There’s no “I” in atheism

I recently posted Creed, a poem by Steve Turner which outlines the relativist worldview. Although satirical, the poem does present many commonly-held beliefs amongst atheists. But it also does something which goes beyond the typical atheist approach: it actually sets out those beliefs clearly.

Yes, I’m aware that atheism isn’t a uniform worldview. But neither is Christianity. The central core of Christianity is uniform – that’s how we recognise it. But there are plenty of differences in opinion and a great deal of (often heated) discussion about everything beyond what is covered in the ecumenical creeds. There are many denominations in Christianity, but within each denomination there is a clear articulation of their beliefs. In short, you know exactly what you’re dealing with if you want to debate what Catholics or Baptists believe.

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Speaking of clear articulations, let’s have a couple of definitions so that we all know what we’re talking about:

Encyclopaedia Britannica (2010):

Instead of saying that an atheist is someone who believes that it is false or probably false that there is a God, a more adequate characterization of atheism consists in the more complex claim that to be an atheist is to be someone who rejects belief in God.

Encyclopedia of Philosophy (MacMillan, 2005):

On our definition, an ‘atheist’ is a person who rejects belief in God.

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Within atheism there are also many different views on issues of secondary importance. The primary issue is denial of God (and usually the supernatural), but beyond that it’s an open field. And that’s great: discussions about why we hold different beliefs can be an excellent way of learning about alternative points of view, and also help us to understand our own beliefs better.

But we have to actually hold a coherent set of beliefs before we can have a useful discussion.

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I recently had a lengthy exchange with an atheist about the origins of morality. In over 2500 words of discussion, my correspondent never offered a concrete statement of personal beliefs. All sorts of theories were suggested, mention was made of “fascinating new research about morality” in various quarters, books titles and authors were offered as solemn incantations.

But as to the beliefs held personally by the individual? Not a peep. My own personal beliefs were articulated and examined at length, but repeated requests for a clear statement of my correspondent’s beliefs were met only with deflection and evasion.

I mention this particular exchange as but one example of a much larger trend. I observe in conversations with atheists an almost pathological aversion to the personal pronoun.

“Look, all these people have been writing big books on the subject!”

Yes, and…? What do you personally believe?

“Research supports this particular belief!”

Great. Do you personally believe that?

“Recent advances in [genetics]/[cosmology]/[evolutionary biology] indicate that…”

Do you personally use those advances as the basis of your worldview, or are your beliefs based on something else? And if so, what?

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Socrates famously declared that “An unexamined life is not worth living”. But an unexaminable life is no life at all. If personal beliefs cannot be articulated, they cannot be understood the individual, let alone by others.

The Nicene Creed is a towering pillar of the Christian faith. It is a clear and succinct articulation of the core beliefs of Christianity, a concise expression of primary doctrine. To affirm the creed is to draw a clear line in the sand and say, “these are my beliefs.” That is the starting point for a useful discussion.

The Creed does not start off with: “Christians in general maintain that…”, or “It has long been the opinion of great theologians…”, or “The official Church position is that…”

It starts much more simply:

“I believe …”

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Related posts:

Lumpy atheism

Having the wrong conversation

The relativist creed

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17 thoughts on “There’s no “I” in atheism

  1. Well said!

    (It’s rather unfortunate that the words ‘I believe’ cause that somewhat dodgy song about drops of rain and flowers growing to pop into my head!)

    • Thanks, Findo.

      I suppose it’s either that or R. Kelly – not sure which is worse, but for my money the Savage Garden lyrics are far more vacuous. Still, at least they’re a concrete statement of beliefs which can be discussed.

      Actually, that’s probably a useful metric: if Savage Garden has exhibited more introspection and philosophical depth than you, it’s seriously time for you to sit down and think about what you actually believe and why!

  2. One problem today is the claim by some that “sure, absolute values exist, but I really don’t care, because the only values that matter are relative to the society we live in and the people who affirm them.” This is pretty much the next stage in the evolution of modernism: we have advanced beyond a rejection of God’s existence to the point of saying that the question of God’s existence is not even worth asking. I think Anselm has a lot to say about that, however.

  3. Excellent post! I will have to add that although what you have described is not always the case (at least with some of the atheists that I interact with) it is certainly not uncommon. The strength of your argument, however, lies in the power of the “I believe.”

