Showing posts with label secular. Show all posts
Showing posts with label secular. Show all posts

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Without God, does morality mean whatever we want?

A favorite claim among Christian apologists is that, without God, morality can mean whatever we want. That’s what happens when good and evil is not grounded by a divine standard. All we have are individuals with personal preferences judging others with preferences that may well be very different. As best, an individual or group can only impose their rules and judgements on others with a show of force, often referred to as “might makes right.” Those human rules and judgements can not be said to have inherent validity. While I’d love to rebut this claim entirely I can not do that any more than I can grant them that they are fully correct. Language and ethics are very complicated and both are at play here.

At the most literal level, yes, moral terms like good, evil, right, and wrong can mean whatever we want. Why? Because moral terms aren’t special. Any word can mean whatever we want. This should go without saying, but languages are invented and maintained by the population of speakers. If enough speakers evolve English so that evil means good, that is how it shall be moving forward. A single speaker redefining words will find himself unable to effectively communicate with everyone who hasn't adopted his fringe definition. That's why the meanings of good and evil tend to remain roughly the same within cultures, secular or religious. It’s hard to get everyone on board for an arbitrary remapping of terms.

The secular definition of moral good is essentially to behave in a way that is beneficial to others. Regardless of the letters written or sounds made to communicate this concept, it would not change it’s value. In other words, if “good” is renamed “evil” tomorrow, that would just mean that we would start to value “evil” over “good.” Now the question is: do we value the concept we call good because a divine third party made us? There’s no way to know, but we do know that there are reasons for social beings to value the concept we call good independent of supernatural mandates.

  1. Being good to others earns more opportunity for earn friends and make families. (Here I could argue that the odds of finding mates and living longer are increased with this behavior, making the instinct to be good a selected trait, but I think this argument is only additive and not required for my points. Since people who do not accept evolution will likely read this, I will not argue this further.)
  2. Being good allows for the creation of culture and societies that provide benefits ranging from the division of labor to shared resources.
  3. Being good, rather than evil, keeps animosity from others low and makes for a more safe and stress free life.

There are many more reasons to be good rather than evil, but evildoers still exist. Apologists argue that people who do wrong do so because they separate themselves from God or ignore that divine moral compass within them. Some even say that it’s an acceptance of moral relativism that swings open the door to sin. While it is always wrong for the slave to strike an owner, it may be right (in the owner’s mind) for the owner to strike a slave. The rapist isn’t wrong to rape because (in the rapist’s mind) what’s right and wrong are up to whatever we want and, the rapist wants to rape. While there are individual defectors who periodically discard their value of good to serve base desires, they are rarer exceptions. More common are those who maintain their value of good with a more narrow view of equality. The slave owner treats other whites as peers with the same understanding of good as you or I, but define blacks as a class in which the definition does not apply. The same could go for the rapist and how he sees women. It may not be the definition of good that’s a moving target, it could be the definition of human.

There is more to the secular meanings of good and evil after we take into account context, motives, consent, ect. What’s most important to the point is that every culture has a name for this concept and places a high value on it. Apologists who admit this attribute it to the aforementioned God-given moral compass within us. I’ll stick with the alternative that all humans share something else, a desire to not be alone. Don’t underestimate how lonely, and short, one’s life would be if they placed no value on being good.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Debates & Misdemeanors

When I started Deity Shmeity my intension was to use it as a record of my exchanges with theists. Long time readers know that never really happened. My first attempt to publish a debate resulted in so much editing that I concluded my time was better spent taking the topic discussed and simply writing an article informed by the theistic objections. Why so much editing, you might ask? Well, debates, especially those on-line, have a way of branching off into new topics before the previous are resolved. Like the Hydra of mythology and Marvel comics, chopping off one head of a crappy argument just results in two more crappy arguments taking it’s place--all without an acknowledgment that the first head lies resting at my feet. More so, debates get personal. I don’t just mean they get all ad-hominemy, although that certainly happens, but also that elements from both my and the theist’s lives are brought up which I feel are either too intimate to post or too irrelevant to make public. Top that off with having to censor out the peanut gallery or else post pages of nonsense in an effort to be a balanced completionist! No, I quickly learned my lesson. The debates are for me, the posts are for you.

That said, the fact that all my posts are informed by at least one theist’s objections is true to this day. My workflow usually goes like this: I post an idea on Twitter or Google+ and let my surprisingly high number of theistic (usually Christian) followers attempt to take it apart. If they fail outright, I post it addressing some of their objections. If they somewhat succeed, I revise the idea to make it tighter, more objection-proof, and clearer. My argument is then also, I like to think, closer to being true--even if it comes down less on the side of “God is obviously bullshit” than I originally intended.

