Stress-testing the
mind of Christ

Where a recovering ex-atheist rams the Bible into other worldviews to see what breaks (note: Scripture cannot be broken)


presentations
3 reasons atheists should treat morality as superstitious nonsense

Atheists have been complacently borrowing Christian ideas about morality for too long. It’s time for that to end, along with Christianity itself.

I’d like to see more intellectual rigor and fortitude among atheists. I think it is time they recognized and shrugged off the last fusty trappings of religion inherited from the Christians who started the scientific revolution. If you’re going to deny the supernatural completely, then do it consistently. After all, atheists aren’t afraid of the truth. Whatever it is, they should step up and take it on the chin.

Hence, it is time to discard morality as the religious rubbish that it is

Here are three reasons why morality is just nonsense in a world without God:

  1. We have no obligations to evolution. While it is true that most people share a strong sense that we should not, for example, torture children for fun, we now know that this is just an evolved instinct that promotes survival. It is no different in principle (albeit not in practice) from the instinct to eat as much sugar as possible, or to avoid sleeping in green muck.

    But it is obviously ridiculous to think we have an obligation to do what evolution has programmed us to do. We do not have an obligation to eat sugar, or to avoid sleeping in green muck. So by the same token, we also do not have an obligation to avoid torturing children for fun. Most of us may prefer not to, but it is certainly not wrong to do so. That language is just a holdover from religion, and should be discarded as the garbage it is.

  2. Evolution often selects for false beliefs. The widespread and pernicious existence of religion itself shows how false beliefs can aid survival. So in case you are tempted to cling to the silly religious notion that there really is such a thing as “right and wrong”, and that torturing children for fun falls squarely under “wrong”, let’s grant this for the sake of argument.

    Now, the problem is, since evolution may select for false beliefs, you have no principled way to show that your beliefs about morality are not among them. They are just as likely to be coo-coo superstitious balderdash as belief in God, for example.

  3. Obligation is not a property of particles. Since we are nothing but matter in motion, and it is absurd to think that matter can have obligations to other matter simply by virtue of its being structured in a particular way, it is therefore just as absurd to think that human beings can have obligations to other human beings as to think that a beaker of acid can have obligations to another beaker of acid, or a galaxy to another galaxy.

Hopefully this puts to rest the backward, bronze-age notion of morality. Atheists should immediately reject such barbaric ideas, and feel free to embrace the liberating ethos of survival of the fittest—might makes right. There is no meaning to life, except perhaps extracting the most pleasure from it before oblivion. The human race as a whole does not matter; after all, the universe will eventually end in heat-death anyway. So we should live only for our own desires, and do it without reservation—regardless of how it affects anyone else. Like North Korea.

18 comments

  1. Scott S

    The frightening take away from this article suggests that Christians would simply run amok without a belief in a higher authority and rationalizes well behaved atheists with the idea they borrowed morality from the Christians. Christopher Hitchens was correct when he said

    “Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it.”

  2. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Scott, your question-begging effort to psychologize Christians hasn’t given us any reason to doubt my conclusions—so I take it you agree with them? But if so, the “human decency” you talk about is just an evolved preference, like my preference for chocolate over vanilla. Why should we care about it? By the same token, why would you object to Christians “running amok”. Do you think they ought not to?

  3. Scott S

    Perhaps human decency is an evolved preference, but a necessary one that has enabled civilization to flourish thus ensuring greater chances for the human species to survive through cooperation. I can cite many instances throughout history (and even within the Bible) where even the moral Christians and Hebrews have slaughtered the innocents of “the other”.

    In order for your premise to be true, no other civilizations could have flourished absent the morality of the Christian god, yet we have many examples of virtuous civilizations rising and falling throughout history. It’s weird that they all developed a prohibition against murder and theft independent of the Christian and Hebrew dictates.

    I find it extremely vexing that there are no prohibitions against slavery, rape, sexual abuse of children etc. in the Bible which is supposed to be the source book for God’s morality.

    There can be found decrees against wearing mixed fabric, eating shellfish, cooking young goats in its mother’s milk etc, but not one word on the above mentioned items. There is an interesting tidbit or two about how slaves should behave toward there masters and how women should be subjugated by their husbands, but no great revelations about human decency.