  4. I have to agree with pastorjeff above in that the atheists I know don’t avoid the word “I” so conspicuously. But even with those who refer to themselves, they seem to have this inherent (even if polite) smugness because they think that they are the only ones with the power to address things objectively. They say things like “I’m not religious; I’m a man of science.” Or “I can see why people believe in religion; it’s done a lot of good for society.”

    It seems like many atheists are afraid to personally wrestle with religion, and prefer instead to poke it with a stick from far away.

    • A lot of atheists are however wrestling with religion and fighting hard to present an apologetic for their faith. I reckon the forced objectivity, standing two steps back behind what others say, is deeply profound. As such, issues of personal faith are important to atheists themselves, they’re merely trying removing their “selves” from critique.

    • I suppose that is something that I love about affirming the creeds – it forces faith to become personal.

      It moves the discussion away from “I generally go along with these guys, and these are their arguments”, and into a point of, “This is something that I personally take ownership of.”

  5. Hello Sentinel-

    I have been following your postings over at the modsynth blog on Genesis, and chose to read some of your personal postings. I appreciate your thoughts and views, and wonder if I, as a former Christian Minister turned Atheist, may chime in to this discussion? It is not my intent to ignite a debate, as your blog is not the platform to do so, but provide my own answer to the question that you posed to Atheists: “What do you believe?”

    Well, first, I believe in family, love, and altruism. I believe in following the Golden Rule, which is to treat others as you would wish that treatment to meet you in reciprocity.

    It could be possible that a Believer is looking for a sort of creed or statement by an Atheist, which would define our beliefs in the fashion that the Apostles Creed does, or the Five Pillars of Islam.
    Our belief is not a creed. We Atheist respect open-mindedness, free inquiry, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake. Our principles are not based on faith. We do not rely solely on science and and reason, because there are necessary rather than insufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science and outrages reason. Our convictions are not held dogmatically, and believe with certainty that an ethical life can be lived without religion.

    I believe in raising our children in a way that their innocence can be protected and preserved, and where they are taught to seek positive influence, and shun immorality. I believe that there is not a single moral or ethical statement or action that can be performed or uttered by a Believer, that a Nonbeliever cannot also speak or do.

    These beliefs are my own, and I’m sure not shared by all. But here is one Atheist (or Anti-Theist,) that is not too different than Believers, with the exception of our views on faith, and I am not alone.

    Thank you for asking, and allowing me to respond. As I said, in no way am I intending to entice a debate, but would be happy to respond to questions, should Sentinel find it appropriate under his moderation of his blog.

    • Deconverted :

      Well, first, I believe in family, love, and altruism. I believe in following the Golden Rule, which is to treat others as you would wish that treatment to meet you in reciprocity.

      I’m not questioning your belief in these, but rather, wishing to know how you would justify them philosophically? For it seems to me that many atheists in the west (and let’s face it, it is predominantly a western elite view) don’t follow the logical outcome of the ‘death of god’ (alla Nietzsche) but still hang on to a kind of left-over Christian credit with things like the Golden Rule (yes, I know it can be found in other sages, but the acceptance of it in the west is clearly from Jesus)

      I believe that there is not a single moral or ethical statement or action that can be performed or uttered by a Believer, that a Nonbeliever cannot also speak or do.

      I agree. The question isn’t whether atheists can be ethical people – of course they can (No serious thinker is suggesting that people need belief in God to be good – after all, Christianity posits that we all have this in-built God-given moral conscience – but rather, from where or what can one justify or underpin a morality without the existence of God (more bluntly, why should one be moral and ethical – remembering Hume’s old problem of getting an ought from an is). Indeed, how can one even make value judgements about morality unless there is some kind of objective standard – and if that is not God, then what is it?
      It seems to me that either there is an objective moral standard we can hold others accountable to, or morality is subjective (whether at the personal or society / culture level) and we have no grounds or right then to hold anyone else (or other group) accountable – I think our general practice betrays the fact that this isn’t so.

