From time to time, I may post a short blog detailing problems with theistic world-views. These posts are meant to be rants that exist largely for my pleasure. They are also meant to be non-technical and easy to follow, so you won't find a lot of philosophical mumbo-jumbo here. I hope you enjoy them.
One of the recurring arguments you will hear from theists [especially Christians it seems] is that without an external law-giver we can have no "objective" morality. For the sake of my environment, I will assume it is a Christian argument for the rest of this post. This argument, what I call the "sky-judge" argument [SJA], annoys me for the following reasons:
The SJA argument
1. Assumes its conclusion in its premise.
You will usually hear it this way, "if there is a law, there must be a law-giver". This argument assumes that our sense of morality is something that comes from without rather than from within. It fails because it is based on a rigid metaphor for a person's sense of 'oughtness'. My sense of morality is not a "law". A law is something that is external and imposed upon me, while my sense of what is the good comes from within. If we consider the laws of society, it may be that we agree with many if not most of them, but my sense that murder is wrong does not exist because there is a law 'on the books' saying murder is a crime. In fact, we can easily see that a civilization's laws tend to come from a shared inner sense of what the good is. Furthermore, there are many laws with which i disagree. in California, for instance, it is against the law to have a homosexual marriage. This goes against my morality and shows me that my sense of what is right is not an external thing and cannot be dictated to or determined by an outside source. My sense of the good is within myself and something I discover. This 'subjectivity' is only a weakness to those that think there is an external mind that pronounces and defines reality. In other words the 'external law-giver' and the 'external law' rely upon each other to justify themselves.
2. Assumes god has to give us our moral sense.
Even if our moral sense was something external and objective with which we are forced to reckon [in the manner that gravity is something we cannot ignore], it does not follow that therefore god must be the author of morality anymore than the existence of the universe proves the existence of god. This argument fails for the same reason that the phrase "if there is a creation there must be a creator" fails. In this case, it is not clear that the universe is a "creation", therefore there is no compulsion to acknowledge a "creator".
3. By its methodology is an argument against organized deities.
Again, I am thinking primarily of Christian flavours of this argument, but let's consider how Xns ["Christians" is such wearying word to type] misuse our moral sense. In appealing to something that is found within us, they encourage us to reason from our inner sense to the outer existence of a god. This is done quite famously by C.S. Lewis in the opening chapter of Mere Christianity. Well, surely if my inner sense of right and wrong is a light pointing to god's existence, the beams of my inner sense can reveals facets of this god. But if I acknowledge that my inner convictions about how I should treat others points towards a god, it is a god I do not recognize from the revealed religions. The Christian god is nothing that approaches my sense of what is right. "HE" is cruel, sadistic, sexist, racist, infanticidal, petty, insecure, egomaniacal [which so often accompanies insecurity] and possess few if any of the qualities I would want in even a friend. What's more, he is completely lacking virtues like patience [contrary to the protestations of those old farts in the OT], proportion, empathy, curiosity and honesty. He's not even a good writer, and at times seems to be suffering from a rapid-cycling bipolar disorder.
4. Ignores the fact that society's sense of what is right evolves over time.
Christians love this one. It makes sense that because our perception of what is right can and is informed by the environment in which we live, that the collective perception of what is the right can change over time. The Xns point to this as part of their 'gotcha' apologetics. But the truth is, the morals of Christians have changed over time as well. In fact even within the bible, god's morals change to a great extent. Is it even conceivable that a Christian could happily sit under the leadership of a man with dozens or hundreds of wives? Yet Solomon, who had wives and concubines coming out his ass is held in high esteem by Christians as a wise man who was close to god. Could you imagine the uproar if a political candidate argued that slavery was part of god's design for society? Yet it was only a a few hundred years ago that this very thing was argued by Christians. Of course, once again, if our sense of right and wrong shows us the existence of god, it must also show us that god 'himself' is evolving. Other than the new strand of 'openness' theology [a desperate attempt by some Christian theologians to rescue god from the bible], you will be hard-pressed to find a believer who is comfortable with the thought that god evolves.
5. Assumes that Christians are good and atheists are bad.
Perhaps this sounds unfair. But along with the appeal to a shared sense of right and wrong, Xns point to god as the source of morality and the bible as the expression of his moral will [among other things]. If that is true, Christians [who have the word of god in their heart] should hold to god's ideas of right and wrong. Aside from the fact that they don't even profess to when pressed [otherwise they would adopt his ideas concerning stoning rebellious children, etc-->of course, there are some dominionists who do], Xns so often claim one set of morals but live by another set. Now certainly all of us struggle with the challenge of living up to our ideals, but Christians are the champs when it comes to professing one thing and living another. I take from this once again that our moral sense is not an outward objective 'thing' that we can plug into and upload as if we are moral MP3 players. When we look around we see that some Xns, despite being deluded about god, are decent people that care about others and make the world a better place, while other Xns are asshats that use their religion as an excuse to be anti-intellectual, anti-creative and overly concerned about the sex lives of others. Likewise, some atheists are wonderful caring individuals who use their brains when looking at the world, while others are selfish asshats who care little for others or this world. By Xn logic, we are unable to account for the badness of Xns or the goodness of atheists. If there is no reason for atheists to behave as the Xn claims, why do atheists for the most part behave? More to the point, why is it that atheists seem to be the group with a more-highly developed sense of the good? By Xn logic, we atheists should be over-represented in terms of crime, suicide and drug-addiction. but it is the Xn who is [per capita] over-represented, despite protests to the contrary.
Next time you hear theists making the 'ontology from necessity' [not the same as 'ontological necessity'] argument, ask them if they believe in beauty. If they do, use their logic against them and insist that there must be an objective basis for beauty. Then ask them if they think they meet god's standard for beauty and watch them either squirm or foam at the mouth.
Have a god-free day,
PS-I should clarify that I am not arguing that atheists can have an "objective" morality in the manner that Christians think they do. There is no objective "out there" morality. Morality, like meaning and purpose, is created by us as we interact with the world. It is a part of the process by which we understand our place in the universe. That it is created by us and not imposed upon us is not a weakness unless one assumes [without basis] that our lives and our interpretation of life is somehow less real than it would be if there was a god.
PPS-I have added capital letters. . . *sigh*. . .