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Is Fear Of God Evidence Of Morality?

Many of those who believe in god labor endlessly to refute those who do not…and in that effort lie the answers to the questions they often pose to atheists. The latest attempt comes from Michael Gerson of the Washington Post in an article in which he asks the question, “If the atheists are right, what would be the effect on human morality”?

If God were dethroned as the arbiter of moral truth, it would not, of course, mean that everyone joins the Crips or reports to the Playboy mansion. On evidence found in every culture, human beings can be good without God. And Hitchens is himself part of the proof. I know him to be intellectual ly courageous and unfailingly kind, when not ruthlessly flaying opponents for taking minor exception to his arguments. There is something innate about morality that is distinct from theological conviction. This instinct may result from evolutionary biology, early childhood socializatio n or the chemistry of the brain, but human nature is somehow constructed for sympathy and cooperative purpose.

But there is a problem. Human nature, in other circumstance s, is also clearly constructed for cruel exploitation  , uncontrollab le rage, icy selfishness and a range of other less desirable traits.

So the dilemma is this: How do we choose between good and bad instincts? Theism, for several millennia, has given one answer: We should cultivate the better angels of our nature because the God we love and respect requires it. While many of us fall tragically short, the ideal remains.

Atheism provides no answer to this dilemma. It cannot reply: “Obey your evolutionary instincts” because those instincts are conflicted. “Respect your brain chemistry” or “follow your mental wiring” don’t seem very compelling either. It would be perfectly rational for someone to respond: “To hell with my wiring and your socializatio n, I’m going to do whatever I please.” C.S. Lewis put the argument this way: “When all that says ‘it is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains.”

Gerson’s question, and more importantly his conclusion, offers evidence of several misconceptio ns. One, it seemingly ignores the evidence that those who do not believe in god have already demonstrated an ability to operate with decency and morality…his torical evidence he even acknowledges . Despite this admission and Gerson’s own statement that he knows atheists with ample morality (see his reference to Christopher Hitchens), he still proceeds to make his argument…vir tually ignoring his own acknowledgme nt that believers do not hold a monopoly on good behavior. A scan of the daily newspaper will provide further evidence of that fact. Therefore, one’s moral compass need not have its origin in the fear of a deity.

In believing that the absence of god removes a necessary deterrent of bad behavior, Gerson is apparently offering a tacit confession of innate immorality within those who do believe in god…and in doing so he invalidates their ability to act appropriatel y without the fear of consequences  (a deity with rules and standards is watching). By doing as much, he is in essence suggesting that believers are one debunked deity away from anarchy and immorality…n egating or marginalizin g the potential that they possess an authentic adherence to their professed religious doctrine.

In fact, Gerson’s assertion imparts the notion that the actions of the believer is simply a thin veneer intended to win the favor of a higher being…the same higher being that is supposed to be capable of knowing what lies within the hearts of all men. If Gerson is correct in his assertion, then those who believe under the construct he posits are destined to fail god’s judgment since doctrine clearly states that god will judge what lies within, not what has been worn as a false badge of piety. This means that acts to impress an all knowing deity or acts not committed to avoid the wrath of a deity betray the sincerity of the soul and will not be met with favor.

Gerson validates something I have long speculated existed in many of those who cling to religious doctrine as if it were a life boat in a sea of sin and temptation. If he believes a deity begets morality, then his own words expose insincerity and a lack of authenticity in those who believe. If fear is the only barrier between the believer and wanton immorality, then the believer mocks the deity he or she follows and insults the willful morality of those who act appropriatel y by choice and out of an apparent belief in the sanctity of their fellow human beings…regar dless of the existence of a deity and any presumed consequences .

In fact, the believer Gerson describes must have a disregard for his or her human counterparts that is only kept at bay through the fabrication of a deity that will inflict an unwanted punishment should he or she allow his or her actual immoral nature to escape.

If Gerson is correct in his hypothesis, he has in essence offered an unmitigated indictment of the collective heart of those who believe in a deity…he has exposed what many atheists have feared for many years…that the actions of many believers are nothing more than a fraudulent attempt to win the favor of their fellow humans and to deceive the deity they purport to follow…all the while possessing a fallen heart.

