At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture


Atheism and the Problem of Morality

posted by Jack Kerwick

Where was God when Adam Lanza went on a shooting spree at an elementary school in Newtown,Connecticut that left 20 children and six adults dead? 

Atheists assume that if there is evil in the world, then there can be no God. What they need to realize, however, is that if there is no God, then there can be no morality. This is what Dostoyevsky meant when he noted that if there is no God, then anything is possible.

Morality is objective.  It consists of norms that are held to be independent of human will.  Morality is not about what we do, or what we want to do.  It is about what we ought to do—whether we want to do it or not.  

But if there is no God, the Supreme Law Giver and Goodness Itself, then morality loses the only objective ground available to it—and, hence, itself.

Not so, many have retorted.  Morality is rooted in reason, or human nature, or biology.

None of this will do. Reason, human nature, and biology may very well have a role to play in the moral life, but only if they are somehow ordained by God.

Reason is fickle.  Over the centuries, distinguished thinkers—from Burke and De Maistre to Hobbes and Hume to Montaigne and Pascal—representing a variety of philosophical traditions have recognized this.  Adolph Hitler and Osama bin Laden (and Adam Lanza, for that matter) acted no less rationally in the pursuit of their goals than did Mother Teresa and Gandhi act in the pursuit of theirs.  Reason is all too easily, and frequently, subverted by the simplest of things, whether passion, impulse, fear, or sickness.

Those who would attempt to use reason as the foundation upon which to lay morality are like a man who tries to build a house on quicksand.

And what is true of reason is just as true of human nature and biology.

Human nature has its angels, for sure, but it also has its demons.  Any human being who has dared to look honestly at himself will be compelled to acknowledge this stone cold fact. As we all say: No one is perfect.  

Biology is even less eligible of a candidate for a basis of morality.  Biology gives us instincts and impulses, needs and inclinations—in short, causes of various sorts.  Yet it cannot supply reasons.  Biology compels.  Morality, in stark contrast, presupposes the freedom to make choices.

If there is no God, then there is no spirit.  And if there is no spirit, then all is matter: reason and human nature boil down to human biology, and biology, in turn, becomes nothing more or less than the latest product of a resolutely non-purposeful mechanical process billions of years in the happening.

If there is no God, then anything is possible.

It isn’t just Dostoyevsky, a Christian, who recognized this.  Some of the most astute and staunchest of atheists have as well.

Of Christianity, Friedrich Nietzsche said that he regarded it “as the most fatal and seductive lie that has ever yet existed—as the greatest and most impious lie.”  Yet Nietzsche viewed Christianity as the ground zero of the “campaign against morality” that he openly waged, the prototype of just the notion of objective morality that he so despised. 

Thus, when Nietzsche declared “the death of God,” it was the death of moral objectivity, of moral absolutes, that he celebrated.

Human beings had nothing to go on but their own “Will to Power.”  They alone are the creators of value.

Jean Paul Sartre was even clearer on this score.

Though an atheist, he scoffed at those atheists who held that we could preserve such traditional moral ideals as honesty, compassion, and justice while doing away with belief in God.  Rather, he admitted to finding it “very distressing that God does not exist, because all possibility of finding values in a heaven of ideas disappears along with him [.]”  If there is no God, then there are “no values or commands,” no principles or ideals, that “legitimize our conduct.”

Sartre’s verdict is as haunting as it is inescapable. If there is no God, then we “are alone, with no excuses.”

The response of believer and unbeliever alike to Adam Lanza’s shooting spree in Connecticutis unmistakably moral in character.  Yet unless God exists, there is no basis for our conviction that it was an act of evil. 

And unless the atheist, in his own peculiar way, needed God as much as anyone else, he wouldn’t feel compelled to look beyond his world of material causes and cosmic insignificance to blame Him for not existing.      

 

 

              

 



  • http://www.facebook.com/danielpaulrules Dan

    In my mind, humans are simply creatures that learn from one another. We are also inherently selfish, but incredibly stupid too. As we become more aware with humanity and we accept how we simply just copy the behavior of other animals, we resolve that to combine selfishness and a great life experience, we must minimize unpleasant experiences in our own, and others lives. This is how my morality is drawn on my atheistic life to keep me a positive force on the planet.

Previous Posts

Eric Garner and the Natural Law: What To Do When a Law is Unjust?
Eric Garner, many libertarians seem to think, was innocent as far as the natural law is concerned. “Natural law” is an ethical tradition with an illustrious pedigree stretching back millennia.  From this perspective, natural law is a transcendent moral order that provides the standard of jus

posted 8:33:32pm Dec. 14, 2014 | read full post »

More on the Eric Garner Grand Jury Decision
In this column, I recently argued in favor of a grand jury’s refusal to indict Officer Dan Pantaleo for the death of Eric Garner.  To my dismay (and, frankly, shock), a great many “conservatives” and “libertarians,” I’ve had the great misfortune to discover, disagree vehemently with the

posted 7:56:58pm Dec. 09, 2014 | read full post »

The "Eric Garner" Case: Truth versus Ideology
From the rough that is contemporary America, the grand jury that just decided that there were no grounds on which to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo for the death of Eric Garner is the second diamond to be retrieved.  The first is the grand jury that refused to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the d

posted 10:02:40pm Dec. 04, 2014 | read full post »

How and Why TNT's "Dallas" Failed
Word broke last month that Dallas—TNT’s contemporary version of the spectacularly successful 80’s series—has been cancelled after three seasons.  The “Save Dallas” campaign designed to relocate the show to another network bore no fruit. To long-time fans like yours truly, this news i

posted 12:49:28pm Nov. 29, 2014 | read full post »

Two Things to Think About This Thanksgiving Day
With the exception of the usual suspects on the hard left, most Americans celebrate Thanksgiving Day.  Like Independence Day, Thanksgiving is a quintessential American holiday. Thanksgiving Day is a golden opportunity for celebrants to accomplish a couple of things. First, we should bear in m

posted 12:11:17pm Nov. 27, 2014 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.