I do not think it is a coincidence that the last century’s worst moral offenders happened to be anti-Christian. I am certainly not saying all atheists are morally horrible people. Nevertheless, I also think people who claim rejecting belief in God can somehow be done with little or no damage to our overall worldview (I would prefer to use the term “noetic structure”, since I think there are real contradictions created, but I will just use the term “worldview” as it less technical) are either dreadfully mistaken or dishonest.
I have a few blogs posts drafted that I would like atheists to think about concerning legal rights and generally about moral and legal issues. I really think beliefs are only as strong as the reasons we have for them. So when the foundations for moral beliefs are taken away we should fully expect the moral beliefs they hold to fall with time as well. If you want to be atheist in our western moral culture that was heavily influenced by Christianity you will hopefully realize you should try to patch up the foundations. Or at least see with eyes wide open how morality and legal systems are effected.
While driving I accidentally hit a deer and it is badly hurt on the side of the road. If I called an ambulance it might survive after a surgery and medical care that might cost $100,000.00. I think it would be moral for me to keep driving. It might be better, if I thought it would suffer, to take a gun and shoot it.
Now consider how we treat a person that we hit with a car. We handle that quite differently. Human life is a sacred gift from God and humans are made in Gods image. So this disparity is perfectly natural for a Christian society. But if we are just animals like other animals and there is nothing sacred about human life why should we think this disparity is justified? Deer seem to suffer. Many animals seem to be at least as conscious as new born infants.
Now atheists who do not believe humans are created in the image of God might say the disparity between how we treat deer as opposed to humans is not justified. But then the question is should we treat people more like deer or deer more like people? Should we start calling ambulances every time we hit an animal on the road and paying hundreds or thousands of dollars to try to save that deer? Or should we instead start to treating humans more like we treat deer – just drive off or put the human out of his misery? As you think this through try to notice if you are rationalizing your conclusions or if you are truly “reasoning” your way to the conclusions.
In any event this moral confusion was evident in Nazi Germany which passed strict animal protection laws.
A telling quote is from Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Minister of Propaganda:
“The Fuhrer is deeply religious, though completely anti-Christian. He views Christianity as a symptom of decay. Rightly so. It is a branch of the Jewish race… Both [Judaism and Christianity] have no point of contact to the animal element, and thus, in the end, they will be destroyed. The Fuhrer is a convinced vegetarian, on principle. His arguments cannot be refuted on any serious basis. They are totally unanswerable.”
Goebbels Diaries, 29 December 1939
By the way, I am not saying Hitler was atheist, but he was anti-christian and clearly rejected the teaching that human life is sacred.
Are you familiar with the “black tag” in trauma triage?
Human life is not absolutely sacred to us.
Are you familiar with palliative treatment?
Our own lives are not absolutely sacred, even to us.
I am not sure of the difference between “absolutely” sacred and just sacred. But I certainly agree there may be questions about whether we properly treat human lives as sacred.
I do not think black tags show that human life is not considered sacred. IMO Human life being sacred does not mean it must be prolonged at all cost for as long as possible. But the point here is that humans are considered as much more important than other animals. Taking a human life is seen as a very very serious matter. If we hit a person with our car we don’t just then shoot the person to put them out of their misery.
People in Christianity are understood as being made in the image of God. And God became one of us and even died in human form for us. Our treatment of humans reflects those beliefs.
If you want to remove God then, ok, but then why treat humans so much different than other animals? That is what I want to know.
The distinction that I am trying to draw is one between absolutely sacred and relatively sacred. The point is: we evaluate life like we evaluate other things, in the end. Positing some intrinsic standard seems to make no difference in our evaluations – a meter is not intrinsically better than a yard, though we find it more useful.
To extend your analogy, why should we value gold over other metals? Yet gold holds its own despite the lack of a mandate.
Ok thanks for explaining what you mean, I was not fully understanding. It may be that sacredness is to some extent relative in a sense – like tallness. All creation is from God and so may be sacred to some extent. But human creation is more sacred than animal or plant creation.
