Atheist morality?

Wondering if anyone has suggestions on how to address the contention that all commonly recognized moral behaviours (taboos against murder, incest, adultery, etc) are all derived from “group selection” evolution. I had adopted the position in a recent debate that the concept of an atheist morality was essentially oxymoronic as it could have no justification beyond personal preference or gut instinct and sort of got blindsided by the other fellow claiming that it was all evolutionary group instinct.

The most natural response would be to ask for proof. People claim that evolution explains all kinds of human behavior, including completely contradictory behaviors. :rolleyes: Are there studies of identical twins raised in very different cultures, and is their morality the same? Are there studies of children raised in “immoral” settings, and does their instinctive morality rise to the surface anyway?

Then I would ask if there can ever be a moral imperative to obey an instinct. Can we ever say that somebody was wrong for not obeying an instinct? Can we ever say that somebody should behave a certain way, or should not behave a certain way? What do those words even mean in the context of instincts?

Another response would be to ask why we have so many laws against the breaking of “group instinct”. We don’t have laws that punish people for being color blind, so why laws that punish people for being group-instinct blind?

I would also ask why so much morality differs around the world. Are we different species, if we have different inherited instincts? I’m just askin’…

The proof is there from life:

Revolutionary France. Atheist morality. 500,000 dead.
Stalin’s Russia. Atheist morality. 10,000,000 dead
Mao’s China. Atheist Morality. 15,000,000 dead
Pol Pot’s Cambodia. Atheist morality. 2,000,000 dead
Kim’s Korea. Atheist morality ??? dead.

Hitler too despised the Church and Christian morality.

Why do atheists start killing on an industrial scale as soon as they come to power?

The answer is that they have a relativist morality - not an absolute one. What is good for US becomes the ruling moral ethic. Everything else soon goes. “The end justifies the means”. The same applies to the abortion argument.

It is a sort of morality- a one dimensional morality.

VociMike, interesting points, thanks.

Axion, the problem was that the other fellow was claiming that all morality, religious or otherwise, is really just evolved group behaviour mechanisms for the protection of genetic integrity that arose through natural selection. In other words, he wasn’t arguing that “atheist morality” was superior to religiously-inspired morality so much as that the two were essentially indistinguishable.

Actually, one could argue that there is an evolutionary taboo against some of the behaviors, but for other behaviors, it is not so much a taboo as a “don’t get caught” response. Adultery for example can be argued to be an evolved response to monogamy. While monogamy does have advantages in ensuring that ones genes get passed on to the next generation, it is also advantageous to mix your genes with other sets of genes. Obviously there is no strong evolved taboo against adultery since adultery rates have always been rather high.

In a similar manner, I fail to see a deeply ingrained (i.e. genetic) taboo against lying.

Just a thought.


Bill

There are several species of animals that mate for life.
Monogamy is not related to any belief in God for them.

Genocidal behavior is not limited to atheists.
Even the ancient Jews claimed God told them to commit genocide against the Canaanites.

Genocidal individuals who come to positions of power will use whatever justification they find convenient to use - regardless of whether they are atheists or religious.

Naturally monogamous individuals will be that way regardless of their religious or anti-religious beliefs.

Secular and religious laws are an attempt by one set of people with one set of tendencies to impose their behavioral norm on another set of people who don’t share the same.

Depending on which type of individuals are in power, this can result in the whole gamut of possible outcomes.

Correct.
Or Some Muslim sects saying that God commands them to kill the infidels.
Or the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition. They were following the Church/God’s orders.
What about witch hunts.

Genocidal individuals who come to positions of power will use whatever justification they find convenient to use - regardless of whether they are atheists or religious

Naturally monogamous individuals will be that way regardless of their religious or anti-religious beliefs.

Secular and religious laws are an attempt by one set of people with one set of tendencies to impose their behavioral norm on another set of people who don’t share the same.

Depending on which type of individuals are in power, this can result in the whole gamut of possible outcomes.

Very well said.

what was the motivation for each of these regimes to kill so many citizens?

hospitaller - to refute his point, you would have to provide evidence/reasoning that his point, and that the evidences backing up his point, are false or misinterpreted. For example, you could demonstrate that:

-morality is NOT derived from the netural selection of groups of humans.
or
-religiously inspired morality is superior to non-religious morality

Yep, for animals, Monogamy is not related to any belief in God, but lets be honest, humans are not one of those naturally monogamous creatures. At best, we are naturally serial monogamous, and based on the proliferation of polygamous cultures and religious sects, human males may not even be naturally serially monogamous.