      If you have an answer, I’d be keen to hear it, otherwise, they’re just some questions for you to think about 🙂

      • Well that’s the age old question, isn’t it? Where did these beliefs come from? That question is the most popular question posed to Atheists, and I’m surprised that so many have struggled to answer. My only supposition, is that they have no reason to think it through. We see the comparison made in “The Brothers Karamazov,” where one of the brothers says “if there is no god, than everything is permissible for me,” and the other brother falls silent.
        You might say, that should your beliefs have been absent from you, you would have no objections to committing a crime, or other wrong doing. I would choose not to believe you, and say that even in not knowing you, I believe IN you a little more than that. I don’t believe, that outside of religious belief, we would have no moral compass. Are we to say that we couldn’t return stolen property, give blood, care for a newborn baby, let alone bear a strong opposition against rape, murder, theft, helping ourselves to under age children etc., unless we were in fear of eternal punishment, or desirous of an eternal reward. Einstein said if that were the case, we’d be a “sorry lot indeed.” I do understand, however, that there is a second part of your question, which is that your morality doesn’t come from dogmatic guidelines, but that it is innate in you, and placed there by God.

        It is almost sort of insulting to humanity, to state directly, that absent of a supernatural deity (yet to be established as anything existent, and is merely an assumption) we wouldn’t know right from wrong.
        I think it’s the opposite, and that religion gets it’s morality from humans. We know, that we couldn’t get along otherwise. For example, my girlfriends brother in law is Jewish. Are we expected to believe, that his ancestors made the trek to Mt. Sinai all the while thinking that rape, murder, theft and false witness were an okay practice, only to find that when they got there, these activities weren’t kosher after all? No, I don’t think they would have made it as far as Mt. Sinai, or any other mountain, if that were to be the case. Their moral barometer existed before Moses was presented with the 10 Commandments, and existed for thousands of years prior.

        Here in the west, we associate our innate sense of morality to the Judeo-Christian God because of our ancestral heritage. I’m sure that had the “New World” been discovered by another nation, say China in the 1400’s under the Ming Dynasty, our national persuasion towards explaining our innate ethics would have been founded on Taoism, since that was the Chinese explanation to their awareness of the presence of innate ethics.

        Regarding my philosophy on the innate sense of morality; I think it’s a huge leap to say that it’s presence is a proof of the existence of God (as C.S. Lewis as often asserted.) Why not just assume that we have an inner moral compass, that allows us to be the partially rational mammals that we’ve evolved into? I don’t know why we have our innate sense of ethics (and no one else can claim to and back it with any proof,) but to associate it with a divine permission creates a world of questions ahead of you, that additionally cannot be proven. The same mind that gave us the wheel and fire also birthed Beethoven’s 9th symphony and all of our great philosophical ideas. It’s backwards to say, that these inventions were divinely inspired and are proof of that divine entity’s existence, intervention in our lives, and care for us.

        It is often viewed as arrogant, to say that we arrived to such grand conclusions on our own. I say the opposite. I say it’s more arrogant to say that out of all the species, and all the primates, we were chosen by this supernatural entity. I don’t believe evolution even knows that I’m here. Furthermore, I view morality to be nothing more than natural instinct, found even in the animal kingdom. We see in the animal kingdom, in many animals, favoritism of one over the other. I had a dog once, whom had sort of another canine best friend. She would socialize with her above the all the dogs, and also present “gifts” such as sticks or dead animals. She’d even go as far to come to the aid of her best canine friend, when the dog was being bullied by other dogs. Zebra’s and eagles (and others I’m sure,) choose a mate, and then remain with that mate for life. Wild animals do not go around murdering every other wild animal that they see. They may kill for food, or to defend their turf and family. They even, don’t help themselves to younger animals in their species. That is an atrocity found only in humans. What does that say about morality? That in all the species of the animal kingdom, the only species that routinely treats themselves sexually to underage children, are human beings? I’ve never seen a lion lay down with a cub in a sexual way. This is no different than our gauge of morality, and yet, it’s innate in them.

        So there’s my answer. I hope I have presented my case, and if you feel that I left anything out, feel free to let me know. I have enjoyed discussing it with you, and always welcome a further discussion. I also respect anyone who has thought out their views, and expresses them without apology and with confidence. Thank you for doing so.

      • Hi Deconverted,

        You seem to be totally missing AndrewFinden’s points and answering questions that no-one is asking. As he says in his post: “No serious thinker is suggesting that people need belief in God to be good – after all, Christianity posits that we all have this in-built God-given moral conscience”. None of that is in dispute. The question is where that moral sense comes from.