    In fact, to the contrary, within the bible there can be found divine warrants for trafficking in humans, for ethnic cleansing and genocide, for slavery and for indiscriminate mass slaughter of the innocents and plenty of examples where these things have happened.

    That’s why the Christian argument regarding morality just falls flat in my opinion.

  4. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Perhaps human decency is an evolved preference, but a necessary one

    Necessary only in the sense that it is required for the survival of humanity. There’s certainly nothing normative about it. No reason we should be decent. A sociopath is not doing anything wrong by opting out of this genetically-programmed preference. It’s not as if human beings ought to survive or flourish, since when we say, “It is good for humans to flourish”, all we mean is, “Evolution has programmed us to desire that humans flourish.”

    In order for your premise to be true, no other civilizations could have flourished absent the morality of the Christian god

    Which premise? You need to be more specific. Which of the three arguments I summarized in the article do you think is refuted by the presence of non-Christian civilizations?

    From a Christian point of view, obviously no civilizations have flourished absent the morality of the Christian God, since all people are made in his moral image. So your critique just assumes what it needs to prove here. It begs the question against me.

    In fact, to the contrary, within the bible there can be found divine warrants for trafficking in humans, for ethnic cleansing and genocide, for slavery and for indiscriminate mass slaughter of the innocents and plenty of examples where these things have happened.

    Let’s assume that’s true. It’s not—but let’s assume it is, since it’s easier to refute your own position than educate you on scriptural exegesis.

    Given that morality is just superstitious nonsense anyway, what exactly is your problem with how the Bible doesn’t meet your personal (superstitious) moral preferences? You seem to think this constitutes some kind of argument against its truth. But what could that argument possibly look like, given that the very idea of moral truth is superstitious nonsense borrowed from the Bible in the first place?

  5. Scott S

    I didn’t mention anything about morality being superstitious or whether the Bible was true or not. A lot of straw man fallacies in your response.

  6. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Scott, your response is puzzling.

    Firstly, I’m assuming you agree that morality is superstitious nonsense, since you haven’t disputed this; nor or given any reasons to doubt the arguments I’ve summarized in this article.

    Secondly, you also obviously did reference the Bible being true, since you indicated that you find (your understanding of) its moral directives to be such that its being the “source book for God’s morality”, in your view, “falls flat”. If the Bible claims to be the source book for God’s morality, and you believe this claim falls flat, then obviously you believe the Bible is false in this respect.

  7. Scott S

    “Necessary only in the sense that it is required for the survival of humanity.”

    Exactly! Survival of the whole depends on the individual. Sociopaths are evolutionary pariahs so to speak and since society deals harshly with them they are unlikely to pass along their genes, thus eventually dying out.

    “From a Christian point of view, obviously no civilizations have flourished absent the morality of the Christian God, since all people are made in his moral image.”

    Quite a claim, unsubstantiated, but quite a claim nonetheless. In fact, all religions have similar claims. How would one pick which is true objectively speaking?

    “Let’s assume that’s true. It’s not—but let’s assume it is, since it’s easier to refute your own position than educate you on scriptural exegesis.”

    Educate me. I happen to know quite a bit about the subject.

  8. Scott S

    I just don’t know how to add quotes on this site! lol!

  9. Scott S

    By the way, scriptural exegesis tends to evolve over time. No pun intended.

  10. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Hey Scott, if you want to quote something, just add a <blockquote> tag before the text, and a </blockquote> tag after it.

    Sociopaths are evolutionary pariahs so to speak and since society deals harshly with them they are unlikely to pass along their genes, thus eventually dying out.

    But you agree that there is nothing wrong with being a sociopath under evolution? It may be aberrant in terms of genetic programming, but it is not normatively aberrant?

    (Btw, if evolution were true, shouldn’t sociopaths already have been eliminated from the gene pool?)

    Quite a claim, unsubstantiated, but quite a claim nonetheless.

    I don’t need to substantiate it; I’m just describing the Christian view. It’s a pretty reasonable claim if God exists. The issue is that your argument against me relied on this claim’s being false, but didn’t do anything to show that it was false. Thus you were committing the fallacy of assuming the consequent or begging the question.

