Why Atheism is not more moral than religion

Why Atheism is not more moral than religion


Ok guys, I admit, I was having fun with atheists in my last “The Atheist Morality: A Parasitical Existence”

https://johnadavid.wordpress.com/2011/04/19/the-atheist-morality-a-parasitical-existence

I got some very interesting feedback from it. I would also like to apologize as it offended some people that I took a funny shot at the atheists, accusing them partially (some of it was serious and true enough) and misrepresenting their position (actually not all positions I listed were my own or derived, most of them are held by eminent modern atheists).

One particular response I got was from Mr. Joseph Nevard, while you can read his comment on my previous post, he invited me to visit his blog. I do not know Mr. Nevard otherwise and it would be wrong of me to make assumptions but I think he believes in atheism (I could be wrong but that would not affect the following) and read his post he had directed me towards. 

For you, reader, let me put down the argument. Mr. Nevard’s argument is that – atheism is more moral than religion. He tries to prove that in his post in which he points out that major religions namely Christianity, Judaism and Islam failed to condemn slavery in their times and as a matter of fact the tradition lately ended in the past century namely in America’s and Europe.

This post is a direct response to his argument presented in his blogpost “Why Atheism is more moral than religion

Now Mr. Nevard asserts that I could get some help with reading Kant, Plato and other likewise philosophers who have had a say on “Morality” before I touch the subject. I must confess I am not more than a average reader but I am familiar with Kant and did my best to read about what Plato has to say about it…and no, I didn’t use Wikipedia.

First let me clarify some points for you dear reader

Kant’s philosophy of morality suggests that all morals shoot out of analysis and reason, these self governing traits decide and categorize morality in a person. There is much more to Kant’s philosophy, Im just giving a summarized version.

Plato’s philosophy of morality says – the act to do what is wise/pious in principal – dictates morality.

Now to start let me say that Mr. Nevard assumed that I think religion is the sole ship of morals or they introduced it. No it is not, I do not think so.

Second, if we go by both Kant and Plato then we can safely assume that morality is based somewhat in the human rationality. And that is true as an atheist is likely to teach his child not to wrong others as well as a religious person would. But that is not our argument here, the argument is – is atheism more moral than religion?

To quote Mr. Nevard

Theism (as classically defined) implies the existence of objective truth and it would seem that this must include objective moral standards. For religion to take the moral high ground it must have access to these standards. (There are other philosophical issues with the notion of taking our moral standards from a god or gods which are pointed out by Socrates in Plato’s Euthyphro.) If the morality taught by a religion can only at best keep pace with the moral standards of the culture at large then it seems clear that the claim to a higher moral knowledge is false. To put it more logically: if there exists objective morality then slavery is either immoral or moral and this will be true in all times and places. If slavery is immoral then religion cannot claim access to divinely inspired knowledge of the moral law. The alternative would seem to be that if religion is true then slavery can be justified. Who has the moral high ground now?

What Mr. Nevard means is, the stance that religion(he cites Christianity) either condones slavery or condemns it, should be universal, standing the test of time. Failure to do so results in a religion that opts to the social acceptance and thus cannot be called divine.

He also says that

It is clear that the establishment of a consensus about the immorality of slavery since the eighteenth century has coincided with the rise of secularism. While many of the nineteenth-century abolitionists were religious believers the moral basis for the condemnation of slavery comes from the Enlightenment and the Rights of Man, a predominantly Deist philosophy. Christianity had for centuries, however, condoned slavery and it was not until 1965 that the Catholic Church unequivocally condemned it, over a century after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Pro-slavery advocates used Biblical arguments to justify holding slaves…Where is religion’s guiding moral hand?

I actually agree with him on the above as that is a fact but the question is, can this fact be used as evidence to conclude that atheism is more moral.

Even if we say that religion has nothing to do with morality (which is certainly not the case as millions practice morality with religious fervor and inspiration) and all morality will shootout of human mind, religion or no religion, it would not have any effect on moral behavior. Given the statement, can we say that atheism would be on higher moral grounds?

