Why Naturalistic Atheists Can’t Account for MoralityNovember 3, 2009
Here are a series of common atheist assumptions I’ve heard as to how morality can be accounted for, along with my rebuttals: (There are more to come)
1. “Majorities determine what is right and wrong.”
a. This assumes that majority opinion, or popular consensus, determines morality, yet just begs the question because we then need to know by what standard majorities get to determine anything. In other words, what determines that majorities get to determine morality?
“Because the majority is in one place does not mean they’re in the right place” ~ Sen. Eric Adams, a Brooklyn Democrat on same-sex marriage.
b. If it were the case that majorities determine morality, however, then what is considered morally right is subject to change, thus nothing can really be considered moral or immoral at all times. Either the majority could change it’s mind, or the minority could one day kill all the majority and become the majority. “A” could be immoral on Monday and then be voted to be moral by Tuesday.
(You may be like Brian Sapient and say “but they would never do that” or “they can’t do that”. But this would 1. appeal to the supernatural because you’re saying nature “ought” to not do something, and 2. goes back to (a) because it’s being assumed that majorities must only vote “A” and never against it, thus YOU’RE now determining what majorities ought to vote and you’re inadvertently making yourself the standard of morality.)
c. The majority could someday decide that majorities do not determine morality. But again, this would take us back to (a). This assumes there is a standard, apart from the majority, which determines that majorities get to determine anything.
d. When we examine this claim under the microscope, we see that majorities are only good at telling us the majority opinion, nothing else. Popular consensus only accounts for popular consensus, period. It can’t determine what ought to be correct behavior, thinking, and intention any more then drawing moral opinions out of a hat can.
e. What if the majority is 50/50? There’s no way we’d know which side we should listen to. If there was a tie breaker, such as paper-rock-scissors, then what is moral or immoral would be determined by chance.
f. What if the majority hasn’t made up it’s mind on a given issue? Then we’d be free to commit that act until it was deemed immoral.
g. What if the majority determined that eating vanilla ice-cream in any way on Tuesdays was immoral. Then we’d have to conclude that it was absolutely immoral in all circumstances.
h. What if the majority determined that it’s an immoral thing to determine what is moral and immoral? That would mean we should no longer listen to majorities. But we’d have to listen to them to know we shouldn’t listen to them. This goes back to (a) again. Why are we listening to majorities?
i. If majorities determine what ought to be right and wrong then right and wrong are being determined by chance because people would only be voting one way or another in accordance to what their physiological make-up forces them to which nature has randomly brought about.
2. “Each individual person gets to decide what is morally right and wrong for themselves.”
a. Then if a person feels it’s OK in their own eyes to molest children and murder then it is OK. If this were the only standard of morality then we’d be inconsistent to arrest these people. Instead we’d have to first ask them “is what you did morally OK to you?”, and we could only arrest them if they said “No”.
b. One person could say “when I murdered that guy it was OK”. Another person could tell them “when you murdered that guy it was wrong.” Which person is more right? No one would be more correct because each person is right in their own eyes and we have to accept that.
c. If a person said that it was morally wrong for them to eat ice cream on Tuesdays, and that this action was punishable by death, then they would be upholding justice by hanging themselves if they forgot and ate ice cream on Tuesday.
3. “Morality is determined by that which helps us survive as a species.”
a. Again, this is begging the question because what is the bases by which we determine that surviving is moral?
b. All species die, therefore, according to this logic, it is also morally right to die. In fact, even moreso because we are dead way longer then we are alive. In this sense, it is more natural for species to die, then stay alive.
c. According to this logic, we are allowed to murder others so long as our rate of murder does not exceed the optimal rate for survival (whatever that is).
d. According to this logic, we can do all kinds of things which Scripture says is immoral, i.e. adultery, homosexuality, lying, pride, idolatry, stealing, pedophilia, and even beating others up so long as our species is still surviving.
4. “All is permissible (there are no absolute morals), yet there are still consequences to your actions which society as a whole has determined.”
a. According to this logic, one may murder, but just needs to do so in secret in order to get away with it and avoid the consequences.
b. Some one may not care about the consequences and be provoked to murder because they need a place to live and figure that prison could be their real estate of choice.
c. This logic does not say something is immoral, but simply just states there are consequences to our actions, nothing more. Just like there are consequences to walking on ice, but that doesn’t mean walking on ice is immoral.
5. “We know what is immoral by that which causes unnecessary harm.”
a. This begs the question because it assumes that there is a correct standard which determines what kinds of actions are unnecessary. How do we know what types of harm are absolutely unnecessary in all cases? People disagree on what types of harm are necessary and unnecessary, thus there needs to be a bases to say that someone is more right.
“Parnevik clearly is personally wounded by Woods’ “transgressions,” so it’s understandable that he’d tee off on Tiger.” ~ Jay Busbee, blog editor for ‘Devil Ball’, puts the word “transgressions” in quote marks here because who’s to say that affairs are really transgressions? Maybe they’re necessary for someone to temporarily feel good despite the pain they cause the other spouse.