    Educate me. I happen to know quite a bit about the subject.

    It’s too much of a red herring. I try to keep comments here on topic. I think it would be better if you engaged with the arguments I’m making.

  11. Scott S

    (Btw, if evolution were true, shouldn’t sociopaths already have been eliminated from the gene pool?)

    You strike me as someone who had never read an argument against your position. Mutations are essential for evolution. They are the raw material for genetic variation. Using your own argument, why aren’t theer entire populations of sociopaths or why are there sociopaths at all if they contradict god’s will?

  12. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    You strike me as someone who had never read an argument against your position.

    I think it would be best to stick to the central argument, rather than get side-tracked in speculation. This was just a throw-away comment on my part; I’m happy to retract it.

    What I really want to know is, do you agree with my central conclusion that morality is just a superstitious holdover from religion, and that it is indefensible under a fully atheistic worldview?

    If you do, what was the argument you initially intended to make by posting here?

    If you don’t, what counterargument(s) can you bring to bear that cast doubt on my original threefold argument?

  13. Tony

    “From a Christian point of view, obviously no civilizations have flourished absent the morality of the Christian God, since all people are made in his moral image.”

    so Dominic are you saying no civilizations flourished which condemed slavery? well by your logic the Confederate States of America should have been the high point of human civlization!

    “Since we are nothing but matter in motion, and it is absurd to think that matter can have obligations to other matter simply by virtue of its being structured in a particular way, it is therefore just as absurd to think that human beings can have obligations to other human beings as to think that a beaker of acid can have obligations to another beaker of acid, or a galaxy to another galaxy.”
    fallacy of division, they are not alive nor sentient

    “So we should live only for our own desires, and do it without reservation—regardless of how it affects anyone else. Like North Korea.”
    do you even understand what the North Koreans believe?- Kim Il Song got many of his ideas for statecraft from his Presbtyerian Sunday School Teacher and its literally impossible to live for your own desires without reservation anyways, i mean even you should know that

  14. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    so Dominic are you saying no civilizations flourished which condemed slavery?

    No, I’m saying that if Christianity is true, then morality itself is a reflection of God’s character, so every civilization has to some extent followed his moral law, and to that extent has flourished. Your inability to correctly interpret basic statements doesn’t suggest that further discussion will be very promising.

    fallacy of division, they are not alive nor sentient

    Ironically, you commit the fallacy of begging the question here, by assuming it is coherent to speak of matter being alive or sentient under strict materialism—a variation on the very point I am arguing.

    Kim Il Song got many of his ideas for statecraft from his Presbtyerian Sunday School Teacher

    Feel free to document this claim. It would be an intriguing insight into his mind, if true.

    its literally impossible to live for your own desires without reservation anyways

    Even if true, this hardly prevents one from trying, does it?

  15. David

    Your first argument, that morality is borrowed from the Christian religion, is only valid if you believe God exists, seeing as it’s undeniable that morality predates Christianity. That’s begging the question, exactly what you’re accusing Scott of doing. If you have to make the assumption that the Christian god exists to make your argument that morality comes from the Christian god, you’ve already lost in our eyes.

    I deeply worry for humanity when people like you freely admit that they would rape, murder and torture if they didn’t believe in God. After all, that’s the argument you’re making: that there’s no absolute moral standard without God, so if God doesn’t exist we should be able to do whatever we want. You shouldn’t be trusted around other people if you think like this. What if you have a crisis of faith? I shudder to think.

    Yes, under the atheist worldview there is no easy fix, no absolute moral standard for us to base our views on. Yes, our views are, to an extent, the product of evolution. Let’s ignore the fact that the bible is anything but an absolute moral standard, or the fact that if we actually based our moral standard on the bible, the world would be a severely messed up place. You’re making the false argument that just because ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are human constructs, that means that they have no worth or meaning. There’s no good reason to believe this. Just because there isn’t some absolute standard for what ‘moral’ is and isn’t, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive to be moral anyway. Any truly moral person will agree with this. Morality is its own motivation.