There are two problems in this case, first it presumes that Christianity condoned slavery on religious basis. It is certainly not the case, what Christian aristocrats actually did was to gain religious favor in order to support the slave trade which was highly profitable. To them it was an economic problem which meant a stop on free wealth, gained by capturing, kidnapping and selling slaves. They used religion because it was the voice of a dogma following world.

A hard headed atheist would argue that my explanation implicitly implies that religion is one of the root causes if not the sole cause of the entire problem. But let me illustrate. Today we have human trafficking and child labor, problems that are still to be eradicated from civilized world as these practices are immoral. While human trafficking has no excuse whatsoever, child labor does have. In third world countries where more than 65-70% of the entire population live below the line of poverty, child labor is actually supported by individual parents. As a matter of fact it is encouraged, that kind of thinking has probably added some share to the over populous nations of China and India (which amount to almost half of Earth’s entire population), where child labor is normal and not taken as immoral at all. The more hands to earn the more you can eat and survive. Now is that an excuse for child labor, not to you and me, but it certainly is vital for their survival.

So from my above statement if I conclude that millions of people are immoral, simply because of the fact that they cannot afford a better living. Would it be wise of me to conclude so? And note, unlike India, China is Atheist.

So, where is the higher atheist morality that Mr. Nevard claims is more moral than religion. In china’s and India’s case of child labor, is it justified or compromised upon, because it is a necessary evil? Please, my intent is not to confuse statements, I am not saying or advocating child labor, nor I am justifying it, I am stating an observed fact. I am simply asking this because if I follow the same procedure through which he concluded his result, I would have to say that China and almost half of the world’s population is immoral and atheism fails to uphold the banner of morality by a long run as did religion in its time.

Nations are mostly driven through financial and political means and religion or other social methods of gathering people are used as tools to support those means. And the above argument actually makes clear the fallacy in it. Morality in itself is not universal in accord. It changes with people, geography, social, economical, financial and political changes. Where killing a non German in second world war Germany becomes a good thing to do.

To assume that certain followers of a religion condoned a practice that we call immoral today must mean that the moral laws their books claim can not be held true –  is equally problematic to the child labor issue where the social and economic problem forces immoral behavior, without the need of religion.

Secondly, the problem with Mr. Nevard argument becomes more clearer when he mixes social behavior with idealogical behavior. A state being called Christian is no more Christian than a Christian who robs or kills: as a state like cambodia where Saloth Sar, leader of the Cambodian communist movement known as the Khmer Rouge, cleansed the country, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 1.5–2.5 million people. In short, actions of individuals cannot be held as a cornerstone evidence to nullify a claim.

So we can say that atheism has no more to do with morality than religion. If all morality comes out of logic and reason then one can say that the chances of being moral or immoral in religion as well as atheism would be equal and would be affected by social, economic or political factors.

So, why does atheism is being called the higher moral system? As I concluded in my earlier posts, atheism lacks a standard set of belief, it neither claims morals nor invents any. Since it doesn’t have its own, it sticks to a more humanitarian approach. But does that mean, all atheists have analyzed with logic and reason and making use of the scientific method or philosophical method of creating an argument to reach these morals?No, they have picked up what is acceptable to the majority and they adhere to it, for example as the radical movement today is that – abortion is okay, at least a growing number of people support this view. And today’s atheists support it as well. Now let us say 200 years from now if the entire world decides that abortion is immoral. Would the atheist today be held responsible for the accepted change of society’s standard of moral and immoral? One could say here that individual decision would dictate morality but for the sake of Mr. Nevard’s argument I am restricted to social behavior and how it implies the results.

In the end he says,

It follows then that whatever consolation the religious believer takes from their faith, they cannot but be less moral than the non-believer who must not only make her or his own moral decisions but also take responsibility for them. To follow a Socratic line one would say that only the philosopher can be virtuous as only the philosopher seeks truth. As this quest for truth is based on the questioning of all conventional wisdom or received opinions it follows that the religious believer cannot be a true philosopher and cannot therefore be properly virtuous.