Ultimately the notion of perpetual monogamy in humans is, I think, rooted in something besides our biology.

Genocidal behavior is not limited to atheists.
Even the ancient Jews claimed God told them to commit genocide against the Canaanites.

Genocidal individuals who come to positions of power will use whatever justification they find convenient to use - regardless of whether they are atheists or religious.

Actually modern genocide seems to be more an issue of modern secular movements; yes there is at times a religious component, but it is amazing how often the religious component gets ignored for reasons of some other ideology (Communism, Capitalism, Colonialism, Nationalism, etc.).

As for the Biblical examples… well just a couple of thoughts…

  1. The practice of essentially destroying cities to the last person was not an uncommon one in the ancient world. When a city was conquered its people were either dead or enslaved. Also of course the Bible generally makes mention of the People the Jews fought, not the ones they made peace with. Certainly 3500 years ago, most people lived in the country side, not the cities, but it was the cities that were destroyed because it was the cities that were the centers of political and military power.

  2. If the accounts in the Old Testament are true, then God did actually tell them to commit the act. There is a huge difference between us committing genocide and us acting on God’s Authority, even if the results appear similar.

Naturally monogamous individuals will be that way regardless of their religious or anti-religious beliefs.

Secular and religious laws are an attempt by one set of people with one set of tendencies to impose their behavioral norm on another set of people who don’t share the same.

Depending on which type of individuals are in power, this can result in the whole gamut of possible outcomes.

Of course, naturally, you are assuming that the religious laws are not in fact given to us by God.


Bill

In this quote it seems like you are saying that it’s okay for a Christian to commit atrocities against other humans because it was commanded by God. So, acting the same or worse than any dictator is acceptable because you are a Christian and it was commanded by God. Now there is a double standard.

I think I’ll chose the Atheist morality. It seems better and more moral than the biblical morality.

Again, it has less to do with me being Christian, than my positing the existence of a God. As an atheist, if you kill someone, you must believe that you have done one of the worst possible things to that person.

As a Christian, I believe that killing that person is potentially, but not necessarily one of the worst possible things I could do to them but it is far from the worst possible thing that could happen to them (that would be damnation). Further, I believe that unless the killing is lawful (i.e., done in the defense of others, during a just war, etc.) that I am prohibited from killing period.

That being said, I also believe that death is not the end. We are all destined to die, but ultimately our real life begins at death. If in the past God chose to order his people to commit what we today would consider genocide, that is in part because God knows that how we die here has less impact on eternal life than how we live here. I am not sure why God did ordain such actions in the past; perhaps to show us how little such actions really gain us – after all, the Israelites still ended up turning away from God.

Finally, I also believe that God no longer ordains such actions. Those actions were done in the past, and the era of general revelation is over. I.e., no Christian these days can claim that God has ordered us to exterminate a whole people.

Now in contrast atheistic and materialistic philosophies have frequently claimed that it was morally required in this day and age to kill on a massive scale. Even today there are still people who view Stalin as a hero. Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, any one of them managed to match the atrocities of centuries of the Israelites or Christians or Muslims – but they managed to do it in a single generation.

So the question is, do you reject Christian morality because you don’t believe in God, or do you reject God because you reject Christian morality.

Oh yeah, one last question… if one is an atheist, what motive does one have to be good?


Bill

Wow, really poor examples:

infidels are not of one genetic type: not genicide
Crusades were undertaken to protect pilgrims who would journey to the Holy Land, not to kill a particular group of people
Spanish Inquisition resulted in the death of about 3-5 people/year for 300 years (1000-2000 overall). Hardly genicide.
Witch hunts were generally women only, women are not a separate genotype.

Or maybe I was just showing that killings in the name of religion also occur and that it’s not the Atheist morality that’s behind it, but man.

The Irrational Atheist

Perhaps, but in that case, it is legitimate to look at the scale involved. As bad as the excesses of Christians, Jews and Muslims have been in the history of the world (when claiming to act in the name of their religion), the explicitly atheist groups have managed to trump them pretty handily in just a hundred years. Could it be possible then, that most religious people recognize the disconnect between such actions and their faith? Where as such a disconnect does not exist for the Atheist?


Bill

Here’s a suggestion.

Modern psychology believes there’s no such thing as a truly altruistic act. They hold that any such perceived act is actually somehow to the benefit of the participant.