        So when you say that:

        “Their moral barometer existed before Moses was presented with the 10 Commandments, and existed for thousands of years prior”

        … that is entirely in agreement with the Christian worldview. Christianity claims that ever since humans appeared we have had a moral sense and innately known right from wrong. There is no suggestion that the OT law was the start of morality – it was a codification and a guideline for implementing the morality that humans had always had, as we are made in the image of God.

        Deconverted :
        Wild animals do not go around murdering every other wild animal that they see.

        I’m really not sure where you’re going with this, or your later comments about human sexual perversions. If anything, the evidence seems counter to any argument that animals also possess morality (which seems to be the line you’re taking, but I may be wrong).

        Some animals mate for life, others are wildly promiscuous and indiscriminating in their sexual behaviour. In Bonobo apes about 75% of sexual activity is non-reproductive, and often involves infants. Sexual cannibalism is common in insects. In several species of mammals, including stoats and hyaena, sexual activity between adults and infant cubs has been observed (with the mother of the infants declining to interfere). Young male elephants have been recorded raping and killing adult rhinoceros. Male bottlenose dolphins regularly engage in what appears to be forced intercourse, both within their species and towards other species. Female penguins exchange sexual favours for nest-building materials. Killing and eating infants (within a species, even within family groups) is common in many mammals.

        Interestingly, humans are the only ones who seem to look unfavourably on this sort of behaviour. Human child molesters are not tolerated: in fact they are generally perceived as the most abhorrent of people. We are outraged by such behaviour in our own society because of our in-built moral compass.

        So it really looks like we haven’t progressed at all from AndrewFinden’s question of how you would justify your moral beliefs philosophically.

  6. “You seem to be totally missing AndrewFinden’s points and answering questions that no-one is asking. As he says in his post: “No serious thinker is suggesting that people need belief in God to be good – after all, Christianity posits that we all have this in-built God-given moral conscience”. None of that is in dispute. The question is where that moral sense comes from.”

    I answered it. A few times, actually. Picking one of the times, I said “I don’t know why we have our innate sense of ethics (and no one else can claim to and back it with any proof,) but to associate it with a divine permission creates a world of questions ahead of you, that additionally cannot be proven. The same mind that gave us the wheel and fire also birthed Beethoven’s 9th symphony and all of our great philosophical ideas. It’s backwards to say, that these inventions were divinely inspired and are proof of that divine entity’s existence, intervention in our lives, and care for us.” You quoted me on my bit about the 10 Commandments, but seemed to have left all the rest out.

    I suppose I’ll go on further, since my answer was not satisfactory. There is no reason, no proof, no evidence at all, to assert the idea that “morality comes from God.” There is no rational reason to assume that it is. The mere existence of morality does not prove where it comes from, nor does acknowledging that we know it is there prove that we know who or what placed it there. All of the arguments that have been conveyed in these discussions convey this assumption: “We have an innate sense of morality. It must be from God.”

    I’m sorry that you missed my analogy concerning the animal kingdom. In your defense, I may have not been as clear and descriptive as I’d wished, due to distractions in my home as I was typing.

    “So it really looks like we haven’t progressed at all from AndrewFinden’s question of how you would justify your moral beliefs philosophically.” When you quote excerpts from my response that are not including their entire context, it certainly does. In fact, I had to go back and read it again myself, because you almost had ME convinced that I didn’t make sense. “…and if that is not God, then what is it?” The quote that comes to my mind regarding this is “that which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” There, that’s my philosophy. When someone is able to show me that the idea of “God given innate morality” is anything more than just speculation with no evidence, I’ll have to tighten my argument a bit. I said that I believe religion gets its morality from humans; a rather awkward way of explaining that which we still have no known explanation.

    We agree that we have an innate morality. We don’t agree on where it originates. You say it’s God given. I say it is not. I say I do not know where it originates. It has been natural for so long, for the human race to use God as an explanation for things that we can’t explain. But how can anyone sit there and say “I know our morality is God given,” when they can’t even produce the evidence of the God to begin with?

    Philosophically speaking, it would then seem that anyone who has stated such a thing has more work ahead of them to provide proof than someone who says they don’t claim to know. In establishing a rational argument, any rational thinker would think it irrational for someone to make a claim (philosophical or not) without providing proof, which is all that’s been done here. That’s the thing about an Atheist philosophy that doesn’t appear to be looked upon too fondly. Christians say “we know morality is God given, because if it isn’t from God, than where is it from?” Atheists say “well we don’t claim to know where it comes from, but you stand there claiming to know with your book in your hand, but haven’t provided any evidence that the God your claiming gave me this innate morality is even out there, so….”