If god exists and there is a day of judgment, then I cannot fathom that he will select those who acted appropriatel y because they feared him over those who acted appropriatel y because they chose to voluntarily acknowledge and honor the inherent value of their fellow human beings. A chosen morality must trump a feigned morality.

Atheists and theists seem to agree that human beings have an innate desire for morality and purpose. For the theist, this is perfectly understandab le: We long for love, harmony and sympathy because we are intended by a Creator to find them. In a world without God, however, this desire for love and purpose is a cruel joke of nature — imprinted by evolution, but destined for disappointme nt, just as we are destined for oblivion, on a planet that will be consumed by fire before the sun grows dim and cold.

This form of “liberation” is like liberating a plant from the soil or a whale from the ocean. In this kind of freedom, something dies.

In the end, Gerson has provided and made the best argument for the adoption of atheism…and his own argument points out that atheism is not just a disbelief…it is, by its nature, an established belief system that honors the sanctity of humanity. Taking Gerson’s rationale a step further, one might presume that the abandonment of one’s deity places one in the camp of the atheist. That is a misconceptio n born of a belief that atheists believe in nothing. Being an atheist is, in fact, a choice that requires moral consideratio ns based upon the inherent value of our shared humanity.

If Gerson has properly described the heart of the believer, then if and when a believer abandons their deity, they would not automaticall y be welcomed and embraced by atheists…esp ecially if Gerson’s description of the heart of the believer is accurate. For the most part, atheists have a chosen moral compass and any believer that presumes atheism is a license for unbridled immorality and the abuse of his fellow man is living under a misconceptio n and is no doubt in for a surprise.

Gerson may be right that something dies if we abandon the notion of a deity. However, may I suggest that what may die might well be the propensity to treat our fellow humans with morality only because we fear the judgment of a deity? What might emerge is an authentic morality that maintains an appreciation for the one thing that is certain…our need to honor and sanctify our shared humanity…sin cerely and by choice; not because we’re afraid.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

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48 Responses to “Is Fear Of God Evidence Of Morality?”

  1. Being a righteous person has nothing to do with worshipping a mythological concept, it is what you do that counts. This is one of the factors that make it impossible to believe in any mystical entities. Combine that with my own belief that religion has brought mostly death and destruction and continues to do so, the Iraq war for example is in my opinion tantamount to the crusades.
    Western man has spread  his philosophy with the threat of violence for millennia and continues to do so. Whether by the threat of nuclear annihilation or philosophica l ideation which prevents the continuation of science. The Xians have more respect for a blastocyte than the poor and starving children in the here and now. They are more concerned with preventing medical science form advancing as in there attempt to disrupt stem cell research.
    I liked you r article and I see less comments than ever under this new format. I look forward to future corresponden ce. LVI have often pondered the exact ideas you have brought forth. If a god exists why would he judge you on your beliefs when actions count. If the Pope is right anyone with the exception of a RC is doomed to hell. His belief system is obviously flawed and his morality is in question. I would never wish doom upon even the staunchest Xian. that  would be contrary to my own morality.

  2. Well said indeed. I too have pondered on the premise that a world w/o religion (at least organized dogmatic religion) would be as moral or more so than the world we have today. After all, morality comes out not just through learned behavior, but also through empathy and compassion. No amount of bible thumping can instill that in a person, but the facade is pretty easy to conjure.

  3. Well, guys, according to my office, those who believe in God have, on average, better moral values than those, like me, who don’t. Any attempt to point out such examples as Fred Phleps (who has to be explained as I’m in the UK) or al Qaia or Israel or Iran or sectarian violence anywhere is always dismissed as "They aren’t proper Christians/M uslims/Hindu s/Jews/Flyin g Spaghetti Monsterists" . Any suggestions short of going completely nuts, as i’m gettng bored with the man who lies on his insurnace claims and plans to perjure himself to get out of a fine lecturing me on how great religious morality is?

  4. Oh, and Daniel, god article. I’ll try to make sure my colleagues read it, even if they’ll ignore the message.

  5. Daniel,

    I’d like to offer a more cynical view of this subject. Take what you want from it.

