Atheism and Morality, Atheist's 1st Post

First post from gcomeau, the atheist

The atheistic worldview (there is no God) cannot defend moral absolutes and thus its moral system is inconsistent and self contradictory. The Christian theist worldview can defend moral absolutes and thus it's moral system is consistent and non-self-contradictory."

Such is the topic of this debate. I will obviously be taking the opposing position, Matt the affirmative. I will focus on the two most serious, and I believe insurmountable, flaws in such a claim.


1. Since the basis of Matt's claim of the self-contradictory and inconsistent nature of atheist morals is that they cannot defend moral absolutes he is going to need to somehow show that his conclusion follows from his premise. A difficult proposition indeed seeing as "non-absolute" and "inconsistent and self-contradictory" are not synonomous terms by any stretch of the imagination.

2. Even if he does somehow manage to overcome this first problem he must then show that the Christian worldview can defend moral absolutes... otherwise he has simply argued that all moral systems are inconsistent and self-contradictory. ontradictory.

A third requirement would obviously be demonstrating that atheism cannot defend moral absolutes... but I'm not going to concern myself with it overly much as I happen to agree on that point.

Absolute -> Consistent -> Absolute?

Let's just start at the beginning of that sequence and work our way to the end. If something is absolute does it follow that that something is consistent? Well yes actually, it does. By definition really. Something which is absolute always applies, thus it is consistent in it's application.

If something is consistent, does it follow that that something is absolute? No.

-I can paint a wall in a consistent manner by applying an evenly distributed coat of paint. Does this mean I have painted "absolutely"? Hardly... I doubt you could even justify naming a process "absolute painting".

-To give a more relevant example... I declare that I will consistently act according to the dictates of my own relative, non-absolute moral judgement. Have I contradicted myself? Have I expressed some kind of logical impossibility? Of course not, all I must do is act acccordingly in all situations and I am behaving in a morally consistent manner.

This is one of those classic cases where we must keep in mind that just because all 'A' are 'B', doesn't mean all 'B' are 'A'.

So, simply showing that atheist morals are not absolute does not establish their inconsistency.

Non- Absolute -> Contradictory -> Non-Absolute?

As above, we'll just work through from beginning to end. If a thing is non-absolute does it follow that it is contradictory? No. For example, all of science deals in non-absolute findings... but one could hardly say that science is necessarily contradictory because of this!

If a thing is contradictory does it follow that it is non-absolute? Clearly not! We can demonstrate this with another moral example:

Since any system of morals is made up of a set of moral principles let us take two such absolute principles:

A1. It is absolutely wrong to kill. Always. No matter what.

B. It is absolutely wrong to stand aside and allow a child to be harmed. Always. No matter what.

Problem? We encounter a situation where the only way to intercede and keep a child from harm requires the death of the one about to inflict that harm. There is no way to prevent that harm which does not involve the death of the person about to inflict it. According to absolute principle A it is wrong to intercede, since this would involve killing. According to principle B it is wrong not to intercede, as this would involve allowing an innocent to be harmed.

And there you have it, absolute moral principles which are contradictory.

And so we see both that demonstrating that atheist morals cannot defend moral absolutes does nothing to establish that those morals are contradictory... and that demonstrating theist principles are capable of defending moral absolutes (if such a thing is possible) does nothing to demonstrate that such morals are non-contradictory.

That in essence is problem number 1 for Matt. I do not see how this can be denied... and if this problem cannot be overcome problem 2 is irrelevent... but allowing for the possibility that problem 1 can be dealt with I'll outline the second problem.

The very nature of morality makes declaring morals absolute a tricky proposition. Moral judgements are value judgements, and the value being judged is not some objective property like mass or electrical charge. No, it is the "goodness" or "evilness" of an act. Inherent in such concepts is the question of intent. For instance... you may say that a person who drops a big heavy rock on someone's head is evil... but if an earthquake did the same thing you can hardly call the giant plate of rock you are standing on that happened to shift when it did "evil" as well, because no intent was involved.

So, one huge problem for absolute morals is... how do you absolutely judge intent? Moral judgements are meaningless without an evaluation of intent, and absolute morals are unworkable without an absolute means of performing such an evaluation. One person seeing a person belting a child will immediately conclude "child abuse!" and another will conclude "ahhh, discipline" and what is responsible for the distinction? Among other things, perception of intent. They both witnessed the exact same event but the former assumed sinister motives, the latter assumed righteous ones. Lacking mind-reading capabilities the only way to choose between the two is to make your own judgement as to which you think is correct.

And that is hardly where the problem ends. Let's say tomorrow we DID invent a mind-reading machine and it was 100% accurate! We read the mind of the person above and yep, they were disciplining the kid for some infraction or another... and the first person in our example still declares "child abuse" because her morals dictate that "it is absolutely wrong to strike a child, no matter what". So, to her the intent which makes this evil was simply the intent to strike the child regardless of the reason for it.

Is she right? Can you say absolutely? How? I certainly don't know, but I would hope someone who proposes moral absolutes does. It's rather important. Lacking the ability to do this all you have done is declare without support that your own relative judgement is always absolutely right and any who disagree are absolutely wrong.

That is one immense problem for absolute morals. They're easy to declare (I did it twice myself in this post), but hard to justify. I'd say impossible.

One might try to skirt around this entire problem by arguing that regardless of whether or not they can be practically applied given certain conditions we could still conclude that they must exist... even if we can't say what they are. I am of course referring to the argument that "if God exists, morals must be absolute"... but why is this? What property of God makes his mere existence require morals to be absolute? I have yet to see this rationally explained. Most attempts seem to boil down to "who are you to say he's wrong?"

Well.. I'm me obviously. A thinking, reasoning human being who is capable of drawing his own conclusions and forming his own opinions. Reasoning presented for the "who do you think you are..." argument generally is along the lines of... "so you think you're smarter than God? You know better than God?"

No, what does that have to do with anything? Since when did IQ corellate with the validity of one's morals? If this were true we'd all have to find the person with the highest IQ score, tell them to interpret the moral message of the bible (assuming for the purposes of this example that it is the Christian God who really does exist), and then everyone accept that his interpretation is closest to what God really meant because his IQ (however far removed from God's it may be) is still closer to that level than anyone else's. Some people might try to say we don't need to interpret it, God already did and he wrote what he meant... but if the person with the highest IQ on the planet says that what God meant isn't what YOU interpreted it to mean and you disagree with him... who do you think you are? You think you're smarter than the smartest person on the planet? He obviously knows what God meant better than you do...


About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.