N.B. I’m well aware that atheism will not guarantee moral behaviour and examples of immoral atheists have no bearing on the argument.

I could not understand why would he write the title argument as “Why atheism is more moral than religion” and end it with “I’m well aware that atheism will not guarantee moral behaviour and examples of immoral atheists have no bearing on the argument.”

This only made me smile, Mr. Nevard used examples of immoral theists to support his argument but when it comes to immoral atheists, they have no bearing on his case. What can I say, it just shows how weak the argument really is.

Mr. Nevard, if you are aware that atheism is not a guarantee of moral behavior than how can you possibly say that it is more moral than religion? Please, do not contradict your own statements.

Honestly I think that Mr. Nevard’s conclusion rests in the idea that all free thinkers are atheists or all philosophers are non-religious and therefore if Atheism is faced with a situation that demands an act of decision upon morality, it will choose to follow logic and reason, science and philosophy. It is a charming notion and a peaceful one as well, in that I admire it because its intention is rational and good. The process however is faulty, as Kant explains, rationale and reason would be dictated by self interest at some point as well as happiness, self-preservation and duty. In doing so one can claim to do a lot of things, even immoral.

Also by his last statement Mr. Nevard is asserting that a believer cannot be a philosopher and therefore cannot be virtuous which would also imply that no philosopher can be a religious believer. In doing so he is drawing a clear line. And following this approach, one can say that every religious person ever, should not be added to the philosophers list ever because that person will not be a true philosopher at all. This makes the logical outcome number of true philosophers very very small indeed since none can belong to a religion. I wonder where did he get that idea? it is quite apparent that he has driven his argument on faulty logic, in which he contradicts himself.

So to sum it up, my observation is that his argument fails to establish atheism as more moral than religion. At best it only satisfies the condition that in religion’s name people have done a lot of atrocities but I assure you the same can be held against socialism, atheism and science, we all have our share of blunders. To conclude, more logic and reason is called for – to present atheism as a higher moral order than religion.

Take care


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7 thoughts on “Why Atheism is not more moral than religion

  1. You continue to misunderstand me. Slavery was not just the practice of errant believers but something condoned by ‘God’s word’, e.g. the Bible or the teaching of the Catholic church, etc. I’m not interested in the actions of individuals but in ideologies. Religious ideologies are less moral than some of those based on atheism. I repeat that atheism is not an ideology or a belief.

    Do you think that God thinks it’s okay to employ children in dangerous working conditions as long as they come from poor families? That’s precisely the lack of morality that I would object to. I would say that that is categorically wrong. This is different from saying that it’s not understandable. Incidentally the immorality is not on the part of the children or their parents necessarily, but the employers.

    I thought it was quite clear that my thoughts about true philosophers were following Socrates. Following him we can increase the number of philosophers by including all who seek truth.

    I’m trying to avoid references to Pol Pot or the Crusades because all this tells us is that people behave badly on both sides.

    You have failed to account for the fact that secularism has resulted in higher standards of morality, including the notion of human rights.

  2. I would have to agree that atheism is more moral because when one analyzes the foundations of the three major monotheistic religions. (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) All of these belief systems sprung from extremely barbaric, deadly and murderous roots. By simply analyzing many of the commands of the “Lord” throughout the Old Testament you can simply see how the Jewish people were able to justify their actions through divinity.

    Now I do realize that a majority of Christians denounce the murderous, genocidal, immoral acts of the Old Testament, but with that said, what stops a person from completely throwing out the entire “perfect word of God”? I mean if you can judge through your own standards what is worth following and what is not worth following then you automatically come to the assumption that maybe none of it really matters because it is NOT needed.

    The only requirement to be an atheist is to not believe in a god. There is no ‘believing in atheism’. There are no murderous ideologies that once existed in an atheistic sequence of thought. However, it is well-known that both sides at hand have committed atrocities, but never has an atheist commited an atrocity in the name of atheism.