It’s a valuable process to me and one I encourage fellow atheists to take up. Thinking critically about gods and religions will likely give you all kinds of ideas. Most will have been already thought up by someone else, but coming to them organically speaks volumes of their power. Some will be logically true and serve as ironclad takedowns of indoctrinated superstitions. And others will be flawed, inconsistent or fallacious--in which case entering them into the intellectual area for battle and being open to the possibility of being wrong and losing an argument will make you better. It will make you more right in the future, and that’s all that should really matter.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Top Ten Ways to Tell That You’re Winning a Debate with an Apologist

10. The apologist projects qualities that apply to them onto you in hopes that it will equate all parties involved. They figure that they can’t lose the argument they are in fact losing because every one is relying on, say, faith. This ultimately ends the argument in a tie...if it were true, which it’s not.

9. Questions are worded as double or triple negatives in hopes that you agree to something that could easily be misread to mean the opposite. If you discover that you’ve made an error and correct it, the apologist labels you an inconsistent flip-flopper for the rest of your debate and/or life.

8. The apologist ignores common meanings of words and applies definitions that only other apologists accept as valid. They do this without telling you what their unorthodox definitions are until pressured. This method allows them to think atheists don’t know what we are talking about because, well, we don’t know what we are talking about. It's a breach of common vernacular in favor of coded, theological jargon.

7. The Gish Gallop tactic is used in which the apologist throws out as many different lines of argument or crack-pot studies as possible. This is an admission that they are unable to rationally discuss any one topic. It’s especially apparent after you ask them to contain the conversation to a particular set of ideas and they refuse.

6. The apologist, fully aware that you don’t believe in their holy book, quotes passages from their holy book.

5. When arguing in a public forum, the apologist responds to other people’s points but ignores yours. Chances are, this is because your points are the most difficult to address and therefore those with the least flaws to exploit.

4. The apologist plays dumb about the topic of debate when you explain how it might help your argument then suddenly becomes an expert when the same topic can possibly help their argument.

3. Instead of hashing out their own ideas and beliefs, they send links in the hopes that freshly Googled internet content can do the debating for them. (Protip: if an apologist hits you with a particularly well-worded argument, search a couple sentences in Google using quotation marks. I’ve found theists copy and pasting other people’s barely relevant arguments as their own. Talk about debating by syndication.)

2. The apologist gets defensive, flustered or angry. When ad hominems start flying from someone who normally preaches “turn the other cheek” you know that you’ve struck upon something unsettling to the apologist. Cognitive dissonance can be very frustrating.

1. You’re debating from a position founded on reality against someone who relies on assumptions of magic, the supernatural, and the divine.

Friday, January 25, 2013

An Open Letter to Theists

Theists, we need to talk. I know your kneejerk reaction toward this blog and myself is dismissal. I do, after all, regularly attempt to disprove your one true God, but the fact that I just used the phrasing “attempt to” should be seen as an olive branch. I know I’m not always right, but I’m pretty damn sure the following is in all of our best interest. Please, humor me.

I’m prepared to let you keep on believing what you believe without constant long as you try to understand. I don’t mean understand me, or understand atheists, I mean understand in general. You believe God created life, the universe and everything--fine, just don’t stop there. Try to understand how God did it. Supernatural explanations are dead ends in knowledge and poison to curiosity  As a member of humanity, you belong to an enormous team who has never given up searching for answers even when a wall is hit. Walls are temporary. We learned how cells work, but, wanting to learn more, we looked deeper. We found atoms and still strive to understand further. The discovery of protons, neutrons and electrons allowed for us to make our life and the life of others easier through invention and innovation, so it stood to reason that more could be gained by looking deeper. We did and continue to do so. Saying that Thor or Zeus brings the lightning is an explanation of sorts, but it wasn’t until we attempted to know how Thor brought it did we understand that lightning had a completely natural explanation. Consider that abiogenesis, the ultimate origin of the universe, and other gaps in the knowledge that divides us might have a natural explanation as well.

Einstein said “I want to know God's thoughts; the rest are details.” Do that! Seek to learn the mind of God by accepting science, learning it, and doing some of your own. It’s not playing God to be master of the reality He made us to have dominion over, if in fact He did. Maybe what you learn will shake the foundations of your prior beliefs or maybe it will reinforce them. Either way, you’ll be closer to the truth you claim to seek. The secular don't tend to believe that claim, let's say you prove it.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

American Bible Challenge

So Jeff Foxworthy is hosting a Bible trivia show on the Game Show Network.

I have to admit, the Bible is trivial, so it might be a good idea. I've never been a huge fan of Foxworthy, but I'm sorry to see his career go downhill. He's steadily moved deeper into cable the last few years. What comes after deep cable these days? Deep Internet?

I have some questions about the Bible I'd like answered, but I doubt they'll go there. I have some questions about the show too. The promo makes it look like church members will be playing for charities. Will they let atheists play for secular organizations? Studies show the average atheist knows more about the Bible than the average theist. I might tune in for that. Hell, The Bible is generally my best category on Jeopardy.