    It seems to me that people that have what they want, a nice home, clothes on their backs and food in their stomach are not likely to go about on a crime spree. There are exceptions of course, but most people who are well off are not likely to risk the “good life” unless the risk is “worthwhil e.” But, people who have what they want fear the masses that don’t have these material goods. Religion is one additional threat that the wealthy can use against the ignorant masses to defend their wealth. After all, why else would the poor resist the temptation to rob pillage and plunder en mass. What do they have to loose with the threat of prison? The wrath of God is used to prevent wide scale rebellion. Instead the crime that we do have is kept to a minimum. The threat of a deity’s wrath, of course, doesn’t really effect the wealthy who have no morals as far as they are personally concerned.

    So, it shouldn’t surprise us that the wealthy and the religious both move to the conservative right. Threat of God’s wrath protects both groups.

  6. I’ve never been one for arguments for the existence of God. If I put stock in them they would probably cause me to have less belief, not more, and some of them come off as pure desperation. I find that the more frantic someone is to convince me to believe in something the less convinced I am that they firmly believe it themselves.W ouldn’t you think God would be more impressed that we did the right thing because it was right, and not out of fear? 

  7. Actually Daniel, as an outed-atheis t, I have to disagree with Gerson. An atheist is not a human secularist, or have soem deep abiding belief in humanity etc. Most atheist do, but being an athiest is a statement about your disbelief in supernatural beings running the world on high. It implies nothing about the moral code of the non-believer one way or the other. There have been horrible examples of immoral atheists, just like there are millions of examples of immoral theists. 

    Luc kily, most people who reach the conclusion that God makes no sense and is not necessary for either Life, the Universe or Anything, also reach the conclusion that human life is precious and that reason will lift us out of the abyss of violence, hatred and stupidity that has been inflicted upon the worlds masses.

    I know it’s a nitpicky. Of course Atheist believe in something, but what that something is is up to the individual to ascertain.

  8. On what basis do atheists decide that behavior A is right/good and behavior B is wrong/bad and then reward those who do A and sanction those who do B?

  9. Admin,

    You are correct that being an Atheist doesn’t define a moral code…it is, as you state, about a disbelief. H owever, to the extent that there is no evidence that atheists have a lesser moral code than believers, then they must have a moral code at least equivalent to the moral code of those who believe in a deity (in other words a moral code is not stated but it seems to be implied based upon some measure of their collective behavior and its comparison to the collective behavior of those who define with a rigid set of deity derived morals)…and if it is relatively equivalent…a nd it is adhered to by choice rather than out of fear, it still remains, in my opinion, a more valid morality.

    I should have clarified how I infer that atheists mus t have adopted a moral code. Unless I’m unaware of any specific evidence suggesting that atheists, as a group, have a lesser moral code and therefore perpetrate more immorality, I believe one can reasonably conclude that their moral code exists and is at least as legitimate as the codes adopted based upon a fear of a deity.

    In fact, I would argue that atheists would be well served to make this very argument…not because they need to be morally superior to theists; but to dispel the belief held by many that they are morally inferior to theists. Explaining the morality that can be reasonably attributed to the group (atheists) is a legitimate e xercise in defining the moral code that must exist. Since self-reporti ng a moral code is not evidence of a moral code or of compliance, atheists would benefit from pointing to real and relative behaviors and then drawing the important comparisons and distinctions .

    Thanks for providing that important clarificatio n. The fact that Gerson provided the definition certainly didn’t make it accurate and I should have better developed the argument outlined in this comment.



  10. Craig,

    If the argument I have made in the prior comment has validity, the answer to your question would be the innate morality that must exist in humanity given the relatively similar behaviors of theists and atheists.

    In that regard, I contend that morality is a function of an understandin g that we have a shared humanity which instructs us how we ought to treat each other. We know innatel y what would constitute mistreatment because we have the experience of the treatment we receive from other humans that we can identify as immoral or inappropriat e. In other words, for the most part, that which we know hurts us, we can concl ude will also hurt others. All that remains outstanding is one’s choice.



  11. Craig,

    Some people have been know to make laws to maintain social order. Hamarabi, for example, created laws and punishment that would help people decide what to do. They behaved out of fear of punishment. Similarly children obey their parents out of fear of punishment. Religion has just taken this one step further in dicatating laws and claiming that the punishment would be given in the afterlife. The laws are to maintain social order, not to please a mythical creature.