But I don’t think the sacredness of human life is relative to the mind perceiving it like taste. So that it is only sacred, if I think it is sacred. I think some things really are objectively sacred. Just like some people are objectively taller.
The case of metals (and currency) generally can be sort of complicated but on the whole I think they are more of the relative like tastes.
Just because something is objectively sacred does not – to my mind – mean it can never be weighed in moral decision making. So I think even though human life is sacred if someone is suffering we can allow them to die out of love for them. Because our moral obligation to love each other is also very important concern.
Thanks for your comments.
I’ve been thinking about how animals should be treated a lot lately. I’ve thought about going vegetarian or vegan. It is difficult for me to justify eating meat or animal products.
What about the case set forth here? Is there a justification for the disparity of how we treat a deer that we hit with our car versus how treat people that get hit? Or is this just speciesism?
As I dove into these questions it became plain to me that reason was not directing my moral beliefs. That is not to say animal rights fanatics are reasonable. I just think our intuitions of what is moral or not are not ultimately based on anything empirical or subject to reasoned analysis. Whenever we say well this entity is morally more important because of this or that trait it always seems to be a non-sequitur. We should care about things to the extent they can reason, or plan ahead, or feel pain, whatever.
Of course, the fact that we don’t have empirical access to what morality requires does not mean morality is not real. But we need to have some additional assurance beyond natural selection to say our moral urges are tracking moral truth. I see no reason based on naturalism and evolutionary theory to think they would.
“What about the case set forth here? Is there a justification for the disparity of how we treat a deer that we hit with our car versus how treat people that get hit? Or is this just speciesism?
I agree that it is permissible to not spend $100,000 on saving the dear’s life. I think it would be best to shoot the dear if you have a gun, and if you don’t have a gun, I think it would be good to call someone who can take care of the deer. Obviously this is different than how you would treat a person who was hit by a car. I think this disparity can be justified for the following three reasons:
1. Other deer will not suffer as a result of the deer dying the way humans suffer when a loved one dies.
2. Deer may not be conscious, and it would be silly to spend $100,000 on saving the life of a being who will never be conscious when that money could be used to alleviate the suffering of beings who are currently conscious and beings who will be conscious in the future.
3. Deer only live for about 14 years at most, so allowing a deer to die is different than allowing a human who still has many years left to live to die.
None of these reasons are particularly convincing. However, I don’t see how we could be obligated to spend $100,000 to save a deer’s life.
Questions like this concern the right to life. I am interested in determining the necessary and sufficient conditions for killing a being to be permissible, and the necessary and sufficient conditions for allowing a being to die to be permissible. These necessary and sufficient conditions will depend on one’s moral system.
I do think speciesism exists. I would say thinking it is permissible to cause non-human animals to suffer in factory farms simply because they are not human is a form of speciesism.
“As I dove into these questions it became plain to me that reason was not directing my moral beliefs. That is not to say animal rights fanatics are reasonable. I just think our intuitions of what is moral or not are not ultimately based on anything empirical or subject to reasoned analysis. Whenever we say well this entity is morally more important because of this or that trait it always seems to be a non-sequitur. We should care about things to the extent they can reason, or plan ahead, or feel pain, whatever.”
I think the name-the-trait argument that vegans use is strong. I agree that many moral justifications people use are non-sequiturs.
“Of course, the fact that we don’t have empirical access to what morality requires does not mean morality is not real. But we need to have some additional assurance beyond natural selection to say our moral urges are tracking moral truth. I see no reason based on naturalism and evolutionary theory to think they would.”
I don’t think moral urges can be trusted. I think moral urges are based on emotion. I used to have the moral urge that gay marriage is wrong. When I thought more about gay marriage, I stopped having that moral urge. The fact that moral urges can change over time suggests that they can’t be trusted.
I think we need to look at how an action impacts the well-being of beings who are currently conscious and beings who will be conscious in the future in order to determine if that action is permissible.
