes no sense for an atheist to have a sense of duty about ethics. On what basis does the atheist ever have a sense of duty?

Furthermore, this is also a proof for God's existence, and the main argument that is used by C.S. Lewis.  We are all born with a conscience, a basic knowledge of right and wrong.  Unless he is a sociopath, every human being has this innate sense of right and wrong.   Where would this innate sense of morality come from if there was no God?  This sense of morality is in every person, in every culture.   In every country in the world, it is wrong to steal from another; in every country in the world, it is wrong to lie for no reason; no matter your faith, it is wrong for me to walk up to you, bop you on the nose for no reason and take your wallet.  Where did the conscience come from unless it was placed there be God?  The innate sense of right and wrong cannot evolve from the primordial soup.

Whether or not you like Christianity's moral code, can you admit that at least Christianity has the basis for a moral code, and that atheism does not?


  1. Oddly, I'm a Christian, who's inclined to agree with the atheist on the opening point that is brought up. In my experience, atheists can be, at least morally, far better people than Christians.

    In my mind, this is because, for the atheist, life has to be about either hedonism (which can vary from a "life of comfort" to "girls gone wild") or legacy (be it localized with family or more publicly known).

    While Christians like to categorize atheists as the hedonist types, many of them live their lives with their legacy in mind, and as a result, they want to be good people ... those who help others, are charitable, faithful in their relationships, and all those other basic moral pieces that aren't unique to Christianity (so yeah, I also disagree that you need the 10 Commandments as a basis for morality). Moreover, because being a good person is all there is, after all, it's the thing that will make or break their legacy, there's an intense amount of self-applied pressure to be good.

    In the end, I'm not a Christian because I'm somehow better, I'm a Christian because I know I fail. I struggle with selfishness, faithfulness, and other moral statutes that I know are right and good (for both me and others), but less appealing to me than hedonism (I'll admit it, "girls gone wild" sounds damn good).

    That there is unconditional grace and love for someone like me, that's what draws me to Christianity, and oddly, when I find myself embraced despite my flaws, I find a far more compelling reason to "be a good person".

  2. Why couldn't a sense of right and wrong have evolved in humans over time - from the primordial soup or later? I missed your argument that explains that.

  3. Joeburnham: Fantastic post!! Well Done! I'm torn, now. I actually find your argument more compelling, and yet I'm supposed to respond to Tim.

    Ah, to hell with it, here goes:

    Joe, I get the desire to be accepted. That, I think, is a universal human need just like food or water. So often in life we make only superficial connections with co-workers, aquaintances, even family and friends. We so desire a deeper connection that we look to imaginary friends that will never reject us.

    I have small children. They play with imaginary friends all the time. Unlike real children, the imagianry ones always want to play the same game, draw the same picture, or play with the same toy and never have a problem sharing. When we grow up, we realize that people aren't like our imaginary friends of the past, and we replace them with new ones. Religious ones.

    I can't stand Dr. Phil. He's such an asshat. But he did say something that made sense once. He said, "Sometimes, you have to give yourself what you cannot get from others." I still don't like him.

    I think that acceptance is a good example of why people stay in religion. I just don't think that has any bearing on the truth of its claims.

    I still say the best reason to be a good person is for goodness sake. God isn't here; we are.

    And finally, I have to chastise you just a little for completly dodging Tim's actual arguement. Tim isn't argueing that atheists are immoral. He's saying atheists are moral because god wrote the laws of morality on the hearts of every atheist. I know, it's silly. I'm off to start my reply on that.

  4. Tim argues that every human has an innate sense of right and wrong that God has placed in us. How come then, as an atheist, if I murder someone I innately know it's wrong, but yet I don't innately know that it's wrong to not believe in God? If believing in God was the right thing to do, wouldn't I know it deep in my heart? But I don't.

  5. @ Shima: Where did your innate sense that murder is wrong come from?
    Also, I think that deep in your heart you really do want to believe in God. You might try to mask that right now, but I think it is in there somewhere. You may not feel it right now, but I pray that someday you will. In any case, God bless you. :)

  6. @Tim: What one thinks and what one knows are two entirely different things. I could just as well counter with saying that I think that deep in their hearts, Christians really want to do evil stuff and the moral code written in the Bible is the only thing that keep them from doing it.

    The innate feeling of what's right and wrong is hardwired by evolution, just as babies know to search for their mother's breast. It's not put there by anyone else than our ancestors. Those that knows what's best for them survive and spread their genes.

    Anyway, I'm not going to get into this endless debate any further, as I've been unwise to do several times before. Because it truly is endless. Faith and logic can't battle because they're not in the same dimension. It's like trying to fight a ghost with a sword. Feel free to pray for me as much as you want. Who knows, maybe it will help. :)

  7. @Tim, your arguments may hold more weight if you didn't say things like you just said to Shima. This isn't the place for that.

  8. @Shima: Obviously you lack a +1 Ghost Touch longsword. Proper tool for the proper job.

  9. I'm getting to you, Tim. I've been sidetracked and haven't gotten to finish the reply. I'll get it posted tomorrow, hopefully!

  10. Take your time, my friend. No problem at all, and there is no hurry.

  11. @Andrew: First off, sorry, I didn't get one of those update type deals telling me there'd been a follow up comment and here we are three weeks later with me happening to bump into the site again because Tim's on my twitter feed.

    First off, I'll take my chastisement, not only because it's little, but because I did use Tim's post as a springboard (I ran with that, atheism can make you a better person line and then got sidetracked).

    I do find it odd that we take entirely different paths and get to the same place on the why of being good. In the end, when I do what's right, I don't do it for God, be it to impress or serve the divine, rather, I do it for my neighbor because that's what my neighbor happens to need in that moment. As you put it, I do it for goodness sake, because often, to twist Dr. Phil's words, your neighbor needs you to give him something he can't give himself.

    Odd comment of yours on staying with religion ... because I've all but left on multiple occasions because the people there weren't like my "imaginary friends". The people in the Church, and the god they spoke of, was just more of the same and didn't need somebody else telling me what I already knew.

    What's kept me around are those rare people who reflect what I've come to know about the divine's love and grace back into my life, and in that moment, giving me what I couldn't give myself simply because I knew I didn't deserve it.

    On another note, you make a comment about Christianity's "truth claims." Are there some specific claims on that list, just to help me understand where you're at?