    So finally, and again, I don’t see a reason to assume at all, that innate morality is anything more than a tapestry of evolution. If you are looking for me to give a direct quote from me on justifying my moral beliefs philosophically, you could say that I said “morality is an underlying understanding that our survival is rooted in a mutual respect for each other, and a dependance on respecting nature. It not necessary to bring God into the conversation.” I suspect that most of this was understood from my first explanation as well.

    “Female penguins exchange sexual favours for nest-building materials.” They do that? Those little hussies…

    • We see the comparison made in “The Brothers Karamazov,” where one of the brothers says “if there is no god, than everything is permissible for me,” and the other brother falls silent.

      Indeed, big D saw how you need God to justify any kind of objectivity in morality. This quote only serves to reinfornce the question that I don’t think you’ve really answered: why should I not do that which is considered immoral?

      Why not just assume that we have an inner moral compass, that allows us to be the partially rational mammals that we’ve evolved into? I don’t know why we have our innate sense of ethics

      Well I do assume we have such an inner moral compass – but it is accounted for in my worldview, and I cannot see how it can be accounted for in an atheistic one (though perhaps I shouldn’t assume that you are also a materialist / naturalist). You admit that you don’t know where it comes from – is that the same as recognising you can’t account for it? I don’t know..

      Do you think this innate compass is objective?

      • I did answer the question “why SHOULD I not do that which is considered to be immoral,” a few times now. Perhaps you didn’t see my above comments, which is possible. I do appreciate the way in which you asked the question. Ill also point out, that when I did answer the question, it was then stated (by someone else) “that’s not the question, the question is ‘where does that innate morality come from,'” and after I provided my answer, the question flip flopped again. You may not be satisfied with my answer, but you cannot say that I haven’t answered it. I am not satisfied with your answers to these questions, yet, I’ve heard your argument and don’t postulate that since your response doesn’t satisfy my world view, that you didn’t answer my question. Now, I’ll answer BOTH questions again, but I’m beginning to suspect that you’re trying to wear me out.

        To answer the question “why should I not do that which is considered immoral?” As I said:

        1. You should not do that which is considered immoral, because should you do wrong by someone else, you can expect there to be a negative consequence. It’s that simple. This answer, I know, is not satisfactory to you. Or is it? I’m beginning to get dizzy. I’ve gone on to say, that, if the only reason why anyone abstains from immoral decisions, is to avoid an eternal consequence, or to reap an eternal reward, than that person is quite pathetic, and has no concept of the requirements needed to function in society. It is not the case, I submit, that we do no going around butchering, raping and thieving from each other, because of our supposed awareness of a divine cognitive agent, who monitors our every move and waits to judge us for it. We have learned, as a culture, that in order to survive, we must treat others with respect. So then it’s asked:

        2. “You admit that you don’t know where it comes from – is that the same as recognising you can’t account for it?” “Do you think this innate compass is objective?”

        Two questions here.

        No, I do not think that this innate compass is objective. I could ask of you, do YOU think this innate moral compass is objective. If you answer yes, then I’ll ask you to prove your view. In fact, if you can show that there is anything else outside of human preferences, that something is right or wrong, please demonstrate. Right and wrong, is nothing more than the majority opinion of the human race. For example, it’s the majority consensus that human beings prefer NOT to be killed, so therefor we mostly agree that killing is immoral. Now, if there is in fact an objective morality, you should be able to show it’s source. But this cannot be done. Even when 100% of the people agree that something is right or wrong, we cannot show why, other than the fact that it is something that we do or do not wish would happen to us. It is OPINION. Person A says “X” is wrong, person B says “X” is right. Neither person has any proof to back up their opinion, except for their own prejudices. To say “God says so,” is God’s opinion, which by definition, is subjective and not objective. This has been my answer, multiple times. It means we’re all on the honor system. That’s not enough for many people, and I get it. If you lack trust in others, it can be scary. But as I said, should your beliefs have been absent from you, I believe you would choose to uphold the opinion of human solidarity, and not turn into a reckless monster.