    The punishment is to create fear and get a majority of the people to behave. 

  12. Thank you for that lecture, Doctor. Now answer my question.

  13. Sorry. Perhaps I see what you are getting at: atheists decide that action A is right and B wrong based upon the judgment that rewarding action A will maintain public order and sanctioning action B will likewise maintain public order. Is that your point?

  14. First of all, I didn’t ask about passing laws, I asked about the basis for making moral judgments about actions as to whether they are good or bad. If the answer is simply because that leads to social order, on what basis do we critique Joseph Stalin? Or Saddam Hussein?

  15. Craig, Speaking personally, I go with the Golden Rule. If I wouldn’t want it done to me, it’s not the right thing to do. That is the basis of most of the rules of most religions, as far as I can see.

  16. Craig,  

    Actually Maintaining social order is one reason that an athiest may decide to do something that is not in his personal interest. However, just obeying public laws is another. Another is just to fit in with the public. Religion may be one influence on a certain section of society, but many people decide to be "ethically or morally good" because they want society to function and they don’t feel a need to go out and disrupt society.

    After all, who breaks the laws, religious or moral? Why do they do it?

  17. The Golden Rule, to me, is logical. It just makes sense to model good behavior, or behavior that you find desirable.

  18. Craig says:

    "First of all, I didn’t ask about passing laws, I asked about the basis
    for making moral judgments about actions as to whether they are good or

    Well, once again you don’t NEED religion to do this. Aesop had many stories that told us about the consequences of our actions. Looking to the future consequences of our actions may be a major reason and athiest might decide to make a moral choice.

    There are many different reasons when you don’t limit yourself to religion. Why limit yourself?



  19. Paul W., You’re right that the Golden Rule has antecedents in religion. It is, for example, a restatement of Jesus’ dictum: "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 7:12). The difference is that, whereas a Christian might follow the Golden Rule because Jesus said it, you follow it because it seems right to you. Fair enough. But, then, on what basis do you critique the morals of one whose moral compass is more along the lines of "A benefits me while B does not" where A = fraudulently ripping off people who don’t know how to tell whether the fragulent adjustment bar of their new car needs replacement or not (or, indeed, that there is no such thing as a fragulent adjustment bar on a car) or whether their roof needs work or not and B = being scrupulously honest with the customer? I mean, on what basis do you say that YOUR basis for moral judgment is superior to the other?

  20. This is another great discussion! I just love that we are all able to discuss this calmly rationally.T hanks all!

  21. Daniel, Innate morality? But quite obviously, not everyone seems to have the same innate morality, or to care one way or another whether action A hurts someone else, as long as it doesn’t hurt them. So is it just that the majority of people, theists and atheists alike, agree to do A and not B because they know from experience that having done otherwise to them would hurt that makes your answer superior to the other?

  22. Dr. Forbush, Okay, taking your more extended discussion into consideratio n. Thinking about it. I may get back to your alternate bases. But let’s go back to passing laws, rather than passing judgment on the morality of A over B. As long as maintaining social order is at least one basis for passing laws, on what basis an atheist might critique either Joseph Stalin or Saddam Hussein, both masters at maintaining social order. Or don’t they?

  23. Dr. Forbush said:There are many different reasons when you don’t limit yourself to religion. Why limit yourself? Well, of course, if one does believe in God, that that God has and has revealed what is right and wrong in his (that is, in God’s) eyes, and that he’ll be conducting a judgment of his own at some point in the future, upon which he’ll be dispensing punishment or reward, that’s a pretty good reason for limiting oneself to what one believes that God has revealed about the subject of morality over, say, those who have significant disagreement s with God’s revelation in the area of morals.

  24. Craig,

    Joe, Adolph, Saddam, Edi and other such leaders share the ideal of maintaining social order. However, the flaw in their ruling is that the system was created to work for the leader, and not the people. So, an athiest might simply amend the reasoning to include the social order for the people and not one person or group in particular.

  25. And Craig, 

    If God has revealed himself, which religion is the one in which he has revealed the truth? Obviously this isn’t a valid question because each member of a religion will answer that his personal religion is the only true religion with the only true answers. The Catholic Bishop of Rome, The Pope just declared this this week. He told us that all other Christian Religions are invalid. Does that include yours?