Something like jumping into a freezing river to save a stranger, when no one else is around to witness it, is hard to explain in psychological or evolutionary biological terms. It goes against our “selfish genes”. Yet people do these kinds of acts, atheists, theists, and agnostics. Science cannot explain this.

First, your post implies that atheism is a complete world view. It is not. Unlike Christianity, you can’t label dictators and genocidal maniacs’ actions as atheism just because there is an absence in the belief of a deity. Morality usually is a product of your upbringing. Maybe they were abused or bullied children…fact is that not all atheists are evil and mean, and thus your parallels are unfounded. There is no common ground.
Some atheists have far better morality than some Christians, or Muslims or Taoists or Buddhists, etc.

Second, you still seem to imply that it’s more OK for you to kill than for me, since you believe it’s not the end of the human life, you seem to label it as less of a crime against another human (sin) as an atheist would.

To your question: I don’t reject all Christian morality, the basic tenets are the same for humans as a species. Don’t kill, b e kind to others, etc.
But where things like “Don’t masturbate or you will fry in hell for eternity” comes in, that I reject.

The basis for people rejecting god is usually not because of a moral issue. The moral issue is usually the catalyst for their eventual rejection. The principal of the rejection is usually based on faith vs. reason, absence of evidence or results, etc.

Atheists’ motives?
The bastic idea is:
"I won’t harm you if you won’t harm me and I will attempt to aid you if you will attempt to aid me."
What it means is that I usually treat the world how I myself wish to be treated. And since I don’t wish to be killed or stolen from or raped in a dark alley or you name it, I don’t do it to others.
I’ll ask you: “Do you want me to kill you?”
You’ll say “no”
That’s why killing is wrong.

Not necessarily. There are numerous factors involved, way too many to label all evil as atheism

I love the double standard here. So many anti-religious people love to talk about the evils that were performed by members of religious groups as belonging to those groups but when you talk about the atrocities performed by atheists, such actions immediately become atypical.

The specific examples I used, were not the actions of a single individual, but required the actions of many thousands of individuals. Further, the theorists behind the ideologies, actually stated a head of time that such purges would be necessary.

Morality usually is a product of your upbringing. Maybe they were abused or bullied children…fact is that not all atheists are evil and mean, and thus your parallels are unfounded. There is no common ground.
Some atheists have far better morality than some Christians, or Muslims or Taoists or Buddhists, etc.

Again, the double standard… Christians kill in the name of God; its religions fault. Communists kill in the name of their explicitly atheistic agenda and there is “no common ground” between their atrocity and their belief system.

I have no doubt that there are atheists who are better people than some religious people, but there are also atheists who have killed many times more people than any devout Christian, Jew or Muslim ever has killed (Even allowing for the evils perpetrated by Al Quaeda).

The morality of individuals might indeed be in part influenced by upbringing, but I have seen too many cases of siblings where one is decent and the other a virtual monster to limit it just to upbringing. Besides, there is a difference between the morality of an individual and the morality of a group. Often times people will commit unspeakable evil when they are part of a group that they would never dream of committing on their own.

Second, you still seem to imply that it’s more OK for you to kill than for me, since you believe it’s not the end of the human life, you seem to label it as less of a crime against another human (sin) as an atheist would.

Actually, that is simply your inference. I stated that other than in very limited circumstances – ones that only the most pacifistic person would object to – that I am not allowed to kill. I do believe the results may not be as bad as you do, but that doesn’t change the basic seriousness of the prohibition.

To your question: I don’t reject all Christian morality, the basic tenets are the same for humans as a species. Don’t kill, b e kind to others, etc.
But where things like “Don’t masturbate or you will fry in hell for eternity” comes in, that I reject.

The basis for people rejecting god is usually not because of a moral issue. The moral issue is usually the catalyst for their eventual rejection. The principal of the rejection is usually based on faith vs. reason, absence of evidence or results, etc.

Atheists’ motives?
The bastic idea is:
"I won’t harm you if you won’t harm me and I will attempt to aid you if you will attempt to aid me."
What it means is that I usually treat the world how I myself wish to be treated. And since I don’t wish to be killed or stolen from or raped in a dark alley or you name it, I don’t do it to others.
I’ll ask you: “Do you want me to kill you?”
You’ll say “no”
That’s why killing is wrong.

So is it fair to say that you are arguing from utilitarian motives? I.e., I don’t want done to me, so I won’t do unto others and I want such done to me, so I will do unto others? So if someone can neither hurt you or benefit you, do you have any moral obligation toward them?


Bill

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.