        And finally “You admit that you don’t know where it comes from – is that the same as recognising you can’t account for it?” No, it’s not, and I just demonstrated that above. I know that these answers do not satisfy your world view, but they satisfy mine, and a great deal of other individuals as well. You CAN NOT say, now, that I HAVE NOT answered the questions. I haven’t answered in a way that you have approved, but it is my answer, and a good one.

        Now, I’d suspect that since my interrogation is over, I can ask a few questions of my own:

        1. Do you think that our innate compass is objective?

        2. Is it moral to believe, that scapegoating, or a vicarious human sacrifice can take away your sins?

  7. Deconverted :

    1. You should not do that which is considered immoral, because should you do wrong by someone else, you can expect there to be a negative consequence. It’s that simple.

    I’m not trying to wear you out, and I did read your comments. Perhaps my explanation of why I don’t think your answer actually answers the question was lacking. But as to your answer given ‘simply’ here, it still doesn’t actually answer the question. You see, I pointed to the is-ought problem, which is that you cannot can an ought (or a should) from an ‘is’. That means, that something might have negative effects or consequences does not necessarily mean one should not do it (and the opposite positive consequences does not necessitate that one should do something). In fact, in talking about ‘negative consequences’ one is still invoking an objective standard by which to judge the the consequences. By taling about ‘doing wrong’ you’ve already assumed right and wrong – which is the very thing I’m asking you to justify. This is exactly why Dostoevsky’s character recognises that without God (ie. no objective law giver) negative consequences are no reason to desist from doing something.
    So, while I realise you’ve given and answer, I maintain that it hasn’t even begun to traverse the is-ought problem.

    I’ve gone on to say, that, if the only reason why anyone abstains from immoral decisions, is to avoid an eternal consequence, or to reap an eternal reward, than that person is quite pathetic, and has no concept of the requirements needed to function in society.

    To suggest that this is the only reason why a theist abstains from immorality is quite a strawman, and indeed, contrary to the Christian gospel that says we cannot be saved by good works, and if we are saved by Christ we cannot lose that by sinning.

    It is not the case, I submit, that we do no going around butchering, raping and thieving from each other, because of our supposed awareness of a divine cognitive agent, who monitors our every move and waits to judge us for it. We have learned, as a culture, that in order to survive, we must treat others with respect.

    Again, that’s somewhat of a strawman. I submit that we do not generally do such things because we (generally) recognise the value of others (again, it’s pretty difficult to get that from naturalism).

    Right and wrong, is nothing more than the majority opinion of the human race.

    So then, a culture where the majority of people think, say (hypothetically I hope) that raping women is not immoral, then that would make it so for them, would it not? How could you say otherwise IF rape is not objectively and innately wrong?

    Now, if there is in fact an objective morality, you should be able to show it’s source. But this cannot be done.

    Well that would depend on what you mean by ‘show’!

    To say “God says so,” is God’s opinion, which by definition, is subjective and not objective.

    Not quite – God is not one of us, but transcendant which makes him and his ‘opinion’ objective.

    But as I said, should your beliefs have been absent from you, I believe you would choose to uphold the opinion of human solidarity, and not turn into a reckless monster.

    And I said, it’s not about holding belief in God – the argument is most definitely NOT that one needs belief in God to be good, and that without theistic belief we’d be reckless monsters. Please be clear on that.

    Now, I’d suspect that since my interrogation is over, I can ask a few questions of my own:
    1. Do you think that our innate compass is objective?

    Actually I realise I shouldn’t have said that the compass is objective – for what a compass does is reference an objective point! Indeed, a compass is useless with out. So in that sense, I would say that if we have an innate moral compass, then an objective moral ‘north’ exists.

    2. Is it moral to believe, that scapegoating, or a vicarious human sacrifice can take away your sins?

    Firstly, this is a red herring, and secondly, how can you even begin to hold God accountable if morality isn’t objective? The moment you hold another up as being less moral, you invoke and objective standard – so the argument about God being immoral actually requires objective morality to begin with! Just as saying ‘is that an accurate drawing of NYC only has any meaning if NYC exists objectively as the standard by which comparison is made. That we DO hold others accountable implies an objective standard, and so I maintain that God accounts for that better than naturalism.

    You CAN NOT say, now, that I HAVE NOT answered the questions.