“”I am certainly not saying all atheists are morally horrible people. Boy that’s a relief. What a loaded premise. You struggle with reality Joe. Most abortions in this country are had by Christian women. By far, most atheist hold themselves to a higher standard than Christians. See, we’re not forgiven so we hold ourselves accountable. .02% of the US prison population is atheist.
That’s an extremely telling stat. I would love to sit down and iron out something fair that doesn’t infringe in a persons autonomy. Pretty easy to do until you insist your beliefs hold some merit. Man has trumped the morality of the Bible over and over. We are much better people than we used to be. Just because someone doesn’t believe in god doesn’t even remotely tie them to bad behavior. It does force Christians to hide their true selves. It interesting the areas of the country that are the most religious, have the most google clicks for porn. Your morality is a pious, duplicitous face. It is propped up by believers and covered with deceit.
““”I am certainly not saying all atheists are morally horrible people. Boy that’s a relief.”
Hi Jim, I knew some atheists would get upset if I questioned their moral foundations so I wanted to make that clear. You go on to say:
“What a loaded premise. ”
It’s not a premise.
“Most abortions in this country are had by Christian women. By far, most atheist hold themselves to a higher standard than Christians. See, we’re not forgiven so we hold ourselves accountable. .02% of the US prison population is atheist.”
Yes many prisoners find God in prison especially when they are up for parole. It would be good if we had a longer study that showed how many people go to church every Sunday and then end up in prison.
Most American’s are Christian so it shouldn’t be surprising that most of the people in america choosing to have an abortion are also Christian. Do you think atheists tend to believe abortion is immoral more than Christians?
“By far, most atheist hold themselves to a higher standard than Christians. See, we’re not forgiven so we hold ourselves accountable.”
“Higher” standards? You sound like a moral realist. Or do you mean a “different” standard?
“I would love to sit down and iron out something fair that doesn’t infringe in a persons autonomy. Pretty easy to do until you insist your beliefs hold some merit.”
Im not sure what to make of that. You would love to reach a fair agreement so long as I first admit my beliefs have no merit? That sounds very authoritarian.
“Man has trumped the morality of the Bible over and over. ”
Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, North Korean leaders, Lenin, Reign of Terror.
” Just because someone doesn’t believe in god doesn’t even remotely tie them to bad behavior.”
Again I am simply asking people to think things through a bit. Did you read the whole post?
“It does force Christians to hide their true selves. It interesting the areas of the country that are the most religious, have the most google clicks for porn. ”
That’s from all those atheists who can’t get any action in the bible belt.
“Your morality is a pious, duplicitous face. It is propped up by believers and covered with deceit.”
I admit that was pretty good. I read it twice.
Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, North Korean leaders, Lenin, Reign of Terror.
The bigger problem here isn’t these men. It is the followers. Here we argue which belief is best, but the culprit of all our divisions, racism, hate, all of it Joe, is beliefs. Mere convictions of thought without evidence. Break it down, that is the card played by the writers and founders to keep humanity at odds, while they do whatever the hell they want.
Jim thanks for this reply. I think what you say here links into an important aspect so I would like to actually do another blog on this comment more fully fleshing out my position.
https://jimoeba.wordpress.com/2018/11/14/your-own-beliefs-or-submitting-to-authority/ Try this for a primer
I am familiar with that experiment. It is quite interesting and one I think we should all learn about. I think we would both agree we should not submit to authority to the extent it is immoral to do so.
The question here is different. Our question is how do we know what is moral. Specifically, how do we know it ok to shoot or leave a deer we hit on the side of the road but with a person we should call an ambulance and spend huge amounts of money to save them. I don’t think the Milgram experiment will answer that question.