  26. Dr. Forbush,Fair enough, but Joe, et al. would argue that society as a whole benefited from their policies, even those who were sent to the Gulags. I guess, I’m not sure of what your distinction would be between working for the leader and working for society. Surely their are societal benefits to, to take an example, the Pax Romana: fresh water, sanitation, law and order, etc., etc., etc., as was humorously pointed out in a famous Monty Python’s Flying Circus. What would be your amendment to the ideal of, say, Joseph Stalin, in order to include social order for the people?

  27. Well, yes, Dr., the answer to the question, "Which religion?", of course, is MY religion.  :^)  But seriously, you are getting at why I personally agree with Isaac Kramnick & R. Laurence Moore, the authors of The Godless Constitution  : A Moral Defense of the Secular State, (Norton; New York) 2005 [yes, that’s a plug; run out and buy it now!]. In a pluralistic society (and what society isn’t pluralistic to one degree or another?), ruling on the basis of one revealed religion simply cannot be done in a way that doesn’t denigrate members of another (or no) religion. As I am a Lutheran, yes, I believe that the Pope’s judgment would include mine. But then, we Lutherans threw off the papal yoke ages ago. What care I whether he thinks mine is a church, properly speaking or merely an ecclesial community? The thing is, although I’ve never gone in for Deconstructi onism in literary criticism, the text that the Pope approved contains seeds of its own deconstructi on. The word ‘ecclesial’ is nothing more than an adjectival form derived from the Greek word ‘ekklesia’ which you may recognize as the word for…drum roll please…’Chur ch’ in the New Testament. So, I should take offense that the Pope, whose authority I’ve never recognized, calls mine an ‘ecclesial [for which, read ‘Church’] community’? Nah! I just laugh at such verbal nonsense.

  28. Paul Watson, you say, "Speaking personally, I go with the Golden Rule. If I wouldn’t want it done to me, it’s not the right thing to do." What, then, of abortion. After all, had it been done to you, you would not exist. Does that mean simply that you, for that reason, would not favor your wife/daughte r/friend obtaining an abortion or, since you seem to extend the rule by saying "it’s not the right thing to do", do you also extend that societally by saying that abortion is wrong as a moral issue. Now understand that it is possible to think, on the basis of the Golden Rule, that abortion is wrong and, yet, to think that there might be other reasons for not opposing policy that makes abortion legal in at least some or even all instances, so I’m really just inquiring as to whether you view abortion as a moral wrong, not whether you favor any particular public policy regarding abortion. 

  29. Many would argue that there is no "u" or you in abortion, thus making the question mute.

  30. Mike, It seems to me that, whatever status one assigns to fetuses, whether one is, in any sense, a person yet or not at the time, one, nevertheless  , at some point becomes a person. I don’t think that simply thinking that a fetus is not a person moots the question of whether one, asking himself as an adult who hadn’t been aborted, would like to have had someone perform an abortion on him and, thus, preventing one from ever having come into being. Granted that, had I been aborted, the question would be moot regarding my moral judgment of abortion but, as one who was not aborted, I can certainly ask whether I think my having come into being, becoming me, was a good thing or a bad thing and, based upon the Golden Rule, judging abortion to be morally suspect. In other words, it seems to me that saying that a fetus is not yet a ‘you’ therefore the question is moot is simply a device to avoid asking or answering the question. One doesn’t have to answer the question, of course, but that’s no fun. What’s the point of having the faculty of making moral decisions if one simply avoids making them by calling them moot?

  31. Craig,

    I don’t think my answer is superior. I do think choosing to act morally without fear of a higher being is relatively better than choosing to not act immorally out of fear of being punished (if one’s goal is to measure such). Notwithstand ing, relative outcomes may lead one to conclude that the reasons for moral behavior are irrelevant. Perhaps one is a choice based upon a negative consequence  (an intervening avoidance motivation) and one is an act of altruism (an intervening selected motivation)… both of which can be considered self-serving .

    May I suggest that part of the problem is that too many of us want our answers to be everyone else’s answers? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that if someone thinks stealing and murder works for them, then it ought to be alright. Conversely, I think we may have gone too far towards the other extreme in trying to identify every single good and every bad (universally  ) and unfortunatel y there are so many versions of theology, it becomes a battle of righteous certainty.