    Humans make up their own morals. If you don’t believe this, how do you explain how much our moral standards have changed over the past 2,000 years? People have believed in the same book, the bible, and have claimed to have derived their morals from that book, yet what is considered ‘moral’ has drastically changed.
    Given that humans make up their own morals, the best we can do as a society is try to make as good ones as possible. To try and make a code of law that benefits the majority of people the majority of the time without unfairly stigmatising a minority. If you need to ask why we should do this, you don’t understand what morality is. Yes, it’s complicated. Yes, there aren’t always easy answers. But it’s real, and it’s grown-up. It’s accepting reality rather than hiding behind religion because you’re so afraid of the truth.

  16. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    David, even if morality predates Christianity, the particular kind we practice in the Western world is undeniably borrowed from Christianity. That’s just historical fact.

    I deeply worry for humanity when people like you freely admit that they would rape, murder and torture if they didn’t believe in God.

    That’s a pretty…interesting…”interpretation” of what I said. Seems to say more about you than about me.

    if we actually based our moral standard on the bible, the world would be a severely messed up place.

    A fond assertion wandering aimlessly in search of an argument to keep it safe.

    You’re making the false argument that just because ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are human constructs, that means that they have no worth or meaning. There’s no good reason to believe this.

    This isn’t that hard to follow, David. If human beings are just matter in motion, and matter is inherently meaningless, than human beings—and whatever they construct—are inherently meaningless as well. If you have some subjective sense of meaning, that just shows that your belief structure does not reflect reality as it actually is.

    You seem to have a lot of trouble understanding the essence of my argument. You keep acting like morality matters and is important, when I have shown that under atheism it fundamentally does not. This is one of the glaring ironies of atheism. Like all worldviews, it needs to make sense of the world and uphold fundamental realities like morality, while eliminating the judgment of God. But because it is so drastically reductionistic, it eliminates everything it aims to keep, in obvious ways. Yet atheists seem oblivious.

    Given that humans make up their own morals, the best we can do as a society is try to make as good ones as possible.

    How can you make up “as good ones as possible” without first having a standard of comparison to know which ones are good and which ones aren’t? Once again you’re borrowing an ultimate standard that does not exist in your worldview.

    To try and make a code of law that benefits the majority of people the majority of the time without unfairly stigmatising a minority.

    This is just utilitarianism. But utilitarianism can’t even get morality off the ground, as is obvious if you do ask, why we should try to benefit the majority of people the majority of the time. You try to preempt this objection, but in fact that is the very issue at hand. Is it good to benefit people? Why? You’ve just presupposed some other standard goodness rather than explaining it. You may find my response to Sam Harris’ “Moral Landscape Challenge” helpful here.

  17. David

    David, even if morality predates Christianity, the particular kind we practice in the Western world is undeniably borrowed from Christianity. That’s just historical fact.

    Yes, modern day morals to an extent are based off Christianity, which are themselves to an extent based off what came before it. There are plenty of influences, but to make such an assertion that atheists are merely ‘borrowing’ morality from Christianity is a gross oversimplification and not a good argument.

    That’s a pretty…interesting…”interpretation” of what I said. Seems to say more about you than about me.

    You’re saying that without some sort of absolute moral standard, there is no barometer for what is good and what is bad. You said it yourself, under the atheist worldview, only survival of the fittest matters, and doing whatever pleases you. Therefore, it directly follows from what you said, that if you didn’t believe in God, you’d go around doing whatever is in your own selfish interest, regardless of those around you. You’re the one making the argument that there is nothing wrong with rape, murder and torture in an atheistic worldview, not me. And that says everything about you.

    A fond assertion wandering aimlessly in search of an argument to keep it safe.

    No, just stating the obvious to those without biblically tinted glasses. Your source of morality is perfectly happy with stoning children who disobey their parents, with genocide, with marrying a rape victim to their rapist, with slavery. You name the terrible thing, and the bible probably condones it. And before you say that that’s just the old testament, and Jesus overrode it, what about Matthew 5:17. I’m not going to claim I have any deep knowledge of the bible, and I’m sure you know far more than I do, but regardless, it’s the very words of the bible that have turned so many people atheist, because they’re so disgusted by what the bible actually says. Christians base their morals on what they WANT the bible to say. Not what it says. That’s why Christian morality has evolved so much over the years. Why there are so many different denominations stemming from the exact same book. Because no matter how much you want to think otherwise, the bible is not a source of absolute morality. It is filled with contradictions, with passages that can be interpreted any way someone wants to interpret them, and with passages that the vast majority of Christians completely ignore for their own convenience.