“To continuously evaluate whether a being is good requires moral judgment, which requires moral autonomy. Therefore it is not possible to continuously evaluate if a being is good while also worshipping it (or submitting to it) Therefore, worshipping necessarily requires abandoning one’s moral responsibility, which is immoral— Janes Rachel on Moral Autonomy
“To continuously evaluate whether a being is good requires moral judgment, which requires moral autonomy. Therefore it is not possible to continuously evaluate if a being is good while also worshipping it (or submitting to it) Therefore, worshipping necessarily requires abandoning one’s moral responsibility, which is immoral—” Janes Rachel on Moral Autonomy
That is not a sound, or even valid, argument. But I will cut to the chase. No one is continuously evaluating whether anything is good. Nor is it immoral to sometime not be evaluating whether a being is good. Sometimes we are evaluating what salad dressing we would like. That is not immoral.
It is not immoral to worship a being that you have evaluated as being worthy of worship.
To suggest it is immoral to ever do anything other than continuously evaluate if a being is good is a bizarre claim.
We’re talking about followers—into battle and religion. It is quite obvious after submission to the will of authority people will do anything, even if they think it’s wrong they go along with it. Even drink koolaid to their own demise. The argument is very sound based on observations. I also know dozens of deconverts that agree. They cannot believe the things they said and thought when they were devotees of religion. It all, I mean all of it changes in a day. And that’s why it was such a brilliant idea from prophet Mohammad and from the Bible to explicitly describe the religion as the absolute last word from God that would never get any future amendments of any kind. It was the first to say it was the last, and and it worked pretty well by taking their immunity against listening to others and learning form them to a whole new level.
It is not the Christians that want to disallow people from expressing themselves or believing/thinking what they want.
The people who wanted anti-christian leaders like Mao, Lenin, Stalin, Kim Jung Il, Hitler etc were all about taking on new moral views. And then, those new moral views were forced people who were too stubborn to see that the new morality was really better. These new ways of thinking about morality soon forced to suffer through horrendous evil. Hitler talks about his “new way” so do all the bad leaders. Its even quite common for them to say their new ways are more scientific or rational.
Christianity does not have a perfect record for freedom of expression, I agree. But when you consider these anti-christian regimes the Christians look fantastic! Also when you look at western culture as a whole which was the product of Christian culture for many many centuries you will see that freedom of expression and thought tends to do very well comparatively.
I am all for people thinking for themselves. I often post questions because I want people to think things through themselves. If they arrive at different conclusions than I do, I want to know why.
Christ himself was clearly not one to simply follow authority. He broke all sorts of barriers between Samaritans and gender barriers etc. He did give us commands to love one another – that is true. But most of the Gospels have Jesus giving people parables to make them think instead of pad or technical laws. And of course he cut against common thinking so much he ended up being killed for the views he expressed. Not unlike Socrates.
“I also know dozens of deconverts that agree. They cannot believe the things they said and thought when they were devotees of religion.”
Did they believe they should love their neighbor? Are they glad to be free of that?
At times some of the atheists seem to have such a vicious disposition toward Christianity. It just seems odd to me. But I grew up Catholic and it does seem to me that the way Christianity is taught in some other denominations is strange. So I won’t deny that some atheists may have been taught horrible things.
Their not free from loving their neighbors as themselves. To the contrary— they’ve one-upped the Bible with an improved version. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you doesn’t speak very well of how Christians feel about themselves. Worthless, self deprecating sinners and all. How about treat others the way they want to be treated? If you are one of those self abased Christians, the Bible version doesn’t bode well.
“Their not free from loving their neighbors as themselves. To the contrary— they’ve one-upped the Bible with an improved version. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you doesn’t speak very well of how Christians feel about themselves. Worthless, self deprecating sinners and all. How about treat others the way they want to be treated?”
Do you want others to treat you how you want to be treated?
If yes, then it is possibly the same as what Jesus said. You want others to treat you how you want to be treated so treat them how they want to be treated. Or at least this is a way of understanding the golden rule. Of course, if you think what someone wants is harmful to them such as they want a gun so they can kill themselves and/or others then maybe you would not interpret the rule that way. I’m just not so sure it is an improvement to force that interpretation in every case.
But mainly, I think you are nitpicking in order to try to find fault with Jesus. Is there anything wrong with just saying yes Jesus said some good things? Or is admitting anything good about Jesus like nails on the chalkboard for you? Weren’t you the one writing about biases where we distort every piece of data to confirm our conclusion?