    My dad’s mom used to pose a question to her children and the question was, “Why do you think all these people build little houses and live apart from their brothers and sisters?”…an d then she provided the answer by saying that “people are different and we can’t all live together so we find those we can live with and we make a life”. Her husband…my grandfather… then went on to say, “If you go over to the neighbors and they’re all sitting around eating horse crap…but they’re all smiling and happy…leave them alone. We may not like eating horse crap but if it makes them happy, so be it.”

    In other words, there isn’t a universal approach that can be applied. Finding some point of moral stasis or stability may be the best we can achieve. Now if the neighbor invaded my home and insisted we also eat horse crap…even if we didn’t like it, then that may well be deemed to be morally wrong. In other words, instead of looking for moral certainty, we may need to look at the relative impact of our own chosen actions upon the ability of others to enact their choices and visa versa. If a family likes horse crap and they all consent to it, perhaps we need to allow them their choice.

    On the other hand, if they grab the mailman and invite him to dine with them and he objects to the horse crap but they force him to eat it anyway, then one could see fit to evaluate the immorality of that situation. In essence, they have wrongly imposed their will on another and that has prevented him from exercising his equivalent right to choice.

    In the end, I think it has to come down to choices. If one person can choose to do the right thing, then all people must have that same ability. If we begin with that assumption, we establish a standard capability and then we set out to measure proximity to the standard. As such, each individual has the capacity to make good choices mindful of impact as well as the potential to choose an action that disregards impact. Society then monitors proximity and intent rather than an absolute list of rules.

    I also think that social order has rewards and that tends to lead people to better choices. A successful society likely leads to a successful individual. On the other hand, we can all cite examples of bad people that have elected to harm others…but by and large…soci ety has chosen to correct those wrongs and put an end to such actions that deviate too far from the collective standard.

    Granted that process has taken time and lots of good people were aggrieved or even killed in the interim…but no doubt some sense of innate morality has always led to a correction…a nd it frequently includes former enemies joining together to right a wrong…sugges ting that despite some naturally expected differences, we still possess some level of a shared and innate morality.

    Is it possible that people have an ability to recognize an immoral heart…one that routinely disregards the welfare of his or her fellow humans…and at some point those with good hearts rise up to extinguish the negative actions of the immoral heart? History seems to support that notion and I don’t think it can be proven to have always correlated with a deity driven motivation.

    I guess in the end, what I am defining is an indeterminat e characterist ic that can only be proven to exist through a review of empirical evidence…a s opposed to identifying a fundamental causality that can be used to predict a behavior.

    If we humans generally succeed in deciding which behavior A is right/good and which behavior B is wrong/bad and then reward those who do A and sanction those who do B, then by deduction, it should be safe to conclude that a causality must exist…even if we cannot definitively identify it (which may suggest an innate trait). At the same time, if a comparative analysis of theist and atheist behavior proves that the differences in moral behavior are statisticall y insignifican t, something besides a fear of god must be at play. That may be the nearest we can get to an absolute answer…whi ch would again reinforce the danger of employing absolute principles.

    From a philosophica l perspective, one might conclude that all choices are motivated by self-interes t. That would mean that the underlying motivations and perceived rewards for a theist and an atheist must be different. Determining which one is morally superior would be a separate endeavor. One could pursue a means to measure same…or one might also conclude that if the end result is an equivalent demonstratio n of moral behavior, the reasons and their relative moral quotients are inconsequent ial…which may bring us back to concluding that a point of moral stasis and stability is the best we can achieve and is, therefore, an acceptable goal.

  32. Daniel, Quite a thought provoking comment and I thank you.

  33. Craig,As you asked, abortion is not a moral good, I don’t think any of the proponents of it’s legality believe it’s a good thing and would rather there was never another one performed. However, that does not mean it should be illegal. I also said the Golden Rule was the starting point. Real life tends to get far more complicated than any simple set of rules can account for. For example, the 6th commandment is fairly clear and explicit, but most people would say that if you broke it in self-defence that was acceptable. Would that be a moral good? In absolute terms, no,  but we don’t live an an absolute world. There are very few truly black and white issues.And your initial question is a little unfair, don’t you think? After all, how do you decide which sections of the Bible to follow? I doubt you support Exodus’ commandment to sell your daughter into slavery if she is disrespectfu l, nor the injunction to put to death by stoning all adulterers. So how did you choose which parts were morally right and which weren’t? I imagine it would be in very much the same way that atheists make their moral judgements. 