    1. Zach, I am not here to defend religion, my intention is not to prove that religion is anymore moral than atheism. I am simply saying that atheism falls shorts on the same account. The reason atheists have not slaughtered other in the name of atheism is because as you say on the name of atheism there is no set creed, however this did not stop them from doing so. As far as atrocities are concerned, then I believe almost everyone has done their part, that is however not the debate here. There are enough examples of Christians, Muslims, Jews, pagans, atheists, communists and socialists to prove that atrocities are committed on every side, one way or the other. As you may have read, both Nevard and I are not taking about, crusades or socialist cleansing(s).

      If you know what is worth following and what is not worth following then it just implies an alternative not a higher standard since murderous history in the old testament was only carried out when needed, so is the iron fist and the need to sacrifice arises in atheists regimes. When the need of greater good surpasses the tolerance threshold – action must be taken. Because if you are saying that in an atheist world there will be no killings on the basis of principles then you are misinformed. The need to control rests among any power that establishes itself. Religion when comes into government power is used and abused. similarly the atheist regimes use the concept of ultimate blissful utopia and when it may be threatened they will use force, they will defend themselves. The problem is government. The problem is power. Any regime, that be atheist, or religious will be in all its right to force its rule, because morality will be accepted with respect to the ultimate goal within the regimes own principles. In a godless world there will still be conflicts and wars and genocides, if not in the name of God, than in the name of duty.

      The morality that Nevard is quoting of Kant and Plato determine that every person within his own preferences and rationale is justified of his actions. In this way morality becomes something that is variant to every other person. And just like other people he thinks that a uniform morality exists somewhere past the of lines future atheism. On the other hand, people like Stephen hawking one of the most distinguished atheist of our times, thinks that philosophy is dead and the only path to enlightenment (atheistic) is not among theories of Plato or Aristotle but in the future of science. What Plato and Kant claim can only be served on individual basis but it can never serve on the basis of a group. Try reading “The grand design” by Stephen hawking. He actually proves through neurosciences that there is no such thing as free will and choice. And that all human actions are governed by laws of physics and chemistry. Both Nevard and you can have a good read out of it and see if Plato can stand the test of time.

      1. And Zach you must have read Vox Day’s “The irrational Atheist”, however irrelevant to this topic, you can read chapter “The red hand of Atheism”. He presents a good case of wars and their causes and how in the history of war, a group of people who think there is no God and that all morality rests in logic and reason, offer a higher chance of inflicting war than the other. I am merely suggesting it as a read.

        Thanx for sharing your view though, appreciate it a lot.

  3. I disagree with Hawking on this point and have written about science and philosophy:
    http://violatricolorhortensis.wordpress.com/2011/02/10/philosophy-science-and-the-the-philosophy-of-science/

    The question of free will, etc is still hotly debated within science and philosophy. (It is worth pointing out that Hawking is not a neuroscientist.) I would recommend someone like Douglas Hofstadter on the subject. Plato will survive for as long as we try to discover how to live a good life.

  4. I actually think that it is quite absurd to think of “philosophy” as dead. To me it puts a frightening full-stop on freethinking. I actually commented on this as a small point in one of my earlier posts. However I gave the reference here just to show that all atheism doesn’t compromise of the philosophy that your argument supports. If one is to be in the confines of a more scientific atheistic group then the need to use Kant and Plato does not apply and one can have the alternative approach of science, since atheists are divided on this matter.

    It is a good thing Stephen Hawking is not a neuroscientist, but ironically enough, like every other person who tries to make a point without creating the point, he wrote it in his book as “It has been observed from experiments “.
    I am not sure how long will Plato survive, Kant is not so much popular these days, there have been a lot of criticism on Kan’t work and how it is not the best standard to follow these days.

  5. Thank you for the sensible critique. Me & my neighbor were just preparing to do some research about this. We got a grab a book from our area library but I think I learned more from this post. I am very glad to see such wonderful information being shared freely out there.

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