    True – you have answered the questions, but, IMO, not sufficiently 😉

  8. Sorry to have been away from the discussion for so long. I am not receiving notifications of new postings to this thread, and have been again distracted.

    Listen, we’re divided on this, and we’ll debate our points until we’re both blue in the fingertips. I’ll comment on a few things though, and then I’ll remove myself from this discussion. I do thank you for the spirited debate.

    Regarding my question “Is it moral to believe, that scapegoating, or a vicarious human sacrifice can take away your sins?” you answered:

    “Firstly, this is a red herring, and secondly, how can you even begin to hold God accountable if morality isn’t objective? The moment you hold another up as being less moral, you invoke and objective standard – so the argument about God being immoral actually requires objective morality to begin with!”

    No, I disagree on many fronts. I have not invoked an objective standard, I have only asked your opinion, but you saw where I was going with it. Let’s say, hypothetically, there was an objective standard, and the Christian God was the author, which is what your position is. That would mean, that in addition to the 10 Commandments handed down at Sinai, the rest go on to explain how to treat your slaves (Leviticus 25:44-46,) when and where you should stone your disobedient children to death (Deuteronomy 21:18-21,) and other miscellaneous acts that would make any modern alive individuals innate compass spin wildly. Unless your one who says that such things in the Bible were not put there by God, and your only evidence being ones own conscience – placed there by God I’m sure, so therefor since these verses meet one with somewhat of a pang, the common answer is either that these items of the law were not handed down by God, or that “God is transcendent;” his ways are not our ways, etc.

    My innate compass tells to emancipate myself from such nonsense, and I hope that you do too.

    The fundamentals of Christianity are where my moral intuition churns and boils. The preachment is that God loves us so much that he gave his only son to be crucified for the sins of the world. If the narrative is true, and I don’t believe it is, he didn’t “give” a son; he lent one. He didn’t offer one, because no one had demanded it. There was no problem that had so far been identified in humanity that demands a human sacrifice. So then for what problem, or for what ill was the crucifixion a cure? Was and is there any evidence that it was needed, and has it in fact helped? No, there isn’t. Now, can I opt out? I’d like to not be implicated in this act of violence, under the pretense that it makes me uneasy. It doesn’t rest well with me, morally. If I was present 2000 years ago on that day, I would have been bound to do my best to stop the torture and execution of this preacher. I’d do the same today. I feel very uneasy about it, so I’ll opt out. But wait… If I opt out, I’ll be cast into eternal fire! This is all, according to (hypothetically speaking) the objective morality in me, unacceptable. I’ll reject it, and take my chances morally. I am not interested in torture, nor human sacrifice, or slavery, or stoning of little children or incantations. Don’t want it, and I can’t think of a single thing it would make better.

    So, regardless of whether or not morality is from God, or just another jump from our birthplace in primordial ooze, his actions offend me on an ethical level. If you want to believe morality is objective (I don’t think so,) then how could you say it was placed there by him? Is it the “his ways are not our ways” idea again? No, they certainly aren’t mine. There is NOTHING my son could do, to cause me to cast him into an abyss of eternal torture – least of all not loving me enough.

    These are my thoughts and views. Thanks for reading, and for allowing me to participate in the discussion. I will read any replies given, but have to respectfully decline in continuing the debate, for as I said, I believe I’ve answered all the questions multiple times, and now I must move back to the things which distracted me from this discussion to being with.

    • This description of Christianity that you present has so much in it that I just don’t recognise. But rather than get too distracted by the very shallow hermeneutic of the first few paragraphs, I’ll just comment on the “fundamentals of Christianity” paragraph.

      I disagree completely that “there is no problem identified in human society”. The fundamental tendency of all people towards corruption, selfishness and wickedness (or the doctrine of Original Sin, to use the Christian jargon) is, as Chesterton put it, “the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved”. The gulf between what we recognise ourselves to be and what we aspire to be is very easily identified and always has been.

      The point at which Christianity enters the picture is in offering both an explanation and a solution: we are corrupt because we have distanced ourselves from God and rejected the source of all goodness. The solution is to be reconciled with God. You are free to reject this reconciliation (and appear keen to do so), but that is the offer that is extended to you.

      You have the rest of your life to either accept it and be purified by God and reconciled to Him, or reject it and be separated from God eternally. It’s pretty simple, really.

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