  34. Dammit! Daniel, how did you get those paragraphs into your replies?

  35. Two things, Daniel.
    1:  You said, "In the end, Gerson has provided and made the best argument for the adoption of atheism…an d his own argument points out that atheism is not just a disbelief… it is, by its nature, an established belief system that honors the sanctity of humanity."  No.  Atheism IS simply a disblief in Theism.  It is NOT a belief system in any way whatsoever.  It is a DISBELIEF in something that IS outrageously unlikely.
    2:  You neglected to point out the alternative to moral behavior - ETHICAL BEHAVIOR.  Ethics are scientif ic, rational, objective, evolutionary  rules of behavior.  Morality is simply dogmatism.
    The Golden Rule eminated from Eastern Mysticism, not Middle Eastern religion.

  36. Hi Jersey,

    Did you read the comment thread? You make a point similar to Admin which I concede in a follow up comment. I develop the argument that atheists must have a belief system. Nonetheless, you are correct that Atheism, by definition is disbelief.

    I addressed the issue in the context in which Gerson presented it…as a question of morality. I’m in agreement with you that ethical behavior is a relevant consideratio n. I also think there is often an overlap between the two though I understand the distinctions one can make and that they can also be in conflict.



  37. Paul,

    If you type it in Word or Notepad and save it as a plain text file…then you can copy and paste it to the comment box and it will have the paragraph format. I hope that makes sense.


  38. Paul Watson, you asked:

    And your initial question is a little unfair, don’t you think?

    Are you asking whether I think it a little unfair to ask:

    On what basis do atheists decide that behavior A is right/good and behavior B is wrong/bad and then reward those who do A and sanction those who do B?

    As a mere request for information, no I don’t think it unfair; no more unfair than any question. There was no contempt in the question, nor, I hope, conceit but, rather, a thirst for knowledge. I think it as fair as your question:

    Aft er all, how do you decide which sections of the Bible to follow? I doubt you support Exodus’ commandment to sell your daughter into slavery if she is disrespectfu l, nor the injunction to put to death by stoning all adulterers. So how did you choose which parts were morally right and which weren’t? I imagine it would be in very much the same way that atheists make their moral judgements.

    I t is, I suppose, a combination of my own meditation upon the teachings and practices of Jesus who both claimed to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (the Old Testament) and, at significant places, to amend it (or, at least, to amend that conception of the Old Testament religion which his contemporari es had of it), as well as of the writings which purport to be by those closest to Jesus, written after his departure from earthly life and tradition (which, as a conservative at least somewhat in the lines of Burke, I tend to trust), that is, the writings of theologians past. For example, you ask about selling one’s disrespectfu l daughter into slavery. What parent hasn’t (jokingly one hopes) said to another adult when their child is acting up, “You want him?” but, no, I would look to Jesus with a child on his knee saying “Allow the little children to come to me and do not hinder them” and say that selling my child into slavery seems unlikely to lead to my child’s coming to Jesus. I would, reading Philemon, take Paul’s words to be encouraging a slave owner to free his slave and decide that slavery is not within the Christian ideal. I might look to the Golden Rule as Jesus enunciated it and say, slavery does not seem like something I would like to be sold into and so… So the process is different in that my choices are more deferential to tradition, though not totally devoid of thought. I guess the difference is that I trust purported revelation and tradition than an atheist is and am more skeptical of reason.

  39. Craig,I apologise if you were offended by my supposedly humourous comment on your question.Tha nks for the thoughtful answer.

  40. No offense taken. You’re welcome. Thanks for your responses. Here’s to mutual understandin g!

  41. I hear ya’ Daniel.  How ever, the overlap of morality and ethics is purely superficial.   It’s like saying that Hitler and Moe of the Three Stooges "overlap" in that they look a little alike.  I do understand what you’re saying, and my point may seem pedanti c, but I truly think it’s time we finally separate morality and ethics for once and for all.  It is important.  I say this for several important reasons.
    Firstly, many aspects of morality are entirely unethical, irrational, and inhumane.  Secondly, the foundation of morality, as is pointed out here, IS in fact the fear of God, or at best the devotion of God.  And if devotion and fear aren’t poor enough reasons to base an epistemology  , morality is also founded in the worship of a devine being, something that any self-respect ing devine being should find abhorant.