    Obviously you’ll disagree with me on this, and I don’t have the knowledge for a debate in this area. You can say your pace if you want and we’ll leave it at that.

    This isn’t that hard to follow, David. If human beings are just matter in motion, and matter is inherently meaningless, than human beings—and whatever they construct—are inherently meaningless as well. If you have some subjective sense of meaning, that just shows that your belief structure does not reflect reality as it actually is.

    No, it isn’t hard to follow, and I’m following it just fine. There is no inherent, absolute meaning under the atheistic worldview, yes. What you’re missing is that this doesn’t mean that humanity can’t construct its own. Yes, most atheists accept that there is no inherent purpose, but it’s not denying reality to actually try to do something about this. In fact it’s the very opposite, it’s embracing it. It’s not hiding behind religion and actually trying to do something real.

    You make the argument that evolution can pick ‘wrong’ beliefs for humans to follow, and we’d never know, thus anything we believe is based on a falsehood, but that contradicts your earlier argument that there is no absolute right or wrong. Evolution can’t pick something that is right or wrong if there is no absolute right or wrong. All we can do it try to come up with the best moral standard we can. Try to see how it affects other people, try to construct, as best we can something to live by. No, there is no fundamental meaning of morality.

    Again, there is no magical man in the sky that makes something moral and something else not moral. There is no absolute morality, or absolute purpose for it. But you keep on missing the point that this doesn’t stop humans from doing the best we can to construct one. Why should we do this if there is no absolute reason to? Because it if for the benefit of humanity. Why should we strive for the benefit of humanity if there is no absolute reason to? I’ll respond to that below.

    How can you make up “as good ones as possible” without first having a standard of comparison to know which ones are good and which ones aren’t? Once again you’re borrowing an ultimate standard that does not exist in your worldview. This is just utilitarianism. But utilitarianism can’t even get morality off the ground, as is obvious if you do ask, why we should try to benefit the majority of people the majority of the time. You try to preempt this objection, but in fact that is the very issue at hand. Is it good to benefit people? Why? You’ve just presupposed some other standard goodness rather than explaining it.

    The standard of comparison is how one set of moral rules affects people to how another set of rules affect people. We base whether something affects people positively or negatively based on our consciousness and intuition. We intuitively know whether or not a mother losing her child is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It’s not absolute, but it’s what we base our lives on and is thus all that really matters when making such judgements. The standard of goodness with which one can claim that it is good to benefit people is the only that really exists: the standard derived from experience and life. Again, it’s not absolute, but it’s all that actually affects us in any way; it doesn’t matter whether or not it is absolute.

    To summarise my rather disjointed argument, yes, there is no absolute source of morality, and yes, there is no absolute reason to strive for some form of utilitarianism. The only basis that humans have to derive morality is what we’ve been provided with. It’s not absolute, but that doesn’t matter, because it affects us the same way regardless. We don’t have an absolute standard for what is good and bad, but we do have a glaringly obvious one from human experience. The best we can do is base any system off this shaky grounding. So why strive for utilitarianism? Because it speaks to the fundamental part of humanity that is ‘good’. And yes, no two people will fully agree on what is good and bad, and this fundamental standard within humanity is subjective, but it’s all we have, and it is thus the only thing we can base morality on. When it comes down to it, I believe in morality, because it is moral according to the only standard of moral and honest person can claim to have. I’d pick that over enforced ‘morality’, from fear and bribery and thoughtless conformity, any day.

  18. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    You’re saying that without some sort of absolute moral standard, there is no barometer for what is good and what is bad.

    No, it’s much worse than that. Like most atheists, you are equivocating between epistemic and ontological grounding. I am saying that atheism has no ontological grounding for morality. Morality, in the final analysis, simply does not exist on atheism. Nothing you have said is responsive to this basic argument.

    Therefore, it directly follows from what you said, that if you didn’t believe in God, you’d go around doing whatever is in your own selfish interest, regardless of those around you.

