Friday, October 07, 2005

Ethics Without God II

A religion that tells its follows to attack their neighbors, or take over the government and use it against the interests of his neighbors, cannot foster morality, because attacking a neighbor is the very essence of immorality.

Note: I spent my day preparing for my appearance on the Infidel Guy show, so I had my head filled with thoughts about the relationship between God and ethics. I would like to address some of the issues that came up.

(1) There can be no objective values without God. Objective values exist. Therefore, God exists.

First, the standards of 'good neighborliness' that I discussed in yesterday's blog entry say that objective values can exist without God. It would be difficult to classify a rapist as a 'good neighbor' in the context that I described yesterday.

Second, the people who make this argument also believe that humans could not exist without God. They argue, "There can be no humans without a designer (God). Humans exist. Therefore, God exists."

Even if we assume that atheists (incorrectly) believe that the human body was not created by a God, this does not imply that he cannot study medicine and become a good doctor. In fact, atheists make very good doctors in spite of the fact that they do not believe in God. This is because questions about how the body came about -- by design, by evolution, or by guided evolution -- it functions the same way. Anybody can study it, learn how it works, and how to repair it.

Similarly, the first argument does not prove that somebody has to believe in God to be a good ethicist. Regardless of how morality got to be the way it is, the atheist can study it and learn how it works.

In a sense, this argues that ethics can be treated like science. There are many religious scientists. As they study and uncover the laws under which the universe works, they think of themselves as uncovering God's laws. God made the world this way, they think. That knowledge does not hinder their ability to study the universe, create theories to describe its working, and even apply those theories in engineering projects. Just as science says nothing about the existence or nonexistence of a God, neither does ethics.

(2) The reward of heaven and the fear of hell are good ways to encourage people to do good deeds and avoid evil. Atheists gain no reward of heaven and fear no hell, so they are less inclined to do good and avoid evil.

First, even if this is true, it does not prove the existence of a heaven and a hell. A snake oil salesman can get people to buy more snake oil if he can convince them that it cures baldness, but this doesn't mean that snake oil cures baldness.

Second, actually, empirical evidence does not support this claim. Atheists are less likely to commit crimes than theists. Countries in which atheists make up the largest portion of the population have lower murder rates, divorce rates, and teenage pregnancy rates than countries with more religious populations.

Now, I want to make an important statement about how these statements are not to be used. They disprove the statement that hell is a good way to motivate people against doing evil. The evidence suggests it does not work.

This evidence is not to be used to argue that atheists are morally superior to theists. Each individual has a right to be judged on his or her own record, not on his statistical association with some group. Evaluating individuals on the basis of group statistics is the very essence of bigotry and prejudice.

Third, whether the fear of hell and promise of heaven actually motivates a person to do good deeds depends on what that person has to do to avoid hell or get into heaven.

If he is encouraged to crash airplanes into skyscrapers, he is not being motivated to be moral.

If he is encouraged to hunt down and kill (i.e., burn at the stake) those who assert such things as the Earth is at the center of the solar system, he is not being motivated to be moral.

If he is encouraged to attack a neighboring town or country, killing its civilians, in some cases slaughtering every man, woman, and child, then he is not being motivated to be moral.

If he is encouraged to carry bombs onto busses and trains and into restaurants and shopping malls to kill as many innocent people as possible, then he is not being motivated to be moral.

If he is encouraged to take slaves, or to see nothing wrong when his neighbor takes slaves, then he is not being motivated to be moral.

If he is encouraged to stand in the way of important medical advances such as surgery, immunization (because preventing plagues will thwart God's will), or stem cell research, then he is not being motivated to be moral.

If he is encouraged to interfere with his homosexual neighbors' desires to live together in peace, then he is not being motivated to be moral.

If he is encouraged to stand in the way of women getting an education, or enjoying basic liberties such as driving or walking about in the fresh air, or the right to deny consent to the use of her body by another person, then he is not being motivated to be moral.

If he is encouraged to stand in the way of students getting a quality education in basic scientific principles such as evolution -- the foundation for advances in ecology, agriculture, and medicine -- then he is not being motivated to be moral.

In short, if a religion commands a follower to live in peace with his neighbor it may have some positive effect. However, if a religion commands followers to attack their neighbors -- perhaps directly, or by supporting laws that attack the interests of certain neighbors favor followers over non-followers, and the promise of heaven and fear of hell encourages these attacks against another’s wellbeing and happiness, then these forces are promoting evil deeds, not good deeds.

Whether a religion promotes that which is good depends on how good the religion is to start with.


Anybody reading through these blogs should be able to see them as applying the rules of good neighborliness.

A good neighbor does not prohibit his neighbor from getting the same government aid that other nonprofit organizations can get merely because his neighbor's nonprofit facility is a religious facility. Government Help Rebuilding Religious Facilities

A good neighbor does not support a Pledge of Allegiance that counts his peaceful neighbor's beliefs (a neighbor that does no harm) in the same category is as rebellion, tyranny, and injustice.The Moral Argument Against 'under God'

A good neighbor supports a search for the truth and institutions that best expose the truth. The Davis Committee

A good neighbor uses the Justice Department to target those who do wrong, rather than use it to target political opponents. Departmentof Injustice: Targeting Political Opponents

A good neighbor is at least as concerned with ending terrorism as he is with ending war. Anti-War/Anti-Terrorism

A good neighbor does pays his own bills, and does not pass those bills along (with interest) to his neighbor's children. National Debt

A good neighbor supports social policies that ensure that society does not suddenly find itself running out of resources that are vital to its health and wellbeing. Energy Prices and the Folly of Price Controls

These are all part of what it means to live at peace with one's neighbor and not attack him. There will be more examples to come.

1 comment:

Jesse said...

I just ran across your site and couldn't resist adding a comment on this topic. I'm presently engaged in a formal debate (on an over-18 discussion board) with a fundamentalist christian.

The debate topic is "Atheism, the ethical worldview" in which I argue that developing an atheistic ethic is necessary to confront the consequences of fundamentalist belief in the god of Abraham.

I'm including a link to the debate. Note that the board defaults to last entry first unless you register and change your options.

My final argument will be posted tonight, my opponent will be posting his conclusion next week.