  42. Jersey, How do (or would) you distinguish ‘ethics’ from ‘morals’  , ‘ethical/u nethical’ from ‘moral/imm oral’, ‘ethicalit y’ from ‘morality ?

  43. I have no idea where the extra question marks came from. I didn’t add them.

  44. The reason I ask is because you seem to distinguish between what is covered by ‘morality’ as being based upon some form of religious belief while ‘ethics’ is strictly philosophica l. I have a slightly different approach. The term ‘ethics’, I normally reserve for discussion of the branch of philosophy, especially as it relates to behavior regulated within the professions as in, "A doctor who dates his patient acts unethically. " ‘Morality’ I normally reserve for other contexts, usually relating to individual behaviors, as in, "Stealing is not only a crime, it is immoral." I would use a form of immoral whether the discussion had any religious overtones or not. After all, one doesn’t have to be in any way religious to think that stealing is wrong and, therefore, an atheist could say that stealing is immoral based, to take an example from above, on the Golden Rule. Of course, a discussion of whether stealing is immoral would then be within the branch of philosophy known as ethics.

  45. I seem to find each of them synonyms of each other in the dictionaries I’ve checked. I think thanks to the Moral Majority and other such organization s, the word "moral" has become more associated with religious groups.

  46. Craig, that is why I said to Daniel that is is now time that we further define these terms.
    You brough up professional ethics.  Here’s a great difference.  Notice that there is no such a thing as "professiona l morals."  Why?  Because morals are subjective, arbitrary standards of conduct that vary from person to person, culture to culture, place to place.  Ethics remain the same regardless of person, culture or place.  It may well be moral for a pharmacist, by some people’s standards, to deny the MAP, but professional ly it would be unethical.  It is unethical to place one’s personal, subjective beliefs above the needs of others. 
    People who say that "cultural relativity" is a sin of the ethical humanists, yet it IS moral to kill for family honor in many cultures, yet it is never ethical by by any reasonable standard.
    You brought up stealing.  S tealing can certainly be ethical in certain circumstance s, but in most religious cultures it is dogmatically immoral.  Exactly.
    There’s a huge difference, my friends, that semantics have yet to catch up with.

  47. If the "fear of God" motivated morality (and the lack thereof motivated immorality), then there’d be a disproportio nate number of atheists in prison relative to their percentage representati on in the general population. But, that is not the case nor has it ever been — meaning that theists are equally moral (or immoral) as atheists. The religionists who claim otherwise are arrogant, self-righteo us SOBs who impugn the integrity of non-believer s without foundation.

  48. Those who are under the delusion that God (and her ways) are unchanging just don’t know the history of morality. Yes. That’s right. Morality has a history because it has evolved like most else. It’s part of culture. Sure, there might be some common strands that stretch back far in time.
    But, the idea that people - including theists - are not influenced by culture and morality is pure ignorance. You don’t need to look back all that far to find examples of deeply religious people upholding the institution of slavery in the name of God. Or crying out against pain relief for mothers in labor (to cite just two examples).
    Yet, you’d be hard pressed to find a religionist today who held to those older views. Why? Because God changed? Or because the morality within the dynamics of a culture made it wrong and shameful? It is no accident that people’s interpretati ons of scripture evolve along with a culture’s own moral flow.
    I’ve been an adult long enough to witness a new generation mature into adulthood, and there is already a dramatic effect on opinions regarding homosexualit y and the civil rights of people who have a sexuality different from the majority. Sure, they might still say it is "wrong," but it is said with less zeal and less malice. And there is certainly a level of respect and tolerance that wasn’t there before.
    Just one example are my siblings who have a picture of their gay inlaw and his partner with the rest of the family photos. Opposed previously on principle. And now okay. And that is how it goes. ALways has. Always will. Yet people will still claim that their morality is "above it all" and never swayed by opinion or culture.

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