    Here’s what your argument looks like:

    1. If atheism is true, there is no right or wrong
    2. Bnonn believes atheism is true (ex hypothesi)
    3. Therefore, Bnonn will rape, murder, and torture

    If you think this is how logic is supposed to look, then tbh it’s not surprising you’re having difficulty understanding my argument and articulating a response.

    Your source of morality is perfectly happy with stoning children who disobey their parents [etc]

    Ignoring that your list is mostly strawmen, what basis do you have to object to this view of morality? Your own opinion? Your evolved instincts? You’re just begging the question.

    it’s the very words of the bible that have turned so many people atheist, because they’re so disgusted by what the bible actually says.

    Agreed. The truth is hateful to those who hate truth.

    Christians base their morals on what they WANT the bible to say. Not what it says. That’s why Christian morality has evolved so much over the years.

    This is prima facie absurd. Christian morality has not evolved; and what is really relevant is the teaching of the Bible itself. What does it say about morality? There’s no disputing that Christians’ understanding of that morality has evolved. But that is inevitable. We are all products of our time. Someone reading the Bible against the backdrop of robust libertarianism and separation of state and church is bringing a significantly different set of presuppositions to the text than someone who lives hand-to-mouth in medieval Germany, where the state laws are dictated by powerful barons-come-clergymen who in turn are relying on 1500 years of speculation, syncretism and doctrinal accretion. One of them will think that heretics should probably be burned at the stake; one of them will not. One of them will think that slavery is permissible; one of them will not. Mind you, one of them will understand slavery to be chattel slavery; one of them will probably understand it in terms of the hard necessity of indentured servitude for survival. Grossly oversimplifying the issue as “Christian morality evolving” really just suggests that you’re even more blind to how your socially-conditioned presuppositions affect your own beliefs.

    It is filled with contradictions, with passages that can be interpreted any way someone wants to interpret them, and with passages that the vast majority of Christians completely ignore for their own convenience.

    If I had a buck for every time I heard this. Could you give a couple of examples? I mean, how do know the Bible is “filled” with contradictions if by your own admission you don’t know much about the Bible? And in terms of passages that can be interpreted in many ways, does that obviate the fact that there is nonetheless only one right interpretation? (Or can you even point to passages where it really matters?) As regards passages Christians ignore, perhaps that’s true, but which ones do you have in mind? I am not in the habit of ignoring any part of God’s word if I can help it.

    Yes, most atheists accept that there is no inherent purpose, but it’s not denying reality to actually try to do something about this.

    It kinda is. It’s trying to create something that, in the final analysis, cannot in principle exist. If there is no meaning in the final analysis, then there is no meaning in any other analysis that does not reduce to non-meaning. Your position is a contradiction in terms. You are trying to claim that human beings can create meaning, and that meaning, when understood in terms of stuff that actually objectively exists is in fact not-meaning.

    You make the argument that evolution can pick ‘wrong’ beliefs for humans to follow, and we’d never know, thus anything we believe is based on a falsehood, but that contradicts your earlier argument that there is no absolute right or wrong.

    How could you not have noticed that I prefaced this argument with the conditional, “in case you are tempted to cling to the silly religious notion that there really is such a thing as ‘right and wrong'”?

    All we can do it try to come up with the best moral standard we can.

    You keep using the word “best” as if it means something under atheism. As if there is an objective standard we can compare our moral theories to. There isn’t. You’re chronically unable to stop assuming an absolute moral standard, even while arguing against it.

    Again, there is no magical man in the sky that makes something moral and something else not moral.

    Explain to me how this relates to a Christian understanding of God? In what sense if God a “magical man”? Which Christians believe he lives “in the sky”? Statements like this betray the fact that you’re not interested in honest discussion or truth. You’re motivated by contempt rather than inquiry. I wonder if you even know you’re doing it. More to the point, it’s really hard to take someone seriously when they think Christians believe in a magical sky-friend.

    We intuitively know whether or not a mother losing her child is ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

    Again, you’re simply confusing moral epistemology with moral ontology. I don’t deny that you know that a child dying is bad. I deny that your worldview has anything to make it bad, because all your worldview has in the final analysis is meaningless matter in motion.

  I don’t post ill-considered articles and I don’t sponsor ill-considered comments. Take a moment to review what you’ve written…