What is written about jesus was a big improvement for the times. Sure, bonus points for that. He also condoned treating your slaves better—more bonus points. A truly upstanding and true prophet would have denounced slavery completely. The only true measure of happiness is ones autonomy in a set of laws that protects individuals. But instead of giving lasting hope, his subjects created a Slave Bible to withhold the most liberating ideas.
The idea that man can’t do better than the Bible is just silly, really—hey, that rhymes!
I will do a post on Christianity and slavery coming up.
“The only true measure of happiness is ones autonomy in a set of laws that protects individuals.”
I am not so sure that is true. I think people could be truly happy despite not having full autonomy and living under unjust laws. I also think people can be very unhappy even though they have full autonomy and live under laws that protect individuals.
Sure, even elephants appear happy on their chain. People don’t know what to do with their independence. I’ve said for a long time, some people need religion, right up until they don’t. Most are not ready to pave their own way. I know a gal that follows by blog and she is scared to death for not believing. She can’t integrally believe by choice, but she is lost without someone telling her what to do and think. She had the unfortunate timing to lose her faith before it was time. What’s funny about that though, is she’s been doing this alone here whole life anyway. Nothing has changed. She’s got this, but addicted to the idea someone was watching over her.
Oh I see you count people voluntarily living by a religion as a lose of autonomy. I thought you meant real lose of autonomy as in when people live in societies where they will be imprisoned for expressing their views or are imprisoned or enslaved.
People often believe they are restricted by Christianity. But Christianity is IMO more about being free of addictions that will control our lives and empowering us to live the good lives we really want to.
But as for happiness I am sure the empirical data will depend on the questions asked. Here is one study:
They volunteer certainly. Especially me when I was a baby. I was deceived, baptized and brainwashed literally thinking that was all their was. The herd took over from there. The adults that get into it are expected to place faith before knowledge, and that mind game is hard to unravel once you mature in the faith enough to have the integrity to call it for what it is. No thank you. It takes an unusual event to sever that hardwiring.
I think you raise a good question about our ability to choose our beliefs. (maybe more so in the earlier comment about the lady who couldn’t believe despite her will to believe- assuming I properly understood you.) I know we discussed that and free will before, but I don’t recall your view. Do you think we have any sort of free will? Do you think we have any influence over what we believe?
Also I would say that I think we have different ideas of what it means to believe. Most philosophers would say all knowledge is a type of belief. (at least “propositional knowledge” but that is just a fancy word for saying knowing a claim or statement is true as opposed to say “knowing how to ride a bike”) In that if you don’t believe a claim you can not know a claim.
I wonder if you agree with that.
I did a blog on what I understand a belief to be where I basically adopt the view of an atheist philosopher Quine. I wonder if we are using the terms the same way or if you have issues with Quine and I.
I won’t say that I know this view to be any sort of consensus it is just the view I learned when I was in philosophy and it stuck pretty well so I always sort of held on to it. I do think there are some tricky issues though. I may do a blog on it later but honestly I am hoping my own views will get a bit clearer before I do that. But I think that Quines description is a pretty good starting point. What do you think?
There’s not a lot of freewill out there. We have some ability to foster the ideas that come our way, but most of what we have ever learned was out of our control. All the input, from the day we’re born is from un-sought influence. We see things we don’t want to see, hear things we don’t want to hear, and are often born with a neuro-physiology that is flawed and out of our control to change. Then we start down the path of genre and comfort, seeking what we already know. When was the last time you picked up a book outside your zone? A random selection off the shelf and a variety of inputs can balance it out, but it takes effort. I think we could go a long way teaching our young school kids about cognitive biases and the effects of the endocrine system on the brain where we like to spend our energy. It takes an awareness of the foibles of human psychology and a variety of learning disciplines to get outside our pre-awareness indoctrination’s. This knowledge, “I may be wrong about everything I was ever taught” opens the door to discovery and then we can guide our learning journey and at least be decent in spite of our lack of actual free will.
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